Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 19 July 1919

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-08-07

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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A Strange Race

"COME on, Nick," said Mark Colvin sharply. "Come on, man; what are you waiting for?"

Nick Colvin did not seem to hear. He was standing stock still, staring fixedly through the gloom which was fast gathering under the shadow of the snow-clad hemlocks and spruce.

Mark caught his brother by the arm.

"What's the matter?" he demanded.

"Look!" said Nick in a queer, strained voice. "Look!"

Nick stared in the direction in which Nick was pointing, and saw a faint red glow throbbing through the thickening shadows of the March evening.

"A—a fire," he said, and his voice, too, had changed oddly. "Someone has come. It's a camp fire."

"It's no camp fire, Mark. It's the cabin," replied Nick. And he spoke with a deadly certainty which carried conviction to his brother's heart.

"The cabin!" he gasped. "No—no, Nick! It can't be."

But Nick was not listening. He was running madly forward, and Mark instantly followed. Their racquet-shaped snowshoes hissed across the smooth white surface under the trees, and frozen flakes flew in showers around them. They had had a long day, hunting vainly for meat in the frozen forest; but now fatigue was forgotten, and they tore onwards at tremendous speed. And as they went the ominous glow broadened and deepened until it became a great mass of flame.

At last they broke clear of the edge or the trees, and with one impulse stopped short, panting for breath, limp, helpless, with all the heart and life knocked out of them.

Small wonder, for there on the open lake shore a blazing pile of ruins was all that remained of the stout and comfortable cabin which they had left that morning.

Mark was the first to speak.

"Who did it?" he demanded fiercely.

Nick, younger in years than Mark, yet in many ways the older and smarter, shrugged his shoulders. "Probably Clay," he answered.

"Clay! How could he? He's not here."

"What does it matter?" said Nick drearily. "The damage is done."

"Why did we both leave the place!" groaned Mark. "One of us ought to have stayed to look after it."

Nick braced himself. He stood up straight and stiff, in the glow of the fire his young face was pale and drawn, but his eyes were brave.

"It's not the least use grousing, Mark. It's no good blaming ourselves or one another. The cabin is done for. All our stores are gone up. The question is, how are we going to get out of the mess?"

Mark did not answer, and Nick went on: "We've got to get grub, Mark, and we've got to do it quick. Our only chance is to cross the lake to Circle City before the thaw comes. If we have to go round the lake we haven't a dog's chance. We should double up and die before we had gone half-way."

Mark seemed half stupefied by the calamity. He looked vaguely at the white sheet of snow-clad ice which covered the vast expanse of Loon Lake.

"Why shouldn't we cross the lake?" he asked vaguely.

"No reason, so long as it doesn't thaw," Nick answered. "But it's due, Mark; the thaw is due. We must not waste an hour. We must go at once."

Mark pulled himself together. There was the same good stuff in him as in Nick, but he was slower than his younger brother.

"You are right, Nick. We must go to-night. But we have had a stiff day. We had best have a few hours' rest first. The moon will be up about ten, and we can travel faster. Besides, there's the chance we might find something eatable left in the ashes."

"A slim chance, old chap," said Nick. "Still, we'll do as you say. We shall travel better for a short rest. And he added with a crooked smile—"there's no need to light a fire."

They moved closer to the flaming heap and dropped wearily on a log. Both were feeling wretched, but each did his best not to show it.

"One comfort," said Mark presently, "the gold is all right. Not even Clay can burn the claim."

"That's true," replied Nick. "And the blessing is he doesn't know where the dust is cached." He paused. "All the same, Mark, I'd lay my share of the gold that he had a finger in this pie. That trip of his that he talked so much about was all a fake, I'm certain."

"I expect you are right," said Mark soberly. "The fellow is a bad lot, and I'd give something to see the last of him."

Nick was not listening. He was looking away towards the trees. "Someone coming, Mark," he muttered.

"It's that half-breed chap," said Mark, "Leclou."

The man walked straight up to them.

"House him burn!" he observed briefly. "Dat vair bad job."

"Deuced bad," said Nick grimly. "Were lost our grub, too."

Leclou shook his head. He was tall and gaunt, with a face almost an coppery as an Indian's.

