THE GOLD HUNTERS (A Western Mystery Classic) - James Oliver Curwood - ebook

THE GOLD HUNTERS (A Western Mystery Classic) ebook

James Oliver Curwood



This carefully crafted ebook: "THE GOLD HUNTERS (A Western Mystery Classic)" is formatted for your eReader with a functional and detailed table of contents. Three men wish to try out their luck in finding a hidden treasure in the unyielding Canadian Wilderness while a young Indian Princess is kidnapped for this purpose. Excerpt: "It was that hour when the old hunter on the trail takes off his pack, silently gathers wood for a fire, eats his dinner and smokes his pipe, eyes and ears alert;—that hour when if you speak above a whisper, he will say to you, "Sh-h-h-h! Be quiet! You can't tell how near we are to game. Everything has had its morning feed and is lying low. The game won't be moving again for an hour or two, and there may be moose or caribou a gunshot ahead. We couldn't hear them—now!" James Oliver Curwood was an American action-adventure writer and conservationist. His books ranked among top-ten best sellers in the United States and at least eighteen motion pictures have been based on or directly inspired by his novels and short stories. At the time of his death, he was the highest paid (per word) author in the world. His writing studio, Curwood Castle, is now a museum in Owosso, Michigan.

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James Oliver Curwood


(A Western Mystery Classic)

A Dangerous Treasure Hunt and the Story of Life and Adventure in the Hudson Bay Wilds (From the Renowned Author of The Danger Trail, Kazan, The Hunted Woman and The Valley of Silent Men)
e-artnow, 2017 Contact: [email protected]
ISBN 978-80-268-7665-6

Table of Contents

Chapter I. The Pursuit of the Hudson Bay Mail
Chapter II. Minnetaki in the Hands of the Outlaws
Chapter III. On the Trail of the Woongas
Chapter IV. Rod Follows the Man-Footed Bear
Chapter V. Rod's Fight for Life
Chapter VI. The Shadow of Death
Chapter VII. On the Trail of Gold
Chapter VIII. The Yellow Bullet
Chapter IX. Up the Ombabika
Chapter X. The Mysterious Shot
Chapter XI. The Cry in the Chasm
Chapter XII. Wabi Makes a Strange Discovery
Chapter XIII. The Third Waterfall
Chapter XIV. The Paper in the Old Tin Box
Chapter XV. The Treasure in the Pool
Chapter XVI. John Ball and the Mystery of the Gold
Chapter XVII. In a Subterranean World
Chapter XVIII. John Ball's Story

To the sweet-voiced, dark-eyed little half-Cree maiden at Lac-Bain, who is the Minnetaki of this story; and to "Teddy" Brown, guide and trapper, and loyal comrade of the author in many of his adventures, this book is affectionately dedicated.

Chapter I. The Pursuit of the Hudson Bay Mail

Table of Contents

The deep hush of noon hovered over the vast solitude of Canadian forest. The moose and caribou had fed since early dawn, and were resting quietly in the warmth of the February sun; the lynx was curled away in his niche between the great rocks, waiting for the sun to sink farther into the north and west before resuming his marauding adventures; the fox was taking his midday slumber and the restless moose-birds were fluffing themselves lazily in the warm glow that was beginning to melt the snows of late winter.

It was that hour when the old hunter on the trail takes off his pack, silently gathers wood for a fire, eats his dinner and smokes his pipe, eyes and ears alert;—that hour when if you speak above a whisper, he will say to you,

"Sh-h-h-h! Be quiet! You can't tell how near we are to game. Everything has had its morning feed and is lying low. The game won't be moving again for an hour or two, and there may be moose or caribou a gunshot ahead. We couldn't hear them—now!"

And yet, after a time one thing detached itself from this lifeless solitude. At first it was nothing more than a spot on the sunny side of a snow-covered ridge. Then it moved, stretched itself like a dog, with its forefeet extended far to the front and its shoulders hunched low—and was a wolf.

