EDITOR’S NOTE.—Herewith is presented the first instalment of a new serial story by Alan Sullivan. This Canadian author has earned a wide recognition by the publication of his recent novel, “The Inner Door." In “The Magic Makers” Mr. Sullivan presents a story of remarkable interest, full of stirring incident and with a fine flavor of mystery.
ON a slope of the Calton Hill a big man sat staring at the shining roofs of Edinburgh Town; his face, brown and weather-beaten, had a whimsical smile, and his eyes, half-closed, were deep in thought. From time to time he glanced indifferently at the exquisite outline of the ancient city, but always his gaze returned to a certain corner of a morning paper that lay unfolded on the grass beside him. Leaning over the broad shoulders an observer might have read the following:—
“The undersigned desires to communicate with reliable person having had recent experience in Northern Canada. Professional explorer preferred. Andrews & Dalgleish, Solicitors. Princes Street. Edinburgh."
Picking up the paper he read this notice almost without seeing it, so intent was his brain on unspoken thoughts, till, presently, he heaved up his massive frame and started down hill in profound meditation.
Half an hour later, David Andrews, writer to the signet, peered with unwonted interest at the great bulk of the man who filled his office doorway. “You sent up word that you wanted to see me?” he said after a moment of unconscious admiration.
Sergeant MacTier nodded. “It’s about yon notice in the Scotsman,’’ he answered briefly.
“Ah!” A new note came into the solicitor’s voice. Then, quickly, “Sit down.”
In the course of the next ten minutes he extracted from the big man sufficient information about his immediate past to make him send word to the outer office that for the present he was not to be disturbed. As the curt recital went on, he became impressed as much by what Sergeant MacTier did not say as by the brief outline he sketched, but it was probably habit which drew from Andrews a mechanical enquiry as to what references might be available.
At that MacTier grinned. “Will the Comptroller of the Royal North-West Mounted Police do?”
“Do!” The solicitor leaned forward. “I should think he would.”
“Well,” said the big man, “we’ll leave it at that.”
A LITTLE silence followed after which Andrews opened a brass-bound box in the corner of his office, and, unfolding a small parcel of documents, began to talk in a level voice that, in spite of him, lifted every now and then as he met the steady gaze of the grey eyes of Sergeant MacTier.
“Three years ago,” he commenced deliberately, “a client of mine, Mr. Rintoul, of Aberdeen, came to this office and made his will. Mr. Rintoul, who was possessed of considerable means, left his entire property to his only son, Henry. A proviso was made in the will that should Henry marry without his father’s consent the property would revert to another branch of the family. Very shortly after that Mr. Rintoul informed me that his son had become engaged, much against his father’s wishes, that a violent dispute had forthwith arisen, and, as a result of this, Henry had left home over night. Mr. Rintoul, who was never very strong, took the matter greatly to heart and died within six months. His decease, I might say, was without question hastened by remorse and anxiety. I discovered almost immediately that the person to whom Henry Rintoul was engaged was in fact a very admirable young woman, so much so that, when she learnt of the proviso in Rintoul’s will, she refused to marry young Rintoul while that proviso was in force. Mr. Rintoul senior was not aware of her attitude at the time of his death, and I am further assured that Henry Rintoul does not know, at the present time, of his father’s decease. I tell you this,” added Andrews, “that you may be fully apprised of the circumstances of the case, which are in brief that there is a large property awaiting Henry Rintoul’s ownership and that he is at perfect liberty now to marry as he sees fit. The girl,” he concluded, “is in Scotland and hoping for his return.”
Jock nodded. “Aye, that’s clear.”
“Now,” resumed Andrews thoughtfully, “we revert to young Rintoul. We know that he went straight from Scotland to Canada. We know also that he was in Montreal and subsequently went north to some queer place called Cobalt, where I am told there are silver mines. We are aware, further, that from Cobalt he kept on north, but since then we have heard nothing. W’hen I say nothing I mean nothing intelligible, you understand."
Jock shook his great head. “No,” he said simply, “I don’t understand.”
