Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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SWOLLEN with snow water, Boiling Creek roared sullenly beneath the steep bluff on which the brothers stood. The younger of the two, a strongly built boy of fourteen, with a brown, cheery face, a pair of honest grey eyes, and a square chin, was Dan Hemsley; the other, his brother Brand, was four years older, a fine young fellow, nearly six feet in height, and as strong as most grown men.
Dan looked down at the water with eager eyes, watching the great chunks of yellow, rotten ice which swung upon the twisting current, smashing into one another, grinding and roaring with a terrifying sound. The flood swung them down towards the mouth where the swollen river poured out into the Pacific Ocean.
"So this is our river, Brand?" said Dan eagerly.
"This is Boiling Creek, Dan, and"—pointing— "there's all our stuff—the nets and everything— on the flat below. I've engaged my men, who are coming in a few days, and it's up to us to have everything ready for them when they arrive."
"And the salmon, Brand. You are sure there are plenty of fish?"
"Lashings, Dan. I saw the spring run last year, and that was the reason why I got Father to buy the fishing rights of the river. Now we've got to make good."
"We jolly well will," declared Dan, with emphasis. "How soon will the salmon begin to run up from the sea?"
"Just as soon as the ice is out. That will be in about a week. But the big run of fish comes a month from now; then we ought to get two or three thousand a day. Do you know, Dan, I reckon we shall clear three to four thousand dollars a year out of this business?"
"Topping!" exclaimed Dan, in high delight. "Then we shall be able to buy the farm that Dad has always wanted."
"That is the first thing we must do," replied Brand gravely. "We owe a lot to him, Dan, and we must both remember that he has put every penny he could raise into this business. If we don't make good, it is absolute ruin for him.
"But we will make good," vowed Dan. "And now let's go down to the flat. I'm keen to see the tents and nets."
Dan, who had only just arrived, found that Brand had already got a tent up and everything shipshape and comfortable. The two cooked their supper over a fire of driftwood, and sat afterwards talking over the prospects of the salmon fishing.
Boiling Creek is one of those rivers which run down from the snowy mountains of northern British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean, and Brand declared that, since there was never any lack of water, the salmon were always able to run up from the sea to spawn in the upper river.
"It's a lonely sort of place," he went on, "but that's all the better for us, for we don't want anyone interfering. Not that they can, for Dad got a good lawyer to draw up the agreement and paid cash for the fishing rights."
"Are we quite alone?" Dan asked. "Doesn't anyone live near here?"
"A man called Gregory Harney lives higher up and owns a lot of land. Fernley, our lawyer, told me he was rather a queer fish and warned me to keep the right side of him. So far I haven't seen or heard of him and, after all, there's no reason why he should run foul of us or we of him."
"Doesn't seem to be anyhow," said Dan, but Brand frowned.
"All the same, Dan, I've a notion there's something wrong. More than once I've fancied that I was being watched."
Dan held up his hand.
"It's a right notion too," he said sharply.
He pointed as he spoke, and Brand, following the direction of Dan's pointing finger, caught sight of a man standing on the top of the opposite bluff on the far side of the river and staring at them.
"Who is he?" asked Dan swiftly.
"Blessed if I know," Brand answered. "But it can't be Harney; that chap looks as if he had spent the whole winter in the woods. See his clothes. They're rags. And his hair's a foot long."
The man was indeed a strange sight, for his hair hung down over his shoulders, and his face was almost hidden by a beard that had not been trimmed for months. He was too far away for them to see him plainly, yet it was quite clear that he was in rags and half starved. For perhaps half a minute he stood gazing fixedly at the two boys; then as Brand took a step forward the man spun round and ran like a frightened rabbit. In a few seconds he had disappeared into the bush beyond.
"Brand," said Dan, "that chap's in trouble. What about going after him?"
"I believe you're right, Dan. Only thing is we're leaving our stuff unguarded."
"No one's going to interfere with it. And we shan't feel easy till we've found that poor beggar and given him a hand. He looks to me to be all in. Anyhow, it won't take long. He can't go far."
"Right," said Brand, as he pushed their canoe into the water.
It looked a risky business to drive this very light craft across the flooded stream among the grinding ice cakes, but the boys thought little of the risk, for both were skilful paddlers. Dodging the floes, they were across within three minutes, and pulling the canoe well up set to climbing the bluff which rose beyond. At the top they at once found footmarks of the mysterious stranger, and Brand, a skilled tracker, set to following them.
"It's just as I told you," said Dan; "the chap's all in. See how he's been stumbling."
It was true. The footmarks showed it. The two brothers pushed on more rapidly, but the ground was rocky, and here and there they lost the trail. Also the trees were thick. They climbed a little ridge, and at the top Dan stopped and caught his brother's arm.
"I saw him. He's gone into that thick clump."
"Go slow, youngster. A chap like that might turn queer. He's scared, I think, and frightened folk do funny things. He might have a gun."
"Yes, but I didn't see one. Still, you're right, and we'd better go slow. Suppose we go round behind those rocks and get on the far side of the clump."
Brand agreed, and the two went ducking from rock to rock until they gained the western edge of the thick clump of brush into which their quarry had vanished. Dan stopped again.
"There's a hut—a cabin," he whispered.
They crept up, and, sure enough, in a little opening among the trees was a small building made of unsquared logs and roofed with logs and turf. The roughest sort of shelter which had probably been put up by some trapper. It looked a mere ruin, yet a faint curl of blue smoke from the chimney proved that it was inhabited. Trees grew quite close to the back of it, and the boys moved up, unseen, and paused.
Presently a sound came from inside. It was a groan. The boys looked at one another, then went softly up, and Dan peeped through the unglazed window. Inside was a stove, a table and stool made of old packing cases, and on a shelf against one wall a few cooking things. Opposite was a wooden bunk built into the wall, and on it a rough mattress made of sacking stuffed with moss. Stretched on the mattress was the wild man.
Now that they were nearer they could see that his face beneath his hair was terribly thin. His cheek-bones stuck out, and the skin was drawn like parchment over the bones. His eyes were sunk deep in his head.
"The poor beggar!" muttered Dan pityingly. "He's nearly starved. It's a jolly good thing we came after him."
Brand went straight round to the door, and Dan followed him into the shack. The man heard them and sprang up. His face was a mask of terror, and his eyes glittered horribly.
"So you've tracked me," he shrieked, in a high, cracked voice. "But I'll die before you take me."
As he spoke, he sprang at Brand and wrapped his arms around him. So fierce and unexpected was his attack that Brand was forced backwards. He caught his knees against the stool, and he and his attacker went down together. They fell upon the stove which went over with the shock, scattering embers in every direction and filling the place with smoke.
Brand was half stunned with the fall, and Dan dashed forward, seized the wild man, and dragged him away from Brand. The man turned upon Dan, striking at him so furiously that Dan had his work cut out to avoid the blows. It seemed beyond belief that anyone in such a state as the stranger could fight so fiercely.
It did not last long. All of a sudden the man collapsed, and Dan caught him just in time to save him from pitching headlong into the wall. An ominous crackle made Dan turn sharply, and he saw that the shack was afire. The wood, dry as tinder, had caught from the burning embers, and the place was doomed.
"Brand!" Dan shouted and dashed to his brother's help.
But Brand was already staggering to his feet. He was dazed but not seriously hurt.
"I'm all right," he said. "Here, I'll give you a hand with the poor beggar. We'll all be roasted together if we're not pretty slippy."
Between them they dragged the other outside. He was coming round, and Dan heard him moan something about papers.
"What papers?" he asked.
"In the shack. Under bed."
He spoke so low that Dan could hardly hear. Dan turned and made for the door again, but Brand stopped him.
"You can't do a thing, old man. It's a bonfire."
Brand was right. It was hopeless, for the whole room was a mass of flame. Next moment one of the roof beams fell, and great sheets of fire roared up. In almost no time the whole roof fell in, and that was the end of the shack. Its owner had collapsed again. He was as still as if he was dead. Luckily, Brand had a flask on him, and a few drops of the strong spirit started his heart again. But he could not walk or help himself in any way.
"Have to carry him," said Brand, and Dan agreed.
For a man of his size he was terribly light, yet even so it was no joke getting him back to the river, a distance of nearly a mile, and both boys were pretty nearly done when at last they had got him down the bluff and into the canoe.
There was still a lot of ice coming down, and the extra weight brought the gunwale of the canoe unpleasantly near the water. They were both very grateful when they got safe to the far side. The first thing was to wrap the starving man in blankets and put him in a bunk, the next to make a fire and heat up some soup. They got him to swallow it, and he went sound asleep. The boys stood watching him.
"He's pretty bad," said Dan. "Wants proper nursing."
"Which we can't give him," Brand replied.
"Then what are we going to do?" Dan asked bluntly.
"Take him down to the hospital at Fort Gail."
Dan pursed his lips.
"It's fifty miles. Two days there and two back."
"I know, but there's no choice, Dan."
"Think we shall find any of our kit when we get back?" Dan asked. "I suppose you know someone's been through it while we were away."
"I know that, Dan. But I don't think they've taken anything."
"No, I haven't missed anything, but they may not be so kind next time."
Brand frowned. "The only thing to do will be to hide it in one of the caves. Then they—whoever they are—will think we've quit."
Dan nodded. "That's good. We'd better do it to-night. We ought to be off at daybreak."
Brand agreed, and all the heavier gear was hidden in one of the many caves in the limestone bluff. At dawn next morning they were off. The next two days were hard ones. They had to go down to the mouth of the river and then make their way south along the coast to Fort Gail. It was bitterly cold, but luckily the weather was fine, and they reached the settlement safely. The patient was better but seemed to have lost his memory. He could not even tell them his name. There was nothing they could do, so they left him, one more wreck of the many made by the Northern forests.
It blew hard on the way back, and they were glad, indeed, that they had only two in the canoe. Any extra weight would have swamped them. But they fought their way safely back to the mouth of Boiling Creek and were happy to find that the worst of the ice was out. They were still more pleased to find that no one had touched the goods they had stored in the cave. Yet heavy footprints around the spot where they had made their first camp proved that someone had been there during their absence.
"Do you think it's Harney?" Dan asked.
"I haven't a notion, Dan, but, since he's the only inhabitant besides ourselves, it looks like it. It's not Indians, for these men wore nailed boots."
Dan's lips tightened.
