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   Chapter 18 ALASKA!

Connie Morgan in Alaska By James B. Hendryx Characters: 12520

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

They camped for the remainder of the day.

"'Tain't no use grumblin' on ouh luck," remarked the philosophical Waseche. "We got to camp right heah till the stawm weahs out. Chances is, we'll have the Injuns onto us in a day oah so; but we cain't go bluste'catin' no mo' wheah we cain't see. Anyhow, they ain't no use borrowin' trouble-theh's a right smaht of it a-comin' to a man without him huntin' none. So fah, we're all to the good. The big Nawth's fightin' to hold her secrets, but she ain't handed us no knockout-yet."

During the night the storm ceased, and with the first hint of dawn the outfit was made ready for the trail. Robes were spread upon Connie's light sled, and Waseche Bill placed in his sleeping bag and bound securely upon the robes with many turns of babiche. The bundles of firewood, and O'Brien's cans of gold were transferred to the other sleds, and in the dull grey of the long morning twilight the outfit pulled southward over the bench, paralleling the edge of the ravine into which Waseche had fallen. Progress was slow. The fresh snow rolled up and clogged the free running of the sleds, so that both Connie and O'Brien mushed ahead of the dogs, breaking out the trail with their rackets. Hour after hour they mushed, seeking to cross the great fissure that gaped wide and deep between them and the distant mountains that loomed white and grand against the western skyline-the mountains that separated them from Alaska, and through whose fastnesses they must find a trail.

The belated sun peeped over the rim of the flat snow tundra behind them, and all three turned to view the welcome sight. Suddenly, O'Brien, with a sharp cry, pointed toward some tiny moving objects far to the eastward:

"The Injuns," he cried. "That haythen, Lemlak-th' wan that seen us layve th' Ignatook-he's put um on our thr-rail-an' ut's back we go, av they don't har-rpoon us-as sur-re's me name's Pathrick O'Brien!"

"It's back we don't go! And you can bet your bottom dollar on that!" cried Connie, as he glanced with flashing eyes toward the two high-power rifles lashed side by side against the rail of McDougall's sled. "Look! There's the end of the ravine! We can head west now, and hit for the mountains!"

"Sur-re, they'll ketch up to us, befoor we git foive moile-we've got to bre'k thr-rail, an' they'll folly along in ut."

They were drawing nearer to the white expanse that Connie had pointed out as the end of the ravine.

"Ut ain't th' ind! Ut's a shnow bridge!" exclaimed O'Brien, and the others saw, extending from side to side of the chasm, gleaming white in the slanting rays of the sun, an enormous snow arch.

"Recklessly O'Brien rushed out upon the glittering span of snow while Connie and Waseche watched breathlessly."

Without waiting for a line, O'Brien rushed out upon the glittering span, while Connie and Waseche watched breathlessly. The great mass of snow that bridged the chasm looked as solid as the rock of Gibraltar, but the partners heaved a sigh of relief as the man reached the opposite side in safety and turned to retrace his steps. Connie's team, drawing the injured man, crossed first and was quickly followed by the two more heavily loaded sleds.

"Now, let's hit for the mountains!" cried the boy, "we've got miles and miles on them yet."

"Hold on, son. We got lots of time, now. 'Spose yo' jes' bust open one of them theah bundles of wood an' staht us a little camp-fiah."

"A camp-fire!" exclaimed the boy, "why, it isn't time to camp! And, besides--"

"Neveh yo' mind about that. Jes' do as I said, an' then swing that theah pack of mine around heah an' prop me up agin' it beside the fiah. Afteh that, I want yo' an' O'Brien to take Mac's dawgs an' yo'n an' wo'k yo' way to the top of yondeh hill an' see if yo' c'n find out how fah this heah ravine runs-get busy, now."

The boy obeyed without question and soon he and the Irishman were headed for the hill a quarter of a mile up the ravine.

"I wonder what he's up to?" speculated the boy, with puckered brow. "You don't suppose it's his leg-fever, or something, that's made him kind of-of queer?"

