In this, the second and concluding instalment of his serial, Mr. Roberts tells how Robert Bye, flying fire ranger, came to Lost Valley, how its guardian nymph received him and what she said after the flaming skies were no longer a menace.
THAT evening Bye made the right branch of the Coulonge and traveled up its shores until the stars were beginning to glimmer through the leaves. Then, he unstrapped his pack, unrolled his blankets in a mossy hollow and cooked his bacon and bannock. For many hours he lay wide awake on his back, staring into the indigo heavens and listening to the faint, mysterious sounds of the night. He seemed absolutely alone in this vast whispering, black world and yet he knew somewhere, perhaps within a few miles of him, another human—a slim scarce-grown woman—was lying out under the same stars, listening to the same strange sounds. The knowledge dissipated any sense of loneliness he might have felt, and gave to the wilderness a touch of fellowship.
The morning burst on his waking senses with a crash of sunlight, tinkling waters and bird calls. He sang, not over melodiously, as he swashed about in a shallow pool, brushed the water from his straight, hard limbs and collected sticks for the fire. He consumed little time over breakfast, and was soon on the trail, confident that
success in his search for the girl would soon be his. But impatient as he was, he went quietly, peering around every bend, stopping at every snap of a twig in the underbrush until he had investigated the cause. When
he paused at noon for another meal, he had arrived at the burnt land of his first fire, twelve miles from the main river, with his confidence slightly dampened. Throughout the afternoon and early evening he continued his upward course, until the water shrunk to a rivulet and then to a trickle, and not a sound or trace of human presence rewarded his efforts.
Next day, long before the sun was above the tree-tops, he started retracing his steps. About eleven he heard the familiar drone of a propeller and saw the flying boat soaring high over the valley. For once he was content to be close to mother earth. Shortly afterwards he heard what sounded like cautious footsteps paralleling his course. Alert on the instant, he halted in his tracks. He stood, silent, motionless, endeavoring to pierce the thicket with his eyes, his heart beating faster in spite of himself. Suddenly, the brush broke in front of him and a man crashed out upon him. The moment he dodged, he recognized the ranger.
“For gosh sakes, it’s you!” snarled Murphy,
disgust written all over his coarse face.
As Bye was equally disappointed, as well as startled, he showed no greater pleasure in the meeting.
“What’s the bright idea?” he said somewhat dryly.
“Mistook yer for that Williams’ brat. Suppose yer ain’t run across her yet?”
Bye’s keen gray eyes narrowed.
“What do you -intend to do with her if you do catch her, Murphy?”
“Do to her? What yer suppose? Ain’t I a fire ranger? Aint it my bloody dooty to round her up and kick her out of Simmins’ limits? Aint I as good as caught her in the act? What yer glarin’ about anyway, young feller?” His cheeks were growing purplish, his big hands jerking.
“I don’t like the way you are going about it,” retorted Bye icily. “You know as well as I do she’s innocent.”
Murphy stuttered for words, and then broke into a thick, soupy laugh.
“Innocent, eh? Then, young feller, will you tell me what you are huntin’ her for?”
The insinuation was more than Bye could overlook.
“Go to the devil!” he said.
The giant made a sudden grab at his throat, but Bye evaded his hand with a twist of his head.
“Drop that!” he snapped, and there was that in his voice and his eyes that brought Murphy up with a jerk. “Now, you go on about your business, and, by gad, if you exceed it by a hair’s breadth you’ll be carrion for crows! Understand?”
Murphy, for once, forgot his brawn. After all, a man is no stronger than his nerve, and his nerve was no match for Bye’s. His small eyes wavered and dropped. Twice he attempted to meet those gray slits, and failed. Then, breaking into a torrent of filthy profanity, he stumbled off up the beach.
' I 'HE armed neutrality was at an end. Henceforth, Bye might expect any kind of treatment from the ranger. He had seen nothing short of murder in those p'g-like eyes, and murder was a comparatively simple thing in the north woods, where so many accidents occurred. But it was not for himself that he felt anxious. He realized, as never before, the danger which threatened the girl and knew that he must not, could not, lose the race.
It was a relief to feel that the fellow was going farther away with every step. Confident that the girl’s permanent camp could not be on the right branch, Bye decided to strike across the forest to the main river and patrol it up to the string of lakes from which it took its source.
Keeping the sun a few degrees on his right, he traveled in as much of a bee line as muskegs and wind-falls would permit. It was desperately rough going and he paused
npHE STORY SO FAR—Colonel Robert Bye, airman, is by Rupert Hartley, manager of the North Woods Fire
engaged Insurance Company, to patrol from the air the upper Gatineau timber limits of the J. .]. Simmins Lumber Company, of Hull, Quebec. Bye flies to Simmins’ depot on Lake Kakabonga and there encounters Tom Murphy, burly ground fire ranger and agent of Simmins. Murphy warns him of an old prospector, Bill Blazes, and his daughter, who are camped on the upper Coulonge river. Bye, while fighting a small fire in this district, discovers the girl is an untamed wood nymph who fiercely resents his suggestion of incendiarism. Later, after a desperate fight with a serious fire—a fight in which Bill Blazes, now known to Bye as Williams, and his daughter, materially assists Bye—Murphy makes a direct charge. Simmins insists on a court action and the father is sentenced to jail on Murphy’s evidence. After the trial, the girl insists on being taken back to the ivoods. Bye is keenly interested in her, but she evades his efforts to discover the site of her camp and disappears. As the outbreaks of fire still continue, Bye is convinced Murphy is firing the woods. Murphy insists the girl is to blame and swears he will catch her. Bye fears for her safety and sets out on foot to discover her hiding place. Noic you can go oil with the story.
from time to time to regain his breath and shake the spruce needles and twigs from his thick hair. At every brook he threw himself on the ground and bathed his face and hands in the cool, leaf-stained water. His bare arms were scratched, his stockings torn, his boots messed with clay, but his heart was buoyant with expectancy.
Late in the afternoon he broke out on to the Coulonge, and there, two hundred yards away on the far bank, stood the wood nymph herself. The girl had just come from a deep, foam-flecked pool below her. Her bare shoulders still glistened in the soft drift of sunlight; her hair had lost its crispness and clung to her shapely head. Her full lips were slightly parted, her big eyes wide, as she listened, alert and curious, to the crackling in the underbrush beyond the stream. Bye stood stock still, scarce breathing, expecting the vision to vanish. But the girl, recognizing him, only tossed her hand to him.
“Diana—Diana!” he shouted. “Wait for me.” He strode toward the bank. The water flowed between them swift and strong, and a few rods below broke upon jagged rocks in a tumbling rapid. Although she could not have caught his words, she evidently understood his motions, for she shook her head and stepped nearer the thicket behind her. Next instant she would be gone.
