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   Chapter 8 WASECHE BILL TO THE RESCUE

Connie Morgan in Alaska By James B. Hendryx Characters: 13384

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


When Waseche Bill sent his dogs flying over the surface of the glacier in answer to the bell-like call of old Boris, he fully expected that the end of a half-hour would find him at the dog's side. Sound carries far in the keen northern air, and the man urged his team to its utmost. As the sled runners slipped smoothly over the ice and frozen snow, his mind was filled with perplexing questions. How came old Boris into the Lillimuit? Had he deserted the boy and followed the trail of his old master?

"No, no!" muttered the man. "He wouldn't pull out on the kid, that-a-way-an', what's mo', if he had, he'd of catched up with me long befo' now."

Was it possible that the boy had taken the trail? The man's brow puckered. What was it Joe said, that night in Eagle?

"S'pose he follers ye?"

"He couldn't of!" argued Waseche. "It's plumb onpossible, with them there three ol' dawgs. An' he'd of neveh got past Eagle-Fiddle Face, an' Joe, an' Jim Sontag, they wouldn't of let him by-not fo' to go to the Lillimuit, they wouldn't-not in a hund'ed yea's."

The dogs swerved, bringing the outfit to an abrupt halt on the brink of a yawning fissure. Waseche Bill scowled at the delay.

"Sho' some crevasse," he growled, as he peered into the depths of the great ice crack fifty feet wide, which barred his path. Suddenly his eye lighted and he swung the dogs to the southward where, a quarter of a mile away, a great white snow bridge spanned the chasm in a glittering arch. Seizing his axe, he chopped two parallel trenches in the ice close to the end of the bridge. Into these eight-inch depressions he worked the runners of the heavily loaded sled, taking care that the blunt rear end of the runners rested firmly against the vertical ends of the trenches. Uncoiling a long babiche line, he tied one end to the tail rope of the anchored sled and, after making the other end fast about his waist, ventured cautiously out upon the snow bridge. Foot by foot he advanced, testing its strength. The bridge was wide and thick, and evidently quite old and firm, but Waseche Bill was a man who took no foolish risks.

Men who seek gold learn to face danger bravely-it is part of the day's work-for death dogs close upon the trail of the men of the North and must be reckoned with upon short notice. Every tillicum in the White Country, if he would, could tell of hairbreadth escapes, and of times when a clear brain and iron nerve alone stood between him and the Great Beyond. But of these things they rarely speak-for they know of the others, like Sam Morgan, whose work is done, and whose names are burned into the little wooden crosses that dot the white snow of Aurora Land; and whose memory remains fresh in the haunts of the sourdoughs, where their deeds are remembered long and respected when the flash bravado of the reckless tin-horn is scorned and forgotten.

Satisfying himself that the bridge would bear the weight of the outfit, Waseche Bill untied the rope and headed the dogs across at a run.

The surface of the glacier became rougher as he advanced and Waseche was kept busy at the gee-pole as the dogs threaded their way between ice hummocks and made long detours to avoid cracks and fissures, so that the winter sun was just sinking behind the mountains when the man at last found himself upon the edge of the glacier, at a point some distance above the cave where Connie Morgan had sought shelter from the storm. He looked out over the undulating ridges of snow waste that stretched away toward a nearby spur of the mountains. Intently he scanned each nook and byway of the frozen desert, but not a moving object, not a single black dot that might by any stretch of the imagination be construed as a living thing, rewarded his careful scrutiny. Gradually his eyes focused upon the point where the mountains dipped toward the great ice field.

"Yonde's the mouth of the canyon I headed into befo' the blizza'd. I'd bet a blue one the old dawg's trailed me in." Filling his lungs Waseche sent call after call quavering through the still, keen air, but the only answer was the hollow echoing of his own voice as it died away in the mountains. A mile to the eastward he worked his outfit into the valley, following the devious windings of a half-formed lateral moraine, and headed the dogs for the mouth of the canyon.

He searched in vain for tracks as he entered the narrow pass. The snow was smooth and untrampled as the driving wind of the blizzard had left it.

