ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
Author of "Loie of the Wild," "Willow, the Wisp," "A Son of Conroge," etc.
HORATIO WILLIAMS twisted contemptuously, drawing a squeak of protest from the wickerseated chair upon which he had deposited his two hundred and ten pounds. His stubby fingers crotched the oily cigar be was dry-smoking. His eyes, small, black, boring, were as. hard as jade as they gazed into the light blue ones of the man seated on the opposite side of the office table. "You're a good enough lawyer, Hartley," he admitted, "and I aint begrudgin' you what you've soaked. me off and on for advice, understand. But when you say lawyer, you say it all. You don't know anythin' like you think you know about oil; if you did, you'd be huntin' with the pack out in some derrick-jungle and lettin' some average feller hold down that chairof yours."
He paused, as though hoping the other man might challenge his statement. Horatio Williams, oil king, had for Arnold Hartley, barrister, all the contempt that an aggressive chance-taker has for a timid marker of time. He used him as did other moguls and corporations, paid him well for his legal services, and forgot him until he was needed again.
Somehow, Hartley, with his light hair, light eyes, colorlessness and furtiveness, had always reminded him of a ferret—a ferret in a cage, to be plucked therefrom at intervals by a sure, rough hand and shown the mouth of a burrow in which some quarry lay hidden, and safely caged again after his work was done. Supposing the ferret should slip his cage some day, and become a weasel? The thought was not at all comforting to Williams.
“Not,” he continued, as Hartley smiled cynically, “that I’m knockin’ this little Millbury field either. It’s all right as far as it goes, only I’m sayin’ it don’t go far enough.
JUST once let these wells ease off in their production and watch her sag back to nothin’ again. She’s the same as any other oil-boom town. Me, I’m oil man enough to know what I’m talkin’ about, and I’m tellin’ you that this big gusher up somewhere near the Arctic Circlé is goin’ to draw the oil men up there like a magnet draws steel. Say, if I could glimpse one shadow of a possible look in on that territory, you could have everything else.” With a gesture of disgust, he pushed back his chair.
“I’m goin’ now to feed these new leases to the Hoverton mossbacks. And,” his black eyes bored Hartley, “if you haven’t inserted a trick clause in ’em that spells safe to Horatio Williams, you needn’t ever expect any more business from me, mind that.”
He stamped out, banging the door behind him.
There was something sinisterly suggestive of the weasel, to which his visitor had likened him, in Hartley’s attitude as, head lifted and slightly turned to one side, he listened to
the heavy footsteps receding dowm the hall. He waited until he heard the outer door open and close. Then he pressed a button beneath his desk. “Trumble,” he addressed the young man, who, pencil and note book in hand, appeared from an inner room, “you remember placing a package of papers, marked Langman, in the safe some months ago?”
“Yes, sir.” “Get them.”
The young man turned to execute the order, and Hartley arose and paced slowly up and down the room, hands locked behind his back.
“That’s all,” he said shortly, as the stenographer returning laid a bulky blue envelope on the table. “Continue typing the Wilton brief. I don’t wish to be disturbed.”
AS HARTLEY resumed his seat beside the table, a low knock fell on the door. He looked up irritably.
“Come in,” he called sharply, as he pushed the blue envelope from view beneath some loose sheets of letter paper.
Then his pale blue eyes opened wide as a girl entered, a tall girl with grave face lit by wide eyes of grey and a mass of redgold hair looped loosely beneath tw^eed auto-cap.
“Are you Mr. Arnold Hartley?” she asked in a low, softly modulated voice.
“I have come a long distance to meet you, Mr. Hartley,” she said. “You are a cousin of Mr. David Langman’s, I understand?”
His light eyes left her face to flash to the pile of papers on the table.
His tones were a trifle constrained as he answered. “I have a cousin of that name, yes.”
She leaned forward eagerly. “And might I ask have you any idea of his whereabouts at the present time, Mr. Hartley?”
“Not the slightest,” he answered. “I’m afraid, if it’s information you seek, I can be of but little assistance to you, madam. You see, I have never met David Langman personally, despite the fact that I am his only living relative. He was a queer chap, I understand, and a noted geologist. He spent most of his time prospecting in the northern wilds. We corresponded regularly, however. In August of 1914 I received a letter from him to the effect that he was joining up with the Princess Pats, at Edmonton, and was going to the front.”
“And that,” she faltered, “was the last you heard of him?” He gave her a keen look; but she was sitting eyes gazing into space, white fingers smoothing the soft leather of her gauntlets.
PARDON me,” said Hartley coldly, “but before we discuss my cousin further, you must tell me who you are, and why you wish to know.”
“David Langman is my husband,” she answered clearly. “Your husband?” repeated the lawyer in amazement. “Yes. We were married in France. There—there was a misunderstanding. We parted before I could explain. And then—then—111
“And then he was wounded, lost his memory and disappeared,” Hartley finished for her.
He drew forward a chair and sat down. The expression on his colorless face was as unreadable as when first she glimpsed it, as he said,
“If, as you say, you are his wife, you have, of course, some proof; a marriage certificate, perhaps?”
The grey eyes sought his appealingly. “I have no proof. There was a fire—” “I see.” Hartley’s thin lips curved in a smile. "That was indeed unfortunate.”
“Then you do not believe me?” she murmured.
“You see,” he evaded her direct question, “you are an entire stranger to me, madam. I received several letters from my cousin, from France. He did not mention anything about having married.”
“Mr. Hartley,” she said earnestly, "I did not come to you with the purpose in mind you surmise. I knew, quite well, that you and my husband were—in a sense—strang-
Her face flushed and her eyes darkened.
ers. I did not expect that you could give me any inkling as to his present whereabouts. Rather, I came to you hoping that in you I wmuld find a man—”
She paused, and as he lifted his head quickly, added, “capable of undertaking a sacred mission for me.”
"Then I am to infer you do not consider me such a man, madam?”
She gazed at him appraisingly.
“Frankly, I do not,” she answered. “The man who would successfully carry out my mission must be essentially brave—”
“And in that quality, I am lacking, in your eyes?” he interrupted.
“Pardon me, I had not quite finished. I was about to add—that this man must also be above the average.”
He recoiled as though a whip had lashed him across the face.
PLEASE realize that I am under a terrific strain.” she continued. “I must find my husband, who, something tells me, has gone back to the Peace River wilderness. He may be suffering, destitute. There is nobody to help. Ob, don’t you see,” she broke off, “how terribly hopeless it all is? I cannot seek him alone, and you are not sufficiently interested—”
She paused, biting her lip.
Hartley sat drooped before the table. The girl’s eyes were on his face. It was a weak face, she believed, colorless, like his personality, and she had learned to read faces pretty accurately during three years hospital work in France.
“Mr. Hartley,” she said dejectedly, “I am going now. Had I found in you one willing to undertake and capable of executing my mission, I would gladly have placed sufficient funds at your disposal to finance the undertaking. In addition, I would have been glad to pay you, in advance, any amount you cared to name for your services in my behalf. I have plenty of money at my disposal.”
Hartley lifted his head, like a weasel who, following dead spoor, comes suddenly upon something promising a meal. Immediately his manner changed from cynical indifference to suave amenity and respect.
“Mrs. Langman,” he said, "you have aroused my sympathy. I shall be glad to undertake your mission with a full realization of its hardships and dangers.”
I AM grateful to you, Mr. Hartley,” she replied simply, “and I thank you. But it has come to me, during the few moments, that the one who finds my husband must have some great incentive, must be driven by some great motive. Only such a one could hope to succeed.” “Meaning?” he asked, his cynical self once more. “Myself.”
