To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 17

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CHAPTER XVII.


A HUNT FOR FOOD.


Randy and Earl were much dismayed by their uncle's announcement. The Wild Goose had disappeared! Where to? Ah, that was the question. In vain they tried to pierce the darkness of the night and the snow-squall. Nothing in the shape of a craft could be discerned upon the broad waters of Lake Bennett.

"I told ye to mind how ye tied up that yere craft," growled Captain Zoss, wrathfully, to Earl. "Any lubber could have tied her up better than you did."

"You expect me to do everything!" retorted Earl, beginning to lose his temper, too. "I did the best I could. Why didn't you look after it?"

"He was too busy taking it easy by the fire," put in Randy, bound to stand up for his brother, as well as to put in a "shot" for himself.

"None o' your impudence, boy!" roared the captain, and he turned as if to strike Randy. But now Foster Portney caught his arm and threw it back.

"Stop it, all of you!" said he. "This is no time to quarrel. The wind, and not Earl, is responsible for this, for I looked to the tying up myself, after he was done. We're all out of sorts, but we needn't act like children over it. Our duty is to find the boat, and that as quickly as possible."

"I reckon she's gone down the lake," grumbled the captain, after an awkward pause. "The wind's that way."

"We'll go down and see if we can't sight her," answered Foster Portney.

Away they went on a run. Earl, who was tall and light in weight, easily outdistanced the rest and reached a rocky cliff, where the lake made a slight bend. He went up the cliff, to stumble headlong into a narrow gulch, cutting his chin and his left hand. Picking himself up, he started on, but soon stopped. "I ought to warn the others," was his thought, and he turned and hurried back.

Captain Zoss was ahead of the others and was on top of the cliff when Earl shouted to him. "Stop, captain, stop, or you'll get hurt!" came at the top of his voice, and the captain halted just in time to save himself from a disastrous fall. He climbed down the gulch and up at the other side, and yelled a warning to those behind. Soon all four stood upon another level stretch of the lake shore.

Nothing was to be seen—that is, nothing but the flying snowflakes dropping into the wind-swept and white-capped waters beneath. They continued to walk on, until the cold chilled each to the marrow of his bones.

"We might as well get back and wait till morning," said Foster Portney, with a heavy sigh. "We can do nothing in the darkness. Let us hope the boat will beach herself somewhere and remain right-side up."

With chattering teeth they started on the return, Randy by his uncle's side and Earl behind Captain Zoss. Half the distance to the tent had been covered when the captain paused and ranged up beside Earl.

"Earl, you mustn't mind me when I git in my tantrums," he said jerkily. "I git 'em every once in a while, see? It's nateral with me—allers was. But I ain't bad at heart, an' I shan't forgit ye for savin' me a dirty fall, mark that! And it's not your fault the boat is gone—anything would have torn loose in this yere gale." He paused for a moment. "An' I didn't mean ter hit Randy—it's only a way I have ter frighten folks—a poor way, too, as I acknowledge. Come on." And before Earl could reply he was stalking on, his head bent far down, to keep the snow from his eyes. Earl clung close to him, and from that night he and the captain were better friends than ever. Later on Randy received a like "apology," and when he got to know the captain better voted him "all right, though a bit cranky at times."

Dr. Barwaithe was as dismayed as any of them had been, when the news was broken to him, but he agreed that nothing was to be accomplished while the darkness and the storm lasted. He had dragged the cooking stove up to the entrance to the tent and was trying to start a fire. Twice the tiny flames had flickered and gone out, but now, fanned vigorously, the wood caught, and soon the stove was red-hot, the top spluttering with the snowflakes which fell upon it. The fire warmed the air in the tent, and for the balance of the night the party rested comfortably in body if not in mind.

With the coming of morning the storm abated, and by eight o'clock the sun was struggling to shine through the drifting clouds. The captain, as if to atone for his misdeeds, prepared breakfast, giving to Earl and Randy the best of the flap-jacks turned out. The captain was a great hand at these cakes, and the party was certain to get them whenever he was cook.

