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The Last of the Chiefs - A Story of the Great Sioux War
by Joseph Altsheler
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But the wolf is an enterprising animal. He does not merely sit and look at what he wants, expecting it to come to him. Every wolf in the band knew that no matter how hard and long he might look that splendid food in the tree would not drop down into his waiting mouth. So they began to jump for it, and it was this midnight and wilderness ballet that Albert opened his eyes to watch.

One wolf, the biggest of the lot, leaped. It was a fine leap, and might have won him a championship among his kind, but he did not reach the prize. His teeth snapped together, touching only one another, and he fell. Albert imagined that he could hear a disappointed growl. Another wolf leaped, the chief leaped again, a third, a fourth, and a fifth leaped, and then all began to leap together.

The air was full of flying wolfish forms, going up or coming down. They went up, hearts full of hope, and came down, mouths empty of everything but disappointed foam. Teeth savagely hit teeth, and growls of wrath were abundant. Albert felt a ridiculous inclination to laugh. The whole affair presented its ludicrous aspect to him.

"Did you ever see so much jumping for so little reward?" he whispered to Dick.

"No, not unless they're taking exercise to keep themselves thin, although I never heard of a fat wolf."

But a wolf does not give up easily. They continued to leap faster and faster, and now and then a little higher than before, although empty tooth still struck empty tooth. Now and then a wolf more prone to complaint than the others lifted up his voice and howled his rage and chagrin to the moon. It was a genuine moan, a long, whining cry that echoed far through the forest and along the slopes, and whenever Albert heard it he felt more strongly than ever the inclination to laugh.

"I suppose that a wolf's woes are as real as our own," he whispered, "but they do look funny and act funny."

"Strikes me the same way," replied Dick with a grin. "But they're robbers, or would be if they could. That meat's ours, and they're trying to get it."

It was in truth a hard case for the wolves. They were very big and very strong. Doubtless, the selfsame wolf that had been driven away from the Annex by the mountain lion was among them, and all of them were atrociously hungry. It was not merely an odor now, they could also see the splendid food hanging just above their heads. Never before had they leaped so persistently, so ardently, and so high, but there was no reward, absolutely none. Not a tooth felt the touch of flesh. The wolves looked around at one another jealously, but the record was as clean as their teeth. There had been no surreptitious captures.

"Will they keep it up all night?" whispered Albert.

"Can't say," replied Dick. "We'll just watch."

All the wolves presently stopped leaping and crouched on the earth, staring straight up at the prizes which hung, as ever, most tantalizingly out of reach. The moonlight fell full upon them, a score or more, and Albert fancied that he could see their hungry, disappointed eyes. The spectacle was at once weird and ludicrous. Albert felt again that temptation to laugh, but he restrained it.

Suddenly the wolves, as if it were a preconcerted matter, uttered one long, simultaneous howl, full, alike in its rising and falling note, of pain, anguish, and despair, then they were gone in such swiftness and silence that it was like the instant melting of ghosts into thin air. It took a little effort of will to persuade Albert that they had really been there.

"They've given it up," he said. "The demon dancers have gone."

"Demon dancers fits them," said Dick. "It's a good name. Yes, they've gone, and I don't think they'll come back. Wolves are smart, they know when they're wasting time."

When they finished jerking their buffalo meat and venison, Dick took the fine double-barreled shotgun which they had used but little hitherto, and went down to the lake in search of succulent waterfowl. The far shore of the lake was generally very high, but on the side of the cabin there were low places, little shallow bays, the bottoms covered with grass, which were much frequented by wild geese and wild ducks, many of which, owing to the open character of the winter, had not yet gone southward. The ducks, in particular, muscovy, mallard, teal, widgeon, and other kinds, the names of which Dick did not know, were numerous. They had been molested so little that they were quite tame, and it was so easy to kill them in quantities that the element of sport was entirely lacking.

Dick did not fancy shooting at a range of a dozen yards or so into a dense flock of wild ducks that would not go away, and he wished also to save as many as he could of their shot cartridges, for he had an idea that he and his brother would remain in the valley a long time. But both he and Albert wanted good supplies of duck and geese, which were certainly toothsome and succulent, and they were taking a pride, too, in filling the Annex with the best things that the mountains could afford. Hence Dick did some deep thinking and finally evolved a plan, being aided in his thoughts by earlier experience in Illinois marshes.

He would trap the ducks and geese instead of shooting them, and he and Albert at once set about the task of making the trap. This idea was not original with Dick. As so many others have been, he was, in part, and unconscious imitator. He planted in the shallow water a series of hoops, graded in height, the largest being in the deepest water, while they diminished steadily in size as they came nearer to the land. They made the hoops of split saplings, and planted them about four feet apart.

Then the covered all these hoops with a netting, the total length of which was about twenty-five feet. They also faced each hoop with a netting, leaving an aperture large enough for the ducts to enter. It was long and tedious work to make the netting, as this was done by cutting the hide of an elk and the hide of a mule deer into strips and plaiting the strips on the hoops. They then had a network tunnel, at the smaller end of which they constructed an inclosure five or six feet square by means of stout poles which they thrust into the mud, and the same network covering which they used on the tunnel.

"It's like going in at the big end of a horn and coming out at the little one into a cell," said Albert. "Will it work?"

"Work?" replied Dick. "Of course, it will. You just wait and you'll see."

Albert looked out upon the lake, where many ducks were swimming about placidly, and he raised his hand.

"Oh, foolish birds!" he apostrophized. "Here is your enemy, man, making before your very eyes the snare that will lead you to destruction, and you go on taking no notice, thinking that the sunshine will last forever for you."

"Shut up, Al," said Dick, "you'll make me feel sorry for those ducks. Besides, you're not much of a poet, anyway."

When the trap was finished they put around the mouth and all along the tunnel quantities of the grass and herbs that the ducks seemed to like, and then Dick announced that the enterprise was finished.

"We have nothing further to do about it," he said, "but to take out our ducks."

It was toward twilight when they finished the trap, and both had been in the cold water up to their knees. Dick had long since become hardened to such things, but he looked at Albert rather anxiously. The younger boy, however, did not begin to cough. He merely hurried back to the fire, took off his wet leggings, and toasted his feet and legs. Then he ate voraciously and slept like a log the night through. But both he and Dick went down to the lake the next morning with much eagerness to see what the trap contained, if anything.

It was a fresh winter morning, not cold enough to freeze the surface of the lake, but extremely crisp. The air contained the extraordinary exhilarating quality which Dick had noticed when they first came into the mountains, but which he had never breathed anywhere else. It seemed to him to make everything sparkle, even his blood, and suddenly he leaped up, cracked his heels together, and shouted.

"Why, Dick," exclaimed Albert, "what on earth is the matter with you?"

"Nothing is the matter with me. Instead, all's right. I'm so glad I'm alive, Al, old man, that I wanted to shout out the fact to all creation."

"Feel that way myself," said Albert, "and since you've given such a good example, think I'll do as you did."

He leaped up, cracked his heels together, and let out a yell that the mountains sent back in twenty echoes. Then both boys laughed with sheer pleasure in life, the golden morning, and their happy valley. So engrossed were they in the many things that they were doing that they did not yet find time to miss human faces.

As they approached the trap, they heard a great squawking and cackling and found that the cell, as Albert called the square inclosure, contained ten ducks and two geese swimming about in a great state of trepidation. They had come down the winding tunnel and through the apertures in the hoops, but they did not have sense enough to go back the same way. Instead they merely swam around the square and squawked.

"Now, aren't they silly?" exclaimed Albert. "With the door to freedom open, they won't take it."

"I wonder," said Dick philosophically, "if we human beings are not just the same. Perhaps there are easy paths out of our troubles lying right before us and superior creatures up in the air somewhere are always wondering why we are such fools that we don't see them."

"Shut up, Dick," said Albert, "your getting too deep. I've no doubt that in our net are some ducks that are rated as uncommonly intelligent ducks as ducks go."

They forgot all about philosophy a few moments later when they began to dispose of their capture. They took them out, one by one, through a hole that they made in the cell and cut off their heads. The net was soon full up again, and they caught all the ducks and geese they wanted with such ridiculous ease that at the end of a week they took it down and stored it in the cabin.

They jerked the ducks and geese that they did not need for immediate use, and used the feathers to stuff beds and pillows for themselves. The coverings of these beds were furs which they stitched together with the tendons of the deer.

