Upon this slight structure the jumper descended with a bump that woke Frank from his pleasant nap, and, putting aside the buffalo-robe, he sat up in the sleigh to gather his wits. It was well he did, for if ever he needed them it was at that moment. Almost simultaneous with the thud of the horse's feet upon the bridge there came a crash, a sound of rending timbers, the bridge quivered like a ship struck by a mighty billow, and the next instant dropped into the chasm below, bearing with it a man, and boy, and horse, and sleigh!
Full thirty feet they fell; the bridge, which had given way at one end only, hurling them from it so that they landed at the bottom of Deep Gully in a confused heap, yet happily free from entanglement with its timbers. So soon as he felt himself falling Frank threw aside the robes and made ready to spring; but Johnston instinctively held on to the reins, with the result that, being suddenly dragged forward by the frantic plunging of the terrified animal, he received a kick in the forehead that rendered him insensible, and would have dashed his brains out but for the thick fur cap he wore, while the jumper, turning over upon him, wrenched his leg so as to render him completely helpless.
Frank was more fortunate. His timely spring, aided by the impetus of their descent, carried him clear of the horse and sleigh, and sent him headlong into a deep drift that filled a hollow at the gully's bottom. The snow-bank opened its arms to receive him, and buried him to the hips. The first shock completely deprived him of breath, and almost of his senses too. But beyond that he received no injury, and was soon struggling with all his might to free himself from the snow that held him captive. This proved to be no easy task. He was pretty firmly embedded, and at first it seemed as though his efforts at release only made his position worse.
"This is a fine fix to be in!" said he to himself. "Buried in a snow-drift; and dear knows what's happened to Mr. Johnston."
He had been hoping that the foreman would come to his assistance, but getting no reply to his shouts, he began to fear lest his companion might be unable to render any help. Perhaps, indeed, he might be dead! The thought roused him to still greater exertions, and at last by a heroic effort he succeeded in turning a kind of somersault in his cold prison, which had the happy result of putting his head where his heels had been. To scramble out altogether was then an easy job, and in another instant he was beside the sleigh.
His first thought was that his worst fears were realized. Certainly the sight was one that might have filled a stouter heart with chill alarm. The horse had fallen into a deep drift, which covered him to the shoulders, and rendered him utterly helpless, entangled as he was with the harness and the over-turned jumper. He had evidently, like Frank, been struggling violently to free himself, but finding it useless, had for a time ceased his efforts, and stood wild-eyed and panting, the picture of animal terror. On seeing Frank he made another frantic plunge or two, looking at the boy with an expression of agonized appeal, as though he would say,—
"Oh, help me out of this dreadful place!"
And glad would Frank have been to respond to the best of his ability. But the poor horse could not be considered first. Half under the sleigh, half buried in the snow, lay the big foreman, to all appearance dead, the blood flowing freely from an ugly gash in his forehead, where the fur cap had failed to protect him entirely from the horse's hoof.
Frank sprang to his side, and with a tremendous effort turned him over upon his back, and getting out his handkerchief, wiped the blood away from his face. As he did so, the first awful thought of death gave way to a feeling of hope. White and still as Johnston lay, his face was warm, and he was surely breathing a little. Seizing a handful of snow, Frank pressed it to the foreman's forehead, and cried to him as though he were asleep,—
"Mr. Johnston, Mr. Johnston! What's the matter with you? Tell me, won't you?"
For some minutes there was no sign of response. Then the injured man stirred, gave a deep sigh followed by a groan, opened his eyes with a look of dazed bewilderment, and put his hand up to his head, which was evidently giving him intense pain.
"Oh, Mr. Johnston, I'm so glad! I was afraid you were dead!" exclaimed Frank. "Can't I help you to get up?"
Turning upon his shoulder, the foreman made an effort to raise himself, but at once sank back with a groan.
"I'm sore hurt, my lad," he said; "I can't stir. You'll have to get help."
And so great was his suffering that he well nigh lost consciousness again.
Frank tried his best to lift him away from the sleigh, but found the task altogether beyond his young strength in that deep snow, and had to give it up as hopeless. Certainly he was in a most trying situation for a mere boy—fully five miles from the shanty, with an almost untravelled road between that must be traversed by him alone, while the injured man would have to lie helpless in the snow until his return. Little wonder if he felt in sore perplexity as to what should be done, and how he should act under the circumstances.
IN THE NICK OF TIME.
If Frank was undecided, Mr. Johnston's mind was fully made up.
"Our only chance is for you to get to the shanty at once, Frank. It'll be a hard job, my boy, but you'll have to try it," said he.
"But what'll become of you, sir, staying here all alone? The wolves might find you out, and how could you defend yourself then?" asked Frank, in sore bewilderment as to the solution of the dilemma.
"I'll have to take my chances of that, Frank; for if I stay here all night, I'll freeze to death, anyway. So just throw the buffaloes over me, and put for the shanty as fast as you can," replied the foreman.
Unable to suggest any better plan, Frank covered Johnston carefully with the robes, making him as comfortable as he could; then buttoning up his coat and pulling his cap on tightly, he was about to scramble up the steep side of the gully to regain the road, when the foreman said, in a low tone, almost a whisper,—
"This is about the time you generally say your prayers, Frank. Couldn't you say them here before you start?"
With quick intuition Frank divined the big bashful man's meaning. It was his roundabout way of asking the boy to commit him to the care of God before leaving him alone in his helplessness.
Feeling half condemned at not having thought of it himself, Frank came back, and kneeling close beside his friend, lifted up his voice in prayer with a fervour and simplicity that showed how strong and sure was his faith in the love and power of his Father in heaven. When he had finished his petition, the foreman added to it an "Amen" that seemed to come from the very depths of his heart; and then, yielding to an impulse that was irresistible, Frank bent down and implanted a sudden kiss upon the pale face looking at him with such earnest, anxious eyes. This unexpected proof of warm affection completely overcame the foreman, whose feelings had been already deeply stirred by the prayer. Strong, reserved man as he was, be could not keep back the tears.
"God bless you, my boy!" he murmured huskily. "If I get safely out of this, I shall be a different man. You have taught me a lesson I won't forget."
"God bless you and take care of you, sir!" answered Frank. "I hope nothing will happen to you while I'm away, and I'll be back as soon as I can."
The next moment he was making his way up the gully's side, and soon a triumphant shout announced that he had reached the road and was off for the lumber camp at his best speed.
The task before him was one from which many a grown man might have shrunk in dismay. For five long, lonely miles the road ran through the forest that darkened it with heavy shadows, and not a living soul could he hope to meet until he reached the shanty.
It was now past eight o'clock, and to do his best it would take him a whole hour to reach his goal. The snow lay deep upon the road, and was but little beaten down by the few sleighs that had passed over it. The air was keen and crisp with frost, the temperature being many degrees below zero. And finally, the most fear-inspiring of all, there was the possibility of wolves, for the dreaded timber wolf had been both heard and seen in close proximity to the camp of late, an unusual scarcity of small game having made him daring in his search for food.
But Frank possessed a double source of strength. He was valiant by nature, and he had implicit faith in God's overruling providence. He felt specially under the divine care now, and resolutely putting away all thoughts of personal danger, addressed himself, mind and body, to the one thing—the relief of Johnston from his perilous position.
With arms braced at his sides and head bent forward, he set out at a jog-trot, which was better suited for getting through the deep snow than an ordinary walk. Fortunately he was in the very pink of condition. The steady, hard work of the preceding months, combined with the coarse but abundant food and early hours, had developed and strengthened every muscle in his body and hardened his constitution until few boys of his age could have been found better fitted to endure a long tramp through heavy snow than he. Moreover, running had always been his favourite form of athletic exercise, and the muscles it required were well trained for their work.
