A story of the New North where the race is to the swift of wing
ARTHUR HUNT CHUTE
MONTE CRADDOCK never took to the histrionic side of aviation. Coming from the Alberta Dragoons, a good old broad-brimmed Stetson appealed to him far more than the forage cap and “maternity jacket” of the Royal Flying Corps.
After winning a bar to his D.S.O., he was tolerantly referred to as the most distinctive man in the mess. No amount of army life could change him into one of the herd. No delusions of grandeur could make him into a secondhand Englishman. Of the breezy Western type, he let ’em know that he was a Canuck first, last, and all the time.
At the end of the war, having become a crusader for the air, he determined to carry on, turning characteristically from accepted courses to blaze new trails across the northern skies. When others went in for exhibition stunts and cheering multitudes, he chose instead the far-off silent places where flying carried the minimum of fame and the maximum of hazard.
Following his career in the “Back of Beyond,” Monte helped himself to large slices of real life, first at timber cruising in Quebec, later as map-maker exploring the Peace River valley, the ranges of the Rockies, and Northern Manitoba’s portion of the rich pre-Cambrian shield. Finally, catching the fever of the newest El Dorado, he chucked the Air Force, bought a plane in New York, and flew it up to The Pas where he established a prospecting service of his own. In a neck of the woods where experience counted, he was soon recognized as a pilot who always seemed to be able to come through.
A pregnant event in Monte’s career was a forced landing, and a consequent meeting with Bill Donovan who had a caboose on the line of the new railway. Bill’s home afforded a fine prospect of frozen muskeg extending almost to the rim of the horizon. This long view gave fair warning of approaching strangers, and by the time the dog-wallopers drew up at his door they could always depend upon the host being there to meet them with a steaming pot of tea.
A Klondyke fortune had left Bill Donovan almost as fast as it found him. From mining millionaire to bull cook, he had certainly seen his share of the parts men play, but no amount of tribulation could drown the excellent spirit that was in him. “Let me build a house at the side of the road and be a friend of man,” described the ruling passion of this old sourdough. Monte Craddock fell for him from the start, and thereafter was a frequent visitor at his godforsaken caboose at Mile 400.
Bill had a job with the construction force of the H.B. Railway, but this was merely his “tribute to Caesar.” Back of all else he was an incorrigible prospector. Once in ’98 he had been lucky, and now after all these years he still harkened to that whisper: “Maybe the next crack o’ the pick an’ ye’ll strike it again.”
Since settling in Northern Manitoba, Bill had brought in innumerable prospects which somehow always seemed to peter out; but he kept at it just the same, until one day he arrived at The Pas with a sensation—a v^st copper property north of Du Brochet, a sort of dream mine spoken of by camp fires with a tone of awe, something on the fabulous fringes, incredibly rich and incredibly remote; so far away, indeed, that the Cree who brought the rumor had not seen in all his life as many white men as could be counted upon the fingers of two hands.
A year before, this prospect would have been beyond the pale, but now with the Flin Flon Railway under construction, with the assured extension of the steel to Sherritt-Gordon, it was pointed out that this beginning could easily become a trunk line to tap the treasures of the farther north.
Catching something of the vision, Bill exclaimed: “All ye’ve got to do is run yer branch line up to Reindeer Lake, and ye’ll find there’s copper there till hell won’t have it.”
Recent developments caused The Pas to take Bill seriously, and certainly the specimens which he brought indicated a freer ore and a higher grade than the properties on which their present boom was founded.
W/HILE this old-timer was hawking his specimens vv about the town, he happened to run into a prospector’s promoter named Alexander Muir, and his partner, Captain Smith. Muir was a former Hudson Bay trader from the Mackenzie basin, Smith a Western Arctic skipper. These two had come into The Pas with the latest stampede.
After several lengthy sessions, they agreed on a gettogether, and then, just when everything was about settled and the contract was to be drawn up, it came out that the claims beyond Du Brochet had not yet been staked. Bill, it seemed, had received his specimens and the map thereof from an Indian who died at his caboose, and who had come by his knowledge from some unsung explorer buried far up in the heart of the barrens.