They began to be annoyed about this time by the depredations of mountain lions, which, attracted by the pleasant odors, came down from the slopes to the number of at least half a dozen, Dick surmised, and prowled incessantly about the cabin and Annex, taking the place of the timber wolves, and proving more troublesome and dangerous alike. One of them managed at night to seize the edge of an elk skin that hung on the roof of the cabin, and the next morning the skin was half chewed up and wholly ruined.

Both boys were full of rage, and they watched for the lions, but failed to get a shot at them. But Dick, out of the stores of his memory, either some suggestion from reading, or trappers' and hunters' tales, devised a gun trap. He put a large piece of fresh deer meat in the woods about a quarter of a mile from the cabin. It was gone the next morning, and the tracks about showed that the lions had been present.

Then Dick drove two stout forked sticks into the ground, the forks being about a yard above the earth. Upon these he lashed one of their rifles. Then he cut a two-foot section of a very small sapling, one end of which he inserted carefully between the ground that the trigger of the rifle. The other end was supported upon a small fork somewhat higher than those supporting the rifle. Then he procured another slender but long section of sapling that reached from the end of the short piece in the crotch some distance beyond the muzzle of the rifle. The end beyond the muzzle had the stub of a bough on it, but the end in the crotch was tied there with a strip of hide. Now, if anything should pull on the end of this stick, it would cause the shorter stick to spring the trigger of the rifle and discharge it. Dick tested everything, saw that all was firmly and properly in place, and the next thing to do was to bait the trap.

He selected a piece of most tempting deer meat and fastened it tightly on the hooked end of the long stick. It was obvious that any animal pulling at this bait would cause the short stick tied at the other end of it to press against the trigger of the rifle, and the rifle would be fired as certainly as if the trigger had been pulled by the hand of man. Moreover, the barrel of the rifle was parallel with the long stick, and the bullet would certainly be discharged into the animal pulling at the bait.

After the bait had been put on Dick put the cartridge in the rifle. He was careful to do this last, as he did not wish to take any chances with the trap while he was testing it. But he and Albert ran a little wall of brush off on either side in order that the cougar, if cougar it were, should be induced to approach the muzzle directly in front. When all the work was finished, the two boys inspected it critically.

"I believe that our timber wolves would be too smart to come up to that trap," said Albert.

"Perhaps," said Dick; "but the wolf has a fine intellect, and I've never heard that the cougar or puma was particularly noted for brain power. Anyhow, I know that traps are built for him in this manner, and we shall see whether it will work."

"Are we going to hide somewhere near by and watch during the night?"

"There's no need to make ourselves uncomfortable. If the gun gets him, it'll get him whether we are or are not here."

"That's so," said Albert. "Well, I'm willing enough to take to the cabin. These nights are growing pretty cold, I can tell you."

Taking a last look at the gun trap and assuring themselves that it was all right, they hurried away to Castle Howard. The night was coming on much colder than any that they had yet had, and both were glad to get inside. Albert stirred the coals from beneath the ashes, put on fresh wood, and soon they had a fine blaze. The light flickered over a cabin greatly improved in appearance and wonderfully snug.

The floor, except directly in front of the hearth, where sparks and coals would pop out, was covered with the well-tanned skins of buffalo, elk, mule deer, bear, and wolf. The walls were also thickly hung with furs, while their extra weapons, tools, and clothing hung there on hooks. It was warm, homelike, and showed all the tokens of prosperity. Dick looked around at it with an approving eye. It was not only a house, and a good house at that, but it was a place that one might make a base for a plan that he had in mind. Yes, circumstance had certainly favored them. Their own courage, skill, and energy had done the rest.

Albert soon fell asleep after supper, but Dick was more wakeful, although he did not wish to be so. It was the gun trap that kept his eyes open. He took a pride in doing things well, and he wanted the trap to work right. A fear that it might not do so worried him, but in turn he fell into a sound sleep from which he was awakened by a report. He thought at first that something had struck the house, but when his confused senses were gathered into a focus he knew that it was a rifle shot.

"Up, Al, up!" he cried, "I think a cougar has been fooling with our trap!"

Albert jumped up. They threw on their coats and went out into a dark and bitterly cold night. If they had not been so eager to see what had happened, they would have fled back to the refuge of the warm cabin, but they hurried on toward the snug little hollow in which the gun trap had been placed. At fifty yards they stopped and went much more slowly, as a terrific growling and snarling smote their ears.

"It's the cougar, and we've got him," said Dick. "He's hit bad or he wouldn't be making such a terrible fuss."

They approached cautiously and saw on the ground, almost in front of the gun, a large yellowish animal writhing about and tearing the earth. His snarls and rage increased as he scented the two boys drawing near.

"I think his shoulder is broken and his backbone injured," said Dick. "That's probably the reason he can't get away. I don't like to see him suffer and I'll finish him now."

He sent a bullet through the cougar's head and that was the end of him. In order to save it from the wolves, they took his hide from him where he lay, and spread it the next day on the roof of the cabin.

The gun trap was so successful that they baited it again and again, securing three more cougars, until the animals became too wary to try for the bait. The fourth cougar did not sustain a severe wound and fled up the mountain side, but Dick tracked him by the trail of blood that he left, overtook him far up the slope, and slew him with single shot. All these skins were added to their collection, and when the last was spread out to dry, Dick spoke of the plan that he had in mind.

"Al," he said, "these mountains, or at least this corner of them, seem to be left to us. The Sioux, I suppose, are on the warpath elsewhere, and they don't like mountains much, anyhow. Our wonderful valley, the slopes, and all the ravines and canyons are full of game. The beaver must be abundant farther in, and I propose that we use our opportunity and turn fur hunters. There's wealth around us for the taking, and we were never sure of it in California. We've got enough ammunition to last us two years if we want to stay that long. Besides, Al, old boy, the valley has been the remaking of you. You know that."

Albert laughed from sheer delight.

"Dick," he said, "you won't have to get a gun and threaten me with death unless I stay. I'll be glad to be a fur hunter, and, Dick, I tell you, I'm in love with this valley. As you say, it's made me over again, and oh, it's fine to be well and strong, to do what you please, and not always to be thinking, 'how can I stand this? Will it hurt me?'"

"Then," said Dick, "it's settled. We'll not think for a long time of getting back to civilization, but devote ourselves to gathering up furs and skins."



Chapter IX The Timber Wolves

The cold increased, although snow fell but little, which Dick considered good luck, chiefly on Albert's account. He wanted the hardening process to continue and not to be checked by thaws and permeating dampness. Meanwhile, they plunged with all the energy and fire of youth into the task of fur hunting. They had already done much in that respect, but now it was undertaken as a vocation. They became less scrupulous about sparing the buffaloes, and they shot more than twenty in the defiles of the mountains, gathering a fine lot of robes. Several more skins of the bear, grizzly, and silver tip were added to their collection, and the elk also furnished an additional store. Many wolverines were taken in dead falls and snares, and their skins were added to the rapidly growing heap.

They baited the trap gun once more, hoping that a fifth cougar might prove rash enough to dare it. No cougar came, but on the third night a scornful grizzly swallowed the deer meat as a tidbit, and got a bullet in the neck for his carelessness. In his rage, he tore the trap to pieces and tossed the rifle to one side, but, fortunately, he did not injure the valuable weapon, his attention turning instantly to something else. Later on the boys dispatched him as he lay wounded upon the ground.

Their old clothing was now about worn out and it also became necessary to provide garments of another kind in order to guard against the great cold. Here their furs became invaluable; they made moccasins, leggings, caps, and coats alike of them, often crude in construction, but always warm.

They found the beaver father in the mountains, as Dick had surmised, and trapped them in great abundance. This was by far their most valuable discovery, and they soon had a pack of sixty skins, which Dick said would be worth more than a thousand dollars in any good market. They also made destructive inroads upon the timber wolves, the hides of which were more valuable than those of any other wolf. In fact, they made such havoc that the shrewd timber wolf deserted the valley almost entirely.

