Is this the gun that killed the Devil of the North? Yeah, this is ‘Lectric Oathkeeper. It’s famous as far as New York City now, maybe even further, thanks to newspapers like yours.
Maman made it, and it’s somethin’ special, not just on account of huntin’ the Devil but because my mother was a powerful creative inventor. In the far north, we might not’ve had the tech you city-folk find common, or mine-mechs carvin’ up gold from the earth like in the west, but we had my mother, and her dastardly inventions were just as fit for the World’s Fair. ‘Lectric Oathkeeper was one of her best, and she made it just for me.
But, look, you wouldn’t praise a scythe for cuttin’ the wheat or give a saw credit for fellin’ a great tree. Tools get power through intent.
I’ll grant you, ‘Lectric Oathkeeper’s a helluva weapon. But it wasn’t only the gun. Never is.
We had speculations a-plenty on the Devil long before I went huntin’. Rumors fly fast in small towns. Some said it was a huge bear, on account of the buildings being all ripped up. But since bears ought to be hibernatin’ in winter, others said it had to be something truly dev’lish.
But let’s start with why I tangled with the Devil in the first place—my Papa.
To this day, if you look for his tombstone in the Holy Mother of the North Cem’try on the edge of the tradin’ outpost, you’ll find it says:
Lucien Toussaint Dulac
Beloved Husband, Father, Son
A Great Man and Trapper
He Killed 99 bears
Now, Papa didn’t just stumble on this reputation. Badgers and martins, brown bears, wolves, and more, he’d caught ‘em all, skinned ‘em all, and sold ‘em all. In his glory days, you could hardly get north of the big cities before you heard the name Dulac. Anyone’d tell you the Dulac Company outfitted the finest men’s hats and fanciest ladies’ coats in Boston, New York City, and even further.
We didn’t earn the family name its shinin’ reputation through recklessness. Papa believed in bringing the right weapon to the hunt. In my childhood, he’d lay down this advice while polishin’ the fine grain butt of his favorite rifle—True Heart—which Maman’d made him for their anniversary. He knew all the tricks of foxes and wolves, marmots and minks, and wolverines and nasty forest cats.
But all his caution and skill disappeared the day he saw the reward sign in Teddy Freckletoe’s mercantile window: Two thousand dollars to the hunter who caught the Devil of the North, the ravager of three towns, the beast of the woods. Dead or alive—preferably the former, of course.
My Papa’s eyes did the calculatin’ right there on how far those dollars would go toward the debts of the Dulac Company, which’d had some bad luck recently, what with the big warehouse fire and the pelts all burnin’ up, and our skinner-bots, too, which we’d bought on credit to begin with, and the power station gettin’ destroyed by the Devil and scaring off any investors. And even before all that, Maman’s burial in the hard-frozen soil.
Now, take careful note for this newspaper of yours: my Papa wasn’t a greedy man. He believed in a hard, honest day’s work. But the reward was a considerable sum in those days—and the Devil was a considerable prize. It wasn’t your typical hungry winter wolf terrorizin’ settlers. It’d come from no-where. It’d chased away all the fancy men from the cities who were speculatin’ on our pelts. It’d chased away the fancy surveyors fixin’ to bring a fancy new ‘lectric station and a fancy new train to town.
So, Papa went after the Devil of the North.
“Claudette,” Papa said on the day he set out, “you mind the dogs and the company while I’m gone, m’fille. I know you’ll do a good job.”
Though I was but a girl of ten-and-four when the diphtheria took Maman, I’d learned all my letters and my numbers besides, and I could balance a ledger. I could also track any livin’ thing through the woods, and I could shoot straighter than a practiced old codger could hit a spittoon.
But despite my huntin’ skills, which’d only gotten better in the two years since Maman died, Papa wouldn’t hear of takin’ me within him.
“The best in Northaven haven’t caught it. You’re not ready for this kind of beast,” he said, though of course no-one’d seen it.
“When will you be back?” I asked, already thinking about the creditors who were sure to come knockin’. All my book-keepin’ couldn’t fix the balance sheets in New York.
“I’ll be back faster than a spring snow flurry,” he said. “I promise.”
