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

   Chapter 3 TRAILING THE GRAY STREAK

Riddle of the Storm / A Mystery Story for Boys By Roy J. Snell Characters: 9199

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Still endeavoring to think through the things which Johnny Thompson had revealed to her, Joyce Mills rode home beneath the great, golden Arctic moon.

More than once she murmured: "One of them is a thief. But how could he be?"

Three weeks spent in the company of very few persons in the lonely land of the North reveals much. In three weeks, under such conditions, he is a sly person indeed who does not reveal his true nature. Joyce had believed that by this time she knew the young men of her camp as well as she did Johnny Thompson, Drew Lane, or any other person with whom she had been closely associated.

"How hard it is to judge people!" She sighed deeply. To discover that we have been deceived in a friend is always a shock.

"I cannot doubt Johnny's word," she assured herself. "And yet-"

She could form no real answer to the questions that came unbidden to her mind.

"I will watch," she told herself, "watch and wait. 'Be sure your sin will find you out.' I read that somewhere and I believe it is true. If there is a thief in our camp he will steal again, perhaps many times. In the end, his sin will find him out."

With these matters settled in her mind, she whistled sharply to her dogs and sent them spinning away with redoubled speed toward the three rude cabins that were a prospector's camp and her present home.

Arrived there, she unharnessed her dogs and chained them to their places before their kennels; then she went in to prepare supper.

She was not the only cook in this outfit. They all took a hand. Supper fell to her lot. Since the days were still short everyone worked till dark, searching rocky ridges and river banks for elusive signs of wealth and then walking home over long miles after dark.

She was engaged in the mixing of baking powder biscuits when there came a sound of sudden commotion outside. Flinging open the door, she all but ran into Jim Baley, one of the three young prospectors in her outfit, who was just home from work. Jim, however, was not the cause of the commotion. The sounds of trouble came from the kennels. Dogs were howling and snarling. Mingled with this was a sinister snap-snap of jaws.

"Wolves! Timber wolves!" Jim exclaimed, seizing an axe. "Big as men, they are. Savage brutes. They'll kill the dogs and eat 'em, like they was rats."

He was about to leap away to the battle when the girl held him back.

"Jim, you'll be killed!"

"I'll not. Besides, what of it? You can't let the defenseless be murdered. In a country like this dogs are your best friends. They're chained. Can't you see?"

Feeling the grip on his arm loosen, he sprang away into the dark.

Standing there erect, motionless, she tried to look away into the blackness of the night. At the same time a warm feeling crept in about the portals of her heart as she whispered to herself:

"It can't be Jim! Oh, no! It can't be Jim!" She was thinking of the thief, the one who had stolen those priceless films.

An instant later she, too, seized an axe and raced away to the defense of her four-footed friends.

* * * * * * * *

The mysterious gray plane which Curlie Carson, with characteristic promptness of decision, had resolved to follow, sailed straight away into the east.

Jerry, the one who sat beside him, was, Curlie thought, a strange fellow in many ways. He was a mechanic, and a good one. Self educated, he thought all day long of bolts and nuts, pliers, wrenches, spark plugs, valves and all else that goes to make up an airplane motor. He was, apparently, quite fond of his youthful pilot. His answer to any suggested course of action was always the same, "Absolutely."

"Will he stick in a pinch?" the boy asked himself. "If need be, will he fight?" He believed so.

It certainly seemed strange to be sailing away into a totally unknown land, following an airplane that carried a captive, and who could say what other manner of men?

"Are they kidnappers?" he asked himself, "escaped convicts, foreign exiles?" To these questions he could form no answer. One thing he did know; they were robbers. They stole that which in this barren land might mean life or death to many: gasoline.

A thought struck him. Instinctively he slowed his plane a bit. "What if they turn on me?"

What, indeed? They were flying over a barren land. The land beneath them rose in rounded ridges of solid rock. No landing there. Not a chance. True, here and there he made out an oval of dead white which he knew to be the frozen surface of the lake.

