"Might run across a caribou," said he, "but I scarcely think so this time of year. Besides, up here he doesn't take to heavy timber like this same as he does in Maine and the Kanuck provinces. He runs in droves of hundreds and thousands up this way, and seems to like the scrub timber."
A short time before noon they came to a sharp bend in the creek where the nature of the bank hid the current ahead from the boys in the two boats. Suddenly the Indians towing the leading craft stopped, and as three held it against the current, the leader of the team beckoned to Swiftwater, who had fallen behind.
"Carry," he said, briefly, to the latter as he came up, and pointed to the stream ahead.
"He means a portage," said the miner to Jack, who was walking with him, as they topped the rise, they went forward to inspect the creek. Directly in front of them where the stream had made a turn, the heavy timber of the forest had retreated back from the water for several hundred yards and the elevated shore sank to almost the level of the water, and became half swamp and half meadow, covered with tufts of grass, and nearer the woods with a stunted growth of brush and small dwarf birches. Gold Creek itself spread out to nearly twice its former width, with innumerable little sandbars and a few boulders protruding from the bottom. Even Jack's unpractised eye could see that the current had no depth of any moment.
"Stake out," said Swiftwater to the Indians. "We'll have to portage." The Indians at once drove the steel anchorage stakes which they carried into the soil and drew the bow of the boats up against the bank and took similar precautions with the stern of each. The Scouts had all joined Jack and Swiftwater at the top of the bank, where the commander of the expedition pointed out that the widening of the Gold had so reduced the depth of the channel that it would be impossible to take the fully loaded boats over the route. As a result most of the cargo if not all of it would have to be unloaded, and perhaps "toted" around the shallow to the deep water of the channel.
"A good deal of work, isn't it?" inquired Dick.
"There's no freighting de luxe up in this country that I ever found," replied the miner. "We shall be lucky if we can get along without a 'carry.' First thing we've got to know is how much water we're drawing on each boat fore and aft. Gerald, you're nominated boat measurer, and you can take Pepper with you. You will find two or three lumber gauges in the dunnage in the rear boat. Each of you take one, and let me know at once what each boat is drawing. Rand, you and Dick are leadsmen of this voyage, and you will each take a pair of knee boots and a lumber gauge and follow the channel of the Creek from shore to shore and give me the greatest depth of water you can find in a continuous channel up to where the creek narrows again and the water will naturally deepen. If you will wait a few minutes we will give you the data to work on. Jack, you and I will take up a job of stevedorin' and get our longshoremen to work. You take three of these Injuns and get to work unloading this first boat, and I'll take the others and rustle cargo on the other. Most o' these pieces can be jacked up the gangplanks, but where they're too heavy in either boat we'll call all hands and get 'em ashore."
By this time, Gerald and Pepper were armed with two slim painted woodstaffs, not unlike the wands of the Boy Scouts, but marked with figures, and having at one end a movable arm about two inches long that could be screwed fast at any point. These they fastened at the extreme end of each gauge, and hooked them under the bottoms of the boats and marking the top of the water were able to tell just what each boat was drawing. They found, however, that the boats did not trim exactly even, and that at one point or another, bow or stern, the draught was more or less by perhaps an inch. The general average was about twenty-six inches in one boat and twenty-eight inches in the other.
"These here ocean greyhoun's had a displacement, as they say in ocean goin' craft, of six inches before they were loaded," said Swiftwater, "when I had 'em measured in White Horse, and if the channel anywhere above here peters out to that it's a case of carrying all this stuff around this meadow land. If we can get even two inches above that the job'll be easier." With the above figures in mind, Rand and Dick plunged into the shallows of the broad channel. Working from rock to sandbar, and bar to boulder, they followed the deepest pools in a tortuous path that corkscrewed nearly from one shore to another, and in an hour's time were able to report to Swiftwater that they could find passageway sufficiently wide for the boats with a minimum depth of fourteen inches.
When they made their report to Swiftwater, a look of intense satisfaction crossed his face, and he remarked:
"Wa-al, I guess that cuts out one big engineerin' problem that might o' kept us here a week. Hustle that freight off; smallest pieces first." The channel figures were reported to Gerald and Pepper, and they were instructed to measure frequently the draught of the boats as the stuff was moved ashore, and to report to the miner when the draught was reduced to eleven inches.
"Better be on the safe side," he remarked. "Poor place to move freight if we should get stuck out there through any mistake of our survey men."
So fast had the Indians worked while the leadsmen were in the channel that it required but a few minutes more to reduce the draught of the batteaus to the scale.
"S-s-say," said Pepper with an anxious look, "isn't it a long time since breakfast? I can hardly remember it."
"It surely is, Pepper," he said, "and I guess we'll camp right now and do a little business with the inner man before we go any further. I'm apt to become int'rested at times, and forget all about that other feller."
At his orders the Indians constructed a small fireplace, and the voyagers were soon sitting about on the bank and boats enjoying with eight hour appetites, strong black tea, ship's biscuits and canned baked beans, to which they did full justice.
As soon as the meal was over, Swiftwater ordered all six Indians to harness themselves to a single boat, and placed Rand in it to handle the steering oar while he himself waded along with the Indians over the shallows to direct their movements, Dick accompanying him to point out the channel. The current was very sluggish, and rapid progress was made over the half mile that intervened before reaching deep water again. Arrived at the desired point the boat was tied to the bank and the remaining cargo quickly removed. Then with all hands aboard, and poles in hand the crew floated the scow back to their former landing place. Here two of the Indians were left to work with Gerald, Jack, Pepper and Don in replacing cargo on the empty boat while the other was towed up stream and unloaded. The first trip had been so easy and successful that Swiftwater told Gerald to allow a load sufficient to give thirteen inches draught. The second boat returning was loaded to the same capacity, leaving still a small amount of cargo, requiring a third trip for one of the boats. On this last trip the boat also took in the boys, and as the Indians had by this time learned the channel the trip was made by poling without mishap.
By the middle of the afternoon the cargo had all been replaced on the two boats, and the miner announced that as they could not reach their destination before dark they would make camp and take the rest of the day to themselves. At this point the forest came down close to the water's edge, and the ground was high and dry, and Swiftwater told the boys to "camp out" if they so desired, and had double tarpaulins placed on the ground for them and "dog tents" erected for them near the Indians.
A roaring big fire was built, and one of the Indians told off to keep it up. The Scouts thought it was very soldierlike. They talked excitedly for a while, and being weary fell into an early deep sleep. Later there was a good deal of restlessness and turning and twisting. Then through the starlight, occasionally a mysterious figure could be dimly discerned stealing silently toward the boats. There was a quiet grin on the face of Swiftwater, who had bunked on one of the boats, when he arose at an early hour and found three recumbent figures sleeping peacefully on the comfortable mattresses in his own boats, and on going ashore saw that the "dog tents" were empty.
"Not quite seasoned yet," he said to himself, as he quietly awakened the Indians.
COLONEL SNOW'S RANCH.
At an early hour that morning the journey was resumed and their progress up stream continued uninterruptedly until about the middle of the forenoon, when Swiftwater stepped ashore and began to search along the right bank for landmarks. Suddenly, he stepped out of the woods, and held up his hand and the Indians in the first boat began to turn the craft's head in toward the shore.
"Here we are," cried the miner, pointing to a large board nailed across two small trees, under which a "cairn" or pile of boulders had been erected. "This is one of the corners of the Colonel's property."
The boats were quickly fastened and the boys tumbled up the bank with some curiosity to investigate the site of what was for some weeks to be a home to them.
"The Colonel told me," said Rand "that he had bought from the Canadian Government about two thousand acres of the best virgin timber of the British Columbia section, and this must be some of it."
The site of their camp certainly bore out the owner's anticipations of the value of his purchase. For miles in every direction stretched a solid substantial growth of timber—hemlock, spruce, fir, poplar and birch, towering to hundreds of feet into the air, and many bolls five and six feet through at the butt. There was very little undergrowth and heavy turf extended in the long aisles of the forest in every direction.
Within a very short time the boats had been permanently fastened to the banks by heavy ropes and strong stakes cut in the small timber, and all hands began to unload the camp equipage. From the bottom of one end of the craft where the camp stuff and supplies had been piled, rough boards which Swiftwater referred to as "sawed stuff," and which had been carried as a sort of false bottom to the boats, were brought out and made into a sort of platform roughly nailed together and placed on a foundation of small boulders gathered from the bed of the creek which raised it a few inches from the ground. On this a heavy army tent, which had been brought from White Horse, was erected by the Scouts themselves and stoutly pegged and guyed in the most approved fashion. A series of flies divided the interior into rooms, and in these the camp bedsteads were placed. This was to be the permanent abiding place of the boys and the miner while the work of preparing the sawmill camp for the next winter's work was going on.
The Indians were each given a dog tent and two of the tarpaulins were turned over to them, and at some little distance away they soon rigged up something between a hut and a burrow of stones, sods, and brush, about ten feet square, the bottom of which they filled two feet deep with spruce and fir boughs. Over all they drew the tarpaulins and pegged them down. The boys watched curiously the gathering of the fir and spruce sprigs.
"Makes the finest spring bed in the world," said Jim. "I've slept on it hundreds of nights, and there's no mattress made that equals it. We'll make up some for ourselves within a few days."
