The Canoe from Beyond the Moon
TO SUNDRY habitants dwelling along the reaches of the St. Lawrence, from Varennes on the south shore opposite the eastern extremity of Montreal, to Trois Rivières, halfway to Quebec, the intense drone of the airplane motor high in the night sky meant little. If they heard it, as undoubtedly they did, they dismissed it with a shrug. "One goes to Rimouski -or perhaps to Quebec.”
But those living nearer Trois Rivières may have cocked their ears more intently.
' Entendez--it is that Henri Beaugarde — he who flies airships from Montreal to New York. He goes now to visit his wife, v ho lives on the south shore with her father, the old cripple, loor httle one—she is so pretty. And she is to have the baby. Cest caperhaps the baby comes, and this Henri Beaugarde, he goes now to be with her. Grand-père. Grandrnère. L enfant de Madame Beaugarde arrive maintenant!” enri himself little, leathery faced man with snapping black eyes and a quick Gallic smile—knew that this was so as he crouched behind the big motor that bore him thundering along the heights. He knew that the sound of his plane would reach down through the hundreds of feet of frigid air, ^enenIu ro°ftops, carrying the message of his passing
to all below him. It would come to the ears of Marianne, his
young wife, and say to her as her hour drew on: “It is I — your husband, your Henri come to be with you. to fulfill my promise. There is nothing to be afraid of now for I am here!”
Yes, certainly but what would she do, what would she think, when, instead of growing nearer and then ceasing as Henri landed the plane like a graceful bird on the snowcovered field by the house, the thunder of the motor passed high overhead and grew fainter as the swift wings passed on down the river, until the sound of the motor became only a faint sigh in the distance and then ceased entirely? Marianne would be left alone with the silence—and her fear.
"Name of a name!” Henri peered over the edge of the cockpit, and saw the darker stream of the river's course standing out clearly in the moonlight. Contrasted with the white shorelines, it was like a great black ribbon laid across a field of white satin. To Henri, however, every contour of the land beneath him was familiar as the lines in his own wizened face. 1 le jiggled the stick lightly and opened the throttle a trifle wider.
The motor responded with an increased roaring, and the man in the passenger cockpit stirred uneasily and half turned his head. Henri waved one mittened hand at him reassuringly, and the man understandingly nodded in response.
Soon now they would be over his home, calculated Henri, and again he found himself wondering whether Marianne would understand. Would she have got the message telling her that Henri would pass down the river with a passenger to Quebec and then return to land? He thought not. He even doubted if the message would get through before tomorrow. It was distressing this thing that had come up at the last minute and upset all his plans. This thing and the storm.
But what could a man do?
It had all started in Albany that morning, when Henri
had brought the big air liner up from New York on the regular run.
"It is snowing like fury in Montreal; all planes are grounded,” the dispatcher had greeted him as the passengers had got out to stretch their legs while the plane was serviced.
Henri had glanced over the big transport plane to assure himself that all was as it should be. Then he faced the dispatcher.
“There are only a few passengers,” he chuckled, “They will not mind a little snow. And besides, my friend, I was not born yesterday—it is too early in the year for snow.” With that he had prepared to climb back to his place at the controls.
The dispatcher said nothing, merely had handed over a little sheet of paper with typewriting on it. Henri stared at the thing unbelievingly.
“But this is impossible. I cannot stay here. I must be in Montreal this afternoon. My wife ...”
He was thinking of the telegram he had got at the Newark airport that morning.
The dispatcher shrugged.
"You’ll be lucky if you get out of here by tomorrow, I’d say. But up at the other end they seem to think it may blowclear late this afternoon. So you got to be ready to leave then, if you get orders to. Meantime I'll tell the passengers we’ve got train reservations for ’em if they want to go on that way."
To the pilot's intense relief, the passengers had unhesitatingly elected to go on by train.
“Never heard of a blizzard so early in the year,” one of them remarked. “Guess it can't last long but there’s no sense waiting around when reservations have been made for us.”
Henri had gone immediately to the field manager.
"It is necessary for me to be in Montreal this afternoon. My wife . . .” And he explained about Marianne.
The manager had been sympathetic.