The native, in return for kindness, had given Bill a map showing the exact location of the ore body. The weather-beaten sketch prepared by the dead explorer was evidently the work of an expert, but this would not have meant much by itself. It was rendered eloquent by accompanying specimens which told a story weightier than talk.
Muir and Smith were attracted by this proposition at once, but finding out at the last minute that the claims had never been staked, Alexander Muir declared: “That puts an end to any idea of partnership with you, Donovan.”
Bill protested that the dead Indian had been heir to the secret, that he in succession had rightly received it. But the canny Scot objected. Having seen the specimens and surreptitiously copied the sketch map, he had all that was necessary to go through and stake the claims alone. Everything was plain sailing now, so why bother with a bull cook from Mile 400?
It was here that Monte Craddock took a hand. Monte had already had dealings with the Muir syndicate. On the quest of flying contracts, he had suggested that they might be able to use his airplane to get out to one or two prospects, but Muir was contemptuous.
“No, sir,” he exclaimed. “I ain’t got no use for highfalutin’ nonsense like that in the North. Mebbe it’s all right as fancy stuff for millionaires that want to chuck away their money, but my partner an’ me here are oldtimers. We don’t need anj young squirts to come up here and teach us new tricks.”
“But it wouldn’t hurt for you to try just one flight, Mr. Muir.”
“No, thanks. We’re not here on a holiday. Mushing’s our style; we’re sticking by the dogs— they’re much surer. So good day to ye, young man.”
Monte wiped the dust off his feet and promised himself that he would never darken Muir’s door again. But when this individual started to put it over on a real pard, his hat was in the ring.
In company with Bill he went up to their room at the Opasquai Hotel and rapped loudly. Mr. Muir opened the door, and after eyeing Bill Donovan suspiciously, admitted them with a grunt.
Inside they found Captain Smith seated on the table. Before Monte had time to open up, Smith burst out: “What the devil are ye cornin’ back here for? Didn’t we tell ye we don’t want no flyin’ stunts? We get in and out o’ the North on our own ruddy legs!”
“I’m not up here after any job to transport your carcass,” Monte said dryly. “I’m here for a word with you, Mr. Muir. I believe you’re the head of this syndicate.” “Aye.”
“All right. What do you mean talking about a partnership with my friend Donovan here, and then after swiping his information, trying to leave him in the lurch?”
Captain Smith started up aggressively, but Muir motioned him back; then turning to Monte enquired: “And, pray, have those claims up there been staked by anyone?”
“Not that we have record of.”
“That means it’s anybody’s right to go after the prospect. The first party to stake the claim and register the same in The Pas will be the master of that mine.” “So you propose to do that yourself, eh, and leave Donovan in the lurch?”
“Why bother with Donovan?”
“Because you agreed to take him along as a third party.”
“That was when we thought he owned the claims.” “But you stole your information from him.”
“We stole nothing. This fellow here’s been flaunting his map all over the town. The deposit there beyond Du Brochet is now known to everyone. If my partner and I choose to go up there and look into this proposition, it’s our own personal affair.”
“You mean it’s a dirty hold-up put over on a grand old man by a couple of cheap low-down shysters.”
This last was too much for the already hard-breathing Captain Smith, who came to his feet with a roar: “You’re nothin’ but a darned taxicab driver o’ the air, an’ don’t you come buttin’ in here tellin’ us . . . ”
The rest of his speech was cut short by a trip-hammer blow that pulped his nasal cartilage.
Following up his initial advantage, Craddock dived and caught his opponent just below the knees in the cleanest kind of a full-back tackle. Momentarily, the pair seemed to be suspended in mid-air, then there came a crack like a cannon ball hitting a hydrant, as the skipper’s head collided with a marble-topped washstand. The pair sprawled on the floor, until bursting out of a terrific clinch, they whirled again on to their feet. For the fraction of a second Monte Craddock still thought that he was the aggressor—then he knew that he had struck a hurricane right in the spot where they breed.
