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CHAPTER XVIII.


ON TO THE WHITE HORSE RAPIDS.


For a brief instant, as the deer rushed upon him, Earl was fairly paralyzed, having had no idea that the wounded animal might attack him. But as those glaring eyes came closer and the antlers were lowered, he realized that something must be done, and leaped to the inner side of the narrow cliff.

Crash! the deer had struck him on the arm. It was a heavy blow, and only the sharp rock to one side of him saved the youth from serious injury. Then, as the animal bounded back for a second attack. Earl shoved out the gun, pressed it at the deer's breast, and sent the beast tumbling from the cliff into the gulch below. It was done so rapidly that the animal had no time to save itself. It went down with a crash and a dull thud, and, looking over the rocks, the boy saw that it lay on its back unable to run off on account of a broken leg. As soon as he could, he reloaded the shot-gun and put his game out of its misery.

"That was a narrow escape, and no fooling!" he half muttered, as he looked about for some place where he might descend to the bottom of the gulch. A quarter of an hour later he had the deer bound on top of a tree branch, and was dragging it toward the lake shore.

"A deer!" cried Randy and Foster Portney, simultaneously, as they caught sight of the prize. "Well, that was well worth going after!" continued the latter.

"You had a narrow escape!" exclaimed Randy, when Earl's story was told. "If you hadn't shoved him over, he would have gored you to death."

It was quite dark by the time they went into camp. The deer was soon cut up, and they dined that evening on the choicest of venison steak. The remainder of the meat was hung up to dry, while a portion of it was thoroughly salted.

In addition to the fire in the camp stove, a big blaze was lit on the shore, that Dr. Barwaithe and the others might be guided hither if they succeeded in finding the Wild Goose. But the niglit wore away without interruption, and by six o'clock the next morning the search for the missing craft was renewed.

"We're most down to Tagish Lake, I reckon," remarked Captain Zoss. "I don't believe the Wild Goose could go through, 'ceptin' she was bottom side up and minus our traps, which I don't hope fer, eh?"

The entrance to Tagish Lake was reached, and they were speculating on what to do next, when Randy shouted, "Here they come, and they have the Wild Goose in tow!"

His announcement proved correct, and quarter of an hour later Wodley sent his own craft up to the bank with a swish through the water-grass and tundra, or moss, which was now beginning to show itself on every side. The Wild Goose was close behind, and they noted with satisfaction that she seemed to be in the same condition as they had left her.

"We found her stuck in the mud on the other side," announced Dr. Barwaithe. "The wind had just sent her along and left her, and the only damage done is to some of the provisions which were soaked by the rain and snow."

"We can be thankful it's not worse," replied Foster Portney. "If she had not turned up, I don't know what we would have done."

Dr. Barwaithe had become well acquainted with the party, and had given Mrs. Wodley some medicine containing a large quantity of quinine, for the woman was suffering from chills and fever, something frequently met with in Alaska.

It did not take long for both parties to haul their boats into Tagish Lake, and once on that broad sheet of water, all sail was set for the six miles of river which connects that body of water with Marsh Lake, called by many Mud Lake, on account of its shallowness and soft bottom.

As they skimmed along, Earl and Randy, under the directions of their uncle, sorted over the provisions, putting aside for immediate use such as would not keep after being wet. This had scarcely been finished when the end of Tagish Lake appeared in sight.

"There is some sort o' a camp ahead," announced Captain Zoss. "Don't look like er miner's strike, either. Injuns, I'll bet!"

The captain was right. The camp was a rude one, consisting of half a dozen huts and dugouts. The Indians numbered about two score, and they were the most disagreeable Randy and Earl had yet beheld. Each was painted from forehead to chin with greasy black and red paint, and all wore filthy skin suits which could be smelt "further than you could see them," according to Randy's notion. The Indians tried to sell them some fish, but the members of the party declined, and pointed to the deer meat. Then one of the Indians begged Earl to let him have the deer's head and antlers for a string of beautiful pike, and the youth made the trade; for although he would have liked to keep the trophy, carrying it up into the gold regions was out of the question. The deer meat had been divided with the Wodley party, and now a similar disposition was made of the fish.

