THE YOUNG ALASKANS
Author of "The Story of the Cowboy" "The Mississippi Bubble" Etc. Etc.
Harper & Brothers Publishers New York and London MCMVIII
Copyright, 1908, by Harper & Brothers. All rights reserved. Published October, 1908.
I. AT HOME IN ALASKA 1 II. AFLOAT ON THE PACIFIC 7 III. THE JOURNEY TO THE NORTH 16 IV. LOST IN THE FOG 23 V. THE MISSING DORY 28 VI. ADRIFT ON THE OCEAN 35 VII. THE HUT ON THE BEACH 41 VIII. THE SALMON RUN 49 IX. THE BIG BEAR OF KADIAK 58 X. THE SAVAGE REFUGEE 68 XI. A TROUBLESOME PRISONER 76 XII. WAYS OF THE WILDERNESS 80 XIII. MAKING A LIVING 93 XIV. THE SURPRISE 101 XV. THE WHALE-HUNT 111 XVI. THE MISSING PRISONER 122 XVII. THE ALEUT BOY 126 XVIII. UNWELCOME VISITORS 130 XIX. HOPE DEFERRED 136 XX. THE SILVER-GRAY FOX 143 XXI. AN ALEUT GOOSE-HUNT 159 XXII. SPORT WITH THE SALMON 170 XXIII. AMONG THE EAGLES 182 XXIV. AN ADVENTURE ON THE GULL ROCKS 191 XXV. CRIPPLES' CASTLE 207 XXVI. THE JOURNEY AND THE STORM 223 XXVII. THE MAN-HUNT 245 XXVIII. A HUNT FOR SEA-OTTER 255 XXIX. UNCERTAINTY 263 XXX. "BLOWN OUT TO SEA!" 271 XXXI. THE SEARCH-PARTY 276 XXXII. THE DESERTED CAMP 282 XXXIII. SAVED! 287
SUDDENLY DROPPING TO HIS KNEE HE FIRED WITHOUT HESITATION Frontispiece
HE SHIFTED HIS GUN TO HIS LEFT HAND AND HELD OUT HIS RIGHT WITH A SMILE Facing p. 102
THE ALEUT BOY LAUNCHED HIS MISSILE INTO THE MASS OF FLYING FOWL " 164
BOTH OTTER AND ARROW HAD DISAPPEARED, BUT THE ALEUT SAT WAITING GRIMLY " 260
THE YOUNG ALASKANS
AT HOME IN ALASKA
Rob McIntyre had been angling for codfish at the top of Valdez dock for the past half-hour. Now, hearing the hoarse boom of the ocean vessel's whistle out in the fog-bank which covered the mouth of the harbor, he pulled in his fishing-line, hurriedly threw together his heap of flapping fish, and, turning, sent shoreward the cry always welcome to dwellers in Alaska coast towns.
"Steamboat! Steamboat!" Some one at the freight office on Valdez dock heard him and repeated the cry. Again and again it was passed from one to another along the half-mile of high sidewalk which led from the dock to the town. Soon in every corner of the streets of Valdez there resounded the call: "Steamboat! Steamboat!"
Now there came to the ears of all the low, hoarse boom of the steamer's whistle. The great vessel was lying out somewhere in the fog, nosing her way in carefully, taking care not to touch any of the hidden rocks which line the Alaskan shores. The residents of the town poured out from dwelling and shop alike, and soon the streets were full, almost the entire population hurrying over the long trestle to the dock where the boat must land. The whistle said to them that there were now at hand cargoes of goods for the merchants, machinery for the new railroad building inland, necessities and luxuries for every-day life, and, best of all, letters, books and papers from the outside world. "Outside" in an Alaskan coast town means the United States. Across the range of mountains which fence off the coast from the vast interior "outside" means the coast itself; just as to any town dweller of the Alaska coast "inside" means somewhere in the icy interior, vast and unexplored.
Among the first to hasten down the long walk from the main street of the town were two friends of Rob McIntyre—Jesse Wilcox and John Hardy, the former ten and the latter twelve years of age, each therefore a little younger than Rob, who himself was now nearly fourteen. These boys might be called young Alaskans, for although the town of Valdez itself was not more than a few years old, their fathers had helped found the town and were prominent in its business affairs. Mr. Hardy was engaged in railway contracts on the new railroad, and Mr. Wilcox was chief of engineers on the same road. Rob's father, Mr. McIntyre, owned the leading store, where all sorts of articles were sold, from shovels and picks to needles and pins. The three boys, it need not be said, were great cronies, and many was the hour of sport they had had here in far-away Alaska.
"Hello, Rob!" called John, as he hurried up; "how many fish did you get? What boat's that, do you think? Do you suppose my uncle Dick's on board?"
"Hope so," rejoined Rob, now rolling up his fishing-line, and again kicking his codfish out of the road of the gathering crowd. "He's probably got something for us if he is."
"How far is she out?" inquired Jesse. "She blows like the Yucatan, but maybe she's the old Portland coming in."
"If she's the Portland my father might be aboard," said John. "If it's the Yucatan, and Uncle Dick's coming, then we'll get my new rifle, sure."
"One apiece, then," said Rob. "If each of us had a gun we could all go hunting together."
"Pack-train just came across the divide yesterday," said Jesse, "and they had four bear-skins. They got 'em less than thirty miles inland. The fellow that killed them threw away two skins because they were so heavy he didn't want to bother to pack 'em. But I don't suppose they'd let us go bear-hunting yet," said Jesse, hesitatingly.
"The biggest bear in this whole country," began Rob, who was posted on such matters, "are over toward Kadiak Island. I heard a trader from Seldovia saying there were a few sea-otters over there, too."
"Wouldn't you like to go over to Kadiak—just once?" said John. "A big bear-skin or two, and maybe a sea-otter—we could cash in our fur for enough to buy a mining claim, like enough! My uncle Dick's due to go over there, too, before long," he ruminated. "You know he's employed on the government survey, and they're making soundings on that part of the coast."
Rob drew a long breath. "Well, maybe sometime we could get over there," he said; and the others nodded, because they had come to look on him as something of a leader in their out-door expeditions.
"Priddy soon dat fog shall lift," remarked Ole Petersen, an old sailor who was lounging about the dock. He nodded toward the mouth of the harbor, where now all could see the heavy veil of mist growing thinner. Little by little, even as the steady boom of the steamer's whistle came echoing in, the front of the fog-bank thinned and lifted, showing the white-capped waves rolling beneath. Suddenly a strong shift of wind descended from the canyon between two of the many mountain-peaks which line the bay, and broke the fog into long ribbons of white vapor. The sun shone through, and its warmth sent the white mist up in twisting ropes, which faded away in the upper air. At last there came into view the red-topped smoke-stacks and the gaunt, dark hull of the great ocean steamer, whose funnels poured forth clouds of black smoke which drifted toward the farther shore of the bay.
"Yucatan!" sang out Rob—and Ole Petersen calmly seconded him with a nod—"Yucatan!"
The gathered population of Valdez—men, women, children, and dogs—greeted the vessel with a general outcry of welcome.
"In she comes," said Rob; and now, with two more long, hoarse roars from her giant whistle, the Yucatan slowly forged ahead, and within half an hour majestically swept up to her moorings at the front of Valdez dock.
AFLOAT ON THE PACIFIC
As the deck-hands cast ashore the light lines attached to the cable-loops, our young friends were among the first to lay hold and aid in dragging ashore the heavy cables which made fast the steamer to the dock-posts. Then they ran back amidships where the gang-plank was put out. The jingling of the ship's bells and general outcry from those on the dock or crowding along the rail of the vessel made everything a scene of confusion. Greetings were passed from ship to shore and back again. Friends now would meet, cargo would be discharged; touch with the outer world once more would be had.
"But I don't see Uncle Dick anywhere," said John, ruefully, as he examined the throng of figures packed along the rail waiting for the gangway to be made fast.
"Maybe he didn't come," suggested Jesse.
"There he is!" shouted John; "he's waving to us, over there 'midships."
"He's got something under his arm," said Rob, judicially.
A tall, brown-faced man with a wide, white hat and loose gray clothing edged his way toward the head of the gangway. Catching sight of the boys, he called out a hearty greeting.
"Have you got it, Uncle Dick?" asked John, excitedly, as at last the latter reached the dock.
Uncle Dick's answer was to pass to his nephew a certain long package, which proved to be a fine rifle in a leather case. For the moment all three boys were so much engaged in examining this that they paid little attention to what was going on—hurry and confusion, shouting and laughing and excited talk, mingled with the creak of the hoists and the rattle of the donkey-engine as the ship's men now began the work of discharging the cargo of the Yucatan. It must be remembered that in Alaska few things are manufactured, and everything must be shipped in, fifteen hundred miles or more, from San Francisco, Seattle, and other points.
"Well, young gentlemen," said Uncle Dick, at last, "you seem gladder to see that gun than you are to see me."
"No, we're not, sir," rejoined Rob; "but we're pleased enough, even so, because now each of us has a rifle."
"And no place to use one," answered Uncle Dick.
"Well, we may be able to go inside, hunting, before long," said Jesse, stoutly. "My father doesn't care if I go with him."