A wolf is a heavy sleeper after a feast. A hunter would have said that this wolf had gorged itself the night before. Still, something had alarmed it. Faintly there came to this wilderness outlaw that most thrilling of all things to the denizens of the forest—the scent of man. He came down the ridge with the slow indifference of a full-fed animal, and with only a half of his old cunning; trotted across the softening snow of an opening and stopped where the man-scent was so strong that he lifted his head straight up to the sky and sent out to his comrades in forest and plain the warning signal that he had struck a human trail. A wolf will do this, and no more, in broad day. At night he might follow, and others would join him in the chase; but with daylight about him he gives the warning and after a little slinks away from the trail.

But something held this wolf. There was a mystery in the air which puzzled him. Straight ahead there ran the broad, smooth trail of a sled and the footprints of many dogs. Sometime within the last hour the "dog mail" from Wabinosh House had passed that way on its long trip to civilization. But it was not the swift passage of man and dog that held the wolf rigidly alert, ready for flight—and yet hesitating. It was something from the opposite direction, from the North, out of which the wind was coming. First it was sound; then it was scent—then both, and the wolf sped in swift flight up the sunlit ridge.

In the direction from which the alarm came there stretched a small lake, and on its farther edge, a quarter of a mile away, there suddenly darted out from the dense rim of balsam forest a jumble of dogs and sledge and man. For a few moments the mass of animals seemed entangled in some kind of wreck or engaged in one of those fierce battles in which the half-wild sledge-dogs of the North frequently engage, even on the trail. Then there came the sharp, commanding cries of a human voice, the cracking of a whip, the yelping of the huskies, and the disordered team straightened itself and came like a yellowish-gray streak across the smooth surface of the lake. Close beside the sledge ran the man. He was tall, and thin, and even at that distance one would have recognized him as an Indian. Hardly had the team and its wild-looking driver progressed a quarter of the distance across the lake when there came a shout farther back, and a second sledge burst into view from out of the thick forest. Beside this sledge, too, a driver was running with desperate speed.

The leader now leaped upon his sledge, his voice rising in sharp cries of exhortation, his whip whirling and cracking over the backs of his dogs. The second driver still ran, and thus gained upon the team ahead, so that when they came to the opposite side of the lake, where the wolf had sent out the warning cry to his people, the twelve dogs of the two teams were almost abreast.

Quickly there came a slackening in the pace set by the leading dog of each team, and half a minute later the sledges stopped. The dogs flung themselves down in their harness, panting, with gaping jaws, the snow reddening under their bleeding feet. The men, too, showed signs of terrible strain. The elder of these, as we have said, was an Indian, pure breed of the great Northern wilderness. His companion was a youth who had not yet reached his twenties, slender, but with the strength and agility of an animal in his limbs, his handsome face bronzed by the free life of the forest, and in his veins a plentiful strain of that blood which made his comrade kin.

In those two we have again met our old friends Mukoki and Wabigoon: Mukoki, the faithful old warrior and pathfinder, and Wabigoon, the adventurous half-Indian son of the factor of Wabinosh House. Both were at the height of some great excitement. For a few moments, while gaining breath, they gazed silently into each other's face.

"I'm afraid—we can't—catch them, Muky," panted the younger. "What do you think—"

He stopped, for Mukoki had thrown himself on his knees in the snow a dozen feet in front of the teams. From that point there ran straight ahead of them the trail of the dog mail. For perhaps a full minute he examined the imprints of the dogs' feet and the smooth path made by the sledge. Then he looked up, and with one of those inimitable chuckles which meant so much when coming from him, he said:

"We catch heem—sure! See—sledge heem go deep. Both ride. Big load for dogs. We catch heem—sure!"

"But our dogs!" persisted Wabigoon, his face still filled with doubt. "They're completely bushed, and my leader has gone lame. See how they're bleeding!"

