The Orange Death:
JEROME V. EBERTS
"I KNOW within half a mile where the mine is."
The speaker was a heavy set man about thirty years of age.
One could tell at a glance that he was a member of the legion who earned their living by working close to nature. His blue serge clothes hung oddly on his form and he stood on his feet as if the new gaudy shoes he wore were several sizes too small for him. In a word, he was a typical Canadian lumberjack, doubtless in town on one of his periodical sprees.
He followed up his remark by jabbing with his finger at a point on the map which was spread out in front of us.
By us, I mean George Arnold, Jim Langford the lumberjack, and Pete Crawford, myself.
The names are not our own—just made up for the occasion, but they will serve for the yarn I am going to tell.
Arnold and I had been pals for longer than I can remember and had gone through many queer adventures together. We had split partnership last January and he had gone to
Montreal to visit his people whom he had not seen for several years, while I had spent the winter nosing around the two cities at the head of Lake Superior, Fort William and Port Arthur. As neither he nor myself had develooed the instinct for saving money, by the first of May I was getting down to the core of my roll and I knew from sundry letters I had received from my pal that he also was getting tired of inactivity and incidentally free from the cheerful crinkle in his trouser’s pockets.
I was not surprised, therefore, when one morning early in May he pushed open the door of my room in the old Mariaggi hotel in Port Arthur and walked in. His manner was feverish and excited. He hardly did more than shake my hand when he made a dash for my table and swept it clean with a sweep of his arm and commenced to pull from his pockets a collection of maps, newspapers and other accumulations of rubbish.
“You’re broke aren’t you?” he asked, with a suddenness which took my breath
I was slightly peeved. “What’s it matter to you?” I retorted. “And what do you mean by tearing into my room and pulling things around. Are you crazy or just drunk?”
“It’s radium,” he cried. “Radium— worth a million plpnks an ounce. There’s a man downstairs who knows where it
is. He’s been to the mine himself.”
“He’s gone,” I groaned to myself, “Poor
He seemed to fathom my thoughts for he said, “I’m not crazy or drunk either. Just keep still and I’ll tell you my story and then I’ll ask you what you think of
“First of all, did you read a notice in the newspapers lately, that the Canadian government offered twenty-five thousand dollars as a prize to the first person who discovered radium in Canada in commercial quantities?”
A light broke upon me. I remembered the paragraph in the newspapers distinctly. It said that twenty-five thousand dollars would be given to the first one
discovering radium and it also said that traces of radium bearing rock had been found on the north shore of Lake Superior in 1863 by a party of government surveyors, but that the plans the party had drawn of the spot had either been lost or were so vague as to be worth-
“Go on,” I said. “Well, when I read that article in a Montreal paper, I got a hunch that there might be something in it. I bought maps of the district and started up here to you. The big part of the story, however, is that on my way up the engine of my train dropped some fire grates on the track near a town called Heron Bay and we were held up for three hours. When I found that the train could not go on for some time, I went up the track to the town and met a man who afterwards told me his name was Jim Langford. He was just back from the city where he had spent his stake and was dead broke. I bought him a good feed and a couple of drinks and in paying for one of them I accidently dragged from my pocket the newspaper clipping about the radium. Lang-
ford picked it up and glanced at it. He became excited right away and told me that he had read about the government’s offer and wanted me to grubstake him for a prospecting trip for the radium bearing rock which was said to exist somewhere in this part of the country. Probably it may sound foolish to you, but I told him that I was going to Port Arthur to see you and arrange for a prospecting trip on our own hook. Say, you should have seen him jump.
“ ‘You’re going to look for that stuff?” he asked. “ ‘Say sign me up on that cruise. We’ll split the prize three
“Then he gave me a jolt for he said; ‘I know where it is!’ ”
I hated to break into my pal’s dreams but you will admit that his story was decidedly fishy.
“What did you do with him?” I asked, as gently as possible.
“I brought him along. He’s down in the bar now. I told him that I would see
if you were in. It will take me only a minute to fetch him.”
He went out and downstairs.
After he was gone, I found that he had imparted to me some of his enthusiasm and I could not help thinking that, after all, there might be something in Langford’s tale. He was evidently a man of this country and had traveled around it a lot. But then, I had met men before who could spring fantastic tales when occasion arose. Langford, I thought, just wanted to get down to Port Arthur and he hadn’t the price to pay his way. Poor old George had been made a member of the “Fish Club.”
Heavy footsteps in the hall put an end to my thoughts and a moment later the door was flung open and Langford and my pal stepped into the room. Langford did not look like a person who would run a man for a goat despite the fact that his face and eyes wore an expression which spoke plainly of drink. He wasted no time in preliminaries.