This Western Arctic navigator was something more than a master mariner: he was a captain of the squared ring.
Once, twice, thrice, Monte aimed at that rocky countenance, but every time fanned the air, while the clumsylooking two hundred-pound walrus metamorphosed into about the lightest and fastest thing imaginable upon a pair of dancing toes.
Smith allowed those three blows, just to lead the flyer on, and then—Monte saw that his opponent’s eyes were turning from blue to black, and that was the last thing that he remembered. Next instant, Captain Smith landed on the corner of his chin, sending him crashing backward as flat as a door knocked off its hinges.
Bill Donovan, whose old body still sheltered a stout heart, started to help, but Muir, who could hold a fifty-six pound weight at arm’s length, reached forth and put him into squirming impotence, while Captain Smith, with a lust for finishing things, picked up the prostrate aviator, lugged him to the window and started to pitch him out. Monte seemed to have just enough remaining sense to struggle faintly; whereat, with a vicious grunt, the skipper pried away his clutching limbs, and shoved him across the sill to plunge to the ground twenty feet below.
Appalled at this swift denouement, Bill Donovan burst clear, and rushing out of the room, went bounding down the stairs as fast as his old legs would carry him. He discovered his friend sprawled out in a snow-bank, apparently none the worse for his fall, although a bit groggy from the previous beating.
That afternoon, Monte went off to Churchill on a transport assignment. It was over a week before he was back again in The Pas.
On the first morning of his return at breakfast in the hotel, he looked around for Muir and Smith.
“Where have those fellows gone?” he enquired.
“They left here last Sunday for some place at the end of the world.”
“How do you make that out?”
“By the stuff they took along. They’d teams of ten and twelve dogs, and enough grub to see ’em clear up to the barren lands.”
MONTE did not ask any further question. He did not even wait to finish his bacon and eggs, and issuing forth immediately he started scouring the town for Bill Donovan. Mrs. Sturmy, who ran a cheap boarding-house, was the only one who could give him anything definite.
“Yeh. Bill’s been stayin’ here, but he went out to the Barrier on a snowmobile last Monday.”
“D’ye know when he’ll be back?”
“Expected to be in early this morning.”
“All right, tell him to shoot over to see me the minute he comes.”
Pushing on to his hangar, Monte soon had the mechanic servicing his engine, while he busied himself procuring food and supplies, which were stowed away in the cockpit. They had the plane hauled out on the ice and were already tuning her up when his friend finally put in an appearance.
“Trot in there, Bill, and get a parka, then pile aboard.”
Bill stood aghast.
“Hop it, old-timer, we’re off for Du Brochet to stake your claims.”
“Shucks, man, that’s away up at the far end of Reindeer Lake.”
“Well, we’ll be there by noon tomorrow. Smith and Muir started a week ago.'”
Bill needed nó more urging, he reappeared pulling down his parka.
“Going straight north, Monte?”
“No, we stop at Cold Lake and fill up with gas at the refuelling depot out there. This will add to our cruising radius and ease our minds for the last lap. Ye got everything?”
Monte boosted him into the cabin, then took his own place at the controls. A mechanic swung the propeller sharply.
A heavy storm the previous night rendered conditions somewhat ticklish for a take-off. Stepping up toward fifty miles an hour their tail just missed a drift. A slight pressure on the rudder to avoid this menace; in the next instant, on the opposite side, they were ploughing through a dangerous snowbank, their skis burying themselves beneath the blocks they had thrown from the runway. At seventy miles an hour they lifted, swung sickeningly, touched the drifts again, then soared smoothly into free air.
Looking down for a moment, Monte was dismayed to see that the mechanic on the ground was gesticulating wildly, as if something had gone wrong, but there could be no turning back.
'T'HE horizon beyond the Saskatchewan was clear, revealing a vista of dark forest intermingled with the mighty sweep of lake and river that had made this the gateway of the north for two centuries.
