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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

MEN OF THE MIST

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RGL e-Book Cover 2018©

ILLUSTRATED BY C. HENRY EVISON


First UK edition: George G. Harrap & Co., London, 1923
First US edition: McKay Co., Philaelphia, 1923?

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-08-01
Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

Only the original raw text of this book is in the public domain.
All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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Illustration

"Men of the Mist," George G. Harrap & Co., London, 1923


Illustration

"Men of the Mist," Collins, London, 1947 Reprint


TABLE OF CONTENTS


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



Frontispiece.

Illustration

The giant came at a shambling gallop.


I. — THE COMING OF BART

TEA at Wasperton School was nothing but thick hunks of bread and margarine and an evil-looking black mixture served in huge metal teapots. The food was so bad that the boys could hardly eat it, but they dared not complain, not, at any rate, so long as they were under the hard eyes of their master, Mr Silas Crayshaw. For his eyes were no less hard than his cane—and never a day passed but some of them felt the sting of that.

Among the forty or so boys who sat at the two long tables were a couple who somehow looked different from the rest. In spite of their shabby clothes and patched boots, there was an air of breeding about Clem and Billy Ballard.

As Clem took his place beside his brother, Stiles, the grimy old school porter, came along and dropped a letter by his plate. Clem glanced at the address, and slipped the letter into his pocket. Pendred, a big, sullen-looking youth who sat opposite, laughed unpleasantly. "Scared to open it, I suppose?" he remarked. "Don't want us to see the broad arrow on the paper."

Clem went oddly white, but Billy's eyes flashed and the colour rose hotly in his cheeks. Clem caught him by the arm. "Sit still, Billy. Don't pay any attention to him," he said coolly. "It's from Uncle Grimston," he added in a whisper.

Just then Mr Crayshaw came in, and Pendred subsided. He was not going to risk a cut from the master's cane.

The meal went on in absolute silence, and the moment it was over the two Ballards hurried out. "Let's go down to the quarry," said Clem, and Billy, merely nodding, dropped into step.

Wasperton was near the big manufacturing town of Marchester, and the whole countryside was foul with soot and smoke. The two boys walked down a grimy lane, turned into a bare-looking field, and passing through some gorse and a clump of half-dead trees reached the edge of an old stone quarry, at the bottom of which was a deep pool of sullen greenish water. There they plumped themselves down on the grass. "What's he say?" asked Billy.

Clem tore open the envelope, and had hardly begun to read before he stopped with a gasp.

"What's the matter?" demanded Billy sharply.

"He—he—can't have us back, Billy! We—we've got to spend the holidays here!"

"What! Here at Wasperton?"

"Yes. That's what he says," Clem answered, with his grey eyes fixed upon the fatal sheet.

"Oh, he can't! He can't mean it!" groaned Billy.

"It's plain enough," said Clem bitterly. "He says he can't have us knocking about the place."

"He always hated us," said Billy fiercely.

Clem shrugged his shoulders. "Well, he's kept us since Mother's death. I suppose we ought to be grateful."

"What's the good of his keeping us?" cried Billy, "I'd sooner work as an errand-boy in a shop than go on like this. The school is a pig of a place; we don't learn anything, there are no decent games, and I hate the very sight of it, and of Crayshaw too."

In his excitement Billy sprang to his feet and went stamping up and down. "And the chaps jeering at us about Father!" he went on. "As if it was his fault or ours that they sent him to prison."

"Steady, Billy!" said Clem. "It's no good getting excited."

"But I can't help it!" retorted Billy. "It isn't fair. Everything's gone wrong since they tried Father for taking money which you and I know he never touched. And now to keep us in this place all the holidays! It's the limit, and I'm not going to stand it!"

"Look out!" cried Clem suddenly and leapt to his feet. He was just too late, for Billy had gone too near the edge, and with a deep crunching sound a great piece of turf had broken off and slipped down, carrying Billy with it.

"Billy! Billy!" cried Clem in horror. When he reached the edge he fully expected to see his brother plunged into the depths of the pool thirty feet below, and his relief may be imagined when he caught sight of him clinging to a narrow ledge only a yard or so down. In a flash he had flung himself on his face, and reaching down caught hold of Billy. "Hang on!" he cried. "Hang on, Billy! I'll get you up!"

But when he tried to do so he found that it was out of the question. The weight was too much for him to lift, and Billy could get no foothold. With a sinking feeling of horror, Clem realized that unless he kept quite still he himself would be pulled over the edge, and both would plunge to destruction in that noisome green water so far below.

"Help!" he shouted at the top of his voice. "Help!"

Clods of earth fell away beneath him. Another slip threatened. Billy looked up at him with agonized eyes. "Let me go, Clem!" he said. "Let me go! I shall only drag you down."

But Clem's teeth set hard. "No!" he answered curtly. "Hang on!"

More earth fell. Clem was slipping. Another moment and it would have been all over, when he felt a tremendously powerful grip on his legs. "Hang on, sonny!" came a cool, deep voice. "I reckon I can pull ye both up if ye'll hold still."

Such a pull! It was like that of a steam-crane. Clem's muscles cracked, but he held on, and next minute he and Billy were both safe on firm ground.

"There, that's all right," said his rescuer, as calmly as ever, and Clem, recovering a little, looked up into the face of a man of middle height, square built, and evidently of immense strength. His features were blunt, and tanned to the colour of an old saddle, but his eyes, of a singularly clear blue, held that curiously far-seeing look peculiar to men who spend their time entirely in the open air. He was dressed in a ready-made blue serge suit much too tight across his immensely broad chest.

"Thanks awfully," gasped Clem. "You saved us both. I say, you are strong!"

The other smiled, and it was a very pleasant smile which lit up his whole face.

"Glad I came along in time, sonny. But you're all right now. Well, I guess I'll be going. Good evening."

But Clem caught his arm. "Please tell us your name," he begged.

The big man smiled again. "Bart, I'm called—Hart Condon. And what's yours?"

"Ours is Ballard," replied Clem. "I'm Clem, and this is my brother Billy."

Condon's blue eyes widened. Clem almost thought he saw him start slightly. But all he said was, "I'm mighty glad to have met you. You're from the school, I reckon?"

"Yes," replied Clem. "I say, you come from America, don't you?"

"That's so, son. Say, I'll walk up as far as you're going."

So the three walked back together, but Clem had no chance to pursue his inquiries, for Condon did most of the talking. He asked many questions about the school, and by the time they reached the gates had got the boys to tell him practically all about it and about themselves. They had told him how their father had been put in prison for a theft he had never committed, how their mother had died of grief, and how their uncle, Mr Robert Grimston, a hard, mean man, had taken charge of them, and put them at this wretched school, where they had now been for two years.

"But your dad escaped, didn't he?" asked Condon.

"Yes. But how did you know?" asked Clem quickly.

"Guess I read it in the newspaper," was the reply.

"Yes," said Clem. "He got away more than eighteen months ago, and they never caught him. They say he's gone to Australia. I do hope he's safe there."

"Mighty good place to get to, I reckon," said Condon. Then he stopped, and offered his hand first to Clem, then to Billy. "I reckon we'll meet again some time," he said, and, turning in his quick, quiet way, was gone.

"What a topping chap!" said Billy to Clem.

Clem nodded. "A real good sort," he agreed, "and he came just in the nick of time."

Billy nodded gravely. "I only hope Crayshaw doesn't hear of this. He'll stop us going down to the quarry, and it's the only place we can get to ourselves."

"Why should he hear?" asked Clem.

"Look at your clothes," responded Billy.

Just then a cracked bell began to ring.

"There's the bell for school!" exclaimed Clem. "We must hurry."

All the boys sat together in the large classroom for evening preparation. Every one was very quiet, for Mr Gorton, the assistant master, was at the desk, and every one knew that his cane was as handy as Mr Crayshaw's. The silence was broken only by the scratching of steel pens and the rustle of the pages of dog's-eared books.

And so the minutes dragged on until the hands of the big clock pointed to a quarter past eight. Only a quarter of an hour now, and then came bedtime.

The sound of the door opening made every one look up, and in came Stiles, the dingy old manservant, and went up to Mr Gorton.

He gave a slip of paper to the master, and Mr Gorton glanced at it. His big voice boomed out. "Ballard senior and Ballard junior."

"Yes, sir," answered the two boys, standing up.

"You are both to go to Mr Crayshaw's room."

As the two left their seats Billy glanced at Clem. "What's he want?" he whispered to his brother.

"Probably he's heard from Uncle too," was Clem's answer. "Or else Pendred has sneaked about our going down to the quarry. He's always spying on us?"


II. — SEALED ORDERS

MR CRAYSHAW'S study was a large, untidy room which reeked of tobacco, and Mr Crayshaw himself was a tall, bony man who wore a tail-coat which had once been black but now was green, and a sort of fez cap on his bald head. He had bushy eyebrows and deep-set eyes. As Clem and Billy came in he was sitting at his desk. He looked up and stared at them.

"What's the matter with your clothes, Ballard senior?" he demanded.

Clem held himself very straight. "I had a fall, sir," he answered quietly.

Mr Crayshaw grunted. "Fighting, I suppose, but you need not be afraid," he said. "Though no doubt you richly deserve it, you will not get a caning this time." He picked up a sheet of paper and adjusted his spectacles. "I have a letter here from your uncle," he went on. "It seems he wishes to take you away from the school."

"Take us away!" echoed Clem, hardly able to believe his ears.

"Yes," snapped the master. "In my opinion a very foolish proceeding, but since he has sent a cheque in advance for next term's fees I have no choice but to let you go."

He went on talking, but the boys hardly heard. The one fact they realized was that they were to leave Wasperton, and this alone seemed too good to be true. It was also utterly amazing, for the letter telling them they could not come home for the holidays had only just arrived.

"You will pack your things to-night." were the next words Clem caught. "You are to leave in the morning." He glared at the boys as though they had done him some injury, but it is quite certain that neither Clem nor Billy took the faintest notice of his expression.

The master turned again to his desk and picked up an envelope. "I am to give you this," he added, handing it to Clem. "It contains your tickets and money for your journey. You are not to open it until you arrive at the station to-morrow morning, where you will catch the eight-thirty train. You quite understand?"

Clem was almost breathless, but somehow managed to get out, "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"Then good night, and good-bye, for I shall not see you in the morning. I only hope that you will both benefit by the useful tuition which you have received in my establishment."

He extended a large, cold hand, which the two boys shook in turn; then somehow they found themselves in the passage outside the study door. They were both gasping like fish out of water. Billy turned to Clem. "I—I say, Clem, it's a dream, I suppose. It can't be real," he said hoarsely.

Clem held up the envelope. "This is real, Billy. No, it's true. It's really true."

"B-but where are we going—back to Uncle Grimston's?"

Clem shook his head. "There wouldn't be all this mystery about it if we were," he answered. "Besides, his letter to me said he didn't want us at his house for the holidays."

"Then where?" demanded Billy.

"What does it matter? Anything will be better than Wasperton. Come on. Let's pack."

It was a job that did not take long, for one small box easily held all their worldly goods.

"And we don't even know how to label it," said Billy, when it was done.

"We shall know in the morning," Clem answered. "Now we'd better turn in."

Luckily for them, the rest of the dormitory were already in bed, and, barring a sneer or two from Pendred, they were not molested. But neither of them slept much that night. They were far too excited. Stiles called them at half-past six, and they slipped out like mice. The other boys were still asleep, and Clem and Billy were not sorry. But not until they were in a cab and on their way to the station were they able to believe that they were actually clear of Wasperton.

It was barely eight when they arrived, and except for a solitary porter there was not a soul on the platform. Billy seized Clem by the arm and dragged him into the deserted waiting- room. "The envelope, Clem—we can open it now," he said sharply.

Clem's fingers were not quite steady as he tore open the envelope. It contained a sheet of paper, two tickets, and five pounds in Treasury notes. "The tickets—where are they for?" demanded Billy.

Clem held them up. "Lime Street Station, Liverpool," he read.

The two boys stared at one another, but neither spoke. Then Clem unfolded the sheet of paper. On it were typed these words: "Your passages are booked for New York on the Pocahontas, sailing at 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. You will be met at Liverpool. The password for which you will be asked is 'Potlatch.'"

There was no signature to this startling message, no address, no date. Clem and Billy stared at one another in mute amazement. "The Pocahontas—New York!" Clem muttered at last.

Suddenly Billy snatched off his cap, flung it in the air, and gave a whoop which made the solitary porter drop a large parcel he was carrying and turn quite pale. "Hurray!" he shouted. "No more Uncle Grimston! No more Wasperton! Three cheers for America!"

The porter came up quickly. "Here, I say, young feller!" he said, in a scandalized tone. "If you wants to make a noise like that you better go out on the road and do it. This here's the private property of the railway, and lunatics like you ain't allowed here."

Billy turned a beaming face on the man. "I can't help it, porter. I'm not loony—only happy. So'd you be if you'd just got away from a place like Wasperton, and especially if you'd been there for nearly two years."

The porter's expression changed and became quite sympathetic. "Oh, you're from Wasperton, are you? Yes, I shouldn't wonder if you was glad to clear out. They do say as it's a sort o' 'Dotheboys Hall,' like Dickens wrote about." He paused. "I say, you bain't running away, be you?" he asked quickly.

"No, indeed!" replied Billy. "We're going to friends in America. See, here are our tickets to Liverpool."

The porter inspected the tickets and nodded. "They're all right. Now you'll go right through to Crewe and change there, and you'll get to Liverpool just after one o'clock. That'll give you plenty of time to get some dinner afore you goes aboard. Tell you what, I knows the guard aboard this train. I'll tip him a word to look after you."

"That's frightfully good of you," said Billy gratefully, and the good fellow stood chatting with them until passengers began to arrive and he had to get busy. But he did not forget his promise, and when the train came in introduced them to the guard, who put them in a carriage near his van, and was kindness itself.

It is quite safe to wager that two happier passengers than the young Ballards were not carried by any train in England that morning, and when they were swept away from the grimy surroundings of Marchester, and through the lovely hills of North Wales, their delight was beyond words.

Billy was constantly sticking his head out of the window to admire one thing or another, but in between he and Clem talked things over again and again. But the more they discussed the matter the worse puzzled they became. "It's no use troubling our heads," said Billy at last. "The paper says that some one is going to meet us at Liverpool. Whoever it is, we can ask him where we are going."

The train pulled into the big junction at Crewe, and the kindly guard saw the boys and their box across into the other train, and shook hands with them and wished them luck. Then they were off again, the express racing north for Liverpool.

It seemed a very short time before they reached the huge Lime Street Station, and there they stood on the platform beside their box, waiting alone in the midst of hurrying crowds, and, to say the truth, feeling a little lonely.

"Is your name Ballard?" Clem glanced up quickly, to see a quietly dressed, middle-aged man who looked like a lawyer standing beside him.

"Yes, sir," he answered.

"And the word?"

For a moment Clem wondered what was meant—but only for a moment. "Potlatch," he answered.

The other smiled slightly, and motioned to a porter to take the box. He led the way to a waiting taxicab, and they drove off.

Billy was the first to speak. "Where are we going, sir?" he asked.

"To get some dinner," was the reply.

Something in their new acquaintance's tone checked further questions, and presently the taxi pulled up at a small, quiet- looking hotel. Here the box was taken out and left in the hall, the taxi-man paid and dismissed, and all three went into the coffee-room, where dinner was quickly set before them. It was a plain enough meal, but there was excellent roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and baked potatoes, and an apple tart with custard.

To the boys, accustomed to the greasy, ill-cooked fare at Wasperton, it was delicious, and both had two hearty helpings of each course. Their new friend hardly spoke except to ask them about their journey, and somehow neither cared to question him. The minute the meal was over he got up and looked at his watch.

"Now we have some shopping to do," he said, "and since we have not much time we must hurry."

He walked them off briskly, and took them into a big department store, where he spoke to a shopwalker. They were at once escorted to a lift and whirled to an upper floor, where they found themselves in the tailoring department. Piles of ready-made garments of all sorts were on the shelves.

"I want two suits for each of these boys," said their guide, "one of plain blue serge, the other of rough tweed, thick and warm."

He knew exactly what he wanted, and got it. Thence he moved to another department, where he bought flannel shirts, underclothes, socks, collars, and ties. The third place they went to was the boot department, where each was provided with two pairs of new boots and a pair of slippers.

Then Clem and Billy were hurried to a dressing-room, where the blue serge suits were ready, together with complete changes of everything, including boots. "Ten minutes to change," said their friend briefly. "Meantime I will get each of you a travelling bag, an overcoat, and a cap."

When Billy stood up in his new clothes and saw himself in the glass he shook his head. "I don't know myself," he said slowly. "Nor you either, Clem," he added. "I'm sure we shall wake up presently and find it's all a dream. It's much too good to be true."

As he spoke the door opened, and in came their lawyer-like friend. "No," he said, "it's real enough." He looked at them, and there was approval in his eyes. "You do me credit," he said briefly. "Your things are all packed. I will take you to the ship."

An hour later Clem and Billy stood at the rail, waving to their friend on the wharf, while the big ship, in tow of a tug, began to move slowly down the river.


III. — THE "BIG BRITISHER"

ON the eighth morning after leaving England Clem and Billy came on deck to see the huge statue of Liberty towering in front of them, and beyond it the tremendous skyscrapers of New York outlined against a clear blue sky. They had enjoyed every minute of the voyage, but they were still as much in the dark as ever as to where they were going.

On the pier they found waiting for them a man from one of the great travelling agencies. He was an American, very brisk and cheerful. The Customs officials did not worry them much, and almost before they knew it they were driving through the roaring traffic of the capital of the New World to the great Erie Station.

"It's a real shame that there ain't time to show you boys something of this little old town," said their guide, "but my directions is to ship you right through to Seattle quick as you can go."

"Where's Seattle?" inquired Billy.

"A long way from here," replied the other with a grin. "You got to go clean across from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and that's a week in the train. Wal, here's the depot (station you calls it in England), and here's your tickets. I reckon some one will meet you at the other end."

"Who will meet us? Where are we going?" demanded Billy eagerly. The guide looked at him oddly. "If you don't know, I'm sure I don't," was all he said, and once more the boys found themselves starting off on a new journey without the faintest idea of their real destination.

Everything was new to them—the great steel carriages, so immensely larger than English ones, the big day coach, the 'sleeper' with its chairs and tables, the clanging of the engine bell, the negro porters, the boys who brought round newspapers, books, and candy.

Their tickets, they found, included sleeping accommodation, and the conductor had evidently been tipped to look after them. Whoever was paying for their journey was plainly not stinting money.

Over and over again the boys discussed the question of who could be their unknown benefactor. They were both quite certain that it was not their uncle Mr Grimston. Billy had suggested that it was possible they were going right across the Pacific to Australia to join their father, but Clem, older and wiser, had pointed out how unlikely it was that their father could have made money enough in less than two years to pay for all this. In any case, as he said, it would have been far cheaper for them to go by sea all the way. Clem's own idea was that it might be their father's brother, Lionel Ballard, who had sent for them. Neither he nor Billy had ever seen this uncle, who had left England many years earlier. All they knew was that their father had sometimes spoken of him.

On the sixteenth day after leaving England they reached Seattle, where they were again met by an agent of the same travel company, taken to a quiet little hotel, and ordered to remain until called for. They stayed there a week, living well and enjoying themselves immensely.

Then one evening they were just going to bed when there was a knock at their door, and in walked a broadly-built man with very clear blue eyes. Clem, who was in the act of pulling his boots off, sat quite still and stared, but Billy leapt to his feet. "Mr Condon!" he cried in utter amazement.

"Not Mister—just Bart," was the quiet answer, as Bart Condon shook hands gravely, first with Clem, then with Billy. He looked them over. "Well, to be sure, you have come on a whole lot! I reckon you're each seven or eight pound heavier than when I last seed you. You been weighed lately?"

"Weighed!" cried Billy. "We had something else to think of. How in the world did you come here?"

"Steamboat and train—same as you," replied Bart calmly. "Well, well, I'm mighty glad you're both looking so spry. How do you like this town?"

"The town's all right," said Billy, "and we're all right. But it's you we want to hear about. Did you know we were coming here?"

The blue-eyed man's expression did not change in the slightest. "Why, I won't go for to say I didn't," he replied.

Clem stood up. "Was it you took us away from Wasperton?" he demanded.

Bart shook his head. "No, sonny, it warn't me. But say now, I reckon you'd better get right to bed. The steamer leaves at seven to-morrow morning. Now good night to ye. I'll see as you're called bright and early."

He was as good as his word, and early next morning he and the two boys left Seattle aboard a small coasting steamer called the John P. Wilkes, and, working out of Elliot Bay, steamed north across Puget Sound, and so out into the Pacific.

The boys were wild with excitement, for now, for the first time since leaving England, they began to feel that they were getting out of touch with civilization.

Not that Bart told them a word of where they were bound. He would talk about anything except that. It was their fellow- passengers who made them feel it. They were nearly all men, and men of a sort which Clem and Billy had never seen before. There were Americans, English, Swedes, Norwegians, and a few French and Italians. There were also men whose dusky faces and sloe-black eyes showed that they had more than a touch of Indian blood in their veins. Almost all these men were big-muscled, deep-chested fellows dressed in thick flannel shirts and jean trousers, and wearing knee-boots, and handkerchiefs knotted round their necks in place of collars.

"Gold-miners, I believe," whispered Billy to Clem. "I say, do you think we can be going to the diggings?"

"The ship is bound for Dyea, in Alaska," replied Clem. "The purser told me. I say, Billy, look at those two who have just passed up the deck. Did you ever see anything like them?"

"Yes, I have. It was in a cinema," replied Billy as he watched them.

They were worth watching too, if only because they looked so rough and strange. One was a great big man with tow-coloured hair, hard, pale blue eyes, and a face that looked as if it had been carved out of stone; his companion was smaller, with a swarthy skin, a thick black moustache curled at the ends, and hair black as jet and clustering in tight ringlets all over his head.

By degrees the mixed company settled down, and by evening every one had found his place. The weather was very fine, and the ship ploughed steadily northward over a sea so calm that the brilliant stars were reflected in its placid surface. Supper over, Clem and Billy found the deck so crowded that they went aft and perched themselves on top of the emergency wheel-house. Here they sat silent, watching the sky and the sea.

All of a sudden they heard voices close by, and peeping over, saw two men standing and leaning over the stern, apparently watching the gleaming wake. They were the very same couple whom they had noticed earlier in the day.

Next moment the taller of these men spoke. "I take it, then, as you have some real information this time, Craze," he said in a low yet harsh voice.

"You can be very sure of that, Gurney," answered the other. "Surely you know me better than to think I should come all this distance on a wild-goose chase. I have it on good authority that the man whom they call 'the Big Britisher' is the one we want. There is a reward of a thousand dollars offered by the police for his capture."

"A thousand dollars!" repeated the tall man in a scornful tone. "You surely are not going to tell me that we are taking this trip for a thousand dollars! Why, that would barely pay our expenses!"

"I am telling you nothing of the sort," replied the black- haired man sharply. "There's ten times that money—maybe twenty—if we play our cards right."

"What do you mean, Craze?" questioned Gurney.

Craze leaned nearer, and spoke in a lower tone, yet the two boys were close enough to hear what he said. "Gold, Gurney. My information is that this man, who is a fugitive from justice, has struck it rich up there in the ranges. And once the police have him, what is to hinder us from restaking his claim?"

Gurney whistled softly. "That's a different story. Right you are, Craze. I'm backing you all the way through."

"What a beastly shame!" whispered Billy in his brother's ear.

But Clem pinched his arm hard. "Keep quiet, Billy," he answered in an equally low tone. "We must get to the bottom of this."

There was a pause during which nothing could be heard but the steady beat of the engine, the throb of the screw, and the rush of the broken water in the wake of the ship. Billy had dropped back close alongside Clem, and the two lay motionless, almost breathless.

The silence had lasted so long that Clem was beginning to be afraid that the men were not going to talk any more, when at last Gurney took his pipe from his mouth and spoke again. "What's this English chap's name, Craze? Know anything about him?"

"Not a lot," was Craze's reply, yet to the listening boys the words did not strike true. "I did hear as his name was Bandon, and that he ain't been up there a very long time. But he's got right in with the Injuns, and he's making a pile of dollars out o' skins and dust."

"And how do you reckon to track him down?"

"My information is as he's settled in a valley up in the Mammoth Range."

Gurney whistled again. "Gee, but that's a long way inland!"

"That's so," agreed Craze. "It's across the Liard River. But I reckon it's worth it."

Gurney nodded. "If it's as good as you say, it's worth a bit of trouble. But see here, Craze, do you reckon you can find the trail?"

Craze chuckled softly. "I got a guide," he said.

"What—one of the Indians?"

"No, he ain't an Injun. He's a white man. And—" he lowered his voice so that only the faintest possible whisper reached Clem's straining ears—"he's right here on this ship this minute."

Gurney started slightly. "Who is he?" he asked eagerly.

Before Craze could answer a sound of footsteps was heard, coming rapidly along the deck toward the stern, and Bart Condon's deep voice broke the silence. "You Clem, you Billy! Where be you?" Clem caught hold of Billy's arm, and the two crouched closer than ever on the top of the deckhouse.

Bart called again, but as there was no answer, went away. But when Clem ventured again to look down over the edge of his perch Gurney and Craze had vanished. "Bad luck!" he growled in Billy's ear. "Just a moment more, and we should have heard who the guide was."

"It is bad luck," agreed Billy, "but I say, Clem, we've heard quite a lot as it is. And I say, isn't it rum that this 'Bandon' they talk about is a man who has got away from the police, just like Dad?"

"Yes, it is funny," agreed Clem thoughtfully. "Only perhaps he isn't innocent as Dad was."

"I don't care whether he is or not," replied Billy quickly. "Anyhow, he's made friends with the Indians, so he can't be a bad sort. And whatever he's done, I don't see why these pigs of fellows should rob him."

"No. I'm jolly well with you there, Billy," agreed Clem. "We'd better go and find Bart, and tell him what we've heard. Anyhow, he's looking for us."

They slipped away quietly, and soon found Bart leaning over the rail, just by the companion.

"Say, boys," he remarked in his slow drawl, "hev you plumb forgotten as it's supper-time, or ain't you hungry?"

Clem looked round to make sure no one was listening. "We had something to make us forget it, Bart," he answered, then told what he and Billy had heard. Bart listened without a word, merely nodding his head once or twice. When Clem had finished he nodded again. "I reckon I can tell you who the guide is as they spoke of," he said quietly. "His name is Condon—Bart Condon."

Clem and Billy gazed at him in speechless amazement. Bart raised his head, and they saw the shadow of a smile on his broad, pleasant face. "Only he ain't going to act, sonny," he continued. He was silent for some moments, then chuckled softly. "I knowed there was something funny doing as soon as I seed them two galoots aboard. But I hardly reckoned as they knowed as much as they seems to. Wal, boys, I'm mighty glad you heard what you did, for it gives me a chance to euchre them two beauties. But I'll hev to do a right smart bit of thinking if we're to get ahead."

Billy burst out. "Do you mean that those two men were going to track us wherever we are going?"

"That's jest exactly what I do mean, sonny," answered Bart deliberately. "But that's enough talk for this time. Come right down to supper. And don't worry. I'll fix them. Yes, I'll fix them proper!"


IV. — A HASTY LANDING

"MY goodness, Clem, look at those mountains!" exclaimed Billy.

It was eight days since they had left Seattle, and the John P. Wilkes was still nosing her way up through the maze of islands which border the coast of British Columbia and Southern Alaska. On this morning the two boys had come up early, to find a calm sea, a blue sky, and outlined against the east a most magnificent array of snow-clad peaks. "I suppose we shall have to climb over those one of these days," replied Clem.

"Maybe sooner than you think, my lads," came Bart's quiet voice behind them.

Both boys turned sharply, but Bart gave them a warning look. "You come along down with me," he said softly, and they followed him below to the cabin they all three shared. Bart closed the door carefully. "You pack your duds, boys," he said.

"What!" gasped Billy. "Are we going ashore?"

"That's so, but there's no need to shout about it."

"I'm sorry," said Billy penitently. "But when?"

"When I do," replied Bart quietly. "You watch me, and for the Lord's sake don't let on to a soul aboard."

It was not often Bart spoke so strongly, and the boys were much impressed. They packed their things, not in portmanteaux, but in bundles, and by Bart's advice left out everything not absolutely necessary. By the time they had finished the ship was steaming up a narrow fiord with high cliffs on either side.

"We stops at the mouth of the Taku River," Bart told them. "Some of the folk'll go ashore, but you jest stay around and watch me. And don't talk, and keep your faces straight. You get me?"

They did, and said so. When they went on deck again Bart locked the cabin door behind them. Presently the John P. Wilkes was slowing down into the mouth of a river, a river of medium breadth, which came down between lofty banks covered with gigantic forest. The great trees, which were mostly evergreen, grew to a height of fully two hundred feet, and beneath them was undergrowth thick as that in a tropical swamp. To the right of the river mouth was a plot of four or five acres, with several rough frame buildings. Some Japs and a few Indians were moving about. There was a landing close to the building with nets hung on it, and boats tied up. Stakes rose from the clear water in long rows.

"This here's the Taku salmon-cannery," Bart told the boys. "Now you jest set around and don't do a thing till I tells you."

Clem and Billy—Billy in particular—were quivering with inward excitement, yet managed to carry out their orders. With much splashing and backing the steamer worked in to the wharf and tied up; a gangway was got out, and a number of cases began to be unloaded. The Japs wheeled them up to the storehouse.

Presently Billy whispered to Clem: "Gurney and Craze are watching us."

"I've noticed that," replied Clem cautiously. Gurney and Craze were close to the gangway, and they hardly took their eyes off Bart and the boys. But as the three latter merely leaned over the rail, lazily watching the deck-hands at work, the two watchers seemed to become less suspicious.

A big man wearing his trousers tucked into high boots came down from the main building and crossed the gangway. He looked round, and his eyes fell on Bart Condon. At once his big, sunburnt face lit up, and he strode across. "Why, Bart, you old son of a gun, be that you? I'm sure glad to see you!" he exclaimed.

Bart stretched out his hand. "Me too, Joe. I thought you'd be along."

"But ain't you coming ashore, Bart?" asked the other, as he wrung his friend's hand.

"Guess not," was the reply. "There ain't a lot of time," replied Bart. He turned to Clem and Billy. "Say, boys, shake hands with my friend Joe Western. He owns this here factory, and some day, when we got more time, maybe we'll stay over with him a piece."

As Bart spoke, Billy, watching him closely, saw one eyelid flicker, saw too that Joe Western seemed to understand something from this lightning wink. At any rate, the big man leaned against the rail, and began to talk salmon and nothing else. The packages were soon ashore; then some cases were brought down from the factory and stowed aboard. The boys began to feel positively ill with excitement, for they could see that in another moment or two the ship was due to leave.

The second officer came down the deck, and stopped opposite them. "We're right off, Mr Western," he said. "Gangway's just coming up. Guess you better get ashore unless you want to come along with us."

"I'd like to mighty well," smiled Western, "but I reckon I've got my job to attend to. Wal, good-bye, Bart."

Bart walked with him to the gangway, the ropes of which two men were already beginning to loosen. "You better be sharp, boss," said one of them to Western.

"So long," said Western loudly. "I'm mighty sorry you all couldn't give me a call this time." Then, with a wonderfully light step, considering how big and heavy a man he was, he sprang lightly across the gangway and on to the wharf.

The gangway was actually being raised, and Clem and Billy were divided between despair and amazement, when suddenly Bart darted forward. "Here, what are you a-doing of?" roared the man who was casting off. "Want to drown yourself, or what?"

"Come on!" hissed Clem to Billy, and before the man could stop them they had both followed Bart, and with flying leaps reached the wharf. They turned to see Gurney and Craze make a dash for the gangway. They were too late. The gangway was already half-way up, the screw was turning, and the steamer beginning to move.

"Fifty dollars if you get us ashore," the boys heard Gurney say sharply to the man in charge of the gangway.

"You better go and ask the skipper," retorted the latter, who was not in the best of tempers. At this moment a man rushed to the rail, and two heavy packages hurtled through the air, to land with heavy thuds on the wharf.

"There's your duds, boys," said Bart calmly. "Take 'em up and carry 'em to the house. We've changed our minds, and are going to stay with Mr Western a piece."

He waved his hand to the infuriated Gurney and Craze. "So long!" he said. "Better luck next time! And, Craze, when you wants a guide, you better fix up first to pay him, see?"

What Craze said cannot be printed, but Bart did not stop to listen. He turned his back and walked straight toward the house.


V. — THE "BORE"

JOE WESTERN'S quarters were rough, but comfortable. There were plenty of bunks and plenty to eat, and after as good a dinner as they had ever put away the two boys were turned loose to explore. "Only don't you go up in the woods, young fellers," warned Western. "Not onless Bart or me goes with you. You can go out in a boat if you've a mind to, but the woods ain't healthy for tenderfeet."

So Clem and Billy started off exploring, and the first thing they came across was a huge boatload of silvery salmon fresh from the nets being carried up into the factory. Here they were gutted and scaled by Indians, then packed into cans, which were placed in huge cauldrons of boiling water. When the fish was cooked the tins were allowed to cool, then soldered up, and after being labelled were packed in cases ready for shipment.

Afterward Sam, the Japanese in charge of the boats, lent them a canoe, and they went up the river a little way to look at the stake nets. The water was alive with salmon, which were running up the river to spawn. The afternoon seemed to pass like a flash, and it was only when they began to feel hungry that the boys remembered they must get back for supper.

Supper was as good and plentiful as dinner, and when it was over Bart and Joe Western pulled chairs out on the veranda, and Clem and Billy followed.

