Robert E. Pinkerton
PETER BLACKFORD and Marvin Greerfought through thirty years
“And each was chief
mourner at the other's funeral.” all Alaska remarked; which was Alaska’s manner of saying that, despite their battles, they had lived and died like brothers.
Peter Blackford had a son named Mel, and Marvin Greer a daughter, Dot. These two took up the battle in infancy. Mel was four when he first saw Dot, aged one.
"She slobbers,” Mel said after a brief inspection. "Her toes tum in like Injun’s.”
Peter grinned. "I guess they'll get along,” he chuckled. Dot lifted her snub nose a little higher, turned an expressive back on Mel, and became engrossed in a mail-order catalogue held upside down.
Mel remembered that when the two met again, four years later.
“It’s the pictures,” he said as Dot, after a brief and silent inspection of the boy, again showed preference for a book. “Even a Siwash would know which end is up.”
“I can spell cat !” Dot flared, hurling the book at him. “Only dogs count in Alaska,” Mel retorted. "I’ve got a
“One cripple,” Dot observed scathingly.
But she ran to a window w'hen Mel drove aw'ay, and stared entranced at the little boy in a fur-trimmed parka with his tiny sledge and decrepit old malamute. She smiled, however—a smile bom of woman’s ow:n w'isdom—when he turned at the bend in the trail to look back.
Peter Blackford and Marvin Greer did not see this because they were sitting beside the stove taunting one another. A strange thing, their endless battle. They had begun by arguing violently all the way up from Seattle in ’H7, for Peter saw a future in fur and Marvin in gold. Marvin went in at Skagwav; Peter continued on to the westward. Two years later they met, by sheer chance, in the interior.
Both were starving. Peter’s dog-drawn sledge was piled high with rich furs. Marvin pulled his own sled, heavy with plump moosehide pokes. Either would have traded his wealth for a pound of pork.
“I boiled mv last dog a week ago,” Marvin said
“I’d cut off my right hand first,” Peter retorted hotly “There’s Indians just ahead. I’ll send ’em.”
The Indian camp had been long deserted, and Peter Blackford turned back.
“Dam if I’ll kill a dog for you,” he muttered as he cast aside his furs and lifted the half-conscious Marvin to the sleigh.
But Peter did kill a dog the next night, and another three days later. After he hauled Marvin to safety he was in worse shape than the latter. Others brought in the gold. Wolverines had destroyed the fur.
It was only two years afterward that Marvin dumped a fortune in toil-won nuggets on the bank of the Yukon and forced a boat out among the crunching ice cakes. He never looked back as the great slabs ground his treasure deep into the mud or swept it on toward Bering Sea. for he was keeping his gaze on a dark form atop a cake in midstream.
“I thought it would be you." Marvin grunted w'hen he lifted the unconscious Peter Blackford aboard.
Thenceforth Alaska began to keep score and make bets. In the safety of warm barroom or snug camp, Peter and Marvin scoffed and derided and fought endlessly. Physical damage was slight, for they came to blows only when very drunk. An outsider would have been convinced of their
mutual hatred, yet Alaska knew that something more than chance led each to the other when the vast wilderness had set its deadly traps. And in trading post and mining camp criticism of one in the other's presence became unhealthy.
KNOWING NOTHING except the North and its w'ays.
the children sensed the true nature of the fathers’ relationship but buried their understanding beneath taunts. Age and size gave Mel his sole advantage, and that w'as sometimes wiped out by the fierceness of Dot s spirit. She refused concessions to her sex. She learned to drive dogs as well as Mel. She froze nose and toes rather than quit in their trail games. Only her pillow' ever saw her tears.
Verbally she could always hold her owm. Her rages sometimes stunned Mel, and yet he was ever driving her to fresh outbursts. They said bitter things to each other. They never permitted a softening of attitude a fact which proved deceptive and disastrous to the few other children they encountered. Their fathers saw all this and chuckled.
The rescue score between the two men had always been squared until a rifle barrel, bursting in a companion’s hands, ended Peter Blackford's life and left him one up at the end of thirty years. Marvin Greer never knew. Marvin was investigating a property in the Coast Range and his body was not found until weeks later. A doctor deduced that it could have been nothing except heart failure, striking as Marvin sat beside a camp fire. The doctor had warned him.
Alaska did not accept this. Alaska had known the two men for so long.
Each had made and lost fortunes—wholly in keeping w'lth the North and their type—and the end found them in periodic contrast. Two years earlier it would have been different, but death struck w'hen Marvin Greer w'as riding higher than ever. Peter Blackford left only debts.