The thermometer stood at forty-eight below zero. Beyond the town, the icy trails swarmed with men, horses, dogs and tractors, appearing strangely diminutive from the rising plane.
As their altitude increased, the whole landscape appeared to be plastered with a maze of waterways. Ideal country this for flying. Anywhere at 3,000 feet they were within gliding distance of safe landing. This might as a rule be a comforting thought, but at that moment Monte Craddock was peering ahead with anything but a mind at ease. What had happened back there when they took off? Something surely had gone wrong; else why was the mechanic gesticulating so wildly?
But if the pilot had worry and dread, his passenger behind was so thoroughly at ease that when he tired of scenery, he dozed off to sleep.
An hour after the take-off, Monte woke him.
“We’re goin’ to land now. I’m kind o’ scared about our skis, so watch out for yourself.”
An icy fear passed up and down Bill’s spine as Monte swung into a narrow circle and started planing down toward the world below. Half a gale was blowing, which gave one great advantage as they came up into the wind. Bill took one furtive look and saw that the ground was approaching fast. At sight of the heavy drifts, he licked parched lips and pried himself into a firm position, waiting tensed, expectant. Then at full speed they struck something. The plane bounced, hung for a breathless moment, touched a further bank, and forging on came to a jolting stop that seemed to Bill like sudden death.
YY 7TTH the strain ended, and seeing * * that neither of them was any the worse for their tough landing, Monte laughed loudly. Opening the door of the machine, he slipped down upon the soft snow and moved about to investigate. After the first glance he exclaimed: “If that ain’t the devil!”
“What’s up?” queried Bill, scrambling forth.
“Our skis and landing gear were ripped clean away in that snowdrift back at The Pas, when we took off. Luck was with us cornin’ down all right. If we hadn’t skimmed those crests the way we did we’d ’ave broke our necks.”
Instead of gratitude, Bill’s face reflected abject woe; that spectre of failure always had to horn in somewhere.
“So we can’t go on no farther,” the old man quavered.
“Sure thing, we’ll go on. The mechanic will be out here with our missing skis as fast as the fastest dogs will get ’em here, and once he comes we’ll soon fix up this little business.”
Moving quickly, Monte threw covers over the engine to prevent its freezing, first one of canvas and then one of waterproof, after which he tied both tightly.
“Thank goodness, the machine’s safe,” he remarked fervently, as the two of them went off to see about filling up their tanks with a full supply of gas.
About all they did for the next two days was to sleep and eat, and between times tramp everlastingly on the runway, until Bill declared that she was flat as a curling rink.
Finally, on the second afternoon, they sighted the dog teams and before nightfall repairs were complete.
“Hope she breaks fine tomorrow,” was Bill’s last word as he buttoned up his eiderdown to go to sleep.
“I ain’t worrying,” said Monte-
Before wap un, “sun up,” they were both astir, gazing enquiringly at the heavens. Even the gloomy Bill had to admit: “Yea, it’s goin’ to be fine all right.”
“Umph—an’ cold as the hinges o’ hell,” growled his mate as he stamped about on the dry crunching snow.
They placed the stove beneath the engine—a difficult task to accomplish in the wind—but once there it gave no further trouble. After this the oil was heated on the Primus stove in the cabin.
In order to ensure a better start, they lifted the tail almost to a flying position and rested it on a block of ice. With everything ready, Bill, who was helping to shove off, gave the signals and Monte at the controls shoved the throttle full open. The tail swayed the inch or so allowed by the skis, but seemingly would not move farther. After a couple of misses, suddenly with a slight lurch the machine was free. Old Bill pulled himself aboard, and went tumbling into the cabin. Soon they were far above Cold Lake, bearing northward, passing over a picturesque country of narrow lakes lying peacefully between high forest-covered hills.
'T'HE pilot had decided on a course to Kettle Falls, along the frozen ribbon of Reindeer River to Big Island and thence to the Reindeer Lake. Once he had picked up the southern shore, it was a straight course for 140 miles to Du Brochet, situated at the extreme northern end of the lake.