She turned toward the door. He stepped before her and opened it.
He stood listening to her light steps down the hall. He walked to the window and looked out.
Something vital, colorful, urging had touched him. rocking him to a realization of his mediocrity; a girl with drooping lips and sure-reading eyes had placed him for himself. She had told him that he was just average.
A VERAGE; that was the word which described him to a iA nicety. Average in intellect, looks, in everything he did; average, which meant that he was no cleverer, no more outstanding than those other units who made up nine-tenths of the world’s many millions of units.
He was merely a puppet. Average! Would he, he asked himself, continue to fight the battles of crooks and schemers? Continue to watch men to whom he pointed the way amass millions from undertakings okeyed by him as within the law?
No. He walked back to the table and threw himself into his chair. No more, he decided, would he play the part of a servant to others. He reached for the telephone and called up Horatio Williams.
HALF an hour later, Williams projected his huge bulk along the narrow hall and into Hartleys office. His heavy face was scowling, and his uneven teeth showed in a snarl like that of a dog disturbed at a meal.
“See here. Hartley,” he began. "\\ hat the devil do \oo mean by buttin' in on me this way.’ 1 wanta toll you He bit off the utterance, shrinking against the door jamb, his big hands flattened against the wall.
Hartley was standing before him. Hartley's voice cam to his astounded ears, crisp, commanding.
“I'll do the talking, Williams. Go over there and sit down!"
Williams slouched to the table and dropped into a chair. "Well. I’ll be shot," he murmured, his beady eyes, wide u ith amazement, fixed on the lawyer’s face.
Hartley resumed his .‘■eat. He reached beneath the papers on his table, and drew out the envelope labelled Langman. There was, the oil-man discerned, a poise and assurance hitherto lacking in the man. What had happened to change him, he wondered. And, damn the fellow's fish eyes! would he never take them from him?
He shook himself, straightened in his seat. “See here,” he growled, with an assumption of his old bullying self, "What’s th(> matter? Are you crazy?”
"I’m simply awake.” Hartley tapped the blue envelope before him. "Awake to opportunity. I’m through playing on the fringe of things, Williams; through being the servant of men like you. Hereafter I’m going to do a little whistling myself and watch a few of you money-gods dance to it."
Williams’ oily face beaded. The hair on the back of the hands gripping the arms of his chair stood up like the spines on a startled dog’s back. There was that in the sinister words of the lawyer which fro?e him into fear.
‘You can’t make capital out of what you know about me,” he spluttered. “You daren’t. It would kill your professional career if you tried it; and I’ve got the momy to stack against any game you pull.”
Hartley shrugged, as from a silver case he produced a cigarette. He lit it and smoked it through in silence. Williams, his snakey eyes on the lawyer’s face, waited.
At last Hartley spoke.
“This morning, Williams, you remarked that a fortune awaited the man who could secure a fair holding in this newly discovered oil field in the Peace River district. I wonder if you are reasonably sure of that?”
Williams, his apprehension dispelled, leaned eagerly forward across the table.
“I’ll go further than that,” he said. “I’ll say that fortunes have already been made by those who held claims there, and you can’t buy a foot of the stuff at any price.”
price.” “How do you know?” “Because I’ve tried.”
“Supposing then, I were to tell you that I hold 1,920 acres of land unquestionably rich in oil, and in direct line with this Norman gusher, but as yet unknown to any of of the big prospecting interests up in that new field, what would you say?”
Williams laughed shortly. “I’d say you was coco.” Hartley tapped the blue envelope. “See this?”
“Dogone it,” grated Williams. “Haven’t you been doin’ your best to make me see it? What is it?”
“It’s something that’s going to pry you loose from some of your cherished American money,” Hartley told him. “It’s a description and map of a 1,920 acre claim staked some six years ago by a cousin of mine, near the mouth of the Mackenzie.”
Williams’ huge form slowly stiffened.
“No!” he said incredulously.
“Yes. And it’s safe as a church, because nobody can possibly find it without this map of location which I hold.”
“And it’s in this Norman belt, you say?”
“Directly. It’s west of Norman and well out of all prospecting lines.”
“But how do you know the stuff’s there?” Williams’ tones were flat, doubtful.
“Because my cousin, in his letters to me, claims it is there.”
Williams bit savagely at a cigar, lit it and leaned back In his seat, leering up at the
lawyer. “Not good enough, Hartley; not near good enough to pry kale from the pile of yours truly.”
“It’s time enough for you to talk that way when you know I need your money,” flashed Hartley. “And—I’m not so sure that I do need it.”
“Oh come now.” Williams’ tones were conciliatory. “If you’ve really got somethin’—I don’t say that you have, remember—but if so, I’m with you. I was only jokin’ about the money. Just you show me oil-color and I’ll show you all the lucre you need; but right here, before we go any further—tell me one thing. Who’s this know-itall cousin of yours?”
Hartl'ey’s pale eyes sought the black ones. “His name is David Langman,” he answered.
Williams’ mouth fell open so that his cigar sagged. “Not David Langman, the geologist?” “The same.”
“Why, man alive!” cried Williams excitedly, “I’ve heard of him. That fellow knows oil-signs if anybody knows ’em. Where’s he now?” he asked eagerly.
“He’s dead, or as good as dead,” said Hartley. “He was wounded in France and lost, his memory. Nobody knows where he disappeared to. He made these papers and map over to me. They are legally mine, so set your mind at rest there.”
“And how long have you been in possession of these papers?”
“For over a year,” Hartley answered. “I didn’t consider them of any special value until word came of this big find at Fort Norman. Then I sat up and took notice.
“First of all, I got in touch with the Northwest Regulation Department at Edmonton. From them I received authentic proof that this northern field has not been over-
estimated. Of course, I couldn’t determine whether or no the claim had been recorded without giving its location, and this, naturally, I couldn’t do.”
“And there is nothing in those papers to indicate that the claim has been recorded?”
“Nothing. The only way to find out is to visit the recording office at Edmonton.”
“Umph!” mused Williams, squinting through heavy smoke rings. “Simply stakin’ a claim isn’t goin’ to hold it. If it hasn’t been recorded, no tellin’ who has his clutches on it now.”
“Nobody else has ever found it,” said Hartley. “Of that I am sure. The claim is too far away from what is conceded to be oil territory to make that even a possibility.” Williams stood up.
“All right,” he said shortly. “Now then, what do you propose?”
“I propose starting for Fort Norman at once, relocate that claim, and record it, if necessary, as soon as possible.” “And where do I come in?”
Hartley smiled. “Perhaps you don’t come in,” he replied. “But I am willing to give you a quarter interest in the claim, providing you will accompany me North, help locate it, and finance the undertaking.”
Williams shook his head. “It’s halves or nothin’,” he said. “It’s not a sure win, as it stands, and it’s goin' to take a bucketful of money. Say fifty-fifty and I’m game to nose in, though. Understan’.” He twisted about and bored the lawyer with hard eyes. “I’m not any too anxious to take it on at thät.” ,
“All right,” Hartley agreed. “We’ll say a half interest, then. You know, of course, what you’ll be facing in a trip up into that snow-bound wilderness at this season?” Williams frowned. “I reckon I know a darned sight better than you do,” he said. “I’ve been up in that Peace River district after big game. It’s goin’ to be some Júke that. Fifteen hundred miles by dog team, through rough country, and with the mercury around fifty, won’t be exactly no spring mornin’ stroll, I’m thinkin’. When do we start?” he asked.
