No Heroics, Please
A story of rivalry in love and the desperate hazards of the implacable North
FREDERICK B. WATT
IT WAS almost uncanny. One moment she recalled her last dance with Jock McClintock and the next, looking up, she beheld him walking toward her across the ball room. It was impossible to believe that eight years, a little lifetime almost, had passed since they had last faced each other. The change in his appearance was practically negligible. The thin line of his lips seemed drawn a trifle more sternly, the cleft between his blue, searching eyes a little more deeply bitten, but he carried his slight, thin body with the same youthful airiness. There had been times in the past when she had imagined that his pale blue R.A.F. uniform, with its vivid slash of medal ribbons, played a large part in his striking appearance; but tonight, his wiry, birdlike form in an unexciting dinner jacket gave her' theory the lie. Clothes neither added to nor detracted from his quiet, purposeful presence.
“Hello, Jock,” she greeted him, extending an unnaturally casual hand.
“Hello, Betty,” he answered, his lips parting in a grin of frank pleasure.
“Thought you were a thousand miles away,” she offered. It wasn’t hard to assume the old spirit of camaraderie.
“I was until a couple of days ago,” he explained. “Two big business executives covering the West in a hurry, and I happened to be the only pilot available for the rush order. We landed a couple of hours ago, and take off again at ten tomorrow morning. Jerry Hickson insisted on bundling me into some of his glad rags and dragging me here.”
“Tough luck,” commiserated Betty with the slightest" touch of irony.
“Oh, I’m glad he did—now,” interjected the airman, bluntly. “There goes the music. How about a dance or two—first part of the programme if possible. I want to leave early.”
“Five and eight,” suggested the girl lightly. “I’ve got ’em booked with George, but he won’t mind changing ’em.”
“Thanks,” answered McClintock, checking off the proffered numbers. Then with careless interest: “Who’s George?”
“George Haversham,” explained Betty. “Don’t think you know him. He’s my fiancé.”
“Congrats,” returned Jock, bowing slightly. “I’ll look forward to the fifth.”
A momentary stab of resentment struck the girl as McClintock moved off. The bounder might at least have shown a little enthusiasm over the announcement of her betrothal, or have made out that he felt the slightest bit hurt. Her anger was not long sustained, however. She had matured considerably since she and Jock had concluded their flashy post-war affair. Though she still retained the same strength of conviction, she was no longer the fiery, self-centred youngster, drunk with the suddenly appreciated power of her physical attractions. The years following their break-up had gradually but definitely brought home to her the fact that there can be more than one perspective to a matter of disagreement.
George, perfectly groomed and looking particularly handsome, breezed up and swung her out into the sea of dancers. There were chaps, twenty years younger than Haversham, twirling about on that very floor, who moved with less grace and spirit. True, there were spearlike stabs of grey shooting away from his temples, but they only accentuated the bold lines of his features.
“Who was the stranger you were yarning with?” asked the man, for the sake of conversation.
“Jock McClintock,” answered Betty, her eyes following the object of the conversation as he swept past at the helm of an enraptured flapper.
“Oh, the flying chap, eh?” said George. “Didn’t know you were friends. What’s he doing here?”
“Come to take a look at the girl he nearly married and to grunt a fervent ‘Thank heavens’,” laughed Betty.
“Who is the lady?”
“Maiden called Betty Cornwall,” she supplied.
George missed a step and knitted his brow humorously.
“Shame I’m here to take the edge from such a romantic meeting,” he said without guile.
“Don’t be an ass,” ordered the girl sharply. “It all ended eight years ago. Moonstruck baby just out of pigtails and recently returned young war hero sort of stuff, you know.”
“What comedowns the years hand us,” sighed George heavily.
“Please shut up,” threatened Betty. “He’s a nice boy, though. I want you to meet him.”
“What brought about the bust-up, if it’s any of my business?” questioned the man.
“My coming to my senses,” replied the girl without restraint. “It was all right being engaged to a chap with planes on the brain, but another matter to marry him. He wouldn’t settle down and tackle the job of making a rational living. Loved his airships more than he did me.”
“They’ve done well by him according to all accounts,” offered George.
