In the nick of time Lucky appeared with his younger brother, and having begged to be allowed to accompany the party,—a request which Uncle Will granted at once,—he fell to work with such energy and good-will that the boys were inclined to think the storekeeper had erred in calling him lazy. Coffee Jack, too, struggled with flour sacks nearly as heavy as himself, and won golden opinions from everybody. The truth is, an Indian is every whit as ready as a white man to show gratitude for kindness.
Reaching the brow of the hill breathless and warm after the first ascent, the Bradfords threw their loads upon the ground and paused to rest and look back. A wonderful panorama was outspread before them. Green spruce forests were sprinkled over the snowy surface of the Alsek valley and its bordering plateaus. Below them lay the Indian village, while to the east in a clearing rose a column of blue smoke from the chimney of the trading-post. They could trace the river for many miles in its great curve to the south, where on the far horizon glittered the mighty summits of the St. Elias Range. To the southeast, perhaps ten miles away, loomed a grand cluster of unnamed mountains, and another to the southwest, while, to perfectly balance the picture, similar isolated mountain groups appeared over the tree-tops in the northeast and northwest.
It was here that a trim, long-tailed bird was first observed, whose plumage was mostly black, and whose note was loud rather than musical. Uncle Will said it was a magpie, a bird which, in captivity, can be taught like the parrot to imitate the human voice. Another bird, of a gray color, made its appearance at dinner-time, and showed a great fondness for bacon rinds, coming close up to the party to snatch the coveted morsels. This was the butcher-bird or shrike, very common in all the northwestern country, and an arrant thief when there is meat in sight.
Sledding was resumed next morning. The enlistment of Lucky and Coffee Jack had swelled their number to seven, and without increasing the loads to be carried added to the working force, so that in spite of the softness of the snow good progress was made. Lucky had brought an old sled, cast aside by some prospector; but as it was too weak to carry a full load, Uncle Will relegated it to Coffee Jack with one hundred pounds, while Lucky drew the sleds of the others by turns.
The boys soon had occasion to observe the shrewdness of their young Indian friend. The gee-pole of Coffee Jack’s sled broke on a steep down-grade, and he was obliged to halt for repairs. The Indians invariably take much pride in their powers as swift, strong packers and sledders, especially when in the company of white men, and Coffee Jack was now at his wits’ end to maintain his position and keep the young pale-faces behind him. He rose to the emergency, however.
“You got hatchet?” he asked innocently, as David approached. “Sled broke.”
“Yes,” said David, handing over that article and sitting down good-naturedly on his sled while the Indian boy went to cut a new pole. He supposed that as soon as Coffee Jack had secured the pole and driven it into place, he would return the hatchet, without waiting to re-fasten the drag-rope and lashings, which it had been necessary to loosen.
This, however, was just what Coffee Jack did not propose to do. Seeing, as he had hoped would be the case, that David had stopped to wait for the hatchet, and Roly had stopped rather than make so long a détour out of the trail through the deep snow, he pretended to need the hatchet after the pole was in place, giving a rap here and a tap there, and all the while adroitly fastening the ropes in place again.