It was broad daylight now. Another wolf attacked from the front and fell under the axe. A little longer they parleyed. They were gradually growing more bold and narrowing the circle—coming so close that they were almost within reach of the swinging weapon. Finally a wolf on the right, and one on the left, charged at the same time, and in an instant those in front, as though acting upon a prearranged signal, closed in, and the pack became one snarling, fighting, clamouring mass.
When the sun broke over the eastern horizon a little later it looked upon a circle of flat-tramped, blood-stained snow, over which were scattered bare picked human bones and pieces of torn clothing. A pack of wolves trotted leisurely away over the marsh.
In the woods not a mile distant two Indian hunters were following the trail that led to Bob’s unconscious body.
[Illustration: “Micmac John knew his end had come”]
THE TRAGEDY OF THE TRAIL
A week passed and Christmas eve came. The weather continued clear and surpassingly fine. It was ideal weather for trapping, with no new snow to clog the traps and interfere with the hunters in their work. The atmosphere was transparent and crisp, and as it entered the lungs stimulated the body like a tonic, giving new life and buoyancy and action to the limbs. The sun never ventured far from the horizon now and the cold grew steadily more intense and penetrating. The river had long ago been chained by the mighty Frost King and over the earth the snow lay fully six feet deep where the wind had not drifted it away.
A full hour before sunset Dick and Ed, in high good humour at the prospect of the holiday they had planned, arrived at the river tilt. They came together expecting to find Bob and Bill awaiting them there, but the shack was empty.
“We’ll be havin’ th’ tilt snug an’ warm for th’ lads when they comes,” said Dick, as he went briskly to work to build a fire in the stove “You get some ice t’ melt for th’ tea, Ed. Th’ lads’ll be handy t’ gettin’ in now, an’ when they comes supper’ll be pipin’ hot for un.”
Ed took an axe and a pail to the river where he chopped out pieces of fine, clear ice with which to fill the kettle. When he came back Dick had a roaring fire and was busy preparing partridges to boil.
Pretty soon Bill arrived, and they gave him an uproarious greeting. It was the first time Bill and Ed had met since they came to their trails in the fall, and the two friends were as glad to see each other as though they had been separated for years.
“An’ how be un now, Bill, an’ how’s th’ fur?” asked Ed when they were seated.
“Fine,” replied Bill. “Fur’s been fine th’ year. I has more by now ’an I gets all o’ last season, an’ one silver too.”
“A silver? An’ be he a good un?”
“Not so bad. He’s a little gray on th’ rump, but not enough t’ hurt un much.”