MoboReader > Literature > Riddle of the Storm / A Mystery Story for Boys

   Chapter 1 THE GRAY STREAK

Riddle of the Storm / A Mystery Story for Boys By Roy J. Snell Characters: 22454

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Curlie Carson's eyes widened first with surprise, then with downright terror. His ears were filled with the thunder of a powerful motor. Yes, he heard that. But what did he see? That was more important. A powerfully built monoplane with wide-spreading wings was speedily approaching. Even through the swirl of snow all about him he could see that the plane was painted a solid gray.

"The 'Gray Streak'!" he murmured.

Could it be? What tales he had heard of this mysterious plane! During his three weeks of service on the Mackenzie River Air Route in northern Canada, extravagant tales had reached his ears. "This gray plane bears no identification mark, no name, no letters, no numbers. It swoops down upon some lone cabin, robs the owner of food and blankets, and is away. It is a phantom ship, a Flying Dutchman of the air. No pilot at the stick!" What had he not heard?

But now-now it was directly over him. Cold terror gripped his heart. A part, at least, of the reports was confirmed; the plane carried no insignia. No name, no letter, no number gave it identification. And these were required by law.

"The 'Gray Streak'," he murmured again.

His fear increased. The plane was flying low along the river. He was standing close to his own plane, the one entrusted to his care by the Midwest Airways. It was a superb creation, and almost new. Suppose this stranger, the man of mystery, outlaw perhaps, should drop to the smooth surface of the river's ice and compel him to exchange planes!

"Suppose only that he should descend to rob me of my cargo!" His heart raced. It was a valuable cargo and had come a long way by air.

While these terrifying possibilities were passing through his mind, the plane moved steadily onward. He was able to study every detail: her skids, her wings, her cabin, her motor.

The drumming of her motor did not diminish.

"They are passing!" he whispered. "Thank God, they are going on. I-"

His words were checked at sight of some white object that, whirling with the wind, seemed at first a very large snowflake.

"But no. It-it's-"

He was about to dive forward in pursuit of it when an inner impulse born of caution caused him to halt.

Dividing his attention between the vanishing plane and the fluttering object, he stood for a space of seconds motionless. Then, as the snow-fog closed in upon the plane, he dashed forward to retrieve a small square of cloth.

"A handkerchief!" He was frankly disappointed.

"But-a woman's handkerchief." His interest quickened. One did not associate a woman with this mystery plane.

"Perhaps, after all, it's a boy's," he told himself. "But a boy? One-"

His eyes had caught a mark in the corner. There were words written there, very small words.

Hurrying to his airplane, he climbed into the cabin; then, switching on a powerful electric torch, he studied the words.

"I am a captive," he read.

And beneath this was a name: "D'Arcy Arden."

"D'Arcy," he murmured. "What a strange name! Would it be a boy or a girl?"

For a long time he sat staring at that square of white, trying at the same time to patch together the rumors that had come to him regarding this mystery ship of the air.

"No use," he told himself. "Can't make head nor tail of it."

The truth was that until that hour no aviator of this northern country had laid eyes on this gray phantom. They had one and all agreed that it did not exist, that it was the creation of an over-wrought imagination; that some mineral-hunting plane on a special mission had passed over here and there and had created the illusion.

"But now," he assured himself, "I have seen it. I will vouch for it. And here," he held the square of white up to the light, "here is the proof!

"But why is that plane here? Where is it going? Why is that person a captive? What type of outlaw rides in that cockpit? All that is the riddle of this storm, a riddle I am bound to aid in solving. But now-"

His ears caught the beat of snow on the cabin window. "Now there is nothing left but to eat, sleep a bit, and wait out the storm.

"Get a bite to eat," he told himself. "Something hot. Fellow has to keep himself fit on a job like this, when you-"

He did not finish. A sudden thought breaking in upon him had startled him. He had believed himself safe from the peril that had threatened. But was he? What if the plane turned about and came back?

He opened the cabin door. The throb of a motor smote his ear, and once more sent tremors of fear coursing up his spine.

Once more consternation seized him. What was to be done? He couldn't lose his plane. He must not!

"Only three weeks," he said aloud, "and then!"

It had been a glorious three weeks. Rising off the field at Edmonton. Greeting the dawn. Skimming through the clouds. Sailing over a great white world, ever new. This was his task as a northern pilot.

"So safe, too," he had said more than once. "The river's ice, a perfect landing field, always beneath you."

No, he could not lose his plane. Reaching up to a niche at the top of the low cabin, he took down a powerful yew bow and a handful of arrows. The arrows were of ash, light and strong. They were perfectly feathered. Their points were of razor-edged steel. "Might help in an emergency," he told himself. "And this D'Arcy person might be able to do a little if I could free him. Even if it were a woman, she might help; you never can tell."

