LIKE FATHER UNLIKE SON
IF JIM ERSKINE’S wife hadn’t been a mixture of Portuguese and Mexican blood, if Jim had been able to think, dream and talk of something other than flying, if he had recognized the fact that what is one man’s
meat is another man’s poison, he might have brought up his son along more tolerant channels—which, after all, would not have given rise to this story.
Men of Jim Erskine’s ilk see the gap in the fence only when they have broken off their horns against a stone wall ; are continually having truths bludgeoned into their thick skulls when it is almost too late to benefit.
To start from the beginning isn’t necessary in this instance. Jim’s history ran in the dull, narrow, straight groove of wanting things his own way. He did that successfully in France, having his own way with thirteen German airmen. Even before the war he had had his own way in the matter of Maria Saurez (cabaret girl, stag-party accommodator, of San Jose, California) and against the advice of his friends, or because of it, he married her.
It took a hammer and nail to drive that mistake home to him, for Maria suddenly chose to skip off with another gent while Jim’s arms were fondly dangling a four-monthsold son ; and he bled from that wound for twenty-two years, trying, bullheadedly, to eradicate what he felt was ninety per cent Guinea in the boy and make him one hundred per cent Canadian. He didn’t get his own way about that, and in the end it took another hammer and nail to open up the light to him that everything was all right and as it should be. But by this time, Jim was ready to retire to cool pastures and in a frame of mind to grant that the study of medicine was as manly a profession as that of aviation. Which, coming from Jim, was a pretty liberal admission, at that.
CO LET’S START when Jim, then flying passengers and mail between his home town and Seattle, San Francisco and points south, had been fired for cracking up a ship which he had taken up without permission and in which he was bullheadedly determined to instill into the pate of his nineteen-year-old son the ethics, practice and skill of aviation.
Jim, and another airman, a crony of his named Bill Rickson, were all packed, ready to transfer themselves and their activities to the air routes of Alaska. Both were twohundred pounders, with the hard, cold, fog-penetrating, eagle eyes and the large, capable hands that always bring sense of relief to air passengers. Jim, clean-shaven, massive-jawed, had a set, contumacious expression to his mouth which invariably clamped together his thin lips and through which his speech came out clipped, terse and bitter. He rarely smiled. He gave the impression of never showing his hand. When he struck, he struck suddenly, on the instant; a blow coming from nowhere, paralyzing, machinelike; without comment or display of emotion; letting it go at that and resuming his one-track way.
“I figure,” Rickson said, “we can do it on a hundred dollars apiece. Easy. That’s including everything—gas, oil, food and lodging—till we park ourselves in Fairbanks.” Erskine assimilated this in a calculating silence.
“And that should also leave us with enough to keep us going a week after we get there,” Rickson added carefully.
Erskine took out his wallet and from it drew a sum of money amounting in all to $136. From this he separated five ten-dollar bills, replaced the rest, restored the wallet
to his pocket, rose, opened an envelope lying on the living-room table, added the $50 to the money the envelope already contained, and without saying a word resumed his seat on the sofa. The door bell rang. Rickson got to his feet and curved the fingers of his enormous hand around the rope which bound his battered suitcase.
“Wait for you outside, Jim,” he
“Sit down, sit down. What I’ve got to say to her I can say before anybody. Sit down and rest your feet. ”
Rickson sat down. Jim went to the door and opened it. From his height he looked down at an oblique angle on a small, pert young woman of eighteen or so with a cameo face, straight nose, firm chin, large determined eyes devastating with ' their long curved lashes, small, wilful, crimson mouth, dark, lustrous brown hair showing under her pert little hat; an adorable little granny of a girl.
“Mr. Erskine?” she enquired calmly. “I’m Miss Moon.”
“Come in, Miss Moon. Been waiting for you.”
It was the first time she had seen Jim Erskine other than at a distance at the flying field, and it was the first time she had set her pert little foot over the doorstep of that house.
“Bill, this is Ted’s girl. Miss Moon, meet my friend Bill Rickson.”
