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   Chapter 21 THE ALARM IN THE NIGHT

Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 9118

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The clash came instantly. The wolf pack was upon the dogs, and dogs and wolves were at once a howling, snarling, fighting mass. Great bared fangs gleamed and snapped. It was a fight to the death, a primordial fight for the survival of the fittest.

The attack was launched with such indescribable suddenness that Doctor Joe and Jamie had scarcely time to drop from the komatik before it was begun. Andy had instinctively seized his whip and began to ply it with every opening that offered. The first stroke caught a big wolf across the eyes, and with howls of pain it immediately endeavoured to extricate itself from the fight. The lash had blinded it.

With feverish haste Doctor Joe and Jamie undid the axe and rifle from the komatik, and Doctor Joe with the axe and Jamie with the rifle charged the fighting beasts. A lucky blow from the axe split a wolf's head. Jamie quickly found that to shoot at a distance he must take the risk of killing one of the dogs, but watching for an opening, with the muzzle of the rifle within an inch of a big wolf's body, he fired and another wolf was disposed of.

In the meantime Andy had been plying the whip with such precision that the foot of one of the wolves had been torn off and another wolf so badly lacerated that as it broke temporarily away Jamie dropped it with the rifle, and then shot the blind wolf which was now roaming aimlessly about. A stroke from Doctor Joe's axe dispatched the fifth animal, and the remaining wolf, now at the mercy of the dogs, was literally torn into shreds.

Hardly five minutes had elapsed from the moment Jamie discovered the pack trotting out of the woods until the fight was ended. The attack had been made with such suddenness and such savage fierceness that Doctor Joe and the boys had scarcely uttered a word.

Now there was the tangle of dogs to be straightened out, and Andy was compelled to use his whip to drive them from the dead wolves and quiet them. Hardly one of them had escaped injury from the wolf fangs, and Dick, a faithful old fellow, was so badly mangled that Andy cut him loose from the harness to follow the komatik home at his leisure.

* * *

IT WAS A FIGHT TO THE DEATH

* * *

"Dick's too much hurt to do any hauling for a month whatever," said Andy regretfully.

"He won't die, will he?" asked Jamie sympathetically.

"He'll get over un," Andy assured.

"The dogs had grit, now!" Jamie boasted. "There's nary a team in the Bay could have fought like that!"

"And I noticed you had some grit too," said Doctor Joe. "A wolf's fangs snapped within an inch of your leg, you young rascal, when you held the rifle against that fellow you shot."

"I weren't thinkin' of that," said Jamie.

One of the pelts was so badly torn by the dogs as to be valueless. The remaining carcasses were skinned, and the skins lashed upon the sledge, and as they turned homeward Andy remarked:

"There's five good skins and they'll bring four dollars apiece whatever. 'Tweren't a bad hunt when we weren't huntin'."

"You and Jamie can take the money you get for them and start a bank account," suggested Doctor Joe. "I'll send it to St. John's and put it in a bank for you, and then you'll have that test completed for both the second and first class. There's no doubt you've earned it."

"Will you, sir? That's fine now!" exclaimed Andy. "Davy wasn't with us, and he'll have to set traps to earn his. But he'll get a marten or two, whatever."

"There's no doubt about David's catching the martens," said Doctor Joe. "If there's a marten around he'll catch it."

It was dark when they reached The Jug. Margaret and David were quite excited when they heard the story of the adventure, and mighty pleased with its ending.

"'Twere a stray pack," said David, "and they were hungry. Pop had a pack come at he that way once, but they just took one of the dogs and ran off."

A wonderful Christmas they had at The Jug that year. Doctor Joe had no end of surprises stowed away in mysterious boxes that he had brought from New York and deposited in his old cabin at Break Cove. He and David brought them over with the dogs on Christmas eve, and on Christmas morning they were opened.

The one disappointment of the day was the failure of Thomas to be with them. He had suggested at the time he departed for the Seal Lake trails in the autumn that he might come out of the wilderness for additional provisions at Christmas time, but it was a long and tedious journey, and they knew it was one he would hardly undertake unless pressed by

need.

