Tell-tale columns of smoke rising from the forest, the downward swoop of a birdman and Robert Dye is at grips with flame, rascally intrigue, and suspicion against an untamed nymph of the woods.
ILLUSTRATED BY H. WESTON TAYLOR
A TWO-PART SERIAL: PART ONE
THE telephone tinkled at Simmins’ elbow. “Show ’em in,” he mumbled into the mouthpiece. Slowly, he put up the receiver, staring into space, his brow furrowed. The throb and clang of distant machinery, the dull, tramping roar of hurrying waters, grew louder as the office door opened, admitting two men. Simmins rose and stuck out a thick, pudgy hand.
“How do, Hartley?” he greeted warmly. The taller of the newcomers — thin - lipped, long -
jawed and gray-suited —touched the lumberman’s fingers, jerking his chin toward his companion.
“Colonel Bye, Mr. Simmins. He’s just returned from your territory. He’s flown over all the burns, sizing up the damage for us.”
“Glad to meet you, Colonel. Take a seat. Have a cigar.”
The flying man accepted the first but refused the second. His calling might have been recognized at a glance. He belonged to that new but distinctive breed called bird-man: medium height, compact, slightly stoopshouldered, with keen gray eyes and prominent nose.
“Colonel Bye has been|; doing all our fire inspecting for us,” said Hartley, after the smoker’s rites had been dis-
posed of. “Us” referred to the North Woods Fire Insurance Company of which Hartley was the Ontario manager.
“So I understand,' ’ replied Simmins. “How does his estimate tally with ours?”
“Much the same.
About three thousand acres of virgin spruce and hemlock and ten thousand of secondgrowth hardwoods. But it is not so much the extent of the fires that has struck the Colonel as their number and location. Nineteen fires within a radius of two hundred square miles, most of them along navigable streams in the southern sections of your limits. Something queer there. What is your theory?”
Simmins’ eyes hardened. “I could make a pretty shrewd guess,” he answered slowly.
“The only folk up in those parts this time of year are prospectors.
The gold finds about Kirkland and Quinze have sent a lot of adventurers through that country. They’re a pretty tough lot as a rule—don’t care a fig for property rights.”
“We’ve come to the
same idea. The fires are obviously incendiary. Have you taken any special precautions against them?” Hartley’s voice was cold and matter of fact.
“Well, I’ve given Tom Murphy, my own fire ranger, a hauling over the coals more than once for not keeping right on those fellows’ tracks. He’s warned ’em a dozen times to see that their camp fires are put out and not to try burning to get at the rock. Tom’s a smart man, knows the country like a book, and if anyone could keep down the fires he could. But what can a canoeman do in that bush? If he was up above the trees now, like you flying men, maybe he could do more.”
The old lumber king talked with his eyes on the floor and his cigar between his thumb and forefinger.
“Fine work!” cried
“That is what we propose doing, Mr. Simmins,” said Hartley. “Colonel Bye will establish a base on Kakabonga and patrol your timber limits till we put an end to this fire menace or the rains commence.”
Simmins. “That ought to turn the trick. I’ve thought seriously of appealing to the government for an air patrol more than once, but it would cost a lot of money. However, I’m willing to pay my share of the costs, Hartley. Anything would be better than letting my
best timber go up in smoke, even if it is insured.”
“No, we’re doing this to save our own losses. It should prove effective,” added the manager, a shade grimly. “What about those plans now?”
Simmins produced blue prints and survey maps. These Bye studied minutely. His line of campaign was fully discussed, the lumberman offering much practical advice and insisting on placing his supply depot and all its resources entirely at the insurance company’s service. Then he turned his back for a moment, to scribble a couple of notes, which he asked Colonel Bye to deliver at the depot.
“That’ll make things right,” he explained. Doc. Heney’s the best cook in the camps. You and Tom should
strike it off famously.” The visitors rose to go but Simmins sprang to his feet in protest “You mustn’t leave without meeting my daughter, gentlemen. And I’ve something else you’ll want to become acquainted with ’cross the way. This isn’t Ontar'0. You’re this side the bridge,tyou know. Come on.”
He stuck his gray felt on his bald head and bustled out. Hartley shrugged his shoulder fretfully, but followed. Bye went quietly, as he went to any unpleasant duty. With the thunder of the Ottawa still in their ears, the acrid stench of bi-sulphite of calcium in their nostrils, they left the offices of the John J. Simmins Lumber and Paper Company, Hull, P.Q., crossed a square splotched with geranium beds and entered the grounds of Simmins Manor.
Bye was hoping that he would be able to slip away after a few minutes of polite chatter but he had reckoned without his host. Simmins was as expansive in his welcome as his house — place, he called it — was expensive.
Lydia—the daughter—proved to be a dark-haired beauty in whom Hartley immediately discovered an attraction. She was cordial to both visitors—too cordial, thought Bye glumly, as he wriggled verbally in response to:
“I’d simply love to hear some of your wartime experiences, Colonel Bye. Please.”
For half an hour the airman floundered in an effort to be both polite and noncommittal, conscious of the fact that, for reasons not apparent to him, Lydia Simmins was bent on making a conquest. Then Hartley came to his rescue and the conversation became general. As the visitors made their escape some minutes later, Bye found himself thinking with irritation of a “please” drawled between pouting, red lips.
THE two boarded a street car, which crossed the Chaudière bridge and deposited them before the Chateau Laurier. Here they parted company and the officer went to his room to complete his preparations and pack his grip for Montreal.
Wing-Commander Robert Bye, D.F.C., was not only silent but moody. The outbreak of war had found him assistant chief of a survey party projecting the sixth meridian southwest of Great Slave Lake. The news had been brought in by a breed packer. Bye led half the party two hundred miles to railhead, qualified at Kingston for a commission in the Canadian Field Artillery and crossed with the C.E.F. in 1915. When men were required for the flying corps he voluntered immediately. From the beginning he displayed a peculiar fitness for this branch of the service. He was one of the first Canadians to win the D.F.C. and be designated an ace. More important to him personally, was the discovery that he had found himself, and, while outwardly at war, he was inwardly at peace with the world. Winnowing high in the blue above the miniature fields and forests of France, gliding under the stars over silent, alien territory, even descending like a comet through a blinding storm of “green balls” and “archies”, he was conscious of a lightness of heart, a sense of freedom that was as strange to him as it was satisfying.