Hartley considered. “I’ll have to arrange with some lawyer in Windover to come down here and look after my business,” he replied. “Could you be ready to leave, say, Monday week?”
“Suits me fine,” nodded Williams. “Let’s see. Straight from here to Edmonton. That right?” “That’s right.”
“Well, then, I’ll look after the transportation, and if you need any money for anythin’ in the meantime, just let me know.”
FROM his cabin window Danton saw dogs and men creeping northward on the frozen breast of the Áthabaska, like black ants across a bank of spilled sugar, and guessed that they were prospectors on their venturous way to the newly discovered oil-field at Fort Norman. Grimly he watched that straggling line until it melted in the frost-silvered dusk of twilight.
He was not interested. He had ceased to wonder why men became fools when Nature,, as though in retaliation of past sacrilege, flashed a rainbow. He had seen more than one new trail broken in search of the fabled pot of gold, and with it hearts and fortunes. But it was nothing to him. So long had he been a part of this world of forest and granite that his soul had become grafted to and interwoven with it.
He ate his supper, fed the dogs, and, pipe alight, sat down before Ids fire. He did not light the lamp. Usually he sat through the first hour’s darkness watching from the little window the big stars glow out above the tree-tops, or the Aurora Borealis flame up the Arctic sky.
The cabin was wrapped in inky blackness when he aroused himself and lit the lamp.
As he turned from the stove, he paused, listening. Up from the river sounded the grinding slide of snowshoes on brittle crust. A moment later came voices. He frowned, and stepping to the door, opened it.
Three men, one an Indian, the other two strangers to him, stumbled into the cabin, and approached the fire, shivering.
“Ugh! Very cold night.”
The Algonquin’s black eyes flashed up at Danton. “I bring these men. They wish talk.”
Danton pushed forward stools, and seated himself on the edge of the bunk. He was quite sure that these were two of the three men he had seen mushing forward toward Chipewyan late that afternoon.
It was the younger of the strangers who spoke first. He had pulled of! mitts and cap and unbuttoned his furlined mackinaw at the throat.
“Your name’s Danton, I understand? Well, mine’s Hartley and that of my friend here is Williams.”
He stood up, hand half extended, then as though sensing the unfriendliness in the level look of the other, shrugged and resumed his seat.
WILLIAMS had swung about on his stool to acknowledge the introduction. His face, heavy, expressionless, was turned toward Danton.
A faint smile crossed the latter’s lips. What was it these men wished him to do?
As though reading the unspoken question, Hartley spoke:
“Mr. Danton,” he said,
“you are doubtless wondering why we are here. I’ll explain. As you are doubtless aware, a rich oil field has been discovered at Fort Norman. We are on our way to that place. Unfortunately, the guide secured by us at Edmonton was taken ill this afternoon and is unable to accompany us further. We find ourselves in a most unenviable predicament, and it is very necessary that we push on at once. The sergeant of police at Chipewyan suggested that we see you. Mr. Danton, we wish to engage your services as guide, if possible.”
He paused, and receiving no reply from Danton, added, “Of course, you will be allowed to set a high value on your services. We are willing to pay you almost any amount you ask. We’ve simply got to go on without further loss of time.”
Danton crossed to the stove and put more wood on the fire. Then he folded his arms and looked down at Hartley. “Sorry,” he said, “but I’m not a guide.”
“We know that,” spoke up Williams gruffly. “It’s easy enough to get a guide’s license, though, and we’re willin’ to come through right for your work.”
He subsided before a warning glance from Hartley. “Mr. Danton,” said the latter earnestly, “we’re not going to disguise from you the fact that we are in rather a serious position. Briefly, the situation is this. Mr. Williams here is an American, with large oil holdings in the State of Texas, and the Millbury field of Western Ontario. You may, or may not, be aware that during the years of the late war and up until now the competition between oilcompanies has been of the keenest. The natural result has been that the smaller companies have been gradually
forced by the larger into a tight corner, the extrication from which depends largely if not wholly on one thing new territory.”
“And money to work it,” interposed Williams, hunching forward on his stool.
Hartley’s light brows arched ever so slightly. It was plain to Danton that the older man was not playing according to Hoyle; that by pre-arranged plan he was supposed to keep quiet and let Hartley do the talking.
“Then,” he asked, “your purpose is to secure, if you can, holdings in the Norman field?”
“Yes—-and no,” Hartley answered. “Of course, we realize that a great portion of the field has already been staked, but we already have a claim, and it was staked before this new Government ordinance came into effect.”
“You mean to say that you have 1,920 acres of land, adjacent to Fort Norman, under your control?” Danton asked.
“No, I don’t. This claim is neither adjacent to the Norman field nor under our controlyet. It's location, however, is known only to ourselves, and the sooner we refile and record the better.”
“But surely,” said Danton, “this claim has been recorded?”
“Not to our knowledge, it hasn’t.” There was an edge of irritation in the tones. "That’s why we can’t afford to lose any time. Spring will find a big influx into this new
territory. We’ve got to beat the others in. refile, and get back to Edmonton and record."
"But why —” commenced Danton, then catching the intent look in Williams’ beady eyes, he became silent.
“Look here,” spoke up Williams, “it don’t strike me we’re gettin’ down to cases proper on this thing. Hartley. What we want to know is, will this man undertake to guide us to Fort Norman? Your line of talk isn't as interestin’ to him, I take it, as the soothin’ crinklin' whisper of the long green.”
From an inside pocket he drew a leather wallet and from it extracted two onethousand dollar bills.
"Danton,” he said, a pudgy finger tapping the notes, “despite the fact that I’ve always dabbled in oil, I’m no smooth talker, like my partner here, who's more at home with gushin’ than with a ‘gusher’. But I’ll say I've found this stuff under my fingers the greatest little lubricant in the world when a wheel in the mechanism of any enterprise I’ve undertook started squeakin’. Now, my cards, to wit, this money, are on the table. You’re the fly wheel in this undertake’ now, Danton, and I’m engineer enough to know you’re axle-bound. Here’s oil, and if there aint enough in these two yellow backs to set you in motion, say when the can’s out.”
He lifted the wallet and smiled a smile as expressionless as a slit in a mask.
“Have you ever been over this route before?” Danton asked.
“No.” Hartley roused himself and lit a cigarette. “I was about to explain how we came into possession of this claim when I was interrupted. This claim whose location we hold was staked by a cousin of mine, some five years ago, long before the big gusher was discovered. This cousin, I might say, was a very clever geologist with a passion for prospecting. He had no ties, I being his sole relative, and drifted up to this Peace River district believing that it offered possibilities for study and research. During the two years he spent here—1912 and 1913—to be exact, I received some interesting letters from him, each a glowing tribute to this country as a land of hidden wealth and resources.
“However, in spite of my cousin's optimism, and his suggestion that I advance sufficiënt money to record his claim, for which he offered me a half interest, I was not greatly interested. I wish now that I had listened to him. He paused and glanced at his listener.
“Your cousin?” asked Danton. “He is one of your party?”
“No,” Hartley answered, “neither is he in any sense a factor in the enterprise. He fought in the late war, was wounded and lost his memory. Where he is now I don t know. Before leaving for France, he wrote to me, telling mo that'he needed money badly. I was glad to advance him the amount of the loan he requested. Later, he wrote again, saying that as in all probability he would never be able to repay me, he was sending me location and map ot his claim. I was to consider it mine. I treated the matter as a joke, placed the papers and map away and promptly forgot all about them until word came down of this big find at Norman.