Mel Blackford came back from California. He had no regrets in leaving. The Southland w'as too soft. His early schooling had been interrupted, and both in years and in viewpoint he was too old for his sophomore classmates at Stanford. Studying things in books w'as not a man’s job to one who, alone, at sixteen, had driven dogs across live
hundred miles of Arctic desolation with a fortune in furs on the sleigh.
Football was a game for children.
Dot Greer met Mel when he landed in Juneau. Her own father had been dead two weeks, but no one knew it
“You’re snub-nosed and freckled and fresh,” Mel surprised himself by saying, “but you’ve got something those co-eds never heard of.”
“I’ll be a co-ed myself, soon,” Dot laughed. “Fm entered at California.”
“California,” Mel repeated. “A beehive filled with drones.”
“At least it isn’t a snob factory !” she retorted hotly. “And it has a he-man football team, not a bunch of ballet dancers.” They quarrelled all the way up from the pier. They quarrelled so bitterly that Dot left him in the middle of the main street—and then ran after his striding figure and grasped his arm.
“I’m so sorry, Mel !” she cried. “About Peter. If there is anything we can do, dad and I . .
“Thanks, we’ll get along—what Peter left and I.”
Dot knew what Peter Blackford had left and her grey eyes flooded with compassion. But she spoke brusquely.
“Listen, old timer. Unlimber your neck. We were sourdoughs, the four of us. Sourdoughs always stick together. And Peter was on the strong side of the score. That business of bringing dad out two years ago up on the Big Black, you know. It put dad in the hole, besides crimping Peter. Dad won’t—”
“That always was a silly business,” Mel interrupted. “I haven’t kept any scores. And I can take care of myself.” “What if it had been me?” Dot demanded. “You know what Peter would have done.”
“Sure. You’re a girl. Somebody’d have to take care of
“Girl, eh? My dogs won the sweepstakes two years ago.” “With Jeff driving.”
“But I drove them in a trial and broke the record. I haven’t been to school down in the States. I’m not soft.” She whirled away then, but called his hotel an hour later and insisted that he come for dinner. She received Mel under shaded lights. She was gowned in a soft material that looked a little better than anything he had seen in California. It stunned him a bit, and for a while he was gentle as they talked of the old days. Then he said suddenly:
“Peter was caught in a jam. Fm going inside tomorrow. Leam how much I have to clean up.”
“But no Alaskan will hold you,” Dot protested.
“I’m holding myself. It’s not so bad. Three or four good years and I can settle everything.”
“They’re your years—not Peter’s!” she flared.
“It isn’t as if he had been crooked. Everyone knows Peter would have paid.”
“And everyone knows I'm his son.”
They had not seen each other for three years, and Mel had difficulty in disguising his admiration. Dot’s nose was still a bit stubby. Her back was expressive in a new way. But she had a breath of glaciers and snowfields—which are not at all frigid to an Alaskan—and she carried her heart on her shield.
“But it’s all part of the game in Alaska. You can’t bury yourself in a trapper’s shack just because Peter built too many trading posts in the wrong year. Let dad take care of it.”
“It’s a Blackford job,wildcat.” He had often called her that, and the word made her one. When a little girl, she had screamed as shrilly as an angry squaw and had kicked and beaten him. Often she had hurt, but as a boy he could not admit it by so much as an eyelid’s quiver.
She was not shrill now. Mel recognized that her anger had an honest basis, that it possessed an undercurrent of clear strength. He saw, too, that it did something to Dot physically. Real beauty must always be denied her, he had always thought—with that nose, those freckles burned deep by snow glare, that certain restlessness of body which forbade dignity.
But this girl was different. She was electric, vibrant, a-quiver with energy. Her cheeks were flushed, her features expressively mobile, her eyes fearlessly aglow. For a few moments Mel felt that she was someone he had never seen before, someone very much worth while.
He scarcely heard what she said because of his astonishment. The unrestrained little hell-cat he had known “inside” was a grown up and very real person down here in Juneau. And just how much of this realization his eyes might tell, he never considered.
For suddenly this new Dot disappeared. Her little fists clenched, her body stiff, her eyes afire, she wheeled abruptly and crossed the room. When she faced him from a chair, all the fire was gone.
“I am sorry you do not approve of California,
Mel,” she said lightly. “A teacher in Fairbanks sold me the idea and I’ve made all the arrangements.”
“It makes little difference,” he said casually. “A girl can’t expect much of real value from college.”
“I suppose not,” she agreed.
Mel taunted her further, for he wanted to see her strike fire again. But he only aroused gay laughter.
“Perhaps I won’t go to college,” she said. “Ought to stick around, with you inside next winter. Might have to keep up the Greer end—haul you out.”
Even as his anger flashed, Mel knew it had been aroused by a new Dot, saw that he had been led skilfully into a comer.