The armistice temporarily brought an end to his usefulness. But the Canadian Government soon organized an Air Board and he was engaged first for forest reconnaissance, and then by the fire insurance company for estimating fire damage. Now he was back in his beloved wilderness, free to soar at his own sweet will, brother to eagles, a companion of wind and rain and sun, of silence and harmony, content.
'T'WO days after the interview with Simmins, Bye flew from Montreal to railhead on the Gatineau in just under two hours. He brought his hydroplane to rest on a calm stretch of the river below the town, picked up his two mechanics and three hundred pounds of baggage, and struck northwest for Lake Kakabonga. Five minutes after sighting the lake he dropped into a well protected bay before Simmins’ depot.
As they taxied into shore an old man came limping from one of the cabins. Wisps of gray hair protruded through holes in his “cow’s breakfast,” his homespun trousers were supported by braces and three buttons, his feet were laced into incredibly large and shapeless shoe packs. He stared at the flying boat and the Strangers without emotion.
“Wall, stranger,” he chuckled. “What’s that?” “Good-day, Heney,” shouted Bye, realizing that the fellow was deaf. He landed and handed him his letter. Heney fumbled and fussed but finally got it open and read.
“Good to see yer, Mister. Ain’t seen a white face, ’ceptin’ Tom’s, for nigh two months. What’s that? Come along o’ me.”
While the mechanics saw to the mooring of the flying boat Bye followed the watchman up a steep slope toward the centre of a wide clearing containing half a dozen log buildings. The smallest of these, evidently used in winter as office and sleeping quarters for the boss and bookkeeper and boasting not only a sheet-iron stove but also an upper floor, was put at Bye’s disposal. It had been recently whitewashed and, though primitive, was comparatively clean and neat. Heney kept close at his heels on his tour of inspection, volunteering information to the accompaniment of a string of chuckles.
Bye finally shook free of the old watchman; saw that the spare parts and tools were bestowed in the back room, and embarked for a return trip to Maniwaki and the rest of the outfit. It was a still summer day, the visibility poor, a hint of woodsmoke misting the horizon and giving a pleasant tang to the air. The boat rose with a sharp, staccato roar until it was two thousand feet up and then swung east on steady wings at eighty miles an hour. Gazing down from his snug cockpit, Bye could see the wilderness spread out below him like some dark green fabric that had become hopelessly rent and threadbare. The tips of the close-packed conifers seemed a deep soft nap; lakes and streams were jagged tears, barrens and rock ridges were spots worn smooth, while hills and valleys appeared like folds and creases.
Half an hour at the little French-Canadian town of Maniwaki sufficed to load his cockpit with the equipment that had been left behind on the first trip. Returning, the airman steered to the south-west in a wide arc so as to cover new territory. It was five o’clock, about the best time of day for fire sighting, when smoke rises straight and high into the cloudless blue. He drew out his plan of the timber limit, seeking landmarks, such as the bigger lakes, higher hills, muskegs. Wide blackened swathes advertised recent conflagrations; lighter depressions indicated districts where the scars had become healed over with the new skin of fireweed and raspberry. Not until he had patrolled half the line of the arc did he discover any signs of life in the fabric below him. Then, in the valley of the Coulonge, he spied a wisp of smoke standing up like a thin, blue feather. He swooped toward it and passed over, not five hundred feet above the tree tops. He could see a camp-fire on the beach with two men lounging beside it. He saw one leap to his feet—then the woods intervened. A few minutes later, as he turned more westward above a small tributary, his eye caught a flash of light from a dipping paddle and he made out a solitary canoeist heading up stream. Twenty minutes later he had crossed the wide reaches of Lac aux Loups, then Kakabonga, and was searching for Simmins’ Depot on Bark Bay.
13 Y THE time he had seen to the landing of his freight, -O taken a long quiet swim in the bay and made out his log of the day’s activities Doc Heney appeared in the open door with a drawling, “Grub’s on the table, Colonel, if yer minded to come.”
The three men ate their supper from one end of a long plank table in the cook camp, the old man pouring the tea and piling their tin plates with cold pork and fried potatoes.
It was Doc Heney who finally broke the industrious silence of the meal. “Did yer light on any fires this afternoon, Colonel? No. Well I’m dern glad to hear it. They’ve been simply fierce this season, springin’ up here, there and everywhere without rhyme nor reason. Me and Tom can’t understand it. Tom’s had to be on at all times, day and night, Sundays same as week days. Hain’t seen’urn at all last three days.”
“I saw a couple camping on the upper Coulonge. Prospectors likely.”
“A couple did yer say? Wall, now, an’ did one have a
red shirt, eh?”
“I believe he did.”
Heney chuckled long and contentedly over this bit of news. “That’s them, Colonel; that’s the party. Queer now you should a struck on ’em the same hour yer come up here, so to speak. What’s that? Prospectors is right. They’ve been hangin’ round these parts for the last five years now an’ I ain’t heard tell of a speck of gold they’ve found big enough .to put in yer tooth. Yer want ter ask Tom Murphy ’bout ’em. Ask ’im about Bill Blazes. He meets old Bill and the boy regular every so often, just like a pair of deuces in a poker game.”
BYE slept deeply and conscientiously in his little upstairs room under the sloping rafters. He awoke with the sunlight splotching his face through a grimy network of cobwebs and desiccated flies. He rolled lazily on his back and discovered that he had a visitor. A huge man in a black cotton shirt and battered felt hat stood at the foot of the bed staring down upon him. The fact that the inspection had now become mutual did not seem to embarrass the man at all. He stared from pale blue eyes set in a wide, puffy-cheeked face, ambushed behind a sprawling, colorless mustache and a five days’ growth of chin stubble. His hands, resting on the footboard, were thick, hairy, and stained black with balsam. “Well, what is it?” demanded Bye rather sharply. “Doc tells me you’ve got a letter for me from the boss,” drawled the stranger.
“Then you’re Tom Murphy?”
“That’s what they calls me, Colonel. I trust I ain’t intrudin’ on your privacy?”
“I’ll be right down.”
Murphy took the hint and descended. The stairs cracked and groaned under his weight so that Bye wondered how he had succeeded in making the ascent without awaking him. The sweet content that he had brought from the land of dreams had become suddenly tainted with aversion. As he dressed, the wide, woodchuck features of the fire ranger kept confronting him as though stamped on the sensitive plate of his sleep-washed mind.
He slipped on his clothes, went down to the office, unlocked his valise and presented Murphy with the letter. Murphy took it rather eagerly, almost forgetting his grunt of acknowledgment as he hurried out. Bye saw him stop at a snake fence a hundred yards away, rip open the letter and study it closely. Then he disappeared in the direction of the cook house.
