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mistaking the appeal this lonely little creature made to his generous
manhood.

"That all? Any other?"

The boy came confidently within reach of the outstretched arms, and, as
the man's mitted hands closed about him, he held up his face for the
expected caress. Steve bent his head and kissed the ready lips.

"'Es, Brand. Marcel Brand," the boy said in that slightly halting
fashion of pronouncing unaccustomed words.

Steve looked up with a start. His eyes encountered the still grinning
face of the scout.

"Do you hear that?" he demanded. "Marcel Brand. It's - it's the place
we're chasing for. Gee! it's well nigh a miracle!"

Quite suddenly he released the child and stood up. Then he picked the
little fellow up in his strong arms.

"Come on, old fellow," he said quickly. "We'll go right along up and see
your Mummy."

And forthwith he started for the frowning stockade under its mantle of
snow.

Once in Steve's arms the child allowed an arm to encircle the stranger's
neck. It was an action of complete abandonment to the new friendship,
and it thrilled the man. It carried him back over a thousand miles of
territory and weary toil to a memory of other infant arms and other
infant caresses.

"'Es. I likes you," the boy observed as they moved on. "Who's you?"

Half confidences were evidently not in his calculation. He had readily
given his, and now he looked for the natural return.

Steve laughed delightedly.

"Who's I? Why, my name's Steve. Steve Allenwood. 'Uncle' Steve. And this
is Julyman. He's an Indian, and very good man. And we like little boys.
Don't we, Julyman?"

The grin on the scout's face was still distorting his unaccustomed
features as he moved along beside his boss.

"Oh, yes. Julyman, him likes 'em - plenty, much."

"Why ain't you asleep?" demanded the boy abruptly addressing the scout
and in quite a changed tone. His smile, too, had gone.

Steve noted the change. He understood it. White and colour. This child
had been bred amongst Indians, and his parents were white. It was always
so. Even in so small a child the distinction was definite. He replied
for Julyman, while the Indian only continued to grin.

"Julyman only sleeps at night," he said.

But Marcel pointed at the domed huts which looked so like a collection
of white ant heaps.

"All Indians sleeps. All winter. My Pop says so. So does Uncle Cy. They
sleeps all the time. Only An-ina don't sleep. 'Cep' at night. I doesn't
sleep 'cep' at night. Indians does."

The white man and Indian exchanged glances. Julyman's was triumphant.
Steve's was negatively smiling. He looked up into the child's face which
was just above his level.

"These Indians sleep all winter?" he questioned.

"'Es, them sleeps. My Pop says they eats so much they has to sleep.
An'," he went on eagerly, stumbling over his words, "they's so funny
when they's sleep. They makes drefful noises, an' my Pop says they's
snores. He says they's dreaming all funny things 'bout fairies, an'
seals, an' hunting, an' all the things thems do's. They's wakes up
sometimes. But sleeps again. Why does they sleep? Why does them eat so
much? It's wolves eats till they bursts, isn't it, Uncle Steve?"

Steve pressed the little man closer to him. That "Uncle Steve" so
naturally said warmed his heart to a passionate degree. The little
fellow's mother was sick and he knew that his father and Uncle Cy were
dead; murdered somewhere out in that cold vastness. What had this bright
happy little life to look forward to on the desolate plateau of the
Sleeper Indians.

"Wolves are great greedy creatures," he said. "They eat up everything
they can get. They're real wicked."

"So's Injuns then."

Steve laughed at the childish logic, as the little man rattled on.

"I's hunt wolves when I grows big. I hunts 'em like Uncle Cy, an' seals,
too. I kills 'em. I kills everything wicked. That's what my Pop says. He
says, good boys kills everything bad, then God smile, an' all the
people's happy."

They reached the stockade which the practised eye of Steve saw to be
wonderfully constructed. Not only was its strength superlative, but it
was loopholed for defence and he knew that such defences were not
against the great grey wolves of the forest or any other creatures of
the wild. They were defences against attack by human marauders, and he
read into them the story of hostile Indians, and all those scenes which
had doubtless been kept carefully hidden from little Marcel's eyes.

Furthermore he realized that the post was of comparatively recent
construction. Perhaps it was five or ten years old. It could not have
been more. It entirely lacked that appearance of age which green timbers
acquire so readily under the fierce Northern storms. And it set him
wondering at the nature of the lure which had brought men of obvious
means, with wife and child, to the inhospitable plateau of Unaga.