He glanced quickly up and down the river, seeking a ford but finding none. Then, fiercely impatient and contemptuous of danger, he dropped his pack, leaped down the bank and plunged headlong into the hurrying eddies. His swift over-arm stroke carried him far out into the channel and for a time it looked as though he would make the crossing. But, presently, the currents caught him, whirled him about like a chip and rushed him down toward the rapid’s hungry fangs. Still he battled to gain the far shore, thinking only of the girl who might even then be fleeing away from him. Twice the eddies jerked him under, twice the fangs missed him by a finger's breadth. But the river was not to be denied. At the tail of the rapid he was thrown violently against a boulder and consciousness went out in a flash of stabbing light. .
He came to lying well up on a sand-bar. His head throbbed but, apart from that, he felt little the worse for the accident. Sitting up, he saw that he was across the river and that the rapids were leaping and yelping only a short piece above him. He wondered by what miracle he had escaped drowning, and then he realized that the girl must have come to his assistance. At that, he was on his feet again, staring about him, shouting “Diana!” at the top of his voice. He stumbled up the shore, searching everywhere, but she was gone. After wasting half an hour in fruitless search he called himself a fool and set about retrieving his pack. A mile farther down he won back across the stream without difficulty and, after regaining his baggage, returned and took up the blind chase where it had been so dramatically interrupted.
He felt certain he was near her hiding place. He would
travel more cautiously, endeavor to come on her unawares. Since he had seen her in all her wild, alluring loveliness she seemed to have become a hundred times more mysterious and desirable. Her beauty now filled his whole horizon, so that he could neither see nor think of anything else. Every distant, rainbird note became her voice calling him to her; every whisper and stir in the fern were her flying feet tempting him in pursuit. Expectancy cloyed his senses and made a fool of him a thousand times a day. At night he would lie awake by the hour, hearing her silvery laughter in the restless waters, hearing her breathing in the vagrant breezes.
As each day slipped by, he became more certain in his heart that she was everything that a man could desire the mystery and freshness of the forest, the purity and freedom of the air. the passion and companionship of love. She seemed to become less a personality and more a spirit the spirit of the wilderness, of romance, of all the unsubstantial, indefinable longings that throng the innermost chambers of the mind.
The sixth day he became aware of the fact that his food supply had run out and knew that he must strike back to Blueberry Lake. That night, he dreamed more vividly than before that she came to the spot where he was sleeping. stooped over him, brushed his hair with her slim, brown hands, laughed gently, with tears in her eyes, and stole away reluctantly,, looking back and touching her finger-tips with her lips. It was so real to him when he awoke that he could still feel the pressure of her fingers on his hair, and putting up his hand found a wreath of woodbine encircling his head.
He sat for a long time with the vine in his lap. ‘ 0 Diana, where are you?” he whispered over and over. •‘Why don’t you come to me? Why don’t you come to me?” It took all his will-power to tear himself away
from the river and send him back to Blueberry Lake.
BY THE time Steve caught his smoke signals and swooped down to the lake’s surface, it was late afternoon and Bye was ravenously hungry. Luckily the mechanic had foreseen the need and came well stocked with grub.
“No luck, eh?” sympathized Steve. “How long do you propose to keep up the hunt, provided you don’t find her?”
“Till hell freezes over."
Steve gave a low whistle.
“Bad as that, Colonel?”
Bye ignored his facetiousness. “Any fires anywhere?” “Nary a one. If the kid has been setting them you’ve got her so on the run—”
“Look here, Steve,” interrupted Bye, “it’s Murphy as sure as I’m alive. That time I came on him beating at the pine needles, you remember? Well, the fire hadn’t been going over fifteen minutes. He lit it and wben he heard the plane come down started to put it out.
“By George! But have you any proof?”
“Not yet. If I had he and the old man would change places as fast as I could arrange it.”
Before Steve had left the lake, Bye was again on his
way back to the river. The nights had been growing cold and misty and the tips of certain beeches and maples were dipped in yellow and crimson It was “first blood” in the annual warfare between summer and winter, the height of the year in the woods, when insect pests are gone and the air at mid-day has a clarity and snap that converts the veriest sluggard into a superman. Flowers were almost gone, but what matter when presently the whole north woods would be one intensely vivid bed of color! Bye swung on, whistling softly to himself, scarcely realizing the
passing of either time or distance.
As the ground dipped and blue gaps in the tree-tops ahead showed that he was approaching the river he eased his pace and moved as silently as an Indian. Once before he had surprised the girl on the river edge.
He might again. By keeping as much as possible in the ferns and brakes he avoided tell-tale twigs and dried leaves. As he advanced he thought he heard a splash, then a click of stone against stone. He paused, listening tensely. Then, suddenly, the woods were seared by a high, thin scream!
Bye leaped forward as though cut by a whip. Branches lashed his cheeks; roots and rocks endeavored to trip his feet. Within a hundred yards he broke from cover on to a steep bank above the water. Immediately below he saw a scene that transformed his anxiety into wildest fury. Diana, like a slim green-clad boy, was struggling to free herself from the arms of the ranger. Even as he looked the giant forced her head back and kissed her on the mouth.
Bye went down the bank in two reckless leaps, with the earth and stones cascading behind him. One swift leap and he was on the man’s back, like a panther on a bull; with one hand he dug into Murphy’s coarse hair and with the other he jerked his coat down so as to bind his arms. The girl slipped from his clutches. Bye jumped back, awaiting the onslaught.
Murphy’s coat ripped like paper as he turned to throw himself upon his assailant. Bye dodged and struck
him full in the face, dodged again and planted his fist in Murphy’s eye. Evading desperately groping fingers that would have choked his life out if they had found their mark, he got in blow after blow. The pace was too violent to last. Murphy began to gasp for breath. The blood was trickling down his bristly face, but still he attempted to rush his enemy. Bye’s face was white, his teeth clenched, his eyes like gimlets, but he kept his poise and his pugilistic tactics, seeking to find a vulnerable spot in his antagonist’s huge frame.
It was the old story of might against skill, weight against speed, with endurance the deciding factor. The fire ranger was in excellent form, in spite of his grossness; his paddling arms were like leathery flails, his chest like a gorilla’s, but speed was not one of his accomplishments and the need of it played havoc with his wind. His face became purple; his jaw dropped: his lungs labored painfully for breath. Presently, he ceased his mad charges and, swaying on his feet like a wind-swept trunk, began to curse his attacker in a thick, incoherent stream.
Bye realized that the fight was over for the time being. He let his eyes wander for an instant and discovered the girl watching them with blanched face.
“Have you had enough, you dog?” he asked.
Murphy took a step nearer, cursing more loudly, but dodged as the officer made a feirt toward his chin.
“You want more, do you? By heavens, you’ll have it if you don’t get out of this double quick. Do you hear?” and he menaced him again.
“I’ll get yer for this, yer—” growled Murphy. “I’ll put yer where yer won’t interfere with the law. I’ll send yer where yer belong, yer—, yer—”
“Cut that out, or I’ll finish what I started.”
Instinctively, Murphy shrank back. Then very slowly, foot by foot, with his puffy, blood-shot eyes riveted on the other, he began drawing away down the shore. Bye waited until he had rounded the bend, until he heard the rasp of the launching canoe. Then he went straight up to the girl, dropped at her feet and began sobbing like a child.
“What is the matter, Flying Man?” she whispered.