The huskies, as the big wolfish sledge-dogs of the far North are called, were indeed in a pitiable condition. The warm sun had weakened the hard crust of the snow until at every leap the feet of the animals had broken through, tearing and wounding themselves on its ragged, knife-like edges. Mukoki's face became more serious as he carefully examined the teams.

"Bad—ver' bad," he grunted. "We fool—fool!"

"For not bringing dog shoes?" said Wabigoon. "I've got a dozen shoes on my sledge—enough for three dogs. By George—" He leaped quickly to his toboggan, caught up the dog moccasins, and turned again to the old Indian, alive with new excitement. "We've got just one chance, Muky!" he half shouted.

"Pick out the strongest dogs. One of us must go on alone!"

The sharp commands of the two adventurers and the cracking of Mukoki's whip brought the tired and bleeding animals to their feet. Over the pads of three of the largest and strongest were drawn the buckskin moccasins, and to these three, hitched to Wabigoon's sledge, were added six others that appeared to have a little endurance still left in them. A few moments later the long line of dogs was speeding swiftly over the trail of the Hudson Bay mail, and beside the sled ran Wabigoon.

Thus this thrilling pursuit of the dog mail had continued since early dawn. For never more than a minute or two at a time had there been a rest. Over mountain and lake, through dense forest and across barren plain man and dog had sped without food or drink, snatching up mouthfuls of snow here and there—always their eyes upon the fresh trail of the flying mail. Even the fierce huskies seemed to understand that the chase had become a matter of life and death, and that they were to follow the trail ahead of them, ceaselessly and without deviation, until the end of their masters was accomplished. The human scent was becoming stronger and stronger in their wolf-like nostrils. Somewhere on that trail there were men, and other dogs, and they were to overtake them!

Even now, bleeding and stumbling as they ran, the blood of battle, the excitement of the chase, was hot within them. Half-wolf, half-dog, their white fangs snarling as stronger whiffs of the man-smell came to them, they were filled with the savage desperation of the youth who urged them on. The keen instinct of the wild pointed out their road to them, and they needed no guiding hand. Faithful until the last they dragged on their burden, their tongues lolling farther from their jaws, their hearts growing weaker, their eyes bloodshot until they glowed like red balls. Now and then, when he had run until his endurance was gone, Wabigoon would fling himself upon the sledge to regain breath and rest his limbs, and the dogs would tug harder, scarce slackening their speed under the increased weight. Once a huge moose crashed through the forest a hundred paces away, but the huskies paid no attention to it; a little farther on a lynx, aroused from his sun bath on a rock, rolled like a great gray ball across the trail,—the dogs cringed but for an instant at the sight of this mortal enemy of theirs, and then went on.

Slower and slower grew the pace. The rearmost dog was now no more than a drag, and reaching a keen-edged knife far out over the end of the sledge Wabi severed his breast strap and the exhausted animal rolled out free beside the trail. Two others of the team were pulling scarce a pound, another was running lame, and the trail behind was spotted with pads of blood. Each minute added to the despair that was growing in the youth's face. His eyes, like those of his faithful dogs, were red from the terrible strain of the race, his lips were parted, his legs, as tireless as those of a red deer, were weakening under him. More and more frequently he flung himself upon the sledge, panting for breath, and shorter and shorter became his intervals of running between these periods of rest. The end of the chase was almost at hand. They could not overtake the Hudson Bay mail!

With a final cry of encouragement Wabi sprang from the sledge and plunged along at the head of the dogs, urging them on in one last supreme effort. Ahead of them was a break in the forest trail and beyond that, mile upon mile, stretched the vast white surface of Lake Nipigon. And far out in the glare of sun and snow there moved an object, something that was no more than a thin black streak to Wabi's blinded eyes but which he knew was the dog mail on its way to civilization. He tried to shout, but the sound that fell from his lips could not have been heard a hundred paces away; his limbs tottered beneath him; his feet seemed suddenly to turn into lead, and he sank helpless into the snow. The faithful pack crowded about him licking his face and hands, their hot breath escaping between their gaping jaws like hissing steam For a few moments it seemed to the Indian youth that day had suddenly turned into night. His eyes closed, the panting of the dogs came to him more and more faintly, as if they were moving away; he felt himself sinking, sinking slowly down into utter blackness.