"Do we start to-morrow, Bart?" questioned Billy.

Bart shook his head slowly. "I reckon not, Billy. Ye see, we got to have carriers, and Joe here can't spare none of his Injuns until the fishing season's over."

Billy's face showed his dismay. "But, Bart, won't Gurney and Craze come back after us?"

Bart nodded. "Ay, they'll come back, but it's going to take them quite a while."

"But, surely, the sooner we get away, the better," said Clem seriously. "If Mr Western would lend us a canoe, we could take our things in it all right, couldn't we?"

Bart nodded again. "Yes, sonny, we can take 'em as fur as the water'll let us. But that ain't where we're bound for. There's two hundred mile and more of mountains to cross after that. And it ain't as if you and Billy could heft a forty-pound pack over country like that."

"We could with practice," vowed Billy.

Joe Western spoke. "Five years' practice, Billy. No less. I guess you'll jest have to settle down to wait a piece. I'm mighty sorry, but it can't be helped."

His tone was so decided that the boys felt it was no use arguing. They got up and moved away toward the river. It was dark now, but the night was beautiful, calm and still, and a wonderful hush brooded over the great forests that sloped so steeply to the swift river.

"Hulloa, here's Sam!" exclaimed Billy. The Japanese, who was sitting in a boat busily sharpening a big three-pronged spear, looked up.

"You like go with me?" he asked in his polite way.

"Rather!" said Billy. "Where are you going?"

"I go hunt dogfish," he answered, lifting the spear. The boys tumbled in in a twinkling, and took the oars; then, under Sam's directions, they pulled out into the middle of the river, stopped, and let the boat drift. Sam pointed downward, and a wonderful sight met their eyes. The water was smooth here and clear as glass, and the depths were alive with huge fish, each about four feet in length. These were outlined in gleaming phosphorescence, and were moving to and fro in the most curious and intricate patterns.

"They dogfish," explained Sam. "They hunt salmon. We hunt them." As he spoke he stood up, raised the spear, and suddenly dashed it down into the water with all his force. Next moment it was nearly wrenched out of his hand, but he held on hard, and up came a writhing monster like a small shark.

"You try," he said to Clem, and Clem eagerly took the spear. He waited, watching his chance, then struck hard, and instantly felt the barbed prongs fasten in a fish.

But he had not in the least realized the weight and strength of the creature. Sam made a snatch at him, but was just too late. Over went Clem, head foremost, and with a tremendous splash disappeared under the cold, swift-running water.

Billy gave a yell of alarm. "Quick, Sam, catch him!" he cried. "He can't swim!"

It was true. There had been no swimming-bath at Wasperton, and neither of the boys had ever had a chance to learn to swim. But it was too late for Sam to catch Clem, who, still grasping his spear, had gone clean under.

The plucky Jap did not hesitate an instant. He simply dived clean over the side and vanished in Clem's wake. Billy, left alone, did not lose his head, but turned the boat in the track of the line of bubbles which he saw rising. Suddenly the water broke, and to his intense relief he saw Sam rise, holding Clem by the back of his shirt.

Billy drove the boat alongside and Sam caught hold of the gunwale. "Help pull him in," panted Sam, who was evidently badly blown by his deep dive.

Billy sprang to obey, but in his haste knocked one oar overboard. He did not wait to recover it, but grabbed hold of Clem, and with a great effort managed to hoist him on board. Then he helped Sam into the boat. "I say, that was fine of you, Sam!" he said gratefully. But Sam, after giving himself one shake like a wet dog, turned his attention to Clem.

Clem had swallowed rather more water than was good for him, but otherwise was little the worse. His trouble was that he had lost his spear, and this he at once began to apologize for.

Sam cut him short. "We get back," he said in his good but curiously clipped English. "We get back quick. Give me oars, please."

"I'm sorry," said Billy, "but one's gone overboard. We shall have to drop down a bit and pick it up."

Sam snatched up the remaining oar, and pushing it out over the stern, set to sculling frantically toward the bank.

Billy was astonished. "Why, what's the matter?" he demanded. "What's the hurry?"

"The tide come," replied the other breathlessly. "Tide come quick."

Neither Billy nor Clem had the faintest idea what Sam was talking about, but they could both of them see that he was very much upset, and desperately anxious about something. Yet the sky was clear, there was no wind, the air was quite warm. They could not make head or tail of it.

Sam sculled with a sort of fierce desperation; but the current was strong, and the boat, a big flat-bottomed affair, was heavy and clumsy, and for every foot she got in toward the bank she drifted three downstream. As there was not another oar in the boat the boys could not help him. All they could do was to wait and wonder what the danger was.

They had not very long to wait. The boat was still quite fifty yards from the bank when suddenly the current which had been sweeping her downstream seemed to be stopped short. It simply ceased to exist, the effect being first as though great lock- gates had been suddenly closed. But before Sam could take any real advantage of this change there came a curious hissing sound out of the soft darkness in the direction of the sea.

In a flash Sam ceased his efforts to reach the bank, and with a mighty swing turned the boat so that her bow faced straight downstream. And still the boys stared blankly.

The hissing grew louder, and suddenly Billy pointed. "The wave!" he cried. "Clem, the wave!"

Clem stared, hardly able to believe his eyes. For there, racing up from the sea, was a wave at least eight feet high and filling the whole river from bank to bank. It was not the least like a storm wave, for it was smooth as glass, but the pace at which it travelled was simply amazing. It came pretty nearly as fast as a horse could gallop. What made it all the more startling and even terrifying was the phosphorescence which tipped this wall of water with a rim of bluish light.

"I know," gasped Billy. "It's a bore—a tidal wave." It was the last thing he said for some time, for next instant the wave was upon them.

The boat rose until it absolutely stood on end, and the boys were forced to clutch at the thwarts to save themselves from being flung out backward. The last thing that Billy and Clem heard was a loud shout from Sam: "Hold to the boat! Hold tight!"


Illustration

"Hold to the boat! Hold tight!"


Then the heavy craft was literally up-ended. She capsized, and all the boys knew was that they were under water, and ripping through it at a fearful pace.

Half-choked, blinded, chilled to the marrow, Billy hung on like grim death, and just when he felt that he could cling no longer, suddenly found his head above water. "Clem!" he cried hoarsely. "Clem!"

"All right. I'm all right," came Clem's half-strangled reply, and there, to Billy's intense relief, he saw Clem clinging to the opposite side of the boat.

"Where's Sam?" was Billy's next question.

"Don't know. I say, he must have been swept off!"

That was clear enough, for there was no sign of him anywhere.

"Do you think he's drowned?" asked Billy in an awed voice.

"He swims like a fish," said Clem comfortingly. "I expect he'll get ashore. We weren't far off it when the wave caught us."

"And where are we going now?"

"Up to the head of the river by the look of it," said Clem grimly.

The wave was gone, or rather it was ahead of them, but the boat, and they with it, was travelling up the river with the speed of a steam-launch. Already the lights of the factory were a long way behind.

Presently Clem spoke again. "It's rotten, our not being able to swim," he grumbled.

"I'm jolly well going to learn," said Billy.

Clem did not answer. What he was wondering was whether he and Billy were ever going to have the chance.


VI. — NIGHT IN THE FOREST

ALL this time the boat had been going right up the middle of the river, but now they were coming to a bend, and suddenly she swung to one side. An eddy caught and spun her, and there was a bump which nearly shook the two boys from their hold. "We've struck something," cried Clem.

"I could have told you that," replied Billy dryly. "It's a log, a big dead tree. I've got hold of a branch. I believe I can shove her inshore."

The boat was heavy, and even under the bank the tide rip was strong, but Billy pulled with all his might, and Clem helped. Good feeding had made a wonderful lot of difference to the two, and they were twice the boys they had been a month ago. Gradually the heavy boat yielded to their combined strength, and swinging again, bumped into the bank, ramming her blunt bow deep into the earth. "It's all right, Clem," said Billy cheerfully. "I've got my feet on the bottom. It's firm sand. Come on!"

"Wait," said Clem. "We mustn't let the boat go."

"She won't move. She's jammed. Let's get out of the water. I'm nearly frozen."

They climbed out on to the bank. "It's fine to feel firm ground under one's feet," said Billy, as he stamped about to try and get the blood moving again. Though the night was not cold the water had been cruelly so, and both the boys were fairly numbed.

"And what do we do next?" asked Clem rather glumly, as he looked round at the huge trees towering toward the stars.

"Walk back to the landing quick as ever we can," answered Billy. "We've got to find out whether poor Sam is safe."

"There won't be any very quick moving in this wood," returned Clem. "Did you ever see anything so thick? It's more like a tropical jungle than anything else. I never thought for a minute we'd find anything like this so far north."

"It's different once you get across the coast ranges, Bart says," replied Billy; "but let's try what we can do. If we keep close to the river we can't lose our way. And anyhow, we shall get warm."

Billy never said a truer word, for very soon they were both simply dripping with perspiration. The going was awful, and the darkness made it fifty times worse. Billy had a torch, but the water had got into the battery and spoilt it. Their matches too were soaking, for they had not yet learned the trapper's trick of keeping them dry in a corked bottle. The steep bank was simply littered with fallen tree-trunks, some of enormous size, and all grown over with moss and long grass and bush of every sort, mostly prickly.

Some trunks were still sound, but most were perfectly rotten, so that when they stepped on them they crumbled to tinder and let them down into wet and slime. Add to this that the ground was full of deep cracks and rifts cut by winter storms, and broken by boulders and jutting crags, and you may begin to have some idea of the difficulties confronting the unlucky travellers.

"Don't wonder Joe Western said this brush was no place for tenderfeet," panted Billy as, for about the fifteenth time, he went blundering into a hidden pit. "I say, Clem, we'd better work uphill a little. It looks better than down here by the river."

Clem agreed, and they climbed the steep slope. Here the fallen trees were not quite so thick, but the undergrowth was thicker than ever.

Billy, who was leading, came to a steep place, slipped, and tried to save himself by clutching at a big, wide-leaved plant which stuck out dimly in front of him. Clem heard him give a sharp cry of pain, and caught him as he fell backward. "What's the matter?" he asked anxiously.

"Something bit me," replied Billy, in a voice hoarse with pain. "I—I'm afraid it was a snake."

For a moment Clem was so scared that his mouth went dry and he could not speak. But he quickly pulled himself together. "It can't be a snake, Billy. There are no poisonous snakes up here—not even rattlers. Bart told me so. You've been stung by something."

"It's something pretty poisonous, then," replied Billy, who was holding on tightly to his injured arm. "I say, Clem, it does hurt."

"Come down nearer the river. There's a bit more light there. Let's have a look at it."

Billy was quite sick and shivery with the pain, and Clem had to help him down the steep hillside. They found a little opening, but even there the light was very dim. Still, there was just enough for Clem to see a dark, inflamed patch on Billy's hand and wrist. "It's a sting of some sort," he said. "Like a nettle, Billy, only worse. Come on down to the water's edge and dip it in the water."

Billy did so, and after a bit the cold water took the worst of the pain away. But the arm was swollen and almost useless, and Clem had to help Billy along. So progress became slower than ever, and in the next half-hour they travelled only a few hundred yards.

"If Sam got ashore he'd have been back at the factory long ago," said Billy at last.

"Not if he'd landed in this sort of stuff, Billy," replied Clem, but all the same he was very uneasy. They struggled on a bit farther, then both came to a sudden stop.

"What's that?" whispered Billy sharply, pointing to two dots of green fire which glowed through the darkness a little way up the hill above them.

"A wild beast of some sort," answered Clem, in a voice which he found rather difficult to keep steady.

"A—and we've got no gun," said Billy. "What shall we do?"

"Yell at him," suggested Clem desperately.

The noise which the two boys made between them was enough to scare the hide off almost any inhabitant of the woods. At any rate, the owner of the eyes removed them and itself abruptly, but without the slightest sound of its going.

"I wonder if it was a panther," questioned Billy.

"Just a wild cat, I expect," replied Clem hopefully. "But I say, Billy, let's get down close to the river again. I do hate this wood."

"So do I," agreed Billy, and turned downhill again. When they got well down to the river's edge they found themselves on the top of a steep bluff ten or twelve feet high, which dropped to a beach of sand and shingle. At this time of year, well on in August, the June floods were long past, and the autumn rains had not begun. So the river was at its lowest. At low water there would have been plenty of room to walk along under the bluff, but now the flood tide was beginning to cover the little beaches.

Billy stopped and looked over. "If we got down there on the gravel, we could shove along quite fast," he said.

"We should go an awful purler if we tried to climb down that bluff," Clem objected. "Let's go a little farther and see if there's a way down." Billy agreed, and they pushed on slowly.

A little point of land ran out into the river, and crossing this, they saw below them quite a broad strip of almost level shingle. They saw something else too. A little farther on, a figure was standing on the beach in a queer crouching position, bending over the water and apparently trying to rake something out of the river with one hand. In the dim starlight it appeared to be a short, broadly built man. Billy clutched his brother's arm. "It's Sam," he whispered.

"I'm not so sure," said Clem. "He looks to me bigger than Sam."

"Yes, he does look a whacking big chap," admitted Billy. "Come a bit nearer, and let's see before we shout."

As they moved forward, the man by the water seemed to grow larger. He certainly was enormously broad. By this time the boys had had such a fright that they were both getting nervous. Though they would not confess it, they each had a sort of suspicion that this might be a wild Indian. They reached a point exactly above the spot where the queer-looking fellow was still groping in the water, and Clem, catching hold of a branch, bent forward to get a better view. There was a sharp crack, the bough broke short off, and Clem, losing his balance, toppled forward and fell right over the edge of the little bluff.

Billy saw him land with a thud on the shingle. As he did so, the figure by the water reared up sharply and whirled round, and Billy was nearly frantic when he saw its huge, shaggy shape. "A bear!" he gasped, and forgetful of his injured hand and the fact that he had no weapon—not even a knife—made a flying leap down to the beach to Clem's rescue.

It was a bigger drop than Billy had supposed, and he came down so heavily that he pitched face forward on the shingle and lay half stunned. When he recovered Clem was kneeling beside him, anxiously asking, "Billy, are you hurt?"

"N—no," gasped Billy. "I—I'm not hurt, b—but where's the bear?"

"Gone. When you came down flop, like that, he simply hooked it."

"Hooked it?" repeated Billy in a bewildered voice. "I—I thought bears were dangerous."

"This one wasn't. You wouldn't have believed that such a clumsy-looking brute could travel so fast. He simply vanished." He paused. "But, Billy, it was awfully decent of you to come to help me," he added.

"Fat lot of good I could have done!" returned Billy gruffly. "I haven't even got a knife."

"That don't matter," said Clem. "It was a jolly plucky thing to do."

"Shut up, Clem!" growled Billy. "We've got to get home."

"I'd like to know how," said Clem ruefully. "Now we've got down this bank, it's going to be a sweet job to climb up it again. And I'm just about fed up with that wood. I've a jolly good mind to camp here till daylight."

"Not good enough," replied Billy decidedly. "We're both as wet as can be, and we can't light a fire. We shall only get fever, or something nasty of that kind. Come on. It can't be very far."

Billy was so plucky that Clem felt a little ashamed. "Right you are," he said. "I'll give you a leg up."

Billy got to his feet. To say truth, he felt horribly shaky, and his arm was hurting abominably. But he set his teeth and vowed to himself that somehow they would get back.

Clem gave him a back, and he grabbed a branch and tried to scramble up the bluff. But the bough broke and let him down. He had another try, and this time got hold of a thick tuft of grass, only to have the whole thing come out by the roots and drop him once more to the shingle. "I've half a mind to do as you say and chuck it, Clem," he said at last. "There doesn't seem to be any foothold."

"We can't, Billy," replied Clem gravely.

"Why not, I should like to know?"

"Because the tide's still rising, and in about half an hour all this shingle will be under water."

"That settles it then," grumbled Billy. "You—" He stopped short and flung up one hand. "Listen!" he cried.

"Hi—yah! Hulloa!" The shout came ringing faintly up the river out of the darkness, and both boys spun round, and stared breathlessly in the direction from which the sound came.

"Hi—yah!" came the call again, and Clem managed to collect his scattered senses and answer. His ringing "Hulloa!" sent the echoes flying weirdly up the steep hillside among the giant trees.

"It's Bart," said Billy sharply. "What luck!" Then he too shouted at the top of his voice.

"That you, Billy?" came Bart's voice.

"Yes, and Clem," answered Billy. "Here we are—on the beach. Pull on. We're a good way up."

There was a splash of paddles, and soon a canoe paddled by two Indians came shooting up at a great pace. Billy thought that the sound of her bows grating on the shingle was the pleasantest he had ever heard.

"You all right?" questioned Bart as the boys came clambering in, and both of them could plainly hear the anxiety in his tone.

"Right as rain," answered Clem; "only Billy got stung by something. But Sam—is Sam safe?"

"Sam's all right. Trouble was, the tide swept him right across the other side of the river and it was an hour before anyone heard him shouting. Whar did you boys land up?"

They told him, while the two Indian paddlers drove the canoe swiftly back down the river. It was but a very few minutes before they were safe on the wharf again, where they were met by Joe Western. He took them straight to the house, and made them each take five grains of quinine, washed down by big mugs of steaming hot coffee. Then they had to tell their story all over again.

"Stung, was you?" said Joe. "No, it warn't no snake. I reckon it were that 'devil's club.' Let me see. Aye, that's it. Like nettle, only a sight worse, but I guess I got some stuff as'll take the pain out."

He went to a shelf, took down a bottle, and putting some of the contents on a rag, applied it to Billy's hand and arm.

"Why, it's wonderful!" exclaimed Billy. "It's taking all the pain away. But I say, I didn't tell you we met a bear."

"Met a bear!" repeated Joe. "What sort was he?"

"He didn't stop to tell us," answered Billy. "He simply cleared out."

Joe burst into a great laugh. "I reckon he was only a third- class bear," he chuckled. "But it might ha' been different ef you'd have met his big brother."

"Tell us," begged Billy.

"Not to-night, son. You get right to bed. I'll tell ye to- morrow, and mebbe I can show ye one in the daylight."


VII. — THE COMING OF THE STRANGER

"WHAT'S the barrel for?" demanded Billy. Joe Western and Bart, together with the two boys, were tramping up a steep, narrow trail through the woods on the day following their adventure on the river, and Joe was carrying on his great shoulder an empty molasses barrel.

Joe laughed. "All in good time, son. I'm a-going to try to show ye a bear."

That was all the boys could get out of him, and anyhow they had not much breath left for asking questions, for the path they were following was somewhat steeper than the roof of an average house. It wound up the hillside among trunks of trees which were the biggest that Clem and Billy had ever seen.

They were mostly Douglas fir, and towered fully two hundred feet toward the blue sky. Some of the stems were so huge that it would have taken five grown men to encircle them with outstretched arms.

What utterly amazed the boys was that now and then humming- birds flashed like living jewels above the tangled undergrowth, while other birds that looked like canaries flitted in front of them. And yet they were farther north than the most northern point of Scotland.

At last, very hot and very blown, they came to more open ground above the heaviest belt of forest.

"Guess I've carried this here barrel about far enough," remarked Joe, and dumped it down just on the edge of the steepest part of the slope and under cover of a low, spreading birch-tree. Then he walked straight on without offering any explanation. His long legs covered the ground at a great pace, and Clem and Billy were both grateful when at last he stopped close to a big tree, and pointed to the trunk.

"See anything, Billy?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Billy, staring with interest at the tree. "The bark's all torn."

"My word, that was a big one, Joe," said Bart.

"A big what?" asked Clem.

"A big bear, Clem."

"You don't tell me that was a bear?" exclaimed Clem. "Why, the bark's all torn up to a height of ten or eleven feet!"

"It was a bear all right, son," said Joe. "What I calls a first-class bear."

"It must be a giant," said Billy in an awed voice.

"A 'silver tip,'" explained Bart. "Grizzly's the name the books give him. We get 'em mighty big here. Some of 'em is as large as an ox, and a sight heavier."

The boys could not answer. They only stared at the clawed trunk.

"Then there's second-class bears," said Joe. "Them's the cinnamons, and cunning chaps they are. The third class is the brown bears, same as you met last night. But set yourselves down," he continued. "We'll rest awhile and eat our grub."

He took a great packet of sandwiches from his pocket. They were of baking-powder bread with cold fried bacon and mustard inside, and very good indeed. While they ate he told them more about bears. "The Injun calls the bear his brother," he said, "and there's one thing you boys got to remember. If you're in camp with Injuns, don't you go mentioning 'bear.' It ain't good manners, according to the Injun way of thinking. You can talk of 'Mister Fur-Jacket' or anything o' that sort, but don't say '‘bear.'"

"But if we meet a grizzly, what do we do?" asked Billy.

"Walk right on and don't take no notice. Onless he's mighty hungry or got het up about something, he ain't a-going to hurt you."

Billy stared. He had always supposed that wild beasts went for you on sight.

"Same with all the rest o' the wild things," continued Joe. "They won't meddle with man onless they're in bad need of food. Only don't you leave your stores unguarded, for that's Mister Bear's chance, and he'll eat 'em all."

He stopped, and the boys saw that he was listening keenly. Suddenly he jumped up. "I said I'd show you a bear. Come right along. But quiet now. Don't you make a noise. Watch where you set your feet."

It was the boys' first lesson in woodcraft, and neither had ever had a notion how difficult it was to walk quietly until they tried to imitate Bart and Joe Western.

Joe led straight back to the spot where they had left the sugar barrel, then motioned them to a hiding-place among some shrubs. He pointed, and through a little opening the boys saw the oddest sight imaginable. A bear, a great big beast that must have weighed four or five hundred pounds, was busy with the barrel. He had turned it over on its side, and was lying by it, with his head right inside, licking the sides of it. They could hear him smacking his lips and grunting delightedly. He was evidently enjoying himself hugely.

Gradually, as they watched, he worked farther and farther in until his head and shoulders and forepaws were all inside the barrel. A very tight fit it was, but Mister Bear didn't seem to care. He was having the time of his life.

Now the barrel, as has been mentioned, had been left on a little ledge with a very steep slope below it. The bear, in his efforts to get the last lick of molasses from the bottom, had at last wedged half his body into the barrel, and in doing so had managed to turn the barrel right round, so that the butt of it projected over the lower side of the ledge. But he, of course, could not see his danger.

Suddenly the barrel went over the edge. Poor bear was far too tightly packed inside it to get out in time, and he went with it. Next instant barrel and bear were rolling downhill, spinning like a Catherine-wheel.

"Oh, he'll be killed!" cried Billy, jumping up.

Joe Western burst into a great roar of laughter. "Did you ever see the like of that, Bart?" he asked.

Bart's face was one great grin. "I never did, Joe. Say, let's see where he lands up."

Next minute all four were running helter-skelter down the hill in track of barrel and bear. For a wonder, this part of the slope, though steep, was fairly smooth, and they were just in time to see bear and barrel strike a patch of scrub fifty feet below and go through it like a shell.

"Gee, but old bear must be getting dizzy!" chuckled Bart as he went striding down the hillside. "Billy," he shouted, "don't you go too fur ahead. That beast'll be madder than a burnt cat when he gets loose again."

Billy didn't hear. He was ever so far ahead, racing along, jumping everything in his path. Clem was close behind him. Below the scrub was another sharp descent, ending in a sheer drop of ten or fifteen feet. The barrel and the bear whirled down the steep at dizzy speed.

"Clem, he'll be killed!" shrieked Billy as he saw the barrel whizzing toward the edge of the drop.

"So will you, if you don't stop!" yelled back Clem, flinging himself flat on the ground.

Billy would never have been able to stop if it had not been for a small tree which he was able to grab hold of. The barrel reached the edge of the little cliff, hurtled through the air, fell with a crash upon the hard ground fifty feet away, and instantly went to splinters. Staves flew in every direction, forming a sort of rainbow round the unfortunate bear.

Billy, gazing with all his eyes, was amazed to see the bear pick himself up and stand, shaking his head in a muddled sort of fashion, yet seemingly very little the worse.

"Lie down, Billy!" came Bart's voice behind him, curt and sharp, and Billy dropped like a flash. "He's mad as a hornet," muttered Bart. "He'll go fer anything as moves."

And just then something did move. Out of the trees, not twenty yards below where the bear was standing, a man appeared—a white man who wore knee-boots, blue jeans, and a dark blue flannel shirt.

"Look out!" yelled Bart.

It was too late. With a deep, rumbling growl, the bear lowered his pig-like head, and charged straight at the stranger. The stranger turned and ran for dear life. He was a long, lanky fellow of at least six feet, and the pace he made was surprising. So was that of the bear. You would never have believed that so clumsy-looking a beast could have gone so fast.

Clem and Billy stood at the top of the little cliff and stared. For the moment they were too surprised to do anything else. It was Bart who roused them from their trance. "The blamed fool! He'll be mauled!" he snapped out, and down he went over the ledge, climbing like a cat in spite of his heavy build.

Joe Western followed, and the boys were nearly as quick.

By this time the long man and the bear were both out of sight among the trees, but the others could still hear the crashing of heavy bodies through the undergrowth. Suddenly the sound ceased, but was followed by a terrifying growl from the bear.

"By gum, the brute's got him!" panted Joe Western, tearing onward at top speed. It was all that the two boys could do to keep up. All together, the four burst through the trees into another open space. The first thing they saw was the bear's hindquarters disappearing among the lower boughs of a small cedar, while up above the branches were being violently shaken.

Bart stopped short. "Treed!" he cried, and a broad grin spread over his jolly face.

"B—but the bear will catch him," gasped Billy, as he caught a glimpse of the long man going up through the branches at the rate of many knots.

Bart, however, did not seem seriously disturbed. "Guess there ain't much danger," he observed. "That there's no bear tree."

Clem look puzzled, but Billy's quick wits grasped Bart's meaning. "It's not big enough for the bear, Clem," he said. "The branches won't hold him very far up."

Sure enough, the bear, which was very fat and must have weighed all of five hundred pounds, had already reached a point where his weight was making the whole tree sag. It was quite a small tree, and under the combined weight of man and bear was beginning to bend right over. Quite near the top, the long man was clinging to the trunk, both legs and one arm wrapped tightly around it. He was scared to death and very angry, and the expression on his lantern-jawed face was so funny that the boys could hardly help laughing.

"But what are we going to do about it, Bart?" asked Clem. "It's all very well to laugh, but that beast is jolly near him. Look at him, reaching up with those great claws of his!"

"Help!" roared the man in the tree. "Don't stand there, a- laughing like ijiots! Shoot him, why don't ye?" As he spoke the bear made a blow at him with one great paw, but could not quite reach, and the stranger scrambled wildly another two feet higher, then stuck fast among the small twigs. The tree bent like a fishing-rod.

"Guess we'll hev to shoot him, Bart," said Joe Western, as he pulled a long-barrelled pistol from the holster he wore at his belt.

"Don't you do it!" cried Bart. But he spoke too late. Joe's action in pulling the pistol and firing was all one—so quick that the gun was hardly out of its holster before the sharp crack of the report went echoing all down the hillside.

The bear, shot clean through the head, released its hold, and fell like a sack, crashing through the thick branches. All in a flash the boys realized why Bart had shouted, for the tree, relieved of the ponderous weight of the great beast, shot up like an uncoiled spring, and with such force that the long man was torn from his hold and flung into mid-air as if shot from a catapult.

"Ow!" His terrified yell rang through the warm air; then he vanished into a thick patch of scrub.

"That was a fool trick, Joe," said Bart, as he ran forward. "He'll be lucky if he ain't as dead as the bear."

Billy was the first to reach the spot where the stranger had fallen, and plunged into the thicket. "It's all right," he cried shrilly. "He's fallen in a mud-hole. He's not dead."

"Then he ought to be mighty grateful," said Bart dryly.

But the long man was not grateful at all. On the contrary, he was very angry indeed, and the language he used was not pretty or nice. Indeed, it was so bad that Bart shut him up pretty roughly. "You'd ought to be thanking your stars as you're alive instead o' cussing like that," he said, and the boys had never yet heard their friend speak so sternly.

The other shut up, but for a time was very sulky. It was not until they were nearly back at the landing that he recovered his temper and began to explain who he was and where he came from.


VIII. — THE DEATH SLIDE

"MY name is Pelly," he said. "Ed Pelly, come down from Juneau in a dug-out. Jest landed a couple o' hours ago. Thet little Jap feller o' yours, he told me I'd find you up the hill, so I walked up arter you. But I didn't reckon as I'd meet up with that there dratted bear it a-rolling down the mountain like a pea in a drum."

He paused. Clem and Billy were aching to ask him what he had come for, but they had been in the North-West just long enough to know that it is the height of bad manners to ask personal questions.

Joe Western spoke. "You looking for a job?" he asked politely.

"No, sir. I got my job fixed. I'm a prospector, and a chap in Dawson told me as there's good gold in the ranges beyond the Liard. I got my grub stake, and I reckon to go up the river and get fixed on the ground before the freeze-up."

"Why, we're going up the river!" broke in Billy.

Pelly looked at him with interest. "Is that so? And when were you reckoning to start?"

"As soon as we can get Indians," replied Billy.

"Wal now, I got two Injuns," said Pelly, and turned to Bart. "Mebbe we could fix to join up fer the trip?"

"Mebbe we could. I'll let ye know," replied Bart, but though his tone was perfectly polite, it was not by any means cordial. Billy felt somewhat snubbed, and said no more.

They took Pelly to the house, and while Joe gave him food and drink, Bart took the boys out again. "Guess we better go and skin that bear," he said. "It'll be about all we can do before dark."

As they toiled up the hill again Clem and Billy noticed that Bart was even more silent than usual. They wondered what he was thinking about, but he gave no sign. When they got near the spot where the dead bear lay, Bart stopped short. "Seems someone has got ahead of us," he said dryly.

Sure enough, a man was squatting beside the carcass, and as he rose to his feet they saw he was an Indian. He was rather short, squarely built, and wore a pair of cheap store trousers and a flannel shirt. Yet Bart looked at him with interest. "A Stick Injun!" he remarked. "Comes from the inside country," he explained.

The Indian saluted them gravely. "Klahowya!" he said.

Bart answered with another word, "Tillicum!" and there was an almost pleased expression on the Indian's wooden face.

"Me Ahkim," he said. Then, pointing to the bear, "Hyas bear," he observed.

"Hyas fat," Bart agreed. "We want um skin. You take um fat and sinews."

The Indian actually smiled, but as Bart afterward told the boys, the Indian loves nothing better than bear-fat, while he uses the sinews for a dozen purposes. In a trice he was busy skinning the bear; when this was done, the four, between them, roped the carcass and hoisted it into a tree out of reach of wolves and foxes.

With the skin on his head, the Indian followed them down the hill, and on the way he and Bart talked, but the boys could not understand much of what was said. Bart, however, seemed pleased, and when they got back he told the boys why. "He's a-going up the river. He'll come with us. If we can get one more man I guess we shall do."

"Pelly has two," said Billy. "If we join forces, shan't we be all right?"

Bart frowned slightly. "Guess I don't know a lot about Pelly," he said briefly. And for all the rest of the evening he remained curiously silent.

Early next morning Clem and Billy were down by the river examining Pelly's dug-out when its owner came behind them. "She's a real good boat," he said, "but a mite too heavy for river work. I'm reckoning to trade her with one o' the Injuns fer a bark canoe."

He pointed out the difference between his boat, which was hollowed out of a single great log, and the light birch barks used for river work. They chatted a while; then Pelly said suddenly, "Say, I wish you boys was going along with me."

"I wish we were," replied Billy.

Pelly laughed, then shrugged his shoulders. "Your boss, Mr Condon, he don't seem to trust me. Not as I blame him. He don't know nothing about me, and up here folk don't carry testimonials around in their wallets."

Not quite knowing what to say, the boys remained silent.

Pelly changed the subject. "Say, now, how'd ye like to go hunting with me to-day? I got to get some meat fer my Injuns afore starting, and I was reckoning to shoot a moose or mebbe a sheep. They do say there's plenty up the mountain."

"Oh, let's go, Clem!" cried Billy.

"We must ask Bart first," replied Clem.

"Yes, you jest go along and ask him, then we'll start right off," said Pelly.

But Bart was not in the house. He and Joe had gone out together, and Sam did not know where they were.

"He won't mind, Clem," said Billy.

Clem looked doubtful. "Bart doesn't cotton to Pelly," he answered.

"He doesn't want to travel with him. That's all. You see, Clem, Bart won't tell even us where he's going to, and that's why he doesn't want anyone else with him."

Clem grunted. He was not sure that he himself quite liked Pelly. But he thought there could be no harm in going out for one day with the man; so after first leaving word with Sam, and getting some sandwiches, they started.

Pelly took them straight up the mountain, and by eleven o'clock they were far above the timber, with the snow-line less than a mile away. The river was a mere thread three thousand feet below, the sea a flat blue plain, and the breeze had a winter edge as it blew above them. Still, they kept on until the snow was crunching under their boots.

"My goodness, Clem, this is a bit of a change!" said Billy.

Pelly swung round. "Hush, there! Don't either of ye speak above a whisper," he ordered curtly. "Jest foller me." They did, and presently realized that Pelly was following a trail. The prints of small hoofs were plainly visible in the dazzling snow.

The slope grew steeper. It was difficult to keep their feet. Presently they rounded a shoulder of the mountain, and both stopped short. Before them was a snow-slope steep as the roof of a house and blindingly white in the sun's blaze. It stretched down for four or five hundred feet, then broke off into a terrific precipice. So steep was it, so smooth, that it did not seem possible that anything on foot could cross it. Yet there, plain to see, ran the sharp prints of the mountain-sheep.

Pelly looked at the boys and grinned. Clem did not like the grin. "Skeered?" asked the man with a sort of half-taunt in his voice.

