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   Chapter 16 FIGHTING THE NORTH

Connie Morgan in Alaska By James B. Hendryx Characters: 15081

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Wheheveh was yo' aimin' fo' to go to?" interrogated Waseche, when they were once more safely seated about the fireplace in the room at the end of the old mine tunnel.

"Sure, ut's th' map!" answered O'Brien, in a tone of the deepest dejection.

"The map! What about it?"

"Ut's in me other pants!" wailed the Irishman. "Back in th' igloo!"

"The igloo! The igloo-back there?"

"That same," nodded O'Brien, shamefacedly dropping his glance before the wrathful glare of Waseche's eyes. "Ye see, ut's loike this: two years ago, Oi bruk away fr' th' haythins an' made th' Ignatook. Car-rlson an' Pete Mateese wuz here thin, an' Oi shtayed wid um f'r a month, until wan day Oi wuz fishin' in th' river, an' they shwooped down an' caught me befoor Oi c'd git back into th' valley. Afther that they watched me clost, an' befoor Oi c'd git away ag'in Car-rlson an' Pete Mateese wuz gone. 'Twuz thin Oi found his map, pegged to a caribou haunch on top av th' pile yondher, an' Oi shtayed here an' wor-rked till Oi'd all th' gold Oi c'd pack, an' thin Oi shtar-rted f'r th' Kandik. They caught me, av coorse, bekaze th' heft av thim cans, along wid phwat grub Oi wuz dhraggin' on th' sled, wuz more thin a wan man load. They're sooperstitious about th' creek, an' th' gold, too, an' they slung th' cans back into th' valley.

"That's two toimes Oi got away, an' since that they ain't watched me so clost, f'r they've lur-rned that widout dogs, Oi can't make ut to th' outside-an' Be Jabbers! nointeen toimes since, Oi've been dhrug back, but Oi always kep' th' map f'r fear that sometoime Oi'd git to use ut-an' now, phwin we've got th' chanst, Oi've gone an' murdhered us all be layvin' ut behint-an' all on account av th' dance an' th' potlatch, be rayson av which Oi wint an' changed me britches!"

The man's grief was so genuine, and his dejection so deep that the wrathful gleam faded from Waseche Bill's eyes, and Connie moved nearer and placed his hand upon the Irishman's shoulder.

"Never mind, O'Brien. You didn't mean to leave the map-we know that-don't we, Waseche?"

"Sho', he didn't," answered the man, gloomily. "But that don't help the case any. How we-all ah goin' to get out of heah, now, is mo'n I know--"

"Me nayther," assented O'Brien. "Av Oi'd shtayed in Kildare, Oi w'dn't be here now. We bether go back an' settle down wid th' Injuns-av we c'n make friends wid um ag'in, befoor they har-rpoon us-f'r Oi'll niver see Flor-ridy, now!"

Connie leaped to his feet and stood before the two men, who looked into the narrowing grey eyes that flashed in the flickering flare of the blubber lamp.

"You make me tired!" cried Connie. "Anybody'd think you needed a city, with the streets all numbered, to find your way around."

"You make me tired!" cried the boy, "both of you-with your talk of not getting out of the Lillimuit; and of going back to the Indians! Why, they'd eat up our dogs, and then we couldn't get out! What's got into you, Waseche? Buck up! Anybody'd think you needed a city, with the streets all numbered, to find your way around!

"Carlson came in by the Tatonduk-and he went out by the Kandik-his first trip, when he showed the nuggets he brought back. Who made Carlson's map? He was a sourdough-but he has nothing on us! He found his own way out-and so will we! If we miss the Kandik, we'll find a pass of our own-or a river-or a creek! We're not afraid of the Lillimuit. It hasn't got us yet! And it isn't going to! We've got the dogs, and we've got the grub-and we've got the nerve to back them. We'll hike to the outside on our own trail-and we'll turn around and come back after the gold!

"But, if we don't make it-and have to die out there in the White Country-when they find us, they'll know men died! We'll be, anyway, one day's mushing ahead of our last camp fire!"

Waseche leaped to the boy's side and grasped the small, doubled fist.

"They sho' will, kid!" he cried. "They sho' will! But they ain't a goin' to find us bushed! I wisht yo' daddy c'd of heahd yo' then-He was some man, Sam Mo'gan was, an' he'd sho' be proudful of his boy!

"I'm plumb 'shamed, pahdneh, fo' to gloomed up on yo' that-a-way-ain't we, O'Brien?"

"We ar-re, that!" shouted the Irishman, with a new light in his eyes. "Ye're a gr-rand lad, wid a hear-rt, in ye're ribs, that's th' heart av a foightin' man. F'r all ye're small soize, ye're th' gamest wan av th' three av us. An' uts Pathrick O'Brien'll folly ye to th' top av' th' narth pole, av ye say th' wor-rd."

A week was spent in exploring the valley of the Ignatook and in prospect panning at different points along the mysterious boiling creek whose hot, black gravel showed an unbelievably rich pay streak.