Andrews smiled. “Well, here is his last communication, if such you can call it”
IN the big palm of Sergeant MacTier the solicitor laid a soft brown bundle perhaps two inches in diameter and six inches long, and at the touch of it the lid of Jock's brain was lifted and there flooded back on him all the mystery and appeal, all the voiceless fascination, all the vast invitation of the North. This, the last message of Henry Rintoul, was inscribed on a strip of soft tanned hide, from which still spread the sharp and smoky odors of some long extinguished and far distant camp fire.
Slowly he unrolled it, fingering its soft texture with lingering touch. Lying flat it was, perhaps, ten inches long. As nearly as he could make it, the hide was that of a white bear, being too thick for caribou or lesser fur, too devoid of oil for seal or walrus. Traced faintly on its surface were a few fine lines, which, in the now dwindling light, seemed almost illegible.
“And this,” said Jock slowly, “is all you have?"
The solicitor nodded gravely. “That, and an old photograph of young Rintoul, and what I can tell you of him myself. I’m afraid there's nothing more.”
Jock rubbed the soft hide between his broad finger tips. “How did this get here?”
“Curiously enough, by post, with the address almost undecipherable. I’ve never been able to trace it. In that case-”
"In that case,” said Jock quietly, “perhaps you’ll go on with the story.”
Andrews drummed on his desk and looked hard into the grey eyes. “Mr. MacTier,” he commenced, speaking almost with diffidence, “what I am about to propose may seem absurd to you, but I make bold to propose it because in the back of my head I feel that all things are possible. Will you go to Northern Canada in search of young Rintoul? I say this knowing full well that with the information that exists the attempt may be, and probably will be, a wild goose chase. But since talking to you I have got it into my head that, if anyone can find Rintoul, you can. I ask no promises from you—nothing but the attempt—and with that I will be satisfied, whatever outcome it has.”
A LITTLE silence filled the office during which Jock got up, and, walking to the window, stared out at the battlemented heights of Edinburgh Castle. His brain was in sudden tumult. Since his return after years as a trooper in the Barren Lands, and his marriage to Marget, he had been proud and thankful that such things could come to a man like himself. But always at night time there unrolled before his eyes the magnificent panorama of the Far North. There came to his ears the mysterious call which emanates from unpeopled realms. It was in his blood now, he knew that. But by what poignant process this steadily rising hunger was to be stilled he had so far been unable to conjecture. Now the trail of his life might turn either one way or the other as he halted breathlessly. On one hand were Marget and Elsie, and comfort, and a world of men to choose from for friends and comrades, while on the other the lifting curtain of fate had revealed separation from those he loved, danger, hardship and that fierce contest in which man pitted himself against the elemental forces of natural things. He turned and looked hard at the solicitor.
“I am a married man,” he said, under his breath.
“Mr. MacTier,” came the instant answer, “married or not, you are the man for this job. It means, perhaps, two or three years’ work, then independence. I am free to say that whatever funds you require are at your disposal. Will you think it over and see me in the morning?” Now of all that raced through Jock’s mind as he walked slowly homeward, and of the sheepish look on his face when he met Marget’s happy glance, and of the quick intuitive process that instantly set at work in her active mind, it is not necessary to write, but it happened that that same evening she put her arm around Jock’s neck and, laying a marked copy of the Scotsman on the table in front of him, asked in the most sympathetic manner possible whether that was the thing that ailed him. After which Jock mumbled a half shamed assent.
“I knew it.” She shot him a look of supreme intelligence.
“And how long might you have been aware of it yourself?” he demanded.
“Jock,’ she said slowly, “I’ve been watching that notice for the last three days.
And now listen. Believe me, that much as we love each other, that love has not made me blind, and often I have read thoughts that you have never expressed and read in your eyes strange things of which you have never told me.”
The big hand went out. “It’s nothing, Marget. I just dropped in to see yon people and they asked me to go and search for a man without knowing where to look for him.”
“In the North—your old country?” she demanded.
“Aye, just that, but there’s nothing to it.”