"We're going to have trouble with that fellow," he growled. "I feel it in my bones."
Brand stretched his big arms and laughed.
"I don't want trouble, but if it comes I'm ready for it. Now let's fix up things and get to bed."
Dan nodded, and an hour later the two were sound asleep, Dan dreaming of nets full of silvery salmon.
The next days were busy ones. There were tents to set up, nets to unpack, and firewood to cut. The boys worked from dawn till dark, and saw nobody. The ice swept out, and the river, though still full, ran clear. Then one morning Dan woke before Brand, and the first thing he noticed was that the sound of the river was less loud than usual. Full of wonder, he turned out but next moment was back again.
"Brand—Brand!" he cried. "The river's falling fast. It's down three or four feet."
"Impossible!" exclaimed Brand, starting up. But when he got outside his face too fell.
"By Jove, you're right!" he said. "And it's falling still. This beats me. What can have happened?"
The two stood staring at the river which, even as they watched, was still falling. Dan turned to his brother, and there was dismay in his face.
"I say, Brand, if this goes on, the salmon can't get up from the sea. Then where shall we be?"
Brand Hemsley did not answer. His eyes were fixed on the fast falling river. It was the strangest sight to see it ebb away, leaving the wet sand bare, while rocks, hitherto unseen, poked their dark heads above the shrinking stream. At last he turned to his brother.
"I can make nothing of this, Dan, but, as you say, if the river goes on falling the salmon can't get up, and we are done for. The best thing we can do is to go up stream at once and see if we can solve the mystery."
Dan agreed. They ate a hasty breakfast and started out. Climbing the bluff, they walked rapidly up the left-hand bank. Before they had gone far Dan stopped.
"She's rising again," he said sharply.
Brand stopped and gazed down at the river. He watched it carefully for a couple of minutes.
"You are right," he answered at last. "Yes, the water is rising."
"Then it's all right," cried Dan cheerfully.
They walked for nearly an hour, then came to a tall wooden fence running right down to the river bank.
"The edge of Harney's property," explained Brand. "He doesn't allow anyone in here."
"Well, we're going, anyhow," declared Dan, as he proceeded to swing up on a tree branch and clamber over the fence.
Beyond were pine woods—deep, shady, and mysterious. There did not seem to be anyone about, and the two moved cautiously forward. The river made a bend, and Dan, who was leading, pulled up short.
"Got it," he said quickly. "Look at that, Brand."
The river here narrowed in a deep gorge, and the first thing that Brand saw was a huge red scar in the near bank and a gigantic mass of broken rock forming a dam clean across the river over the top of which the water was now breaking in a thunder of foam.
"That's it," said Brand. "That explains it. There has been a big fall of rock during the night that cut off the water, but now it's over the top of the dam." Then his lips tightened, and his face went very grave. "But, Dan, this cooks our goose."
"Because salmon can't pass that great dam, and as soon as they find that they can't get up they will desert the river altogether."
"Oh, Brand, you don't mean that!" exclaimed Dan, in dismay.
"It's true, Dan. Unless we can get rid of that dam, we are ruined."
"And that's what you never will do," broke in a harsh voice, and turning quickly the brothers saw a square-set man with thick shoulders, a bull neck, and a very red angry face. "And what are you doing here, trespassing on my property?" he continued truculently.
Brand Hemsley bit his lip but managed to keep his temper in control.
"I don't think you understand, Mr. Harney," he said quietly. "That dam ruins our fishing. You cannot object to our dynamiting it."
"You try it and see," threatened Harney. "This is my property—both sides—and you touch it at your peril. I've given my men orders to shoot if they catch you trespassing. Now get out, both of you, and be thankful you're alive to do it."
A dusky red burned in Brand's cheeks. His eyes flashed. Harney stepped back and put a whistle to his lips.
"You try it, my young friend, and see what happens. I've half a dozen men within call."
BRAND HEMSLEY bit his lip He quite realized that this man, Harney, meant what he said; yet he could not tamely give up and accept ruin. For he knew that what he had told Dan was true—that the salmon, turned back by this barrier, would desert the river altogether, and that all the money that his father had spent on buying the fishery concession and on the nets would be lost. Once more he turned to remonstrate.
"Mr. Harney," he said, "we have bought the fishery concession for this river; we have a right—"
"Right," burst in Harney violently. "Then go to the courts and try to prove it. I'll have no intruders on my property or anywhere near it. For the last time I tell you to clear out."
Brand went white to the lips, his eyes burned dangerously, and his big fists clenched. Harney, watching him, again raised his whistle to his lips. Dan caught his brother by the arm.
"Come, Brand. Don't give the fellow the satisfaction of turning us out," he said urgently. "You know we can't fight half a dozen men."
"The brat's got more sense than you," sneered Harney. "But you'd better go quickly. I haven't much patience left."
Dan swung round upon him.
"Yes, we will go now," he said, in a voice that sounded all the more dangerous because it was so quiet. "We'll go, but we'll come back. And when we come back, look out for yourself, Mr. Dog in the Manger."
Harney's temper went to the winds.
"Try it!" he roared, with an oath. "Try it, and I'll put you in the river and your brother too, you impudent brat!"
Once outside Harney's property Brand dropped upon a rock, and the misery on his face wrung Dan's heart.
"It's no use, Dan," he said. "We can do nothing. We are done for. Think of Dad, when he hears what has happened."
Dan's square face hardened.
"We're not done for yet," he vowed. "Buck up, Brand. Somehow we are going to put a spoke in that ruffian's wheel. The courts will help us."
"They won't, Dan. Even the law won't give us the right to go into Harney's property to blow up that dam."
"Yes, it will. He'd no right to put it there."
Brand looked up sharply.
"Put it there. What do you mean?"
"Just what I say. That wasn't a natural fall. Harney dynamited the cliff. I could see the marks of the explosion."
Brand started to his feet.
"You don't mean it?" he exclaimed. "But in that case the law would help us." Then his face fell again. "But it would be too late, Dan. Long before the courts could move the spring run of salmon will be over, and the fish, finding it impossible to get up to their spawning grounds, will have abandoned the river."
Two more miserable people than Brand and Dan Hemsley, as they sat over their fire that evening, could certainly not have been found in British Columbia—perhaps not in all North America. They had talked over the whole wretched business from every possible point of view, but the more they talked the less they saw of any way out of their difficulties.
Brand was certain that the salmon could not pass the great barrier of rocks which Harney's explosion had brought down across the river, and was equally sure that the law could not help them—at least, in time to do any good. They were a long way north, and it would take a week at least to get back to Vancouver. Then they would have to engage a lawyer, and get him to come up and see what had happened. Then back again, and the case would certainly be some weeks before it came to trial.
Even if they won—and that was not certain, for Harney seemed to be a rich man and could probably afford to engage the best counsel—it would be too late. In a week or two the salmon would be running up from the sea, only to be turned back by the dam. Then they would desert the river altogether, and there was an end of everything. All the money they had paid for the fishing rights, their nets and equipment, was wasted. In fact, sheer ruin stared them in the face.
Brand was utterly dejected, but Dan refused to give in. The plan he put forward was to hurry their men up, take them up the river by night, and dynamite the dam. But Brand soon proved that anything of that sort was out of the question.
"It would be impossible to do a job like that in a single night, Dan," he said. "In fact, it couldn't be done in the dark at all. It would mean a week's work in the open, and even at that it would be dangerous and difficult. The men would have to be let down over the bluff by ropes, or we should have to have flat boats moored under the dam, where the men could work putting the charges into the rocks. Think of trying anything of the kind, with Harney's men lying hidden in the woods and shooting at us! Why, it's madness."
Dan groaned as the truth of his brother's words was forced upon him. He racked his brain for any way out, but could find none. At last, sick at heart and dispirited, the two went to their cots but not to sleep. By morning Brand had come to a decision.
"We'll stay here and pick up what fish we can during the early run," he said. "We may get just enough to pay the expenses of the men coming up and their wages. Then we must clear out and get back home."
"It'll break Dad's heart," muttered Dan, and taking a pail, went down to the river to get some water for washing.
He was stooping to fill it when a sound made him look round. An Indian boy of about his own age was racing full speed along the top of the bluff. Behind him rode a man on horseback and one glance at the latter's big, heavy, red face told Dan that this was Harney.
"Stop, you young fiend!" roared the latter as the Indian boy dodged nimbly among the tree trunks. "Stop, or I'll skin you alive."
Dan dropped his pail.
"This way!" he shouted to the Indian boy. "This way! Come down over the bluff to the flat."
The Indian boy heard, for Dan saw him glance in his direction. For a moment the boy hesitated, perhaps fearing a trap, but it was only for a moment. Then he came leaping down the steep bank. It was too steep for Harney's horse, and Dan saw him jerk violently at the reins, pulling his beast right on its haunches.
"Stop, I tell you! Stop!" he bellowed.
But the Indian boy only ran the faster, and swearing savagely Harney swung himself off his horse, pulled the bridle rein over its head, and started afoot down the bluff. But he could not travel like the Indian, and long before he was half way down the boy had reached the flat. Here he stopped short, eyeing Dan suspiciously. It seemed pretty plain that he looked upon all white people as his enemies, and was afraid to trust himself with any of them.
"Brand! Brand!" cried Dan.
By this time Brand was outside the tent.
"What's up?" he called.
Dan pointed first at the boy, then at the bulky figure of Harney scrambling down the cliff. It was a story which needed no words, and Brand's face darkened as he strode across the flat to the point where Harney had nearly reached it. Next moment the two met.
"Get out of my way," ordered Harney curtly.
Brand faced him. "You are not on your own land here, Mr. Harney," he answered. "This is my concession. I will ask you to clear off. You are trespassing."
Harney's face went almost purple.
"You dare talk to me like that, you beggar's brat?" he roared. "Hand over that boy at once, or take the consequences."
"I think I'll take the consequences," drawled Brand, and only those who knew him best would have realized that it was just when he talked like this that Brand Hemsley was really dangerous.
Harney at any rate did not know it, and raising his mighty fist smote Brand between the eyes. That, at least, was his intention, but somehow it did not come off, for when his fist reached the proper spot, Brand's head was no longer there. He had jumped lightly to one side. Then as Harney, almost overbalanced with the force of his blow, came blundering forward, out shot Brand's leg and tripped him neatly. Down came Harney flat on his face on the sandy gravel, and before he quite knew what had happened Brand was on top of him pinning him down.