“Now, Danton,” he concluded, “we feel that we have a big thing in this claim, and we’re going to push through until we reach it.”
Danton stood, gazing into distance. Continual on page 10 “There’s a man, a returned soldier, up at Burke’s cabin, thirty miles north of here,” he said absently. “It’s queer, but this chap, like your cousin, lost his memory in some way. The past is all a blank to him.”
Continued from page 18
His eyes sought Hartley’s. “Your cousin’s name isn’t by any chance Langman, is it?”
Hartley started. “Why, yes,” he cried. “That is his name. You mean—-?”
“Then I guess I know where he is. This man who Burke is taking care of must be he. I’ve met him several times. Your cousin’s a slender^short-sighted chap with black curly hair, isn’t he?”
Hartley squirmed uncomfortably. “I believe so,” he stammered. “You see, I have never met him. I knew him only through his letters.”
“And now,” he asked, “will you, Danton, agree to act as our guide to Norman, we paying you four thousand dollars for your services?”
Williams slapped the fat wallet before him. “You can do a lot with four thousand, in the lease-line, up yonder, son,” he urged. “There’ll be big chances for you.”
Danton walked to the window and stood gazing out across the frozen world. For perhaps five minutes he stood motionless, and he turned and, coming back, stood before Hartley.
“I am tempted to accept your offer,” he said, “because I am in pressing need of the money. But before I agree to guide you, I must know that it is your intention to take care of Langman. This find is really his, don’t you think? If you will give me your word to give him a fair share of whatever profits this claim may yield, I’ll guide you to the desired spot. Otherwise I refuse.”
Blank silence followed Danton’s edict,
Williams and Hartley looked at one another, and in the lawyer’s eyes the oil man saw a flash of subtle cunning.
“That’s all right, Danton,” spoke up Hartley. “As a matter of fact, we had already decided to look after my cousin, if he could be found. The fact that he is here simplifies matters. We will allot him a just portion of the claim’s earnings, and be glad to do it. There’s just one little favor I ask, though,” he added, “and that is to be shown this cousin of mine. Only he mustn’t guess who I am, understand?
“You see,” as Danton’s level gaze met his, “when he made this claim over to me there was no big gusher in the North country. He might recover his memory sufficiently to feel that he had traded a fortune for a mess of pottage. Not that he could do anything, of course, but it’s just as well he shouldn’t know anything. As I’ve
told you, I have my own reason for wanting to look him over. It can be arranged, I
“Quite easily,” Danton answered. “We should make Burke’s cabin by to-morrow night.”
“Good! We count on you then. Understand, it is absolutely necessary that we make record time. We should, barring accidents,'make Norman in from six to seven weeks, I’m told. In two months’ time the Tecumseh Aero-Navigation Company will be in operation between Edmonton and Norman. You know what that means, Danton. They’re going to pile in there like hungry bees to a clover field, those who can afford the trip. If we make it anything on schedule, we’ll have two weeks in which to relocate this claim.”
“Very \yell,” Danton agreed. “I’ll be at Fort Chipewyan at four to-morrow morning. We’ll cut out two of Dawson’s dogs and put these two of mine in. You’ll have to let me overhaul your pack,” he added. “We’ve got to cut things down to mere essentials.”
“That’s all right, son,” spoke up Williams. “You’re captain of this little expedition from now on.” He chuckled, plainly pleased at the turn things had taken, and wetting his thumb, leafed two yellow bills from the package on the table.
“Yours,” he said, handing them to Danton. “Two thousand more when we get there.”
Danton folded the bills and put them in his pocket. Then he crossed to the bunk and shook the sleeping Indian awake.
TT WAS snowing hard when, in the dense 1 dark of the morning, Danton stood at the head of his dog-team awaiting the appearance of the men he had undertaken to guide along the far-reaching trail. In the barracks lights were beginning to show dully through the snow curtain.
A shadow detached itself from the white wall.
“That you, Wiski?” Danton asked guardedly. “Ugh!”
The Algonquin, snowshoed, dog-whip in hand, stood before him.
“Look,” said Danton drawing a slip of paper from his pocket, “you are to go on ahead of us to Burke’s cabin and give this letter to Nough-Nough.”
“Ugh,” grunted the Indian. “Me go, give.”
“Yes. Better start at once, Wiski. We’ll be there by sundown maybe, you, one hour before. You give Nough-Nough this?”
“Ugh. No wait. Dogs down in valley.”
The Indian removed his mitt and tucked the note in a pocket of his mackinaw. “Now, go,” he grunted, and bending slid down the slope to the river.
Hartley and Williams appeared, blurred shapes in the falling snow. “All set?” asked Williams gruffly. “All set,” said Danton. “One of you can ride, if you like.” Both Williams and Hartley declined. Danton smiled grimly as he cracked his whip and gave the order to mush.
They swept down the bank and out upon the river, the dogs wheeling.intuitively northward.
At noon they paused, and in a wooded nook along the Athabaska ate their noonday meal, drinking with satisfying relish the strong tea Danton brewed over a small fire.
It was still snowing. The fifteen miles balance of the day’s journey would be hard going, Danton reasoned.
Three o’clock found them toiling across a stretch of rough ice, in frost that seeped through their fur-lined clothing into the very marrow of their bones.
Half an hour after dusk they rounded a curve in the river, and Danton gave the dogs their heads. They twisted across to the right bank and shot upward among a small forest of poplars. Down into a wide valley they dashed, threatening destruction to pack and sled. As the dogs came to a halt Danton pointed to a small cabin just in front, from whose small window a welcome light was gleaming.
As he bent to uncouple the dogs, Hartley touched him on the arm.
“Remember,” he warned, “Langman mustn’t guess anything.”
He turned and followed Williams into the cabin.
Danton finished freeing the dogs, all of which, with the exception of his own two, immediately sought the lee of the cabin and proceeded to dig themselves snownests for the night. The St. Bernards followed him inside.
“Hello, Danton!” A slender, full-bearded man, standing beside the stove, strode forward, hand outstretched. “Hello, Dave.”
Danton’s eyes rested searchingly on the other’s face. “How’s every little thing?”
“Fine, Danton, fine, thanks to Burke here, who takes the best care of me.”
He nodded toward a thick-set man who was greasing traps before the fire. The latter grinned and, reaching up, gripped the hand Danton extended.
“Langman,” said Danton, shedding his mackinaw, “meet Mr. Williams and Mr.— Smith.”
“Glad to know you, gents,” said Langman heartily. “The Esquimau beside the Noble Red Man yonder, is Burke, my guardian pro-tem. Make yourselves at home.”
Hartley, smiling his fishy smile, sighed relievedly. After all, Danton was no fool. He had too much at stake to attempt any double-crossing.
Williams, having throwm off his coat, sat hunched before the fire. His heavy face was purple-veined with cold and weariness. Neither he nor Hartley had evinced any surprise at seeing Wiski present. Perhaps they did not recognize in him their guide of the night before.
Langman placed a platter of meat on the table and poured boiling water on the tea. “Sit up, friends,” he invited. “Supper’s ready.”
Danton, returning from feeding the dogs, found the others eating.
Williams, heavy shoulders hunched, was ravenously devouring his food; Hartley, his pale face showing lines of weariness, was pre-oecupied with his own thoughts. The Indian and Burke were eating in stolid silence as was their wont. Langman alone seemed wide-awake and cheerful, as he stood beside the stove whistling as he fried flap-jacks.
“And to what remote ends of the frozen waste is the old trekker bound now?” he asked, as Danton took his place at the table.