The pulsating beat of motors grew louder.

"If I lose my plane it means we lose the mail contract. I won't!" He set his lips tight. "I must not!"

Gripping his bow, he stepped out of the cabin.

The next moment his face broadened in a grin.

"Fooled myself!" he exclaimed.

The plane that loomed out from the snow-fog for a space of seconds, only to lose itself again, was not gray. It was blue, with streaks of white. It bore on its wings the letters E F-R A C.

"Speed Samson," he murmured. "He's going through. He trusts his motors."

A frown overspread his usually cheerful face. The frown had a meaning. He admired Speed. Speed was a wonderful pilot with thousands of hours of flying to his credit. Yet Speed had, only three days before, disappointed him. Perhaps disappointed is not the word. However that may be, this is what had happened. Curlie had said,

"You have to learn to trust God in a very real way when you fly in the North, don't you?" He had not meant to preach; but Speed had said rather shortly:

"I trust my motors!"

"He trusts his motors," the boy repeated. "'Trust God and keep your powder dry.' Some one has said that. Up here you have to trust God and keep your motors right. But I for one am not going to trust to my motors alone. God made the iron and steel, the copper and all that goes into my machine. He made the gas and oil, too. And He made my brain, and I'll use it to the best of my ability. This is not safe flying weather. And orders are, 'Always play safe.'"

Having thought this through, he returned to his cabin.

"Danger is all over," he told himself. "But this D'Arcy person? How I'd like to help! Wonder if I will in the end?"

"Hot chocolate," he murmured to himself. "A cold chicken sandwich and a big pot of beans, warmed over the alcohol stove. Boy! A fellow sure does get an appetite up here!"

An hour later, wrapped in his eight foot square eiderdown robe, he lay on the floor of the narrow cabin prepared for sleep.

Sleep did not come at once. There were many troubles of the day that must first be put to rest. He thought of his motor, going over it piece by piece. In this land of the North much depends upon the pilot's care of his motor. Curlie was not neglectful. Even in his hours of repose his thoughts were upon his task.

That his was a position of grave responsibility he knew right well. Until his coming into this land he had thought of aviation as a pleasant luxury, mostly to be indulged in by the rich and the near-rich; a necessity in war, a luxury in time of peace. But in this far-flung land of snow the airplane has come to be a thing of great service. Journeys that required three months of hard mushing after dog teams; of sleeping in rough, uninhabited cabins at night; of facing cold, hunger and darkness, are now accomplished with great comfort in three days. In this land the airplane has made a village a thousand miles from Edmonton one of that city's suburbs. Curlie had not been slow to sense all this.

"And there's gold," he told himself. "'Gold hunters of the air.' That's what Johnny Thompson called them. I wonder how it's done."

Yes, Curlie had seen Johnny Thompson. You remember Johnny. He had been Curlie's pal in more than one strange land and with him had participated in many a mysterious and thrilling adventure.

He had not come upon Johnny this time by accident. Neither was Curlie's presence in northern Canada an accident. He was here because he had a friend, and that friend was Johnny Thompson.

Curlie, like many another young fellow, had bumped squarely into the regretted "depression" that, sweeping like a tidal wave over the land, had left many a man high and dry, with no home and no place to eat. Having been in the air mail service in America, he was dropped when demand slackened and fewer men were needed. Men who had more flying hours to their credit had been retained.

In time of depression one must often rely upon his friends. Little groups of true friends, drawn closer together by the winds of adversity, stand back to back, fighting the battle together.

So it happened that Johnny, finding himself in the North and learning of a temporary vacancy, spoke a good word for his friend Curlie Carson.

"And now," thought Curlie, "here I am. And here I stay until my last dollar is spent. A land where airplanes are a real necessity, that's the land for me!

"'Gold hunters of the air,'" he repeated once more. "Wonder how they do it? Perhaps I'll learn that business. Sounds thrilling. And gold! Man! It might make a fellow rich!

"But I wonder-"

He had asked Johnny how it was done, this gold hunting in the air. Johnny had said,

"How much time you got to spare?"

"Two minutes. Must get back to my motor," Curlie had replied.

"Not enough by two hours," had been Johnny's laughing rejoinder. "Drop in and stay all night on your next trip and I'll tell you all about it.

"And by the way!" he had exclaimed. "Be sure not to pass us up on that next trip. May have something mighty important to send down by you. New stuff; that is, new to us. Worth about a million dollars an ounce. How does that strike you between the ears?"

"Million an ounce," Curlie murmured sleepily. "Million dollars an ounce! Wonder what that could be?"

