(Skipper page)


Complete story from The Skipper issue: 239 March 30th 1935.

The boy who used banknotes for blankets


A Big Chance


The cook at Halston’s lumber camp wasn’t a sweet-tempered man. He considered himself overworked and underpaid. He had a grouse against the world in general. Most of the men at Halston’s camp had the same feelings as the cook, because Halston, their boss, was about the meanest employer in the whole of North-West Canada. About the only fellow who didn’t spend most of his spare time grousing about things was sixteen-year-old “Sticker” Abbey, who was five foot nine in height and weighed eleven stone. One night he looked into the cookhouse for a minute or two. “Wal, an’ what do you want, buttin’ into this cookhouse?” asked Abe Baxter, the cook. “Scroungin’ extra grub, hey? Want another meal, though you’ve had yer supper?” “No, not exactly, cook,” said Sticker. “I really came to tell you about a bit of good news I’ve just had.” He held up a letter. “I’ve just received a letter from my brother, who’s first mate of an Atlantic liner.” “Huh! I have a brother who was nearly a Member o’ Parliament once,” growled the cook, “so what’re you swankin’ about?” “Well,” said Sticker, “my brother got to know one of the passengers on his last trip. This passenger was old Hiram Collett, the millionaire lumber king. An’ my brother got talking to him about me—saying what a hard-workin’ feller I am and how everybody loves me. All right, cook! I’ve got my fingers crossed, so you can’t hit me with that axe.” The cook put his meat axe down. Really, he rather liked Sticker, who was always cheerful, whatever happened. “Well, cook,” continued the boy, “this big noise in the lumber world wants me to meet him at Spruce Crossing, where he’s going to call for a few hours. If he likes me, he’s sorta going to take charge of me—take me under his wing and teach me the lumber trade proper. See? If I stay a bushwacker all the time I’ll never learn much. In fact, if old Collett takes a fancy to me, I’ll get a job that’s worth calling a job. See?” “What are ye tellin’ me all this for?” growled the cook, “and how’re ye goin’ to get down to Spruce Crossing? That’s seventy odd miles away, and there’s no trains or buses. Snow’s deep in the bush. You’ll have to walk, and it’ll take you a week.” “I’ve got to meet Hiram Collett on Wednesday,” said Sticker. “It’s Saturday night now. I’ve got three days to do the hike in. I’ll have to camp in the open at night, unless I tumble across a shack now and then. I’ll want enough grub to keep me going during that time, and that’s what I’ve come to see you about.” “Well,” said the cook, “I hope ye manage it. Ye’re a hard-faced, saucy young galoot, but I admires a kid who doesn’t want to stick in a rut all his life. Look at me! I got into a rut—a cooking rut—twenty years ago, and I’m in it yet. Huh! All right, I’ll see yeh git enough grub to keep you alive on yore journey.” “Well, that’s good of you,” said Sticker. “I’m going to get up early in the morning. I’ll be on the trail hours before the rest of the camp’s awake. I’ll have to hustle, because I won’t miss meeting Collett for anything. And when I’ve been made managing director of all the camps in Canada, I’ll appoint you boss cook to the company. Nighty-night, cook, and I’ll bring you something nice back.”


The cook grinned, and made a good tempered rush at Sticker. The youngster dodged him, and left the cookhouse. He went next to the shack occupied by Jake Taylor, the camp foreman, and Martin, the timekeeper. He found Martin at work counting the money in several wads of bills that on the table before him. A consignment of cash had come up with the mails. This was the month’s wages due to the men. There were a hundred men at Halston’s, so the monthly pay-wad was a considerable one. “Say,” said Sticker, eyeing the money. “I’m taking a week off, Martin, and I’m going to Spruce Crossing on important business. Don’t you wish you were coming? Well, as you’re paying out, you might as well pay me my whack now.” Martin shrugged, but handed twenty-five dollars over to Sticker. “S’pose it’s all right with the boss for you to take a week off?” he asked. “What’s the business?” Sticker told him, and Martin pulled a face to show his envy. “Well,” he said, “if you think it’s worth it to walk seventy five miles there and another seventy five miles back on the chance of getting a millionaire guy interested in you, good luck to you! You’ll never get ahead with this outfit.” Sticker slipped his pay into his hip pocket, and turned towards the window of the shack. Suddenly he started. It was dark outside, but he was sure he saw the white outline of a face close against the glass of the un-curtained window. He stepped quickly to the door and threw it open. When he looked out he saw the figure of a man walking quickly across the snow towards the bunkhouses. “H’m!” he said. “None of my business, Martin, but I’d keep my eye on that dough if I were you. Somebody outside seemed mighty interested in it. I just saw a face looking kind of envious at that pile.” He indicated the wads of bills. “Feeling a bit nervous, ain’t you?” growled Martin. “Think I can’t look after a month’s pay at my time of life?” “I suppose you can,” admitted Sticker. “Anyway, my share’s safe. But there are some tough guys in this camp, and if I’m not mistaken that one I saw peeping in here was Black Hank Glauber.” “I’ll lock it up safe enough, never fear,” said Martin. “I don’t like that Black Hank guy much myself, either. “Well, goodnight,” said Sticker, and left the timekeeper without waiting for the appearance of Taylor, the foreman.