Bill, acknowledging the introduction, stared unbelievingly at the brain-paralyzing eyes, and again reached for his suitcase. “Need some oil for that flivver of mine, Jim. Be waiting for you outside.”
“Sit down, sit down. What is biting you?” He turned to the girl. “Sit down, young woman.”
CHE TOOK the left end of the ^ cushionless sofa in which, without any show of concern on her face, she almost sank out of sight. It was Jim’s favorite spot, the reading lamp right back of him, and under his weight the springs had outlived their usefulness.
“Miss Moon,” he commenced briefly, “I asked you to come over here because I wanted a chat with you.”
“How is Ted?” she asked clearly.
“You can ask him yourself when we’ve gone. He’s back in his room. Miss Moon, I understand you and my son plan to get married.”
Maclean's Magazine, November I, 1934
For the first time, her exquisite little poker face gave indication of her feelings. Her eyes showed a controlled surprise.
“We hope to—some day.”
“Telephone operator, aren’t you?”
“If I want to make it so. But I don't. I want something better.”
“Well, maybe that explains it—why he’s planning to marry you. Figures you're a meal ticket.”
She flushed. “He’s got a career planned for himself.” There was a fine ring of correction in her clear voice. “He’s already had a job offered him.”
This, quite evidently, was news to Jim Erskine. He glanced at Rickson, then stared hard at the girl.
“What kind of a job?”
“In the hospital.”
“In the hospital, eh?”
“As orderly. Part time—while he’s going through medical college. He knows it’s going to be hard on him—twelve hours a day. But he’s made up his mind to be a doctor if it takes him ten years.”
The ghost of a smile flitted across Jim Erskine’s greygreen eyes. “Everything all settled, eh?” His agreeable tone disarmed her and she unbent a little. “Of course that’s all in the future, Mr. Erskine. But I do think if people marry early, help each other all they can, success is bound to—”
Here came one of Jim Erskine’s characteristic knockdowns.
“Amen to that !” he said. "Here's how things stand, Miss Moon. I’m heading north, so I won’t be around to attend the wedding ceremony. I’m leaving him a farewell note— it’s there on the table—and the rent on this cottage is paid up to July. So he can hang out here and feed himself two months longer. After that it’s up to him. I don’t care to see him any more.”
“But Mr. Erskine—”
“I know,” he interrupted her sternly. “You’re going to tell me what a peach of a guy you’ve selected—all the great things in life he’s going to do. Might just as well save yoiir breath. You’re talking to somebody who knows him better than you do. His father—worse luck! All right, Bill,” he said gruffly, picking up his own suitcase, “let’s go.”
Miss Moon remained where she was on the sofa. It looked as if a strong pull was needed to get her out of it.
“S’long, young woman. You look to me like you had some sense. And that’s got me puzzled—you and that son of mine. Anyway, all the luck in the world to you—to both of you. And be sure he wears woollens summer and winter,” he added, barely moving his thin lips. “He’s apt to catch
She sat there until she heard the sound of a self-starter, the grating of the gear shift, the rattle of a car driving away. Then, after a strenuous effort, she managed to scramble to her feet, crossed the floor and opened a door.
At the end of a short, narrow corridor another door
opened, revealing a tall youth of nineteen—slight of build, pale and oval faced, brown eyed, irresolute of mouth; silken, corn-colored hair falling in a careless sweep across a broad, smooth, yet troubled-looking forehead. He lacked the sturdiness, the dominance of his father. Very unlike him, indeed ! He was in his pyjamas and worn grey-flannel dressing gown.
.“Good night!” he gasped. “What are you doing here?” “Came calling,” she smiled.
“Calling? Where—” he lowered his voice to a tremulous, almost a nervous whisper— “where’s the old man?” “Gone.”
His face brightened. “Gee ! Come see my room, Willa.” Without any embarrassment she put her arms around his small waist and tilted up her cameolike face to be kissed. “Ted,” she said, “I’m so glad you weren’t seriously hurt.” He shuddered, leading her into his room.