“I guess you fellows think I’m a liar,” he began, “but you’re wrong. I can take you to within half a mile of a mine that’s been worked at some time or other. I’ve never been there myself and I won’t say that there’s radium there but the chances are that there is.
“Two years ago I was running a log drive on the Mountain Rapids River at Rainy Lake, and I got in strong with an old Indian when I fished his squaw out of the river. He told me of an old mine up near Lac Suel which the Evil Spirit watched over. He give me a chunk of rock which was like nothing I’d ever before seen. Little dots of metal gleamed in the dull stone and quartz but they weren’t gold nor silver. They were colored a bright orange.
“After the drive I took the sample to town with me and gave it to an assayer. The next day he met me in a saloon and wanted me to tell him where I got the rock. He kept me drunk for three days, but I wouldn’t say a word. At last he told me the sample contained radium and if I’d tell him where I got it, he’d furnish the money for a trip in and we’d split even on the proceeds of the mine. I agreed and two days afterwards he was found dead in his office. His body from head to foot was colored a bright orange. My sample was found on a bench by the window near him, but it no longer contained any orange-colored metal. It resembled a honeycomb as there were little holes all
The man’s story and its tragic ending had fired my imagination and I shuddered when he finished. Moreover, he seemed to have been speaking the truth. Little beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead and his hands left damp marks on the varnish of the table.
My money supply was getting low and I had nothing in sight by which I could replenish the supply. Besides I was horribly tired of my winter’s inactivity.
We’ll try the shot,” I said. I have a few hundred dollars left and I suppose we can rake up a few hundred more.”
To show Langford that we were in earnest I got out some paper and drew up an agreement to the effect that what-
ever we found on our trip would be divided equally among the three of us. Providing, of course, that we all did our share and stuck to the end of the trip.
“Now where is the mine?” asked Arnold.
Langford drew the map towards him and placed his finger on a point just north of Lac Suel.
“The old Indian told me it was right there,” he said. “Lac Suel is formed in a bow. The mine is right in the center of the hollow of the bow, about a mile inland.”
Two weeks later we pushed our canoes into the first reaches of the lake and bysundown had erected our camp on the shore at the center of the bow.
Not a person had we seen since leaving the railroad. Not even an Indian. The old buck who gave Langford the chunk of orange rock had said that the land was under the guardianship of the Evil Spirit, and it began to look as if he had spoken the truth. The Indians shunned the place like a thing accursed; not a sign of them could be seen although the lake teemed with fish and we had seen plenty of game on our way in.
It did not take us long to locate the old shaft; at lea>4 we found a shaft near where the old Indian had said there was one, about a mile inland from the lake. Never have I seen a more desolate and dreary land. The hills were gaunt and bare of vegetation. Only in scattered spots was there a patch of green to relieve the monotony of grey and brown stone and charred tree trunks. A huge fire had raged through the country a few years prior to our visit and utterly devastated the land.
We found that the mouth of the shaft was almost covered over with old tree trunks and brush. It was situated on the side of a high ragged hill and, judging by the size of the dump, it was about thirty feet deep. Away down at the bottom we caught the reflection of black, greasylookmg water which we calculated to be about eight or ten feet in depth.
The shaft had originally been sunk for gold as it was on a good-sized vein of white quartz.
As soon as we had pitched our tents we staked off our claim and the next morning Arnold set out on the back trail for the nearest registration office to fyle and, as our meat supply was getting low, I started up the lake in our second canoe to try to hook a few trout. Langford had volunteered to rig up a windlass over the shaft and commence bailing it out.
The fishing was slow and it was late in the afternoon when I had caught enough to justify a return to the camp. I found Langford stretched out on a rock. He had a queer look in his eyes and his face was unusually pale.
“What’s the matter, old man?” I asked.
He did not answer for a moment and I noticed that his hands shook.
“Oh, nothing of any account,” he said. “It was pretty heavy work getting out that water and I guess I’m not hardened to it yet.”
His answer was reasonable enough yet for some reason I was not sure he was telling me the truth.
I walked over to the shaft and looked down. Immediately a horible stench assailed my nostrils. I hurried back to Langford.
“What did you find in the water?” I demanded. “A red deer or a moose?”
He started at the sound of my voice.
“Yes, yes, it was a red deer. I buried it behind the hill. It must have fallen in last fall as it was in pretty bad condition.”
Throughout the evening he kept morose and glum and I couldn’t help thinkingmore and more that something had happened while I was away that he was holding back.
