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Out of the Mist
By GEORGE T. MARSH Illustration by Clifford W. Ashley
TEEL, w'at you t'ink, Loup? De Albanee onlee leetle piece now? We do good job to mak' for de sout' shore, eh?"
With a whine the great slate-gray husky in the bow turned his slant eyes from the white wall of mist enveloping the canoe to his master's face, as if in full agreement with the change of course.
The west coast of James Bay lay blanketed with fog from the drifting ice-fields far to the north. Early that morning, when the mist blotted out the black ribbon of spruce edging the coast behind the marshes of the low shore, Gaspard Laroque had swung his canoe in from the deep water. For hours now he had been feeling his way alongshore toward the maze of channels through which the Albany River reached the yellow waters of the bay.
Fifteen miles of mud-flat, sand-spit, and scrub-grown island marked the river's mouth, and his goal, the Hudson's Bay Company post, Fort Albany, lay on the easternmost thoroughfare of the delta. There waited the dusky wife and children he had not seen since his trip down the coast over the sea-ice at Christmas with the dog that now worried at the scent of the invisible flocks of geese that rose clamoring through the fog ahead of the boat. Bought when a puppy from an east-coast Eskimo at the Bear Islands, the husky had been his sole companion through the lonely moons of the winter before on the white wastes of his subarctic trapping-grounds.
"Whish you, Loup! Here we go!" Swinging the nose of the boat well off the flat shore, the half-breed dropped to his knees, placed a battered brass compass on a bag in front of him, and, following the wavering needle at his knee, started
straight out through the smother of mist across the delta of the many-mouthed Albany. Two, three hours passed, and still the narrow Cree blade bit into the flat surface of the bay as though driven by an engine rather than by human thew and sinew, when suddenly the husky lifted his nose, repeatedly sucking in and expelling the baffling air. Then with a whine he suddenly sat up, throwing the canoe off its bottom.
"W'at you do, Loup? You crazee? Lie down!"
But the husky did not lie down. Instead, his black nostrils quivered in long sniffs as he faintly sensed the strange odor that the moisture in the heavy air almost obliterated. Then the hairy throat of the great dog swelled in a low rumble as he strained against the bow brace, peering into the impenetrable mist.
"Ah-hah!" chuckled the Cree, interested. "W'at you t'ink you smell, eh? No goose mak' you so cross; mus' be seal."
In answer the hair on the dog's back lifted from ears to tail, and raising his nose, he broke into a long howl, a warning which his master knew full well meant that from somewhere out of that wilderness of mist human scent had drifted to the husky's palpitating nostrils.
Again from the dog's throat rolled the challenge of his wolfish forebears to the hidden enemies, and out of the fog ahead floated the answer of a human voice.
"Quey! Quey!" called the Cree in reply, and ceased paddling.
Again the voice called from the fog; again Laroque answered, and started paddling slowly in the direction of the sound. It was a canoe from Moose, he surmised, bound for Fort Albany, and he was nearer the south shore than he had reckoned.
Then of a sudden out of the mist ahead broke the black mass of a ship.
The paddle of the surprised half-breed hung suspended over the water while the dog bellowed his rage at the mysterious thing looming through the fog. Clearly it was not the small company steamer from Moose Factory, which was not due at Albany for a month, after the furbrigades had arrived from the up-river posts, but one of the big ships.
Still, what was one of the company ships from across the big water, which never entered the treacherous mouths of the Moose or the Albany, but unloaded at Charlton Island, a hundred miles east, doing here? Then it flashed across the Cree's brain that the vessel had missed the island in the thick weather and had run clear to the Albany flats, where she had anchored.
"Quey! Quey!" Laroque gave the Cree salutation to the men at the rail of the ship as he paddled alongside. "You goin' travel up de Albanee?" he added, with a grin. But there came no answer to his question.
aboard, followed by the yelps of his deserted dog.
Twice Laroque had seen ships of the Hudson's Bay Company loading furs at Charlton Island, but he knew at once from the looks of the long deck-house and the size of the vessel that she was not one of these. A group of sailors, talking together in a strange tongue, eyed with frank curiosity the swart trapper with gaudy Hudson's Bay sash, skinning-knife at belt, and sealskin moccasins as he followed one of the crew aft. At Charlton Island the men of the company ships spoke English and were friendly to Cree and Eskimo, he thought. Surely there was something queer about this ship.