Preparations for the night having been made, and a fireplace dug out of the bank of the creek near the water's edge, and walled up with stones to some distance above the bank so that a perceptible draft was obtained, one of the boys was directed to bring from the stores a bright new copper kettle with a porcelain lining and a tight cover. Three flat stones were placed together and formed a support for the pot.
"Pepper," said Swiftwater, "from this day to the time we go out, you are to be captain of the Kettle. You are to see that it is kept clean and filled with clear water from the creek at least once a day; that the water is boiled and that these water jugs are kept filled and corked. I want to ask the rest of you boys to drink, for a time at least, nothing but the water that our friend Pepper turns out; none from the creek. A man's health in a new country depends a good deal on how the water hits him, and until you are acclimated it is the safest thing." The Scouts readily promised to comply with the miner's request, and Pepper feeling that the health of the camp was somehow in his charge felt not a little elated. He issued orders at once for a supply of firewood, agreeing to carry the water himself, which he did, filling the kettle which held about ten gallons. He put on so many small airs while the boys were bringing in the firewood and arranging it beneath the kettle that they began to dub him "Health Officer," "Doctor," and poke fun at him in several ways. Finally Dick came up and inspected the whole arrangement as if he had never seen it before, and said:
"Hello, Grandma, makin' apple-butter or quince preserves?"
Pepper turned red but went on poking the fire. A minute or two later Gerald strolled by with:
"Auntie, can't I have one of the doughnuts, now?"
Still Pepper struggled to preserve his temper and gave his whole dignified attention to his new duties until:
"Mamma, how long fo' dat hog and hominy fit to eat?" and Rand dodged a stick of firewood, as the infuriated Captain of the Kettle turned back to the simmering pot. He was undisturbed for nearly an hour when Don strolled up with an ostentatiously small armful of sticks and stayed only long enough to ask:
"Seems to me that I smell braw parritch; or is it kail-brose ye would be steaming there, gilly?"
Satisfied that a small conspiracy had been hatched against him the ruffled Pepper bided his time. Suddenly, Jack came hurriedly toward him holding his nose and pushing him away snatched off the cover of the kettle and yelled dramatically:
"I told you so; I told you so; he can't even cook water; and now it's all burned black."
The shout of laughter that went up was the last straw for the enraged Pepper and jumping on his brother the two rolled over on the grass together in one of those friendly tussles that had been frequent incidents of their boyhood and that always served to bring Pepper's ruffled temper down to normal temperature. Thereafter Pepper insisted in supplying his own firewood and running the kettle without help, and resented any interference with his duties.
The days that followed were busy, but uneventful. Swiftwater kept the camp busy at something all the time and not many days passed before the camp began to take on a look of permanency. He set up first what he called a saw-pit, two big "horses," each made by driving fir poles into the ground and crossing them and laying other sapling across these. The two horses were about seven feet high and twelve feet apart. From one to the other of these ran a sixteen foot plank. Spruce trees of medium size were then cut down, divided into sixteen foot lengths, and typo squared with an ax. These timbers were then raised to the top of the horses, and, while one Indian mounted the log, the other stood underneath and with a long gang saw "ripped" the timber into deals or boards, thick plank or scantling as was needed for camp use. As this lumber began to pile up, he set the other Indians at work clearing a place among the heavier trees, but not far from the creek, for a sod house. It was to be some twenty feet square and was to house Colonel Snow's lumbering gangs when they came in the following winter.
"'Tenting on the old camp ground,' 's good enough, up here in the summer," he said to the boys, "but with the mercury loafing around sixty below zero, canvas is no sort of shelter. A log house is better but it is almost impossible to make the caulking of that weather-proof.
"Sod houses are the invention of the pioneer of the plains whose chief recreation was going twenty miles to look at a tree four inches through. Of course if we had the time we could saw out lumber enough to make a 'camp' that would be weather proof, but the sod house is insured against fire, flood, lightning and wind and is as cosy as a cave; besides, it takes a shorter time to build," and with this the miner led the boys, with the exception of Gerald, who was to keep camp and oversee the four Indians left there, to the boats, one of which the other two Indians had unmoored, and when all were aboard, began to pole upstream.
About a half mile above the camp the woods receded from the creek and a broad stretch of elevated meadow intervened. Early as it was, the short grass was green and luxuriant, and what surprised the boys more than any thing else was the number, variety and size of the wild flowers.
All hands had been supplied with long handled spades with sharp edges, and as Swiftwater marked the turf out in strips five and ten feet long by two feet wide, the boys quickly cut it out, while the Indians with a hand barrow carried and loaded it onto the boat. It was cut to the bottoms of the grass roots and was found to be of unusual thickness and tenacity, the ten foot lengths folding up like matting without breaking.
The miner told the boys that its condition was due largely to the shortness of the seasons; for while the grass grew with remarkable rapidity, the underlying roots decayed much more slowly than in lower latitudes, and in time made the turf a tough mass of twisted roots that it was almost an impossibility to separate. Hence it was much better for their purpose.
They spent the greater part of the day at the work, having brought food and water with them, and when night came the boat was loaded as deeply as was safe for her draught. She dropped slowly down the stream directed by the Indians and was soon tied at her old moorings.
During the day, what Swiftwater called "the hold," had been excavated by the Indians to a depth of about eighteen inches over the entire site of the proposed house, and this had been filled in as solidly as possible with small boulders from the creek. The crevices between the stones had been filled with creek sand and the whole rammed hard. On this a solid platform of two-inch planks had been laid by the sawyers and at intervals of three feet long, thin stakes, sharpened at the top, had been driven deeply into the ground just at the ends of the excavation. Thus all had been prepared for the erection of the sod walls the next day.
Early the next morning Jack, who had determined to keep an eye on all the details of a sod house in case he should ever want to erect one himself, was wandering around the newly laid foundation, when suddenly there came to his ear a muffled buzzing much like the drone of a distant grasshopper. "This sounds like real summer," said Jack to himself, instinctively looking around for the insect. As he approached one corner of the foundation, the sound increased in strength, and less resembled the grasshopper than something like the shaking of a bag of marbles. One of the Indians was approaching the structure and as the sound caught his ear he broke into a run with a deep guttural exclamation, at the same time motioning to Jack to keep away from the foundation.
"Snake," he said. "Mooch bad. Killum."
He picked up a stake lying beside the platform and began to poke around beneath it. As he reached forward to push the stake underneath, something struck like a flash at the back of his hand, and at the same moment a large rattlesnake uncoiled and slid from underneath the boards out into the short grass. With a blow of the stake the Indian broke the snake's back and then began to suck the two punctures on his knuckle, at the same time keeping the hand tightly closed and the skin drawn tight.
For a moment Jack was horrified. Then the instincts of the Scouts and his quickly working brain ran rapidly over the instructions of "first aid." With a shout that brought the other boys and Swiftwater on the run he drew from his pocket a small cord, doubled it into a slipnoose and placing it on the Indian's wrist drew it so tight as to cut off the circulation. At the same time he called to Rand to bring the medicine case. The miner, as soon as he comprehended what the trouble was, also disappeared in the direction of the tent. When Rand returned he had in his hand a solution of permanganate of potash and a vial of strong ammonia. With each of these he saturated the wound with some difficulty, however, as the aborigine insisted for a time in keeping his lips to the wound as his own theory of first aid. The hand and wrist had now swollen so much that the cord had practically disappeared in the flesh and the Indian was evidently suffering much pain. At this moment Swiftwater appeared with a small gallon demijohn, from which he poured for the Indian a large tin cup full of neat whisky. The red man swallowed it without a quiver and the miner poured out another of similar size which the Indian also drank.
"That'll fix him," said Jim, "but I'm very glad you thought of that cord Jack or we'd have been an Indian short. Those drugs you have will neutralize the poison and I don't know but they would have been sufficient, but I'm takin' no chances. This" (indicating the demijohn), "is the old reliable snakebite cure, discovered by Columbus when he discovered the rattlesnake over here and my mind naturally reverted to it at the first jump. The worst of it is that the Injun won't be of much use for a couple of days and I'm afraid all the other Siwashes will quit work and go to huntin' rattlesnakes."
The work of building the sod house began soon after the morning meal, and by night had made substantial progress. One of the side walls was built higher than the other, and a roof of rough boards was laid on top of thick planks which formed the top course of the walls. On this roof was laid a course of sod, the grass of which began in a few days to grow lustily.
"'Taint everywhere," said Swiftwater, with a smile, "that a man can have his lawn on the roof of his house."
AN HEIRLOOM RETURNED.
Rand, whose inquiring turn of mind was scarcely inferior to that of Jack, but of a more profound and less transitory nature, had shown a strong interest in the Indian boatmen from the beginning of their journey and had struck up an especial friendship with the Indian whose dog had tackled the wild cat and had been later crushed by the Kodiak bear. The red man, while not morose, was taciturn, and replied to all questions with monosyllables and scarcely a smile. He showed friendliness in other ways, and as he became better acquainted with the boys responded to the young Scout leader's approaches. Day by day and word by word he inducted Rand into the mysteries of the "pigeon," or jargon used as a language of communication with the natives. It was made up of half Siwash, half English words, the latter so amputated and distorted as scarcely to be recognizable. It was rather automatic in character, as it could be changed or added to as circumstances required, and Rand found it easy to use after he had mastered the first few principles of it, if it may be said to have had any.
