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ACROSS a cold grey sea, under a leaden sky, a small but stoutly-built sail-boat beat into a stiff sou'-westerly gale. Away to the east the huge snow-capped mountains which lie in the bight of the great Alaskan Bay towered grimly among the driving mists; from the west the waves rolled up out of the North Pacific with no land to check their force for thousands of miles.
In all that vast waste of stormy sea and sky, the boat seemed to be the only sign of human life; yet by the anxious look on the faces of the two boys who formed her crew, it seemed clear that they feared something even worse than the dull rage of the gathering storm.
A great, hissing wave lifted the boat like a toy on to the crest of its towering mass, and the youngster who held the tiller glanced back over his shoulder.
"I see her, Tod," he said sharply.
Tod Clancy, lean, ragged, black almost as a Siwash, nodded.
"I saw her five minutes ago, Harry," he answered in a fierce undertone. "I knew Manby would never let us get away."
Harry Brand, who was as gaunt and tattered as his companion, tightened his lips.
"I've a mind to put her round and run for it."
"No use," replied Tod quietly. "He'd catch us just the same. Besides, the Pixie 'ud never stand it. She'd be pooped and swamped in five minutes."
"That's true," said Harry curtly. "Though, 'pon my soul, I'd almost as soon be under the sea as in the hands of that brute."
"It's our gold he's after," exclaimed Tod.
"I know that," answered Harry bitterly. "He's got the claim; he's got a million of his own; he's got everything in the world that he needs; yet he's chasing us to steal from us the poor hundred ounces of gold that we've sweated a whole long summer to gain."
"He'd say it was his, and that we had stolen it," said Tod, with a twisted smile. "He's great on law and justice, is Mr. James Manby. Let her off a bit!" he added sharply. "There's a squall coming."
For the next few minutes it took them both all they knew to keep the Pixie above water. The freezing spray dashed over them, and when the squall had passed Tod was still baling hard.
"We'll have to get another reef in," said Tod.
"And lose our last chance?" snapped Harry.
"We haven't got a chance, Harry," returned Tod. "Not a dog's chance. And you know it."
Harry shrugged his shoulders.
"Oh, I know it right enough. What's sail against steam, especially in these wicked Arctic seas?" He glanced back again over his shoulder. "Yes, the Night Hawk is coming hand over fist. She'll catch us in another quarter of an hour."
"In that case we may as well run in under the land," said Tod. "I doubt if she'll stand up to another of these squalls."
Harry looked round dully.
"All right," was his heavy reply, as he let her off a few points, and she went scudding in towards the tall black cliffs.
The steam yacht that was chasing them was a long, low vessel of four or five hundred tons, and by the way she ripped through the smoking seas had evidently plenty of engine power. As the Pixie turned, so did she, and as she was cutting across the arc of a circle she gained very rapidly.
The Pixie was hardly in smoother water before the yacht was within hailing distance.
"Heave to!" came a shout.
A big man, fat as well as tall, was standing on the bridge, with a speaking-trumpet to his mouth. His voice came loud and harsh above the seethe of the surf and the cold cry of the bitter wind.
"Heave to, or I'll run you down," he added fiercely.
He did not wait for an answer, but the yacht came rushing up alongside the boat, nearly swamping her and taking all the wind out of her sails.
"These are the thieves who have bolted with my gold," said the stout man to another who stood beside him. The latter wore a dark blue uniform and evidently was skipper of the Night Hawk.
"Yes, Mr. Manby," agreed the latter. "What do you propose to do with them? Are we to take them aboard?"
"Take them aboard?" snapped Manby. "No! Send two men over into the boat. Make the young thieves hand over the gold and everything else they've got. Then turn 'em adrift."
The captain gave an order, and at once two big fellows went over into the boat. They were both armed.
The boys, chilled to the bone and utterly worn out, were in no shape to make any resistance. The men flung open the stern locker, seized the small but heavy packet of gold dust and flung it up into the yacht. Then they began to collect the small store of coffee, sugar, flour, and bacon, which was all the boys had for their long voyage southwards to civilization.
Harry stood up stiff and straight.
"Mr. Manby," he began with a sort of suppressed fierceness, "you may have some legal claim to the gold, for it certainly was won from the claim which for some reason or other you have sworn was yours. You have no right whatever to our other property."
"Right—you talk to me of rights!" retorted Manby, scowling down at Harry. "You have none. You have stolen my gold, and if I claimed my rights you would both be doing five years in the penitentiary. Thank your stars that I leave you your liberty."
"What's the good of liberty if we're to starve to death?" answered Harry doggedly.
"That's your look out," said Manby with an ugly laugh.
"Got everything, men? That's right. Now cast off, and leave those brats to their fate."
Harry sprang to his feet.
"Tod, we can't be left like this," he cried in despair.
He made a spring to try to reach the deck of the Night Hawk, but one of the men struck him heavily in the chest, knocking him down into the bottom of the boat, where he lay half- stunned.
By the time he had scrambled to his feet Manby's yacht was fifty yards away, ploughing along in a southerly direction. He and Tod were left tossing on the bleak waves in the Pixie.
JUST how they reached the shore, the two boys hardly knew, but an hour later the Pixie lay at the inner end of a long, narrow fiord, at the head of which a swift river broke into the sea.
Close to the mouth of the river was a little natural harbour, and here the Pixie and her crew were safe from any wind that blew.
Not that this was much comfort to her crew, for the two boys were so chilled, so worn-out, so utterly disheartened, that they simply sat still, not attempting to help themselves.
Tod was the first to move.
"Buck up, Harry," he said hoarsely.
Harry gave a bitter laugh.
"What's the use? We've got no grub. We can't get any. We may as well chuck it now as later."
"That's no way to talk," Tod answered. "'Where there's life, there's hope' is a good old motto. Anyhow, if we have to die, let's die warm. I see some drift-wood on the beach, and we've still got matches."
He clambered out of the boat, and began to collect the wood which lay at high-tide mark. Harry, ashamed of his fit of despair, followed stiffly.
Tod cut shavings with his knife from a piece of resinous pine, and a welcome flame glowed in the heart of the pile. Soon there was a roaring blaze, and the warmth set the sluggish blood flowing in the veins of the castaways.
"There ought to be some mussels," said Tod presently.
He got up and began searching among the rocks, and presently came back with a hat full of the shellfish. These they roasted in the ashes and ate as best they might. It was a poor sort of meal, but better than nothing.
Tod flung the shells away and turned to his chum.
"Harry, we've got to make up our minds what to do."
Harry shrugged his thin shoulders.
"Haven't I been racking my brain the last hour? Honestly, Tod, I can't see any way out. Even if the weather were good, and the wind right, it would take us a week to reach Sanuk, and that's the nearest place where we can get grub and blankets. How are we to do it without food? We can't live on mussels even if we could carry enough."
"That's true. But what about running out to sea and trying to meet one of the steamers coming down from the North?"
"Out of the question, Tod. Their track lies hundreds of miles west. Remember we are right up in the bight, and they come round the Horn of Alaska, nearly 800 miles away."
"Then we must try to get back up the Copper River to one of the settlements."
Harry shook his head.
"The current is far too strong for us to work the boat up it, and as for going afoot, it would take months. Just remember that winter will be on us in less than a month."
"It doesn't seem too likely that we shall be here to see it," returned Tod grimly. "But I'm not going to give up tamely, old man."
"Nor am I," replied Harry. "If it's only to get even with Manby, I'm going to make a struggle. I vote we load up with the shellfish, and start south in the morning. We'll have to stick to the coast, and spend the nights ashore. There's always the chance of finding Indians."
"Good," exclaimed Tod. "That's settled. Now let's fix up for the night."
They got the sail up from the boat to form a shelter. They needed it, for a cold rain was falling. Manby had taken their blankets and bedding as well as their food. They would have to keep the fire going all night or perish with cold. Though it was only the first week in September, the weather was bitter. They were but a few score miles from the vast glaciers of St. Elias, with their frontage of three hundred miles of gigantic ice cliffs.
Weary as they were, the boys got little sleep that night. The gale grew worse. It shrieked among the tall cliffs overhead. Outside the surf was one continuous thunder. And big as the fire was, it failed to keep them warm.
Morning found them stiff and aching, and cruelly hungry.
Harry looked out across the raging foam.
"No moving for us till this is over," he said.
Tod did not answer. He was wrenching mussels off the rocks.
It blew for three days. By the third evening the boys were very nearly done for. You cannot stand exposure of this kind on a diet of mussels and cold water. Harry's cheeks were sunken; Tod was suffering agonies from colic. They had only just strength left to gather wood for the fire.
Towards dusk Harry got up to fetch fresh wood. Tod saw him stumble as he walked. He dragged his feet like an old man.
Tod's own pluck was run down.
"We're done," he murmured. "There's no chance. We haven't strength left even to set the sail."
He broke off short, for Harry had suddenly scrambled on to a rock, and was waving his hat frantically.
"What's up?" cried Tod breathlessly.
"A boat—a boat coming out of the river, and a man in it," shouted back Harry.
Tod staggered to his feet, and together the two watched in quivering excitement as the boat came nearer. It was only a canoe, such as the Siwash Indians use. But the man in it was white. He had already spotted Harry, and was paddling towards him. A few minutes later the canoe grounded, and he rose and stepped out.
A huge man he was, well over six feet, and broad and deep- chested, yet gaunt and bearded, and looking as if he had travelled hard and far.
"Helloa, kids!" he cried, speaking with a strong American accent. "Guess you're weather-bound, eh?"
Harry took a step towards him, and suddenly collapsed and fell flat on the beach.
The big man picked him up as easily as he would have lifted a baby.
"Gee!" he exclaimed. "Plumb starved. That's too bad."
"We've been here three days," put in Tod hoarsely. "No blankets. Living on mussels."
"Sit you down," said the big man curtly, as he lifted Harry into the shelter of the sail. "There, give him a sup o' this, and have a drop yourself. Do as I say. I'll fix you."
He handed Tod a battered flask, then turned to his canoe. He was back in a minute with a huge bundle on his shoulders. He opened it, and Tod nearly fainted when he saw a fat side of bacon, a sack of flour, a bag of sugar, another of coffee, cooking pots, and all sorts of equipment.
The speed with which the stranger got a meal ready was magical. Inside twenty minutes the boys, revived with a dram of spirits apiece, were tucking into fried bacon, hot sweet coffee, and biscuits.
They could feel life flowing back into their veins with every mouthful, while their host fed them like children, and smiled gravely as he did so.
At last they were satisfied, and began to try to thank their new friend.
"Shucks! You'd do as much for me," he retorted. "Cut out all that stuff, and come down to bed rock. My name's Bart Kinder. What's yours?"
"I'm Harry Brand," said Harry, "and this is Tod Clancy. We've been up the Copper, digging all summer. Then a fellow came along, and said we'd been working his claim. Cut up rough, and ordered us to give up our dust, and clear. We did clear, but we took the dust with us. He chased us, caught us out at sea, took everything we had, and turned us loose. That's our story."
"Took your grub and blankets too!" exclaimed Kinder. "Gol durned if I ever heard such a thing. He ought to be shot. Say, there's only one feller alive as could do such a cur's trick, and that's James Manby."
"You've struck it in once," said Tod.
Bart Kinder's kindly face hardened.
"The skunk! I've been up against Manby myself, so I knows. That's his living—to find claims as isn't properly registered, and buy in the titles. Some day someone's a-going to lynch him."
"It won't be us," said Harry. "He's gone south in his yacht."
"But he'll come back, and that's when we'll square accounts, I fancy," replied Bart. He paused. "Say," he went on, "it's luck for me, meeting up with you folk."
"The boot's on the other foot," Harry laughed.
"Luck for both of us then," returned Bart. "This ain't no weather for an ocean trip in a canoe."
"You don't mean you were going out to sea in that thing?" he exclaimed.
Bart shrugged his great shoulders.
"Needs must!" he said. "I didn't have no choice. But I'd a sight sooner sail in a tight little craft like that 'un o' yours."
"You mean you'll come south with us?" asked Harry eagerly.
Bart shook his head.
"It's not south I'm bound for, mates. It's west."
The boys stared one at another. The same thought occurred to both.
Bart's grey eyes twinkled.
"No, I'm not looney, lads. It isn't Japan I'm aiming at. It's the Horn of Alaska."
Bart's eyes widened.
"The great peninsula. But—man alive—what a place to go to, with winter on us in a month!"
"Furs is best in winter," said Bart quietly. "And furs is what I'm after. Specially bears. See here, fellers, I got a good grub stake—enough for the three of us. Can't we do a trade? Your boat and your help—my grub and blankets, and a half share of the pelts. How does it strike you?"
Harry's sunken eyes sparkled.
"I'm your man," he cried.
"You bet your life," added Tod.
Bart nodded. There was a satisfied look on his face.
"Fine!" he said. "I guess this here gale is most blown out. To-morrow the three of us leaves for the country of the biggest bears, the queerest natives, and the most almighty volcanoes in this here continent."
TRY starving on mussels for three days. Spend three nights crouching on bare rocks with nothing but a sail between you and a bitter gale. Then get a square meal and wrap yourself in a couple of blankets, and see how you'll sleep.
The sun was an hour up next morning before Bart Kimber had the heart to rouse Harry and Tod, and when he did so, breakfast was ready, the canoe was cached, the Pixie was loaded, and everything ready for a start.
"The gale's gone and the sun's a-shining like glory," was his greeting, as the boys jumped up.
"And we've been snoring like pigs while you've done all the work," replied Harry reproachfully.
"Guess you needed all the sleep you could get," said Bart. "We got a right hard trip before us."
"I don't care what it is so long as there's grub like this every day," remarked Tod cheerfully, as he fell on the sizzling bacon.
"Eat hearty," said Bart. "There's plenty more where that came from."
"You've certainly got a fine grub stake," laughed Harry, looking at the pile of cargo in the Pixie.
"We'll need it," Bart told him. "You see, I reckoned to have a couple o' Siwash or Stick Injuns. And I knowed I'd got to feed 'em. But I'd a sight rather have you two lads. That's why I said 'twas luck a-meeting you."
The two boys were hungry as wolves, and the breakfast they put away was a caution. But they did not take long about it, and very soon the sails were up, and the Pixie, with the tide in her favour, was racing down the fiord.
Outside they found a crisp, southerly breeze blowing, before which they reached away rapidly in a westerly direction.
The view was magnificent. Inland the gigantic peaks of McKinley, Elias, and a host of other mountains towered like sugar-cones against the pale blue sky. The coast was a mass of broken cliffs, and cragged islets.
"I'm a-going to make right across for Kodiak Island," Bart told them. "But I'm not a-going to land there. I reckon to coast round the eastern end into Shelikoff Straits, pick a good spot, lay up the boat for the winter, then strike right inland."
"Ever been there before," asked Harry.
"Yes; I been there one winter, and I tell you I got furs all right. But I shipped 'em down to Porte and in the old Abraham Lincoln. And durned if she didn't pile herself up jest above Sitka, and I lost every blamed fur."
"Bad luck!" said Tod.
Bart shrugged his shoulders.
"Jest luck. But, say, boys, we'll do better this trip. And let me tell you, furs is worth more'n gold right now. That there war over to Europe sent the prices a-soaring, and they've not come down yet. Ef we have a good winter, we'd ought to have enough to buy ourselves a farm apiece." He broke off short. "What's up?" he demanded.
"There's a steamer following us," said Tod breathlessly. "A yacht, too, by the look of her."
"It's the Night Hawk!" exclaimed Harry.
"What—that there poison skunk, Manby?" snapped Bart. "I thought you said as how he'd gone south?"
"I thought he had," Harry answered. "But I suppose that gale caught him, and that he's been weather-bound all this time. Now he's spotted us again."
"I'd have thought he'd done us harm enough already," said Tod bitterly.
"He's poison clear through," declared Bart. "He didn't ever mean you fellers to get away. Yes, he's a-following us. That's a sure thing. Say," he added sharply, "there isn't no reason fer him to see you. Get you down under the fore coaming. Hide yourselves. He's got no call to interfere with me, and, by gum, if he does, he'll find himself up against trouble."
The boys hesitated.
"Get you down," repeated Bart. "I mean it. You leave this job to me."
Rather unwillingly the two obeyed. The opening was blocked with a pile of dunnage, leaving them only a tiny space for air. There they crouched together, while Bart sailed the boat.
"She's a-coming up all right," said Bart presently. "Gee, but she can shift."
"They say she's the fastest thing in Alaskan waters," replied Harry. "Manby had her built specially at San Francisco."
"He can afford it," added Tod.
There was silence a while, but soon the boys, though they could not see her, could hear the beat of the Night Hawk's powerful engines.
"Lie low," said Bart warningly. "She's mighty close."
The sound of the engines grew louder. Harry's heart was beating hard.
"If there's trouble, we'll fight for it," he whispered in Tod's ear.
"You bet!" was Tod's answer.
"Ahoy, there!" came a voice through a speaking-trumpet. "Is that the Pixie?"
"That's her name," answered Bart. "Who are you, and what do you want?"
"This is the Night Hawk—Mr. James Manby," was the reply. "Mr. Manby wishes to know where you got the boat you are sailing."
"What's that to do with him?" returned Bart truculently.
"This. The Pixie was lately in the possession of two gold thieves whom Mr. Manby has been pursuing."
"Two gold thieves," repeated Bart sarcastically. "Do you mean them two poor kids as I found starving on the beach, and as sold me their boat for a square meal?"
"They sold you the boat, did they? Where are they now?"
"If you wants to know, you'd best go back up Bear River Inlet," retorted Bart.
"We don't want any of your lip, my man," snapped the other, who was at last beginning to lose his temper.
"My man!" mimicked Bart. "Thanks be, I'm not your man, nor anybody else's but my own. And ef you've quite finished asking questions, mebbe you'll get out o' my way, and let me shift along where I'm a-going."
There was a pause. Harry and Tod listened breathlessly. They fully expected that Manby's crew would try to board the Pixie. If they did, well, this time it would be no tame surrender, but a fight to a finish. The voice came again, high- pitched and angry.
"If I wasn't busy I'd come aboard and teach you manners," snapped Manby's skipper.
"Come along, any two of you," invited Bart. "Come on, and I'll teach you a lesson in minding your own business."
In reply the other snarled some words which the boys could not catch. Then, to their intense relief, the engine beats quickened again.
"It's all right," said Bart presently. "She's a-moving. But don't you go for to shift just yet. I reckon they'll watch us till we're plumb over the skyline."
"What luck they didn't come aboard!" said Harry.
"That's why I asked 'em," grinned Bart. "I knowed that 'ud put 'em off it quicker'n anything. I wasn't too civil to 'em either."
"You certainly were not," chuckled Harry. "But I see now that you did exactly right. I wonder if they'll go and hunt us up Bear River."
"They won't get fur up," prophesied Bart. "And say, boys, it's in my mind as the next time there's any hunting done, it's going to be us who'll be the hunters, not Manby."