There were four at the breakfast table. Heney introduced the ranger to Steve Masters and Fred Letts, the mechanics, and the giant shook hands with each with great affability.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes, boys,” he declared. “I’ve been hoping the boss would send a flying machine up here ’fore the woods was cleaned out complete. If you ask me I’d say there weren’t no other way to put down the fires, unless you want to put a fence round the whole north woods and keep people out.”
“Mr. Simmins tells me you blame the prospectors for most of the trouble,” said Bye.
“I sure do, Colonel. There’s been a slew of ’em in this district and they don’t have no more respect for law and property than Mexican bandits. I’ve called ’em down for fair and threatened to arrest ’em and take ’em out if I ever caught ’em red-handed.”
“Well?” urged Bye.
“It helped considerable with most. But there’s one couple you can’t do nothing with. They’ve started more fires than all the rest put together.”
“Have you proof?”
“You betcha! I’ve followed’em for a whole day at a time, unbeknown, and found their fires burning away in the moss and leaves where you’d think nobody but a lunatic would have built ’em.”
“What did they say when you accused them?”
“The old man flew clean off the handle and swore he’d blow my head off if I didn’t keep away. It was as much as my life was worth to argy with him.”
“Where are they now?”
“Around the right branch of the Coulonge. They’ve got their cache hidden over there somewhere.”
“Do you know of any other parties in that section timber cruisers, fishermen, fire rangers?”
“Can’t say I do, though there might be and me none the wiser.”
Bye realized that Murphy’s washed-out eyes were watching him narrowly.
There was silence for some moments.
“Yer ain’t an officer of the law by any chance?” finally asked the ranger.
“Yes, I’ve been sworn in as a special. I’ve power to make arrests. Pass the marmalade, Fred."
Murphy rose, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and leaned over the table, his six feet seven towering above the others.
“Yer can count on me, Colonel. I can lead yer straight to the party now if you say the word.”
“I must collect my own evidence, thanks, Murphy, 'returned the airman. Murphy scowled and lumbered from the shack.
THE mechanics found a leaking water joint, but by eleven in the morning the flying boat was pronounced all correct and Bye took off. He steered a twenty-minute course due north, then began to draw a wide circle with Bark Bay as the centre. The atmosphere was clearer than the day before and nearly two hundred square miles of country were under supervision at once. As he moved westward he picked up a smutch of coal smoke from the engine at Maniwaki and finally the tangled and twisted threads of the Gatineau unravelling southward toward Hull.
Thought of Hull reminded him of Lydia Simmins. As far as one could judge by a first meeting she had seemed to possess everything desirable in a modern young lady. Hartley had found her flawless,and beyond a doubt was in her company this very minute, or wishing he was. And yet she lacked something. Suddenly, it struck him where the trouble lay— within himself. Being a surly beggar with more than the average number of imperfections he naturally failed to appreciate perfection.
His pilot’s eye caught a low clinging patch of gray on the horizon apd he headed straight for it. It seemed too scattered for a camp fire, and, as he drew swiftly near, he realized that at least two acres of young spruce were ablaze. Dropping down to a thousand feet he wheeled slowly around the spot, studying the topographical features and searching for possible fire-stops. The right branch of the Coulonge was less than half a mile distant and the almost imperceptible breeze was heading the flames in that direction. On the north flank, however, a neck of woods might lead the fire into a splendid stand of pine, and only the prompt use of axes could remove the danger.
In less than three minutes Bye had a clear grasp of the situation and was striking back in a bee line for the depot. Inside the hour he had come to rest in Bark Bay, had taken his two mechanics and the fire equipment on board and was rising from the water again.
Forty-five minutes later he settled upon a broad stretch
of the Coulonge. The three men, armed with azes and mattocks, waded ashore, pushed through the pines to the strategic spot and fell to felling a swathe from water to barren across the path of the fire.
It was a hot day. In the depths of the forest it was doubly hot and the sweat rolled into their eyes and pasted their shirts to their backs. The smoke stung their eyes and hampered their breathing. Although the fire was some distance away a sudden wind could have flung it upon them in short order. They toiled with alacrity until they had succeeded in opening up a narrow lane between the big timber and the dense underbrush of the swamp. Then a hundred yards of hose was connected up with the pond and the pump manned until the lane was thoroughly drenched with water. By sunset the fire had eaten its way to the barricade, there to give up the advance, baffled for want of fresh fuel.
LEAVING Steve and Fred to re-ship the tools and J watch for flying brands, Bye headed down stream. He knew he was not far from the spot where he had seen the campers the day before. If they had not started the fire who had? All forest lires are caused by lightning, friction, or man—with man hopelessly in the lead. As there had been neither wind nor storm for some days it was plain that man was again the culprit. If prospectors were wantonly setting fire to the woods to expose the rock it was time they were stopped. They must be gold-crazed to risk conviction and prosecution, even their lives, by such drastic methods.
As he made his way along a fairly smooth gravel beach, left by the shrunken stream, kingfishers, like blue rockets, flashed past him, screaming raucously. Rainbirds answered one another plaintively from the deepening thickets. Then a sharp, metallic barking hit his ear— axe-strokes. Rounding the next bend, he came upon a little lean-to. Near the water was a small birchbark canoe, farther back a fire, and beside the fire squatted a slim lad, busy preparing the evening meal.
Either the dry birch sticks were cracking in the heat, or the cook was completely engrossed with the contents of the pan, for his ears failed to register the approaching
crunch of boots until the visitor was close upon him. Then he sprang up with a startled “oh!” spilling a fish into the coals, and the two gazed at each other with mutual interest.
The camper saw a very different sight from the usual bushman, game warden or fire ranger. Here was a smooth faced, handsome youth of thirty, bare-headed, bare-armed, alert, dressed in khaki shirt, cord breeches and lumberman’s socks and rubbers. His eyes were gray and penetrating and yet had a fleck of dare-devil light that tended to belie their resoluteness.
As for Bye, the instant discovery of the other’s sex left him floundering for a moment. The camper was a girl, scantily clad in faded blue overalls, cut off half way up her thigh. A scanty woodsman’s shirt fell so far below the shoulders as to half reveal her small breasts. Her smooth brown arms and shoulders were entirely bare. Her dark hair was cut level with the lobe of her ear, but because of its abundance and crinkle fluffed out like a Tam o’ Shanter. She had full lips, olive-green eyes and a skin as swarthy as an Indian’s. She was the first girl Bye had ever seen whose personality harmonized, instead of contrasted, with her woods’ background.