One evening, after the day's work was over, Rand strolled over to the shack where the Indians lived and found his erstwhile friend sitting on a stone, engaged in slowly carving with a sharp knife the soft wood of a sycamore spar that had been carefully cleared of its branches and smoothed to comparative symmetry. The worker had begun at the butt end of the pole and had worked his way carefully upward. The carvings were weird, goggle eyed, snouted and saw-toothed creatures, the like of which could only have originated in the brain of the late Lewis Carroll, who wrote "Alice in Wonderland" or in the dreams of a Siwash nourished on smoked salmon and rancid seal oil. Part of the carved lines of one creature formed the features of another (if they could be dignified by the name of features), and there was a sort of artistic continuity about the whole that aroused Rand's interest and admiration. At the butt of the pole another Indian had begun with two or three bean tins filled with crude colors evidently made from vegetable dyes, to paint the carvings already finished. Rand pointed to the pole, and asked:
"Totem," grunted the Siwash. "Me chief." He further informed the young Scout that it was his purpose to set it up in front of the camp. Just then, Swiftwater came along and spoke to the Indian in his native Siwash. The latter arose and stood for a moment erect, with his hand on his breast with so dignified an air that Rand could scarcely recognize in the figure before him the slouching round-shouldered aborigine, who went daily, so stolidly, about the labor of the camp. Swiftwater listened to the rather oratorical harangue which the Indian delivered, smiling at times, but giving the man respectful attention. He even gave him half a salute, as he turned and walked with Rand toward their own tent.
"I didn't know that we had with us a representative of the old Siwash nobility. The tribal relations of these people are pretty well broken up since we brought our boasted civilization and our whiskey up among their homes, and they don't recognize the authority of their head men any more. They have 'got onto' our most cherished principle that all men were created free and equal, and the chiefs and their families have to hustle for a living as hard as the lowest of them. Still, they cling to their ancient dignities. That totem he's been carving is the insignia of his clan or family, and as he couldn't bring the old family totem pole with him, he carves one wherever he settles for a time, and sets it up. You remember in old 'Ivanhoe,' Front de Boeuf and the Templar displayed their banners on the castle walls whenever they came up for the week end, and they really didn't have so much on this old rootdigger after all. I rather like his spunk. Good family connections are really something to be proud of if ye don't let 'em interfere with yer business, and they don't come visitin' too often."
Something about the totem pole aroused Rand's imagination, and with the other boys he went over to the shack to look at the "work of art" as Jack insisted on calling it. Although the boys had seen totem poles in the city museums, and one or two on their original ground in the Alaskan villages that they had visited, there was something familiar about this one. As they went over the various figures, trying to distinguish them from each other and speculating on what they were supposed to represent, Pepper, who had been inspecting the upper part of the work, where lack of color made the figures less conspicuous, suddenly exclaimed:
"S-s-say, this fellow's family isn't so very old. Here's the ace of clubs, and that couldn't have got over here before Columbus, and he didn't come up this far."
"What's that?" said Rand. "Let's look at it." Then, for the first time, the reason for the familiarity of the design struck him.
"Hey, boys," he cried, excitedly, "don't you see it?"
"What is it?" they cried in chorus, crowding around him.
"There, there, and there. The top of this totem is an exact replica of our narwhal horn. Here's the mammoth, and here's the pile of tusks."
"Begorra, that's truth," said Gerald. "Looks as though he had copied it from our ivory. Run and get it, Rand."
The young Scout leader, who had been made custodian of the treasure, returned to the tent and brought out the relic. It was a short, broken piece of the twisted horn of the narwhal or white whale, discolored, and rubbed smooth as if with much handling. It was covered with rude etchings evidently made with flints or sharp shells. As nearly as could be made out, the figures represented a mammoth, an extinct creature of the elephant tribe, a man beside a dogless sledge, a pile of mammoth tusks, and a high cliff with an opening or cave at the top whose mouth was shaped like the ace of clubs referred to by Pepper.
With the greatest care the boys went over the lines of the graven ivory comparing the figures with the carvings of the hieroglyphics which the "chief" had carved on his totem pole, and found them to be almost identical, except for a few minor particulars caused by the relief work on the totem, and less crudity in the carvings.
The Indians at this time of day were engaged at their work of sawing lumber and in finishing the foundations of the sod house, where a ditch was being dug, but it being near the hour of noon the man who had described himself as a "chief" came to the shack to arrange for the noonday meal.
The boys turned to greet him as he came up, and Rand drew his attention to the ivory, intending to indicate the resemblance of the two carvings. As his eye fell upon the relic a remarkable change came over the Siwash. He reached forward, and his eyes blazing with excitement, almost tore the ivory from Rand's hand and stepped back in a defiant attitude.
Heretofore, the tones of the Indians, like those of their dogs, had been low, guttural and subdued. Now the aborigine gave vent to a shrill piercing yell, and, at the same time, waved hysterically to his comrades, all five of whom dropped their tools and rushed to the shack and surrounded the chief.
With a wealth of wild gesticulation and deep growling tones that at times rose to almost a shriek in a higher note they examined the horn and appeared to pay it the most awed reverence. The Scouts seeing that they were so deeply interested did not attempt to repossess themselves of their treasure for some minutes, and then Rand was met by a most firm refusal on the part of the leading Indian to give it up.
The other Indians surrounded him in a defiant attitude—the first sign of insubordination that had yet appeared among them, and the boys seeing that they had encountered a mystery which could not at once be unraveled, and that the relic had some almost overpowering importance to the Siwashes, determined to drop the matter for the time being, and put it up later to the commander of the camp.
The aborigines went back quietly to their labor in the afternoon, and the boys who were at work with the miner, laying out the foundation for the sawmill, took occasion in the intervals of their labor to tell Swiftwater the story of the narwhal's horn, and the incident that had taken place at noon. The guide listened with close attention, and at the finish of the incident his face was rather grave.
"I'll talk with that main guy Siwash, some time this afternoon. Meantime, I wish you would all leave this matter in my hands. It may turn out to be of more importance to us than we think."
The Scouts readily agreed, and toward the middle of the afternoon the miner left them and strolled over to where the Indians were at work on the sod house, and calling the "chief" to one side walked away with him to the bank of the creek.
"Well," said Jack, when they were all together at one end of the foundation, "what do you think of it? There seems to be more in that horn than we thought when we decided to bring it along with us."
"Yes," replied Rand, "and we seem to be coming out of the little end of it."
"Faith," exclaimed Gerald, "it looks as if that Indian was going to hold on to our relic, and the others seem as if they were going to stand by him."
"They certainly have seen something like it before," commented Dick, "and maybe it's worth more to them than to us. It was only a mere guess of ours, after Colonel Snow undertook to interpret it to us, that there might be anything behind it, and it was only because it had evidently come from an Arctic country that we even thought of bringing it along with us."
"I think," said Rand, "that we shall have trouble getting it back, and I, for one, propose that we leave the whole matter in the hands of Swiftwater and try and get the true inwardness of the thing from him. It ought to be a good story if we don't get anything else out of it." This view was readily agreed to, and the afternoon's work was progressing satisfactorily when Don, after deep thought, said:
"I've been listening to this Siwash language, and I haed me doots as to whether it was a real language like Gaelic or English or just a rumble, but when I heard that head man scream like a white man I concluded that it's got some elements of a language."
The conference between the miner and the chief lasted for a half hour, after which the latter returned to his work, and Swiftwater joined the boys. His face was still grave, and simply remarking that he would enlighten them at supper when the afternoon's work was completed.
"I'm a little bothered about this matter," said Swiftwater, after the evening meal was concluded, "and would have given a good deal if it hadn't happened. My experience with savages the world over has taught me that while you may rob them and make war on them and get away with it, that you cannot interfere safely with their religions or their traditions. Not that we have intentionally done so, but it may have an effect after all.
"The chief told me a long story, a good deal of which I couldn't quite make out the sense of, but it seems that you boys have in some way got hold of an ancient treasure of his tribe many hundred years old, and considered in some way, sacred. He says there were two of these relics, that they were handed from generation to generation and carefully guarded. At first they were merely the record of a buried treasure, the wealth of the northern tribes being the ivory of the walrus and the narwhal and such tusks of the mammoth as came to them through the melting of the glaciers. The buried treasure was never found, and the tradition finally became incorporated in the totem or coat of arms of the tribe.
"Many years ago this family of Siwashes was raided by tall red Indians from the far southwest and the family scattered, and many women and children and much loot taken. These ivory relics were among the loot, and have been simply a legend of the remnants of the tribe ever since.
"The unexpected return of this relic has aroused a new spirit in them, and I can see a little offishness and suspicion. While I do not expect any trouble from them I want to be absolutely certain of them until we get this work of Colonel Snow's done, and as I say, I should have been better satisfied if the matter had not come up at this time."
"I want to suggest," said Rand, "that we Scouts surrender all claim to the ivory, and tell the Indians that they are welcome to the relic."
"That might be a good idea, and I will go along with you and explain to the Siwashes that it came into your hands accidentally."