As the boys now made their fur hunting a business, they attended to every detail with the greatest care. They always removed the skin immediately after the death of the animal, or, if taken in a trap, as soon after as possible. Every particle of fat or flesh was removed from the inside of the skin, and they were careful at the same time never to cut into the skin itself, as they knew that the piercing of a fur with a knife would injure its value greatly. Then the skin was put to dry in a cold, airy place, free alike from the rays of the sun or the heat of a fire. They built near the cabin a high scaffold for such purposes, too high and strong for any wild beast to tear down or to reach the furs upon it. Then they built above this on additional poles a strongly thatched bark roof that would protect the skins from rain, and there they cured them in security.

"I've heard," said Dick, "that some trappers put preparations or compounds on the skins in order to cure them, but since we don't have any preparations or compounds we won't use them. Besides, our furs seem to cure up well enough without them."

Dick was right. The cold, dry air of the mountains cured them admirably. Two or three times they thought to help along the process by rubbing salt upon the inner sides. They could always get plenty of salt by boiling out water from the salt springs, but as they seemed to do as well without it, they ceased to take the trouble.

The boys were so absorbed now in their interesting and profitable tasks that they lost all count of the days. They knew they were far advanced into a splendid open winter, but it is probably that they could not have guessed within a week of the exact day. However, that was a question of which they thought little. Albert's health and strength continued to improve, and with the mental stimulus added to the physical, the tide of life was flowing very high for both.

They now undertook a new work in order to facilitate their trapping operations. The beaver stream, and another that they found a little later, ran far back into the mountains, and the best trapping place was about ten miles away. After a day's work around the beaver pond, they had to choose between a long journey in the night to the cabin or sleeping in the open, the latter not a pleasant thing since the nights had become so cold. Hence, they began the erection of a bark shanty in a well-sheltered cove near the most important of the beaver localities. This was a work of much labor, but, as in all other cases, they persisted until the result was achieved triumphantly.

They drove two stout, forked poles deep into the ground, leaving a projection of about eight feet above the earth. The poles themselves were about eight feet apart. From fork to fork they placed a strong ridgepole. Then they rested against the ridgepole from either side other and smaller poles at an angle of forty or fifty degrees. The sloping poles were about a foot and a half apart. These poles were like the scantling or inside framework of a wooden house and they covered it all with spruce and birch bark, beginning at the bottom and allowing each piece to overlap the one beneath it, after the fashion of a shingled roof. They secured pieces partly with wooden pegs and partly with other and heavier wooden poles leaned against them. One end of the shelter was closed up with bark wholly, secured with wooden pegs, and the other end was left open in order that its tenants might face the fire which would be built three or four feet in front of it. They packed the floor with dead leaves, and put on the top of the leaves a layer of thick bark with the smooth side upward.

The bark shanty was within a clump of trees, and its open side was not fifteen feet from the face of an abrupt cliff. Hence there was never any wind to drive the smoke from the fire back into their faces, and, wrapped in their furs, they slept as snugly in the shanty as if they had been in the cabin itself. But they were too wise to leave anything there in their absence, knowing that it was not sufficient protection against the larger wild animals. In fact, a big grizzly, one night when they were at the cabin, thrust his nose into the shanty and, lumbering about in an awkward and perhaps frightened manner, knocked off half of one of the bark sides. It took nearly a day's work to repair the damage, and it put Dick in an ill humor.

"I'd like to get a shot at that bear!" he exclaimed. "He had no business trying to come into a house when he was not invited."

"But he is an older settler than we are," said Albert, in a whimsical tone.

Dick did get a shot at a bear a few days later, and it was a grizzly, at that. The wound was not fatal, and the animal came on with great courage and ferocity. A second shot from Dick did not stop him and the boy was in great danger. But Albert, who was near, sent two heavy bullets, one after the other, into the beast, and he toppled over, dying. It was characteristic of the hardy life they were leading and its tendency toward the repression of words and emotion that Dick merely uttered a brief, "Thanks, Al, you were just in time," and Albert nodded in reply.

The skin of old Ephraim went to join that of his brother who had been taken sometime before, and Dick himself shot a little later a third, which contributed a fine skin.

The boys did not know how hard they were really working, but their appetites would have bee a fine gauge. Toiling incessantly in a crisp, cold air, as pure as any that the world affords, they were nearly always hungry. Fortunately, the happy valley, their own skill and courage, and the supplies that Dick had brought from the last wagon train furnished them an unlimited larder. Game of great variety was their staple, but they had both flour and meal, from which, though they were sparing of their use, they made cakes now and then. They had several ways of preparing the Indian meal that Dick had taken from the wagon. They would boil it for about an hour, then, after it cooled, would mix it with the fat of game and fry it, after which the compound was eaten in slices. They also made mealcakes, johnnycakes and hoecakes.

Albert was fond of fish, especially of the fine trout that they caught in the little river, and soon he invented or discovered a way of cooking them that provided an uncommon delicacy for their table. He would slit the trout open, clean it, and the season it with salt and also with pepper, which they had among their stores. Then he would lay the fish in the hot ashes of a fire that had burned down to embers, cover it up thoroughly with the hot ashes and embers, and let it cook thirty or forty minutes—thirty minutes for the little fellows and forty minutes for the big ones. When he thought the fish was done to the proper turn, he would take it from the ashes, clean it, and then remove the skin, which would almost peel off of its own accord.

The fish was then ready for the eating, and neither Dick nor Albert could ever bear to wait. The flesh looked so tempting and the odor was so savory that hunger instantly became acute.

"They are so good," said Albert, "because my method of cooking preserves all the juices and flavors of the fish. Nothing escapes."

"Thanks, professor," said Dick. "You must be right, so kindly pass me another of those trout, and be quick about it."

It is a truth that both boys became epicures. Their valley furnished so much, and they had a seasoning of hard work and open mountain air that was beyond compare. They even imitated Indian and trapper ways of cooking geese, ducks, quail, sage hens, and other wild fowl that the region afforded. They could cook these in the ashes as they did the trout, and they also had other methods. Albert would take a duck, cut it open and clean it, but leave the feathers on. Then he would put it in water, until the feathers were soaked thoroughly, after which he would cover it up with ashes, and put hot coals on top of the ashes. When the bird was properly cooked and drawn from the ashes, the skin could be pulled off easily, taking the feathers, of course, with it. Then a duck, sweet, tender, and delicate, such as no restaurant could furnish, was ready for the hardy youngsters. At rare intervals they improve on this by stuffing the duck with seasoning and Indian meal. Now and then they served a fat goose the same way and found it equally good.

They cooked the smaller birds in a simpler manner, especially when they were at the bark shanty, which they nicknamed the "Suburban Villa." The bird was plucked of its feathers, drawn and washed, and then they cut it down the back in order to spread it out. Nothing was left but to put the bird on the end of a sharp stick, hold it over the coals, and turn it around until it was thoroughly broiled or roasted. They also roasted slices of big game in the same way.

As Albert was cooking a partridge in this manner one evening at the Suburban Villa, Dick, who was sitting on his buffalo-robe blanket in the doorway, watched him and began to make comparisons. He recalled the boy who had left Omaha with the wagon train six or eight months before, a thin, spiritless fellow with a slender, weak neck, hollow, white cheeks, pale lips, and listless eyes. That boy drew coughs incessantly from a hollow chest, and the backs of his hands were ridged when the flesh had gone away, leaving the bones standing up. This boy whom Dick contemplated was quite a different being. His face was no longer white, it was instead a mixture of red and brown, and both tints were vivid. Across one cheek were some brier scratches which he had acquired the day before, but which he had never noticed. The red-brown cheeks were filled out with the effects of large quantities of good food digested well. As he bent over the fire, a chest of good width seemed to puff out with muscle and wind expansion. Despite the extreme cold, his sleeves were rolled up to the elbow, and the red wrists and hands were well covered with tough, seasoned flesh. The eyes that watched the roasting bird were intent, alert, keenly interested in that particular task, and in due course, in any other that might present itself.

Dick drew a long breath of satisfaction. Providence had treated them well. Then he called loudly for his share of the bird, saying that he was starving, and in a few moments both fell to work.

Their fur operations continued to extend. They had really found a pocket, and isolated corner in the high Rockies where the fur-bearing animals, not only abundant, were also increasing. It was, too, the dead of winter, the very best time for trapping, and so, as far as their own goings and comings were concerned, they were favored further by the lucky and unusual absence of snow. They increased the number of their traps—dead falls, box traps, snares, and other kinds, and most of them were successful.