“Don’t cry like that.” She laid a hand upon his head, stroking his hair so softly he could scarcely feel it. “Did, did he hurt you?”
“0 Diana! Suppose I had not been near!”
“But you were. knew you were. That’s why I screamed.”
Bye pulled himself together with an effort, wiped his eyes on the back of his hand and got to his feet.
“How could you know, little girl?”
“I saw you—every day almost I saw you,” she confessed simply.
“You were near me all the time and yet wouldn’t let me know? And you knew I was searching everywhere for you? 0 Diana, why—why—why?” He had lifted her chin and was gazing deep into those shadowy green eyes as though to read the meaning of such disconcerting actions.
“Why? Because you had no business to chase me. I didn’t set the woods afire. I didn’t want you to take me away to that town and put me in jail.”
“Of. course you’re not to blame—any more than your father. Didn’t you know I was trying to save you from that brute?”
“Oh, that’s it?” There seemed a hint of disappointment in the drop of her voice. “He could never, never catch me if I went away and hid.”
“But he did.”
“That’s because I was watching you. I forgot about him. I was hiding behind the alders over there waiting for you to come out and he crept up on me and caught me.” She made a grimace oí disgust and rubbed her lips with her finger tips.
“He pretends that you are lighting the fires out of vengeance. Then he’ll hand you over to the law and get a reward from his master, I suppose.”
“No, no, you don’t understand, Flying Man. He frightened me so I would tell. He was afraid of Dad and he got rid of Dad. Then he thought he could make me tell.”
“Tell what, Diana?”
“First he said he was going to kill me and drew out a
jack-knife. I only laughed. Then he said he would put me in prison. I laughed at him for that. Then a wicked, cruel look came in his face and he said things I did not understand and squeezed so tight it hurt and began kissing me—ugh! It was terrible. I screamed.”
“Try and not think about it,” implored Bye huskily, and the advice was more for himself than her. “Tell what?” he persisted.
“Come, I will show you.”
She started down the shore, he following. As they passed the scene of the struggle he noted the torn coat trampled into the sand. He also noted an envelope that had fallen from the pocket and picked it up. Although very much grimed and creased, he recognized it as the note that he had delivered for Simmins. For an instant he hesitated. Had he any right to it? Swiftly he decided and stooped to investigate. The note he drew out was written in long hand and was neither addressed nor dated: “Watch out. Bearer looking for trouble. Set him on B.B’s. trail if possible. I’ll back you up. Burn this. S.”
Surely that was all the evidence that was required to liberate the old Bill Blazes and, at the same time, put both the lumber king and his tool in an embarrassing position. Bye thrust the note in his hip pocket and hurried to overtake the girl. A drop of rain struck his cheek and he saw that a leaden gray ceiling had closed off the blue. A few minutes later the rain was coming down in a steady drizzle and he realized that the long drouth was at an end. Diana turned from the river, ran lightly up the bank, paused and looked back, chin up, mouth wide, drawing in long breaths of freshened air.
“Smell, smell!” she ordered imperatively.
He understood what she meant. Hadn’t he been semi-conscious of strange, wild odors night and day as he pushed through swamp and second growth, blueberry barren and pine knoll, looking for her? Now, accentuated by the dampness, they smote upon his nostrils with compelling power.
As her slim, ragged form led him across country, by almost imperceptible deer trails, over rocky ledges he had never seen before, up hill and down dale, mile after mile, he had difficulty in convincing himself that he was really awake and that his guide was not a figment of his dream.
Presently it was so dark under the trees that he marveled that she should keep to the course. He was curious as to where she was taking him, what she intended to show him, but felt that it did not much matter. So long as they two were together nothing else mattered over much. They came to a steep pitch and started down. The odor of pine balsam lay heavy about him. Huge black trunks towered around him, not so much seen as felt. They found the bottom of the valley, waded across a shallow stream talking away to itself and pushed up the other side. At last she stopped suddenly, seized his hand and drew him through a tangle of soft-sprayed hemlock.
“Duck your head,” she cautioned before a dark slit in the hillside.
Another moment and he stood in a still, sheltered place. A sputter of flame cut the darkness, followed by the steady gleam of a lantern’s wick. He stared about him at lowhanging rock ceiling and jagged leaning walls.
Two rustic cots stood near the back of the cave; between them was a table topped with hemlock bark; beyond, a long natural ledge filled with books. A pile of flat stones and clay near the door did duty for a stove. There were numerous bags and boxes piled neatly at the far end. Tools, utensils and garments hung from pegs driven into crevices. But, there seemed to be a place for everything and everything was in its place.
“Do you like our den?” She had been watching him.
“By Jove, it’s snug!” he commended. “And this is where you hang out?”
“Come over here.”
She carried the lantern to the far end and held it over a stack of small canvas bags. “See that?”
“What is it?”
DYE stared at the pile of sacks for some.
seconds without moving. “There must be four or five hundred pounds of dust there—a fortune,” he conjectured. “And Murphy knows of it, eh?”
“About a month ago, when we were taking some out to purchase supplies with, he discovered it. Ever since he’s been trying to find where we are panning.”
“But how in heaven’s name have you kept the secret from the world?”
“One of Dad’s friends sells it for us.”
“But haven’t you registered your claims?”
Diana shook her head. “If we did that people would know and there would be a rush and the woods would be ruined.”
Bye made no effort to conceal his amazement. He had never heard of gold being found in the district and could scarce believe either his eyes or his ears.
Diana went to the back of the cave and, kneeling down lifted a plank cover, disclosing a spring. From the, margin of this she brought a bowl of blueberries, butter, tea biscuits, a jug of cream. These she set on the table and then after starting a fire in the stone fireplace, she set a kettle of water over the flames and brought crockery from a rustic cupboard. Bye sat on the cot and watched her moving about—a wood-nymph domesticated.
As soon as the water began to boil she threw in a handful of tea, brought the kettle and sat upon the cot beside him.
“If you brought bacon with you you may fry it,” she said. “We eat only fruits and vegetables.”
Not having eaten since noon, he needed no urging. They both used their aluminum spoons like hungry children, desisting only when the food was gone.
“Have you had enough?” she laughed. “Or will I make you some pancakes?”
They rose from the cots and she proceeded to clear off the table after the manner of ordinary mortals. He tried to assist and was snubbed for his pains. Investigating the volumes on the ledge, he found he was among such familiar friends as Emerson, Thoreau, Burroughs, Hudson and Maeterlinck.
“Do you read these?” he called to her.
“Yes, but I like Hudson best. He really knew the forests.”
“But so did Emerson and Burroughs.”
“Not the way I mean. They must have worn hats and boots and slept in a house at night. That’s not the way to love the woods. You must become a part of them.” “How long have you been away from people?”
“Ten years ago, Daddy and I left the city.” She got on the cot, curling her legs under her like an Indian, and he came and sat beside her.
“Toronto. Daddy was an artist—a great artist—but his paintings wouldn’t sell—no one seemed to understand
them. So at last Mother couldn’t stand it any longer and ran away with a rich brother. Do you think that was wrong?” Her eyes were wide and serious.