"1 know it 's tough, but you can't run off and leave your ship. It just isn't done. It'll cost you your job. maybe -and you couldn't get another w ith a thing like that against you. Not a good one. And. feller, you need a job more now than you did before. Take it from me. I’ve got three of ’em to feed, myself.”
Henri nodded agreement.
"Certainly you have reason.” he said, "but why not let me takeoff with the ship now. What is a storm to me? Pouf! I have flown worse than this. 1 will get the ship safely to Montreal.” Henri's earnestness had shown in his face.
"If any pilot alive could do it. 1 reckon you could,” said the manager, shaking his head. “But orders are orders
And that had been that.
I N THE pilots’ placeat the Albany field, Henri drank black I coffee and smoked innumerable cigarettes as he stared disconsolately at the lowering sky. This was to have been his last trip before his vacation. Months ago he had carefullyarranged the matter. When Marianne sent for him, he was to go and have two weeks vacation. To be with her. This was okay w ith the company. They had thought it natural. And Henri had the time coming to him. all right.
Time that was the point of the whole thing. It wasn’t the two weeks that mattered; it was the few hours when Marianne would be in the trouble that were so vital. He had to bethere then and for months he had made his plans accordingly.
In fact, ever since that afternoon when Marianne had first mentioned that strange matter to him. had told him her fears.
They had been resting together on the slope in front of the old farmhouse, watching the St. Lawrence moving majestically past on its way to the sea. The river was a clean blue and the sunshine was warm. Not a day on which to think of such things.
Marianne, her dark eyes heavy with thought,-had come at the matter indirectly.
“My Henri, you are so brave ...”
“Brave, chérie?” The little man had tugged at his crisp black mustache.
“But of course. Everyone is brave except when they are frightened.”
“But you have never been frightened—have you?”
“Sacré! I have been so frightened that my ears fold up and crawl inside my head and all my teeth drop out.” I Ienri’s brown face wrinkled in a smile.
“That time those two Germans catch me with my mosheen gun jam — whee-w !”
“The time you ran into them—”
"Oui, that time. We fly up and down and all around, while they chase me. Finally I get mad.
My hair all stand up. I squeal like a pig, and push on the stick and fly right at one. It scare him so bad he takeoff part of one wing, and blam! he fly right into the other Boche." The little man smiled reminiscently. “When I get home 1 find a bullet hole through my propeller. Why she did not break, only le hon dieu knows.”
Marianne took one of his sinewy hands in both of her gentle ones.
"I am frightened now, Henri.”
“Why?” He looked at her searchingly.
“There is nothing to be afraid of. Can I not take care of you? Are we not having the good doctor—not that old f(xil that killed your cousin? Will I not be able to come and stay with you for two whole weeks? And will it not be a boy, as we desire a fine son that can l>e named after me. his father? So!”
“Henri.” Marianne took his hand, which she held and placed lightly at her waist. He could feel the quick, faint tapping of the little one.
“A tiny live soul, Henri—so eager to begin his life. It is for him that I am afraid —for him that I am so frightened."
“But why. chérie?” Henri was frankly puzzled. His girl had never been like this in all the time he had known her.
"Connais-tu la chasse galerie?” Marianne spoke quickly in a low voice, and looked away across the river as she spoke.
It was almost as though in speaking the words she were
opening a door through which they must look out upon
dark, unpleasant, troubled things. Things she did not want him to look upon, yet which he must withal.
k “La chasse galerie?” k Henri stared at her. “You ^ mean that old légende of ^ the voyageurs about the % flying canoe? What about it?”
^ “Know then” — her
m voice was low and uneasy
M -—“that you are not wholly
M right to say it is only an
■ old légende. There is a voyageur’s tale, to be sure ■ but it is only a part of
the story and it varies from place to place. It is only among the old women that the matter is known t ruly. And it is not spoken of except in time of need. Do you know that it is said and Tante ’Vin says it is true that on certain night,s when la lune is shaded to the dark quarter. the Canoe From Beyond the Moon comes Ê voyaging through the sky. Ê bearing the souls of evil
Ê things souls that should
Ê have died with their bodies ^ Ê — seeking out the places Ë where little children are being Ê born, so that these evil souls È can enter into the newborn and Ë walk again upon the earth? This Ê is the true chasse galerie.”
W "What foolishness is this?” Henri stared at his young wife, half amused, half angry. This strange talk of hers made him uneasy.