They knew instinctively the quality of the furs that they obtained. They could tell at a glance whether they were prime, that is, thick and full, and as they cured them and baled them, they classified them.

Constant application bred new ideas. In their pursuit of furs, they found that they were not quite so sparing of the game as they had been at first. Some of their scruples melted away. Albert now recalled a device of trappers of which he had read. This was the use of a substance generally called barkstone, which they found to be of great help to them in the capture of that animal.

The barkstone or castoreum, as it is commercially known, was obtained principally from the beaver himself. The basis of it was an acrid secretion with a musky odor of great power, found in two glands just under the root of the beaver's tail. Each gland was from one and one half to two inches in length. The boys cut out these glands and squeezed the contents into an empty tin can. This at first was of a yellowish-red color, but after a while, when it dried, it became a light brown.

This substance formed the main ingredient of barkstone, and in their medicine chest they found a part of the remainder. The secretion was transferred to a bottle and the mixed with it essence of peppermint and ground cinnamon. As Albert remembered it, ground nutmeg also was needed, but as they had no nutmeg they were compelled to take their chances without it. Then they poured whisky on the compound until it looked like a paste.

Then the bottle was stopped up with the greatest care, and in about a week, when they stole a sniff or two at it, they found that the odor had increased ten or a dozen times in power.

They put eight or ten drops of the barkstone upon the bait for the beaver, or somewhere near the trap, and, despite some defects in the composition, it proved an extraordinary success. The wariest beaver of all would be drawn by it, and their beaver bales grew faster than any other.

Dick calculated one day that they had at least five thousand dollars worth of furs, which seemed a great sum to both boys. It certainly meant, at that time and in that region, a competence, and it could be increased greatly.

"Of course," said Dick, "we'll have to think some day of the way in which we must get these furs out, and for that we will need horses or mules, but we won't bother our heads about it yet."

After the long period of clear, open weather, the delayed snow came. It began to fall one evening at twilight, when both boys were snug in the cabin, and it came in a very gentle, soothing way, as if it meant no harm whatever. Big, soft flakes fell as softly as the touch of down, but every time the boys looked out they were still coming in the same gentle but persistent way. The next morning the big flakes still came down and all that day and all the next night. When the snow stopped it lay five feet deep on the level, and uncounted feet deep in the gullies and canyons.

"We're snowed in," said Albert in some dismay, "and we can't go to our traps. Why, this is likely to last a month!"

"We can't walk through it," said Dick meditatively, "but we can walk on it. We've got to make snowshoes. They're what we need."

"Good!" said Albert with enthusiasm. "Let's get to work at once."

Deep snows fall in Illinois, and both, in their earlier boyhood, had experimented for the sake of sport with a crude form of snowshoe. Now they were to build upon this slender knowledge, for the sake of an immediate necessity, and it was the hardest task that they had yet set for themselves. Nevertheless, it was achieved, like the others.

They made a framework of elastic stripes of ash bent in the well-known shape of the snowshoe, which bears some resemblance to the shape of the ordinary shoe, only many times larger and sharply pointed at the rear end. Its length was between five and six feet, and the ends were tightly wound with strips of hide. This frame was bent into the shoe shape after it had been soaked in boiling water.

Then they put two very strong strips of hide across the front part of the framework, and in addition passed at least a half dozen stout bands of hide from strip to strip.

Then came the hard task of attaching the shoe to the foot of the boy who was to wear it. The ball of the foot was set on the second crosspiece and the foot was then tied there with a broad strip of hide which passed over the instep and was secured behind the ankle. It required a good deal of practice to fasten the foot so it would not slip up and down; and also in such a manner that the weight of the shoe would be proportioned to it properly.

They had to exercise infinite patience before two pairs of snowshoes were finished. There was much hunting in deep snow for proper wood, many strips and some good hide were spoiled, but the shoes were made and then another equally as great confronted the two boys—to learn how to use them.

Each boy put on his pair at the same time and went forth on the snow, which was now packed and hard. Albert promptly caught one of his shoes on the other, toppled over, and went down through the crust of the snow, head first. Dick, although in an extremely awkward situation himself, managed to pull his brother out and put him in the proper position, with his head pointing toward the sky instead of the earth. Albert brushed the snow out of his eyes and ears, and laughed.

"Good start, bad ending," he said. "This is certainly the biggest pair of shoes that I ever had on, Dick. They feel at least a mile long to me."

"I know that mine are a mile long," said Dick, as he, too, brought the toe of one shoe down upon the heel of the other, staggered, fell over sideways, but managed to right himself in time.

"It seems to me," said Albert, "that the proper thing to do is to step very high and very far, so you won't tangle up one shoe with the other."

"That seems reasonable," said Dick, "and we'll try it."

They practiced this step for an hour, making their ankles ache badly. After a good rest they tried it for another hour, and then they began to make progress. They found that they got along over the snow at a fair rate of speed, although it remained an awkward and tiring gait. Nevertheless, one could travel an indefinite distance, when it was impossible to break one's way far through five or six feet of packed snow, and the shoes met a need.

"They'll do," said Albert; "but it will never be like walking on the solid earth in common shoes."

Albert was right. Their chief use for these objects, so laboriously constructed, was for the purpose of visiting their traps, some of which were set at least a dozen miles away. They wished also to go back to the shanty and see that it was all right. They found a number of valuable furs in the traps, but the bark shanty had been almost crushed in by the weight of the snow, and they spent sometime strengthening and repairing it.

In the course of these excursions their skill with the snowshoes increased and they were also able to improve upon the construction, correcting little errors in measurement and balance. The snow showed no signs of melting, but they made good progress, nevertheless, with their trapping, and all the furs taken were of the highest quality.

It would have been easy for them to kill enough game to feed a small army, as the valley now fairly swarmed with it, although nearly all of it was of large species, chiefly buffalo, elk, and bear. There was one immense herd of elk congregated in a great sheltered space at the northern end of the valley, where they fed chiefly upon twigs and lichens.

Hanging always upon the flanks of this herd was a band of timber wolves of great size and ferocity, which never neglected an opportunity to pull down a cripple or a straying yearling.

"I thought we had killed off all these timber wolves," said Albert when he first caught sight of the band.

"We did kill off most of those that were here when we came," said Dick, "but others, I suppose, have followed the game from the mountains into the valley."

Albert went alone a few days later to one of their traps up the valley, walking at a good pace on his snowshoes. A small colony of beavers had been discovered on a stream that came down between two high cliffs, and the trap contained a beaver of unusually fine fur. Albert removed the skin, put it on his shoulder, and, tightening his snowshoes, started back to Castle Howard.

The snow had melted a little recently, and in many places among the trees it was not deep, but Albert and Dick had made it a point to wear their snowshoes whenever they could, for the sake of the skill resulting from practice.

Albert was in a very happy frame of mind. He felt always now a physical elation, which, of course, became mental also. It is likely, too, that the rebound from long and despairing ill health still made itself felt. None so well as those who have been ill and are cured! He drew great draughts of the frosty air into his strong, sound lungs, and the emitted it slowly and with ease. It was a fine mechanism, complex, but working beautifully. Moreover, he had an uncommonly large and rich beaver fur over his shoulder. Such a skin as that would bring twenty-five dollars in any decent market.

Albert kept to the deep snow on account of his shoes, and was making pretty good time, when he heard a long howl, varied by a kind of snappy, growling bark.

"One of those timber wolves," said Albert to himself, "and he has scented the blood of the beaver."

He thought no more about the wolf until two or three minutes later when he heard another howl and then two or three more. Moreover, they were much nearer.

"Now, I wonder what they're after?" thought Albert.

But he went on, maintaining his good pace, and then he heard behind him a cry that was a long, ferocious whine rather than a howl. Albert looked back and saw under the trees, where the snow was lighter, a dozen leaping forms. He recognized at once the old pests, the timber wolves.

"Now, I wonder what they're after?" he repeated, and then as the whole pack suddenly gave tongue in a fierce, murderous howl, he saw that it was himself. Albert, armed though he was—neither boy ever went forth without gun or revolver—felt the blood grow cold in every vein. These were not the common wolves of the prairie, nor yet the ordinary wolf of the East and Middle West, but the great timber wolf of the Northwest, the largest and fiercest of the dog tribe. He had grown used to the presence of timber wolves hovering somewhere near, but now they presented themselves in a new aspect, bearing down straight upon him, and pushed by hunger. He understood why they were about to attack him. They had been able to secure but little of the large game in the valley, and they were drawn on by starvation.