"Why do you say that?" asked Harry.
"I haven't got no real reason. I just feels it in my bones," replied Bart, with a quiet smile.
The wind freshened, and Bart's attention was occupied with handling the boat. She tore through the water at a great rate.
A quarter of an hour later Bart spoke again:
"Guess you can come out now. The yacht's hull down and it's all hunky."
"THAT'S Kodiak Island," said Bart, jerking a thumb in the direction of a distant blur of land, "whar the big bears come from. But, bless you, there's jest as big over on the mainland, and lots o' other stuff besides."
"The other stuff seems to mean some whopping big mountains," said Harry, as he pointed to a great cone of snowy whiteness which lay ahead.
"Volcano, too," added Tod. "I say, what's that queer noise like distant thunder?"
"That's old Bogoslav a-talking to himself," said Bart. "He's always a-working. You can't see him from here, but there isn't no place you can't hear him. And the funny thing is that the sound of him seems to make the silence all the worse, specially in the winter time or when the fog comes down."
"A lot of fog, isn't there?" asked Harry.
"That's so—specially in calm weather. Ye see, the warm Japan current strikes right in along this coast and hits the cold land. That's what makes all the smoke."
"No fog to-day anyhow," said Tod. "And topping weather."
"Aye, it's the Injun summer," Bart told him. "And a mighty good job fer us. But we won't get more'n two or three weeks of it, and we got to use every minute."
"Getting into winter quarters?" questioned Harry.
"That's it, and stocking 'em up with grub. I reckon to lay in a ton or so of salmon, as well as deer and bear meat."
Running before a fine sailing breeze, the Pixie rapidly approached the land. Long beaches of jet-black sand faced the sea, backed by low bluffs. Behind them the land sloped very gently upwards, but the mountains were a long way inland.
"Do we run right in?" asked Harry.
"No, Harry. Thar's a village I'm a-making for. Tassusak, they calls it. Jest a little Siwash settlement. It lays a piece inland, but we can see it from the coast."
"What do you want with Indians, Bart?"
"Carriers," replied Bart. "How do you reckon we're a-going to get our stuff inland else?"
"Are we going far inland?"
"A right smart way. It's all tundra back o' the beach. We got to cross that and make our quarters in the woods."
"What about the Pixie?" asked Harry.
"Thar's a creek by Tassusak whar we can lay her up fer the winter."
"You seem to have thought of everything," said Tod Clancy, with a laugh.
"I guess I got to," replied Bart, rather dryly. "This isn't no pleasure picnic, believe me."
It had been dawn when they sighted the long black beaches of the great peninsula. It was eleven in the forenoon when they sighted Tassusak, and about an hour later they were working up the mouth of the river towards the village.
"Don't think much of your village, Bart," said Harry. "Looks to me as if a parcel of kids had been trying to set up a Scout camp and made a horrid hash of it."
"They're dug-outs," Bart answered. "Jest dug-outs with roofs of poles and turf. I'll allow these here Injuns aren't no great shakes as architects."
The tide was turning. The wind was light, and they moved very slowly. Bart stood up and stared in the direction of the village. There was a puzzled look on his bearded face.
"What's the matter, Bart?" asked Harry.
"That's jest what I wants to know. Where's the Injuns? I don't see a sign of one high or low, and, speaking in general, every mother's son on 'em ought to be down by the water's edge a- waiting fer us."
"Perhaps they're out hunting."
"Aye, the bucks might be out arter caribou or a-netting salmon, but what about the squaws and the kids? You mark my words, lads, there's something wrong up here."
"Do they ever get raided by other tribes?"
"Not as I knows of. The Stick Injuns is quarrelsome sometimes, but they don't come down to the coast."
"We'd best land and find out," suggested Tod.
"I guess we had, but we'll take our guns along. And one of us'll stay by the boat."
They were now opposite the village, which was nothing more than a score or so of skin or turf huts on the bank above the creek. They anchored close in, and, leaving Tod in charge of the boat, Bart and Harry scrambled ashore through deep and sticky mud. They climbed the bank, and, reaching the top, found themselves within a few yards of the nearest hut.
But the place was silent as a tomb. Not a voice was to be heard, no barking of dogs, not a curl of smoke arose.
"This is plumb onaccountable," growled Bart. "I can't see no reason fer it. These folk were all here two year ago. Wonder if it were smallpox hit 'em and wiped 'em out? I've heard tell of such things. You wait here and I'll have a look into this here hut."
His tall figure seemed to dive underground, and he disappeared into the hut. He was out again in a minute or so, and now he was frowning with perplexity.
"This beats all," he said. "Everything's there like the folk had slept there last night. I'll vow, anyhow, they haven't been gone more'n a few hours. I can't make nothing of it."
"Let's hunt round," suggested Harry. "There may be some old man or woman left in one of the huts."
"That's so. Come right along."
They started. Two more huts were drawn blank. Moving across to a third, Bart pulled up short, and stood staring fixedly down at the ground.
"Gee, boy, look at that!" he gasped.
Harry looked. In the soft ground were marks. They were the prints of feet. At first he fancied that they were of human feet, but a moment's inspection showed that this was out of the question. They were too big and too deep. Also the toe-prints showed marks of claws.
"A bear!" he said sharply.
"A bear, sure enough," agreed Bart. "But a bear that's mighty near as big as a house!"
Harry looked at Bart.
"Is it the bear that's scared the Indians away?" he asked.
"That's jest what I'm asking myself," said Bart. "But it don't seem possible nohow. These here fellers have guns, and I never heard tell of a whole village a-panicking because of a bear. Onless—"
He paused, and a curious expression crossed his big bearded face.
"Unless what?" asked Harry.
"Onless it was a ghost bear," added Bart slowly.
"A ghost bear?" repeated Harry, puzzled. Then he grinned. "How the mischief could a ghost make holes in the ground like that?" he asked, pointing again to the gigantic footprints.
Bart did not laugh.
"You don't get me, youngster. There's funny things happens up in this here North Land. I'm not a-saying there's anything in it, but these here Injuns believe as bears and wolves gets possessed by evil spirits. Then they becomes as cunning as men and ten times as dangerous as any man. The Injuns calls 'em ghost bears, or ghost wolves, and says as bullets can't kill 'em. There's nothing else on sea or land as they're as scared of."
Harry no longer smiled. Though he had been less than six months in the Arctic, the lonely charm of these great silent lands had already sunk into him, and he was not prepared to jeer at any Indian belief, however fantastic it might sound.
"What shall we do?" he asked. "Shall we follow up the tracks?"
"I reckon we got to," replied Bart gravely. "This here's a queer business. I never heard tell of a bear that would walk right through a village in summer weather, though I've knowed 'em do it in the early spring, just arter they come out from the winter sleep. But then they're mighty hungry. At this time o' year their bellies is full, and they haven't got no call to be fooling around where men is." He paused. "Say, you go back to the creek and tell Tod we'll be away maybe till dark, then come back to me. And bring my heavy rifle along."
Harry nodded, and went on his errand. He merely told Tod that they had got on the tracks of a large bear and were going to follow them up. Tod was very curious, but he quite realized that it was up to him to stay and take care of the boat.
WHEN Harry got back he could not see Bart. As he looked round he heard a sound of voices coming from a hut near by. He clambered down into it, and in the half darkness below found Bart talking to an Indian.
The Indian was an old, old man, bent, shrunk, and withered like a mummy. He was very clearly in a state of absolute panic.
Bart turned to Harry.
"I were right, Harry. It's a ghost bear, sure thing. This old chap, Tanana, he's been a-telling me. Seems the beast come here first last spring and took a old woman. Scared 'em all bad. Then he didn't show up again till a week ago, when he come on some chaps camping up on the tundra, catching salmon. Caught 'em at night, and killed one with a blow of his paw, and took him away and ate him. The others shot at him, but didn't do him no harm.
"Next thing, the bear walks into the village here two nights ago and catches a child. Last night he comes again and takes a woman. This broke their nerve, seemingly. Anyways, they've took to their canoes and cleared out to that there island you sees out in the Straits. Old Tanana, he were no use, and couldn't walk, so they either forgot him or left him a-purpose."
"Brutes!" said Harry indignantly.
"Aye, it may seem so to you. But life's hard up here, remember, and it don't do to judge by our standards," replied Bart gravely. "Anyways, I've fixed him up with some grub, and now it's up to you and me to go and hunt this here beast.
"We're not a-going to do any good till we got him," he continued, frowning. "The Injuns won't come back till he's dead, and, as I told you already, we got to have carriers. But it's sure a nuisance. Time's short and winter's a-coming, and we'd ought to be in good quarters afore the snow falls."
"Then the sooner we get him the better," agreed Harry. "He won't go far after he gets some of these under his hide," he added, as he handed over to Bart a couple of handfuls of the heavy .45 bore cartridges which were used in his rifle.
Bart said a word or two to old Tanana, which seemed to comfort him somewhat. Then he climbed up out of the damp and dreary little dug-out, and went back to the spot where they had first found the tracks of the bear.
They were plain as print, and Harry was struck again with wonder at their enormous size. They led out of the village in a northerly direction, and right across the bare, open tundra.
The going was very bad, indeed. The ground was a swamp, and they had to jump from turf to turf. Here and there the bear's huge paws had sunk a foot at least into the soft mud.
"Where can he have gone?" asked Harry presently. "I can't see any cover."
"For a fact, there isn't a lot. Most like he's down under a creek bank somewhere. Anyways, we'll find out. There's four or five hours' daylight still in front of us."
On and on they went. As they reached higher ground the travelling was better. Here the tundra was literally covered with berries. Some were purple, some scarlet. All were bursting with ripeness. You could have picked them by bushels.
"Most bears is satisfied with these and salmon," said Bart. "I never did know of one as took to killing men and women like this here brute."
They had gone some four miles inland when Harry saw in front of him the most extraordinary sight. It was a streak of gorgeous colouring some twenty feet wide lying across in front of them. The colours glowed and glistened as though a rainbow had been dropped from the sky to earth.
"What's that?" he demanded in amazement.
"That?" repeated Bart dryly. "Haven't you never seed salmon afore?"
"Salmon!" exclaimed Harry, and ran forward.
Bart was right. The brook—it was nothing more than a narrow creek—was absolutely packed with salmon. There were so many fish that they were actually crowding one another out of the water. But instead of being plain silver like fresh run fish, or red as English salmon become after they have been a month or two out of salt water, these glowed with the fairy colours of a jeweller's shop.
Harry positively gasped. He could hardly believe his eyes. But Bart took it quite as a matter of course.
"All the creeks is chock full this time o' year," he said. "Now's the time to get 'em afore they begins to get dark and die. But come on, younker. The tracks is fresh, and it's up to us to run that thar ghost bear down afore it's dark."
The tracks led on up the side of the creek, and presently they came upon a couple of dead salmon lying on the bank. Each had been bitten across the back.
"That's his work," said Bart. "He isn't a great ways off. I guess we'd better keep our eyes skinned."
"I hope we shall find him soon," returned Harry. "Looks to me as if fog was coming up."
Bart turned sharp round.
"Fog?" he repeated anxiously. "By gum, you're right, Harry! She's a-working up from the sea. Gee! I don't like the look of it."
Harry looked wonderingly at the big trapper. He could not quite understand why he was so disturbed. He was soon to know.
"I've a mind to go right back," began Bart, as he stared at the low-lying cloud of vapour which was blotting out the blue sea.
"But it won't reach us for ever so long," urged Harry. "And you say the bear can't be far off. We shall never get such a good chance again."
"That's so," allowed Bart. "Wal, I guess we'll follow up a bit farther, but not more'n a mile or so. You've not been in one o' these here fogs yet."
Bart walked on at a rapid pace. The ground was rising more sharply now, and, although there were no trees, there were patches of Arctic willow here and there.
The stream was no longer level with the tundra. It ran between banks which rose ten or a dozen feet above the sluggish water. These banks were of black earth, heavily cut by the spring floods, while here and there deep cracks or crevices ran back some distance into the surrounding country.
Harry noticed that Bart was now moving more cautiously, and that, as the trail of the bear passed around the outer ends of these cracks, he took a quick glance down into each. Putting two and two together, Harry gathered that the monster was probably hiding in one of them.
But the trail went on endlessly. More than once Bart glanced back anxiously at the veil of fog, which was now beginning to drift inland. Bart had become very silent, and was clearly uneasy.
Suddenly he pulled up short. Harry found him standing on the edge of a cleft much wider and deeper than any they had yet seen. Bart was staring fixedly down into the depths of it.
"He's here, Harry," he said in a low voice, and Harry felt a queer thrill as he noticed the huge paw marks clearly marked on the steep slope descending into the ravine.
Bart opened the breech of his rifle, and saw that a cartridge was in position.
"You keep behind me, Harry," he whispered. "Don't you pass me, and don't you try to shoot onless I gives the word. You get me?"
The bear's spoor led down the extreme landward end of the ravine. The ravine itself was about two hundred feet long, and at its deepest end, where it opened on the river, its depth was nearly twenty feet. The banks of black, peaty-looking earth were almost perpendicular.
"I don't see him anywhere," whispered back Harry.
"Not likely as you would. He's lying up in some hollow under the bank." He gave Harry a sharp look. "Not scared, eh, lad?"
"No," replied Harry quickly.
"Come right along, then," he said, and started down into the ravine.
By this time clouds had hidden the sun, and down at the bottom of the chasm it was very gloomy. Bart walked cautiously. He had his forefinger on the trigger of his rifle.
Harry, moving like a shadow behind, began to realize that his heart was thumping. As a matter of fact, it was the first time he had ever been bear hunting, and this, after all, was not any ordinary bear. The tracks that showed so plainly in the smooth, black peat were plain proof of its gigantic size.
They came to the deepest part of the ravine. In front Harry could see the water of the creek gliding past, black, smooth, and oily. The place was extraordinarily and uncannily silent.
Bart stopped. He did not speak, but pointed to the black mouth of a hole in the bank to the left. The huge footprints led straight into the hole, but they did not emerge again.
Bart took a small electric torch from his pocket and handed it to Harry. Harry understood, and, switching it on, directed its rays into the interior of the low-roofed passage.
Bart stooped down. He was quite still for some seconds. Then he straightened his tall figure again.
"Can't see nothing," he whispered.
"No more can I," replied Harry.
"Hold the light, I'm a-going in."
It was close quarters for Bart's giant frame. He had to bend nearly double. Harry waited till he was well inside, then followed. The clear white light of the torch flung Bart's shadow gigantic on the sticky clay floor of the cave. The place had a curious sour smell, which caught Harry's throat. His heart was pounding so that he could almost hear it. But he was steady enough, all the same.
Bart went step by step. It was clear that he fully expected the bear to attack. Yet there was no sound—no sign of the monster.
"A ghost bear," the Indian had called the creature. Harry began to wonder if it really had the power of making itself invisible.
Twenty feet in, and the cave bent sharply to the right. Bart peered cautiously round the curve and Harry heard him give vent to a sort of explosive gasp.
"Fooled us!" he exclaimed angrily.
"The beggar's fooled us, Harry."
Harry put his head round the corner, and at once understood. The cave had a second entrance which opened on the creek. The bear had simply walked out of it and vanished.
When Bart and Harry got out they found a regular path leading at a steep slope up the bank of the creek. It was deeply scored by the huge claws of the monster.
They followed it to the top, and found themselves back on the open tundra.
Bart looked round.
"Thar's the fog a-coming," he grumbled. "A nice job we'll have a-getting back through it."
Harry was not listening, but staring fixedly across the tundra.
"What's that?" he asked sharply, pointing as he spoke.
"By gum!" he murmured. "It's old Mister Bear!"
ALREADY the fog wreaths were spreading thinly over the desolate land, and in the queer half light the form of the ghost bear loomed gigantic, like some monster of the early ages of the earth. He stood on a little knoll somewhat back from the creek, and the lower part of his shaggy form was hidden by a tiny thicket of dwarf willow. Yet they could see him plainly enough, and a terrifying sight he was.
"Gee, he's some bear!" Harry heard Bart murmur in his beard, as he raised his rifle and took quick but careful aim at the giant beast.
The bear had been looking straight at his human foes, but as Bart put the rifle lo his shoulder, he swung swiftly sideways, and started off.
Bart's forefinger tightened on the trigger, and the crash of the report went echoing away across the waste.
"Hit him!" cried Harry, as the great beast was seen to flinch. He gave a hoarse growl, and swung sideways.
"Scratched him; no more!" snapped Bart, who was evidently deeply annoyed.
The bear was now hidden behind the knoll, and Bart, snapping another cartridge into the breech, ran forward.
Before he could get a fresh sight of the bear, a thick roll of fog came swirling down, and hid him completely.
Bart's face, as he turned to Harry, wore a very serious expression.
"We've done it now," he said curtly.
"Lost him, you mean?"
"Aye; but he's not lost us, son. And a b'ar don't forgive very easy, not arter he's been tickled up like that."
"You mean he'll go for us?" asked Harry.
"Lay for us, most like," replied Bart grimly.
Harry pursed his lips in a dismayed whistle. Then his face cleared a little.
"But we can still track him," he suggested.
"Aye; but what's to prevent his making a circle and coming round behind us?"
"Good gracious, Bart! You don't mean he's cunning enough for that?"
"You don't know b'ars yet," said Bart briefly. He looked at the fast thickening fog. "We've got to get back, Harry, unless we wants to spend the night here in the open."
"What are we to do? Follow our own tracks back?"
Bart shook his head.
"Not safe, son. I guess we'll have to keep along close to the creek. That guards one side for us."
"All right; you know best," agreed Harry.
The creek wound in and out, and its banks in many places were so marshy as to be positively dangerous. And the feeling that that monstrous brute might be tracking them all this time hardly bore thinking about. Whenever Harry let his thoughts dwell upon it, he had a feeling as if ice-cold water were trickling down his spine.
Bart said little, but kept his rifle ready all the time, and now and then he stopped and looked round and listened. But they neither heard nor saw anything. All was swirling mist and silence.
The only sound that broke the utter stillness was the far-off thundering of the great fire mountain Bogoslav, which sounded like very distant cannonading, and which, as Bart had said, seemed only to make the hush of this great, silent land still more impressive.
The tramp seemed endless. Since sea and sky alike were shrouded from view, Harry could not tell where they were. He was only grateful that the daylight lasted. In darkness it would have been simply out of the question to travel across these endless morasses.
They had been walking for about an hour and a half, when Bart stopped short in his tracks, and stood as if frozen. He had faced half round to the left, and was staring at something which Harry at first could not see.
The fog thinned a little for a moment, and Harry caught a glimpse of something which, at first sight, appeared to be no more than a clump of bush. But as he watched it, he distinctly saw it move.
A thrill shot through every vein. It was the bear.
Harry saw Bart raise his rifle, watched him take careful aim. He waited, breathless, and though it was really only a matter of seconds, it seemed like minutes before the trigger fell.