"Now will you be good?" said Brand quietly, as he dug his knuckles into the nape of Harney's neck, forcing his face against the shingle.
To do Harney justice he fought hard, but Brand had him in such a position that he could do nothing. The Indian boy had been watching eagerly, but so far had not uttered a word. Now all of a sudden he whipped out a knife, and quick as a panther leaped towards Harney.
Brand had his back to the Indian boy. He did not see what was happening, and even if he had could not have done anything. It took all his strength to hold Harney. If it had not been for Dan nothing could have saved Harney. But Dan saw, and Dan acted. Quick as a flash he sprang after the Indian boy, caught him by the left arm, and twisted him round.
"You young idiot, what are you going to do?" he cried angrily.
"Me kill dat man," announced the boy, with a calmness that was worse than anger, and the expression on his face told Dan that he meant exactly what he said.
"Don't be a fool," said Dan roughly. "We don't kill people, especially when other people are holding them."
"Him no good. Him better dead," replied the boy, and for a moment his dark eyes gleamed red like those of a wolf.
"Give me that knife," ordered Dan, and without delay took it from him.
"There, you see the sort you're protecting," sneered Harney from the ground. He had given up struggling and was now lying quietly enough. "Anyhow, he's my servant," he added.
"Then more shame to you!" said Brand coldly. "Look at the state of him."
The Indian boy was in a terrible condition. He was so thin that his ribs stuck out. You could see them through his torn shirt. His face was horribly bruised, and an unhealed scar showed on his forehead. He was dressed in the filthiest rags, and his long hair was matted with dirt. For a moment Harney was slightly taken aback.
"He's a disobedient young brute," he snapped. "He deserves all he's got. I have to thrash him to keep him in order."
"You'll not keep him any longer," replied Brand sternly. "Now if you've had enough you can get up."
He released Harney, who rose slowly. The look he turned on Brand was not a pleasant one.
"You'd better go," said Brand.
Harney glared at him. "Yes, I'll go," he said, "but I'm coming back soon. And when I come it's you who'll clear, and quick too." His hard lips twisted in an ugly grin. "Yes, I know you have men coming, and you think you can defy me. But you'll go before they arrive."
He turned and walked back along the path leading up the bluff.
"Pretty creature, ain't he?" remarked Dan, watching him.
Brand shrugged his shoulders. "What are we going to do with this boy?" he asked.
The Indian answered for himself.
"Me, Muskim. Me stay with you. Me cook," he said, and by way of making his words good, he went straight to the fire outside the living tent.
The brothers looked at one another.
"I suppose he must stay for the present," said Brand.
"Yes, he'll be quite useful," replied Dan.
But neither of them had the faintest idea how useful Muskim was to prove, or what was to come from the events of this particular morning.
IT was Dan who induced Muskim to wash; it was Dan who put dressings on two bad wounds on the boy's back, and Dan who found old clothes of his own for the Indian to wear. And very soon it was perfectly clear that the boy had given all his devotion to Dan.
Muskim said little, but he very soon proved that he could do quite a lot. He had an uncanny way of making damp wood blaze up into a hot fire, and he knew a lot of things about the northern country of which the Hemsleys were completely ignorant. In the afternoon of the day he had come to them he went out alone towards the river mouth and came back with a large bag full of delicious oysters which were enough in themselves to make a good supper for all three.
Meantime the brothers had not forgotten Harney's latest threats which, as Brand told Dan, the man would probably make good. Up here, on Boiling Creek, they were a long way from the nearest police post, so there was no one to whom to turn for help. They had to depend entirely on themselves.
"Our men will be here by the end of the week, Brand," said Dan, "so it's quite clear that Harney will bring his crowd down upon us before then."
Brand nodded. "That's sure," he answered, "and if they do come we shall have to hook it. We can't stick out against a dozen of the rough and tumble sort he'll bring."
"Yes, we shall have to clear out, and then the brutes will probably destroy our tents and gear," said Dan. "It strikes me, Brand, the wisest thing we can do is to hide all our grub and the best of our stuff in one of the caves."
"Me know mighty good cave," spoke up Muskim so suddenly as to startle both the brothers.
They had not thought that the boy knew enough English to follow what they had been saying. Dan stared at Muskim.
"Where is it?" he asked.
"Me show you. Him no far."
He got up at once, and the others followed. Sure enough, Muskim led them straight to a cave, a cave big enough to hold all their stuff, but of which the entrance was so well hidden that no one would notice it unless they walked right up to it.
"Capital!" said Dan. "This will do splendidly. Let's put our things away at once, and then it doesn't matter how soon the beggars come."
Brand agreed. Muskim helped manfully, and by night all their valuable stores were safely hidden. But it was desperately hard work, and three very tired boys sat down to supper that night just after dark.
"Hope he doesn't come to-night," said Dan, with a yawn.
"Me watch um," remarked Muskim. "If Harney come we go."
"Where?" asked Dan. "To our cave?" Muskim shook his head. "We no go cave. We go him Harney's house. We burn him up quick."
Brand and Dan stared at the boy.
"You bloodthirsty young beggar!" said Brand. "But white men don't do things like that."
Dan, however, looked thoughtful.
"We might take the chance of going up and looking over Harney's place while he is away. It wouldn't be a bad plan."
Brand considered for a moment or two.
"Is it worth it? If we were caught we should only have put ourselves in the wrong."
"Wrong!" repeated Dan scornfully. "There's precious little right or wrong up here, it seems to me. Let's go, Brand. I've a hunch we might find something that will be useful to us."
Brand still looked doubtful. Muskim spoke again.
"We burn um house. Then Harney, him leave your things and run."
Dan burst out laughing. "I expect he would, but when he caught us, Muskim, we should go to prison."
"Him no catch us," returned Muskim scornfully.
Dan saw that he did not understand, and set to work to explain the whole matter. The Indian boy could not at all see Dan's point of view. If Harney raided their camp, why should not they return the compliment in kind? To him that seemed common justice, and really Dan felt inclined to agree with him. But when Dan began to tell him about the fishing and how Harney had ruined their chances by his blasting operations up the river, then Muskim was all there. He knew all about it.
"Me see dem men blow down dem rocks," he informed them. "Him stop dem salmon. Dem not come up no more if dem rocks not moved."
"Yes, but the beggar won't let us move them. And it's his land," said Dan.
Brand spoke up. "Dan, this boy is going to be a useful witness. If we take him into court we might be able to get compensation out of Harney."
Dan shook his head. "My dear chap, we've no money to go to law. We've got to do this job off our own bat or not at all. My notion is that when our men come we use them to blast a passage in that dam. If we could get Harney and his chaps out of the way for a bit we might have a chance."
"If!" echoed Brand bitterly. "Harney's not that sort of fool, Dan."
"We don't know much about Harney or his men," argued Dan. "That's why I say let's take our chance of visiting his place and scouting round."
They argued for some time, and at last Brand gave a reluctant consent. Then, tired out, they went to bed. Dan was so weary that he slept like a log. The next thing he knew someone was shaking him violently.
"Dem Harney, him come," were the words that roused him suddenly wide awake, and he leapt up.
"Harney coming?" he gasped.
"Him coming," answered Muskim, "but him long way off. Plenty time you put um clothes on."
Dan flung his clothes on at lightning speed, and Brand was as quick as he. Muskim, who was dressed already, was methodically gathering up a day's provisions and stuffing them into a pack. In an incredibly short time the three were outside. Dawn had hardly broken, and a grey mist hung over the river. They stole softly away towards their cave, and it was not until they had reached it that they first heard the heavy crunch of many feet moving steadily down the steep path leading from the top of the bluff down to the flat.
The cave which Muskim had picked as their storehouse and hiding place was up the river beyond the head of the flat, and approached by a narrow ledge. From the flat itself the cave mouth was quite invisible, and the ledge being solid rock showed no footmarks. Dan, crouching near the mouth, hidden behind a big boulder, chuckled softly as he watched Harney's party tramping down the path leading from the top of the bluff towards the tent.
"I'll bet they think they'll catch us asleep," he remarked to Brand. "It'll he fun to see their faces when they find nobody there."
Muskim spoke. "Take care him no see your face," he whispered.
"But they'll never find us here."
"Injun find mighty quick," said Muskim.
By this time Harney's party had reached the flat. There were seven men, including Harney himself, and a precious hard-looking crew they were. Including Harney five were white men, but the other two were "breeds"—that is, half French-Canadian, half Indian. It was the latter two that Muskim was watching, and scowling as he did so. One of the two was a man of about forty with a face the colour of a ripe walnut, and the frame of a Hercules. Muskim shook his head.
"Him Jules, him bad man," he growled, under his breath.
Arrived on the flat, Harney led his men towards the tent, and the boys could see that he was walking very quietly and cautiously across the rough shingle. Dan chuckled again.
"Catch a weasel asleep!" he whispered.
Arrived within a dozen paces of the tent, Harney made a rush, and in an instant his men had surrounded the tent. Stooping, Harney pushed his way in, but only to back out the next moment.
"The brats are gone," he cried, with an ugly oath.
"It vas Muskim. He 'ave ears like a dog. He warn zem," replied the man Jules.
"Where have they gone?" demanded Harney roughly, and although he was nearly two hundred yards from the cave where the boys were hiding, the air was so still that every word could be heard quite distinctly.
Jules answered. "I reckon zey ain't far. Mos' laik, zey hide zemselves in ze rocks." He turned and stared back towards the bluff. Then he pointed to the western end of the flat. "We look zere," he said curtly, and started away.
The others followed.
"That's luck," breathed Dan. "For a moment I was scared to death the beggar had spotted this place."
"Jules, him find us," replied Muskim, rising to his feet. "We go quick."
"What! Leave our hiding place?" exclaimed Brand.
"We go," repeated the Indian boy emphatically.
"He's right, Brand," said Dan. "When they fail to find us that side they're bound to try this. We'd better do as Muskim says. I'm blest if I want to be handled by a crowd of toughs like those."
Harney's party scattered, and presently passed out of sight a quarter of a mile away in the direction of the river mouth.
"We go now," announced Muskim, and, without waiting for the others to agree, hurried out of the cave and began silently but swiftly ascending the steep bluff above.