He set the boy on the ground while he removed his snow-shoes. Then, hand
in hand, the little fellow led him round to the gateway which opened out
in full view of the valley.

It was a wide enclosure, and its ordering and construction appealed to
the man of the trail. There was thought and experience in every detail
of it. There was, too, the obvious expenditure of money and infinite
labour. The great central building stood clear of everything else. It
was long and low, with good windows of glass, and doors as powerful as
human hands could make them. To the practical eyes of the Northern man
it was clearly half store and half dwelling house, built always with an
eye to a final defence.

Beyond this there were a number of outbuildings. Some were of simple
Indian construction. But three of them, a large barn, and two buildings
that suggested store-houses, were like the house, heavily built of logs.

But he was given little time for deep investigation, for little Marcel
eagerly dragged him towards the door of the store. To the man there was
something almost pathetic in the child's excitement and joy in his new
discovery. His childish treble silenced the bristling dogs that leapt
out at them in fierce welcome. And his imperious command promptly
reduced them to snuffing suspiciously at the furs of the scout and the
white man whom they seemed to regard with considerable doubt. He
chattered the whole time, stumbling over his words in his eager
excitement. He was endeavouring to impart everything he knew to this
newly found friend, and, in the course of the brief interval of their
approach to the house Steve learned all the dogs' names, their
achievements, what little Marcel liked most to eat, and how he disliked
being washed by An-ina, and how ugly his nurse was, and how his father
was the cleverest man in the world, and how he made long journeys every
winter to look for something he couldn't find.

It was all told without regard for continuity or purpose. It seemed to
Steve as if the little fellow was loosing a long pent tide held up from
lack of companionship till the bursting point had been reached.

As they came to the house, however, a sudden change came over the scene.
The door abruptly opened, and a tall, handsome squaw, dressed in the
clothes of rougher civilization, stood regarding them unsmilingly. To
his surprise she was not only beautiful but quite young.

The boy's chatter ceased instantly and his face fell. One small mitted
hand approached the corner of his pretty mouth, and he regarded the
woman with quaint, childish reproach. It was only for a moment, however.
With a sudden brightening of hope he turned and gazed up appealingly at
his new friend.

"Don't let hers wash us, Uncle Steve," he implored.

* * * * *

Deep distress looked out of Steve's steady eyes. He was gazing at a
wreck of beautiful womanhood lying on the bed. There was no doubt of the
beauty of this mother of little Marcel. It was there in every line of
the pale, hollow cheeks, in her clear, broad brow. In the great, soft
grey eyes which were hot with fever as they gazed at him out of their
hollow settings. Then the abundant dark hair, parted now in the centre,
Indian fashion, and flooding the pillow with its masses. It was dull and
lustreless, but all its beauty of texture remained.

She had summoned him at once to her sick room through An-ina. And in her
greeting had briefly told him of the trouble which had befallen her.

"Maybe you'll think it queer my receiving you this way," she said, in a
tired voice, "but I can't just help myself. You see, I can't move hand
or foot." Then a pitiful smile crept into the wistful eyes. "It happened
two weeks ago. Oh, those two weeks. I was felling saplings with An-ina
in the woods out back. Maybe a woman can't do those things right.
Anyway, one fell on me, and it just crushed me to the ground, and held
me pinned there. I thought I was dead. But I wasn't. I was only broken.
Maybe I'll die here - soon. An-ina got me clear and carried me home. And
now - why, if it wasn't for my little Marcel I'd be glad - so glad to be
rid of all the pain."

The note of despair, the tragedy in the brief recital were overwhelming.
The full force of them smote Steve to the heart, and left him incapable
of expression, beyond that which looked out of his eyes. Words would
have been impossible. He realized she was on her deathbed. It required
only the poor creature's obvious intense sufferings to tell him that. It
was a matter of perhaps hours before little Marcel would be robbed of
his second parent.

The brief daylight was pouring in through the double glass window of the
room. It lit an interior which had only filled him with added wonder at
these folks, and the guiding hand which inspired everything he beheld.
The furnishing of the room was simple enough. But it was of the
manufacture of civilization, and he could only guess at the haulage it
had required to bring it to the heart of Unaga. Then there was distinct
taste in the arrangement of the room. It was the taste of a woman of
education and refinement, and one who must have been heart and soul with
her husband, and the enterprise he was embarked upon.