"Yes, a bit," replied Clem, and it took more pluck to acknowledge that he was afraid than to tell a lie and say he was not.

"Wal, I don't know as I blame ye," said Pelly. "But ef I'm a- going to get that sheep, I got to foller him. Yew better go right back an' wait fer me behind them rocks."

Billy broke in sharply. "No, we can go where you do, can't we, Clem?"

Clem nodded, and they followed. The snow seemed dreadfully loose, and Clem's heart was in his mouth as he picked his way across it. He could not help thinking what would happen if the snow started to slide. The only thing that comforted him was that here and there a jag of black rock jutted out through the dazzling surface.

Suddenly Pelly raised his hand and motioned them to stop. He pointed, and high above them they saw a brown creature with great curved horns standing upon a crag. Pelly raised his rifle, aimed carefully, fired, and the ‘big 'horn' toppled over and fell with a thud from its lofty perch. It landed upon the slope and came rolling down, and as it came the snow began to move. Pelly's face went like chalk. "Look out!" he gasped, and made one wild rush toward the nearest rock, leaving the boys behind him to fend for themselves.


IX. — THE LAST REFUGE

PELLY reached the projecting rock in safety, but before Clem and Billy could do the same the snow they were standing on had begun to move. Both struggled desperately and for a few moments gained upon the slowly sliding sheet.

Billy, who was just ahead of his brother, got to within a yard or so of the rock. "Give me a hand," he shouted to Pelly, but Pelly, clinging with both hands to the spike of rock, was so slow about it that before Billy could grasp his outstretched hand the sliding snow had carried him out of reach.

Still, he and Clem fought hard to reach safety, but all in vain. The pace of the snow-slide was increasing every moment, and to fight it was like trying to climb a treadmill which turns under your weight at every step.

"It's no use, Billy," panted Clem. "There's another rock. Try for that." He pointed as he spoke to a second crag, which rose black against the creeping white sheet. It was lower down than the one Pelly had reached, but farther away.

"Right!" answered Billy, and he made a fresh dash.

But the snow was slipping faster and faster. The whole great sheet, two hundred yards or more in width, was sliding rapidly downward, and long before the boys could reach the other place of refuge they were carried helplessly past it.

Billy looked down toward the edge of the precipice, over which the snow was already pouring like a river over a great fall, and his very heart froze as he thought of the appalling drop that awaited him and Clem. He could hear the roar of the avalanche, like distant thunder.

Clem slipped and fell, but Billy jerked him to his feet again. "One more try, old chap," he said hoarsely. "Our only chance is to go across, not against it. Look! There's one more rock showing below us."

Clem merely nodded. He was too blown to speak, and, holding each other's hands, he and Billy made a last attempt to save themselves. The snow was rising in waves, and the little peak of rock which was all that stood between them and a terrible death was almost hidden by the white masses which surged over it.

The roar of the fall was now deafening. It seemed that half the mountain-side was peeling off and dropping into the abyss. Yet Billy kept his eyes fixed upon the rock that was their last chance, and somehow he and Clem fought their way across the great snow-slide toward it. They were just above it, when a snow-wave caught them and swept them off their feet. But it did not break their hold one of the other, and the next thing they knew was that they had been carried right across the rock, one on one side, one on the other.

"Hold on!" shrieked Billy as he felt the strain. The snow surged over them like water. It seemed to grasp them with icy hands and try to drag them from their hold. It covered their heads and blinded them. The weight of it was so great that they felt as though their arms were being torn from their sockets.

Yet, since both knew that to let go meant certain death, somehow they managed to cling, and after what seemed an age, but was really only a couple of minutes, the strain lessened, and they were able to draw themselves up and then get hold of the rock itself.

"Never—thought—I—could—do—it," croaked Billy. Clem did not answer at once. He was looking round. The rock which had saved them was within five yards of the edge of the precipice, a sheer drop of such depth that the great trees below looked like toys out of a child's Noah's ark. On either side of the rock was glare ice swept perfectly smooth by the rush of the avalanche. He shivered. "How are we going to get out of it?" he asked in a low voice.

Billy whistled softly. "It's going to be a job," he admitted. "Pelly hasn't got a rope, so I don't know what we shall do."

"You kids all right?" came Pelly's voice from above, and looking up the slope the boys saw that he had managed to cross the narrow strip of ice that separated him from the edge of the slide, and was standing in safety on a ledge beyond.

"We're alive," replied Clem rather dryly. "But it would be stretching it a bit to say we are all right. Can you help us off this rock?"

"Not without a rope," answered Pelly.

"Do you mean you'll have to go all the way to camp for one?" asked Billy sharply.

"That's about the size of it," Pelly replied.

"Then for goodness' sake be quick," said Billy. "This isn't the healthiest place to spend the night."

"Serves you right fer not keeping your eyes open," growled Pelly. "You'd ought to hev been watching out fer the snow moving."

Clem spoke up, and his voice was sharp. "Seeing it was you who started it, I don't think you need blame us," he answered.

Pelly scowled. "You keep a civil tongue in your head," he retorted, "or mebbe I'll leave ye there longer than ye like."

Clem was going to answer back, but Billy pinched his arm. "Shut up, Clem! No good making him in a wax," he whispered.

"I'll be back some time," said Pelly sourly, and, turning, began to climb the mountain, for in order to get back to the harbour he had to go right round the top of the broad ravine where the slide had taken place. The boys watched him, and it was nearly half an hour before he was out of sight.

Clem shivered. "It's horribly cold, Billy," he said.

"It's not what you'd call warm," allowed Billy. "I've got about five pounds weight of snow down my back, and it's melting slowly."

Clem shivered again. "So have I. My clothes are full of it. I say, we're dreadfully near the edge."

"Don't look down!" said Billy sharply. "It's enough to make a squirrel giddy."

The day was drawing on, and as the sun sank lower the breeze, always keen at this height, gained a sharper edge. Clem's teeth were chattering, and as for Billy, he felt his legs and arms growing numb. His hands were becoming like lumps of ice, and the unpleasant thought came to him that if help did not reach them soon they would get so chilled that they would be unable to hold on to the rope. The same thought had evidently occurred to Clem, for presently he asked, "How long do you think Pelly will be, Billy?"

"Well, we took three hours to climb up here. Even if he hurries I don't suppose he can be back in less than four or five hours."

Clem looked straight into his brother's eyes. "Then it won't be much use to us, Billy," he answered quietly.

"Keep your tail up, old man," said Billy.

"I'm not particularly scared, if that's what you mean," Clem answered. "I mean I'm not afraid of dying. All the same, it seems rather rough to be wiped out just as we are beginning to enjoy life."

Billy looked at the ice on either side. "I wonder if we could cut steps," he suggested.

"Yes, if we had an axe," answered Clem.

"I've got my big clasp-knife," said Billy.

"You'd never do it with that, old chap," Clem told him.

"Then I'll tell you what we will do, Clem," said billy. "We'll cut a hole big enough to hold us and keep us from slipping. The work will keep us warm, too."

"Right-o!" replied Clem. "I'll help."

Both got out their knives and set to work. It was a slow job, for each could use only one hand. With the other he had to hold on to the rock. Still, the hole grew slowly, and, as Billy had said, the work kept them from absolutely freezing.

Each bit of ice, as they cut it away, slid rustling down the steep slope and dropped over the tremendous cliff beyond. And all the time the shadows were lengthening, and the wind which came down from the great snow-fields above grew colder and colder.

They had made a hole more than a foot deep and big enough to hold them both, when suddenly a loud shout echoed across the mountainside, making them both start violently. They looked up and saw two men coming rapidly across the snow toward them. Billy gave a yell of delight. "It's Bart! Bart and Ahkim!"

"We're all right, Bart!" he shouted at the top of his voice. "Have you got a rope?"

"I got a rope all right," answered Bart. "Hang on till we come across. We won't be long."


X. — INTO THE UNKNOWN

BART was always better at doing things than at talking about them, and in an astonishingly short time he was round the head of the slide and on the side of it closest to the boys. The rope whizzed through the air, and at the first cast dropped clean across the rock.

Billy caught it. "You first, Clem," he said, and though Clem protested Billy insisted.

Clem was hauled across the smooth ice in a twinkling. Then came Billy's turn, and in a very short time both were safe on the rocks beyond the slide. The first thing Bart did was to give each of them a nip of brandy and water. Then he examined their fingers and ears. "Mighty good job neither of you's froze," he remarked curtly. "How the mischief did ye come to get in such a fix?"

"Didn't Pelly tell you?" asked Billy quickly.

"Pelly? I ain't seed him," was the astonishing answer.

"Surely you met him on your way up!" exclaimed Billy. "He went to fetch a rope."

"Mebbe he did, but we didn't see him. I brought the rope because no one but a born ijiot or a tenderfoot would come a- climbing up in a place like this without one."

Billy felt snubbed, and stayed quiet.

"You ain't told me how you got here yet?" continued Bart.

Clem explained, and Bart's square face hardened as he listened.

"You mean to say as Pelly was in the middle o' this here snow- slope when he shot at the sheep?" he demanded. Clem said that was the fact.

"Then he must be plumb crazy," retorted Bart. "I reckon I'm a- going to tell him so when I sees him. But come on. It's a-getting late, and we got a long ways to go."

It was a long way, and the boys were pretty tired before they came in sight of the cannery. They were also much puzzled because they had seen nothing of Pelly on the way. Reaching the house, Bart flung open the door and marched into the living-room, where Joe Western was sitting waiting for supper. "Joe, where's Pelly?" demanded Bart.

"I ain't seed him, Bart," Joe answered.

Bart's lips tightened, and turning, he went straight out of the house and hurried down to the wharf. He was back inside a couple of minutes. "I thought as much," he said grimly. "He's gone."

"Gone!" repeated Joe.

"Aye, him and his Injuns. They've took their canoe and I reckon gone right up the river."

Clem and Billy simply stared. They could make nothing of it.

"But he went for a rope, Bart!" Billy managed to get out. "Surely you don't mean that he would have gone away and left us to freeze to death on that ledge? Why, it would have been murder!"

Bart shook his head slowly. "I ain't going to accuse any man of a thing like that," he said. "Likely, he may have seed me and Ahkim a-going up the hill to look fer you boys, and so knowed it was all right. I hopes he did." He paused, and his expression grew grimmer than ever. "But I'll tell you boys right now that Ed Pelly's a bad one."

Billy's eyes widened. "How do you mean, Bart?" he asked.

"I mean as he's a friend o' Gurney and Craze, and that he've been acting as spy for them."

"How do you know that?" questioned Clem.

"Ahkim told me. Seems he seed Pelly up to Juneau last year along with them two. So fur as I can judge, they got word to him off the steamer to come down and try to go along with us, him leaving a trail so they could follow."

"Then why didn't he go along with you?" put in Joe Western.

"Because I wasn't fer it. I never did cotton to him, and last night, when he put it to me to come along, I turned him down."

The two boys looked at one another. Both had a sudden chill, uncomfortable feeling. They had begun to see that there was more behind this expedition of theirs than they had hitherto realized.

"I wish you'd have told me about that this morning, Bart," said Joe Western slowly.

"I wish I had," admitted Bart. "But it's too late now to be sorry. Only thing to do is to get off as quick as may be and try to beat Pelly up the river."

"But I thought you said we couldn't go without Indians?" said Billy.

"Injuns is all right. Ahkim's brother Passuk is a-coming along. He's here right now. Ef you kin fit us out with a canoe and grub, Joe, I reckon we'll move at sun-up in the morning."

Joe nodded slowly. "I can fix you. Now you three have your supper and get right to bed. I'll have all ready for you before morning."

The Chinese cook had already brought in supper, and they sat down to it. In spite of their worries the boys were sharp set, and they did justice to the hot bread, fried bacon, and big dish of stewed fruit. Bart ate well too, but he was very silent. When they had finished, Billy ventured a question. "Bart, I don't quite see what good it will do Pelly to get ahead of us. If he's on in front, he can't be tracking us."

Bart smiled faintly. "That's a fact, Billy, but the trouble is you can't tell what devilment he'll be up to. F'r instance, he might throw trees across the river or raise the Injuns on us. Ye see, he knows we got to go up the river. And even if he don't try tricks like that, then mebbe he'll hide up somewheres in the ranges and watch which way we're a-going. Guess you knows by this time we don't want to be follered."

Billy nodded. "Thank you, Bart. I understand better now, and I see that we must get ahead."

"That's it, son," said Bart. "But mind ye, it means mighty hard travelling, fer Pelly's got a real light canoe, and he and his Injuns is good paddlers. We'll need a big craft fer the five of us, and it's going to be days afore you and Clem can do your whack at paddling with the rest."

Billy did not answer. Since his arrival in this far northern country he had begun to realize that a chechahco, or tenderfoot, however willing, is precious little use.

"And now you go right to your bunks," said Bart. "And make the most of 'em," he added dryly, "fer it's going to be a mighty long while before the next time you sleeps in a bed."

Next day the dawn had not yet greyed the sky when the boys were called from their bunks. Breakfast was ready as soon as they were, and it seemed that they were hardly awake before they were on the wharf.

Below lay a long, narrow canoe. It was Joe's best, but given unhesitatingly to his friend. In it were the stores, well lashed and packed, and in it sat the two Indians, Ahkim and his brother Passuk, paddles in band, their broad faces stolid as if carved in wood.

"Good-bye, Bart," said Joe. "Good-bye, lads, and the best of luck to ye." Then they were all three in the canoe, and had cast off.

The tide was racing upstream, and driven by the Indians' paddles the canoe shot away at great speed. Looking back, the boys saw Joe Western's tall figure looming through the morning mist. He waved his hand. Then they whirled round a bend, and lost sight of him and of the cannery. The journey had started in earnest, and they were off into the unknown.


XI. — THE FALL OF THE GLACIER

FOR the first three hours the voyage was a swift and easy one; then they came to the head of the tidal water, and found the current against them. The boys noticed that the Indians at once drove in close to the bank so as to dodge the full force of the stream.

As for themselves, they were so taken up with gazing at the amazing scenery that they had eyes for little else. With every mile the mountains gained in size and majesty, and, high against the blue, vast snow-clad peaks shot up in every direction like sugar-loaves. Just at the head of the tidal water they saw their first glacier, a cliff of blue ice two hundred feet high, from the base of which a torrent roared, white as chalk.

But presently Bart set them to paddling. "You got to learn sooner or later," he told them. "And I guess you won't get no better teachers than Ahkim here and Passuk."

At first the boys did more harm than good, but Billy soon got the hang of it. Clem was slower. Clem did not learn quickly, but once he did learn he never forgot.

They stopped for dinner where a big point of smooth rock ran out into the river. Ahkim speared a salmon, and Bart showed the boys how to split, clean, and grill it over hot coals.

An hour's rest, then on again. The river was getting swifter all the time, and about four o'clock they came to a place where it narrowed between towering cliffs of black rock. From the dark recesses of the cañon came a hoarse, terrifying roar. The canoe rounded a curve, and the boys saw the river, heaped up in white foam, thundering down in a terrifying rapid.

Billy gasped. "I say, have we got to go up there?" he exclaimed.

A slow smile spread over Bart's face. "Onless ye goes round," he answered. "Shucks, Billy, you'll see worse'n that afore you're a lot older. Ship your paddle, son. Me and the Injuns'll handle her."

The cañon curved so much that the river struck the left-hand cliff. It struck the cliff with such force that it was actually heaped against it in great leaping waves.

Ahkim and his brother drove the canoe to the right, and began edging up with short, sharp strokes. Bart, in the stern, did the steering. The roar was appalling. The boys sat stock still. They were both pretty badly scared, but even more frightened of letting the Indians see that they were scared.

Yard by yard the canoe was worked up close under the cliff, until it reached a spot where the cañon made a snake-bend. Here was a bit of slack water, and the Indians held the canoe a few moments while they recovered breath.

Bart gave a sudden sharp order, the paddles dipped, and suddenly the canoe was shooting right through the central rush. Spray flew in sheets, the light craft quivered like a living thing in pain, and for a few seconds the boys were convinced that she must be swamped or battered to pieces. Then, almost before they knew it, she was close under the opposite cliff, and again edging steadily onward.

At the second curve the same manoeuvre was repeated, and presently, very wet, but quite safe, they were out of the rapid and the cañon.

They passed no more rapids that evening, and just at dusk made camp on a sandy beach. Before the light failed Bart walked the whole length of this beach, and the boys saw that he was closely examining the ground.

"Seeing if Pelly camped here?" suggested Billy.

"Jest so," answered Bart; "but since I don't see no signs I reckon he's gone farther." He paused and shrugged his big shoulders. "But who's to say? It's like hunting fer a needle in a haystack. Fer all I knows, we've passed him and left him hid up in the woods. Anyways, we'll hev to set a watch to-night."

Since the Indians could not be trusted to watch, the boys took their turn with Bart. But there was no sign of Pelly, and in the morning they were off again as soon as it was light enough to see. Clem and Billy ached in every muscle from the hard paddling of the previous day, but this soon passed off, and the air was so fresh and the scenery so glorious that, in spite of their anxieties, they enjoyed every minute of it.

Each curve of the river showed new marvels—terrific cliffs, fantastic rocks, giant glaciers, and everywhere wild life. Twice they saw bears fishing for salmon, and once a giant moose drinking at the waterside. There were quantities of birds and beautiful butterflies.

Rapids added to the thrill of it all. Sometimes they had to paddle, but where there was any sort of beach they 'tracked'—that # is, towed the canoe up with a rope, while either Bart or one of the Indians steered her. And always, as Billy noticed, Bart's eyes were on the banks, and he knew that he was looking for signs of Pelly.

But there was not a trace of him or his canoe, and at the end of three days' travel, when they camped, Bart told them straight out, "I guess we've passed him. He's seed us coming and hid his canoe somewhere in the woods."

Two more days passed, and on the fourth morning they started as usual at dawn and found the travelling easier. The river was deeper and not so swift. Just before midday, as they paddled up a long, smooth stretch, a sound like distant thunder came booming through the sunlit air.

It was so heavy that they could actually feel its vibrations. Everything seemed to quiver. It was followed by several other crashes, which lasted in all for a minute or more.

"My goodness, it sounds as if a mountain had fallen down!" exclaimed Billy.

Bart nodded. "You ain't a lot out, Billy. Only I guess it's an ice mountain."

"A glacier, you mean?" asked Billy quickly.

"Jest so," replied Bart calmly.

"One of those we passed this morning?" questioned Clem.

"I reckon so. The ice gets rotten with the sun this time o' year. I've seed a chunk big enough to fill this here valley fall off right in one piece."

"I wish we'd seen it," said Billy eagerly.

Bart chuckled. "Jest as well ye didn't, sonny. A fall like that'll make a wind as will blow away a forest jest like so much straw. I tell ye, a avalanche is a mighty good thing to give a miss to."

The thundering echoes died away, and before they had gone far a new excitement made the boys forget all about the fall. Ahkim, who had been staring at the hillside to the left, pointed. "Him caribou," he grunted, and, looking up, the boys saw a number of reindeer grazing high up on a mountain meadow.

Bart put his field-glasses to his eyes. "Good chance to get some meat," he said, and without a word the Indians drove the canoe toward the beach. Tingling with excitement, the boys jumped ashore.

Bart considered a moment. "Guess we'll need the Injuns," he said. "See here, Ahkim, pull the canoe out and cache her. No use to take any risks."

Ahkim, who rarely spoke, merely nodded, and he and Passuk dragged the canoe into a little backwater and cut branches, which they piled over her, hiding her completely. Then all five started up the hill in pursuit of the caribou.

The distance was much greater than the boys had imagined, and it was more than three hours before they managed to get close enough for a shot. Then Bart fired, and one of the caribou rolled over, stone dead.

While the Indians cut up the carcass Bart and the boys sat resting. It was getting late before they were ready to make their way back downhill. "Grilled venison for supper!" said Billy, smacking his lips. Just then they passed through some thick trees and came out upon a broad open space from which they got a view of the river.

All three pulled up short, staring wide-eyed at the extraordinary change which had taken place during their absence. For instead of the swiftly flowing stream which they had left some four or five hours earlier, there was now a broad, still lake.

Clem turned to Bart. "What's it mean? What has happened?" he demanded sharply.

Bart's face was graver than the boys had ever seen it. "It's that there fall," he answered. "The glacier's fell into the river somewheres below, and dammed her. And, boys, where do you reckon the canoe's gone by now?"


XII. — BILLY'S FIND

HOW they ever got down the rest of the slope neither of the boys ever remembered. It was one wild rush through bog and brake, leaping over great logs and rocks, taking all sorts of risks and chances.

All three were breathless and dripping with perspiration by the time they reached the water's edge, and stood staring out across a wide lagoon, the edges of which were lapping high among the grass and trees of the forest.

"Worse'n I thought," the boys heard Bart mutter under his breath, and the look on his face frightened them. He began to move along the bank, searching the water with his eyes.

Billy turned to Clem. "Where do you suppose the canoe is?" he asked in a low voice.

"Goodness knows, Billy," replied Clem. "The little creek we hid her in has simply vanished altogether."

"She must have drifted out, unless she sank at her moorings," said Billy.

"That's what I'm afraid of—that she's sunk," said Clem. "With all those branches over her, she'd hardly float."

"Then that means she's at the bottom with all our stores," said Billy hoarsely.

"That's about the size of it," replied Clem.

"But Bart seems to think she may have floated," insisted Billy.

"If she has, it's all odds against our finding her," answered Clem.

"Oh, don't be such a Jonah!" cried Billy almost angrily.

"I'm not, Billy. We've got to face it, and the sooner we do so the better for us. If we've lost our canoe and stores, we can't go on. That's flat."

Presently Bart came back to them. "She's gone, boys," he said gravely. "There ain't a sign of her nowheres."

"Does that mean we've got to go back, Bart?" asked Billy, straight out.

There was a strange look in Bart's kindly eyes, a look which somehow frightened Billy. "How do you reckon we're a-going to get back?" he asked quietly.

"Why—why—we might make a raft," suggested Billy.

Bart shook his head. "We ain't got a axe left, son."

Billy gasped as if some one had thrown a bucket of cold water over him. He was realizing that as yet he had hardly begun to understand the terrible nature of the misfortune which had overtaken them.

"Besides," said Bart, "there's a mountain o' ice atween us and the mouth o' the river. How are ye going to get your raft over that?"

Billy was silent. He could find nothing to say.

It was Clem who spoke next. "Bart, I've read of things of this sort before. There's a story of a glacier that fell in Switzerland a great many years ago and blocked a river called the Ranz. The water went on piling up behind the ice till at last the weight of it broke the dam. Then, of course, all the lake went out in one big rush and left the river running again."

Bart nodded. "That's good sense," he said, "and I guess that's what may happen right here. But ye can't say for sure. It may be weeks afore the weight o' water is big enough to break through the ice-fall, and the freeze-up may come afore that happens; and, anyways, how do you reckon we're to five till the water goes out?"

"We've got our rifles," replied Clem simply. "And we've some meat and matches."

Bart brought his great hand down on Clem's shoulder, and for the first time since they had realized their misfortune there was a ghost of a smile in his grey eyes.

"Sonny, you're right. That's the proper spirit in which to look at this here job. I guess we've still got something to be thankful for. Anyways, let's get busy before it's dark and make a camp o' some sort."

Clem flushed with pleasure, for praise from Bart was worth hearing. Then they all set to work to make camp. The tent was gone, but that didn't matter much, for the nights were not yet cold. They picked a place high above the rising water, lit a good fire, cut hemlock-branches for beds, and presently were seated around the fire in the dusk with the appetizing smell of grilled venison in their nostrils. It was not pleasant to do without bread or salt, but no one complained, and anyhow they were hungry enough to eat anything.

Billy, who had been silent for some time, suddenly spoke. "Bart, do you think Pelly had anything to do with this business?"

"What—the ice-fall, son?"

"Yes. I suppose he could have started it with a stick of dynamite."

Bart pursed his lips. "It's a fact as he might have done it. But it would be a mighty big risk, Billy. And anyways, you got to remember as it would block the river so as he couldn't get no farther, nor any of his pals arter him."

"Yes," said Billy, "but he might have hurried on past the fall before the explosion. And perhaps he's calculating that the ice will go out before Gurney and Craze are ready to follow."

Bart nodded slowly. "You may be right, Billy. No one of us can say. Anyways, it don't make much odds."

There was silence for a little while. Then Billy looked up. "Bart," he asked, "what are your plans? What are you going to do?"

Bart fixed his eyes on the boy, and there was a twinkle in them. "Sleep on it, Billy," he answered, and lay back on his couch of branches.

It was all very well to talk of sleeping on it. Billy did so, but Clem, who was better able to realize the real perils of their position, lay awake till after midnight, turning things over and over in his mind. And as for Bart, he had got up again, and Clem watched him sitting by the red embers of the fire, hunched up, with his chin on his big fists, and knew that he too was trying to make up his mind what was best to be done. At last Clem's weary body forced his anxious mind to rest, and he fell sound asleep.

The rising sun was in his eyes as he woke, and he sprang up in a hurry, reproaching himself for having slept so long. Then all in a flash he remembered, and dropped back with something like a groan. Billy was already up, and stood gazing down the hill. He heard Clem move, and turned. "Clem, she's risen a heap since last night," he said.

Clem got to his feet and joined his brother. "You're right, Billy," he answered, as he stared down at the water.

A great lake now filled the valley, stretching to the west as far as they could see and fully two miles to the east. A faint breeze rippled the great expanse, and the sun, which had just climbed above the great mountains inland, turned the ripples to gold. The strong light showed hundreds of logs and branches, lifted by the rising water from the forest, floating down the lake.

Bart's voice broke in. "Have a wash, lads; then come to breakfast."

The two Indians were stolidly grilling venison chops over the fire. So long as they had plenty of meat they cared little for anything else. With the white members of the party it was different, and meat without salt or bread was a poor sort of meal.

The boys watched Bart, but asked no questions. They knew he would speak when he was ready. Presently he finished his food, and lit his pipe. "Billy," he said, "I guess we'll have to try your plan and build a raft. Then, when we gets down to the dam, we'll have to cross that afoot and build another the far side. With luck we'll be back at Joe's place inside of a week, and we'd ought to be able to kill enough meat to keep us that long."

For a minute or so the boys were silent; then Clem looked eastward toward the great dividing range. "No chance of being able to go on, I suppose?" he questioned.

Bart shook his head. "Too risky, son. I'm not saying as me and the Injuns mightn't try it, but it'd be too big a job for you lads. Straight meat don't suit them as ain't accustomed to it, and you boys would likely get ill. You got to remember as all our dried fruit is gone. Ef I'd got a dozen pounds o' prunes I'd say '‘Try it,' but as things is, there's nothing fer it but to go back and get a fresh start."

Clem knew too well to argue. "All right, Bart," he said. "Then we'd better get hold of some of these floating logs, hadn't we?"

"Thet's it," replied Bart briefly, and presently they were all at work.

Hard work it was, for logs of the right size were not easy to find, and rotten ones were no good. Also the water into which they had to wade was bitter cold. Neither of the Indians would go into the water at all, so Bart set them to cutting the caribou- hide into thongs for tying the logs together.

Billy, in his usual eager fashion, went farther than Clem or Bart, and vanished from their sight round a little point of land running out into the lake.

All of a sudden Clem heard a yell which made him jump. "Bart, Billy's hurt!" he shouted, and he ran hard toward the spot the sound came from.

Then, as he got nearer, he heard his brother's voice again. "Clem! Clem! I've found the canoe!"


XIII. — TREASURE TROVE

CLEM'S first idea was that Billy had gone stark, staring mad, but as he crashed through the bushes and came out on the far side of the little point of land, there was Billy fairly dancing with excitement and pointing—pointing straight at a canoe which was drifting idly some thirty yards out from the shore.

Clem pulled up short, hardly able to believe his eyes. "H—how on earth did she get there?" he gasped.

"I don't know and I don't care," replied Billy, and raced away down the bank. "But the wind is bringing her right in."

Away went all three crashing through the thick brush until they gained the spot to which the canoe was evidently coming in.

Bart stood staring at her. Then he spoke. "That ain't our canoe, lads!"

Billy looked round at him sharply, then fixed his sharp eyes again on the canoe. "No more she is!" he exclaimed in a tone of utter amazement. As for Clem, he could find no words at all. To him the whole business seemed too much like a miracle.

A puff of wind, and the canoe brushed against a bush and stuck. Bart's big hand closed on her gunwale and dragged her up the bank. The first thing they saw was that she was full of packages.

"Is—is she Pelly's?" cried Billy.

"No, she ain't ours, and she ain't Pelly's," replied Bart.

"Then where in the name of goodness has she come from?" demanded Clem.

"Maybe I can tell ye more when I've unpacked her," said Bart, and as he spoke began lifting out the packages, each of which was carefully cased in oilskin.

The first was a sack of flour, the next a side of bacon, and the third coffee in a big tin canister. Then came a large package of dried fruit, a tin of salt, and some smaller articles, including a case of medicine.

"Everything we want," exclaimed Billy.

"It—it's a miracle," added Clem.

Bart shook his head. "It ain't no miracle, Clem. This here canoe belongs to some chaps as have come up here a-prospecting for gold or platinum. There was two of 'em, and most like they've gone up in the hills. First, ye see, they cached their canoe like we did ours, only I reckon they hauled her way up out of the water, and didn't tie her. Then along comes this here flood, and floats her out. Thet's the whole story, so far as I can read it."

A look of dismay crossed Clem's face. "Then—then?" he began.

Bart nodded. "Yes, son, that's whar the trouble lies," he added soberly. "The canoe ain't ours, and ef we takes it, why, we leaves its owners in the lurch, so to speak."

Billy looked absolutely dismayed. "Do you mean that we can't take her, Bart?"

Bart nodded. "Thet's a fact, Billy."

"B—but she'd have drifted away and been lost if I hadn't found her!" cried Billy.

"Ah, but ye see, ye did find her," replied Bart dryly. "Ye wouldn't want to leave other folk to starve while you got fat on their grub, would ye, Billy?"

Billy's face had gone rather white, and he stood quite still and silent.

Clem spoke up. "Bart, do you think we might borrow a little salt and coffee—just enough to take us back to the Landing? Then we could return it when we come up again."

Bart nodded. "Aye, I wouldn't mind doing that, Clem, but mebbe we could do better. Ef we could trail these here prospectors, likely as not we could borrer their canoe to go down in."

Billy's face brightened. "That's a splendid idea. Let's go at once."

Bart's smile was a little grim. "They ain't jest round the corner, son. Mebbe they're twenty or thirty mile off in the ranges. 'Tain't going to be no easy job to find 'em."

For a moment the boys looked rather blue, but Billy soon recovered. "Then we'd better start at once, Bart."

Before Bart could answer, the two Indians had come up, and for once there was something like excitement on their usually wooden faces. They evidently took it for granted that Bart meant to make use of this wonderful find, and it took a deal of explanation to convince them that this was not possible.

Ahkim was quite indignant. "Him no find dem men," he said frowning, waving his hand vaguely around the horizon. And Clem and Billy, gazing at the miles upon miles of wild forest and jagged mountains which surrounded them, felt their hearts sink. Any such search must be very like looking for one needle in a huge haystack.

But Bart was firm, and the first thing he did was to haul the canoe a long way up the hillside, to a spot where the ever-rising water would not be likely to reach her. The stores he also cached in a small cave some way higher up the hill, and when this was done he made the others help him to pile stones against the mouth. "Ef we don't make it good and tight," he explained, "the bears'll get the grub while we're away."

"Are we going to start at once, Bart?" questioned Billy.

"Right away," was the reply.

"But which way, Bart?"

"Straight up the hill. Ef we get on the high ground, it's likely we may spot their smoke. That's our best chance."

Billy nodded, for he saw the sense of this. They had a meal, packed the rest of their meat, and started. Barring that first night when they had got lost, this was the boys' first experience of travelling through virgin forest, and it was not a pleasant one. The going was simply awful, and but for Bart's woodcraft they would never have got on at all. But the old trapper had an almost uncanny knowledge of the ground, and he kept out of the worst of the swamps and thickets.

It seems odd to talk of swamps on a hillside, but there were great pockets in the hollows where a man might sink in liquid black mud over his head. For the most part Bart kept them on more open ground, which was firm enough, but very steep and littered with loose stones which had a nasty way of rolling under them and plunging away downhill, each starting a regular little avalanche as it rolled. It was desperately hard work, and it took them three hours to climb to the top of the first ridge.

When they reached this they found a wooded valley beneath them, and beyond it a second and loftier range of hills. Beyond this again rose a third range, the tops of which were white with snow. There was dismay on Billy's face as he turned to his brother. "Clem, this country scares me," he said. "It's too big."

Clem did not seem to hear. He was gazing away out across the wilderness, and suddenly he stretched out his arm and pointed. "Smoke!" he exclaimed. "Do you see it, Billy?"

"I guess you're right, Clem," came Bart's deep voice. "Aye, it's smoke right enough. But you got mighty good eyes. I never seed it myself till you pointed." He turned and spoke to the Indians, and Ahkim nodded and grunted.

The smoke was the merest feather of blue haze rising from the woods on the opposite slope, but not more than three miles away, and since the going was not so bad, they covered the distance in a little over an hour.

They walked straight into a little open glade, in the middle of which was a small shack. It was from the clay-built chimney of this that the smoke was rising.

"Hulloa!" shouted Bart, but there was no reply. He went across to the shack, and knocked at the door. There was no answer, so he opened and went in. The boys followed, but the little place was empty.

"Where on earth can they be?" asked Billy.

"Guess they're at work," replied Bart, as he stepped out again into the open. "Aye, there's the mouth of their adit," he continued, pointing to a small hole in the hillside above the camp, with a pile of raw earth and rock beneath it.