The next morning he looked worse. His eyes were shot with blood and it did not take an expert to see that he had spent a sleepless night. To all my questions as to his welfare he replied in a non-committal way but maintained stoutly that he was not sick. I figured that perhaps he was feeling the effects of his recent visit to town and offered him a drink. He drank the raw whisky greedily but it did not seem to better his spirits.
Towards the end of the week Arnold returned and we commenced to prospect the mine in earnest. The old timbers had long ago rotted away; so to timber up the mouth of the shaft and build a new ladder were our first considerations. Of rock, similar to the piece the old Indian had given Langford, we saw not a sign although quartz freely peppered with gold was much in evidence. We did not give a hang about the gold, however, as we hadn’t the machinery to extract it from the ore, the price to buy any, nor did any of us know enough about business to “wildcat” it.
We had been at the mine about two weeks and had blasted out several tons of rock when the conviction was gradually borne in upon us that we were on a wild goose chase. We were on our last case of dynamite and I for one was ready to quit.
The lumberjack, who by this time had quite recovered his spirits, insisted that the stuff was there somewhere and he reminded us that, if we were lucky enough to strike the right spot, it would mean twenty-five thousand between the three of us with more to follow. We decided to fine-comb the entire shaft and search into every nick.
It was late in the afternoon of the day following when Langford and I were down at the bottom of the shaft, barring out some loose pieces of rock, that suddenly I felt a peculiar tightness around my throat. The air became heavy and close in a way I cannot explain, as at the bottom of the shaft it was icy cold. I turned to Langford. He stood with a blank look in his eyes and I saw his hand go slowly to his throat.
“My God!” There’s something wrong here, Crawford,” he gasped.
I was standing close to the ladder. I swung around and clutched the rungs and commenced the ascent with Langford close at my heels. At every step the climbing became more difficult. My arms were like lead and it seemed as if my feet were attached to the bottom of the pit. I got
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up to within twenty feet of the open air and could go no farther. I hooked my arms around a rung in the ladder and gasped: “I can go no farther Langford. I’m done.”
I looked at the rock between the ladder rungs opposite me. The dull blue face of the stone began to assume a strange mottled appearance. The sun seemed to be shining directly upon it, but I knew this was impossible as I was at a spot where the sun never reached. I tried to move'my head so that I could look up the shaft, but although it seemed to me that my head moved, it in reality did not. I tried to yell out but my jaws would not move. I had lost all control of my limbs.
The rock seemed to have attained a brighter appearance and, as I looked, it changed to a dull orange hue which every second grew in intensity.
My limbs had lost all sense of feeling. The perspiration stood out in great beads on my forehead and ran in streams down my face. The rock had become like a piece of molten metal. My glance rested on my hands. A great fear chilled my heart. The tips of my fingers were colored a bright orange and as I watched the color gradually climbed to my wrists. I breathed with difficulty. An icy hand seemed to be clutching at my heart and every throb threatened to tear me from the ladder. A vivid picture of the assayer that Langford had told about swept across my brain. He was found dead in his office, his body colored a bright orange. The coroner’s jury had brought in a verdict of death from causes unknown. I had discovered the cause. I was dying of the orange death myself. My senses gradually gave way under the strain and I sank into unconsciousness.
It seemed but a moment afterwards that I awoke to find Arnold bending over me, a pail partly filled with water in his hand. I was lying under the blue sky and the sun was just visible over the treetops in the west. Beside me lay the lumberjack, breathing deeply.
“What happened, George?” I asked. “Oh, I remember, I was hanging on the ladder—Langford and I—the orange death was peering into our faces.” I shuddered at the memory. “How did we get out?”
“I was working at the shack,” replied Arnold, “when it struck me as peculiar that all sound in the shaft had ceased. I ran to the mouth and saw what looked like an orange sun and you staring into it. God! but I’ll never forget that sight. Langford was just below you with his head thrown back on his shoulders and his eyes looking straight into mine. They looked to be ready to pop out of his head. Not a feature of his face changed. The glow from the burning rock threw his figure and yours out sharply. You looked like images carved from orange stone.
“I ran to the ladder and commenced the descent when an invisible hand seemed to 1 clutch me by the throat. My next thought I was of water and I snatched up a pail
which was near the edge of the shaft and ran to the spring. When I came back the shaft was dark. The orange glow was gone. You and Langford still clung to the ladder as I’d left you. I got a rope around you and pulled you up with the windlass. That is all except that I threw water over you.”