“Don’t let’s talk of it,” he dismissed. “Not a bad little hole, is it? I’ve just been reading about John Elliotson— English physician of the nineteenth century. Bought the book for a quarter. Pretty dry stuff, but mighty interesting. And yesterday I read Arrowsmith. Couldn’t lay it down till I finished it. Gee! it gave me a thrill, Willa,” he enthused. “That’s the sort of thing I’d like to do—what Arrowsmith did.”
On his shelf were one or two old, battered, weedy medical books. Stacked to one side were a series of bright new textbooks dealing with aeronautics; and over them, suspended from a nail in the wall, were flying helmet, goggles and leather jacket.
“Ted,” she began, facing him with frank, clear, darkblue eyes, “what’s wrong between you and your dad?” “Nothing. Why?”
“That’s not true.”
“Did he—did he tell you?” “No. But he sent for me to—said he wanted to explain a few things to me.” Her frank eyes scrutinized him in silence for a moment. “Why did you tell him we planned to get married? I thought we agreed to keep quiet about it until we—” “Well, I’ll tell you, Willa.” He shifted uneasily, picked up the medical book he had been reading and riffled the pages with his thumb. “He — he said no girl would ever want to have anything to do with me—so I thought I’d tell him about you.”
She sat on the edge of his bed, looking at him with those grave, granny-wise eyes of hers.
“He said he never wanted to see you again !”
The riffling of the book pages slowed down, made no sound at all. The book fell from his fingers as he dropped loosely into his chair, his smooth face old with misery.
“I’d better tell you,” he decided. “My mother was half Portuguese. She ran away when I was... I never saw a photograph of her, even. Dad made an awful mistake when he married her, and he’s brooded over it ever since. He says I’m more her son than his. He calls me a Guinea. That’s a slang word for Portuguese, but when he uses it it means yellow ! And I guess I am yellow when it comes to flying,” he gulped, forcing out the words. “I haven’t the nerve for it. It’s not in me. I’m scared in the air—always have been—always will be! I can’t help myself,” he said, striking the table with his closed fist. “But flying a ship isn’t the only test of a man’s courage. I’d risk death seven days a week trying to do what Arrowsmith did. I’d go anywhere, face any danger for a cause like that. I know,” he declared, drumming his chest, “because it’s right here inside me. Dad and I are different, that’s all.”
He was breathing laboredly, his nostrils distended.
“Ever since I was a kid he’s been driving aviation into me with a boot. I told him I wanted to study medicine. He thinks that’s a sissified profession. ‘There’ll be more women doctors than men in the future,’ he says. ‘Get into a real job. Get into the air service.’
“I had to go through ground school, mechanics course, pilot instruction—the whole business. With him or Bill Rickson at the dual controls, I finally steeled myself to take one of the cursed crates off the ground, and land it again. Maybe a dozen times. I don’t know. I never kept count.
I used to lie awake nights, shivering as I thought of it.”
Y\7JLLA WAS silent. She sat like a little wax image on ^ ’ the bed, her eyes wide open and motionless.
“You know what you read in the papers on Friday,” he went on, his voice shaky. “You know what they said about it being a lucky escape. Well, now I’ll tell you what actually happened.” He paused for a moment as though nerving himself to go on. “Dad made me take off as usual; then, when we were up three thousand feet, he crawled out on a wing and left the ship in my hands !”
Her eyes were slightly dilated, but she said nothing.
“I could see him looking at me. I could read his thoughts. ‘Bring her down,’ he was saying, ‘all on your own, or it’s curtains for both of us !’ I never knew what happened ; not until Bill Rickson told me afterward. I fought with myself for a while, I guess: then the old fear came over me and I froze to the stick ! Dad could have bailed out if he wanted to. We both had ’chutes strapped on us. But in some way he managed to crawl back, knocked me cold, pulled the ship out of a spin, and landed—cracking her up, as you know. He told them it was all his fault, and they fired him.
“That’s what happened, Willa. I was going to tell you about it, anyway. I don’t blame him. I know how he feels. I’m his only child, and he can’t stand the thought of—the mistake he made—mother being what she was. Other times he’s been pretty nice to me; taken me on trips, read Henty and Conrad to me night after night, given me pocket money. He never spoke a harsh word to me. But last Thursday he wanted to kill or cure me, I guess.”