He looked again and looked fearfully. They seemed to him monstrous in size for wolves, and their long, yellowish-gray bodies were instinct with power. Teeth and eyes alike were gleaming. Albert scarcely knew what to do first. Should he run, taking to the deepest snow, where the wolves might sink to their bodies and thus fail to overtake him? But in his own haste he might trip himself with the long, ungainly snowshoes, and then everything would quickly be over. Yet it must be tried. He could see no other way.

Albert, almost unconsciously prayed for coolness and judgment, and it was well for him that his life in recent months had taught him hardihood and resource. He turned at once into the open space, away from the trees, where the snow lay several feet deep, and he took long, flying leaps on his snowshoes. Behind him came the pack of great, fierce brutes, snapping and snarling, howling and whining, a horrible chorus that made shivers chase one another up and down the boy's spine. But as he reckoned, the deep snow made them flounder, and checked their speed.

Before him the open ground and the deep snow stretched straight away beside the lake until it reached the opening between the mountains in which stood Castle Howard. As Albert saw the good track lie before him, his hopes rose, but presently, when he looked back again, they fell with cruel speed. The wolves, despite the depth of the snow, had gained upon him. Sometimes, perhaps, it proved hard enough to sustain the weight of their bodies, and then they more than made up lost ground.

Albert noted a wolf which he took at once to be the leader, not only because he led all the others, but because also of his monstrous size. Even in that moment of danger he wondered that a wolf could grow so large, and that he should have such long teeth. But the boy, despite his great danger, retained his presence of mind. If the wolves were gaining, then he must inflict a check upon them. He whirled about, steadied himself a moment on his snowshoes, and fired directly at the huge leader. The wolf had swung aside when he saw the barrel of the rifle raised, but the bullet struck down another just behind him. Instantly, some of the rest fell upon the wounded brute and began to devour him, while the remainder, after a little hesitation, continued to pursue Albert.

But the boy had gained, and he felt that the repeating rifle would be for a while like a circle of steel to him. He could hold them back for a time with bullet after bullet, although it would not suffice to stop the final rush when it came, if it came.

Albert looked longingly ahead. He saw a feather of blue smoke against the dazzling white and silver of the sky, and he knew that it came from their cabin. If he were only there behind those stout log walls! A hundred wolves, bigger than the big leader, might tear at them in vain! And perhaps Dick, too, would come! He felt that the two together would have little to fear.

The wolves set up their fierce, whining howl again, and once more it showed that they had gained upon the fleeing boy. He turned and fired once, twice, three times, four times, as fast as he could pull the trigger, directly into the mass of the pack. He could not tell what he had slain and what he had wounded, but there was a hideous snapping and snarling, and the sight of wolf teeth flashing into wolf flesh.

Albert ran on and that feather of blue smoke was larger and nearer. But was it near enough? He could hear the wolves behind him again. All these diversions were only temporary. No matter how many of their number were slain or wounded, no matter how many paused to devour the dead and hurt, enough were always left to follow him. The pursuit, too, had brought reinforcements from the lurking coverts of the woods and bushes.

Albert saw that none of his bullets had struck the leader. The yellowish-gray monster still hung close upon him, and he was to Albert like a demon wolf, one that could not be slain. He would try again. He wheeled and fired. The leader, as before, swerved to one side and a less fortunate wolf behind him received the bullet. Albert fired two more bullets, and then he turned to continue his flight. But the long run, the excitement, and his weakened nerves caused the fatal misstep. The toe of one snowshoe caught on the heel of the other, and as a shout pierced the air, he went down.

The huge gray leader leaped at the fallen boy, and as his body paused a fleeting moment in midair before it began the descent, a rifle cracked, a bullet struck him in the throat, cutting the jugular vein and coming out behind. His body fell lifeless on the snow, and he who had fired the shot came on swiftly, shouting and firing again.

It was well that Dick, sometime after Albert's departure, had concluded to go forth for a little hunt, and it was well also that in addition to his rifle he had taken the double-barreled shotgun thinking that he might find some winter wild fowl flying over the snow and ice-covered surface of the lake. His first shot slew the master wolf, his second struck down another, his third was as fortunate, his fourth likewise, and then, still running forward, he bethought himself of the shotgun that was strapped over his shoulder. He leveled it in an instant and fairly sprayed the pack of wolves with stinging shot. Before that it had been each bullet for a wolf and the rest untouched, but now there was a perfect shower of those hot little pellets. It was more than they could stand, big, fierce, and hungry timber wolves though they were. They turned and fled with beaten howls into the woods.

Albert was painfully righting himself, when Dick gave him his hand and sped the task. Albert had thought himself lost, and it was yet hard to realize that he had not disappeared down the throat of the master wolf. His nerves were overtaxed, and he was near collapse.

"Thank you, Dick, old boy," he said. "If you hadn't come when you did, I shouldn't be here."

"No, you wouldn't," replied Dick grimly. "Those wolves eat fast. But look, Al, what a monster this fellow is! Did you ever see such a wolf?"

The great leader lay on his side upon the snow, and a full seven feet he stretched from the tip of his nose to the root of his stumpy tail. No such wolf as he had ever been put inside a cage, and it was rare, indeed, to find one so large, even in the mountains south of the very Far North.

"That's a skin that will be worth something," said Dick, "and here are more, but before we begin the work of taking them off, you'll have to be braced up, Al. You need a stimulant."

He hurried back to Castle Howard and brought one of the bottles of whisky, a little store that they had never touched except in the compounding of the barkstone for the capture of beaver. He gave Albert a good stiff drink of it, after which the boy felt better, well enough, in fact, to help Dick skin the monster wolf.

"It gives me pleasure to do this," said Albert, as he wielded the knife. "You thought, Mr. Wolf, that I was going to adorn your inside; instead, your outside will be used as an adornment trodden on by the foot of my kind."

They secured four other fine and unimpaired skins among the slain, and after dressing and curing, they were sent to join the stores in the Annex.



Chapter X Dick Goes Scouting

Dick did not believe that the timber wolves, after suffering so much in the pursuit of Albert, would venture again to attack either his brother or himself. He knew that the wolf was one of the shrewdest of all animals, and that, unless the circumstances were very unusual indeed, the sight of a gun would be sufficient to warn them off. Nevertheless, he decided to begin a campaign against them, though he had to wait a day or two until Albert's shaken nerves were restored.

They wished to save their ammunition as much as possible, and they built three large dead falls, in which they caught six or seven great wolves, despite their cunning. In addition they hunted them with rifles with great patience and care, never risking a shot until they felt quite sure that it would find a vital spot. In this manner they slew about fifteen more, and by that time the wolves were thoroughly terrified. The scent of the beings carrying sticks which poured forth death and destruction at almost any distance, was sufficient to send the boldest band of timber wolves scurrying into the shadows of the deepest forest in search of hiding and safety.

The snow melted and poured in a thousand streams from the mountains. The river and all the creeks and brooks roared in torrents, the earth soaked in water, and the two boys spent much of the time indoors making new clothing, repairing traps and nets, and fashioning all kinds of little implements that were of use in their daily life. They could realize, only because they now had to make them, how numerous such implements were. Yet they made toasting sticks of hard wood, carved out wooden platters, constructed a rude but serviceable dining table, added to their supply of traps of various kinds, and finally made two large baskets of split willow. The last task was not as difficult as some others, as both had seen and taken a part in basket making in Illinois. The cabin was now crowded to inconvenience. Over their beds, from side to side, and up under the sloping roof, they had fastened poles, and from all of these hung furs and skins, buffalo, deer, wolf, wild cat, beaver, wolverine, and others, and also stores of jerked game. The Annex was in the same crowded condition. The boys had carried the hollow somewhat higher up with their axes, but the extension gave them far less room than they needed.

"It's just this, Dick," said Albert, "we getting so rich that we don't know what to do with all our property. I used to think it a joke that the rich were unhappy, but now I see where their trouble comes in."

"I know that the trappers cache their furs, that is, bury them or hide them until they can take them away," said Dick, "but we don't know how to bury furs so they'll keep all right. Still, we've got to find a new place of some kind. Besides, it would be better to have them hidden where only you and I could find them, Al. Maybe we can find such a place."