"I'll do it all right inside the hour," he said to himself. And then, as a sudden thought struck him, he gave a nervous little laugh, and added, "And perhaps make a good deal better time if I hear anything of the wolves."
Try as he might, he could not get the wolves out of his head. He had not himself seen any signs of them, but several times the choppers working farthest from the camp had mentioned finding their tracks in the snow, and once they had been heard howling in the distance after the men had all come into the shanty for the night.
On he went through the snow and night, now making good progress at his brisk jog-trot, now going more slowly as he dropped into a walk to rest himself and recover breath. Although the moon rode high in the heavens, the trees which stood close to the road allowed few of her beams to light his path.
"If it was only broad daylight I wouldn't mind it a bit," Frank soliloquized; "but this going alone at this time of night is not the sort of a job I care for."
And then the thought of poor Johnston lying helpless but uncomplaining in the snow made him feel ashamed of his words, and to ease his conscience he broke into a trot again. Just as he did so a sound reached his ear that sent a thrill of terror to his heart. Hoping he might be mistaken, he stopped and listened with straining senses. For a moment there was absolute silence. Then the sound came again—distant, but clear and unmistakable. He had heard it only once before, yet he felt as sure of it now as if it had been his mother's voice. It was the howl of the timber wolf sounding through the still night air from somewhere to the north; how far away he could not determine.
At the sound all his strength seemed to leave him. How helpless he was alone in that mighty forest without even so much as a knife wherewith to defend himself! But it would not do to stand irresolute. His own life as well as the foreman's depended upon his reaching the shanty. Were he to climb one of the big trees that stood around, the wolves, of course, could not get at him; but Johnston would be dead before daylight came to release him from his tree citadel, and perhaps he would himself fall a victim to the cold in that exposed situation. There was no other alternative than to run for his life, so, breathing out a fervent prayer for divine help and protection, he summoned all his energies to the struggle. He was more than a mile from the shanty, and his exertion had told severely upon his strength; but the great peril of his situation made him forget his weariness, and he started off as if he were perfectly fresh.
But the howling of the wolves grew more and more distinct as they drew swiftly nearer, and with agony of heart the poor boy felt his breath coming short and his limbs beginning to fail beneath him. Nearer and nearer came his dreaded pursuers, and every moment he expected to see them burst into the road behind him.
Fortunately, be had reached a part of the road which, being near the camp, was much used by the teams drawing logs to the river-bank, and was consequently beaten hard and smooth. This welcome change enabled him to quicken his steps, which had dropped into a walk; and although he felt almost blind from exhaustion, he pushed desperately forward, hoping at every turn of the road to catch a glimpse of the shanty showing dark through the trees. The cry of the disciples caught in the sudden storm on Galilee, "Lord, save us; we perish!" kept coming to his lips as he staggered onward. Surely there could not be much further to go! He turned for a moment to look behind him. The wolves were in sight, their dark forms showing distinctly against the snow as in silence now they gained upon their prey. Run as hard as he might, they must be upon him ere another fifty yards were passed. He felt as if it were all over with him, and so utter was his exhaustion that it seemed to benumb his faculties and make him half willing for the end to come.
But the end was not to be as the wolves desired. Just at the critical moment, when further exertion seemed impossible, he caught sight of some one approaching him rapidly from the direction of the shanty, and shouting aloud while he rushed forward to meet him. With one last supreme effort he plunged toward this timely apparition, and a moment later fell insensible at his feet.
It was Baptiste—good-hearted, affectionate Baptiste—who, having awaited the travellers' return and grown concerned at their long delay, had gone out to look along the road to see if they were anywhere in view. Catching sight of Frank's lonely figure, he had made all haste to meet him, and reached him just in time to ward off the wolves that in a minute more would have been upon him.
When the wolves saw Baptiste, who swung a gleaming axe about his head, as he shouted, "Chiens donc! I'll split your heads eef I get at you!" they stopped short, and even retreated a little, drawing themselves together in a sort of group in the middle of the road, snapping their teeth and snarling in a half-frightened, half-furious manner. But Baptiste was not to be daunted. Lifting his axe on high, he shouted at them in his choicest French, and charged upon the pack as though they had been simply a flock of marauding sheep. Wolves are arrant cowards, and without pausing to take into consideration the disparity of numbers, for they stood twelve to one, they fled ignominiously before the plucky Frenchman, not halting until they had put fifty yards between themselves and him. Whereupon Baptiste seized upon the opportunity to pick up the still senseless Frank, throw him over his broad shoulder, and hasten back to the shanty before the wolves should regain their self-possession.
They were all asleep in the shanty when the cook returned with his unconscious burden; but he soon roused the others with his vigorous shouts, and by the time they were fully awake, Frank was awake too, the warm air of the room quickly reviving him from his faint. Looking round about with a bewildered expression, he asked anxiously,—
"Where is Mr. Johnston? Hasn't he come back too?"
Then he recollected himself, and a picture of his good friend lying prostrate and helpless in the snow, perhaps surrounded by the same wolves that brave Baptiste had rescued him from, flashed into his mind, and springing to his feet he cried,—
"Hurry—hurry! Mr. Johnston is in Deep Gully, and he can't move. The bridge broke under us, and he was almost killed. Oh, hurry, won't you, or the wolves will be after him!"
The men looked at one another in astonishment and horror.
"Deep Gully!" they exclaimed. "That's five miles off. We must go at once."
And immediately all was bustle and excitement as they prepared to go out into the night. As lumbermen always sleep in their clothes, they did not take long to dress, and in a wonderfully short space of time the teamsters had a sleigh with a pair of horses at the door, upon which eight of the men, armed with guns and axes, sprang, and off they went along the road as fast as the horses could gallop. Frank wanted to accompany them, but Baptiste would not allow him.
"No, no, mon cher. You must stay wid me. You tired out. They get him all right, and bring him safe home."
And he was fair to lie back, so tortured with anxiety for the foreman that he could hardly appreciate the blessing of rest, although his own exertions had been tremendous.
Not sparing the horses, the rescuers sped over the road, ever now and then discharging a gun, in order to let Johnston know of their approach and keep his courage up. In less than half-an-hour they reached the gully, and peering over the brink, beheld the dark heap in the snow below that was the object of their search. One glance was sufficient to show how timely was their coming, for almost encircling the hapless man were smaller shapes that even at that distance could be readily recognized.
"We're too late!" cried one of the men; "they're wolves." And with a wild shout he flung himself recklessly down the snowy slope, and others followed close behind.
Before their tumultuous onset the wolves fled like leaves before the autumn wind, and poor Johnston, almost dead with pain, cold, and exhaustion, raising himself a little from the snow, called out in a faint but joyful tone,—
"Thank God; you've come in time! I thought it was all over with me."
OUT OF CLOUDS, SUNSHINE.
Great was the joy of the men at finding Johnston alive and still able to speak, and at once their united strength was applied to extricating him from his painful position. The poor horse, utterly unable to help himself, had long ago given up the vain struggle, and in a state of pitiful exhaustion and fright was lying where he first fell, the snow all about him being torn up in a way that showed how furious had been his struggles. Johnston had by dint of heroic exertion managed to withdraw his leg a little from underneath the heavy jumper; but he could not free himself altogether, so that had the wolves found out how completely both horse and man were in their power, they would have made short work of both. Fortunately, by vigorous shouting and wild waving of his arms, the foreman had been able to keep the cowardly creatures at bay long enough to allow the rescuing party to reach him. But he could not have kept up many minutes more, and if strength and voice had entirely forsaken him the dreadful end would soon have followed.