“Brutal,” she said. “Brutal.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “He was willing to trust his life to me—and that was taking an awful chance, knowing what I was.” Again he rebelliously, passionately, struck the table with his fist. “Gee! I wish I had the money to study and make something of myself. Just to show him; prove to him I’m not what he thinks I am !”
To his amazement she came over, threw her arms about his neck.
“Well, now’s your chance,” she said, kissing him. “Start in right away. Take that orderly job in Edmonton and begin your medical course this fall.”
He looked at her. “I’m hungry,” he discovered. “Haven’t had a thing to eat since morning.” A bewildered expression settled on his face. “I guessed he was going away. He never said good-by to me.” “He left a letter for you. I’ll get it.”
There was no note in the envelope, and Ted Erskine counted the bills in a lugubrious rapture of ownership.
“Gee!” he breathed, “two hundred and ninety dollars! That’s a lot of money, isn’t it?” He stole a glance at her, two spots of color spreading over his pale cheeks. “Willa,” he proposed daringly, “wh-what say we get married right away? Then you can live h-here and-and. . . ”
She said boldly: “The rent is paid till July.” Wealth beyond dreams! “Are you game, Willa?” “Tomorrow, if you like,” she announced, sweeping off her pert little hat. “Where’s the old ice-box around here? I’m going to start in right now and get my husband something to eat.”
‘POUR YEARS later, dispensing hash and scouring T dishes in a small restaurant off the main street in Fairbanks, Alaska, she was doing so because she still regarded the inner welfare of her husband to be a principle in wifely duty.
It was September and they had been there two months. Ted still wanted three more years in medical college before he could write the magical
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letters M. D. after his name. It had been terrifically hard, working part time as a hospital orderly while keeping up his classes and studies. Twelve to fifteen hours a day ! Enough to daunt the stoutest heart, undermine the most determined ambition ! Willa, too, needed a rest. The dew was off her; her eyes looked tired. Switchboard and kitchen duty had finally exhausted her; one or the other had to be given up, and between her $14 a week and her husband’s health, the former was the lesser sacrifice.
In order to live and pay their rent, Ted had been forced to skip a year at the medical college, working and saving every penny for the following year. At the end of that, both of them completely worn out, they had taken what little money they had and gone to the Coast and up to Alaska by a cargo boat and on to Fairbanks by train.
Ted had a motive in this Roman holiday. He had heard once or twice from Bill Rickson and knew that his father was in the Alaskan Airways Service. Ted and Willa had talked it over pretty thoroughly. If Ted showed his father his medical examination marks, the promising letters he had from the head of the college; if he explained to his father how he had managed to keep going, the battles they had fought, his eyes ever on that M. D. he was after; if he so proved to him that while lacking courage in one direction he had it in another, his father might help them out a little until he finished his course.
But Jim Erskine refused to see them, and now they were in a worse position than ever. Ted was due back at the medical college, he had to find a job that would see him through his next year, and he was flat broke except for the little money Willa was earning in the restaurant. He himself had tried to get work, anything at all, without success.
“Ted,” said Rickson, “I know you’re in his thoughts. But he never lets on. He’s a contrary old cuss, although here’s one that would go through most anything for him, but I guess that day when you froze to the controls—that cleaned him up on you.”
They were out at the flying field, not far removed from the rear wall of the cabin and through which Ted had just heard the strident tones of his father’s latest and final repudiation of parentage. Ted was broader, sturdier in build, now. By sticking to his guns in the face of all opposition he had developed an almost aggressive manner of speech, a set determination to his mouth. His face was more like his father’s.
“You can’t switch your father off any idea he gets hold of,” Rickson continued. “He’s ornery and that’s all there is to it. If you rose to be President of the C. P. R. it wouldn’t make any difference. He’s got no use for you unless you can handle a ship same as he does. And yet, I blew into his cabin one day and found a little old faded snapshot in a book he’d been reading. It was you, Ted, taken the first time he brought you out to the airport back home—your seventh birthday, I believe it was—and he’d bought you a little flying outfit, leather helmet, fur-lined mitts, the whole caboodle. In the photograph he has hold of you by the hand, grinning and looking like he’s got hold of a future Lindbergh.”