Desperately he fought to bring himself back into life. There was one more chance—just one! He heard the dogs again, he felt their tongues upon his hands and face, and he dragged himself to his knees, groping out with his hands like one who had gone blind. A few feet away was the sledge, and out there, far beyond his vision now, was the Hudson Bay mail!

Foot by foot he drew himself out from among the tangle of dogs. He reached the sledge, and his fingers gripped convulsively at the cold steel of his rifle. One more chance! One more chance! The words—the thought—filled his brain, and he raised the rifle to his shoulder, pointing its muzzle up to the sky so that he would not harm the dogs. And then, once, twice, five times he fired into the air, and at the end of the fifth shot he drew fresh cartridges from his belt, and fired again and again, until the black streak far out in the wilderness of ice and snow stopped in its progress—and turned back. And still the sharp signals rang out again and again, until the barrel of Wabi's rifle grew hot, and his cartridge belt was empty.

Slowly the gloom cleared away before his eyes. He heard a shout, and staggered to his feet, stretching out his arms and calling a name as the dog mail stopped half a hundred yards from his own team.

With something between a yell of joy and a cry of astonishment a youth of about Wabi's age sprang from the second sleigh and ran to the Indian boy, catching him in his arms as for a second time, he sank fainting upon the snow.

"Wabi—what's the matter?" he cried. "Are you hurt? Are you—"

For a moment Wabigoon struggled to overcome his weakness.

"Rod—" he whispered, "Rod—Minnetaki—"

His lips ceased to move and he sank heavily in his companion's arms.

"What is it, Wabi? Quick! Speak!" urged the other. His face had grown strangely white, his voice trembled. "What about—Minnetaki?"

Again the Indian youth fought to bring himself back to life. His words came faintly,

"Minnetaki—has been captured—by—the—Woongas!"

Then even his breath seemed to stop, and he lay like one dead.

Chapter II. Minnetaki in the Hands of the Outlaws

Table of Contents

For a brief time Roderick believed that life had indeed passed from the body of his young friend. So still did Wabi lie and so terrifying was the strange pallor in his face that the white boy found himself calling on his comrade in a voice filled with choking sobs. The driver of the dog mail dropped on his knees beside the two young hunters. Running his hand under Wabi's thick shirt he held it there for an instant, and said, "He's alive!"

Quickly drawing a small metal flask from one of his pockets he unscrewed the top, and placing the mouthpiece to the Indian youth's lips forced a bit of its contents down his throat. The liquor had almost immediate effect, and Wabigoon opened his eyes, gazed into the rough visage of the courier, then closed them again. There was relief in the courier's face as he pointed to the dogs from Wabinosh House. The exhausted animals were lying stretched upon the snow, their heads drooping between their forefeet. Even the presence of a rival team failed to arouse them from their lethargy. One might have thought that death had overtaken them upon the trail were it not for their panting sides and lolling tongues.

"He's not hurt!" exclaimed the driver, "see the dogs! He's been running—running until he dropped in his tracks!"

The assurance brought but little comfort to Rod. He could feel the tremble of returning life in Wabi's body now, but the sight of the exhausted and bleeding dogs and the memory of his comrade's last words had filled him with a new and terrible fear. What had happened to Minnetaki? Why had the factor's son come all this distance for him? Why had he pursued the mail until his dogs were nearly dead, and he himself had fallen unconscious in his tracks? Was Minnetaki dead? Had the Woongas killed Wabi's beautiful little sister?