Handling the injured man with a tenderness and care one would hardly have looked for in such rough fellows, the lumbermen after no small exertion got him up out of the gully and laid him upon the sleigh in the road. Then the horse was released from the jumper, and, being coaxed to his feet, led down the gully to where the sides were not so steep and he could scramble up, while the jumper itself was left behind to be recovered when they had more time to spare.
Before they started off for the shanty one of the men had the curiosity to cross the gully and examine the bridge where it broke, in order to find out the cause of the accident. When he returned there was a strange expression on his face, which added to the curiosity of the others who were awaiting his report.
"Both stringers are sawed near through!" he exclaimed. "And it's not been done long, either. Must have been done to-day, for the sawdust's lying round still."
The men looked at one another in amazement and horror. The stringers sawed through! What scoundrel could have done such a thing? Who was the murderous traitor in their camp? Then to the quickest-witted of them came the thought of Damase's dire threat and consuming jealousy.
"I know who did it," he cried. "There's only one man in the camp villain enough to do it. It was that hound Damase, as sure as I stand here!"
Instantly the others saw the matter in the same light. Damase had done it beyond a doubt, hoping thereby to have the revenge for which his savage heart thirsted. Ill would it have gone with him could the men have laid hands on him at that moment. They were just in the mood to have inflicted such punishment as would probably have put the wretch in a worse plight than his intended victim, and many and fervent were their vows of vengeance, expressed in language rather the reverse of polite. Strict almost to severity as Johnston was in his management of the camp, the majority of the men, including all the best elements, regarded him with deep respect, if not affection; and that Damase Deschenaux should make so dastardly an attempt upon his life aroused in them a storm of indignant wrath which would not soon be allayed.
They succeeded in making the sufferer quite comfortable upon the sleigh; but they had to go very slowly on the return journey to the shanty, both to make it easy for Johnston, and because the men had to walk now that the sleigh was occupied. So soon as they came in sight, Frank ran to meet them, calling out eagerly,—
"Is he all right? Have you got him?"
"We've got him, Frank, safe enough," replied the driver of the sleigh. "But we wasn't a minute too soon, I can tell you. I guess you must have sent your wolves off to him when you'd done with them."
"Were the wolves at you, sir?" exclaimed Frank, bending over the foreman, and looking anxiously into his face.
Johnston had fallen into a sort of doze or stupor but the stopping of the sleigh and Frank's anxious voice aroused him, and he opened his eyes with a smile that told plainly how dear to him the boy had become.
"They weren't quite at me, Frank, but they soon would have been if the men hadn't come along," he replied.
With exceeding tenderness the big helpless man was lifted from the sleigh and placed in his own bunk in the corner. The whole shanty was awake to receive him, a glorious fire roared and crackled upon the hearth, and the pleasant fragrance of fresh-brewed tea filled the room. So soon as the foreman's outer garments had been removed, Frank brought him a pannikin of the lumberman's pet beverage, and he drank it eagerly, saying that it was all the medicine he needed. Beyond making him as comfortable as possible, nothing further could be done for him, and in a little while the shantymen were all asleep again as soundly as though there had been no disturbance of their slumbers. Frank wanted to sit up with Johnston; but the foreman would not hear of it, and, anyway, thoroughly sincere as was his offer, he never could have carried it out, for he was very weary himself and ready to drop asleep at the first chance.
Of Damase there was no sign. Some of the men had noticed him quitting work earlier than usual in the afternoon, and when he did not appear at supper-time had thought he was gone off hunting, which he loved to do whenever he got the opportunity. Whether or not he would have the assurance to return to the shanty would depend upon whether he had waited in ambush to see the result of his villany; for if he had done so, and had witnessed the at least partial failure of his plot, there was little chance of his being seen again.
The next morning a careful examination of Johnston showed that, while no bones were broken, his right leg had been very badly twisted and strained almost to dislocation, and he had been internally injured to an extent that could be determined only by a doctor. It was decided to send a message for the nearest doctor, and meanwhile to do everything possible for the sufferer in the way of bandages and liniments that the simple shanty outfit afforded. By general understanding Frank assumed the duties of nurse; and it was not long before life at the camp settled down into its accustomed routine, Johnston having appointed the most experienced and reliable of the gang its foreman during his confinement. In due time the doctor came, examined his patient, made everybody glad by announcing that none of the injuries were serious, and that they required only time and attention for their cure, wrote out full directions for Frank to follow, and then, congratulating Johnston upon his good fortune in having so devoted and intelligent a nurse, set off again on the long drive to his distant home with the pleasant consciousness of having done his duty and earned a good fee.
The weeks that followed were the happiest Frank spent that winter. His duties as nurse were not onerous, and he enjoyed very much the importance with which they invested him. So long as his patient was well looked after, he was free to come and go according to his inclinations, and the thoughtful foreman saw to it that he spent at least half the day in the open air, often sending him with messages to the men working far off in the woods. Frank always carried his rifle with him on these tramps, and frequently brought back with him a brace of hares or partridges, which, having had the benefit of Baptiste's skill, were greatly relished by Johnston, who found his appetite for the plain fare of the shanty much dulled by his confinement.
As the days slipped by the foreman began to open his heart to his young companion and to tell him much about his boyhood, which deeply interested Frank. Living a frontier life, he had his full share of adventure in hunting, lumbering, and prospecting for limits, and many an hour was spent reviewing the past. One evening while they were thus talking together Johnston became silent and fell into a sort of reverie, from which he presently roused himself, and looking very earnestly into Frank's face, asked him,—
"Have you always been a Christian, Frank?"
The question came so unexpectedly and was so direct that Frank was quite taken aback, and being slow to answer, the foreman, as if fearing he had been too abrupt, went on to say,—
"The reason I asked was because you seem to enjoy so much reading your Bible and saying your prayers that I thought you must have had those good habits a long time."
Frank had now fully recovered himself, and with a blush that greatly became him, answered modestly,—
"I have always loved God. Mother taught me how good and kind he is as soon as I was old enough to understand; and the older I get the more I want to love him and to try to do what is right."
A look of ineffable tenderness came into Johnston's dark eyes while the boy was speaking. Then his face darkened, and giving vent to a heavy sigh, he passed his hand over his eyes as though to put away some painful recollection. After a moment's silence, he said,—
"My mother loved her Bible, and wanted me to love it too. But I was a wild, headstrong chap, and didn't take kindly to the notion of being religious, and I'm afraid I cost her many a tear. God bless her! I wonder does she ever up there think of her son down here, and wonder if he's any better than he was when she had to leave him to look after himself."
Not knowing just what to say, Frank made no reply, but his face glowed with sympathetic interest; and after another pause the foreman went on,—
"I've been thinking a great deal lately, Frank, and it's been all your doing. Seeing you so particular about your religion, and not letting anything stop you from saying your prayers and reading your Bible just as you would at home, has made me feel dreadfully ashamed of myself, and I've been wanting to have a talk with you about it. Would you mind reading your Bible to me? I haven't been inside a church for many a year, and I guess I'd be none the worse of a little Bible-reading."
Frank could not restrain an exclamation of delight. Would he mind? Had not this very thing been on his conscience for weeks past? Had he not been hoping and praying for a good opportunity to propose it himself, and only kept back because of his fear lest the foreman should think this offer presumptuous?
"I shall be very glad indeed to read my Bible to you, sir," he answered eagerly. "I've been wanting to ask if I mightn't do it, but was afraid that perhaps you would not like it."
"Well, Frank, to be honest with you, I'd a good deal rather have you read to me than read it for myself," said Johnston; "because you must know it 'most by heart, and I've forgotten what little I did know once."