The boys crossed over to the shack where the chief sat smoking with the others. For some reason all work on the totem pole had been abandoned for that night at least.
Rand, in his newly acquired jargon, explained to the aborigines that the Scouts desired to present the heirloom to the tribe, and Swiftwater supplemented this with a talk in the native tongue telling just how the boys had come into possession of the horn.
The Indians listened gravely, without expression, except to nod eager assent to the offer of the Scouts to relinquish the prized relic. The chief even showed some cordiality, saying:
"Good! You come me potlatch," which Jim explained was an invitation to visit him at his village on the occasion of a merrymaking similar to a Christmas celebration.
The Scouts retired that night full of the mystery of the thing, feeling as if they had come, somehow, into touch with a long dead past. Swiftwater appeared more reassured, but took occasion to visit the shack before turning in and found the aborigines all herded together with the dog in the almost air tight hut, ventilation appearing to be a thing abhorrent to them.
The first thing that became apparent when the boys and the miner threw back the cheesecloth door of their tent that kept out the horde of mosquitos in the early morning was the absolute silence of the forest. The six Indians had taken one of the two boats, and with the dog had silently drifted away during the night down the current of Gold.
BUILDING THE CAMP.
The chagrin of Swiftwater Jim was almost too great for expression when the discovery of the Indians' desertion was made.
"It was what I had feared," he said. "Still, I thought our talk last night had absolutely satisfied them. I don't think they were so much afraid of us as that they desired to be sure that the sacred bone got back safely to their village, and they knew that a big feast would be made for them when they returned. It would be useless to pursue them, for it would be a hard trip back to White Horse, and there would be no certainty of our being able to keep them if we got them back. Our work here is so nearly finished that I believe if we turn to it heartily we can complete it in the time we intended and get back to Skagway in time to meet Colonel Snow on his return from the northwest. How about it?"
The Scouts, and especially Rand, felt themselves to be to a certain extent responsible for the situation in which they found themselves that they readily agreed to turn to and exert themselves to the utmost to finish up the work of preparing the camp for the winter's work.
The sod house had been practically finished by the Indians before they deserted, the only thing remaining to be done consisting of the hanging of a pair of stout double doors on the casings that had been let into the sod as the walls went up, the finishing of the windows and the erection of a chimney for the big fireplace that had been built into the house at one end.
The doors had nothing artistic or ornate about them, and in half a day were constructed of rough lumber and hung on strong hinges from among the hardware in stock. Instead of glass for the windows, which hard freezing of the sod house and settling of the walls might have a tendency to shatter, double sheets of mica, such as is used in the flexible tops of automobiles, were set in and plastered with clay which was burnt to the hardness and consistency of brick by a plumber's flash lamp sending out the hot flame of burning gasoline in the hands of Swiftwater.
The construction of the chimney was a novel experience for the boys, who knew little of the expedients that pioneers far from stone and lime were compelled to resort to. It is true there were many boulders in the creek, but skilled work was necessary to lay them, and the miner resorted to an easier method.
A considerable amount of lumber sawed by the Indians remained, and this was split up into stakes about two inches square. These were driven into the walls of the house alongside of the fireplace and other stakes laid across them at their outer ends.
As fast as this structure became a foot high it was plastered inside and out with clay which was burnt hard with the blow lamp. Above the opening in the fireplace the chimney was continued by putting of clay on the sod wall and burning it in, making the chimney smaller for better draft.
The top of the chimney above the house was provided by constructing a cratelike affair by fastening smaller pieces to four stout stakes and setting these stakes down into the chimney and plastering the whole inside and out with clay. After a hot fire had been kept up in the fireplace for twenty-four hours to thoroughly bake the clay Swiftwater announced that the sod house was finished.
This work was not accomplished without some inconvenience, and even suffering to the boys as yet scarcely inured to hard labor. Blistered hands and aching backs were the daily portion, and it was only by working them in shifts of three that the miner was able to gradually break them in. But pure air and good food worked wonders, and in a few days they hardly felt the effects of a day's labor except in increased appetites and sound sleep. As the days went on, however, the small pests of wood and water that come with the summer increased in number, and almost drove the boys frantic. The mosquito seemed to be always present day and night, and despite the use of nettings and cheesecloth it seemed almost impossible to keep them out of the tent. A worse plague if possible was the "black fly," a minute midge that bored deep into the skin and brought the blood with every bite. There was also in lesser numbers a large striped fly that had a habit of hanging on the spruces and birches in clusters, but came at once to welcome the white man as an old friend.
His bite was like the cut of a knife. Swiftwater said he had never been able to discover what this fly lived on when the white man was not there, for it is matter of record that it would not touch an Indian or an Eskimo.
As it became necessary to protect one's self against these tiny marauders, Swiftwater dealt out to the boys small vials of a swarthy looking mixture compounded of oil of cedar, oil of tar and pennyroyal. With this they bathed their faces and hands frequently, which had the effect of discouraging the pests and greatly reducing their attacks. The mixture entered the pores of the skin, however, and it was not many days before everyone of the Scouts was as tawny colored as the Siwashes who had left them.
"You're not the only Injun in camp, now," said Jack, addressing Don, who had been adopted into a tribe of Crees in the Canadian Rockies. "If this Patrol should step into an Indian village now we'd be adopted offhand on our complexions alone."
"I'm na so certain," replied Don, "but I think I could get along the rest of my life in comfort if I never smelled pennyroyal again. 'Tis not a perfume that grows on ye."
"It certainly has grown on us the last week," said Rand, "and I notice that lately the mosquitos seem to be taking a liking to it. At least they don't seem to mind it as they did at first."
It was true that the insects seemed to be growing larger and fiercer as the summer advanced, and it became essential to secure better protection for the workers in the daytime. The miner brought out a half dozen ordinary linen hats, and cutting up sufficient netting for the purpose with his sailor's "palm," sewed it around each of the headgear. This, when placed on the head, allowed a fall of netting to drop down on the shoulders, protecting the face and neck. This was found to be a great protection, and as the boys had grown somewhat hardened to the stings they got along very nicely.
The next job undertaken was the foundation for the sawmill itself. For this purpose, Swiftwater had brought along some bags of cement, and a small excavation similar to that made for the house was dug about eighteen inches deep and filled with boulders rammed in with clay. On this a wood fire was built, and the clay burned hard, resting on this around the edges a form of boards was placed, making a sort of bottomless box. The cement, mixed with sand and water from the creek, was made into a concrete which was poured into the form upon the baked clay and boulders. The plastic mass when it filled the boxlike structure to the top was smoothed off and allowed to dry. Forty-eight hours after it had hardened into stone and the foundation was complete.
The camp duties devolved upon the Scouts as well as the hard labor which had been a legacy from their Indians. The miner divided up these duties as best he could, making Rand responsible for the sanitary condition of the place, and giving such hints as he himself had gained by a service as an enlisted man in the army and as a shipmaster. He himself took upon himself most of the cooking, although when the ship's bread they had brought with them began to pall upon the boys he selected Gerald for baker, and taught him how to mix a batch of baking powder bread, and bake it in a "reflector" before an open fire.
The first batch of loaves that Gerald produced came out of the little oven so dark colored and hard, as they had failed to rise sufficiently that they could not be eaten, and aroused the jeers of the "baker's" fellow Scouts, who used them for several days in a game of basketball until Gerald sneaked them out of camp and threw them into the creek. He had excellent results with the bakings which followed, and after the chimney on the sod house was finished a fire was built in the new fireplace that gave a steadier heat, and he even attempted a batch of biscuit with such excellent results that they informed him they were as good as any "that mother used to make."
Swiftwater was indefatigable in his attention to the diet and health of the Scouts, and made an effort to vary the former as much as possible. Most of their food was canned or cured provisions, and the miner did his best to secure fresh food. After the adventure with the bear no large game was seen at all, but occasionally small birds were shot, and squirrels were found fairly abundant. These, with a few small trout caught by Pepper in the creek, helped to form a pleasant change from bacon, canned beans and what the former sailor called "salt horse," or corned beef. The commander of the camp was especially anxious to get hold of some green vegetables, but the time was too short to attempt to grow anything, and he spent some leisure time in the woods trying to find some substitute. A change to green stuff is found very essential on shipboard to prevent certain diseases that follow a too steady diet of salt and canned foods, and the alternative where vegetables are not obtainable, is lime juice, occasional doses of which the miner administered to the boys.
One Saturday Swiftwater suggested a half holiday, and with the remaining boat pole up to the meadow where they had obtained the sod, and search for some wild vegetables of an edible character. It was also suggested that as the May flies had begun to appear the party should take their fishing tackle along and run a few miles further up the Gold and try casting off for the handsome, brown, steelhead and brown trout that frequent the interior waters of the British Columbia region, especially near their mountainous sources.
"Hadn't we better take some larger tackle and try for salmon?" suggested Dick. "I understand this country is famous for salmon."
"Well, hardly," replied Swiftwater. "If we were on waters that flowed into the Pacific and Alaskan waters we should probably find them. But the rivers hereabouts rise in the Coast range mountains which separate us from the sea and flow northeast. The salmon is not a fresh water fish. He lives in the most remote depths of the ocean, and only runs up the rivers during the summer to spawn, and usually dies there. He can climb a pretty high waterfall, but I don't think he could climb the Coast range to get into Gold Creek."