With the sharp report came a deep, grunting roar. The bear reared upwards, waving its great paws in the air. Then over it went, to fall with a heavy thud.
"Got him! Splendid!" cried Harry, in delight, and as Bart ran forward, he followed.
By the time they reached the spot, the great beast was motionless.
"This is great!" cried Harry again. "Dead as a door-nail. Now our troubles are over at last."
Bart had taken one look at the bear. Now he turned to Harry, and there was a strange expression on his face.
"Don't you be too sure, young 'un. If you asks me, they've only just begun."
"What do you mean?" demanded Harry. "You've got the bear all right."
"A bear," corrected Bart. "Not the bear. This here aren't the original varmint we been after. Look for yourself. It's all o' three sizes smaller."
"You're right. I see it now. It's not the ghost bear at all."
Bart stood looking down at the dead creature. His bullet had struck it behind the shoulder, and gone clean through its heart. If not the original ghost bear, even so, it was big enough, in all conscience.
After gazing at it for a moment or two, Bart took his hunting knife out of its sheath, stooped down, and set to work to take off the pelt.
"I say, Bart, won't that take a long time—skinning it, I mean?" asked Harry. "It's getting jolly near dark."
"Can't help that, Harry," replied Bart. "We got to take the hide back to Tassusak. The Indians will think it's the ghost bear all right, and we shall manage to get what porters we want."
IT was getting late in the afternoon on the sixth day after the adventure with the ghost bear when Bart Kinder, striding along with the two boys at the head of a string of a dozen heavily loaded Indians, pulled up, and turning, signed to the carriers to take a spell.
"Getting near, Bart, aren't we?" asked Tod.
"Mighty near. You see them two hills just ahead? The place I'm a-making for is a valley way down between 'em. I never been down there, but I've seed the place from up above, and set it away in my mind as the best winter quarters in this here country. There's timber and shelter and water, and it looked to me like there was game and fur for the taking. I reckon to camp close up this end to-night, and in the morning we'll push on and pick a place to build our shack."
"We've done jolly well so far," said Harry. "The weather's been simply topping, and we haven't seen a sign of that bear."
"Don't you go for to crow till you're out o' the wood, or, at any rate, safe in quarters," growled Bart.
Harry looked at him in surprise.
"But we're clear out of that brute's country, aren't we? Why, we're fifty miles inland."
"Shucks! What's fifty miles to a b'ar?" retorted Bart. "Specially a feller like that, as has got a sore back from my bullet, and a grudge as nothing won't satisfy but blood."
Harry did not answer, but presently, when they went on again, he moved close to Tod.
"Bart's loony about that bear," he whispered. "Surely he doesn't think a bear is going to follow us all over Alaska."
Tod shook his head.
"Don't ask me, Harry. I know nothing about bears. But I've a notion Bart does, and I'd hate to throw any doubt on what he tells us."
"If it's true, all I hope is that the beast doesn't show up before to-morrow. These Indians will run like hares if they get a glimpse of him. And it would take us three a month of Sundays to cart all this stuff even one day's journey."
"No use looking for trouble," replied Tod, shrugging his shoulders. "We've done jolly well so far. Let's hope we get through all right. I believe we shall."
For a time it looked as though Tod's hopes would be justified. The going was good, for they were now on high ground, far beyond the tundra bordering the coast. The weather was perfect, still and cloudless—a regular Indian summer.
The red sun was just dropping behind the tall peaks of the west when the party reached the spot for which Bart had been aiming, and the boys both pulled up short, with exclamations of wonder and delight.
They stood upon the upper edge of a tremendous slope, which dropped away for more than a thousand feet into an immense valley. To right and left rose splendid mountains, that to the east so high that its lofty peak was capped with everlasting snow. In the crimson light of the sunset this peak glowed like coral against the evening sky.
Beneath, the valley was heavily wooded with black pine. In the distance a river gleamed among the dark trees, and in open spaces caribou—which are really wild reindeer—grazed.
Bart watched the boys with a smile on his big, bearded face.
"Some valley, eh, boys?" he remarked.
"Great!" replied Harry. "Beats anything I could ever have imagined. It's perfectly wonderful, after all that bare, desolate country we've crossed."
"So perfectly sheltered, too," added Tod. "I should think we could laugh at blizzards once we're down there."
"Wal, I wouldn't say that," was Bart's quiet answer. "You kids haven't seen a real Arctic winter yet. But anyways, there's good cover, and I guess we can make ourselves snug enough down there. Come right along," he added. "I reckon to camp on the edge of them woods."
They moved on quickly. The Indians, Harry noticed, were not quite happy. Their stolid faces wore a slightly uneasy expression. He mentioned this to Bart.
"Nothing to worry about," replied the big man, with a smile. "Fact is, I don't suppose as any of 'em have ever seed trees afore. These here Siwash stick mighty close to the coast. This country's all new and strange to 'em."
"Are there any Indians inland?" inquired Harry.
"You bet. Stick Injuns, they calls 'em, jest because they lives in among the trees. But there isn't a lot of 'em, and what there is is peaceful enough onless they gets stirred up by bad whites and 'hootch.'"
"What's 'hootch'?" inquired Tod.
"Whisky," replied Bart curtly. "Good spirits is all right in their proper place, but as fer me, I'd hang the feller that sells his firewater to the Injun."
As they talked they were moving steadily down the slope, and just as the sun finally vanished behind the western mountain, reached the first group of trees.
Bart stopped and looked round.
"This here's good enough," he said. "Guess we'll camp right here."
The Indians had downed their packs and were preparing to light a fire when there was a crash in the timber beneath them, and Harry saw a huge antlered animal gallop swiftly across a glade below, and vanish in the woods beyond.
Before he could speak, Bart had snatched up his rifle and started off.
"A moose," he said briefly, as the boys joined him. "Aye, the Alaskan moose is the biggest deer in the world. Runs up to sixteen hundred in weight. Give us meat for a month if we can get that one. You keep well behind," he warned them.
Next minute they were in thick forest. There was no sign of the moose, but Bart kept on rapidly. He was following fast on its trail.
On and on they went, the tracks leading them up the right-hand or eastern slope. Luckily the Alaskan twilight is long, and there was still light left to shoot when they at last sighted the splendid creature standing quietly under a tree on the far side of a small glade.
Bart raised a warning hand. The boys stood like statues as he put his rifle to his shoulder. A moment of breathless suspense, then, as the rifle cracked, the moose sprang a yard into the air, and fell with a crash.
"Great shot!" exclaimed Tod, and all three ran forward together.
"Fat as butter," said Bart. "But, see here, kids. We haven't got light left to butcher it to-night. We'll have to sling the carcass fer the night, and cut it up in the morning. Harry, you go right along back to camp, and fetch three o' the carriers and a length o' rope. This here beast weighs nigh on three-quarters of a ton, and it's a-going to take six of us to sling it."
Harry nodded, and ran off. The distance to the camp was the best part of a mile, and it was very nearly dark when he reached it.
To his astonishment there was no fire burning, but when he had come near enough to see the stores lying on the ground, he got a worse shock still.
The Indians were gone.
He shouted. There was no reply.
"What on earth has become of them?" he murmured, and set himself to walk round and try to find their tracks.
It was too dark. He could not make out the footprints.
"This beats everything," he said half aloud.
The sound of his voice was echoed by a deep, hoarse, and most terrifying growl. Looking round, he saw a pair of eyes, pools of green fire, moving towards him from out of the thicket on to the lower edge of the glade.
HARRY had not his gun. It was somewhere among the pile of stores. Where, he could not say exactly, and there was not light enough to see.
Nor was there time to search.
The bear—it was undoubtedly a bear—was charging out upon him.
For a moment Harry felt the cold fingers of despair clutching his heart; the next he was racing for the nearest tree.
He could not pick his tree, but, by the mercy of Providence, the one he reached had branches fairly near to the ground. He made a leap, caught the lowest, and swung himself up.
He was barely astride it when the bear reached the foot of the tree, and rearing its huge body to its full height, struck at him with a paw as thick as his own leg, and armed with chisel-like claws, each about five inches long.
Harry drew his legs up just in time to escape the tremendous blow, and the paw struck the trunk with a force that made the solid timber quiver, and ripped a yard of bark clean away.
The brute uttered a horrifying growl, which sent Harry scuttling upwards like a squirrel.
Now the grizzly—and the Kodiak bear belongs to the grizzly family—is not much of a tree climber, so Harry hoped and believed that he was safe for the moment.
Imagine his horror when he felt the whole tree begin to shake, and looking down saw his fearful enemy start clawing up the trunk!
Its weight was so enormous that the tree, though a pine of very respectable size, shook like a sapling in a gale of wind.
Harry wasted no time, but went up like a lamplighter, and soon gained a perch some thirty feet above the ground. Here the branches were only just thick enough to bear his weight, and into the bargain were so dense that he could hardly force his way through them.
He paused and looked down. The monstrous bear was still working its ponderous way upward. Harry could see the green gleam of its vicious eyes between the close-growing branches. As it came higher, the tree bent and swayed in terrifying fashion.
Harry took a long breath and shouted at the very top of his voice. In the quiet night sounds carry a long way, and he had some hope that Bart and Tod might hear and come to the rescue.
But even if they did hear, the question was whether they would be in time. It would take them at least a quarter of an hour to arrive at the camp.
Again his heart sank as he felt that long before that the bear was bound to reach him and tear him down.
Up came the bear. Slowly, it is true, for the brute seemed to have doubts as to the strength of the branches. Several indeed cracked away under its vast weight with snapping sounds, like pistol shots. Harry realized that he must do something to stop it, otherwise his fate was sealed.
In times of extreme danger the mind works quickly. Harry remembered that, if he had no gun, at least he had a knife. It was one of those large Swedish sheath-knives, which all woodsmen carry.
He drew it quickly, and started clearing away the small branches all around him, so as to get free play for his arm. By the time he had done this the bear was only a few feet below. He could smell the harsh reek of it, its hot breath hissed up through the cold night air.
And now that he could see it at close quarters, and appreciate its enormous size, he had no longer any doubt but that it was the Ghost Bear itself and no other.
The monster paused, and the tree stopped swaying. Its glowing eyes were fixed upon Harry. Suddenly up shot that terrible paw.
Harry felt a jerk which nearly flung him from his perch. There was a ripping sound. The claws had just grazed the heel of his left boot, and nearly tore it off. But he had his left arm around the trunk, and it would have taken a good deal to loosen his grip.
Before the bear could strike again he made a swift downward slash. He felt the blade strike something. There was a hideous roar. There was light enough to see that he had gashed the bear's forehead. The blood from the wound had partially blinded the great beast. It slipped back, and for a moment Harry fancied was going to drop to the ground.
But not a bit of it. Recovering, the creature began clawing upwards again.
Harry was nearly desperate. The bear was now more savage than ever, and absolutely bent on his destruction. He glanced upwards, but saw that he could go no higher. That was definitely certain.
Like a flash another idea came to him. He had matches in his pocket. Fire—fire was the one thing which no wild animal could face.
Harry's fingers shook so that he could hardly open the box. But somehow he got hold of half a dozen matches, struck them all in a bunch, and flung them fizzing at the bear's head, which just then lurched forward, and the matches fell, not on its face, but on the back of its neck.
There was a little puff of flame as the hair sizzled up, and the great bear flinched and drew back for a moment. Then the matches went out.
Harry was almost in despair, but in spite of the desperate situation he still kept his head. There was something else in his pocket. His electric torch.
He pulled this out, flicked over the catch, and shot the light full into his enemy's eyes.
"Ah, you don't like that!" hissed Harry, as the bear shook its head, trying to escape the keen glare. For a moment Harry had real hopes that the beast was going to give up and clear out.
But again his hopes were doomed to disappointment. The great brute was mad with rage, and set upon revenge. The light now showed, beyond doubt, that it was indeed the Ghost Bear, for apart from its monstrous size, there was the scar of Bart's bullet on its left shoulder.
The idea that the creature had actually tracked them all this way up country filled Harry with a feeling of horror, almost of terror. It seemed incredible that any wild animal could have such a settled purpose of revenge.
Meantime, however, he was not idle, but was using the precious seconds to the best of his ability. Forcing himself upwards as far as he possibly could, he held the torch with one hand, and with the other broke away as many small dry twigs as he could get hold of. His idea was to try to light a bunch of these, and thrust them right into the Ghost Bear's face.
He got the twigs, but then came the question of lighting them. Since he had to keep his hold on the torch, he had not a hand to spare for striking a match.
And the worst of it was that the bear, finding that the light was not actually harming it, was getting over its first scare, and showing signs of making a fresh attack.
There was only one thing to do. Harry jammed the bunch of twigs into a crotch between two branches close in front of him. Still keeping the torch light directed into the bear's eyes, he got hold of his matchbox again, fished out a match, stuck the box sideways between his teeth, and so managed to strike the match.
The bear seemed to sense what he was about, and growled furiously. The reek of its hot breath made Harry feel sick. But he stuck to it, and managed to light his bunch of twigs.
They were dry as tinder, and full of resin. They flared up at once with a hot, scorching flame, so that Harry was forced to draw his head back.
It was at this particular instant that the bear, realizing apparently that this was its last chance, struck out again.
Once more it just missed Harry, but the shock of the blow knocked the blazing twigs out of their insecure hold, and sent them flying in every direction. Some fell on the bear, others were scattered through the branches.
There followed a crackle, a bright blaze, and Harry's heart was in his mouth as he saw that the tree itself had taken fire.
He must be burnt alive or eaten. That was the only choice left. With a yell he flung his torch straight into the bear's face, and followed it by a reckless sweep with his knife.
The blade struck home on the bear's nose, and bit deep into it. With a horrifying snarl the monster let go, and went sliding backwards through the blazing branches. Its claws scored the bark an inch deep all the way down, and it reached the ground with a thud like the dropping of a ton of coal.
Harry, scorched and half-blinded, tried to follow, but half- way down he, too, lost his hold, and came down flop on top of the bear.
He rolled sideways off its vast furry bulk, and lay more than half stunned and quite helpless on the deep soft carpet of pine needles which covered the ground.
Now he gave himself up for lost. He was vaguely conscious that the bear was recovering, that it was on its feet again. Each instant he expected to feel a blow from its monstrous paw, or see its great jaws opening above him.
Instead, it swung its vast head twice from side to side, then turned and made off quickly down the slope.
Harry heard a shout in the distance; he tried to get up and answer. But everything went black before his eyes; he dropped back and lay still. And that was how Bart and Tod found him when they arrived, breathless with running, under the blazing pine.
Burning branches were falling in showers as they dragged him away. Tod ran for water, and they soon brought him round.
"The bear. It was the Ghost Bear," were his first words as he opened his eyes.
"I knowed it," said Bart briefly. "Seed his tracks. What happened? Did you fire the tree?"
Harry told his story. Bart nodded.
"I guess you had a mighty close call, Harry," he remarked gravely. "It was my fault. I'd ought to have thought of it afore sending you back."
"It was the fault of the Indians," Harry answered. "If they'd only lighted the fire as they were told to, it would have been all right. Where are they?"
"Up a tree, somewhere, I reckon," said Bart dryly. "I'm not a- going to worry about 'em, anyways. Tod, you and me will light a good fire. Then you stay here with Harry, and I'll go and get some o' that there moose meat."
"No, you've no need to worry. Mister Bear isn't a-going to try it on again to-night. He's got his bellyful for one day."
Tod, however, was taking no chances. He kept his rifle handy all the time as he lit the fire, and put the kettle on to boil. Harry, meantime, lay quietly in his blankets. He was not sorry to rest, for he had had a bad shake up.
Bart came back safely with the meat, and told them that he had covered up the carcass with branches and hoped it would be safe till morning. Then he started to roast some of the venison, and when it was cooked both the boys were ready to vow they had never eaten anything better.
They were just finishing when the Indians came creeping back, very scared and very sheepish. Bart, who talked their language, rated them well for their slackness, and told them that it was all their fault.
They did not resent it at all, but huddled near the fire, which they made up into a tremendous blaze. They were all terribly frightened.
IN spite of all he had been through, Harry slept well that night, and by morning was almost himself again. But Bart insisted upon him taking it easy, and left him in charge of the camp, while he himself and Tod and three Indians went to bring in the moose meat.
Since there was far too much to eat while fresh, the Indians were set to work to turn the meat into pemmican. It had to be cut into narrow strips, dried in the sun, then pounded.
Then Bart picked up his rifle.
"Tod," he said, "we're not a-going to have any peace so long as that blamed bear is loose across this valley. I guess we'll go and see if we can't finish the good work as Harry began last night. Savvy?"
It went sorely against the grain with Harry to be left behind. But he had sense enough to know that he was not yet fit for a long tramp. So he stayed to keep an eye on the Indians, while the others marched off on the track of the bear.
Harry noticed that the Indians kept very close to him. He noticed also that they watched him with a queer mixture of wonder and admiration. Though he did not know it, they looked on him as a sort of hero, in that he had come out alive in his battle with the Ghost Bear.
Not that Harry was paying much attention to them. He was listening for shots. In his heart he was hoping intensely that Bart would get the bear. This creature had really terrified him, and he was thinking that, if they failed to kill it, the brute would spoil the whole season for them. Not one of them would dare to go out alone.
The hours dragged by; the sun set, and still he heard nothing. Yet the day had been so still and fine that the sound of a rifle- shot would have carried three or four miles easily.
At last, just as dusk was beginning to close over the great lone land, two sharp reports in quick succession broke the stillness. They were followed by a distant shouting.
Harry sprang to his feet. Forgetting Bart's strict injunction to remain at the camp, he snatched up his rifle, and ran in the direction of the sounds.
The shots had come from the mountainside to the right of the valley, and it was in that direction that Harry ran. But he had not gone far before he pulled up short.
He had suddenly remembered that he had left the camp and the Indians unprotected, and that, too, against Bart's strict orders.
He stood, hesitating a moment, then his lips tightened.
"No, I've got to do what Bart said," he told himself, and walked back.
He had not gone half the distance when there came a shriek from the camp. He began to run again at the top of his pace.
He could not see what was happening, for the trees hid the glade in which the camp was pitched. Desperately anxious, he sprinted on, and burst into the opening just in time to see the Indians racing away up the hill, with the bear—the Ghost Bear itself—slumbering along in pursuit.
Harry was hardly able to believe his eyes. He had felt so certain that it was the bear at which the shots he had first heard had been fired. It seemed beyond belief that the brute should again invade their camp.
He pulled himself together, and, stopping, raised his rifle and fired.
But the bear was moving fast, and he himself was shaky with running. He made a clean miss. He fired a second time, and the bullet kicked up the dust a yard or two behind the great beast, ricochetted, and apparently struck the bear somewhere in the hind-quarters.
Such a wound would be painful, but not dangerous. It was enough, at any rate, to make bruin spin round. It saw Harry and paused.