The reading began that night, and thenceforward was never missed while the two were at Camp Kippewa. Young as Frank was, he had learned from his parents and at the Sunday school a great deal about the Book of books, and especially about the life of Christ, so that to Johnston he seemed almost a marvel of knowledge. It was beautiful to see the big man's simplicity as he sat at the feet, so to speak, of a mere boy, and learned anew from him the sublime and precious gospel truths that the indifference and neglect of more than forty years had buried in dim obscurity; and Frank found an ever-increasing pleasure in repeating the comments and explanations that he had heard from the dear lips at home. Even to his young eyes it was clear that the foreman was thoroughly in earnest, and would not stop short of a full surrender of himself to the Master he had so long refused to acknowledge. Above all things, he was a thorough man, and therefore this would take time, for he would insist upon knowing every step of the way; but once well started; no power on earth or beneath would be permitted to bar his progress to the very end.
And this great end was achieved before he left his bunk to resume his work. He lay down there bruised and crippled and godless; but lie arose healed and strengthened and a new man in Christ Jesus! If Frank was proud of his big convert, who can blame him? But for his coming to the camp, Johnston might have remained as he was, caring for none of those things which touched his eternal interests; but now through the influence of his example, aided by favouring circumstances, he had been led to the Master's feet.
But Damase—what of Damase? There is not much to tell. Whether or not he was watching when the bridge fell, and how he spent that night, no one ever knew. The next morning he was seen at the depot, where he explained his presence by saying that the foreman had "bounced" him, and that he was going back to his native town. Beyond this, nothing further was ever heard of him.
The hold of winter had begun to relax ere Johnston was able fully to resume his work, and a good deal of time having been lost through his accident, every effort had to be exerted to make it up ere the warm sunshine should put an end to the winter's work. Frank was looking forward eagerly to the day when they should break camp, for, to tell the truth, he felt that he had had quite enough of it for one season, and he was longing to be back in Calumet and enjoying the comforts of home once more. He was not exactly homesick. You would have very much offended him by hinting at that. He was simply tired of the monotony of camp fare and camp life, and anxious to return to civilization. So he counted the days that must pass before the order to break camp would come, and felt very light of heart when the sun shone warm, and correspondingly downcast when the thermometer sank below zero, as it was still liable to do.
"Striving" was the order of the day at the lumber camp—that is, the different gangs of choppers and sawyers and teamsters vied with each other as to which could chop, saw, and haul the most logs in a day. The amount of work they could accomplish when thus striving might astonish Mr. Gladstone himself, from eighty to one hundred logs felled and trimmed being the day's work of two men. Frank was deeply interested in this competition, and enjoying the fullest confidence of the men, he was unanimously appointed scorer, keeping each gang's "tally" in a book, and reporting the results to the foreman, who heartily encouraged the rivalry among his men; for the harder they worked the better would be the showing for the season, and he was anxious not to lose the reputation he had won of turning out more logs at his shanty than did any other foreman on the Kippewa.
As the weeks passed and March gave way to April, and April drew toward its close, the lumbermen's work grew more and more arduous; but they kept at it bravely until at last, near the end of April, the snow became so soft in the woods and the roads so bad that no more hauling could be done, and the whole attention of the camp was then given to getting the logs that had been gathering at the river-side all through the winter out upon the ice, so that they might be sure to be carried off by the spring floods. This work did not require all hands, and Johnston now saw the way clear to giving Frank a treat that he had long had in mind for him, but had said nothing about. They were having their usual chat together before going to bed, when the foreman said,—
"Is there anything you would like to do before we break up camp?"
Frank did not at first see the drift of the question, and looking at Johnston with a puzzled sort of expression, replied, questioningly,—
"I don't know. I've had a very good time here."
"Well, but can you think of anything you would like to do before you go back to Calumet?" persisted the foreman. "I'm asking you because there'll not be enough work to go round next week, and you can have a bit of holiday. Now, isn't there something you would like to have a taste of while you have the chance?" And as he spoke his eyes were directed toward the wall at the head of his bed, where hung his rifle, powder-flask, and hunting knife. Frank caught his meaning at once.
"Oh, I see what you are driving at now!" he exclaimed. "You want to know if I wouldn't like to go out hunting."
"Right you are," said Johnston. "Would you?"
"Would I?" cried Frank. "Would a duck swim? Just try me, that's all."
"Well, I do intend to try you," returned Johnston. "The firm have some limits over there near the foot of the mountain that they want me to prospect before I go back, and pick out the best place for a camp. I've been trying to make out to go over there all winter, but getting hurt upset my plans, and I've not had a chance until now. So I'm thinking of making a start to-morrow. There's nothing much else to do except to finish getting the logs on the ice, and I can trust the men to see to that; and, no odds what kind of weather we have, the ice can't start for a week at least. So if you'd like to come along with me and take your rifle, you may get a chance to have a shot at something before we get back. Does that suit you?"
This proposition suited Frank admirably. A week in the woods in Johnston's company could not fail to be a week of delight, and he thanked the foreman in his warmest words for offering to take him on his prospecting tour.
The following morning they set off, the party consisting of four—namely, the foreman, Frank, Laberge, who accompanied them as cook, and another man named Booth as a sort of assistant. The snow still lay deep enough to render snow-shoes necessary, and while Johnston and Frank carried their rifles, Laberge and Booth drew behind them a toboggan, upon which was packed a small tent and an abundant supply of provisions. Their route led straight into the heart of the vast and so far little-explored forest, and away from the river beside whose bank they had been living all winter. It was Johnston's purpose to penetrate to the foot of the mountain range that rose into sight nearly thirty miles away, and then work backward by a different route, noting carefully the lie of the land, the course of the streams, and the best bunches of timber, so as to make sure of selecting a site for the future camp in the very best locality.
He was evidently in excellent spirits himself at the prospect of a week's holiday, for such it would really be, and all trace of his injury having entirely disappeared, there was no drawback to the energy with which he led his little expedition into the forest where they would be buried for the rest of the week.
The weather was as fine as heart could wish. All day the sun shone brightly, and even at night the temperature never got anywhere near zero, so that with a buffalo-robe under you and a couple of good blankets over you it was possible to sleep quite comfortably in a canvas tent.
"I can't promise you much in the way of game, Frank," said Johnston, as the two tramped along side by side. "It is too late in the season. But the bears must be out of their dens by this time, and if we see one we'll do our best to get his skin for you to take home."
The idea of bringing a big bear-skin home as a trophy of his first real hunting expedition pleased Frank mightily, and his eyes flashed as he grasped his rifle in a way that would in itself have been sufficient warning to bruin, could he only have seen it, to keep well out of the way of so doughty an assailant.
"I'd like immensely to have a shot at a bear, sir," he replied. "So I do hope we shall see one."
"You must be precious careful, though, Frank," said Johnston, "for they're generally in mighty bad humour at this time of year, and you need to get your work in quick, or they may make short work of you."
Various kinds of game were seen during the next day or two, and Frank had many a shot. But Johnston seldom fired, preferring to let Frank have all the fun, as he said. One afternoon, just before they went into camp, the keen eyes of Laberge detected something among the branches of a pine a little distance to the right of their path which caused his face to glow with excitement as he pointed eagerly to it, and exclaimed,—
"Voila! A lucifee—shoot him, quick!"
They all turned in the direction he pointed out, and there, sure enough, was a dark mass in the fork of the tree that, as they hastened toward it, resolved itself into a fierce-looking creature, full four times the size of an ordinary cat, which, instead of showing any fear at their approach, bristled up its back and uttered a deep, angry snarl that spoke volumes for its courage.
"Now, then, Frank," said Johnston, "take first shot, and see if you can fetch the brute down."
Trembling with excitement, Frank threw up his rifle, did his best to steady himself, took aim at the bewhiskered muzzle of the lynx, and pulled the trigger. The sharp crack of the rifle was followed by an ear-piercing shriek of mingled pain and rage, and the next instant the wounded creature launched forth into the air toward the hunters. Frank's nervousness, natural enough under the circumstances, had caused him to miss his mark a little, and the bullet, instead of piercing the "lucifee's" brain, had only stung him sorely in the shoulder.