The thing about promises is they’re rarely kept. A promise is easily given, and so it’s quick to be broken. Better to depend on something more solid.
Papa’d only been gone a week before they found True Heart in the woods, mangled and torn. Fresh snow covered any evidence, so there was no trace of the beast and no trace of Papa ‘sides True Heart.
“Mam’selle Dulac,” the Sheriff said, standin’ in the doorway of our rented house and tippin’ his hat like I was some fine city lady, all frills and lace, rather than a skinny trapper’s daughter kitted out in buckskins and a fur cap. “Dreadful sorry about your father. Best hunter I knew. Thought for sure he’d get the best of the Devil.”
I thanked him for his condolences, and he went on:
“I hate to ask so soon after your loss, but we’re puttin’ together a crew. And, if you’d be agreeable to the idea, we’d like to borrow your mother’s guns. I know it’s a terrible favor to ask.”
Maman hated nothing so much as wastefulness, so I gave him three of her remaining guns: Lightning’s Fury, which shot great spurts of ‘lectricity; and The Foreboding of Beasts, which propelled a net expansive enough to catch even the biggest of summer bears fat with trout from the rushing snow-melt rivers; and The Wife’s Beloved, a quadruple-barreled invention so noisy it was used only as a last resort but so called because every man who’d used it came home to his wife.
The Sheriff and his team of ruff-tuff men went off. And one week later they were back, missing three fine men and three fine guns.
“Awful sorry, mam’selle,” the Sheriff said, hat clenched between frost-bitten fingers. “We got caught in miles of storms. We’ll try again once this squall clears, to find the guns and my men.”
“M’sieur, my Grand-père used to say if you want something done, there’s no better way than doin’ it yourself. What time are you leavin’?”
“You don’t mean to come with us?”
I told him that I surely did intend just that.
“Claudette, be serious,” he said. “A young lady’s place is in town. I promise we’ll avenge your father.”
What’s that? Did I want to give up right then and there? Well, I did wonder what Grand-père Yves would’ve thought of us. He’d come to this land with little more than a blunderbuss and as much pluck as a prize rooster. And here we’d brought his grand enterprise down to a ruined little nubbin.
But then I remembered Maman taking me by the shoulders and telling me: Claudette, always finish what you start. And I remembered Papa’s promise to come back. We had something much, much stronger than a promise between us—blood.
Besides, in my experience, young ladies who listen to others ‘bout their place don’t get much done at all.
I left the next day before the Sheriff had time to realize I was fixin’ for an adventure. Bundled in my thickest furs, I set out with our six best dogs, a sled full of provisions, and Maman’s very last two guns: Portent O’ Doom, designed to launch twelve razor-tipped spears in quick order, and my very own ‘Lectric Oathkeeper.
I passed the now-abandoned ‘lectric tower and crossed the frozen lake closest to Northhaven, which was lined with trees dark and thick like lashes on a big, milk-blind eye. The dogs ran silent, hard. We pushed a few days across lakes frozen so solid that a hundred more dog teams could’ve made camp without worryin’ about fallin’ through.
On the fourth day out, I reached Big Lake. It stretched for miles and miles. Papa always said the Big Lake was heaven on one side and hell on the other. On one shore, the forest was thick with a thousand gen’rations of growth. On the other, the trees were burned black, grapplin’ toward the sky.
I set to make camp on the frozen lake ‘fore nightfall came, and I’d just chained the dogs to the picket-line when the wind kicked up. A whistle cut the air, and then a sudden squall barreled into me. The snow was chip-hard and fell so furious I couldn’t open my eyes. The lake ice was quakin’ under me—somethin’ was coming. The goggles from my pocket helped a little—now I could see the ice-flakes sticking to the lenses.
That’s when I first met the Devil.
Was I afraid? Of course. But being scared’s no excuse for standin’ by the wayside.
Something shoved my shoulder, and I flew forward a few paces. Quick as a summer snake, I swung Oathkeeper off my back. But there was nothin’ there—just swirlin’ snow.
A roar to the left. The impression of a hulking figure, taller than Northaven’s three-story mercantile—the biggest building in town in those days. And two great blue eyes towerin’ above me, wide apart as two men lying down nose to foot, glowing malicious-bright.