“Sorry,” remarked the officer politely, “I was looking for another party—two men—prospectors.”
“Daddy and I are alone on this stream. What do you want?” She showed not a trace of timidity, looking him straight in the eyes.
“I prefer to speak to your father. Will you call him , please?”
Her lips puckered suspiciously. “Are you a fire ranger?”
“Temporarily. I’m an aviator—air patrol.”
“Who sent you here?”
“I came entirely on my own,” declared Bye, suppressing a smile. “A fire started in the bush a couple of miles above here and I have just finished putting it out. Do you know anything about it?”
“You think we started it?” sharply.
“Did you?” countered Bye.
“Did you?” countered Bye.
“Carelessness, indifference, perhaps.” “Fool!” She did not raise her voice as she said it. She closed her hands, pressed them together and blew a long shrill whistle between her thumbs. Then she stooped to her cooking as though her interest in him was gone.
He looked about the camp, and his eye saw none of the gipsy carelessness he might have expected. A dishrag hung on a bush. A few tins and bits of cutlery were spread on a log behind the fire-place. Under the weather-stained lean-to, the ground was strewn with hemlock tips and the blankets were folded in two neat piles.
A man emerged from the cedars and alders and hurried toward him. He wore a red shirt. As he drew closer he slacked his pace, turned aside to sink his axe in a convenient stump and remove his hat. He was a middle-aged man, with abundance of gray hair, close-cropped, gray mustache and beard.
“Good-evening, stranger,” he said gently.
“Good-evening. I’m Colonel Bye of the North Woods Fire Insurance Company, on fire patrol work. I’m up here to trace the cause of the recent fires. Do you know anything about them?”
“Murphy put you on to our trail?” asked the prospector warily.
“That doesn’t answer my question. Have you any idea how the fires start?” “No, sir, I haven’t.”
“Murphy says you’re the only people in this section.”
“Tell Murphy to go to the devil. If he—”
“Just a moment. He’s a fire ranger, paid to guard these woods and warn campers. Fires have been causing our company heavy losses. A blaze started up only this morning a little north of here. I’d take precious good care that I didn’t drop matches or burning tobacco about, or build my fires anywhere but on the beach after this. If another fire occurs you’ll be given a chance to explain to the authorities outside.”
As the officer swung on his heel, in haste to get an unpleasant interview over with, a veritable fury leaped in front of him, barring his way. Her face was pale beneath the tan. Her eyes were wide and gold-green like sun-drenched spruce.
“You brute! How dare you threaten my father! He loves the trees, the birds —everything. Do you think he’d burn them up! He’s a—a gentleman. Are you such a fool you can’t see it?”
Her fierce, animated face was thrust close to his. He thought for an instant
she meant to strike him. And yet her courage and wrath fascinated him strangely. He probed long and searchingly into those glinting depths, until their subconscious selves seemed to meet, to challenge each other. The color flooded back to her face, her eyes softened, wavered; she stepped aside with a shrug of her bare shoulders.
Bye felt decidedly uncomfortable. He hesitated for the right word, then strode quickly off up the shore, feeling perilously near to being the unpleasant thing she had dubbed him. It took most of a mile of striding and self-explaining to convince himself that he had not been over zealous in the performance of his duty, nor even as strict as he had meant to be.
“What luck?” asked Steve as he waded out to the machine.
“Oh, I found the party and spoke to them.”
“I bet you did, sir. Wish I had been there. Shall I cast off?”
“Sure the fire is dead out?”
“Dead as a doornail. Everything’s aboard.”
“All right. Fred, unhitch the line from the birch, then turn over the engine.”
Presently the propellor began to drone, the machine to gather headway, drawing a wake down stream. Then the black walls of forest sank away leaving them suspended in a gigantic dome whose western segment was streaked and tossed with multi-colored fire. The east was steel gray; the wilderness beneath them blurred into black fur, scratched and spotted with blood. The faces of the two mechanics glowed red in the conflagration of the sinking sun.
WHEN the flying boat dropped into the shadows of Bark Bay the big fire ranger came sauntering down to the shore to meet them.
“Doc tells me yer struck a fire back on the Coulonge, Colonel. Anything serious?” “No, but it might have been,” replied Bye without stopping.
The ranger swung into step beside him. “What did yer think of it, eh?”
“I think it damn queer.”
“Did yer see anything of the party I was telling yer about, by any chance?”
“I did. I made a point of it.”
“You’re a real smart one, Colonel. Did they fess up?”
“Naturally not. They’re not to blame.” “What—what’s that?” stammered the ranger. “Not to blame? Then who in hell is, I want to know?” Bye felt that the man was suppressing his anger with an effort.
“That’s what I’m here to find out. If you’re going round to the cook house ask I Heney if he’s got some supper for us. We’re starving.”
Thus Bye dismissed the ranger at the door of his cabin and went in to strip for a swim. The more he saw of the man the less he liked him. It would be a satisfaction to prove him wrong. There was something decidedly likeable about Old Bill. The girl had called him a gentleman and she was likely not far wrong.
And the girl herself—it was really the girl that he wanted to be alone to think about. As he dove off a rock into the deep, cold waters of the lake and furrowed past the out-spread wings of the flying boat he was going over the incidents of the meeting, studying her slim, straight form, her tousled hair, gazing deeply into those dark, shadowy green eyes. As he swam, the stars danced about him in the agitated water and a loon far out in the lake hooted eerily.
MURPHY left the depot at dawn the next morning, saying he was patrolling the northern section as far as Lake Eskwahani and would not be back for five or six days. Bye was glad to see him go.
THE fifth day after the fire ranger’s departure occupied a whole leaf of the pilot’s notebook. Bye had his flying cap on and was about to order the engine warmed up, when he heard the drone of a distant motor and saw a big E3 coming out of the south. As the flying boat flattened out and came bouncing and skating down the fairway to its rest beside his own machine he was rather disgusted to find that it was freighted with passengers. There was the short, pudgy figure of John J. Simmins, swathed in a leather coat miles too big for him; the tall lean form of Rupert Hartley in his motor clothes, and Lydia Simmins, immaculate in the latest thing in Parisian flying costumes, with gloves and goggles complete. The cherub face of McCoy, the pilot, was wreathed in smiles as he waved his glove at his senior officer and shouted to Steve to bring a boat. Apparently, Hartley had decided to put two machines in patrol.
“You’d think McCoy was running a sight-seeing bus,” grumbled Eye, as he left his seat and climbed ashore to greet and be greeted by each in turn.
