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   Chapter 6 A WANDERER RETURNS

A Ticket to Adventure / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 11319

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Florence stirred uneasily beneath the blankets. Morning was coming. A faint light was creeping in over the cabin loft where she and Mary slept in a great, home-made bed.

More often than not it is a sound that disturbs our late slumbers. Florence had never become quite accustomed to the morning sounds about their little farm. All her life she had lived where boats chug-chugged in the harbor and auto horns sounded in the streets. Here more often than not it was the croak of a raven, the song of some small bird, the wild laugh of a loon on the lake that awoke her.

Now, as a sharp suggestion of approaching winter filled the air, on more than one morning it was the quack-quack of some old gander of the wild duck tribe, flown to the lake from the far North, or the honk-honk of geese.

All this was music to the nature-loving girl's ear. And, of late, all of life seemed to her a great symphony full of beautiful melodies. The hard battle of summer was over. Bravely the battle had been fought. The Hughes family had come to this valley to win themselves a home. She was one of them, in spirit at least. The beginning they had made surpassed their expectations. Now, as she opened her eyes to find herself fully awake, she thought of it all.

"A ticket to adventure," she whispered low to herself, "that's what the man said he was giving me. It's been a ticket to duty and endless labor. And yet," she sighed, "I'm not complaining." A great wave of contentment swept over her. They were secure for the winter. That surely was something.

"Adventure," she laughed, silently. "Bill has had the adventure. He-"

Her thoughts broke off. From somewhere, all but inaudible, a sound had reached her ear. More sensation than sound, she knew at once that it was made by no wild thing. But what could it be? She listened intently, but, like a song on their little battery radio, it had faded away.

Yes-her thoughts went back to her neighbor-Bill Vale had sought adventure and had found it. With his mother still in Palmer, he had packed up a generous supply of food, charged to his mother's account at the government commissary, and joining up with the dreamy-eyed prospector, Malcomb Dale, had gone away into the hills searching for gold.

"Not that Bill's mother would have objected," Florence thought. "She would have said, 'Bill is incurably romantic. The quest for gold appeals to him. All our desires in the end must be satisfied if we are to enjoy the more abundant life. Besides, what is there to do? There are six hundred men working in gangs. They will clear up our land for us and build cabins before snow flies. We shall be charged with it all, but then we have thirty years to pay.' Yes, that is exactly what Bill's mother would have said," and the thought disgusted Florence not a little.

So Bill had gone away into the mountains. The mountains, those glorious, snow-capped mountains! Florence, as she bent over her work in their large garden, had watched him start. And as she saw him disappear, she had, for the moment, envied him.

Often and often, in the sweet cool of the evening, she and Mary had talked about how, in some breathing spell, they would borrow a horse and go packing away into those mountains. The breathing spell had never come. And now, the brief autumn was here. Winter was just around the corner. Florence had no regrets. Never before had she felt so happy and secure.

Bill had been gone six weeks. The clearing and building crew had arrived while he was away. There was dead and down timber at the back of Bill's lot that would have made a fine, secure cabin, had Bill been there to point it out. He was not there. So the cabin was built of green logs. Already you could see daylight through the cracks, and Bill's mother, who had moved in with what to Florence seemed an unnecessary amount of furniture and equipment, was complaining bitterly about "the way the government has treated us poor folks."

Bill had returned at last. Sore-footed and ragged, his food gone, his high-priced rifle red with rust, he had returned triumphant. He had found gold. In the spring he would begin operations in a big way. Proudly he displayed six tiny nuggets, none of them bigger than a pea.

"Seeds," old John McQueen had called them. "Golden seeds of discontent." But to Bill they were marvelous. For him they hid the cracks in their cabin, his unplowed field, his uncut woodpile. And, because she doted on her son, they hid all these things from his mother's eyes as well-at least, for a time.

"Poor Bill!" Florence sighed, as she snuggled down beneath the blankets. "He's such a dreamer. He-"

There was that strange sound again, like a speedboat motor. She laughed at the thought of a speedboat on their tiny lake. But now, as before, it faded away.

Yes, with her help, the Hughes family had won. Their summer had been a complete success. How they had worked, morning to night. Mosquitoes and flies, tough sod and weeds, they had battled them all. And how they had been rewarded! Never had plants grown and flourished as theirs did. Mark's tomatoes were a complete success. Twice, it was true, the mercury dropped to a point perilously near freezing and their heads rested on uneasy pillows. But the Alaskan weather man had been kind. Their bright red harvest, "bushels and bushels of tomatoes," had come and had been sold at unbelievable prices. All along the Alaskan railroad, people had gone wild about their marvelous tomatoes.

"And now," the girl heaved another happy sigh. Now their little sodded-in cellar was packed full of potatoes, beets, turnips, and carrots; their shelves were line

d with home-canned wild fruit, raspberries, blueberries, high bush cranberries, and their storeroom crowded with groceries, all paid for. What was more, a horse! "Old Nig," bought from a discouraged settler, was in their small log barn. It was marvelous, truly marvelous! And yet, in this wild land full of possible exciting events, they had known no adventure.