"I haf a leetle meat. I sell you half, eef you like."

"You bet we'd like," replied Nick quickly. "We won't be too particular about the price either."

"Zen you gif me two ounce gold," said Leclou, as he slung off his pack and flung it on the ground. "Zen I buy some new traps."

Mark pulled a bag out of his pocket. They had no scales, and had to guess the weight. But the breed seemed satisfied, and handed over a full half of his small store of dried meat.

"You go for Circle Creek?" he questioned.

"That's it," replied Nick. "How's the ice?"

"Him all right," was the answer. "Him be all right two-tree day." He paused.

"You know ze Burnt Island?" he asked.

"What—right away east?"

Leclou nodded. "You make him ze first day. Zere vas old cabin zere vere you sleep. Zen you can make ze fort ze next day."

Nick looked round at his brother. "That's a good notion, Mark," he said. "Anything's better than spending a night out on the ice."

"We're very much obliged to you, Leclou," he continued. "We'll do as you say."

"Zat vas all right," said the man, and, picking up his pack, vanished as silently as he had come.

The Island of Lost Dogs

"PRECIOUS lucky for us we got that meat, Mark," said Nick.

The two brothers were crouching behind a hummock far out on the wind-swept ice of the great lake. The shore they had left was a dim line to the north-west, but the farther shore was invisible. A raw wind was crying mournfully under the clouded sky; not a living thing was in sight, and the prospect was ineffably dreary.

Mark finished his mouthful of the tough meat and staggered to his feet.

"Mighty lucky," he said briefly. "Come, Nick! We've got to make that island before dark."

For an hour the two pushed onwards. They were travelling due east, and now the lake was narrowing. Both banks were visible. But the wind had changed; it was now blowing from the south.

"Thaw's coming!" said Nick hoarsely. His young face was white and drawn with sheer fatigue and his eyes bloodshot.

"It's come!" said Mark, as a drop of cold rain struck his cheek. "I wish we could see that island."

"I believe I can," replied Nick. "Anyhow, we can't miss it. The lake's narrower every mile."

The thaw had come. With every mile the rain splashed down thicker and yet more thickly. The snow went soft, and at every step their feet sank to the ankles in freezing slush. Their legs were like lead; they were too weary to speak, or even think.

Out of the grey drive of the rain a humped mass rose darkly.

"The island!" muttered Nick thickly; then as he spoke he pulled up short. "What's that?" he gasped.

Through the monotonous splash of the rain had come a long-drawn, terrifying howl. An awesome sound, like the wail of a lost soul.

"Wolves!" answered Mark.

The sound came again. The night throbbed with it. Chills ran down the backs of the two brothers. Their blood froze in their veins.

"No—huskies," said Nick. "Mark, this must be the Island of Lost Dogs."

"What shall we do?" gasped Mark. His teeth were chattering.

Nick stood quite still. He was thinking hard.

"We must chance it, Mark. We can't go farther: if we try it we shall drop and die. We must have shelter for the night, and the old cabin is the only place where we can find it."

Mark made no reply. He knew that Nick was right. The cabin was their only chance, and if the dogs got there before they gained it—well, it was, quicker than dying of exposure out on the wind-swept ice.

Ten minutes later the pair were creeping through a fringe of sopping brushwood. Fifty yards away inland stood the square black bulk of the deserted hut. But beyond it, against the white sheet of snow, gaunt creatures moved restlessly, and every now and then a long-drawn, shivering howl rose to the dark sky.

"The wind's from us to them," whispered Nick. "They haven't smelt us. Once we reach the edge of the brush we must make a dash."

"Let's hope the door's open—that's all," said Mark grimly.

At the rim of the brush Nick paused, and opened the breech of his gun. It was their only firearm. Naturally they were travelling as light as possible.

"Now!" he said, and ran.

They had not covered half the distance before the wailing cries changed suddenly to a howling chorus. The scattered forms gathered like magic, and from every side the hunger-mad brutes came dashing upon them.

Nick flung up his gun, and as the first leaped at him blazed full in its face. With head blown to rags, the creature rolled over, the body bounding in its death agony on the reddened snow. For one instant the others paused, and the two boys tore on.

"The door is open," panted Nick. "You first, Mark."