“What luck, old man?” inquired Hartley airily. “Discovered the firebug?”
“Yes. But I’m waiting for proof.”
“Any more fires, Colonel?” interposed the boss, feeling around under his coat for his cigar case.
“One. We got it out before it did any damage.”
“Good work! There’s old Doc Heney, spry as ever. Hello, Doc. Can you give us some grub—some of your shanty coffee and fried trout?” He advanced to meet an employee who had been in his service for over forty years.
“Oh, I have so enjoyed my trip here, Colonel Bye,” enthused Lydia. “It is my first time up, but I assure you it won’t be my last, even if I am forced to buy a flying machine of my own.”
“I would suggest that you come up to the camp and get something hot to drink, Miss Simmins,” interposed Hartley, slipping his arm through hers. “You were just starting out, were you, Bye? Well, see you later, eh?”
Bye was relieved to get free of the visitors so easily. After a few words with McCoy on the condition of the F.3, he went on board his own H.S. 2L and rose from the water. As his altitude increased the horizon retreated and tilted upward until he seemed to be suspended like a spider above an enormous mottled green bowl. At less than a thousand feet he saw smoke in the direction of the Coulonge and mounting higher realized that it was no trivial bush fire. His first thought was for the prospectors. Resisting the urge to drive straight for the scene he shoved the control forward, throttled the engine and volplaned swiftly back to water.
The mechanics were in the cockpit of the F3. He sent Fred to tell the news to McCoy and bid him follow with the main fire-fighting equipment while he and Steve with axes and mattocks started ahead. In calm weather the little flying boat could make eighty miles an hour, and as the Coulonge was not over sixty miles away as the crow flies, the two men were soon above the fire.
As the smoke was rising almost perpendicularly into the air, it was difficult to
ascertain the extent of the blaze and the timber it was in without flying completely around it. The reconnaissance showed that a hundred acres of conifers were already destroyed and that the fire was traveling eastward at a fair pace. The first large bit of water in the fire’s path was an enlargement of the Coulonge two miles away. Bye saw that it would be impossible to stop the fire without a large gang of men and turned his attention to preventing its spreading north and south. A narrow, dried up stream made a natural fire ditch on its right flank which, the wind remaining down, should prove effective. Its left flank, however, was “in the air,” with nothing to prevent its striking out into vast tracts of virgin spruce and pine. Here the handful of humans must take their stand and put up what fight they could against their implacable foe. As Bye swung toward the wind, preparatory to alighting on a convenient patch of lake, he caught sight of the other machine roaring toward him. The two boats struck the water nearly at the same time.
In addition to Fred, McCoy had his city passengers and Tom Murphy. As they met on the beach Bye explained the situation in a few words, ignored objections from the fire ranger—who resented having to take orders from a “sport”— and led the way with his axe. All followed him, even the boss and his daughter, and Hartley was the only man who had not divested himself of his coat. Where the trees thinned out and grew scrubby on account of shallow soil they set to work cutting out a wide lane. Old Simmins, not to be outdone by the new generation, brought down his trunks with his oldtime skill if not vigor, while the big ranger, for his own reasons, labored as if his life depended on his speed. Before they had reached the river the fire was close upon them and the smoke was interfering greatly with their work. Bye ordered Hartley to take Miss Simmins back to the lake, in case the fire should jump the lane, and though the girl demurred, enjoying the excitement somewhat after the order of a thrilling moving picture, Hartley insisted on prompt obedience. The lumberman, his white waistcoat and whiter hair streaked with ash and soil, his collar a dirty rag about his neck, held his place in the line.
After the lane was cut through to the beach the matted needles and dried moss in places had to be turned over with mattocks and a continuous patrol kept up to see that the fire did not eat its way across.
Bye stationed his men at equal intervals, each armed with an improvised broom of alder twigs with which to beat out the sparks, and instructions to shout for help if the enemy was gaining the upper hand. He, himself, moved about in a stifling, acrid fog, the roar of the flames and the crashing of falling trees growing ever louder and more menacing. Fortunately the wind had not veered and the sparks were being carried parallel to the fire-break. At last the flame penetrated the outer fringe and rose up in a shaking, scarlet wall along the slash.
As he watched it, brands began dropping around him; one bounced from his shoulder. He struck at them with his broom and they became harmless. Wide patches of flaming bark were peeled from the tortured trunks and strewn up and down the lane. Two or three settled in the brush behind him. As he leaped frantically to put them out he shouted for assistance. It happened that both Steve and Murphy were on the far ends of their beats and could not hear him. A bush beside him caught and he had a desperate fight to beat it out. The leaves were smoldering in several places. It looked as though the fight was lost and it was only a matter of getting clear safely, when two figures loomed through the fog and flung themselves upon the incipient fires. Not until the conflagration opposite had died down and the danger was over was Bye aware that his companions were not members of his own gang. Then he recognized Bill Blazes and his daughter!
A LTHOUGH the fire never again came T\ so near to crossing no man's land it continued to roar and threaten throughout the morning and* well into the afternoon, giving the defenders not a moment’s respite. No one considered the possibilities of food or rest. Water they must have and the prospector’s daughter took upon herself the office of water carrier, bringing a half a gallon at a time in her father’s hat. Old Bill himself labored like a demon in hell, his eyebrows singed, his beard streaked with soot, panting huskily at every blow. And when all danger was past and the smoke permitted something like normal breathing once again, he dropped his broom, drew out a big scarlet bandana and began patiently and methodically to mop up every bit of exposed surface.
Bye spoke to him for the first time. Bye was no longer the trimly efficient figure of the morning. His khaki shirt was torn beyond repair, he had the face of a coalheaver, his crispy hair was matted to his brow.
“Much obliged, sir. You came along in the nick of time.”
The prospector sniffed scornfully. “Keep your thanks to yourself, young man. I did it to save the trees, God help them.”
“I am grateful just the same to you and your daughter.”
The girl appeared at his side, staring challengingly at the officer. She was semi-clothed in green sleeveless shirt, green sawed-off trousers and moccasins.
“The fire didn’t come anywhere near your camp, I hope?” he continued.
“It started just behind it. We lost our tent. We tried to put it out,” explained the girl. “Come on, Daddy.”
At this moment the fire ranger loomed up, the lumber king trotting in his lee.
“Them’s the two,” asserted Murphy with a jerk of his thumb.
“Can’t see nothing for this damn smoke. Come on out to the lake. It’s you two specially I want to see.” He turned and started back toward the flying boats.