O'Brien improved rapidly from day to day. The despairing, furtive look faded from his eyes, which glowed with a new hope and a new-born determination to do a man's part in the accomplishment of a purpose. His wild dash for the river showed the utter futility of attempting to recover Carlson's map, for the loss of which he blamed himself bitterly. Nevertheless, the words of the boy put new heart into the lonely man, who ceased mumbling and muttering of Florida, and threw himself with a will into the work in hand.

The high rock-cliffs that flanked the valley of the Ignatook curved toward the west in two solid walls, unbroken except at a point two miles above the old mine, where a narrow ravine led in a long, winding slope to the level of the surrounding plateau.

It was by way of this ravine, O'Brien assured them, Carlson had taken his departure; and that this fact was known to the White Indians was clearly demonstrated when, each day they saw silent fur-clad figures silhouetted against the clearcut skyline. There was something ominous and forbidding in the attitude of the silent sentinels of the frozen wastes who thus guarded the exits from the valley of the creek-of-the-steam. Time and again Connie glanced from the immutable watchers to the blackened bones upon the gravel at his feet. These were men, once; had they really drunk the poison water? Or, had they been held prisoners until they starved, by the human vultures that gloated in their lonely perches high among the rim-rocks?

"If you couldn't outguess 'em, why didn't you rush 'em?" he asked one day, addressing a sightless, grinning skull. And behind him, O'Brien laughed.

"They won't foind our-rn here, will they, b'y?"

"You bet they won't!" exclaimed Connie, and shook a small fist at a solitary, motionless figure on the brink of the high rock wall.

To the westward of the mouth of the ravine the walls drew close together, so that the hot black waters of the creek completely filled the narrow gorge and effectively blocked any further ascent of the valley.

"I don't like to huht no one, needless," said Waseche Bill, as they sat about the fireplace one evening discussing plans for escape; "but we-all got to get out of heah-an' we ah goin' to get out too-an' if it comes right down to a matteh of them, oah us, why it's theah own fault if they get huht."

"Yis," agreed O'Brien, "Oi shpose ye're roight. But, somehow-ye see-they divoided grub wid me phwin they wuz hungr-ry."

"I know, O'Brien, but that don't give 'em no right to hold us heah, an' to stahve us an' steal ouh dawgs, neitheh. We need them dawgs to get back with-an' we ah goin' to keep 'em. We-all cain't stay heah no longeh-much. 'Cause, outside of the meat an' fish, we ah runnin' pow'ful shoht of grub. An', besides, the days is ge

ttin' longeh mighty fast, an' the trail ahead of us is a long trail-even if we have good luck, an' if the snow softs up on us we cain't haul no load, an' when it melts we cain't cross no rivehs, an' if we get to the mountains yondeh, we won't have no ice-trail to get out on. No, seh! We got to get out of heah-an' we got to go now-an' if anyone tries fo' to stop us, why somethin's goin' to happen-that's all."

"They's wan way-an' ondly wan, that we c'n me'be give um th' shlip," said O'Brien. "'Tain't no use thryin' ut in th' dar-rk, f'r th' rayvine is narrow an' they've a foire at th' head uv ut. We'll be travellin 'heavy, an' we can't git t'rough um wid a whoop an' hurrah, loike we done in th' village-but we moight shlip by in th' shnow."

"In the snow?" asked Connie. "What do you mean?"

"Sur-re, they's a star-rm brewin'-th' soigns is roight, an' th' fale av ut's in th' air. Wan day, or two, an' she'll br-reak, beloike, on th' tur-rn av th' moon. Phwin she thickens up, th' Injuns'll hit f'r th' igloos as fasht as their legs'll carry thim, an' not a nose'll they shtick outsoide till ut quits shnowin'. F'r they've a fear in their hear-rts f'r th' star-rm, an' they've no shtummick f'r to be ketched out in ut--"

"Them, an' me-both!" interrupted Waseche Bill.

"Ahroo! Now, come on! Ut's f'r their own good we're doin' ut. Oi know th' fur-rst fifteen er me'be ut's twinty moiles av th' thrail to th' Kandik. We'll wor-rk ut loike this: They know they's a star-rm comin'-Oi seen a little knot av um on th' edge av th' clift a jabberin' an' p'intin' into th' Narth. We'll let um see us fetchin' wood into th' moine, loike we wuz gittin' ridy to hole up f'r th' star-rm. Th' sleds we'll load jist insoide th' mouth av th' tunnel, an' phwin they hit f'r th' village we'll har-rness th' dogs an' shlip up th' rayvine, an' out achrost th' bench. They's a bit av a mountain out yondher, me'be ut's tin moiles, an' on th' soide av ut we c'n camp snug in th' scr-rub, till th' shnow quits. Our tr-racks'll be burried, an' ut'll be a couple av days befoor they foind out we're gone, an' be th' toime they've picked up our thrail, we'll be out av their raych-f'r they'll venture not far-r to th' west, havin' fear-r av phwat lies beyant."