After having been in the air for half an hour, they veered to the westward, leaving Pelican Narrows on the right. It was about ten o’clock, and off in the far distance could be seen evidence of an intruding fringe of the barrens, “the land of no sticks.”
There was a noticeable chill even in the cabin as the plane swept on toward the resistless cold of semi-Arctic Canada. Everything was wrapped in the iron grip of winter, formidably hushed, incalculably desolate.
Almost before Bill could believe his eyes, they had arrived at the southernmost extremity of Reindeer Lake. There was the great frozen inland sea, stretching away into the haze of illimitable distance, studded with thousands of little wooded islands; the landward shores sloping up toward low-lying hills thick with forest growth, bearing the strong character of dark-peaked spruce, scrub pine, and a few tamarack and birch.
The fringes of the forest shores were rugged with grey rock and boulder—an inviting glimpse, indeed, for one who followed the lure of metals. Everywhere were the outcrops of great rocks.
As one who had lived his life upon the outer fringes, Bill Donovan was not insensible to the spell of this great Lone Land. Its aspect was foreboding and relentless, and yet its very danger held a luring charm.
Bill was still revelling in the spell of the wilderness, when he saw the white sheen of the lake rising swiftly to meet them. They taxied safely down; then around an island promontory Fort Du Brochet came into view, in one of those hidden bays so common to the waterways of the north. A small group of tepees and cabins on the shore were clustered together, the one human touch in that vast desolate land.
While Monte was engaged in folding the wings of his plane and making everything shipshape, several Indians appeared on the bank. They had never seen this miracle before, and hesitated between fear and curiosity. It looked as if they were going to flee, but when the two white men came toward them in friendly manner, they waited, although not daring to advance in their direction.
Bill Donovan, thoroughly conversant with the Cree, soon put them at their ease.
“Have you had any strangers up this way?” he enquired.
“Yea, two white man, with plenty dogs.”
“When did they come?”
“Yesterday; they’re back in creek now.”
'TWO hours later, just as Muir with his leading team was starting to drive away from the mouth of the Cochrane River, he was startled by the sight of Monte Craddock and Bill Donovan coming out of the clearing accompanied by several Indians and teams of dogs.
If these two had dropped from the clouds their appearance could not have been more unexpected. Muir was still gazing with a touch of incredulity, when Cap’n Smith joined him. With no room for amaze in his stolid make-up, the skipper blurted out, “What the devil are you doing up here?”
“In to stake this property,” said Monte.
“But we’ve staked the mine already,” thundered Alexander Muir.
“Don’t cut any ice who stakes the claims first, Mister. The question is who’s going to be the first to get his claim registered down at The Pas.”
Captain Smith was a man for direct action. Almost apoplectic with rage, he started for Monte, whose gun was momentarily lowered, but the former ace of the Royal Air Force was in nowise inclined to buck-fever in front of human bullet-meat. No words were wasted, but something about the efficient sighting of a piece of blue steel suddenly brought Bully Smith up with a start.
Stepping into the breach, Muir admonished him in tones of offended dignity; “No good wasting time on a wolverine like that. Let’s get back on the trail.” Five minutes later, like sinister spirits, the pair vanished into the forest.
For the next day and a half, Bill Donovan went over the property thoroughly, establishing the boundaries from his map, and marking them according to the latest regulations of the Manitoba Government. Staking claims on the snow was an arduous business, but the old-timer noticed with satisfaction that his predecessors for their part had made a poor job of it.
“My motto is: Make haste slowly when staking claims,” he remarked sagely.
“It’s goin’ to be a joke on somebody, doin’ all this for nothing,” laughed Monte,' thoroughly confident who would be the losers.
But his companion, who was not so sure about the infallibility of mere machines, cautioned;
“We fellers ain’t home yet, so don’t start crowin’ too soon.”