Again and again he implored his friend to speak to him, until the courier pushed him back and carried Wabi to the mail sled.

"Hustle up there to that bunch of spruce and build a fire," he commanded. "We've got to get something hot into him, and rub him down, and roll him in furs. This is bad enough, bad enough!"

Rod waited to hear no more, but ran to the clump of spruce to which the courier had directed him. Among them he found a number of birch trees, and stripping off an armful of bark he had a fire blazing upon the snow by the time the dog mail drew up with its unconscious burden. While the driver was loosening Wabi's clothes and bundling him in heavy bearskins Rod added dry limbs to the fire until it threw a warm glow for a dozen paces around. Within a few minutes a pot of ice and snow was melting over the flames and the courier was opening a can of condensed soup.

The deathly pallor had gone from Wabi's face, and Rod, kneeling close beside him, was rejoiced to see the breath coming more and more regularly from between his lips. But even as he rejoiced the other fear grew heavier at his heart. What had happened to Minnetaki? He found himself repeating the question again and again as he watched Wabi slowly returning to life, and, so quickly that it had passed in a minute or two, there flashed through his mind a vision of all that had happened the last few months. For a few moments, as his mind traveled back, he was again in Detroit with his widowed mother; he thought of the day he had first met Wabigoon, the son of an English factor and a beautiful Indian princess, who had come far down into civilization to be educated; of the friendship that had followed, of their weeks and months together in school, and then of those joyous days and nights in which they had planned a winter of thrilling adventure at Wabi's home in the far North.

And what adventures there had been, when, as the Wolf Hunters, he and Wabi and Mukoki had braved the perils of the frozen solitudes! As Wabigoon's breath came more and more regularly he thought of that wonderful canoe trip from the last bit of civilization up into the wilds; of his first sight of moose, the first bear he had killed, and of his meeting with Minnetaki.

His eyes became blurred and his heart grew cold as he thought of what might have happened to her. A vision of the girl swept between him and Wabi's face, in which the glow of life was growing warmer and warmer, a vision of the little half-Indian maiden as he had first seen her, when she came out to meet them in her canoe from Wabinosh House, the sun shining on her dark hair, her cheeks flushed with excitement, her eyes and teeth sparkling in glad welcome to her beloved brother and the white youth of whom she had heard so much—the boy from civilization—Roderick Drew. He remembered how his cap had blown off into the water, how she had rescued it for him. In a flash all that passed after that came before him like a picture; the days that he and Minnetaki had rambled together in the forest, the furious battle in which, single-handed, he had saved her from those fierce outlaw Indians of the North, the Woongas; and after that he thought of the weeks of thrilling adventure they three—Mukoki, Wabigoon and himself—had spent in the wilderness far from the Hudson Bay Post, of their months of trapping, their desperate war with the Woongas, the discovery of the century-old cabin and its ancient skeletons, and their finding of the birch-bark map between the bones of one of the skeleton's fingers, on which, dimmed by age, was drawn the trail to a land of gold.

Instinctively, as for an instant this map came into his mental picture, he thrust a hand into one of his inside pockets to feel that his own copy of that map was there, the map which was to have brought him back into this wilderness a few weeks hence, when they three would set out on the romantic quest for the gold to which the skeletons in the old cabin had given them the key.

The vision left him as he saw a convulsive shudder pass through Wabigoon. In another moment the Indian youth had opened his eyes, and as he looked up into Rod's eager face he smiled feebly. He tried to speak, but words failed him, and his eyes closed again. There was a look of terror in Roderick's face as he turned to the courier, who came to his side. Less than twenty-four hours before he had left Wabigoon in the full strength of his splendid youth at Wabinosh House, a lithe young giant, hardened by their months of adventure, quivering with buoyant life, anxious for the spring that they might meet again to take up another trail into the unexplored North.