Shortly a gold-braided cap crowning the bearded face of an officer appeared at the rail, and a gruff voice demanded:
"Where are you from and where bound?"
"I go to Albanee; been huntin' up de wes' coast las' long snows," replied the Cree, while the excited dog bared his white fangs in a snarl at the strangers peering down at the canoe.
"Keep your dog quiet!" the officer rasped.
Gaspard spoke to the husky.
"Now make your boat fast to the ladder and come aboard."
On the after-deck three men in uniform were conversing in low tones. As he approached the group, the restless eyes of the Cree made out, behind the officers, two long shapes covered with tarpaulin, which failed to conceal their heavy metal standards rising from the deck-plates. What could these things be, he wondered. No Hudson's Bay ship carried such strange gear on its after-deck.
The curious eyes of Laroque were suddenly shifted to the bearded officer who had hailed him from the ship by the abrupt question: "What's your name?"
The domineering manner of the speaker and the undisguised curiosity and amusement with which the others inspected the half-breed, from fox-skin cap to moccasins, stung the trapper's pride. He had boarded this ship to render the captain a service. The manner of these people was not to his taste. His face set hard as his small eyes met those of his questioner when he answered:
After the long months he had spent alone with his dog, the half-breed welcomed the opportunity for a chat and a meal of ship's rations with the crew of the vessel. Furthermore, she was out of her course, in a dangerous position, close in on the Albany shoals, and the captain needed the information he could give him. So lashing his canoe to the rope ladder dropped over the side, Laroque clambered
"You are an Indian?"
The tone of the officer brought the blood leaping into the face of Laroque. He, Gaspard Laroque, who held the record for the bitter Fort Hope winter trail from Albany, whose prowess as canoeman and hunter was known from the Elkwan barrens to Rupert House, was no sailor to be treated like a dog.
ht the aroque the re
"The paddle of the surprised half-breed hung suspended over the water while the dog bellowed his rage at the mysterious thing looming through the fog"
Squaring his wide shoulders, he flung the thick hair from his eyes with a toss of the head and said defiantly:
"My fader was French; my moder Cree. But I tell you somet'ing: eef de win' rise from de nord or eas', dees boat land on de beach lak dat," and leaning forward, Laroque snapped his fingers in the captain's face.
Choking with rage, the officer stood for a moment inarticulate. Then shaking a fist wildly, he loosed a torrent of unintelligible words at the half-breed, who watched him coolly through narrowed eyelids.
"Answer my questions promptly," the big sailor finally managed to sputter in English, "or I'll have you-" Then regaining his self-control, he continued in calmer tone:
"You say you are bound for Fort Albany?"
The Cree nodded.
"How far do you think we are off the mouth of the river?"
"You are ver' close; onlee t'ree, four mile'. Dees ees bad place for beeg boat, ver' bad."
No good for beeg boat," insisted the Cree, searching the bearded face before him for a glimmer of the purpose behind the question.
The reply had a decided effect on the officers, who conversed for some time in low tones; then the captain turned to La
At the reply the captain turned to the men beside him, and spoke rapidly in the alien tongue, while the restless eyes of Gaspard Laroque swept deck and rigging, to fall again upon the shrouded shapes rising from the after-deck which first had baffled his curiosity. His inspection was interrupted by:
"How far above the mouth of the river is the fort?"
"Feefteen mile' dey call eet.'
"How large is the garrison? How many guns have they?"
Laroque shook his head, but he was thinking hard.
"Do you understand me?" Then the officer articulated slowly as he added: "How many men are at the fort? How many guns are there, and what size?"
For a fraction of a second the small eyes of the Cree glowed with the light of a dawning comprehension, but the bold features remained set as if cut from rock. It was clear now. This strange craft meant danger to Fort Albany. She had come into the bay for the furs at the posts of the Hudson's Bay Company, and this captain wanted to know how well those furs were guarded.