“Really, I couldn’t say—” hesitated Bye.
“Dad says it wasn’t. We were very poor, so poor we scarcely ever had enough to eat, or decent clothes to wear. Dad says he didn’t think much about it because he always wore the same pair of corduroy trousers and flannel shirt, but Mother couldn’t see friends or have friends call, when she had nothing but cotton wrappers to wear, and it was terribly hard on her, especially as she was very pretty, with gray-green eyes and snow-white skin—just the kind of features artists like to paint. So when she couldn’t stand it another day she ran away. Then Dad burnt his paints and brushes and said that he was weary of people and would never have anything more to do with them. He and I went into the woods around Timiskaming, looking for gold. His name was Van Trinkle but he
Another Raine Story
Following the close of the Great War, Captain Claude Elliott, Canadian, elected to remain in the army and was assigned to serv.ce with Britain’s garrison in the Sudan. There he met Romance. There he became one of the principal figures in the story of desert intrigue and heroic adventure that Norman Reilly Raine has used as the basis of “The Pariah Dog,” a two-part serial which commences in the June 1 st issue of MacLean s. The glamor of the desert, the color of the East and the thrill of battle all play a part in the weaving of this tale of love and mystery. Watch for:
“THE PARIAH DOG”
changed it to Williams so nobody would bother him. We hadn’t any luck at first, but Dad kept up the search. He said that when I grew up I should have everything that I wanted and not be driven wild by longing for things I could not have. Some men struck gold around Cobalt and Quinze and there was a regular rush there So we moved east, sampling the bed of every stream we reached, carrying our outfit in a canoe. A long wet spell came and we were lost among the lakes. Crossing a dead trail one evening we stumbled into this valley and spent the night here. In the morning we found gold, plenty of it, and decided to stay. That’s all.”
She stopped abruptly.
‘ You mean to say you’ve spent ten years of your life buried in the bush, Diana—not once going out?”
“Only as far as some little village for supplies.”
“And you still like the life?”
“I think I like it even better than Dad does. We have enough gold, more than enough, but we are still staying. There was never any trouble of any kind before that fire ranger came up here and started lighting fires. One day he caught us putting a blaze out that he had set. Later he came on the canoe when our backs were turned and poked his fingers into a bag of dust. After that he kept hanging around this district searching for our hiding place. Dad threatened to shoot him, so he swore Dad made the fires and had you arrest him and take him out of the way. But he’ll never find Lost Valley,” she ended emphatically.
In the silence Bye could hear the dull roar of rain beyond the cave’s entrance. Inside it was warm and still, so still that the lantern flame did not waver. He could not imagine a spot more snug and comfortable in all the north woods.
He studied her thoughtfully. “Don’t you ever want to return to electric light, theatres, motor cars and all that sort of thing?”
“I’ve never had them, so I don’t miss them. Do you?” “When the winter approaches they begin to pull me.” “Don’t you fly in winter?”
“Sometimes. Last winter I carried mail to Hudson’s Bay posts around James BayMy plane was fitted with skis so I could land anywhere.”
“I would like that. I would like to fly the yearthrough.” Her eyes sparkled at the thought.
“If you and I become awfully good friends, little girl, you will get the chance.”
“Aren’t we good friends noAq Flying Man?”
“Yes, yes, I think we are. At least I know how much you mean to me. Would you like to hear?”
She nodded gravely, her wide eyes as curious and as timid as a deer’s. He had expected to have not the slightest trouble in explaining just what she had come to mean to him, but now found himself at a complete loss for
words. He stared at his boots, then into her eyes and back again, until the silence grew explosive.
“Good Heavens, everything, Diana, everything!” he blurted out savagely.
He rose and began pacing up and down the rock floor. “Ever since that afternoon when you flew at me for daring to warn your father, your face has been before me. You seemed such a little savage, so untamed and ungovernable and yet so gloriously unspoilt, so natural. Then the way you took the trip out, and the trip back—your pluck and enthusiasm and—the way you talked. I was desperately lonely for you, when I left you alone in the woods, and only wanted an excuse to start searching for you again. Murphy gave me that. I couldn’t let him get you. The longer I hunted the wilder I got to find you, until I was thinking I heard or saw you a hundred times a day. Oh, I did see you that once and you were as beautiful as a water sprite. I was a blamed fool and you saved me from drowning.” He paused in front of her.
“Don’t you see what it all means, Diana? Don’t you see that I’m hopelessly, foolishly, madly in love with you? Don’t you see that the woods and air and loveliness and strength and life itself means you, just you! That you have got to love me the same way, somehow, if it takes years and years. That I have found at last what I want and that I won’t let it go again, never, never, never!” At that he crumpled down beside her and laid his head on her lap, shaking with emotion.
“I don’t think it will take years and years, Flying Man, to make me feel just like that,” and she .laid both her brown hands on his head.
“I love the woods and skies and waters and you seem a part of them. You seem to me like a strong, wild eagle soaring against a flaming sky. I think of you far up above the clouds and stars, ready to drop when there is need on the earth. You are not afraid of anything, I think—storms or rapids or men. I like you because you are silent and quick, and understand without words.
“Is that love, Flying Man ? I have read about love, but I really don’t know—yet.” Her lull lips curled slightly and a roguish light glinted an instant in her eyes.
He lifted his head and watched her narrowly. Then very deliberately reached up both arms and drew her face down to his, pressing her cheek close up to his own. Thus they sat for a long time, until at last he noted a ghostly pallor about the cave’s entrance and knew that it was dawn.
“Little girl,” he breathed into her ear. “The day has started—for both of us. Let us go outside and watch the dawn.”
They rose and went out hand in hand. The valley dropped steeply before them, so thickly set with conifers that he seemed to be looking down from a high window through a city of green steeples. The rain-smoke moved sluggishly above the scolding waters and caught in shreds and patches among the jagged branches of the opposite hillside. The gloom of night and cloud weighed heavily upon the bare crag above and behind them, but far away down the channel of the hills the east was whitening through wraiths of flying mist. Even as they gazed faint color flooded the pale lips of dawn, along, low sigh spilt the rain from the aspen leaves, a whitethroat began to reiterate his sweet, plaintive te deum, “0 dear, Canada—Canada—Canada!”
They stood before their cave in silent worship, as their Pleistocene ancestors must have done in the morning of time, and watched the raw pigments of the sky pour from the tube of morning, run together into all the colors of the spectrum, flow out like blood between the black crevices of the forest, and fountain upward in streams of living glory.
“Why would I leave all this?” Diana whispered.
Bye turned the girl toward him and took her other hand.
“Because, little girl, there is something even more wonderful than this.” And then he drew her to him and kissed her full on the mouth, until she began to tremble like a frightened fawn. Then he thrust her from him. His lips tightened.
‘You will leave all this for me, Diana: and you will follow me to the ends of the earth and be glad. The flame in our hearts is more enduring than the flame in the sky. It will never go out—never!”
“I—I think I know what you mean, Flying Man, butbut don’t do that again.” She leaped back and disappeared into the cave, and Bye knew enough not to follow.