I rubbed the side of ‘Lectric Oathkeeper to warm it up and stuck my hand inside the trigger socket, where Maman’d built a set of keys—only I knew the code to get the ‘lectricty kindling. The barrel crackled sliver-blue.
A roar to the right. I let one gigantic blast fly. A snow-cyclone spun up and sucked the ‘lectricity up into a column of light and crystal.
I typed up the charge again, but it was too cold. The gun shorted. The air’d turned to ice in my lungs. If not for my goggles, my very eyeballs would’ve froze.
A roar again. The Devil’s glowing eyes loomed above me. I ran toward the sled, throwing my weight forward and sliding across the ice. The dogs were cryin’, heads down and eyes closed. I huddled close against the sled, snow pilin’ and pilin’ atop me until I was shiverin’ and nearly buried.
Oh, I feared that was the end of me and the Dulac legacy, and Papa’d never be found. At least freezin’ to death is peaceful, full of dreamy visions, or so they say.
But then, gradually, the air cleared. The terrible cold was gone. The snow slowed and then stopped. The late-afternoon sun shone again. I tore off my frosted goggles, but all was calm, ‘cept my fast-beatin’ heart.
There were no tracks in the snow. If it weren’t for the ice melting in my fur collar and the dogs shivering on the line, you’dve called me a liar. What creature had the Devil been? Couldn’t have possibly been a wolf. Or a bear, after all—I’d hunted bears, and that Devil was surely somethin’ worse. And why had it cleared out so fast? I’d been prime prey, and it’d had me pinned.
Whatever the beast was, one thing was clear—I needed a plan and a better weapon. Not for the first time, I missed Maman’s ingenious mind. And my Papa would’ve known just what to do.
But it’s not smart to stay where you’ve been ambushed. There were a few hours before sunset, so I latched the dogs back to the sled and set out to find a new campin’ spot a lake or two over in the direction of Northaven.
We hadn’t gone far before I heard a terrible clangin’. I thought mayhaps the Devil’d come to find me again. I had Portent ‘O Doom at the ready when, ‘round a bend in the frozen shoreline, I set eyes on a true oddity.
A man stood on a sled, but there were no dogs pulling it forward. Instead, it was powered by an engine, spewin’ white steam and chuggin’ across the frozen lake. The Devil could’ve still been near, so I gave chase to warn the man. My dogs pulled hard, and we huffed ‘n puffed for ‘round a half-hour, but we couldn’t match his speed.
Then with a jolt, that sled swerved to and fro. The steam turned black and, yelling, the musher threw himself into the snowbanks. The sled careened onto its side and shuddered to a stop.
I took a moment to gather my wits. Strange things happen in the gloam and cold o’ the north, but I’d never seen that kind of ‘bot.
The dogs and I closed on the stranger. He’d pulled himself out of the snowbank and shook the snow from his hair, which was spring-daisy yellow.
“I’ll say!” he exclaimed, wiping ice from a barely-existent mustache. “I was not expecting such a sudden stop.”
“Without an inspection, I’m not sure.” He went immediately to the machine.
“Not the sled. You’re alright, m’sieur?”
He patted himself, though I reckon he could hardly feel anything through his fur coat. A lush, thick thing it was—darkest northern beaver, trimmed with a collar of silver fox.
“All seems to be in order,” he said. “Thank you for stopping. Dr. Horatio Channing, graduate of Puttleman’s University, at your service.”
I introduced myself, and he squinted at me.
“Can’t say I’ve ever seen a sled-driver quite like you,” he said.
“Same here, m’sieur.”
“Is it the custom of the north to send little girls into the woods?”
Of course, I set him straight: I was sixteen and hadn’t been a little girl for some time now, what with the Dulac Company’s recent misfortunes.
His sled must’ve been hotter than a boiling kettle, as it’d started to melt the lake’s ice where it stood.
“You gonna fix that thing?”
“I’ll have it back up and running in no time.”