He climbed like a cat, apparently without any trouble, but Brand and Dan had their work cut out to follow him. Once Dan stuck on a ledge, unable to reach the one above. Quick as a flash Muskim flung himself flat, reached out a hand, and dragged Dan up. Panting and breathless, they reached the top and dropped behind a clump of bushes to rest.
"What about our kit and stores?" asked Dan unhappily.
"They're well hidden," replied Brand. "The odds are all against Harney's finding them." He turned to Muskim. "Do we wait here?" he asked.
"We no wait here. We go burn um Harney's house."
Dan grinned. "He's a bloodthirsty little beggar, isn't he? But let's go and have a look at Harney's place, Brand."
Brand frowned. "I don't quite see what good it's going to do us," he replied.
"It's always good strategy to know something about your enemy's camp," replied Dan. "You never know what we might discover."
Brand shrugged his shoulders. "All right. We'll go if you like."
Harney's men were still out of sight, so the three, rising to their feet, walked straight away up the track leading along the top of the bluff. In a few minutes they were among the trees, and safe from any chance of being spotted. Presently Muskim swung off the trail to the left, choosing a bit of stony ground to do so.
"Him, Jules no find our trail," he remarked in his queer clipped way of speaking, and went on.
The result was that the little party struck the wire fence quite a mile away from the river, and here had no difficulty in crossing by means of the low branches of a spreading tree. Again Muskim led onwards. At last he stopped and signed to the others to come up to him. They found him standing on the edge of a great clearing in the forest. Beneath them the ground dropped a few yards to a small but swift stream, and on the opposite slope was a large house solidly built of sawn timber.
"Him Harney's house," said Muskim. "Now me show you how we burn um."
Before the others could say a word he had darted off, crossed the brook, and was running along under cover of the garden fence towards the house. Dan made a dash after Muskim but failed to catch him.
"The young demon! He actually means it," he gasped. "We must stop him, Brand!"
Brand raced away. But Muskim ran like a rabbit, so lightly and noiselessly and yet with such speed that he reached the house ahead of Brand, and, springing on to the verandah, darted in through an open french window. Brand dashed recklessly after him, and a few yards behind came Dan. As Dan flung himself into the house, he heard a faint scream. He made a final spurt and found himself in a spacious room.
Standing against the opposite wall was a girl, a pretty girl of about his age, dressed in a plain print frock; and between him and her the Indian boy was struggling violently in the iron grip of Brand.
MUSKIM'S face was pure savage, his eyes had a red glint, and he was actually endeavouring to draw his knife from its sheath.
"Stop that, Muskim!" said Brand grimly. "If you don't I shall hurt you."
Dan reached the spot. "You're a fool, Muskim," he said curtly. "You've done no good and got us all into trouble."
The scorn in Dan's voice did more to quell the Indian boy than all Brand's hard handling. He went suddenly limp and dropped his head.
"Me no fool. Me burn um Harney's house."
"I've told you before that white men don't do things like that," retorted Dan.
"Harney, him white man," said Muskim. "But him burn you mighty quick."
"He may be white outside, but he's black inside." It was the girl who spoke, and so sharply and bitterly that Dan and Brand both stared at her in speechless astonishment. "Oh, I suppose I ought not to talk about my uncle!" said the girl quickly. "But I mean it. He's a pig. Is it you whom he is trying to turn off the river?" she asked suddenly.
"Yes," Dan answered. "Our name is Hemsley."
"And I'm Ruth Harney. My father was Uncle Gregory's elder brother, and now that Dad is dead, this place is mine, so please don't burn it."
"Of course we won't," cried Dan.
A look of alarm came upon Ruth's pretty face.
"Don't speak so loud," she said. "They may hear you."
"Who may hear us?" asked Dan, in a lower voice.
"Aunt Abbie or Chin Loo," replied Ruth. "Chin Loo is Uncle Gregory's Chinese servant and will do anything for him. You must go away, please. It's not safe for you to stay here. If Chin Loo hears you he will turn the dogs on you."
"We're not afraid of dogs," said Dan.
"Wait till you've seen them, and you won't say that. They are wolf dogs. Terrible creatures."
She slipped out by a door at the back. Brand looked at Dan.
"I suppose it's all right," he said doubtfully.
"My dear chap, use your eyes," replied Dan. "If that girl isn't straight, I'm a Dutchman." He paused. "I say, this is a bit of news, Brand. If the place is hers and not Harney's we may be able to down Harney after all."
Brand's face turned hard and bitter.
"But not in time," he said. "You forget we only have a week now before the salmon start running."
Dan nodded. "That's so. We certainly are up against it."
Before he could say anything more Ruth Harney came back to the room. She was carrying a tray on which was a cake and a big jug of home-made lemonade.
"It is safe for a few minutes," she said. "Chin Loo is in the kitchen, and Aunt Abbie in her room upstairs. I've brought this for you because you look so tired and hot."
"How awfully jolly!" smiled Dan. "It really is topping of you. I haven't seen cake since I left home."
While they ate Dan chatted in a low voice to Ruth, and she told him how her father had settled in this place twenty years earlier. Ruth's mother had died a year ago, and in the previous January her father had gone north after furs and never come back.
Then Gregory Harney had arrived and taken possession. He and his wife were none too kind to their niece, and Ruth believed he meant to turn her out and claim the place for himself.
"He jolly well shan't," declared Dan stoutly. "We'll help you all we can, Ruth."
Ruth looked hard at him. "I really believe you will," she answered. "I am so glad you came."
At that moment the silence of the big quiet house was broken by a heavy tread on the stair above. Ruth whipped up the tray.
"You must go," she said. "Quick as you can. That's Aunt Abbie."
They were barely outside before the door of the room opened.
"Who was talking?" came in a woman's voice, deep, harsh, and angry.
"Talking, Aunt Abbie?" said Ruth, in a tone of such surprise that Dan, who had flung himself down outside under shelter of the raised edge of the verandah, almost laughed.
"I heard voices. I am sure of it," returned the woman harshly.
"If you did, it is probably Uncle Gregory come back," replied Ruth.
"I don't see anything of them," said the woman, in the same severe tone. "Ruth, I do not believe you are telling the truth."
"There is no one here. You can see for yourself, aunt," replied Ruth.
"I am not satisfied. I shall call Chin Loo, and have him loose the dogs."
Dan heard the steps across the floor above him. A door slammed. Next moment came Ruth's voice in an urgent whisper.
"Run! Run! It's your only chance."
"All right," answered Dan. "We'll go now, but we'll come back." He wriggled across to the others. "We've got to bunk. The Chink's loosing the dogs."
"We go dem river," said Muskim curtly. "You come along of me."
Next thing they knew there was the stream in front of them, and almost as the same moment came the deep baying of the wolf dogs. Muskim sprang into the water and started wading rapidly up-stream. The others followed. The baying, which had ceased for a moment, broke out again. The dogs had already reached the bank of the brook. There their sense of smell failed. A moment later Dan heard a voice.
"All lightee, Satan. Come along, you wolf!"
"Coming up the bank," said Brand. "We'd better cross and go up through the woods opposite. What do you say, Muskim?"
But Muskim only shook his head and splashed forward. They rounded a curve and found themselves in a gorge with steep, fifty-foot banks on either side. Dan plunged in almost to his waist. The water ran fast and was icy cold.
"We can't wade against this," he gasped. "What are we to do?"
Above the rush of the brook came the fierce baying of the hounds. They were certainly not more than a couple of hundred yards behind the fugitives.
MUSKIM had stopped. He was pointing to the gorge side, and almost before Dan realized what he meant he was out of the water and climbing, cat-like, up the cliff. The rocks were much broken, and bushes and tufts of coarse grass grew in the crevices. Cleverly making use of these, the Indian boy drew himself rapidly upwards, and Dan and Brand followed.
Half-way up Muskim climbed upon a ledge and suddenly vanished. Dan, close behind, saw a brown hand outstretched, seized it, and with its help swung himself over the sharp edge of the ledge, to find it nearly six feet wide and covered with a dense growth of bushes. A moment later Brand, hot and breathless, joined the other two, and like them flung himself flat on the ledge.
They had reached shelter only just in time, for Brand had barely spread out his long legs among the bushes when two enormous dogs came splashing round the curve below and pulled up, whining, at the edge of the deep, fast water. The dogs were almost as big as calves, smooth-coated, liver-coloured, the most formidable beasts that Dan or his brother had ever seen. Their eyes shone red, and slaver dripped from their tremendous jaws.
Next moment they were followed by a gigantic Chinaman. He was fully six feet in height and built in proportion. His broad, flat face was yellow as a guinea, his eyes were slits, his expression was fierce and dangerous.
When he saw that the dogs had stopped, he stopped too, and stood still as a statue, while his almond-shaped eyes wandered up and down the gorge. As for the dogs, these were clearly at fault, and presently Chin Loo seemed to realize this. He called them to heel, and, turning abruptly, made his way down-stream again. Dan gave a sigh of relief.
"Good business!" he exclaimed, and started to clamber to his feet.
Muskim pulled him sharply down.
"Keep um still," he muttered. "Him Chink not give up easy like that. You wait."
Dan dropped back and had hardly done so before the great Chinaman's evil-looking head was poked round the edge of the rock at the bottom of the gorge.
"My word! I only hope he didn't see me," thought Dan.
Whether he had or not it was impossible to say, for next moment the man was gone again. Presently Muskim plucked Dan by the sleeve.
"We go now," he said curtly.
But Dan, looking at the cliff above and the water below, wondered where. If Dan did not know, Muskim certainly did. He led them straight along the ledge for some distance, then began to climb again. It was a stiff pull up the cliff, but always Muskim found some crag or root to help them, and presently they were safe on the top of the bank. All round them were thick woods, the spruce and hemlock growing so thick that it was impossible to see more than a few yards in any direction. Muskim was standing still as a bronze statue, listening intently. Presently the Indian boy relaxed, and Dan spoke.
"Where now, Muskim?"
"Go home," grunted Muskim. "No good stay here."
"I suppose he thinks that Harney has given it up by this time," said Brand, aside, to his brother. "We don't seem to have got much out of our expedition."
"Why, of course we have," returned Dan quickly. "We've met Ruth, and we've found that the place isn't Harney's at all."
Brand shrugged his big shoulders.
"Very interesting, Dan, but that's not going to help us with the fish."
"It may. It gives us a good chance to bluff Harney."