Harry tried to steady himself for his third shot, but as he was in the very act of pressing the trigger the bear ducked its great head and swung round almost as quickly as a rabbit.
Again Harry's bullet went wide, and before he could fire again the shaggy monster dived in among the trees and vanished.
Harry was furious. So much so that, throwing all caution aside, he raced for the spot where his enemy had disappeared and plunged into the thicket after it.
He could see nothing. He stopped and listened, but there was not a sound. It came to him that the cunning beast was almost certainly close by, hidden probably behind a fallen log, and waiting for him to advance.
Prudence is sometimes the better part of valour, and this, Harry felt, was certainly one of those occasions. He retreated slowly, and, gaining the open, shouted to the shivering Indians to come back.
And they, well aware that their only chance of safety was close to the fire, crept up to it.
It was almost dark when Bart and Tod returned. They were carrying part of a caribou which they had killed, and were naturally anxious to know what Harry had been shooting at.
Harry, very much ashamed of himself, made open confession.
Bart shook his big head gravely.
"This beats all," he began. "That there bear must hev been a- watching the camp all day. He knowed he'd nothing to fear from the Injuns, so jest waited till you'd left to walk in and help himself to that there moose meat."
"It was all my fault," said Harry unhappily. "If I'd stuck to my post, I might have killed him."
"Not you, sonny," replied Bart. "It's as I tell you. Mister Bear, he'd never hev showed his nose so long as you was around. I tell you that feller knows a gun as well as you or I do. See the way he cleared when you began to shoot."
"It's a queer business altogether," put in Tod. "Seems to me that the beast can think almost like a man. He'll have one of those Indians pretty soon, even if he doesn't get one of us."
"That's certain sure," said Bart. "Tell you, boys, we got to get into winter quarters. Inside four walls we're safe enough. I reckon we'll move first thing in the morning, and pick our spot. It's going to be some place without a lot o' trees, too, let me tell you."
The boys agreed, and that evening the fire they made was a caution. There was, however, no sign of their enemy that night, nor in the morning, nor during their march down the valley.
About midday they reached a place of which Bart approved. It was a little rising ground near the river, and there were no thick trees within a couple of hundred yards. All the same, there was a good clump close by fit to split into logs, and that very afternoon they set to work to build.
The cabin Bart planned was the simplest thing possible; merely a one-roomed shack about twenty feet long by sixteen wide. The walls were of logs set by cutting deep notches in the ends, and made without a single nail. Such nails as they had were most precious, and were used only for door and windows.
It was wonderful what Bart could do with an axe. And the pace at which he worked was equally startling. He used the Indians to carry the logs and lift them into position, but he and the boys did all the actual work.
At the end of a week the cabin was finished. The outside was plastered with clay, the roof was thickly covered, first with branches, then with sods of earth, while the floor and fire-place alike were made of clay brought from the river.
The weather held wonderfully, and though there was frost at night, the days were warm and sunny. The best of it was that they saw nothing of their shaggy foe. Bart and the Indians, too, believed that the cunning brute was still watching them; but the boys began to hope that it was discouraged, and had gone off to look for winter quarters.
When the time came for the Indians to leave, they flatly refused to do so unless they were escorted out of the valley. There was no moving them from this decision, so Bart very unwillingly decided to give up a day to this job.
Tod was left in charge of the shack, and Harry went with Bart.
The wretched Indians were simply terrified. They kept as close as possible to the white men. But nothing happened, and just after midday they were clear of the valley, and carrying the presents which Bart had given them, set off rapidly across the open country.
"I'll bet they'll go twenty miles before they camp," said Bart, watching them. "But they needn't worry. That there bear is right here in the valley, and that's where he'll stay all winter."
"But don't bears lie up all through the cold?" asked Harry.
"That's so. They sleeps for about five months. But sleep time isn't come yet. Won't come till the weather gets real cold. No, sir, we got another month's trouble on our hands afore we feel safe like."
MUCH to their relief, they found Tod and the cabin all safe when they got back, and that night Bart told them about his plans for the immediate future.
Until the snow came they were to make every effort to lay in a big stock of meat.
"There's caribou round here all winter," he said, "and Arctic hare, and, mebbe, musk-ox. But we don't want to waste time a- hunting during the frost. We got to be setting of our traps and getting all the furs we can lay our hands on. Tomorrow we'll start out and try and find a bunch o' caribou. And ef we kin get another moose, so much the better."
Next morning they started early, but before leaving the cabin Bart was careful to close and fasten the strong shutter which covered the window. He also put in position two heavy bars which were fixed in slots across the door.
The boys made no remark; they knew the reason for these precautions without being told.
They went north into the depths of the valley, and the first thing they ran into was a big covey of pin-tail grouse. Rather to Harry's horror, Bart fired at them before they rose, killing eight.
Bart saw the look on Harry's face, and laughed rather grimly.
"I knows what you'd like to say, kid. But 'tisn't sport as we're out for. It's not hunting. And there isn't no store jest round the corner where we kin buy fresh cartridges. Just you mind that, both of you, and don't go wasting a shot ef you can help it."
There were plenty of hares hopping about, but these Bart would not let them fire at.
"The prairie chickens is all right, jest for a change of grub," he said, "but ef you boys want hares, you got to go and trap 'em."
Next, an Arctic fox ran across in front, but here again Bart restrained the boys. "His pelt isn't worth a half of what it'll be in six weeks' time," he told them. "And, anyways, a bullet isn't a-going to improve it, not for sale purposes."
It was nearly noon before they got on the track of caribou, and they followed the trail for two hours without seeing horn or hoof.
Bart began to look puzzled.
"It's real odd," he said. "Caribou is generally easy enough to fetch up with. But these hev been travelling fast. Something's scared 'em bad."
"What is it, Bart—the bear?" asked Harry.
Bart shook his head.
"Bear don't chase caribou. They knows better. Besides, where's the tracks?"
For some time they went on in silence. The bright morning had given way to a grey, dull afternoon. A fog was coming up.
"Guess we'll have to give up and go back," growled Bart. "Be too thick to see anything in another hour."
"The tracks seem perfectly fresh," said Tod. "Let's go as far as that next clump of trees."
Bart nodded and they moved on. But the fog rapidly thickened, and by the time they reached the trees it was quite clear that they could do no more shooting that afternoon.
Bart swung round, and took the trail home again. He was clearly worried by their failure to get any game worth having.
"Another day wasted," he grumbled. "And we haven't a lot o' time before the snow comes along."
They had covered about a mile of their homeward way when Bart stopped short and stood listening.
From far away in the fog came a faint snarling, yapping sound. For a moment or two all three stood perfectly silent.
Harry was the first to speak.
"Wolves," he said in a low voice.
"Wolves, I reckon," answered Bart in an equally low tone. "Doggone brutes! That's what's made them caribou so shy."
The cries came nearer. It was not a pleasant sound. There was something hideously wild and savage in the long-drawn howls, which came through the veil of grey vapour covering the whole valley.
"Makes one's blood run cold," whispered Harry to Tod.
"I know," returned Tod. "All I hope is that they'll stick to the caribou, and not start chivvying us."
Bart had stopped again, and there was a curiously puzzled look in his keen eyes.
"What's the matter, Bart?" asked Tod.
Bart shook himself like a big dog.
"Nothing," he answered curtly. "Come right along."
The pace at which he started off was a very rapid one, and gave the boys all they could do to keep up.
Presently the wild howlings diminished in volume. The pack seemed to be circling away again.
"I say, Bart," remarked Harry, "do these wolves ever tackle people?"
"Depends on the wolves," Bart answered shortly.
"How do you mean?"
"Whether they're hungry or not. These here timber-wolves is regular fiends, and in the frost-time there isn't anything as they won't go for."
"But not now. They can get plenty of game still, can't they?"
"Aye, it's too early in the season for them to be dangerous yet," agreed Bart. "But I tell you I hates 'em. There isn't no beast in the woods as I hates like I do a wolf."
He shivered slightly as he spoke—then after a pause went on:
"I laid up three days once in a hole in the rocks with about a hundred of 'em all around me. I was near froze to death and hungry as any wolf o' the lot. Ef it hadn't hev been for my pardner, Mike Cassidy, as come to look for me with two other chaps, I wouldn't be here to-day. I tell you I was all in when they lit a fire and thawed me out."
He fell silent again, and the three walked on for some time without speaking. The howls had died away altogether, and barring the distant murmur of the river the silence was so intense that it was positively oppressive.
Then quite suddenly the cries burst out again, and this time much nearer.
For a third time Bart stopped, and now he was really worried. He opened the breech of his rifle, and looked to see that a cartridge was in the chamber.
"Are they going to tackle us, Bart?" asked Harry.
"Bothered if I know. By the sound they're right after us. Yet I can't hardly believe it. As I told ye, wolves don't monkey with men when they kin get other game."
The cries grew rapidly louder, and now there was a new note in them. It was less like the long-drawn wolf howl, and much more like the full-toned cry of a pack of hounds.
Bart gave a queer harsh exclamation.
"Them's not wolves," he said. "Them's not wolves. Heaven help us, lads. Them's 'huskies.'"
"Huskies," repeated Harry. "Sledge dogs. What harm will they do us?"
"You don't get me. They're malamutes, dogs as is half wolves, and worse than wolves, because they're not afraid o' man. And these here must be some as has been left behind in the valley, and half starved."
BART spoke with a deadly earnestness which fully convinced both Harry and Tod that their chances were of the slimmest.
"And now run!" he said. "Run as if all the fiends in the bad place were after you!"
He started as he spoke, and the boys followed.
"Keep right along beside me," he added, as he ran, "and if either of you gets too done to keep up, give a shout."
The fog was so dense that no landmarks were visible. Alone, the two boys would have been hopelessly lost, but Bart seemed to know his way by instinct, and cut straight across the valley in the direction of the shack. The pace he set was a precious stiff one, and it was all that Harry and Tod could do to keep up.
And behind them the deep baying of the malamutes came nearer and louder through the veil of fog. On they went. They were not following the river or the tracks by which they had come. Bart was making a bee-line for the cabin and taking them across the wildest, roughest ground. He led them through a patch of heavy forest, where the fog dew dripped from the dark green branches, and across an open savannah, where the thick grass was wet and spongy. Then the ground began to rise, and their breath came hard and their hearts pounded as they breasted the steep slope.
"Keep right on!" panted Bart. "We haven't a great ways to go now. I reckon the cabin isn't more'n half a mile away."
His voice was almost drowned by a fresh outburst of howls from the pack, and, tired as they were, the hideous din drove the two boys to a final sprint.
They were going downhill again now. The ridge they had crossed was just the end of a mountain spur which ran far out into the valley.
Their pace quickened as they tore down the slope. They were fairly racing, when suddenly Bart gave a yell and pulled up short, just in time to save himself from pitching headlong into a deep, dark ravine which cut across their path.
It was at least thirty feet deep and twelve to fourteen feet wide, and stretched away on either side so far that its ends were lost in the fog.
It was plain, on the face of it, that there was not time to go round. The pack would be on them long before they could do that.
"We must jump it," gasped Harry. "It's our only chance."
He was stepping back to get a run, when Bart seized him.
"You're crazy!" he snapped. "There isn't no take off. There's no sense in breaking your neck. Wait!"
There were a few stunted pines growing along the edge of the ravine. One had fallen, or rather been blown down, and the gnarled old log lay close beside the great gap. Before Harry realized what Bart was after, the big man had stooped, flung his arms around the log, and, exerting every ounce of his giant strength, had lifted it, then with a terrific effort had flung it from him.
The far end struck the other side of the ravine, quivered a moment, then settled into position. Before Harry and Tod had recovered from their amazement at this prodigious feat of strength, Bart had stepped upon the log and was striding across.
"Quick!" he shouted, turning on the far side. "Sharp with you! Here they be!"
There was no need for his warning. The leaders of the pack, huge shaggy brutes, were already in plain sight. Harry made a dash across, and Tod followed. Tod's foot slipped on the rotten bark, and he was within an ace of going head foremost into the depths, but Bart thrust out a long arm, seized him, and dragged him to safety.
Almost at the same moment the ravening pack came flashing up, and their leaders reached the opposite side of the gorge.
The first, a wise old dog, turned aside, but the second, a younger, wilder-looking animal, made a quick leap, and landed almost in the centre of the log.
Like a flash Bart stooped, picked up a big stone, and flung it with all his force. There was a thud as the great lump of rock struck the wretched dog on the shoulder, a yelp of agony, then down it went, turning over and dropping into the darksome depths below.
The rest, appalled by its fate, paused. They howled and yelped furiously. All the far bank was a seething mass of shaggy heads, gleaming eyes, and snapping white fangs.
"That'll do," jerked Bart. "Come on, lads. This gives us our chance."
He was off again as hard as before. His strength was like iron, and his endurance a marvel to the two boys. They followed, but Harry, glancing back over his shoulder, saw that the pressure from behind had forced several of the huskies over the edge into the ravine, but that the rest were turning and galloping down the side of the deep crevasse.
He himself was badly blown, and his heart was thumping against his ribs as if it would burst. Tod, he saw, was equally done. The sweat was streaming down his face, and he was swaying as he ran.
"Hold up, lads!" came Bart's encouraging shout. "We're 'most there."
He pointed as he spoke, and Harry was never more relieved in his life than when he saw, looming through the grey smother, the squat shape of their solid little shack.
The sight gave Tod and himself fresh energy, and they made a final spurt. It was as well, too, for by the fiendish yelling from the pack it was plain that the bulk of them had found their way around the lower end of the ravine and were again taking up the chase.
The three had come down upon the back of the shack. Bart swung slightly to reach the front and the door. The boys, close behind, saw him pull up short and hastily start disengaging his rifle from the strap by which it was slung across his back.
Next instant they saw the reason. There, right in front of the house, was the Ghost Bear looming gigantic in the fog.
The brute was standing on its hind legs and with its monstrous front paws was striving to break away the solid bar of timber which secured the upper part of the door.
"Of all the doggone impudence!" panted Bart, as he struggled to get his rifle clear.
But the leather strap had twisted, and though Harry helped him to clear it the delay was fatal, for the Ghost Bear, which clearly knew exactly for how little its monstrous muscles counted against powder and a nickel-tipped bullet, had dropped down and swung clumsily, yet wonderfully quickly, out of sight around the corner of the hut.
"Open the door, you chaps, I got to get him," cried Bart hoarsely, as he flung down the lever which threw a cartridge into the breech and ran forward.
"Look out, Bart!" shouted Harry. "The dogs are right after us."
But Bart was already round the corner, and Harry rushed for the door.
The lower bar he flung aside in a moment, but when he came to move the upper he found that the bear, in trying to loosen it, had managed to wedge it so tightly that he could not get it out of its slots.
"Give me a hand, Tod," he cried, and Tod put his whole weight upon it.
But it would not budge.
"Bart!" shouted Harry. "Bart!"
The answer was the vicious crack of Bart's rifle.
"Bart!" shrieked Harry at the pitch of his voice. "Bart, we can't open the door, and here are the dogs."
This time Bart heard.
"I'm coming," he shouted.
It was too late. By the time he reached the door the pack was in sight again, coming up in a solid mass through the fog, from the direction of the forest. In spite of the number that had gone down into the ravine, there were still a score or more left.
"The roof! It's our only chance," cried Bart. "This way!"
He dashed round to the back, where the eaves were only about seven feet from the ground.
"Up you go!" he said, and, seizing Harry, fairly flung him up. Then he caught hold of Tod and sent him flying after, and just as the first of the pack came raging up to the front of the hut he scrambled up beside them.
"Here's a nice go!" he growled in a tone of the deepest disgust. "'Twixt the devil and the deep sea, I calls it. And 'tisn't as if I'd got the bear, neither. I missed him clean as a whistle. Suppose my hand shook arter all this here running. Not that that's any real excuse."
Harry was hardly listening. He and Tod were both watching the pack, which had come surging up solidly against the front of the shack and were leaping against it, yelling like mad things. Seemingly, they had not seen their quarry, who were flattened on the roof, but fancied that they were inside.
Some of them, however, were casting around with their noses close upon the ground, and all of a sudden one of these set up a most peculiar and extraordinary howling.
This seemed to attract the attention of the others, which broke away from the hut and joined the one that was howling. Then in a flash they had all joined in.
"By gum, it's the bear they smells," whispered Bart. "Aye, that's it. Watch 'em!"
Sure enough, the first had swung away and was running hard, with head low and nostrils close to the ground. At once the others followed. Inside fifteen seconds the last had vanished in the fog. Their cries grew fainter in the distance.
Bart sat up. He drew a long breath.
"Gee, boys, but that old bear's a-going to get snuff!" he remarked, and a slow grin curled his lips. "Wal, I guess the best thing we can do is to get inside while we got the chance. I can't say I'm a-hankering to spend the night up here on the roof in the fog."
Bart's great strength made short work of the jammed bar, and presently all three were inside, with the door firmly fastened and barred. And precious thankful they were, too. The last hour had provided them with thrills sufficient for a lifetime.
"Think those dogs will kill the bear, Bart?" asked Harry, as he put a match to the fire.
Bart was cleaning his rifle. He looked up.
"More like the bear'll kill the dogs," he answered. "Anyways, that's what I'm a-hoping for. Ghost bears is mighty bad neighbours, but I don't reckon they're as bad as crazy, wild huskies. Besides, as I told ye, bears lies up in winter, but dogs doesn't. It's not a lot o' skins you and me's going to get with them hungry brutes a-ragin' around the valley."
"I wonder how they came here?" said Tod musingly.
"Some one left 'em. Or, more like, some chap come through here with a team and went sick or died of accident, and his dogs broke loose and went wild. They been here a good time, that lot have. Some on 'em has been bred here."
He told them many interesting things about sledge dogs, such as how the Stick Indians keep their breeds up by crossing them with wild wolves. But that night they neither saw nor heard anything more of the malamutes or the bear. They ate their supper in peace and comfort, and all being thoroughly tired, turned in early.
NEXT morning the fog was gone and the sun shining beautifully. But it was colder than of late, and Bart, sniffing the air, decided that snow was nearly due, and that they must hurry and get in meat enough for the winter.
"Tell you what, boys," he said. "First thing we'll do is to track up the bear a piece, and see what he's done to them huskies. Then one of us'll stay at home and lie doggo in case Mister Bear pays a call, and the other two'll go after caribou."
The bear's tracks were plain enough, and Bart followed them for nearly a mile. Then, at the foot of a great rock, they came upon a scene of battle.
Around the rock lay the remains of no fewer than fourteen of the wild dogs.
Bart surveyed them with evident satisfaction.
"Fer once, old bear done us a mighty good turn," he said. "There isn't more'n half a dozen o' them huskies left alive, an' I guess them that is left won't do us much harm."
"And what about the bear himself?" inquired Harry.
"Pretty sore, I guess," said Bart. "He'll lie up now fer a day or two. I reckon we're all right for a piece, anyways."