An-ina had left him there to talk with the mother of those things which
it was her care should not reach the ears of little Marcel.

Steve told her at once that he was a police officer, and that he was on
a mission of investigation into the - he said "disappearance" - of Marcel
Brand, who, he explained, was supposed to be a trader, with his partner
Cyrus Allshore, somewhere in the direction north of Seal Bay in the
Unaga country. He told her that he had travelled one thousand miles
overland to carry out the work, and that something little short of a
miracle had brought him direct to her door.

And the woman had listened to him with the eagerness of one who has
suddenly realized a ray of hope in the blackness of her despair.

After his brief introduction she breathed a deep sigh and her eyes
closed under the pain that racked her broken body.

"Then my message got through," she said, almost to herself. "Lupite must
have reached Seal Bay." Then her eyes opened and she spoke with added
effort. "I didn't dare to hope. It was all I could do," she explained.
"Lupite said he'd get through or die. He was a good and faithful neche.
I - I wonder what's happened him since. He's not got back, and - the
others have all deserted me. There's no one here now but An-ina, and my
little boy, and," she added bitterly, "What's left of me. Oh, God, will
it never end! This pain. This dreadful, dreadful pain."

After a moment of troubled regard, while he watched the cold dew of
agony break upon her brow, Steve ventured his reply.

"Yes. It must have got through, I guess," he said. "It must have reached
the Indian Department at Ottawa. They sent it right along to the man at
the Allowa Reserve where I'm stationed, and communicated with the
police. That's how I received my instructions. They said your husband
was supposed to be - murdered. And his partner, too."

"I put that in my letter," the woman said quickly. "I just had to. You
see - " she broke off. But after a brief hesitation she went on. "But I
don't know. I don't know anything that's happened really. He went away
on a trip eighteen months ago, with Cy. It was to Seal Bay, with trade.
He ought to have been back that fall. I haven't had a word since. I've
been eighteen months here alone with An-ina, and - these Sleepers. He
might have met with accident. But it's more likely murder. These
Sleepers suspected. They were frightened he'd found out. You see, this
stuff - this Adresol - is sacred to them. They would kill anyone who found
out where they get it from."

A spasm of pain contorted her drawn face and again her eyes closed under
the agony. She re-opened them at the sound of Steve's voice.

"Will you tell me, ma'm?" he said.

Steve's manner was gentle. His sympathy for this stricken creature was
real and deep. She was a woman, suffering and alone in a God-forsaken
land. The thought appalled him.

For some moments his invitation remained without response. The woman lay
there unmoving, inert. Only was life in her hot eyes, and the trifling
rise and fall of the bed covering as she breathed. Obviously she was
considering. Perhaps she was wondering how much she had a right to tell
this officer. She was completely without guidance. If her husband had
been alive doubtless her lips would have remained sealed. But he was not
there, and she knew not what had become of him. Then there was little
Marcel, and she knew that when she left that bed it would be only for a
cold grave on this bleak plateau of Unaga.

Steve waited with infinite patience. He felt it to be a moment for
patience. Suddenly she began to talk in a rapid, feverish way.

"Yes, yes," she cried. "I must tell you now, and quickly. Maybe when
you've heard it all you'll help me. There's no one else can help me.
You see, it's my boy - my little boy. He's all I have in the world - now.
He's the sun and light of my life. It's the thought of him alone, with
only An-ina, in this terrible land that sets me well-nigh crazy. The
police. I wonder. Would they look after him? Could you take him back
with you when I'm dead? Do they look after poor orphans, poor little
bits of life like him? Or is he too small a thing in the work they have
to do? I pray God you'll take him out of this when I'm dead."

Steve strove to keep a steady tone. The appeal was heartrending.

"Don't you fret that way, ma'm," he cried earnestly. "If those things
happen you reckon are going to, I'll see that no harm, I can help, comes
to him. He's just a bright little ray of light, and I guess God didn't
set him on this earth to leave him helpless in such a country as this."

A world of relief in the mother's eyes thanked him.

"I - I - " she began, and the man promptly broke in.

