THE LONG TRAIL
For four days Whaley lay between life and death. There were hours when the vital current in him ebbed so low that McRae thought it was the beginning of the end. But after the fifth day he began definitely to mend. His appetite increased. The fever in him abated. The delirium passed away. Just a week from the time he had been wounded, McRae put him on the cariole and took him to town over the hard crust of the snow.
Beresford returned from Fort Edmonton a few hours later, carrying with him an appointment for Morse as guide and deputy constable.
“Maintiens le droit,” said the officer, clapping his friend on the shoulder. “You’re one of us now. A great chance for a short life you’ve got. Time for the insurance companies to cancel any policies they may have on you.”
Morse smiled. He was only a deputy, appointed temporarily, but it pleased him to be chosen even in this capacity as a member of the most efficient police force in the world. “Maintiens le droit” was the motto of the Mounted. Tom did not intend that the morale of that body should suffer through him if he could help it.
Angus McRae had offered his dog-train for the pursuit and Beresford had promptly accepted. The four dogs of the Scotch trapper were far and away better than any others that could be picked up in a hurry. They had stamina, and they were not savage and wolfish like most of those belonging to the Indians and even to the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Supplies for the trip had been gathered by Morse. From the Crees he had bought two hundred pounds of dried fish for the dogs. Their own provisions consisted of pemmican, dried caribou meat, flour, salt, tea, and tobacco.
All Faraway was out to see the start. The travelers would certainly cover hundreds and perhaps thousands of miles before their return. Even in that country of wide spaces, where men mushed far when the rivers and lakes were closed, this was likely to prove an epic trip.
Beresford cracked the long lash and Cuffy leaned forward in the traces. The tangle of dogs straightened out and began to move. A French voyageur lifted his throat in a peculiar shout that was half a bark. Indians and half-breeds snowshoed down the street beside the sled. At the door of the McRae house stood Angus, his wife, and daughter.
“God wi’ you haith,” the trapper called.
Jessie waved a scarf, and Beresford, who had spent the previous evening with her, threw up a hand in gay greeting.
The calvacade drew to the edge of the woods. Morse looked back. A slim figure, hardly distinguishable in the distance, still stood in front of the McRae house fluttering the scarf.
A turn in the trail hid her. Faraway was shut out of view.
For four or five miles the trappers stayed with them. It was rather a custom of the North to speed travelers on their way in this fashion. At the edge of the first lake the Indians and half-breeds said good-bye and turned back.