As this was the first outing they had had it was decided to take sufficient provisions and firewood with them to last until the next day and stay over night if they found encouraging fishing up the stream, and to return before dark on Sunday.
"While I like to make Sunday a pretty good day, when I can," said the miner, "I think that our necessity for fresh fish and vegetables makes this trip a work of necessity."
It was decided that two of the boys should stay and guard the camp, and Rand and Jack expressed a willingness to do so when they saw that Pepper and Dick were both anxious to get away from the monotony of the place they had been tied up to for weeks. So with Swiftwater and Gerald poling on one side and Don and Dick on the other, and Pepper at the long steering oar in the rear the boat was pushed off into midstream with a bugle Scout salute from the garrison left behind.
The day was beautiful, and nearly as warm as midsummer in New England. The trip up to the meadows would have proven uneventful except for the unparalleled energy of Pepper, who, as Dick said, was "always sticking his oar in at unexpected times." As the boat steered easily he attempted to aid the polesmen by pushing at times with his long stern sweep, until at an unexpected moment the blade of the oar slipped between two rocks and down into the soft bottom and stuck there straight upright, dragging the bewildered Pepper, who clung to it, completely off the stern of the boat.
The frightened young Scout, not knowing how deep the water was under him, wrapped his legs around the sweep which remained upright, and clung to it yelling for help.
The impetus of the boat carried the craft on about twenty-five feet before it was stopped by the current, for the polesmen had stopped work and turned around to whoop with laughter and delight when they saw the ridiculous figure perched on the oar in midstream still crying for rescue.
Shouting words of encouragement they let the boat drift slowly down stream again. Before they reached him, Pepper's strength gave out, and he slid slowly down the sweep, and was preparing to battle for his life in the icy water when his moccasins brought upon a rock in a foot of water, and he pulled the oar loose, and as the stern of the boat reached him stepped aboard with a foolish expression on his face, barely wet to the knees.
It would be cruel to Pepper to record in this history the sarcastic expressions of admiration for his agility and ability "to reach out and grab trouble every time it went by," as Dick expressed it. There were references to the "champeen pole vault of Alaska; height ten feet; depth, twelve inches," "veteran oarsman of the Gold," "Rocked into the Cradle of the Deep," but the last comment which brought out the old Pepperian red through the tan and the yellow of the mosquito "dope" was a quotation from an old boyhood rhyme made by Gerald, apropos of "appearances."
"Willie had a purple monkey, climbing on a yellow stick, Willie sucked the purple monkey and it made him deadly sick."
Arrived at the meadows they found the grass grown to the height of their heads and a wealth of wild flowers such as they had never seen before. Acres of yellow poppies, wild geraniums, bluish in color, saxifrage, magenta colored epilobium, moccasin plants and a hundred others with familiar faces. But what pleased Swiftwater especially were the immense quantity of dandelions.
He set the boys at work gathering all the plants they could secure, while himself began to hunt for a peculiar wild onion, which he finally found in abundance. He also found sorrel, both the tops and root of which are pleasant to the taste. They half filled the boat with these and other harmless edible plants, and then late in the afternoon started to pole up the river to the fishing grounds, intending to try for the trout in his most amenable season, the early evening.
After the boat had pulled away from the camp, Rand and Jack cleared up the remains of the dinner and put things to rights, after which Rand said:
"I say, Jack, I'm going to indulge in a little luxury—a hot bath. This bathing in the creek is all right, but that water feels as if it came right out of the snow, and I can't get it to take hold on this 'dope' stain on my skin at all.
"How are you going to do it? We didn't include anything like a bathtub in our luggage you know, and we haven't anything big enough to heat more than a few gallons of water."
"I'll show you; give me a hand and I'll rig up a bath big enough for both of us." They went to the tent and got the biggest of the tarpaulins lying there, and taking it to the two seven-foot sawhorses which the Indian sawyers had used. Placing the two close together they threw the ends over the horses and fastened them, allowing the middle to hang down almost to the ground. By drawing the sides a little tighter than the middle of the ends, they formed a sort of loose bag. While Jack made up a hot fire in the fireplace, into which he dumped a dozen boulders from the creek, Rand carried water enough to fill the "bath tub" in the tarpaulin, the texture of which was so thick and so closely woven that very little of it dripped out. As the boulders became red hot, Rand and Jack brought the hand barrow used to cart stones from the stream, with a little sand in the bottom, and rolling the stones into it carried them to the "tub" and dumped them in. They soon had the water at a boiling heat, and quickly stripping both tumbled in and were soon luxuriating the first hot dip they had enjoyed since leaving the hotel in Skagway.
They were engaged in an effort with strong soap and sand, trying to remove their lately acquired complexions, when the sound of oars and poles on the river reached them. They were considerably back of the camp in the timber, and could not see the landing from the "bathroom," but supposed the sounds were by their comrades returning. They stepped from the tarpaulin to go to the creek for a cold plunge as a finishing touch, when over the bank swarmed the six Siwashes who had so lately deserted them. They were unarmed and were driven by three men with guns. The two boys seeing the strangers were about to step aside for their clothing when they were ordered to stand and throw up their hands. The three newcomers were Dublin, Rae and Monkey.
AT THE MERCY OF THE PEST.
"Sorry ye'r not in receivin' costume, but that won't make no difference. We got off down to the mouth of the creek when the steamer went down and started to walk up when we met these Siwash comin' down with the boat, and concluded it was just what we needed. We held 'em up, and finally persuaded them to pole us back up. They wouldn't talk much at first, but finally told us what ye were doin' up here. We intended to git here at night and su'prise ye a little, but when we stopped at the bend just below we saw the other fellers pushin' up stream, and concluded to come right on and su'prise ye this afternoon. Rae, you and Monkey herd them Injuns into that shack over there, and let Monkey stand watch on them. Then you come back here and we'll take care of these young Scouts."
"What are you doing up here?" asked Rand. "What do you want of us?"
"Well, we're after part of the outfit you brought in here, for we're goin' on down the Yukon prospectin'. Then I think there's some of that machinery you brought in that Colonel Snow would pay pretty heavy to git back, and we'll annex some of that."
"Yes," snarled Rae, who had returned, "and first thing we'll put you two where you won't bother for a while. I'll git some rope," and so saying, he turned toward the tent and soon returned with some cord.
"Look here, Dublin," cried Jack. "Whatever you intend to do let us get on some clothing, for these mosquitos and black flies are torturing us."
"Haw, haw," yelled Rae, "that won't do you any harm. Let's tie 'em up just as they are and let the bugs chew on 'em."
"Why, man," protested Rand, "they would torture us to death in a few hours. Do you want to murder us?"
"Oh, I ain't so pertikler," sneered Rae. "You fellers have made us trouble enough around Creston, and ye'll have to take yer chances."
"Here, cut that out, Rae," said Dublin, in whom, despite his criminal instincts, there were still many elements of decency. "We're not here to murder anybody. Git them some clothes."
With a growl, Rae limped away to the tent again, returning with two pairs of pajamas, and despite the boys' complaint that these would prove but little protection, they were compelled to don them. Their hands were then bound, and they were then taken a short distance back into the woods, where they were fastened to trees. Then the desperadoes went back and began to ransack the stores. Ripping open boxes and bags they piled up a varied quantity of provisions, and even helped themselves to a quantity of clothing and blankets which the expedition had brought up to be left in cache for the following winter. They also tore open the canvas coverings of the sawmill and a dynamo which accompanied it, which was intended to supply electric light for night work to supplement the short days of winter. From both of these they selected a dozen of the smaller parts of the greatest importance and made one canvas bundle of them, thus disabling the machinery completely.
Having gathered their loot together they went to the shack and compelled three of the Indians to come out and carry these things and place them aboard the boat. They had worked nearly two hours, and now cursing the Siwashes, they urged them to hurry with the plunder, fearing the return of the other members of Swiftwater's party.
Meantime, the boys had been suffering tortures. The woodland pests of all kinds swarmed about them, stinging through the thin clothing and covering their heads and faces, which had now begun to swell to an extent that threatened total blindness in time. Fortunately, the gang had not gagged them, and they were able to comfort one another with the hope that their comrades would find no fishing and return that night. They made desperate effort to release themselves, but with no result except to chafe wrists and ankles to a painful condition. The place where they had been fastened was further up stream than the camp, which was partly concealed from them, but commanded a view of a mile or more up the creek. As time went by they scanned this stretch of water eagerly for some signs of their friends, but in vain. At last, Jack, who had tried to bear up bravely as became a good Scout, spoke up in rather a tremulous voice:
"Rand, do you suppose they will go away and leave us tied up like this all night? These mosquitos will come in clouds after dark, and we can't last long then. One of my eyes is about gone now."
"Rae and Monkey might do it, but I am sure Dublin will see that we are cut loose," replied Rand.
Suddenly, Rand, who had been straining his eyes up the stream, exclaimed excitedly:
"Jack, Jack! There's some one coming down the creek on the shore."
Jack turned eagerly to the shore above. Sure enough. Three figures on horseback had just emerged from the forest, but a hundred rods above them, and rode slowly down the bank.
"They don't see us yet," said Rand. "Wait until they get about half way here, and then yell for help with all your might."
