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

   Chapter 2 IN SWIFT PURSUIT

Riddle of the Storm / A Mystery Story for Boys By Roy J. Snell Characters: 17722

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


When he fell asleep in his airplane, Curlie Carson was many miles from any human habitation, in the heart of a polar wilderness. In that wilderness foxes barked and gaunt wolves howled. An Arctic gale sent snow rattling against his window. And yet he slept like a child in a trundle bed. A few hours of rest, and then he would, granted the storm had ended, greet the dawn high in air.

Mid-afternoon next day found him circling above the shore of Great Slave Lake for a landing.

"Gas cache here," he told himself. "Just gas up and be away to Fort Resolution. Far as Speed got, I'm sure, with all his flying in the storm. My record's as good as his. Contract's safe enough yet."

Ah yes, the contract. How they all worked for that, the mail contract from Edmonton to the Arctic! A three year contract, it was to be given to the company that made the best flying record this season. At present Curlie's own company, Midwestern Airways, was a few notches ahead. But one bad break, and the Trans-Canadian, the rival company, would beat them. Only three weeks remained.

"It's a race, a race for a grand prize," he told himself. "And we must win!"

Up to this moment the boy had a right to be proud of his own record. The youngest pilot on the route, only a substitute for a disabled pilot of more mature years, he had exceeded them all in miles flown and service rendered in this wild northland. For all this, his thoughts at this moment were humble ones. Full well he knew the treachery of the skies.

His skis bumped. They bumped again three, four times, and his plane went gliding over the snow. With consummate skill he brought the great bird to rest exactly opposite three steel drums resting on a high bank at the lake's edge.

Many gas caches such as this had been established during the season of open water when river and lake steamers might operate.

With a rubber hose for siphoning in his hand, the boy climbed the steep bank. But what was this? In a sheltered spot he came upon a footprint in the snow. Consternation seized him. Had some one been there before him? This was his company's gasoline. None other had a right to it.

"Some trapper passing this way," he reassured himself.

His hopes were short-lived. One kick at each hollow-sounding drum and he knew they had been robbed.

Who was the guilty one? Speed? No, Speed was an honorable man! The Gray Streak, phantom of the air? That was the answer.

"This must be stopped!" he told himself stoutly. "Not enough gas to reach the next port. And some unfortunate one may be waiting at this moment for my plane to carry him to the hospital. They can't realize what it means."

Down deep in his heart he was convinced that they, the pilots of the Gray Streak, did know what it meant. They were outlaws, fugitives from justice, and did not care.

"When they are caught there will be a fight. Well, then, welcome the day! The airways of the North must be kept open to those who have at heart the highest good of all."

Having made this declaration of war, that in time was to lead him over a vast wilderness into many perils, he slid down the bank to climb into the cockpit, prepared to make the most of his scant supply of gas.

Three hours later, just as dusk was approaching, he was circling once more. Less than a gallon of gas remained in his tank. Fort Resolution was twenty miles away. Night was coming on.

"That means a day lost, a bad record, a black mark, a long loss in the contest!" he exclaimed almost savagely. "And all because some one cares nothing for the welfare of others. Truly the running down of such men is a task worthy of any man's steel."

Scarcely had his plane come to rest than fresh perils threatened. There came a strange sound from the bank of the lake.

"What can it be?" His heart skipped a beat. Instinctively he put out a hand for a stout yew bow and a quiver of arrows that always hung beside his cabin door, for like his friend Johnny, Curlie, as you will recall, was an expert bowman.

In ever increasing volume there came to his ears the sound of cracking and crashing.

"Sounds like a forest fire," he told himself. "But there is no fire. Like a thousand range cattle. But there are no cattle. What can it be?"

Soon enough he was to know. From the brush that grew by the shore bounded a brown mass with four short legs and a tossing head.

"Buffaloes!" He was amazed. His amazement grew. Three, six, nine, twenty, fifty, a hundred of these ponderous creatures landed upon the ice, then came plunging toward him. In a space of seconds, hundreds more joined them in wild stampede.

"They are mad with fear!" He was all but in a panic himself. "What am I to do? The plane will be wrecked. It will be laid up for weeks; the contest lost, everything lost!"

He broke off short. The thread of an old prairie-buffalo story had entered his mind.

"These are woods-buffaloes," he told himself. "But buffaloes must be the same everywhere. I can but try."

Gripping his bow, he stepped boldly out from his plane and walked like some young David to meet the onrushing throng. He was a full thirty yards from his plane, the foremost buffalo scarcely more than that from him, when with heart pounding painfully against his ribs, but with fingers that perfectly obeyed his will, he paused to set a steel pointed arrow against his bowstring. Then he took one long breath before the test which must mean victory or defeat.

Somewhere in a book of frontier-day tales, he had read an account of the remarkable manner in which the Red Man, when in danger of being trampled to death by a thousand stampeding buffaloes, had saved his life. He was now prepared to put this practice to the test. It seemed a desperate measure-just how desperate he had not time to judge.