"Sho' is queeah," he muttered. "Sweah to goodness, I hea'd that Boris dawg-I'd know that howl if I hea'd it in Kingdom Come-an' I know it now! I wondeh," he mused, as the team followed the devious windings of the canyon, "I wondeh if this heah Lillimuit is a kind of spirit land like folks says. Did I really heah the ol' dawg howl, or has the big Nawth got me, too, like it done got Carlson, an' the rest? 'Cause if they was a dawg wheah's his tracks? An' if it was a ghost dawg, how could he howl?" The sled dogs paused, sniffing excitedly at the snow, and Waseche Bill leaped forward. Before the mouth of an ice-cavern were many tracks, and the man stared dumbfounded.

"Fo' the love of Mike!" he cried excitedly. "It's the kid!" He dropped to his knees and patted affectionately the impressions of the tiny mukluks. "Boy! Boy! Yo' li'l ol' sourdough, yo' li'l pa'dner-How'd yo' get heah? Yo' done come, jes' as Joe 'lowed yo' would-yo' doggone li'l tillicum! Come all alone, too! Jes' wait 'til I catch holt of yo'-an' McDougall's dawgs! No one in Alaska could a loaned them malamutes offen Mac, 'cept yo'-theah's ol' Scah Foot, that lost two toes in the wolf-trap!" The man leaped to the sled and cracked his whip.

"Mush! Mush!" he cried, and the dogs bounded forward upon the trail of the boy.

Waseche Bill traversed this same canyon on the day before the blizzard. He, too, had run up against the dead end, and it was while retracing his steps that he had discovered the sheep trail, by means of which he gained the surface of the glacier a mile back from the termination of the gorge. He grinned broadly as his sled shot past the foot of this trail, entirely obliterated, now, by the new-fallen snow.

"I got yo', now, kid," he chuckled. "Holed up like a silveh tip 'till the sto'm blowed by, didn't yo', pa'dner? But I got yo' back ag'in, an' from now on, me an' yo' sticks togetheh. I done the wrong thing-to go' way-but yo' so plumb li'l, I fo'got yo' was a sho' nuff man."

His soliloquy was cut short by the sudden stopping of the sled as it bumped upon the heels of the "wheel" dogs, and for the next few minutes the man was busy with whip and mukluks straightening ou

t the tangle of fighting animals. Dashing in the darkness between a huge granite block and the wall of the glacier, they had brought up sharply against the new-formed ice barrier that completely blocked the trail.

Slashing right and left with his heavy whip, and kicking vigorously and impartially, he finally succeeded in subduing the fighting dogs and removing the tangled harness. And then he stared dumbly at the great mass of broken ice that buried the trail of the boy. In the darkness he could form no conception of the extent of the barrier. Was it a detached fragment? Or had the whole side of the glacier split away and crashed into the canyon? Before his eyes rose the picture of a small body crushed and mangled beneath thousands of tons of ice, and for the first time in his life Waseche Bill gave way to his emotions. Sinking down upon the sled he buried his face in his hands and in the darkness, surrounded by the whimpering dogs, his great shoulders heaved to the violence of his sobs.

The great mass of ice that split from the glacier's side, while presenting an unscalable face to the imprisoned boy, was by no means so formidable a barrier when approached from the opposite side.

Waseche Bill was not the man to remain long inactive. After a few moments he sprang to his feet and surveyed the huge pile of ice fragments. By the feeble light of the stars he could see that the walls of the canyon towered high above the top of the mass. Tossing his dogs an armful of frozen fish, he caught up the coil of babiche rope and stepped to the foot of the obstruction.

"I cain't wait till mawnin'," he muttered, "I got to find out if the kid is safe. Reckon I c'n make it, but I sho' do wish they was mo' light."

It was not a difficult climb for a man used to the snow trails, and a half hour later Waseche Bill stood at the top and, with a long sigh of relief, gazed into the depths beyond the barrier.

"Thank the Lawd, it's only a slivah!" he exclaimed. "But, at that, it mout of catched him." With a kick he sent a small fragment of ice spinning into the chasm. Almost instantly, the man heard a low growl, and his eye caught the flash of an indistinct grey shape against the snow floor below him. Straight as an arrow the shape shot toward the ice wall, and Waseche Bill heard the scratching of claws upon the flinty surface, and a low, throaty growl as the shape dropped back into the snow. He laughed aloud.