"How would you like to go over to Kadiak with me?" asked Uncle Dick, directly, looking at them keenly from his gray eyes.
"You don't mean it!" exclaimed Rob. The three gathered round him.
"Are you going over there right away?" asked Jesse, staring up at him.
Uncle Dick nodded. "Same boat," he answered. "I'm going on with the Yucatan to Seward, and will take the Nora from there to Kadiak. Chance of your life to spend the summer, if your mothers will say the word. And not to hurry you any, you've got just about an hour and a quarter to get ready—that is to say, to get consent and get ready both."
The three boys hardly stopped to hear the last of his words. They were off, running at top speed across the long sidewalk toward the town. Uncle Dick followed them at his leisure, talking and telling the news to his acquaintances, of whom he had many in the town. He explained to these that the government work in soundings would be done by the revenue cutter Bennington, along the shores of Kadiak Island, for the next four months. Now, although to those unfamiliar with Alaska, Valdez may seem as far away as Kadiak, the latter really is some hundreds of miles farther to the northwest, and near the base of that long peninsula which tapers to a point in the Aleutian Islands. A dweller in a coast town in Alaska knows what goes on immediately about him. There were few in Valdez who knew more of Kadiak than they did of Kamchatka.
"G'long there, ye young rascals!" called out a hearty voice at the fleeing boys. Captain John Ryan waved a cap toward them as he came down the gang-plank. But the boys, usually ready enough to visit with him on his stops at Valdez, were now too much excited to more than wave their hands as they disappeared.
"So ye're plannin' to take the rascals along with us, west, are ye?" asked Captain John Ryan of Uncle Dick. "A summer out there would be the makin' of the youngsters."
Uncle Dick's eyes wrinkled in a smile as he and the sturdy sea-captain started on down and walked to the town. At the farther end they were met by the three boys and by three nice-looking ladies, each prosperous-looking and well dressed, and each bearing a very anxious expression of countenance.
"I tell you it's absolutely absurd, Richard," began one of these, as they approached—"your putting such notions into the heads of these boys."
"It's all utterly impossible, of course," said Rob's mother, in turn, her mouth closing tightly as she looked around at her son.
Mrs. Wilcox said less, but kept her hand on Jesse's shoulder. "What would you do at night with no one to see you safe in bed, my son?" said she, at length.
"Oh, mother!" began Jesse, shamefacedly.
"I'll take care of the boys," said Uncle Dick, at length. "I won't mollycoddle them, and they will have to shift for themselves, but I'll see that they get through all right. Think it over, good people. It will be the making of the kids."
"Oh, well now, Richard," began Mrs. Hardy, once more, "how do we know when you are coming back?"
"You don't know. I don't know myself."
"But these boys have to go to school."
"Oh, I'll get them back in time for the fall term. Boats are coming down from Kadiak every month or so."
"But they say the storms out that way are perfectly frightful," began Mrs. McIntyre.
"We'll not be in any storms. The cutter Bennington anchors in the harbors, and, besides, the boys will be ashore in town at Kadiak. You don't suppose that Uncle Sam will let me have them around underfoot all the time, do you? I'll have something else to do."
"But what could the boys do, then?" inquired Mrs. McIntyre.
"Nothing much. Hunt seals and otters and whales and bears, and a few little things like that—catch more codfish and salmon than they ever thought of around here—go boat-riding with the Aleuts—"
"In those tippy bidarkas?"
"Tippy bidarkas," nodded Uncle Dick; "and go egg-hunting on the gull rocks, and all sorts of things. Why, they'd have the time of their lives, that's all."
"But not one of the boys has a father at home now to advise in the matter," hesitated Jesse's mother. "They are all inside, and won't be back for a week."
"They'll all be back just a week too late," answered Uncle Dick. "In about three-quarters of an hour from now, as Captain Ryan here will advise you, we start; and these boys, I think, will be on board the Yucatan headed for Kadiak. You want to remember that this is Alaska, and that these are Alaskan boys. They've got to grow up knowing how to take care of themselves in this country. They're not sissies, with red morocco shoes and long yellow curls—they're the stuff we've got to make men out of up here. How'd Alaska ever have been found, in the first place, if there hadn't been real men raised from real boys?"
"Oh, well!" began Mrs. McIntyre; and each of the other ladies echoed, "Oh, well!"
"Oh, well!" echoed Uncle Dick. "I'll tell you what: you had better hurry back home and get their blankets rolled, and an extra pair of shirts and some spare socks thrown together. And, boys, the best thing you can do is to go down to the store and get some ammunition. We can get all the grub we want from the ship's stores out at Kadiak. Now, excuse me, ladies, but don't take my time arguing this matter, because I've got several things to do; and the boat's going to start inside of an hour, and we're going to start with her!"
Sure enough, when at last the heavy boom of the Yucatan's warning whistle caused the window glass along the main street to tremble, a little party once more wended its way down the sidewalk toward the wharf. Uncle Dick led the way, earnestly talking with three very grave and anxious mothers. Behind him, perfectly happy, and shouting excitedly to one another, came Rob, Jesse, and John. Each carried a rifle in its case, and each looked excitedly now and then at the wagon which was carrying their bundles of luggage to the wharf.
"All aboard!" called the mate at the head of the gang-plank, laying hold of the side lines and waiting to pull it in. Again came the heavy whistle of the ocean steamer. The little group now broke apart; and in a moment the boys, somewhat sobered now, were waving their farewells to the mothers, who stood, anxious and tearful, on the dock.
"Cast off, there!" came the hoarse order from the captain's bridge.
"Ay, ay, sir!" rejoined the mate, repeating the command to the dock hands. Slowly the great propeller began to churn the green water astern into white. The bow of the great vessel slowly swung, and majestically she headed on her way out to the mouth of the bay. Clouds of white gulls followed her, dipping and soaring. Once more her whistle saluted the town from which she departed, its note echoing deeply from the steep fronts of the adjacent mountains. The wheelsman laid the course straight for the mouth of the gap between the outer mountains which marked the mouth of the bay. In less than an hour the bold headlands were passed. Beyond rolled the white-topped swells of the sea, across which lay none might tell how much of adventure.
"Now," said Rob, turning to his friends, "maybe we'll see something of the world."
THE JOURNEY TO THE NORTH
The good ship Yucatan steadily ploughed her way along the rock-bound Alaskan coast until, at noon of the second day, she nosed her way into the entrance of that great indentation of the coast known as Resurrection Bay, and finally concluded her own northbound journey at the docks of the town of Seward, which lies at the head of that harbor. Here the voyagers were to change to a smaller vessel, the sturdy little craft called the Nora, which was to carry them still farther northward and westward. The young travellers, although before this they had known Alaska to be a great country, now began to think that they had not dreamed how large it really was, for Uncle Dick advised them that they would need to steam almost a week yet farther before they could arrive at Kadiak harbor.
Once out of Resurrection Bay on their journey to the farther north, they began to see sights strange even to them, long as they had been used to Alaska. Hundreds of sea-lions crowded some lofty rocks not far beyond the entrance to the bay, roaring and barking at the ship as she steamed close in to the rocks, and plunging off in scores as the whistles of the boat aroused and frightened them from their basking in the sun.
Rob's eyes proved keener than those of his friend, and he was always looking out across the sea in search of some strange object.
"What's that, Mr. Dick?" he exclaimed, after he had been gazing steadily at the far horizon for some moments.
Uncle Dick hastened to his state-room and returned with a pair of field-glasses.
"That," said he, "is a whale—in fact, more than one; indeed, I think there is a big school of whales on ahead. We'll run almost square into them at this rate."
Sure enough, within the hour they came within plain sight of a number of great black objects which at first seemed like giant logs rolling on the water. All at once there appeared splashes of white water among the whales, and the latter seemed to be much agitated, hastening hither and thither as though in fear. Captain Zim Jones, of the Nora, leaned down from his place on the bridge.
"School of killers in there!" he sang out.
"That's right," exclaimed Uncle Dick, handing the glasses to Rob. "Watch close now! Don't you see those smaller black things swimming along, with tall, upright fins? Those are killers, and they are fighting the whales right now!"
Eagerly the boys took turns with the glasses, watching the strange combat of the sea now going on. Evidently some of the whales were much distressed; one large one seemed to be the especial mark of the enemy, which pursued him in a body.
"Look, look!" cried John. "He jumped almost out of the water. He is as big as a house!"
"I didn't know anything could hurt a whale, he's so big!" commented Jesse. "How do they fight a whale?"
"Maybe they poke 'em with that big fin," said Uncle Dick. "But they do the damage with their jaws. One of them will bite a chunk out of a whale, and as quick as he lets go another will take his place. They come pretty near to eating the whale alive sometimes, although I don't know that they really kill them very often."
"Well, I don't know," said Rob, who was looking steadily ahead. "There is one right ahead of us who just came up, and he's acting mighty stupid. See, he's coming right across the bows. If we don't look out we'll hit him. There!"
Even as he spoke there came a heavy jar which almost stopped the ocean vessel. Her steel-shod bow had struck the whale full in the middle of the body.
"Caught him square amidships," sung out Captain Zim from his station. "I guess we finished what the killers began!"