Old Bill would have ignored the request, but Murphy stepping up laid a heavy hand on his shoulder, shoving him forcibly in the direction indicated. Bye flushed at the fellow’s rudeness. He saw the girl’s lips go pale and that strange glitter leap to her eyes. Then she caught Bye’s sympathetic gaze and with an impatient shake of her curls fell into step on the other side.
Less than half a mile brought them out on the swampy shore of the little lake, where the two uncouth waterfowl rested on its still surface. The mechanics were already reshipping the tools. Lydia and Hartley were seated on a poplar trunk felled by some industrious beaver. They rose as the others appeared and eyed the strangers curiously.
“This is better.” Simmins stopped and confronted Old Bill. “What have you got to say for yourself?” he growled in his most judicial voice.
The prospector’s mild blue eyes were on the boats.
“Do you hear what I’m saying to you? What do you mean by burning up my woods?”
“I?” man gaze(j dazedly about the little group. “I? I love the woods. I wouldn’t burn the woods for a fortune.” “Didn’t «.it start just behind your camp, eh? Who do you think set it if it weren’t you? Tell me that.”
“The same party that’s been setting all the fires this season.”.
“You bet!” cried the boss hurriedly. “We’ve been keeping an eye on you for quite a piece and now we’ve caught you in the very act. Colonel Bye, arrest that fellow.”
At these words the girl would have leaped into the circle, had not Bye caught her firmly by the wrist and pulled her back. “Keep still,” he ordered in her ear, and for the moment she obeyed.
“Have we sufficient evidence, Mr. Simmins?” he queried.
“That’s for the judge to say. I’ve got enough to satisfy me and if there’s anything in the law I’ll have justice done.” “Has anyone seen him deliberately start a fire in the bush?”
“Yer bet yer, I have,” snarled Murphy, glaring at the pilot from pale pig-like eyes. “Lately, within the last week or two?” “Wall—no. I ain’t been about these parts the last week or two, but—
“You liar!” shrilled the girl. “I saw you back in the swamp three days ago. I saw you!” She was dancing up and down, pointing her forefinger at him, a picture of triumph and abhorrence.
“You little brat!” roared the ranger. “Don’t you call me a liar.” He stepped nearer in his clumsy rage. “If yer lunatic of a father had any sense he’d put some clothes on yer and pack yer off to school, yer hussy!”
Next instant the girl sprang forward and slashed her alder broom across the man’s square face with all her strength. As the blackened welts stood out on his forehead and nose he stumbled forward blindly, cursing and clutching for his tormenter.
“Here, cut that out, Tom,” ordered his employer. “Remember there’s a lady present.”
For the first time Bye glanced at Lydia. She was neither holding her ears nor looking horrified at the giant’s blasphemy. Instead she was gazing upon the wood sprite much as the Venus de Milo might have gazed upon a Parisian gamin just in from the street. In short although she was facing the girl, she was seeing her not.
“I humbly beg your pardon, Miss,” choked Murphy. “When yer get stung by an insect, sudden like, the words will out.”
“Certainly, Murphy. The poor child must be out of her head,” replied Lydia graciously.
“I suppose you’d have taken it lying down?” cried the other, stepping toward her.
“Oh, dear, she’ll be hitting me next,” Lydia said scornfully.
“Bah, you’re only a dressed-up doll! I wouldn’t scratch your paint unless— unless you lied about my father.”
“What a saucy little minx! I suppose she’ll be decently cared for when the man’s in jail, father?”
At the word jail the girl’s temper flared i up anew. “How dare you say that—1 ow dare you! My father’s not going to jail. I’ll tear you to pieces if you say that again—I’ll tear you to pieces, you—you pink china doll!” As the little fury danced before her, slim brown arms waving, fingers curved, it was more than even Lydia’s poise could stand, and suddenly she slipped behind Hartley’s stiff back.
“I’ll ask you to arrest that fellow without more delay, Colonel, or would you prefer me to send him out in Murphy’s custody?”
At that Bye stepped up to the prospector and said a few words in his ear.
“Very well,” he replied resignedly. “I’ll go with you if Diana comes too. It’s all right, Di. We’ll be back shortly. No good making a fuss.”
The girl clutched her father’s arm while she looked searchingly into the pilot’s eyes. “All right, daddy, we’ll go,” she agreed simply.
“First class. There you are, Hartley. There’ll likely be no more trouble with fires this season. That’s what I call snappy work See how the fellow has knuckled down. Guilt written all over him, I’m thinking. Have a smoke?” Bye moved off with the merchant’s words of self-approval buzzing like moose flies about his ears.
The smaller boat had been drawn in close to shore where the water was scarcely over a foot in depth. Instead of waiting for the canoe he picked the girl up in his arms and, wading out, deposited her gently in the cockpit. Although his features were grim and his eyes on the water, every nerve in his body tingled at the contact. It seemed as though he had captured a wood goddess and was carrying her up to the skies. Her father climbed into the second cockpit in front of the pilot’s.
“Better take him to Cobalt, Colonel,” called out Simmins, “and hand him over to the sheriff. We’ll not be far behind you.”
As Bye left the water, circled round the lake and spiraled up he could see the group watching him from the shore. Lydia waved her scarf at him but received no reply. He gained his altitude, turned westward and straightened out. Then he looked to see how his passengers were faring.
Old Bill appeared as unmoved as though he were before his own camp fire, gazing straight before him, adrift as usual on his own cogitations. Not so Diana. She was leaning as far out as the side would permit, her lips parted, her face flushed, hereyesshining like emeralds. Bye had never seen such a picture of ingenuous delight, unless it were in a child before a blazing Christmas tree. She was viewing her„beloved wilderness from a different angle.
Bye realized he could not let her appear in civilization in her unconventional, wilderness garb. Turning more northward he soon picked up the glowing sheet of Kakabonga and pitched into Bark Bay. Then he invited his passengers ashore, provided them with towels and soap and gave them plenty of time to remove the signs of recent conflict. When he returned he had a pair of lumberman’s wool stockings and his spare flying coat. He was puzzled over the question of shoes for her, neither cowhide shoepacks nor caulked boots being exactly suitable, but finally he decided that the moccasins must do. She eyed the stockings disdainfully, refusing to touch them, but accepted the coat for its protection from the wind rather than from publicity.