“Fort Norman,” Danton answered. Langman stared. “Good lord, man!” he exclaimed, “you don’t mean it!” His eyes, serious now, dwelt on Williams’ face, sweeping from it to Hartley’s. Hartley was leaning back in his chair, his cigarette case in his hands. He selected a cigarette and handed the case to Langman. “Have a fag,” he invited, his eyes narrowing.
Langman frowned perplexedly. "Fag,” he repeated, “funny word, what? I’ve heard it before, I know. But then,” with a mirthless laugh, "I’ve heard lots of things I just can’t remember now.”
He lit a cigarette and passed the case back to Hartley.
“Danton has informed us about your unfortunate loss of memory, Mr. LangI man,” said the lawyer. “He tells us that ! your past is a blank to you.”
“It is,” Langman confessed. “There are times when I have a hazy recollection of ! past events, but it is all as vague as a dream.’’ “Your memory dates back—how far?” questioned Hartley.
“From the time I was operated on for shrapnel wound in the head in France.” '“And do you think you have ever been in this here country before?” asked Williams, utterly ignoring Hartley’s frown.
“Yes,” t.he other answered hesitatingly, “I’m sure I’ve been here before.”
“Humph!” Williams felt for a cigar. “And what makes you feel so sure?”
“Why, I don't know.” Langman’s face had clouded. “I can’t just explain it. I seemed to know where to come. That’s all.”
Hartley flicked the grey ash from his cigarette.
“I should very much like to help you, if it’s possible, Mr. Langman,” he said. “I mean,” he added, as the other looked at him queerly, “in the matter of getting you in touch with your relatives; for, of course, you must have relatives—a wife perhaps— who would welcome news of you?” Langman shook his head. “I don’t know,” he sighed. “I’m sure I don’t know.”
Hartley flashed Williams a look of triumph. “At least you know your name,” he returned, smiling encouragement.
“Yes, thanks to my identification tag, I know that.”
“If only you knew what your vocation had been previous to your loss of memory now, it would help, don’t you think?” “Undoubtedly. But you see I don’t know that. I was a prospector, perhaps, or a geologist, more likely. I find myself straying off to the rockiest corners of this strip of wilderness, spying out this and prying out that, tasting and smelling gummy earth and behaving in all like a crazy man.”
Hartley did not reply to this. Slowly his purple-veined eyelids were closing. The 230 miles he had already covered had taxed him greatly. Williams was already sound asleep in his chair.
Langman pointed to a low bunk on the left side of the cabin. “You and your friend better turn in there,” he advised. “Danton will be having you out before daylight to-morrow, and if indications speak truly, it’s going to be a straight into the wind hike, with the mercury below fifty.”
LANGMAN was right. When in the blue-white dawn the travellers took the river bed, the thin frost bored into them, burning the throat and congealing the breath. The dogs shivered and whined, as they tightened the traces.
As they rounded the first curve, a fourdog team attached to a tobaggan-sled shot from the wooded bank into the river and took up the lead.
“Who the devil’s that now?” Williams wanted to know.
Danton answered over his shoulder, “Wiski.”
“Humph, that damned Injin? And where’s he goin’, d’ye s’pose?” . “He’s going with us.”
Hartley, slightly in the lead, turned. “No,” he said crisply. “He’s not.” Danton brought the dogs to a halt. He had anticipated some such opposition as this, and was prepared to meet it.
“See here,” he said quietly. “You’ve paid me to guide you to Fort Norman, and I’m going to do my best. But unless I’m to be given a free hand in the matter, I quit right now.”
“But this Injin’s a friend of Langman’s,” protested Williams. “How do we know what the cunnin’ beggar’ll be up to?” “You’ll have to take that chance,” returned Danton. “We’ve got to have another team, and Wiski has the best dogs and is the only man beside myself who can make the grade.”
“But why another team?” asked Hartley. “We made good enough time, yesterday, didn’t we?”
Danton shrugged. “From now on we’ve
got to make at least forty miles a day,” he replied. “You men can’t do it, you’re not fit. You’ll have to ride most of the way.”
“But I’m tellin’ you,” cried Williams, with an oath, “I won’t pay another guide
“And I,” cried Hartley, “refuse to he coerced into accepting your absurd view of things, Danton. We’ve too much at stake to take any chance with that Indian. I’ll not have Langman’s spy in our party. What do you take me for, anyway,” he flared, “a child?”
Danton smiled grimly. “No, I take you for what you are. An average man who has over-estimated his powers.”
Hartley winced. Unwittingly Danton had cut him on the raw.
“/^ALL that man in, and send him back,” he demanded.
Danton turned to Williams.
“I back my partner’s say-so there,” growled the oil-man. “Send the lousy Injin runnin’.”
Danton removed his mitten, and placing his fingers in his mouth, whistled shrilly.
Almost instantly the team ahead curved, swung back and speeded toward them.
The Indian stepped from his toboggan. His face was passive, his eyes unreadable, as, folding his arms across his breast, he waited.
“Wiski,” Danton addressed him. “These men have changed their minds about going through. You will take them back to McMurray.”
Hartley stared, unable to believe his ears. Williams stood the picture of stupefied amazement.
“No you don’t,” he managed to stutter. “You’ve accepted my money, Mr. Man, and you’re goin’ to earn it, see?”
“I’m willing to do that,” Danton answered, “or I’m quite as willing to return it now and call the trip off. If we continue, though, it’s going to be in my way. It’s necessary for us to use this man and team. Give the word and we’ll go on. Otherwise, Wiski will guide you back to the railroad.”'
“Well, by thunder!” commenced Williams, but Hartley cut him short.
“Shut up,” he commanded. “Perhaps he is right, after all. He ought to know what’s best, I suppose,” he added grudgingly.
Danton turned to Hartley. “One of you will go with Wiski,” he said.
Hartley advanced to the Indian’s sled, grasped its tail-rope and they were away. Danton, with a crack of his whip, swung his team into line.
Noon found them thirty-eight miles from Fitzgerald. On the bank of the river, in a sheltered grove of poplars, they built a fire and made a hasty meal of bacon, bread and tea.
They had made good time. The snow which had fallen the day before had hardened into the consistency of Tee. The cold was intense, but the track good.
They sped on, and just as the quick darkness was falling, the lights of Fitzgerald swam up before them.
“How far have we come to-day?” Williams asked, as he rolled from the sled and strove to get the circulation back into his benumbed limbs.
“Fifty-five miles,” Danton informed him.
“And how far altogether?”
“You’re three hundred from McMurray, now.”
“And more than a thousand yet to go!” groaned the man, “0 Lord!”
DAY succeeded day, each a replica of the other, each a living nightmare for Hartley, and little less so for Williams; but while the latter cursed the bitter cold, the dreary, heart-breaking trail and the men who forced them forward and on so relentlessly, the former became more sullen and taciturn, speaking scarcely a word even to Williams.
Danton, too, was silent, paying no heed to the one’s revilings or the other’s moods of morbid depression. The Indian did his day’s work with stolid indifference alike to its hardships and the suspicious looks cast on him by Hartley.
But one night—they had been four weeks on the trail now and were within a day’s journey of Fort Simpson—on the Mackenzie River—as they camped beneath a sheltering bluff, Danton was aroused from his thoughts, as he sat before the fire, by a touch on his arm. It was Wiski. The Indian walked straight off into the shadows, and presently Danton followed.
“What is it?” he asked, when they were out of earshot of the others.
‘‘You watch,” grunted the Algonquin. “Big man with pig face tell other man no pay more.”
Danton deliberated. “When was this, Wiski?”