But quick as was its movements, Johnston was still quicker, and the moment its feet touched the snow, ere it could gather itself for another spring, his rifle cracked and a bullet put an end to its career.
"Just as well you weren't by yourself, Frank; hey?" said he, with a smile of satisfaction at the accuracy of his shot. "This chap would have been an ugly customer at close quarters, and," turning the body over to find where the first bullet had hit, "you see you hardly winged him."
Frank blushed furiously and looked very much ashamed of himself for not being a better marksman; but the foreman cheered him up by assuring him that he had really done very well in hitting the animal at all at that distance.
"You only want a little practice, my boy," said he. "You have plenty of pluck; there's no mistake about that."
The lynx had a fine skin, which Laberge deftly removed, and it was given to Frank because he had fired the first shot at it, so that he would not go back to Calumet without at least one hunting trophy on the strength of which he might do a little boasting.
Further and further into the forest the little party pierced their way, not following any direct line, but making detours to right and left, in order that the country might be thoroughly inspected. As they neared the mountains the trees diminished in size and the streams shrank until, at the end of their journey, the first were too small to pay for cutting, and the second too shallow to be any good for floating. With no little difficulty they ascended a shoulder of the mountain range, in order to get a look over all the adjoining country, and then, Johnston having made up his mind as to the location of the best bunches of timber and the most convenient site for the projected lumber camp, the object of the expedition was accomplished, and they were at liberty to return to the shanty. But before they could do this they were destined to have an adventure that came perilously near taking away from them the youngest of their number.
It was the afternoon before they struck camp on the return journey. The foreman was sitting by the tent mending one of his snow-shoes, which had been damaged tramping through the bush, Booth was busy cutting firewood, and Laberge making preparations for the evening meal. Having nothing else to do, Frank picked up his rifle and sauntered off toward the mountain side, with no very clear idea as to anything more than to kill a little time. Whistling cheerfully one of the many sacred melodies he knew and loved, he made his way over the snow, being soon lost to sight from the camp, Johnston calling after him just before he disappeared,—
"Take care of yourself, my boy, and don't go too far."
To which Frank responded with a smiling, "All right, sir."
At the distance of about a quarter of a mile from the camp he noticed a sort of rift in the mountain, where the rocks were bare and exposed, and at the end of this rift a dark aperture was visible, which at once attracted his attention.
The boy that could come across a cave without being filled with a burning curiosity to take a peep in and, if possible, explore its interior, would have to be a very dull fellow, and Frank certainly was not of that kind. This dark aperture was no doubt the mouth of a cave of some sort, and he determined to inspect it. When he got within about fifteen yards, he noticed what he had not seen before, that there was a well-defined track leading from the cave to the underbrush to the right, which had evidently been made by some large animal; and with somewhat of a start Frank immediately thought of a bear.
Now, of course, under the circumstances, there was but one thing for him to do if he wished to illustrate his common sense, and that was to hurry back to the tent as fast as possible for reinforcements. Ordinarily, he would have done so at once, but this time he was still smarting a bit at his poor marksmanship in the case of the "lucifee," and the sight of the track in the snow suggested the idea of winning a reputation for himself by killing a bear without any assistance from the others. It was a rash and foolish notion; but then boys will be boys.
Moving forward cautiously, he approached within ten yards of the cave and then halted again, bringing his rifle forward so as to be ready to fire at a moment's notice. Bending down until his eyes were on a level with the opening, he tried hard to peer into its depths; but the darkness was too deep to pierce, and he could not make out anything. Then he bethought him of another expedient. Picking up a lump of snow, he pressed it into a ball and threw it into the cave, at the same time shouting out, "Hallo there! Anybody inside?" A proceeding that capped the climax of his rashness and produced quite as sensational a result as he could possibly have desired, for the next moment a deep angry roar issued from the rocky retreat and a fiery pair of eyes gleamed out from its shadows. The critical moment had come, and taking aim a little below the shining orbs, so as to make sure of hitting, Frank pulled the trigger. The report of the rifle and the roar of the bear followed close upon one another, awaking the echoes of the adjoining heights. Then came a moment's silence, broken the next instant by a cry of alarm from Frank; for the bear, instead of writhing in the agonies of death, was charging down upon him with open mouth! Once more he had missed his mark and only wounded when he should have killed.
There was but one thing for him to do—to flee for his life; and uttering a shout of "Help! help!" with all the strength of his lungs, he threw down his rifle and started for the tent at the top of his speed.
It was well for him that the snow still lay deep upon the ground, and that he was so expert in the use of his snow-shoes; for while the bear wallowed heavily in the drifts, he flew lightly over them, so that for a time the furious creature lost ground rather than gained upon him. For a hundred yards the boy and bear raced through the forest, Frank continuing his cries for help while he ran. Looking back for an instant, he saw that the bear bad not yet drawn any nearer, and, terrified as he was, the thought flashed into his mind that if the brute followed him all the way to the camp he would soon be despatched by the men, and then he, Frank, would be entitled to some credit for thus bringing him to execution.
On sped the two in their race for life, the boy skimming swiftly over the soft snow, the bear ploughing his way madly through it, until more than half the distance to the camp had been accomplished. If Johnston had heard the report of the rifle and Frank's wild cries for help, he should be coming into sight now, and with intense anxiety Frank looked ahead in hopes of seeing him emerge from the trees which clustered thickly in that direction. But there was no sign of him yet; and shouting again as loudly as he could, the boy pressed strenuously forward. There was greater need for exertion than ever, for he had reached a spot where the snow was not very deep and had been firmly packed by the wind, so that the bear's broad feet sank but little in it, and his rate of speed ominously increased. So close was the fierce creature coming that Frank could hear his paws pattering on the snow and his deep panting breath.
Oh why did not Johnston appear? Surely he must have heard Frank's cries. Ah, there he was, just bursting through the trees into the opening, with Laberge and Booth close at his heels. Frank's heart bounded with joy, and he was tempted to take a glance back to see how close the bear had got. It was not a wise thing to do, and he came near paying dearly for doing it; for at the same instant his snowshoes caught in each other, and before he could recover himself he fell headlong in the snow with the bear right upon him.
THE GREAT SPRING DRIVE.
At the sight of Frank's fall the three men gave a simultaneous shout of alarm that caused the bear to halt for a moment in his fierce pursuit, and lifting his head to look angrily in the direction from which the sound had come. This action saved the helpless boy—striving to regain his feet only a yard from death. The instant the creature's broad breast was exposed, Johnston threw his rifle to his shoulder, and without waiting to take aim, but ejaculating a fervent "Help me, O God!" pulled the trigger. The report of the rifle rang out sharp and clear, the heavy bullet sped through the air straight to its mark, and with it embedded in his heart the mighty animal, leaving untouched the boy at his feet, made a mad bound across his body to reach the assailant who had given him his death wound.
But it was a vain though gallant attempt. Ere he was half-way to the foreman, he staggered and rolled over upon the snow, and before he could lift himself again the men were upon him, and Laberge, swinging his keen axe high in the air, brought it down with a mighty blow upon the brute's slanting forehead, letting daylight into his brain. Not even a bear could survive such a stroke, and without a struggle the creature yielded up its life.
Instantly the foreman sprang to Frank's side and lifted him upon his feet.
"My dear boy!" he cried, his face aflame with anxious love, as he clasped Frank passionately in his arms, "are you hurt at all? Did he touch you?"
What between his previous exertions and the big man's mighty embrace, poor Frank had hardly enough breath left in him to reply, but he managed to gasp out,—
"Not a bit. He never touched me."