Albert agreed, and they began a search along the cliffs. Dick knew that extensive rocky formations must mean a cave or an opening of some kind, if they only looked long enough for it, at last they found in the side of a slope a place that he thought could be made to suit. It was a rocky hollow running back about fifteen feet, and with a height and width of perhaps ten feet. It was approached by an opening about four feet in height and two feet in width. Dick wondered at first that it had not been used as a den by some wild animal, but surmised that the steepness of the ascent and the extreme roughness of the rocky floor had kept them out.

But these very qualities recommended the hollow to the boys for the use that they intended it. Its position in the side of the cliff made it a hard place to find, and the solid rock of its floor, walls, and roof insured the dryness that was necessary for the storage of their furs.

"We'll call this the Cliff House," said Albert, "and we'll take possession at once."

They broke off the sharper of the stone projections with their ax heads, and then began the transfer of the furs. It was no light task to carry them up the step slope to the Cliff House, but, forced to do all things for themselves, they had learned perseverance, and they carried all their stock of beaver furs and all the buffalo robes and bearskins, except those in actual use, together with a goodly portion of the wolfskins, elk hides, and others.

Dick made a rude but heavy door which fitted well enough into the opening to keep out any wild animal, no matter how small, and in front of it, in a little patch of soft soil, they set out two transplanted pine bushes which seemed to take root, and which Dick was sure would grow in the spring.

When the boys looked up from the bottom of the slope, they saw no trace of the Cliff House, only an expanse of rock, save a little patch of earth where two tiny pines were growing.

"Nobody but ourselves will ever find our furs!" exclaimed Dick exultingly. "The most cunning Indian would not dream that anything was hidden up there behind those little pines, and the furs will keep as well inside as if they were in the best storehouse ever built."

The discovery and use of the rock cache was a great relief to both. Their cabin had become so crowded with furs and stores, that the air was often thick and heavy, and they did not have what Dick called elbow room. Now they used the cabin almost exclusively for living purposes. Most of the stores were in the Annex, while the dry and solid Cliff House held the furs.

"Have you thought, Dick, what you and I are?" asked Albert.

"I don't catch your meaning."

"We're aristocrats of the first water, Mr. Richard Howard and Mr. Albert Howard, the Mountain Kings. We can't get along with less than four residences. We live in Castle Howard, the main mansion, superior to anything of its kind in a vast region; then we have the Annex, a tower used chiefly as a supply room and treasure chest; then the Suburban Villa, a light, airy place of graceful architecture, very suitable as a summer residence, and now we have the Cliff House, in a lofty and commanding position noted for its wonderful view. We are really a fortunate pair, Dick."

"I've been thinking that for sometime," replied Dick rather gravely.

Hitherto they had confined their operations chiefly to their own side of the lake, but as they ranged farther and farther in search of furs they began to prowl among the canyons and narrow valleys in the mountains on the other side. They made, rather far up the northern side, some valuable catches of beaver, but in order to return with them, they were compelled to come around either the northern or southern end of the lake, and the round trip was tremendously long and tiring.

"It's part of a man's business to economize time and strength," said Dick, "and we must do it. You and I, Al, are going to make a canoe."

"How?"

"I don't know just yet, but I'm studying it out. The idea will jump out of my head in two or three days."

It was four days before it jumped, but when it did, it jumped to some purpose.

"First, we'll make a dugout," he said. "We've got the tools—axes, knives, saws, and augers—and we'd better start with that."

They cut down a big and perfectly straight pine and chose a length of about twelve feet from the largest part of the trunk. Both boys had seen dugouts, and they knew, in a general way, how to proceed. Their native intelligence supplied the rest.

They cut off one side of the log until it was flat, thus making the bottom for the future canoe. They cut the opposite side away in the well-known curve that a boat makes, low in the middle and high at each end. This part of the work was done with great caution, but Dick had an artistic eye, and they made a fairly good curve. Next they began the tedious and laborious work of digging out, using axes, hatchets, and chisel.

This was a genuine test of Albert's new strength, but he stood it nobly. They chipped away for a long time, until the wood on the sides and bottom was thin but strong enough to stand any pressure. Then they made the proper angle and curve of bow and stern, cut and made two stout broad paddles, and their dugout was ready—a long canoe with a fairly good width, as the original log had been more than two feet in diameter. It was both light and strong, and, raising it on their shoulders, they carried it down to the lake where they put it in the water.

Albert, full of enthusiasm, sprang into the canoe and made a mighty sweep with his paddle. The light dugout shot away, tipped on one side, and as Albert made another sweep with his paddle to right it, it turned over, bottom side up, casting the rash young paddler into ten feet of pure cold water. Albert came up with a mighty splash and sputter. He was a good swimmer, and he had also retained hold of the paddle unconsciously, perhaps. Dick regarded him contemplatively from the land. He had no idea of jumping in. One wet and cold boy was enough. Beside, rashness deserved its punishment.

"Get the canoe before it floats farther away," he called out, "and tow it to land. It has cost us too much work to be lost out on the lake."

Albert swam to the canoe, which was now a dozen yards away, and quickly towed it and the paddle to land. There, shivering, the water running from him in streams, he stepped upon the solid earth.

"Run to the cabin as fast as you can," said Dick. "Take off those wet things, rub yourself down before the fire; then put on dry clothes and come back here and help me."

Albert needed no urging, but it seemed to him that he would freeze before he reached the cabin, short as the distance was. Fortunately, there was a good fire on the hearth, and, after he had rubbed down and put on his dry, warm suit of deerskin, he never felt finer in his life. He returned to the lake, but he felt sheepish on the way. That had been a rash movement of his, overenthusiastic, but he had been properly punished. His chagrin was increased when he saw Dick a considerable distance out on the lake in the canoe, driving it about in graceful curves with long sweeps of his paddle.

"This is the way it ought to be done," called out Dick cheerily. "Behold me, Richard Howard, the king of canoe men!"

"You've been practicing while I was gone!" exclaimed Albert.

"No doubt of it, my young friend, and that is why you see me showing such skill, grace, and knowledge. I give you the same recipe without charge: Look before you leap, especially if you're going to leap into a canoe. Now we'll try it together."

He brought the canoe back to land, Albert got in cautiously, and for the rest of the day they practiced paddling, both together and alone. Albert got another ducking, and Dick, in a moment of overconfidence, got one, too, somewhat to Albert's pleasure and relief, as it has been truly said that misery loves company, but in two or three days they learned to use the canoe with ease. Then, either together or alone, they would paddle boldly the full length of the lake, and soon acquired dexterity enough to use it for freight, too; that is, they would bring back in it across the lake anything that they had shot or trapped on the other side.

So completely had they lost count of time that Dick had an idea spring was coming, but winter suddenly shut down upon them again. It did not arrive with wind and snow this time, but in the night a wave of cold came down from the north so intense that the sheltered valley even did not repel it.

Dick and Albert did not appreciate how really cold it was until they went from the cabin into the clear morning air, when they were warned by the numbing sensation that assailed their ears and noses. They hurried into the house and thawed out their faces, which stung greatly as they were exposed to the fire. Remembering the experiences of their early boyhood, they applied cold water freely, which allayed the stinging. After that they were very careful to wrap up fingers, ears, and noses when they went forth.

Now, the channel that Albert had made from the water of the hot spring proved of great use. The water that came boiling from the earth cooled off rapidly, but it was not yet frozen when it reached the side of Castle Howard, and they could make use of it.

The very first morning they found their new boat, of which they were so proud, hard and fast with ten inches of solid ice all around it. Albert suggested leaving it there.

"We have no need of it so long as the lake is covered with ice," he said, "and when the ice melts it will be released."

But Dick looked a little farther. The ice might press in on it and crush it, and hence Albert and he cut it out with axes, after which they put it in the lee of the cabin. Meanwhile, when they wished to reach the traps on the farther side of the lake, they crossed it on the ice, and, presuming that the cold might last long, they easily made a rude sledge which they used in place of the canoe.

"If we can't go through the water, we can at least go over it," said Albert.

While the great cold lasted, a period of about two weeks, the boys went on no errands except to their traps. The cold was so intense that often they could hear the logs of Castle Howard contracting with a sound like pistol shots. Then they would build the fire high and sit comfortably before it. Fortunately, the valley afforded plenty of fuel. Both boys wished now that they had a few books, but books were out of the question, and they sought always to keep themselves busy with the tasks that their life in the valley entailed upon them. Both knew that this was best.