Pushing through the damp hemlocks that masked the hiding place he found a faint trail leading by twists and loops up the hillside. A few minutes later he had shaken free of the evergreens and come out on a flat granite floor, bare except for a fringing of blueberry bush and pigeonberry. Here he set rapidly to work, collecting dead sticks, pieces of stump and piling them up in the centre of the clearing. At last he touched a match to a roll of birch bark and started a fire. As the fuel dried out and blazed fiercely he began feeding it with armsful of green bracken, damp moss, leaves, until a dense, gray column of smoke towered high into the blueing sky. It was still early for Steve to be abroad, but what matter? It permitted his hands to keep pace with his thoughts which, like the smoke, were building marvelous castles in the air.
An hour later a clear, musical call from below awoke him from his dreams and took him eagerly down the trail. Diana beckoned him, rather shyly he thought, into the cave and showed him a meal as delectable as it was dainty; blueberries, buckwheat cakes and maple syrup, coffee and rolls.
“I have been signalling for Steve,” he explained as he ate.
“I saw the smoke. It made me afraid.” She put down her spoon.
“Oh, there is no danger. There’s no wind.”
But she shook her head apprehensively.
Then, he told her his plans. He would signal his friend from some lake or river far from Lost Valley. They would go straight to Cobalt, free her father, return for the treasure and strike for civilization. At first she did not comprehend that he meant to take her with him. When she understood, she sprang to her feet as though prepared to fly.
“No, no, no! Dad will come back today, to-morrow perhaps, and I will be here to meet him. I promised him. You go quickly, Flying Man, and bring him.”
He tried to overcome her decision, argued, pleaded, but without success. She must stay and guard the gold. She had promised. She would be safe. He must go alone. She would guide him by a secret trail to the banks of the Coulonge and return to the cave.
As nothing but force would change her purpose, he was compelled to give in.
Presently they set out, going in single file ddwn the valley, the pines and hemlocks so interwoven overhead that there was little sight of the sky and the light was as faint as that of dawn or dusk. When they reached the stream at the bottom. Bye noticed a long, rough sluice on trestles. Buckets, pickaxe and other tools were lying about the bank and he knew that here was the source of the treasure.
“Shouldn’t these be hidden?” he asked.
“No one ever comes here. No one else has ever found Lost Valley.”
He wondered at this until he had begun to approach the Coulonge three miles below. Then he found that the stream wound for a mile through muskeg. Then came alder swamp where the Jo Pye weed and water parsnip flowered in purple and white above their heads in a moist garden sacred to dragonflies and butterflies and the spotted leopard frog. Finally the stream flattened out into long stagnant reaches of pond, choked with arums and rushes. Here the two had to circle back to firmer land, gaining the clear, sparkling river some distance below the swamp.
“No,” he admitted, “one would only find your river of gold by stumbling upon it,” and he felt easier in his mind at leaving her behind. “Good-bye. Diana.”
He stepped closer but she evaded him with an imperious toss of her head, while her eyes and teeth flashed provocatively
“Call your friend, Flying Man. I will wait.”
He built a fire and sent the smoke swirling above the tree-tops, praying that Steve would be slow to perceive it. While they waited he lay on the sun-warmed sand at her feet, saying little, encouraging her chatter, obtaining rare glimpses into the simple pages of her life so filled with woodlore, minute mischief and irresponsible happiness. The wilderness had been a tolerant though wise mother withal and. ably assisted by Van Trinkle's culture, had made of this foster child a creature as perfect as one of her very own. Thus hour after hour slipped swiftly by until, about mid-afternoon. Bye heard the discordant buzz of a propeller and knew that he could delay no longer.
Steve splashed into the water opposite and waved his hand, grinning broadly Bye waved back, then turned to speak to the girl. But she had already gone, and not even a shaking leaf marked the manner of her going. He sw’ore gently as h, started wrading out toward the flying boat DAWN that morning had found Murphy breaking a makeshift camp on the shore of l ake of the Isles. The blind rage in which the big ranger had stumbled away from his encounter with Bye the day before had given place to the determination of cold fury, but, as he hooked himself a couple of black bass and gorged to his satisfaction, his bitterness took on a tinge of satisfaction. Hadn’t Bye interfered with the carrying out of the law? Hadn’t he robbed a ranger of his prisoner? Wait till Simmons heard of it. He would send a letter out to railhead by Steve that would bring the boss and perhaps a “mountie” into the woods in hot haste. In the meantime, he would put in the time beating about the headwaters of the Coulonge with a shotgun. If luck turned the law might be saved considerable trouble.
As he started up the lake a huge, lemoncolored sun was just beginning to assert itself above the eastern wall of forest and the last of the night mists were cowering back among the damp shadows. He had paddled only a few minutes, when, twisting his head to gaze backward oij his course, as a canoeman will, he saw something that made him arrest his paddle in mid-stroke. A pale column of smoke was rising straight into the air from a bulge of the far-away billowing hills. He studied it closely, figuring out the direction in relation to the sun, noting the contour of the hill, marking conspicuous landmarks in the district.
“By Gosh, if that aint them!” he growled. “Signallin’ for the bus. She’s took him home with her. That must be just a mite this side the main river, ’tween the Crow and the right branch. I know that hump, by Gosh!” He hesitated a moment over going back, then reminded by a twinge in his swollen eye that he was unarmed, decided to keep on.
“Luck’s turned,” he chuckled and thereafter dipped his blade with considerably more zest.
When he arrived that afternoon at Bark Bay he found another piece of luck awaiting him. Boss Simmins was already there. He had come up on one of Hartley’s flying boats to consult his ranger before making plans for the winter’s operations. Murphy found his employer in Bye’s office, and closing the door against intrusion laid his complaints against his enemy with more vigor than veracity.
Simmins listened in grim amazement. “Would you believe it—would you believe it!” he murmured at every fresh charge. “So he took her away from you, eh? and is living with her back there this minute? Assaulted you with a club? But this is bad! We’ll call Hartley to see about this. Just a minute, Murphy.”
Simmins went out and presently returned with Hartley. The latter took the news in much the same wav that Simmins had done, which was not surprising under the circumstances. That jealousy, or worse, should be allowed to come between a man of Bye’s stamp and his duty was deplorable. That he should have lost his sense of decency and honor so far as to assault an honest woodsman engaged in the performance of his duty, their common duty, was almost unbelievable.
“I’m deuced sorry, sir,” he apologized. “I hadn’t the slightest inkling that he was a rotter. If you care to lodge a complaint with the authorities at Hull the company will not interfere. I noticed that he took a good deal of interest in that harumscarum the day he took the two out.” “Well, there’s one thing,” returned Simmins, “that drenching last night has pretty well put an end to the fire hazard. I guess you won’t need to waste any more money on patrol work.”
“Wouldn’t have to, hang it, if it wasn’t for that girl getting away again. Perhaps she’s had her lesson,” added Hartley hopefully. “Anyway I’ll call if off as soon as Steve returns, and Bye can hoof it back the best way he can.”