“I’ve no doubt he’s making a living,” granted Betty, “but he’s still exactly where he was when we parted company. Just a glorified taxi driver with about as much home life as a circus trouper.”
She changed the subject abruptly.
/^EORGE handed her over to Jock for the fifth dance and the men were introduced to each other. There was a certain quiet enquiry, a vague note of amusement, but nothing of hostility in their glances as they clasped hands. Physically they formed an interesting contrast. Haversham was tall, massive without obesity, and though he carried them splendidly, looked his forty-six years. McClintock, at first, seemed an undeveloped stripling beside him. Yet there was a subtle sameness to them beneath the surface, a mature, easy assurance. Half a generation separating them in their ages, they still appeared to meet as equals on common ground. “Good picking, girlie,” applauded Jock, as he and Betty fell into the swing of the music.
“He’s a trump,” admitted his partner. “Hope you’ve had as much luck in picking your fate.”
The airman laughed shortly.
“Not I,” he said, with a breeziness that wasn’t entirely convincing. “I wouldn’t admit that you were talking sense when you gave me my marching orders, but I realized you were right within twenty-four hours. This life of mine is for an untrammelled bachelor. There’ll be plenty of time to look for a girl when my hand starts to tremble on the control stick.”
“Better not delay too long,” Betty warned with mock gravity. “Remember it’s youth to vouth, and the girl who looks upon you as the winged Mercury today will see nothing but a pleasant, middle-aged gentleman ten years from now.”
“I’m not worrying,” responded Jock. “Haversham must have fifteen years on me at least and he’s managed to cop the pick of the lot.”
There was no bitterness in his remark, but the girl chose to receive it in the form of a straight-driven, vindictive arrow. She stiffened in his embrace.
“We make no bones of the difference in ovr ages,” she shot angrily. “Why not go on, though, with the old stand-by and suggest I’m marrying him for his money. You might as well join the crowd.”
“Same old Betty,” placated the unruffled young man.” Knocking the chip off her own shoulder if no one else will undertake to do it. My dear girl, I’m all for your beau. He’s the one type of fellow I could ever see you marrying.”
“Meaning?” she challenged coldly.
“You know perfectly well what I mean,” he returned with a certain curtness. “Haversham has everything that I lacked in your estimation, everything I possessed except ...”
“Except a birth certificate dated nineteen hundred,” cut in Betty. “You can’t seem to keep away from that point.”
“Look here,” stated Jock sharply, “you’re acting like a quarrelsome schoolgirl. I’m passing up sleep that I need rather badly to be here tonight, and I don’t mind admitting that I did it for the single purpose of saying ‘Hello’ to you again. Hickson used you as the lure. Get it into your head that the past is past. I’ve no regrets and I’m all for Haversham. From this point on I want you to treat me like the good friend that I am.”
“Don’t be a hypocrite,” snapped the girl, fully aware that she was making a fool of herself, but powerless to act otherwise. “Yoq know perfectly well you came just to give this roomfull of cats fresh material for another month’s gossip. Look at them, warming up already.”
The boy’s outjutting jaw registered a sudden surge of genuine anger. It was a signal not unfamiliar to Betty, a movement that in a second eliminated a gap of eight years and brought her back with a jolt to their last encounter.
“You’re out of the question,” his voice crackled. “I imagined that eight years might have knocked some sense into you. I don’t suppose you’ll have any difficulty in getting a substitute for the eighth dance, will you?”
“I’m sure one of the older men would be delighted,” she assured him.
“Splendid,” said Jock with sarcastic enthusiasm. “I’m going to get an emergency call from the drome at the end of this number.”
“Ever the perfect gentleman,” sighed Betty, as the music died away.
“Go to the devil rapped Jock.
Without further conversation he handed her over to her next partner, bowed stiffly and disappeared.
AT A quarter to ten the next morning a long roadster ^ bowled across the aerodrome on the fringe of the city and drew alongside a red cabin monoplane that stood impatiently, with slowly turning propeller. Betty, followed at a distance by Haversham, who had been at the wheel of the car, walked hurriedly toward the man who surveyed with an expert eye the light breathing of the aerial monster. McClintock, in whipcord breeches, riding boots and tight-fitting leather jacket, seemed even slighter than he had in evening clothes. He glanced up defensively as he recognized the girl.