Gripping his bow that was capable of burying an arrow in the heart of any wild creature, he stood quite still until the foremost buffalo, a powerful beast with gleaming horns, was within ten paces of him. Then, quickly bending his bow, he let fly.

No effect. The buffalo came straight on. The thundering herd was behind him. Already the cloud of snow that rose before them was obscuring his vision. Still there was time for retreat to the plane. Once in the cabin, he would be safe from the murderous tramp of their axe-like hoofs. But the plane! It would be wrecked.

He did not retreat. Standing his ground, with incredible rapidity he fired a second arrow and a third.

The very breath of the foremost buffalo was upon his cheek when with a clatter and a thud it fell at his feet.

And now the real test of the Red Man's ancient plan of action was at hand. No longer was there opportunity for retreat. The herd was upon him. Through the cloud of snow he saw it but dimly. The sound of clashing horns and cracking hoofs was deafening. Casting himself flat in the snow, directly back of the fallen monarch of the forest, he awaited the outcome.

Without knowing why, he began to count. Perhaps he was counting his own wild heartbeats. "One, two, three, four, five." Would it work? "Six, seven, eight, nine, ten." Would he be trampled by those hoofs? "Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen." No time to think of that now.

He felt rather than saw, so dense was the cloud of fine snow, that the herd had divided, that the buffaloes were passing in two columns, one to the right, the other to the left of their fallen leader. They were following the manner of their kind as recorded in that story of other days.

"Thank-thank God!" he breathed.

His plane now was, he hoped, quite safe. It was headed toward the herd. Divided, they would pass to right and left of it. They would divide for a fallen comrade. Would they have done the same for an airplane? Who could tell?

Lying there alone while the onrushing herd whirled by, Curlie realized as never before what a joyous thing it was just to live, what a priceless possession the great Father had bestowed upon him when He breathed the breath of life into his lungs.

The sound of horns and hoofs was fading away. The last member of the herd had passed, or he thought it had.

Rising stiffly, he put out his hand for his bow. The snow was settling. At his feet lay a dark mass, the dead buffalo. At his back loomed a gray bulk, his plane, apparently unharmed.

His thoughts regarding the buffalo were sober ones. These buffaloes, he realized, now that there was time to think of it, were not in every sense of the word wild buffaloes. They ranged a wide preserve. They were watched over by buffalo rangers. They might not be killed except in a grave emergency. One who did kill a woods-buffalo was liable to a term in prison.

"But this," he assured himself, "was a grave emergency."

But what was this? Even as he stood there thinking there came the crack of hoofs

once more. A lone buffalo was passing. A youngster, half-grown and almost spent, he limped painfully after his fast disappearing companions.

And after him came gray streaks in the failing light. Once more the boy's bow sang. A gray form plunged to the snow and went rolling over and over. A second followed the first. He, too, had felt the sting of the boy's arrow. And now they were gone, all gone. The tumult died to a murmur, then silently ceased to be.

"Wolves," the boy grumbled, as he touched a gray form at his feet, "the scourge of the North, killers of all that is good, beautiful and useful among living things. I did what I could for that poor, limping young buffalo. Here's hoping it was enough. If it was, it evens matters up." He looked at the fallen buffalo.

"Too bad," he murmured, "but there was no other way. That plane means more, a hundred times, to human kind than does a buffalo. It has saved human lives, by transporting them to hospitals. It will save others and, please God, I shall have a part."

Having in this manner adjusted his thoughts and feelings regarding his immediate surroundings, he considered the future.

Prospects were not bright. "No gas," he told himself. "It's a march down the river in the dark for me.

"Oh, well. Munch a chocolate bar and some crackers. Hate to leave the old plane. Whew! How good the old feather robe would feel!" He stretched his weary muscles.

"Wolves down the river at night. But I'd fix 'em!" He patted his bow.

A brief inspection of his plane told him that all was well. "A fortunate escape. And now, eats."

He took his time about his meal. The moon would be higher later in the night. Plenty of time anyway. No one would start back with him to bring a dog sled load of gasoline to his plane before dawn.

He was just pushing away the warm robe he had drawn over his knees when a curious sound reached his ears, a clank-clank like the moving of gears.

"How strange!" he exclaimed. "Up here close to the Arctic Circle. What a night! Will wonders never cease?"

A low dark bulk came gliding over the ice. The clank-clank grew louder.

"It's a tractor!" he told himself, only half believing. "But here! Hundreds of miles beyond the end of steel! Who would believe it?" He was forced to believe, for, before he could realize it, the thing was upon him.

Suddenly the clatter and clank ceased. "Hello there!" came in a cheery voice. "What you camping here for? Resolution is just around the corner.

"Oh, it's you, Curlie Carson?"

The newcomer had dismounted and approached on foot.

"And you, Doctor LeBeau!" came from the boy. "I'm surely glad to see you.

"But that thing-" he pointed at the tractor. "What do you do with that?"

"Many things, my boy. Very useful. Snake out logs. Launch boats. Plenty of work. Just now I am coming from moving an Indian family to their new home seven miles away. Cabin was twelve feet square. Just slid skids under it, hitched on and moved 'em, house, furniture, bag, baggage and babies. Not so bad!" He laughed a merry laugh.