She shook her head. “I don’t believe you, and what’s more you don’t want me to believe you, and you’re just talking for my sake. Now let me say something for yours. Jock, dear, the place you were meant to fill is not here in Scotland, at least not for the present. I respect you, and such is my faith in you, that I say your place is where your work calls you. I sometimes think there must be many women who have never found this out, and consequently many men are wasted, but I am too proud of you to waste you whatever it costs me. You are strange and wonderful, Jock, to other people, just as you are to me, and I don’t want you to lose that just because you married me. But you must always feel as free as the air to answer the call that is meant for you.”
Deep in the soul of Sergeant MacTier stirred something that crept into his veins like spreading fire. It was a passionate triumph born of the utter knowledge that here beside him was one in whose breast lay not only love and tenderness, but also a superb and noble understanding. Here, of all women in the world, was the one whom from now on he could worship with an abandonment of emotion in that her comprehension compassed not only his spirit, but the very heart and pulsing body of him as well. In this moment there was lighted in him the purest and highest flame that can glow in mortal tenement.
Without a word his arms went out, and, like a bird settling to her nest, Marget slipped into them and laid her head on his shoulder.
THAT was the way of it, and when Jock returned to the solicitors’ office next morning his head was held high and there was a new light in his face.
Andrews took it all very quietly, having been curiously convinced from the start that Sergeant MacTier was God-sent and destined by fate for this particular purpose. Thereupon he made certain swift arrangements which put MacTier in personal possession of more money than he had ever seen in his life, and, backing up so to speak, gave him what information he could about young Rintoul.
“He is tall,” he said, “taller than you, and very dark. He was a good deal of an athlete when he was here and had a passion for animals. It was said that he could talk to dogs and horses almost in some language of their own. As I remember him he was restless and high spirited and quite devoid of any kind of fear."
“Photographs?" interjected Jock.
“I’m sorry but I’ve only one. It’s a snapshot taken five or six years ago.” Andrews pushed it over. “I’m afraid you can’t make much of that."
Jock stared hard, saw a young man about seventeen with black curly hair, broad shoulders, and laughing eyes. He was bending over something that looked like a box.
“What's that?" put in the big man.
“That? Oh! An electric battery. He was always experimenting with it and playing tricks, and this time he was caught in the act.”
“Then this photograph and yon map is the entire evidence?" Jock pursed his lips. “I’ll be taking them with me if there are no objections.”
“Of course." Andrews hesitated a moment. “When do you think you can leave?"
Sergeant MacTier reached for his hat. “I'm leaving now,” he said briefly.
TWO weeks later Jock stood in the waiting room of the Deputy Comptroller of the Royal North-West Mounted Police. He did not stand long, for, on receipt of his name, the Comptroller summoned him forthwith, and, with unofficial glance of admiration at the big frame, hazarded the remark that it was unusual for one of the Force to tire of a holiday before his leave was up. Having said this he settled back in his chair and waited with growing interest.
“It’s not that I’m tired,” replied Jock thoughtfully, “but I’ve taken on a job and want permission to carry it out.”
The Comptroller looked up sharply. “What job?”
In answer Jock unrolled the soft fragment of hide on the broad flat-topped desk, and, starting at the beginning, told his story. He noted without surprise that as he spoke an expression of incredulity dawned in the Comptroller’s face.
“I know very well what perhaps you are thinking, sir, but if this thing can be done it will be for the honor of the Force, for it is as Sergeant MacTier that I would like to travel. Something in the back of my head, I can't explain what it is, tells me that Henry Rintoul is alive, for, mind you, we most always hear of it, in one way or another, when a white man is killed in the North. That makes talk—while there is nothing said otherwise.”
“It may be so,” ruminated the Comptroller, “but how are you going about it? You’ve got nothing to start with.”
“I know that, sir. So perhaps it doesn’t make much difference where I do start. There are two things I’d like to find out first. One is if there are any known discoveries of silver, say, north of the fifty-fifth parallel, and whether the Surveys Branch can find me an island shaped anything like this one.”
Once more the Comptroller pondered. “Why do you mention the fifty-fifth parallel?”