"For all we know, the boat may have gone clear down to the entrance to Tagish Lake," remarked Foster Portney, while finishing the repast. "I see nothing for us to do but to walk along the lake shore and keep our eyes open."

"Shall we take our traps along?" asked the doctor. "I can carry the cook stove if you can divide the rest of the stuff among you."

A short discussion followed, and feeling certain the boat had gone down the lake, if anywhere, it was decided by all hands to pack the outfit and take it along. The packing took some time, and when the start was made the storm had cleared away entirely, leaving the sky as bright as one could wish.

A mile of the shore had been covered when Foster Portney called a halt and directed attention to an object floating in the direction from which they had come. "It's a boat!" he cried, a moment later.

"Our boat?" questioned Randy, eagerly.

"I can't say." Mr. Portney and the others watched the craft with interest. "No, it's not our boat, but another, and there are several people on board."

"Let's hail 'em, and git 'em to search for the Wild Goose," said Captain Zoss, and they walked back, and after some trouble succeeded in attracting the attention of the party on the water. There were three men in the boat and a woman, the latter being the same they had met in camp at Lake Linderman. To all the newcomers Foster Portney told his story.

"O' course we'll help you," said the miner who had his wife on board. "One o' you can git aboard here, and we'll cruise around the lake on a hunt. Ain't got room fer more 'n one," he went on; "and say, who's the doctor among ye?"

"I am," responded Dr. Barwaithe.

"Then you might ez well do the trick, fer Lizy here don't feel extry well, an' it will be fair play fer you to give her some medicine, I take it."

"I'll do what I can for her," said the doctor. "But most of my medicines are on board of the lost boat."

"Then we've got ter find her, sure pop, fer Lizy does feel most distressin' like, with a pain in her head an' a crick in her back," went on Wodley, the miner.

The doctor hopped on board, and after a few words more the boat set off in search of the Wild Goose, and the hunt from the lake shore was continued. Slowly the forenoon wore away and still nothing was seen of the missing craft. The other boat with the doctor had long since been lost to view up the lake.

It was getting toward supper time when Foster Portney turned to Earl, who, in addition to some of the camping outfit, carried the shot-gun. "I just caught a glance of something on legs up among yonder rocks," he said. "If you can, you might as well knock it over, for it won't be long before all of us will want something to eat."

Earl was glad enough to try his hand at hunting, and turned over his traps to his companions. Soon he was climbing the rocks to which his uncle had pointed. He had not gone over five hundred feet when he beheld a small deer gazing at him in alarm. Before he could draw a bead on the animal the deer was gone behind a neighboring cliff.

Feeling moderately sure that this was the animal his uncle had seen, and that the deer would not go far, but might even come back out of curiosity. Earl began to climb the cliff. A profusion of brush grew among the rocks, and these afforded him a good hand-hold, and he was soon at the top.

Although hemmed in on three sides by mountains, the way to the lake was clear, and looking in that direction he saw, far to the opposite shore, the boat containing Dr. Barwaithe and their newly made friends. He watched the boat for a minute, when a clatter of sharp hoofs on the cliff made him whirl around, just in time to catch a second sight of the deer. His gun came up quick enough now, and the charge took the animal full in the breast.

Struck in this fashion, many an animal would have rolled over dead. But the deer of Alaska, which are growing more scarce every year, are a sturdy lot, and though terribly wounded, this specimen did not drop. Staggering for a brief moment, he turned and then fled in the direction from which he had come.

Earl was amazed, but, determined not to lose his game after such a shot, he hastily reloaded and made after the game Less than two score of steps brought him almost to the end of the cliff, and he discovered the deer crouched in the shelter of the rocks, its dark eyes glaring angrily. Up came his gun, and the weapon was discharged just as the animal sprang forward. The shot was a glancing one, doing little harm, and the next instant the wounded beast was upon the boy.