They turned and went back towards the hut, for they meant to make a fresh start northwards.
As they neared it, Harry pricked up his ears.
"What's that?" he demanded. "Surely to goodness it's not huskies again!"
"That's just what it is," Bart answered. "Only this time they're not a-baying, but a-howling."
"The sound comes from that ravine," asserted Tod.
"Thet's right," replied Bart, and suddenly his eyes gleamed. "Say, boys, I believe we're in luck after all," he exclaimed.
"How do you mean?" asked Harry eagerly.
"Them dogs—some of 'em—is still alive down in that there pit. What's the matter with having a pack of our own? I guess they'll come in mighty handy to haul our stuff out in the spring."
Harry and Tod stared at him in amazement. They could not divine what he was after. How could it be possible to catch and train these savage brutes that were more than half wolves?
"Come right along," said Bart. "We'll go and see how many there is left alive down there."
It was quite a short distance from the cabin to the ravine. In the bright morning sunshine this showed as a deep crack in the ground, running from a point about two hundred yards up the hill- side, nearly as far as the creek. Its sides were walls of sheer rock, and the bottom was dry enough. It varied from ten to more than thirty feet deep.
"Earthquake crack, I reckon," was Bart's comment, as he surveyed it. "Now, then, where's these here huskies?"
The melancholy howling had stopped. The huskies had scented the approach of men, and were evidently in hiding. Bart and the two boys walked up the length of the ravine, looking over into it as they went, and it was Bart's trained eyes that first picked out a couple of the animals cowering under a big boulder which lay at the bottom of the crevasse. They lay flat on their bellies in the darkest of the shadow, motionless as the rock itself. Bart called to them, but they did not move an inch, only lay there glaring up with eyes which shone like balls of green fire.
"Poor brutes, they're scared to death," said Tod.
Bart gave a short laugh.
"You go down in there and see what happens," he remarked. "They're jest wild beasts, Tod."
"Then how the mischief are we ever going to tame them?" asked Harry.
"They're more'n half dog, Harry. That's what makes the difference. It's the call of the blood. Once we gets hold of 'em they'll calm down all right. Come along and let's see how many there is alive."
They went right up to the head of the ravine, and counted eight huskies alive and apparently unhurt. There were two dead, including the one that Bart had killed with the stone.
Bart nodded with a satisfied expression on his bearded face.
"Eight'll make a right good sledge team," he said. "Come along, boys. I guess we'll go arter them caribou right away."
"But what about the dogs?" asked Harry. "You're not going to leave them there to starve?"
"That's jest what I am going to do, sonny. Aye, it sounds cruel, I'll allow, but we can't do a thing with them until they're real hungry. They got to learn to take meat right out of our hands before we can begin work on 'em."
The boys, as usual, bowed to Bart's judgment, and they started on the same track as previously. That day they did better, and Bart shot two caribou. They came home laden with meat.
Next morning early Bart went out with a pail and drew water from the creek. He carried it to the ravine and filled a little hollow in the rocks at the bottom of the dog's prison.
When they came back that evening the water was all gone, and Bart put in fresh.
"Got to give 'em drink," he said. "Anyways, it accustoms them to come down this end."
The third day a cold fog hung over the valley, and hunting was out of the question. When they went to look at the dogs the poor creatures seemed to have fallen away to skin and bone. Harry cried out at their condition.
But Bart was in no hurry.
"You needn't to worry," he said. "In winter a pack often goes a week without grub. These won't take no harm so long as they gets water. However, as there isn't nothing else to do to-day, we may as well see if there's any of 'em as will come to hand. Harry, you bring a chunk of meat along."
While Harry got the meat, Bart cut a long pole. He tied the meat to the end of this, and walked up the side of the ravine. When he saw a dog he pushed the meat down towards it. But to the great surprise of Harry and Tod the huskies refused it, and even when it was pushed quite near to them they shrank away growling.
"Told you so," jerked out Bart, as they came near to the head of the ravine. "They're still plumb wild."
"Wait a jiffy," said Harry. "There's one more. That chap lying in the little hole under the far bank. He looks interested. Give me the pole, Bart. Let me try him."
Harry lowered the meat quietly down to the bottom, and at the same time spoke gently to the dog.
To his delight, the animal rose to its feet and came out. Slowly, it is true, and suspiciously, but, still, it acted much more like a dog than a wild beast.
"That's an old sledge dog," said Bart. "A team leader, I reckon. He's, sure, a fine beast."
The dog was, indeed, a splendid animal. It stood about thirty inches at the shoulder, and could have weighed nearly eighty pounds, if in any sort of condition. Its coat was thick as a collie's and its head broad and well-shaped.
"Keep quiet, Bart," whispered Harry. "He's going to take the meat."
Sure enough, the dog, after sniffing the meat for several seconds, seemed to make up his mind that it was good, and began deliberately to bite off a portion. Harry let him take a fair- sized piece, then drew the rest away.
"What did I tell you, Bart?" he said. "I'll have him tame inside forty-eight hours if you'll let me."
"Sure, I'll let you. Only don't you go monkeying down in the crack there unless I'm along."
"Right," Harry answered. "And as you're here now, what's the matter with going down at once?"
Bart stared at Harry in silence for some seconds.
"You got pluck, young 'un," he exclaimed. "All right, I'm not going to deny you. Tod, put that there rope around him."
A minute later Harry was being lowered quietly down into the ravine. The big husky had finished its meat. It stood quite still, looked fixedly at Harry. And Harry secretly wondered whether next moment the powerful beast would not leap straight at his throat.
But whatever his thoughts, he kept a bold front, and looked steadfastly into the big dog's eyes.
Reaching the bottom, he stood perfectly still. Then, as the dog did not move or even growl, he took the rest of the meat from his pocket and held it out to the animal.
For nearly a minute the two stood facing one another. Tod and Bart, up above, watched breathlessly.
Presently the dog stepped forward with short, stiff steps. Still Harry did not move. The dog came nearer—nearer, and at last the watchers saw it actually take the meat from Harry's hand.
[ILLUSTRATION MISSING FROM BOOK]
Harry let his hand slide forward. It touched the shaggy head. The dog flinched slightly, but did not stop eating. Next minute Harry was scratching its head gently and talking to it in a low, soft voice.
"He's done the trick," whispered Bart to Tod. "That there dog'll be sleeping in the cabin to-night."
"But how are we going to get him up?" asked Tod.
"You watch," smiled Bart, and, as he spoke, Harry was taking the rope off his own waist and making a sling around the body of the dog.
"Haul away," he said presently, and up came the great husky. A moment later Harry followed, and the first thing the husky did was to jump excitedly up on him and try to lick his face.
From that time forth both Harry and "Brand," as he named the dog, were perfect pals. Brand was friendly with Bart and Tod, but it was to Harry that he gave all the love in his great heart.
IT was on the tenth morning after their arrival in the valley that they woke to find a tingling chill in the air and the ground covered with about three inches of new-fallen snow.
Bart looked out on the white world and shook his big head.
"I knowed we wouldn't have time enough," he grumbled. "We haven't got near as much meat as I'd like to see."
"Bart, you're a horrid old grouser!" laughed Harry. "There's at least two ton of stuff in the storehouse. Surely that will see us through?"
"See us, mebbe, but what about them dogs? We'd ought to have two or three thousand pound weight o' salmon for them. We don't want to feed good venison to 'em."
Harry looked thoughtful.
"Tell you what, Bart. There isn't a lot of snow yet and it's a fine day. Couldn't we try to find the old bear? If we could manage to slay him, we'd not only be getting rid of a danger, but he'd give us half a ton more of good meat."
Bart considered a minute.
"Not a bad idea, kid! Ef he's been abroad anywheres we'd ought to trail him easy. I guess we'll try it, anyways."
So the hunt was decided upon, and while they ate their breakfast of flap jack, coffee, and venison, they discussed their plans.
The sun was just above the mountains and shining brilliantly on the clean snow when the three started. Four, rather, for Brand came with them. The rest of the pack they left in the kennel enclosure which had been built for them. They were now tame enough, but could not be trusted to come to heel like Brand. Brand, it was clear, had once been somebody's pet, for he seemed to know everything that was said to him.
This time they did not go down the valley. Bart led them up the slopes to the east. That was the direction in which they had last seen the Ghost Bear.
They had marched for two hours and seen no sign of its trail, when, as they passed through a belt of pines high on the mountain-side, they suddenly saw a great moose standing right on the edge of the timber. The distance was more than two hundred yards, and it was quite clear that they could not possibly get close to him without being seen.
"Have to chance it, I guess," whispered Bart, and, laying down in the snow, took up a position as if target shooting.
For quite a quarter of a minute he lay there, cuddling his rifle stock against his cheek. At last a ringing crack broke the frosty stillness, the moose leapt into the air, and fell with a crash, stone dead.
Bart's keen eyes twinkled a little as he listened to the congratulations of Harry and Tod.
"I'll allow it warn't exactly a bad shot," he admitted, as he started forward.
For the next hour all hands were busy, skinning and quartering the splendid beast. They were all delighted, for this was a magnificent addition to their winter store. When they had finished the job they lit a fire and cooked some delicious steaks for their dinner. Brand had his share, and greatly enjoyed it.
"Now I guess we'll hang the meat up to this here tree," said Bart, "and go on arter Mister Bear."
This was done, and they went on up into the wild hills. The snow was deeper here, and it was bitterly cold. But their luck was clean out, and, as the winter day began to close down, Bart gave the word to start home.
"We'll tote as much of the meat as we can carry and bring the dogs and the sledge for the rest to-morrow," he added.
They made good speed down the slopes, and it was still daylight when they came near the tree.
Harry pulled up short and stared.
"Where's the meat?" he demanded.
Bart uttered an angry exclamation.
"By gum, but it's gone!" he cried, and ran forward.
All the meat had been dragged down from the high branch on which it had been hung. Part lay on the ground, but the best was gone altogether.
"It's that dratted bear!" said Bart, frowning. "Yes, look at them there marks." He pointed as he spoke to the huge footprints which were stamped deep into the snow.
"It's the Ghost Bear all right," agreed Harry. "There can't be another beast in this country with feet that size!"
Brand was smelling about, snuffing eagerly at the tainted snow. He came running back to Harry and looked up into his face.
"Catch hold o' him, Harry," said Bart. "Don't let him go tracking off, or the bear'll kill him. I guess we'd better get right on home now, and start off early to-morrow morning."
"Why wait for to-morrow, Bart?" demanded Tod suddenly. "Why not go now?"
"You're crazy. It'll be dark in a hour."
"It won't," answered Tod. "There's a good moon to-night. Plenty to give us light to find our way home. Let's go now."
"Do let's try it, Bart?" put in Harry. "The brute can't be very far away. I do wish you'd let us try. The beggar may be miles away to-morrow."
"I never did like night hunting," he said slowly. "And this here bear is no sort o' beast to go chasing around after even by moonlight. See here, I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll follow these here tracks so long as it's daylight. Ef we comes up with Mister Bear afore dark, thet's all right. But ef we don't, we turns right round and goes home. You get me?"
The boys agreed, and they all started off in a hurry. Back they went right uphill, only not in the same direction as before. Presently they found themselves working up a deep cleft which seemed to run deep into the heart of the mountain-side.
The farther they went, the narrower grew the defile and the steeper its sides. Down at the bottom it was nearly dark, though the snow up above on the slopes still reflected a rosy glow. Along the bottom the great paw marks went steadily onwards.
Bart looked about uneasily.
"It's mighty nigh time to turn round," he said.
"Just a little farther," begged Tod. "Let's get round that bend. Then if we can't see anything we'll go home."
Bart nodded, and they went on. The valley bent to the left. They rounded the turn. In front, about a hundred yards away, the defile ended in sheer cliff. At the foot of the cliff a cave mouth yawned like a black blot against the snow.
Bart gave a low whistle, and came to a full stop.
"Guess we've struck Mister Bear's winter residence," he remarked.
"Then we've got him!" exclaimed Harry in delight.
"That's what you think, is it, Harry? Let me tell you, I'd jest as soon put my head into a lion's jaws as walk into that there cave."
Harry looked at Bart blankly.
"Then how are we going to get the bear?" he asked.
"We aren't a-going to get him—not this trip, anyways," Bart answered with decision. "No," he went on, "it isn't a mite of good you two looking so disappointed. I'm not a-going to commit suicide, nor let you do it either. Guns or no guns, we wouldn't have a dog's chance once we was inside that there cave. Like as not, old Mister Bear is jest a-watching us this minute, and wishing as the flies 'ud walk into the spider's parlour, so to speak."
"Then there's nothing for it but to go home?" said Harry, in a very unhappy tone of voice.
"That's so," replied Bart. "Still, you needn't to think that we've wasted the afternoon. We've learnt where the old beggar lives when he's at home, and I reckon that's where he's going to lie up for the winter."
"Then we can get him later," exclaimed Harry eagerly.
"I'll allow I'm hoping so," said Bart. "And now, as it's mighty nigh dark, we'd best be pushing back."
It was a long, hard tramp back to the hut at the bottom of the valley, and but for the light of the moon it would have been difficult to find their way. It was past eight when they got in, and they were only too glad to light the fire and sit round it, and eat their venison steaks and drink hot coffee.
NEXT morning it was snowing again, and they could not get out. That did not matter, for there was heaps to do indoors. Under Bart's tuition they made snow-shoes, and when that was done they had the traps to grease and set in order and a number of jobs of that kind to attend to.
The wind blew hard, and for two days and nights a regular blizzard raged. When it cleared on the third morning the whole face of the country was altered. Big drifts almost hid the stream, and against the shack the snow lay banked almost to the eaves.
Neither Harry nor Tod had yet spent a winter in the North, and the consequence was that neither of them had ever been on snowshoes. So the first thing Bart did was to take them out and teach them.
At first the two thought it was going to be fun. They didn't think so that night, when they lay in their bunks with their ankles aching so that they could not sleep. It took them three days to get the hang of it, and it was some of the hardest work they had ever done in their lives. But they stuck it out, and at the end of a week could run almost as well as their teacher himself.
All this time it was getting colder and colder. The bite of the frost was so fierce that a bucket of water would freeze within ten feet of the roaring fire.
In the evenings, when the snowshoe practice was over, when the wood had been cut and the dogs fed, they were still busy. Under Bart's direction they made parkas, that is, fur hoods, and also fur gloves, out of the skins of some hares which Bart had trapped.
As soon as the snow stopped falling and the gales dropped, Bart started trapping in earnest. Every morning he and one of the boys started off to visit the traps, which were set in a great ring in various likely spots.
Harry and Tod soon found that Bart was an absolute expert. He seemed to know by instinct exactly where to set each trap, and there was never a day but what at least one animal was brought in.
Foxes were not yet at their best, so Bart was not trying for them; but they got numbers of mink and such small fry, and several fine wolverines. They also hunted down and shot a very fine panther.
This brought to mind their old friend the Ghost Bear. Not that he was ever very far away from their thoughts.
"What about going and routing him out?" suggested Harry. "He'll be sound enough asleep by this time, won't he?" Bart nodded, then frowned.
"That's so, Harry. Yes, I guess it's a job we've got to tackle some time."
"You don't seem keen about it, Bart," laughed Harry.
"For a fact, I'm not," Bart answered gravely. "It's a case of letting sleeping dogs lie, so far as I'm concerned."
"But we've got to do it some time," urged Harry.
"I knows it," grumbled Bart. "Right you are. We'll go along up to-morrow."
He rose and stretched his giant frame.
"I guess it's bed-time," he said.
The boys had begun to set aside the furs on which they were busy with their needles, when, all of a sudden, the quiet of the nights was broken by a tremendous racket from outside. The huskies had all started barking together. Instantly old Brand, who lived in the house, was up and growling fiercely.
"Now what's the trouble?" growled Bart, as he stepped towards the door.
As he opened it, a draught of cold air rushed in, so cold that it froze the moisture in the heated room and turned it instantly into tiny snowflakes, which fluttered to the floor.
There was no moon, but the Northern Lights, dancing weirdly in the northern sky, flung a shimmering radiance over the silent snow.
"Quiet dogs!" cried Bart, and at the sound of his voice the yelping ceased, but the shaggy beasts still growled angrily.
"What is it, Bart?" asked Harry. "Not the bear?"
Before Bart could answer, another voice was heard.
"Hi, call them dawgs off!" it came hoarsely.
In a flash Harry and Tod were on their feet.
"A man!" exclaimed Harry incredulously.
"The dogs is all right," Bart answered. "They're kennelled. Come right on up."
"Who is he? What is he?" demanded the boys in one breath, as they came pushing up into the doorway.
"I don't know no more than you," replied Bart. "Here he be. We'll see what he've got to say."
Sure enough, the stranger was coming up the little slope that led to the cabin. As he came within the radius of the light which streamed out from the open door, they saw that he was an undersized man of any age between thirty and fifty. His face was so covered with hair and dirt under his grimy parka that it was impossible to say.
He was dressed in furs—furs that were so worn, so grimy and shabby that they were little more than half-tanned leather. His eyes were bloodshot, he was miserably thin, and he stumbled as he walked. He seemed to be almost all in.
"Crimes, but this here's luck!" he said in a thick voice. "I never reckoned to find white men in this here valley."
"Come right in," invited Bart. "Boys, fix some coffee and grub. Sit you down here, stranger."
The man dropped on the stool which Bart pushed forward. He pulled off his mitts, showing hands cracked by frostbite and black as a native's. Then he pushed his hood back, and Harry, glancing at him, could not repress a slight shiver. Never in his life had he seen a human being who reminded him more strongly of a wolf.
The kettle was boiling. It was only a few moments before coffee was ready, and broiled venison. Harry put these and some biscuits on the table, and the man fell upon them with wolf-like ferocity.
So far he had not offered any information as to himself, and Bart, with the true hospitality of the North, did not dream of asking him a question.
Twice Harry had to set more food before the man before at last he was satisfied.
Then he looked up.
"Got any whisky?" he asked.
Bart shook his head gravely.
"We don't use spirits 'cept in case of illness," he remarked. "But here's some baccy, if you needs it."
The fellow took out a blackened pipe and filled it.
"Gosh, that's good!" he said, as he lit it and drew a deep mouthful of smoke. "You mustn't mind me asking for whisky. I don't use it a lot myself."
Tod leant over and whispered in Harry's ear.
"That's a lie, Harry. You've only got to look at him to know better."
Harry nodded. For himself, the more he looked at the man, the less he liked him.
Fed and warmed, the stranger began to talk.
"Guess you're as much surprised to see me as I were to run upon you," he began. Then, as no one seemed anxious to contradict the statement, he went on. "My name's Sawdye—Jonas Sawdye. I were one o' the crew o' the sealer Tacoma, what was wrecked up north o' this a matter of two months agone. Four of us got ashore, and we struck south, a-hoping to make the trading post down to Shunigan Island. But a b'ar got one chap, and two others got froze in the blizzard, and I'm the only one as is left. And I were just about finished when I seed this here light o' yours," he ended.