"Are you quite sure now?" persisted Johnston, whose anxiety could not be at once relieved. "O my lad! my heart stood still when you fell down right in front of the brute."
"I'm quite sure, Mr. Johnston," said Frank. "See!" And to prove his words he gave a jump into the air, threw up his arms, and shouted, "Hip! hip! hurrah!" with the full force of his lungs.
"God be praised!" exclaimed the foreman. "What a wonderful escape! Let us kneel down right here, and give Him thanks," he added, suiting his action to his words. Frank at once followed his example; so too did Laberge and Booth; and there in the midst of the forest-wilds this strange praise-meeting was held over the body of the fierce creature from whose murderous rage Frank had been so happily delivered.
Johnston sent Laberge back to the tent for the toboggan, and before darkness set in the bear was dragged thither, where the two men skilfully skinned him by the light of the camp fire, and stretched the pelt out to dry.
The quartette had a long talk over the whole affair after supper had been disposed of. Frank was plied with questions which he took much pleasure in answering, for naturally enough he felt himself to be in some measure the hero of the occasion. While he could not help admiring and cordially praising Frank's audacity, the foreman felt bound to reprove him for it, and to impress upon him the necessity of showing more caution in future, or he might get himself into a situation of danger from which there might be no one at hand to deliver him. Frank, by this time thoroughly sobered down, listened dutifully, and readily promised to be more careful if he ever came across bear tracks again.
"Anyway, my boy," said Johnston, "you won't go home empty-handed; and when your mother sees those two skins, which are both pretty good ones, she'll think more of you than she ever did before."
"Yes, but you know," said Frank, "both skins oughtn't to be mine, for I didn't kill either of the animals."
"Neither you did, Frank," replied Johnston, "but you came mighty near killing the one, and the other came mighty near killing you; so I think it's only fair you should have both.—Don't you think so, mates?" turning to the men.
"Ah, oui," exclaimed Laberge, with a vigorous nod of his head.
"Of course," added Booth, no less emphatically; and so the matter was settled very much to Frank's satisfaction.
The next day the tent was packed and the little party set out for the shanty, which was reached in good time without anything eventful occurring on the way. They found the work of getting the logs down upon the ice well nigh completed, and the foreman's return giving an impetus to the men's exertions, it was finished in a few days more, and then there was nothing to do but to await the breaking up of the ice.
They were not kept long in expectancy. The sun was now in full vigour; before his burning rays the snow and ice fled in utter rout; and the frost king, confessing defeat, withdrew his grasp from the Kippewa, which, as if rejoicing in its release, went rippling and bounding merrily on toward the great river beyond, bearing upon its bosom the many thousand logs which represented the hard labour of Camp Kippewa during the long cold winter months that were now past and gone. The most arduous and exciting phase of the lumberman's life had begun, the great spring drive, as they call it, and for weeks to come he would be engaged playing the part of shepherd after a strange fashion, with huge, clumsy, unruly logs for his flock, and the rushing river for the highway along which they should be driven.
The shantymen were divided into two parties, one section taking the teams and camp-belongings back to the depot, the other and much larger section following the logs in their journey to the mills. Johnston put himself at the head of the latter, and Frank, of course, accompanied him, for the foreman was no less anxious to have him than the boy was to go. The bonds of affection that bound the two were growing stronger every day they were together. Frank regarded Johnston as the preserver of his life, and Johnston, on his part, looked upon Frank as having been in God's hands the means of bringing light and joy to his soul. It might be said, without exaggeration, that either of them would risk his life in the other's behalf with the utmost willingness.
The journey down the river had to be done in light marching order. Not much baggage could be carried, so as not to burden too heavily the three or four "bonnes," as they call the long, light, flat-bottomed boats peculiar to lumbermen, which had been all winter awaiting the time when their services would be required. The shore work being beyond his strength, Frank was given a place in one of the bonnes along with Baptiste, Laberge, and part of the commissariat, and it was their duty to precede the main body of the men, and have their dinner and supper ready for them when they came up. In this way Frank would get a perfect view of the whole business of river driving, and he was in high feather as they made a start on a beautiful morning in early May, with the sun shining brightly, the air soft and balmy, and the river reflecting the blue of the unclouded heavens.
"Now take good care of Baptiste and the grub," said Johnston, with a smile, as he pushed the boat in which Frank was sitting off into the stream. "If you let anything happen to them, Frank, I don't know what we'll do to you."
"I'll do my best, sir," replied Frank, smiling back. "The boat won't upset if I can help it, and as Baptiste can't swim, he'll do his best to be careful too; won't you, Baptiste?"
"Vraiment, mon cher," cried Baptiste. "If we upset—poor Baptiste! zat will be the last of him." And he shrugged his fat shoulders and made a serio-comic grimace that set everybody laughing.
If the Kippewa, through all its course, had been as deep and free from obstructions as it was opposite the lumber camp, the river drivers would have had an easy time of it getting their wooden flock to market. But none of the rivers in this part of the country go quietly on their way from source to outlet. Falls and rapids are of frequent occurrence, and it is these which add difficulty and danger to the lumberman's work. Carrying pike-poles and cant-hooks, the former being simply long tough ash poles with a sharp spike on the business end, and the latter shorter stouter poles, something like the handle of a shovel, with a curious curved iron attachment that took a firm grip of a log and enabled the worker to roll its lazy bulk over and over in the direction he desired—with these weapons taking the place of the axe and saw, the men set off on their journey down the river side, two of the boats going ahead, and two bringing up the rear.
Frank felt in great spirits. He was thoroughly expert in the management of a bonne, and the voyage down the river in this lovely spring weather could be only continued enjoyment, especially as beyond steering the boat he had nothing to do, and it would be practically one long holiday. There were nearly twenty thousand logs to be guided, coaxed, rolled, and shoved for one hundred miles or more through sullen pools, sleeping reaches, turbulent rapids, and roaring falls, where, as if they were living things, they would seem to exhaust every possible means of delay. The way in which they would stick at some critical point and pile one upon another, until the whole river was blocked, defies description; and one seeing the spectacle for the first time might well be pardoned if he were to be positive that there could be no way of bringing order out of so hopeless a confusion, and releasing the tangled obstructed mass.
For the first few days matters went very smoothly, the river being deep and swift, and the logs giving little trouble. Of course, numbers of them were continually stranding on the banks, but the watchful drivers soon spied them out, and with a push of the pike-pole, or drag of the cant-hook, sent them floating off again on their journey. At mid-day all the men would gather about Baptiste's kettles and dispose of a hearty dinner, and then again at night they would leave the logs to look after themselves while they ate their supper and talked, and then lay down to rest their weary bodies. But this condition of things was too good to last. In due time the difficulties began to show themselves, and then Frank saw the most exciting and dangerous phase of a lumberman's life—a part of it with which when he grew older he must himself become familiar if he would be master of the whole business, as it was his ambition to be.
The great army of logs, forging onward slowly or swiftly, according to the force of the current, would come to a point where the stream narrowed and jagged rocks thrust their unwelcome heads above the surface. The vanguard of the army, perhaps, passing either to right or left of the rocks, would go on its way unchecked. But when the main body came up, and the whole stream was full of drifting logs, some clumsy tree trunk going down broadside first would bring up short against the rock. As quickly as a crowd will gather in a city street, the other logs would cluster about the one that obstructed their passage. There would be no stopping the on-rush. In less time than it takes to describe it, a hundred logs would be jostling one another in the current; and every minute the confusion would increase, until ere long the disordered mass would stretch from shore to shore, the whole stream would be blocked up, and the event most dreaded by the river driver would have taken place, to wit, a log jam.