“Some day, two three march back. To-day some more. Him say, no pay more.”
“All right,” said Danton shortly. “We’ll see about that.”
“Ugh! Big man pack urn gun, so.” The Indian opened his mackinaw and touched its lining. “You watch.”
“I know about the gun,” said Danton. “It might be well for you to do a little watching on your own account, Wiski.” “Me watch, too, yes. Few days more me watch pretty good. Not yet. Soon. Two three days. Me fix urn gun.”
Danton nodded and went on up the grove. He collected some dry wood and carried it back to the fire.
Hartley was sitting before the blaze, an unlit cigarette between his lips. His face was scrubby with a month’s growth of beard. His lips blackened and cracked by wind and cold marked a thin line across a face which had become thinner and whiter with the wearing fatigue of his journey.
He motioned to Danton, and the latter went over and squatted beside him. Hartley had a map spread on his knee.
“Just about where are we now?” be asked.
_ “Some thirty-five miles this side of Fort Simpson,” Danton informed him. “We should be able to make the Fort tomorrow.”
“Then how much farther?” “It’s two hundred and eighty miles from Simpson to Fort Norman.” Hartley’s head drooped and he sat silent.
Williams, who was dressing a frosted toe before the fire, turned on him savagely.
“I wish I’d seen you in hell before I undertook this wild goose chase,” he flared. “I’ve had my fingers, toes and nose frost-bitten, and now I’m a sick man.” Hartley looked up at him slowly.
“It’s (a pity that tongue of yours wouldn’t freeze to the roof of your mouth,” he sneered. “I might then get some opportunity to do a little thinking. As it is, I have to listen to your whining tirade all day.”
“See here—” commenced Williams, but Hartley turned his back upon him.
“I want you to take a look at this map, Danton,” he said. “According to it, we’re due to swing to the right some ten miles this side of Norman.”
Danton examined the map in the firelight. It appeared to be well drawn and dearly delineated.
“I see,” he said, “this says we’re to go west from Little Turtle Creek for twenty miles. That should bring us well into the Bear Rock Hills.”
“Right,” replied Hartley. “You think we’ll have no trouble in locating that claim?”
“I think not. At least, I can lead you to the spot as indicated here.” Danton touched a square on the paper with his finger. “That’s the claim, I presume?” “That’s the claim,” nodded Hartley. “We should make it in a week, don’t you think?” he asked eagerly.
Danton considered. “Yes,” he answered. “We can make it in a week, I think, providing we leave the river at Little Turtle.”
“Well,” Hartley almost snarled, “isn’t that understood?”
“I thought you might wish to go through to Norman, and secure another copy of the new N.W.T. regulations. You say those you got hold of at Fort Providence have been destroyed?”
“Yes,” cried Hartley resentfully, “by Williams, and before I had a chance to read them. The fool burned them trying to kindle a fire. Do you think there’s anything in those new regulations which we should know, Danton?” he asked.
“Possibly,” the guide replied. “At any rate, I advise securing a new set.”
Hartley frowned. “I guess we’ll take a chance,” he said at length. “Something tells me you have your own reason for wanting to go to Fort Norman; and,” he added, “I’m damned sure that Indian has. There’s not going to be any doublecrossing, understand.”
Danton’s brown skin flushed. “All right,” he said shortly. “We’ll strike west from Little Turtle.”
“We’ll say Bear Rock Hills in one week then,” said Hartley. “Spring will be on us before we know it. We’ve got to push through faster than we’ve been going.”
However, Fate had decreed that they should not reach that much desired goal in one week, or in two, or in three.
Next morning found Williams unable to proceed on the journey. The man, Danton saw, was really ill. He lay groaning, writhed in torture, cursing his companions, his surroundings, and the salt pork and sour-dough bread to which he laid his overthrow.
Hartley fumed at the delay. “He’s only a big calf,” he told Danton, hotly. “We’ll strap him on a sled, and push on.”
Danton shook his head. While he believed in the application of heroic treatment to common maladies of the trail, such as snow-shoe sickness and frost-bite, he knew that Williams was shaping for a real illness.
Finally, he decided to take the sick man on to Simpson. At the Fort perhaps some remedy might be obtained to allay his sufferings.
TT TOOK them two days to make the
thirty-five miles. The going was difficult on account of heavy drifts; it -was fifty-five below, and at every jolt of the sled, the sick man groaned.
At Fort Simpson, Williams was put to bed in the M.P. Barracks, and given in charge of a “lunger”—ranger who held a doctor’s diploma.
There was nothing for Hartley to do but stoically accept fate’s decree, while he inwardly fumed and fretted at the enforced delay.
“This man,” the young doctor informed him, “won’t be able to go on for at least four weeks.”
So Hartley waited, watching the days lengthen, the snows sink and the blue river-ice take on the gray tinge of decay.
Six weeks after the time he had been put to bed, Williams, reduced in flesh and strength, but not in spirit, was supported to the door by Danton and Hartley and given a glimpse of a swiftly changing world.
One week later he lay on a sled, making the last long lap of a journey he would always remember.
Spring held the northern world in her clasp when at last they reached Little Turtle Creek, the point at which they were to turn westward.
On the south shore of the creek stood a dilapidated cabin of logs, apparently long discarded by its owner. They took possession of it. They would, Danton decided, sleep in the cabin and cook their meals outside.
It was mid-afternoon when they arrived. Williams, still far from being a well man, immediately took to the bunk upon which Danton had spread a blanket.
Hartley’s pale eyes followed him belligerently. Then he went out to where Danton and Wiski were building a fire and ordered the Indian away.
“Williams acts as though he were caving under again,” he said disgustedly.
Danton glanced up. “The doctor advised against his coming, as you know,” he returned.
“Well, what’s the sense of reminding me of that?” flared the lawyer. “The question is, what’s the thing to do. What do you advise?”
Danton’s eyes swept his surroundings. “I am sure that with a few days’ rest-up, Williams will be all right,” he answered. “I suggest that we remain here for a week. You, yourself, are pretty well frayed, and the dogs are about used up.”
“But Lorc^ man!” Hartley burst out, “a week will see prospectors pouring down here like flies after sugar. The Tecumseh Aero-Navigation Company will be shooting a lot of claim-seekers up any day now by airplane. Every minute lost at this time spells danger.”
Even as he spoke, a low humming grew up in the south.
Danton pointed to a white speck high in the air.
“There’s the first plane, now,” he said. “Damnation!” murmured the lawyer.
The big plane swept closer, holding, apparently, to the course of the river. It passed high over them, speeding northward.
They watched it until it was but a faint speck in the distance.
“Bound for Fort Norman,” said Danton.
Hartley grasper] his arm. "I have it!” he cried excitedly. ‘A ou will go on to Norman and engage transportation for Williams and myself, by plane, back to Athabaska. You can easily fix it with the chap who aviates that craft. Tel] him we’ll pay him anything he asks— but get us passage back, understand? He’ll not be returning for three or four days, likely. We’ll let Williams rest up while you’re gone. You’ll return here tomorrow, and next day we’ll push up into Bear Rock Valley and stake our claim. The plane can pick us up there.”
Danton considered. “Very well,” he agreed finally. “Wiski can cook for you while I’m gone. I’d better start at once. It’s a ten mile trek over a rough trail.”
THE hum of the swiftly speeding plane had been heard at Fort Norman. As the big machine circled high and dipped, volplaning gracefully to the level, greening valley of the Mackenzie like a white gull against the orange sunset, cheers greeted it. On either shore of the river men waved a welcome to the intrepid voyagers.