The boys ran on up the hill, and Bart followed. They shouted again, but still there was no reply. Billy reached the mouth of the adit and peered in. "Black as a hat," he said. "I don't believe there's anyone there."


XIV. — THE BROKEN ROOF

BART stooped down and entered the adit. He had to bend nearly double, for there was only about four feet head- room. He struck a match. Billy, close behind, heard him draw a quick breath. "What's the matter, Bart?" he demanded.

Bart turned his head. "Matter is as the roof is down," he said gravely. "A fresh fall, too. Ef there's any poor chap inside, I don't reckon there's much life left in him."

The boys were too horrified to speak, and for a moment there was silence. Suddenly Billy started.

"What's the matter, lad?" asked Bart.

"I heard something. It sounded like some one knocking," answered Billy breathlessly.

Bart went forward to the face of the fall, and taking up a stone rapped sharply on the rock wall of the shaft. There was a moment's pause; then, faint yet quite distinct, came the answer—three short, sharp raps.

"There's one alive, anyway," said Bart curtly. "And we got to get him out. Boys, run down to the shack and fetch any tools ye can find. Smart's the word."

He did not need to urge them. The boys fairly flew to obey. They found two shovels, a pick, and an axe. Then the work began in earnest.

A terrible job it was too, for it was no use just digging. That would only have meant the roof falling again and burying them, as well as whoever was inside. They had to cut logs and 'timber' the rotten roof as they went, and without Bart the boys and the Indians could never have done it. But Bart knew every least thing about mining, and with his help they at last cut through the fall into a little dark chamber behind.

The light of a flaring fir torch shone ruddily through the gloom and showed two figures flat on the floor, face down and very still. Bart shook his head. "I guess we're too late," he said gravely, but Clem was already on his knees beside the nearest, and had put his ear against the man's chest.

"No," he answered quickly. "He's alive. I can feel his heart beating."

"That's more'n you can say for this poor chap," answered Bart, who was examining the other. "A rock's got him on the head, and I guess it killed him right away."

Between them they lifted the living man out. He was quite a young fellow, with red hair, a pleasant freckled face, and a snub nose. And presently, when they had laid him down on the grass, his eyes opened and proved to be very honest-looking blue ones.

"He's all right," said Bart. "It was jest the bad air that caught him."

The youngster looked up at them in a puzzled way; then his face changed. "Where's Grayson?" he asked hoarsely. Before they could answer, "Oh, I remember now!" he groaned. "He was killed when the roof fell." He covered his eyes with his hands, and a sob shook him.

"I reckon he didn't suffer none," said Bart soberly. "Anyways, I'm glad we came in time to get you out."

The youngster sat up and gazed at Bart and the boys. "It's a miracle," he said. "We've never seen a soul here before—not even an Indian. However did you happen to come just in the nick of time?"

"'Twasn't just happening," said Bart gravely, and briefly explained matters.

The other drew a long breath. "And you saved our canoe and stores! Well, you're white, anyway!" He said it as if he meant it, and old Bart reddened a little under his tan. "I'm mighty glad we was able to," he answered, "but I guess you don't need to give us too much credit. Ye see, the reason we come along up here was to beg for a loan of that there canoe."

"Loan of it! Why, I'll give it you—and gladly!" exclaimed the youngster. He looked up at Bart. "My name is Jock Scarlett," he said.

"And I'm Bart Condon," was the answer. "And these boys is Clem and Billy Ballard."

Young Scarlett rose to his feet and shook hands all round. Then he pointed toward the adit. "I guess we've got to bury poor Grayson," he said heavily. "After that we'll go down to the shack and talk things over."

The grave was soon dug, and when the mournful ceremony was finished, the party returned to the hut. Tired out, the boys were soon asleep, leaving Bart and Jock Scarlett chatting in low voices over the store.

Early next morning Billy and his brother went down together to wash at the spring.

"Jock's a real good chap—that's what I think," said Billy.

Clem nodded. "Yes, he does seem a good sort," he remarked. "And Bart says he'll come with us up country," he added quietly.

Billy gave a shout of delight. "That's topping. Then we shan't have to go back to the Landing for fresh stores."

"No, we're going straight on inland." Clem paused, and looked thoughtful. "Billy, where are we going, I wonder?"

Billy shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know, Clem, and I don't much care. So long as we go with Bart we're all right."

"I'm with you there all the way," agreed Clem.

"All the same, the thing's a bit mysterious."

"You mean with these queer people on our track—Gurney and Craze and Pelly?"

"That's it. And just remember they're after this chap they call 'the Big Britisher.' I wonder if we are going to him, too."

Billy raised his head, all dripping, from the clear, cold pool. "I expect we are. I hope so, anyway. But this is the finest country on earth, and Bart's the best chap I ever met, so what's the use of bothering about anything?"

Clem smiled at Billy's enthusiasm. "That's the best way to look at it, old chap," he answered. "And now, if you've finished washing, let's get back to breakfast."

The shack was well supplied with stores, and all the party were pretty well loaded as they took the trail back to the lake. It was a glorious morning, but though the sun was hot a pleasantly cool breeze blew down from the gleaming snow-fields above them.

All were in good spirits except poor Jock Scarlett, who was naturally feeling the sudden death of his partner. But as the two boys chatted away to him his face lost some of its sadness, and he even smiled now and then as he answered their numerous questions.

He told them that his people were Scotch Canadians—that his father and mother were both dead, and that his only near relation was a sister called Maggie, who lived with an aunt in Vancouver. The aunt was very badly off, and Jock had struck north, hoping to find fortune in gold or platinum.

"But you're leaving your mine!" exclaimed Billy.

"I reckon we'd have done that anyway, pretty soon," Jock answered soberly. "It wasn't much of a prospect at best. From what Condon has told me, it looks as if I'd do a heap better up where you fellows are going."

"Did Bart tell you where we were going?" questioned Billy.

"No, he didn't. But he told me it was good country, and I guess he's one o' those chaps you trust right away."

"He jolly well is!" agreed Billy. As he spoke they were topping the last ridge, and Billy pulled up short. "I say, look at the lake!" he cried. "It's bigger than ever."

Jock Scarlett whistled softly. "My word, the river does look a bit different from the last time I saw it. I'm sure grateful you fellows found our canoe."

Clem, who had been gazing hard at something far down the lake, stretched out his arm and pointed. "I say, what's that?" he asked sharply.

Jock Scarlett took a pair of field-glasses from a case slung over his shoulder and focused them. "It's a canoe," he said presently. "And three men in her—one white and two Indians."

"Lend me the glasses," cut in Bart, as he came speeding up, and Jock handed them over. Bart took a long look, then lowered them, and the boys saw that his usually good-natured face had changed and hardened. "I thought as much," he growled. "It's that feller Pelly with his Injuns."

He handed the glasses back to Jock.

"Come on sharp, the lot of ye. If Pelly finds our camp afore we reaches it there's going to be right serious trouble."


XV. — PELLY SHOWS HIS TEETH

IT had taken the party three hours to climb that hill on the previous day, but now, driven by the fear that Pelly might find their canoe and stores before they could reach them, they scuttled downward nearly three times as fast as they had come. But they were heavily loaded, the ground was as bad as could be, and when, badly blown, they reached a ledge some three hundred feet above the lake level, the canoe was no longer visible.

"Pelly's landed," growled Bart.

"Will he have found our stores?" panted Billy.

"I'll lay he has. I reckon our tracks was plain enough," replied Bart, and plunged forward again.

Near the lake the forest was thick, and so matted with undergrowth that it was impossible to travel very fast. As the party forced their way through the thick of it a great boom like the sound of a heavy gun fired in the distance came echoing up the valley. "Another ice-fall," thought Billy to himself, but he was too blown to speak.

Bart was ahead, Jock Scarlett close behind him. The boys, though doing their best, could not quite keep up.

Billy caught his foot in a twisted root, stumbled, and crashed on his face. Clem paused a moment to pick him up, and just then came Bart's voice. "Drop it, Pelly! Drop that stuff, or I'll shoot!"

The boys saw him stop and raise his rifle to his shoulder. Then from below came a harsh laugh. "Shoot as much as you've a mind to, Condon," Pelly jeered. "I ain't scared."

"He's right, Mr Condon," said Jock. "It's no use shooting. The trees hide him, and the only thing for us to do is to try to cut him off before he can reach the canoe."

"That's jest what we can't do," groaned Bart, "for this here gulch stops us from getting at him, and before we can get across it the feller will be off."

Clem and Billy, coming up, saw at once what Bart meant. A deep gully, cut by the spring rains and running right down the hillside into the lake, yawned in front. It was twenty feet deep, and the sides were walls of rock almost as sheer as the sides of a house. The gully lay between them and Pelly, and the thick trees hid him and his canoe completely, though Bart's party could hear Pelly himself crashing heavily through the undergrowth less than fifty yards away.

"It's all right, Mr Condon," said Jock. "I'll get across." And as he spoke he seized a bush, swung himself over the edge of the gully, and dropped. The boys held their breath, but he landed safely, and at once started to climb the opposite side.

"He'll never do it in time," groaned Bart. "And ef he does the chances are as Pelly will shoot him."

"And has he got our stuff?" questioned Billy.

"Looks like it," Bart answered, and neither of the boys had ever seen him more upset.

Clem cut in. "Come on down the gully to the lake shore, Bart," he said. "We might be able to see him from there, or the canoe at any rate. Then you can shoot if you have to."

"That's good sense," growled Bart, and all three went hurrying down the ragged edge of the gully.

It was a forlorn hope. They all knew it, for Pelly's canoe was some way above the gulch, and probably well hidden. Once Pelly got his cargo aboard, he could paddle right away up the lake or across and down it, and make his escape before Bart's party could even launch their canoe.

Suddenly a hoarse shout came from among the trees a little way up the shore. "It's Pelly's Indians!" panted Clem in Billy's ear.

"What's the matter with them?" cried Billy. "It sounds as if they were scared to death."

"The lake! Look at the lake!" cried Clem, pointing to the water, which was just visible through the trees.

Billy stopped short, and stared for an instant. "W—whatever is the matter with it?" he gasped.

He might well ask, for the surface, a moment ago so calm and still, was now streaked with long lines of white, while all the logs and branches which had been floating peacefully upon its surface were rushing past the banks at a dizzy pace.

Clem seized Billy by the arm. "I know!" he cried. "The dam has gone!"

The sight was so surprising that for a moment the boys entirely forgot everything else in watching it. The water was racing out like a big ebb in Bristol River, and every moment it went faster and faster. As the boys ran forward to the shore the great logs were shooting away like straws, and the water dropping away from the shore with the oddest sucking sound.

Came another yell. "The canoe!" shouted Billy. "Look at it!"

As he spoke, Pelly's canoe came into sight. The two Indians were paddling like mad to reach the shore, but they had not a ghost of a chance. Even a motor-engine could hardly have forced the canoe against the terrific suction which dragged her outward.

"I say, what will happen to the poor beggars?" cried Clem anxiously.

"Don't you worry about them," advised Bart. "Injuns has got as many lives as a cat. They'll get out all right. It's Pelly I'm a- worrying about."

"But Pelly's on the bank," replied Clem.

"I knows that. And dangerous as a cornered cat. Now you go soft, young fellow! We don't want to have no accidents. Keep right back, behind me."

At its mouth, where it entered the lake, the gully was broader and more shallow. Bart scrambled down into it and up the other side. Then he began working slowly through the thick undergrowth beyond, the boys following cautiously.

Suddenly came a voice—or rather a snarl. "Stop right there, Bart Condon! Stop right still and put yer hands up, fer if ye don't, sure as I live I'll let daylight through you!" As he spoke Pelly stepped suddenly out from behind a tree, his rifle pointed straight at Bart, his finger on the trigger.

Clem and Billy felt cold chills crawl down their backs, but Bart stood coolly facing his enemy. "Steady on with that, Pelly," he answered quietly. "We don't want no trouble."

"It's you as'll get the trouble," retorted Pelly. "Jest remember as I've got the drop on you."

"I can see that right enough," replied Bart, as calmly as ever. "But you better remember as your canoe and Injuns is gone."

"I know that, so I'm going to have yours instead. Where is it?"

"Somewheres out there," replied Bart, nodding in the direction of the lake.

"You're a liar!" snapped Pelly. "I'll give ye while I count three to tell me the truth, and ef ye don't I'll shoot."

Bart's face hardened. "You skunk!" he said. "Ye wouldn't dare talk to me like that ef ye hadn't got the drop on me. The flood, which I reckon ye turned on us by dynamiting that there glacier, caught us unawares, and took our canoe off. That's the truth. Now shoot if ye want to."

Pelly stood biting his lip. He was clearly in a furious rage, and at the same time badly frightened. But, as Clem knew, it is just when a man of this type is really scared that he is most dangerous.

"Ye can't humbug me," said Pelly at length. "Now I'm a-going to count, and ef ye don't tell me where the canoe is, I'll shoot. One!" he began.

"What can we do, Clem?" whispered Billy in his brother's ear, in a voice that shook with horror and distress.

"Rush him!" Clem answered. But the words were hardly out of his mouth before Pelly gave a strangled cry. Two powerful hands had gripped him round the throat from behind and jerked him backward. His rifle went off, but the bullet whistled harmlessly into space. Next instant he was on his back, with Jock Scarlett kneeling on him.


XVI. — THE SECOND START

TIED hand and foot, Ed Pelly sat upon a log glaring sullenly at his captors. Bart stood opposite him, and the boys hardly knew his face, so grim and terrible was it.

"Ed Pelly," he said, addressing his prisoner, and his voice was slow and measured as that of any judge. "Have you anything to say why I shouldn't turn ye adrift to starve in the woods, like ye was going to do to us?"

A quiver of fear crossed Pelly's face. "Ye wouldn't do that?" he whined. "Ye couldn't treat a white man that way!"

"White!" Bart's voice rang with scorn. "You call yourself white? Why, a yellow dog is whiter than you. You've been in the North long enough to know that to rob an outfit of their grub is the worst sin there is up here. I've seen men hanged for less. What did you do it for?"

Pelly did not answer. Bart stared straight at him, and his eyes were hard as stone. "Speak up. We treated you right. What grudge had you against us?"

"I ain't got no grudge against you," whined Pelly.

"Then who paid you to dog us like you have?"

Again no answer. "You better talk, Pelly" said Bart ominously. "Who paid you? Was it Craze and Gurney?"

Pelly nodded sullenly.

Bart shrugged his shoulders. "I knowed it," he said. "And, what's more, I knows more about them two than is healthy for them. Now see here, Ed Pelly. I'm a-going to give you jest enough grub to take you back to the Landing. You ain't going to have any easy time getting there, but I reckon you can make it. And when you meet them two pardners of yours, jest you tell 'em that I knows what they're after, and I'm ready for 'em. Ef you or they ever cross Needle Pass or come farther than the Stone Man, you can take it you'll never get home again. You get me?" Pelly did not answer, and Bart, after gazing at him for a few moments, turned away. "Start packing, lads," he ordered. "We've wasted more time than we can spare already."

Every one set to work, and the packing was soon done. By this time the whole of the water behind the ice-dam had gone out, and the river was running in its usual bed, and they had to carry the canoe quite a distance to float her. When all was ready Bart cut Pelly's lashings. "Here's your grub," he said. "Now--"

"Ain't ye going to give me my rifle?" demanded Pelly.

Bart gave a short, scornful laugh. "No, we ain't," he answered curtly, and got straight into the canoe. The last they saw of Pelly, he was standing on the bank scowling at them as they paddled away.

Jock Scarlett was a capital hand with a paddle, and the boys were learning to be useful. For the next three days they travelled hard up the river, then came to water so swift, shallow, and broken with rocks that it was no longer navigable. So, carefully caching the canoe in a cave, they packed their stores into bundles, each carrying his share. Then they started afoot over the Divide.

It was terribly rough going, but up at this height the woods were not so thick. And since Bart knew the trail they got on pretty well. That night they camped high in the hills, and next morning found them tramping in single file along a pass so narrow that there was not room for two abreast. On the left was a wall of rock, on the right a sheer drop into a cañon so deep that the river roaring at the bottom looked like a silver thread.

"Don't you go a-looking over the edge," Bart warned the boys. "Ef you do you'll likely get dizzy. Keep your eyes to the left, and you'll be safe enough."

"I feel as if I was walking a tight rope," said Billy to Clem, who was just in front of him. "I say, I hope it doesn't get any narrower.

"It's not that I'm worrying about," Clem answered. "Look up."

Billy looked up. Three hundred feet overhead was a great arch of purest white on which the sun-rays beat with dazzling splendour. It was the edge or 'cornice' of the snow-cap covering the peak above, and it projected over the pass like the edge of a great breaking wave. Here and there were ominous-looking gaps where large chunks had fallen away.

Billy whistled softly. "It would be a bit awkward if one came down on top of us, eh, Clem?" he said softly.

"Oh, Bart knows what he's about," replied Clem encouragingly, and had hardly spoken before there came a soft, crunching sound, a dark crack appeared in the cornice, and a vast mass which must have weighed many tons broke slowly away.

"Halt!" roared Bart. "Lie down! Flat on your faces, and hang on for your lives!"

It was lucky for Clem and Billy that they lost no time in obeying Bart's order, for next moment there came a thud which made the solid cliff tremble, and this was followed by such a blast of air as nearly tore them from their hold. Had they still been on their feet, nothing could have saved them from being swept over the edge of the pass into the terrific abyss which yawned beneath.

Two more lesser thuds, then things quieted down, and Billy ventured to raise his head. To his intense relief, he saw Clem quite safe just in front of him, and beyond, Bart and the others, all lying flat on their faces.

"We're safe, Clem!" he gasped out.

"Better keep still," replied Clem gravely. "There may be another fall."

Billy looked up. "It's most of it down," he said. "Look, the whole pass is blocked just beyond Bart. Wasn't it luck—its missing us?"

Bart rose slowly to his feet. "You're right, Billy. But it's luck as don't happen twice running. I didn't ought to have chanced it," he went on, "but I didn't reckon the sun was strong enough to bring the snow down like that."

"But what are we to do now, Bart?" asked Billy, as he glanced at the pass, which for many yards ahead of them was piled with hard-packed snow. "We can't get over that, can we?"

"You're right, son. It's us for the back track. I guess we got to go round by the Needle arter all."

"What's the Needle?" asked Billy.

"You'll see when you gets thar," Bart answered, and there was a grim edge to his voice which both Billy and Clem knew meant trouble.

Bart came cautiously past them, and led them back along the pass for some distance, until they came to a great crevasse or rift in the cliff, which they had already noticed in passing. Into this he led the way, and a very rough way it was. The rift became deeper, and so narrow that at the bottom it grew almost dark. The party groped their way among huge boulders.

"I wonder where the Needle is," said Billy to Clem.

"Where the Needle is—Needle is—" The echoes caught his words and sent them whispering up and down the vast, silent rock walls in a most uncanny fashion.

"Mebbe you'll see sooner than you like," replied Bart, and sure enough they had not gone another hundred yards before they did see.

Here the gorge was cut by a second gorge, only the second was far deeper than the first. The party found themselves on the edge of a gap at least a hundred feet wide, and of which the far side was much higher than that on which they stood. This gap was spanned by a bridge, but such a bridge as the boys had never seen before—never even imagined. It was one single stone, in shape not unlike the old Egyptian monument, 'Cleopatra's Needle,' which now stands on the Embankment in London. Only, of course, this was not smoothed by chisels, but all rough and jagged as it had split from the cliff.

"Thar's the Needle for ye," observed Bart dryly.

Billy whistled softly. "You don't mean we've got to cross that?" he said.

"Onless ye go back to the coast, ye got to. There ain't no way round," replied Bart.


XVII. — BIRDS AND BEASTS

SILENT, hardly daring to breathe, the boys and Jock Scarlett watched Bart as he crawled up the slope of that terrible Needle. He had taken off his boots, and crept like a fly along its rough surface. Once he slipped a little, and Billy's heart was in his mouth, but Bart recovered and went on steadily.

He was about half-way over when there came a curious whistling sound.

"Hyas claw bird!" grunted Ahkim in evident alarm, and Jock Scarlett hastily opened the breech of his rifle and began thrusting in a clip of cartridges. "An eagle!" he cried, and looking up, Clem and Billy saw a huge wide-winged bird with hooked beak and golden eyes, dropping from the cliffs above straight toward the bridge.

For the moment Billy did not realize the danger, but Clem was wiser. He had heard from Joe Western that these great eagles of the North will attack anyone who approaches their eyrie, and he realized that the bird was swooping straight upon Bart. Also that Bart, who at the moment was on the worst and narrowest part of the bridge, was completely at its mercy. He saw something else too, which was that Jock in his hurry had got his rifle jammed.

A moment earlier, Clem had been quaking in his shoes at the idea of having to cross that awful Needle, but now he forgot everything except that Bart was in fearful danger and must be rescued at any cost. In a flash he had leaped on to the Needle, and was running up it with the quickness and certainty of a cat. His eyes were on a spot a yard or two behind Bart, where a sort of spur stuck out, giving some sort of handhold, and before Billy and Jock had quite realized what he was about he had reached this spot, and flung himself down, with his left arm hooked round the spur. Quick as he was, the eagle was quicker and Clem felt the air about his head swirl with the beat of its great wings as it swooped upon Bart. With his right hand Clem drew from his pocket the small automatic pistol in the use of which Bart had trained him.

Bart was helpless. He was flat on his face, clinging with both arms to the Needle. The eagle struck, and Clem saw Bart's thick shirt split under the rending of its steel-like claws. Then, as the creature fluttered over its victim, beating the air with its wide wings, Clem took cool aim and fired.


Illustration

Clem took cool aim and fired.


At such close quarters the bullet ploughed right through the bird's body, and, turning over and over, it dropped like a stone. Clem watched it vanish into the black depths beneath. Then, as the excitement which had kept him up passed, a wave of dreadful giddiness swept over him, and he clung half fainting with his face close against the rough rock.

Bart's voice came to him, cool and steady. "That was a right smart bit o' work, Clem, and I'm sure obliged to you. Now, jest take three long breaths; then raise yer head and look at me."

Somehow Clem obeyed, and the sight of Bart's face, calm and clear-eyed as ever, gave him fresh confidence. "Now, you keep right on arter me," said Bart. "Ye can hold on to my belt if ye've a mind to. There's only this one ugly piece, and the rest is plumb easy."

Clem set his teeth and followed. How he ever managed to wriggle across those next few yards he never knew, but somehow he did it, and almost before he realized it, he and Bart were safe on the far side.

The rest was easy. Bart had carried with him a rope coiled round his body. One end of this he threw back to Jock, who made it fast, and with this as a hand-rail the rest soon crossed the stone bridge.

Billy drew his brother a little aside. "Clem," he said, and there was an odd little thrill in his voice, "I'm frightfully proud of you. I could never have done it."

Clem flushed a little. "Nonsense, old chap! I was in a most frightful funk."

"All the more credit to you," said Billy. Then Bart called them to come on, and once more they began to climb.

That night they slept in a cave near the summit of the Divide—and precious cold it was too—and very early next morning they reached the top of the pass.

Here Bart halted, turned, and stood with his hand over his eyes gazing back over a vast country of mountains, lakes, and forests. "Clem," he said presently, "can ye see anything?"

Clem stood silent for nearly a minute. Then he nodded and pointed. "Yes—smoke," he said.

Bart grunted. "I thought ez much. There's sure some chaps as never takes a warning. Wal, on their own heads be it."

Without offering any further explanation, he turned and went striding away downhill.

The next week was hard but steady travel, and at the end of it the little party found themselves clear of the big mountains and in a very different type of country.

"This is a bit different from the coast," observed Clem, as he and Billy tramped beside Bart up a lovely valley. "These woods are almost like England, and look at that brook! It might be a Devonshire trout-stream."

"It's a trout-stream right enough, son," replied Bart. "But I told ye that once ye'd crossed the mountains the country would be a heap different. Ye don't get the warm air off the sea here, and the winters are a sight colder and drier than over to the west."

"I like this a lot better," said Billy. "We've got out of all that nasty thick undergrowth. One can walk here without tripping up at every step."

"Yes, and the trees are all different," put in Clem. "Black pine and birch instead of those huge firs." He paused and looked doubtfully at Bart. "I say, Bart, have we much farther to go?"

Bart raised his arm and pointed to a range of blue mountains which lay like a wall across the sky to the east. Plainly they were very lofty, for their peaks were white with everlasting snow. "Them's what we're bound for, Clem," he answered.

Clem gazed at the mountains with intense interest. "How far are they, Bart?" he asked. "Forty miles?"

"Double that, and ye won't be far out," smiled Bart. And just then Billy broke in. "Bart, see those trees? All the lower branches are gone. Don't they look odd? It's just as if some whacking big bullock had been eating them off." He pointed as he spoke to a grove of biggish birch-trees on the hill-side to the right.

Bart gazed at them, and there was an odd expression on his face. He bent toward Billy. "Don't you say nothing about it, Billy," he replied in a low voice. "I don't want them Injuns to notice it."

Billy was much puzzled, and so was Clem. They obeyed Bart, of course, but could not keep their eyes off the oddly lopped trees. Presently they heard a grunt from Passuk, and, turning, saw him pointing out the trees to his brother. They noticed at once that both the Indians seemed badly frightened.

Bart saw it too. "The jig's up," he grumbled. "Now we'll hev to watch out that them Injuns don't get plumb scared and make a bolt for it." He waited for the Indians to come up and spoke to them in their own language, at the same time patting his rifle encouragingly.

Billy could no longer restrain his curiosity. "What is it, Bart?" he begged. "Do tell us."

Bart glanced at the boy, and there was the same queer expression on his face. "I guess you and Clem may as well go up and see. Jock and me will stay with the Injuns. But don't you waste much time, and ef ye sees anything alive don't meddle with it, but come right back."

Billy and Clem did not wait for a second leave, but were both off hot-foot up the hill, and it was not more than five minutes before they had reached the top. "Look at them!" panted Billy. "Something has been at them. The branches have been torn right off."

"Something pretty big, too," replied Clem. "There are boughs as thick as my leg ripped completely away."

By this time they were in the wood, and almost the first thing that happened was that Billy put his foot into a hole in a bit of soft ground—a hole two feet deep and about the same across. "Clem, look at this!" he panted. "What's made it?"

The two together stood and stared down at the great hole.

"It—it's a footprint!" said Clem, in a half-scared voice. "Look at the toe-marks!"

"But it would take an elephant to make a print like that!" returned Billy. As he spoke there came a curious ripping, snapping sound from farther up the slope, and both boys started. Something which seemed as big as a small house was standing in the sun-dappled shadows not more than a couple of hundred yards away. Its monstrous form was covered with a mat of reddish hair, and to all appearance it had a tail at each end of its vast body.


XVIII. — THE BOYS' BLUNDER

THE two boys were so paralysed with amazement that they simply could not move. They stood perfectly still, hardly breathing, staring fixedly at the amazing monster.

Billy was the first to speak. "What is it?" he asked Clem in a hoarse whisper.

"I—I think it's a mastodon," replied Clem breathlessly.

"B—but they were extinct thousands of years ago."

"That one isn't," replied Clem, and the two fell silent again. The monster had not seen them, for it stood quietly, only switching its tail occasionally. What the boys had at first taken for a second tail they now saw was a trunk. This too the great creature swung at intervals.

"Let's go nearer," said Billy at last. "See those rocks over to the left? If we were to work up behind them we could get quite close without it seeing us."

Clem looked, and saw that Billy was right. The rocks seemed to give quite good cover. In their intense interest and excitement both of them had entirely forgotten Bart's warning to come back if they saw anything living. Another minute, and they were behind the rocks, and creeping cautiously up the hillside.

The rocks were big glacier boulders covered with lichen and half sunk in the ground, and there was a deal of rough undergrowth all round which made a good screen. At any rate there was plenty of cover, and within a very few minutes the two had gained a spot almost opposite that where the hairy giant was still standing under the cool shade of the big birches.

Billy stopped with a gasp. "You're right, Clem," he breathed in his brother's ear. "It is a mastodon."

Clem did not answer. He simply could not. For there, in full view, was a creature more wonderful than anything he had ever dreamed of. It resembled an elephant, being about the same height as an African elephant, though much longer in the body. It was covered from head to foot with coarse reddish hair, and had the most tremendous tusks. These were fully ten feet in length, and much more curved than those of the elephant.

Clem felt half suffocated; he had a kind of feeling that he and Billy had dropped back through a hundred centuries into the dawn of the world. How long the two crouched there neither of them knew, for they were lost to all sense of time. What brought them to their senses at last was a sudden movement of the gigantic beast. The long hairy trunk went up, and he turned toward them. As he did so the sunlight was reflected in his small, deep-set eyes, which glowed red as live coals.

Suddenly Clem realized what they had done. They had got to windward of the monster, and the faint breeze had taken their scent down to him. He clutched Billy's arm. "He's winded us. We've got to clear," he whispered sharply. As he spoke he ducked away again downhill, and Billy followed. They had not gone twenty yards when the stillness of the great valley was broken by a scream like that of half a dozen steam-whistles all opened at once. Then the whole earth shook with the trampling of giant feet. Clem leaped up. "Run, Billy! Run!" he cried, and together the two raced away down the hillside with the mastodon in full chase.

Clem glanced back over his shoulder, and saw the mastodon right on their track. The giant came at a shambling gallop, which, however, ate up the ground at amazing speed. His great trunk was lifted high above his head, and his little eyes gleamed red as blood.

Clem could hardly believe that what was happening was real, but felt rather as if he were in the grip of some dreadful nightmare. He and Billy ran like the wind, but inwardly both felt it was useless. They must be caught, gored by those fearful tusks, and trampled into the earth beneath those ponderous feet.

Immediately in front was a belt of thick, scrubby bush. Both hurled themselves into it; then Clem, leading by a yard or two, suddenly felt the ground give way beneath him. He was falling—falling! A thud that nearly stunned him, and he was lying flat in a deep bed of rotten leaves and twigs, and before he knew what was happening Billy was on top of him.

"W—where are we?" panted Billy. "Are—are you hurt, Clem?"

"No," answered Clem, struggling to his feet and glancing round. He and Billy were at the bottom of a gully some ten feet deep, a narrow place with bushes arching over it so that it was almost dark. To the right it opened out, but to the left it seemed to be narrower and deeper. "This way!" he cried, and seizing Billy by the arm dragged him away to the left.

They had not gone ten paces before the sky was darkened overhead, and right above them the huge form of the mastodon shot into sight. Impossible as it might seem, the monster had actually cleared the gully in his stride, and the bushes ripped with a noise like torn paper as he continued his headlong rush down the hill.

Clem leaned against the side of the gully for support. He felt suddenly weak, and was shivering all over. Billy's face was white, and his teeth were chattering. But he pulled himself together pluckily. "A close thing, Clem!" he said.

Clem recovered himself with an effort. "A bit too close!" he answered hoarsely. Then his face changed. "Bart!" he exclaimed. "Bart and Jock! The brute will be after them!" In a flash he was scrambling frantically out of the gully, and Billy following. Reaching the top, they were just in time to see the mastodon vanishing through the trees a long way downhill, and, sick with terror, they both ran after him as hard as they could go. But their late pursuer had a tremendously long start, and by the time the boys reached the edge of the wood he was ever so far away, and had nearly reached the brook.

"Where's Bart?" cried Clem, pulling up short. He and Billy looked all round, but could not see a sign of the rest of their party. Bart, Jock, and the Indians had all vanished completely.

"Perhaps they've hidden," said Billy hopefully.

"Where could they hide?" retorted Clem, looking down into the open, treeless valley.

"I—I don't know," answered Billy unhappily. "But the mastodon hasn't got them, anyhow," he added more hopefully.

"We'd better go and look for them," said Clem. "The mastodon seems to be going right away."

The giant beast was indeed half-way up the opposite slope, and still travelling nearly as fast as a horse would gallop, so the boys made their way downhill toward the spot where they had left Bart some half an hour earlier. But still there was no sign of any of their friends, and they were not only puzzled but both getting decidedly scared.

All of a sudden Billy gave a shout and started running. "There's Bart!" he cried, pointing.

Bart it was, his head just visible over the bank of the brook, and out he came, Jock following, then the Indians. They were all soaked through, and blue with cold. For though the sun was warm, the water of these Arctic streams has always an icy chill.

Bart's usually good-humoured face was decidedly grim. "I thought I told ye both to come straight back if ye seed anything," he said sternly.

Clem answered. "I'm awfully sorry, Bart. The fact is, we both got so excited we forgot all about it."

"Wal, ye see what ye've done," said Bart. "Jock and me have had to stand up to our necks in the river, and ez for them Injuns, they're so scared I don't reckon either of 'em will be much use the rest of the trip."

Clem and Billy hung their heads. They had nothing to say. Jock broke in. "They don't look as if they'd had too gay a time themselves, Bart. Did the beast chase you, Clem?"

Clem shuddered. "I should think he did. If we hadn't fallen into a gully he'd have got us, too."

Bart looked them over; he noticed their muddy, torn clothes and scratched hands and faces. He nodded. "I guess we won't say no more about it. But it'll be a lesson to ye both to mind what I say in future. Now I reckon we'll hev to push on. I'd like mighty well to stop and light a fire and dry off, but them Injuns won't stay in this here valley onless we ties 'em. So ye'd better march."


XIX. — THE STONE MAN

"BART," said Billy, as they sat around their fire after supper that night, "did you know that wonderful beast lived in the valley?"

"Wal, I've seed his footmarks once before, and all them trees with the branches tore down. So I knowed he was somewheres around, but it's a fact I never seed him till to-day."