“No, Henri—not foolishness. Three nights ago Tante ’Vin heard the sound of beating paddles over our house and
Æ heard the cries of those evil souls.
they have marked me out. When my time comes they will be here, dipping their paddles r in the sky—waiting î I know. I have counted the
days and the quarters of the moon. They are after him, after our baby ...”
There was genuine terror in the girl's eyes, and her voice broke with a note of hysteria.
Henri slipped his arm around her very gently, and over her shoulder he cast a vindictive glare toward the kitchen, where the old Tante ’Vin could be heard rattling dishes.
“My little one. my darling, who has been frightening you with such silly talk? Who but that old Tante 'Vin, whom you believe because she nursed you when you were a baby yourself. A great pity. She is an old fool who thinks that
even I. your husband, have sold my soul to the devil because I fly through the air. Maybe she will try to make you believe that too. he in? She believes anything she hears, and imagines
more than she set's. She shall be scolded for this, I promise you.”
“No; do not scold her. Henri, she is old. the Tante ’Vin, and so wise. She knows. On the Isle d’Orléans, where she was bom, they know of this matter. Tante ’Vin says that no bad children are bom on the Isle because they watch and drive away this chasse galerie when it comes.”
“So? And how is that done, my love?" Henri’s black eyes snapped with repressed amusement—and with something that was not altogether amusement
“Tante ’Vin says they shoot silver bullets, and drive away the evil spirits that would harm the small babies, just as it was done long ago in IM Vendée, before our people came into the New World."
“Bah! I would rather take my gcxxl pistol the Colt of the forty-live calibre, with lead bullets so big and see how they liked that. No, chérielie went on soothingly, “they will not trouble you or the little one, these voyageurs of the flying canoe. For I will be here, and if they come I w ill jump into the Avion and chase them so far away that they will never find their way back here nor to their accursed m<x>n ¡xirt either. And that will be the end of them. Voilà l”
“I am so glad, Iienri." Marianne’s gentle lips touched his cheek where the mark of an old sear allowed white among the line brown wrinkles. She always kissed him there. “I was afraid you might not understand; afraid you might think me foolish ...”
“Non never! Never that, my adored one!” protested the little man, the twinkle in his eyes betraying the studied seriousness of his face. Then he kxiked long into her eyes and kissed her, satisfied for the moment that her fears were allayed.
But as the days had gone on, and Henri had stolen a few hours now and then to fly down the river when he had been at the Montreal end of his runs, he had noticed that the matter was still deep in Marianne’s mind, though she did not mention it directly to him.
Henri tixik occasion to speak of it when he had a few moments alone with the doctor who was attending Marianne.
“No, M’sieu Beaugarde," Doctor Dubois had said slowly, stroking his grey, pointed beard. “There is nothing that we can really do about it. When a woman approaches her time
particularly the first she very often develops peculiar ideas. At least they seem peculiar to us men. who think ourselves such reasonable* beings."
To this Henri nodded vigorous agreement. Truly, this physician was a man of sense !
“These ideas,” went on the doctor. “usually pass away within the space of a few weeks. They amount to very little. But for the time being it is best to humor the women; let them believe we think as they do. So let us say nothing about it to madame, one way or the other. But the old one
— the Tante ’Vin I shall speak to her myself. She is a case for the parish priest, that one. So rest easy, m'sieu.”
ONLY ONCE more had Marianne alluded to the matter.
and that was on the occasion of Henri’s last visit to the home near Trois Rivières. Henri had been saying goodby to her. She had looked up at him, and her hands had plucked softly at his coat lapels, drawing his face toward her. "Promise me you will be here when the time comes?” “My soul— but certainly I shall be here. And where else would I be, little one?”
Continued on page 36
Continued from page 7
"If you weren’t here—I should be so afraid. Even 1 might die of fright without
1 lenri's mobile, brown face had lit up with one of his smiles. He laughed to encourage her and spoke with careless gaiety. But the thought engendered by her words had lingered in his mind. A few days later he had come up for his periodical transport pilot's physical examination. To the examining doctor he had mentioned the matter, very casually.
"When a woman is having a baby, and she is very much afraid of something do they ever die of fright?" Despite his studied calmness, Henri had realized that his voice shook slightly on the last phrase.