As the plane glided to rest on the wide table-land, two people alighted from it; one a tall young man in regulation aviatorgarb, the other a mere boy, apparently, dressed in a Sideotsuit.
Sergeant Mooney, of the R.C.M.P., was the first to greet them. With difficulty he piloted the new arrivals through the crowd and led them into a comfortable, airy room of the barracks.
“I suppose you gents are hungry,” he said. “I’ll just step out and interview the cook.”
He left the room and the boyish-looking one of the two fliers looked at the other in consternation.
“Billie,” a faint voice gasped, “he thinks I’m a man. What —what will he—”
Her voice trailed off into silence as the measured step of the sergeant was heard returning.
“Everything is all right—” he commenced, then paused, his eyes wide with wonder. The boyish flier had pulled off the clumsy aviation cap.. He was gazing into the face of a young woman, a lovely, pathetic, weary-looking face, pale beneath its halo of golden hair.
“Well, I’ll be—” He checked himself, and saluted. “Permit me, Sergeant,” the aviator spoke. “This is my sister, Mrs. Langman.”
The officer’s eyes were twinkling, and the stern mouth beneath its short moustache twitched, as he again saluted and held out his hand. “A brave woman,” he murmured, as he gave the little one she placed in it a sincere pressure. He turned questioningly to the man who had given the introduction.
“I am William Rodgers,” the aviator enlightened him. “Late Flight-Lieutenant with the Canadian Army.”
“Not Ace Billy Rodgers, surely?” the Sergeant exclaimed.
The other nodded. “I’m afraid I’ll have to plead guilty to that,” he said with an embarrassed laugh.
The Mountie wrung his hand. “Why, we’ve got an old bunkie of yours in our squad,” he cried. “We’ve heard all about you, Lieutenant Rodgers.”
He stood erect and his heels clicked together. “Of course, you’re aware, sir, of the new law restricting airplanes from attempting what you appear to have successfully accomplished?”
Rodgers nodded. “Quite, Sergeant. I think this will prove that we have broken that law in no particular.”
He unbuttoned his coat and produced from his pocket a paper bearing a red seal.
“A permit from the Dominion Government to establish petrol and supply stations between Forts McMurray and Norman,” he explained.
Sergeant Mooney examined the paper. “I see. You are one of the Tecumseh Aero-Navigation Company, then?”
“Yes, sir.” “Good. This permit lets you clear. Glad you’re to be our guests instead of our prisoners.”
Sergeant Mooney smiled again. “You, madam,” he said, turning to the girl, “will find it rather—well, rough going here, I fear.”
She flashed him a grateful smile. “Oh, I’ll get along splendidly,” she said. “We won’t be stopping but a day or two, and I’ve everything I require in the way of clothes in the car.”
“You see, Sergeant,” interposed Rodgers, “the ‘Aux’ is rather a sizeable craft. It was necessary that we carry a ten days’ supply of petrol—and we may have to carry hack a passenger,” he added, his eyes seeking his sister’s face.
Mooney nodded and turned away. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said, “I’ll step out and see if that meal’s ready.”
'“PHAT night, Sergeant Mooney and ^ Rodgers sat smoking in the little room which the officer called his own particular retreat. Rodgers had just finished explaining his sister's reason for undertaking the trip with him.
“You see, Sergeant,” he concluded, “it was all such a scurvy trick of Fate. I had never met Lieutenant Langman, and on the very night he and my sister were married, I was taken to the hospital in which my sister was doing duty. A Hun had managed to wing-tip me, and when I crashed—
“Well, anyway, Langman found her with her arms about my neck. You see, I was dead to the world. Didn’t know anything about anything until too late. And neither did she. Langman left a note for her. Two days later he was wounded. My sister is proud. She stayed away from him—and cried her heart out. Langman was operated on for shrapnel in the head. When at length I was able, I tried to find him. The doctors who had operated told me that the wound had destroyed his memory. At headquarters I learned that he had secured his honorable discharge— and had disappeared.
“Then the war ended—and we came home to Montreal. That’s all except that we’ve tried every way we know to find him. My sister believes he has come back to this country. As I’ve told you, he spent a good many years up here. He was a clever geologist, I understand. Well, anyway, she .would come. We’ve made inquiries at several points along the river, but without result. Nobody seems to know anything about Langman.”
Mooney sat thinking. His cigar had gone out. He arose and laid a hand on the aviator’s shoulder.
“We’ll do all we can to help,” he said. “You might tell her that. And now, if you’ll pardon me, I’ve work to do. Your sister will occupy my room; you and I will take the two bunks in the other apartment. You may have your choice; and better turn in, old man; you're dead tired.”
He went out, and Rodgers lit another cigar and smoked it dreamily, half asleep.
He stirred awake suddenly, and obeying some inner urge, leaped to his feet. The door behind him had opened noiselessly. Framed in the doorway was the tall, gaunt form of a man. His face was wan and frost-blistered.
But Rodgers, reading so much with fleeting glance, was arrested by the gleam in the man’s eyes. Those eyes, hard, unforgiving, were boring him, holding him.
It seemed hours that he was held spellbound beneath the compelling influence of that look.
Then, slowly, the man backed from the room, and closed the door behind him.
Rodgers came out from his stupor. Snatching up his cap, he leaped after the man who had so mysteriously come and gone.
XT EXT day Danton rejoined his party ^ at the make-shift cabin on the bank of Little Turtle.
He found Williams greatly recovered, Hartley nervous and irritable.
The lawyer’s first words to him were, “Did you arrange for our passage back?”
“Yes,” Danton answered. “It’s all arranged.”
“Where’s Wiski?” he asked, glancing about him.
Williams turned upon him with an oath. “Where’s Wiski?” he mimicked. “We don’t know and we don’t care either. We sent that damned spy packin’.”
“You mean,” asked Danton, “that you sent him away?”
“Now, see here, Danton,” broke out Hartley. “We’ve stood for that Indian right up until to-day. And we’ve stood for your high-handed piffle about having him along, too. What we want you to understand now is this. We prefer to handle our own little show from this time forward.”
“You mean, then,” said Danton, quietly, “that you wish to go on to the claim without me; is that it?”
“No,” burst out Williams. “You know damned well that isn't it. You guide us up there, see?” “And supposing I refuse?”
“You won’t,” chuckled Williams. “If you do, we’ll try the same argument on you we tried on Wiski, to wit, this here.” He drew a wicked-looking automatic from his pocket and held it up to view.
Danton’s jaw squared. “Oh, that’s your play, is it?” he said levelly. “Well, seeing you have all the argument on your side, I’m willing to go through.”
Hartley’s pale eyes were watching him. He was thinking that Danton wasn’t nearly the man he had at first thought him. His thin lips drooped in a cynical smile.
“In two days,” he sneered, “we’ll be through with you, my man, and I, for one, won’t be sorry.”
Danton made no reply. He turned to the fire and began preparing his supper.
The following night found them well up in the hills. They made camp, and early next morning continued on their way. A little before noon, Danton guided them into a long, wide valley, already taking on a tinge of green.
“This is the spot,” he informed Hartley. Hartley was scanning the map, and now he grunted approval.
“This is the spot all right,” he said. “Now then, let’s get busy measuring and staking. Hope that air-plane comes today. The quicker we get out of this place, the better I’ll be pleased.”
Danton folded his arms. “My wrork is done,” he said quietly. “You and Williams will have to do your own staking; but before you begin, I’d like a settlement.”
Hartley stared. Williams blustered forward.