I looked at my hands. They were just as they had always been, except for a peculiar, tingling sensation. I was stiff and sore from head to foot. Otherwise I was feeling as fit as ever.
Not so with Langford. The terror of the orange death seemed to have inoculated him through and through. He gazed at us wildly and mumbled to himself. Nor would he go near the shaft.
I was curious to know the cause of the terrible glow in the shaft which had so nearly been the cause of Langford’s and my own deaths, and also what had stopped it so suddenly. I am not a believer in the supernatural, but the thing was decidedly uncanny and I knew Arnold well enough to feel, that, if the mystery were not unraveled, he would give up the whole affair as a bad job and hike back to civilization. I was much in his frame of mind so we set ourselves to the task of solving the mystery before proceeding further with the searching for the metal.
We got out a lantern and first descended the ladder to the rungs where Langford and I had clung for our lives a few hours previous. The face of the rock presented the same dull blue appearance marked with streaks of white quartz running through it as the rest of the walls of the shaft.
I brought to mind the picture of Langford and myself hanging to the ladder, staring into the burning rock again, and remembered that the sun seemed to be shining directly on the rock between the rungs of the ladder in front of me. This I knew to be impossible as the spot was too far down the shaft for the sun to reach. I wondered if the sun’s rays could have been deflected in any way. And then I remembered that Arnold had picked up a tin pail near the mouth of the shaft with which to get water.
“I’ve got it,” I said to Arnold ex-itedly. “Where was the sun when you first came to the shaft’s mouth and saw the orange glow?”
We climbed to the open ground.
“Well it must have been about three o’clock.” Arnold replied. “The sun would be just about there.”
He pointed with his arm to a point in the sky a few degrees south-west of perpendicular.
“Now where is the pail you found near the shaft?”
He answered that it was in the shack so we went in and found as I had expected that it was one of the bright new tin ones which we had brought with us. Arnold was curious to know what my explanation of the orange light was, so I said: “You remember that the orange sun, as you called it, was only about six inches across, and that it was too far down the shaft for the sun to shine on.” He nodded his head. “You say that you picked up the tin pail close beside the mouth of the shaft and, when you removed it and came
back with it in your hand, the orange light was gone. My opinion is that the rays of the sun were deflected from the bottom of the pail upon a spot on the rock in the shaft and that the slight heat or perhaps the bright light caused the rock to glow.” “But the rock could not glow of itself even if all the light and heat in the country were trained against it.”
“That’s just the point, Arnold,” I said. “Don’t you see? That little patch of rock in the shaft is filled with metal which almost the slightest heat or light causes to become active. It’s not radium. I don’t know much about radium but I do know that it doesn’t throw out an orange glow and is not subject to heat or light. We’re the discoverers of a new metal. The most powerful metal in the world.”
We decided to place the pail back in the position beside the shaft in which Arnold had found it and see if my theory were correct.
The morning dawned bright and clear. We scanned the sky in every direction for clouds which might darken the sun and spoil our experiments.
“How is Langford this morning?” I asked Arnold.
He replied that he had not seen him since last night. Neither had I. His bunk was mussed up but of himself there was no trace. We thought that probably he had not slept well and had gotten up early and gone down to the lake. When the morning was nearly over, however, and he had not yet put in an appearance, we became worried and started down the trail to the lake to look for him. He was nowhere in sight but that he had been there recently was evidenced by fresh footprints along the portage. Our smallest canoe was missing. We were about to retrace our steps when Arnold picked a small roll of paper from a tree where it had been fastened.
“He’s gone,” he said. Listen.”
“‘Dear Pals: I can’t stay in this infernal country with you longer.
I know you’ll think I am a coward and perhaps I am. Three men have died from the orange death. It is not real. The old Indian was right, the place is under the curse of the Evil Spirit. I almost made the fourth to go out yesterday and one of you the fifth. The assayer was the first and I found two bodies when I drained out the shaft. I lied when I said the stench was from a red deer. I buried them over the hill under a pile of stones.’ ”
The letter was signed “Jim Langford.” Long after the brief note had been read we stood staring into each other’s faces. Three men had met death by the mysterious orange death. I could picture those irst two hanging on to the ladder as Langford and I had done, with the orange leath creeping up their fingers to their irms and eventually to their hearts. They lad died probably forty years ago but •heir bodies had been preserved by the cy cold at the bottom of the shaft and naybe by the orange death itself. I renembered that we had taken several large
cakes of ice from the shaft when first we came more than two weeks ago.