The great creature lay for an instant stunned on the surface of the water, its vast body bent as though its back were broken. Then as the ship passed on it slowly sank from sight, even as the school of whales, diving and breaching, also fell astern, still pursued by their savage enemies.
"Well," said Captain Zim, "I've sailed these waters thirty years, but that's the first time I ever struck a whale."
"I've promised these boys plenty of exciting things," commented Uncle Dick. "But if you don't mind, I'd rather you wouldn't run over any more whales. You'll be taking the keel out of this ship the first thing you know."
"I see something else!" called Jesse, who was examining the rolling sea studiously with the field-glasses. "See it—right over there about two hundred yards! It looks like a man standing up in the water."
"Oh, that," said Uncle Dick, "it's only a seal."
"Couldn't I shoot it?" asked Rob. "I'd like to get its fur."
Uncle Dick laughed. "You wouldn't find its hide worth more than a dollar or so, if you got it," said he. "That's only a little hair seal. You won't find any fur seals until you get a good many hundred miles beyond Kadiak. And that's a good many hundred miles yet from here. Let the little fellow go, and turn the glasses on that big bunch of whale-birds over there. See them flying—there's a string nearly a mile long."
"I see them! I see them!" called out Rob. "There are thousands and thousands of them. I've seen them before, and one of the sailors told me that there is always most of them where there are whales around. They seem to feed on the same sort of things in the water, someway."
"There are plenty of things you see up in this country," said Uncle Dick, as he turned away. "You may have thought Valdez was pretty much all of Alaska, but I'll show you it is just the beginning."
"Do they have shipwrecks up here, Uncle Dick?" asked John. "It looks to me pretty rocky along these shores."
"Don't talk about shipwrecks!" replied his uncle. "This coast is full of them. I can show you the skeletons of four ships within two hours' sail of Kadiak, and how many small boats go ashore, never to be heard of, no man can tell. There are big ships lost, too, up and down this coast. Last year the natives below Kadiak brought in casks and boxes and all kinds of things bearing the name of the steamer Oregon. She was wrecked far to the south of Valdez, but the Japan Current carried her wreckage a thousand miles to the north and west, and threw it on the coast of Kadiak and the smaller islands west of there. It made the natives rich, they found so much in the way of supplies."
"Are there any bears out there?" asked Jesse, wonderingly.
"Biggest in the world!" replied Uncle Dick. "You'd better keep away from them. We're sailing now just south of the great Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. There's bears over there, but mostly black ones. Plenty of moose and caribou in these mountains, and once in a while a grizzly, but the biggest grizzlies are the brown bears of Kadiak and the peninsula on beyond."
Rob was silent for a time, but at last remarked: "From what I hear of this Kadiak country, I believe we're going to like it. When'll we get there?"
Uncle Dick smiled. "Oh, sometime within a week," he answered. "Distances are long up here, and wind and tide have something to do with even a steamer's speed."
LOST IN THE FOG
Sure enough, it took five days more of steady steaming before the Nora approached the shores of far-off Kadiak Island. In the nighttime the boys heard the steamer's whistle going, and knew that Captain Zim was sounding the echoes to get his bearings in the thick weather then prevailing. Sea-captains on those shores, when the fog is thick, keep the whistle going, and when they hear the echoes from the rocks too plainly they make outward to the open sea.
The Nora crawled down the coast of Afognak Island in the fog and the dark, but finally cast her anchor as near as could be told off the entrance to the narrow channel of Kadiak Harbor. Here she sounded her whistle for more than an hour at short intervals, waiting for a pilot to come out. At last, soon after those on board had finished breakfast, they heard the sound of oars out in the fog and a rough voice calling through a megaphone: "Steamer ahoy! What boat is that?"
"Nora, from Valdez," answered Captain Zim. "Are you the pilot?"
"Ay, ay!" came the voice through the fog.
"Come on board—this way!" called Captain Zim; and once more the hoarse whistle of the steamer boomed out into the fog.
Needless to say, the three boys now were on deck, and they leaned over the rail as there appeared at the foot of the rope-ladder a big dory with two native oarsmen, and a stout, grizzled man, whom the ship's company announced to be Pete Piamon, the pilot for that coast.
"How are you, Pete?" said Captain Zim. "Can we take her in? I'm late and in an awful hurry."
Pete grinned. "All the time you ban in awful hurry, Captain Zim. Dis fog awful tick. Yas, we shall take her in if you say so—and maybe so pile her up on de rock. You don' min' dat, eh?"
"Where's the revenue-cutter Bennington lying, Pete?" asked Uncle Dick.
"Inside, beyond de town." Pete jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
"I'll tell you what I'll do, captain," said Uncle Dick. "I'm in a big hurry to report to my commanding officer on the Bennington, for he's no doubt been lying here two or three days waiting for us. You keep Pete here, and let me and the boys take his dory and pull in—they'll take us through the tide-rips all right, if it gets bad. I won't ask you to put down one of the ship's boats."
Pete looked at Captain Zim, who answered: "Oh, all right, if you're in such a hurry; though you might wait and let us all go in together. How are you going to get all of your hand luggage and all four of you into that dory, though?"
"You couldn't spare us a ship's boat?"
"Sure I can," answered obliging Captain Zim. "I'll tell you—put the boys in the dory, and I'll send you and the luggage over in the long-boat."
"Get down there, boys," commented Uncle Dick, briefly, pointing to the rope-ladder. "Are you afraid to go down the ladder?"
Rob's answer was to make a spring for the top of the ladder, and down he went hand over hand, followed by the others, each of whom could climb like a squirrel. The two natives, grinning, reached up and steadied them as they reached the jumping dory. The boys insisted on having their blankets and rifles in the boat with them—a part of Alaska education which had been taught them by old prospectors.
Pete shouted something over the rail in the Aleut tongue. At once the two natives bent to their oars, and the dory slipped away into the fog. Uncle Dick, busy with hunting out his luggage for the long-boat, did not at first miss it from the foot of the ladder.
"Hello! Where did that dory go?" he asked, finally. In the confusion no one answered him. So at last he concluded his own work in loading the long-boat and went overside, ordering the boat's crew to give way together, strongly, in order to overtake the dory.
But when the long-boat, after feeling its way down the narrow channel, emerged from the fog and pulled up at Kadiak dock there was no dory there.
"Hello, there, Jimmy!" cried Uncle Dick to the manager of the warehouse at the dock. "Where's that boat?"
"What boat do you mean, sir?" answered the other.
"Why, Pete's dory. We just sent it in by two natives, with three boys I've got along—friends and relatives of mine."
"You're joking, sir. You can't have brought boys away up here. Besides, they haven't showed up here at the dock, nor any dory, either."
"They must have got into the other channel mouth in the fog and gone down Wood Island way," said Uncle Dick, at last, beginning to be troubled.
"Well, if an Aleut can do anything wrong, that's what he's going to do," answered the dock-master. "We'll have to send a boat over there after those people yet. By-the-way, Captain Barker, of the Bennington, is waiting for you. And he told me to tell you to come aboard in Pete's dory as soon as you struck the town."
"But the dory's gone," commented Uncle Dick. "I don't like the look of this."
Both men, with lips compressed, stood staring out into the heavy blanket of fog.
THE MISSING DORY
What happened was this: The two natives in the dory were unable to understand English, and of course the three boys knew nothing of the native language. Yet from the hasty instruction of the pilot, Pete, the natives had gathered that "the boss gentleman"—that is to say, Uncle Dick—wanted to go to the revenue-cutter Bennington. Accordingly they concluded that the boys also were bound directly for the cutter, and so instead of heading to the channel which led to the town, they proposed to take a cut-off behind Wood Island, best known to themselves. Thus they rowed on for more than half an hour before any of the boys suspected anything wrong. Rob made signs to them to stop rowing. All the boys looked about them in the fog. They were still in the roll of the open sea, and the dory pitched wildly on the long swell, but, listen intently as they might, they could hear no sound from any quarter.
"We ought to have stayed with Uncle Dick," suggested Jesse.
"That's right!" admitted Rob. "But the question is, what ought we to do now? They pointed out town that way from the Nora, and I know we're not going the right direction."
To all inquiries and commands the natives did nothing but shake their heads and smile pleasantly. At last they resumed their oars and began to row steadily on their course. The sea now came tumbling in astern in long black rolls, broken now and again by whitecaps. Like a cork the dory swung up and down on the long swells, and all the boys now grew serious, for they had never been in so wild a water as this in all their lives.
They progressed this way a little while, until Rob bethought himself of the plan employed by the captains when skirting the shore in fog. He put his hands to his mouth and gave a loud, drawn-out shout, and then listened for an echo. Sure enough it came, faint and far off, but unmistakable.
"We're running down the coast, or else the channel is wide here," said Rob, "because the echo is only on one side."
From time to time they renewed these tactics, and for mile after mile kept in touch of the shore, on which now and then they could hear the waves breaking wildly. At last Rob set his jaw tight in decision.
"I tell you what," said he; "we're going the wrong way. We ought to have been at the town long before this. I'm for going ashore and waiting till the fog lifts."