Muskim turned and went snaking through the woods, which he seemed to know like a book. Alone, the brothers might have wandered for hours in this maze of forest, but Muskim never faltered, and in an extraordinarily short time the trees began to thin, and they found themselves close to the boundary fence which here was made of barbed wire. It was at this moment that the baying of the dogs came again. Though faint and far away, it was a blood-curdling sound. Muskim stiffened, and Dan caught an anxious look in his dark eyes.
"Never mind," he said. "We shall be all right once we're outside. The Chink can't touch us there."
A faint look of scorn crossed Muskim's copper face.
"Him no care if we inside or out. Me think we go along river. Maybe find cave and hide."
Brand's face hardened. "Nonsense, Muskim! If this Chinaman tries any games out here we'll face him. I've got a pistol if the dogs go for us."
"Him pistol no good," returned Muskim curtly. "Chin Loo, him shoot quicker'n you."
"Better do what Muskim says," said Dan.
Brand unwillingly agreed, and the three started along the fence in the direction of the river. Meantime the deep baying grew gradually nearer, and there did not seem much doubt that the great dogs had struck their trail again. The three quickened their pace, and presently the river was in sight. Something else, too, was in sight: a party of men hurrying sharply up the rough track which ran along the top of the bluff. Dan groaned.
"Now we've done it," he said. "Here are Harney's crowd coming back. We're in the soup with a vengeance."
Muskim had seen Harney's party at least as soon as Dan. Behind them, in the heart of the woods, the baying broke out afresh and louder than before. The deep sound echoed through the silent forest, and Dan saw Jules, the half-breed, who was leading Harney's party, pull up suddenly and turn to Harney. Muskim turned back into the thick of the woods and led them, running fast, in an easterly direction. This took them into the heart of the forest. Where the trees were thickest he would jump up, seize a branch, and swing from that to another, and Dan and Brand followed his example.
Presently they waded down a brook. The trees grew thicker and thicker, and the brook wider and more shallow, while its bed turned from gravel to mud. They began to sink in over their ankles, and all of a sudden found themselves on the edge of a tamarack swamp, into which the brook emptied. It was a dark and dismal place. Dead trees lay in every direction, and apparently it was to these that Muskim trusted to cross the horrid place.
Dan found himself creeping along a submerged trunk. The baying grew louder. Plainly Chin Loo had guessed which way they had gone and had brought his dogs straight down the creek. Muskim half turned his head.
"You come quick," he snapped out.
Dan saw drier ground just ahead and made a dash for it. He had almost reached it when there was a crash among the trees behind, a furious snarling, and, glancing back, he saw the two great dogs leaping out into the swamp. One more plunge and Dan was on comparatively firm ground. Brand followed, and all three crouched under a huge tamarack.
"But the dogs!" Dan whispered urgently in Muskim's ear.
"Dem dogs no get us," was Muskim's cool answer. "You no move."
As he watched the animals leaping from trunk to trunk, Dan suddenly saw Chin Loo appear among the trees on the far side. Seemingly Chin Loo did not like the mud, for he stood hesitating. The dogs, meanwhile, had reached the point where the logs ended and the water began. They stood there howling with baffled fury. Suddenly one of them, perhaps catching the scent of the fugitives, plunged forward. In an instant he was in the mire. He tried to swim, but the water was not deep enough, and he was caught in the mud into which he began to sink. His roars of rage turned to whines of terror.
The Chinaman saw what was happening, and at once made a dash to the rescue, but his weight on a rotten log broke it and plunged him waist-deep into the black mire. Muskim swung round to Brand and pointed to the pistol in his belt.
"Now you kill um," he said urgently.
Brand shook his head. "That would be murder, Muskim. We can't shoot a man who can't shoot back."
"Dem de time to kill um," replied Muskim with scorn, as he led the way south-eastward through the woods.
Brand remonstrated. "I say, Muskim, isn't it about time we started home?" he suggested.
"Kope house. Kopa delete klehowya," was Muskim's answer.
Dan knew enough Chinook to realize that this meant: "You try it, and you'll get filled with lead." They tramped on, and Dan, who was dead tired and very hungry, wondered where in the world they were going.
The pace Muskim set was as stiff as ever, but now and then he would stop an instant and listen intently, then push on again. They were on new ground now, and Dan thought they must have passed the house and were behind it. They came to a dip, and suddenly through the trees Dan saw water sparkling under the afternoon sun.
Muskim led them straight down to it, and they found themselves on the edge of a long narrow sheet of water, out of which stuck up the bare stumps of dead trees.
"Why, it's a beaver pond!" said Brand.
"No," answered Dan quickly. "That's a man-made dam. Look at the bank across the bottom."
"You're right," allowed Brand. "Harney or his brother must have made it. I reckon it's the brook that runs by the house dammed up to give power for some purpose."
"Saw-mill, I suppose," agreed Dan, "but what's Muskim after?"
Muskim had dived into a small building which looked like a boathouse, and next moment was out again with a large canoe, making urgent signs to the others to embark.
The brothers got in, and Muskim at once started paddling, but instead of taking them across the lake he sent the canoe up close under the bank. He went no more than a couple of hundred yards, then turned back and drove the canoe right into the middle of a bunch of tall bulrushes.
"What's he after?" asked Brand, puzzled.
"Don't you see?" answered the quick-witted Dan. "He's putting Harney's crowd off the scent. They track us, find the canoe gone, and take it, of course, that we've crossed the lake. Meantime, we double back on our tracks and are away before they realize how they've been fooled."
A grim smile curved Brand's lips.
"He's a cunning young beggar," he remarked. "Well, Dan, I only hope we get clear this time, for I'm getting fed up with this game of Tag."
Dan was right, for Muskim had beckoned them out of the canoe and was leading them back parallel with the way by which they had come. Suddenly all heard a crashing in the undergrowth, and in a flash Muskim was down and hidden. Dan and Brand copied him, and lay like mice, while Harney, Jules, and the rest went pounding past barely a hundred yards away. They were making for the far side of the big pond, but it was a long way round.
"I've struck a notion," exclaimed Dan suddenly.
"It won't save the fishing, I fear," said Brand, with a sigh.
"Oh, won't it?" grinned Dan. "If we can work it, it jolly well will. But we're all right again now. Muskim is starting again, and I'll bet that little ruse of his has given us a good half-hour's start. Come on."
He was right, for they reached the fence again without seeing or hearing anything of their pursuers, and before sundown were safe back on the flat which was now deserted.
"Now tell me," said Brand eagerly.
But Dan shook his head. "There's a lot to do first, old man," he answered.
"A lot to do," repeated Brand. "Do you mean you want to have supper first?"
"Before that we'd better find out whether we've got the makings of a supper," replied Dan, as he followed Muskim towards the cave where they had cached their stores.
Muskim dived in like a rabbit, and Dan at his heels.
"Dem grub all right," was the Indian boy's comforting assurance.
His quick eyes had noticed that there were no fresh footmarks in the sand on the cave floor, and Dan realized that Harney's party had fortunately missed this particular cave altogether in their search for the fugitives.
"I'm starving," said Brand. "Let's feed at once. Then we can hear this wonderful plan of yours, Dan."
Muskim shook his head emphatically. "We no stop here," he declared.
"What's the matter, Muskim?" grumbled Brand.
"He means that we aren't safe this side of the river," said Dan.
"Him speak true. Harney, him come back. Mebbe find us next time."
Brand look startled. "What—to-night?" he exclaimed.
Muskim merely nodded and started to pick up a load.
"Yes," said Dan. "Muskim is right; we've got to put the river between us and Harney, Brand. Let's get out the collapsible boat. We can soon ferry the grub across."
But, tired as they were, it was pitch dark before they had finished and had got all their stuff on a narrow spit of shingle under the opposite cliffs. It was not a good place to camp, for if the river rose even a couple of feet they would be flooded out. Luckily, they found a cave a little way up the bluff which was fit to sleep in and this saved their putting up tents. Then Muskim made coffee and fried pork, but would not allow them to sit near the fire of driftwood which he had made.
"Him too much light," he said, and brought the food into the cave.
It was not until the last slice of salt pork and the last flapjack had been finished that any of them spoke a word. Then Brand leaned back with a satisfied sigh.
"That's better," he said. "Now, Dan, out with your plan."
"All right," replied Dan. "It's that pond put it in my head. I suppose there's no doubt it's that stream dammed up?"
"Sure to be," answered Brand.
"How much water do you suppose there is in it?"
"I don't know," said Brand, looking rather puzzled, "but a mischief of a lot. The pool is three or four hundred yards long."
"And it's ponded up with an artificial dam?" continued Dan.
"That's what it looked like," replied Brand; "but what on earth are you driving at?"
"Well, I'll tell you," said Dan. "My notion is to blow up that dam, and let all the water out in one act. I believe it would make such a flood that it would simply sweep away all that stuff which Harney has chucked into the river and clear the channel for the salmon to come up."
Brand drew a long breath. His eyes flashed.
"By Jove, I believe it might. It's worth trying, anyhow."
The words were hardly out of his mouth before a spit of fire was followed by a sharp crack of a rifle, and a bullet clanged on the stones where Muskim's fire still burned.
"GET down flat on your faces!" whispered Brand sharply. "Take cover."
The order was hardly necessary, for Dan and Muskim were already safe behind the nearest boulders. Next instant a regular fusillade burst forth, and from where they lay they could see the embers of the fire kicked in all directions by flying bullets.
"They're wasting a jolly lot of cartridges," chuckled Dan, under his breath.
"Yes, but will they cross and attack us?" questioned Brand, in an uneasy whisper.
"I don't think they'll try that," replied Dan. "It would be precious risky in the dark. But, if they do, I've got my rifle ready."
The firing ceased, and the only sound was the low, hoarse roar of the river. The brothers strained their ears, but could hear nothing else. At last Muskim rose to his feet.
"All right," he said aloud. "Harney, him gone home."
By this time the brothers had come to trust so completely to the keener senses of the Indian boy that they did not doubt his word for a moment. They both got up and stretched themselves.
"Think he'll try again to-night, Muskim?" asked Dan.
Muskim shook his head. "We sleep now," he said confidently.
So all three made for their cave and, hard as their beds were, slept like logs. They had had the toughest kind of a day, and sleep was what they needed more than all. Up at dawn, they looked out upon a soft grey mist which veiled the stream and under its cover cooked and ate their breakfast in safety. They had barely finished when Muskim sprang to his feet.