"Duty first," John McQueen had said to her once. "And when duty is done, let adventure come as it may. And it will come."

"Good old McQueen," she sighed. "God surely knows all our needs. He sends us such men."

Suddenly her feet hit the floor with a bound. She had heard that sound once more. It was the drum of an airplane motor. She judged by the sound that it was circling for a landing, perhaps on their little lake. How wonderful! Was it their friend, the young aviator? Had he come for them? Her blood raced.

"Mary!" she fairly screamed. "Wake up! An airplane! And it's going to land. It's landing right now."

They jumped into their clothes and were out on the cabin steps just in time to see the beautiful blue and gray airplane, graceful as any wild fowl, circle low to a perfect landing.

With mad scurrying, wild ducks and geese were off the water and away on the wing, leaving the intruders to the perfect quiet of a glorious autumn morning.

A short time later they were all at the water's edge, Florence, Mary, Mark, Bill, and Dave. The hydroplane had been anchored. Three men had just put off in a small boat.

"Hello, there," one of them shouted. "How's the chances for sourdough pancakes and coffee?" It was Speed Samson.

"Fine!" Florence laughed. "Plate of hots coming up."

"This is not to be our trip." There was a note of disappointment in Florence's tone as she murmured these words to Mary. "He's got a hunting party. Probably going after moose or grizzly bears." Nevertheless, she was ready enough to offer to the party the true hospitality of the north. Soon their plates were piled high with cakes, their cups steaming with fragrant brown coffee.

As Florence sat talking to them, one of the men, all rigged out in hunting belt filled with shells, riding breeches and high boots, seemed familiar to her. Who was he? For the life of her, she could not think.

It was Mary who dispelled her doubt. "Florence," once they were alone in the kitchen, she gripped her arm hard, "that man's the one who roared at the little Eskimo, Mr. Il-ay-ok, back there on the dock in Anchorage."

"That's right," Florence's whisper rose shrill and high. "I don't like him and I don't think I ever shall."

"Why did he hate that little man?"

"Who knows?" Florence answered hastily. "Anyway, his name is Peter Loome."

"How-how do you know that?"

Florence did not catch this, she was already hurrying away.

"We're bound for the big-game hunting ground," one of the men was explaining to Mark. "Wonderful sport! Wild sheep and goats, moose and big brown bear!"

"Man, you're lucky!" Bill exclaimed.

Mark made no response.

"Your motor don't sound just right," Mark said as the conversation lagged.

"What's wrong with it?" the young pilot demanded.

"Can't quite tell," Mark puckered his brow.

"Ever fly?" The pilot looked at him sharply.

"No-o. But then your motor's just like the ones we had in some speedboats back in the Copper Country. I tinkered with them. You get to know by the sound," Mark replied modestly.

"Want to turn her over once or twice?" the pilot invited.

"Sure. Be glad to."

Two hours later grim, greasy, but triumphant, Mark emerged from the plane. He had located the trouble and had remedied it.

"Say-ee, you're good!" the pilot was enthusiastic. "Want to go along as my mechanic? Grand trip! Shoot goats, bears, moose, and-"

"Can't get away just now," said Mark quietly. "Thanks all the same."

Just the same, there was a look of longing in his eye that Florence knew all too well. He had two passions, had Mark. He loved growing things and wonderful machinery. Growing was over for this year. Dull, dreary days of autumn were at hand. For him, to spend two weeks or even a month watching over that matchless motor would be bliss.

"No-o," he repeated slowly, almost mournfully. "I can't go. There is still work to be done before snow flies."

"Say!" Bill put in. "Take me. I'll go."

"Know anything about motors?"

"Sure, a lot," Bill, never too modest, replied.

"All right. Get your things." A half hour later, Bill sailed off to one more adventure.

"Yes," Florence thought with a grim smile. "He's spent two weeks felling green trees to cut with his new buzz-saw. Be fine wood in twelve months. But how about next January? Poor Bill!"

Strange to say, the one thought that often haunted both Florence and Mary was the realization that their splendid cabin had been built by someone else. That this someone had hidden a big copper kettle and, perhaps, seven golden candlesticks near the cabin, then had gone away, did not seem to matter. "What if they should come back?" Florence asked herself over and over.

Then, one bright autumn day, their dark dream came true. Busy in the kitchen, Florence did not notice the approach of a stranger. Only when she heard heavy footsteps outside did she hurry into the large front room. Then, through the open door, she heard a loud sigh, followed by the creak of a bench as a heavy person settled upon it. After that, in a voice she could not mistake, though she had never heard it before, there came: "Ah! Home at last!"

"Madam Chicaski, the original owner of the cabin," the girl thought in wild consternation. "She has returned!"

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