“I’m through with flying!” It was a terse, aggressive statement, the clipped speech singularly like his father’s.
Rickson nodded. “Listen, Ted,” he said kindly; “tell you what let’s do. Take that kid wife of yours and hop back where you came from. Complete that medical course you’re taking. Get going today. Now don’t take offense like that ornery old man of yours—and stick these two hundred bucks in your pocket.”
“No, thanks. I’m ornery, too! If dad won’t help me, I’ll manage it my own way. If not this year, then the next. Thanks all the same, Mr. Rickson. What I want now '8 a job around here. I don’t care what sort
of a job—outside flying. I ’ll take anything.” Rickson smiled at him. He didn’t press the loan; he knew from the boy’s face that it was useless and he replaced the money in his wallet. “Say !” he suddenly yelped. “I’ve just thought of something that might help you. Can you cook?”
"No. But Willa, my wife—■”
“Afraid it’s no place to take her to,” said Rickson. “I’m thinking of a prospecting camp up in the Chandalar—Little Squaw, it’s called. Don’t believe there’s a white woman up there. Mostly Indians and prospectors. Say!” he yelped again. “Your medical knowledge might come in handy there, too. And they’d pay you for it in real money! Maybe you could dig in and do a little gold mining yourself. In a couple of months or so you might make your expenses back home. What they actually need, however,” he made clear, “is a cook.” “How’d I get up there?”
“There’s a prospecting party leaving here tomorrow.”
“I’m their cook,” Ted determined, “if they’ll have me. Willa can stay here.”
But he had reckoned without that young woman’s voice in the matter. In vain he argued with her, pointing out the hardships, the dangers, the rough life in a far-flung mining camp. Willa was pungently rebellious.
“Where you go,” she said, “I go. Always.” And so it was that she, not Ted, with the help of an Indian woman did the cooking for as many as fifty men in Little Squaw.
WITH ONLY a modicum of luck in the gold fields, Ted slaved tirelessly. By the end of September, when the cold nights began to kill off the flies and mosquitoes, he and Willa between them had enough money for the return journey to Alberta. Perhaps it was not too late to catch up with his classes and be one year nearer that M. D.
Before going up into the Chandalar, Ted had laid out Willa’s last earnings on medical supplies, had also possessed himself of a few surgical instruments. But it was not until the day he was ready to quit Little Squaw that his healing powers were in any way required, and when the time came he was wanting in surgical skill to do anything for the injured man other than relieve the pain.J In a smaller camp some twenty odd miles to the north of them, a miner named Macdonald had been testing fuses one night in his cabin. The first winter snow lay on the ground and very little mining was being done up there. Macdonald had about eighty fuse caps on a table and thought they were far enough away from the stove for safety. They exploded and he got the full force of them in his face.
A dog team brought him to Little Squaw, and when Ted examined the man he knew it was an emergency case. Very calmly— amazing Willa by the cool, professional way he went about it—he did all he could for the poor man. Removing what pieces of metal he could from his face, he dressed the wounds; but in the crucial instance of the eyes, he realized he was powerless to do anything and saw that Macdonald might not survive the long trail journey to Fairbanks. So he telegraphed there with an urgent appeal for more help.
It was said that no airplane had touched wheels to the ground around Little Squaw. There was no place to land there, unless the lake was frozen. Even then, owing to its smallness, a landing was risky. Furthermore, it so happened that Bill Rickson, the only man in Fairbanks who might take a chance on it, was away in Dawson City. Jim Erskine was down with influenza.
The injured man had been brought in late in the evening. That night the temperature went down to zero and a blizzard eliminated Little Squaw from view. Ted continued to do all he could for the man; gave him morphine and sat up all night with him. About eleven o’clock the next morning.
the snowstorm having abated. Little Squaw heard the drum of a plane in the cold leaden sky. Strange, thought Ted, that they hadn’t telegraphed from Fairbanks to say that somebody was coming. Believing the pilot to be Rickson and that he had returned from Dawson City earlier than expected, Ted shuddered as he watched the plane come through the gorge, continually in danger of crashing, as the pilot manoeuvred into position to land on the white, frozen little lake.