"But I can't understand it," broke in Clem. "The books all say the mastodon was extinct ages ago."

"Do you reckon the chaps as wrote 'em had ever been up here?" asked Bart dryly.

Clem smiled. "It's quite plain they haven't," he answered.

"No, and there's lots of things up here in the Great North as has never yet been set down in books."

"What sort of things?" questioned Billy eagerly.

"Wal, what would ye say to a beast as hops on his hind-legs like a kangaroo and is big enough to crunch a caribou up in his jaws?"

"Have you seen that?" demanded Billy.

"No, but I know chaps who have. Then there's the deer-bird as runs across the snow. He's nigh as tall as you, Billy, and the Injuns are scared stiff of him, though why I don't know. And thar's the big Dead Forest, and the flaming cliffs on the Arctic—aye, and heaps o' things as mighty few folk know about." He stretched and yawned. "I guess that's enough for to- night. Now we'll turn in."

For the next three days they marched hard and late. On the fourth afternoon after they had left the Valley of the Mastodon they reached the top of a long, bare ridge. In front was a wide valley with a big river at the bottom, a river which ran due north. It was bordered on either side by broad strips of curiously dark soil which was completely bare of vegetation. But Bart was not looking at the river. He had turned and was scanning the country they had crossed. "Can't see nothing this time," he said at last. "Kin you, Clem?"

Clem shook his head. "No," he answered. "You don't think Pelly is still following us, do you, Bart?"

"It all depends on whether he's met up with them other fellows," said Bart.

Billy broke in. "It's not likely we'd see them now, in broad daylight, but if we camped here, and if they really are following, we might spot their fire."

Bart nodded. "I reckon that's sense," he allowed, "and though we can't rightly spare the time I guess we'll do it." He considered a moment. "I got it," he said presently. "We won't waste no time after all. Dump your kit here, boys, under this here rock. Then we'll push on ter the river and come back here to camp."

The boys wondered much what Bart was after, but by this time they knew better than to ask questions. Down went their kit behind the rock, and the whole party marched briskly downhill.

There were woods between them and the river, and it was getting dusk before they got near the water. Presently they both became aware of a curious thin whistling sound which puzzled them greatly. They quickened their pace, and, as they broke through the belt of scrub which edged the river, saw a strange light shining through the gloom.

They pulled up short. "My goodness, look at that, Clem!" exclaimed Billy sharply.

They were standing on the edge of a broad belt of clayey sand, black as coal, bare and almost as smooth as a board floor. Half- way between them and the water spouted a geyser of blue flame which danced up and down, now quite near the ground, now shooting up to a score of feet or more. And as it spouted it whistled and crooned to itself in the strangest fashion.

"What in the world is it?" continued Billy.

It was Bart coming up behind them who answered. "Jest a gas- jet, Billy. There's heaps of 'em round here, fer these here is oil sands, and some day when this here country is opened up it's going to be the richest in the world. I lit this one myself last time I come along, and I reckon mebbe it'll go on burning long arter I've pushed on to another world. But we can't stop to watch it now. There's a job to do afore it gets dark." As he spoke he turned, dipped down among the bushes, and disappeared from sight.

Almost before the boys had started to wonder what on earth Bart was after, he was out again, dragging a canoe. It was a beautiful birch-bark, but in rather bad repair.

"A canoe!" exclaimed Billy. "Where in the world did that come from?"

"Out o' them bushes," replied Bart with a dry smile. "You didn't reckon we was going to swim the river, did ye?"

Billy flushed a little. He knew he had no business to have asked the question. "She'll want caulking," he said, to cover his confusion.

"Jest so. That's why I said we wouldn't be wasting time. The Injuns and Jock kin do it." He turned to Jock Scarlett. "There's pitch here," he said, "and ye kin use the gas fire to melt it. I reckon ye can finish in about two hours. Then come right back up the ridge to supper."

"Right you are, Bart," replied Jock cheerfully, and at once called the two Indians to help him carry the canoe to the fire. Then Bart and the boys turned back up the hill. Arrived at the place where they had left their packs, Bart picked a spot, well hidden on the river side of the ridge, on which to light the cooking fire. When this was done, and the kettle slung above it, he took the boys back to the top of the hill.

Almost at once Clem pointed. And far, far in the distance they saw a tiny point of light hardly larger than a star which glowed clear through the night.

Bart growled deep in his throat. "They're a-coming, and a bit quicker'n I reckoned." Then he laughed. "But not quite quick enough, I guess. You're up against it, Mister Ed Pelly—up against it good and hard. My, but I'd admire to see your face about this time to-morrer." He gave no further explanation, and the boys asked none, for both had the most absolute trust in Bart.

Presently supper was ready, and a little while later Jock arrived with Ahkim and Passuk. "The canoe's good and tight, Bart," he said, in his pleasant voice.

"That's right," replied Bart, "for I guess we'll need her for quite a job to-morrow."

The boys went to sleep wondering what Bart meant, and were up even earlier than usual. Breakfast over, the packs were shouldered, and the party marched straight down to the river, where the canoe was launched and all the stuff stowed carefully in her. Then they got aboard and pushed off.

Reaching the centre of the river, Bart turned the light craft straight downstream. Billy leaned across and whispered in Clem's ear. "Where's he taking us? He said the other day that we were going straight up into the mountains."

Clem shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know, Billy, but I expect it's some dodge for putting Pelly's crowd off the scent. Anyhow, we shall see before long."

For three or four hours the canoe travelled swiftly downstream. Then the river began to narrow, the black sand vanished, the banks grew higher, and soon they were in a cañon where the big river, penned in a narrow bed, rushed deep and swift between lofty walls of rock. They swung round a curve, and suddenly Billy stopped paddling and gave a sort of gasp. "Look, Clem! Look!" he cried, pointing to the right.

Hanging over the river was an enormous crag which had partly broken away from the cliff behind, and the shape of it was that of a huge head. It was impossible to believe that it had not been carved by human hands. There was the forehead, the great blunt nose, and projecting chin. There were the eyes and the mouth all startlingly perfect. The likeness was increased by a mass of scrubby bush growing on the top of the head and resembling hair.

Clem stared at it for a moment with a feeling almost of terror. "The—the Stone Man! he said at last hoarsely.

"Aye, it's the Stone Man," answered Bart. "And I don't reckon Mother Nature ever carved anything more wonderful here or anywheres else."

"Wonderful!" repeated Clem, staring at the huge, amazing face, which had a stern yet not unkind expression. "It's the most wonderful thing I ever dreamed of."

"Wal, don't dream! Paddle!" said Bart dryly. "For you're a- going to see something a sight more wonderful afore you're many minutes older."


XX. — THE HOLLOW MOUNTAIN

THE canoe swept on beneath the sphinx-like face of the Stone Man; she drove round a second curve, and from both the boys at once came a cry of amazement. For right in front was a monstrous wall of rock, and at its base the black arch of a vast tunnel, into the gloomy depths of which the whole great river poured—and vanished.

"Set tight!" cried Bart. "It ain't as bad as it looks." He turned to the two Indians, whose faces were frozen with superstitious terror, and spoke to them sharply in their own language. It did not seem to do much good, but since the canoe was in the grip of the rapid and it was impossible to turn, the wretched men stolidly accepted their fate, and although they clearly expected nothing but instant death, obeyed Bart's orders.

The boys held their breath as the canoe, steered by Bart, shot straight into the centre of the lofty arch. Next moment she was dropping at a giddy speed. The roar of the water penned under the rock roof was deafening. The sound increased to a deep thunder, and suddenly the canoe swooped downward with a feeling like that of descending in a fast lift. Then, almost before Clem and Billy had realized what was happening, she had steadied and was floating smoothly on a calm surface.

"And—and it's not dark!" came from Billy. "Look, Clem!" He pointed upward as he spoke, and Clem, looking up, saw, at an immense height above, a great opening, a sort of huge skylight through which the sunlight struck down in long shafts.

"Told ye ye'd see something funny," came Bart's deep voice.

"It—it's a hollow mountain," declared Billy.

"Ye've hit it in once, Billy. We call it Hollow Hill. I don't reckon thar's a bigger cave in all the North-West, and they do say Injuns lived in here once. Mebbe they do still for all I know."

The boys looked round with the most intense interest. The light from above, bright as it was, was not enough to show the whole of the cave, which stretched away on both sides into dusky distances where all was lost in shadow. As for its height, the roof seemed to be at least a thousand feet above them. The place was staggering in its immensity. Through the centre ran the river, black as jet, deep, swift, but smooth.

"Give Pelly something to think about, eh, boys?" said Bart, with a deep chuckle.

"If it scares him any worse than it did me, he'll never recover," grinned Billy.

"If you was scared, you've got over it mighty quick," said Bart approvingly. "And now I'll tell ye there ain't anything more to be scared of onless them pesky Kaloots get arter us."

"Indians?" questioned Clem.

"Aye, bad Injuns. And we're a-getting into their country once we're out o' this. But I'm hoping as they'll be on the river catching salmon, and ef that's so mebbe we won't see nothing of them."

It took about twenty minutes to pass through the hollow hill; then the canoe shot a short, swift rapid, and glided out again into brilliant sunshine. There were still cliffs on either side, but not so lofty as before, and presently these dropped to wooded banks, and the river broadened again.

"Keep your eyes skinned," said Bart. "Ef ye sees anything, sing out quick."

A couple of fish-hawks wheeled overhead, but beyond these there was no sign of life; yet Bart slowed the pace of the canoe, and they paddled cautiously until they reached a pebbly beach on the right bank, with a thick clump of trees behind it. Here Bart steered the canoe ashore, and they all landed. Bart himself carefully chose the spot for caching the canoe, and when this was done the party shouldered their packs and struck inland toward the mountains.

It was not bad going, and by nightfall the little party was high among the hills, and had left the river miles behind. The boys hoped that all was well, but Bart did not seem quite easy. He picked a thick grove in which to camp, and would allow only a very small fire.

The night, however, passed quietly enough, and morning found them climbing again. The great mountains which they had seen ahead for nearly a week now towered above them in solemn majesty, and the air was colder than they had felt it since passing over the Coast Range.

They had been travelling for about two hours when Passuk suddenly pulled up and pointed to the ground. Bart stooped and examined the spot, and the boys saw that he was looking decidedly grave.

"Indians?" Clem ventured.

Bart nodded. "Kaloots. A hunting party. I only wish I knowed just which way they'd gone. Don't any of ye make a sound if ye can help it," Bart ordered. "It's a mighty still day, and a dry stick a-cracking under your feet kin be heard a mile off by them Injuns. So I just warns ye to be mighty careful."

The boys and Jock did their best to obey, but marching over rough ground is none too easy at any time, and the strain of doing it quietly became more and more heavy as the day wore on. They ate their dinner silently, hidden in a patch of thick bush, and then went on as quietly as before, still climbing the giant slope, which stretched upward mile after mile.

The boys kept their eyes fixed on the ground, and every muscle in their legs was aching with the strain of going so soft-footed. It was all the harder because Bart carefully avoided all open ground, and kept to the thickest part of the woods.

Well on in the afternoon, when the shadows were beginning to lengthen in front of them, they came to open, park-like ground, with patches of trees scattered here and there. Beyond this, some two or three miles away, the mountains rose like a wall. Bart stopped and spoke in a low voice to Ahkim, who shook his head. "I believe Ahkim is scared of crossing the open," said Billy to Clem.

"But Bart wants to push on," replied Clem. "Billy, I believe we're getting pretty near the end of our journey."

Billy's eyes shone with excitement. "I believe so too. Bart said it was in those mountains. I say, Clem, I hope we're going to keep right on."

Clem did not answer, for secretly he was feeling rather doubtful. If this Indian hunting party was about, here was just the country for them. Several caribou were visible in the distance, grazing on the rich grass. He looked at Bart again, and felt certain that Billy was right, for Bart had stopped speaking, and Ahkim was looking anything but happy. Next minute Bart turned to Jock and the boys.

"I guess we'll try and make it," he said. "It's risky, I'll allow, but in my notion it would be a heap more risky to stop here. Ye see, if the Injuns happens to hit our trail they'd slip upon us arter dark, and then there wouldn't be a dog's chance fer any of us."

"Just as you say," Jock answered quietly, and after a last careful survey of their surroundings the party started once more. Bart led the way from one clump of trees to the next, and they covered rather more than a mile without anything happening. Then, without the slightest warning, a figure rose into view on the crest of a little grassy rise some three or four hundred yards away to the left. In the clear air they could see that he was a man of middle height, wearing only a breech clout and moccasins, and that he carried bow and arrows. The low sun shone full on a streak of red paint across his face and on a tuft of feathers in his hair.

Bart stopped short, half-raised his rifle, then lowered it. "No," he said curtly. "I reckon we got to wait for them to begin. Boys, jest walk right along. Don't run till I gives the word."

The rest obeyed, but Clem's and Billy's eyes were on the Indian. Presently he was joined by four others. They stood for a moment or two, staring at the party of whites, then all disappeared again behind the crest of the knoll.

Bart quickened his stride. "Keep right close to me," he ordered. They had covered perhaps half a mile when Clem's sharp eyes caught a movement among some trees to the left. He told Bart. Bart looked and nodded. "Drop your packs," he said. "Drop everything except your rifles and ammunition. Ef we got to run, we'll run light."


XXI. — THE BLACK GAP

AT Bart's order all five loosened the straps of their packs and dropped them. Next moment there came from the trees to their left a yell so hideous that it made shivers run down the spines of Clem and Billy. It seemed impossible that human beings could have produced such a horrible sound.

"They've seed us," said Bart. "How many is there, Jock?"

"Not more than a dozen, I guess," answered Jock Scarlett.

"It's enough," growled Bart. "Now see here. I don't want to shoot onless we has to. But ef they comes too close there won't be nothing else for it. Now foller me, and look slippy."

Dodging out of the clump of timber in which for the moment they had sheltered, Bart began running for the next. It was surprising what a pace he set, and the boys had all they could do to keep up with him. The Indians saw them, and yelled again. "Sounds like the Zoo at feeding-time," panted Billy as he raced along beside Clem.

Clem glanced back over his shoulder. "They're after our packs," he said. "That gives us a chance."

"Jolly lucky for us!" responded Billy, and he was right. The Indians, fourteen all told, had flung themselves on the packs like hungry wolves, and it was not until they had gathered up every single thing that Bart's party had left that they again took up the chase. But when they did really start to run they came like the wind, and gained rapidly. It was terrifying to see the way in which they ate up the ground.

There was one more clump of trees between Bart's party and the cliffs, and the Indians were not a hundred yards behind them when they gained it. Suddenly there was a faint hissing sound. An arrow rang on a stone within a yard of Clem and shot off at a sharp angle. Another thudded upon a tree-trunk and stuck there quivering.

"Guess I'll have to stop this," snapped Bart, and snatching his shotgun from Ahkim, who was behind him, he thrust in two cartridges and fired. Shrieks announced that the shot had reached its target. "That'll learn 'em!" growled Bart. "No, I ain't killed none—jest tickled 'em up a piece."

Dropping to the ground, the Indians lay flat among the tufts of coarse grass, and seemed to vanish like so many rabbits. Bart glanced through the trees toward the cliffs which rose, stern and forbidding, some four or five hundred yards away. Billy saw the look. "Not much help for us there, Clem," he whispered. "Nothing but a squirrel could climb those rocks."

"They do look pretty steep," allowed Clem, "but Bart must know some way up."

"And while we climb the Indians will pick us off with their beastly arrows," said Billy, scowling.

Just then Bart turned to them. "You boys slip along to the far side of the clump," he said. "Wait thar till I joins ye."

Clem hesitated. He hated leaving Bart like this. "Git, I tell ye!" said Bart, and this time there was no disobeying him. Clem and Billy got.

There was a pause of perhaps two minutes, then two loud bangs, and next moment Bart, Jock, Ahkim, and Passuk came running hard. "Foller me!" Bart ordered as he reached the boys, and then all six were racing together across the open. From behind them came the savage war-cry of the Kaloots, which echoed hideously back from the towering walls of broken rock confronting them. Then arrows began to whiz again. Clem and Billy heard them strike the ground close behind with nasty quick thuds. They ran with the rest, but both—Billy especially—were feeling pretty hopeless.

For even if they did reach the cliff ahead of the Indians, what was the good? True, they might turn to bay among the scattered boulders at the base, but they had no food or water—nothing but their rifles. Suddenly the air was rent by another and much louder yell, and Clem, glancing back, saw a sight which filled him with horror. "There are a lot more Indians," he panted as he raced alongside Bart. "Twenty at least. They're coming up from the left."

Without stopping an instant, Bart looked back. Clem was right. Here was a fresh party of Kaloots, twice as strong as the first, all running at full speed in a desperate effort to cut off the white men before they reached the cliffs.

"Run!" roared Bart. "Run as ye never ran in your lives. Make fer that Black Gap. If ye kin reach it afore them redskins ye're safe."

The boys spurted for all they were worth. Their hearts thumped, their legs felt like lead, but they kept well up with Bart. Billy stumbled, and Jock Scarlett, who was nearest, caught and steadied him.

Now they could see the point for which Bart was making—the Black Gap, as he called it, and that was just what it was—a cleft so narrow as to be invisible at anything more than a couple of hundred yards. But that last two hundred yards was a nightmare, and how they kept going neither Clem nor Billy ever knew. It was only the knowledge that a terrible end awaited them if they failed which kept them on their feet. They ran with their eyes glued upon the spot.

"Fifty yards more!" Clem heard Bart mutter thickly. "Keep up, boys. You're doing fine." The cleft seemed to widen. It opened out so that Clem could see a passage running deep into the cliffs. Again an arrow hissed past and splintered on the cliff face. Clem felt Bart seize him by the arm; then he was suddenly in deep gloom, and as Bart let go he stumbled and collapsed flat on the hard ground. Not for all the Indians in Alaska could he have run another yard.

"Look out, Bart!" cried Jock Scarlett. "They'll be on us in a tick."

"I guess not," replied Bart dryly, "but ef they tries it I'm ready for 'em."

"Why shouldn't they try it?" demanded Jock. The words were hardly out of his mouth before there came rumbling down the gorge a roar like that of an explosion. It was so heavy that it made the solid ground quiver. It was followed by a tremendously loud, shrieking whistle which lasted for several seconds. Then came another roar, not so loud as the first, but still sufficiently heavy to resemble that of a good-sized waterfall.

"That's why!" replied Bart as soon as he could make himself heard.

"But what does it mean? I don't understand," said Jock.

"You'll understand when you've walked a bit farther up this here gorge," Bart told him.

Bart was still breathing hard, but he and Jock had stood the run better than the boys, who were still lying panting on the ground. Presently Clem managed to sit up. The first thing he realized was that all sight of the Indians and of the open country across which they had come was shut off. This was because the gorge did not cut straight into the cliff, but at a sharp angle. The next was that though the actual opening was narrow the part which they had reached was as wide as a broad street. Then he saw something else—that down the gorge was stealing a thick mist, rolling in soft grey folds, like the vapour from a giant kettle.

The roaring noise had stopped, but there was a curious gurgling in the distance. This, he thought, was like water running out of a great bath, and he could not imagine what caused it. Jock was standing facing the entrance of the gorge, his rifle ready in his hands, but as Clem watched he turned to Bart. "You're right, Bart," he said in a puzzled voice. "Not one of those Indians has shown up. I suppose they think the place is haunted."

"Something of that sort, I reckon," agreed Bart, with a twinkle in his eyes. "And they ain't so far wrong either, as mebbe you'll see afore you're much older."

Billy, who by this time had got his wind back, struggled to his feet. "Come on, Bart. Let's go and see. What sort of ghosts are they?"

Bart laughed outright. "I thought curiosity would cure ye, Billy. What about it, Clem? You ready to march?"

"I'm ready," announced Clem. "All I want is a drink of water. My throat's like leather."

"Ye won't have long to wait afore ye gets water and everything else ye wants," replied Bart comfortingly. "Now step lively. We got to get past her afore she blows again."

"What in the world does he mean?" Billy asked Clem, as they started off.

"I've no more idea than you, Billy, and it's no use asking Bart. But I suppose we shall see pretty soon."

Billy was so eager to solve the mystery that he hurried on at a great pace, giving Clem all he could do to keep up.

For wild magnificence the gorge beat everything they had seen yet. The cliffs were of a strange black rock, and towered to a terrific height on either side. They were fissured and seamed with deep cracks, and not even a blade of grass grew on their splintered faces.

As they went onward the gorge widened a little; then, rounding a curve, it opened out suddenly into a good-sized circular space. In the centre of this was a round basin about fifty yards across, and its appearance was so strange that both the boys pulled up short and stared at it in amazement; for the rock of which it was made was white as snow at the bottom, and above that was banded yellow, red, and brown. In the middle of the basin was a small black hole. The great basin was soaking wet, yet there was no water in it, but over all still hung a soft cloud of thin mist.


XXII. — THE VALLEY OF THE MIST

BILLY swung round on Bart. "What is it?" he demanded eagerly.

Bart glanced at the big gun-metal watch which he carried in his trousers pocket. "She'll tell you herself inside of ten minutes. But I reckon we'd best be the other side of her afore she begins to talk."

The boys were simply bursting with curiosity as they hurried across the circular space. Beyond it the gorge ran onward into the heart of the hills.

"Guess we can stop now," said Bart, as they came to a spot some three hundred paces beyond the basin. He looked at his watch again. "She's due in jest two minutes," he remarked.

"What's due?" begged Billy, but Bart only grinned. Jock chuckled too, and it was clear that he understood. But even Billy could not persuade him to speak. Billy was getting quite cross, when suddenly a deep rumbling sound from the basin made him jump.

"Now watch her," said Bart.

The rumbling grew to a roar, the same roar which they had heard before, but now, since they were so much nearer, immensely louder. The ground trembled as if with an earthquake, and suddenly from the hole in the centre of the basin up rose a vast spout like a giant fountain. Up and up it soared to a height of nearly a hundred and fifty feet, and with it rose great clouds of steam and vapour. Then, when it had reached its greatest height, the huge spout curved over and fell thundering back into the basin from which it had risen. Clem gave a shout. "I know what it is. It's a geyser."

"Thet's what the books calls it, son," agreed Bart. "But we calls him 'Old Watchdog!'"

"Why?" questioned Billy.

"Because he guards the pass. There ain't no other way into the Valley o' the Mist onless ye passes the Watchdog. And onless ye knows jest when he's a-going off it's apt to be mighty awkward for ye."

"I should think it would be," cried Billy. "Why, you'd be boiled alive!"

"How often does it go off?" asked Clem.

"Every thirty-five minutes, to the tick," replied Bart.

The eruption ceased while he spoke, leaving the basin brimming and bubbling like a cauldron. Then the sucking sound began again, and the boiling water drained away into the hole through which it had risen.

Jock, who had been watching in silence, spoke. "I don't wonder the Indians are scared of that," he remarked. "Look at Ahkim and Passuk." The two had fallen flat, their faces pressed against the ground. They were so badly scared that it took Bart some minutes to persuade them to get up again, and even then they were shaking all over, and could hardly stand.

"Lucky they haven't much to carry," remarked Jock. "They wouldn't get far with it."

"They wouldn't need to," replied Bart. "We ain't got above two miles to go."

"What!" cried Billy, in wild excitement. "Are we there?"

"Mighty near it," replied Bart, with the old twinkle in his eyes. "Half an hour's march, and then I reckon to show ye something as ye'd hardly expect to see up here in the mountains."

"Come on. Let's go!" begged Billy.

"Guess I'm ready," answered Bart. Then, as Billy shot ahead, he stopped him sharply. "You two boys keep right along behind me. It ain't reckoned healthy fer strangers to go running loose among the People o' the Mist."

Very unwillingly the two boys dropped behind Bart. They were both so excited that they had completely forgotten their dry throats and aching legs. "I wish Bart would go faster," grumbled Billy in Clem's ear. Clem did not answer. He was straining his eyes through the mist, which still lay thick in the gorge.

Suddenly Bart pulled up. "Say, boys, I'm a-going to show ye something," he remarked quietly. "Now shut your eyes tight."

Clem and Billy wondered, but obeyed.

"Ye'll keep 'em tight shut till I gives the word," said Bart.

They both promised. Then Bart took them by the arm, one on each side of him, and marched them along. They had a sort of idea that they were going round a bend, but both faithfully kept their eyes tightly closed, and so they went for about a couple of hundred paces.

Then Bart stopped. "Open yer eyes," he said. They did so, and found themselves standing at the head of a great slope which overlooked an immense valley—a valley so wild and beautiful that they had never seen or even dreamed of anything to match it. All around rose up mountains, like a great wall, soaring high against the blue sky. Their summits were white with snow, but their lower slopes were covered with thick forests which reached down to a great lake, the water of which was clear as crystal and blue as the sky above.

But the most startling part of the scene lay just below them. On the lake shore, at the bottom of the great slope, was a wide clearing, and in it was a village. Billy passed his hand across his eyes. "It—it's almost like England!" he said slowly.

"For a fact, it ain't a bad imitation," replied Bart, with a smile. Clem saw what Billy meant, for though the houses were of squared logs and the roofs were shingled, each house was surrounded by a neatly fenced garden full of flowers and vegetables. The houses bordered a wide street running all along the lake shore, and opposite was a landing, with canoes and boats tied to it. But what struck the boys at once was the house that stood by itself on the hillside, above the rest—a fine big house with a wide veranda and real glass in the windows.

"Whose is that?" demanded Billy.

"That belongs to the boss," replied Bart. "The 'Big Britisher' some calls him," he added, with a twinkle in his eyes. "But you'll meet him mighty soon. Now keep right behind me, fer, as I told ye, there's them here as don't like strangers."

He started down the hill as he spoke, and the boys followed, full of wonder.

"Look at the people," said Billy to Clem. Three men were on the landing. They were Indians, but of a type the boys had never yet seen—tall, well set up men, as different as possible from the heavy, squat-built Ahkim and Passuk. Bart led the way toward the big house, and as they came near it the boys were more than ever struck by the English look of it all—the neat garden, with English flowers, and cabbages and potatoes behind.

"Watch out!" said Bart suddenly, and in a moment half a dozen great shaggy beasts came rushing out of the village, and made straight toward the newcomers.

"Wolves!" gasped Billy, but Bart shook his head. "Huskies," he answered. "Stand quiet, both on ye."

The pack came racing up. They were most formidable-looking creatures, with the long jaws and sharp-pricked ears of the true timber wolf, yet otherwise very like dogs. Yet the odd thing was that, unlike dogs, they made no sound at all, but came in dead silence. The leader was the biggest of them all. He stood thirty inches at the shoulder, and looked able to pull down a horse.

Bart waited till he came quite close, then called aloud, "Mikki!" The great leader stopped short; then with the oddest sound, half bark, half yelp, flung himself on Bart, and standing on his hind-legs put his paws on Bart's shoulders and began to lick his face.

Next moment came a shout from below. "Bart! Bart! Is it really you?"


XXIII. — LAKE FISHING

"SO you never suspected who it was had sent for you?" It was Mr Ballard who spoke. He, the boys, Bart, and Jock were sitting round the table in the great living-room of the big house, and enjoying such a meal as they had not seen for many a long day. Clem looked up. "No, Dad," he answered. "You see, we thought you were in Australia."

"The police thought so," replied his father, rather grimly. "And naturally I did not inform them to the contrary. As a matter of fact, I got away in a whaler from Dundee, and was landed up at Point Barrow, on the Arctic coast. There I had the great good luck to fall in with Bart Condon, and it was he who told me of this valley, where I have found refuge."

Bart looked up from his caribou steak. "David, you ain't told them yet," he said gravely.

Mr Ballard flushed. "Do I need to, Bart?" he asked.

Clem understood, and spoke quickly. "Not that you're innocent, Dad. Billy and I know that."

"Thank you, Clem," replied his father quietly. "Still, I must tell you this much. It was my partner, Silas Wayne, who was the cause of all this trouble. Quite accidentally I had discovered that he was not playing the game, from a business point of view, and I spoke to him and warned him. The result was that he took a violent dislike to me, and set to plotting secretly to get rid of me. Like a fool, I never suspected it, and the first thing I knew of it was when I was arrested for forging his signature to a deed. The signature was indeed a forgery, but it was the work of an accomplice of Wayne, named Gurney."

"Gurney!" broke in Clem. "Why, that's the fellow who was on the steamer."

Bart nodded. "Aye, he's got wise to where you are, David, but don't you worry. We've fooled him. But I'll tell ye after. Now go on."

"There is little more to say," said Mr Ballard. "So cunningly had Wayne laid his trap that I never had a chance. I was found guilty and sentenced to a term of penal servitude. It is simply owing to the fact that I happen to be stronger and more active than most men that I managed to escape from the train. Luck was with me. I stumbled upon an empty house, found tools to get rid of my handcuffs and a change of clothes. Then I made straight for the coast. Luck was with me again, for I found a ship short- handed, and got a berth at once." He paused. "And here I am," he added.

"I think it was splendid of you, Dad," exclaimed Billy.

"So do I," agreed Clem. "But what about this horrid man Wayne? Can't we force him to own up? You see, Dad, you're always in danger until you are proved innocent."

"Exactly, Clem. There you have the root of the trouble in a few words. My chief ambition in life is to prove my innocence, but there are terrible difficulties in the way."

Clem turned to Bart. "If we had only known that Gurney did the forgery!" he said sadly.

Bart shook his head. "Ye couldn't hev done nothing aboard the ship, Clem. My chief notion all through was to dodge that there son of a gun. That's one reason why I wouldn't tell you lads where we was going, nor nothing else about the trip. I warn't going to resk the chance of your even talking in your sleep."

For a while there was silence. Jock Scarlett, who had not yet spoken, broke it. "Mr Ballard, it seems to me that the proper thing to do is to get hold of a first-class lawyer, put all the facts in his hands, and see what he can do."

"Quite so," replied Mr Ballard, "but that means money."

The boys stared. "But you paid an awful lot to bring us out from home, Dad," said Billy.

Mr Ballard smiled. "I got that from selling a parcel of silver-fox fur, which Bart took down to the coast. Now I have heaps more furs here—perhaps two thousand pounds' worth. But the trouble is to get them to the coast. They are a big bulk, and you boys know the difficulty of the journey."

"It's plumb out o' the question to take 'em now," said Bart bluntly. "Not with Gurney and Craze and Ed Pelly lurking round."

"Just so," said Mr Ballard. "We must think of some other plan."

He and Bart discussed the matter for an hour or more, but could not see any way out of the difficulty. At last Bart rose to his feet. "I guess there's nothing for it, but just to wait, Ballard. These troubles have a way of solving themselves if you wait long enough."

Mr Ballard laughed. "Good advice, Bart. Good enough to sleep on, anyhow. Like you, I'm ready to go to bed."

A fortnight passed delightfully. Then one day Clem and Billy went fishing on the big lake which occupied the whole of the centre of the valley.

Billy, who had been paddling vigorously, stopped and allowed the canoe to glide into a little bay. "This seems a good place, Clem," he said.

Clem nodded, and, pulling line from the reel of his fishing- rod, cast out his spinning bait. Flashing in the sun, it dropped into the ripples twenty yards away. "Now paddle quietly, Billy," he told his brother. "Bart says it's best to sink the bait pretty deep. The big fish swim a long way down."

Billy did as he was asked, and the light canoe glided easily through the water, the only sound being that of the tiny waves slapping her bow.

Billy looked back toward the village, now a long way astern. "I can hardly believe we've been here a whole fortnight, Clem," he said.

"No more can I. It seems like a dream."

"A jolly nice dream," grinned Billy. "I never had such a good time in my life. Wonder what old Grimston would say if he could see us now."

Clem laughed outright. "He'd think he was dreaming. I say, Billy, what wouldn't you give to have introduced him to the mastodon?"

But Billy did not smile. "Don't, Clem!" he said quite sharply. "That was too much like a nightmare. I'm precious glad there are no beasts of that sort in the Valley of the Mist."

Clem nodded. "So am I. But, Billy, did you hear what that big Indian, Keesh, said about the next valley?"

"No," replied Billy. "He didn't tell me."

"He calls it the Valley of the Monster," Clem told him.

"Valley of the Monster?" repeated Billy.

"Yes, but when I asked him I couldn't get much out of him. Even these Piegan Indians of Dad's are superstitious. But from what he did say I got a notion it's something pretty big."

"A mastodon?" questioned Billy.

"No, for it lives on meat. He says it kills deer, and that it is as old as the hills. 'Very bad medicine,' he called it."

Billy shivered. "Sounds like that horrid thing Bart told us about—the creature that hops on its hind-legs and hunts caribou."

Clem nodded. "Well, like you, Billy, I've had enough of monsters, but this is what I want to know. If there's no way out of this valley except the one we came in by, past the great geyser, how did Keesh know anything about this beast?"

"He might have seen it from the top of one of these mountains," suggested Billy.

"I suppose he might," agreed Clem, "but I'm not so sure. See here, this is a jolly big lake, and quite a lot of streams run into it. How does it drain?"

"Haven't a notion," replied Billy, with a shrug. "May be an underground passage like that Hollow Hill place we came through in the canoe."

Clem looked doubtful. "Anything is possible in this amazing country," he said, "but I'd like to know."

Billy did not answer. He was looking up at the sky. "There's a rum-looking cloud up in the north," he said presently. "I've a notion we'd better be shoving back."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before Clem's line tightened with a jerk, the rod tip bent, and the line went rattling off the reel. "A whopper!" cried Clem. "My goodness, Billy, it's the father of all the fish! Paddle! Paddle for all you're worth, or he'll break me."