"I'm mighty glad you did," said Bart. "It's a bad country to have to travel through this time o' year. Well, I guess you're right tired. We can fix you with a bunk if you'd like to turn in."
Sawdye allowed he needed sleep badly, and they fixed him up in the spare bunk, where he was soon snoring noisily. To the great disgust of Harry and Tod, he had not changed his clothes, nor even so much as washed his hands.
"Nice if we've got to have a pig of that sort bunking with us all winter," growled Tod as he watched him.
"It will be the very mischief," agreed Harry.
Next morning, when they roused out, Sawdye was still asleep. He did not attempt to get up until breakfast was ready. Then he crawled out, and was coming straight to the table when Bart stopped him.
"The wash-basin's over thar," he said mildly. "And there's plenty o' hot water in the kettle."
Sawdye scowled, then his expression changed and he smiled crookedly.
"Guess I kind o' got out o' civilized ways," was his snarling apology, as he went for a "lick and a promise." When he came to the table, his manners were simply beastly.
The meal over, Tod washed up and Bart went out to the dogs. Harry followed.
"I say, Bart," he began, as soon as they were out of earshot, "we can't have that fellow living in the shanty all winter."
Bart looked at Harry.
"What do you reckon to do with him?" he asked quietly.
"Send him on his way. Tod and I cant stand him. He—he smells."
Bart smiled grimly.
"And supposing he won't go?"
"Then we'll kick him out. Or else let him build another shack. He's the limit."
"I'll allow he's not what you might call a choice specimen of humanity," said Bart. "And it's a mighty serious matter having an extra mouth to feed. But thar's jest one thing you can't do up this country—and that is ask a feller to move on. Whether you likes him or hates him, you got to put up with him. And see here, Harry," he went on, "we've got to get more meat, anyways. I guess you and me had better git right on up arter Mister Bear to- day."
"What about Tod—can't he come?"
Bart shook his head.
"I'd hate to leave Jonas Sawdye alone in the shack," he said. "I guess it wouldn't be long afore he found them there three bottles o' brandy we got stored under the floor. And like as not he'd get mad drunk and burn the whole show down."
Harry frowned. He almost scowled. It was intolerable to think of everything being upset by the unexpected arrival of this ruffian.
Returning to the shack, Bart took Tod aside and explained matters, and poor Tod was left to keep company with the unsavoury Jonas while the other two went off to make their attempt on the Ghost Bear's stronghold.
It was a perfect day, and, though the temperature was many degrees below zero, there was no wind, and the cold, therefore, was not intolerable. The snow being in excellent condition, the pair made good speed, and reached the great cañon, in which the cave was about midway.
They passed rapidly up the deep and gloomy ravine, but when they reached the curve near the inner end both stopped short in amazement.
"Where's the cave gone?" demanded Harry, as he looked in vain for the entrance.
"Snow slide's covered it," replied Bart briefly.
Harry whistled, or rather tried to, for his lips were cracked with the frost.
"Then we're done in," he said.
"That depends on how much snow thar is," replied Bart. "I guess we'll go right up and have a look."
They went on, and found that a mass of soft snow had slipped down from above, quite hiding the mouth of the cave. Bart examined it, and probed it with the small shovel they always carried for trap setting.
"Guess we kin get through all right," he said, and at once started to dig. Harry helped as well as he could.
At first Bart got on very well, but presently the loose stuff began to slide from above, and this made a lot of extra work. But Bart stuck to it, and he and Harry took turns to dig.
But the days were already growing short, and dusk began to fall before they had reached the opening. Bart stood up and straightened his tall frame.
"Reckon we'll finish to-morrow," he said. "Mister Bear, he won't shift. He sleeps mighty sound in this here cold."
They started back. The sun had set by the time they reached the mouth of the gorge, but a rosy sunset glowed on the snow, and showed a small black figure, a mere dot in the distance, coming rapidly towards them.
Harry stopped, and taking his field glasses from their case, put them to his eyes and focused them.
"Bart," he snapped out, "it's Tod. And he's running like smoke. Something's wrong."
TOD was certainly coming like smoke. Bart and Harry hurried forward to meet him, and they met half-way between the trees and the mouth of the gorge.
"They've carted me out. They've got the shack," gasped Tod. He was panting so that he could hardly speak.
"Who has?" cried Harry. "What do you mean? Is it Sawdye?"
Tod drew a long, whistling breath. "Three more chaps turned up," he began. "Pals of Sawdye. He lied when he said they were dead. They're worse than he. They sneaked in when I wasn't looking—caught me off my guard, and got me down. Then they laughed at me."
Tod stopped, panting with anger at the recollection.
"I asked them what they meant by it, and they told me that up here it was every man for himself—that they had had enough of tramping around in the snow, and now they'd found a snug shack with plenty of grub they meant to stick to it. Then they threw me out. I heard them laughing all the way as I went up the hill."
Harry swung round on Bart. "What did I tell you? I knew Sawdye was a blackguard." Bart's face was grave enough, but he remained perfectly cool and collected.
"I never thought he was anything else," he answered, "but I'll own it never struck me that there were any more of his lot around. But I sees it now. They sent him along to scout, and I haven't a doubt but what he was to give 'em a sign as soon as the coast was clear."
"He must have," said Tod. "I remember he asked me to make some coffee and he went out to bring in some wood. And what are we to do now, I should like to know?"
"Go right back and turn them out," said Harry fiercely.
Bart looked at the boy. "And how do you reckon we can set about that?" he asked quietly.
"We've got our guns," cried Harry.
"And what use are they against the walls of the shack? You ought to know. You helped to build 'em."
Harry was silent.
"And what would they be doing meanwhile?" continued Bart remorselessly. "Do you reckon they haven't got guns? I bet they have, and know how to use 'em, too. Let me tell you. Those chaps isn't shipwrecked sailors. They're 'hootch' sellers."
"Whisky smugglers!" exclaimed Harry.
"That's it. Fellers as spreads ruin among the Injuns, and lays up trouble for all as comes after 'em," said Bart very gravely. "Now, see here, boys," he went on. "I'm just as keen to get back on these scoundrels as you are yourselves, but this here is a big job, and not one to run into without thinking it over first. And it's no manner of use to go tackling it to-night. In the first place, Harry and me is pretty well tired out; in the second they'll be lying awake expecting us. And being as they're four to three and in possession of the shack, the odds is all in their favour."
"But we can't stay out in the open all night," broke in Harry. "We'll freeze to death."
"We're not a-going to stay out," answered Bart, "not while there's a mighty fine cave a-waiting to be occupied."
"The bear's cave, you mean?" demanded Harry.
"Jost so. Another hour's digging and I guess we'll be in all right. And bear's steak'll make grub to go on with, and bear's hide's a mighty good covering against the cold."
"Right," said Harry, "and once we're under cover we can plan how to get our own back."
He was starting off when Bart checked him.
"Wait. We got something to take with us, son."
"What do you mean, Bart?"
"Guess we'll need a fire, won't we?" asked Bart dryly.
"I'd forgotten," replied Harry rather crestfallen. "Yes, of course, we must carry some wood back."
The nearest trees were not far off. They cut three big bundles of firewood, and with these on their backs made their way up through the gorge.
The frost was bitter, but fortunately there was no wind. Another thing that helped was that the sky was ablaze with the flaming streamers of the Aurora.
They had started again to dig away the fallen snow. Bart wielded the spade, the boys worked with stakes, the ends of which they had flattened with the hatchet.
The dry, powdery stuff came away in masses, and in a little more than an hour they had an opening large enough to crawl through. Bart twisted together a bunch of resinous pine branches and lit them; the blaze showed a passage rather more than man- high, leading deep into the cliff.
Thirty feet in, this opened into a chamber as large as the aisle of a small church, and from this no fewer than five passages radiated off like the spokes of a wheel.
Bart looked all around.
"This here's a bit of a puzzle," he remarked. "Mister Bear'll take a bit o' finding, I reckon."
"I'm not so sure about that," replied Harry. "But what are we to do first—hunt him out, or light the fire?"
Bart considered a little. The place, though bone dry, was like an ice-house.
"Light the fire, I guess," he said.
"But won't the warmth rouse out the bear?" suggested Tod.
"I guess not. It 'ud take a mighty big fire to raise the temperature in this here place anything to signify."
The pine branches were soon crackling, and the cheerful glow was very pleasant. Bart and Harry had taken a good supply of food with them for the day's hunting, and luckily there was enough left to make a supper for the three. Since they were all hungry, they ate this and felt the better for it, but they sadly missed their usual pot of hot coffee, and the boys looked with secret dismay on the prospect of having to spend the night sitting around their small fire on the bare rock. They had not even a blanket between them.
Bart himself was silent. Big and capable as he was he could not disguise the fact that he and the two boys were in a very serious fix. They were left without stores or blankets, cooking pots or any of the necessities of life. They had only a limited store of ammunition, and when that was done there was nothing before them save starvation.
The more he thought, the more clearly he saw that their one and only chance was to drive out these scamps who had seized the shack and regain their own property.
But how to do it—that was the problem which for the moment completely stumped him.
"AND now for Mister Bear," remarked Bart, as he finished the last crumb of his portion and got up.
"Hi—seek, Brand!" said Harry, and the big husky which had been sitting, with his head on Harry's knee, got up and began sniffing about.
"He'll find the bear all right," Harry told the others. "He knows all about it."
Certainly Brand appeared to understand, for after sniffing about all round the cave, he stopped opposite one of the passages and looked round at his master.
"This is the way," said Harry, and Bart, nodding, took his rifle and followed the dog down it. Tod came next with a torch, and Harry followed carrying a spare torch and his gun.
The passage was easy. The floor was fairly smooth and the roof high. They went on quickly. The air, too, was fresh enough, Their footsteps sounded hollow in these frozen recesses of the mountain.
Then just as the first passage had opened up, so did this, and they found themselves in a chamber as large as the first but not so high.
"Bring the light, Tod," he said.
Tod, raising the torch, stepped forward. He waved it and the flame blazed up, and as it did so Tod gave a cry of amazement.
"Look at that!" he exclaimed, pointing at the ashes of a fire which had been built on a sort of raised platform in the centre of the cavern.
"Looks like we aren't the first folk to use the place," said Bart.
"Where's Brand?" demanded Harry, anxiously. "I can't see him."
At the sound of his name the dog reappeared, coming out of a deep niche in the far wall.
Bart strode forward.
"Look out!" warned Tod. "The bear may be there."
"Not he!" said Harry. "Brand would have growled if he'd seen anything alive."
"That's true," replied Bart. "This here's dead."
The boys hurried across to where he stood, looking into the niche which was about the size of a small bedroom. Against the wall was a heap of skins and on it the mummified form of a man.
For some moments the three stood staring in silence. There was something intensely pitiful in the sight of this poor relic of humanity. How had he come there? Who was he? Had he died alone, of cold and starvation?
Brand had gone forward and was standing by the body.
It was Harry who broke the silence.
"Brand knows," he said suddenly. "Bart, I believe this must have been his master."
"It's mighty likely," allowed Bart gravely, and stooped to examine the body.
There were some papers in a pocket. These he took. Then he lifted the body gently aside.
"Boys, there's some mighty fine furs here, and though I hate to take anything from the dead, I guess he wouldn't mind if he knew. These here will do more to keep the cold out than all the fires as we can burn."
"If they'll help us to beat those thieves, let's take all we can," put in Tod with a sudden fierce earnestness.
"If they belonged to Brand's master, I know we may have them," agreed Harry.
"I guess there's other stuff here as well," he said. "We'd best make a right good search all around."
They did, and were rewarded beyond their dreams. In another recess they discovered a frying-pan, an enamelled iron coffee- pot, and a large ground-sheet. These lay on a big pile of cut firewood.
Up above the firewood was slung a shelf made of two pairs of old snow-shoes, and on this was a quantity of provisions. There was a sack of flour hardly touched, a bag of sugar and one of coffee, each half full. There was also a quantity of salt bacon, perhaps twenty pounds' weight in all.
These things had been hung high enough to be out of reach of bears and other prowlers, and were in perfect condition. The dry, cold air had preserved them as though they had been in cold storage.
The three stared at these stores, hardly able to believe their eyes. As before, Harry was the first to speak.
"Brand's master didn't die of starvation, anyway," he said.
"No, lad," replied Bart quietly. "I'm feared it were scurvy."
"Because there isn't no dried fruit left. It's the only thing as there's none of. Boys," he went on very gravely, "Providence is mighty good to us. Here's fire and food for a month for the lot of us. This here gives us time to tackle the job as is before us."
He paused and considered a little.
"See here," he said, "time's all on our side. We aren't a- going to hurry. We'll make this here place our headquarters, and work the traps from here. If we're careful, Sawdye and his pals won't have no notion where we've got to, and I'll lay that, if we leave 'em guessing, they'll get mighty uneasy."
"Bad consciences," was Tod's smiling remark.
Harry cut in.
"There's one thing we must attend to. We can't leave the other dogs with them. They'd abuse them or perhaps kill them."
"That's a fact," agreed Bart. "See here. We'll get a bit of rest now, then slip down before dawn and let the dogs out."
Bart's plan seemed a good one, so they took the furs and some of the firewood and went back to the outer cave, where they soon made themselves quite comfortable. There was no need to set a watch. Brand would give good warning of any intruders, and anyhow the Ghost Bear was not likely to wake up. As for rousing in good time, Bart had that faculty which all old woodsmen acquire, of being able to wake at any hour he pleased.
He had them out at five. Since the sun did not rise till past eight this gave them plenty of time.
They made a hasty breakfast of bacon, coffee, and flapjacks, and with Brand in attendance left the cave.
Outside the stars were shining, but not so brilliantly as on the previous night.
Bart sniffed the air.
"More snow a-coming," he remarked sagely. "Guess we better hurry. We don't want to get caught in no blizzard."
Their way was all downhill, and it was little more than half- past six when they sighted the shack.
"They got a light a-burning," said Bart grimly, as he caught the red gleam across the snow. "Guess they're watching out for us. Best go careful."
As he spoke he opened the breech of his rifle to make sure that a cartridge was in position. Then he moved forward again, swinging in a circle so as to keep out of the glare from the lighted window.
WITHOUT a sound except the faint creak of their racket-shaped shoes across the surface of the frozen snow, the party crept towards the kennel.
This had been built at the bottom of the little knoll on which the house stood, and about thirty yards away from it.
Behind the nearest trees Bart stopped.
"I'm feared they'll start up a barking," he whispered to Harry.
"I can stop that all right," replied Harry. He beckoned to Brand. "Go on, old man," he said to the big dog in low voice. "Get on to the kennel."
Brand looked up at his master. He wagged his bushy tail. Then he darted forward.
"Blessed if he don't understand every word!" murmured Bart in amazement.
"It will be all right now," said Harry. "The dogs won't give tongue. Shall we go on, Bart?"
Bart cast an anxious glance towards the shack. Beyond the light there was no sign of movement. He nodded and they went on.
Harry and Tod hardly dared to breathe. They knew well the danger in which they stood. Dark as it was, they must be visible against the snow, and they were well aware that if any real watch were being kept by Sawdye's gang the next thing that would happen would be bullets splashing around them.
But there was no movement, and gaining confidence they reached the kennel safely. Next moment Harry had opened the door, and was almost upset by the furry avalanche that poured out upon him. He had spent a good deal of time over these huskies, and although Brand was the only one of the lot who was thoroughly dependable, yet the rest were very fond of him, and he, alone of the three, was able to handle them.
"Quietly! Quietly!" whispered Harry sharply.
But there was one thing which he had quite forgotten. The dogs had not been fed overnight. They had had nothing since the previous morning, and were ravenous.
Expecting to be fed, all five made a wild dash for the door of the shack.
"That's done it," said Bart curtly. "Git!"
He started straight away at full speed, and the boys followed hot-foot. But the mischief was done. Next moment the door of the shack burst open, and hoarse, angry voices were heard.
"Here they be, Jonas. Get your gun!"
Bart and the boys threw all concealment aside. They spurted desperately to reach the nearest cover.
Before they could gain the trees a ragged volley rang out and bullets came whistling overhead, and phutting angrily into the snow. Harry saw Bart wince. He knew that he was hit. But the big man did not slacken his efforts. He went on as swiftly as ever.
Next moment all three had swept into the cover of the pines, and for the moment at any rate were out of sight of their enemies.
The huskies, meantime, realizing that Harry was leading man, had circled and come rushing after him.
"Are you hurt, Bart?" asked Harry breathlessly.
"In the shoulder, Harry," answered Bart. "Don't reckon it's much, but I guess you'll hev to tie it up so's to stop the bleeding."
"Right. Tod, you take my rifle. Shoot back a bit. Scare 'em if you can."
Tod faced round like a flash, and with the crack of his rifle came a splintering crash. His first bullet had struck the door of the shack and ripped right through it.
He laughed grimly.
"That's put the wind up 'em! They've all bolted inside again."
"Chaps like that haven't got no hearts," replied Bart.
The big man was standing like a statue in the bitter cold while Harry rapidly twisted a bandage around his upper arm. The bullet had luckily missed the bone, but had cut through the muscles of the upper left arm, and the wound had been bleeding badly. As he bound it, Harry realized that Bart was out of the running for some time to come.
As soon as possible, Harry got Bart's coat and parka back on him. The danger was that the frost might get into the wound. There was no more shooting from the shack, and as soon as Bart was dressed again they pushed on.
"Are they likely to follow us?" asked Harry of Bart.
"Can't say, son, but I think it's mighty likely. They won't be happy so long as they knows we're around."
"Are you fit to get back to the cave?"
Bart chuckled low in his throat.
"What do ye take me for, Harry—a baby? Come right along," he continued. "I guess we'll fool them all right."
He started again, but instead of pushing straight back up the hill worked in a circle to the north. All the time he kept among the trees. The dogs followed quietly enough. Now and then Bart stopped and listened. But there was nothing to be heard.
"Guess they've stayed at home arter all," he said at last.
Harry shook his head.
"No, Bart, they're after us."
"How do you know?" asked Bart.
"Brand knows," replied Harry. "Watch him."
The big dog was certainly uneasy. He was looking round and snuffing the air.
"Yes, the dog's right. They're a-following us. Come to that, I guess we could push on fast and beat 'em, but I don't know as I want 'em tracking us right up to the cave above. Boys, I guess we'll have to lay for 'em and drive 'em back."
"But not in these woods," objected Harry. "They could get all round us."
"No. We'll have to push out into the open a piece. But I knows just the place if we can reach it. Come right along. A quick spurt for a few minutes, and then I'll show ye."
He started off at such a pace that the boys had all they could do to keep up. Harry was amazed. It was beyond belief that a man so badly wounded as Bart could travel so fast. They drove through a thick belt of pines, and came out on a wide stretch of bare ground, yet not quite bare, for it was broken here and there by rocks.