The doctor let the stethoscojx* fall on his chest and looked sharply at I lenri.
"It depends,” he said slowly. "I would say that they might not die of fright itself. Rather, a great and anticipated fright might produce a shock and that in itself would be very bad at such a time. You understand. But why do you ask?”
AU the time he spoke his grey eyes were
Ixiring into Henri’s black ones. It was part of his job to see that the pilots were mentally. as well as physically, in shape. A pilot with something on his mind is not exactly an asset in transport work.
"It is nothing only a discussion we were having out at the hangar.” Henri waved his hand lightly. "One of my friends is about to become a father. He is troubled. That is all.”
"Hmph; I'd say fright killed more fathers than mothers.” said the doctor gruffly, and went on about his business of ascertaining whether the machine-gun bullets which had passed through the upper right side of Henri Beaugarde’s chest a decade or so before had in any way incapacitated the said pilot Beaugarde from earning his living as a pilot of passenger transport planes, in accordance with the rules and regulations governing the personnel thereof.
HENRI, as he sat fidgeting and idle in the room at the Albany field, had found all these matters ixissing again through his mind. “It is droll,” he thought to himself,
"that I should be so concerned about this matter. I, who am a most reasonable man and in no way superstitious. Perhaps I should at once have said, ‘Bah, there is nothing to it; behave yourself, my beloved, or I shall not love you any more.”
To occupy himself he had started checking over in his mind the purchases he had made in Newark, that were now in the little bundle on the chair. Trinkets for Marianne and the baby. He had a feeling that he had forgotten something that he had intended to get.
Ah. yes, that was it. The shellac he might not have time to get it in Montreal. He went over to the supply room in the hangars.
"Have you a small can of shellac - for the propeller, please?”
“What d'ya want that for." asked the attendant, handing it to him. "Don’t they have any of that in Montreal?” He flapped a requisition book down on the counter.
"No. 1 pay for it.” Henri pushed back the slip he would have signed for a company
requisition. "This is for me. for my own propeller.”
"Oh, so you got a personal propeller, have you?” grinned the material man. “What difference does it make? Sign for the dope. They’ll think it was for a company ship.”
Henri’s brows knit.
“No.” he said thoughtfully, as though seeking to justify himself for what he knew was a peculiarity. "I must pay. You see. this prop she come off my Avion in the war. I keep her on the wall at home—how do you say? - for luck. I get a little dope for it now and then and keep it in good shape only I must pay for what I put on it. It is a feeling I have. You comprehend? It would be unlucky not to, hein?”
"Sure, I get you.” The attendant nodded. He understood the peculiarity of aviators in such matters. He knew one pilot who always wore a girl's garter around his right arm when he flew—“just for luck.”
"It’s a good thing you aren’t superstitious.” he added. “It might run into money. That’ll be about half a buck for the dope.”
"Oui,” agreed Henri. “It is good I am ! not.” He picked up the little can of shellac I and went back to the pilot's room.
IT WAS NOT until hours later, in the | afternoon, that Henri received his orders.
"Well, you get a break. Henri,” remarked the manager. "It’s blowing clear along the St. Lawrence, the ceiling is lifting and they're scraping the field to give you a runway. And you have a passenger from here up—big rush.”
“Who is this?” Henri was already climbing into his jacket.
“Some important duck—in a hurry to get to Montreal. Wanted to charter a special plane, or offered to buy all the seats in your ship if we'd get it off right away. Guess he thinks it will fly faster if lie's the only passenger. How does that strike you?”
“Bon—but I think he is crazy.”
“So do I. Anyway, you get her warmed up good, and he'll be here ready to go in about twenty minutes. Good luck—and my best to the missus!”
The passenger, who arrived in a large motor car some fifteen minutes later, proved to be a man of middle age, with firm, cleanlychiselled features. Henri, perched in the nose of the ship at the controls, eyed him curiously as he walked across the runway with the manager and was shown into the cabin. It seemed to Henri that the man was laboring under suppressed excitement. He kept taking the pince-nez glasses off the bridge of his nose and then putting them back on again as he talked. In one hand he carried a small black bag. a sort of valise.
Henri could hear the manager’s voice from the cabin behind him.