He fastened a dark makeshift flag to a pole, his hands trembling, then held it aloft so that Rickson could get air direction. Bill made a desperate bank to come into the wind, side-slipped horribly, and touched skis to the snow. It was a brilliant job. But in landing the plane slid out of control, and before it could be stopped it fetched up against some snow-covered rocks at the edge of the lake.
The impact threw the pilot clean out of his seat. He lay still, blood from his head saturating the snow. When Ted turned him over he stiffened in surprise. The man, a frozen grin on his face, was his father !
THE SHOCK to him and the echo of the man’s blazing courage that thundered down from the mountains, drained all the blood from Ted’s face. His father had got up from a sick bed, had flown over the wastes with nothing to sustain him except a deep-rooted sense of duty and his utter fearlessness in the air. That resolve, like its frustration, lay pathetically characterized in the little trickle of blood in the snow. Dry-mouthed, Ted looked across the circle of men gathered there into the eyes of his wife. As plainly as if they spoke, they were saying:
“Your father and Macdonald now challenge your chosen profession ! What are you going to do to save their lives?”
Ted ran to the telegraph instrument and there learned the reason why Fairbanks hadn’t warned them of Erskine’s coming. Somewhere the wires were fouled. The blizzard had cut them off from outside communication.
By rote, by thumb rule of book instead of actual experience, Ted set his father’s shoulder, bound his chest, and waited. It snowed heavily all day, compressing their world into a little circle of huts fifty yards in diameter. At nine o’clock the next morning Jim Erskine still lay unconscious; and now, almost twenty-four hours after the accident, Ted knew from the swelling on the back of the head that his father had sustained what he most dreaded—a skull fracture !
The irony of the position he was in bit into his heart. Even if he dared risk it, he hadn’t the proper instruments to operate and relieve the brain pressure. Even if he had a trephine, it would be criminal for him to try it. Ted Erskine wept, flung sacrilegious curses to the grey heavens. Willa was quite unable to control him. He had struggled against all sorts " of obstacles, gone without things, worn his wife’s spirit to the breaking point, watched her grow haggard while she was still in her teens ; he had studied day and night in order to get through medical college and say to his father, “Dad, I made it. I’m an M. D.” Now here he was with his father and another injured man on his hands; and, like a grinning ghoul above them, Fate was thumbing her nose at him, taunting him for his want of skill, while both men were slowly dying !
Again the storm died down, but in the calm that followed the thermometer went to fifteen below. Ted also had calmed. He put a recurring question squarely up to himself. These men were his patients. What was he going to do about it?
He went down to the lake and examined the thing, shivering as he drew near it. A wing was partly broken, the skis smashed. With the aid of the miners, he mended the wing with gunnysack twine and willow limbs, and went to work on the skis. It was three o’clock in the afternoon (only his and other watches proved it.) when he felt satisfied and, drawn of face, asked the men to
bring down his father and Macdonald and pack them in.
“And listen,” he stammered, “nobody say a word to my wife. Keep her out of sight till I get away from here.”
THEY WERE hushed on realizing his intention. Getting the two injured men from the cabin, they carried them down, packed them into the forward seat, and covered them with fur and clothing.
A flurry of fresh snow whipped up, and this and the late hour made the take-off, if take-off there would be, imperative. Under Ted’s instructions, they began heating the motor with blow torches. The noise finally attracted the attention of Willa. Leaving her cooking, she came running down through the snow. At once she sensed what was about to happen, and for an instant stood stock still.
“Ted!” she suddenly screamed. “You’re not going to do it! I won’t let you — I won’t let you!”
She flung her arms around him, was trying to drag him away. Ted, his face twitching, was plainly unnerved by her. He kissed her and kissed her in a frantic plea to let him go.
“Darling,” he begged, “don’t you see I’ve got to? Darling, it’s to prove your belief in me. All this time you’ve stuck to me, working your hands to the bone, and—”
“I won’t, I won’t!” she kept screaming. “I know what will happen. I won’t let you go, I won’t !”