Sticker Sets Out


It was still dark when Sticker rolled out of bed. The rest of the men were still asleep. He rolled his blankets into a bundle. He would certainly need them on the journey. He would in all probability have to sleep out for two nights. He was about to sling them over his shoulder when the door of the building came open. The man he knew as Black Hank Glauber came in from another bunkhouse, where he slept. “Startin’ off, eh?” asked Black Hank, as pleasantly as he could. “I just came along to wish you luck. By the way, I’ve just seen Taylor. He wants to see you before you start out. So ye’re going to meet a millionaire, eh?” “Sure!” said Sticker, and dropped his bedroll on the floor. He went out to answer Taylor’s summons. When he got to the foreman’s shack, he found neither Taylor nor Martin were out of their bunks yet. In fact, both were snoring. “Want me, boss?” Sticker asked loudly, and Taylor looked up sleepily. “Got your message,” Sticker added, as Taylor propped himself up on one elbow. “I don’t want you,” growled the foreman. “What d’ye mean, wakening me up before it’s time?” “Black Hank said—” Sticker began. Taylor picked up a heavy logging boot and hurled it at Sticker’s head. Sticker dodged the missile easily, and grinned. The boot went through the shack window with a crash. “Oh, all right, don’t get sore, boss,” said Sticker good-naturedly. “Must have made a mistake.” He went out again, not troubling much about any mistake that might have been made. He was too eager to get out on the trail. With good hard hiking, he would get to Spruce Crossing in nice time to meet the millionaire early on Wednesday morning, as his brother had instructed him. He knew these big business men hadn’t any time to waste, and he knew that if he were late for the appointment Hiram Collett wouldn’t wait for him, and then a great chance would be missed.


He went to the cookhouse. The cook was already at work, and gave the lad his breakfast and a parcel of grub to carry him on the way; and, just as the getting-up gong sounded, Sticker was ready to make a move southwards. He slung his blanket roll over his shoulders, crammed the grub the cook had given him into the pockets of his heavy coat, and set off on his long hike to Spruce Crossing. Absolutely nothing of interest happened that day. He made good progress—far better than he thought he would make. He was as hard as nails and as fit as a fiddle. He tramped over thirty miles, and, when he had done that, struck a bit of luck. He saw, off the trail, a newly-built trapper’s shack. He knew he would not have to sleep in the snow that first night, and made for the shack. One man was at home—a fellow lying in bed. “Glad to see any stranger,” said the man. “Chopped my foot with an axe three days ago. My pardner’s out—mightn’t be back tonight. But your welcome to put up here for the night.. I’m Green. Sticker dropped his bedroll. He untied the ropes that bound it. The blankets unrolled themselves on the floor. As they did so the boy let out a yell of amazement. Lying snugged there amongst the blankets were wads and wads of paper currency. They looked just like the wads he had seen on Martin’s table the previous evening. There was nearly five thousand dollars in all. “Well, I’m darned, and how did that lot get there?” Sticker gasped. “What d’you make of that, pard?” “Looks as if you’d been robbing a bank,” said the injured man in the bunk. “Say, I hope you’re an honest guy, kid?” There was a dog in this trapper’s shack, and all at once the animal gave out a sharp shrill bark. Then he began to scratch at the door. Sticker threw the door open and looked out. The dog ran out into the snow, barking furiously. Sticker thought he saw two shapes amongst the trees, moving away. He ran towards them. He saw fresh footprints in the snow. But the figures vanished in the forest gloom. Sticker stood and scratched his head, while the dog growled at his feet. “Darn it!” he said. “What do you make of that snow?”