The day was fine, with the wind in the right direction, and soon they came to the end of Marsh Lake, which is fifteen miles long, and heavily fringed on all sides with timber and brush. On several occasions they ran in water so shallow they were in danger of going aground; but the sharp eyes of Captain Zoss saved them, and the second day saw them encamped within sight of the fifty-mile river which connects Marsh Lake with Lake Labarge, the last of the lakes they were to traverse on the way to the gold regions.

"By day after to-morrow we'll strike the White Hoss Rapids," said Captain Zoss. "Then, I reckon we'll have jest sech a time as we had up ter Homan Rapids."

"Excuse me!" rejoined Earl. "One such experience is enough in a lifetime."

"I have been talking to Wodley," put in Foster Portney. "He has been through the rapids, and he says he will give us a hand when we get there. He advises taking the boats through almost empty."

The captain "allowed" this would be safer, although, to be sure, it would also be far more laborious, for everything not left in the boat would have to be carried over the roughest kind of a trail, running some distance away from the stream.

The two parties camped side by side, and it made each feel more at home to have the other at hand, for among these lofty and cold-looking mountains one was very apt to have a lonely feeling creeping over him if no companion were at hand.

"How a man could attempt this trip all alone is something I can't understand," observed Randy. "Imagine getting lost in those mountains over yonder! It makes a fellow shiver to think of it!"

"Men have been lost out here," replied Dr. Barwaithe, gravely, "and lost so thoroughly they have never been heard of again. If a man gets lost in the mountains, and he is of a nervous temperament, the chances are that after a week or a month of it he will lose his mind and go crazy."

"I guess that is what would happen to me," answered Randy. "Oh, what's that stung me? A mosquito, I declare! Who would expect to find one of those pests at this season of the year?"

"You'll get mosquitoes enough presently," replied Foster Portney. "Don't you remember the mosquito netting I brought along? During the short summer here the insects are apt to worry the life out of a person."

"I suppose they thrive in this moss that I see around," said Earl. "What did you say it was called, Uncle Foster? tundra?"

"Yes, tundra, Earl. The moss is thicker than this up in the north and covers everything. If it wasn't for the moss, I think the ground might thaw out more in the summer, but as it is, the moss prevents the sun from striking in, and the ground is as hard as in midwinter six or eight feet below the surface."

"The moss doesn't seem to have any effect on the berry bushes, though," said Randy. " see 'em everywhere. Do they bear fruit?"

"Oh, yes, they have everything in the way of berries up here. Randy. But they are rather small, and they haven't the flavor of those at home. The berries have to take the place of larger fruits, such as apples, pears, and peaches, and the birds live on them."

"Well, we won't starve as long as we have berries, birds, and fish," said Earl. "I don't see where this cry of starvation comes in, I must say."

"O' course ye don't—not now!" burst in Captain Zoss. "But wait till winter sets in. Then the berries will be gone, an' birds will be mighty scarce."

"But we'll have the fish, captain. We can cut holes in the ice on the river and spear them, as we do down in Maine."

"Wall, maybe, my lad. But ye don't catch me a-tryin' it when I kin git anything else—not with the ice eight or ten feet thick an' the mercury down to forty below nuthin' at all!"

It was not long after that they turned in, and never did they sleep more soundly, although a number of mosquitoes visited them. Foster Portney was the first to get up, and by the time the boys followed, a delicious smell of frying fish and boiling coffee was floating through the air.

A ten minutes' ride on the lake brought them close to the entrance of the river. Here the water was broken up into a dozen currents, swirling this way and that and throwing the spray in every direction. On either side of this watercourse were high walls.

"Now fer the tug o' war!" said Captain Zoss, and immediate preparations were made to shoot the cañon and the falls of which Randy and Earl had heard so much. Once past that dangerous spot, the remainder of the trip to the gold regions would be an easy one.