“To all intents and purpose,” announced Betty hurriedly, “I’m here to wish you Godspeed. In reality, I just want to admit that I was all the names you called me last night and a few more for good measure. Don’t know what got into me, but I suppose the shock of seeing you again was too much for me. We are friends, aren’t we?”
“Sure enough,” agreed Jock quietly.
Haversham wandered up and the men exchanged greetings.
“Lucky devil!” exclaimed George. “Flitting about like a wild duck while the rest of us go to seed behind an office desk. “You chaps are the only ones who live twenty-four hours in the day.”
“I think you’re right,” admitted McClintock frankly.
“That is, as far as making a living is concerned.”
His listeners chose to discover no undercurrent to the remark.
Another car drew up and the plane’s passengers bundled into the narrow cabin. Betty, shaking hands with the pilot, found herself gripping his long, powerful fingers with undue intensity, and withdrew her hand with a sharp movement that failed to escape George’s eye. Reading each other’s thoughts, yet open-faced and unresentful, the present and former fiances confronted one another.
“Best of luck,” said George quietly. “I’m looking forward to the day when I can take a trip with you.”
“Thanks,” replied Jock. “I think you’d enjoy it.”
He climbed into his place at the controls and the deep voice of the motor rose expectantly. A moment later the chocks were jerked away from in front of the wheels and the great red bird, with a throaty whtoop, roared down the runway and climbed gracefully into the blue. Betty and George stood in silence, watching the streamlined form melt into the southern sky. To neither of them was the scarlet streak a man-made object. It was Jock McClintock assuming his real form.
' I 'WO weeks elapsed, weeks in which Betty prided herself that George received no hint of the inward disturbance that had shaken her since Jock’s visit. There was nothing to it, she argued. It was merely a temporary state of mind brought about by a flash of the past. It had been good to see the boy, good even to quarrel with him. She never quarrelled with George. He understood her too well. Only youngsters, unreasoning and reckless in an abandon of puppy love, spoke without forethought, left themselves as open targets to impulse. Youth. Jock McClintock. A scarlet streak melting into the blue.
George Haversham however was even shrewder than she gave him credit for. He knew that he had lost ground through the younger man’s visit, not only with Betty but with himself. The advent of the grave-faced, purposeful Peter Pan had suddenly laden with lead the years that separated him from his fiancee. His worldlywise eyes bored beneath the calm exterior of the girl and observed the uncertain fluttering of her still youthful being. George was a fighter. He made no mention of his discovery, but he quietly planned to solidify himself on the suddenly threatened heights of his ambition—to meet romance with romance.
A mining venture was attempting to raise capital from his firm. Already a plane had been chartered to carry a party of engineers into the fastnesses of the north country where the supposed mineral wealth lay. Two days before the departure of the party George announced that he was going to displace one of his experts. The business involved a good deal of money and he let it be known that he intended to look over the property himself.. He was greatly bucked when he had made the decision. Here was action a fellow could feel, adventure that shook a chap tô the core.
Betty was duly impressed when he broke the news.
“It’s liable to be dangerous, isn’t it?” she asked uncertainly.
“Not a bit of it,” he scoffed. “Your friend McClintock has made a score of trips into equally isolated places.” His eyes never left her as he said it. There was more to the statement than a comforting remark. He saw her start slightly at the mention of .Jock’s name, a movement that told him much which he would have been well pleased not to read. Suddenly she met his gaze.
“Would you care to marry me tomorrow?” she asked steadily, and without trace of emotion.
“Eh?” he gasped.
“I mean it,” she insisted.
“Why, there’s no rush,” he protested. “I’ll only be away ten days.”
“That’s not the point,” she pressed. “I know you don’t have to go. You think I’veexperienced some pangs of regret since I saw Jock— that I’ve had some doubts as to where my love really lies. You’re doing this because you think I’m swayed by the spectacular. I’ll marry you tomorrow whether you go or not, if you say so.”