"Boat come!" he announced sharply.
The others jumped up and seized their rifles, but Muskim was quite cool.
"Him come up river," he said.
"Then it's Bob Reid and our chaps," exclaimed Brand, with an eagerness he rarely showed.
In another moment they all heard the oar strokes, and presently a stout, flat-bottomed boat appeared through the mist.
"There are only four of them," said Dan.
Brand did not answer. He was hurrying to the water's edge. Another minute or two and he and Dan were grasping the hands of a long, lean, wiry-looking Scot.
"Where are the rest, Bob?" asked Brand quickly.
"They're doon at the mouth. Ma brither Dick was too sick to travel, but they'll be alang in a few days."
"I wish they were all here now, Bob," said Brand gravely. "We're in a nice mess"—and in a few words he told what had happened.
A spark showed in Bob Reid's deep-set eyes.
"Yon's a bad man," he said briefly. "I've heard tell of Harney's doings already. Will it come to a fight, think ye?"
"Well, Dan here has a plan for getting the better of them," replied Brand. "There's a big pond up above Harney's house, and his notion is to slip up there one night, blow up the dam, and trust to the flood clearing out the river so that the salmon may get up. What do you think of it?"
"I'll have a look-see first," replied Bob cautiously. "Gie us a bite of food, and I'll go at once."
Food was soon ready, and after a good meal Bob, with Muskim for guide, went off. The rest, by his advice, busied themselves in piling stones as a rough stockade around the cave mouth. If it was to be war, why, they would be ready for it. Since there was nothing else to do they waited and rested. The mist lifted slowly. Brand was very uneasy. He feared that Bob might be caught by the enemy, but Dan laughed at his fears.
"Not with Muskim. Besides, Harney's crowd will never dream of any of us invading their property to-day. And they've lost their dogs. No, they'll be back by mid-day."
He was right, for a little after twelve Bob and his clever guide were back in the cave.
"Well?" said Brand anxiously.
"No sae bad," was the Scotsman's cautious answer. "There's a deal of water in yon big pond, and gin we let her go it'll take that mess o' rocks oot quick. But I'm thinking ye'll need to hurry. Yon salmon will be running any day now."
"We might try to-night," said Brand.
"What's the matter with the day?" asked the Scot dryly.
The rest stared at him in startled amazement.
"In daylight! Why, it would be madness!" exclaimed Brand.
"Well, ye canna do it in the night," replied Bob. "It's nae job for the darkness."
"But Harney's men will see us and start shooting," objected Brand.
"Hae ye ever heard of a feint?" said Bob dryly.
"You mean an attempted attack?"
"Just so. Now listen here. Harney has no idea of what Dan's thinking of. He reckons we're going to try to blast out that cliff he's flung in the river, and likely he's watching the place noo. Weel, what's to hinder us trying that same thing?"
Brand's face brightened. "I get you, Bob. And while that's on two or three of us slip up to the lake through the woods."
"Aye, and work wi' no one to hinder them onless it's yon long Chink."
"We'll have to chance that. What we shall have to be most careful about is to save ourselves from getting shot up while we are up the river."
"There's nane o' us'll get shot. Trust me for that," replied Bob Reid, with confidence.
"It's a topping plan," declared Dan eagerly. "I say, Brand, you'll let me have a show?"
Brand hesitated, but Bob Reid spoke up.
"Aye, Brand, the lad's earned it. We'll just tak him up the river. And you and the Indian lad, and Ben Barton here, can do the work on the dam."
Brand nodded. "That sounds all right. It won't take more than two of us to carry the tools and set the charge. And Muskim will scout for us, and warn us if the Chink comes prowling round. But I think we've drawn his teeth. If I'm not mistaken, both those big brutes of dogs of his were drowned in the slough yesterday."
"Then we'll fix it that way," said Bob. "And, noo, the sooner we get to work, the better."
There was plenty of dynamite, and, carrying this, the fuse, and a big drill, Brand, Ben Barton, and Muskim were ferried across the river and landed some way down below the Point. There was no interference, and Muskim scented no danger. It seemed plain that Harney and his set of ruffians were elsewhere, but whether at home or on the river—that remained to be seen.
Returning to the stockade, Bob made certain preparations. Then, leaving one man in charge of the stockade, he took the fourth man, whose name was Ambrose, and Dan, and started up the right bank. He kept his little party well back among the trees and went almost as cautiously as Muskim himself.
Soon Dan heard the heavy roaring of the river fretting among the rocks of the fallen cliff, but Bob did not yet turn towards the river. He kept on until they were some distance above. Here they came to a deep gulch, at the bottom of which ran a small stream, a tributary of the big river. He climbed down into this, and the others followed. In this way they reached the edge of the river without anyone being able to see them. But the rock dam was a good way below, and Dan wondered how they were going to reach it. He was not long left in doubt.
"Ye will understand, noo, that this is a false attack," explained Bob Reid. "We'll no be expecting to do any harrm to the dam. What we are after is to make a big noise. What I reckon to do is to build a bit raft oot of rough stuff, and float a charge down on the dam wi' a time fuse. Ye get me?"
"Rather!" declared Dan. "It's a topping scheme."
Then he picked up a saw and set to work. There was plenty of dead wood lying about, and they cut it with a saw so that there should be no noise. The use of an axe would have given the whole show away. In about half an hour a raft sufficient for their purpose was ready. Then Bob himself fixed the charge, a very heavy one, and set the fuse. When all was ready they pushed the raft off gently from the bank. The current seized it and swirled it away, while the three waited in breathless silence to see what would happen. The great mass of rock which lay all across the river had ponded the water back, and the raft, with its charge, swung in the slow eddies in a most tantalising fashion.
"It will be a maircy if she dinna go off before she reaches the dam," muttered Bob Reid.
As he spoke a sharp crack broke the silence, and Dan started. But it was not the charge of dynamite, merely the report of a rifle, and it came from the opposite bank.
"They've spotted it," said Dan. "They're firing at the raft."
"I dinna think it," replied the big Scot. "More like 'tis a signal shot."
It seemed that Bob Reid was right, for there was no more firing for the moment. Dan's eyes were on the raft, which was now very close to the great mass of rocks which showed their ragged heads above the bubbling swirl of the river. The raft swung in between two of these rocks and became wedged. It tilted, but did not overturn.
"She's taking her time," growled Bob, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before the explosion took place.
With a dull roar a tall column of water, topped with broken logs, lumps of rock, and red earth, leapt full thirty feet into the air to fall with a tremendous splash. The water swirled in a huge eddy and went thundering over the dam. In his excitement, Dan caught Bob by the arm.
"You've done it. You've burst the dam!" he exclaimed.
But Bob shook his head. "Juist knocked a wee hole in it. That's all, laddie." His grim face relaxed a little. "But I'm no saying it wasna a gude burst up," he continued. "Gin your brither puts as big a charge under the lake dam, he'll do the trick right enough."
He paused, and Dan noticed that he was listening intently. There was a silence which lasted for perhaps half a minute; then Bob spoke again.
"And noo we'll be making back," he said curtly.
He went away as quietly as Muskim himself, and Ambrose and Dan were equally careful not to make a noise. Presently Bob dropped in thick cover and listened again.
"'Tis as I thocht. They're after us. Noo, wait. We must saircumvent them."
He became busy, and Dan saw that he was fastening a small charge with a time fuse to the trunk of a sapling standing in the centre of a small thicket. Having set the fuse pretty long, he lit it, then signed to the others to follow him again, and crawled rapidly away through the thick undergrowth. He came to a stop about thirty yards from the tree in a patch of thick undergrowth and waited.
In a few minutes the charge went off with a sharp report, very much like that of a rifle. Instantly three real rifles spoke, and bullets riddled the thicket where the charge had been hidden. The firing was fast and furious. Twigs and leaves flew in every direction. Bob Reid smiled grimly but did not move or speak.
Presently there was a rustle in the distance, and a man came into sight, creeping towards the thicket. He was followed by two more. They were three of the roughest-looking blackguards imaginable, and each carried a repeating rifle. Silently Bob Reid rose out of the bushes and levelled his rifle at the first man.
"Hands up!" he barked.
It almost made Dan laugh to see the look of mingled dismay and amazement on the faces of the three men. They had been so certain that they had finished their victims, and to find the tables turned so completely must have been a really nasty jar. But they had no choice in the matter, and dropping their rifles, they stood up, raising their hands above their heads.
"Ambrose," said Bob, "will ye tak their guns away, while Dan and I hold ours on them?"
Ambrose grinned and obeyed. The next thing was to tie their hands behind them, after which they were marched in front of their captors back to camp, where Bob seated them out on the shingle in front of the cave and tied their ankles as well as their hands.
"Aweel," he said with a satisfied air. "I'm thinking we havena done so badly, eh, Dan?"
"Jolly good!" declared Dan. "Muskim himself couldn't have tracked those beggars more smartly than you did."
"Ye will find that a white man can beat the Indian at his own game, gin he's had the necessary experience," said Bob dryly. "And noo, I wonder what Harney's next move will be."
"I'm thinking of Brand more than Harney," answered Dan.
"Ye'll not need to be worrying your head aboot your brither," said Bob. "If I'm no greatly mistaken, Harney's whole gang are within half a mile of us this meenit."
"How do you know?"
"I dinna know, but ye will see whether I am right or no before ye are many hours older. And noo I'm thinking we'll have oor dinner."
Then to Dan's surprise he set to making up the fire. The mist had gone long ago, the river was only a couple of hundred yards wide, while there was cover enough on the opposite bluff to hide an army.
"Isn't it a bit risky, Bob?" he suggested.
Bob's eyes twinkled, and he pointed to the three sullen prisoners.
"Yon Harney will hardly be wanting to shoot his ain men," he suggested.
Dan felt rather silly in that he had not seen this before, and set to helping with the cooking. Breakfast had been a hurried meal, and Bob had clearly decided to make up for it by a good dinner. He concocted a delicious stew and when it was cooked sat down calmly in the open to eat it.
Dan ate too, but all the time kept his ears cocked listening intently for the sound of the explosion upon which so much depended. Bob had a pair of field-glasses with which from time to time he searched the opposite bank. Presently he nodded.
"Aye, they're there," he muttered, in a satisfied tone.