And now what a change! The glimpse he had caught of Wabi's bloodshot eyes, the terrible thinness of the Indian youth's face, the chilling lifelessness of his hands, made him shiver with dread. Was it possible that a few short hours could bring about that remarkable transformation? And where was Mukoki, the faithful old warrior from whose guardianship Wabigoon and Minnetaki were seldom allowed to escape?

It seemed an hour before Wabi opened his eyes again, and yet it was only a few minutes. This time Rod lifted him gently in his arms and the courier placed a cup of the hot soup to his lips. The warmth of the liquid put new life into the famished Indian youth. He drank slowly of it at first, then eagerly, and when he had finished the cup he made an effort to sit up.

"I'll take another," he said faintly. "It's mighty good!"

He drank the second cup with even greater relish. Then he sat bolt upright, stretched out his arms, and with his companion's assistance staggered to his feet. His bloodshot eyes burned with a strange excitement as he looked at Rod.

"I was afraid—I wouldn't—catch you!"

"What is it, Wabi? What has happened? You say—Minnetaki—"

"Has been captured by the Woongas. Chief Woonga himself is her captor, and they are taking her into the North. Rod, only you can save her!"

"Only—I—can—save—her?" gasped Rod slowly. "What do you mean?"

"Listen!" cried the Indian boy, clutching him by the arm. "You remember that after our fight with the Woongas and our escape from the chasm we fled to the south, and that the next day, while you were away from camp hunting for some animal that would give us fat for Mukoki's wound, you discovered a trail. You told us that you followed the sledge tracks, and that after a time the party had been met by others on snow-shoes, and that among the imprints in the snow was one that made you think of Minnetaki. When we reached the Post we learned that Minnetaki and two sledges had gone to Kenegami House and at once concluded that those snow-shoe trails were made by Kenegami people sent out to meet her. But they were not! They were made by Woongas!

"One of the guides, who escaped with a severe wound, brought the news to us last night, and the doctor at the Post says that his hurt is fatal and that he will not live another day. Everything depends on you. You and the dying guide are the only two who know where to find the place where the attack was made. It has been thawing for two days and the trail may be obliterated. But you saw Minnetaki's footprints. You saw the snow-shoe trails. You—and you alone—know which way they went!"

Wabi spoke rapidly, excitedly, and then sank down on the sledge, weakened by his exertion.

"We have been chasing you with two teams since dawn," he added, "and pretty nearly killed the dogs. As a last chance we doubled up the teams and I came on alone. I left Mukoki a dozen miles back on the trail."

Rod's blood had turned cold with horror at the knowledge that Minnetaki was in the clutches of Woonga himself. The terrible change in Wabi was no longer a mystery. Both Minnetaki and her brother had told him more than once of the relentless feud waged against Wabinosh House by this bloodthirsty savage and during the last winter he had come into personal contact with it. He had fought, had seen people die, and had almost fallen a victim to Woonga's vengeance.

But it was not of these things that he thought just now. It was of the reason for the feud, and something rose in his throat and choked him until he made no effort to speak. Many years before, George Newsome, a young Englishman, had come to Wabinosh House, and there he had met and fallen in love with a beautiful Indian princess, who loved him in turn, and became his wife. Woonga, chief of a warlike tribe, had been his rival, and when the white man won in the battle for love his fierce heart blazed with the fire of hatred and revenge. From that day the relentless strife against the people of Wabinosh House began. The followers of Woonga turned from trappers and hunters to murderers and outlaws, and became known all over that wilderness country as the Woongas. For years the feud had continued. Like a hawk Woonga watched his opportunities, killing here, robbing there, and always waiting a chance to rob the factor of his wife or children. Only a few weeks before Rod had saved Minnetaki in that terrible struggle in the forest. And now, more hopelessly than before, she had fallen into the clutches of her enemies, and alone with Woonga was being carried into the far North country, into those vast unexplored regions from which she would probably never return!

Rod turned to Wabi, his hands clenched, his eyes blazing.