Both Jesse and John agreed to this, for now they were thoroughly alarmed. Rob made motions to the two native oarsmen that they should head the dory inshore. They, always disposed to be obedient to the white race, agreed and swung the dory shoreward. "Karosha," said the older of the two men; by which they later learned he meant to say, "All right."
The two natives were well used to making a landing through the surf. Arrived off shore, they waited till a big wave came directly at the stern, then with a shout gave way and rode in on its crest, jumping out into the water and pulling the dory high up on what proved to be a shingle beach backed by a high rock wall a hundred yards or so inland.
All the boys now scrambled out, glad enough to set foot on shore. But they found their surroundings cheerless rather. The soft blanket of the fog shut in, white and fleecy, all about them. Now and again they heard a wandering sea-bird call, but they could see neither the sea nor any part of the shore beyond the rock wall near at hand. They no longer heard the whistle of the Nora lying at anchor at the mouth of the channel.
Both the natives now pulled out pipes and began to smoke silently. One produced from his pocket an object deeply wrapped in a bundle of rags and hide, which finally proved to be an old brass watch, which he consulted anxiously.
"Him sleep," he remarked, shaking the watch and putting it to his ear. By this Rob knew that he meant that the watch had stopped.
"I knew he could talk," said John. "Ask him where we can get something to eat. I'm getting awful hungry."
"You're always hungry, John," said Rob. "The most important thing for us is to find where we are. Here, you!" He addressed the natives. "You can talk English. Which way is town? How far? Why don't we get there at once?"
The wrinkled native smiled amiably again, and remarked "By-'n-by"; but that seemed to be the extent of his English, for after that he only shook his head and smiled.
"This is a fine thing, isn't it?" said Rob. "I wonder what your uncle Dick will think of us. Anyway, we've got our guns and blankets, and there's a box of crackers and some canned tomatoes under the boat seat."
At last the two natives began to jabber together excitedly. They turned and said something to the boys which the latter could not understand, and then, without further ado, made off inland and disappeared in the fog. Some moments elapsed before the boys understood what had happened, and indeed they had no means of knowing the truth, which was that the two natives, who were perfectly friendly, had started across to the Mission House of Wood Island, some two miles or more, in search of something to eat, and possibly in the wish of getting further instructions about these young men they found in their charge.
"Why don't they come back?" asked Jesse, in the course of half an hour or so, during which all were growing more anxious than they cared to admit.
"Who knows how long 'by-'n-by' may mean? I'd like to get out of here," added John.
"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Rob, after they had waited for perhaps another half-hour. "These men have left us, and now we'll leave them in turn. The sea is pretty rough, but this is a good boat and we can run her. We can go back that way, and get to the mouth of the channel, because I noticed which way the wind was blowing. Town must be off to the left, and we can keep track of the shore by the echo. I'm for pulling out right away."
"So am I," assented John. And Jesse, although he looked rather sober at the sight of the white-topped waves, agreed.
By great good-luck they were able to push the dory out with the receding crest of a big wave, and the first thing they knew they were pitching up and down in the white water. By hard pulling they got the boat offshore, and being there outside the more broken water made fairly good headway, although they found the boat heavy and hard to pull.
"We can't make it," said Rob, at last. "She's too big for us to pull against the wind, and that's the way we must go if we go toward town. I'm afraid we'll have to go ashore again."
"Look, look there!" cried John, suddenly.
They all stopped rowing for a moment and gazed ahead.
A towering ridge of white, foamy waves arose directly in front of them, higher than their heads had they stood upright in the boat. Swirling and breaking, it seemed to advance and march down upon them. The surface of the water was agitated as though some great creature were lashing it into foam. But soon they saw that this was something worse than any creature of the deep.
"It's the tide-rips!" cried Rob, anxiously. "The tide-bore is going out the channel—I've heard them tell of that before. Look out, now! Give way, and put her into it quartering, or it'll swamp us, sure!"
ADRIFT ON THE OCEAN
A thousand angry, choppy waves pitched alongside the dory, as though reaching up and trying to come aboard. Time and again the boys thought all was lost. Instead of passing through the tide-rips, the dory seemed to be carried on with them as they shifted.
The tide, indeed, had now turned, and with its turn the fog began to lift. Getting some idea of what now was happening, Rob undertook to make back toward the shore, where they could hear the surf roaring heavily. Perhaps it was lucky they did not succeed in this attempt, for the boat would no doubt have been crushed like an eggshell on the rocks. Instead, they began to float down parallel with the coast, carried on the crest of the big tide-bore which every day passes down the east coast of Kadiak between the long, parallel islands which make an inland channel many miles in extent. As the boys called now they could hear an echo on each side of them, and indeed could see the loom of the rock-bound shore; but all about them hissed and danced these fighting waves, tossing the dory a dozen ways at once, and all the time there came astern the long roll of the mighty Pacific in its power, the Japan current and the coast tide in unison forcing a boiling current down the rocky channel. Escape was hopeless.
"Boys," said Rob, his face perhaps a trifle pale, "we can't get out of this. All we can do is to run."
The others looked at him silently.
"She's a splendid boat," went on Rob, trying to be cheerful. "She rides like a chip. I believe if we keep low down she'll be safe, for it doesn't seem to be getting any worse."
A powerful steamboat, if it were caught under precisely these conditions, could have done little more than drift down the channel. The boys resigned themselves to their fate. Now and again the fog shut down. Wild cries of sea-birds were about them. Now and then the leap of a great dolphin feeding in the tide splashed alongside, to startle them yet more. Each moment, as they knew, carried them farther and farther from their friends, and deeper and deeper into dangers whose nature they could only guess.
"I wish we'd never left Valdez," said Jesse, at last, his lip beginning to quiver.
"That's no way to talk," said Rob, sternly. "The right thing to do when you're in a scrape is to try to get out of it. This tide can't run clear round the world, because your uncle Dick said this island wasn't over one hundred and fifty miles long, and there must be any number of bays and coves. Pull some crackers out of that box and let's eat a bite."
"That's the talk," said John, more cheerfully. "We'll get ashore somewhere. It's no use to worry."
John was always disposed to be philosophical; but the great peculiarity about him was that he was continually hungry. He found the crackers now rather dry and hard to eat, so worried open a can of tomatoes with his hunting-knife, complaining all the time that they had no water to drink.
Their hasty meal seemed to do them good. Finding that their dory was still afloat, they began to lose their fears. Indeed, little by little, the height of the waves lessened. The tide was beginning to spread in the wider parts of the channel.
"Let's try the oars again," said Rob, at last.
To their delight they found that they could give the dory some headway. But in which direction should they row? Small wonder that in these crooked channels, with the wind shifting continually from the shore and the veil of fog alternately lifting and falling again, they took the wrong course.
They had now been afloat for some hours, although at that season of the year there is daylight for almost the entire twenty-four hours, so that they had no means of guessing at the time. They had passed entirely across the mouths of two or three of the great inland bays, which make into the east shore of Kadiak Island. At the time when they flattered themselves they were making their best headway back toward town, they were really going in the opposite direction, caught by the stiff tide which was running between Ugak Island and the east coast of Kadiak. In all, they remained in the dory perhaps ten or twelve hours, and in that time they perhaps skirted more than one hundred miles of shore-line, counting the indentations of the bays, although in direct distance they did not reach a total of more than fifty or sixty miles. At the head of one of these bays, had they but known it, there were salmon rivers where fishing-boats occasionally stopped; but all that they could do was to use the best of their wisdom and their strength, and they kept on, steadily pulling, believing that the tide had turned, whereas in truth they were going down the coast still with the tide and approaching the mouth of the vast crooked bay known as Kaludiak, half-way down the east coast of the great island. Thus they were leaving behind a possible place of rescue. Although their first fright had in time somewhat worn away, they were now tired, hungry, thirsty, and, in fact, almost upon the point of exhaustion.
All at once, at an hour which in the United States would probably have been taken to be just before sundown, but which really was nearly eleven o'clock at night, a change in the contour of the coast caused the wind to whip around once more. The fog, broken into thousands of white, ropy wreaths, was swept away upward. There stretched off to the right the entrance of a vast bay, with many arms, whose blue waters, far less turbulent than these of the open sea, led back deep into the heart of a noble mountain panorama of snow-covered peaks and flattened valleys.
"It's almost like Resurrection Bay, or Valdez Harbor," said Rob. "At any rate, I'm for going in here. There will be streams coming down out of the mountains, and we can stop somewhere and make camp."
THE HUT ON THE BEACH
Rob pointed to a valley which made down to the bay some distance ahead.
"There must be a stream somewhere in there," said he. "Besides, it looks flat, as though there were a beach. We'd better pull over there."
So, weary as they were, they tugged on the oars until finally they drew opposite this narrow beach. A long roll from the sea came down the bay, but the surf did not break here so angrily, so that they made a landing with nothing more serious than a good wetting. They pulled the dory as far up the beach as they could, and made it fast by the painter to a big rock.
They now found themselves in a somewhat singular country. The beach, of rough shingle, rose at an angle of thirty degrees for perhaps a hundred feet, where it terminated in a long, low ridge which, like a wall, paralleled the salt water as far as they could see on either hand. Inside of this wall, which was not very many yards across the top, they beheld a flat valley lying between the ocean and the foot of the mountains, perhaps a quarter of a mile across. A part of this valley was occupied by a long lake or lagoon, into which the water from the mountains seemed to come, and which found its outlet through a creek, which made off to the sea, far to the right.