STEVE had left the depot before McCoy’s arrival, and Bye had not expected to find his chief on the ground. However, a verbal report would be far more satisfactory. As soon as the boat came to rest in Bark Bay he hurried down the beach after Hartley whom he had seen from the air. The latter had watched Bye’s landing and now advanced to meet him.
“I don’t see your prisoner, Bye?” The manager’s coolness was like a dash of cold water in the face.
“So Murphy has returned, eh?” countered Bye.
"He has, and has had some rather startling things to report.”
PI suppose so. You didn’t believe them by any chance?”
“His mashed features seemed pretty good corroboration. I don’t suppose a tree fell on him?” There was a nasty bite to Hartley’s sarcasm.
“No, Hartley, I caught him maltreating Williams’ daughter and lit into him with my fists.”
“Then you let her go?”
“Naturally. Neither she nor her father has had anything to do with the fires.” “That’s interesting, after all the evidence to the contrary and the judge’s decision. Has anything new turned up to prove your point?”
“Certainly. Soon after returning to the : woods I came on the ranger just after he had started a fire.”
“You actually saw him, eh?”
“Can’t say that. But there was no one else in the vicinity.”
Hartley sniffed incredulously.
“A fire ranger lighting the bush he’s paid to protect!—I like that. Good lord, ; man, what would be his object?”
“Ask Simmins. Daresay he could explain,” replied the officer carelessly. ¡
Hartley was not startled at the implica¡ tion—he was too cool-headed a business i man to be startled at anything—but it irritated him exceedingly.
“Cut out the insinutations, Bye, and come out with it. What are you keeping ; back?”
“Read this note from the boss to Murphy. Perhaps you’ll see daylight.” And he handed over the slip of paper.
The manager read it carefully, turned it over a few times and deliberately tore j it into small pieces, which he scattered behind him.
“That’s how much I think of your note, | Bye. It means nothing, absolutely nothing. You’re evidently bent on transferring the guilt from Williams and the girl on to j the shoulders of one of the most influenj tial and respectable men in the province. It’s a rotten piece of business, I call it. And to cut the matter short I might as well tell you that the company is through with you. This whole business up here has been a painful eye-opener to me. Damn it, man, I thought you were a gentleman!”
“I never made that mistake where you were concerned, Hartley,” returned the officer gently. With that he turned his back on the manager and sauntered back to the depot.
There he found Steve and Fred tinkering with one of the engines, told them he was leaving the service of the company and shook their hands with real regret. He also took farewell of the round-faced McCoy and old Doc Heney, borrowing a canoe from the latter.
In less than an hour after his return to the depot Bye was off again, moving slowly this time, no longer a swift-soaring creature of the air, but a crawling animal of land and water. As he passed the two flying boats he experienced his first sensation of depression. He seemed to be turning his back on tried friends and the life ho loved, to be shorn of his strength and freedom, to have become suddenly futile and inconsequential . but the sun was going down in a blaze of glory, dyeing sky and water with every gradation of red, from the palest pink to the darkest crimson, and the shadows of the ripples cast up by his paddle were the dull bronze-green of raw gold. He thought of the dawn before the cave. She, too, would be watching the sunset, wide-eyed, deep breathing, enraptured, awaiting his return. His spirits soared upward, exultantly.
MURPHY spent the evening in company with his employer discussing the most valuable sections of the limit, transportation facilities, erecting of dams, cutting of woodroads and other details in connection with the approaching season’s operations. Just before they parted the conversation veered to the flying officer.
“So you let him go, eh? in spite of what he done to us?” muttered Murphy.
“It was up to Mr. Hartley. Personally, Tom, it’s just as good she got away. There’s such a thing as overdoing it, you know.” ‘44AS
“He’ll make trouble for yer, mark my words, Mr. Simmins.”
“I reckon not. We’ve seen the last of him.”
“Do yer think so? Well, I think we’ll see him back raisin’ hell. But he won’t cross my path again and enjoy the sensation.” The fire ranger spat venomously into the corner as he rose from the bench.
A FEW hours after Bye’s departure ¿Murphy was off—on his “rounds” as he had explained to Simmins the night before. His usual working pace was lackadaisical but this time he appeared to be traveling with a purpose, concentrating all his vast energy into covering distance.
Toward the close of the second day, when ten miles up the right branch of the Coulonge, the ranger hid his canoe in the cedars and started west on foot. He thought he knew the scarred hill-top from which the signal had gone up ?.nd that he would strike it without difficulty. But, innumerable valleys and ridges interfered with his course; only occasionally could he get his correct bearings with a glimpse of his goal and his progress was tediously slow. Thus.it was not until the fourth day out that he topped a rise and gazed steeply down into the magnificent, virgin wilderness of Lost Valley. Two miles across, as a crow would fly protruded the broken tooth of the Lookout. The man searched up and down the green-furred sloping shoulders for sign of human life or habitation. Finding none, he cursed and started downward.
When he reached the stream at the bottom he was much elated at finding signs of “washing.” He studied the cradles, clawed up handfuls of gravel as though he would catch a yellow gleam beneath, noted blackened rocks where countless fires had been laid, then started searching about for a trail. He found faint deer runs, marks of moccasined feet leading off in several directions, but they took him nowhere in particular or else doubled back to the water. Growing exasperated, he began a systematic encircling movement, with the sluices as the pivot point. After four hours of this labor he found himself no wiser than before. Late in the afternoon, he climbed to the Lookout and found the faint trail leading downward. Feeling now that he was on a hot scent, he stumbled eagerly forward but, woodsman that he was, he failed to note a slight disarray in the thicket on his left. When he finally came back to the starting point on the river he threw his hat on the shingle and cursed thickly and voluminously.
That night out in the open Murphy wasted little time in sleeping. He realized that in such a tangle he might search for weeks before he found the shack. In the meantime Old Bill might return, perhaps in the company of Bye, and his chances for suddenly acquiring wealth would be gone. Very likely the girl was aware of his arrival and was lying low, laughing up her sleeve His passion was so akin to hate that the thought made him gnaw on his pipe-stem. He stabbed about in his mind for the most effective solution to his problem and but one would find permanent lodgment in his thought—fire the valley! The only drawback to this scheme lay.in the possibility of the gold being buried under ashes. On the other hand the girl would be driven out into the open and thus made to reveal her retreat. The dust would not be injured by fire. The fire would provide ample excuse for his being in the vicinity, if questions were ever asked. He weighed the matter from every angle and made his decision.
In the morning, after a lazy breakfast, he collected dead brush and started a bonfire beneath a low-hanging spruce on the bank across the stream from the Lookout. In less than a minute a score of tall trees were burning like giant torches, while the thick gray smoke rolled heavily up the valley as though to warn their fellows of approaching doom.
Murphy recrossed the stream and mounted hurriedly up the trail to the Lookout. From this point he had a clear sweep of the forest opposite and of any creature that broke out to the water. By the time he had found a comfortable position a quarter mile of timber had been converted into a roaring, fiery furnace and the cracking, crashing and splitting were terrific. The man set his pack and rifle aside, took out his bulldog pipe, hacked shavings from his plug and stuffed them into the bowl, lit them and sucked at the stem with as little concern as though he were lounging before his camp fire.