He huffed and puffed over that contraptious device for over an hour. For all that he’d been educated at the most renown’d university in New York and was widely considered a prodigy of ‘lectric and steam engineerin’ for his young age—as he kept remindin’ me at ev’ry opportunity—he couldn’t coax that machine back into order. I gnawed on some jerky from my possibles bag and let him fume a bit.
“What a catastrophe,” he sighed at last. “This cost me all my savings, not to mention a significant loan. Puttleman’s will revoke my degree, I’m sure.”
“Reckon the cold got to it,” I said. “No sense mournin’ what’s done.”
“It’s just a pity to come to ruin now. I was so close to the Devil.”
With that sled’s clanging, I wagered every animal from Northaven to the North Pole was running in the opposite direction. Why hadn’t it run off the Devil, too?
“Oh yes, I’ve had him in the crosshairs for days.”
“What did he look like?”
“Well, now. That’s not easy... that is to say...”
“You didn’t see it, did you?”
“I say! You are quite fresh, miss!”
“You’re takin’ offense where none’s intended. It’s just quite a co-incidence.”
“I lit upon the beast myself just earlier today.”
“On your own? It’s a miracle you survived.”
I hefted Portent O’ Doom higher on my back. I don’t rightly believe in a Kingdom above and a Father Almighty, but I do believe in my wits and the right tools.
“Truth is,” I said. “I’m huntin’ the same beast myself.”
“Ah, a competitor—we are at odds, then.”
“No, m’sieur. Way I see it, we’re naturally aligned. Surely we can come to an arrangement.”
“Aligned? I need the reputation and the bounty the Devil brings, doubly so now that my sled is lost. But you have me at a disadvantage, as I am alone in these woods, without transportation or provisions, and you are of northern stock and bred to this wilderness.”
“I need an inventor’s hands, and you need a ride. If you help me track the Devil, I’ll take you back to Northaven and put you in a southbound coach-bot myself.”
“And, if we capture the beast, we will split the reward money down the middle?”
“Seems to me I’m providin’ more in this arrangement, m’sieur, with my dogs, my sled, and my victuals. Not to mention my weapons. What say you we split eighty-twenty, and I’ll take you back to Northaven free of charge when the task is done?”
“That’s insultingly low. Surely I cannot be so far from town. I’ll walk there myself.”
Now, I could see this situation would require some negotiatin’. All our debts would take more’n half the reward money, and Papa was still missin’ in the wilderness, so it came down to me to save the Dulac Company. I couldn’t let him or Grand-père Yves down.
“In that case, I’ll look for you on my way back,” I said, rousin’ the dogs and turnin’ my sled. “It’ll be no skin off my teeth to take your body back to town, after I’ve caught the Devil all on my own. Still free of charge, of course.”
“How do you mean?”
Ah, now Horatio was payin’ attention.
“I figure you’ve got ‘bout two hours of sunlight left. There’s a few feet of snow on the ground, you don’t have skis or snowshoes, and there’s ‘round thirty miles between here and Northaven. And it’s been an uncommon cold and stormy winter. I’m no univers’ty graduate, but my ‘rithmetic suggests you’ll freeze solid before you make it.”
“But... but my coat is very warm.”
“Nice big coat,” I agreed. “You got an axe and some firewood hidin’ under there? Some flint? Any pemmican? Worst case is you turn into a slab of ice. Best, you lose some of your clever inventin’ fingers. Not sure how that’ll work in your profession, but alive is alive, I guess. Well, daylight’s wanin’ and I’ve got a Devil to find. Best of luck to you, m’sieur. Let’s go, dogs!”
“Whoa now!” Horatio leapt toward my sled. Oh, I knew I had him then. “No need to be hasty. You certainly are a hard-nosed girl. You have a deal, but only on the condition that, when all is done, you publicly acknowledge my role. My reputation as an inventor is at stake, after all.”
That was fine by me, long as I found Papa and paid the company’s debts. I wasn’t in a choicy position by way of companions, regardless. I spit into my bare palm to seal the vow with a shake. He eyed me askew but removed his gloves, spat, and we shook on it. Behind us, the lake swallowed his steam-sled with a plop. Deals are better than promises.
That’s how a fur trapper’s daughter and a big city inventor linked up to hunt the Devil, and things were fine for a while.