All this country is covered with the heavy moss, or tundra, peculiar to Alaska, which, when covered with a heavy growth of grass, as was the case here, affords rather difficult walking. But as the boys left the edge of the sea-wall Rob uttered an exclamation.
"Here's a path!" he cried. "It must go somewhere. There have been people here!"
"Look yonder!" said Jesse, pointing ahead. "There is the reason. There's a house over there!"
The three now stopped and looked ahead anxiously. There was, indeed, a low hut built of drift-wood and earth—such a dwelling as is used by the Aleuts in their native condition and is called by them a "barabbara."
"There's no smoke," said Rob. "Maybe it's deserted. We'd better be careful, though."
They had been told by Uncle Dick that there lived on the east coast of Kadiak Island a part of the Aleut tribes who still remained savage, and who never visited a white settlement unless obliged to do so. Many tales of theft and bloodshed came from these natives, who had always refused to come under the influence of the missions or schools, one or two of which are established near Kadiak. In short, as Rob especially very well knew, there was no wilder or more dangerous portion of Alaska than that in which they now found themselves. It was very well to be cautious when approaching the dwelling-place of any of these wild natives, who had reasons of their own for putting out of the way any stray white man who might come into the country.
Thirst, however, drove them on. They watched the low house for several minutes, and then cautiously advanced along the path. They found the place to be a typical native camp. Pieces of drift-wood lay about, mingled with skeletons of foxes, bones of salmon and codfish—all the uncleanliness of an Aleut dwelling. The only opening of the low, round hut itself was fastened by a square door about three feet across. No sound came from it.
"Who's afraid?" said Rob, at last, and boldly pushed open the door. He stooped and entered, and the others followed him.
They found themselves now in the interior of a low hovel, perhaps fifteen feet across, and rudely circular in form. A wall of roughly laid timbers extended all around, perhaps three feet from the ground, and from these eaves to a conical point there rose the rough beams of the roof, which was covered heavily with dirt, grass, and moss. A hole was left in the middle of the roof for the smoke to escape. In the centre lay the white ashes of many fires, on opposite sides of which stood two half-burned sticks which had supported kettles. The plan of the barabbara, in fact, is precisely similar to that of the tepee of the Plains Indians, except that it is not movable and is lower and even less roomy than a good tepee.
"Nobody home!" said Jesse, looking about the dark interior, where the smoke had blackened all the wood, and where only a little light came through the door and the smoke-hole, there being no window at all.
"Nor has there been for a long time," said Rob. "These bits of fish are all dried up. The ashes have been wet with rain for a long time. See, back there under the eaves there are a lot of klipsies. That's what they call their fox traps. Yes, this no doubt is the camp of a trapper or two who live here in the winter-time."
"But where do they go in the summer?" asked John.
"Probably to some of their own villages. It's almost too late now to trap foxes for their furs, so the chances are there will be no one here until next winter."
"Why, then," said Jesse, his eyes brightening, "we could use this for our house, couldn't we?"
"Precisely," said Rob. "That's just what we will do."
"That'll be fine," said John, his eyes brighter than they had been for many an hour. "Now if we only had something for a good meal."
"Here's an old tin lard-pail they no doubt used for a water-pail," said Rob, kicking about in the heavy covering of grass which lay on the floor. "Now, I tell you, I'll go get some water; you clean the hut, Jess; and, John, you go to the boat and bring over the box of crackers and tomatoes."
With light hearts the others complied, each glad that now at least they were free from the dangers of the sea.
"I believe we're going to be all right here, John," said Jesse, as the latter started toward the boat.
"Surely we will," said John. "Only I know I want a drink pretty badly."
When they met at the door of the hut a few moments later Rob offered them his kettle of water, from which he had not yet drunk. John took a deep draught and spat it out with a wry face.
"Salt!" he exclaimed. "That's awful!"
Rob looked at him in surprise.
"That's strange," said he. "I saw the creek tumbling right down through the alders into this little lake, and it must be fresh water." He scratched his head. "Oh, I know," said he. "The tide backs up in here to the foot of the little falls. Give me the kettle. It's shallow out there in front, and there's rocks. We'll cross the lake to get a drink!"
Suiting the action to the words, he went off on a run, and this time when he returned he had the pail full of excellent fresh water, cold as ice.
"I got my feet wet," said he; "but never mind that. I've learned something else—or, at least, I think I have."
"What's that?" asked Jesse.
"Why, it's this. Our crackers and tomatoes won't last very long, and we can't eat moss or dried grass. We've got our fishing-lines done up in the bedrolls in the boat, and if we can't catch any codfish in the bay, there'll be a time before long, unless I'm mistaken, when there'll be salmon in this creek. They say they run in every river on the Alaska coast, and I suppose it's the same here."
"We'd better not eat up all our crackers right away," suggested Jesse, hesitating.
"No," said Rob, who seemed to drop into the place of leader. "We'll have to do the way people do when they're shipwrecked and cast away. We'll go on short rations for a while."
"Well," said John, "let's have a cracker, anyway, and the rest of that last can of tomatoes we opened. I'd like a cup of tea pretty well; but it may be some time before we see tea again."
"Worry enough for the day," said Rob. "And what we ought to be is mighty thankful we got off as well as we have. Anyhow, we're alive; and, anyhow, we'll camp here to-night. Now you boys go over to the boat and get the bedrolls, while I pick up some wood and get some fresh grass for the beds. It'll be dark now before long. We'll make a fire and cook the tomatoes in the can."
Following Rob's advice, each now busied himself at these different tasks. In the course of an hour they had a fire glowing at the centre of the barabbara, which now would otherwise have been quite dark. The smoke did not seriously trouble them after they had learned to keep down low on the floor. Each unrolled his blankets on the deep, sweet-scented grass near-by the fire. Thus, alone and far from home, in a situation stranger than any of them had ever fancied himself about to see, they lay about the fire at midnight of the short Alaskan darkness. Each without instruction took his rifle from its case and put it on the blankets beside him, taking care that it was loaded. Outside they could hear the calls of flying birds; otherwise deep silence reigned. They felt, although they could not see, the presence of the surrounding walls of the great white mountains. Now and then they could hear the faint boom of the sea on the opposite side of the inner wall. It was a wild and new experience for them as at last, one by one, each nodded and dropped back upon his blankets for such sleep as he could find in his first night in camp on the unknown Kadiak coast.
THE SALMON RUN
Worn out as they were by the adventures of the preceding day, the boys slept long and soundly. When at length Rob awoke he saw that the sun was shining brightly down through the smoke-vent in the roof. He called the others, who rolled over sleepily in their blankets.
"Time for breakfast, John," said he, laughing.
"Yes, and no breakfast," grumbled John—"at least, nothing but more crackers and tomatoes, and not very much of that."
"I'll have a look outside first," said Rob, crawling over to the door and pushing it open. "I say, it's a fine day! You can see the mountains all around as clear as you please. Wherever we are, it's a big country at least."
"What was that I heard just now?" exclaimed John, joining him at the door; "it sounded like a splash."
They both crawled out of the door and stood up where they could see the surface of the lagoon, which lay but a few yards distant from the front of the hut. Sure enough, a series of spreading wrinkles marked the water.
"Must have been a fish," said John. "There he goes again!"
Even as he spoke Rob had left him and was running to the edge of the water. "Salmon!" he cried. "Salmon! I thought so. Now we're all right!"
These were Alaska boys, and a run of salmon was nothing new to them, although it is something never failing of interest no matter how often one sees it. The three now gathered at the shallow water a short distance below the hut. All along the creek crows and ravens were flying in great flocks. From the heavy grove of cotton-wood beyond the creek there arose several great birds, soaring majestically across—eagles—also interested in the coming of the fish. Suddenly one of these made a swift dart from its poise high in the air, straight as an arrow, and flinging the water in every direction as it struck. Struggling, it rose again with a great fish in its talons.
"He's got his breakfast, anyhow," said John, ruefully. "But now how are we going to get ours?"
"Run to the boat, John," said Rob. "I remember seeing some cod-lines with big hooks under the back seat. Must have belonged to those natives. You bring me those hooks while I hunt for a pole."
Excitedly they all now began to see what might be done toward making a salmon-gaff such as Indians use; for all these boys knew very well that the Alaska salmon will not take any sort of a bait or lure when they are ascending a stream; and these were the red salmon, fish of about eight or ten pounds in weight, which in that part of the world are never known to take any kind of lure.
In a few minutes Rob, having found a longish pole in the grass near by, had hurriedly bound with a piece of cod-line the three large hooks at the end so that they made a gang or gaff. Taking this, and rolling up his trousers high as he could, he waded into the shallow, ice-cold water.
"Where are they now?" he asked of the others, who remained on the bank.
"There they come—there's a school coming now!" cried Jesse.