Time passed, and noon was two hours gone, yet still there was no sound from up river, and Dan was secretly becoming very anxious. All of a sudden he saw Bob Reid, who had been sitting smoking near the mouth of the cave, jump up quickly and snatch up his rifle. As he looked round wondering what was the reason for this sudden action, he caught sight of a boat coming down the river from above. It was a very large flat-bottomed boat, but of the crew he could see nothing, the reason being that they were hidden behind a sort of stockade made of what looked like old boiler plate.
DAN stared at the queer-looking craft.
"What in the name of sense is that? What are they playing at, anyhow?" he demanded.
But Bob Reid already had his rifle at his shoulder.
"Ye'll know soon enough if ye don't stop it," he said grimly. "Shoot, ye crazy loon! Shoot!"
Bob's rifle, a repeater, began to talk like a machine gun. Dan too started shooting, and so did Ambrose, but the bullets clanged on the boiler plate like hail on an iron roof and did no more harm than hail. At any rate the queer craft came steadily on down-stream, propelled by two long sweeps which stuck out through holes in the iron cover. As she neared the spot where the defenders lay she turned inwards to the shingly beach.
"The cunning deevils!" Dan heard Bob growl to himself. "Who'd ha' thocht of a trick like yon?"
By this time Dan, of course, had come to understand just what had happened. Harney, realizing that the force he had sent out to capture the dynamiters of the dam had themselves been captured and were in the hands of Brand's party, had at once set out to rescue them, and at the same time wipe out the invaders of what he considered to be his own domain. Without doubt the boat had been prepared and armoured beforehand, ready for just such an emergency. It was a clever scheme, and one on which even the long-headed Bob Reid had not reckoned, and Dan realized that it had every chance of success. If the iron plates were thick enough to resist bullets there was no stopping Harney's party from landing.
"Shoot at they oars. Break them gin ye can. 'Tis oor only chance," roared Reid.
He himself was a crack shot, and almost as he spoke Dan saw splinters fly from one of the long, heavy sweeps. Next moment Bob got a second shot into the sweep, and then Dan himself hit it. Dan's bullet was the best aimed of all, for it struck the oar high up and must have ricocheted. At any rate there came a yell of pain from behind the plates, and the oar was dropped and went floating away. The big boat herself swung round in the current, partly out of control, and in that moment all three riflemen concentrated on the port-hole from which the sweep had fallen. A scream rang out, and Bob Reid chuckled sourly.
"There's one winna do any mair rowing this day," he remarked.
But Harney's crew of ruffians were not yet discouraged. Another sweep was thrust out, and as it bit into the water the bow of the boat swung round, and she headed direct for the shore. Now there was nothing to shoot at but her blunt and well protected bow, and Bob gave orders not to waste more cartridges until they had a better chance. Dan's heart sank as he saw the ugly craft coming straight in towards the beach. There was nothing they could do to stop her. Nothing less than a shell from a field gun would be powerful enough to smash those plates of iron.
There was worse to come. As the big boat approached the beach suddenly little bright spots of fire burst out as rifles thrust through portholes began to speak. A bullet struck the ground almost under Dan's feet, flinging up the shingle and cutting his shin.
"Doon! Get doon wi' ye," roared Bob as he flung himself flat on the ground.
Dan and Ambrose made haste to follow his example, and they were only just in time for bullets hummed like wasps close over their prostrate bodies. They would have been riddled had they been standing up.
"Crawl back towards the cave," was Bob's next order.
It is no joke retiring under a hot fire. One of the enemy's bullets smacked into the wide brim of Dan's felt hat, whipping it off his head, and suddenly he realized that they were in a very tight place indeed. It seemed to him that the odds were long against their ever getting out of it alive. But Bob was equal to the situation.
"Crawl over towards they prisoners," he bade them. "'Tis a dirty trick, but we'll need to do something gin we're to save oor lives and Brand's property. They'll no risk killing their ain men."
The wisdom of this move was proved by the fact that the firing from the boat ceased. But it was, so Dan knew, only a temporary respite. The big boat was still coming steadily on, and it was only a matter of a few minutes before she would reach the shore. And since she carried, in all probability, at least a dozen men Dan did not see what chance he and his two companions could possibly stand against such odds. It was at this moment that the warm sunlit air quivered to a heavy boom. Dan gave a triumphant cry.
"Bob, it's the dam. They've done it. Brand has blown it up. And—and now the flood will come down the river."
"Aye," replied the Scot dryly. "Maybe he has. And maybe it will. But I dinna kin hoo it'll help us. It'll be a long while yet before the watter reaches this far. And they fellows are michty near the shore."
The noise of the explosion was so loud that Harney's men must have heard it, yet they paid no attention to it. Dan did not wonder at this, for in any case their attackers could have no idea of what caused it. It had probably never entered their heads that anyone would tackle the upper dam. Besides, they would feel sure that Brand had kept all his forces together.
Harney, if he was in the boat, probably believed that the four outside the cave were merely skirmishers and that the rest were waiting inside for his attack. This made him cautious, and the big boat came on very slowly towards the beach. Yet on it came, and Dan's spirits sank lower than ever because he could not see what possible chance he, Bob Reid and his two companions had against such heavy odds. It was not that he was scared; it was simply that it seemed to him such rotten hard luck that his scheme should fail just when the biggest part of it had proved successful.
"Well, Brand's all right. That's one good thing," he said to himself.
Then his thoughts were interrupted by a curt command from Bob.
"Get they prisoners into the cave," he ordered. "Each of ye tak one o' them. Harney's men will no shoot whiles ye are leading them."
So Dan and Ambrose each took hold of the nearest prisoner and Bob of the third. They had to risk cutting the cords which bound the men's ankles, but since the prisoners' hands were firmly tied behind their backs there was not much risk. The prisoners themselves were too scared to make trouble and were marched into the cave without any resistance on their part.
By the time they got them inside, the boat had actually reached the beach. But the water was shallow, and the big boat with all her armour plate heavy. Her bow grounded a little distance from the shore, the current caught her, and she swung slowly round. Bob saw his chance.
"Noo let them have it," he cried, and all four began to blaze away as fast as they could load and fire.
Luckily, they had any amount of cartridges, and their fire was so hot and heavy that part of Harney's men had to remain in the boat and reply through the loopholes while the rest got out into the water on the far side and, sheltered by the armour-plating, began to push her towards the shore.
"Dinna spare cartridges," Bob told them. "Gin we can hold them deevils anither five meenits, we'll be safe, I'm thinking."
Dan knew what he meant—that the flood which must already be pouring down through the broken dam would reach the spot. His spirits bounded upwards, only to fall again even more rapidly as Bob dropped his rifle with a clatter and fell flat on the floor of the cave.
DAN jumped to his help, but Bob roughly ordered him to lie still and go on firing.
"I'm no killed," he growled. "It's only my wrist. But it's my right arm, and I'll no be able to haud my rifle again this day."
Blood was streaming from his wrist, and it was plain to Dan that the arm was useless. Dan saw him pull a handkerchief from his pocket and with his teeth and other hand bind it round the wound. Ambrose looked dismayed. He knew as well as Dan that Bob was much the best shot of them all, and that his loss as a fighting unit was most serious.
Harney's men saw it too, and their fire from the boat increased. Meantime half a dozen men had reached the shore and were wriggling like snakes towards the mouth of the cave. Dan and Ambrose fired for all they were worth, but it was almost impossible to aim, for they both had to lie flat on their faces to avoid the hail of bullets which rattled overhead and spattered the cave mouth. The men in the boat were trying to cover the advance of their three companions, and the stream of lead never ceased for a second.
A splinter of rock cut Dan's forehead, not a bad wound, but it made the blood run into his eyes and half blinded him, but next moment there came a shriek from the beach below, and Ambrose grimly remarked:
"There's one as won't crawl no further." But the rest were spreading out and within a very few moments would be so close under the cliff that they would be safe from the bullets from the defenders' rifles. Then they would be able to rise to their feet and rush the cave. One or two might go down, but the rest would come on, and that would be the end. Dan crawled nearer to the edge, but Bob warned him sternly to keep back. So down he dropped again, but now he could no longer see the attackers and was firing blindly. It was only a question of seconds. If something did not happen soon they were all doomed.
"We'll go down fighting anyhow," said Dan to himself, as he thrust a fresh clip of cartridges into his magazine.
With startling suddenness the fire from the big boat ceased.
"Now they're coming," said Dan aloud.
Instead came a hoarse roar: a sound low, deep, yet of such volume that its thunder seemed to fill the whole gorge.
"She's coming," cried Bob Reid, with a fierce note of triumph in his voice.
Dan ventured to raise his head and look out, and the sight that met his eyes was so amazing and terrible that for the moment he clean forgot everything else. Around the curve of the river, barely a quarter of a mile above, a wave, a veritable wall of water, was coursing downwards. From base to summit it was at least ten feet high. It was yellow as mud and crested with a line of yeasty foam. It was travelling with almost incredible speed, and the sound of it was like that of a great express train which comes thundering towards you along a level stretch of line. From bank to bank it stretched, and Dan realized that the rush of water from the upper dam had carried away the lower one bodily so that the whole contents of both were coming down in one mighty wave.
Harney's men had seen it too, and like Dan had forgotten everything else. Those on the beach were on their feet and running towards the steep slope facing the cave; those in the boat had leaped out and were falling over one another in their frantic efforts to reach the shore. Among these latter Dan saw the burly form and brutal face of Harney himself.
They might as well have run from a lightning flash. Before even those who were already on the beach could scramble more than a few feet up the slope the flood wave was upon them. Dan did not even hear a cry—nothing but the hiss and boom of the swirling water as it struck the rocks below, flinging sheets of spray many feet into the air. In an instant the beach had vanished from sight with everything on it, and the yellow flood was seething almost level with the floor of the cave.
The big boat went with the rest. The heavy iron plates designed to protect her crew were now their destruction. Dan had just one glimpse of her as her stern was flung upwards with one man frantically clutching it; then it was gone, never to be seen again.
So sudden, so complete was the catastrophe that of the men in the cave not one said a word until it was all over. The flood passed almost as quickly as it had come, and the great wave surged away, to be lost in the Pacific, leaving the shingle of the beach covered with mud, broken branches, rocks, and every sort of rubbish. Bob Reid was the first to break the silence. He rose to his feet, holding his wounded wrist with his left hand.