A “Dusty” Dust-Up


He went back to the shack and found Green sitting up in bed, staring in perplexity at the wads of money that nestled amongst his guest’s blankets. “I hope you came by that honest,” said Green. “Gosh!” Sticker shouted. “Mean to suggest that I stole that dough, mister?” “Unless ye ‘arned it by honest labour,” said Green grimly. “It’s a pity you chopped your foot,” roared Sticker. “If you hadn’t done, I’d give you a—h’m!” He broke off, staring helplessly at the money. “Say, listen,” he went on. “I’m hitting the trail for Spruce Crossing because I’ve an appointment to meet Hiram Collett, the lumber king. I’m from Halston’s lumber camp, and I don’t like this at all. There’s something funny happening, and it looks like I’m gonna be the goat if I’m not careful. I didn’t steal that money, but I believe I know who did.” Nobody had ever had reason to call Sticker Abbey a fool. And Sticker was thinking deeply, putting things together in an orderly manner. “Listen,” said Sticker. “Last night, when our timekeeper was counting this money over, I saw a fellow’s face pressed against the window. And this morning as I was starting off, that same fellow brought me a fake message from the boss. I understand it now. When I went off to answer the message, I left my blankets in the shack for a few minutes. Well, Black Hank Glauber must have stolen the payroll last night and slipped the dough amongst my blankets while I was away. “What would he want to do that for after stealing it?” asked Green sceptically. “You’d think he’d keep the dough, after going to all that trouble.” “I expect he thought he’d let me march out of the camp with it and so draw suspicion on my self. Everybody knew I was starting out early,” said Sticker. “Well, maybe his idea was to follow me and get it from me when I’d carried it well away from the camp.” “But if he follered you, wouldn’t he be missed, too?” Green asked. “So why should they suspect you more than him?” “How should I know?” asked Sticker. “Anyway, Glauber’s got some tough pals who don’t work at the camp. For all I know, he may have arranged for those pals to get the dough away from me. I let ‘em know that I’d be sleeping in the open tonight, because I didn’t know I’d find your shack on the trail.” “Waal, an’ what if ye’re right?” asked Green. “What are ye goin’ to do about it? Take it back?” But Sticker shook his head at that. If he trudged all the way back to Halston’s camp it would take him all the next day, and then he wouldn’t have time to get to Spruce Crossing while Hiram Collett was there. He wanted more than anything to meet the big lumber boss. “I’d better leave the cash here,” he said, “and call for it on my way back after I’ve been to Spruce Crossing.” “No, you won’t!” said Green in alarm. “I’m havin’ no stolen money round here. If the Mounted trace you here, they’ll find you’ve gone and left the dough behind, and I’ll be suspected as an accessory or somethin’. What ye’ll do is, either take it back or take it on with you. I don’t care which.” “Durn it! I’m sure there’s some of Black Hank’s pals hovering round this shack right now.” Said Sticker. “I saw two fellows dodge in amongst the trees just now when I went out. This is going to be a nuisance. But I’m not going to miss meeting Hiram Collett. Then I’ll have to go on with the money, and if the police overtake me I’ll be for it properly—caught with the goods on me! Oh, what a life!”


He opened the door and looked out. There was a bright moon shining, but he could see nothing suspicious outside. He tried to tell himself that he was getting nervous. After all, perhaps nobody was following him. Anyway, there was nothing to worry about. If only he could get to his destination unhindered he would easily be able to return to the camp and tell the whole story. They would believe him all right. He made a bed on the floor and lay down for the night. Then another idea came to him. He was suspicious about those figures he had seen lurking outside the shack. He wondered whether Black Hank or his friends really were trailing him with the idea of getting hold of the money. So Sticker, tired though he was, decided to sleep with one eye and one ear open. Also he made certain preparations, lest there should be unwelcome visitors in the night. He carried no weapons other than his fists, but he used his brains. While Green snored, Sticker stole about the shack and prepared for trouble. He found a tin box, which was flat in shape. He filled this up with cold wood ashes from the ashbox on the stove. Next he selected a nice handy chunk of wood, which would make a good club. Then he lay down again, with these within hand’s reach, determined to keep awake for a time. The dog made friends with him and lay on the floor snuggled up against him. But the dog, once he went to sleep, slept as soundly as Green, so the time passed slowly. Perhaps it was midnight when the dog stirred and snorted. At once Sticker was wide awake, and lay there with his hand on the dog’s neck, keeping him quiet. Everything was deadly silent outside—until he heard a faint crunching sound—made by rubber-soled boots on powder dry snow. The door of the shack was gently opened. Sticker couldn’t hear it, but he knew it from the cold draught of air that rushed inside. He lay on his side. He saw a shape silhouetted against the sky as the door came farther open. A man came softly inside, followed by another. There was a red fire burning in the stove and this gave a little light in the shack. Sticker observed that the first man who entered carried a gun at the ready. He recognised the man when the red firelight fell on his face for a second. He was a half-breed, named Ledoux, a pal of Glauber’s. It was enough for Sticker. He clutched his box of wood ashes and fetched it up sharply. It flew straight at Ledoux’s head. The powdery ashes struck the man and his companion full in the face. The stuff stung like pepper. The cabin was filled with an acrid fog. The two men dropped back, sneezing and choking. Sticker came to his feet with a rush. He swung his club twice. The first crack caught Ledoux on the neck, felling him and making him drop his gun. The second caught Ledoux’s companion—another evil looking half-breed, on the nose, and he howled with pain as he clapped his hand to that organ. Then Sticker lit the lamp. Green awoke with a yell. “Didn’t I tell you?” Sticker cried. “This is a pal of the guy who stole the dough. Gee! Now I’ve got these two beauts on my hands, as well as a wad of money I don’t want.”