"Oh, yo' Slashah dawg!" he cried happily, as he proceeded to make the end of his long line fast to a projecting pinnacle.

"I'll jes' slip down an' s'prise the kid," he chuckled, "he's prob'ly rolled in by now." Taking a couple of turns about his leg with the rope, he lowered himself over the edge and slid slowly downward. Suddenly, he gripped hard and checked his descent. He was ten feet from the bottom, and something struck the rope just beneath his feet, and as it struck, he heard again the low growl, and the vicious click of fang on polished fang, and the soft thud with which the wolf-dog struck the snow.

"Hey, yo' Slashah!" he called sharply. "Go lay down! It's only me, Slashah-don't yo' know me?" For answer the dog sprang again, and the man hastily drew himself higher-for this time the long white fangs clashed together almost at his feet, and the low growl ended in a snarl as the grey body dropped back upon the snow.

"Doggone yo'! Quit yo' foolin'! Git out!" cried the exasperated man, as he tightened his grip on the swaying line. And then, beneath him, the canyon seemed filled with dogs-gaunt, grey shapes that sprang, and snapped, and growled, and fell back to spring again.

"Now, what d'yo' think of that," muttered the man disgustedly, as he peered downward into green glaring eyes and slavering jaws. "Mac's dawg's, too! I'd sho' hate fo' this heah rope to break! Theh's ol' Boris!" he exclaimed, as the lead dog appeared at the edge of the snarling pack. "Hello, Boris, ol' dawg! Yo' know me-don't yo', Boris?" With a short, sharp yelp of delight, the dog dashed in and leaped toward his old master, but his activity served only to egg on the others, and they redoubled their efforts to reach the swaying man. Waseche Bill laughed:

"Now, what d'yo' think of that! I'd sho' hate fo' this heah rope to break!"

"'Taint no use. Reckon I'll have to wake up the kid." And the next moment the walls of the canyon rang with his calls for help.

At the other end of the chasm Connie Morgan stirred uneasily and thrust his head from under the flap of his sleeping bag. He listened drowsily to the pandemonium of growls and yelps and snarls, from the midst of which came indistinctly the sound of a voice. He became suddenly wide-awake and, wriggling from the bag, caught up his dog whip and sped swiftly up the canyon.

It was no easy task for the boy to beat the excited dogs into submission, but at length they slunk away before the stinging sweep of the lash, and Waseche Bill, his hands numb from his long gripping of the rope, slid squarely into the up-reaching arms of his little partner.

"Yo' sho' saved my bacon that time, kid. Why, that theah Slashah dawg-he'd of et me alive, an' the rest w'd done likewise, onct they got sta'ted!" Waseche Bill's tongue rattled off the words with which he sought to disguise the real emotion of his heart at finding the boy he had learned to love, safe and sound in the great white wilderness. But Connie Morgan was not deceived, and he smiled happily into the rough hair of his big partner's parka, as the man strained him to him in a bearlike embrace.

That night the two sat long over the camp fire at the foot of the moraine, and the heart of the man swelled with pride as the boy recounted his adventures on the trail.

"And now I've found you," concluded the boy, "I'm going to take you back. Pardners are pardners, you know-and tomorrow we'll hit for Ten Bow."

The man turned his face away and became busily engaged in arranging the robes into a bed close against the boy's sleeping bag.

"We sho' will, kid. Pa'dners is pa'dners, an'-me an' yo'-somehow-I cain't jes' say it-but-anyways-Why! Doggone it! Me an' yo's mo'n jes pa'dners-ain't we, kid?"

Later, as the man burrowed deep into his robes a voice sounded drowsily from the depths of the sleeping bag:

"Waseche!"

"Huh?" questioned the man.

"Black Jack Demaree said to tell you-let's see-what was it he said? Oh, yes-he said when I found you to tell you that 'you can't tell by the size of a frog how far he can jump.'"

Waseche Bill chuckled happily to himself:

"Yo' sho' cain't," he agreed. "Black Jack's right about that-trouble is, I nevah know'd much about frawgs."

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