While staking the property, they accepted the invitation of a half-breed trapper to stay in his cabin, thinking that it was merely for a night, but a regular subarctic blizzard swooped down upon them, so that they were storm-stayed for the best of a week.
Saturday at last brought a lull in the siege which had started the previous Monday. Before dawn they were astir in the cabin, the darkness within relieved by a glimmering light derived from the grease of wolf fat.
An hour later, with dawn breaking, they arrived where the plane was resting on the ice. Monte built a fire under his engine to thaw it out, while a dozen willing natives busied themselves clearing the snow off the machine, and then trampled down a runway for the take-off.
By ten o’clock they were in the air headed south.
For the first two hours everything went well, and then, just as Old Bill was beginning to breathe easy, a vast bank of fog rolled up to meet them, so that with all landmarks blotted out, Monte had to resort to a compass course. With an undue magnetic variation, he was soon completely at sea as to his position.
They were flying blind for about two hours, and at the speed the machine was making had probably covered about two hundred miles, when through the fog came a momentary glimpse of lake and forest, which Monte thought he recognized as Pelican Narrows.
Believing that he knew his position from this fleeting glimpse he turned his plane to the eastward on a course which he expected would have taken him to The Pas. Haunted by the fear that perhaps he had overshot his looked-for landmark, he kept peering into the flying scud, but visibility was poor, and nothing could be detected with certainty.
The world beneath had resolved itself into a confusion of ice and snow and cloud and mist. Gradually the appalling fact began to come home to the pilot that he had lost his way.
'"TROUBLES now came upon them fast
and furious. For some time a dangerous vibration had been developing and throwing the engine off its smooth performance. Spluttering misses indicated that the fuel supply might be giving out. They had only been in the air for four hours, but there was no mistake about the warnings.
At one-thirty the engine cut out suddenly as though the switch had been snapped. Monte threw the switch right and left, but there was no response from the engine. With great coolness he steadied the machine, righting her to an even keel for an easy glide.
Near the ground the air was rough; the plane swerved and pitched. Outwardly calm, in spite of inward misgiving, Monte corrected each unsteady move with the controls. In a moment they were in a snowdrift. They could not see through the frosted windows but both occupants braced themselves and waited. The left wing and the skis struck simultaneously; they bounced and alighted as smoothly as though on the best-prepared landing field.
Monte opened the door and slipped out. The wind and driving snow filled his eyes, and he was rather in favor of retiring to the cozy cabin and waiting for the weather to moderate. Not so his partner, who by this time was frantic at the thought that they might lose out in registering their claims.
“Got any idea about where we are, Bill?”
“Lord knows, but we’d better shake a leg an’ find out.”
After attending to the machine, the two of them set off on a reconnaissance, heading southward through a black spruce swamp, the most difficult region of all for trail finders to negotiate, since the trees were mostly of uniform size and height. The surface of the snow was more or less level. Everything bore the same unending monotony.
Finally, they emerged from the spruce swamp into a waste of frozen muskeg.
“Looks to me as if we’d hit the barrens somewhere between the Churchill and the Nelson,” declared Monte.
“Mebbe, but them barrens is pretty wide, ye know.”
Still pushing on, eight miles of muskeg brought them to a heavy forest of white spruce, jackpine, poplar and birch. This was far different from anything to be found up Churchill way, and Bill remarked: “We must be farther south than we thought. Muskeg can’t be frozen so deep when its forested like this.”
A short piece of tracking through this wood and they emerged upon a frozen shore.
“I know where we are,” exclaimed Bill, v/ith a sudden note of decision. “We’re at Back Lake.”
“Isn’t that an extension of Oxford?”
“That means we’re all right now, oldtimer. The Air Force have a gas and oil cache at the head of Oxford Lake. I was put wise to that when I was flying for the Topographical Department. All we got to do now is to find that gas and everything’ll be plain sailing.”
After a brief respite to boil the kettle, with the moon rising, they set out in quest of the cache, searching all through the night, without success. By daybreak, with the possibility of losing his claims becoming increasingly real, the old prospector was almost frantic.