The cold was so great that even the wild animals suffered from it. The timber wolves, despite their terrible lessons, were driven by it down the valley, and at night a stray one now and then would howl mournfully near the cabin.

"He's a robber and would like to be a murderer," Albert would say, "but he probably smells this jerked buffalo meat that I'm cooking and I'm sorry for him."

But the wolves were careful to keep out of rifle shot.

Dick made one trip up the valley and found about fifty buffaloes sheltered in a deep ravine and clustering close together for warmth. They were quite thin, as the grass, although it had been protected by the snow, was very scanty at that period of the year. Dick could have obtained a number of good robes, but he spared them.

"Maybe I won't be so soft-hearted when the spring comes and you are fatter," he said.

The two, about this time, took stock of their ammunition, which was the most vital of all things to them. For sometime they had used both the shot and ball cartridges only in cases of necessity, and they were relying more and more on traps, continually devising new kinds, their skill and ingenuity increasing with practice.

Dick had brought a great store of cartridges from the last train, especially from the unrifled wagon in the gully, and both boys were surprised to see how many they had left. They had enough to last a long time, according to their present mode of life.

"If you are willing, that settles it," said Dick.

"If I am willing for what?" asked Albert.

"Willing to stay over another year. You see, Al, we've wandered into a happy hunting ground. There are more furs, by the hundreds, for the taking, and it seems that this is a lost valley. Nobody else comes here. Besides, you are doing wonderfully. All that old trouble is gone, and we want it to stay gone. If we stay here another year, and you continue to eat the way you do and grow the way you do, you'll be able to take a buffalo by the horns and wring its neck."

Albert grinned pleasantly at his brother.

"You don't have to beg me to stay," he said. "I like this valley. It has given me life and what is to be our fortune, our furs. Why not do all we can while we can? I'm in favor of the extra year, Dick."

"Then no more need be said about it. The Cliff House isn't half full of furs yet, but in another year we can fill it."

The great cold began to break up, the ice on the lake grew thinner and thinner and then disappeared, much of the big game left the valley, the winds from the north ceased to blow, and in their stead came breezes from the south, tipped with warmth. Dick knew that spring was near. It was no guess, he could feel it in every bone of him, and he rejoiced. He had had enough of winter, and it gave him the keenest pleasure when he saw tiny blades of new grass peeping up in sheltered places here and there.

Dick, although he was not conscious of it, had changed almost as much as Albert in the last eight or nine months. He had had no weak chest and throat to cure, but his vigorous young frame had responded nobly to the stimulus of self-reliant life. The physical experience, as well as the mental, of those eight or nine months, had been equal to five times their number spent under ordinary conditions, and he had grown greatly in every respect. Few men were as strong, as agile, and as alert as he.

He and Albert, throughout that long winter, had been sufficient unto each other. They had a great sense of ownership, the valley and all its manifold treasurers belonged to them—a feeling that was true, as no one else came to claim it—and they believed that in their furs they were acquiring and ample provision for a start in life.

When the first tender shades of green began to appear in the valley and on the slopes, Dick decided upon a journey.

"Do you know, Al, how long we have been in this valley?" he asked.

"Eight or ten months, I suppose," replied Albert.

"It must be something like that, and we've been entirely away from our race. If we had anybody to think about us—although we haven't—they'd be sure that we are dead. We're just as ignorant of what is happening in the world, and I want to go on a skirmishing trip over the mountains. You keep house while I'm gone."

Albert offered mild objections, which he soon withdrew, as at heart he thought his brother right, and the next day, early in the morning, Dick started on his journey. He carried jerked buffalo meat in a deerskin pouch that he had made for himself, his customary repeating rifle, revolver, and a serviceable hatchet.

"Look after things closely, Al," said Dick, "and don't bother about setting the traps. Furs are not good in the spring."

"All right," responded Albert. "How long do you think you'll be gone?"

"Can't say, precisely. Three or four days, I presume, but don't you worry unless it's a full week."

It was characteristic of the strength and self-restraint acquired by the two that they parted with these words and a hand clasp only, yet both had deep feeling. Dick looked back from the mouth of the cleft toward Castle Howard and saw a boy in front of it waving a cap. He waved his own in reply and then went forward more swiftly down the valley.

It did not take him long to reach the first slope, and, when he had ascended a little, he paused for rest and inspection. Spring had really made considerable progress. All the trees except the evergreens had put forth young leaves and, as he looked toward the north, the mountains unrolled like a vast green blanket that swept away in ascending folds until it ended, and then the peaks and ridges, white with snow, began.

Dick climbed father, and their valley was wholly lost to sight. It was not so wonderful after all that nobody came to it. Trappers who knew of it long ago never returned, believing that the beaver were all gone forever, and it was too near to the warlike Sioux of the plains for mountain Indians to make a home there.

Dick did not stop long for the look backward—he was too intent upon his mission—but resumed the ascent with light foot and light heart. He remembered very well the way in which he and Albert had come, and he followed it on the return. All night, with his buffalo robe about him, he slept in the pine alcove that had been the temporary home of Albert and himself. He could see no change in it in all the months, except traces to show that some wild animal had slept there.

"Maybe you'll come to-night, Mr. Bear or Mr. Mountain Lion, to sleep in your little bed." said Dick as he lay down in his buffalo robe, "but you'll find me here before you."

He was wise enough to know that neither bear nor mountain lion would ever molest him, and he slept soundly. He descended the last slopes and came in sight of the plains on the afternoon of the next day. Everything seemed familiar. The events of that fatal time had made too deep an impression upon him and Albert ever to be forgotten. He knew the very rocks and trees and so went straight to the valley in which he had found the wagon filled with supplies. It lay there yet, crumpled somewhat by time and the weight of snow that had fallen upon it during the winter, but a strong man with good tools might put it in shape for future service.

"Now, if Al and I only had horses, we might get it out and take away our furs in it," said Dick, "but I suppose I might as well wish for a railroad as for horses."

He descended into the gully and found the tracks of wolves and other wild beasts about the wagon. In their hunger, they had chewed up every fragment of leather or cloth, and had clawed and scratched among the lockers. Dick had searched those pretty well before, but now he looked for gleanings. He found little of value until he discovered, jammed down in a corner, an old history and geography of the United States combined in one volume with many maps and illustrations. It was a big octavo book, and Dick seized it with the same delight with which a miner snatches up his nugget of gold. He opened it, took a rapid look through flying pages, murmured, "Just the thing," closed it again, and buttoned it securely inside his deerskin coat. He had not expected anything; nevertheless, he had gleaned to some purpose.

Dick left the wagon and went into the pass where the massacre had occurred. Time had not dimmed the horror of the place for him and he shuddered as he approached the scene of ambush, but he forced himself to go on.

The wagons were scattered about, but little changed, although, as in the case of the one in the gully, all the remaining cloth and leather had been chewed by wild animals. Here and there were the skeletons of the fallen, and Dick knew that the wild beasts had not been content with leather and cloth alone. He went through the wagons one by one, but found nothing of value left except a paper of needles, some spools of thread, and a large pair of scissors, all of which he put in the package with the history.

It was nightfall when he finished the task, and retiring to the slope, he made his bed among some pines. He heard wolves howling twice in the night, but he merely settled himself more easily in his warm buffalo robe and went to sleep again. Replenishing his canteen with water the next morning, he started out upon the plains, intending to make some explorations.

Dick had thought at first that they were in the Black Hills, but he concluded later that they were further west. The mountains about them were altogether too high for the Black Hills, and he wished to gain some idea of their position upon the map. The thought reminded him that he had a book with maps in his pocket, and he took out the precious volume.

He found a map of the Rocky Mountain territory, but most of the space upon it was vague, often blank, and he could not exactly locate himself and Albert, although he knew that they were very far west of any settled country.

"I can learn from that book all about the world except ourselves," he said, as he put it back in his pocket. But he was not sulky over it. His was a bold and adventurous spirit and he was not afraid, nor was his present trip merely to satisfy curiosity. He and Albert must leave the valley some day, and it was well to know the best way in which it could be done.