The worst place that Johnston had to encounter in getting his drive of logs to the river was at the Black Rapids, and never will Frank forget the thrilling excitement of that experience. These rapids were the terror of the Kippewa lumbermen. They were situated in the swiftest part of the river, and if Nature had in cold blood tried her utmost to give the despoilers of her forest a hard nut to crack she could scarcely have succeeded better. The boiling current was divided into two portions by a jagged spur of rock that thrust itself above the surging waters, and so sure as a log came broadside against this projection it was caught and held in a firm embrace.
Johnston thoroughly understood this, and had taken every care to prevent a jam occurring; and if it had been possible for him to do what was in his mind—namely, to land upon the troublesome rock, and with his pike-pole push back again into the current every log that threatened to stick—the whole drive would have slipped safely by. He did make a gallant attempt to carry this out, putting four of the best oarsmen into Frank's boat, and trying again and again to force his way through the fierce current to the rock, while Frank watched him with breathless interest from the bank. But, strain and tug as the oarsmen might, the eddying, whirling stream was too strong for them, and swept them past the rock again and again, until at length the foreman had to give up his design as impracticable.
It was exciting work, and Frank longed very much to be in the boat; but Johnston, indulgent as he was toward his favourite, refused him this time.
"No, no, Frank; I couldn't think of it," he said decidedly. "It's too risky a business. The bonne might be smashed any time, and if it did we'd run a poor chance of getting out of these rapids. More than one good man has gone to his death here."
"Have there been men killed in these rapids?" Frank asked, with a look of profound concern at his big friend, who was taking such risks. "The poor fellows! What a dreadful death! They must have been dashed against the rocks. Surely you won't try it again, will you?" For it was dinner-time, and all hands were taking a welcome rest before resuming the toils of the day.
Johnston thoroughly understood and appreciated the boy's anxiety in his behalf, and there was a look of wonderful tenderness in his eyes as he answered him:—
"I must try it once more, Frank; for if I can only get out to that rock there'll be no jam this day. But don't you worry. I've taken bigger risks and come out all right."
So he made one more attempt, while Frank watched every movement of the boat, praying earnestly for its preservation. Again he failed, and the bonne returned to the bank unharmed. But hardly had the weary men thrown themselves down for a brief spell of rest than what they all so dreaded happened. One of the logs, getting into a cross eddy, rolled broadside against the rock. It was caught and held fast. Another and another charged against it and stayed there. The main body of the drive was now passing down, and every moment the jam increased in size. Soon it would fill the whole stream. Yet the lumbermen were powerless to prevent its growth. They could do nothing until it had so checked the current that it would be possible to make a way over to its centre.
So soon as this took place, Johnston, accompanied by three of his best men, armed with axes and cant-hooks, leaping from log to log with the sure agility only lumbermen could show, succeeded in reaching the heart of the jam, and at once proceeded to attack it with tremendous energy. One log after another was detached from the disordered mass and sent whirling off down stream, until at the end of an hour's arduous exertion, the key-piece—that is, the log that had caused all the trouble—was found.
"Now, my boys," said Johnston to his men, "get ashore as quick as you can. I'll stay and cut out the key-piece."
The men demurred for a moment. They were reluctant to leave their chief alone in a position of such extreme peril. But he commanded them to go.
"There's only one man wanted," he said; "and I'll do it myself. It's no use you risking your lives too."
So the men obeyed, and returned to the bank to join the group watching Johnston's movements with intense anxiety. They all knew as well as he did the exceeding peril of his position, and not one of them would breathe freely until he had accomplished his task, and found his way safely back to the shore.
For so large a man the foreman showed an agility that was really wonderful, as he leaped from log to log with the swiftness and sureness of a chamois. He had been lumbering all his life, and there was nothing that fell to the lumberman's experience with which he was not perfectly familiar. Yet it is doubtful if he ever had a more difficult or dangerous task than that before him now. The "key-piece" of the jam was fully exposed, and once it was cut in two it would no longer hold the accumulation of logs together. They would be released from their bondage, and springing forward with the full force of the pent-up current, would rush madly down stream, carrying everything before them.
But what would Johnston do in the midst of this tumult? A few more moments would tell; for his axe was dealing tremendous strokes, before which the key-piece, stout though it was, must soon yield. Ah, it is almost severed. The foreman pauses for an instant and glances keenly around, evidently in order to see what will be his best course of action when the jam breaks. Frank, in an agony of apprehension and anxiety, has sunk to his knees, his lips moving in earnest prayer, while his eyes are fixed on his beloved friend. Johnston's quick glance falls upon him, and, catching the significance of his attitude, his face is irradiated with a heavenly light of love as lie calls out across the boiling current,—
"God bless you, Frank! Keep praying."
Then he returns to his work. The keen axe flashes through the air in stroke after stroke. At length there comes a sound that cannot be mistaken. The foreman throws aside his axe and prepares to jump for life; and, like one man, the breathless onlookers shout together as the key-piece rends in two, and the huge jam, suddenly released, bursts away from the rock and charges tumultuously down the river.
If ever man needed the power of prompt decision, it was the foreman then. To the men on shore there seemed no possible way of escape from the avalanche of logs; and Frank shut his eyes lest he should have to witness a dreadful tragedy. A cry from the men caused him to open them again quickly, and when he looked at the rock it was untenanted—Johnston had disappeared! Speechless with dread, he turned to the man nearest him, his blanched countenance expressing the inquiry he could not utter.
"He's there," cried the man, pointing to the whirl of water behind the body of logs. "He dived."
And so it was. Recognizing that to remain in the way of the jam was to court certain death, the foreman chose the desperate alternative of diving beneath the logs, and allowing them to pass over him before he rose to the surface. Great was the relief of Frank and the others when, amid the foaming water, Johnston's head appeared, and he struck out to keep himself afloat. But it was evident that he had little strength left, and was quite unable to contend with the mighty current. Good swimmer as he was, the danger of drowning threatened him.
Frank's quick eyes noticed this, and like a flash the fearless boy, not stopping to call any of the others to his aid, bounded down the bank to where the bonne lay upon the shore, shoved her off into deep water, springing in over the bow as she slipped away, and in another moment was whirling down the river, crying out at the top of his voice,—
"I'm coming! I'll save you! Keep up!"
His eager shouts reached Johnston's ears, and the sight of the boat, pitching and tossing as the current swept it toward him, inspired him to renewed exertion. He struggled to get in the way of the boat, and succeeded so well that Frank, leaning over the side as far as he dared, was able to seize his outstretched hand and hold it until he could grasp the gunwale himself with a grip that no current could loosen. A glad shout of relief went up from the men at sight of this, and Frank, having made sure that the foreman was now out of danger, seized the oars and began to ply them vigorously with the purpose of beaching the bonne at the first opportunity. They had to go some distance before this could be done, but Johnston held on firmly, and presently a projecting point was reached, against which Frank steered the boat; and the moment she was aground, he hastened to the stern and helped the foreman ashore, the latter having just strength enough left to drag himself out of the water and fall in a limp, dripping heap upon the ground.
"God bless you, Frank dear," he said, as soon as he recovered his breath. "You've saved my life again. I never could have got ashore if you hadn't come after me. One of the logs must have hit me on the head when I was diving, for I felt so faint and dizzy when I came up that I thought it was all over with me. But, thank God, I'm a live man still; and I'm sure it's not for nothing that I've been spared."
The men all thought it a plucky act on Frank's part to go off alone in the boat to the foreman's rescue, and showered unstinted praise upon him; all of which he took very quietly, for, indeed, he felt quite sufficiently rewarded in that his venture was crowned with success. The exciting incident of course threw everybody out in their work, and when they returned to it they found that the logs had taken advantage of their being left uncared for to play all sorts of queer pranks and run themselves aground in every conceivable fashion.