"There's where I'm a-aiming for," said Bart, pointing to a pile of snow-clad crags which rose to a height of twenty-feet or more. "Ef we kin only reach that afore they sees us, we got 'em cold."
"And suppose they do see us?" suggested Harry.
"Then we scatters, and it's each for hisself till he gets under cover," was Bart's grim reply.
"Right," answered Harry.
It was all uphill, and this last spurt on top of what they had done already, was pretty stiff. Harry and Tod had got their second wind, but Harry, watching Bart, saw that he was failing a little. The loss of blood was telling on his giant strength. He reeled as he ran. On and on they went, and not a sound broke the stillness of the frozen calm. Though it was now daylight, there was no sign of the sun. A dull haze filled the upper air.
They were within fifty yards of their refuge when Harry, who all the time was watching Bart keenly, saw him stumble. He recovered himself, but now he could not run. He could only stagger slowly forward.
Instantly Harry had him by one arm and Tod by the other.
"Pshaw! I'm no better'n a great baby," grumbled Bart angrily.
"Don't talk. Lean on us, Bart," replied Harry. "We're just there."
Alas, the delay, short as it was, had been fatal. Just as they were almost under cover, the whip-like crack of a rifle broke the silence, and a bullet sang its vicious song close overhead.
"They've seen us," whispered Bart, then sank down in a heap under cover of the friendly boulders.
Harry glanced down at Bart, and saw that his eyes were closed and that he was insensible. And he saw the reason—an ugly red patch spreading through his coat over the left shoulder.
"Tod," he said, "I'll have to dress that wound again. Take a rifle, get up a bit among the stones, and if you see any of the gang, let drive."
Tod nodded. His eyes were shining. He was crazy to get even with these rascally robbers.
Harry meantime had his hands full. It was no joke to lift and move and partly undress a man of Bart's size and weight. But he did it, and this time put on the bandage so firmly that he stopped the bleeding once and for all. Then he remembered Bart's flask and gave him a dram of the good brandy, which brought him round again.
The danger now was that Bart, unable to move, would freeze, so Harry made Brand come and lie across him. The dog's shaggy body kept the warmth in Bart.
Next, Harry hailed Tod.
"Seen anything, Tod?"
"Yes, all four of 'em are in the edge of the wood there, but I haven't seen 'em clearly enough to shoot. Now they're hidden, but they've lit a fire, and it looks as if they'd set in to freeze us out."
"That's cheery," growled Harry. "And we can't shift out of this, for we're still within easy rifle shot. Tod, seems to me we're up against it."
"We'll have to wait for dark," said Tod. "Yes, but we can't light a fire. There's no wood. You and I can stick it, but what about Bart?"
Bart cut in.
"Don't you worry about me, kid. I guess I can stick it jest as well as you. This here dog is keeping me warm all right."
Harry realized that there was no choice. They had to stick it. But even for themselves the prospect of all these long hours, fixed in one place, without a mouthful to eat, and in this bitter cold, was far from pleasant. And the knowledge that this gang of thieves and smugglers were sitting there, only a few hundred yards away, warm and comfortable over their fire, was maddening.
TIME dragged by. An hour passed. There was a soughing among the distant pines, and presently a breath of air, cold as from the mouth of an ice-house, came sweeping across the great bare slope.
Now Harry looked round in real alarm. If a wind came up they were done. They would simply freeze to death.
A pause. Another gust. It was stronger this time, and a dust of snow rose in ghostly whirls from the powdery surface.
He turned to Bart.
"There's wind coming," he said.
"I knows it," replied Bart. "And more'n wind, Harry. It's a- going to snow."
The words were hardly out of his mouth before a third and harsher blast Came moaning across the waste, and suddenly the air was full of a thin powder of hard frozen flakes.
Bart pushed Brand gently aside and rose slowly but steadily to his feet.
"This here's our chance," he said. "Come right along. If we can make it afore it gets too bad, we're quit o' them rogues—for awhile, anyway."
Harry looked out. Already the trees below were hidden in a fine haze of drifting snow. The sky was shutting down on the frozen world.
With Bart between them, Tod and Harry started uphill across the open. The blizzard was young yet, but its edge so keen that it almost took their breath. The dogs hung close to their heels.
The distance was not great, and had Bart been well they would not have thought much of the journey. As it was, they could not go fast, and the strength of the storm was steadily increasing upon them. The drive of the frozen blast became an agony. No one spoke. All their energies were given up to fighting their way forward.
After an endless struggle they gained another belt of trees. Bart was getting weak again. Though he spoke no word of complaint, Harry knew it.
"We've got to have a rest, Tod," he said. "We must light a fire."
With numbed fingers they collected a pile of dead wood, staked it under a tree, and managed to light it. It blazed up finely, but all the time the snow grew thicker.
Bart roused himself.
"We'd better get on, boys. Ef we don't, we'll be snowed up for sure. And we couldn't stick a night without cover or grub."
It seemed wicked to leave the fire, but Harry knew that Bart was right. They rose stiffly to their feet and started again. Bad before, it was worse now. The gale screamed across the valley and all was one furious drift of small ice-flakes which nipped their skin like fire.
The only point in their favour was that the storm was from the north-east, and consequently not in their faces. On the other hand, the drift was so thick they could not see more than a few paces in any direction.
"Wish I could see the mouth o' that there gorge," said Bart hoarsely. "We'd ought to be there by now."
"We'll find it soon," Harry answered encouragingly.
Almost as he spoke, his feet slipped. It was Tod who saw the danger, and flung his weight back and just saved them.
There was a momentary lull, and the air cleared a little. The three found themselves standing on the very edge of a great ravine or gorge, which seemed to drop away into infinity beneath them.
"We're lost," gasped Tod.
Harry kept his head. He moved cautiously back from the edge of the gorge, dragging Tod and Bart with him.
"We're a bit off the track," he said, assuming a cheerfulness he did not feel. "Any idea where we are, Bart?"
"We're not a long ways off our road," Bart answered. "Not unless the wind's changed. I've been working by the wind. If you asks me, I wouldn't wonder if this here was the gulch we comes up along to the cave. Boys, I guess we'd better turn right-handed, and work down along this here bank."
"We'd best keep a good bit back from it," remarked Harry grimly. "If we walk over the edge, there won't be much left of us by the time we reach the bottom."
"We'll hev to go slow," allowed Bart, as he turned.
There was no doubt about that, for with the turn they were facing the screaming blizzard. The cold was terrible. The wind seemed to rend its way through their thick furs as though they were no more than so much paper. And Bart was weakening all the time.
It was the worst experience Harry had ever known, and the terrible part of it was that they could not be certain whether they were going the right way or not. If they had made a wrong turning they were doomed, for they were simply working right up into the mountains, up beyond the tree line, where there was neither fuel nor shelter.
In this crisis Brand was the greatest help. Harry made him walk on the left, between himself and the cliff, and the dog was somehow able to keep back from the edge of the gulch and so save his master from going over.
At last, just when Harry was beginning to feel that he could not move another step, he realized that they were really going downhill.
"We're all right," he cried hoarsely. "We're on the right track."
"That's so," replied Bart, weakly but cheerfully. "I guess well be in shelter afore long."
Just then they stumbled up against a mass of rock, and with one accord paused in its shelter to get breath. Then, by the greatest good luck, there came another of those momentary lulls, and Tod gave a shout of joy and relief.
"We're all right. I know this rock. We're quite close to the mouth of the gorge."
"Then this is where we make one more try," said the indomitable Bart, and off he went again.
This time they knew where they were going, and just as the storm burst once more with even greater savage violence than before, they turned safely into the mouth of the ravine.
The relief was unspeakable, for now they had their backs to the gale, while the walls of rock on either side broke its fury. In spite of their fatigue, they quickened their pace, and within a few minutes had rounded the bend in the gulch and were in comparative shelter.
The mouth of the cave was snowed up again, as it had been when first discovered, but it did not take long to scrape a way through the soft, new-fallen stuff; and, dark and gloomy as the place was then, never had three people been more grateful to get home.
"Light the fire, Tod," said Harry. "No, Bart, you keep quiet. Lie right down here on these skins, and have a nip of your own brandy. Yes, you've got to do what I say now. I'm head nurse, and don't you forget it!"
A cheerful fire was soon blazing, and Harry, having made Bart comfortable, started to cook the meal which they all needed so badly. Steaming hot coffee put new life into them, and fried bacon and sour dough biscuits had never tasted better.
The dogs were not forgotten, and each had a frozen salmon from the food cache in the inner cave. When all were fed and warmed, they lay down to sleep. Even Bart, cautious as he was, agreed that there was no need to set a watch that night.
BY morning Bart was very much better. The clean, healthy life of the North makes men so fit that they recover from injuries in a way incredible in civilized countries.
The wind had gone down, and the snow had ceased falling. But the cold was wicked. The clear air fairly tingled with frost.
"Wonder if those hootch men are still hunting us," grinned Tod, as he brought Bart his mug of coffee.
"I guess not," Bart answered, but his voice and manner were grave. "Chances are that they reckon we're froze and dead. But see here, boys, there isn't anything to laugh about, and there won't be so long as them fellers is in the valley."
He paused, and drank some coffee.
"Providence has been mighty good to us," he went on. "Finding these here stores has been the saving of us, for we'd sure have starved to death afore this if it hadn't been for this here grub. But I want you to remember as it's only November as yet. We got five months of winter afore us, and what there is in the cave isn't going to last us a half of that time. Nor there isn't food for the huskies fer much more'n a week. Besides all that, we come here to make some money out o' skins, and we can't go a-trapping when we're liable to run into them sons o' guns anywheres we happen to go. So you see it's up to us to make some sort o' plans fer the future."
"You're absolutely right, Bart," agreed Harry. "Somehow we have to drive these robbers out and get the shack back. But it's no use thinking of trying until you are quite fit again. And as that won't be for two or three weeks, it seems to me that the first thing to do is to try and get some meat for the dogs."
"And how do you reckon to do that?" asked Bart. "I just been looking through the cartridges and there isn't but seven left."
Harry gave a low whistle of dismay.
"We can't afford to waste them on meat," continued Bart. "We got to keep 'em in case the hootch men tackles us again."
This seemed so obvious that for the moment the boys had nothing to say, and for a time the silence was broken only by the gentle crackle of the fire.
Presently Tod raised his head.
"I say, what about the old bear? He can't be far off, and surely we can spare one bullet for him."
Bart nodded thoughtfully.
"That's our best chance, I guess," he answered.
Bart looked up at the roof of dark rock which was so high overhead that the red glare of the torch carried by Tod threw but a faint light upon it. He glanced at a wide passage which branched away to the right.
"It sure is some cave," he began. "I don't recollect as I ever seed a bigger. And it don't seem to me as it's like them caves as we used to see up in the Dawson River country."
"It's not limestone, anyhow," said Harry. "Tell you what, Bart. I believe this was once an old river bed or may be a glacier valley, and all open to the sky. Then one day an earthquake came along and closed it all up."
"Put the lid on it, so to speak," remarked Bart dryly. "Yes, I guess, that's mighty likely. But it don't seem to help us to find Mister Bear."
"Can't make out why Brand can't spot him," Harry said with a frown.
"That's easy," replied Bart. "When a bear or any beast has laid up fer the winter, he don't have no smell any longer. Sorter provision o' Nature, I reckon. Well, let's push on here a piece, and see where that'll bring us."
It was two days after the storm, and Bart with his damaged arm in a sling was personally conducting the hunt for the Ghost Bear. They had even less meat than they had at first supposed, and it was absolutely necessary to get something for the dogs. Apart from the cruelty of it, starving dogs is a dangerous business, for a hungry husky may turn upon his master.
The three had already spent a good two hours in exploring the cave, and had tramped through at least two miles of passages, but so far they had not seen a sign of their quarry. Now they were in what seemed to be the main passage, and a long way in from the entrance.
As Harry had said, the great tunnel had every appearance of having been the bed of a river or an ice stream, for the rocks were smoothed as though by a giant plane, and except in cracks and crannies there was no loose stuff.
On they went, their moccasined feet moving soundlessly over the smooth floor, and when they spoke their voices echoed in a positively terrifying fashion up and down these endless corridors of stone.
"Ha, what did I say!" cried Harry, stopping short, and pointing ahead to where the torch rays were reflected from a wall of what looked like black glass. "Solid ice, or I'm a Dutchman."
"I guess you're right, Harry," said Bart soberly. "It's sure enough ice. Glacier ice, too, by the look of it."
"I wonder how many hundred years it's been penned like this under all this mass of rock," questioned Harry, as he went closer. "My word! Isn't it clear and pretty?"
"Mighty pretty," agreed Bart. "But I don't reckon as we can eat it."
Harry was not listening.
"Hold the torch nearer, Tod," he said suddenly.
"What's the matter?" asked Tod, coming up.
"That's what I want to know," returned Harry. "What's that big dark thing right in the ice? Looks like a whacking great tree trunk."
"Great snakes!" exclaimed Bart, staring. "It's a elephant."
"An elephant," laughed Tod. "Why not a Bengal tiger?"
"Bart's right," cried Harry excitedly. "It is an elephant. Look at its tusks."
Tod moved the torch so as to let the light fall more plainly upon the great dark object, which seemed to be only a yard or two back behind the face of the ice-sheet. He gave a gasp of amazement.
"It is an elephant, and the biggest I ever set eyes on. And hairy, too, all over. Wait a minute. I'll tell you what it is. It's a mammoth!"
"A mammoth!" repeated Bart in a voice of awe. "I've heard tell of them, but I can't say I ever really believed in 'em."
"That's one, all right," replied Tod. "I'm certain of it. They used to live up in this country thousands of years ago, when it wasn't as cold as it is now."
"But how in sense did it get there, right in the middle of that there ice?" questioned Bart, with his eyes still fixed on the monster.
"I expect he was crossing the glacier and fell into a crevasse," suggested Harry. "Anyway, there he is, and by the look of him as sound as the bacon we found four days ago."
Bart turned and stared at Harry.
"Do you mean to say as there's meat on him?"
"That's exactly what I do mean, Bart. And if we chop him out I should think we'd have meat for the dogs for about three years."
Bart's eyes widened. Before he could speak Tod cut in.
"Good gracious, Harry, it would be a crime! Think what any museum would give for such a specimen as that!"
"Ten thousand pounds, I dare say," Harry answered quietly.
"That's a heap o' money, but I guess it'd cost all o' that to get it down to the coast. And anyways meat's more to us than money. Boys, I reckon that's our next job—to cut the elephant out o' the ice. He'd make that there bear look like small potatoes."
They could hardly tear themselves away from the extraordinary sight, but they had no axe with them, and it was necessary to go back and fetch one.
They had blazed their way by making smoke marks wherever there was a turn in the passages, and they were back again at the ice face with their axes in about an hour; they set to work at once.
The ice was granite hard, but once they had made a hole, it cracked away like glass, and after about two hours' work they reached the side of the monstrous mammoth and proceeded to chop a hole in its tremendously thick and hairy hide.
Harry put his nose close to the opening.
"Told you so," he said in a tone of triumph. "Sweet as the day it died. The dogs won't starve, anyhow."
They went back laden with meat which resembled rather coarse beef, and by the way the dogs tucked into it, there was certainly nothing wrong with it. That night, as they sat over the fire, eating their supper, they began to plan again how to defeat the robbers and regain possession of the shack. But the difficulties were so great that they could not hit upon any satisfactory solution.
For the next three days they were busy getting out the mammoth and storing the meat. On the fourth day the weather suddenly turned quite mild. A warm wind was blowing down over the mountains—so warm that it started a rapid thaw, and the snow outside began to fade away at a startling pace.
"Won't last long," said Bart, looking out of the mouth of the cave. "And arter this it'll freeze harder'n ever. Well, I guess we won't go out in this, boys. Let's go and finish up the big elephant. We got to get them tusks out. They're worth a pile o' money, I reckon."
The tusks were, in truth, enormous, and it took the three of them all they could do to carry one down the cave passage. They reckoned that it weighed close on two hundred weight.
Burdened with this enormous weight, they were slowly nearing the cave chamber in which they lived when there broke out quite suddenly the most fearful racket. All the dogs, which, with the exception of Brand, had been left tied in the inner chamber, had started barking furiously.
"It's them hootch men!" snapped Bart. "Drop this here tusk, boys, and come right along. If they gets on to our grub afore we can stop 'em, Heaven help us!"
HARRY'S heart was thumping as he and the others raced down the cave. The nearer they came to the mouth the louder grew the noise. The dogs were barking their very souls out and their frantic yelping echoing back from the rocky roof was almost deafening.
But there was another sound besides. Shouts from men, and also a queer deep roaring, a most terrifying sound. The three had almost reached the main cave, and Harry could see the dull glow of their fire in the centre, when Bart caught him, and his sound hand fell on Harry's shoulder.
"Wait!" he whispered sharply. "Don't go a-running right in upon 'em. Jest remember as they've got guns."
Before Harry could answer, a shriek burst out, a shriek so long-drawn, terrible and despairing, that it fairly chilled the blood of the listeners. On top of this crashed two rifle shots. In that confined space the echoes beat upon them like a roll of thunder.
The third sound was equally terrific. It was the roar of a wounded beast.
"The bear! It's the Ghost Bear!" cried Tod, and would have burst past the others had not Bart caught and held him.
"Go slow!" he said almost fiercely. "Harry, you got the gun. Go ahead, but go quiet. Ef the bear's tackling 'em, this here's our chanst."
Harry merely nodded.
The screaming had died away. For the moment the only sound was the frantic yapping of the prisoned dogs.
Harry, with his rifle ready, stepped round the corner into the circular chamber from which the five main passages branched.
The sight that met his eyes made him gasp. Across the cavern, in the mouth of the opposite passage, stood three men, and facing them, towering hideous and shaggy against the dark rock wall, was the monstrous form of the Ghost Bear.
The three men had rifles, but they dared not shoot, for, hugged against his hairy chest, the bear held the broken frame of a fourth man.
The embers of the fire fell together, and a flame shot up, throwing a dancing light on the weird scene.
Instinctively Harry raised the rifle to his shoulder. Yet he could not shoot. Brutes as these men were, it was out of the question to destroy them in cold blood. And so for a matter of seconds none of the actors in this strange scene moved or spoke, and the only sound was the hoarse and frantic yapping of the dogs confined in the farther cave.
Harry turned to Bart.
"What can we do?" he asked in an urgent whisper.
"Hanged if I know," answered Bart, frowning with perplexity. "Ef they shoots the old bear, we're done in, for they've got three guns to our one. I guess we'll hev to shoot them."
"I can't do it," groaned Harry—"not in cold blood."
Bart's eyes and his met, Bart ground his teeth, but Harry knew that, even if he had had the rifle and been able to use it, he would not have fired at the back of their enemies.
It was Brand, Brand the great husky, which solved the problem. Tod had been holding him, and there he had stood behind Harry and Bart, his furry ruff standing erect, his eyes glaring, and a low growl rumbling in his throat.
