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V. A Friend of Justice Henry van Dyke

Section III.

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It was in the second winter after Pichou's coming to Seven Islands that the great trial of his courage arrived. Late in February an Indian runner on snowshoes staggered into the village. He brought news from the hunting-parties that were wintering far up on the Ste. Marguerite--good news and bad. First, they had already made a good hunting: for the pelletrie, that is to say. They had killed many otter, some fisher and beaver, and four silver foxes--a marvel of fortune. But then, for the food, the chase was bad, very bad--no caribou, no hare, no ptarmigan, nothing for many days. Provisions were very low. There were six families together. Then la grippe had taken hold of them. They were sick, starving. They would probably die, at least most of the women and children. It was a bad job.

Dan Scott had peculiar ideas of his duty toward the savages. He was not romantic, but he liked to do the square thing. Besides, he had been reading up on la grippe, and he had some new medicine for it, capsules from Montreal, very powerful--quinine, phenacetine, and morphine. He was as eager to try this new medicine as a boy is to fire off a new gun. He loaded the Cometique with provisions and the medicine-chest with capsules, harnessed his team, and started up the river. Thermometer thirty degrees below zero; air like crystal; snow six feet deep on the level.

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The first day's journey was slow, for the going was soft, and the track, at places, had to be broken out with snow-shoes. Camp was made at the foot of the big fall--a hole in snow, a bed of boughs, a hot fire and a blanket stretched on a couple of sticks to reflect the heat, the dogs on the other side of the fire, and Pichou close to his master.

In the morning there was the steep hill beside the fall to climb, alternately soft and slippery, now a slope of glass and now a treacherous drift of yielding feathers; it was a road set on end. But Pichou flattened his back and strained his loins and dug his toes into the snow and would not give back an inch. When the rest of the team balked the long whip slashed across their backs and recalled them to their duty. At last their leader topped the ridge, and the others struggled after him. Before them stretched the great dead-water of the river, a straight white path to No-man's-land. The snow was smooth and level, and the crust was hard enough to bear. Pichou settled down to his work at a glorious pace. He seemed to know that he must do his best, and that something important depended on the quickness of his legs. On through the glittering solitude, on through the death-like silence, sped the COMETIQUE, between the interminable walls of the forest, past the mouths of nameless rivers, under the shadow of grim mountains. At noon Dan Scott boiled the kettle, and ate his bread and bacon. But there was nothing for the dogs, not even for Pichou; for discipline is discipline, and the best of sledge-dogs will not run well after he has been fed.

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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