“Because, sir, there is walrus hunting in the place where Henry Rintoul was when he made this map, and so far as I know the walrus don't come south of the fifty-fifth parallel. I’d like to get information about iron as well.”
The official pushed back his papers and stared hard into Jock’s grey eyes. “You mean to tell me, MacTier, that on the strength of this,” he jerked his chin at the half obliterated map, “you are going into the North to look for a man you’ve never seen and that you never heard of till three weeks ago?”
Jock nodded. “With your permission, sir, and,” he added with a grin, “it may be as well for me not to ask for your approval till I come back.”
A SILENCE fell in the office during which the Comptroller scanned the rugged lineaments of the man before him. Sergeant MacTier knew better than most just what was involved in this extraordinary undertaking. His reputation was already earned, but if, after two or three years’ fruitless trailing up and down the wilderness, he was forced to return without success, his reputation for sound and well-considered judgment would suffer; that is among the Force. It was not so much what the public thought as what the Force itself thought of a man that counted. The Comptroller knew it, and Jock knew it, too. But it seemed now that Jock was filled with sufficient, if non-understandable, assurance to risk his reputation without further thought. And this was the deciding factor with his superior.
“Just how do you propose to go about it? And what do you want from me?” he said slowly.
The heart of Sergeant MacTier gave an unaccustomed leap, for he knew now that his point was won. “I would go first to Newfoundland and take ship from St. John’s along the Labrador Coast and round into Ungava Bay. From there I’d strike up Hudson’s Strait and through Fox Channel, stopping on the way at Mansel Island, that’s but a little out of the course.”
“And why stop at Mansel Island?”
“Because it’s the only one in that part of the North that looks as if it might be the one on Rintoul’s map.”
“And if it isn’t?”
“Then I’d leave the ship in Fox Channell, strike across Melville Peninsula into Boothia Gulf, and work from there along the north shore and through the islands clear over to the mouth of the MacKenzie. And if Rintoul is anywhere along there,” he added quietly, “I’ll hear of it.”
The Comptroller drew a long breath. “How far do you reckon that is?”
“About five thousand miles,” said Jock simply.
Again there fell a silence while the Comptroller pulled at his moustache and drummed absently on his desk. Presently he leaned forward. “MacTier,” he began, “I'm firmly convinced that you’re mad.”
Jock nodded. “Aye, that’s perfectly possible.”
“But,” went on the other, his voice lifting a little, “I also believe that I’m mad myself, because I’m going to do everything possible to help you, since I’ve got the crazy idea that you’re going to find your man. Where I got it I can’t tell you but, confound you! I have got it. And I hope that when this outrageous expedition is over you’ll be content and won’t come in here and play ducks and drakes with a very carefully thought-out system.” He touched a bell, and, after a moment’s reflection, dictated a letter. This finished, he looked up with a curious smile. “I’ve got another foolish idea that you’ll never use this letter, but here it is, anyway. Now, how about supplies?”
“I’m thinking, if it would suit, that I might requisition them where I need them, in the ordinary custom.”
The Comptroller’s lip began to twitch and, swinging in his chair, he stared out over the Ottawa River to where the Laurentian Mountains lifted their blue hummocks in the North. “Mad,” he murmured to himself, “unquestionably mad.” Then—“That’ll do, MacTier, good morning, and, by the by, good luck to you.”
