The Trail of the Golden Horn - H.A. Cody - ebook
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The main character, Hugo, hated the river and always kept away from it. After all, the river is a clear evil. From which many people died. Hugo will have to overcome many obstacles in its path. Overcome your fears. But will he cope with this?

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Liczba stron: 407

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Contents

1. The Smokeless Cabin

2. A Night Vision

3. The Tell-tale Lock

4. To be Continued

5. Face to Face

6. Zell

7. Terrors of the Night

8. Hugo to the Rescue

9. Stains on the Snow

10. Lost

11. Where Strength Counts

12. Confession

13. The Rush of Doom

14. Life for Life

15. The Truce of the Storm

16. The Man of The Gap

17. The Trapper Arrives

18. A Cowardly Deed

19. Anxious Waiting

20. United Forces

21. Helping Hands

22. The Messenger

23. Rejected

24. The Wages of Sin

25. Maintien le Droit

26. The Night Struggle

27. An Unfolded Record

28. Waiting

29. Good News

30. His Message of Farewell

31. Plans

CHAPTER 1

The Smokeless Cabin

“No smoke!”

Hugo, the trapper, rasped forth these words upon the stinging air as he paused abruptly upon the brow of a steep hill. He was puzzled, and he rubbed the frost from his eyelids with his mittened right hand. Perhaps he had not seen aright. But no, he had not been mistaken. There, close to the river, stood the little cabin, nestling amidst a grove of young firs and jack-pines. But no smoke poured from the pipe stuck up through the roof.

“Strange! strange!” Hugo muttered. “There should be smoke. Bill Haines hasn’t moved overnight, that’s certain. Something must be wrong.”

His eyes swept the landscape to right and left. Everywhere stretched the vast wilderness of glistening snow, dark forests, and towering mountains. That long white streak, winding like a serpent, was the river, now frozen from bank to bank. From a few open places where the current was exceptionally swift vapour rose like dense clouds of smoke. Near one of these stood the cabin, for running water was a luxury in the Yukon when winter gripped the land in its icy embrace.

Hugo hated the river, and always kept as far away as possible. To him it was a treacherous demon, and the great dark breathing-places seemed like yawning mouths ever open for new victims. That curling vapour appeared more sinister now than ever. He glanced again at the lonely cabin. Why was there no smoke rising above its squat roof? Had Bill Haines slipped while drawing water? Such a thing was not unlikely. But what about his wife? Surely she would keep the fire burning for the sake of herself and child. But had she gone, too, in attempting to rescue her husband?

For a few minutes Hugo stood there, his great form drawn to its full height. His long beard, covered with frost, swept his breast. His keen eyes peered out from beneath the big fur cap drawn well down over ears and forehead. He resembled a patriarch of Hebrew days who had stepped suddenly out upon one of nature’s mighty stages. The dark, sombre trees formed a fitting background to the lonely figure, while the valley below and the limitless region beyond made a magnificent audience-chamber. But none witnessed the silent form upon the hill save, perhaps, a few shy, furry creatures of the wild, and ghosts of miners, prospectors, trappers and Indians, who once roamed the land and made the Yukon River their chief highway of travel.

Hugo, however, thought nothing of all this. His mind was agitated by conflicting thoughts. He longed to be off and away upon the trail, headed for the log abode of which he alone knew. But that smokeless cabin down by the river fascinated him.

“It’s none of my business,” he growled. “Bill Haines is nothing to me, so why should I worry about him? And yet, I wonder–”

He ceased abruptly, unslung a rope from his right shoulder, and turned swiftly around. At his heels lay the small toboggan he had been drawing, loaded with a couple of blankets, food, rifle, and a large lynx he had taken from one of his snares. He looked at these thoughtfully for a few seconds, and then reached for his rifle. This he carefully examined to be sure that the magazine was full. Picking up the dropped rope, he threw it again over his shoulder, and with rifle in hand, he sped rapidly down to the valley below. The long narrow snow-shoes creaked beneath his powerful strides, and the light snow flew from their curved points like spray from a cutter’s bow.

Reaching the forest, he threaded his way among the trees and came out at length into the open space where stood the cabin. Here he stopped and looked carefully around. Seeing nothing, he once more advanced, and only slowed down when within a few yards from the building. He walked warily now, listening intently for any sound from within. Hearing nothing, he was about to place his ear close to the door when the faint wail of a child arrested his attention. Presently the cry subsided to a fretful whimper, and then all was still.