"You needn't try to thank me ..." Steve's manner was gravely kind.
"Maybe when you've told me things I'll be able to locate your husband.
And maybe he isn't dead."

The woman's eyes denied him hopelessly.

"He's dead - sure," she said. "Whatever's happened he's - dead. Say,
listen, I'd best try and tell you all from the start," she went on, with
renewed energy. "It's the only way. And it's a straight story without
much shame in it. My husband, Marcel Brand, is a Dane, with French blood
in his veins. He's a great chemist, who learned everything the Germans
could teach him. He absorbed their knowledge, but not their ways. He was
a good and great man, whose whole idea of life was to care for his wife
and child, and expend all his knowledge to help the world of suffering
humanity. It was for that reason that seven years ago he realized all he
possessed, and, taking Cy Allshore as a partner, came up here."

"To help suffering humanity?"

Incredulity found expression almost before Steve was aware of it.

"Yes, I know. It sounds crazy," the sick woman went on. "But it isn't.
Nothing Marcel ever did was crazy. All his life he has been studying
drugs, and his studies have taken him into all sorts of crazy corners of
the world. Thibet, Siberia, Brazil, Tropical Africa, India, and
now - Unaga. It was he who discovered Adresol, that wonderful, priceless
drug, which if it could only be obtained in sufficient quantities would
be the greatest boon to humanity for - as he used to say himself - all
time. Oh, I can't tell you about that," she exclaimed wearily, "guess it
would need someone cleverer than I. But it's that brought us here, and
kept us here for seven years. And maybe we'd have spent years more. You
see, Marcel was years hunting over the world for the stuff growing in
quantities. It was a chance story about these Indians he'd listened to
that brought him here first, and when he discovered they were using the
stuff, he believed it was the hand of Providence guiding him. With the
use of it he found the Indians hibernated each winter, and yet remained
healthy, robust creatures, retaining their faculties unimpaired, and
living to an extreme old age."

"I'd heard of the 'Sleepers,' ma'm," Steve admitted. "But," he added,
with a half smile, "I couldn't just believe the yarn."

"Oh, it's surely real," the woman returned promptly. "You can see for
yourself. We call them the Ant Indians, because of their queer huts.
They're all around the fort, and they're sleeping now, with their food
and their dope near by for each time they wake. Yes, you can see it all
for yourself. They look like dead things."

After another agonized spasm she took up her story more rapidly, as
though fearing lest her strength should fail and she would be left
without sufficient time to finish it.

"When Marcel came here he found himself up against tremendous
difficulties. Oh, it wasn't the climate. It wasn't a thing to do with
the country. It was the Indians themselves. He found they held the drug
sacred, and the secret of their supply something more precious than life
itself. It's the whole key to his death. Oh, I know it. I am sure, sure.
He found that these mostly peaceful creatures were ready to defend their
secret to the uttermost. No money could buy it from them, and they
violently resented Marcel's attempts in that direction. For awhile the
position was deadly, as maybe the defences we had to set up outside have
told you. Marcel had blundered, and it was only after months of trouble
he remedied it, and came to an understanding with these folk. They were
won over by the prospect of trade, and agreed to trade small quantities
of weed provided we would make no attempt to look for the source of
their supply."

"Maybe we're to be blamed," she hurried on, "I don't know. Anyway,
Marcel reckoned he was working for the good of humanity. He saw his
opportunity in that agreement. The Indians were satisfied. Their good
nature re-asserted itself, and all went smoothly with our trade in seals
and the weed. But our opportunity lay in the winter. In the sleep-time
of this folk. Maybe the Indians reckoned their secret was safe in
winter. The storming, the cruel terror of winter which they dared not
face would surely be too much for any white man. Maybe they thought
that way, but if they did they were wrong. Marcel determined to use
their sleep time to discover the secret he needed. He and Cy were ready
for any chances. They would stand for nothing. That was their way. So,
with our own boys, they made the long trail every winter.