Christmas holiday week was always one of celebration at the Hudson's Bay Company's Post. At this time trappers and Indians emerged from the silent wilderness to barter their early catch of furs and to purchase fresh supplies; and on New Year's eve it was the custom of the men and women of the Bay to gather at the Post for the final festivities. All day long sledge load after sledge load of jolly folk appeared to take part in the great New Year's eve dance, and to enter into the shooting contests and snowshoe and other races on New Year's day.

Eli and Mark Horn drove their team in at The Jug just at dinner time on New Year's eve, and Eli invited Margaret to go on with them and visit Kate Hodge, the daughter of the Post servant.

"We'll be short of lasses at the dance, and we needs un all," said Eli.

"I'd like wonderful well to go," said Margaret wistfully.

"Go on," urged Doctor Joe. "You'll have a good time and the boys and I will make out famously here. You get away seldom enough and see too few people. 'Twill do you good, lass."

"Aye, come on now!" Eli urged. "We'll take you over snug and warm in our komatik box. Kate'll be wonderful glad to see you, and we'll bring you back the day after New Year."

"I'll go," Margaret consented, her eyes dancing with pleasure.

"And there'll be no prettier lass there," said Doctor Joe gallantly, which brought a blush to Margaret's cheek and caused Eli to chuckle.

Margaret hastened her toilet and was ready in a jiffy. She was all a-flutter with excitement when Eli tucked her in a box rigged on the rear of the komatik, and wrapped her snugly with caribou skins.

"You must have had it in mind to capture Margaret when you left home, Eli," Doctor Joe suggested with a twinkle in his eye. "Men don't take travelling boxes when they go alone."

Eli grinned sheepishly as he broke the komatik loose, and the dogs dashed away.

It was a dull cold day with a leaden sky, and snow was shifting restlessly over the ice. The wind was in the south-east, and as they entered the cabin David remarked:

"There'll be snow before to-morrow mornin'."

When they had eaten supper that evening and cleared the table David stepped out for a look at the weather, and returning reported:

"'Twill be a nasty night. The snow's started and the wind's risin'. 'Tis wonderful frosty, too, for a wind."

"Let's see how cold it is," said Doctor Joe, stepping out to consult his spirit thermometer. "Thirty-eight below zero. Frosty enough with a gale, and a gale's rising," he reported. "I'm glad we're all snug inside."

"Tell us a story," Jamie suggested, as they settled themselves comfortably by the fire.

"There's dogs comin'!" Andy broke in.

David ran to the door, and a moment later ushered Eli Horn into the cabin.

"What's the matter, Eli? Has anything happened?" asked Doctor Joe, immediately concerned for Margaret's safety.

"Margaret's safe," said Eli with suppressed excitement. "There's murder at the Post!"

Questions brought forth the fact that Eli and Margaret had reached the Post at about half-past three and found the people in confusion. Three lumbermen from Grampus River had come there. There had been a dispute among them and one of them was stabbed. The other two had immediately departed, presumably to return to the lumber camps. Eli did not know how seriously the man was injured. He had not seen him. It had occurred shortly before his arrival, and at Margaret's suggestion he had turned directly about and returned to The Jug to fetch Doctor Joe to attend the injured man.

"My dogs is fagged," said Eli, "and 'twere slow comin' back."

"David will take me over with his dogs. They're fresh, and will travel faster," said Doctor Joe.

In ten minutes David was ready with the dogs harnessed, and the two teams drove away into the darkness and storm.

Andy and Jamie were greatly excited. Tragedies enough happened up and down the coast when men were drowned or lost in the ice or met with fatal injuries. But never before in the Bay had one man been cut down by the hand of another. It was a ghastly thought, and the awfulness of it was perhaps accentuated by the snow dashing against the window panes and the wind shrieking around the gables of the cabin.

It was near ten o'clock, long past their usual bedtime, and they were still talking, for there was matter enough in their brains to banish sleep, when the door suddenly opened and accompanied by the howl of the wind a snow-covered figure lurched in upon them.

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