There was just sufficient wind to shepherd the flames up the valley and out of sight beyond, leaving a smoking, flaming ruin of blackened shafts and crisscrossed blackened girders. A few deer
and many smaller animals had crossed the stream in panic, but the fiery net had failed to scoop up anything of greater importance. After a while his impatience broke out into blasrhemy. He got to his feet and shook his fist over the red slaughter-house beneath him. There remained his last card—his own side of the valley. Before descending, he studied out his way of retreat toward the south. The woods sloped rather gently for a mile or two, until they thinned out into muskeg and lake. He would keep to his vantage point on the ridge as long as possible and then if the flames showed a tendency to mount to the summit he could slip away with little difficulty.
An hour later he was returning up the trail when he was suddenly set upon by a bare-legged Amazon. She wielded a stout stick as though it were a whip, belaboring him fiercely about the head and arms, and storming with her tongue.
“Go back, you brute—go back and put it out! Do you hear! You brute—you brute!” she cried over and over as she struck.
His thick arms warded off the blows. He snatched at the stick, endeavoring to close in, but she kept retreating before him up the trail. With all her rage she was careful not to be caught. Finally he succeeded in clutching the stick, whereupon she released her hold and ran before him like a deer, and disappeared from sight and hearing around the next bend. Not until he had gained the ridge was he convinced that she had evaded him in the tangle below. But now he knew that her retreat was very near and that the fire must reveal it to him.
Already he could mark the clouds of acrid smoke billowing toward him, hear the reports of heat-split trunks growing louder. Long before the flames could reach her hiding place the smoke would drive her out. After all it was proving an easy way to gain his ends . Now the terrible crimson and orange tongues were licking up above the tree-tops, worming their way up the slope by dragging down the trunks, stripping off their green drapery, spewing sparks and brands in every direction, roaring and snarling like draggons in distress. The smoke for the most part stood like a dark sloping ceiling a few yards above the man’s head and he could continue his survey of the massacre of the forest with little discomfort.
It might have been half an hour later when, hearing a noise behind him, he turned to find the girl looming ghostlike through the gray pall. She had evidently circled around and had approached the summit from the south.
“So you’ve come back to me at last, sweetheart,” he wheedled. “Darn shame yer didn’t show me your pile without all this fuss.”
She made no reply, standing still and staring at him with wide eyes.
“Don’t be scared, sweetheart. I ain’t near as bad as I might appear, once I get my own way. You and I will go shares on the dust and blow it in for fair. But just now we’d better think of gettin’ a move on. This is gettin’ too blame hot for comfort.”
He took another glance over his shoulder into a twirling black and ruddy mass of smoke and flame and stepped forward. Still she did not move. He reached out a hand, and at the same instant his eyes saw, behind her, that which loosened his lower jaw and took the color from his flabby cheeks. The flames had swept around to the south and the whole swamp was alight, completely barring their retreat!
“By gosh! By gosh!” he muttered. “Here’s a pretty mess, kid!” For a moment he swayed unsteadily on his feet. Then the qualm passed, and with it not only fear, but passion and greed. Even grossness seemed to fade from his countenance. He gave a silly half-grin, removed his hat and wiped his forearm across his brow.
“I reckon it’s going to be death we go shares on, kid.” A wisp of smoke stung his eyes. “Don’t look at me that way, kid. I’m damned sorry for you. Tf I could put the bloody thing out by jumping into it I’d do it, so help me God!”
His words were almost drowned by the bedlam below them. He turned the hat around and around between his fingers, staring at it with unseeing eyes.
“My God, I’m sorry, kid!” he broke out again. “But they say fire kills quick. Maybe if you let me take yer hand, kid, it’d come sort of easier. Maybe I could sort of keep the flames from hitting you.” He was towering over her
now, endeavoring to shelter her from the fiery blast that was beginning to breast the summit.
But Diana was completely unconscious of his presence. She felt neither anger nor fear. She was certain that a great bird would presently appear in the quiet blue far overhead and swoop down and carry her up into the coolness and purity of space . . .
BYE portaged from Kakabonga across to Lake des Rapides, followed it down to the Ottawa and began a slow, arduous unravelling of that river’s innummerable kinks and coils, riffles and rapids, lakes and shallows. If it had not been for his impatience to return to Diana he would have enjoyed the thought of the wild trip out. As it was his pace seemed unbelievably slow. He calculated that he would be ten days at least in making Timiskaming. He realized, when it was too late, that he should have made for Maniwaki and taken the train for Ottawa and thence around the wilderness to Cobalt. But the third day of his journey he had reason to bless the luck that took him by the slower route. At the foot of a portage trail around an impassable bit of rapid he came upon a party of men and their guides. With a great sense of relief and satisfaction he recognized Van Trinkle among them. The artist was no longer conspicuous in a scarlet shirt and wide brimmed hat, but was dressed in a neat suit of Scotch tweed and appeared many years younger. He ran forward eagerly at sight of Bye.
“Diana—where is Diana?” he cried. “Back in the bush, where she made me leave her.” He shook the other’s hand. “Good to see you back again. How did it happen?”
Van Trinkle’s mild eyes hardened a bit. “My lawyer, Percy Courtney—over there in the knickers—got in touch with Lieutenant-Governor Champagne, after some delay, and things were soon straightened up. Never heard of such unmitigated injustice! The man in hunting clothes is Sheriff Stirling. He’s got a little job to perform at the depot. I suppose Murphy is still there?”
“I saw him four days back. What’s he been doing?”
“Something back in the States.”
Van Trinkle turned to introduce his companions. Courtney was obviously a good fellow if not a brilliant attorney, while both the sheriff and his deputy, Smyth, were silent, unimaginative fellows with minds completely engrossed with their mission.
Bye did not wait for an invitation to return to Kakabonga. One of the canoes was hidden in the under growth and Heney’s took its place. As they crossed the trail Bye described his recent experiences with the fire ranger, fo'lowed by his dismissal from the employ of the North Woods Fire Insurance Company. He omitted to mention the note, however, as being entirely a matter between Simmins and Hartley. The artist was too overcome for speech, and could only mutter strange oaths and grunts of gratitude.
Bye paddled bow in the artist’s canoe and during the afternoon they came to know one another intimately. Van Trinkle admitted that the recent unpleasantness had had one good effect. It had broken the mesmerism of hurt pride and egotism that would have kept himself and his daughter exiles in the wilderness for an indefinite period. But that was all done with now. Diana must have contact with society and take her place in the world where she belonged. He realized that his selfishness had been colossal.
With two men paddling or poling in each canoe, the party covered the return trail to Kakabonga in less time than Bye had consumed in coming down. The latter could not resist anticipating the effect Van Trinkle’s appearance would have on the lumber boss, who would suddenly see his clumsy plot tumble about his ears.
But, when they finally glided into Bark Bay there was only one flying-boat moored in the fairway. Steve, meeting them on the water’s edge, explained that Simmins and Hartley had returned to Hull and that he and Fred were taking out the last of the outfit that afternoon.