"No, no, lad. Oi don't know phwat's on his moind-but min loike him-they mostly knows phwat they're doin'-er they wouldn't be doin' ut."

From the top of the hill they saw that, as far as the eye could reach, the ravine cut the tundra in an unbroken line.

"They ain't no other cr-rossin'," said O'Brien, so they retraced their steps to the bridge, where they could see Waseche bending close over the tiny fire.

"Why, he's frying some meat!" exclaimed Connie, "and we just had breakfast!" They were close now, and Waseche removed a frying pan from the flame and poked gingerly at its contents with a piece of brushwood. Apparently satisfied, he placed it beside him upon the snow. Connie glanced into the pan where, instead of a caribou steak, the boy saw three yellow sticks of dynamite.

"Why, you told me--!"

"Yes, kid, I done tol' yo' long ago, neveh to thaw out no giant in a pan-an' I meant it! Mos'ly, yo' c'n do it-if yo' careful-but, sometimes she jes' nachelly lets go, without no provocation, an' then-well, yo' rec'lect how we-all wiped po' Gus Meekin offen the bushes an' rocks, a half a mile from wheah his fiah was."

"But, you--"

"Hold on, son. This heah was a pahtic'lah case. I figgehed it all out-an' took a chanct. That's why I sent yo' an' O'Brien oveh onto the hill, so's if she let go they'd still be some of us left. Soon as I seen the bridge I rec'lected how I had a dozen sticks of giant in my outfit, an' a box of caps, an' some fuse-wait, now, till I set the caps, an' then yo' c'n touch off the shot. We'll use two sticks fust, an' save the otheh to finish off with, if we need it." As he talked Waseche Bill punched holes in the soft yellow cylinders and affixed the caps and fuse for a ten-minute shot. Connie and O'Brien placed the injured man again upon the sled and made ready for a quick getaway.

"Lay 'em side by side right in the middle, an' coveh 'em with a couple handfuls of snow," advised Waseche, "an' then we'll pull out on the flat a space an' watch the fun. When them Injuns gets to the ravine it sho' will botheh 'em to figgeh how we-all got acrost."

A few minutes later they halted the outfit well out of harm's way and watched breathlessly for the explosion. The mining of the bridge had taken time and, in the distance, beyond the ravine, the White Indians were rapidly gaining. A few of the stronger and more fleet were well within rifle shot, when suddenly, with a dull roar and a blur of flying snow, the giant let go. The eyes of the three were fixed upon the bridge-or rather upon the place where the bridge had been-for all that remained was a cloud of powdery snow dust and a thinning haze of light grey smoke. The snow dust settled, the smoke drifted away and dissolved into the cold, clear air, and between the watchers and the White Indians the unbridged ravine yawned wide, and deep, and impassable.

"Whoop-la!" yelled O'Brien, leaping into the air and cracking his heels together. "Come on an' git us, ye phirates!" And as the savages gathered upon the opposite side, the Irishman's laughter rang long and loud across the frozen tundra.

The third day after the blowing up of the bridge found the three adventurers skirting the base of the great white range that towered in an unbroken chain as far as the eye could reach to the northward and to the southward. Vast, and grim, and impassable, the giant masses of rock and ice loomed above them, their naked, blue-white peaks and pinnacles gleaming clean-cut and cold against the cloudless turquoise of the sky.

All day long the three dog teams mushed northward while Connie, and Waseche Bill, and O'Brien anxiously scanned the great barrier for signs of a river or creek that gave promise of leading to a divide. For, though they passed the mouths of dozens of creeks and canyons, none were sufficiently large to tempt exploration.

Waseche Bill's injured leg was much swollen, for the trail was rough and tortuous, and despite the utmost efforts of Connie and O'Brien, the light sled bumped and slued against obstructions in a manner that caused the man excruciating torture, although neither by sign nor sound, did he betray the slightest pain. The Irishman and the boy took turns breaking trail for McDougall's leaders, and working at the gee-pole to ease the light sled over the rough places. Waseche's own dogs followed McDougall's, thus giving a smoother trail to the sled bearing the injured man.