Ledoux and the other breed soon recovered and received little consideration from Sticker. “It was the dough you were after, I guess,” he said, “but I double crossed you. If I had time, I’d tie you both up and hand you over to the police, but I’m going to let you go. Get out, and if you come back here I’ll plug you!” He gave Ledoux a sock on the nose as he went out, and the two crooks left the shack groaning and tenderly caressing their injured parts. They slunk out of the shack, and Sticker watched them till they disappeared. The lad grinned. “Guess they won’t bother me again tonight,” he chuckled. “Now for a spot of sleep.”


Arrested—and Attacked       


Sticker continued his journey the following morning, with the stolen money safely wrapped in his blankets. He walked ten miles before he halted for a rest. Then he sat down on a fallen tree and enjoyed a snack from his store of grub. Suddenly a sound whipped through the frosty air. It fetched him to his feet with a jump, for it was the sound of a rifle shot. “Hands up! Stay right where you are, and keep away from that gun!” said a sharp voice. Sticker wheeled round with upraised hands. Less than fifty yards away was a one horse wooden jumper sleigh, such as Canadian Mounted Policemen often use in the winter months when riding on horseback is difficult. In it sat a man in the winter uniform of the Mounted, and he held a smoking rifle in his hands. “Police!” growled Sticker. “Caught up with you, eh?” Trooper Grimes, of the Mounted, asked. “Say, you scooted along—most as fast as this horse could go through the snow. Well, and what did you do with the money?” “I found it in my blankets last night and brought it along with me, as I hadn’t time to get back,” said Sticker. “Here it is, if you want it!” He began to unroll his blankets. The trooper eyed the wads of money with satisfaction when they came to light. “Well, I guess you told the truth all right,” said Grimes. “Green, the trapper, told me about how you showed him the dough. He also said something about two guys coming in the night, and—” Another rifle shot whipped the air. Sticker gave the Mountie a punch on the nose to throw him on his back, but he was too late. The trooper gave a sudden shout, and a moment later he was squirming in the snow, with a bullet in his thigh. Sticker saw a puff of smoke wafting about a small bunch of cottonwoods, less than a hundred yards away. Sticker dropped to the snow, with the sleigh and the restive horse between him and the clump of cottonwoods. He saw two human shapes emerge from the shelter of those trees. Two men began to walk towards him. “My gosh! They’re following me still!” he cried. He raised himself to his knees. Then he saw, on the sleigh the barrel of the trooper’s service rifle. He snatched at this, worked the lever, and, with the speed of light, he took aim at the leading man.