“Where’s Murphy?” demanded Sheriff Stirling.
“Started out on bis rounds the day after the Colonel left and hasn’t shown up since.”
“Which way did he go?” interrupted Bye.
“Doc Heney guessed from something he dropped that he was striking south, but he—”
Robert Bye did not wait for further guesses. He turned and literally sprang into the nearest canoe, made the little H.S.2L in a few swift strokes, let the craft go adrift as he started up the engine —thus drowning out the shouts of the sheriff bent on becoming a passenger— and went porpoising down the wavecrested bay. As soon as he could clear the trees, he headed straight for the right branch of the Coulonge, gaining elevation as he sped. Six days had passed since Murphy had departed. Six days in which to find the den in Lost Valley! There was not the faintest doubt in Bye’s mind but that the ranger had expected to get his hands on the gold before he could return from Cohalt. And why had he gone so suddenly if he had not obtained some sort of clue? Had he seen the signal smoke and located the position? What a fool he had been to make a fire on the Lookout! But even if the cave was found she would not be in it—that was certain. With her marvelous alertness and woods lore she would evade him as easily as a wren evades a crow. So he assured himself, and yet the mere thought of the two being in the same vicinity shook him with fear.
Now he was two thousand feet up in the clear, cool atmosphere and had an unobstructed view over hundreds of square miles of forest. Straight before him, perhaps sixty miles away, a thick smutch of smoke made a discordant blot on the horizon. He had almost expected as much. How often within the past month had his eyes been greeted by such a sight! But what excuse for incendiarism now? It alarmed him more than all the previous fires put together. His brain for once seemed to have lost its fine courage and coolness under stress and buzzed with grotesque and horrible suppositions, while he clutched the control staring out beyond the boat’s blunt nose.
It was nearly three-quarters of an hour from the time he had risen from the lake before he made Lost Valley.
Lost Valley! The deep, luxuriant fastness of virgin pine and hemlock, untouched by axe and saw, untracked by the heavy foot of lumberjack, all but unknown to the human freebooter—perhaps the last stand of great timber south of the source of the Ottawa—lay tortured, writhing, bleeding below him. The whole right side was a smoking, blackened ruin, while the left was one black and crimson confusion of insatiable flames. Only about the upper fringe of the hill was there still a patch of hemlock, shaking and rolling drunkenly in the fiery blasts.
As Bye crossed the Lookout, almost hidden beneath the flying clouds, he could see the swamp to the south on fire and the strip of woods between it and the crest already beginning to catch. He knew that the girl had sped away long ere this, and yet he must make absolutely certain. He wheeled so low he could feel the hot breath on his cheek and feared for his fragile wings. He spun in narrowing circles over the crest until the smoke torrent parted and gave him a glimse of the bare crag, and of a sight that he half expected and dreaded to see.
Two figures stood in the centre of the rock. Their faces were upturned to him. Then the smoke closed over, blotting out the view.
Instinctively, be turned the nose of the machine down, swooping lower, and the wind of the conflagration again swept the smoke aside. But now the crag was bare! One agonized moment of suspense and he sensed what they had done—the one thing they could do—plunged into the forest of the southern slope in an effort to gain the lake.
He skimmed perilously close to the tree-tops, S-turning back and forth in a vain attempt to mark their progress. There was nothing he could do to assist their flight, until they had gained the open water. And how could they gain the open water with a veritable inferno between? He all but brushed the higher tufts of flame-crested reeds, as though he would beat out a path for the fugitives with his wings. The smoke blew into his eyes, all but blinding him. There was but one way in which he could be of service to them in their extremity—wait.
He lifted from the choking swelter, swung above dear water and bounced down, coming to rest with his nose not thirty feet from the burning hummocks.
KNOWING thatthe airman had started out by canoe, Murphy had had not the slightest expectation of seeing him now. When he became aware of his enemy’s return he realized that a flying boat could avail them nothing in their present position. The nearest water was two miles distant and separated from them by fire. But, remaining where they were meant immediate death by heat or suffocation. The woods on the southern slope were not yet ablaze, and if they could win through in time there was the barest chance of their getting across the muskeg alive. With the thought, he caught the girl and swept her with him into the comparative coolness and quiet of the spruces.
He did not need to urge her forward. She ran before him with the lightness of a deer and he followed heavily, gasping and stumbling. She could have left him far behind, but for some reason which he could only dimly surmise she would slow down and wait for him to catch her up. “Hurry! Hurry!” was her only comment at these times.
For once Tom Murphy, alias Big Pete, alias Bull Myers, all hut broke his heart and neck in his efforts for somebody else. The course being down hill and fairly even under foot they made good time. Fleeting glimpses of the machine through the tree-tops consoled them mightily. Death did not appear so imminent when its breath was not searing their cheeks, screaming in their ears, flaunting its terrible banners in their very eyes . at last, however, they were again within its reach. The upper branches were hung with pink and purple flames, the acrid smoke was drifting down into their lungs. But the floor was becoming soft and slippery under foot and they knew that they would presently be into the marsh.
Murphy tore his jersey from his pack and threw the latter away. As his feet sank into water he stooped to swab his jersey in it.
“Come back!” he roared above the noise of the fire.
Diana obeyed, gropingly, as in a fog. He caught her roughly and dragged the dripping garment over her head, muffling her head, arms and body as in a bag. Then he threw her over his right shoulder and plunged out into the surf of flames. Every few seconds his feet would drop into a hole, throwing him down, splashing them with warm mud and water and giving him a chance to gulp a few fetid breaths. But, immediately, he would be up again, wallowing blindly on, with closed eyes, deadened sense, the will to gain the water with his burden, whatever the cost, dominating every fibre of his huge frame.
In such a state he felt neither pain nor weakness. He did not feel the glowing cinders raining upon his neck and hands. He was not aware of the fact that his shirt was patched with widening holes, that the hair was gone from his face and below the edge of his hat. He knew, however, that he kept sinking deeper and deeper and having ever greater difficulty | in extricating himself from the mire. He I must win beyond the last burning clump before his strength gave out. The j water was now continuously about his legs and thighs. He heard as from a far distance someone shouting ... he fell, rose heavily, plunged madly for a footing, felt the ooze open up, suck him down, and with one last sobbing breath before his head went under, cast his burden beyond him into open water.
Bye caught the girl to him, and, half wading, half swimming, dragged her into the cockpit of his machine. Ihen he struggled back through the smoke and slime, in a brief, vain search for the ranger. When he returned, the girl was free of the jersey and apparently little the worse for her experience. She caught his eye and understood.
“He was wanted!” said Bye gently.
The wind from the burning had slewed the machine around. He cranked the engine, saw the propeller fade into a blur, felt the water slipping softly beneath them and fall away, circled once around the lake to gain sufficient altitude and pointed the prow north. Then he put out an arm and drew Diana toward him. She nestled her pale face close to his, clinging hungrily, fiercely, as though he might suddenly be gone.
“Take me away, Flying Man—take me away!” she breathed into his ear and although he could not hear her words the sudden glory in his eyes showed that he understood.