"But answer me. What you doing here?"

"Out of gas."

"Out of gas!" The doctor whistled. "Thought you were Old Man Preparedness himself."

"So did I. But when your gas cache has been robbed? What then?"

"Robbed?"

Curlie told him the story of the outlaw plane and the missing gas.

"That's bad!" exclaimed the doctor. "Have to put a stop to that! Dangerous people who would leave some poor aviator to starve hundred miles from anywhere. Go after him!"

"I will if there's a chance."

"But now? Want a tow to town?"

Curlie looked at the tiny tractor, the smallest made, then at his great airplane. He laughed. "Seems a bit odd. Guess you could do it, though."

"Sure could. Safest way, too. Could give you my gas. Not safe flying at night, though.

"Tell you what!" The doctor's tone was kindly. "You roll up in your feather robe there in the cabin. I'll tow you in. You'll wake up in Resolution. You look like you needed sleep."

"I'm asleep standing up just now! But you?"

"I'm O.K. We sleep all hours up here. Besides, you fellows have done a lot for us; brought the world to our door, that's what you've done. Just as well do a little something for you."

So it happened that Curlie arrived at Fort Resolution during the wee small hours of the night. After sleeping straight through until morning, he was as ready as ever for that which a fresh day might bring.

That day passed uneventfully. The dawn of the second day found Curlie once more in the air. He was headed south.

All the glories of the great white wilderness lay beneath him. The glory of the perfect day, sky filled with drifting clouds, air with a tang all its own. But none of these things held the boy's attention.

His thoughts were divided between his immediate task, the piloting of his plane, and that which lay in the immediate past and the probable future.

At Resolution he had met Speed Samson, his rival. Great had been the other pilot's astonishment when told of Curlie's adventure with the "Gray Streak."

"So it's true after all!" Speed had exclaimed. "There is a plane running wild in this wilderness. The pilot's living off other men's food caches, like as not, and using others' gas."

"Yes," Curlie replied. "What are we going to do about it?"

"Wait for orders."

"Yes, I suppose so," the boy agreed slowly. By nature he was a person of action. "But suppose we come upon that 'Gray Streak' before orders reach us?"

"Pass 'em up. Let 'em go. That's me. My record, the record of my company, the mail contract's at stake.

"And," he added, meaning to be truly generous, "much as I want to win that award for our company, I'd advise you to do the same."

"It would count in your favor if you drove such a menace from the air or brought them to justice," Curlie said thoughtfully.

"If! Pretty big IF, boy. And if you fail, you may be in the sticks somewhere with busted landing gear, out of the running. See?" Curlie did see. And for the time being this seemed good counsel. Long and sober thinking had left the matter unsettled in his mind.

One item that weighed heavily on the safety side was the fact that he carried in his plane that which was to prove of great value to his friend Johnny Thompson and all the world as well-pitchblende.

The venerable giant of a prospector, Sandy MacDonald, with whom Johnny Thompson worked, had prepared his samples sooner than Johnny had thought he might. He had sent those bits of rocks, that gave promise of producing mineral worth a million dollars an ounce, over to Resolution. They were now in the fuselage of Curlie's plane.

"Guard them well," had been the prospector's last word of admonition. "Those samples are pitchblende. From pitchblende comes radium. And radium has been a boon to mankind. Through its mysterious rays of light it has cured thousands of that most dreaded of diseases, cancer. If we can but discover a cheaper supply, we will be benefactors of the whole race. Take them to Edmonton. There's a laboratory there. If they are not equipped to analyze them, they'll send them on. In time you'll bring us the result. And may God speed your flight!"

"May God speed your flight." Curlie seemed to hear those words now and to feel the gentle touch of a powerful hand on his shoulder.

"This is important," he told himself. "I must not fail him. The pay is small. The reward may be very great. We-"

His hands gripped the wheel tightly. A great white cloud lay directly before him. Out of that cloud had come a plane. The air was clear, the plane not far distant. His eyes could not deceive him.

"Jerry!" he shouted to the mechanic at his side. (He had taken Jerry on at Resolution.) "Jerry, that's the 'Gray Streak'!"

"Absolutely!" Jerry straightened up in his place.

The young pilot's mind became a battle field of conflicting emotions. Safety, sure reward, the good of his company, his own personal glory seemed to lie upon the side of his nature that whispered: "Keep straight on. Let them go their way."

"And there is the pitchblende, the radium," he said aloud.

At the same time he appeared to hear a voice say, "Times come in our lives when the good of scores, hundreds, perhaps thousands we have never seen, may never see, drives from our minds that which seems good for us and those best known to us. When that time comes we must act for the good of all."

"Who said that?" he asked himself. He could not answer. Somewhere in the past it had been stowed away in the recesses of his mind. Now here it was. It was as if God had spoken.

"Jerry," he shouted, "we've got to go after them! Follow them to the end. Find their hide-out. Bring them to justice!"

"Absolutely!" Jerry turned his face about to display a broad grin. "Absolutely, son!"

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