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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter41)

2006-09-08 19:41

  CHAPTER XLI The Enemy's Fort

  It pays 'bout once in a hundred times to git mad, but there ain't any way o' tellin' beforehand which is the time - Sayings of Si Sylvanne.

  It generally took two days to run the west line of traps. At a convenient point they had built a rough shack for a half-way house. On entering this one day, they learned that since their last visit it had been occupied by some one who chewed tobacco. Neither of them had this habit. Quonab's face grew darker each time fresh evidence of the enemy was discovered, and the final wrong was added soon.

  Some trappers mark their traps; some do not bother. Rolf had marked all of theirs with a file, cutting notches on the iron. Two, one, three, was their mark, and it was a wise plan, as it turned out.

  On going around the west beaver pond they found that all six traps had disappeared. In some, there was no evidence of the thief; in some, the tracks showed clearly that they were taken by the same interloper that had bothered them all along, and on a jagged branch was a short blue yarn.

  "Now will I take up his trail and kill him," said the Indian.

  Rolf had opposed extreme measures, and again he remonstrated. To his surprise, the Indian turned fiercely and said: "You know it is white man. If he was Indian would you be patient? No!"

  "There is plenty of country south of the lake; maybe he was here first."

  "You know he was not. You should eat many pekan hearts. I have sought peace, now I fight."

  He shouldered his pack, grasped his gun, and his snowshoes went "tssape, tssape, tssape," over the snow.

  Skookum was sitting by Rolf. He rose to resume the march, and trotted a few steps on Quonab's trail. Rolf did not move; he was dazed by the sudden and painful situation. Mutiny is always worse than war. Skookum looked back, trotted on, still Rolf sat staring. Quonab's figure was lost in the distance; the dog's was nearly so. Rolf moved not. All the events of the last year were rushing through his mind; the refuge he had found with the Indian; the incident of the buck fight and the tender nurse the red man proved. He wavered. Then he saw Skookum coming back on the trail. The dog trotted up to the boy and dropped a glove, one of Quonab's. Undoubtedly the Indian had lost it; Skookum had found it on the trail and mechanically brought it to the nearest of his masters. Without that glove Quonab's hand would freeze. Rolf rose and sped along the other's trail. Having taken the step, he found it easy to send a long halloo, then another and another, till an answer came. In a few minutes Rolf came up. The Indian was sitting on a log, waiting. The glove was handed over in silence, and received with a grunt.

  After a minute or two, Rolf said "Let's get on," and started on the dim trail of the robber.

  For an hour or two they strode in silence. Then their course rose as they reached a rocky range. Among its bare, wind-swept ridges all sign was lost, but the Indian kept on till they were over and on the other side. A far cast in the thick, windless woods revealed the trail again, surely the same, for the snowshoe was two fingers wider on every side, and a hand-breadth longer than Quonab's; be- sides the right frame had been broken and the binding of rawhide was faintly seen in the snow mark. It was a mark they had seen all winter, and now it was headed as before for the west.

  When night came down, they camped in a hollow. They were used to snow camps. In the morning they went on, but wind and snow had hidden their tell-tale guide.

  What was the next move? Rolf did not ask, but wondered.

  Quonab evidently was puzzled.

  At length Rolf ventured: "He surely lives by some river —— that way —— and within a day's journey. This track is gone, but we may strike a fresh one. We'll know it when we see it."

  The friendly look came back to the Indian's face. "You are Nibowaka."

  They had not gone half a mile before they found a fresh track —— their old acquaintance. Even Skookum showed his hostile recognition. And in a few minutes it led them to a shanty. They slipped off their snowshoes, and hung them in a tree. Quonab opened the door without knocking. They entered, and in a moment were face to face with a lanky, ill-favoured white man that all three, including Skookum, recognized as Hoag, the man they had met at the trader's.

  That worthy made a quick reach for his rifle, but Quonab covered him and said in tones that brooked no discussion, "Sit down!"

  Hoag did so, sullenly, then growled: "All right; my partners will be here in ten minutes."

  Rolf was startled. Quonab and Skookum were not.

  "We settled your partners up in the hills," said the former, knowing that one bluff was as good as another. Skookum growled and sniffed at the enemy's legs. The prisoner made a quick move with his foot.

  "You kick that dog again and it's your last kick," said the Indian.

  "Who's kicked yer dog, and what do you mean coming here with yer cutthroat ways? You'll find there's law in this country before yer through," was the answer.

  "That's what we're looking for, you trap robber, you thief. We're here first to find our traps; second to tell you this: the next time you come on our line there'll be meat for the ravens. Do you suppose I don't know them? and the Indian pointed to a large pair of snowshoes with long heels and a repair lashing on the right frame. "See that blue yarn," and the Indian matched it with a blue sash hanging to a peg.

  "Yes, them belongs to Bill Hawkins; he'll be 'round in five minutes now."

  The Indian made a gesture of scorn; then turning to Rolf said: "look 'round for our traps." Rolf made a thorough search in and about the shanty and the adjoining shed. He found some traps but none with his mark; none of a familiar make even.

  "Better hunt for a squaw and papoose," sneered Hoag, who was utterly puzzled by the fact that now Rolf was obviously a white lad.

  But all the search was vain. Either Hoag had not stolen the traps or had hidden them elsewhere. The only large traps they found were two of the largest size for taking bear.

  Hoag's torrent of bad language had been quickly checked by the threat of turning Skookum loose on his legs, and he looked such a grovelling beast that presently the visitors decided to leave him with a warning.

  The Indian took the trapper's gun, fired it off out of doors, not in the least perturbed by the possibility of its being heard by Hoag's partners. He knew they were imaginary. Then changing his plan, he said "Ugh! You find your gun in half a mile on our trail. But don't come farther and don't let me see the snowshoe trail on the divide again. Them ravens is awful hungry."

  Skookum, to his disappointment, was called off and, talking the trapper's gun for a time, they left it in a bush and made for their own country.

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