O'Brien finished, and Waseche turned to Connie:

"What do yo' say, son?" he asked. "Shall we try it? It ain't a goin' to be no snap, out theah on the white bench with the snow an' th' roahin' wind. It's a funny thing-this heah takin' a long chanst jes' to keep a gang of Injuns from hahmin' us so we won't hahm them."

"They divoided their grub," repeated O'Brien, with an appealing glance at the boy.

"And, for that, we'll take a chance!" answered Connie. "We're game."

Breakfast over, the following morning, the three busied themselves in cutting firewood and carrying it into the tunnel. Indians appeared here and there among the rim-rocks and, after watching for a time, departed in the direction of the village. By noon, the weather had thickened perceptibly. A thin grey haze filled the atmosphere through which the weak rays of the Arctic sun filtered feebly. There was no wind, and the air lost its invigorating crispness and clung heavily about them like a wet garment. No more Indians appeared upon the edges of the cliffs and Waseche Bill ventured upon a scouting expedition up the narrow ravine, while Connie and O'Brien remained behind to pack the sleds and carry an occasional armful of firewood for the benefit of any lingering observer.

The boy insisted upon loading Carlson's sled, carefully fitting the collars to the necks of his own three dogs, which had been hardly a half-dozen times in the harness since their memorable dash through the hills when Connie beat out the Ten Bow stampede.

Waseche returned reporting a clear trail, and all fell to harnessing the dogs.

"Whateveh yo' doin' with that sled?" asked Waseche, in surprise.

"I'm going to take it along," answered Connie. "You can't ever tell what will happen, and old Boris and Mutt and Slasher may as well be working as running loose."

Waseche grinned:

"Go ahead if yo' want to. Them ol' dawgs mout get somewhehs with it, an' if they don't, yo' c'n cut yo' trace-lines an' tu'n 'em loose."

"Is that so!" flared the boy. "If there's any cutting loose to be done, you can do it yourself! This sled goes to Ten Bow! And, what's more, there isn't a lead dog in the world that can touch old Boris-and you know it! And if big Mutt couldn't out-pull any two of your dogs, he'd be ashamed to waggle his tail! And Slasher could lick your whole team-and Mac's, too! And I wouldn't trade a flea off any one of my dogs for your whole string of mangy malamutes-so there!"

Waseche chuckled with delight as he winked at O'Brien:

"If yo' eveh want to staht somethin' right quick," he laughed, "jest yo' go ahead an' belittle th' kid's dawgs." And then he dodged swiftly as one of the boy's heavy mittens sailed past his head and slapped smartly against the wall.

O'Brien's two cans of gold were removed from the "safe" and placed, together with the sleeping-bags, robes and blankets, upon Connie's sled. The stone was adroitly wedged into place and arranged so naturally that no marauding visitor could possibly have guessed that the innocent-appearing rock concealed a treasure of upwards of one hundred thousand dollars' worth of pure gold. The caribou venison and fish, together with what remained of the outfit, had already been securely lashed to the larger sleds and, with a last look of farewell, the little cavalcade moved from the tunnel-mouth and headed for the ravine.

All trace of the sun was obliterated, and for the first time since the big blizzard, the Arctic sky was overcast with clouds.

Waseche Bill took the lead with McDougall's big ten-team, Connie followed with his own three dogs, while O'Brien, with Waseche's team, brought up the rear. The sleds slipped smoothly over the dry frost spicules, and the eyes of the three adventurers eagerly sought the edges of the high cliffs for signs of the White Indians. But no living, moving thing was visible, and, save for the occasional creak of runners, the white, frozen world was a world of silence.

A half-hour later the malamutes headed up the ravine and humped to the pull of the long ascent. Rapidly, the weather thickened, and when, at last, they gained the bench, it was to gaze out upon an eerie, flat, white world of fore-shortened horizon. The sleds were halted while the three took their bearings. O'Brien pointed unhesitatingly toward the opaque west, and Waseche swung McDougall's leaders.

"Mush yo'! Mush yo'!" he yelled. "Hooray fo' Alaska!"

"An' Flor-ridy, too!" yelled O'Brien, and then a puff of wind-chill wind, that felt strangely clammy and damp in the intense cold, came out of the North. The long, serpentine bank of frozen fog that marked the course of the Ignatook, shuddered and writhed and eddied, while ragged patches of frozen rack detached themselves and flew swiftly southward. The air was filled with a dull roar, and a scattering of steel-like pellets hissed earthward. A loud cry pierced the roar of the approaching storm, and before them stood a solitary White Indian, immovable as a statue, with one arm pointing into the North. For a long moment he stood and then, in a whirl of flying spume, disappeared in the direction of the village.

"Come on, boys!" cried Connie, and his voice sounded far and thin. "Dig in! 'Cause we're right now fighting the North!"

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