The great fish had headed straight down the lake, and dipping his paddle, Billy drove the canoe after him at full speed. In a moment they were out of the bay, and the canoe travelling at such a pace that it seemed as if a tug was pulling her. The two boys, intent on the great fish speeding onward deep in the clear cold water beneath them, never gave another thought to the monstrous black cloud which spread its dark wings over the mountain, never heard the low, moaning sound which filled the upper air.


XXIV. — WHEN THE STORM BROKE

"WHAT can it be?" gasped Clem, as he braked the reel and tried hard to control the struggles of the unseen monster. "It can't be a trout. It must weigh twenty pounds or more."

"Bart says there are trout quite as big as that in this lake," Billy told his brother. "He calls them 'Dolly Vardens.'"

"I can't do a thing with him," said Clem. "Paddle harder, Billy. He's still taking line off the reel. Oh, goodness, what's he doing now? I do believe he's going right down to the bottom of the lake."

"Hang on!" cried Billy, as excited as Clem himself. "Hang on! He can't go very much deeper. Ah, there he's coming up again! Reel! Reel for all you're worth."

Clem reeled in line as hard as ever he could go, and had gained ten or fifteen yards, when up came the great fish to the surface, and flung itself high into the air.

"It's a yard long!" exclaimed Clem, as it fell back with a resounding splash.

"And what gorgeous scarlet spots!" replied Billy. "It's a trout right enough, Clem, and we must have him."

"It's going to be a rare fight," panted Clem, as the big fish went off as fast as before. "I say, he's taking us right out into the middle."

Five minutes passed, and in spite of Clem's best efforts the great trout was still his master. Do what he would, he could get no more line back; indeed, he had lost some of that which he had previously gained. Then, quite suddenly, the sunlight was cut off just as if a curtain had been drawn across it, and the water, previously so brilliantly blue, took on a dull leaden tinge.

Now at last Billy looked up. "I say, Clem, look at that cloud!" he cried. "It's simply galloping up. I don't like it a bit."

But Clem was too busy to turn. His rod was almost double, and his whole mind was set upon the problem of how long his tackle would stand this fearful strain. Just then the monster trout jumped again, then made a fresh dash, fairly ripping line off the reel. But this rush did not last so long as the first, and presently Clem was really reeling in. "He's tiring!" he exclaimed in triumph. "We'll have him in a minute or two, Billy."

"If that storm doesn't have us first," said Billy uneasily.

The moaning sound came again, and this time both the brothers heard it.

"Clem, there's a regular buster coming," said Billy, quite sharply. "We must get back to the shore."

But for once Clem, usually the cautious one of the pair, was too excited to think of danger. "In two minutes, Billy," he answered. "He's pretty well fagged out. Get the gaff ready. You'll have to be jolly careful about getting him into the canoe, or he'll upset us."

As he spoke the great trout, exhausted by its struggles, was already on its side. He reeled in rapidly, and Billy got the gaff ready. Slipping it deftly under the fish, he gave one quick lift, and the splendid creature lay flopping in the bottom of the canoe. "Isn't he fine!" cried Clem. "Won't Dad be pleased. He loves grilled trout better than anything."

But Billy did not answer. He had picked up the paddle, and was driving the canoe back toward the shore as hard as he could go. Clem looked up, and what he saw frightened him. The sky to the north-east was black as night, and the mountain tops were veiled in writhing mists, while the upper air was full of an ugly moaning sound. He glanced at the shore, still quite half a mile away. Then he too snatched up a paddle and set to work. It was too late. All in a flash the storm descended upon the lake; it spun the canoe like a feather, and sent her skimming in the opposite direction. For a few moments the two boys worked like furies to keep her head into the wind. It was useless, and Clem saw it. "It's no good, Billy," he cried. "We've got to let her drive."

The speed with which the weather had changed was simply paralysing. When Clem had hooked his fish a warm autumn sun had shone on calm blue water; now a shrieking gale was lashing steel- coloured waves and sending the spray scudding across the canoe, while above the upper air was full of rushing grey mist.

Clem realized the danger to the full. "I was a selfish fool, Billy," he said bitterly.

But Billy would have none of it. "Nonsense, old man! You never saw. It was my fault. I ought to have told you. However, it's not a bit of good apologizing to one another. After all, it only means running down to the end of the lake and taking shelter until this is over."

"If we can—" began Clem, then cut himself short. "If we can ever do it," he had been going to say, but what was the use of scaring Billy? He knew what a sea gets up on these mountain lakes, and how frail a craft the canoe was, and he was desperately doubtful whether the canoe could live, or whether she would be swamped by the quickly rising waves. The only thing was to keep her going so that she would not be 'pooped'—that is, overtaken by a wave, and with that idea in his head he paddled like fury.

Driven by two paddles as well as the furious gale, the canoe fairly flew down the lake, but the worst of it was that the farther they went the higher grew the waves—very short waves, but for that reason all the more dangerous. They came hissing up astern, each one curling dangerously over the stern, and some breaking partly over her. Icy water began to lap in the bottom. "You'll have to bail, Billy," shouted Clem; and Billy, dropping his paddle set to bailing frantically.

Now the whole handling of the canoe was left to Clem; and it was almost beyond him. Yet he kept his head and stuck to it gallantly. Again and again he cast longing glances at the banks, but he had to realize that it was out of the question to turn the canoe one way or the other. If he tried it she would be swamped at once.

On and on they drove. The village was out of sight, hidden in the driving storm-haze and spindrift. All they could see were the dark waves leaping after them like hungry wolves, and the banks dim on either side.

It had turned bitterly cold all of a sudden, but this Clem hardly noticed. Furious paddling kept him warm enough. Presently he noticed that the banks seemed plainer to the sight. He knew what this meant—that they were getting near to the lower or western end of the lake. But this gave him no comfort, for here the banks rose into towering cliffs, and, even if it had been possible to drive across the wind, there would be no landing- place. Higher and higher they rose, and narrower and narrower grew the lake, until the boys were driving through a gut not more than five or six hundred yards wide. And here the wind was stronger than ever. Its whole force seemed to be concentrated in this funnel, and it blew with a shrieking fury impossible to describe.

Clem's heart went cold within him, for it seemed to him that they were in a trap from which there was no escape. The canoe would at last be driven to the very end of the ever-narrowing gap, and dashed against the rock face. The first blow would break the frail craft to matchwood, and he and Billy would be left to drown in the icy waves.

Billy too saw what was happening. "Can you shove her over one side or the other, Clem?" he shouted, above the roar of the wind and waves. "If we don't land soon it seems to me we shan't be able to at all."

"I'll try," Clem answered resolutely. "Bail hard, Billy."

Seizing his chance, he tried to drive the canoe to the right, where he fancied he could see a rock point projecting out into the waves. But the moment he began to turn her a wave top smashed in over her stern, leaving six inches of water washing about inside her.

"Straighten her!" shrieked Billy, and just in time Clem forced her back. Even then it was touch and go. If it had not been for Billy's desperate bailing the canoe would certainly have sunk. But he sent the water flying out of her, while Clem paddled like fury, and presently she was riding dry again.

But with every minute the gut through which they were rushing grew narrower, while on either side the dark cliffs towered up until they were lost in the mist.

"Where are we going, Clem?" cried Billy, panting with his exertions.

"I can't tell any more than you," replied Clem. "Still, we've kept afloat so far."

"Looks to me as if there was a bit of a curve just beyond," said Billy. "If we can get round that we shall be out of the worst of the wind."

"You're right. There is. There's a chance for us still," answered Clem.

The sight filled him with fresh hope and energy, and he paddled harder than ever. At the curve was a great shoulder of rock projecting out into the deep water, and the waves were leaping up it to the height of a man. With a last desperate effort Clem managed to drive the canoe round it, and the result was like a miracle. In the twinkling of an eye they were out of the terrible rush and roar of the wind and floating on long, smooth rollers.


XXV. — INTO THE DARKNESS

"OH, Clem, what luck!" cried Billy.

But Clem could not answer. Absolutely worn out by his terrific efforts, he had shipped his paddle and was lying forward with his head on his knees, panting for breath.

Billy remembered the little flask of brandy packed with their sandwiches in the basket under the stern. Bart had given it to them long ago, telling them never to go out without it. "A drop of good brandy has saved many a man's life," he had said. "And you boys jest carry it along with ye, in case o' need." Billy put about a teaspoonful in the metal cup, mixed it with water, and made Clem swallow it.

Clem choked a little, but the drink pulled him round wonderfully. His heart ceased to pound, and he began to breathe more easily. "You'd better have some too, Billy," he said, and made his brother take a dose.

It was just as he handed the cup to Billy that he noticed how rapidly the canoe was still travelling. The shoulder of rock was already fifty yards away, and the canoe was simply flying along at the foot of a tall cliff which rose like a black wall above them.

"Look, Billy! Look at the pace she's moving!" he exclaimed.

"Phew, I should think she was!" replied Billy, snatching up his paddle. Clem did the same, and they both set to work to turn the canoe and drive her back to the eddy behind the shoulder.

After four or five minutes of hard paddling they were exactly in the same spot. Their combined efforts were just enough to hold the canoe against the current. To save their lives they could not gain a yard.

"Clem, old boy," panted Billy at last, "I'm almost done."

"So am I," groaned Clem. "I say, what are we to do?"

"Let her rip," said Billy recklessly. "We shall have to do that sooner or later, and I vote we do it now, and save our strength for whatever is coming."

"I expect you are right. It's the only thing to do," Clem answered, and as he spoke he stopped paddling.

At once the mill-race current seized the canoe, and she shot away almost as fast as a man could run.

"Where on earth are we going?" asked Billy, as he stared at the deep black water, now hardly wider than a canal, and at the huge black cliffs which towered on either side.

"Where under the earth, you'd better say!" replied Clem with a grim edge to his voice. "Look there! Look in front! This is where the big lake drains out, and if I'm not much mistaken it goes right underground."

Billy sat still as stone, staring. Clem was right, for a little way beyond the cliffs closed together, and the smooth black water along which they were helplessly speeding vanished beneath a tall, narrow arch. A vision of their driving helplessly down into those unknown depths made shivers, cold as ice, course down his spine, and suddenly he snatched up his paddle. "Paddle, Clem!" he shouted, and his voice echoed terribly up and down between the great walls of rock which compassed them.

"It's no good, Billy," replied Clem quite calmly. "Ten men couldn't hold her against this rush. Steady, old chap! Don't funk it. We've got to take our chance. Keep her well in the centre and hold her to it."

As he spoke the canoe darted in under the lofty arch. Next moment she had tilted slightly, and was racing down into utter blackness at an almost incredible speed.

There was no roar, no sound except the faint hiss of water as it rushed between smooth rock. By this Clem knew that the channel must be deep and straight. In an instant, however, all light was gone, and they shot forward through intense and utter blackness. It was no use steering, for it was impossible to see anything to steer by.

"Sit tight, Billy," said Clem sharply. "Don't paddle. Just let her go."

"Oh, Clem, where are we going?" came Billy's voice from behind him, and the sound of it made Clem's heart ache, for he realized that for once Billy's splendid pluck had deserted him, and that the strain had become greater than he could bear.

"It's all right, old chap," he answered steadily. "We shall come out again. It's only another hollow mountain like the one that Bart took us through."

"But it's so dark!" groaned Billy.

Clem put his hand into his pocket, and his fingers closed on his small electric torch. Next moment its clear white gleam illuminated the blackness. It shone upon a narrow chute of smooth black water sliding endlessly away into the gloom, and on walls of black rock polished as if by hand.

"It's all right," cried Clem joyously.

"How do you know?" asked Billy thickly.

"Look at the walls, Billy. All polished! That's ice. And ice couldn't do that unless it found its way out at the other end." It was not really a very good argument, but it did a lot to comfort Billy. And then, before anything else could be said, the thin light of the torch was dimmed by a stronger glow. "Daylight!" shouted Clem, and almost before the words were out of his mouth they were out of the tunnel, and once more in a river which slipped swiftly along at the bottom of a monstrous crack in the mountains.

"What did I tell you?" said Clem.

"I was an idiot, Clem. I lost my head," answered Billy, in a shamed voice.

"Well, I jolly nearly did too," replied Clem. "So you needn't worry, old man. But I say, I wonder where we are going to land up."

"In that Valley of the Monster, I expect," replied Billy.

Then there was silence for a bit, while the canoe flashed onward. The situation was still desperate enough, but the boys were both so intensely relieved at getting safely out of the tunnel that they hardly gave a thought to the dangers that still threatened them.

So far, the river which carried them had been so deep and straight that its current had been almost silent, but now both became conscious of a low, deep roar.

"Look out, Billy," sang out Clem. "There's a rapid ahead."

The canoe tilted quite steeply, the roar increased, and suddenly they were shooting madly down a rapid so steep that it was almost a fall. Yet even here there were no rocks to break the surface, and Clem saw that so long as he kept the canoe in midstream there was no great danger.

Faster and faster they flew downward; then suddenly Clem saw beneath them a regular hill of water, a great smooth hummock laced with long streaks of snowy foam.

The canoe hit it, rose like a car on a switchback, and was safely over the centre. She dipped again, her speed slackened, and she was floating in the middle of a broad pool with rocky banks and virgin forest all round.

"Topping!" cried Billy, his spirits rising with a bound. "You steered splendidly, Clem."

"Yes, but where are we?" said Clem doubtfully.

"Safe, anyhow. That's the great thing. Paddle on a bit, Clem. If we get out of these trees we can tell more about it."

Clem did so, and the canoe, passing out of the big pool, went gliding down a fair-sized river, which wound through the level bottom of a great valley. Behind them they could see the mountains bounding the lower end of the Valley of the Mist, and to the left was another chain of great hills. Clem glanced up at the cliff-like mountains behind them, and shook his head. "I say, Billy," he remarked, "we're going to have a sweet job to get home again."


XXVI. — THE SOUND IN THE NIGHT

"WE can't get back this evening," agreed Billy. "The best thing we can do is to camp, and wait till morning."

Clem nodded. "Yes, that's the only thing to do. The worst of it is that Dad will be in such a stew."

Billy agreed. "I'm afraid he'll be awfully worried," he said gravely. "Still, I don't think it's worth trying to climb those mountains to-night. It'll be dark in an hour."

Clem restrained a temptation to smile. It would not be an hour's but a full day's work even to reach the summit of those terrific cliffs. In fact, he had his doubts as to whether it would be possible to climb them at all. But he kept these doubts to himself, and beached the canoe.

"We've got the big trout still," remarked Billy. "That's grub for the present. And the storm seems to be over, so that's all to the good."

"It may be still blowing," said Clem, "but the mountains cut it off. How cold it's turned!"

"It is cold," allowed Billy, "but we'll soon have a fire. Luckily I've got my matches in a corked bottle, as Bart showed me."

"We'd better hunt for a cave," said Clem, as he dragged the canoe up. "I say, it's luck we've got a hatchet."

"And some sandwiches," answered Billy. "Come on."

Carrying their goods, they pushed their way through the trees up the steep bank to the left of the river, and started hunting for a cave. But this they could not find, and after a quarter of an hour's vain search they gave it up. "We must build a shack of pine-branches," said Clem. "Here's a good place. And hurry, Billy! The sun's down already." As he spoke he set to cutting branches.

By this time the boys knew all the tricks of camping, and the first thing they did was to choose two saplings about eight feet apart. They cut a pole long enough to reach from one to the other, and fastened it across at a height of about five feet from the ground. Then, after making a sloping framework with six other poles, they covered this tightly with pine-branches. Then the ground beneath was covered with a thick carpet of small branches and dry grass, and when all was complete they lit a big fire of dry wood in front.

The heat reflected from the sloping wall at the back of the shelter made it delightfully snug, and the two settled down to clean the trout and broil it over the coals. Since they had the remains of their sandwiches to eat with it, they both made a capital meal. Then they banked the fire well, and, curling up on their thick mattress of grass and pine-needles, went to sleep.

About one o'clock Clem was wakened by feeling very cold. He looked up at the sky, and saw that it was thick with clouds. There was not a star to be seen. He at once made up the fire, but as he lay looking at the crackling flames he did not feel happy.

It was now very late in the autumn, and Bart had told him that the long Indian summer which they had been enjoying might break at any time. It seemed to him that this was what was happening. But tired out with the long struggle of the previous day, he was soon asleep again.

When he next woke it was still dark, and Billy was shaking him by the arm. "What's the matter, Billy?" he asked, half crossly.

"That noise. Don't you hear it?" Billy whispered urgently.

Clem sat up. Somewhere in the distance there was a crashing sound, then a soft but very heavy thud. Then thud-thud-thud. It was as if some giant was pounding the earth with an enormous sledge-hammer.

"What is it?" demanded Billy.

"I haven't a notion," Clem answered. "Not the ghost of a notion. Unless it's a rock which has rolled down from the mountain."

"It's not that," replied Billy decidedly. "I heard it before—the same slow thudding, and a crash or two. Clem, do you think it's the monster?"

"Bosh!" retorted Clem. "I don't know of any animal that could make that noise. Don't worry about it, Billy. It's probably something quite natural, and we shall find out in the morning."

Billy was silent, but Clem could see that he was not happy. Then the sound came again—the same ponderous thuds. But it was farther off. "Let's make up the fire," said Clem, trying to speak cheerfully. But really, like Billy, he was very uneasy.

There was plenty of wood, and the red embers crackled up again. As the flames leaped up, the boys saw that the air was full of fine white flakes. "Good gracious, it's snowing!" said Billy.

Clem's spirits fell with a bump. So Bart had been right, and winter was upon them. Clem had never seen a Northern winter, but he had heard plenty about it since their arrival in the Valley of the Mist, and he knew that this snow was going to make their climb back across the mountains difficult, if not impossible. But he was not going to tell Billy so. "Perhaps it won't be much," he said.

Billy was not listening to him. "There it is again!" he said sharply. Once more came the extraordinary thumping. It went on for some time, but was fainter than before.

"Whatever it is, it's going away," said Clem. "And we're safe enough, with our fire. Go to sleep, Billy. We must get all the rest we can, for we're going to have a jolly stiff climb to- morrow."

All the same, it was a long time before they dropped off again. When they awoke the next time the sun was up, and its frosty light shone redly upon ground carpeted with nearly three inches of snow. It was also freezing quite sharply. "Ugh!" growled Billy. "This is rotten."

"Might be worse," replied Clem. "It might be still snowing. Come on. Let's get some breakfast, then start. We must get over the mountains before we are caught by another snowstorm."

More of the big trout was grilled, enough to give them food for the whole day. Then the two started down to the river, launched the canoe, and paddled across. Caching her carefully among some bushes on the far side they walked up the bank. "Clem," said Billy, "I wonder what that row was last night."

"I'm afraid we haven't time to find out," replied Clem. "It was queer, certainly."

"The weirdest thing I ever heard," agreed Billy. "Some day we must come back here and try to find out." He broke off suddenly. "Hallo, look at that bush!"

"My goodness, it looks as if a mastodon had stepped on it!" said Clem, turning a little to examine it.

"So it has, I believe!" exclaimed Billy, running forward. Then he stopped short, his eyes fairly bulging. "Clem, this was bigger than a mastodon. Look at that footprint."

Clem stood silent, gazing at a footmark—if footmark it was—so enormous that he could hardly believe his eyes. True, it was not so broad or deep as that of the mastodon, but it was of a length simply paralysing. "A yard and a half, if it's an inch," said Billy in an awe-stricken tone. "Clem, is it real, or is this a fake of some sort?"

"Not much fake about it," replied Clem dryly, "for see, here's another!"

It was true. About five feet away, and parallel with the first, was a second mark of equal size. The prints were somewhat dimmed by the snow which had fallen since they were made, yet there was no doubt about them, or about the monstrous weight which had crushed a stiff-looking bush quite flat into the ground. Billy walked forward. "Here are more marks," he said in a scared tone. "Just the same as the first."

Clem paced out the distance. "Nine yards, I make it," he said. "And, Billy, there's another mark behind the prints."

"I see. It looks like a tail."

"It is a tail," said Clem, in a tone of certainty. "Billy, do you remember what Bart said about a beast that hopped on its hind-legs like a kangaroo, and was big enough to carry off a full-grown caribou?"

Billy shivered. "He was right, Clem. That's what this thing is, and it's true what the Indian said about this being the Valley of the Monster."


XXVII. — NO WAY OUT!

THIS time Clem could not contradict his brother. The evidence of the giant footmarks was too strong, and for the moment he felt as shivery and unhappy as Billy himself. But presently he pulled himself together. "The sooner we get out of this, the better," he said. "And particularly out from among the trees. Once we're up on the mountainside, we ought to be safe enough. A beast like that is too big to do much climbing."

Billy eagerly agreed, and they turned sharply uphill. But both went cautiously, and both kept looking about them, and listening with quivering eagerness for the sound of that terrible thumping.

They neither saw nor heard anything. Indeed, this part of the valley seemed quite deserted. Barring a few birds and some snowshoe rabbits, they saw no living thing, and soon they were clear of the trees and climbing a steep, bare slope.

Clem stopped and looked back, and his eyes roved across the great stretches of the valley, which lay white, silent, and inexpressibly lonely. "Nothing there, Billy," he said quietly.

"Nothing that we can see," replied Billy. "But it's no use pretending that the beast is not there. We've heard it and seen its footprints."

"Never mind. We're out of its reach," said Clem comfortingly. "Come on, Billy. The days are none too long, and we've got to be back in our valley before the light goes."

Billy merely nodded, and together they pushed on up the mountainside. The slope grew steeper and steeper, and the worst of it was that the higher they went the thicker lay the snow. Within an hour they were scrambling along ledges which were six inches deep in soft snow, making the going not only difficult, but horribly dangerous. They had to move very slowly and cautiously, yet even so they were constantly coming on places so difficult that they were forced to go back and try some other way. By midday they were hardly half-way to the summit, and both were a good deal more tired than they cared to admit.

They sat down to rest in a little hollow sheltered from the breeze, and ate cold trout. They had nothing else—not even a morsel of bread—and cold broiled fish without even a pinch of salt is not a very satisfying meal.

Billy, who had been very silent, gazing up at the cliffs, spoke suddenly. "Clem, I don't believe we can get up there," he said.

Clem started slightly. It was exactly what he had been thinking himself, but he had been careful not to say it for fear of discouraging Billy.

"You think so too," said Billy bluntly.

"It's a job, I'll admit," replied Clem. "Still, I don't see why we shouldn't manage it. Anyhow, we've jolly well got to try."

Billy looked back into the wild valley. He nodded. "I don't want to have to spend another night down there," he said with a shudder. "Come on, Clem."

The next two hours were simply awful. The brothers crept along bare ledges, with hundreds of feet of empty space beneath them. They clung to the faces of great cliffs, hanging on with fingers and toes. The rocks were loose and shaly, and sometimes broke away, sending small avalanches thundering down the mountain face.

It was about three in the afternoon when they found themselves on a narrow terrace at the base of a sheer cliff. Clem stared upward, but the vast wall of rock was not merely sheer—it actually overhung the ledge. "That's done us, Billy," he said briefly.

Billy merely nodded. His face was very white.

Clem put his hand on his brother's shoulder. "Cheer up, old fellow! We'll find a better way to-morrow."

But Billy shivered again. "It's spending the night down there, Clem," he said hoarsely. "I tell you I'm scared, Clem—I'm scared!"

If the climb had been bad, the descent was worse. It had begun to freeze, and the ledges were like glass. When at last the brothers reached level ground again both were quite worn out. It was all they could do to crawl as far as their last night's camp and light the fire. Then they dropped down beside it, and lay there for an hour before they could summon energy to cook the remains of the big fish. This, and hot water boiled in their bailer, made their supper, and afterward they had to drag their weary limbs out again in order to collect firewood. Though they did not say so, both knew that fire was their one protection from the mysterious monster that stalked at night through this lonely and unknown land.

They made a huge fire, big enough to last till morning, and then lay down. Both were so utterly weary that they dropped off at once, and did not move until the cold dawn-light struck upon their faces.

"Good morning, Billy," said Clem, trying to look more cheerful than he felt. "The monster hasn't shown up again—that's one good thing."

"If there had been a dozen I shouldn't have heard them," replied Billy. Then, as he sat up, "Oh, Clem, I'm stiff!" he groaned.

"That will wear off, Billy. See here, I'm going down to the river to try and get a fish for breakfast."

"I don't believe they'll bite in this frost," replied Billy. "And Clem, I'm fed up with fish. It's meat I want."

Clem shrugged his shoulders. "Since we haven't got a gun I'm afraid we shall have to live on fish." He got up as he spoke, threw some wood on the red embers of the fire, and went off down toward the river. Billy followed, but after visiting the spot where they had cached the canoe, came back toward the camp.

Clem fitted up his rod, and cutting open a rotten log found some big white grubs called 'sawyers,' and started to fish.

It was abominably cold, and the fish most certainly were not feeding. Clem stuck it for an hour, and did not get a bite, and at last gave it up and went sadly back to the camp. He tried to put a good face oh it, but was really dreadfully uneasy. If he and Billy could not get food they were done for.

As he came through the trees toward the camp he stopped and sniffed. "Smells like meat roasting," he said to himself in a very puzzled voice, and quickened his pace.

"Hurry up, Clem!" he heard Billy's call. "You're just in time for breakfast." And, coming out into the open, the first thing he saw was Billy, roasting a large rabbit over the fire.

Clem pulled up short. "My goodness, Billy, where did you get that?" he exclaimed.

"Shot it," replied Billy, grinning.

"Shot it? What with?"

Billy stooped down and picked up a bow. It was made of a stiff green sapling and strung with fishing-line. "Here you are," chuckled Billy. "I told you I wanted some meat, and that you wouldn't get any fish. Wasn't I right?"

"It was jolly smart of you," declared Clem. "How did you make your arrows?"

"Out of hard wood, and feathered them with parchment leaves from my fishing-book. Then I stalked Brer Rabbit, and luckily he let me get within about ten paces. Anyhow, here's breakfast, so let's eat."

It was astonishing how good the meat tasted, and the meal did both the boys a wonderful amount of good.

While they ate they talked things over, and agreed that it was no use trying to climb the mountains back into the Valley of the Mist. "My notion," said Billy, "is to go right round and back by the way we first came in—past the geyser."

Clem whistled softly. "It's a long way, Billy."

"But the only way," answered Billy.

"And what about the Kaloot Indians?" asked Clem.

"We shall have to chance them, Clem. After all, I don't suppose they're camping there in this weather. The chances are that they have gone back to their village ever so long ago."

Clem nodded. "I believe you are right, Billy. Then the sooner we are off, the better."

"Can't be too soon for me," replied Billy. "As I told you before, I'm scared stiff of this place. Just wait till I pack up the rest of the rabbit; then I'm your man."


XXVIII. — THE MONSTER

MUCH to Clem's relief, the sky cleared, and, though it was still cold in the shade, the sun shone so warmly that the snow began to melt. The boys, keeping along the upper end of the valley at the foot of the hills, went on at a good pace, and midday found them eight or nine miles on their way.

After a short rest for lunch they tramped on. To the right rose the mountains, a regular wall two or three thousand feet high, their tops dazzlingly white, and to the left the valley sloped gently downward to a great central basin, where a large lake glimmered in the sunlight. The country was wilder than anything the boys had yet seen, for it was littered with great crags, which stood up grim and forbidding among thick clumps of gloomy-looking forest.

Soon clouds began to blow across the sky, and it became very dull and bitterly cold. Clem was again very uneasy. The big snow he knew to be due any day now, and, if it came, travelling without snowshoes would be impossible. He and Billy had no snowshoes, and would not have known how to use them if they had.

Deep in these unpleasant thoughts, he was tramping steadily along, when he was startled by a crashing sound among the trees to the left. It was followed by a thud, a sound which he knew in an instant to be the same that he had heard two nights ago.

"The monster, Clem!" he heard Billy mutter in a choked voice.

Clem took one swift glance to the left, the direction from which the sound had come. He saw something about half a mile away among the trees. The trees were too thick for him to tell what it was. All that he could see was that it was an animal of colossal size.

Then he looked to the right. About two hundred yards away the ground rose steeply toward the first line of cliffs. These cliffs were steep, but broken by deep fissures and great projecting rocks. He made up his mind in a flash. "Up the hill, Billy! Run like blazes!" he said.

As ill-luck had it, the ground they were on at the moment was quite open. There was no cover of any sort between them and the cliffs, with the exception of a few large boulders, which must have fallen in the past from the great mountains above. And he and Billy had hardly started to run before they heard a fresh crash in the distance, and then the tremendous thud-thud. And they realized that the monster had seen them and was in pursuit. Neither spoke, neither looked behind. Their one idea was to reach the cliffs and scramble to safety before this dreadful thing caught them.

Side by side they fled along, with the same horrible, regular thump-thump coming nearer and nearer at every moment.

Although the distance was so short, it seemed an age before they reached the base of the cliffs. Clem had seen a fissure, and that was what he had been making for. Whether it was a place that could be climbed or not, he had no idea at all, and when he and Billy reached it his heart sank, for it looked impossible.

But Billy's quick eyes noticed a tiny ledge about six feet up, and springing at it he caught it with both hands. Clem seized him and gave him a tremendous push. Next instant Billy was kneeling on the ledge and pulling Clem up.

Above was a slope dreadfully steep, but not impossible to climb, and although they had to crawl on hands and knees they went up it like two squirrels. Closer and closer came the terrific thuds; the very earth shook under the weight of the monster as it advanced with tremendous leaps. Then came a sound like a sudden explosion of steam, and a reek of foul air which made Clem feel deathly sick.

At that moment he and Billy both came to a dead stop. They were on a ledge beyond which the cliff rose like a wall. Clem scrambled to his feet, turned, and looked round, and the sight before his eyes filled him with a horror such as he had never felt in all his life before. For the creature beneath him, at the base of the cliff, was of a size so prodigious and an appearance so horrible that it did not seem to belong to this world.

Imagine a creature shaped like a lizard, but standing erect on its hind-legs like a kangaroo. Make it the height of a two- storied house. Give it a head not unlike that of an alligator, but with two horny lumps on the crest, and an upper jaw curved over like a beak. Cover this creature with a thick, warty hide of a drab colour, on which grow tufts of coarse grey bristles. That was the impression that Clem got at a first glance.

But even this was not the worst of it. It was the eyes, long, deep-set, red as fire, and glowing with an indescribable malignancy, which fixed his gaze. They fascinated him so much that his knees began to bend under him, and he felt a dreadful impulse to fling himself off the ledge down into the huge horny jaws which gaped to receive him.

Luckily for him, the spell was broken by Billy's voice. "Clem, we're stuck. We can't get any higher."

Even as Billy spoke the monster leapt upward and forward. Its huge hind-legs, armed with enormous claws, stuck upon the slope a dozen feet above the level on which it had been standing and its horned head swooped forward. But the loose rock was not equal to the weight of the giant creature, and crumbled away beneath it. It was this and nothing else which saved the boys from destruction.


Illustration

The monster leapt upward and forward.


Clem caught Billy by the arm and dragged him to the right. All in a flash he had seen that, although they could not climb higher, there was a ledge to the left which ran deeper into the great fissure. It looked as if there were some sort of a hollow at the end of it. Somehow the two reached it, and, squeezing in through a narrow entrance, found themselves in a tiny cave.

It was a dozen feet deep, but so narrow that there was not much more than room for the two of them to stand abreast. Just as they got inside, the monster leapt again. This time it got some sort of foothold, and its crocodile-like head, with jaws wide open, drove straight at the mouth of the cave. It reminded Clem of a great snake striking.

The boys fell apart, each squeezing himself tight against the opposite walls of the cave. The hideous jaws clacked together with a sound like the snapping of a monstrous beak, but they failed even to touch Billy or Clem. Then the beast's foothold gave way again, and it fell back, foiled.

The boys stood, their hearts thumping, watching their dreadful enemy. They were half suffocated by the vile reek of its breath. For a moment Clem hoped it would give up its attack, but not a bit of it! Its failure simply infuriated it. Its red eyes glowed with a savage fire, and it leapt again and again. Great rocks rolled under its clutch, and the force with which its horny jaws struck the rim of the cave opening actually knocked splinters of stone away.

Clem felt that same curious paralysis that one feels in a nightmare, but, oddly enough, Billy, who earlier had seemed much more afraid of the monster than Clem, was now more angry than frightened. Suddenly he stooped, snatched up a big stone weighing three or four pounds, and as the brute leaped again, flung it with all his force straight between the gaping jaws.

Seemingly it went right down the monster's throat, for the creature fell back, choking horribly. "That's one for you, you brute!" shouted Billy, and picking up more stones he hurled them furiously at the monster. He might as well have bombarded it with golf-balls, for all the harm he did it.

But the stone which it had swallowed had done it no good, and the creature seemed to have at last realized that it could not reach its prey by wild leaping. It crouched down upon the ground in front of the cave, watching the opening with malevolent eyes.

"You brute!" said Billy again, shaking his fist at it. "Oh, if only I had a rifle!"

Clem shook his head. "It would take a field-gun to kill that thing," he said.


XXIX. — BILLY'S BRIGHT IDEA

THE boys waited a little. "Do you think it means to stay there and starve us out, Clem?" asked Billy.

"I wish I knew. Luckily we've got the rest of the rabbit. We can stick it for a goodish while, and perhaps if we are quiet it will get tired and go away."

Billy gazed for some moments in silence at their awful gaoler. "What is it, Clem?" he asked at last.

"A dinosaur, I think, Billy. Bart told me that one was seen by two Frenchmen, one a missionary, about ten years ago right up in the far North."

"Ugh! I thought, when we saw the mastodon, that we had reached the limit," said Billy. "But this beats the mastodon."

"It's almost too dreadful to be real," agreed Clem. He looked round and noticed that the floor of the little cave was covered with loose rocks. "How would it be if we built ourselves in?" he suggested. "I don't know whether we could pile up any sort of breastwork that the monster could not pull down. But we might as well try. And anyhow it would keep us warm if we have to spend the night here."