The horsemen rode slowly toward them, and as they reached a point a few yards distant both Rand and Jack let a high boyish scream with all their strength:
"Robbers! Thieves! Help! This way."
At the same moment the three strangers caught sight of the two queer figures tied to the trees and pulled up a moment. With the first yell, Rae and Dublin came running around the sod house with their guns leveled, cursing the boys and commanding silence. At the same moment they caught sight of the strange horsemen. They turned at once and ran back for the shack just as the horsemen seemed to comprehend the situation. There was a sharp bugle call, and the three put spur to their horses, and with carbines in rest came on at a hard gallop. They had to come round a little bend in the creek which delayed them a little, then they rode straight for the boys.
"Don't mind us," cried Rand, "get that gang before they get away. They've been raiding the camp."
Two of the men turned and rode around the sod house while the other with a spring from his mount and with a couple of slashes of a big wood knife cut their bonds, and remounting, followed his comrades without asking a question.
The boys followed as rapidly as possible, and when they came into view of the camp a curious and lively scene met their gaze. Dublin and Rae had gotten the Indians out of the shack and at the point of their guns had herded them toward the boat into which they were tumbling as fast as they could. The horsemen were riding toward the struggling crowd crying out to them to halt. As they rode near, Dublin and Rae turned and deliberately fired at the men, whose carbines at once cracked in reply. The last of the Indians who had not yet gotten into the boat pitched forward on the bank, and jumping over him, Dublin and Rae gave the boat a push out into the middle of the stream, sprang aboard and dropped into the bottom of the craft, which at once began to drift down with the current. As nothing was in sight above the gunwale except the Indians the horsemen did not fire again. As the batteau drifted around the point, Monkey Rae, who had been the first to get aboard and conceal himself, rose, and putting his fingers to his nose, shouted back some insulting epithets.
Having dismounted, the three strangers turned to meet the boys, who at once recognized in their khaki uniforms, blue flannel shirts and broad-brimmed hats, three of the members of Major McClintock's patrol of Royal Northwest Mounted Police, whom they had met in White Horse.
They saluted the boys, who returned the recognition, and then shook hands with their rescuers.
"Faith, it seems we were just in time," said O'Hara, the sergeant, "but I'm sorry we didn't get that crowd. If I'm not mistaken, it's one the Major has been looking for that came up on the same boat from Seattle with you."
Rand assured him that the desperadoes were the same that had been referred to, and he continued:
"I'm sure I don't know how they got by our post at White Horse, but they must have made a circuit. However, our men'll get thim somewhere. How are ye yerselves? Begorra ye have foine lookin' faces on ye. Wait till I docther ye up a bit. We all get lukin' worse than that sometimes on this patrol duty."
He produced from the haversack or his "war bag," as he called it, at the rear of his saddle, a couple of bottles, one of which contained water of ammonia and another glycerine and vaseline mixed. The application soon relieved the pain and reduced the swellings. As he did so the other policemen walked down to the landing, where they were attracted by groans at the foot of the bank, and there found the Indian who had pitched forward when they had fired, and whom they supposed had been dragged into the boat. Instead he had rolled down the bank and partially into the water.
They picked him up and carried him up onto the grass, where the boys at once recognized him as the Siwash chief who had deserted at the head of their Indians a few days before.
An examination showed that one of the police bullets had gone through his thigh, but had not made a dangerous wound. Rand at once dressed this, at the same time having some talk with him in "pigeon." The chief could add but little in his jargon to what Dublin had already stated—that they had been met at the conjunction of the Gold and the Lewes by the desperadoes, and under cover of the rifles been compelled to return up stream. Of the narwhal's horn he refused to talk, and his wound having been dressed he was placed on the balsam boughs in the shack.
Rand and Jack at once extended the hospitalities of the camp to the mounted police, who gladly accepted the offer of the empty sod house to stable their mounts, and thus kept them from the attacks of the insect pests. They also showed extreme satisfaction at a rather elaborate camp dinner gotten up by the boys in their honor as a relief from the rather limited army rations that constituted their portion when riding over the long trails of the "beat" which they covered four times a year.
The evening was spent around the camp fire; the boys giving an account of the work that they had done since they left White Horse, and the troopers relating many wild and hazardous adventures of the lands above Winnipeg, including the forests, the posts of the Hudson Bay Company, the "land of Little Sticks," and the "Great Barrens" that stretch north to Hudson's Bay, and known as the "Silent Places" over to the west, where the Yukon begins and joins itself to Alaska. To these were added many tales of the Soudan and Indian by O'Hara, who had served in the British army.
When they retired that night the troopers refused to accept the share of the tent offered them, but taking the hammocks which they carried, from their saddlegear, fastened it to trees, and with their ponchos and mosquito nettings over them, calmly retired for the night.
It was noon the next day when Swiftwater and the Scouts with him slipped slowly down the river in their barge, and tied up to the bank. He greeted the Northwest Mounted Police with pleasure, but showed considerable perturbation when the story of the attack on the camp was related. He at once investigated the extent of the raid on the stores, and was evidently much pleased to find that although the robbers had taken considerable loot with them they had not had time to load up the parts of the machinery which they sorted out.
On Sunday afternoon the troopers took their departure, saying that they would cover the creek on their way down, and try to find out where the gang and their Indians had gone to. Swiftwater promised to follow down the creek in a few days and up the Lewes and file a formal complaint at White Horse. The "green stuff" and trout which the expedition had brought back made a most acceptable Sunday dinner, and after it was over Swiftwater gave the boys a small talk.
"I propose," said he, "to get to work to-morrow morning and erect the last and most important building of our little city in the wilderness here, and that is the cache. I'm going to hang onto this Injun we have here, although he won't be of any use to us, and take him before the Commissioner in White Horse and find out the reason for his leaving all of a sudden. If there's anything important in that ivory horn he's got I'm going to find it out for you boys and see if he can be of any use to you. We can leave this camp shipshape in two days. We'll simply drift down the Gold, and wait at the entrance to the Lewes for the steamer up from Dawson to White Horse."
On the following Monday morning the Scouts went heartily to work, and by night had erected a rough house of planks without windows, and raised from the ground about a dozen feet on spars built in bridgework shape. Into this was conveyed all the remaining stores and the machinery, the whole being covered with heavy tarpaulins and tightly tied.
The cache was raised from the ground to prevent bears and other marauders from reaching the provisions it contained, and the shelter was sufficient for all the stuff left behind.
On Wednesday morning the tent was pulled down, the provisions necessary for their few days' journey placed aboard, the wounded chief helped into the craft, and as the boat drifted out into the stream the Creston Patrol of Scouts stood at attention, and with their bugle sounded a salute to their first camp in the wilderness.
ALASKA'S FIRST AIRSHIP.
The Scouts and their commander reached the mouth of the Gold early in the evening, and made camp on their old ground, the sandy spit between the two rivers. The steamer from Dawson was due some time during the night, and before they turned in they set up a red lantern on the long steering sweep as a signal. The dawn had broken when the hoarse siren of the steamer was heard down the Lewes, and by the time all hands were awake she was backing water at the mouth of the Gold. The flat boat was quickly poled out to her, and what Swiftwater called their "dunnage" was placed aboard. Then, with the steamer's boat in tow the batteau was taken back into the mouth of the creek and securely anchored to the bank to be called for by Colonel Snow's men the following fall.
The trip to White Horse was uneventful, and from there the boys, after a call on Major McClintock at the Mounted Police post, where they left thanks for their rescuers, who had not yet returned from their patrol duty, took a train to Skagway. They found Colonel Snow awaiting them, and after Swiftwater had given an account of the work at the camp on the Gold, preparations were made for the journey down the Yukon to St. Michaels and the Seward Peninsula, where Colonel Snow had some further business to transact for the government. Traveling in Yukon and Alaska is expensive, but Colonel Snow had agreed to defray the expenses of the trip from Skagway to Nome in payment for the boys' services in the camp, and they had already confided to him the scheme they had in mind to make some money for themselves.
The Scouts had given every attention to detail in setting up the machine, and the apparatus had been given a tryout by frequent runs across the grass and short lifts into the air. A small grandstand had been built for the town officials and invited guests, and the Scouts attired in their khaki uniforms and broad hats acted as a reception committee and as ushers.
Swiftwater, who was to go down the Yukon to Dawson with them on his way to the Fairbanks mining district, where he proposed to carve out what he termed a new "stake," acted as box office man and ticket taker. There were nearly two thousand persons on the grounds when the boys brought out from its canvas hanger the neat double plane with its bright motor and varnished propeller. The skids had been replaced with rubber tired bicycle wheels and the controls were of the latest pattern. The machine was dressed with tiny flags, and out of compliment to the neighboring Yukon territory the British colors shared the display equally with the American flag.