“Diana isn’t used to togging herself up in clothes,” explained her father. “This will be her first time out in ten years and I guess she dislikes it as much as I do.” Presently they were on their way again and inside the hour they crossed the upper end of Lake Timiskaming and saw the stacks and ore heaps of Cobalt below them. Bye found a suitable mooring space on one of the big mill-dams and then went ashore alone to make arrangements for his “guests.” A few explanations to the sheriff and permission was obtained to take the prospector to a hotel for the night. The two were smuggled into a modest little inn on a side street where, confined and miserable, they could toss between sticky sheets and await the morning’s persecution.
McCoy alighted on Timiskaming early in the evening and Simmins’ party motored over from Haileybury. Bye met them on the main street and told them what he had done, promising to see that the accused was at the court house when it opened in the morning.
When the airman arrived at the inn he stuck his head into the dank downstairs’ room, called the ladies’ parlor, glanced into the office where a group of commercial travelers were swapping malodorous yarns, and then mounted the carpetless stairs and paced slowly along the hall, hoping against hope. Suddenly she was before him, pulling him toward her open door.
“What are they going to do to Daddy?” she demanded.
“I don’t see what they can do.” he replied. “There seems to be no evidence upon which to base a charge.”
“Then why did they bring us here? What have they got against us?”
“Have you ever crossed old Simmins in any way, or the fire ranger?”
“Of course not—not until that brute began spying on us. One day he caught hold of me. He thought I was alone. Daddy pointed a gun at him How I detest him!”
“They seem anxious to put the blame of the fires upon your father.”
“But they can’t send him to jail for something he didn’t do?”
She seemed to have the horror of jails that children have.
“Such things happen. But I am sure it will pan out all right. Don’t worry, little girl. To-morrow we three will fly back again. That sounds good, what?”
“Don’t leave me, Flying Man. I am afraid in this ugly place.”
She caught his sleeve imploringly. “There is nothing here to fear . . Diana. Look, here is a key. You can lock your door.”
“It’s the doors and windows and walls that I’m afraid of. I will suffocate in here. The ceiling might fall on me. Can’t I go out and sleep on the grass?”
“No, that would never do. It’s against the law.”
“To sleep outdoors, under the stars?” “It does seem queer, doesn’t it?”
“But it’s not against the law for you to stay indoors with me?”
Bye was neither saint nor puritan but yet he found himself completely at a loss for an answer. Her naturalness was a beautiful thing.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do, little girl,” he said, patting her hand. “My room is directly opposite. We’ll leave our doors wide open.”
“Thank you, Flying Man.”
She watched him cross the hall, then blew out the lamp and dropping off her scanty garments leapt into bed—the first bed her brown'body had touched for ten years.
TT HAPPFNED that the county court A was in session that week and the case of Rex vs. Williams came up during the morning. The defendant refused to be represented by a lawyer, listened impassively to the charge and such evidence as Tom Murphy could cook up and denied ever having left a camp fire burning behind him or even making one where there would be the faintest chance of trouble.
When, however, the fire ranger imperturbably swore to seeing the prospector de'iberately setting fire to heavy bush the judge shook his head, spoke at some length on the criminal carelessness of forest travelers and the necessity of making an example, and sentenced the prisoner to $500 fine or two months’ imprisonment. As Williams was unable to pay the fine, or at least refused to, he was led away in the custody of a policeman. Diana intercepted him in the corridor and they had a few whispered words. Bye, who had remained close to the girl throughout the proceeding, was surprised at the coolness with which she took the blow.
“I knew they were going to do it,” she said simply, as they returned to the inn.
“I could raise enough money to pay the fine, if he would let me,” asserted Bye.
"No, no, we have plenty of money. Daddy will write his lawyer in Montreal. It will be all right soon.”
The airman was amazed. Who were these tramps who had plenty of money and a lawyer to look after their affairs? He stared at the little, bare-legged figure wrapped in his greatcoat and she returned the stare with immense seriousness.
‘T suppose this lawyer will come and get you, Diana?”
“No, I am going back with you.”
“But you can’t stay alone in the woods.”
“Where else could I stay alone? You promised, Flying Man.”
“Yes, and I will keep my promise, but but”
“Come quickly then. I want to get out of this ugly place, full of people and cruel noises.”
“Have you supplies, everything you need?”
“Enough for months and months, Hurry.”
Hartley and the lumber merchant were awaiting him at the inn. They raised their eye-brows as Diana rushed past them, chin up, eyes smoldering.
“You’re not saddling yourself with the kid?” inquired the boss with a sneer.
“Taking her back to her camp.”
“Say, old man,” began Hartley, “Mr. Simmins thinks there’ll be no more trouble from fires, but I prefer not to take any chances. You might stay at the depot until the danger is over. That fellow has cost us $20,000 to date.”
The pilot was content. It would not only give him every facility for carrying on a little detective work on his own account but allow him to keep an eye on the girl. His resentment against the lumberman and his accomplice for their harshness to Williams was now as deep as it was bitter.
“McCoy will take us back to Fluí!. One machine will be enough for patrol work,” said Hartley.
Bye said good-bye to the beautiful Lydia, nodded curtly to the others and went back to the hotel. As soon as the others had motored away he called Diana and they returned to their boat. A crowd of youths had collected about the dam to see them off. With a splutter and roar they skimmed across the water, slid upward, clearing telephone wares by a few feet, passed over the roofs of the town and headed for the open shimmer of Timiskaming.
The morning had been stifling hot, not a breeze to dissipate the mist. As they soared upward the pilot noted dense masses of cumuli bulking over the eastern horizon. Fifteen minutes later this had climbed half way up the zenith and assumed the shape and color of some terrible genius of the Arabian Nights, its eyes flashing fire, its throat muttering and bellowing.
Bye tilted the nose of his plane sharply upward so as to clear the giant’s head. Lakes, clearings, forests diminished and sunk away three, four, five thousand feet below. But the monster still towered above them, growing ever blacker and more furious.
The flashes grew dazzlingly bright in the deepening gloom. They could hear the thunder claps above the roar of the propeller. Suddenly a wind as heavy and cold as water struck them in the face, shaking the frail boat about like a kite. The storm now stood like a black, whirling cliff before them, above them. It seemed as though it must topple and blot out the minute gr.at buzzing into its face. The nose pointed higher. The crashes became deafening, the light blinding. Rain stung the two in the plane like hail. All was confusion and turmoil and the darkness of night. The pilot, stealing a sideways glance, saw in the sulphurous glare a small face transfigured by ecstasy and knew that his passenger was even happier than himself.