IT fell on an afternoon when the wind I was lifting gently out of the southeast that the whaler Siren climbed up over the horizon and set her blunt bows toward the harbour of St. John’s. She was short, broad and squat, and rode high out of the water. A slow ripple quivered under her forefoot, her sails were patched and multi-colored, and around her the atmosphere was charged with unnamable smells of whale oil, blubber, and fish. Lurching rather than sailing, she moved steadily on, every now and then burying her blunt snout in the wrinkled crest of a wave, then, tossing it heavenward like a playful dog. For twenty years the Siren had been poking her inquisitive nose into strange and distant harbours. Salty Bill, her master and owner, was foot loose of the seven seas. He had killed sperm whales in the Pacific, right whales in the North Atlantic, white whales in Hudson’s Bay, and great bottle-nosed beasts as far south as Patagonia. And the Siren looked it. Heavily built and saturated with oil from stem to stern, she seemed a curious and amphibious creature through whose massive timbers pulsed something kindred to those gigantic lives she had harried ever since her keelson moved past a tripping block towards New Bedford Harbour. Her masts, like stout trees whose roots spread out beneath her decks, gripped the close-set timbers of her frame. Well aft was a strongly built cabin and within six feet of its stern door was the wheel. Forward of this her 'midships stretched flat and clear to receive the great masses of blubber that her springy yardarm hoisted creaking to her slippery decks. Forward again her bows were housed in with heavy planking on which sat a swivelled harpoon gun with its attendant gear. Take it all in all, the Siren, with her bluff dimensions, her low taffrail, her enormous scuppers and her general appearance of devil-may-care-if-bedraggled handiness, seemed a very football of the seas, one that had been buffeted hither and thither in some vast and elemental game but had emerged, nevertheless, as tight as a drum and as sound as when her bilge pump first sucked hungrily in her dusty bowels.
As she drew in, Salty Bill’s brown fingers slackened over the wheel spokes while he stepped to the side and spat into the greasy sea to determine just what way the Siren was carrying. ' She had an auxiliary, it is true, but just then Bill objected to unnecessary expense. He resumed his post and gazed cynically at the long finger-like jetties of St. John’s Harbour. The Siren was well nigh empty and something of the same sensation was for the time shared by her master and crew. Fishing had been bad, worse almost than he had known. He had, in fact, been reduced to porpoise hunting, and when a master whaling captain descends to such game it is sufficient evidence of something rotten in the state of trade. At this particular moment almost any proposition would have suited Salty Bill provided it were not whaling.
NOW it was the luck of Sergeant MacTier that he should have been where he was when the Siren made harbour, for among all the hard-fisted, tough-sinewed and absolutely capable seamen that ever dropped into this northerly refuge, there was none that surpassed Salty Bill in these admirable and essential attributes. In the case of Jock, one glance had been enough, and he knew on the instant that, if he could capture this raw-boned mariner, here was a man after his own heart.
“I’m wanting to talk with you,” he said, evenly. “I’m thinkin’ that you’re riding a bit high for a homeward bound whaler and there is that in my head may interest you.”
Salty Bill grunted. “I never talk on an empty belly, ’t aint fair to either of us. Wait till I fill up.”
And at that Jock grinned and nodded. It was late the same night before Salty Bill raised his head from the table, where was spread the map of Henry Rintoul, and stared straight into Jock’s face. He had listened carefully and silently, forming canny opinions not only of the tale as it proceeded but also of the broadshouldered man whose grim and dogged visage seemed so at variance with his own fantastic recital, and it was not till Jock had said all there was to be said that the seaman coughed with unusual embarrassment and proceeded to punch holes in the entire project.
“I’ve sailed these waters off and on for twenty years and there’s no place that I know of like you describe. Mind you, I’m not saying I won’t help you out, that’s a matter of terms, but I’ve no intention of letting you think you can pull this off, so far as my judgment goes. You don’t know where to look, so I don’t know but what you’re right in deciding to start at the beginning and look most everywhere. That’s a big order. It means you 'start north of here, working along the coast till you get right across to Behring Sea, and then, if you don’t make her, come back another way. And that’s about all there is to it. You can’t look for any particular walrus ground when the Arctic is plastered with them, and as for Huskies I guess you know as much about them as I do. And so much for that. Now as for the Siren, and me, and the rest of us, if you want to talk, talk. It’s your move.”
“What do you reckon it would take to hire the Siren and her crew just as she lies there for, say, a year and a half?” Jock spoke with extreme thoughtfulness.
Salty Bill leaned back and stared at the smoky ceiling of the eating house where they sat. He had a sudden conviction that an often dreamed of but never anticipated moment had arrived, one in which he would not search the seas day after day for evasive whales, but might voyage month after month with all expenses found to a certainty and something to boot as well. In other words, what Salty Bill had yearned for was a charter, and here it was being actually thrown at him. He quivered with alarm lest his relief should be too obvious, then twisted his mouth into unhuman shapes while dreams of wealth danced through his mind.