* * * * * * * *

Curiously enough, at the very hour in which Curlie had decided to sleep out a storm, Johnny Thompson, many miles away in a place where the storm had not yet struck, was telling some one else, an old-time friend of Curlie's as well as his, some things about gold hunting in the air. He was talking in no uncertain terms, and the facts he revealed were as much a surprise to the listener as they might have been to Curlie.

He had left his c

amp early that morning, had Johnny. It was well into the afternoon when, as a sudden smile spread over his close-knit, winter-hardened face, he sighted the person he had hoped to meet.

A slim girl in her teens, this girl handled her dogs extremely well for a novice who had been in the North only three short weeks.

"Bravo!" Johnny fairly shouted, as she rushed ahead to seize her leader and throw him back on his haunches. "She picks things up quickly. Many a girl would have allowed her team to come straight on to mine. Then our teams would have mixed, her team against mine, like two football teams on a gridiron. Best team wins. What a rumpus that would have been! Bad business. Dogs all crippled up, like as not."

Swinging his own dogs off the trail, he issued a sharp command which they instantly obeyed by throwing themselves upon the hard-packed snow in a position of repose. Dog teams in the North were not new to Johnny, though this was his first trip into the far northwest of Canada.

The girl, who stood silent and expectant beside her team, was Joyce Mills. Johnny had learned of her presence in the North quite by accident. For months he had not heard from her nor from her father, Newton Mills, the retired city detective. You will remember Joyce and her father well enough if you have read The Arrow of Fire and The Gray Shadow. A brave, resourceful, independent girl, this Joyce Mills. And her father, before a nervous breakdown, had been one of the most feared detectives on the New York force. Now, here they were in the North. Strange, do you say? In this day nothing is strange. "Foot loose and fancy free," that's the phrase. We go where we will, we Americans.

Joyce had not known Johnny was in the North. And now here they stood face to face.

"Jo-Johnny Thompson!" she breathed, her eyes widening as he approached.

"Johnny!" she cried aloud. "When did you get here?"

Johnny grinned broadly. "Three weeks ago to-day, same as you."

"Three-three weeks. And you knew I was here!" Her eyes reproved him.

"Not until yesterday," he explained. "Of course I knew there was a lady in your outfit. Yesterday an Indian told me who you were."

"An Indian. I haven't talked to one. How did he know my name?"

"He didn't. He knew you. That was still better. There may be two Joyce Mills in the world. There is only one you."

"Knew me!" A puzzled look overspread the girl's face. "I don't understand."

"You wouldn't unless you knew Indians. In their own way they are clever beyond belief; some of them at least. They see everything, can imitate every action, your smile, your gestures, your walk, everything. They can describe the fillings in your teeth, the shape of your fingers and every bit of toggery you wear. This man had not been speaking three minutes before I knew it must be you."

"Indians," she murmured as Johnny came closer to her sled. "Are they as clever as that?"

"They sure are!"

"But, Johnny!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here? And how does it happen that we arrived on the same day?"

"I am doing," said Johnny slowly, "just what your outfit is doing, searching for mineral, gold, silver, platinum, radium.

"As for that other question-" His words came with great hesitation. "That-that's a deep secret. I wonder if you know the answer yourself. No. I am sure you don't, nor your father either. You are square shooters, you are. Your father is the straightest detective that ever guarded the streets of New York. He wouldn't be in on a thing like that, not if he knew it."

"Johnny!" the girl cried out in alarm. "What are you saying? Are you telling me that in our camp some one is unfair, dishonest? How could they be? We are searching for mineral in a wild, open country that belongs to no one save the Provincial Government. How could we be dishonest?"

"And yet," Johnny said as he sat down upon the sled, "a very mean trick, yes, a dishonest, dishonorable one has been played by-. Not by your father," he hastened to explain, "but by at least one of the young men with whom he is associated.

"Sit down and I will tell you."

The girl sank to a place beside him.

"Listen." His tone grew impressive. "You have seen those enlarged photographs?"

"You mean the ones taken from the air, showing the surface of rocks, the sides of ledges, the ones our men work by? The ones they study and find signs that save them months of travel?"

"Yes."

"I have seen them many times."

"Then you know," the boy went on, "that they are invaluable as an aid in the search for mineral, that an expert mineralogist like your father can sit down before those photographs and can, after studying them carefully, tell where mineral is likely to be found.

"Of course," his voice dropped a little, "of course, a skilled observer may fly over the territory and tell something of the rock formation from mere eye observations. But photographs are much better.

"Did it ever occur to you," he demanded suddenly, "to ask yourself the question: 'Where did those photographs come from? Who took them?'"

Joyce started. "N-no, it didn't."

"I'll tell you. But first let me assure you that the taking of such pictures is difficult, tiresome and often dangerous work. It requires a great deal of time. Those prints are only a hundred or so selected from more than a thousand. To take those pictures required many days of soaring in a powerful airplane, close to the surface of the earth. For such work an airplane is expensive. Those pictures cost a pretty large sum of money. They were the property of two men, an aged prospector and a young man. They invested their joint fortunes in the undertaking, hoping for large returns. They had made one enlargement from each film when all the films were stolen."