But the river drivers did not mind this very much. The hated Black Rapids were passed, and the rest of the Kippewa was comparatively smooth sailing. So, with song and joke, they toiled away until all their charges were afloat again and gliding steadily onward toward their goal. Thenceforward they had little interruption in their course; and Frank found the life wonderfully pleasant, drifting idly all day long in the bonne, and camping at night beside the river, the weather being bright, and warm, and delightful all the time.
So soon as the Kippewa rolled its burden of forest spoils out upon the broad bosom of the Ottawa—the Grand River, as those who live beside its batiks love to call it—the work of the river drivers was over. The logs that had caused them so much trouble were now handed over to the care of a company which gathered them up into "tows," and with powerful steamers dragged them down the river until the sorting grounds were reached, where they were turned into the "booms" to await their time for execution—in other words, their sawing up.
Frank felt really sorry when the driving was over. He loved the water, and would have been glad to spend the whole summer upon it. He was telling Johnston this as they were talking together on the evening of the last day upon the Kippewa. Johnston had been saying to him how glad he must be that the work was all over, and that they now could go over to the nearest village and take the stage for home. But Frank did not entirely agree with him.
"I'm not anxious to go home by stage," said he. "I'd a good deal rather stick to the river. I think it's just splendid, so long as the weather's fine."
"Why, what a water-dog you are, Frank!" said the foreman, laughing. "One would think you'd have had enough of the water by this time."
"Not a bit of it," said Frank, returning the smile. "The woods in winter, and the water in summer—that's what I enjoy."
"Well, but aren't you in a hurry to get home and see your mother again?" queried Johnston.
"Of course I am," answered Frank. "But, you see, a day or two won't make much difference, for she doesn't know just when to look for me; and I've never been on this part of the Ottawa, and want to see it ever so much."
"Well—let me see," reflected Johnston. "How can we manage it? You'd soon get sick of the steamers. They're mortal slow and very dirty. Besides, they don't encourage passengers, or they'd have too many of them. But hold on!" he exclaimed, his face lighting up with a new idea. "I've got it. How would you like to finish the rest of the trip home on a square timber raft? There'll be one passing any day, and I know 'most all the men in the business, so there'll be no difficulty about getting a passage."
"The very idea!" cried Frank, jumping up and bringing his hand down upon his thigh with a resounding slap. "Nothing would please me better. Oh, what fun it will be shooting the slides!" And he danced about in delight at the prospect.
"All right then, my lad," said Johnston, smiling at the boy's exuberance. "We'll just wait here until a raft comes along, and then we'll board her and ask the fellows to let us go down with them. They won't refuse."
They had not long to wait, for the very next day a huge raft hove in sight—a real floating island of mighty timbers—and on going out to it in the bonne, Johnston was glad to find that the foreman in charge was an old friend who would be heartily pleased at having his company for the rest of the voyage. So he and Frank brought their scanty baggage on board, and joined themselves to the crew of men that, with the aid of a towing steamer, were navigating this very strange kind of craft down the river.
This was an altogether novel experience for Frank, and he found it much to his liking. The raft was an immense one.
"As fine a lot of square timber as I ever took down," said its captain proudly. "It's worth five thousand pounds if it's worth a penny."
Five thousand pounds! Frank's eyes opened wide at the mention of this vast sum, and he wondered to himself if he should ever be the owner of such a valuable piece of property. Although he had begun as a chore-boy, his ambition was by no means limited to his becoming in due time a foreman like Johnston, or even an overseer like Alec Stewart. He allowed his imagination to carry him forward to a day of still greater things, when he should be his own master, and have foremen and overseers under him. This slow sailing down the river was very favourable to day dreaming, and Frank could indulge himself to his heart's content during the long lovely spring days. There were more than twoscore men upon the raft, the majority of them habitants and half-breeds, and they were as full of songs as robins; especially in the evening after supper, when they would gather about the great fire always burning on its clay bed in the centre of the raft, and with solo and chorus awake the echoes of the placid river.
In common with the rivers which pour into it, the Ottawa is broken by many falls and rapids, and to have attempted to run the huge raft over one of these would have insured its complete destruction. But this difficulty is duly provided for. At one side of the fall a "slide" is built—that is, a contrivance something like a canal, with sides and bottom of heavy timber, and having a steep slope down which the water rushes in frantic haste to the level below. Now the raft is not put together in one piece, but is made up of a number of "cribs"—a crib being a small raft containing fifteen to twenty timbers, and being about twenty-four feet wide by thirty feet in length. At the head of the slide the big raft is separated into the cribs, and these cribs make the descent one at a time, each having three or four men on board.
Shooting the slides, as it is called, is a most delightful amusement to people whose nerves don't bother them. Frank had heard so much about it that he was looking forward to it from the time he boarded the raft, and now at Des Joachim Falls he was to have the realization. He went down in one of the first cribs, and this is the way he described the experience to his mother:—
"But, mother, the best fun of the whole thing is shooting the slides. I just wish there was a slide near Calumet, so that I could take you down and let you see how splendid it is. Why, it's just like—let me see—I've got it! It's just like tobogganing on water. You jump on board the crib at the mouth of the slide, you know, and it moves along very slowly at first, until it gets to the edge of the first slant; then it takes a sudden start, and away it goes shooting down like greased lightning, making the water fly up all around you, just like the snow does when you're tobogganing. Oh, but if it isn't grand! The timbers of the crib rub against the bottom of the slide, and groan and creak as if it hurt them. And then, besides coming in over the bow, the water spurts up between the timbers, so that you have to look spry or you're bound to get soaking wet. I got drenched nearly every time; but that didn't matter, for the sun soon made me dry again, and it was too good fun to mind a little wetting."
Frank felt quite sorry when the last of the slides was passed, and wished there were twice as many on the route of the raft. But presently he had something else to occupy his thoughts, for each day brought him nearer to Calumet, and soon his journeyings by land and water would be ended, and he would be at home again to make his mother's heart glad.
It was the perfection of a spring day when the raft, moving in its leisurely fashion—for was not the whole summer before it?—reached Calumet, and Mrs. Kingston, sitting alone in her cottage, and wondering when her boy would make his appearance, was surprised by an unceremonious opening of the front door, a quick step in the hall, and a sudden enfolding by two stout arms, while a voice that she had not heard for months shouted in joyous accents,—
"Here I am, mother darling, safe and sound, right side up with care, and oh, so glad to be at home again!"
Mrs. Kingston returned the fond embrace with interest, and then held Frank off at arms-length to see how much he had changed during his six months' absence. She found him both taller and stouter, and with his face well browned by the exposure to the bright spring sunshine.
"You went away a boy, and you've come back almost a man, Frank," she said, her eyes brimming with tears of joy. "But you're my own boy the same as ever; aren't you, darling?"
It was many a day before Frank reached the end of his story of life at the lumber camp, for Mrs. Kingston never wearied of hearing all about it. When she learned of his different escapes from danger, the inclination of her heart was to beseech him to be content with one winter in the woods, and to take up some other occupation. But she wisely said nothing, for there could be no doubt as to the direction in which Frank's heart inclined, and she determined not to interfere.
When in the following autumn Frank went back to the forest, he was again under Johnston's command, but not as chore-boy. He was appointed clerk and checker, with liberty to do as much chopping or other work as he pleased. Whatever his duty was he did it with all his might, doing it heartily as to the Lord and not unto men, so that he found increasing favour in his employer's eyes, rising steadily higher and higher until, while still a young man, he was admitted into partnership, and had the sweet satisfaction of realizing the day dreams of that first trip down the Ottawa on a timber raft.
Yet he never forgot what he had learned when chore-boy of Camp Kippewa, and out of that experience grew a practical philanthropic interest in the well-being and advancement of his employees, that made him the most popular and respected "lumber-king" on the river.