“The Siren," he began slowly, “is the stoutest craft I ever set foot on and I don’t say that because I own her. She’s stood more than most of them can stand and she’s sound to-day. There are four of us on her besides myself, and that costs me one hundred a month in wages and found. The Siren, if she is worth anything, is worth a hundred and fifty a month, and that’s two-fifty. I don’t know what I’m worth myself, but put it at another hundred and that’s three fifty.” He paused for a moment, then looked up with a touch of awe on his weather-beaten features. “Holy snakes! But that’s near five thousand a year.”
Jock chuckled. “Go on, you’re doing well.”
“Then you’ve got to add grub to that,” proceeded Bill with evident distress, "something for making good, and things break and get carried away, and one darned thing and another, and I guess that’s six hundred a year. Say,” he concluded, “I’m some financier, ain’t I?” “Then I understand,” said Jock, “that I can get the ship and yourself for five thousand dollars a year? And she’ll be under your command but my orders.” Salty Bill gulped in an enormous volume of air. “Insurance,” he said unsteadily, “what about that? Lord knows where you’re going, I don’t.”
“Then add insurance,” came the curt reply.
For answer Bill got up and paced slowly across the room. Such was the tumult in his breast that he dared not look round. “How long do you want her?” came a muffled voice from the far corner.
“Say a year and a half with the option of another six months.”
“And if we don't fetch her back?” The voice was by now almost inarticulate. “Then you collect the insurance.”
“It’s a go,” he said thickly, “and I guess we’d better sign up before I change my mind.” He hesitated a moment, then blurted: “I spoke of my crew just now, but you might as well know that they’re no special lot. Fact is, my best men cleared out months ago and I had to pick up what I could get. Thing is you’ll have to take ’em as you find ’em, and what’s more, I don’t mind telling you they’ll take some handling, one of ’em in particular.”
“Who’s that?” said Jock quietly.
“Name's Black Matt. At least that's what he goes by. Picked him up this spring in the Bay of Fundy, and the only kind of argument he understands is a marlin-spike behind the ear. But—” here Salty Bill hesitated again and glanced approvingly at MacTier’s massive shoulders—“I don’t count on your having much trouble with him.”
The big man smiled grimly. “We can take care of Matt when the time comes. And now I reckon you’d better sign up.”
Long before this each faint mark on the mysterious map of Henry Rintoul was graven on the mind of Sergeant MacTier, and out of the apparent chaos certain points had been definitely evolved. He made out that the line coming in from the right was a river and the thing in the middle was an island, seventy miles long from end to end. At the bottom of the map the words “send help” were decipherable. “liver” he jumped at as “silver,” and finally came to the conclusion that the irregular diagram in the centre of the island was a lake. The thing that bothered him was how an island of this magnitude still remained uncharted on any Govèrnment map even in the desolate spaces of the North.
Day after day he pondered while the Siren rounded Cape Chidley, which, as all the world knows, is the north-easterly angle of Labrador, and, having dodged inside the Button Islands, bucked drift ice for a solid week before she got clear through into Ungava Bay.
During this period also he came to certain conclusions about the crew of the Siren. Salty Bill was not far wrong, for not once in the past weeks had Sergeant MacTier secured one steady stare from the shifty eyes of Black Matt. There had been grumblings, and more than grumblings, when the blunt nose of the Siren turned toward the Arctic but, however strong might be the undercurrent of revolt, there was nothing so far on which to lay a masterful hand. A little later they picked up field ice, which they skirted carefully, then ran for a day parallel with the jagged coast, till they sighted a great glistening floe that stretched for miles, rising into the centre into a gentle mass of gleaming crags while round its shining sides the green waves danced in flashing brilliancy. And two days after the big floe dropped out of sight astern, the Siren furled her variegated wings, and, with a muffled cough from her auxiliary engine, waddled up the Koksoak River toward Fort Chimo.
To be Continued.