George was silent. It was a terrific temptation. There was an earnestness to Betty's cleanly molded features that made them doubly beautiful, doubly desirable. Yet it was that very earnestness that made him hesitate. It was too much akin to the reckless stubbornness of youth, too much like the expression on Betty’s face as she had watched the sky dissolve a red monoplane into mysterious nothingness. Haversham was a stickler for cleanly won success; his life contained no indecisive victories.
“If it’s all the same to you,” he answered simply, “I’d sooner that our original arrangements stand.”
“As you say,” she agreed, but with marked uneasiness.
Although Betty returned his kisses when he left that evening, George suffered the sensations of a beaten man. Whether it was the suspicion of uncertainty or intuition, he felt that she was merely playing the game with well concealed desperation.
THE flight north was a source of much joy, at that. The swift passing of the great, lonely territory, sliding, map-like three thousand feet below, snatched away the dully paining worries that beset him. Late one afternoon the seaplane settled to the bosom of a bleak lake in the Barrens, and the party, putting to shore, erected a tent to house them during the intended four-day stay. George gloried in the sharp, clear nights under canvas, in the days of tramping the drab wastes, in the complete freedom from a thousand matters that forced their way into his days behind a desk. The main object of the trip became a secondary matter with him. Even when the mineral deposits gave indications of living up to their discoverer’s claims his interest remained lukewarm.
As resentfully as a man returning to prison he climbed aboard the plane for the return journey. With positive affection his eyes swept the lake, as coldly shimmering and unruffled as a great mirror in a low, rough-cast frame. Strange, he thought, that this wilderness should have been inaccessible a year or two previously, except to men willing to put in a season of the most arduous travel, while for himself and his companions civilization should be no more than a few flying hours distant. It was too soft to be interesting, as flat as a saltless meal. George decided he had been born fifty years too late for his own satisfaction.
Parallel with the shoreline the plane droned with increasing speed, its pontoons cutting silvery scars across the lake’s face. Another twenty seconds and they would be in the air. Suddenly Sterne, the pilot, rapped out an oath, cut off the motor and swerved the machine to the right. Ahead the dark, ominous shadow of a rocky shoal, barely covered with water, rushed alarmingly at the machine. Another second of grace, another five feet of clearance would have sufficed to avoid disaster. As it was, the left pontoon struck heavily and the plane, narrowly avoiding a complete somersault, slewed sharply about and tipped abruptly as the shattered float went under.
Get out!” thundered Sterne.
With commendable promptness George .orced open the right-hand door, now tilted acutely skyward, climbed clear of the cabin and leaped into the knee-deep water. He was closely followed by his four companions. Sterne, who brought up the rear, had barely jumped when the left-hand wing, pressed hard against the shoal, crumpled, and the ship, with seemingly human s'nudderings, up-ended and slid into deeper water, leaving only the tail above surface as a forlorn marking buoy of the disaster.
It was a serious situation. One minute the party had been heading for safety and comfort a few hours distant, and the next they were standing in chill water, gazing blankly at each other, at the pitiless landscape, at eternity. The lake that to Haversham had been a desirable haven one moment had undergone an almost instantaneous metamorphosis and now gaped cruelly like a stark, glasscovered coffin.
Fortunately all five could swim. The shoal extended a short distance toward the shore, beyond which it was necessary for them to strike out through a hundred yards of deep water. Taking advantage of a providentially warm sun and the absence of mosquitos—the pest having been largely eliminated by an early frost —the men stripped off their sodden clothes and stretched them on the ground to dry. Sterne, a veritable fish, again braved the biting water, made several trips to the .wreck and, working underwater, salvaged the silk tent, some blankets and what tinned food he could locate. The country being devoid of fuel, the party spent a cold, miserable night in their still damp clothes. There was a strong hint of winter in the air.
With morning and comparative warmth Sterne went back to the salvage job and managed to disengage the broken wing of the ship, thereby solving temporarily the fuel question. A burning-glass in the pocket of one of the engineers soon had a merry, if meagre, blaze going. By nightfall everything that could be made use of had been brought ashore from the plane, and the party began to reckon up their chances of rescue. It was out of the question for them to hope to make the nearest Hudson’s Bay Company’s post before winter came howling over the Barrens.