Mark flashed by, and hurled himself through the open door. But even as he did so a shaggy brute leaped upon his shoulders, and he sprawled forward with the savage beast on top of him. Another flew at Nick, catching the skirt of his coat between its teeth.

He brought his gun down on its skull, and it dropped, stunned. Leaping over its body, he hurled himself into the hut, and, spinning round, slammed the door. Only just in time, for two more of the dogs were within a yard of him, and it was only the force with which he swung the door that bowled them over and out.

In the darkness beyond he heard the worrying growl of the brute that held Mark. It was too dark to dare to shoot. He sprang forward, and aimed a frantic kick at what he took to be the dog. The toe of his boot thudded on gaunt ribs; there was a savage growl, and the dog, releasing Mark, turned upon Nick savagely.

Nick saw its eyes glow redly through the gloom. His own head was spinning, his legs trembled under him. He stepped back, threw up the gun, and snapped off his remaining cartridge at those eyes. The roar of the explosion was terrific in that narrow space, but the charge of swan shot had done its work. The dog lay kicking its life out against the far wall.

"Mark!" gasped Nick.

"All right," came Mark's voice. "All right, old chap. He got his teeth into my parka. I'm not hurt."

"Thanks be!" said Nick. Then his legs gave way in earnest, and he dropped helpless on the rough boarded floor.

A Fresh Foe

IT was Mark who managed to light the fire, and the warmth did much to pull Nick round. They still had a little meat, and this they toasted and ate. Outside, the wind moaned and the starving dogs howled hideously. The brutes were all around them, and they knew that they were penned.

"It's that blackguard Clay, Nick," said Mark very gravely. "He always vowed he'd have that claim of ours. Do you remember how savage he was when we refused to sell?"

"I remember," Nick answered. "Yes, Mark, it must have been all a plant between him and Leclou. Probably he bribed Leclou to burn the cabin and spin us those lies. Like as not it was Clay himself who turned the dogs loose here. It's the sort of brutal thing he would do."

"But I can't understand," objected Mark. "Why do the dogs stay here? Why don't they go off across the ice?"

"Oh, he must have fed them here for some time first. Do that, and a husky will stay right by the place where it has been accustomed to get its grub."

"I see. Well, what I want to know is, how we are going to get away?"

"No use worrying about that now. Leave it till morning, Mark. When we have had some sleep we shall be able to think better. Just now my head is like cotton wool."

"Mine too," agreed Mike. "All right. I'll make the fire up, and we'll get a snooze."

Five minutes later the two brothers lay side by side on the rough boarded floor, sleeping as soundly as if in their beds, and quite unconscious of the pack of savage brutes that prowled round the cabin and leaped hungrily against the walls.

What did at last wake them was a roar like long continued thunder, a series of splitting, rending sounds, which, beginning far away, came crashing towards them at frightful speed. The clamour was so great that the very island seemed to shake with the sound,

Nick shot up to his feet.

"The ice!" he exclaimed. "The ice is going out, Mark!"

He ran to the one window and pushed open the shutter. The grey light of a cold cloudy dawn leaked in.

"She's going, Mark," he repented. "Two big cracks already.

Suddenly a wolfish head was outlined in the opening; a pair of slavering jaws snapped with the sound of a steel trap within a few inches of Nick's face. He sprang back, slamming the shutter.

His face, as he turned to Mark, was grim and drawn.

"They're waiting for us, Mark," he said, "and we haven't a single cartridge left."

"Any use making a bolt for it?" questioned Mark.

"Not a ha'porth. They'd have us before we'd gone fifty yards, Man, the brutes are mad with hunger. There wouldn't be a bone left of us."

"Then we're to stick here and starve?"

"Why should we starve? There's the dog I killed last night, and an old iron pot. What's the matter with making soup?"

"All right," said Mark slowly. He hated the notion of dog soup, but there was no choice.

The wood was nearly finished. Nick was hunting for something to break up for fuel when he was startled by seeing water creeping in across the floor. He sprang to the shutter and looked out.

"Mark!" he cried, in fresh dismay, "the lake's rising! Tho water is all over the island! "

The End of the Game

"ARE you very cold, Nick?" asked Mark anxiously.

