Doc Snodgrass, a retired physician of the
horse and buggy school, whose waspish exterior covered a heart as large as
an oaken water bucket, was having his tank filled at Gus Wilson's Model
Garage when he was called to the telephone. A moment later, he came rushing
out of the garage office with a speed that belied his 60-odd years, and
leaped into his car just as Gus hung up the gas hose.
"Climb in, Gus!" the aged physician
snapped. "Don't stand there goggle-eyed, man. This is an emergency."
The car roared away even as Gus hit the
seat beside Snodgrass.
"The old fool," Snodgrass declared as he
took a corner with howling tires, "Chasing around in the hills after these
dogs at his age~"
Gus didn't need to ask who "The old fool"
was. Since Doc had retired, there was only one man in the country who would
call for him in an emergency, only one man who could arouse the old
physician to such activity as this. That man was Todd Meacham, boyhood chum
of Doc's and his constant hunting and fishing partner.
"Todd Meacham," Gus said. "How serious
is it, Doc?"
"Serious!" Ashes flew out from
Snodgrass's huge meerschaum pipe. "Todd's up there in the hills, all torn
to bits. Drat it, Gus, can't this car go any faster?"
Looking down at the speedometer, Gus
doubted that it could. The ancient Packard was really rolling them off. It
was a ride that Gus would long remember - the old horse-and-buggy doctor
testing the long-snouted old car down the highway, off on a branching,
graveled road, up on a dirt trace into the timbered stretches of the back
country's snow clad mountains which stood out in bold relief in the late
"Todd's been following hounds since he
was knee high to a bobcat," Snodgrass told Gus as he drove. "Ain't likely
to quit, neither, until they stop him in the place with lilies and slow
music. He's been after that killer black bear that's been raiding stock in
the hills these past three years. From what young Barstow told me over the
phone, he's finally caught him - right in the belly.."
They were driving on a dirt road now that
Gus hadn't even known existed. It was the kind only men like Alex Snodgrass
and Todd Meacham would know about - a hunter's road, lonely and long
forgotten, that rabbited upward overhung by winter raked brush that reached
out to slap at the windshield. The trace was bare of snow by now, but six
inches or more of the white stuff still lay in the shelter of the forest.
The day had been warm bringing in the trace a thin covering of water that
the old Packard sprayed to both sides as Doc hit the throttle hard.
"The Barstow kid was with Todd when it
happened," Doc said as he topped a steep ridge and shot down a steep
"The kid was so excited and exhausted
that I couldn't find out over the phone exactly what did happen, but it
sounded as if Todd got to close quarters with the bear, probably trying
to save one of his hounds, and the beast brought him down. The kid ran six
miles over the mountain to phone me from Widow Bracken's place - he was
completely played out and I ordered him to bed. All I know for sure is that
Todd's lying somewhere in the brush on Tempest Creek."
As the car plummeted down into the deep
ravine of Tempest Creek, the ridge behind them shut off the rays of the
western sun and the air carried the bite of the approaching February night.
Snodgrass slowed the car now, driving with his head out the window, eyes
searching the roadside. Suddenly he yanked on the brake and cut the motor,
leaped out. Gus hastily followed him, to find him kneeling there looking at
the huge, almost human footprints of a bear, mingled with the spoor of
Meacham's hound pack.
"The chase crossed here," Doc
said, and started to move into the brush. Gus laid a restraining hand on
"The bear?" he queried. "Are you armed?"
The old physician snorted. "That bear
didn't tangle with Todd Meacham and come off scot-free. Young Barstow said
it was dead."
They fought through brush and fallen
timber, following the signs of the chase plainly written in the snow. And
then, at last, they found him, lying in the brush his dogs about him,
lop-eared and sad-eyed, moving restlessly about, pausing now and then to
worry the great furred beast that was stretched out near the injured man.
"Hello, Doc," Todd Meacham said weakly.
"I knew you'd come."
"Serve you right if I didn't," Snodgrass
snapped as he knelt down with swiftly probing fingers. "Where'd it get you,
Meacham didn't answer. His supporting
elbow fell away from him and his head rolled back into the trampled, bloody
"Gus!" Doc's cry was urgent. "Quick - my
In the next few minutes Gus came to
realize that whatever the old physician's age, he was still a doctor to the
tips of his skillful fingers.
A hypodermic was swiftly given. The
hasty handkerchief tourniquet that young Barstow had bound about Meacham's
lacerated arm was replaced with a proper bandage. Four broken ribs were
probed and bound.
