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

   Chapter 5 RACING THE STORM

Riddle of the Storm / A Mystery Story for Boys By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8745

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


While Johnny Thompson with his friends in one camp and Joyce Mills with her companions in another were seated comfortably about their fires listening to the singing of the wind that foretold an approaching storm, Curlie Carson, who had at one time played so important a part in their lives and might, for all they knew, yet play a stellar role in the drama of the North into which their lives had been cast, was passing through one of the unique experiences of his not uneventful life.

Having watched the gray outlaw plane lose itself in the solid bank of clouds that was a storm bearing down upon the land of eternal ice, he had, as we have seen, chosen the safer part and, turning, had raced away.

He had chosen what appeared to be the safest way. In this he was influenced by the recollection that he bore in the fusilage of his plane the samples of pitchblende that might mean a bright future for his old pal Johnny and his companions. But was the way he had chosen really a safe one? He was soon enough to know.

Even as he turned, the vast gliding monster that was a storm appeared to reach out a shrouded arm to grasp him, as if enraged by the sight of a victim escaping from its grasp.

Snow-fog gathered about him. Particles of sleet rattled like bird-shot against his fusilage.

Setting his teeth hard, he tilted the plane upward; but all in vain. The shrouded arm followed.

Abandoning these tactics, he righted his plane to shoot straight away toward the south. A hundred, a hundred and twenty-five, a hundred and forty miles an hour he sped on. But the storm rode on his tail. It set his struts singing. It fogged the glass before him. It set up a chill that no insulation could keep out, no heat from the exhaust dispel.

"I'll beat it!" he told himself grimly. "I must! It will last for hours. No one could land safely in such a storm. And one may not stay up forever."

Strangely enough, even in such a time of stress his mind went on little holidays, moments long, to wonder about many things. The "Gray Streak"? What could have happened to her? Had she gone right on through the storm and, coming out into the uncertain light of waning day, had she landed safely on the frozen surface of some lake or had she cracked up? If she had cracked up, would the wreck be discovered? If it were, what would it reveal? Once more he thought of master criminals, of Russian exiles and sporting young highbloods; but he found no answer.

At other times he thought of Johnny Thompson and his problems. Johnny had told him of the stolen films that might mean so much to the mineral hunting world. What would come of all this? Would the thief be discovered? Would the swift and sure punishment that belongs to this northland be meted out to him? Would the rival camps come together at last? And would there follow a bloody combat? For the sake of Joyce Mills and her heroic father, he hoped not.

So, with his mind one moment filled with the strain of battle, the next relieved by restful speculation, he raced the storm.

The brief Arctic day came to its close. He tried to imagine his friends seated by their fire, but succeeded only in bringing to his own consciousness a desire for warmth and food.

"Better the storm than that," he told himself. At once his mind was filled with grim pictures of the gray specter that now followed him into the night. It was a monster spider weaving a web as great as the universe itself and at the same time reaching out one hairy leg to seize him. It was an octopus in a fathomless sea extending a tentacle to grasp him.

"It will end," he told himself. "All storms have an ending."

This, he knew to be a half truth. Arctic gales blow days and nights through. He could not last. His supply of gas must become exhausted. And then? Grim rocks of the "Barrens" awaited them.

"Why did we follow them?" he thought.

Then, for the first time in all this storm he thought of Jerry. He turned to speak to him. To his great surprise he found him fast asleep.

Fear seized him. Jerry might not be sleeping. The cold might have overcome him. He prodded him vigorously. Jerry opened one eye.

"Jerry!" he shouted. "We're in one whale of a storm!"

"Absolutely." Jerry closed the eye and once more lay back in his corner.

"Well," Curlie thought, "there's courage for you, and confidence aplenty. If

he believes I can bring him through safely, I can!"

From that time on he felt fresh confidence. How else could he feel about it when Jerry, a veteran of the flying corps of the North, could sleep through it all?

"And yet we are in the air. The storm is still with us. I must not grow over-confident," he told himself grimly.

One more resolve came to him in this hour of stress. "If that gray phantom of the air outrides the storm, and if it is my lot to sight her once more I shall give chase just as I did this day."

At that he thought of the small square of white cloth with the name D'Arcy Arden etched in one corner.

"Who can that person be? And why a captive?"

But again the storm claimed his attention. It had now taken the form of a gray ghost of the night. Slowly, but surely, it was wrapping its mantle about him.

"Nothing to do but fly into the south," he told himself as grim determination took possession of his soul.

This, he found soon enough, was to prove a difficult task. The glass before him clouded. The gray ghost's mantle was hiding him from earth and sky. His going grew heavy. Sleet was piling, fold over fold, upon his plane.

"It won't be long now," he thought to himself with a groan.

Then, with a suddenness that was startling, the gray ghost's mantle slipped away, leaving before him a gorgeous moon riding high over an earth that seemed to sleep.

"Peace!" he said. "This is a place of peace." Then realizing how strange that remark would seem to one who heard it, he laughed aloud.

To one who first flies over the Arctic wastes of the far Northwest, the landscape seems as unmarked as the sweeping blue of a landless sea. No cities, no villages, no roads, no railways, no farmhouses, not so much as a cabin is there to guide him in his skyway wanderings. As time passes, as he flies the same route again and again, that which lies beneath him becomes familiar. There is the river. Here it forms as an S. There it winds like a serpent. Here it is thickly bordered by trees, there lined only by low-growing willows. There are the lakes. Here four of them form the eyes, nose and mouth of a human face. Here a single large lake with a broad river entering at a narrow end resembles an elephant with a prodigiously long trunk. A hundred forms two thousand feet below mark the lone birdman's way until at last he knows his route as the plowman knows his homeward road, the seaman his shore or the Red Man his trail.

It was even so with Curlie. He had not traveled the northern route long, but certain spots had become well marked by his keen eye.

"Jerry!" he shouted aloud. "Jerry! We have won!"

"Absolutely," Jerry agreed sleepily.

"Sure we have! Look! We have outridden the storm. And see! There are the circles of willows that border Lake Athabaska. And away over yonder is a feeble light. That's at Fort Chipewyan. Be there in twenty minutes!"

"Absolutely." Jerry straightened up in his place.

"Pork chops at the Chink's, Jerry," the boy went on. "Pork chops with fried potatoes and coffee and half an apple pie. What say?"

"Absolutely, son. Absolutely."

"And after that, old sleepy head, you'll work three hours on the motors."

"Absolutely, son! Make it four! Can't be too sure about the blasted motor. You really can't."

As the skis bumped, and then bumped again on the icy surface that was the landing field at Fort Chipewyan, Curlie's eyes strayed toward the golden moon as a voice seemed to whisper: "Somewhere beyond the sky there is a power that guides and guards our ways."

All of which has nothing whatever to do with the manner in which he and Jerry stowed away the Chinaman's pork chops and fried potatoes while Sam Kusik, the Russian Jew trader, and Tommy Wooden, the postmaster of this far-flung outpost, plied them with questions regarding the radium strike that had been reported, and the gray outlaw plane that had stirred wild rumors in many quarters.

"We saw the plane." Curlie laughed at their surprise and awe. "We chased it into a storm. Did it crack up? Who knows? I doubt it. No such luck. An honest man meets misfortune many times; a rogue but once, and that when his time comes. Their time will come. And we'll do what we can to hasten it. What say, Jerry?"

"Absolutely." Jerry gulped down a draught of hot coffee. "Absolutely, son. Absolutely."

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