“There’s really nothing to worry about,” announced George cheerfully. “They know where we are and if we remain a week overdue someone’ll be out looking for us.”
“That’ll be fine,” admitted a pessimistic companion who was no stranger to the territory, “provided they start looking before the snow comes. We’ll be lucky if it holds off a week and after it arrives there’ll be no plane entering this part of the world until the lakes are frozen solidly enough for a landing with skis. That’ll mean a delay of from three weeks to a month.”
“Well, let’s start worrying when the worst happens,” suggested George, who had met the situation with commanding calmness. “We had better go on short rations in case we do have to wait a week or ten days; but there’s nothing to be down in the mouth about.”
THOR seven days they made the most of
their meagre supplies, kept cheerful by unbroken fine weather. On the eighth day, however, their luck broke. Sterne, who had developed a bad cold, became dangerously feverish; the thin rations came to an end, and the dawn revealed a grey, overcast sky that sent cold shafts of fear into the hearts of the castaways. Bearded and haggard they sat in silence as the last of the woodwork from the plane dissolved into cheerless, rapidly cooling ashes.
“If someone doesn’t turn up by tonight,” announced the pessimist woodenly, “he might as well save himself the trouble until after the freeze-up. And by the time the" freeze-up comes . . . ”
He left the sentence unfinished. No one bothered to continue the conversation.
At noon a low droning brought them, wild-eyed, to their feet. Husky exclamations escaped them, and they danced crazily as a black dot appeared in the sky to the west, gradually resolving itself into the speeding form of a monoplane. Their hearts thumping in a frenzy of anxiety, they saw the plane pass over the lake, apparently missing the white square of the tent. The deep voice of the motor died away, then rose again as the ship retraced its path. In a bound Haversham grasped the tent, wrenched it bodily from its supports and thrust it into the dying embers of the fire. Desperately blowing the grey ashes, he finally managed to produce a thin tongue of flame that quickly set the tent ablaze. When the silk was well ignited he threw a blanket on it which, burning slowly, sent a frantic column of smoke into the air. Louder and louder came the hum of the aircraft until, with almost unbelieving eyes, the gaunt watchers beheld a red monoplane equipped with pontoons, gliding down to the water.
George knew who the rescuer was before the ship, lighting on the lake, nosed its way cautiously into the shallows and disgorged Jock McClintock. Even if he hadn’t recognized the lines of the red bus he would have known. It had struck him from the first that if they were to be snatched from the jaws of an icy death it would be Jock who would do it. Fate worked things that way. It would be a humiliating return. If Betty had ever experienced any real doubts as to who her heart hungered for, they would be over with now.
Oblivious of the chill water that ate into the very marrow of their legs, the party waded out to the machine with yelps of joy. Sterne, who was in bad shape, rode on George’s broad back and was the first to be bundled into the cabin. Jock, standing on a pontoon, welcomed them cheerily, but there was a worried scowl on his forehead as he drew Haversham aside.
“I’ve got a nasty hunch,” he said under his breath, “that our worries aren’t over yet. Doubt if I can get her into the air with as big a load aboard. There are two more than she’s supposed to carry. Ordinarily I’d have used a larger bus, but they caught me at Simpson on my way back from Good Hope and it looked as though the best thing to do was to make a dash for here without waiting for another machine. Safe flying with pontoons is practically over, and tonight may see the lakes starting to freeze. Hop in, though, and we’ll see what we can do.”
With wide open throttle the red bird roared down the lake, as Jock, with all the skill at his command, attempted to lift the floats from the surface. Sullenly the plane refused to hearken to the elevators, swishing heavily along as though waterlogged. After two futile attempts the airman headed his command back to the starting point and cut off the motor. The sudden silence after the deafening fight for the air was the heart-stilling silence of the Barrens.
CLINTOCK turned, as though the movement caused him physical pain, and addressed the grim little company with dour directness.
“Sorry, boys,” he said, “but it can’t be done. We may have to lighten the load by two—certainly by one. Whoever stays will take what provisions there are aboard and I’ll move heaven and earth to get back tomorrow for him. I might stay myself, as far as that goes. D’you figure you could take the ship out, Sterne?”
The sick man, barely aware that he was being addressed, answered with an inarticulate moan.