Billy nodded. "It wouldn't be a bad notion," he agreed.

Working as quietly as they could, they began to pile up the stones, wedging them as tightly as they could in the entrance. The dinosaur watched them with evil eyes, and once or twice stirred uneasily. Yet it did not attempt to attack them again. Before they had half-filled the entrance the boys had used up all their material, and Billy began pulling loose pieces away from the sides and roof. The rock was very dark in colour, and here and there marked with thin streaks of yellow. "Looks almost like gold," suggested Billy, but Clem shook his head.

"Mica," he said. "Bart showed me some just like it only a few days ago."

"Be careful, Billy," he added. "You'll have the roof down on us if you don't look out."

"I'll be careful," replied Billy, and turned to the back of the cave. "Here's a big chunk loose," he said. "Give us a hand, Clem."

The rock was almost as much as the two could handle between them, but after much tugging and straining it suddenly came away and rolled with a crash on to the floor. As it fell Billy gave a sharp cry. "Clem, we've broken through! There's another cave behind." He pointed to an opening from which came a faint gleam of light.

Clem stepped quickly forward, and pushed his head and shoulders through the opening. "You're right, Billy. There is another cave, and what's more, it's open at the top. Wait! I'll get through."

It was a tight fit, but he managed it, and Billy followed. They found themselves in a rock chamber as large as a good-sized room. The floor sloped steeply upward, and at the upper end a gleam of daylight showed. Clem gasped with eagerness. "If we can only find a way out!" he exclaimed, as he scurried toward the light. Billy, hurrying after him, heard him call out. "We can, Billy! I do believe we can!" and found him scrambling up a sort of chimney which sloped upward for a distance of some twenty feet.

Twice Clem slipped, but Billy pushed him from below, and at last Clem got his fingers on the ledge at the top. After that he did not waste much time in climbing out, and in hauling Billy up behind him.

Looking round, they found themselves on a broad ledge fifty or sixty feet above the valley floor. Billy fairly danced with delight. "One for you, this time!" he jeered, and picking up a big stone flung it at the monster. As luck would have it, he hit it exactly on the tip of the nose, and this must have been the beast's tender spot, for in an instant it was up again, and with its hideous snorting whistle leaping wildly upward.

"You idiot, Billy!" cried Clem. "Why did you want to start him up again?"

"A jolly good job!" retorted Billy. "Keep on pelting him, Clem. Go on, I tell you! I've got a scheme."

Clem obeyed, and having plenty of really heavy stones at hand, succeeded in working the brute to a pitch of absolutely maniacal fury. It was really a terrible thing to see this creature, which weighed as much as a large elephant, leaping like a crazy kangaroo at the cliff face. Some of its jumps were twenty feet in actual height, and its terrific claws raked boulders weighing a ton or more off the face of the cliff.

"That's right, Clem. Keep it up!" cried Billy, and Clem, glancing round, saw his brother working desperately to shift a great boulder which lay poised on the very edge of the ledge. "It's no use," panted Billy. "I can't do it alone. You'll have to help me."

Clem saw what he was after, and put his shoulder to the rock. It tilted.

"Look out. It's going!" shrieked Clem, and sprang back. The big rock rolled slowly over, and even as it fell the monster made another of its appalling leaps. Clem stood breathless as the rock, striking the ledge, rebounded outward.

"It's got him!" shrieked Billy, wild with excitement. "It's got him! Watch!"

He was right. With a tremendous thud the boulder struck the dinosaur full in the chest, and, huge as the creature was, knocked it backward. For an instant the monster and the rock together seemed to poise in mid-air; then, with an earth-shaking crash, the creature struck the ground, and rolled over and over down to the bottom of the slope.

"It's finished him! It's killed him!" cried Billy, in a voice hoarse with excitement. Clem was silent. For a moment he almost thought that it was true. He and Billy, side by side on the lofty ledge, watched the terror quivering and writhing on the ground.

"If we'd only got another rock," panted Billy, as he saw the creature's struggles increasing.

Clem caught his brother by the shoulder. "Lie down!" he said curtly. "Lie flat down. He isn't dead, but when he gets up again, if he doesn't see us, perhaps he'll go away."

Billy grunted, but obeyed, and they lay flat on the ledge and watched until the giant beast had slowly recovered and regained its legs. For some moments its vicious little eyes scanned the ledge, but the boys were out of sight. At last, after what seemed an age, it turned and bounded slowly and heavily away. It was not, however, until its giant form had vanished in the distant trees that either of the boys ventured to move. Then Billy rose to his feet. "It's gone, Clem," he said, drawing a long breath.

"It's gone," echoed Clem, "but where, and for how long?"

"I vote it doesn't find us here when it comes back," said Billy grimly.

Clem looked down. He shuddered a little. "Are we to go down there again, and chance it?"

"We shall never have a better chance," replied Billy, with a quietness which was in odd contrast to his previous panic.

Clem strained his eyes for sight of the monster, but there was nothing visible. He nodded. "All right, Billy," he said, and started back through the funnel of the cave. Billy followed, and presently they were at the bottom again.

It was now only about two hours to sunset, and those two hours were about the worst the boys had ever spent. All the time they were darting from rock to rock, and from one clump of trees to another. One eye they kept for any sign of the monster's return, the other on the cliffs, looking for a place of refuge in case of fresh attack.

But they saw nothing. The country seemed dead, and when dusk began to settle they were some six or seven miles farther on their way, and in country which under its pall of cold grey cloud seemed to be almost without life. "We must find a place to camp," said Clem at last.

"I can see one now," replied Billy confidently. "I spotted it ever so long ago." He pointed as he spoke to a long, dark streak on the face of the cliff. "It looks to me like a ravine or cañon," he added. "We ought to find a cave or shelter of some kind."

As it turned out, Billy was right, and Clem sighed with relief when they found themselves in a narrow ravine which, sloping steeply upward, ended in the mouth of a good-sized cave. They did not waste much time in reaching it, and very soon were standing under its arch.

"We shall be all right for the night, anyhow," said Clem. "Strike a match, Billy. Let's see how big it is." Billy struck one of their treasured matches, and its faint light illuminated the darksome depths of a long, narrow cave. But the light shone also on something else, something which brought a gasp of amazement from both the boys at once.


XXX. — THE OUTCAST

IT was the ashes of a fire that the boys saw before them, a fire so recent that red embers still glowed in its centre. Near by was a pile of newly cut wood.

"Some one here," said Billy below his breath.

"Some one has been here," corrected Clem.

"Then he's coming back," replied Billy, "for there's his cooking-pot—yes, and his bed. Look in the corner."

Clem looked all round. "You're right," he said, "but what in the name of goodness is anyone doing in this horrible, haunted valley?"

Billy's match burned his finger, and he dropped it. "I don't know, and I don't think I much care," he replied recklessly. "Whoever he is, he can't be worse than that dinosaur beast. I vote we stay here."

As he spoke a gust of wind, cold as death, blew in through the entrance, making the red embers glow. Clem had been hesitating, but that icy draught turned the scales. "You're right," he said briefly. "We stay." And bending down he set to mending the fire.

Within a very few moments a cheery little flame darted up, and soon a delightful crackling blaze illuminated the cavern to its innermost recesses. The boys were crouching over it, warming their chilled and weary bodies, when steps made them both start, and, turning, they saw a man entering the cave.

The man stopped short, gazing at them, and they stared back, too astonished to speak. For the newcomer's appearance was as strange as everything else in this queer country.

He was a red man, an Indian, apparently about forty. He was very tall, with a fine face, though his cheek-bones were high. His eyes were keen as those of a hawk. But the oddest thing about him was his dress. Wild Indians wear skins in the cold weather, and the half-civilized ones any old cast-off white men's things. This man wore a pair of grey flannel trousers, a grey flannel shirt, and a tweed Norfolk jacket. Though his garments were old and much worn, they had evidently been made by a good tailor, for they were an excellent fit. More than that, in spite of the man's red skin and coarse black hair, there was something about him which made him seem different from the ordinary Indian.

He carried a gun and two rabbits.

Clem was the first to remember his manners. He rose to his feet. "Klahowya!" he said.

"Tillicum!" replied the new-comer gravely, yet with a curious twinkle in his eyes. Clem wondered what next to say, for he had only a few words of the Stick Indian language. Then he got the shock of his life. "Sit down," said the red man, in perfect English. "And if you are not too tired I should like to hear how you came here."

Clem heard Billy gasp, and he really felt like gasping himself. "You—you speak English?" he stammered.

"Why not? I have spent most of my life in the United States," replied the other. "Let me introduce myself. My name is Gerald Altemus."

"Our name is Ballard," Clem managed to say. "I'm Clem, and this is my brother Billy."

The other bowed, and Clem felt perfectly dazed. Indian looks and white man's manners made the most amazing mixture. "I am very glad to see you," said Altemus, "though I confess that I am much puzzled as to how you got here. But that can wait until we have had some supper. You look hungry," he added, with a smile which gave his harsh face quite a pleasant look.

He set to work at once, and the boys helped. The Indian produced flour, coffee, and sugar from a cleft in the side of the cave. He put the pot on to boil, and after skinning and cleaning the rabbits, gave them to the boys to grill, while he himself made flapjacks from flour and salt, frying them one by one in the pan.

It was such a meal as the boys had not seen since they had left the Valley of the Mist, and the Indian smiled gravely as he saw how they enjoyed it. He himself ate little and said nothing, but Clem noticed that he seemed to be listening all the time. At last Clem could stand it no longer. "Is it the monster you are listening for?" he blurted out.

The Indian turned and fixed his eyes on Clem. "You have seen it then—this great beast?"

"Seen it!" Clem shivered. "We only got away from it by the skin of our teeth."

"But we gave it something to remember us by," broke in Billy.

There came a queer gleam into the eyes of Altemus. "What do you mean? You have no gun."

Billy explained how they had rolled the rock from the cliff and—as they thought—damaged the creature severely.

"Good!" said Altemus. "That was very good indeed. Then it may be that you really have injured the creature, for every evening about this time it comes seeking for me up the gorge."

Clem looked at Altemus in amazement. "And you can stand that?" he exclaimed.

A curious expression crossed Altemus's face. "It is part of my punishment," he said grimly.

A question was on the tip of Clem's tongue, but he checked it. He had long ago learned from Bart the lesson of courteous silence.

Altemus seemed to sense the boy's intense curiosity. "I will explain," he went on quietly. "When I was a boy I was taken to the States by a missionary, and educated there. I became a white man in many respects, yet in my heart there was always a deep longing to return to my people. Two years ago I came back. But the young men were hostile to me, and the elders would not receive me into their council. Yet by degrees I made good. I have been trained as a doctor, and I was able to give back health to some that were ill and to save the lives of many children. The young men became reconciled, but the old men were jealous. Then the daughter of the chief fell ill of smallpox, and I could not save her. She died. The medicine men accused me of killing her by witchcraft, and I was sentenced to be driven out into this wilderness of the beast. Here I have to remain for a year, an outcast from my people, but if at the end of the year I am still alive, I may return."

Clem and Billy had been listening with breathless interest. "How long have you been here?" burst out Billy.

"Three months," was the answer, "and already the monster has chased me a dozen times or more."

"I don't think he will do much more chasing," said Billy. "He could hardly hop after that rock hit him this afternoon. But, Mr Altemus, can't you kill him with your gun?"

The red man shook his head. "Not with a gun. With a modern heavy-bore rifle it might be possible. But even then one would require explosive shells."

"Dad's got some," cried Billy. "If we could only get home we'd see you had a proper rifle."

The Indian nodded gravely. "In any case, I will do my best to show you the road home," he said, "but I cannot accompany you beyond a certain place, for it is a point of honour with me not to leave this valley until my year is up."

"We shall be tremendously grateful to you if you can put us on our way," said Clem. "We tried to climb back over the mountains, but they were too steep."

The other nodded. "Yes, you can't climb them anywhere, so far as I know. The only thing is to go round. But it's a long way and rough travelling, and you are not safe from the monster until you are over the first pass." He paused a moment, listening to the wind which moaned in the gorge outside, and shook his head. "And the first big snow is due any time now," he added.

"That's what Bart Condon told us," said Clem.

"It may come to-night, or not for another week," the Indian answered. "Let us hope, for your sake, it will not be yet. And now the best thing you can do is to get a good sleep. You have a big march before you to-morrow."

Presently, as the two lay side by side on a good bed of branches and dried moss, Billy spoke. "We're in luck, Clem," he whispered. "He's a good chap, that."

But Clem did not answer. He was already asleep.


XXXI. — THE INVADERS

ON the second afternoon after leaving the Indian's cave the little party stood together on the bleak summit of a pass. Altemus had been as good as his word, and had guided them over country so difficult that by themselves they could never have found their way. And now at last they were on the summit of the divide. Behind them lay the great tract of wild and desolate country known as the Valley of the Monster, and to the right the lofty mountains which walled the Valley of the Mist. In front—that is, to the west—a long slope led down into rugged forest country.

Altemus stopped. "This is as far as I may go," he said gravely. "The rest of your journey you must make alone. But I do not think you will find it very difficult. All you have to do is to keep the mountains on your right, and a march of ten or twelve miles will bring you to the mouth of the Cañon of the Geyser. You are safe from the monster, and I do not think that wolves will trouble you so early in the season. Now good-bye, my English friends, and do not quite forget me."

Clem grasped the red man's hand. "We'll never forget you as long as we live," he vowed. "We should be ungrateful pigs if we did."

"And we're not going to say 'good-bye' at all," broke in Billy. "We're jolly well coming back here first thing with that rifle. Can't you wait? We could bring it to-morrow."

The red man looked very kindly at Billy. "No, my friend. I will not wait," he said. "It is likely that the snow may come to- night, and I must return to my cave. But later, when the snow has fallen and you have learned to use the snowshoes, then, if you will bring me the rifle, I shall be very grateful. Now go quickly, for you must be at home before night."

A last handshake, and the two boys tramped away down the hill. At the bottom they looked back. The tall, upright figure stood lonely on the snowy hilltop. They waved, and he raised his cap. Then they were among thick trees, and could see him no longer.

"Isn't he a topper?" said Billy, in a rather choky voice. Clem merely nodded, and for a long time they went on in silence.

As Altemus had prophesied, they had no difficulty in finding their way. But the sky, which had been overcast all day, was growing steadily darker, and the light breeze bit like steel. Then all of a sudden the air was full of small, dry flakes of snow.

"This is the real thing, Billy," said Clem.

"Good thing it's not blowing," Billy answered, as he quickened his pace.

"It's lucky we haven't far to go," said Clem. "I don't think we can be more than three miles from the mouth of the gorge."

They plugged along as hard as they could go, but the snow came thicker and thicker. The ground was already covered with what had fallen three days earlier, but now the white coating thickened rapidly. Soon they were ploughing through it ankle-deep. The worst of it was that they could not see more than fifty yards in any direction. It was like being in a fog, only worse, and Clem grew very anxious. He knew that if they failed to find that narrow entrance they might wander until they fell over some precipice or else dropped and died.

All of a sudden the snow began to slacken. "It's clearing, Clem," cried Billy, in delight.

"It's great luck," Clem answered slowly. "Better wait a minute, old chap. It's awfully steep here, and we don't want to take a header into some cañon." They pulled up under shelter of a rock and waited.

They had been there for perhaps five minutes, when suddenly the ground beneath them seemed to quiver slightly, and through the snow came a sound like the shriek of a distant steam- whistle.

Billy gripped Clem's arm. "Old Watchdog!" he cried, in high delight, and almost as he spoke the snow ceased, and the sun low in the west broke through, flinging a lovely pink glow across the white world.

But this pink glow ended suddenly just in front of the spot where the boys were standing, and they both caught their breath as they realized that they were on the very edge of the cliff above the plain where they had been attacked by the Kaloots. Clem went cautiously forward to the edge. Next moment Billy saw him fling himself flat on his face. "Down, Billy! Get down!" hissed Clem in a sharp whisper.

Clem's voice told Billy that something was seriously wrong, and he dropped like a shot. Clem beckoned, and Billy crept forward, wriggling through the snow like an eel.

"Look!" said Clem in a low voice.

Billy found himself on the sheer edge of a tremendous precipice, and below this lay the great slope across which they had been hunted by the Kaloots on that day when they had first reached the Valley of the Mist. It looked different now, for its grassy surface was thick with snow, and the clumps of trees stood up gaunt and white against the desolation.

But it was not at trees or snowy plain that Clem was pointing, but at a long, dark line which moved cautiously beneath the cover of the nearest belt of trees. And Billy, watching it, saw that the line was a number of men, who were creeping forward in the direction of the clump of trees closest to the mouth of the ravine.

There was dismay on his face as he turned to his brother. "Indians!" he muttered.

Clem nodded. "Yes, and white men too."

Billy looked again. "You're right. I believe I can spot Pelly."

"And Gurney and Craze. Billy, this is a bad business. Somehow those fellows have managed to find the way, and they have raised the Kaloots against us."

Billy nodded. "That's what's up. But what a time to choose to attack!"

"That's the cunning of them," replied Clem. "They know, of course, that Dad and Bart would never expect an attack so late in the season. So they count on getting in unobserved."

"But I don't understand," said Billy, frowning. "Bart said these Kaloots were scared to death by the geyser, and you know how they stopped that day we had to run from them."

"Yes, but now they are being led by white men I expect they will risk it," said Clem. "The chances are that Gurney has got hold of their medicine man, and got him to give them a charm or a spell of some sort. Billy, I'm scared of that chap Gurney."

"So am I, if it comes to that," responded Billy, "but you'd better remember that it's going to be something worse than a scare for Dad and Bart and every one in the valley if these fellows once get through the gorge. And it's up to us to stop them."

"We can't do that, Billy. What we must do is to get into the valley and warn Dad."

"It comes to the same thing," said Billy impatiently. "Question is, how we are going to do it. From where we are now there's no way down into the gorge. A goat couldn't get down these cliffs."

"I know that," agreed Clem. "Our only chance is to go off toward the south and see if we can find a way down into the plain."

"And before we can find out those beggars will be through the gorge," snapped Billy.

Clem kept his head. "I don't think so, Billy. My notion is that they are waiting for night to make their attack. I don't believe for a minute that they'll risk an attack in daylight."

"I hope you're right," grunted Billy, who was very much upset.

"Right or not, it's our only chance," replied Clem firmly. "And I believe that I am right, for the whole lot of them have come to a stop in that belt of trees."

"Then let's get along," said Billy. "We've only about an hour's daylight, and I don't see myself climbing down that cliff in the dark."

As he spoke he turned and crept back from the edge of the cliff. Clem followed, and they did not rise to their feet until they were a good way back from the cliff and well out of sight of the Indians. Then both rose to their feet, and began to run in a southerly direction.


XXXII. — THE RACE IN THE SNOW

FROM the slope of the tableland toward the south, it was only reasonable to suppose that the cliff would be lower in that direction. Clem, who was leading, kept on and on until they had passed a sort of projection which ran out from the cliff some distance into the plain, like a cape into the sea. Then at last he turned again toward the cliff edge. "That point will hide us from the Indians," he explained breathlessly to Billy.

"Yes, but shall we find a way down?" panted Billy.

Clem did not answer. He knew no more than his brother, and to say truth he was almost sick with anxiety. If they did not find a way down, it meant that these invaders would come driving into the valley in the dead of night, and what would happen then he hardly dared to think. The Mist Men would, of course, put up a fight, but what chance would they have, taken by surprise and attacked by superior numbers? Stories he had heard from Bart of the savagery of the Kaloots rose in his mind, and made his heart beat heavily with fear.

"No way here!" came Billy's voice. Billy had run on ahead, and was standing on the edge of the cliff. Next moment Clem had joined him and was staring down over the edge of a tremendous snow-slope to the plain three hundred feet or more below.

"It's not sheer," he said.

"No, but it's too steep for anything," replied Billy. "If you put your foot over the edge you'd never stop till you landed up at the bottom."

Clem did not speak. He went nearer to the edge. "Look out!" said Billy sharply. "Next thing you know you'll be overboard."

Still Clem did not answer. His eyes were fixed on that prodigious slope. It was steeper than any house roof, and ran, smooth and unbroken as a roof, clean down to the bottom.

"What are you thinking of, Clem? You can't go down there!" exclaimed Billy.

"I don't know so much about that," replied Clem slowly. "Do you remember how we used to toboggan at home in the old days down Devil's Coombe?"

"Yes, but good gracious, that was only about a hundred yards in all, and not half so steep! Clem, don't think of it. You'd be smashed to bits before you got half-way."

Clem's lips tightened. "It's the only way, Billy. I've got to try it."

Billy caught hold of his brother. "You're crazy, Clem. You'll only be killed."

"I don't think so," Clem answered calmly. "The snow is quite deep, and there seems to be a biggish drift at the bottom. You wait here, Billy, and I'll try it. If I get down safely you can follow. If not, you must go farther and try some other way."

Billy's face went rather white, but he made no more objections. He knew that, once Clem had made up his mind, he was like a rock. Nothing could turn him. He watched breathlessly while his brother buttoned his coat tightly and pulled his cap firmly down over his ears.

"Don't worry, Billy," said Clem calmly. "It's not as bad as it looks." As he spoke he sat down, and deliberately pushed himself off over the edge.

To the horrified Billy it looked as though a dark streak leapt the whole distance in a couple of seconds. One moment he saw his brother flashing downward in a cloud of snow dust; the next, he had vanished altogether in a white bank at the bottom.

Billy stood stiff and still as if frozen. All remembrance of Indians and everything else had vanished from his mind; his one thought was, "Clem is dead! Oh, Clem is killed!" He took a step nearer to the edge; he sat down. He must follow and try to help Clem. His brain was so dulled that he had forgotten all about Clem's order to go farther and try to find some other way down.

And just then the snow-bank so far below heaved and broke, and out of it Clem crawled, and, before Billy's amazed eyes, rose slowly and dizzily to his feet. Then he beckoned to Billy, and Billy, his heart in his mouth, pushed off and followed.

It was the swiftest travel that Billy had ever known. All he felt was one frantic rush through the bitter air, with the snow dust blinding him; then a thud, and he was deep in the drift at the bottom.

Clem hauled him out. "Not so bad after all," said Clem, smiling.

"Ugh!" sputtered Billy. "I'm full of snow to the neck."

"The under-layer of snow was frozen. It was lucky the drift was soft," said Clem. "But come on, old chap. There's no time to waste."

Billy, on his feet again, took a look all round. "But I say, Clem," he remonstrated, "we can't go straight for the rift. Those Indians will spot us the minute we get round the end of this point of rock."

Clem pointed to the sky. From the north-west another grey cloud was swinging up across the blue.

Billy nodded. "Another snowstorm. Well, the sooner it comes, the better."

"I don't think it will be long," said Clem, "and I want to be at the end of the rock point, ready to make a bolt for it, the minute the snow comes."

"Right!" said Billy briefly, and the two started. The rock point ran out about three hundred yards from the main cliff, and when the two boys reached the end of it they peeped cautiously round, and saw that they were something over a mile from the wood where the Indians lay hidden. And this wood, as they knew, was almost opposite the entrance to the gorge. Even as they lay there they could hear Old Watchdog shrieking away.

But the sun was still shining, and even under the shadow of the cliffs the snow was so white and smooth that anything—even a rabbit—would have been plainly visible. It would have been simply suicide to show themselves, so they crouched down and waited, anxiously watching the great snow- cloud, which crept slowly up across the blue. It was now freezing sharply, and since their clothes were full of snow they were both bitterly cold. Presently Billy stepped back a little behind the projecting rock and began stamping and beating his arms. "Don't make too much noise," Clem warned him. "Those Indians have ears like cats."

"They can't hear me a mile away," said Billy. "And if I don't get my blood moving I shall be too stiff for the run when the time comes."

Clem did not answer. His whole attention was fixed upon the cloud. "It's coming all right," he said presently. "The hills in the distance are blotted out already."

He was right. Snow was already falling over the hills in the distance, and the grey veil swept forward steadily. The boys watched it with trembling anxiety, for unless the storm came right over them they would be forced to wait until night fell, and then it might be too late. Clem fancied that the white men who were in command of the expedition would not waste much time in starting, once darkness fell.

At last a few soft flakes began to flutter down on the wings of the thin breeze. They thickened until the whole air was filled with them. Thicker and thicker they came. The wood was blotted out, and in a minute or two more nothing was visible except the tall cliff looming dimly overhead. "Now!" said Clem below his breath, and they started away.

It was not easy going, for the snow was blinding in its thickness, and the two boys were forced to keep close under the cliff, for that was their only landmark. And the snow was already so deep that it clogged their feet and made running very difficult.

"We shall never get there," muttered Billy breathlessly, and just then, half smothered by the thick snow, came the muffled shriek of the geyser.

"Hang on, Billy!" said Clem in his brother's ear. "I don't think we are far from the mouth of the cleft."

Billy sprinted again, but the snow was over his boot-tops, and loose as so much sand. Presently Clem slackened his pace. "Stop a minute, Billy. We mustn't over-run it," he said in a whisper. "I think we are quite near the mouth now."

Billy pulled up, panting, and glanced round. Next moment his fingers closed on Clem's arm. "There's some one behind us," he hissed in Clem's ear. "Look!"

Clem looked, and through the smother caught a vague glimpse of dark figures racing up behind them. In a flash the truth came to him. Gurney, or whoever was leading the Indians, had also chosen the cover of the snowstorm for his attack, and these were the Kaloots coming up behind.

"Run, Billy! Run!" he whispered back. "It's our only chance. These are Gurney's Indians behind us, and if we don't beat them to the cleft we're done for, and so are all the folk in the Valley."


XXXIII. — IN THE CLEFT

IT was all very well to talk of beating the Indians to the cleft, but the question was now to find the cleft. The boys knew that they were quite near it, but in this smother of snow it was impossible to see anything more than a few yards away.

The only thing was to run and chance it, knowing only too well that if they missed the cleft they were done for.

Still, the snowstorm was their friend in one respect, for it hid them from their enemies. But this was only for the moment, for suddenly there came the great roar of a voice from close behind. "Who's that? Craze, who are those two ahead of us? They ain't Injuns."

Clem's heart dropped to his boots, for the voice was that of Gurney. He sprinted again desperately, and Billy kept beside him.

"Where? I don't see nothing," came the answer from Craze.

"Straight ahead. Gee, but you're blind as a bat!" snorted Gurney, and his voice sounded so close that Clem almost gave up hope.

But just then Billy spoke in his ear. "The cleft! I can see it, Clem! We're saved!"

Billy was right, and Clem gasped with relief as he caught sight of the dark, narrow gateway to the valley looming through the whistling snowdrift just ahead.

"I know who it is!" roared Gurney again. "It's those boys! Stop 'em, some of you! Stop them, or they'll get ahead and spoil everything!"

Clem dared not look back. All his energies were concentrated upon gaining the mouth of the cleft before their pursuers could reach them.

A blast of wind cold as death came rushing across the plain, raising the fine snow in a seething, hissing drift which hid everything for a matter of moments. Before it passed, the two brothers had flung themselves past the tongue of rock which almost covered the entrance to the cleft.

Billy checked a little. "Done it, Clem!" he panted. "We've beaten them."

"Don't stop!" urged Clem. "Keep on! Gurney and Craze won't stop for the gorge or the geyser."

He was right, for next instant two tall figures came racing after them into the mouth of the ravine, and, glancing back as they ran, the boys saw that they were Gurney and Craze.

"I told you so!" cried Gurney furiously. "No, don't shoot, or maybe Condon will hear. Run, you fool! We've got to run 'em down."

Clem's legs felt like lead, and Billy too was failing, for they had come many miles already that day, and both were nearly worn out. They knew that they could not keep going much longer, while their enemies were probably still quite fresh. And then, just as all hope seemed to be gone, the ground shook, and next moment came the bubbling hiss which was the start of the great geyser's regular half-hourly outburst.

From somewhere behind there came a new voice— Pelly's.

"Gurney, Craze, what are you a-doing of? Come right back, or every one of these here Injuns'll be on the run."

Gurney's answer was a fierce oath. Then all other sounds were drowned by the shrieking roar of the Watchdog.

Clem, still running, looked back over his shoulder, and to his intense relief saw that their pursuers had fallen back. Evidently Pelly was right, and the Indians needed looking after pretty sharply to make them face the terrors of the gorge. "It gives us a chance," he said hoarsely, and just as he spoke Billy slipped on an icy stone and fell heavily.

Clem stooped and dragged his brother to his feet. Billy took one step and nearly fell again. "It's no use, old man," he said quite calmly. "I've twisted my ankle. You shove on, and warn the folk. I can look out for myself."

"Nonsense!" retorted Clem almost savagely. "Get on my back. I'll carry you."

Billy faced his brother, and even through the whistling snowflakes and the mist from the geyser Clem could see the set look in his eyes. "You're talking nonsense, Clem," he said quietly. "It would only mean we should both be nabbed. It's up to you to warn Dad and Bart, and you know it!"

Clem hesitated. His heart was like lead. To leave Billy to the tender mercies of Gurney and his precious crew was almost beyond thinking about, yet his duty was to warn the valley, and he knew it. "Let's wait a moment, and see if you feel better," he begged. "Anyhow, we can't go through the basin until the water is down again."

Billy shook his head. "It's nearly down now," he said, "and you may be jolly sure that Gurney is going to shove his Indians on the very minute it's stopped. Go ahead, Clem. It's your job."

"But Billy—Billy, I simply can't leave you to these awful men."

Billy looked round quickly. "There's a bit of a hole in the rock just over there," he said. "Help me to it, and I'll pile some snow up in front and lie doggo. Since it's nearly dark and the mist is thick, I dare say they won't spot me."

The cavity Billy pointed to was just a niche and nothing more, and gave very little shelter of any kind.

Again Clem hesitated, but Billy insisted, and in his heart Clem knew that his brother was right. He helped him to the place, then hurried on. He felt perfectly miserable. He had never hated anything so much in his life as leaving Billy behind. The only comfort he had was the thought of the way in which Bart and his father and Jock Scarlett would take it out of Gurney and his pack of marauders.


Fresh trouble was in store, for when he got to the basin he found that the edges of it, beyond the rim of the geyser cup, were one mass of ice. The spray had frozen on the rocks, and it was impossible to go fast. He hurried as much as he dared, but in some places he was forced to go down on hands and knees and crawl. He kept on looking back, expecting every minute that his pursuers would appear in sight. The worst of it was that the snowstorm was slackening. It had not stopped, but it was much lighter, and he could see plainly that it was not going to last much longer. The wind too was lifting the mist.

Sure enough, he was not half-way across the basin when he heard voices in the gorge behind him, and the tramp of feet. His pursuers were coming, and would be upon him before he could get clear. The Indians, wearing moccasins, could travel twice as quickly across the ice as he could in his nailed boots, and even if they could not actually catch him it was certain that they would shoot.

Once more Clem felt perfectly desperate. But there are some people upon whom this sort of thing acts like a tonic. The tighter the fix, the more quickly their brain works. And luckily for himself Clem was one of these. All in a flash it came to him that Gurney and Craze were depending on the space of time between two explosions of the geyser in order to get their superstitious followers through the gorge. At the same time he remembered that Bart had said something about stirring up the geyser and making it go by putting soap in it.

Well, he had no soap, but perhaps a stone might do. It was a chance, anyhow, and, so far as he could see, the only chance. There were plenty of stones, and kicking a good-sized one off the frozen surface he picked it up and went scrambling across toward the central basin. It was easier going here, for the heat of the boiling water had melted the snow and ice. All round the basin itself the ground was quite bare. And the misty vapour from the last outburst still hung over everything. It was lucky for him that the mist was thick, for by this time the snow had almost stopped falling.

The central basin was surrounded by a rim of whitish rock, a sort of deposit left by the boiling water. He scrambled over this with the stone under one arm. Inside the rock sloped steeply toward the circular hole through which the jet rose. Down below he could plainly hear a bubbling like that of a great cauldron, while the whole ground trembled.

At any other time Clem would have been horror-stricken at the idea of venturing so near to the very crater of the geyser, but now he hardly gave it a thought. His anxiety on Billy's account seemed to swamp every other feeling. He scrambled down a little way, found some sort of footing, and flung the big stone with all his might toward the centre.

It went rolling down with a sound like the beating of a drum, and Clem realized that the ground on which he stood was hollow. He saw the stone vanish into the central pipe; then without waiting an instant, he climbed back as quickly as ever he could. As he flung himself over the rim he heard voices through the mist, then the light thud of moccasined feet, and he realized that Gurney and his Indians were actually entering the basin.

Very nearly dead-beat, Clem went slipping and staggering away toward the opposite side of the great, cliff-walled pit. He knew very well that he could never reach the valley ahead of his pursuers, and that the only chance for his own people was the geyser. If the stone trick worked, all might yet be well, but if it failed—! Well, Clem could not bear to think of what would happen then. Once that horde of savage Kaloots was loose in the valley, it would be the end of everything.


XXXIV. — WHEN THE WATCHDOG BARKED

The snow had stopped altogether, and the icy wind blowing through the gorge was rapidly sweeping away the mist. Before Clem could reach the entrance of the second part of the gorge he heard a shout behind him. "Thar's the kid! I sees him!"

The voice was Pelly's, and was followed by a sharp rebuke from Gurney. "Keep quiet, you noisy fool! Do you want to raise the valley before we get there?" Then came an order from Gurney in the Indian language.

Clem knew instinctively what it meant, and flung himself down. He was only just in time, for next moment a shower of arrows came zipping through the dusk, their flint-headed points rattling on the rock all around him. The moment the sounds ceased Clem scrambled up and set to running again. But his nailed boots slipped on the ice, and down he went again with a force that knocked all the remaining breath out of him. "This is the finish," he said dully, as once more he staggered to his feet.