The hour of the ascent was announced by a bugle call, and the boys surrounded the aeroplane to keep the crowd back, when Gerald climbed into the seat. A cleared space of nearly a quarter of a mile had been reserved for him, and starting the motor he glided gently away over the grass, then lifted his forward plane and rose into the air. He lifted the plane to about two hundred feet, circled the lower end of the field and came back over the heads of the crowd. As he swept over the grand stand the astonished crowd recovered somewhat from its amazement and sent forth a mighty cheer that was added to by almost as great a throng outside the grounds. Having given the crowd an opportunity to inspect the machine at close quarters, Gerald began to mount in spirals until he reached an altitude of nearly two thousand feet, after which he headed directly for the summit of one of the lofty mountains that form the natural features of the Skagway region. It was nearly a dozen miles away, but he passed over the intervening country at a speed of nearly sixty miles an hour, and after the lapse of about twenty minutes returned, and dropping slowly in spirals, glided gently to earth within a score of feet of the spot from which he had risen.
Soon after their return to Skagway the mysterious "piano case" was brought out of storage and unpacked, a vacant but fenced lot was rented and the first aeroplane that Alaska had ever seen was soon put together, and was in process of being tuned up.
As has been told in a previous volume, the Creston Patrol of Boy Scouts had become fairly proficient airmen, having constructed a glider which in a contest had won for them a motor with which they later equipped an airship. Gerald, especially, had shown himself a most capable and courageous aviator, and only a short time before coming to Alaska had received from the Aeronautical Society his license as a full fledged air pilot. Needless to say their exhibition was the notable event of the year, and it added as well a goodly sum to the boys' exchequer.
Citizens and visitors were delighted with the exhibition, and begged for another day of the same thing, but Colonel Snow was anxious to be on his way to the Klondike country, and could not allow the boys more time. The sum realized was not only satisfactory to the town officials, but the share coming to the boys went a considerable way toward providing funds for their trip down the Yukon.
The aeroplane was loosely crated for the journey, and early in the month of July the Scouts took the train for their second trip from Skagway to White Horse. Upon their arrival at the end of their three hours' journey, Colonel Snow, Rand and Swiftwater repaired to a nearby Siwash village, to which the wounded chief had been conveyed upon their return from Gold Creek and found him nearly recovered from his injury.
He showed considerable satisfaction at meeting them, and was evidently very grateful to Swiftwater and the boys for their kindness to him. He said the return of the ancient tribal relic had greatly rejoiced the members of the tribe, and had aroused great interest among the older men in the old legends attached to the heirloom. These had to do with a great wealth of ivory which had been stored in a cave at the top of a cliff during a tribal war over a hundred years before, and that this cave was in the mountains which "ended near the Great Water." As near as Swiftwater could make out the mountains referred to were either the great Alaskan range which swings in a semicircle across the territory from the international boundary on the Yukon, where the range bears the name of Nuzotin, west to Cook Inlet, an arm of the North Pacific Ocean or the Chugach or Kenai ranges nearer the coast. Four great peaks are features of the Alaskan range, chief of them being Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in all America—20,464 feet—until recently unconquered by any of the ambitious mountain climbers who have attacked it.
The chief said further that some of his young men were ambitious to hunt for this peak, and that he himself would go with them over into the Cook Inlet region for the salmon fishing, and later would take up a search through the mountains aided by a remnant of the tribe which still haunts that section. He promised Rand that should the treasure be found he would share with the boys who had returned their ancient relic to the village.
While Colonel Snow had little faith in the existence of the cave or the possibility of its rediscovery, he saw that the spirit of adventure was aroused in the boys, and as he proposed that they should see as much as possible of Alaska, and as he himself must later visit the copper mining region he made an arrangement to meet the chief at Seward in the Kenai Peninsula, the end of the military cable to Seattle, late in August.
The Indians greatly desired that the boys should visit their village that night for a "potlatch," but as they could not do so the villagers insisted on presenting each of the party with a handsome hand woven blanket, the manufacture of which is the chief native industry.
Meantime, the other boys had paid a visit to the Custom House to give bond for their airship, but as the collector could find nothing of the kind on the tariff list, as none had ever been entered at a Yukon customs house, he concluded it was exempt and allowed it free entry.
"I see that the members of your Congress insist that a protective tariff is for the primary purpose of preventing foreign competition with home industries. As I do not believe that you will find an aviation industry on the Yukon, I guess I am safe in letting you take your machine through."
The boys also visited the police barracks and found their three friends of the forest patrol whom they again heartily thanked. At seven o'clock, at what would have been night anywhere else, they went aboard the "Yukoner" with the aeroplane, and an hour later cast off lines for Dawson. Here another exhibition was made, and under Swiftwater's guidance a visit paid to the mining camps.
DOWN THE RIVER TO NOME.
Two days later, Colonel Snow and the boys, accompanied by Swiftwater, having taken leave of their new made friends at Dawson, embarked on a small launch (a new importation from the States) and started on a leisure trip down the Yukon, intending to use this means of river travel as far as the military post at Fort Gibbon, at the mouth of the Tanana, up which river Swiftwater was to proceed to the Fairbanks mining district, the latest discovered and most important in Alaska.
Colonel Snow's plan was to drop down the river in the swift motor boat, stopping at several army posts where he had friends, some of whom had come up from Seattle with the party and had extended the hospitalities of the various posts to them. They had left the crated aeroplane at Dawson with other heavy baggage to come down on the large river steamer Amelia, which was not due on its first trip up from St. Michael's for nearly a week, and which would overtake them on its return trip down the river at Fort Gibbon, another United States Army post.
The first stop of the party was to be at Eagle, a small, but prosperous town, on the boundary line between Alaska and Yukon territory, containing the most northerly custom house of the United States. Here they were to "declare" the aeroplane and the property they were to bring back into the United States and satisfy the customs authorities that it was all of American manufacture, after which it would be examined and passed when the "Amelia" came along. Adjoining the town of Eagle is the army post of Fort Egbert, garrisoned by two companies of infantry, and here Colonel Snow proposed to spend the night with his brother officers as their first stopping place.
The distance from Dawson to Eagle is about 150 miles, but the high powered launch they had secured with a crew of two, running down stream made easily thirty miles an hour, and they expected to reach their destination early in the afternoon.
"Colonel, if ye don't mind," said Swiftwater, "I'd like to stop off an hour or so up at Forty-mile, jest above here."
"Certainly," replied the Colonel, "we're making first-class progress and shall have plenty of time to reach Eagle before night. There's a wireless station and a line of military telegraph to the coast at Eagle, and I simply desire to get there early enough to get off some dispatches to Washington before the post telegraph office closes."
"W-w-hat's 'Forty-mile?' I've heard of 'Forty-rod,' but never of 'Forty-mile,'" remarked Pepper flippantly.
"Wa-al," drawled the miner, "they was pretty near synon'mous, as you say, when I first knew the place. Forty-mile is the only civilized place of habitation between Dawson and Eagle. It's on the Yukon side of the river, and is a trading station for the Forty-mile mining district, the first real gold mining region opened up in this region. It was the scene of my early triumphs as a 'sourdough' after I left the whaling business, and I 'mushed' into it in the winter along with Dowling, the great mail carrier of this region, who carried the mail up the Yukon on the ice, with a dog team, nine hundred miles between Dawson and Fort Gibbon once a month.
"I got a good paying claim on Forty-mile Creek and took out so much rich gravel that winter that after I cleaned up in the spring I got an idea that I didn't need any more, and sold out and hiked for the States. It didn't last long, and I had to come back, but not up here. I thought I'd like to stop for an hour or so and see if any of my old partners were here."
There was little of interest at Forty-mile, except the big warehouses of the trading companies, but they had dinner ashore, and Swiftwater managed to find among the scanty population one or two of his old comrades, who had given up the search for gold and were content to work for the trading companies. A rapid but uneventful run during the afternoon brought them to Eagle, where they were greeted with delight by the three hundred or more citizens, and the few army officers, who, after welcoming the party, carried the Colonel off to the barracks, the boys being quartered in the only hotel of the place, run by the postmistress of the town, who had formerly been a school teacher in the States, and who made the boys' stay delightfully homelike.
Desiring to make Circle the next day, a distance of nearly two hundred miles by the river, they left Eagle at an early hour after taking on board a supply of fuel of a rather questionable character, for which they had to pay a heavy price. The trading companies said that this was the second launch that had visited Eagle and the demand for high-grade fuel was not great.
"Say, boys, what is 'mush'?" asked Jack, suddenly, as they sped down the river.
"C-c-cornmeal, salt and water, boiled," promptly spoke up Pepper, who was the expert on most things edible.
"It's what we make de pone an' de hoecake of, honey," corrected Rand.
"I dunno," broke in Don, "but I hear it's some foolish substitute for oatmeal porridge."
"My uncle feeds the chickens lots of it out on his farm," insisted Dick.
"Here, here," cried Jack, as soon as he could get in a word. "My mind isn't constantly on the menu. It's queer how a young man's fancy constantly turns to something to eat at any time of day. I'm talking of some word that Swiftwater used yesterday, referring to Forty-mile."
"Better ask him," suggested Rand, "he's an awful good explainer."
The miner, who had been talking with Colonel Snow about the value of Alaska mining investments in various districts, heard his name mentioned and turned with a smile.
"What's Swiftwater's latest crime?" he asked.
"We wanted to know what you meant by the word 'mush' you used yesterday," said Jack.