Until the next snow squall.
For the better part of a week, Horatio and I crisscrossed the frozen lakes in search of a trail, any sign of the Devil. The weather favored us with skies clear and blue as a glass button on a city lady’s frock.
Provisions being low—seeing as how I was feedin’ two on rations packed for one—I set traps for easier prey. We roasted rabbits over the fire, and Horatio picked the meat from the bone with delicate manners. We’d have to turn back soon.
“I’d rather stay out here,” Horatio said.
“I’ll never hear the end of it from my creditors or my professors, if I come back empty-handed. I need to find the Devil.”
“If we can’t find the Devil,” I said, “let’s make him find us.”
Well, I’d been thinking ‘bout it.
The Devil’d had no business with Northaven or the other towns until that loud ‘lectric station came in. The only hunting parties that found the beast had tech: Papa with True Heart, and the Sheriff’s men with the noisy Wife’s Beloved. And Horatio with his thun’drous sled, if he’d truly distracted the Devil away from me. The Devil was drawn to the opposite of what a stealthy-silent hunter would do.
“We need to make noise. Mechanical noise. Can you do that?”
“You need me to build a noise-machine?”
“Yes. Something real loud, like your sled.”
“If you recall, any parts we had sunk to the bottom of a lake.”
“Not all,” I said, presenting him with ‘Lectric Oathkeeper and Portent O’ Doom. “Mightn’t these work?”
He took them and turned them, those last of Maman’s wicked guns, over in his hands. I hoped he wouldn’t notice my own hands were shakin’.
“Very fine inventions. It’s a shame to take them apart.”
I thought of getting Papa back, or at least of finding his body. Our blood ran deep and true.
“Just do it.”
“I’ll honor these. I promise.”
City-folk are good at making noise, and it’s not just all the talkin’.
Horatio’s machine was an uncanny mess. He’d mashed my ‘Lectric Oathkeeper and Portent ‘O Doom into a single device. There were metal tubes, and the hammers and keys of all my guns lined up in a neat row, and a metal plate twisted into an amplifyin’ funnel. All we had left were simple spears from Portent O’ Doom.
He strapped this new invention to the sled, and the dogs, ears back, reluctantly pulled us around the lake. Horatio toggled a switch—oh, he’d invented a noisemaker, alright.
We circled the lake long enough that my ears felt numb from the racket. Then the blue skies, which’d been clear all day, suddenly roiled up with thick clouds. Wind blasted down the long lake, bringin’ with it a cold that froze my eyelashes together.
On the horizon of the lake, a terrible storm had kicked up. A wall of tight-fallin’ snow was closin’ the distance across the ice. And, through the furious swirlin’, we saw two angry, glowing blue circles—the Devil’s eyes.
“Do you feel that?” Horatio asked.
There was a thrummin’ that I felt more than heard through the lake ice, up the sled and into my boots. The clasps on the dog harnesses started to rattle. The ice underneath us creaked. I hoped our deep northern cold would hold fast.
Then the storm was almost on us. The dogs were useless with fear, so together, Horatio and I turned the sled against the oncoming fury and dove for shelter behind it.
Then the the wall of snow hit us, like a punch in a midnight saloon fight. The sled shifted, and Horatio and I braced ourselves behind it. There was a strange smell in the air, something close to Papa’s gun oil and a litte tangy like ‘Lectric Oathkeeper’s blasts.
“Horatio!” I yelled. “Get the spears!”
He struggled with the sled tarp but soon freed them and handed me a shaft. I clenched it tight; the wind nearly blew it from my hands. The spears were all we had left.
A great rumble went from right to left, and then left to right. The beast was crossing in front of us, gettin’ closer and closer with each pass. Then, with a powerful shove, the Devil hit my sled, flinging it sideways. My dogs yelped, but the wind ripped their cries away.
Then the Devil was loomin’ over us. I stumbled backwards as a blast of snow tore my hat clear off. Up close, the horrible, glowin’ eyes were big as the wheels of a summer wagon.
“Horatio!” I shouted, struggling to keep my feet. “We have to rush it together!”
We couldn’t see anythin’ but those eyes. No soft underbelly, no vulner’ble heart. Then again, Papa always said if I ever found myself in a fight, go for the eyes.