"So-so," Nick answered, trying to laugh. But his teeth were chattering and his lips blue.

It was late in the afternoon, and the two were perched on the roof of the shanty. The whole island was under water, and the wretched dogs drowned and done for long ago. The sky had cleared, and it was freezing again. The cold was terrible. It seemed to numb their very brains, and both knew very well that long before morning they would be sunk in the death sleep.

The water was falling again. The ice dam, which must have formed in the gorge when Circle Creek drained the lake, had evidently broken, and floes shining white like ghosts swam past in endless procession. Now and then a mass of ice ground against the hut, making it rock and quiver. The boys hardly noticed. They were too cold.

Mark's eyes closed. His head dropped.

"Wake up!" cried Nick, punching his brother with a sort of savage energy.

"What's the use?" Mark muttered thickly. "We've got to live, man," said Nick fiercely. " We've got to live, if only to get square with Clay."

Mark looked dully at Nick. "Nick," he said, "you know as well as I do that we haven't a dog's chance. We shall both be frozen stiff before morning."

Nick was silent. Indeed, he did know it, just as well as Mark. He could not face his brother's eyes, but turned and stared out across the great waste of grey water and floating ice.

Mark was sinking back into the frost sleep when he was roused once more by a yell from Nick.

"Mark! Mark! Look!"

"What is it!"

"The raft! It's the big timber raft from Hickey's Landing. See! It's floating right down upon us."

His voice cracked with excitement, and his hand shook as he pointed out a great mass, large as the hull of a five-hundred-ton ship, that came grinding through the ice straight towards the flooded island.

"I can see the chaps on it," cried Nick. "Yes, and they can see us, too. Yell for all you're worth, Mark."

"Yes, they've spotted us," said Mark. "They're shoving their boat over."

Nick laughed wildly.

"We shall still have a chance to square accounts with Clay," he said between set teeth.

A little after daybreak next morning the brothers were landed safely in Circle City. Since they had a considerable quantity of gold about them in dust and small nuggets, there was no difficulty whatever in getting all the stores they required, or in hiring a stout boat fit to take them and all their stuff back across the lake.

They waited three days until the worst of the ice had gone out, then, at dawn on a bright morning, got up sail and left. The wind held well, and it was still early in the afternoon when they ran into the little bay opposite their claim and sighted the ruins of their burnt cabin.

Nick stood up and looked carefully around. "See anyone!" asked Mark.

"No," answered Nick, frowning. "Wonder if the blighter has heard that we are safe?"

They landed quietly, and, tying up the boat, crept cautiously up past the ruined cabin towards the big dump of red earth which marked the site of the "Lucky Chance" claim. Nick paused again, and listened.

"Can't hear anything," he whispered. "Can you?"

"No, Nick, but I've a hunch they're not far off."

"That's what I feel," replied Nick uneasily. "Clay might be lying out in the brush with his Winchester."

Mark's eyes widened. "Think he'd dare murder us right out!"

"He'd dare anything for gold," Nick answered curtly. "Keep behind the dump, Mark. Don't expose yourself."

Slowly and very quietly the two crawled towards the mouth of the shaft. It was a black looking pit, some four feet square, with a ladder leading down to the bottom. The top of the ladder was just visible above the rim of the shaft.

Suddenly Nick grasped Mark's arm. The two paused, breathless, and waited. Next moment there was a slight grating sound. Someone was coming up the ladder!

Another few seconds, and a head rose out of the mouth of the pit, and a pair of fierce yellowish eyes set close on either side of a narrow, beaky nose peered suspiciously this way and that.

Like a flash Nick was on his feet. He did not say a word, but leaped forward silent and swift as a cat.

The yellow eyes widened into a glare of horror, a hoarse cry came from Ezra Clay's throat, he flung up his hands, and losing his balance went over backwards.

As the two boys leaped forward they heard his body strike the bottom of the shaft.

Mark was for rushing down, but Nick stopped him. Taking an electric flash-lamp from his pocket, he crept to the edge of the shaft and directed the light downwards.

Then he turned back to his brother.

"I think he's finished," he said quietly.

He was. Striking his head against the timbering as he fell. Clay had broken his neck, and was as dead as the dull wet earth on which he lay.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.