"Whose plane is the faster?" This he could not know.

"Keep plenty o

f distance between," he told himself. "All I can do is locate their base. After that we can invite the red-coated Mounties to take a hand. They'll bring the thing to an end quick enough. They say a Mountie always gets his man, and I guess it's true."

One fact comforted him. He had, but an hour before, taken on a good supply of gas. Because he was traveling light, he was able to carry it with ease. "They may be as well supplied as we are," he told himself. "But the odds are against them. If I can force them to land, short of gas, where there is no supply of fuel, they are done. All I have to do is turn back for aid. We'll mop 'em up. And the mystery will be solved, and this wild land will be free of a great menace."

He had now thought the thing through-at least as far as his limited knowledge would carry him. The thunder of his motor grew monotonous. His mind turned to other things.

"Pitchblende. Radium!" he said aloud. "What a thing to dream of!" He was thinking of the samples entrusted to his care by Sandy MacDonald, of Johnny's camp. "They say it gives off heat and light; that if you carry it in a tube in your pocket it will burn you, but not the pocket. How odd! One of nature's unsolved mysteries," he repeated. "I wonder why men spend so much time reading of gruesome murder mysteries when nature offers them a thousand unsolved riddles many times more interesting?"

Once more his attention was claimed by the outlaw plane. It had changed its course. Heading straight into the wind, it was sailing north.

"Storm ahead," he told himself. "Sure to lose 'em unless-" There was just one chance. "Unless they run out of gas before we reach a snow cloud.

"One thing sure," he told himself, "they'll not lead me into a storm. Too dangerous. Safety first, that's the order. Can't find a landing in this desolate white world without the light to guide you.

"And yet-" His brow wrinkled. "Storms up here sometimes take on a terrific velocity. What if I run into one that is faster than my plane? No getting out then.

"Oh, well," he philosophized, "it's a chance you take when you agree to fly in the North, especially if you volunteer to chase an outlaw of the air.

"Outlaw of the air." At once his mind was rife with speculation regarding this mystery ship.

"From time to time," he told himself, "planes are stolen from their hangars just as autos are taken from garages. Not very common; but it happens. Suppose a super-criminal wishes to escape justice by fleeing from the United States? Suppose he can employ an aviator who is a thief, or even bribe him to carry him into this land of empty spaces? Who would know where to look for either the man or the plane?

"On the other hand, Russia is not far away, just across Alaska. Plenty of gas stations on the Yukon. It's only a short quarter of an hour in a plane across Bering Straits. Plenty of reasons why some bold Russian aviator might be hovering about up here. Might be a voluntary exile. Might have Russian treasure to sell, jewels, diamonds, rubies and all that from the old days. Might be preparing to spread propaganda against the so-called 'capitalistic nations.'

"But then," he chuckled to himself, "a person always thinks of the most improbable solution of a mystery first. Those fellows up ahead may be just some rich young fellows from Canada or the United States bumming around up here, having what they'd call 'one whale of a time' at the expense of the rest of us. There are plenty of fellows who'd do just that if opportunity offered.

"And if that's the answer," he set his lips tight, "here's where I teach them a lesson. No matter how rich a fellow is, he's bound to consider the rights of others; and any fellow who takes gas from another's cache in a land like this is not worthy of any consideration."

He put out a hand. His motor thundered a little louder.

Then a look of consternation overspread his face.

"Jerry!" he shouted. "We're headed square into a monstrous storm!"

"Absolutely."

"We'd better turn back."

"Absolutely."

"May be too late," the young aviator told himself. "But one can only do one's best."

Having cut a wide circle, he looked back. The outlaw plane had vanished. It had flown squarely into a bank of the deepest clouds. They were the darkest gray Curlie had ever seen. And that bank was an Arctic gale at its worst.

"May be the end of 'em," he grumbled. And for the life of him, he could not help feeling sorry.

"May be the end of us, too." He took a good grip on himself. "I'll do my level best! No one could do more."

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