All at once Rob could see the surface of the water below him just barely moving in low, silvery ripples as though a faint wind touched it. A sort of metallic lustre seemed to hang above the water—the reflection from the bright scales of the many fish swimming close to the surface. Presently, as he looked into the water directly at his feet, he could see scores of large, ghostly looking creatures, pale green or silvery, passing slowly by him, some of them so close as almost to touch his legs as he stood motionless. Once or twice he struck with his gaff, but the quick motions of the fish foiled him; and it looked as though the boys would wait some time for their breakfast, after all. At last, however, he waded closer to the shore and half hid behind a bush, extending his gaff in front of him with the hooks resting on the bottom.
"Now, drive them over this way—throw in some stones," he directed.
The others did as he said, and all at once Rob saw the water directly in front of him full of a mass of confused fish. A quick jerk, and he had a fine, fat fish fast, and the next instant it was flopping on the bank, while all three of them fell upon it with eager cries.
"Now another!" said Rob. "They may not be running all day."
He returned to his hiding-place near the bush, and thus in a few minutes he had secured a half-dozen splendid fish.
"That will do for now," said he. "What do you think of the chance for breakfast now, Mister John?"
John grinned happily. He already had a couple of the fish nicely cleaned.
"I'll tell you what," said Jesse, "after we've had breakfast we'll catch a lot of these fat ones and split them open the way the Indians do. I think we could make a smoking-rack for them without much trouble."
"Capital," said Rob. "We ought to dry some fish when we have the chance, because no one can tell how long we may have to live here."
"But we won't do anything till after breakfast," said John, looking up.
"No," laughed Rob, "I'm just as hungry as you are. So now let's build a little fire and, since we have no frying-pan as yet, do what we can at broiling some salmon steaks on sticks."
It was not the first time they had cooked fish in this way, and although they sadly missed the salt to which they were accustomed, they made a good breakfast from salmon and a cracker or so apiece, which Rob doled out to them from their scanty supply.
"We ought to keep what we have as long as we can," said Rob. "For instance, we've only a couple of boxes of matches, and we must not waste one if we can help it. We'll look around after awhile and see if we can scare up a frying-pan. But now I move that the first thing we do be to explore our country just a little bit."
"Agreed," said John, who was now well fed and contented. "Suppose we walk down to the mouth of the creek over there."
Following along the winding shores of the small stream, which here at high tide was not above the level of the sea, they found themselves finally at the angle between the creek and the open bay, beyond the end of the low sea-wall which has earlier been mentioned. The creek here turned in sharply toward the foot of the mountain, and across from where the boys stood a sheer rock wall rose several hundred feet. This shut off the view of a part of the bay on that side, but in other directions they could see the white-topped waves rolling, eight or ten miles across to the farther side, where there were many other bays making back among the mountains.
Out in the bay where the stream emptied, schools of salmon, apparently thousands in number, were flinging themselves into the air as they started toward the mouth of the creek. At the last angle of the stream, where it turned against the rock wall, there was a pool perhaps fifty feet across and twenty feet in depth, and as the boys looked down into this it seemed literally packed with hundreds and thousands of great salmon, which swam around and around before picking out the current of the stream up which they were to swim.
"Here's fish enough for us whenever we want any," said Rob. "We can catch them here without much trouble, I think."
"I don't know, we may not be so badly off here for a while, after all," admitted John.
"Just look at the gulls," said Jesse, idly shying a pebble at one great bird as it came screaming along close above them, to join its kind in the great flocks that circled around above the salmon, which they were helpless to feed upon, not being equipped with beak and talons like the eagles.
"Yes," said Rob, "thousands of them. And every pair of them with a nest somewhere, and every nest with two eggs, and a good many of them good to eat. Do you see those tall, ragged rocks out there? That looks to me like their nesting-ground."
"But we can't get there," said John, pointing to the creek.
"Oh yes, we can, in two ways. We could wade the creek up above and climb across the shoulder of the mountain there, and maybe cross the next creek beyond, and so get out to those rocks on the point below. Or we can launch the dory up above and come down the coast to the mouth of the creek, and then skirt the shore over there."
"Why don't we bring our boat over here and take it up the creek?" asked Jesse. "We wouldn't have to row more than a mile or so, and then we'd always know our boat was safe."
"That's a good idea," said Rob. "We'll do that this very day. Suppose we go back now to the house."
They now turned and began slowly to walk up the creek again. Suddenly Rob stooped down and parted the grass, looking closely at something on the ground.
"What is it, Rob?" asked John, joining him.
The two now pushed the grass apart and looked down eagerly. Rob rose to his knees and pushed the cap back on his forehead.
"If I didn't know better," said he, "I'd call that the track of an elephant or a mastodon or something. See, there it goes, all along the shore."
"But it can't be an elephant," said Jesse.
"No, it can't be anything but just what it is—the track of a bear! What Uncle Dick said is true. Look, this track is more than half as long as my arm."
"We'd better get back to the house as quick as we can," said Jesse, anxiously. "That bear may come back any minute!"
THE BIG BEAR OF KADIAK
The three now started up the creek toward the barabbara, their steps perhaps a little quicker than when they came down-stream. Rob was scanning the mountain-side carefully, and looking as well at the sign along the creek bank.
"That's where he lives, up in that canyon across the creek, very likely," he said, at length. "Here's where he crossed in the shallow water, and last night he fished all along this bank. My! I'll bet he's full of bones to-day. It's the first run of fish, and he was so hungry he ate pretty near everything except the backbone." He pointed to a dozen skeletons of salmon that lay half hidden in the grass. The latter was trampled down as though cows had been in pasture there.
"I don't know," said Jesse, soberly. "I always wanted to kill a bear, and there's three of us now and we've got guns; but I don't believe I ever wanted to kill a bear quite as big as this one. Why, he could smash in the door of our house in the night and eat us up if he wanted to."
"We'll eat him, that's what we'll do," said John, decisively. "I only wish we had a kettle or a frying-pan or something."
"Seems to me you'd better get the bear first," said Jesse. "But we might look in among the traps in the back of the hut and see what we can find. These hunters nearly always leave some kind of cooking things at their camps."
Sure enough, when the boys entered the barabbara to look after their rifles, and began to rummage among the piles of klipsies which they found thrown back under the eaves, they unearthed a broken cast-iron frying-pan and, what caused them even greater delight, a little, dirty sack, which contained perhaps three or four pounds of salt. They sat on the grass of the floor and looked at one another with broad smiles. "If everything keeps up as lucky as this," said Jesse, "we'll be ready to keep house all right pretty soon. But ought we to use these things that don't belong to us?"
"Surely we may," answered Rob. "It is always the custom in a wild country for any one who is lost and in need to take food when he finds it, and to use a camp as though it were his own. Of course we mustn't waste anything or carry anything off, but while we're here we'll act as though this place were ours, and if any one finds us here we'll pay for what we use. That's the Alaska way, as you know."
"You're not going out after that big bear, are you?" asked Jesse, anxiously, of Rob.
"Of course; we're all going! What are these new rifles for—just look, brand-new high-power Winchesters, every one—and any one of these guns will shoot as hard for us as for a grown man."
They sat for some time in the hut discussing various matters. At last John crawled to the door and looked out. He was rather a matter-of-fact boy in his way, and there seemed no special excitement in his voice as he remarked: "Well, Rob, there comes your bear."
The others hurried to the door. Sure enough, upon the bare mountain slope beyond the lagoon, nearly half a mile away, there showed plainly enough the body of an enormous bear, large as a horse. It was one of the great Kadiak bears, which are the biggest of all the world.
"Cracky!" said Jesse; "he looks pretty big to me. Do you suppose he'll find us here in the house?"
Rob, the oldest of the three, who had been on one or two hunts with his father, looked serious as he watched this giant animal advancing down the hill-side with its long, reaching stride. Suddenly he uttered an exclamation. "Look!" said he; "there's two more just come out of the brush. It's an old she bear and her cubs coming down to fish!"
All could now see the three bears, the great, yellow-gray mother, huge and shaggy, and the two cubs, darker in color and, of course, much smaller, although each was as large as the ordinary black bear of the United States. Certainly it was an exciting moment as the boys looked at these great creatures now so close at hand.
Presently the old bear seemed to suspect something, for she stopped and sat up on her haunches, swinging from side to side a head which was fully as long as the arm of any one of the boys.
"She probably smells the smoke," whispered Rob. "Oh, I hope she won't get scared and run away! No, there she comes; it's the first salmon run, and they're all hungry for fish."
They watched the bears until at last they disappeared in the brush which lined the creek on the farther side. Rob kept his eye intently fixed on the place where they had disappeared, but made no motion to leave the hut until finally all three of the bears once more appeared, this time splashing across the creek.
"She knows the tide as well as we do," muttered he. "It won't be long now before the fish begin to move up the creek again. Now, come on, fellows, if you're not afraid!"
Rob looked around at John, who had his new rifle in his hand, but looked none too eager, now that the opportunity had come to use it. Jesse's lip, it must be confessed, trembled a little bit, and he was pale. The first sight of a large bear has been known to unsettle the nerves of many a grown man, and it was not to be wondered at that it should disturb one of Jesse's years. There was, perhaps, in the wild and remote situation in which they found themselves something which gave them courage. They had escaped such dangers of the sea that now the danger of the land seemed less by comparison. Moreover, they all had the hunting instinct, and were accustomed to seeing big game brought in by their relatives and friends. Had an older person been with them, no doubt they would all have been frightened; but there is something strange in the truth that when one is thrown on one's own resources courage comes when needed—as it did now to these three castaways.