"... And you’ve got one of the best pilots in this part of the country, sir. An old war flier. He can do things with a ship no other man I ever saw could. Wonderful judgment. You’ll have a quick, safe passage —and good luck to you ...”
Henri heard the door shut. He glanced back, then out through the observation panes, and received the signal to take off.
Bringing the big motors up to speed,
; Henri taxied along the runway and lifted ! the air liner into space. With motors thun: dering in unison, he circled the field once I and then swung off to the north, climbing j steadily for altitude.
It seemed to the little pilot that the ship i had never flown so slowly. There was a j strong head wind to buck and the air was | rough. It was twilight when he dropped | down from a clearing sky to the runway of the Montreal field the dark mass of Mount Royal, with its myriad lights, standing out like a welcoming beacon above the flat alluvial plain that was now clothed in a blanket of white.
As the passenger got out of the plane he paused for a moment and pressed a bill into Henri’s hand.
“Thank you,” he said, his face warming briefly into a smile, "for getting me here safely. It was very urgent.” Then he was gone, hastening toward the field office.
HENRI looked after him, curiosity in his arched brows. Then he looked at the denomination of the bill, and his eyebrows went up still farther. Indeed, the urgency must have been great.
Someone took Henri by the arm. It was Macleod, elderly chief mechanic of the field.
“There was a telephone call for you— you’re wanted at home,” the older man grinned. “I’ve had them put snow skids on your ship and gas her up. Better check in, and then hurry' over.”
“My good friend ...” Henri patted Macleod on the arm and dashed off to the office. Five minutes later he was revving up the motor on his own two-seater —an old hut airworthy ship that he kept at the field. Macleod was giving a final inspection to the newly attached skis that had taken the place of the landing wheels for use in snowy weather.
“On the telephone—did it say how my wife was?” shouted Henri, letting the motor idle with muffled popping.
“No,” Macleod yelled back. “The call came not very long ago. From some place
near your home— Bécancour. I guess. It j was your wife’s father just said it was time for you to come. We said you were exacted in about dark, and we'd get things ready so you could start right away."
“There is no telephone at home,” said ! Henri. “One has to go five miles to the | village. My wife's father must have been in the village to summon the doctor. I must ! hurry.”
“Well, better be careful how you land, this snow is still pretty soft.”
“ Non, there is nothing to worry about. There is a big field right by the old house. I landed there several times last winter. I know mv way.”
"Here's vour bundle.” Macleod picked up a package and handed it up to the cockpit. “Presents for the son and heir?”
“Mais oui. And for my Marianne; even one for that old devil Tante ’Vin. Wait, I want that.”
“This?” Macleod looked at the can of shellac that was in his hand. “I didn’t know that was yours; thought it was out here by mistake.”
“No, it is mine—for my propeller.”
“You mean that thing at home—the one you're always polishing and rubbing?” Macleod eyed the little pilot suspiciously. “I’ll bet you arc superstitious about that prop—”
“Not so. I am superstitious of nothing. That is for old women. It is just that I am fond of it. We did a man’s work together in the war; we are old comrades. It took good care of me, now I take good care of it." Henri Beaugarde grinned as he adjusted his goggles, and a moment later the motor began to boom and tremble under increased throttle.
Then the explosions died down as Beaugarde closed the throttle again and stared toward two men running through the snow toward his plane. Gibbs. Henri’s chief, was one; the other he recognized as the passenger he had brought up from Albany.
“Henri, this is Dr. Alten Pilot Beaugarde,” Gibbs introduced them.
Henri acknowledged the introduction and looked questioningly at the two men.
Dr. Alten lost no time in coming to the point.
“I have to go to Quebec at once," he said. “Can you fly me there?”
FNRI shook his head.
“It is regrettable, but today that is impossible for me to do. Any other day yes. But not today. You see, nt’sieu, I am but now starting on my vacation. I cannot alter my plans
“But surely. . .” expostulated the physician. "This is a matter of life and death. My wife is desperately ill in Quebec. She was taken suddenly sick while at the Château and is now in the hospital. It is an operation case, you understand. I must get there tonight immediately! I am carrying a special serum that may save her life!”
Henri was touched by the haggard expression that came on the man’s face as he spoke.
“But there is a train, m’sieu a little slower perhaps, but you would arrive in time.”
Alton shook his head impatiently.