We tramped heavily back to camp and then over the hill to where Langford had said he had buried the two old miners. We had no difficulty in finding the spot as Langford had built a huge pile of stones over them. I could not bear to go near the grim pile, but Arnold threw back a big slab of stone from the top and then stood staring down.
“Look,” he said, in a strangely muifled
I walked up to the pile and looked over his shoulder and the sight which met my gaze will never be erased from my memory. Arnold had lifted a stone which had lain directly upon the face of one of the miners and there was revealed a man who must have been in the prime of life when the orange death claimed him for its own. The face was colored a bright orange.
We let the stone slab fall back into its place and went back to the camp. Alt the spirit of the fight seemed to have been taken out of us and if it was not for the fact that we believed we had discovered the mystery we would have wasted no time in making tracks back from the wilderness.
We waited anxiously for three o’clock and when at last the hands of our watches pointed out the time for our experiment, my courage almost failed me. I dreaded to think that I was going to run another chance of joining the two men under the stone-pile.
We burnished the bottom of the pail until it shone like a mirror and, when the sun was in the position in which it was at the same time the day before, we placed it so that the rays of the sun were deflected upon the spot in the shaft wall which yesterday had burned like another sun. The shaft of light pierced through the gloom of the mine and threw out the ladder, where Langford and I had clung, in bold relief.
We watched the bright spot between the ladder rungs intently. Slowly it brightened. The mottled effect, which I had seen yesterday, appeared and then gradually gave place to a dull orange glow which grew stronger and stronger until the whole shaft was filled with the mysterious deadly orange rays.
Our experiment had proven that my theory was correct and we felt delighted to know that we had solved the mystery and were about to give to the world a new mineral of wonderful properties. We threw the shaft of light all over the shaft but at no other spot would the orange light appear. It was evident that w« had found a pocket of the mineral.
The next morning we arranged a scaffold opposite the pocket and commenced drilling holes in the rock around it and by nightfall had the satisfaction of getting the mineral-bearing rock, which weighed about one hundred and fifty pounds, to the top of the ground. Upon a close examination, the little spots of orange metal could
be seen gleaming wickedly in the dull rock. We decided that it would be best not to set to work extracting the metal until a dull cloudy day so that we would run no danger from the sun’s rays bringing the orange death into activity. To keep it from the light until such a day arrived, we carried it into the shack.
The next day the sun again reigned supreme and seemed hotter than ever. I had been thinking that probably it was only intense light which had an effect on the metal and not heat and, to prove it, I broke off a small fragment and placed it upon a hot iron pan. It made no change whatever. I threw the small piece of rock out into the sunlight and immediately savage orange rays commenced to dart in every direction while the piece of rock itself glittered like a monstrous diamond. I was a good hundred feet from the piece of burning rock but began to feel its deadly gripping force on my throat. I turned and went into the cabin and slammed shut the door.
It was almost three hours later when I again went out. The orange rays were gone and the surroundings seemed as natural as they ever were. I walked over to where I had thrown the splinter of rock and found it lying in the full glare of the sun. I picked it up and examined it and found that it was like an empty honeycomb. The metal had evidently been transformed into a liquid by the action of the strong light of the sun and had either run out into the ground or had been burned up.
I told Arnold of my discovery. He laughed at the idea of the metal burning up and said that it must be in the ground somewhere. We set to work building a small platform in the full glare of the sun and erected a reflector from two of the bright tin pails. Next he placed the chunk of metal-bearing rock in a box and broke it up into small pieces. After the sun had gone down, he placed the broken rock on the platform he had constructed.
I awoke the next morning about six thii'ty. My head seemed like lead and my throat was parched with thirst. I glanced at the window and saw what looked like an orange flame shoot across my vision. I hastily awoke Arnold and not waiting to dress we threw open the door and ran for the lake. My breath was suddenly shut off and I could feel my limbs getting stiff so that I could hardly run.
We kept up the pace, however, and soon got beyond the range of the rays, which we could see shooting back and forth among the charred tree trunks. We were forced to remain from the vicinity of the mine until the sun sank in the west. Then we cautiously approached Arnold’s unique smelting box. Almost the entire bottom was covered with a thin layer of bright orange metal which altogether weighed about three-quarters of a pound. It was soft and easily worked and but for the
peculiar color could have been taken for lead. I gathered the metal up and pounded it into a small ball. It seemed absurd to think that the small innocent-looking lump of metal in my hand could have been the cause of the death of three sturdy men, but we had seen and we believed.
The next morning we packed our outfit and set off from the shore of Lac Suel on the back trail. The wonderful metal or orange death, as Arnold and I prefer to call it, has never and probably never will become known to mankind.