“See here,” he growled. “You’ve got all the money from me you’re goin’ to get. I’m tellin’you that now.”
“The agreement,” Danton reminded him, “was that you were to pay me another two thousand dollars upon my guiding you to this place.”
“I don’t remember promisin’ anythin’ of the kind,” bluffed the oil-man.
“Did you hear me say anythin’ about payin’ this man more than I gave him that night we hired him?” he asked, turning to Hartley.
“No,” said Hartley. “The fellow’s dreaming. He’s been well paid as it is.”
;( Danton shrugged. “All right,” he said. “We’ll let that pass. There’s something I’d like to know though. You intend, I understand, to re-stake the claim formerly located by David Langman?”
“You’re whistlin’ there, son,” grinned Williams. “We intend to do just that; and we intend to record it just as soon as we can get down to Edmonton.”
“Is that right, Hartley?”
“Of course it’s right,” flashed Hartley. “Do you think we came up here for our health?”
“And what provision, may I ask, do you intend to make for Langman?”
“None whatever,” answered Hartley unhesitatingly. “In simple American slang, we’ve got Langman where the hair’s short.”
_ “Then the promise you made me, that night in my cabin, to look after Langman, was a deliberate lie framed to enlist my aid in your undertaking? ’ ’
Williams swaggered forward. “Oh, cut it out, Danton,” he growled. “You needn’t pretend to be so damned honest. Why didn’t you warn your friend Langman? You had a chance to, didn’t you?”
Hartley laughed. “Danton would have had to sacrifice two thousand dollars, by doing that,” he sneered.
“Four thousand,” Danton corrected him, “for, of course, I expect you men to hold to our bargain.”
“Listen,” said Williams. “Maybe you think you’ve been guidin’ just two plain, average people, Danton. If so, it goes to prove that you’re a darned poor judge of humans. Hartley there is no average gent, and neither am I. I reckon I’m worth nigh four millions, most of which I’ve earned by lettin’ people think I’m not just what I really am, see? Same with Hartley there. He’s just an ordinary lookin’ cuss, but, oh boy! when it comes to cleanin’ up the griddle, watch him scramble.
“Now, we’ve got you, Danton, and you might as well own we have. If you’re a good sport and get busy stakin’ out this claim for us, maybe we’ll give you another hundred dollars or so.
“You can go on to Norman, or beat it
back where you started from. Just as you like. That’s your own funeral. Me and my friend’s goin’ back pullman-aero, ninety miles an hour. We’ve got the money to travel how we please, and it’s not goin’ to be over no God-forsaken trail neither. You can bank on that.”
Danton stood looking away. “All right,” he finally agreed. “I’ll get tape and stakes and measure off the claim. One of you will have to help me, though.”
Williams grinned. “Now you’re talkin’, Danton. For a plain, simple, darn fool you’re showin’ uncommon good sense.”
By three o’clock the claim was duly staked. Danton, as he prepared their dinner over a fire of dried balsam boughs, was silent.
Hartley was almost cheerful. He hummed a tune, as with a pencil he made certain notations on the margins of his map. Williams had grown bullying and abusive. He cursed Danton for scorching the bacon, and insultingly ordered him to do this and that.
Apparently, he thought he had the guide square under his heel, but he was to learn different.
Following one of his more vitriolic explosions, Danton suddenly turned on him and, with an open-handed slap, sent him reeling.
Williams righted himself, and his hand ducked to his mackinaw pocket. Hartley sprang upon him.
“None of that, now!” he ordered. “'Give me that pistol.”
Williams shook him off.
Danton watching, muscles tense, spoke. “Let him have the pistol, Hartley, if he wants it. It’s not loaded.”
Williams, with a muttered curse, drew out the clip from the breech.
“That damned Wiski’s work,” he blurted.
He dropped the pistol and began fumbling frantically in his inner pocket. “And that Injin’s got my wad, too,” he groaned.
“No,” said Danton, “I’ve got it, Williams.”
From a pocket he produced a thick leather wallet, and tossed it across to the owner.
“You’ll find it all there, I think, less the two thousand you promised me.”
Hartley, a snarl drawn back from his teeth, shook his fist in Danton’s face.
“No,” said Danton, “I didn’t steal the wallet. I picked it up this morning beside the bunk in the Little Turtle cabin. You believe that, of course?”
One sinewy hand reached out and gripped the lawyer’s shoulder.
“You’d better answer my question, Hartley.”
“Oh, all right. I suppose you did— find it.”
Hartley gulped and turned frightened eyes on Williams.
But whatever that highly incensed gentleman was about to say was interrupted by a humming sound which grew faintly up from the northward.
THE tkree men raised their eyes, searching the sky.
“There she is,” cried Williams. “There’s our little home-carrier, Hartley. We’ve done our work, and now we’ll soon be on the way back to God’s country.”
Far up and far away, the aeroplane flashed into view, swiftly speeding toward the valley.
Hartley sighed his relief. He turned to Danton.
“We’ll soon be away from here,” he said, “and before we go, I want to tell you something. At the first Mounted Police Station we touch, I intend today information against you for theft. I’m going to get you, and get you right.”
“And I’ll spend a million, if necessary, to put you away,” Williams snarled. “You’re not dealing with any average—” Danton cut him short.
“Listen, you two,” he said crisply. “It’s pretty nearly time we understood each other. Neither of you are going back in that aeroplane. I’m going in it. Wiski will be here in an hour, two at most. He will take you back to Athabaska or on to Fort Norman. You needn’t worry about paying him. I’ve already done that.”
Stark amazement held his hearers speechless.
Above, the big airship curved and took the valley in a beautiful slope. _
Danton ran forward. Williams and Hartley, still numb with wonder and alarm, followed.
They reached the plane just in time to see Danton reach for the form of one of its occupants, and fold it in his arms.
Hartley, staring, caught his breath. Over Danton’s shoulder a flushed, laughing face was revealed to him, the face of the woman who had called at his office, the woman who claimed to be Langman’s wife. As he stood spellbound, she saw him and her eyes opened wide.
“David,” she gasped, “it’s—why it’s your cousin, Hartley, from Millbury.”
Danton nodded, “1 know,’ he said. “We’ve been getting acquainted for quite some time, sweetheart.”
He kissed her again and relinquished her. He stepped back and confronted Hartley and Williams.
“So you’re Langman?” Hartley managed to gasp.
“Yes, I’m Langman; and that woman in the airplane is my wife."
He paused, smiling as he noted the droop in Williams’ beefy shoulders and the sheer terror in his cousin’s eyes.
“Just one thing before I go,” he said. “You needn’t bother trying to record this claim; it’s already done. If you hadn’t destroyed your new N.W.T. regulations, you would have learned that a claim may
be recorded at any R.C.M.P. headquarters. You’ll remember I said I was in pressing need of money? You know what I needed it for now. I recorded my claim yesterday. Perhaps you’re wondering who the man is who played the part of Langman. I’ll tell you. He’s a good friend of mine, and a good actor. I might say I gave him the cue through Wiski, whom I sent on ahead of us to Burke’s cabin.”
He bowed, and running to the car, leaped in beside his wife.
The powerful engine roared, the plane swept forward, taking the air on a gradual sweep, then up, up, and turning south, sped on the long homeward track.
Williams and Hartley watched it, fascinated.
Then Williams, breathing heavily, turned on the lawyer.
“Do you know what I think you are?” he panted. “Do you?”
Hartley made no reply. He was not interested in what Williams might think he was. He was facing the realization that at last he himself knew beyond all possible doubt what he was. He was just average.