He fired and saw Ledoux drop. He fired again. Ledoux’s companion halted, then turned and bolted. Sticker sent a shot after him, but missed. The Mountie groaned as Sticker bent over him. The snow was dyed red with blood that flowed from the policeman’s leg. He had fainted with the shock and pain. Sticker rubbed snow into the man’s face. At length Grimes opened his eyes wearily. “What happened?” he asked. Then his with cleared. “You’re under arrest,” he said. “You’re charged with having stolen money in—” “Say—I was followed,” said Sticker. “Those guys wouldn’t hesitate to murder me to get the dough. They knew I had it, and they were following me. They tried to kill us both.” Sticker began to examine the man’s wound. It was a pretty bad one. The bullet had splintered the bone. “I’ve got to get you some place where a doctor can see you, and I don’t know of one nearer than Spruce Crossing,” he said. “I’ll bandage the wound the best way I can, then I’ll have to drive you to the Crossing in your sleigh.” He made Grimes as comfortable as possible in the little box-sleigh. Then he walked to where Ledoux had fallen. He picked up the rifle the breed had dropped, then he dragged the man to his feet and shook him. Ledoux had only been stunned by Sticker’s bullet. There was nothing much wrong with him. He suddenly lashed out at the boy, but Sticker ducked and landed a blow on Ledoux’s already injured nose. The crook was soon walking unsteadily towards the trooper’s sleigh, leaving a trail of red spots in the snow. The red spots were caused by the blood from his nose. “Here’s the real crook. I guess he’s got to go down the line, too,” said Sticker. “Give me the bracelets, trooper.” The lad had quite taken charge of the situation by this time. The trooper obeyed him. In a few minutes Ledoux was handcuffed. Sticker fetched out a short length of rope, and with it secured Ledoux to the sleigh, so that he would have to walk whether he wanted to or not when the sleigh began to move.


A Load of Troubles


They got on fairly well the rest of that day, but they had to camp in the open, and Sticker didn’t get much sleep, for Grimes grew feverish, and Ledoux didn’t help much. The next morning—with still twenty miles to go—the weather changed. Grimes was in a bad way, and Sticker knew he needed a doctor mighty badly. But he started out in the face of what gradually became a howling blizzard blowing from the south. And from then on Sticker’s difficulties were tremendous. Ten miles from the end of the journey, real misfortune struck the plucky lad. They had to cross the Assabaska River, and there was no bridge. Certainly the river was well frozen over. By this time, the blizzard was howling, and snow was beating into Sticker’s eyes till he could hardly see ten feet ahead of him. But he drove the horse carefully down the river bank, and was halfway across the ice, when there was a loud crack immediately underneath him. Ledoux towed behind, gave a yell, and disappeared. The sleigh gave a ghastly lurch. There was a hideous noise of broken and churning ice and splashing water. Sticker yelled and leaped frantically out of the sleigh. But he had the sense to keep hold of the reins. The ice had given way beneath the sleigh. The horse was slithering about, quite safe as yet, but the sleigh itself was in the water, and, clinging to it frantically with hands that were ‘cuffed together, was Ledoux. The delirious Grimes was half submerged, sitting up to his shoulders in icy water. “Oh, glory!” yelled Sticker, and, possessed of strength that he had never dreamed was his, he grasped Grimes under the arms and lifted him out of the sleigh. The shafts cracked and snapped at that moment. The sleigh went right into the waterhole, but Grimes was safely lying on the ice now. There was still Ledoux to think of. Sticker saw the half-breed wallowing about, still clinging to the submerged sleigh. The man’s hands were secured to it by a rope. Sticker fumbled for his sheath knife and found it. With it he slashed the rope that held Ledoux, then he yanked the man out of the water and threw him also on to the ice. The next thing to do was to cut the traces of the horse. The shafts of the jumper were smashed, so that the vehicle was useless. Somehow he got the horse quietened down. Then he turned to Ledoux again, and, using the end of the rope left, tied the breed to the horse’s crupper. After that he paused for a moment’s rest and figured out what he should do. He suddenly thought of the money that had caused all the trouble. It was still rolled up in his blankets. He saw the bundle floating sluggishly in the waterhole, hauled it out, dripping, and secured it to the horse’s back. Then another gigantic effort was needed. He wondered that he had the strength to do it. But he picked Trooper Grimes up and laid him across the horse’s back.


The exhausted trio arrived at Spruce Crossing late that night, and both Grimes and Ledoux, wet through as they were, were almost frozen to death by then. But the Mountie was placed in a doctor’s care, and Ledoux, after some medical treatment, was locked up. Then, and then only, Sticker thought he had earned a decent night’s sleep. His epic journey was over. The next day proved that his troubles were over, too. Hiram Collett met him, and was impressed by him and his story, part of which Trooper Grimes corroborated from his bed in hospital. “A kid that can stick it like you deserves to get on,” said the lumber king, “so a decent job’s yours after the winter’s over. Get back to camp and take that money with you.” Ledoux confessed to save his own skin. He thought he would lessen his own sentence if he brought Black Hank into it. But shooting a Mounted Policeman is a serious thing to do. Ledoux got five years and Black Hank got three. Long before either was out of jail, Sticker was on his way to prosperity, because he was able to prove to Collett many a time that his nickname of Sticker fitted him perfectly. But nobody ever mentions noses to Ledoux. It’s a “tender” subject with him.


© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007