"Stolen!"

"Stolen."

"By whom?"

"I leave you to guess."

The expressions that flitted across the girl's face, as clouds pass over a landscape, were strange to see. Despair, distrust, sorrow, hope, then despair again-all these.

"My father," she murmured at last, "my poor father."

"He knows nothing of it. That goes without saying," Johnny hastened to assure her.

"But-but it's not that." She seemed undecided. There was a strange hoarseness in her voice as she turned her face to his.

"Johnny, you know my father."

"Yes," he replied simply, "I know."

He spoke the truth, as you will know if you have read that other book, The Arrow of Fire. Johnny did know Newton Mills. He knew that he had been one of the finest detectives the city of New York had ever known. He knew, too, that after many years of service he had fallen as a last sacrifice to the battle against crime. Johnny had done much to reclaim him.

"You know," Joyce went on, "that he can never again fill a post on a city detective force. His nerves are too far gone for that. We are poor. The depression reached us. We were in despair. Then this opportunity came. He may never have told you, but he was in the Yukon gold rush. He found no gold, but instead, a lifetime hobby-the study of minerals. These studies have fitted him for the work he is now doing. This opening came. He took it. I came to be with him."

She said "with him" softly, did this slim, dark-haired girl. She loved her father.

"And now," her tone changed, "now it's all over." There was no bitterness in her voice, only weariness, the long, long weariness of one who has battled long for a great and noble cause, only to feel that defeat lies directly ahead.

"I can't see it that way." Johnny spoke calmly. "The work can go on. If something really comes of it, your father will receive his full share."

"But who would want a share of anything obtained by dishonest means?" The girl's cheek flushed.

"Well," Johnny replied quietly, "in the first place, I doubt if all three of the young men working with your father know of the theft."

"I am sure they don't!" the girl exclaimed, ready to weep. "It doesn't seem possible that one of them could do such a thing. They seem so honorable. They have been so very kind to me."

"And yet, here are the facts staring us in the face," Johnny continued. "If you had our set of pictures to compare with those your people are using, you would find them identical. And they were taken by Scott Ramsey who is one of the partners in our camp, a real gold hunter of the air."

"And one of our men is a thief!" the girl spoke slowly. "Who would believe that?"

"Your task," Johnny added gently, "is to find the thief. You are the daughter of a detective. Often you have helped your father in his work. This should be easy."

"I will." The girl stood up. "I will find him. And when I have, what shall I do?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?" She stared unbelievingly.

"Exactly that. Can't you see?" He, too, sprang to his feet. "As long as we know what they are doing, they are in a way working for us. If they make a strike, find gold or other rich mineral deposits, we will share with them."

"You would take-"

"No. We couldn't take the claims they file on; at least we would not. They should have their share. I am sure the men of our camp will deal fairly, even generously with them.

"But this is the way it works." He was explaining quietly now. "If they make a strike, find gold or radium, they will rush outside in an airplane and bring in friends to file on the land. There will be room for many, many claims. When they have a broad stretch of ore-bearing territory staked, they will sell out to some rich company.

"But you see," he added, "if they make a strike we will know it at once. Nothing prevents us from moving over and filing on the most promising spots; in fact, it's the fair thing to do since they are working with our pictures."

"I see." The girl spoke slowly. A new light of hope shone in her eyes.

"But, Johnny," she asked suddenly, "how will you know when they make a strike, if they do? You wouldn't expect me to-"

"No, we wouldn't expect you to let us know. But we have a way-the Moccasin Telegraph."

"Moccasin Telegraph? What's that?"

"You will learn much about that before you are here long." His eyes were smiling mysteriously.

"And be assured of one thing," he added. "Whatever comes of it, your father will have his fair share."

"Sha-shall I tell him?"

"I think not. His work calls for all his energy. It might disturb him. This is your case. Work it out. Find the man."

"I shall find him if-if there is such a one."

"If? What do you mean? The evidence is conclusive."

"I find it hard to believe."

"It is true." His tone changed. "I must be going. It's a long way to our camp." He put out a hand. She gripped it quite frankly.

"What brought you this far?" she asked.

"Thought I might see you. No ladies in our camp. Only a Chinaman for a cook. Fellow gets lonesome."

"Shall you come again?"

"I think not. It's not safe. Feeling runs high in this land. Our crowds might mix in the wrong way. That would be bad."

"Well, so long, then."

"So long!"

A moment later Johnny and his team vanished behind the cliff, leaving a very much puzzled girl alone with her thoughts. And they were long, long thoughts, I assure you.

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