"Oh, that means simply gettin' somewhere; jest walkin' which, I might say, has been up to this time the chief means of communication in this big Alaska. I don't know where the word come from, but it was here when I arrived. I always supposed it was Eskimo. The whole Eskimo language, before I learned it, used to sound to me like a mouthful of it. However, a young feller who was up here some years ago, a newspaper man like you (he was with a party of United States senators), gave me a new idea on the matter. He showed me that the most of Alaska that wasn't forest and mountain and rock was just a soft wet spongy mat of roots and grass and moss that every step on it just pernounced the word."
"Ah, you mean McClain," exclaimed Colonel Snow. "I've read his work, and it is the most lucid, modest, and understandable descriptive work on the Alaskan country that has yet appeared."
The low grade fuel and inferior oil which they had taken aboard at Eagle had its effect on the engine which showed signs of "laying down," as the engineer said, several times during the day. Finally, after a peculiarly vicious splutter the motor "backfired," setting the oil soaked dungarees of the engineer aflame, and promptly "died." The engineer did not hesitate with so much oil and gasoline around him, but went over the side into the Yukon with one hand on the gunwale and, as soon as his burning clothing was soaked, was helped aboard again by his companion.
It became absolutely necessary to clean the engine, and while one of the boys kept the launch in the middle of the river as it drifted, with an oar, the others rolled up their sleeves, and with the knowledge gained from their aeroplane motors, aided the steersman to disconnect and clean the machinery. Meantime the engineer arrayed himself in dry clothing.
"Well, well," said he, as he came out of the cabin, "I didn't know we had a group of experts aboard. I supposed the aviator that went up yesterday knew all about it, but this help will save us about an hour's time, and we haven't been getting any too much speed out of her to-day."
The engine behaved excellently for the rest of the day, and about five o'clock in the afternoon they landed at the town of Circle.
They found it a village of a couple of hundred, the supply point for the Birch Creek mining region.
At an early hour the next morning they were again on the bosom of the river, the engine having again been cleaned and "nursed" as the engineer described it for the day. The river had begun to widen and the bank to fall to almost a dead level just before reaching Circle the night before, and they now entered upon a dreary expanse of tundra or flat marsh land covered with a meager growth of willow and stunted birch. The river spread out to a width of nearly a dozen miles, dividing into many channels surrounding small bushy islands and rendering navigation very difficult. The wheelman, who was an old river pilot, was thoroughly acquainted with what he called the "Yukon flats," and managed to elude the sandbars and sunken islands with considerable dexterity.
"The trouble is," he confided to Swiftwater, "that this old river is closed six months in the year, and we never can tell whether we're goin' to find any of it here when the ice goes out in the spring. It wanders 'round as if it had no home or mother, and where we find a twenty-foot channel this fall there may be a dusty wagon road next spring."
At nine o'clock in the forenoon, Swiftwater rose and stepped onto the roof of the cabin and scanned the far-off shore intently. Suddenly, he turned to the interested Scouts, and removing his broad brim made a mock bow and said impressively:
"Young fellows, let me welcome you to the Frigid Zone; we have just crossed Arctic Circle."
"Wha—wha—where is it?" cried Pepper excitedly.
"Where's what?" asked Swiftwater.
"All in your imagination, if you'll remember back to your geography," replied the miner, with a smile, while the other boys who were slightly awed by the new situation, for a moment, gave a hearty laugh.
"Don't appear to be very frigid, does it?" remarked the Colonel, and the boys, who, for the first time, felt that they had really invaded the "Terrible North" of the explorers, gazed with new interest on the lush green meadows of the shores and the foliage of the tree-covered island.
They ran on down the river, and an hour later landed at Fort Yukon, an abandoned military post, the most northerly point on the river, lying at the mouth of the Porcupine, the Yukon's most important tributary.
ON THE SEWARD PENINSULA.
The voyagers left Fort Yukon the same afternoon and soon recrossing the Arctic Circle, continued on the dreary Yukon Flats, where the river broadened to more than thirty miles. As there was almost perfect daylight at midnight they proposed to sleep on board and continue the journey.
In spite of the clouds of mosquitos, which managed to invade even the well-closed in cabin, they passed a restful night, the engine working perfectly, and soon passed into the narrower reaches of the Yukon, and in the early morning came to the town of Rampart.
Here is a federal court which people come nearly a thousand miles to attend. There was also a telegraph station the end of the line to St. Michael's and Colonel Snow stopped only long enough to send certain despatches to that point. Then, again aboard the launch, they put on all speed, the purpose being to reach the mouth of the Tanana and Fort Gibbon that night. The day's journey was almost as uninteresting as that through the Yukon Flats, for while the river was narrower, the banks were low, thinly wooded and monotonous. Along in the afternoon they reached the mouth of the Tanana and landed at the town of that name, next to which stands the military post of Fort Gibbon, where Colonel Snow was to be a guest until the arrival of the down river steamer from Dawson.
Two days later the steamer Amelia put in an appearance, and they boarded her, to find their aeroplane and baggage aboard. Swiftwater Jim, who was to journey up the Tanana, had stayed to bid them gooybye, and the boys parted with him with real regret. He promised faithfully that after he had made his "stake" he would come out to the "States" again, and would visit them at their homes. As the steamer backed out the boys gathered at the bow and gave him the Scouts' salute and a hearty cheer.
The journey down the lower Yukon, while unimpressive as to scenery, was pleasant in many respects, as the boys made many acquaintances who were thoroughly acquainted with the river, along which were many old missions and Indian villages. At several of these stops were made, and the boys found many curiosities along the shores. At one place they visited a museum that contained three of the gigantic ivory tusks of the mammoth of which they had read a good deal since finding the narwhal's horn.
"Gee," said Gerald, "they must weigh nearly a hundred pounds apiece. If we ever find that cave with anything in it, it ought to be worth a good deal."
"Do you suppose that the chief will show up at Seward?" asked Dick.
"Oh, yes; I think so," said Rand. "I think he was very grateful for the way we treated him, and I understand these Indians are much like ours at home, and usually remember a favor."
"I don't care so much for the ivory as for the good story we will get out of it, if the whole thing turns out as we hope."
"There's you newspaper men again," said Don, "always after a good story, but why not take the ivory too if we find it?"
"Well," put in Pepper, "we'll soon know, for Colonel Snow said last night that we should remain in St. Michael's only until the Seattle steamer comes up to take us over to Nome, and he proposes to sail South with her, when she returns. Then we shall land at Seward, and meet the chief if he is there, and find out whether he has discovered the location of the cave."
The travelers were surprised to find the mouth of the Yukon spread out over an enormous expanse of country before it finally empties into Behring Sea. The river, about ninety miles from the sea, begins to split up into separate streams, and is said to have nine or ten mouths.
Behring's Sea is very shallow, and the waters are most of the time very rough, especially for the flat-bottomed boats that ply upon the Yukon. St. Michael's lies about seventy miles up the coast from the mouth of the river which is used by the steamers, and the passage is uncomfortable, not to say, at times, dangerous.
The ground swell of the shallow sea tested the seamanship of the young Scouts to the utmost and one or two of them retired to their stateroom, but as a large proportion of the passengers were affected in the same way there was very little disposition to deride the unfortunates, as had been done on the trip up the "Inside Passage." They arrived safely, however, and were again accorded a warm welcome by Colonel Snow's comrades of the army, who at once took them to the post, which is the chief institution of importance in the small town.
St. Michael's is situated on an island which constitutes a military reservation of the United States. Russia, in 1833, established a trading post there, and one of the curiosities of the place is the old Russian block house, a relic of primitive ideas in warfare. The town is the point of departure for the Yukon River steamers, and the aeroplane and the other luggage was taken off here to be placed on the Seattle steamer, which was to take them over to the Seward Peninsula, the other side of Norton Sound.
There are two small Indian villages on the island, and the boys spent part of a day in the inspection of these, buying large quantities of curiosities and looking on with interest at a "potlatch," an institution which means the entertainment of a man's neighbors so long as his goods hold out, and the host generally finds himself ready for a receiver by the time the entertainment ends.
The officers of the post were greatly interested in the aeroplane, and it was uncrated for their inspection, but stormy conditions on Behring's Sea during their stay prevented a flight.
Two days after their arrival, the steamer from Seattle to Nome came along and they embarked and steamed the 112 miles across Norton's Sound to Nome, the metropolis of that great northwestern section of Alaska that borders on the Arctic Ocean and extends within forty miles of Asia. There is no harbor at Nome, and the ships must lie about a mile off shore, while passengers and freight are taken in on flatboats, from which everything is raised on an elevator by a gigantic crane, and swung in shore.
Nome is one of the largest cities of Alaska, having a summer population of nearly 8,000. It is a lively, public-spirited place, and the army officers and business men greeted with enthusiasm the proposal of an airship exhibition.
Colonel Snow was especially in favor of it, as the army had already begun to take a great interest in aviation, and the officers desired an opportunity to inspect the workings of the machine. A popular subscription was decided on for the boys, and a sum amounting to about fifteen hundred dollars was quickly provided.
The beach at Nome, from which most of the gold of that region has been extracted, was found to make a fine starting field, and, as the country back of the town is mostly flat "tundra" or moss covered ground, with no trees to interfere, the flights made by Gerald were the most successful of his career. He delighted the army officers by taking them up, one at a time for short flights, and the citizens were so enthusiastic that they offered the boys almost any price they might name for the airship. Their affection for it was too great, however, and they refused to sell.