But he was too worn out to run any more. He could only limp slowly forward. Again came the sharp order from Gurney, and glancing back over his shoulder Clem saw plainly a score of Indians standing just across the basin, and in the very act of fitting fresh arrows to their strings. Clem felt he hardly cared. He was so exhausted that he was almost beyond caring. Yet he dropped again to the frozen ground. Then, before the Indians could draw their bows, the ground trembled, and from out of its depths came the familiar gurgling roar.

Clem could hardly believe his senses, for by this time he had given up all hope of the geyser. The roar increased, and the ground began to shake like the lid of a boiling kettle. Clem saw Gurney and Craze dash forward in a desperate effort to encourage their men.

It was too late. At the very first sound from the geyser the Indians had wavered. Now they were one and all bolting back toward the cañon.

What happened after that Clem hardly knew, for next instant, with a roar twice as loud as usual, a gigantic column of boiling water shot up from the centre of the basin. It rose to a prodigious height, sending out clouds of thick vapour. To Clem it looked as if the whole basin would be swamped by its fall, and, crawling on hands and knees, he managed to reach the mouth of the gorge leading into the valley. There he dropped, absolutely spent, with his head spinning giddily.

Down came the vast fountain with a sound like thunder. It was lucky for Clem that he had got as far as he had, for even where he lay he was splashed with boiling foam. Vaguely he saw the great surging, bubbling flood sweep backward to its source, but now the vapour was so thick that he could see nothing else. Then the thought of Billy came uppermost again, and he felt that he must make one last desperate effort to save him.

Somehow he got to his feet and went blindly staggering down the defile. He heard an outbreak of fierce barking, and suddenly was surrounded by the great wolf-dogs. They knew him and fawned on him. A light shone. "Clem—Clem, it's never you?" It was his father's voice, tense and cracking with emotion.

"Billy," said Clem thickly. "He's back there in the far gorge. Gurney's got him, I'm afraid—Gurney and the Kaloots. Save him, Dad!"

He staggered as he spoke, and would have fallen, but his father's arms closed round him and held him up.

LEFT alone, Billy, his back against the cliff, scraped up snow with both hands in an effort to hide himself. It was a difficult business, for there was precious little snow in the pass. The strong wind which constantly swept through had blown most of it away. He had hardly covered even his legs before he heard Gurney's voice, and next minute figures loomed vaguely through the mist and snow as the two white men, followed by a number of Indians, came running through the gorge.

There was nothing for it but to crouch back as far as he could into the little rift, and sit as still as a statue, hoping against hope that he would not be seen.

Billy's heart pounded as the dark figures swept past. Some were so close that by just stretching out his hand he could have touched them. It was a strong force. He reckoned there must be at least sixty or seventy of them in all, enough to destroy everybody and everything in the valley if they once got in. Last of all came the third white man, Pelly, who no doubt had been ordered by Gurney to bring up the rear.

Billy felt a hot thrill of anger run through him at sight of the treacherous scoundrel who, after first pretending to be their friend, had brought the enemy upon them. Another moment, and Pelly too was out of sight, and Billy breathed a sigh of relief as he realized that not one of them had seen him. The mist and the snow together had saved him for the moment, but the mist was clearing fast, and Billy knew well that he could not trust it to hide him much longer. If any of the Kaloots came back presently they would be bound to spot him, and his only chance was to find some better and more secure hiding-place.

The first violent pain in his injured ankle had sunk to a dull throbbing. Quickly unlacing his boot, Billy tied his handkerchief as tightly as possible round his ankle, but even so found he could not walk. The only thing to do was to crawl, so on hands and knees he started up the gorge in search of some hole in the cliffs big enough to hide him.

From in front he could still hear the thud of feet, and Gurney's harsh voice giving orders. Billy hoped intensely that Clem had escaped, and, knowing that he had had a good start, felt fairly sure that he would. Of course he knew nothing of the awful state of the ground around the geyser basin. His notion was that Clem would be in time to rouse the people in the valley, that there would be a fight, and that Gurney's Indians would be driven back through the gorge.

Billy had crept about fifty yards up the gorge, but without finding the hiding-place he so badly needed, when he heard the geyser beginning again. When the first whistling started, and the ground began to quiver beneath him, he could hardly believe his senses. He knew it was nothing like half an hour since the last outburst, and was, of course, completely ignorant of his brother's clever dodge. But there was no doubt about it. Next moment came the familiar roar, and the furious rush and hiss as the great fountain of scalding water leapt upward.

Then all of a sudden Billy realized what the result would be—that the superstitious Kaloots would make a bolt for it, and that their three white leaders would never be able to stop them. And here he was, right out in the open, actually in the very path by which they were bound to come. Small wonder that for the moment the boy felt a chill of fright. As quickly as ever he could, he turned to the side and crawled close up to the cliffs.

But just here the rocks were as straight and smooth as the wall of a house. There was not one atom of cover of any kind, and Billy heartily wished he had not left his former shelter. It was, however, too late for useful repentance, for next moment the thud of running feet came pounding along the gorge, and here were the Indians running for their lives, eager above all things to get away from the fire devil they had so rashly disturbed.


XXXV. — IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY

FLATTENING himself against the foot of the cliff, Billy sat breathless. His one hope was that the Indians might be too scared to notice anything. And, indeed, the first lot passed at such a pace that it seemed as if his hopes might be realized. This first lot was composed of the worst scared and the best runners. Following them came older men, all in more or less of a panic, but not quite so terrified as the first lot. They ran in a bunch, filling the narrow gorge from side to side. Next instant the worst had happened, and one of them bumped right into Billy. Billy heard a grunt of surprise which changed to a cry of rage. Then a sinewy hand caught him by the collar, and he looked up into the fierce copper-coloured face of a Kaloot brave. The Indian's narrow eyes glowed with malice. He plucked a knife from his belt, and Billy saw him draw back his right arm to strike.

The next instant would have been Billy's last, when a powerful hand clutched the Indian's arm, and Gurney's voice rang out. "Drop it, you fool! Drop that knife, or I'll shoot your head off!"

Almost certainly the Indian did not understand a word of what Gurney said. What he did understand was the tone, and the threat of Gurney's pistol jammed against the back of his neck. He dropped Billy like a hot potato, wrenched himself free, and was gone.

"Craze!" Gurney's voice was full of ugly triumph. "The kid! I've got one of Ballard's kids! Here's a bit of luck!"

"Luck!" repeated Craze sourly. "We need a bit, I reckon, after what's happened to-night. What made that infernal geyser go off at the wrong time?"

"Didn't you see? It was this brat's brother. He chucked a rock into it."

"Hurray for Clem!" cried Billy. Then he gasped as Craze kicked him sharply in the ribs.

But his courage was not quenched. "Think yourself plucky!" he retorted, his small face white with pain. "If Bart Condon had been here, you wouldn't have dared touch us."

Craze said something which cannot be repeated, and raised his hand to hit Billy. But Gurney stopped him. "Want to kill the kid, you idiot?" he said harshly. "Don't you realize he's all that stands between us and our finish?"

"I'll knock his impudent head off!" roared Craze.

"You will, and I'll blow yours off," retorted Gurney, with such sudden fierceness that Craze quailed, and became suddenly meek. "He shouldn't cheek me," he said sulkily.

Gurney paid no attention to him.

"Get up," he ordered Billy. "Get up, and come with us, or I'll break every bone in your body."

"Think I'd be here if I could walk?" retorted Billy. "My ankle's sprained, or I'd have been out of your reach long ago."

Gurney glared at him, but saw he was speaking the truth. "Sling him on my back, Craze," he told his partner. "Sharp now, or we'll have Condon's crowd on our heels."

Craze muttered something under his breath, but did as he was ordered, and Gurney started away down the gorge at a sharp trot. As for Billy, he kept quiet. Young as he was, he had plenty of sense, and he quite realized that any attempt to escape was perfectly hopeless. The only thing to do was to wait, and hope that Clem would bring help pretty soon.

All the same, he was anything but happy as he found himself being carried rapidly across the plain toward the distant woods, and knew that every step was taking him farther from help.

Great burly brute that he was, Gurney had had enough of it by the time he reached the cover of the woods. He shot Billy off under a tree, and turned to look back toward the cliff. "They ain't in sight yet," he growled.

"Can't see 'em, anyway," replied Craze. "But it's too blamed dark to tell whether they're coming. What do you reckon to do, Gurney?"

"Find our tent and stop there the night. Old Condon's got more sense than to come tracking through a wood like this in the dark. Where's Pelly?"

As he spoke a tall figure came shambling up. He was breathing heavily. "Them Injuns is all gone, Gurney," he panted. "They run like old Nick was after them." Then he saw Billy. "What, you got one o' the brats?" he exclaimed.

"Only thing we have got," growled Gurney. "Pick him up, Ed. Carry him back to the tent, and watch him well. I reckon he's going to be mighty useful to us."

Pelly flung Billy roughly over his shoulders, and the three together made off into the depths of the wood.

The tent was pitched in a hollow cunningly hidden by thick hemlock. Billy was dropped again. By this time he was numb with cold and aching all over. But the hollow Was well protected, and it was something to be out of the bite of the cruel wind. "Reckon we dare light a fire?" asked Pelly.

"We got to have one, or we'll freeze," said Craze.

Gurney, who seemed to have by far the best head of the three, looked round. "Yes," he said curtly, "we can light a fire all right. Condon and his lot won't come fooling round here to-night. They don't know the Indians have left us, and they'll wait till daylight to start out."

Billy felt a fresh chill of disappointment, but all the same realized that there was good sense in what Gurney said, for it would be sheer madness to attack in pitch darkness a wood that might be strongly held by Indians.

There was plenty of dry wood, and a good fire was soon blazing. In spite of his discomfort and anxiety, Billy was most grateful for the warmth. The three men, who were all silent and surly, proceeded to make a pot of coffee. But they did not cook anything. A tin of corned beef and some cold flapjacks formed their supper. Billy was cruelly hungry, but would rather have starved than ask these fellows for food. When they had finished Gurney flung him a flapjack, much as one would fling a bone to a dog, and Billy swallowed his pride and the food. He felt that he must do so in order to keep fit for what might happen next day.

Having finished supper, the men sat talking in low voices. Then one of them, Craze, got up, took his rifle, and went off. Billy thought he had probably gone to keep guard on the edge of the wood. He himself would have given anything to get away and tell his own people the real state of affairs, but since it was impossible for him to get away, or even to walk, he had to give up the idea and sit tight.

Gurney said something to Pelly, and Pelly got up. Taking a coil of rope, he proceeded to tie Billy's hands behind him and secure him to a tree. "Thar, I guess you'll stay where you be till morning!" he said harshly, and after making up the fire went and lay down in the tent, where he and Gurney were soon snoring.

The fire kept Billy tolerably warm, but the ropes cramped him so that he could not lie down. He was miserably uncomfortable and uneasy, and in spite of being so tired found it impossible to sleep. The night was the longest he had ever spent, and it seemed as if dawn would never come. About two in the morning Craze came back, kicked up Pelly, and sent him off to take his place as sentry. Pelly was very surly, but Craze took no nonsense from him.

At last the darkness began to get a little less thick, and Billy was able to see the outlines of the trees against a dull grey sky. The big snow still threatened, yet did not fall. There had been a shower or two in the night, but nothing very much. The fire was dying down, and Billy shivered miserably in the dawn chill. But the two men in the tent still slept heavily, and he himself was, of course, unable to put fresh wood on.

The wind had fallen, and the snow-clad forest was deathly still—so still that when Billy heard a slight rustle in the distance it made him start quite sharply. At first he thought it was only a bird, or some loose snow falling from a branch, but presently he heard it a second time, and, screwing his head round, saw something moving in the distance. It was still too dark to see what it was. He could only make out some dark object which dropped behind a fallen tree and vanished.

Watching and listening intently, he realized that it was coming nearer. It was creeping and crawling along, taking advantage of every bit of cover. Billy racked his brain to think what it could be. It was not Pelly, for there was no reason for him to creep up like this. Then an idea flashed upon him. Could it be one of the Indians coming back, perhaps to wreak vengeance upon the white men who had led them into such a trap?


XXXVI. — CLEM TO THE RESCUE

IT was not a pleasant thought, and Billy's next idea was that he had better warn his gaolers. But he decided to wait. There was just the chance that it might not be one of the Kaloots, but a scout from the Mist Men of the valley.

This thought cheered Billy enormously. For the moment he forgot cold and cramp and all his miseries, and lay still as a mouse, watching and listening.

A voice made him start. Someone in the tent was speaking. At first the voices were so low that Billy could not hear what was being said. But presently Gurney spoke in a clearer tone. "Done! Of course we're not done, you chicken-hearted fool—not so long as we've got the kid to bargain with!"

"What good will that do if they get round us?" retorted Craze. "Mebbe we can bargain for our lives, but that's about all, so far as I can see."

Gurney gave vent to an angry exclamation. "You're pretty near the limit in fools, Craze. I only wish I'd got some one along with me who'd got a little sense. Seems to me there isn't much to choose between you and Pelly. See here! Ballard is dead nuts on his kids. I know that much, for I knew him back in England. Now we've got this younger one tight in our hands, Ballard can't rush us, for he can't know that all our Indians have quit, and anyhow he doesn't know just where to find us in this big belt of woods. My notion is this. I'll go out with a white flag and see him personally and make terms. In exchange for the kid, he'll have to give us a safe-conduct, and a good bunch of furs into the bargain."

"Bet you he won't do it," growled Craze.

"He's got to do it. If it comes to that, we have another pull over him, and he knows it."

"The police job, you mean?" said Craze. "Seems to me that's all the more reason why he shouldn't let us go. Don't you see, once we're mopped up or prisoners in that valley of his, he's safe."

Gurney laughed, and it was an ugly sound. "I've a notion I can convince him that's not the case," he replied. "You leave it to me, Craze. I'll guarantee to handle it all right."

"You always were a 'cute one," admitted Craze grudgingly. "And anyway, Pelly and me, we haven't no choice, for we're sure up against it good and hard. You going now?"

"Yes. The sooner the better, for if we wait till full light there's always the chance that his Indians may find out that ours have quit."

Next moment Gurney came out of the tent. He scowled at Billy, then turned to Craze. "Take mighty good care of the kid," he ordered. "He's all that stands between us and trouble."

"You bet," replied Craze curtly. "We'll be here when you get back."

Gurney walked off and disappeared among the thick trees, and Craze came out and set to rebuilding the fire. While he did so, Billy anxiously watched the fallen tree behind which the mysterious prowler had disappeared. The light was increasing now, and he could see the trunk plainly, but the person who had been creeping behind it had utterly disappeared. There was not a sign of him or a sound.

Now Billy was mad to get away, for he saw that he was all that stood between these blackguards and defeat. As Gurney had said, once the three were prisoners, the danger to his father was over, for there would be no one to give evidence against him or even to identify him. Whenever Craze was not watching Billy pulled and twisted at his ropes, but they were too well knotted, and he could do nothing.

Craze went to a little distance to get some fresh wood for the fire, and Billy took the opportunity to glance once more at the fallen tree. Suddenly a head rose from behind it. Billy could hardly believe his eyes, for it was Clem who was looking at him—Clem, who made a quick signal with his hand, then dropped again like a shot and vanished.

Billy's heart beat so hard that he nearly suffocated. He had seen that Clem had a gun. If Clem could only get near enough to get the drop on Craze all might yet be well. Craze was alone for the moment, for Pelly was not yet back, and Billy had a notion that Craze was a coward at heart, and would give up at once if a gun was pointed at him.

Billy glanced at Craze, who was still picking up wood, then back at the log. He caught sight of Clem again, and saw that he had left the cover of the log and was creeping on hands and knees toward the hollow where the tent stood. He saw something else, which was that Clem had a dog with him. A great, black, shaggy beast which Billy knew in a moment for Pluto, one of the valley guards, the strongest and fiercest of them all. The dog crept after Clem, silent as a wolf.

Craze came back toward the fire, and Billy dared no longer look round. By this time the suspense was so acute that he could hardly breathe. He really felt as if he could not stand it much longer. The seconds crawled like minutes, and as each moment passed Billy's ears were straining for sounds of Clem's approach.

Suddenly a dead stick cracked, and Billy's heart was in his throat. Craze too heard it and jumped to his feet. "Who'd that?" he snapped.

"Put your gun down, ye fool. It's only me," came Pelly's voice, and the man himself broke through the bushes and came striding down into the hollow.

Billy's heart dropped to his boots. Could there be more cruel luck? Now it was two to one, and Clem would surely not make any attempt at rescue. If he did the result could only be disaster.

"See Gurney?" asked Craze curtly.

"Yes, I seed him. He told me to come along back. Seems he's a- going to try some stunt with the Big Britisher."

Pelly's voice was a sneer, and Craze turned on him at once. "Don't you go talking that way. Gurney's the only one as can pull us out of this here fix."

"It's Gurney as dragged me into it," retorted Pelly angrily. "You and him, together."

Craze's dark eyes blazed. "Shut your head!" he snarled. "We've got the kid anyway. And so long as we've got him we're safe enough."

Pelly looked for a moment as if he were going to hit Craze. But the other man's appearance was so dangerous that he refrained. He swung round, and vented his ill-temper by kicking Billy in the ribs. Billy could not repress a cry of pain.

The result was startling. Next instant a great black beast leaped out of the bushes on the edge of the hollow, and with a terrifying growl rushed straight at Pelly and seized him by the leg.

Pelly roared with pain, and went down with the dog on top of him. Craze made a rush for his rifle, but as he snatched it up there came the crash of a heavy report from the rim of the hollow, and the rifle flew from his hand. A bullet had struck the barrel.

"Hands up, Craze!" came Clem's clear voice, and there he stood, with his rifle pointed straight at Craze's head.

Craze had more pluck than Billy had credited him with. He gave a yell of rage and leapt at Clem.

Clem's rifle spoke, but the bullet went over Craze's head, and Craze got Clem by the leg and pulled him down. "Ye brat!" he cried furiously, and then he gave a very different cry, for Pluto, leaving Pelly, had sprung upon Craze and with the mere force of his spring knocked him sprawling. Before the man could do anything Clem had crawled clear and jumped to his feet.

"Look out, Clem!" shrieked Billy. "Look out for Pelly!"

The long man was on his feet, and it looked all odds that he would get hold of Clem. But Clem snatched up his rifle, and, holding it by the barrel, swung it desperately. The butt got Pelly on the side of the head, and down he crashed as if he had been poleaxed.


XXXVII. — THE TABLES ARE TURNED

"HURRAY!" shrieked Billy, almost beside himself. But Clem kept his head. "Hold him, Pluto!" he cried, and, snatching a knife, slashed the cords that tied Billy.

In his excitement Billy forgot his aching bones and all his pains. "Give me the rifle, Clem," he said. Clem handed it to him, and Billy quickly glanced at the magazine.

"It's all right," said Clem. "It's loaded."

"Then you tie up Craze," said Billy. "I'll hold the rifle at his head to keep him quiet. Pelly's not going to move yet—not after the whack you gave him."

"Right!" Clem answered. "I'll tie Craze. But look out for him. He's a slippery customer."

"Don't you worry. I'm not taking any chances with him," said Billy. "Come off him, Pluto."

Pluto, growling formidably, obeyed. Craze's face was purple with fury and fright.

"Now, Craze," said Billy sharply, "the tables are turned, and you'd better realize that. If you try any more tricks I shan't hesitate to shoot."

Craze ground his teeth, but made no answer. Then Clem set to work. Billy kept the muzzle of the rifle jammed hard against his body, and Craze was forced to realize that it was of no use to resist. Inside a couple of minutes he was triced up so that he could not move.

"Better gag him," said Billy. "Gurney may be back, and we don't want him to get warning of what's happened to his pals."

Clem nodded, and gagged Craze with a handkerchief. Then he turned his attention to Pelly. "Hope I haven't killed him," he said uncomfortably.

"Bless you, no! He's got a head like solid bone," returned Billy. "Tie his legs and arms."

This was soon done, and the boys had time to breathe. "Where's Gurney?" demanded Clem.

Billy told him that he had gone to make terms. "Didn't you see him?" he asked.

"Not I. I didn't see anybody. Pluto and I came on our own."

"Came on your own!" repeated Billy. "I say, Clem, you are a brick!"

"Nonsense! I couldn't leave you in the hands of these pigs."

"You came all that way alone in the dark?" said Billy wonderingly. "I'd never have had the pluck to do it. Why, you might have run right into the Indians! You didn't know they'd gone."

"I felt pretty sure of it," Clem answered. "I saw them running like fun when the geyser started up. But I say, old chap, you must have had a perfectly beastly time of it."

"It was pretty rotten," admitted Billy. "And, to say truth, I'm nearly all in. What about a pot of hot coffee?"

Clem laughed. "Some of theirs! This is turning the tables with a vengeance. All right. You sit still. I'll fix it."

The kettle was already on, and Clem piled small bits of wood round it. In a very short time it was boiling, and he made the coffee. "Keep your eyes open," he warned Billy. There was no answer, and looking round, he saw that his brother was lying by the fire, dead asleep. Clem's lips tightened, for he began to realize what Billy had been through. But this was no time to sleep, and very unwillingly he roused him and gave him some coffee. Billy drank it and revived. Then he ate some beef and flapjacks. Clem too had some food.

"There, I feel a heap better," said Billy, quite cheerfully. "What are we going to do next, Clem?"

"Sit tight, old chap. Gurney will come back sooner or later, and we've got to collar him. He's worth much more to us than either of these others, for he is the only one who can clear Dad."

Billy nodded. "That's so. Yes, we must get him, Clem, and once we have him it will be all right."

"Then we'd better keep quiet and out of sight. And these fellows ought to be out of sight too. Can we get them into the tent?"

"Afraid I can't help you with that," said Billy. "I can barely stand up."

"I'll do it," said Clem. It seemed an impossible task for a boy of his age, but Clem's muscles had hardened, and he had filled out wonderfully during the past two months. He managed to drag the men in. Then he and Billy took up their positions under the lee of some bushes quite close to the fire, and waited. They knew they could trust Pluto to give them warning of the approach of Gurney.

Time passed. The sun was up, though the pall of grey snow- cloud hid its light. It was broad daylight.

Billy grew uneasy. "What on earth has happened?" he asked. "Gurney ought to have been back long ago."

"Hush!" Clem whispered back. "Some one's coming. Look at Pluto."

The big dog's ears were lifting. It seemed certain that he heard some one coming. But, strain their ears as they might, the boys could not hear a sound. They crouched down, Clem with his rifle ready, and the moments ticked by.

"I don't believe it's Gurney at all," said Billy rather breathlessly.

Clem glanced at Pluto. The big dog was listening keenly, but not growling. "It can't be," he whispered back. "Pluto would know."

Again there was a pause. The waiting was dreadfully trying. "Whoever it is, they can see the smoke of the fire," said Billy at last.

Clem got up quietly. He had his rifle in his hands. "I'll crawl up through the bushes," he said, in a very low voice. "Perhaps I'll be able to see them."

Before he could move a voice rang out. "Hands up, all of you! You're covered." Instead of putting his hands up Clem gave a joyful shout. "All right, Jock! We've got them long ago!"

Jock Scarlett's face as he stepped out into the open, followed by half a dozen of the Mist Men, was a study in amazement. "You, Clem! How in the mischief did you get here?"

"No time to explain now," answered Clem swiftly. "But here's Billy all right, and Pelly and Craze are tied up in the tent."

"You've got Pelly and Craze. My word, you're a miracle, Clem! But Gurney—where is he?"

Clem's face fell. "I hoped you'd got him. Didn't he come out to Dad, and offer terms?"

Jock's good-looking face hardened. "Yes, he came, but his bluff didn't work. Your father flatly refused to bargain with him. He told him that he should never have a penny from him, but that if he touched Billy he'd hunt him down if it took him the rest of his life."

"What happened then?" asked Clem.

"Gurney went off with a face like a thunder-cloud, and Bart ordered me to take twenty of our men and try to find Billy."

Clem nodded. "I see what's happened. Gurney must have got the wind up, and cleared while the going was good. I expect he heard me shoot when Pluto and I had the fight with Craze and Pelly."

Jock nodded. "That's about the size of it. Then he'll have gone to join the Kaloots."

"Not he! The Kaloots have all cleared. They're miles away by now. And Gurney wouldn't be safe with them. I believe they'd finish him in very short order."

Jock whistled softly. "Then where has he gone?" he asked.

"I haven't a notion," Clem answered. "The only thing to do will be to set our fellows on his track."

Jock spoke to one of the Indians, a tall, fine-looking man known as Black Eagle. He at once called to the others, and these went off quickly. Three Indians stayed with Jock.

"We must get the prisoners in," said Jock. "And Billy will have to be carried. Bart says the big snow is coming to-day, and the sooner we're back in the valley the better."

Clem agreed; the prisoners were brought out, and with their hands tied were marched away by two of the Mist Indians. The third took Billy on his back, and they all moved off rapidly through the wood.

Mr Ballard and Bart were waiting in the cleft. When Bart saw Billy he gave a great roar of joy. As for Billy's father, he could hardly speak. To get both his boys back safe seemed almost too good to be true, and at first he paid no attention to the prisoners or anything else. It was Bart, with his strong common sense, who cut in. "See here, Ballard, the job's only half done. It's Gurney we want. You got to remember as he's the only chap as kin fix things so as you kin go back safe to England. Ain't that so?"

"You're right, Bart. We must get him if we can."

"I've sent Black Eagle and a party after him," put in Jock.

"Good for you!" said Bart. "Then wherever he's gone, I reckon they'll have him before dark."

"They will if the snow don't come," said Jock, glancing anxiously at the sky. "But it's not going to be long now."

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a blast came whistling across the great slope, a wind so cold that it seemed to pierce the thickest furs like so much paper. Then all in an instant the air was full of fine, driving snow-dust.

Bart caught Clem by the arm. "Come right along, sonny. Come on, all o' ye. It's as much as we'll do to reach the house."


XXXVIII. — CLEARING UP

TEN days had passed. The blizzard was long over, and the weather fine, calm, and clear, but the air was tingling with frost. The lake was a vast sheet of ice, and the drifts were so deep that the Indian village had almost disappeared from sight. Even the big house was covered almost to the eaves, and they had had to dig out the doors and windows.

As for the boys, Billy's ankle was well, and the two had been spending the last few days in learning to travel on snowshoes. Already they were able to run for miles across the frozen surface of the great snow-sheet. At supper on that tenth night, in the big dining-room, with its roaring fire of pine-knots, Billy was very silent.

"A penny for your thoughts, Billy," chaffed Jock.

"I reckon he's thinking of that there Gurney," said Bart.

"Don't worry your head about him," put in Mr Ballard quickly. "The man must be dead long ago. He could never have survived that blizzard. And I'm not worrying either. I shall be quite happy to stay here for the rest of my life."

Billy looked up. "You won't, Dad," he said with conviction, "but as a matter of fact I wasn't thinking of Gurney. I was thinking of Altemus. You know we promised him a rifle. Can we take him one?"

Billy's father looked rather grave. "Certainly he can have one," he said, "but there is no need for you boys to go. I can send it by Black Eagle."

"But we promised to go, Dad," pleaded Billy.

Bart cut in. "Don't you trouble your head, Ballard. I'll go with 'em."

Mr Ballard's face cleared. "In that case I shan't mind, Bart," he said.

"Hurray!" cried Billy. "Then let's go to-morrow."

This was agreed, and as soon as it was light the three set out together.

The day was perfect, and though the temperature was far below zero there was no wind, and the sun felt quite warm. They reached the top of the pass where they had left Altemus at about ten in the morning, and the very first thing they saw was the track of snowshoes on the smoothly blown surface. "He's been here," said Billy, frowning. "I say, what bad luck! He's been here and gone back again."

Bart nodded. "The tracks is fresh. I reckon he was here no longer ago than yesterday."

"And he was expecting his rifle," said Billy. "I say, Bart, do let's go on and give it him!"

Bart looked doubtful. "What about this here monster you been talking about?"

"I don't suppose he will bother us," said Clem. "You know we smashed him up badly with that rock."

After some discussion it was agreed that they should go on, and with the snow in good order it was only a little past midday when they found themselves in the Valley of the Monster.

"I reckon we'll keep the hills," said Bart dryly, as he looked round at the great, desolate valley. It was just as well they did so, for as they rounded the steep slope above Altemus's cave all three pulled up short.

"My goodness, there's the brute!" exclaimed Clem.

Bart stared. "I've seed queer things in my life," he said gravely, "but I'll tell ye straight, I never dreamed as a thing like that were still alive on this here earth."

Even the boys, who had seen the beast before, felt cold chills creep down their spines. The giant brute was like a great black blot against the snow. Its hairy spine glistened with hoar-frost as it hunched itself, motionless, as close as it could get to the mouth of the cave.

Bart was the first to recover himself. "I reckon that thing's lived long enough," he said grimly, as he carefully thrust cartridges into the magazine of the heavy rifle which he had brought for Altemus. Then he lay down on the snow and sighted carefully. As his finger tightened on the trigger a sharp crack sent the echoes ringing, and was followed by a thud as the bullet struck the dinosaur.

Instantly the huge brute woke to fearful life, rearing up to its full height and roaring horribly. Bart paid no attention, but fired again and again. The range was only about a hundred yards, and every bullet got home. They were nickel-tipped bullets which would penetrate the hide of a rhinoceros, yet at first they seemed to have no effect on the huge body of the dinosaur. The monster leaped and raged in vain efforts to reach its enemy. "He sure takes a lot of killing," said Bart, as he fired for the sixth time.

"You got him in the eye that time," said Clem, in a thick whisper.

"You've finished him!" cried Billy. As he spoke the monster made one gigantic leap high into the air, then fell back with an earth-shaking shock, and lay quivering. Bart, aiming more carefully than ever, put two more bullets into the giant beast's head. That finished it.

Next moment the tall figure of Altemus himself appeared at the mouth of the cave. "Hurray! I'm so glad you're safe!" shouted Billy. The Indian smiled gravely, and came climbing up to meet them.

"You have done me a very good turn, my friends," he said, in his grave, precise way. "We have been besieged for the past twenty-four hours, and my buckshot only seemed to infuriate the monster."

"'We'?" repeated Billy quickly. "Have you some one with you?"

"I have, indeed. I picked up a man in the blizzard, badly frostbitten. His name is Gurney."

"Gurney!" cried both the boys at once. "Oh, what luck!" went on Billy. "He's the one we told you about—the man who tracked us up here."

"And now he is dying," said Altemus gravely. "But come in. We have much to say."

They looked first at the monster, marvelling at its tremendous size and strange shape. Then they followed Altemus into the cave. On Altemus's own bed lay a man. It was Gurney, but so shrunk and wasted that they hardly recognized him. Changed, too, for he no longer scowled at them. "I'm sorry to see you like this," said Clem quietly.

"You need not be," Gurney answered, in a voice so low and hoarse that they could hardly hear him. "If I had lived I should have done more harm than I have done already. Now that I know I am going out, I have come to look upon things differently. Altemus, there, has helped me. If his skin is red, he is the whitest man I ever met." He stopped, coughing dreadfully.

"His lungs are frozen," whispered Altemus. "I have done what I could for him, but there is no hope. He cannot last more than a few hours."

"Then can we ask him to clear Father of the forgery charge for which he was put in prison?" asked Clem.

"He has done it already," replied Altemus. "Yesterday he got me to write down the whole story, which he signed, and I have witnessed it."

Clem drew a long breath of deepest relief. "Dad will be very grateful to you, Mr Altemus," he said. "And so are we."

Just then Gurney spoke again. His voice was weaker than ever. "Have you got Craze and Pelly?" he asked.

"Yes," Clem answered.

"What is your father going to do with them?"

"He was going to keep them prisoners. They are well treated and fed."

Gurney hesitated. The change in him was so great that it seemed beyond belief. "Ask him to let them go," he said hoarsely.

It was Bart who answered. Clem was too astonished. "I'll see to it, Gurney. We'll do the right thing, you can bet on that."

"I believe you will," said Gurney. Then he smiled. "I'm not going to apologize. If I had my life to live again, I should probably act in the same way as I have done. Unless, indeed, I had met Altemus earlier. Then I might have been different." He looked at Clem. "Altemus will give you the paper which will right matters for your father," he said. "I'm glad I could do that before I finished."

Clem felt dreadfully sorry for the man. Gurney had been a brute, and he had treated his partner disgracefully. But now that he saw him lying there with his lungs frozen, dying, all the old bitterness left Clem's heart. He bent over him. "I'll tell him what you have said," he told Gurney. "I—I—it will be all right," he ended lamely.

Gurney smiled. "Thank you," he said. "Would you—would you mind shaking hands?"

Clem flushed, but took Gurney's wasted hand. Gurney smiled again. "That makes me feel better," he said. "Now I'll sleep a bit."

GURNEY did not wake again. He died quietly in his sleep. Next day the boys and Bart helped to bury him. Then they returned home, leaving Altemus alone in his cave home. But now that the monster was dead they were no longer anxious for his safety.

Clem himself handed his father Gurney's confession, and watched him read it. As Mr Ballard did so the years seemed to roll off him. He became visibly younger.

He laid the paper down and turned to the boys. His eyes were shining. "We'll go home," he said. "We'll go home in the spring. Bart and Jock will carry on here."

Billy looked dismayed. "But not for good, Dad? You're not going to give up this jolly old place altogether?"

"No, indeed!" answered his father smiling. "As soon as you boys have finished your schooling, back we come." He turned to Bart. "I'm a happy man, Bart," he said, "a very happy man."


THE END