"A clean sweep wi' a vengeance," he remarked quietly. "We'll no be troubled again wi' yon Harney onyways."
"Or any of the rest of 'em," growled Ambrose. Dan shivered slightly. It was his first experience of sudden death, and he was white.
"Ye are no going to say ye are sorry, Dan?" said Bob Reid to the boy.
Dan pulled himself together. "No," he answered stoutly. "More especially considering the way that fellow Harney treated his niece." He paused. "I say, Bob," he suggested half shyly, "do you think I might go up to the house this evening and tell Ruth what has happened?"
"Mebbe ye can. Aye, I think we'll be all ganging up there before we're much older. But I'll be thanking ye noo to tie up this arm of mine. I'll be needing the use of it when they salmon begin to run."
"They'll run all right," said Ambrose, with a chuckle. "If that flood don't start em up I'm a Dutchman."
Dan quickly got a basin and water, washed Bob Reid's wound, and bandaged it. Though the gash was a nasty one, the bullet had luckily missed the bone, and Bob vowed he would be as good as ever within a week. He had hardly finished before they heard a shout outside, and here came their own boat with Brand, Barton, and Muskim aboard. They sprang ashore, and Brand came running up towards the cave.
"It worked," he shouted. "My word, you ought to have seen the way the water came down! Took the second dam out as if it was nothing but mud. The river's clear, and in spite of Harney and all his crew the salmon can and will run." Then as he reached the cave Brand pulled up short. "Why, what the mischief—" he began in dismay, as he saw Bob's bandaged arm and Dan's blood-stained face.
"Ye needna worry," said Bob dryly. "There's mair gude than harm to tell ye. Yon flood did mair than wash away the dam, for it's taken the dam's maker wi' it."
Brand's eyes widened. "You mean it's taken Harney!" he exclaimed.
"Aye, Harney and his whole crew wi' him."
"But I don't understand. How did they come here?"
"Dan, ye tell him," said Bob, so Dan, nothing loath, told his brother the whole story—how they had been attacked after sending the raft down, of Bob's clever stratagem to draw the enemy's fire, and how they had taken the three prisoners. He went on to describe the attack by the armoured boat, and how the flood had saved them just in the nick of time. Brand listened with breathless interest.
"Little we thought what a job we were doing when we dynamited that upper dam," he said at last. "And little we suspected what you fellows were doing. Dan, I'm proud of you."
"Aye," said Bob Reid. "And so ye have gude reason to be. The boy did well, Brand."
Dan got red as fire. "Why, I did nothing except what Bob told me," he protested.
A slow smile crossed Bob's weather-beaten face.
"There's no many lads your age can be trusted to obey orders. Ye did well, Dan, and ye've no cause to blush because I say so. Not that I don't like to see ye get a bit red-like, for it shows me your heid won't grow too big for your bonnet."
Brand broke in. "Bob, was that Chink among the men swept away by the flood?" he asked anxiously.
"That I canna tell ye. He might ha' been in the boat, or again he might not. I didna see him."
"Did you, Dan?"
"No, he wasn't among those that landed anyhow. I say, Brand," Dan went on quickly, "if he's up at the house he may be playing any sort of game. For goodness' sake, let's go and see."
"I think we'd better," Brand agreed. "Bob, you sit tight, and I'll leave Barton with you to clean up. The rest of us will go up to the big house and see what's doing."
"Aye," replied Bob, "but be careful. Yon long Chink'll gie ye trouble if he's wise to what's happened."
Brand nodded and hurried down to the boat. He and Ambrose pulled, and Dan was not sorry to sit quiet a little after the furious excitement of the past few hours. Since the river was clear it did not take long to reach the landing place, and under cover of the trees they moved quietly up to the house. All seemed quiet, and Dan was anxious to go straight on, but Brand was taking no chances.
"We'll do a bit of scouting first," he said.
"Me scout," Muskim offered. "They no see me."
Hardly waiting for permission, the Indian boy slipped silently away and vanished like a wraith into a patch of tall Indian corn growing in the garden at the back of the house.
"That Injun kid's a wonder," muttered Ambrose. "He've gone out of sight like a rabbit."
They waited. Some twenty minutes passed, and Dan was getting very anxious when quite suddenly Muskim appeared again. His dark eyes were shining, but his face was impassive as usual.
"Him Chin Loo in house," he announced. "He know something wrong. He got gun, and white woman, she have gun. They shoot if anyone come."
"And Ruth?" Dan asked eagerly.
"Me no see her, but think she all right."
Brand frowned. "What the dickens are we going to do? It's no use risking an attack. We'll only get filled with lead. We'd best wait till night."
"And leave Ruth there all that time!" exclaimed Dan. "The poor kid will be scared to death."
Muskim spoke. "Suppose you go out front," he said to Brand. "You talk him Chin Loo, but stay too far for him shoot. Me, Muskim, go back, get in kitchen window, bring out white girl."
Brand considered. "Might be worth trying. But could you do it, Muskim?"
"Me do him," said Muskim confidently.
Dan struck in. "Let me go too."
Brand shook his head. "You can't crawl and hide like Muskim."
Muskim saw the disappointment in Dan's eyes.
"Me take him in corn patch," he offered. "He quite safe there. Then I bring white girl."
To this Brand agreed, and he and Ambrose went round through the trees to the front of the house and boldly hailed Chin Loo. At once the big Chinaman appeared at an upper window. He held a rifle in his great yellow hands.
"Your master is dead," Brand called to him. "And his men are dead or prisoners. You had better come out and give up the house."
"Me no dead," replied Chin Loo, with an ugly grin. "But you be dead pletty quick if you come close."
"Don't be a fool," Brand answered curtly. "You can't hope to hold the house single-handed."
"Me no single-handed. Mrs. Halney, she shoot well as me."
"We shan't risk being shot," Brand told him. "We shall simply starve you out."
"Then you stalve little lady too," said Chin, with a fiendish grin.
Brand bit his lip, but kept on arguing, hoping against hope that Muskim would be able to get Ruth away.
Muskim and Dan meanwhile had crept up close to the house. Then Muskim, leaving Dan in the maize patch, crept like a shadow up under the wall of the house. Even Dan could hardly see him. Muskim reached a small window, raised himself, pushed it open, and vanished through it.
Dan was simply shivering with excitement and suspense. In the distance he could hear his brother's voice but could not tell what he was saying. Still, he was keeping Chin Loo busy, and that would give Muskim his chance. Minutes dragged by, each seeming like an hour.
At last the window opened again. Muskim sprang out, and Dan's heart gave a great jump as he saw that Ruth was following. Next moment she was safe outside.
"Hurray!" Dan whispered, and just then the back door was flung open, and the great burly form of Mrs. Harney appeared. She carried a gun.
"Stop!" she shouted, in a voice as deep as a man's. "You, Ruth, I'll half kill you if you don't stop. Chin Loo, the gal's running away!" she bellowed.
Dan leapt out of his cover, but Muskim was nearer. He wheeled round, ran at Mrs. Harney, and actually reached her before she could get the gun to her shoulder. Flinging himself down, he caught her round the ankles and by the weight of his rush, toppled her over backwards. She fell like a tree, the gun flying out of her great fists. Muskim snatched it up and ran.
By this time Dan had reached Ruth and catching her by the arm rushed her towards the cover of the corn. Just as he reached it came the whip-like crack of a rifle, and a bullet whizzed close to his head. He pulled Ruth down at the very moment that Chin Loo shot out of the back door.
The huge Chinaman paused an instant. His face was a mask of fury. Then he saw Muskim and quick as thought wheeled and fired at him. Muslim went flat on his face. Whether he was shot or whether, with his marvellous quickness, he had dropped before the bullet reached him, Dan could not see. It was Chin Loo he was watching, for the great yellow man was again raising his rifle, and Dan saw that the muzzle was covering him.
Dan had no cover; he was not as quick as Muskim. Chin Loo's forefinger was tightening on the trigger; another moment and the heavy bullet must have torn through his body when all of a sudden a sort of paralysis seemed to seize the Chinaman. A look of deadly terror came upon his yellow face, the gun muzzle dropped, and he stood as if frozen, staring at a new figure who had suddenly appeared out of the maize patch.
This was a tall man with greying hair and a thin, clean shaven face. His blue eyes were hard as ice and his lips drawn in a straight line. To Dan there was something vaguely familiar about his appearance, yet he could not place him. Quietly and steadily the man approached, and Dan held his breath, marvelling at his amazing pluck. The stranger walked straight up to Chin Loo.
"Dog," he said, "give me that gun!"
Chin Loo quivered convulsively; he jerked up the gun, uttering a strange snarling cry. The other sprang in and drove his fist with all his force at the yellow man's jaw. There was a crack like the bursting of a paper bag; the giant's arms flew up, and he dropped like a log.
"Dad! Oh, dad!" came a joyful scream, and Ruth, springing to her feet, dashed across and flung herself into the stranger's arms.
Dan came after her, and at the same moment Brand and Ambrose rushed up, and all danger was over. The stranger turned to Dan and grasped his hand.
"My boy, I can never tell you how grateful I am to you and your brother. You have saved my life and Ruth's and given us back our home."
Dan stared. "Why—why—" he gasped, "you're the man from the shack."
The other smiled, and the stern look went out of his face.
"That's it. I came back to my senses very soon after you left me at the hospital, and the minute they allowed me to leave I followed you up here."
"You jolly well came at the right minute," said Dan. "Chin Loo would have had me if he hadn't seen you before he fired. I'd hate to have walked up to him as you did."
"There was no risk really," Ruth's father assured him. "He took me for a ghost, and no wonder, for he and my step-brother left me for dead. Now let us tie up these prisoners, and then come into the house. And so long as you are here I hope you will look on my place as your home."
Before night fell Aunt Abbie and Chin Loo were on their way down the river. Chin Loo was bound for gaol, but Aunt Abbie was told that she could go free so long as she never again showed herself in the country. The three prisoners in the cave were also allowed to go.
The salmon fishing on Boiling Creek is now paying handsomely, and a big cannery has been established. As for the Hemsleys, they spend all their summers at the big house, while in the winter Ruth Harney generally comes down to Vancouver to stay with the Hemsleys. Ruth and Dan are the greatest pals, and Muskim is their faithful friend and servant.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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