Now, suddenly, and without the slightest warning, he made a plunge forward, and breaking away from Tod's hold went rushing like a thunderbolt across the wide floor of the cavern. Before Harry could take even one step forward he had reached the group opposite and hurled himself upon the nearest of the hootch men.
So tremendous was his assault that the wretched man had not even time to cry out. Down he went crash upon the hard rock, his rifle flying from his hand and clattering away across the cave floor.
What happened next was all so quick and confused that the eye could hardly follow it. As their companion fell, the other two men spun round to see what had happened. Then in a flash the great bear saw his chance, and dropping the man he held, leapt forward.
Harry, watching, could hardly believe that so massive a beast could move with such extraordinary speed. Up went his vast paw, and, striking as a cat does at a mouse, he hit the nearest man.
Where the blow fell Harry could not see, but so fearful was its force that the miserable victim was literally flung into the air like a tennis ball struck by a racket. He must have been dead before he reached the ground.
The one of the four who was still upon his feet, seeing the fate of his companion, screamed like a frightened hare, and dropping his rifle ran for his life, straight towards the mouth of the cave.
And growling hideously the Ghost Bear lumbered in pursuit. In less time than it takes to tell, man and bear were out of sight.
Harry dashed forward.
"Brand!" he cried. "Brand!"
The dog, its eyes red with rage, was standing over the man whom it had knocked down, but was not attempting to touch him. As Harry came up, the dog turned its head towards him, but did not move.
Harry caught it by the collar.
Bart stooped swiftly and secured the fallen man's rifle.
"Tie him, Tod," he said breathlessly.
There was no difficulty. The man was almost insensible, and anyhow what wits remained were pretty nearly scared out of him.
Bart glanced at the other two men whom the bear had tackled. One look was enough. They would never trouble anyone again.
"Come on, Harry," he said curtly, and ran towards the mouth of the cave.
As they reached it a scream rang out. They were just in time to see the last act of the tragedy.
The surviving hootch man had made straight down the gorge. But on first coming into the cave he had, of course, discarded his snow shoes. The sudden thaw had softened the deep snow, and without his shoes the wretched fellow wallowed knee-deep in the slush. He had not covered fifty yards before the bear had caught him, and all was over before Harry could even put the rifle to his shoulder.
Before he could pull the trigger Bart caught him by the arm.
"I guess not," he said hoarsely.
Harry lowered the rifle.
"You're right, Bart," he answered. "It wouldn't be fair. After all, he's saved our lives and everything else, too."
BART was no longer listening. He had turned and was hurrying back up the cave.
"What's the matter?" demanded Harry.
Bart looked round.
"Do you want him to finish the rest of us?" he asked dryly. "You'd better remember this here cave is his quarters as well as ours."
Harry gasped. In the excitement he had for the moment, quite forgotten that the Ghost Bear would most certainly return.
"Then I'll have to shoot," he said.
"No. A fire—that's what we need. Tod and I'll bring the sticks. You stay where you be, but don't shoot unless you got to."
The great bear stood growling softly over the body of his last victim. Luckily he did not touch it. If he had, Harry would have felt compelled to fire. Within a matter of moments came Bart and Tod with big bundles of dry firewood; they plumped them down just inside the mouth of the cave, and were in the act of lighting them when the bear, which evidently did not care for the raw and snowy world into which it had so suddenly emerged, turned and came lumbering slowly back towards its winter home.
Harry raised his rifle again. For a moment he feared he would have to shoot. But just as the bear was within a few yards the flame shot up through the dry stuff with a loud crackle.
The great brute stopped short, and for a moment stood quite still, swinging its monstrous head from side to side. They could see the angry gleam in its little, pig-like eyes.
For a moment there seemed a doubt whether it would not make a desperate charge through the obstacle, and Harry's throat was dry, as his finger tightened slightly on the trigger.
Tod flung fresh fuel on the fire. The flames roared and a great gust of stinging smoke flew up. It was too much for the bear. Growling deep, the creature swung round and went off back down the gorge.
The three watched it out of sight around the curve, and not one of them spoke until it had quite vanished. Then Tod broke the silence.
"Where will he go?" he asked.
Bart shook his head.
"Guess there's other caves around in these here hills. Anyways, I knows enough about bears to be mighty sure he won't try this one again. Now I guess we'd better go back and clean up the mess."
The two dead men lay where they had fallen; the one who was still alive was securely tied. In any case he was far too scared to be dangerous. They lifted him and put him near enough to the fire to make sure that he would not freeze, for though it was still thawing outside, the air in the cave was bitterly cold.
In the course of their explorations in the cave they had hit upon a great pit that was apparently bottomless. Since digging a grave was out of the question, they carried the two dead men to the place and dropped them into it.
Then they went outside and fetched the third. He, they found, was the spy, Sawdye. They disposed of his body in the same way, and were only too grateful when the ugly task was done.
By this time it was midday, and after all their exertions and anxiety they were hungry. They got out cold bacon and bread, and made coffee, and while they ate talked over plans.
"I guess we'd better go right back to the shack," said Bart. "It'll be a nasty trip, but ef we wait it's likely to be worse. We'll sure have bad weather after this here thaw."
"The sooner we go the better," replied Harry. "Ugh, I wouldn't spend another night in this place for a fortune."
"But what about all our stores and the tusks?" asked Tod.
"Them chaps has left a sledge outside," said Bart. "I guess we'll harness up the dogs and take the grub along with us. We'll hev to come back for the tusks and the mammoth meat."
It seemed the best thing to be done, and they wasted no time in getting off. As for the prisoner, whose name, he told them, was Leney, they took him along. He was a tall, loosely built, square-jawed fellow, who seemed to be more fool than knave. Bart, who was a shrewd reader of character, felt fairly certain that he would not give trouble.
Travelling was very bad, but as it was all downhill they managed to get their load along, and just before dark were back at the shack.
The building itself was all right, but Bart, who, like so many trappers, was tidy as an old maid, fairly ground his teeth at the filthy state of the place inside. Dirty dishes lay on the table. Dirt was everywhere, blankets were littered on the floor.
"Pigs!" he growled, and swung round on Leney. "Here, you," he commanded, "start cleaning up. Do it properly, for not a bite or sup do you get until it's as tidy as the day you and your lot first came into it."
There was heaps to do. Wood had to be cut, water fetched, the dogs kennelled and fed. It was late before they got supper, and still later before they were ready for bed.
By Bart's orders, the prisoner Leney was to sleep in the lean- to at the back. They made sure that he could not get out, and that neither spirits nor weapons were in his reach, and Bart warned him gravely that if he showed the slightest sign of playing the fool, he would be kicked out to fend for himself.
"I don't know what we're a-going to do with him," he said aside to Harry and Tod. "I can't a-bear the idea o' having a thing like that in the house with us all winter." He yawned as he spoke. "Gosh, I'm tired," he went on. "Guess we'd better all turn in."
Turn in they did, and very grateful Harry was to find himself once more in his snug bunk. The cave at best had been chilly.
The odd thing was that, tired as he was, he could not sleep. He at least thought it was odd, but really it was quite natural. The strain on his nerves that day had been terrific.
He heard Bart and Tod breathing deeply and softly, but though he himself lay quite quiet, he could not get off to sleep.
At last, just as he was beginning to feel drowsy, a slight sound from the lean-to at the back roused him again into intense wakefulness.
Some one was moving. It must be Leney.
Harry did not stir. He lay quiet as a mouse, but all the same his right hand was on the rifle which lay beside him.
The sound continued. There was no outer door to the lean-to; the only way into it was the doorway leading into the living room.
This was covered with the skin of a caribou.
Harry saw the skin move. Very slowly and cautiously it was drawn aside. In the faint glow which came from the embers in the big fireplace he caught sight of Leney's face. The man was clearly terrified yet set upon some purpose of his own.
Harry was not frightened. Leney had no weapon, while he himself had his rifle under his hand. But he was badly puzzled. He could not imagine what the fellow was after.
LENEY stood quite still, just inside the room. He looked round. Harry had half closed his eyes and was pretending to be asleep. As for Bart and Tod, there was no doubt about them. They were absolutely sound.
Leney gained confidence and began to tiptoe forward. He was wearing moccasins, and his feet moved soundlessly across the boards. Watching him covertly Harry saw that the man was making for the table which stood by the window. Under it Harry saw that there was a small box which he had not previously noticed. It probably belonged to him or one of the men who had been killed.
But why—why was this fellow prowling after it in the middle of the night? An idea flashed upon him. Suppose there was a pistol in the box.
Instinctively his fingers tightened on his rifle, and he was on the point of springing up. But it came to him that, after all, it might not be the box the man was after, and that in any case he could always get the drop on him.
The man was not after the box. Instead of stooping to get at it, he bent over the table and began fumbling with a loose board in the window-frame. Harry saw him slip his fingers in behind it and draw out something that crackled softly. It was an envelope.
Very quietly Harry slipped his blanket back, and as Leney turned cautiously to retire to his sleeping place he saw the fading firelight glimmer on the blue barrel of a rifle.
"Hands up," remarked Harry softly.
Leney collapsed like a pricked bubble. His knees shook under him so that he could scarcely stand. He was paralysed with fright.
"Lay that envelope on the table," continued Harry. "That's right. Now step back two paces."
Bart, who, like all old woodsmen, slept with one ear, if not one eye, open, was on his feet.
"What's the matter?" he demanded grimly.
"Get back to your bed," snapped Bart, and Leney, shaking all over, went back without a word.
Bart lit the lamp.
"Now, what in sense is this, I wonder," he said as he reached for the letter.
"Must be something pretty important," Harry answered, "or the fellow wouldn't have taken all the trouble about it."
Bart was not listening. He had taken out the letter and was reading it. Harry, watching, saw a look of eagerness dawn in Bart's eyes.
The big man swung round and faced Harry.
"By gum, Harry, but we've got him!" he exclaimed in a tone of fierce triumph. "We've got him cold."
"Got whom?" demanded Harry.
"Manby, Manby, the claim thief!"
Harry's eyes widened.
"Are you crazy, Bart?"
"Crazy? It's you'll be crazy when you read this—crazy with joy."
He handed over the letter, and Harry, holding it close to the lamp, ran his eye rapidly through it.
When he had finished, he gave a shout which brought Tod flying out of bed.
"Got him! I should think we had. We have him cold. Bart, this is the greatest ever."
"I wish you'd stop making this beastly row," began Tod irritably, "or if you must make it, at any rate tell me what it's all about."
Harry thrust the letter into Tod's hand.
"Read that!" he said. "Read that, and you'll be shouting as loud as any of us."
Tod took about half a minute to get through the letter. Then he kicked up his heels like a young colt, and fairly howled with joy.
"Great! Oh, great!" he exclaimed. "Harry, it's almost too good to be true."
"I don't know," replied Harry more soberly. "Come to think of it, it's pretty well what you might expect. We know already that Manby has been up to the neck in all sorts of dirty work in this country. What is more likely than that he should be at the bottom of this hootch business?"
"He is at the back of it all," said Bart in a tone of quiet triumph. "He's the owner of the schooners that have been running the stuff up from Seattle to the North. This here letter makes it clear as glass. Say, boys, we've got to guard this letter like it were diamonds."
"And put it somewhere that Leney can't find it," added Tod in a whisper.
"I'll take care of it," said Bart. "I knows where I'll put it."
He got out a worn old leather pocket-case from under his bunk, folded the letter and slipped it in. "I always carries this around with me," he continued, "so unless I gets wiped out altogether the thing's safe right there. And now I guess we'll finish our night's sleep."
Harry jerked a finger questioningly towards the back room.
"Don't you worry," whispered Bart. "That there feller has got the fear in him. He won't move afore morning, and if I'm not mighty well mistook, we shan't have no more trouble with him. But jest to make things safe we'll fix a proper door there to- morrow."
Bart was right. Leney made no more trouble. On the contrary, he did his best in a rather heavy, stupid way to make himself useful.
As Bart had prophesied, winter came back with a rush, and bitter frost bound the land. They set to their trapping again, and every day saw some addition to their collection of furs.
Weeks passed, and one evening in December they were all four sitting in the warm little living room, busy over their skins. Leney, as usual, sat a little away from the rest, but was just as busy as any. He had been doing real good work for some time past.
Suddenly Bart looked up.
"Say, boys, I've been thinking. I guess Leney's been making hisself right useful, specially with the skins. If you're agreeable, I reckon to give him a small share o' the profits."
"I'm agreeable, Bart."
"So am I," said Tod quietly.
Leney had dropped his work. He was staring at them with wide eyes and open mouth.
"You're a-going to give me a share?" he gasped out.
"Yes," Bart put in. "Enough to give ye a fair start, and let ye run square in future, if so be ye've a mind to."
Leney was silent for some moments.
"You're right," he said at last in a husky voice. "I guess you won't be sorry as you've done this."
WITH a warm westerly wind filling her worn sails, the little Pixie came ploughing up the inlet towards the Skagway anchorage, and her crew of four stared at the jumble of shipping and the mass of houses beyond. It was the first time any of them had seen anything approaching civilization for a good deal more than a year.
"Gee, but the place has growed!" exclaimed Bart. He broke off, and turned to Harry, who was at the tiller. "Say, where are you a-going?"
"The other side of the anchorage," Harry answered quickly. "Don't you see Manby's yacht?"
Bart looked. There was the Night Hawk lying just off the pier. He gave a low whistle.
"Guess you're right. We don't want to run into the feller till we're ready. Guess we better get right on up to the Chief of Police quick as ever we can. If Heberden still holds the job, we're all right. He's a white man."
Realizing that if Manby saw them there would certainly be trouble, Harry took his little craft into the far end of the anchorage, and leaving Tod in charge, he and Bart climbed up on the wharf. To their great surprise, Leney followed.
"Guess you better stay aboard, Leney," said Bart significantly. "The office o' the Chief o' Police ain't likely to be a healthy location for you."
"Guess I'm a-coming," returned Leney quietly.
Bart shrugged his shoulders, but made no further objection. Five minutes later the three were at the Chief's office. He was within, and almost at once they were in his presence.
Heberden was a square, solid, rather hard-faced man, but as Bart entered he jumped up quickly.
"Why, Bart," he exclaimed with a smile, "I'm mighty glad to see you. I almost thought as one o' them Kodiak bears had got you."
"One 'most did," grinned Bart, "but not quite. Anyways, I'm all hunky. Let me make you acquainted with my pardner, Harry Brand, and this here is Oliver Leney. Now, see here, Chief," he went on. "I got something mighty important to talk to you about. When I last seed you, you was keen as mustard arter them hootch sellers. You done anything since?"
"Mighty little," growled Heberden. "Roped in a few of the small fry, but the big fellow, him as is at the bottom—"
At that moment the door was pushed open, and in the opening loomed the great, gross figure of James Manby.
"Chief," he began, "I've come up here for a warrant. There's two fellers just come in here in a boat as I wants arrested. Gold thieves. The worst—"
At this moment his eyes fell upon Harry, and he stopped short, glaring at him.
"By gum, if this isn't one of them, right here!" he roared. "Well, if you haven't got the cheek of old Nick!"
Bart stepped forward. Big as Manby was, the giant trapper topped him by three inches.
"And what price you, Mr. Manby?" he said in a voice which Harry had never before heard from him. "Do you reckon as an office of the law is the safest place fer a feller like you to run your head into?"
The other stared back angrily, but he could not face the steel, keen gaze of the trapper. His eyes fell.
"What do ye mean, ye big hobo?" he demanded hoarsely. "Be you in with these here gold thieves?"
"I am a very good friend of Harry Brand and Tod Clancy," replied Bart quietly. "And if you ask me what I mean, I'd like to ask you how the hootch business is getting on, and how many cargoes o' rum you've fixed to run this summer?"
Heberden rose to his feet.
"Bart Kinder, what are you a-talking about?"
"Jest what I says, Chief. I accuses this here man o' being at the back of all this here dirty work as has been going on amongst the Injuns fer years past."
"You lie!" snarled Manby.
"I kin prove it," answered Bart, and taking the letter from his pocket-case, handed it to Heberden.
For a few moments there was deathly silence in the big, airy, sunlit office. Then Heberden looked up.
"It's evidence," he snapped.
"Evidence!" cried Manby scornfully. He snapped his fingers. "I wouldn't give that for it. It's forgery! I'll prove that if it costs me a million."
Leney, who all this time had been standing in the background, with his hat pulled well over his eyes, suddenly stepped forward.
"But it isn't no forgery, mister," he remarked quietly.
The coarse red faded from James Manby's heavy cheeks.
"You—Leney?" he stammered thickly.
"Aye, it's Leney right enough. The same as you thought as you'd bought, body and soul, to do your dirty work for you. But let me tell you, Mr. James Manby, I'm fed up. I been living with white men the last six months, and they've treated me white. So now, if it isn't too late, I'm a-going to try to live white myself."
"You fool!" gasped Manby. "Don't you know you'll be in for life if you say a word?"
"Mebbe I shall, mebbe not," replied Leney stolidly. "Anyways, Cap'n Heberden, I'm here to give evidence, and to help all I can to bring that skunk to justice and to undo some o' the harm I done already."
"Good enough," snapped Heberden, and touched the button of an electric bell.
A man in the blue uniform of Uncle Sam's police stepped into the room.
The Chief pointed to Manby.
"Arrest that man," he said.
An instant later the handcuffs clicked on the thick wrists of James Manby, and protesting savagely, he was hauled off to a cell.
The news that Manby had been arrested spread like wildfire through the town and the surrounding country. A deep sigh of relief went up, and like magic scores of men turned up full of thanks to Bart and the boys. They had visitors almost every hour of the day and night.
What was more to the point, many men who had previously been afraid to say anything now said they were willing to give evidence against the claim stealer and whisky seller.
Bart and the boys were put up free until the trial. This gave them plenty of time to sell their cargo of furs, and they got good prices.
Four thousand dollars, or rather more than £800, was the sum they obtained. They shared £700 among them and gave £100 to Leney. Leney, by the by, was accepted as States Evidence against Manby, so was safe from punishment.
Then came Sir Charles Gorton, the great English collector, who had heard of the mammoth tusks. He made an offer of £500 for them, and this they were only too pleased to accept.
At last the trial came on. No need to describe it. The evidence was overwhelming, and Manby was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary.
Then came a revision of the titles of the gold claims which he had wrongfully bought in, and the U.S. Government offered them for re-sale.
Bart, Harry, and Tod purchased the rights to the Copper River claim for £300, and went straight back there. Their wash-up for last season showed a profit of over five thousand pounds, and they are talking of selling out and returning to Canada, and taking up a ranch.
Leney has been working for them all the time and won't leave them. It does not seem likely that he ever will.
And as for the Ghost Bear, well that strange beast is no doubt still roaming the lone valley of black pines in the Horn of Alaska. There is no longer any white man there to harry or interfere with him.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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