Without any further speech Rob passed out at the door and stood waiting for the others to follow. Each was silent as he held his way down the creek.
For some distance they did not need to conceal themselves; then their leader took them along the edge of the creek, where their heads would not show above the grass. Thus following down the stream, and carefully peering over the banks at each bend, they worked along until they were perhaps three or four hundred yards above the big salmon pool and near to a flat piece of water which extended above it. Rob raised a warning finger.
"Listen!" he hissed.
They could hear it now distinctly—heavy splashing in the water, broken with low, grumbling whines in a deep, throaty voice, something like what one may hear in a circus at feeding-time. Once in a while a squeak or a bawl came from one of the cubs. Rob laughed. From his position near the top of the bank he could now see the picture before him.
The old mother was sitting on her haunches out in the middle of the stream, with a cub on either side of her. She was trying to teach them to fish. Once in a while she would make a sudden, cat-like stroke with her long forearm, and almost always would throw out a fine salmon on the bank. Toward this the cubs would start in their hunger, but the old lady, reproving them for their eagerness, would then cuff them soundly on the head, knocking them sprawling over in the water, to their very great disgust. Once in a while one of them, his ears tight to his head, would sit down in the water, lift up his nose and complain bitterly at this hard treatment. Then again he would make a half-hearted stroke at some of the fish which he could see swimming about him; but his short claws would not hold like the long, curved ones of his mother, and no fish rewarded the efforts of either of the cubs. The boys lost all sense of fear in watching this amusing scene, which they studied for some minutes. They really lost their best opportunity for stalking their game, because presently the old grizzly changed her mind and led the way out to the bank where several fish were lying flapping. Upon these they all fell eagerly, grunting and grumbling, and now and again fighting among themselves.
Rob turned toward his friends. "Quick now!" he whispered, sternly, and led the way, crawling into the high grass which would afford them cover for a closer approach to their game. The hearts of all of them now were throbbing wildly, and probably each one doubted his ability to do good shooting. Something, however, led them on, and although Rob saw two pale faces following him when he looked back, there was a glitter in the eyes of each which told him that at least each of his friends would do his best.
Passing now out of the grass to the cover of the bank again, Rob ran along crouching, until he pulled up under cover of the bank at a point not more than seventy-five yards from where they could now distinctly hear the bears at their feeding.
"Get ready now!" he whispered.
Slowly the three crawled to the top of the bank. Rob laid a hand on Jesse's rifle barrel, which he saw was unsteady. He made motions to both of the others not to be excited. A strange sort of calm seemed to have come upon him. Yet, plucky as he was, he was not prepared for the sight which met him as he gazed through the parted grass at the top of the bank.
The old grizzly, once more suspicious, had again sat up on her haunches, and turning her head from side to side began to sniff as though she scented danger. Her shaggy hair shone silvery now in the sun, and she seemed enormously large. Rob's heart leaped to his mouth, but suddenly dropping to his knee, and calling out to the others "Now!" he fired without longer hesitation.
The sound of the other two rifles followed at once. The great bear gave a hoarse roar which seemed to make the hair prickle on the boys' heads; but even as she roared she dropped and floundered in the mud of the bank, up which she strove to climb. Again and again the rifles spoke.
"Now the little ones—quick!" cried Rob, half springing to his feet, and continuing to fire steadily. Some one's shot struck the first cub square through the spine and killed it instantly. The second cub stood but a moment longer. These boys had used rifles many times before, and although not every shot went true, perhaps half of them struck their mark; and it was as Rob had said—the rifles shot as hard for them as for a grown man.
The great she bear, possessed of enormous vitality, was not easily disposed of. The magazines of all the rifles were emptied the second time before Rob would allow them to go a foot closer, and even so, the great gray body retained life enough to roll half down the bank as they approached. This time Rob finished the old bear with a shot through the head, at a distance of not more than thirty yards.
The game was down and dead—three great bears, one of them huge beyond the wildest dreams of any of them, and unbelievably large even for the most widely experienced sportsman. Indeed, any sportsman might have been proud of this record. Rob turned to look at his friends.
Suddenly he himself sat down, and to his surprise found that he was trembling violently all over. Jesse and John were both doing the same. He saw that their faces were deathly pale.
"I'm—I'm—I'm sort of—sort of sick at my stomach!" said Jesse.
THE SAVAGE REFUGEE
"Well," said Rob, finally, looking around at his friends and grinning, "I don't know which of us is the worst scared; but, anyhow, we've got our game, and a lot of it. Do you suppose we can skin these big fellows?"
"We'll have to," said John. "There's meat enough to last us a year. That old bear is bigger than any horse in Valdez."
"And tough as any horse, too," said Rob. "The cubs may be better to eat. I have heard my father say that bear liver isn't bad; and certainly we can get all the fat we want to fry our fish. Lucky we've all got our hunting-knives along; so here goes!"
They now arose and began the difficult task of skinning out the great bear—slow work for even an experienced hunter. They kept at it, however, and had made a good beginning when all at once a slight sound at the edge of the creek bank attracted Rob's attention.
As he turned the others noticed him, and all three of them stood staring an instant later at the same object: a round, dark face gazing at them motionless through the grass—a face with cunning little eyes set slantwise, like those of a Japanese, and long, stringy locks of dark hair hanging down about the cheeks. Instinctively each boy reached for his rifle, which he had left leaning against the carcass of the great bear. Apparently not alarmed, the face kept its place, staring steadily at them. Rob now guessed the truth, which was that this Aleut savage had heard the shots and had entered the mouth of the creek in his boat. Not knowing whether he was friend or foe, Rob motioned the others to follow him, and approached him with his rifle at a ready.
Seeing that they were not afraid, nor disposed to be driven from their place, the Aleut savage—for such it proved to be—arose, and with what he meant to be a smile stretched out his hand as though in friendship. His gun, a rusty old affair, he left lying on the ground at his side. Rob kicked it away as he approached.
They now saw how the Aleut had reached them. His boat, a long, native bidarka, lay in the creek, up which the native had paddled silently on his own errand of discovery. This boat interested the boys very much. It was nearly twenty feet long and not more than two feet wide, covered entirely with tightly stretched skin. In the deck were two round holes, around each of which there was a mantle, or hood, of oiled hide or membrane, which could be drawn up about the waist of a man sitting in the hatch. On the narrow and sloping deck there was lashed a long spear and an extra paddle. The boys also noticed sticking to the deck a stringy-looking mass of grayish white, which at first they could not identify, though later they found it to be a collection of devil-fish, or octopi, which the native had gathered among the rocks for later use as food. Peering into the hatches they saw a copper kettle partly filled with a whitish-looking meat, which later they found to be whale flesh. There was a ragged blanket of fur thrust under the deck between the hatches.
"He's been cruising along the coast," said Rob; "but this is a two-hatch bidarka, so probably he's got a partner somewhere around."
"Maybe he's up at our house now stealing everything we left there," suggested Jesse.
"Yes, and maybe it's his house that we've moved into," added John.
Rob, the older of the boys, and the one on whose judgment they had come to rely, remained silent a moment.
"Boys," said he, at last, "this fellow looks like mischief to me. We can't let him go away, to come back after awhile and rob us. We can't leave his gun here with him and go on with our work. The only thing we can do is to take him in charge for a while."
"Let me get his gun away from him," began John.
Possibly the Aleut understood some of this, for all at once he made a sudden spring and caught at his gun.
Quick as a flash Rob covered him with his own rifle. "No, you don't," he said; "drop it! That settles it for you!"
Again the Aleut seemed to understand, for he stood up, tried to smile again, and once more held out his hand.
"Take his gun and chuck it in the boat, Jess," commanded Rob. "Now you mush on!" he ordered the Aleut, pointing to the carcass of the bear. ("Mush on," in Alaska dog-train vernacular, means "march on," being a corruption from the French word marchons.)
The native sullenly walked on ahead, and finally sat down by the side of the bear.
"You watch him, John," said Rob. "I've got to go on skinning this bear." So saying, he resumed his work, presently rejoined by Jesse.
The native watched them, but finally began to smile at their clumsiness.
"I'll tell you what," said Jesse; "if he's so smart about this, let's make him help skin."
"A good idea!" added Rob. He began to make signs to the Aleut. "Here, you," said he, "get up and go to work—and keep on your own side of the bear."
He pointed to the crooked knife which he saw in the native's belt. The latter, none too well pleased, sulkily arose and began to aid in skinning the bear. It was easy to see that it was not the first work of the kind he had done. He laid the hide off in folds, with long, easy strokes, doing twice as much work as all the other three. After a time the boys stopped their work entirely and stood watching him with admiration. The Aleut paid no attention to this, but went on with his work, once in awhile helping himself to a piece of raw fat. In the course of half an hour or so he had the great robe spread out on the grass, with the difficult work of skinning out the feet all done, and the ears, nose, and all parts of the head skinned out without leaving a slashed spot on the hide.
"This beats doing it ourselves!" said John, who was not especially fond of work.
"We ought to thank him some way," said Rob. "You know a little Chinook, John; why don't you talk to him?"