"Got a knife, Gus?" Snodgrass snapped.
"Good. Cut branches for a litter.
Quickly, now - this man has lost a lot of blood and is in shock. We've got
to get him to the hospital and fast.
They got him out, but not fast. An
unconscious man of Meacham's size, with four broken ribs, is not quickly
moved through forest tangle. Bit by bit they edged him down the steep way,
and across the flat to the car.
"Put that box of groceries in the rear
deck, Gus," Doc panted. "We'll put him in the back seat."
They had a time of it there, turning the
long-snouted car around on the narrow trace. Snodgrass drove slowly now,
easing the car over bumps. It was nearly dark when they hit the last steep
pitch up to the summit of the range - after that, grades would be down.
They made it halfway up, and then the wheels spun.
Doc cursed under his breath, nursed wheel
and gears and throttle. They made a few feet, spun and slowed, made a few
more and then could go no further.
"Ice," Gus said. "With the sun down, the
water on the road has frozen. You'll save time, Doc, by putting on your
"Chains," Snodgrass groaned. "I have no
chains with me."
Gus climbed out, put his shoulder to the
rear of the car while Doc tried again. It was no use - the ancient vehicle
was too heavy for any pushing.
Next, Gus took the wheel, using every
driving trick at his command, but the steep pitch and glare ice made it
useless. Gus got out, opened the rear deck.
"Have you anything in here, Doc, that we
would use?" he asked. "Rope, wire, cable?"
"Nothing. If he dies, Gus, I'll never
forgive myself. Why didn't I remember to get chains?"
Gus knew why. In that terrifying moment
when he'd answered the telephone, Doc Snodgrass had almost gone into shock
himself. There had been nothing on his mind but the fact that his old
friend was badly injured, and that he was still a doctor. Now Todd Meacham
groaned hollowly in the back seat and Doc Snodgrass went to him.
Gus flashed his pencil light about in the
trunk of the car, searching for something that might help get the Packard
over the ridge. He moved the box of groceries about so that he could peer
into the dusty corners - a few rusty tools, hunting boots, a tattered
hunting coat. Gus ripped pieces from the coat and wrapped them around the
The cloth, torn to shreds, flew from the
spinning wheels. He tried branches under the wheels, and when that didn't
work, searched in vain for rocks or gravel. At last he reached into the
rear seat to shake Snodgrass by the shoulder.
"It's no use," he said. "I'd better hike
out for help."
"No!" Doc's voice held a note of terrible
urgency. "Get this car over, Gus! You've got to do it, somehow."
Once again, Gus probed through the rear
deck, hoping to find something that he had previously overlooked. His light
beam fell on the box of groceries.
"Ah!" he said softly.
He dug into the box, brought out a large
bottle, opened it, poured some of its contents on a torn piece of the
hunting coat, swabbed it around the rear tires, got in, started the motor.
"Hang on, Doc," he said. "We may be
going over the top this time."
They went up, slowly, skidding and
spinning at times, but they did go up.
Gus stopped several times on the ascent
to apply the contents of the bottle to the rear tires. At last they topped
the ridge, came down into the valley.
Gus waited a long time at the hospital
after they had taken Todd Meacham in.
He broke the monotony, and anxiety, of
the wait once, when he disappeared for a few minutes. Almost immediately on
his return, Doc Snodgrass emerged from the operating room, boiling mad.
"Ungrateful old coot!" he fumed. "He's
raising Cain because we didn't bring out those dratted dogs, and that bear.
If you ask me, we should have left Todd in there to eat it - raw. Say, how
did you manage to finally get the car over that icy ridge?"
"Easy," Gus grinned, "After I found that
two-quart bottle of household bleaching fluid that you were taking home to
your wife. To tell you the truth, Doc, I didn't know whether it would work
or not. While I was waiting for you, I went down to the druggist to see if
I could find out why it did work. He told me that this bleach is made by
electrolysis from a dilution of salt, and that it will do a faster job
cutting into ice than salt will, although of course it's more expensive. It
sure handled our emergency.
"You know, Doc, a man meets a lot of
folks in the garage business, hears a lot of tales. A traveling salesman
told me about this use of bleach on tires when fighting ice. At the time, I
figured he was probably pulling my leg."
"Thank heaven he wasn't," Doc Snodgrass
said fervently. Then he grinned.
"You know, Gus, that was one traveling
salesman story worth listening to."