"But they failed. Oh, yes, they failed." The woman sighed. "Sometimes it
was climate beat them. Sometimes it wasn't. Anyway they never found the
growing stuff. They never got a clue to its whereabouts. Maybe it was
all buried up in snow. We always reckoned on that. The winter passed,
and with each year that slipped away the chances seemed to recede
farther and farther. Then all of a sudden the Indians got suspicious
again. That was three years ago. I just don't know how it happened.
Maybe one of our boys gave it away. Anyhow they turned sulky. That was
the first sign. Then they refused to trade their weed. Then we knew the
trouble had come. But Marcel was ready for them. He was ready for most
things. He refused to trade their seals if they refused their weed. It
was a bad time, but we finally got through. You see they needed our
trade, once having begun it, and in the end Marcel managed to patch
things up. But they frankly told us they knew of our winter expeditions
to rob them, and, if they were continued, they would kill us all, and
burn up the post. Well, things settled down after that and trade went
on. But it wasn't the same. The Indians became desperately watchful, and
for one whole winter half of them didn't sleep. I knew trouble was
coming.

"Then came the time when Marcel had to make a trip to Seal Bay. He'd
postponed it as long as he could. But our stuff had accumulated, and we
had to get rid of it, and so, at last, he was forced to go. The post was
well fortified, as you've seen, and we were liberally supplied with
means of defence. Lupite was faithful, and I could rely on my other
fighting neches. So Marcel and Cy set out, and - well, there's nothing
more to tell," she said wearily. "They've both disappeared, vanished.
And they should have been back more than a year ago. In desperation I
sent the message by Lupite. He's not returned either, and, one by one,
all our own Indians have deserted me. Oh," she went on passionately,
"it's no accident that's happened. Marcel has been killed, murdered by
these miserable folk, and all his years of work have gone for nothing.
Why they haven't killed me and little Marcel, I can't think. Maybe they
think we're of no account without Marcel. Maybe they find our store
useful. For I've carried on the trade ever since Marcel went. But now my
supplies are running out and when the Indians wake up and find that is
so - but I shall be already dead. Poor little Marcel. But - but you won't
let that happen, will you? It - it is surely God's hand that has sent you
here now."

The woman's voice died out in a sob, and her eyes closed upon the tears
gathered in them. It was the final weakening of her courage. For all its
brevity, for all it was told in such desperate haste, the story lost
nothing of its appeal, nothing of its pathos.

It left Steve feeling more helpless than he had ever felt in his life.
At that moment he would have given all he possessed for the sound of the
deep, cheerful voice of Ian Ross in that room of death.

Mrs. Brand's eyes remained closed, and her breathing laboured under her
failing strength. She had put forth a tremendous effort, and the
reaction was terrible. The ghastly hue of her cheeks and lips terrified
Steve. He dreaded lest at that moment the final struggle was actually
taking place.

He waited breathlessly. He had risen from his seat. The feeble throb of
the pulse was visibly beating at the woman's temples. He knew he could
do nothing, and, presently, as the eyes showed no sign of re-opening, he
turned, and stole out to summon An-ina.




CHAPTER VI

AN-INA


The brief daylight had nearly passed. Accompanied by its fiery
Satellites the sun was lolling moodily to its rest. Steve was searching
the near distance for a sight of Oolak and the dog train, which should
shortly arrive at the post. There was deep reflection in his whole
attitude, in the keen lines of his strong face, in the far-off look in
his steady eyes. Beside him little Marcel, in his warmth-giving bundle
of furs, was emulating the attitude of his new "uncle." He, too, was
searching the distance. He, too, was still and silent. Perhaps, even, in
his childish way, he was striving to read the pages of the mystery book,
which the bleak, snowbound prospect represented.

Beyond the low ridge of crystal whiteness, less than three miles
distant, the land rose steadily, ridge on ridge. It looked like a series
of giant steps blotched and chequered with dark patches of forest which
contained so many secrets hidden from the eyes of man. As the distance
gained the crystal of it all mellowed softly till a deep purple
dominated the whole prospect.

The wintering sun had almost completed its course. At this season of the
year it simply passed low above the horizon towards the west, like a
rolling ball of fire, until, weary of its effort, it submerged again
beyond the broken line of the hills. And each day that passed, its
course dropped lower and lower.

It was a stern enough picture for all winter had not yet finally closed
its doors upon the dying season. And none could know better the meaning
of its frowning than Steve.

"Wot's us looking at, Uncle Steve?"

The childish treble piped its demand without the boy withdrawing his



Online LibraryRidgwell CullumThe Heart of Unaga → online text (page 5 of 30)