Feeling certain now that something was seriously wrong, Hugo glanced cautiously around. The snow near the cabin was beaten down hard, and a well-worn trail led to the river. He looked off to the place where the vapour was rising into the air, and shuddered. Why he did so he could not tell. Then he lifted the rude latch, pushed open the door and entered. The sun shining in through the window on the south side of the building brightened the room. Hugo recalled the last time he had been there, and the pleasant welcome he had received. How clean and cosy the place was then, notwithstanding the meagre furniture and the bare floor. But now what a change! Everything was in disorder, the table overturned, the few rough, home-made chairs battered to pieces, and broken dishes lying on all sides. What did it mean? He stared around, greatly puzzled.

“Mam-ma! Mam-ma!”

The call came from a corner on the right. Turning quickly toward a bunk against the wall, Hugo saw the movement of a gray four-point blanket. Stepping forward, he stooped and beheld the face of a little child, its cheeks wet with tears. Big blue eyes looked expectantly up, and two small dimpled hands reached eagerly out, while a gurgle of delight rippled from soft, rosy lips. Instantly it realized its mistake. An expression of fear leaped into its eyes, the outstretched hands dropped, and the happy gurgle gave place to a cry of fright. Hugo was in despair.

“Queer mess I’ve got into,” he muttered. “What am I to do with the kid? Pity it hadn’t gone with its parents. I wonder what has happened to them, anyway?”

He looked around and noted more carefully the sad havoc which had been wrought. He was sure now that a terrible tragedy had been enacted there, either during the night or early that morning. Again he shuddered, and realized for the first time how cold was the room. In a few minutes he had a good fire burning in the sheet-iron heater, which fortunately had escaped destruction. Then he searched for some suitable food for the child. But not a scrap could he find–every morsel had been taken from the house. Hugo uttered an angry oath and registered a solemn vow. Going outside he was about to draw his toboggan into the room when his eyes caught sight of peculiar marks upon the beaten snow. That they were blood stains he was certain, and there were others on the trail leading to the river.

Leaving the toboggan, and forgetting for a time the sobbing child, Hugo walked slowly along, keeping his eyes fixed upon the narrow path. At every step more stains appeared, which increased in number and vividness as he neared the shore. Out upon the ice he moved, and stopped only when close to the long, wide, yawning gulf. Here the river was exposed to view like a great artery from which the flesh has been torn. The water raced by like a mill-sluice, leaping forth from beneath its icy covering upstream to dash out of sight with a swish and a swirl half a mile or more farther down. Its murmur resembled the snarl of an angry beast when suddenly surprised or cheated of its prey. And yet Hugo felt certain that but a short time before it had been fed, when two victims had been enwrapped in its cold, merciless embrace. And one of them was a woman, whose little helpless child was now calling to her from the lonely cabin–and calling in vain!

And standing there, Hugo’s soul suddenly became charged with an intense anger. Mingled with his hatred of the river was an overwhelming revulsion at the foul crime which had been committed. And who were the perpetrators? What reason could anyone have for committing such a diabolical deed? Haines and his wife were quiet reserved people, given to hospitality, who never refused a meal or a lodging for the night to a passing traveller. During the summer Bill had rocked out gold from the river bars, and in winter had cut wood for steamers plying between Whitehorse and Dawson. That he made but a bare living Hugo was well aware, and he had often wondered why he was content to remain in such a lonely place.

Hugo turned these things over in his mind as he walked slowly away from the river. Reaching the cabin, he drew his toboggan into the building. The fire had been doing good work and the room was warm. The child, unable to cry more, was lying uncovered upon the blankets. It watched Hugo’s every movement with wide, unblinking eyes.

“Don’t be afraid, little chap,” the man said. “I won’t hurt you. I’m going to give you something to eat. Maybe that will make you friendly. I wonder how old it is, anyway,” he mused. “It can’t eat meat, that’s certain. Liquids and soft food are the only thing for babies. Now, what in time can I give it! Ah, I know. Just the thing.”

He turned and walked over to the toboggan. Throwing aside the blankets, he lifted a tin can, blackened from numerous campfires. This he placed upon the stove, removed the cover and looked in.

“Ptarmigan soup should be good for the little fellow,” he remarked. “It’s mighty lucky I didn’t eat it all for breakfast. My! it’s hot here.”

He raised his hand as if to remove his fur cap, but suddenly desisted. Then he stepped outside and looked carefully around. Seeing no one, he went back into the cabin, took off his cap, and hung it upon one of the legs of the overturned table. The head thus exposed was covered with a wealth of hair, thickly streaked with gray. The startling and outstanding feature, however, was one lock as white as snow, crowning the right temple. This was not due to age nor to any outward cause, but was evidently a family characteristic. Such a lock would have singled out the owner in any gathering for special and curious attention.

When the soup was warm enough, Hugo dipped out a portion into a tin cup which he carried over to where the child was lying.

“Come, little chap,” he began, “here’s something nice.”

Forced by hunger the lad scrambled quickly to its knees, and drank eagerly from the cup held to its lips.

“More,” he demanded when the last drop had been drained.

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