"Kla-how-yah, tillicum!" he began. "Klosh-tum-tum, eh? Skookum! Skookum!"
Again the Aleut smiled in his distorted way, but whether or not he understood no one could tell.
"What did you say to him, John?" asked Jesse.
"Asked him how he was; told him that we were all pretty good friends, and that he had done mighty good work," interpreted John, proudly.
"Well, it didn't seem to do much good, anyhow," said Rob. "But what shall we call him?"
"Call him Jimmy," said Jesse. "He looks as though his name might be Jimmy as much as anything else."
"All right!" agreed their leader. "Here, you, Jimmy, catch hold here! I'll show you a better way of getting this hide up to camp than carrying it there."
He motioned that they should put the hide on the deck of the bidarka, and in time this was done, although the great weight of the green hide, a load for two strong men, sunk the bidarka so deeply that half its deck was covered.
"Now get in, Jimmy," ordered Rob, pointing to the rear hatch. The native stepped in lightly, paddle in hand, and showed his ability to handle the little craft, even heavily loaded as it now was. Rob pointed up the creek, but with a sudden sweep of his paddle the Aleut turned the other way and started for the sea.
"Quick, get the guns!" cried Rob. "Head him off across the bend!"
Quick as were their movements, they were none too soon, for as they rushed across the narrow part of the creek bend they saw the Aleut almost upon them. He made no attempt to get at his gun, which was buried under the hides in the front hatch, but was paddling with all his might. Without hesitation Rob fired two shots into the water ahead of his boat, and held up his hand in command to him to stop. These things were language that even an Aleut could understand. Scowling and sullen, he slowly paddled up to the bank. He understood the fierce menace of the three rifles now pointing at him. This time he obeyed the gestures made to him, and, turning about, proceeded to paddle slowly up the creek, followed by the boys along the bank.
A TROUBLESOME PRISONER
When they reached the lagoon in front of the barabbara they stood for a time closely watching the latter. No sign of any visitor appeared, however. At last Rob boldly went on, kicked open the door, and called to the others to follow. Evidently, if the Aleut had any companion, he was not in that part of the island.
"You watch me make this fellow work," said John. "I know a few words of Aleut as well as some Chinook. Here, you, Jimmy," he went on, "sashgee augone! Skora!"
To the surprise of all the Aleut actually smiled, as though in pleasure at hearing his own tongue.
"Got him that time!" said John, importantly. "Why, I can talk to these people all right. Skora, Jimmy!" he added, sternly, pointing to the fireplace.
"Da! Da! Skora!" said the Aleut, and began to hunt about for wood.
"What did you tell him that time?" asked Jesse.
"Told him to make a fire, and be jolly quick about it," said John. "If you want to get anything done, come to me, fellows. Look at Jimmy build that fire!"
In truth the Aleut seemed to accept the place assigned him. He not only built the fire in the middle of the hut, but picked up the skillet as a matter of course, wiped it out with some dried grass, put into it some of the bear fat, and added a part of the liver which they had brought along. He handed out the empty pail to John, grunting something which no one understood; but John, passing the pail in turn to Jesse, said he thought that what the Aleut wanted was some water to boil.
"Chi?" asked the Aleut, suddenly, of John.
"Natu chi," said John ("Haven't got any tea").
In reply to this the Aleut stooped down, went out of the door, and walked over to the bidarka, where it lay at the bank. Rob followed him to see that he attempted no treachery, but the Aleut seemed to have no intention of that. He pulled out from his boat a dried seal-skin or two, his old blanket, and his gun, which latter Rob took from him.
"He's been hunting and fishing," said Rob. "Looks like he had a bear-hide of his own underneath there. He's got two or three fresh codfish, and here's his cod-line of rawhide—with bone sinkers. And here's a bow and some bone-tipped arrows, besides his spear there on the deck. If we kept his rifle and turned him loose he could make a living all right."
"But we don't want to turn him loose," said John; "he's too useful. Look at that."
The Aleut finally produced from under the deck a dirty little bag tightly tied.
"Chi!" he exclaimed, holding it up in triumph.
"You see," said John, "we've got tea all right. Now it looks to me that we could get a pretty good meal."
By the time the Aleut had prepared their supper for them, and had made each a tin can of hot tea, all the boys began to feel tired and sleepy, for now the hour of night was well advanced, although the Alaskan sun stood well above the horizon.
"I'm mighty sleepy," said John, yawning.
"I should think you would be," said Jesse, "after all you ate. But if we're sleepy, why can't we go to sleep?"
"That would never do," spoke up Rob. "We don't know what this native might do while we were all asleep. I've been thinking that over. It seems to me the only way we can do is to tie his hands together, so he can't do any harm, and then take turns in standing watch."
"Have we got to do that always?" asked John, sleepily.
"We've got to do it to-night, at least," said Rob, emphatically. "Take that piece of hide rope, John, tie his wrists together, and pass it down to his ankles behind his back. He can sleep a little in that way, at least; and I'll stand the first watch."
The Aleut, not doubting at the first of these motions that they intended to kill him, fell upon his knees and began to jabber, apparently begging for mercy. At last he grinned as he looked down at his manacled hands, and presently, without much more ado, rolled himself over on his blankets and seemed to fall asleep. On the opposite side of the hut Jesse and John followed his example, and soon were fast in real sleep. Rob sat by the failing fire, his rifle across his knees. He, too, was tired with the work of the day. At times, in spite of himself, his head would drop forward and he would awake with a start.
WAYS OF THE WILDERNESS
Rob awoke with a sudden jerk. A slight sound had disturbed him. He gazed steadily at the figure of the Aleut in the faint light of the embers. The latter was lying quite motionless, but something caused Rob to feel suspicious. He put out a hand and awakened his two companions, who sat up, rubbing their eyes sleepily.
"What's the matter?" asked Jesse. "Where are we, and what sort of a place is this? My! I was dreaming, and I thought I was back home in bed."
"John," said Rob, "crawl over and look at that fellow's fastenings. I thought I heard him move. Don't be afraid. I'll keep him covered with the rifle. Build up the fire a little."
John complied, presently stooping down to examine the cord with which the Aleut had been confined. He gave an exclamation. "Why, he's loose! He's gnawed the hide clean in two with his teeth. He could have got away any time he liked."
Rob admitted his fault. "The truth is," said he, "I was very sleepy, and I must have dozed off. But now, what shall we do? Here we've got this man, and he evidently doesn't intend to stay a minute longer than he can help. Whether he would hurt us or not is something we can't tell; but we don't dare take the chance."
"It'll be a great deal of trouble to watch him this way all the time," suggested John.
"True, but we must watch him. On the other hand, what right have we to take him prisoner, since we don't know that he ever meant any wrong? We're not officers of the law, and this man has not committed any crime, so far as we know. The question is, what would he do to us if he got us before a law-court and accused us with making him a prisoner for no cause?"
The three sat in the dim light of the hut for a time and pondered over these matters. At length Rob spoke again with decision.
"It's the greatest good for the greatest number," said he. "It seems to me that the best thing we can do is to treat this man well, but not let him get away. He ought to do his share of the work, and he's stronger than any of us. Then, if we should ever be rescued—"
Jesse's lips began to twitch. Evidently he was getting rather homesick. Rob noticed his face, and went on: "Of course we will get out of here before long, someway," he said. "Meanwhile, we will have to make the best living here we can. If we ever get this man to a white settlement, where we can find out who and what he is, why, then, we can pay him for his time, if it should prove that he is only an innocent native hunting away from his village. On the other hand, if he turns out to be a criminal of any kind, then we've had a right to arrest him, and can't get into any trouble over it."
"It's a pretty rough joke on him," said John, "if he hasn't done anything wrong. He acts as though he had been here before. For all we can tell, he may own this house that we've taken over for ourselves. The only thing sure is that he's a better hand in camp than we are, the way things stand now. I'm for keeping him and letting him work. My folks'll pay him whatever is right, if it comes to that; and you never saw an Aleut who wasn't glad to get hold of a little money, I'll warrant that."
"Well," said Rob, "we'll let it stand that way. And now, as the night seems to be about half done, suppose you and Jess keep watch together and let me take a little nap. If one of you gets sleepy the other can waken him. I suppose there's no use tying that man again, for he's got teeth like a beaver."
The Aleut made no further disturbance during the long hours of waiting, which seemed endless to the two young watchers. At last, however, the light grew stronger in the dark interior of the barabbara. John announced his entire willingness to eat breakfast, and, pushing open the door, motioned for the Aleut to go and get some wood. Without any resistance the man did as he was bid, shaking the remaining thong off his wrist with a grin. They finished their breakfast of bear meat and tea, the prisoner seeming immensely to enjoy the biscuits which the boys offered him as pay in return for his contribution of tea.
"Now, what's on the programme for to-day?" asked John, finally. "It certainly looks as though we ought to take care of all that meat."
"Yes," assented Rob. "We'll see if we can't dry some of it, at least. Suppose you go on down the creek, John, and keep the crows and eagles away from the meat, while the rest of us bring the boat down the beach and into the mouth of the creek. That'll give us plenty of boat room to bring up quite a cargo of meat to the camp here."