The gloom of night falls early in the great northern mid-winter, and it was already growing dusk when there came the sound of a voice outside, followed a moment later by a loud knock at the door. At Howland’s invitation the door opened and the head and shoulders of a man appeared.
“Something has gone wrong out at the north coyote, sir, and Mr. MacDonald wants you just as fast as you can get out there,” he said. “He sent me down for you with a sledge.”
“MacDonald told me the thing was ready for firing,” said Howland, putting on his hat and coat. “What’s the matter?”
“Bad packing, I guess. Heard him swearing about it. He’s in a terrible sweat to see you.”
Half an hour later the sledge drew up close to the place where Howland had seen a score of men packing bags of powder and dynamite earlier in the day. Half a dozen lanterns were burning among the rocks, but there was no sign of movement or life. The engineer’s companion gave a sudden sharp crack of his long whip and in response to it there came a muffled halloo from out of the gloom.
“That’s MacDonald, sir. You’ll find him right up there near that second light, where the coyote opens up. He’s grilling the life out of half a dozen men in the chamber, where he found the dynamite on top of the powder instead of under it.”
“All right!” called back Howland, starting up among the rocks. Hardly had he taken a dozen steps when a dark object shot out behind him and, fell with crushing force on his head. With, a groaning cry he fell forward on his face. For a few moments he was conscious of voices about him; he knew that he was being lifted in the arms of men, and that after a time they were carrying him so that his feet dragged on the ground. After that he seemed to be sinking down—down—down—until he lost all sense of existence in a chaos of inky blackness.
THE HOUR OF DEATH