"I can find the trail, Wabi! I can find the trail—and we'll follow it to the North Pole if we have to! We beat the Woongas in the chasm—we'll beat them now! We'll find Minnetaki if it takes us until doomsday!"

From far back in the forest there came the faint pistol-like cracks of a whip, the distant hallooing of a voice.

For a few moments the three stood listening.

The voice came again.

"It's Mukoki," said Wabigoon, "Mukoki and the other dogs!"

Chapter III. On the Trail of the Woongas

Table of Contents

The cries came nearer, interspersed with the cracking of Mukoki's whip as he urged on the few lagging dogs that Wabi had left with him upon the trail. In another moment the old warrior and his team burst into view and both of the young hunters hurried to meet him. A glance showed Rod that a little longer and Mukoki would have dropped in his tracks, as Wabi had done. The two led their faithful comrade to the heap of bearskins on the mail sled and made him sit there while fresh soup was being made.

"You catch heem," grinned Mukoki joyously. "You catch heem—queek!"

"And pretty nearly killed himself doing it, Muky," added Rod. "Now—" he glanced from one to the other of his companions, "what is the first thing to be done?" "We must strike for the Woonga trail without a moment of unnecessary delay," declared Wabi. "Minutes are priceless, an hour lost or gained may mean everything!"

"But the dogs—"

"You can take mine," interrupted the courier. "There are six of them, all good heavy fellows and not overly bushed. You can add a few of your own and I'll take what's left to drive on the mail. I would advise you to rest for an hour or so and give them and yourselves a good feed. It'll count in the long run."

Mukoki grunted his approval of the driver's words and Rod at once began gathering more fuel for the fire. The temporary camp was soon a scene of the liveliest activity. While the courier unpacked his provisions, Mukoki and Wabigoon assembled the teams and proceeded to select three of the best of their own animals to put in harness with those of the Hudson Bay mail. The dogs from Wabinosh House were wildly famished and at the sight and odor of the great piece of meat which the courier began cutting up for them they set up a snarling and snapping of jaws, and began fighting indiscriminately among themselves until the voices of their human companions were almost drowned in the tumult. A full pound of the meat was given to each dog, and other pieces of it were suspended over beds of coals drawn out from the big fire. Meanwhile Rod was chopping through the thick ice of the lake in search of water.

After a little Wabi came down to join him.

"Our sledge is ready," he said, as Rod stopped to rest for a moment. "We're a little short on grub for nine dogs and three people, but we've got plenty of ammunition. We ought to find something on the trail."

"Rabbits, anyway," suggested Rod, resuming his chopping. A few more strokes, and water gushed through. Filling two pails the boys returned to camp.

The shadows from the sharp pointed cedars of the forest were falling far out upon the frozen lake when the meal was finished, and the sun, sinking early to its rest beyond the homeless solitudes, infused but little warmth as the three hunters prepared to leave. It was only three o'clock, but a penetrating chill was growing in the air. Half an hour more and only a reddish glow would be where the northern sun still shone feebly. In the far North winter night falls with the swiftness of wings; it enshrouds one like a palpable, moving thing, a curtain of gloom that can almost be touched and felt, and so it came now, as the dogs were hitched to their sledge and Rod, Mukoki and Wabigoon bade good-by to the driver of the Hudson Bay mail.

"You'll make the other side in four hours," he called, as Mukoki's cries sent the dogs trotting out upon the lake. "And then—I'd camp!"

Running on ahead Mukoki set the pace and marked the trail. Wabi took the first turn on the sledge, and Rod, who was fresher than either of his comrades, followed close behind. After a little he drew up beside the young Indian and placed a hand on his shoulder as he ran.

"We will reach our old camp—in the plain—to-morrow?" he questioned, between breaths.

"To-morrow," affirmed Wabi. "Mukoki will show us the shortest cut to it. After that, after we reach the camp, everything will depend upon you."