At length he halted with the suggestion:
“It’s only a short way from here to Oxford House. We might as well chuck the idea of flying back, and get the Hudson Bay people at the post to loan us dogs to carry on with. Ye can’t tell what may have held them other fellers up, and if we don’t miss no time now, we’ve still got a chance to beat ’em with the dogs.”
"DUT for Monte the very idea of giving up his plane was unthinkable. Had not Alexander Muir taunted him to his face that dogs were the only thing in the north? Had he not scoffed at the dependability of flying in this wild land?
Such memories caused the mind of the flier to harden into adamantine purpose. No, no, he would not quit. He was honor bound to stand by his ship.
For his part, Bill could see about as much sense in hunting for that cache, as looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
“Might as well quit the flyin’ notion now and be done with it.”
But his companion was in anything but a quitting mood. Facing the old-timer with a sudden blaze of fury, Monte snarled: “I’m goin’ back by air.”
The manner of his reply showed plainly that bad blood was smoldering underneath. Bill made no further parley, for in the wilds it is not good when two men travel together to give surly answer to surly remark; such talk is pregnant with tragedy. Knowing this, the fine-spirited old-timer held his peace, and taking his rifle set off in search of game.
After bagging five ptarmigan, he brought them back to camp and was busily engaged in cooking a meal when there came an exultant whoop, and he looked up to see Monte and a couple of Indians bearing in from the icy lake with a heavy dog team. As they drew nearer, Bill saw that their sled contained two large red tins, while Monte headed the procession, calling out:
“I found her, old-timer.”
“What, the gas?”
“Yes. Met these natives just as I was about ready to chuck the sponge. One of ’em happened to be the very guy who was in charge of the cache, and so it wasn’t long before I got a couple of five-gallon cans, enough to fly our plane over to the cache to fill her up. Then there’ll be nothin’ for it but to give her the gun for home.”
After partaking of the roasted ptarmigan, they set off at once to return to the plane, whither Bill led them unerringly about an hour after nightfall.
At seven of a Tuesday morning they were in the air headed for the cache on Oxford Lake. Nine o’clock saw the plane taking off again with tanks filled and the engine running with a low hum that sounded like sweetest music in the pilot’s ear. For’ard at the controls, Monte Craddock was talking exultantly to his machine as they soared over lake and forest.
“We’ll show him yet, old girl. We’ll show him yet.”
Here and there scant settlements began to appear; the clearings increased. Then long, deep scars showed where the Flin Flon line was branching off to tap the distant treasurehouse of metal. Monte wondered how long before that line would reach Du Brochet.
After a few moments crossing a dark forest, there opened out, as though with welcoming arms, a mighty frozen waterway, with the town of The Pas nestling cozily beyond.
"PLYING low across the tree tops, the
pilot was preparing to taxi down here upon the ice, when the sight of a dog team hauled by an inordinately long string of huskies suddenly made his heart go phutt. In an instant he was gripping his controls, mounting high across the river.
“Against regulations to come down in the town,” he muttered; “but I’ve got to chance it.”
He made a perfect landing in the open space before the school. Almost at once the field was swarming with kids, while the sergeant of the Mounties was rushing over to enquire into a violation of a Federal ordinance. But the occupants of the plane waited for no one; their claims were not yet registered.
Half an hour later, that vast copper property north of Du Brochet—the dream mine of many camp fires—was at last entered in the Provincial records.
With everything attended to, the claimstakers were on their way to the hotel, intent only on getting next to a good square yard of ham and eggs, when turning the corner they suddenly halted the headlong impetuousness of a couple of chin-whiskered, hoar-frosted travellers, appearing in that street like wraiths out of the cold, white mist.
This unexpected meeting brought the two sourdoughs to a standstill, dumb and palsied. But in spite of their discomfiture, Monte Craddock was not above rubbing it in. Hauling up before the new arrivals, he exclaimed admiringly: “Yes, dogs are much surer, aren’t they, Mister Muir?”