“There’s no other way, darling. Let me go, please. It will be too late if I don’t start at once.”
He tore himself free from her with such force that she fell in the snow.
“Keep her back !” he yelled to the miners. They tried to hold her, but she broke away again and fought like a wildcat to prevent him from getting into the plane.
“Ted!” she sobbed. “You’re not going! You promised me you’d never go up in a plane again—promised me, Ted—promised
“Willa, get away from me! It’ll be too dark if I wait any longer!” Again he frantically called to the miners. “Grab her, somebody! Hold her back; she’s liable to get killed!”
Silent, tense, watching the spectacle with open mouths, they pulled her away and held her by main force. She still fought like a madwoman.
“Then let me go with you,” she began crying. “You know I’ve always gone everywhere with you, Ted. I’ve got to be with you—no matter what happens. Ted, Ted! Oh! He’s going to do it! Oh, dear God, don’t let him be killed!”
rT'HE ROAR of the engine drowned her -L prayers. The snow on the lake, frostcrusted, enabled the ship to move more easily on her skis. Ted opened the throttle, opened it wide. Powdered snow from the whirling propeller blotted out everything. Gaining speed, he nosed the ship sharply upward as his father had taught him, levelled off in the gorge, and flew on into a whitish-grey void, an unexplored, mysterious, endless continent that led nowhere, was nowhere.
He had learned from the miners that once out of the gorge—if he knew he was out of it—he should turn directly south and fly in a straight line until he crossed the Yukon River. He was then to follow this river past the settlement at Beaver and right on to Fairbanks. Couldn’t miss it.
Couldn’t miss it! It was snowing so hard that, once out of the valley, he was unable to see the ground at 400 feet. Ted Erskine died twenty times in those first few moments. Hugging the passes, he went on, always in danger of crashing into the side of an unseen mountain, feeling his way over -unknown territory. An hour passed before he realized that he was terribly cold ; his legs, his body frozen, his brain numb. Strange—he
couldn't hear the sound of the motor! He seemed to be suspended in a frozen space that was horribly still and peaceful.
Then, unbelievingly, he saw below him a river. At least it looked like a river. Hoping
it might be the Yukon, he decided to follow it, at times having to fly only twenty or thirty feet above its white roadway. Passing a cluster of huts, he recognized the place as Beaver, where he and Willa had stayed overnight on their way to Little Squaw. He felt then that if luck stayed with him, he might reach Fairbanks. . .
And with a leaking radiator, in a ship badly damaged, one cylinder out of commission and fire spouting from the exhaust, he crawled in there, in the end barely clearing the lowest passes. In a popping, spluttering, fluttering, scarcely-moving plane, he just made the home field !
He was raving a little when they lifted him out.
“Want these two patients of mine taken to the hospital,” he began, chattering proudly with an air of authority. “Want them,” he said pathetically, “taken there right away !”
Bill Rickson was on hand, and for a while, he refused to believe his own eyes. Jim Erskine’s kid ! In a ship that looked like it was ready to fall apart! Through a snowstorm, over a treacherous country !
But the undeniable fact of it starkly confronted his gaze. There was Jim’s ship, and there was the white-faced youth who had brought it in and the two injured men.
Rickson threw his arms around the boy to warm him.
“Wait till your dad hears about this.”
With a feeble effort, Ted tried to throw him off.
“Don’t you tell him,” he threatened, staggering to his feet drunkenly. “Don’t tell him, then he’ll be none the wiser.” He swore at Rickson. “I’ve no use for flying! I don’t care for it! Can’t any of you get it into your fool heads that I’m through with it.”
“Yes, but—listen, Ted—”
“I’m a doctor!” he shouted hysterically. “A doctor, not a flyer ! Got to take care of my patients, haven’t I? A doctor must go anywhere—do everything he can to look after his patients. First, he’s got to get them to a hospital, then the test begins. Knife in his hands—must be steady—real courage. . .”
And as his legs gave way under him, Bill Rickson very gently caught him in his arms.