“Certainly he can’t,” cut in George with forced briskness. “I’m going to stay. I’m the heaviest man of the bunch. I’m in better shape than the rest and, apart from that, I got them into this jam.”
His companions protested stoutly, if unconvincingly.
“I’m giving orders,” insisted Haversham. “What’s another day, anyway, after what we’ve put in? All I’ll have to do is sit and stuff myself until McClintock returns. Well, so long.”
He refrained from shaking hands with his men to make good his point. Assisted by Jock he transported what few supplies there were aboard to the shore.
“Just what chance is there of your being able to get back—in time?” he demanded abruptly, as Jock stood irresolute on the desolate beach.
The airman regarded the lowering sky with the eyes of a sea captain.
“I’d take long chances for any man with guts,” he replied, without the slightest tinge of melodrama, “but I’ll probably take even longer ones in view of who you are. Barring weather that will make a trip absolutely suicidal I’ll pick you up tomorrow. I’ll jump straight to the nearest gas cache on the Mackenzie. It’s only a matter of five hundred miles.”
Five hundred miles. Five hours distant if the snow held off. As unattainable as India if it didn’t.
“Don’t overdo things,” warned George, “or harrow yourself with pictures of my going out slowly if you can’t make it. I don’t relish a lingering death and there’s a rifle here. I’ll wait three days. I know there’s no hope beyond that period. If things fizzle out I want you to break the news to Betty yourself. No heroics, mark you, but enough that—well, that she’ll be proud of the man she almost married.”
“I’ll be back,” stated Jock definitely.
“Look here, son,” said George kindly, “you’re too spunky, too honorable for your own good. You won’t admit it, but Betty’s happiness means as much to you as it does to me. You wouldn’t want to smash it.”
“I’ll save it when I save you,” said Jock.
“You’ll wreck it if you kill yourself,” contradicted Haversham curtly.
“I’m not such a fool that I can’t see what you’re getting at,” jerked the airman, “but you’re talking rot. We’re wasting time in any case. Look for me at noon tomorrow.”
He waded back to the monoplane and a minute later the machine was again tearing across the face of the water. Going at top speed it lifted itself heavily from the lake for a moment, sank back again, then with a great effort rose clear. Gently McClintock nursed it upward until, when it passed over the lower end of the lake, it was gradually achieving a safe altitude. Quickly it faded from the sight and hearing of the lonely figure on the shore.
EORGE ate heartily of the provisions, picked up the rifle and spent the remaining hours of daylight in a search for game. He knew there was none in the vicinity, the place having been well scoured during the week of semi-starvation, but tramping the hopeless wastes was preferable to inaction.
It froze in the night. As he limbed stiffly from his blankets with the dawn he could see a skin of ice stretched across the lake. The threat of snow had not been fulfilled, but was still much in evidence. Well, that settled it. Even if Jock returned he would be unable to make a landing. He examined the ice. It was only of eggshell thickness, not stiff enough to puncture a pontoon, but the ironical part of the affair was that from the air a man would be in no position to tell whether it extended a millimetre or a couple of inches below the surface.
“Hope he doesn’t come,” muttered George. “It would be rubbing it in a bit too thick to have him heave in view and then turn about without a ‘hello’ or ‘good-by’.”
Shortly before noon a fine, powdery snow fell for half an hour and completed the camouflaging of the lake. To all appearances it might well have been frozen as solid as granite. Very little wind accompanied the downfall and when it had ceased the sun again gazed, cold and bleary-eyed, through the cheerless atmosphere.
A short time later the red monoplane appeared. Trembling with hopelessness Haversham watched it swoop across the white face of the lake, obviously in search of open water. Baffled, it rose and thundered over the little camp, waggling its wings as it passed above. George, taking it as a signal of farewell, waved stolidly in return. McClintock, coming about in a wide circle, pointed the plane’s nose westward. Instead of climbing again to cruising altitude, however, he commenced to drop and a moment later the roar of the engine died. Scarcely believing his senses, George suddenly realized that the flyer had turned, not to retrace his path to safety but to attempt a landing into the wind. It was superhuman daring or, for that matter, positive madness as far as Jock was in a position to realize. George was so lost in wonderment that he overlooked for a moment that the passing of a few seconds had seen the trend of his existence do a right-about face. One moment, death presented a blank wall to his vision: the next he was gazing down the pleasant vista of life.