The boat had been climbing as steeply as he could force it. Suddenly it broke through the blackness and chaos into blinding sunlight and calm. Immediately below them rolled and tossed a tumultuous sea of billows, to right and left, a few hundred yards distant, bulked huge lurid cloud cliffs, and behind them, directly down this gorgeous canyon, flamed the sun. The boat skimmed like a great bird between the cliffs, pursued by its shadow mate encircled in a perfect rainbow.
It seemed to Bye that they had completely severed connection with earth and were flying forward in a great calm toward discoveries beyond the wildest dreams of Hakluyt, Khayyam and the Arabian chronicler. He caught a glimpse of Diana’s radiant eyes and kissed his hand to her.
In less than two minutes the cloud world had been swept away and far below the gray-green forest world stretched to meet the horizon. They picked up the River du Moine, then the headwaters of the Coulonge and turned south until they saw its confluence with the right branch. Presently the girl touched his arm, pointing down, and he circled around searching for sufficient mooring space. At last they were back to earth and the engine still. “Leave me here,” she said simply. “Have you a camp near by, Diana?” “Yes. I’m all right now, Flying Man. I will go back to work.”
“Then you’ve found gold?”
“Of course. But nobody knows that except our lawyer—and you.”
“And you won’t be afraid or lonely?” “Of course, not here. But I hate your towns and people!”
“They’re not mine, Diana. I like them little better than you do.”
“Yes, you are different from other people, I think. Thank you for the ride. Here is your coat. Good-by.”
She slipped out of the garment, turned abruptly and ran off up the beach and when she came to a thick patch of milkweed, she plunged into it and disappeared. Bye, gazing at the spot, felt the woods grow empty and cold.
WHEN Bye arrived at Bark Bay he was greeted with the news that McCoy had already called, deposited the chief witness and continued on his way. In the mood the airman was in, it was a relief not to have to be civil to Simmins and Hartley, and to appear pleased at the sight of Lydia. He could drop pretense where Murphy was concerned and keep him at a distance. Realizing that he was hungry, not having eaten since breakfast, he made for the cook house.
Hunger satisfied, Bye went back to his cabin and brought his log up to date. Considering how terse and to the point his entries were, it was surprising how much time he took over this duty. “Left Cobalt with Miss Williams at 12.20, flying high to avoid storm. Engine working well, attained height of 6,000 feet.”
A long pause while the chronicler stared from the dusty window toward the low green wall of spruce across the clearing. “Left passenger on Right Branch of Coulonge at 2.30 and returned to base.” Another pause. “Will patrol forest until mid-September or drouth ceases.” Ten minutes later Fred entered and broke the spell for the time being.
“Say, Colonel, that big slob Murphy has been hanging around this office a lot.”
“I found him not an hour ago studying that log. Seems to me he’s damn curious. ‘Anything I can do for you?’ says I. ‘No,’ says he. ‘Just waiting to have a word with the Colonel.’ Don’t like that animal a little bit. So they convicted Bill Blazes, eh?”
“They sentenced him at least, on Murphy’s evidence and Simmins’ influence. If he did burn the woods they ought to give him a reward instead of punishment. Miss Simmins told me things were going hard with the old man. Hartley told me the company has come across with $20,000 insurance.”
The mechanic whistled. “More ways than one of skinning a cat.”
NEXT morning the fire ranger started out in the direction of the Coulonge. Bye, recalling what he had overheard the day before, watched him go with considerable uneasiness. His morning patrol was over the northern limits, but along in the afternoon he floated low down over the headwaters of the Coulonge, keeping a sharp eye out for any movement in the valleys. He was rather surprised not to catch a glimpse of Murphy on any of the lakes. About five o’clock, however, he saw a thin haze of smoke on the edge of Blueberry Lake and descended. There was Murphy’s gray canoe drawn up in the bushes. Striking in to the bush, Bye came upon its owner in a small glade, frantically beating at the smoldering needles.
“I just got here in time, Colonel,” cried the ranger. “Ten minutes more and there’d be a hell of a blaze. Ain’t it queer we should both come on it at the same time?”
“Rather odd,” agreed the pilot dryly. “What started it?”
“You know as much about it as I do. I seen the smoke curling through the trees and rushed in, same as you did. If it weren’t for the fact that Old Bill was jugged I’d have said it was him.” He stopped his beating and prodding, rubbed his arm across his brow and stared cunningly at the flying officer. “I’ll be hanged! Didn’t you put his girl down somewheres around here yesterday?” “What of it?”
“Well, there ain’t another soul in a hundred miles, that’s what.”
“So you think she did it?”
“Who else could have?”
“And what for?” persisted Bye.
“What for? Why, for vengeance, of course. Think she feels friendly toward the boss for taking her father, eh?”
Having no reasonable answer to that and disliking the fellow's boorishness profoundly, Bye turned and left him. He hung over the district till dusk and then, the gas running low, reluctantly returned to his base.
The next morning, without even a ; retence at inspecting the rest of the limits, he made straight for the Coulonge, and again discovered an incipient fire in slashings about ten miles west of the last one. With considerable effort, he managed to put it out unaided. Two hours later he found heavy smoke in the vicinity of Prux Lake and was forced to return for his mechanics and tools. By then the conflagration was beyond control and they could only stand and watch it burn itself out. While they were engaged in this profitless business Murphy appeared on the scene.
“This is the fifth to my positive knowledge, Colonel, since the girl come back. Take it from me, she’s tarred with the same brush as her dad. Till we get her we won’t have a moment’s peace, and I mean to get her.”
Bye felt himself grow chill with anger. But he knew that Murphy was within his rights and losing his temper would only complicate things worse than ever. If anyone was to find Diana, it must be himself.
“I guess you’re right, Murphy,” he forced himself to agree. “I’ve decided to help you.”
“What do yer mean? Leave the bus?” “Exactly.”
After giving instructions to Steve and Fred regarding the fire, he flew back to the depot, collected a scanty supply of blankets, grub, cooking utensils, and returned within two hours. Murphy had gone.
“I’ll make this my permanent headquarters, boys. If I need you I’ll signal with smoke. About a week from to-day you might drop down and see if there’s anything needed.”
“I don’t see there’s any call for you to live like a blooming Indian,” asserted Steve. “Can’t Murphy do the trick alone?”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he answered so quietly that both men looked at him closely.
“I get you,” said Fred shortly. “I wish you luck, Colonel.”
They shook his hand, went aboard and started the engine with Steve at the control. Next minute Bye was standing alone on the narrow beach, the still smoking forest behind him, the sparkling blue expanse before him and a zest for the chase tingling through every fibre of his being.