“The eyes!” I yelled. “Aim for its eyes!”
Together, Horatio and I ran at the Devil. Usin’ the sled as a step-up, we launched into the air and drove our spears toward the shinin’ eyes.
They struck somethin’ hard as rock, and Horatio and I were flung backward onto the ice. We lay there in a jumble of arms and legs a-kilter, stunned from the fall, starin’ up at the Devil.
Our spears were lodged in the blue eyes, which blinked—or were they flickerin’? The Devil moaned in pain—or was it the grindin’ of gears comin’ to a stop?
The wall of snow abrupty dropped, dumpin’ a half-foot of fresh powder on our heads and across the icy lake.
At last, we saw the Devil of the North.
But it wasn’t exactly what you’d expect.
The Devil wasn’t a bear, or any other natural beast. It was a machine, big as the Dulac warehouse and shaped like a large, metal, horseless carriage. A cleverly welded ladder ran up the side. Our spears were stuck in a mess of mangled gears and glass casing.
Now, I’d thought Maman’s guns were marvelous practical, and Horatio’s sled a work of pure ‘magination, but this machine was different—somethin’ dangerous, if it could destroy all those buildings and Northaven’s fancy new ‘lectric tower besides.
With a sudden clang, a hatch on top of the machine lifted, and out came a young man in a fine suit, absurd beaver-felt top hat fit for a city stroll, and huge fancy coat trimmed with white ermine at the sleeves. He clambered down the ladder and onto the ice.
“Horatio, old chap!” he cried out.
“Edmund? Edmund Fairfield?”
This so-called Edmund Fairfield skittered across the lake on wooly-socked toes. He didn’t have any boots on.
“Horatio, you are a sight for sore eyes! Here now, shake my hand. Give it a good shake.”
“What are you doing here, Edmund? Last I saw you, you were still tinkering with your thesis at Puttleman’s.”
“This is my thesis,” Edmund gestured back to the contraption. “I’ve been here for weeks, trapped inside. Thank God you found us today. It’s gotten tight in there, and we just ran out of supplies. Why, just last night, we boiled my leather boots for dinner.”
Then, astonishingly, a pack of men climbed out of the machine. The wind shifted in our direction, and you could smell every day they’d been trapped inside.
First came the three men from the Sheriff’s expedition: Jacques Landeau, Malcolm McArthur, and Pierre-Marie Charbonnier. And then, bringing up the rear, my own dear Papa. I’m not the prayin’ kind, but I nearly thanked the heavens.
“Claudette,” he said gruffly and embraced me. He smelled of sour sweat and boiled leather and, underneath all that, familiar chicory coffee and gunpowder.
“Papa,” I said. I hadn’t squeezed him this tight since Maman’s funeral. “I’m glad you’re alright.”
He looked at that foolish lump-of-metal Devil, spied our spears, and proudly grinned. “That was the right weapon for this beast, ma fille.”
That made my eyes go all watery, but we had more important matters at hand. “And what is this beast, exactly?”
“A weather distortion machine,” boasted Edmund. “The first ever! A groundbreaking scientific invention. It could bring immeasurable value to society. Imagine being able to control rain, allowing farmers to grow more crops than ever. Or, here in the north, wouldn’t you like it to be a little warmer now and then?”
I pointed out that it’d been colder as of late, not warmer.
“A malfunction,” Edmund sniffed. “This is my prototype which, I confess, may not have been ready for use. It was very effective in my lab at creating microclimates. But once we reached Northaven, everything went haywire.”
“’Bots don’t work in the north,” Papa and I said at the same time. His whiskers twitched in amusement.
“This ‘bot’ is perfectly insulated against the cold,” retorted Edmund. “Indeed, it malfunctioned, but only because I snapped the control switch inside. Ah, human error—the bane of all scientists. Without any way to turn off the machine, I was surrounded, day and night, by a raging snowstorm of untold strength and size. I had only a viewfinder and a listening device to locate any hint of civilization, but I could barely see or hear anything. I tried to communicate, but anyone who got too close was caught inside the storm. I could open the hatch to let these men inside, but we couldn’t leave; you saw that squall. Really, old chap, your timing couldn’t be better.”