He started across the plain in a general southwesterly direction, intending to travel for about a day perhaps, camp for the night, and return on the following day to his mountains. He walked along with a bold, swinging step and did not look back for an hour, but when he turned at last he felt as if he had ventured upon the open ocean in a treacherous canoe. There were the mountains, high, sheltered, and friendly, while off to the south and west the plains rolled away in swell after swell as long and desolate as an untraveled sea, and as hopeless.

Dick saw toward noon some antelope grazing on the horizon, but he was not a hunter now, and he did not trouble himself to seek a shot. An hour or two later he saw a considerable herd of buffaloes scattered about over the plain, nibbling the short bunch grass that had lived under the snow. They were rather an inspiring sight, and Dick felt as if, in a sense, they were furnishing him company. They drove away the desolation and loneliness of the plains, and his inclinations toward them were those of genuine friendliness. They were in danger of no bullet from him.

While he was looking at them, he saw new figures coming over the distant swell. At first he thought they were antelope, but when they reached the crest of the swell and their figures were thrown into relief against the brilliant sky, he saw that they were horsemen.

They came on with such regularity and precision, that, for a moment or two, Dick believed them to be a troop of cavalry, but he learned better when they scattered with a shout and began to chase the buffaloes. Then he knew that they were a band of Sioux Indians hunting.

The full extent of his danger dawned upon him instantly. He was alone and on foot. The hunt might bring them down upon him in five minutes. He was about to run, but his figure would certainly be exposed upon the crest of one of the swells, as theirs had been, and he dropped instead into one of a number of little gullies that intersected the plain.

It was an abrupt little gully, and Dick was well hidden from any eyes not within ten yards of him. He lay at first so he could not see, but soon he began to hear shots and the trampling of mighty hoofs. He knew now that the Sioux were in among the buffaloes, dealing out death, and he began to have a fear of being trodden upon either by horsemen or huge hoofs. He could not bear to lie there and he warned only by sound, so he turned a little further on one side and peeped over the edge of the gully.

The hunters and hunter were not as near as he thought; he had been deceived by sound, the earth being such a good conductor. Yet they were near enough for him to see that he was in great danger and should remain well hidden. He could observe, however, that the hunt was attended with great success. Over a dozen buffaloes had fallen and the others were running about singly or in little groups, closely pursued by the exultant Sioux. Some were on one side of him and some on the other. There was no chance for him, no matter how careful he might be, to rise from the gully and sneak away over the plain. Instead, he crouched more closely and contracted himself into the narrowest possible space, while the hunt wheeled and thundered about him.

It is not to be denied that Dick felt many tremors. He had seen what the Sioux could do. He knew that they were the most merciless of all the northwestern Indians, and he expected only torture and death if he fell into their hands, and there was his brother alone now in the valley. Once the hunt swung away to the westward and the sounds of it grew faint. Dick hoped it would continue in that direction, but by and by it came back again and he crouched down anew in his narrow quarters. He felt that every bone in him was stiffening with cramp and needlelike pains shot through his nerves. Yet he dared not move. And upon top of his painful position came the knowledge that the Sioux would stay there to cut up the slain buffaloes. He was tempted more than once to jump up, run for it and take his chances.

He noticed presently a gray quality in the air, and as he glanced off toward the west, he saw that the red sun was burning very low. Dick's heart sprang up in gladness; it was the twilight, and the blessed darkness would bring chance of escape. Seldom has anyone watched the coming of night with keener pleasure. The sun dropped down behind the swells, the gray twilight passed over all the sky, and after it came the night, on black wings.

Fires sprang up on the plain, fires of buffalo chips lighted by the Sioux, who were now busy skinning and cutting up the slain buffaloes. Dick saw the fires all about him, but none was nearer than a hundred yards, and, despite them, he decided that now was his best time to attempt escape before the moon should come out and lighten up the night.

He pulled himself painfully from the kind gully. He had lain there hours, and he tested every joint as he crept a few feet on the plain. They creaked for a while, but presently the circulation was restored, and, rising to a stooping position, with his rifle ready, he slipped off toward the westward.

Dick knew that great caution was necessary, but he had confidence in the veiling darkness. Off to the eastward he could see one fire, around which a half dozen warriors were gathered, busy with a slain buffalo, working and feasting. He fancied that he could trace their savage features against the red firelight, but he himself was in the darkness.

Another fire rose up, and this was straight before him. Like the others, warriors were around it, and Dick turned off abruptly to the south. Then he heard ponies stamping and he shifted his course again. When he had gone about a dozen yards he lay flat upon the plain and listened. He was hardy and bold, but, for a little while, he was almost in despair. It seemed to him that he was ringed around by a circle of savage warriors and that he could not break through it.

His courage returned, and, rising to his knees, he resumed his slow progress. His course was now southwesterly, and soon he heard again the stamping of hoofs. It was then that a daring idea came into Dick's head.

That stamping of hoofs was obviously made by the ponies of the Sioux. Either the ponies were tethered to short sticks, or they had only a small guard, perhaps a single man. But as they were with the buffaloes, and unsuspecting of a strange presence, they would not detail more than one man to watch their horses. It was wisdom for him to slip away one of the horses, mount it when at a safe distance, and then gallop toward the mountains.

Dick sank down a little lower and crept very slowly toward the point from which the stamping of hoofs proceeded. When he had gone about a dozen yards he heard another stamping of hoofs to his right and then a faint whinny. This encouraged him. It showed him that the ponies were tethered in groups, and the group toward which he was going might be without a guard. He continued his progress another dozen yards, and then lay flat upon the plain. He had seen two vague forms in the darkness, and he wished to make himself a blur with the earth. They were warriors passing from one camp fire to another, and Dick saw them plainly, tall men with blankets folded about them like togas, long hair in which eagle feathers were braided after the Sioux style, and strong aquiline features. They looked like chiefs, men of courage, dignity, and mind, and Dick contrasted them with the ruffians of the wagon train. The contrast was not favorable to the white faces that he remembered so well.

But the boy saw nothing of mercy or pity in these red countenances. Bold and able they might be, but it was no part of theirs to spare their enemies. He fairly crowded himself against the earth, but they went on, absorbed in their own talk, and he was not seen. He raised up again and began to crawl. The group of ponies came into view, and he saw with delight that they had no watchman. A half dozen in number and well hobbled, they cropped the buffalo grass. They were bare of back, but they wore their Indian bridles, which hung from their heads.

Dick knew a good deal about horses, and he was aware that the approach would be critical. The Indian ponies might take alarm or they might not, but the venture must be made. He did not believe that he could get beyond the ring of the Sioux fires without being discovered, and only a dash was left.

Dick marked the pony nearest to him. It seemed a strong animal, somewhat larger than the others, and, pulling up a handful of bunch grass, he approached it, whistling very softly. He held the grass in his left hand and his hunting knife in the right, his rifle being fastened to his back. The pony raised his head, looked at him in a friendly manner, then seemed to change his mind and backed away. But Dick came on, still holding out the grass and emitting that soft, almost inaudible whistle. The pony stopped and wavered between belief and suspicion. Dick was not more than a dozen feet away now, and he began to calculate when he might make a leap and seize the bridle.

The boy and the pony were intently watching the eyes of each other. Dick, in that extreme moment, was gifted with preternatural acuteness of mind and vision, and he saw that the pony still wavered. He took another step forward, and the eyes of the pony inclined distinctly from belief to suspicion; another short and cautious step, and they were all suspicion. But it was too late for the pony. The agile youth sprang, and dropping the grass, seized him with his left hand by the bridle. A sweep or two of the hunting knife and the hobbles were cut through.

The pony reared and gave forth an alarmed neigh, but Dick, quickly replacing the knife in his belt, now held the bridle with both hands, and those two hands were very strong. He pulled the pony back to its four feet and sprang, with one bound, upon his back. Then kicking him vigorously in the side, he dashed away, with rifle shots spattering behind him.



Chapter XI The Terrible Pursuit

Dick knew enough to bend low down on the neck of the flying mustang, and he was untouched, although he heard the bullets whistling about him. The neigh of the pony had betrayed him, but he was aided by his quickness and the friendly darkness, and he felt a surge of exultation that he could not control, boy that he was. The Sioux, jumping upon their ponies, sent forth a savage war whoop that the desolate prairie returned in moaning echoes, and Dick could not refrain from a reply. He uttered one shout, swung his rifle defiantly over his head, then bending down again, urged his pony to increased speed.

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