Often, before the fire in his grandfather's tepee, he had heard the old man tell how long ago the French had sailed into Hudson Bay and burned the fur-posts of the English; how once in these waters the English had fought great sea-fights with the French for the fur trade. But that was many, many long snows ago, in the time of his grandfather's grandfather. For generations now the ancient foes had been at peace. At Fort Albany, the Christmas before, the factor had told him that the French and the English had been fighting side by side since summer, the big water, against a yellow-haired race who wished to rule the world. But the thunders of the Great War were heard but faintly on the shores of the far, subarctic bay.
"You know the Albany River-the channel up to the fort?"
The secret was out: this was not a company ship. These people were strangers to James Bay or they would know that the treacherous river channels were unnavigable for big boats. But what business could a strange craft have at Albany
a craft manned by a crew speaking a tongue unknown to the bay, with a captain who spoke English as no skipper of company ship or Newfoundland whaler spoke it?
"De channel to de fort no good for beeg boat," replied Laroque, his swart features, stone-hard in their immobility, masking the thoughts which harassed his brain.
"How deep is the channel at low tide?"
"Answer me! How many men are at the fort?" fiercely demanded the officer, glaring into the face of the Cree.
The thought of the defenseless loved ones waiting for his return at the little unfortified fur-post, with its handful of company men and red trappers, spurred the active mind of Gaspard Laroque as the flick of a whip on a raw harness sore rouses a lagging husky. The French blood of his father spoke in his answer.
"Ver' manee men. Beeg gun', petit gun', all kin' gun' at de beeg fort at Albanee." Then an inspiration led him to point to the tarpaulin-covered shapes on the afterdeck that first had puzzled him. "Beeg," he cried; "ver' much beeg dan dose gun'."
The faces of his audience palpably fell. Calling two sailors, the captain ordered the covering removed from one of the guns. It was the first modern piece of artillery Gaspard Laroque had seen,-the obsolete cannon at Moose Factory were relics of the Riel Rebellion,-but the fate of Fort Albany was in his hands; so he smiled derisively at the long steel barrel and polished mountings of the four-inch Krupp.
"Dat ees leetle pistol to dem beeg gun' at de fort." He laughed, to the amazement of the officers of the German commerce-destroyer Elbe, then added: "An' de men," the lips of the crafty Cree moved as if he were making a mental calculation,-"ah-hah!" he finally nounced, "de men at de fort mus' be, las' time I was dere, two, t'ree hunder.”
The big German captain seized the arm of the Cree.
It was interesting news for the officers of the Elbe, and, from their scowling faces and excited conversation, the Cree judged, highly disconcerting.
The council of war continued for some time; then the youngest of the group, a smooth-faced boy of twenty-four, turned to Laroque affably.
"You have a fine dog in your canoe. We will hoist him aboard with your stuff."
It was a polite way of informing the Cree that he was a prisoner; but it was a relief to hear that his shaggy comrade was not to be abandoned. For next to the wife and children at Albany Gaspard Laroque loved the great dog down there in the canoe worrying over the absence of his master as he loved nothing on earth.
"T'anks," said Laroque, gratefully. "I mak' heem good dog on ship."
The trapper followed the officer forward to where the canoe lay alongside. There was the husky, whimpering for the return of the man who had deserted him.
"Whish you, Loup!" the Cree called down, leaning over the rail.
The nose of the husky pointed upward in a yelp of delight at the sound of the beloved voice, his thick brush of a tail switching furiously to and fro in an ecstasy of welcome.
Calling some sailors, the lieutenant said to the Cree:
"Go below and make your dog fast, to the tackle they lower; but remember, if you attempt to escape, you are a dead man."
Laroque dropped down the ladder to the canoe, to meet the rough caresses of two hairy paws and swift licks from a hot tongue, while the rumble in the deep throat of the husky voiced his joy at his master's return.
As the nimble fingers of the Cree fashioned a sling from the lowered ropes for his protesting dog, his small eyes furtively swept the rail above him. The muzzles of a dozen rifles covered the canoe. Το make a break for the cover of the fog would be suicide. They would get him before he wet his paddle.