No wonder my Papa hadn’t caught this beast. Maman’d been the genius with machines.
“Thank you, M’sieur Fairfield, for the education,” I said. “Truly, we’re all in awe of Puttleman’s reputation for turnin’ out mighty creative inventors. But now that all’s well and the Devil has been caught, we must discuss the matter of payment.”
Of course, I was pleased my Papa would live to slay that hundredth bear. But there was a two-thousand-dollar reward on the line and, as I saw it, at least six interested parties.
“Yes, payment,” said Jacques Landeau. “We did catch the beast, after all.”
“As did I,” said my father.
“As did we!” Horatio interjected.
“Now, now,” I said. “Let’s approach this rationally. If you were to shoot a bear and in its stomach find a whole doe, would you say the deer slew the bear?”
“I suppose not,” grunted Malcolm McArthur.
“And would you, in catching a fish, give credit to the worm for its cleverness?”
“No; the skill is with the fisherman,” decided Pierre-Marie Charbonnier, stroking his beard.
“Indeed. The worm is simply the bait,” Papa agreed with a knowin’ wink.
“Then Horatio and I needn’t give any of you credit,” I concluded. “We’ll take the reward ourselves.
“But in recognition of your sufferin’, we’ll offer a deal. We could make repairs, and you could ride in that contraption of M’sieur Fairfield’s back to Northaven. No? In that case, Horatio and I’ll take you back, free of charge. It’s only hospitable. We have an agreement? Let’s spit on it. It’s not distasteful at all, M’sieur Fairfield. Everyone knows it’s not a deal otherwise. And, M’sieur Landeau, kindly bring me a knife. I’ve got to collect from this machine what passes for proof somehow.”
“A pelt more than fairly won,” my Papa said, as I prised off a frozen gear and presented it to him.
That’s how I slew the Devil, found my father, and rescued the Dulac Company from its debts.
The Sheriff demanded the univers’ty pay me the reward money, given that their particular brand of teachin’ had resulted in a great deal of consternation and property damage. The news from New York City was that Edmund Fairfield spent many more years as a student to restitute the power company and all our ravaged towns.
Once the Devil was gone, the investors, speculators, and company men returned to Northaven. Horatio, suddenly a celebrated name and the only inventor in these woods, was paid a handsome fee to develop winter-proof tech. Edmund Fairfield’s weather-changin’ machine came in handy, after all. So nowadays, railroads thread through the north like stray stitches in an old huntin’ shirt, and even newspapers such as yours take an interest in the dark wild tales of the hard north, though you city folk got what you wanted, after all—it’s become less dark and wild and hard with time.
But not the dark, wild, hard northern winter that the Sheriff shook my hand when I presented him with an iron pelt and demanded the reward money. Not the winter that my Papa did what most men never have the chance to do—laugh at his own gravestone. Not the winter that Claudette Devil’s-Bane was so named. We paid off our debts, Papa continued huntin’, and the Dulac Company thrived. He got his hundredth bear and more besides, though he never bothered fixin’ the record.
Killin’ the Devil had endeared my name to more than a few folks and soon ‘nough I found myself sittin’ in the Sheriff’s chair. I had a bigger gun cabinet, and an even greater amount of book-keepin’, but still some huntin’ to do. It didn’t involve too many wild animals, though plenty of ‘em were devils in their own right.
A while after he’d opened his inventin’ shop next to Teddy Freckletoe’s mercantile, Horatio came by my new office. “I made you a promise some time ago,” he said.
“You comin’ to apologize for breaking it?”
“Not at all.” There was a big case in his hand. “In fact, I’m here to keep it.”
He opened the case, and there was Portent O’ Doom and ‘Lectric Oathkeeper. They shone bright, metal polished and new as the day Maman’d invented ‘em.
“I remade them. Added some improvements, too.”
As I held my precious ‘Lectric Oathkeeper once again, I thought a promise fulfilled is p’raps better than a deal, after all.
So, your readers want to know: is this the gun that killed the Devil of the North? I reckon the answer is sure, in a particular way, it is.