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

   Chapter 6 A SHOT IN THE NIGHT

Riddle of the Storm / A Mystery Story for Boys By Roy J. Snell Characters: 8442

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The storm, which had so successfully defeated Curlie Carson in his effort to follow the outlaw of the air, was but a narrow finger reaching out from the vast, wind-blown ice pack that is the Arctic Sea. It did not extend as far to the west as the spot on Great Slave Lake on which the cabin occupied by Joyce Mills and her father was located. So it happened that even while Curlie raced the storm for his very life, Joyce sat comfortably by the great barrel of a stove that radiated heat aplenty and dreamed of other days when she, with her friends, Johnny Thompson and Curlie Carson and the young detective, Drew Lane, were engaged in deeds of adventure.

"I only wish Drew were here now!" she sighed. "He would help me solve this mystery of the stolen films."

That the films were to prove of inestimable value in the task of hunting out rich mineral-bearing ore, she did not for a moment doubt. Only that evening as he sat poring over the pictures of some rocks laid bare by wind and rain, her father had told her with the greatest enthusiasm that he had on that very day successfully located the spot marked on the pictures and that it gave every promise of being a lead to rich ore-bearing rock.

"Only think!" he had exclaimed. "When I was a young man, when we went over the Yukon Trail, we carried all we would need for two years, on our backs and on sleds. And no dogs, mind you! Not a dog!

"And when we arrived in the North all that vast, uncharted wilderness was before us. We had not a single lead. Little wonder that we returned after two years of terrible privation, empty-handed and heavy-hearted.

"And now look!" He patted the pictures lovingly. "The airplanes give us these. We have only to study them and follow their indications.

"Not alone that, but the airplane carries us a thousand miles far above impassable trails and leaves us with picks, shovels, and food in abundance to work out our own salvation. Is it not all very wonderful?"

Ah, yes, it was wonderful. Yet this conscientious girl, as she sat by the fire thinking things through, was distinctly unhappy.

"If only we had come into possession of the pictures in an honorable manner!" she thought, with a sigh.

"Why don't I confide in one of father's partners?" she asked herself. "But which one?"

That indeed was the question. Going at it in blind fashion, as she must, she would with the usual bad luck of such a venture, ask advice of the very one who had stolen the films.

"And he would only lead me away on a false scent," she told herself. "No, no! I shall say nothing. Watchful waiting, that's the thing." With that she sprang to her feet. She felt in need of a touch of the cold night air. Its tingle sent her blood racing. Beneath the stars she could think clearly.

She had ever been a person of action, had this slim, dark-haired girl. In college it had been basketball, tennis and hockey. Here she was limited to following-the dog team and taking long walks by herself. Drawing on her parka and seizing a stout stick, she marched away into the moonlight.

"How still it is!" she said to herself. "And how wonderful! The moon and the stars seem near. God seems near. It is good to be alone with Him."

So, sometimes communing with herself and sometimes with the stars, she wandered farther than she intended.

She had rounded a clump of spruce trees when suddenly the silence was broken by a terrific snort, and a great dark bulk came charging down upon her from the hill above.

Now her gymnasium training, together with the cool nerve inherited from her father, stood her in good stead. Leaping to a tree, she seized the lowest branch and swung herself up.

Not a second too soon. The irate monster passed directly beneath her.

As he passed, she fancied she smelled fire, shot from his nostrils. "What creature in these wilds could be like that?" she asked herself. "He's not a bear, nor a moose. He's too large for any other creature."

Here, surely, was a conundrum. It was not long in solving. As the creature turned about for one more vain charge she saw him clearly in the moonlight.

"A buffalo!" she exclaimed. "A buffalo in this frozen land! How-how impossible!" That he wa

s indeed a buffalo and a very real one, the beast proceeded to demonstrate by pawing and bellowing beneath her tree.

"He'll keep me here all night. I'll freeze!" she thought, half in despair. "This morning it was forty below, and to-night it is just as cold."

At last, taking a stronger grip on her nerves, she climbed a little higher, selected a stout branch and settled down upon it to think things through.

She was, she knew, more than a mile from camp. No amount of calling would bring aid. In time her father would miss her and there would be a search. But in the North people remain up at all hours. Her friends might not think of retiring for three hours. Her time was her own. They would not think it strange that she was not there.

"In the meantime I shall freeze," she told herself. In spite of her best efforts at self-control, a touch of the tragic crept into her voice. Already her feet, clad only in wool stockings and moose-hide moccasins, were beginning to feel uncomfortable.

"Stop feeling after a while." She shuddered. "Then they will be frozen.

"Moccasin Telegraph," she murmured. "If Johnny had told me his secret perhaps I could now flash a message to our camp."

In the meantime the buffalo, having ceased roaring and pawing, had settled down to what promised to be a long wait. With head hanging low, he appeared to fall fast asleep.

"Shamming," she whispered.

But was he? Everyone knows that four-footed creatures often sleep standing up.

Joyce was not a person of great patience. She was all for action.

"I won't freeze!" she declared stoutly. "I'll jump down and try to out-dodge him. I'll take to the trees."

Having resolved on this, she studied possible landing spots. In the end she chose, one might think, the most perilous of all.

"I'll climb up a little higher, and then I'll drop square on his back. He'll be so startled he'll run away."

No sooner resolved than done. From a perch ten feet above, she suddenly descended upon the buffalo's back.

The result exceeded her expectations. The great beast lurched forward, it seemed, the very second she landed. She was pitched backward and landed full length in the snow.

Her landing place was soft, a bank of snow blown in among the branches of a fallen tree. She was not injured. The breath had been knocked from her; that was all. And this was fortunate. It gave her time to think.

Having thought, she lay quite still. She was, she believed, quite covered with snow. The buffalo, who was snorting and bellowing in an alarming fashion, would find her only by stepping on her.

"The branches will keep him back. I am safe." She whispered, scarcely daring to breathe.

A moment passed; another and another. Still the snorting and roaring continued.

Then a curious thing happened. A rifle shot rang out in the night. The buffalo went crashing away through the bush. Then followed a silence.

"A rifle," she whispered to herself. "There is no rifle in our camp."

She was delivered from one peril, only to be threatened by another. She was far from camp, and there were strangers about.

Five minutes more she lay there. Then, feeling the drowsy sleep of the North coming upon her, she cast aside the snow, to leap to her feet and go speeding away toward the camp.

Ten minutes later she burst into camp, exclaiming:

"A buffalo treed me! I jumped on his back. A stranger shot at him."

Such a speech called for an explanation. It was given over a hot cup of chocolate.

"Oh, yes, there are buffaloes up here," Jim drawled in the middle of the talk. "Right smart of 'em. Woods-buffaloes, they are. There's a preserve down south of here. Feller at Fort Chipewyan told me about 'em. He was what they call a buffalo ranger. They're protected, these buffaloes. You can't shoot 'em. Probably this one was a cranky old boy who couldn't stand his relatives."

"He couldn't stand me, either," Joyce laughed. "Here's hoping I never see him again."

Vain hope!

"But the man? The rifle?"

"Probably some Indian," replied her father. "We'll look into that in the morning."

They did not. A short, fierce wind-storm that night blotted out all evidence of the girl's adventure.

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