The afternoon was well spent when Connie, who was in the rear, noticed a growing uneasiness among the dogs of Waseche's team. The big malamutes whined and whimpered with a peculiar suppressed eagerness as they eyed the mountains and, pulling close, tried time and again to pass the lead sled.

"That's funny," thought the boy, as he watched the dogs closely, "I never saw those dogs act like that before-seems like they wanted to lead." Hour after hour the boy mushed at the tail rope, and always he watched the strange behaviour of Waseche Bill's dogs. The sun sank behind the mountains and, at last, O'Brien halted at the edge of a patch of scraggy spruce. The dogs were unharnessed and fed, and after Waseche was made comfortable at the fireside, Connie prepared supper.

Suddenly, all three were startled by the long howl of a sled dog and, turning quickly saw Waseche's huge leader standing with up-pointing muzzle, upon a low hill, some fifty yards distant, and about him stood the seven dogs of his team. Again he howled, and then, as though this were the signal, the whole pack turned tail and dashed into the North.

"Well, of all the doggone, ornery tricks I eveh heahed tell of-that takes the cake!" cried Waseche. "Pulled out on us! Jes' plumb pulled out! An' them's good dawgs, too!"

"Where did you get that team?" asked Connie excitedly.

"Picked 'em up off a man in Eagle," answered Waseche. "He aimed to go outside, come spring. He got 'em off a breed, a yeah back."

"Where do you s'pose they've gone?" asked the boy.

"Sea'ch me! I cain't onde'stand it."

"Ut's th' Lillimuit!" croaked O'Brien. "Ut wuz th' same wid Craik an' Greenhow!" The man shuddered and drew closer to the fire. "They's things here that ondly some c'n see! An' phwin they see um-always they head into th' Narth!"

"Sho'! Quit yo' calamatatin', O'Brien! Dawgs has pulled out on folks befo'."

"Thim wans ain't," returned the Irishman, and relapsed into gloomy silence.

With the first sign of dawn the outfit was again on the trail. The bulk of the pack had been removed from Waseche's sled and added to the other two, and the sled and harness cached in the bush. For several miles Connie, who was travelling in the lead, followed the trail of the stampeded dog-pack, when suddenly he paused where a narrow creek canyon clove the rock-wall of a mountain. The trail led into the gorge, which appeared to be a mere crack in the mighty wall.

"Follow 'em up, son!" called Waseche from his sled. "We need them dawgs."

So the boy swung McDougall's team into the canyon, and his own dogs followed, with O'Brien fast to the tail rope. On and on led the narrow trail-westward, and upward, winding and twisting between its rocky walls-but always westward, and upward. The floor was surprisingly smooth for so narrow a trail, and the outfit made good time, but all three expected that each turn would be the last, and that they would find the runaway dogs huddled against a dead end. Toward midday, the canyon grew lighter, the walls seemed not so high, and the ascent grew steeper. Suddenly, as they rounded a sharp turn, a brilliant patch of sunlight burst upon them, and the next moment they found themselves upon the summit of a long divide.

Never in their lives had any of the three gazed upon so welcome a sight, for there, to the westward, lay an unending chaos of high-flung peaks and narrow valleys, and easily traceable-leading in a broad path of white to the south-westward, was the smooth trail of a river!

"The Kandik!" cried Connie, "and Alaska!"

"H-o-o-r-a-y!" yelled O'Brien, dancing about in the snow, while the tears streamed unheeded from his eyes. "Ut's good-bye Lillimuit, foriver! Av ye wuz pure gold from th' middle av th' wor-rld to th' peak av ye're hoighest hill, Oi w'dn't niver go no closter thin th' furthest away Oi c'd git from ye! A-h-r-o-o! Wid ye're dead min-an' ye're cowld!"

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