In Curwood, the famous ‘Mounties’ had possibly their first and most enthusiastic champion and author of their adventures of fiction and legend. The image of the lone policeman out in the Canadian wilderness enduring every force nature could hurl against him and yet still resolutely and infallibly ‘getting his man’ was never more powerful than in the pages of Curwood’s stories. His inspiration came from a time before ‘The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’, when the force was titled, ‘The North West Mounted Police’ and of course this meant the adventures are set in an earlier era—the Canada of the 19th century—where the untamed land was sparsely populated with untamed men and the tribes of indigenous Indians that might yet be hostile. These men were policemen, trappers, trackers, rangers, part lawman, part soldier—often imagined in their distinctive scarlet uniform—in fact the very stuff which has evoked true adventure in the minds of those aged from 8 to 80!
The second volume of this four volume set includes two full length novels, ‘The Honour of the Big Snows’ and ‘The Valley of the Silent Men’. Available in soft back and hard back with dust cover for collectors.
Jan had come very near. The stranger interrupted himself to stare into the thin, fierce face that had grown like a white cameo almost within reach of him. With a startled cry, he drew a step back, and Jan’s violin dropped to the snow.<br>
For no longer than a breath there was silence. The man wormed himself back into the shadows inch by inch, followed by the white face of the boy. Then there came shrilly from Jan’s lips the mad shrieking of a name, and his knife flashed as he leaped at the other’s breast.<br>
The stranger was quicker than he. With a sudden movement he cleared himself of the blow; and as Jan’s arm went past him, the point of the knife ripping his coat-sleeve, he shot out a powerful fist and sent the boy reeling to the ground.<br>
Stunned and bleeding, Jan dragged himself to his knees. He saw the dogs turning, heard a low voice urging them to the trail, and saw the sledge disappear into the forest. He staggered from his knees to his feet, and stood swaying in his weakness. Then he followed.<br>
He forgot that he was leaving his knife in the snow, forgot that back there about the fire there were other dogs and other men. He only knew that once before he had seen a sledge slip off into the wilderness; that its going had left him a life of hatred and bitterness and desire for vengeance; and that this was the same man who was slipping away from him in the same way again.<br>
He followed, sickened by the blow, but gaining strength as he pursued. Ahead of him he could hear the sound of the toboggan and the cautious lashing of a whip over the backs of the tired huskies. The sounds filled him with fierce strength. He wiped away the warm trickle of blood that ran over his cheek, and began to run, slowly at first, swinging in the easy wolf-lope of the forest runner, with his elbows close to his sides.<br>
At that pace he could have followed for hours, losing when the pack took a spurt, gaining when they lagged, an insistent Nemesis just behind when the weighted dogs lay down in their traces. But there was neither the coolness of Mukee nor the cleverness of Jean de Gravois in the manner of Jan’s running. When he heard the cracking of the whip growing fainter, he dropped his arms straight to his sides and ran more swiftly, his brain reeling with the madness of his desire to reach the sledge—to drag from it the man who had struck him, to choke life from the face that haunted that mental picture of his, grinning at him and gloating always from the shadow world, just beyond the pale, sweet loveliness of the woman who lived in it.<br>
That picture came to him now as he ran, more and more vividly, and from out of it the woman urged him on to the vengeance which she demanded of him, her great eyes glowing like fire, her beautiful face torn with the agony which he had last seen in it in life.<br>
To Jan Thoreau there seemed almost to come from that face a living voice, crying to him its prayer for retribution, pleading with him to fasten his lithe, brown hands about the throat of the monster upon the sledge ahead, and choke from it all life. It drove reason from him, leaving him with the one thought that the monster was almost within reach; and he replied to the prayer with the breath that came in moaning exhaustion from between his lips.<br>
He did not feel the soft, sun-packed snow under the beat of his feet. He received the lash of low-hanging bushes without experiencing the sensation of their sting. Only he knew that he wanted air—more and more air; and to get it he ran with open mouth, struggling and gasping for it, and yet not knowing that Jean de Gravois would have called him a fool for the manner in which he sought it.<br>
He heard more and more faintly the run of the sledge. Then he heard it no longer, and even the cracking of the whip died away. His heart swelled in a final bursting effort, and he plunged on, until at last his legs crumpled under him and he pitched face downward in the snow, like a thing stung by sudden death.<br>
It was then, with his scratched and bleeding face lying in the snow, that reason began to return to him. After a little while he dragged himself weakly to his knees, still panting from the mad effort he had made to overtake the sledge. From a great distance he heard faintly the noise of shouting, the whispering echo of half a hundred voices, and he knew that the sound came from the revellers at the post. It was proof to him that there had been no interruption to the carnival, and that the scene at the edge of the forest had been witnessed by none.<br>
Quickly his mental faculties readjusted themselves. He rose to his feet, and for a few moments stood hesitatingly. He had no weapon; but as his hand rested upon the empty knife-sheath at his belt, there came to him a thought of the way in which Mukee had avenged Cummins’ wife, and he turned again upon the trail. He no longer touched the low-hanging bushes. He was no more than a shadow, appearing and disappearing without warning, trailing as the white ermine follows its prey, noiseless, alert, his body responding sinuously and without apparent effort to the working commands of his brain.<br>
Where the forest broke into an open, lighted by the stars, he found blood in the footprints of the leading dog. Half-way across the open, he saw where the leader had swung out from the trail and the others of the pack had crowded about him, to be urged on by the lashings of the man’s whip. Other signs of the pack’s growing exhaustion followed close.<br>
The man now travelled beside the sledge where the trail was rough, and rode where it was smooth and hard. The deep imprints of his heeled boots in the soft snow showed that he ran for only a short distance at a time—a hundred yards or less—and that after each running spell he brought the pack to a walk. He was heavy and lacked endurance, and this discovery brought a low cry of exultation to Jan’s lips.<br>
He fell into a dog-trot. Mile after mile dropped behind him; other miles were ahead of him, an endless wilderness of miles, and through them the tired pack persisted, keeping always beyond sound and vision.<br>
The stars began fading out of the skies. The shadows of the forest grew deeper and blacker, and where the aurora had lightened the heavens there crept the sombre gray film that preceded dawn by three hours.<br>
Jan followed more and more slowly. There was hard-breathing effort now in his running—effort that caused him physical pain and discomfort. His feet stumbled occasionally in the snow; his legs, from thigh to knee, began to ache with the gnawing torment that centres in the marrowbone; and with this beginning of the “runner’s cramp” he was filled with a new and poignant terror.<br>
Would the dogs beat him out? Sloughing in the trail, bleeding at every foot, would they still drag their burden beyond the reach of his vengeance? The fear fastened itself upon him, urging him to greater effort, and he called upon the last of his strength in a spurt that carried him to where the thick spruce gave place to thin bush, and the bush to the barren and rocky side of a huge ridge, up which the trail climbed strong and well defined. For a few paces he followed it, then slipped and rolled back as the fatal paralysis deadened all power of movement in his limbs. He lay where he fell, moaning out his grief with his wide-staring eyes turned straight up into the cold gray of the starless sky.