The monoplane levelled off as the lake rushed up to meet it, and again the engine gave voice. Lightly the machine touched, broke easily through the skim ice and slid gently ahead, leaving a black path of open water behind it. Three minutes later it taxied up to the shore where Haversham, suddenly losing his icy control, stood wildly gesticulating, up to his thighs in water. As he lurched into the cabin he noted a fine sweat standing out on Jock’s forehead.
“You fool,” the airman greeted him, “why couldn’t you have thought to wade out before I landed so that I could see how thin the ice really was? I died more deaths than a cat as I waited for the bus to crash under me.” A grin suddenly wiped out his scowl. “Well, it looks as though we’ve done it.” He clapped the older man on the shoulder. “It’s civilization now and all the honor that’s coming to you,
George attempted to answer, but Jock was already engaged in the business of* taking off. Despite the thin ice, the plane with its light load jumped quickly into the air. Snow was again starting to fall, the sun was blotted out, and the drift of the plane showed increasing strength in the wind. Half an hour later the scarlet ship was being buffeted about as the first blinding storm of winter swept down on the Barrens. For an hour and a half the pilot was forced to fly blind through a vicious smother that seemed bent on wrenching the monoplane apart in midair. Haversham, became deathly ill yet still found time to marvel at the grim, strangely old face of his companion, as he literally fought the storm with the strength of his own body for every mile gained.
Suddenly, as though walking from a darkened room into the daylight, they found themselves beyond the path of the disturbance. Losing some of the altitude he had gained for safety’s sake, Jock bent over a map on his knees and finally regained his bearings.
“That’s that,” he shouted, wearily. “Nothing to do but coast home now.”
TWO days later McClintock brought his ship to earth in the shadow of a large city. A single person awaited it— the wire had been specific on that point. She offered her lips to George as he leaped to the ground, but he kissed her, not without a certain passion, on the forehead. Jock remained fussing about the cabin. The couple gave no indication of departing, however, and he was eventually forced to join them. His eyes met Betty’s with sullen defiance.
“I can’t say how grateful I am for everything you’ve done for us,” she said in a repressed voice.
“That’s all right,” he answered. “It was a business matter as far as I was concerned—a bit of glorified taxi service. Does the bill go direct to you, George?”
Haversham’s eyes twinkled amusedly.
“Send it to the office,” he said. “In the meantime come up to my flat for lunch— both of you.”
“I’ve got another engagement,” stated Jock rudely.
Nevertheless the three of them lunched together. George had a habit of having his own way when he wanted things done. It was a silent, uncomfortable meal. Haversham was allowed to monopolize the conversation, which was fragmentary and inconsequential. Finally he rose and made for the door.
“Excuse me for about five minutes,” he said. “The newspapers are going to start hounding me the moment they find we’re in town, and I might as well give them the story while I’m in the mood.”
The airman was on his feet in a flash.
“No . . heroics . . ” he thundered.
George’s face became suddenly stern.
“You’re beginning to talk sense,” he snapped. “And that goes for you, too, Betty. By heavens, I’ve half a mind to give the papers a yarn that will produce eight-column lines reading: ‘Airman
Takes Hundred To One Chance To Save Fiancé Of Former Sweetheart.’ How would you like that?”
“Try it and I’ll break your neck,” growled McClintock.
“It’s up to you both,” warned George, a whimsical smile appearing for a moment. “It’s time for you youngsters to acquire a bit of sense, to discover what you want, what you can’t possibly get along without. Remember—no heroics, please.”
He shut the door softly, walked to a telephone and called a city editor of his acquaintance.
“Haversham speaking, Dan,” he announced breezily. “Yes . . back at eleven-thirty this morning . . . fast trip out . . . sure . . great experience . . . feeling fine . . . ”
Suddenly he recalled his parting injunction to the couple behind the closed door. The city editor, at the other end of the line, wondered at the cause of the hard little laugh that momentarily interrupted the conversation.