“Too slow. Besides, they tell me there has been a wreck at one point, and traffic is all tied up. 1 have just telephoned to see if I could get a special engine.”
Henri looked at Gibbs.
“Where are the other pilots? One of them could go.”
“Listen, Henri, you don’t understand. You are the only pilot available that I'd send out. This storm has raised the Old Harry I've got nothing but reports of planes down all day. Probably some of them will begin coming in tonight, now that it’s blowing clear but maybe not till daylight. Mathews is the only man, and I’ve got to hold him to take over your run in the morning. There are a couple of youngsters on call, but I don't dare send them out in a gale like this to a night landing. They don’t know the country down river well enough.” Gibbs looked squarely at Henri. "I’m not giving an order. I know how it is. This is right up to you. Take it or leave it.”
Henri looked sympathetically at Alten, but he shook his head slowly.
"You see, m'sieu. the thing is impossible. Tonight my wife has her first child. I go now to be with her, where she is having the baby, at our home on the south shore near Bécancour. That, of course, is halfway to Quebec, and 1 would gladly fly you that far without charge. But”—and Henri shrugged —"of what value would that be? There is no transportation except from Trois Rivières, which is some distance away. It would not really save time.”
“I see; it’s your wife too.” The doctor’s shoulders seemed to sag and his face was suddenly weary. "Well, I can’t ask a man to leave his wife under those circumstances. If 1 were in your place I guess I’d do the same thing.”
Henri reach«! up to pull his goggles down. Gibbs and Alten liad turn«l away. Henri knew they didn’t blame him. They understood. And yet he could not shake from his mind the words, “If I were in your place.”
Suppose that he were in Alten's place. Suppose Marianne lay in Quebec dying. And some man with the means to get him there to get him quickly there, to his loved one shrugged, and said, "It is impossible; my wife is to have the baby.”
The thought of such a situation made the little man tremble slightly with rage. Impossible? No. Such a thing was damnable.
Into his mind came the picture of himself driving a thunderous course 180 miles down river with a northwest gale pounding his tail every foot of the way, a swift, swooping landing at the field this side of grey-battlemented Quebec, and a wide open, rocketing battle back across eighty of those miles to the field by the old farmhouse. Two hours?
Two hours and an old superstition against
what? A human life, perhaps?
"But you promised me -” Henri had a sense of Marianne’s soft voice, saying this to him over and over through all the years to come.
It was too much. The little man could not stand it. He tore the goggles from his face.
"Wait! Hold! Damnation and devils!” he yelled, startling Madeod, who was preparing to crank the starter for him, and causing Gibbs and Alten to turn abruptly. "Quickly I will take you to Quebec. Get him the warm coat and put him in here telephone the message to my wife that I will IK* there and have the Quebec field lit and a car there for him. Turn the crank, ami. This ship will fly tonight as she has never flown before.”
Five minutes later, with a great vibrating roar from the motor, the plane slithered from the whitened surface of the field and bored up through the gusty night, headed east.
Clear and cold, wind from the northwest, and the moon hanging in the sky like a great half orb, its faint light making a misty gleam on the whirling blades of the propeller as Henri swung the ship over the broad outline of the river below. Far away to the southeast he could still see the tumbled masses of the storm that had made trouble for him earlier in the day. Now it was (Kissing away over the Nova Scotia seaboard. to harass mariners on the Atlantic.
Henri checked his instrument panel with keen eye, and then took a glance at his passenger. Dr. Alten was sitting motionless, and the pilot guessed that his thoughts had far outstripped the flying plane.
"In two hours at the most,” mused Henri, “I will have been all the way to Quebec, this so worried doctor will be with his poor wife, and 1 shall have landed at home and be with my Marianne. So. And in maybe a little bit longer I shall have looked upon my son.”
Henri reached his hand to the throttle and opened it wide.
“The good ship.” he thought. "She knows that we must hurry.”
And so, to the sound of the drumming motor, the old ship sped like a phantom in the moonlight, high over the quiet reaches of the river and the snow-clad fields.
When the lights of Trois Rivières glittered on the river bank ahead, Henri began to drop down to a lower level, and sheered off to the south shore of the St. Lawrence.
"I will just pass over the house to see that all is well, and then go on. They will know that I will come back. Perhaps they have even got the message.” Thus the little man comfort«! himself.
The wind whistled and how'led through the fabric as the ship came down on a long slant. Henri peered carefully at the shoreline. picking out his well-known landmarks. Presently he saw the three lanterns set out in the field, as he had instructed them to do. That was good.
But what was that?
Something seemed to crinkle all along his spine. Was there something in the air there near the house over the river bank ?
"Sacré!” Henri felt the hair bristle on the back of his neck. For an instant he could have sworn that there had been something like a canoe, dark in the mœnlight; something long and narrow, beating its way across the wind. There was a rhythmic motion to it, a rise and fall as of paddles swinging in unison.
The vision of la chasse galerie rose before Henri’s eyes. For an instant the old feeling that used to come over him before an air fight in France laid its clammy hand on his stomach.
Henri cut. the switch and jockeyed the stick to check his speed. The screaming of the wind in the rigging and around the struts died to a low whistle, and over it Henri thought he could hear strange cries from below. But he was not sure.
Uncertainly he peered down, straining his eyes and ears.
Then he picked up the object. There it was!
Could it be the ghostly bark canoe of the old legends, laden with spirits from the other world, sailing the seas of ether, waiting to possess the child that was to be born this night in the little house below? His child. Could it be that?
Henri’s lips had drawn back like the lips of a wild animal and his white teeth showed in a twisted snarl, while every nerve in his body s«'med to hum like a tautened wire.
The spell of the old fighting days in France was upon him. when to think was to act. I le cut in his motor, opened the throttle wide and roll«! the ship into a power dive. The passenger turned a frightened face toward him. but being otherwise concerned he did not s«? it.
Closer now, closer to whatever it was that was circling over the house.
All at once Henri relaxed, and inside of him something started to laugh. He could see clearly what it was that had looked like
well, like the flying canoe, the canoe from beyond the moon. It was a flight of wild Canada geese great black-helmeted birds whose beating pinions had given, from a distance, the impression of swinging (Kiddles, as they battled their way into the wind along the river. Geese, caught in their migratory flight by the unusually early storm, beating back to a well-known feeding ground on the river.
Then all at once the laughter in Henri’s soul ceased.
Marianne! Would she. down below, know that the raucous honking and crying came only from geese and not from the thing she feared? And old Tante ’Vin— she was fool enough to start clamoring and babbling about la chasse galerie.
“I will get behind them.” thought Henri, "and drive them out over the river, away from the house, just to be sure.” The memory of what the flight surgeon had raid about shock and fright came clearly to his mind as he spun the ship closer and headed
up into the wind behind the geese to herd them away from the shore.
And then, before even Henri could comprehend what was happening, the old leader of the flight, with one of those peculiar moves common to wild fowl, suddenly changed his mind, disturbed by the sound of the plane perhaps, and swung off with the wind. The next instant the plane was in the midst of the flight of geese.
IT SEEMED to Henri that the air was full I of feathers and wild, screaming bodies that hurtled past him. There was a crackling sound and the motor roared anew, with a whining, waspish sound. Instantly Henri cut the switch and wrestled with the stick.
It needed no one to tell him that his propeller had fouled one of the great birds and was shattered by the impact. Beyond that the quick pilot brain had dismissed the birds completely and, like lightning, was calculating the moves necessary to get the ship around into position where he could make shore.
A tricky and delicate bit of flying under desperate circumstances that had to be governed by the maxim, well known to every pilot—"never stretch a glide.”
Pushing the stick forward, Henri forced the nose of the ship down—down—until the earth seemed leaping up to meet it. But he gained the speed that was essential. Then he kicked the rudder over and the plane came around, riding with and then across the wind in a sort of corkscrew path, until its nose was again in the wind—and the field was below.
How many feet below?
Ten. possibly fifteen, Henri judged. When he pancaked on the snow and the skis ceased moving through the fluffy softness, the nose of the plane, with the shattered propeller, was maybe a few inches from the stone fence that separated the field from the house yard.
Henri leaned back in his cockpit, feeling as though he were going to be ill.
Dr. Alten was staring at him, whitefaced and trembling.
“What, in God’s name—” he began.
Then the door of the house opened and a figure rushed out.
“M’sieu Henri—Mother of God—” old Tante ’Yin’s voice shattered the silence.
“Come quickly. Madame— my Marianne -—the doctor has not come ! We are all alone. I am terrified. Madame had a fright and the baby comes too quickly—”
Henri seized Alten by the arm.
“My wife—in therem’sieu . . .’’There was supplication in his voice.
In the snow beside the plane the old woman was babbling on, hysterically.
Alten’s voice, at once collected and incisive. cut through her noises.
"Hot water -soaphere, take my instrument bag.” He passed the little black case to Henri and began to extricate himself from the cockpit. “Get plenty of hot water —hear me de l'eau chaud—vitement!”
And half dragging, half carrying the old woman, he rushed into the house, with Henri tagging uselessly behind, the little bag held at arm’s length in front of him. as though it were something of inestimable value.
FORTY MINUTES later Dr. Alten walked I into the front room of the farmhouse, looking very tired. Henri, covered with grease, was warming himself by the big
“M’sieu?” The little pilot's eyes snapped with the question.
"I congratulate you—a fine son. It was touch and go for a while—a very tricky case. I have never had to work so fast. Fortunately for you—and for her—I have handled a number of similar cases.” He looked at Henri queerly. "She was frightened about something, and that made it worsebut she’s all right now. With proper care there ought not to be any trouble.”
He threw himself down in a chair and passed his hands through his hair in a gesture of utter weariness. Then he got up.
"Is there any way I can get to Quebec, now that the plane is broken? Have you a car?”
Henri could see the hope in his eyes as he asked the question. The pilot shook his head.
“No,” he said, “there is only the plane. But—”
A clamor at the door interrupted him. The heavy portal was flung open, and the red face of old Dr. Dubois appeared, with the white whiskers of Marianne’s father showing over his shoulder. Dubois dropped his satchel on the floor and started stripping off his heavy coat.
"Ah, M’sieu Beaugarde,” he gasped. “What a time! The car broke down in a snowdrift. The motor would not pull it out. Had we only taken your father’s horse and buggy to come back in, instead of my car! Hélas, as it was, we had to walk a thousand miles to a farmhouse for an accursed wagon. And your poor old one here so lame ...”
Catching sight of the stranger in the room, Dubois ceased his rapid speech.
“I beg your pardon,” he apologized.
The American physician smiled.
"I am a colleague of yours, doctor,” he said. “Circumstance brought me here at the moment of emergency, and I took the liberty of assisting.”
“It is all over, then?” Dubois scrutinized the face before him. “My boy, you are indeed fortunate,” he said, turning to Henri, “Our little patient has been in the hands of a very great man. This is the famous Dr. Alten who—but you would not understand. I had the pleasure of hearing you read a paper, m’sieu, before the Society in Montreal four years ago. It must have been the good God sent you here when my poor car fell into that so execrable snowbank.”
Alten smiled, not very enthusiastically.
“I did not think so. I was on my way to Quebec—flying. I am taking some serum for my wife—her life is endangered. We were forced down—”
“But we are now ready, m’sieu,” interrupted Henri, pushing forward. “When you wish, we can fly on to Quebec. I will have you there within the hour.”
“Why, what do you mean?” Alten’s voice was mystified. “The propeller—”
“I have change the propeller. I put on the old one that was mine from the war. It fits my plane. I have put it on once before, just for fun. But I never fly with it,” he added apologetically, “because I am superstitious. I think if anything happen to that prop, it happen to me. So I keep it here safe at home.” He looked a trifle shamefaced as he said it.
"And you will risk breaking it to get me to Quebec?” Alten asked in a quiet voice.
“But of course, m’sieu!” Henri drew himself up. “Superstition I am through with. It is for old women. When I think of how a simple little goose can frighten my poor wife, I think to the devil with all such nonsense. It is for people like the old Tante ’Vin, not for men like us. Come, let us be on our way. This is a night for faith, m’sieu. God watches over your wife as he has over mine. The old prop will carry us— oui—for have I not plugged the bullet hole with a piece of the leg-bone of Saint Christopher which I had from a reliquary at Beaupré ! .4 /Ions! ’ ’
Within the hour, the habitants dwelling along the lonely reaches of the St. Lawrence heard the intense drone of an airplane motor. Doubtless they looked at each other, and shrugged.
“One goes to Rimouski—or perhaps to Quebec.’’—The End