“Let that die with Peter!” he exclaimed hotly. “I’ll not be hauled out of anywhere—especially by a girl !”
“But that is such a skookum team I have at Nome,” Dot giggled. And when Mel started for the door she added: “Besides, we Greers don’t like to quit with the score against
As when she was five, Dot stood at the window and watched him stride stiffly away, and again she smiled when he turned to look back.
SHE DID NOT see Mel again. He left for the “inside” in the morning. Two weeks after his departure word came of Marvin Greer’s death. Mel did not hear of it until after Christmas. He wrote at once, but Dot was in California.
“I thought college might take my mind off things,” she wrote back late in the winter, “but it’s like the Alaskan Sweepstakes, Mel—sort of pretending you’re hauling serum to the Eskimos and ending up right where you started.
"Maybe I’d better tough it out, though, and forget Alaska. The poor old dogs are losing their jobs, with planes being the heroes out to the westward. I wouldn’t like Alaska without dogs. They were sort of there first.
“But planes are all right. I've been flying quite a bit as a passenger. Might leam some time. Now I hire one with a pilot when I feel stifled. I go up—way up, Mel. It gets cold, and I think I can catch a glimpse of Alaska over the edge of the world. I know I can smell it.
“Do you suppose they are right, Mel, about Peter and
dad? The old timers, I mean, and what they say? The doctor told me it must have been only a few day's after Peter was killed. And while we were talking that night ! I spoke of dad as if he were alive. And he was sitting on that log, beside a dead camp fire. I miss him so. But it was beautiful —those two crabbed old sourdoughs! They make me blubber.
“But you don’t! You won’t play fair. You’re a totem pole—with Peters carved on it—from the ground clear to the sky. Only you’re stiff and hard, and your dad wasn’t. Peter was a sourdough, and you’re a Stanford snob. I sold dad’s last prospect to a syndicate for half a million. I’m lousy with money, Mel. Why won’t you let me square dad with Peter?”
Mel Blackford did not receive her letter until June, when he came out to Juneau after a winter inside. He had closed his father’s string of trading posts and computed the indebtedness.
It was not so bad as he had expected, but he wanted to rid himself of it—to be free. The creditors tried to force him to operate the posts, but Mel had been bom in the traffic for pelts and was looking ahead. The boom years were on. Prices were rising. And he had gathered a vast store of trapping lore from his father.
“There are hidden valleys, fur pockets,” Peter Blackford had often said. “Dozens! Especially in the Coast Range. Places no white or Indian ever saw. Full of fur. If a man could only get in to ’em !”
Airplanes had begun to cross the interior. They made travel swift and easy. In Southeastern Alaska, where seaplanes were to operate that summer, they might accomplish the impossible. Mel went to Juneau and studied maps and asked questions.
When the first seaplane came, he chartered it and made a half-day prospecting trip that startled him. The pilot was
new to Alaska and saw only mountains and glaciers. Mel did not enlighten him. But a week later he was landed on a lake, in a valley hemmed in by impassable cliffs and peaks covered with unfading snow. He had supplies for the winter.
could reach Mel until summer.
The pilot brought Mel out in June. Two trips were necessary to transport the catch. All Juneau was talking about it when Dot returned.
“If a> Greer may congratulate a Blackford,” she said when they met.
“Really, I think it’s glorious, Mel.”
“College has softened you,” he rough—tell him said after a swift inspection.
“Another year. But that pilot talked. A dozen men know where I went. They think I cleared ten thousand.” “But didn’t you?”
“Twelve. I’ll fool them, though. I spotted a valley last year—bigger. No Indian or old timer has ever heard of it. But I’ve got to find a new pilot—one who’ll forget where he took me—until next summer.”
“You’re going in alone again?” she asked quietly.
“I can’t afford to split.”
“But those fur pockets are different. Inside, even above the circle, a man always has a chance. Where you’re going, you can’t get out, Mel, and no one could ever get in to help you.”
There was passion of a new sort in that, and it kept him silent.
“Please,” Dot rushed on. “If you were hurt—or sick. Take this. Use as much as you need.”
She had thrust a cheque into his hand. The figures startled him, as had this new intensity in Dot’s pleading. But long ago he had settled the matter in his mind, and slowly he tore the cheque to bits.
“You’re a stubborn fool!” the girl cried furiously. “You’ve no right to go in there alone for nine months. No one even knowing where you are! What if you get sick, break a leg, freeze your feet? Even a Siwash would have sense enough to take a partner.”
“I knew California would soften you,” he grinned.
“Soft! How about you? Flying! It took weeks and courage with dogs. Now light a cigarette, and you’re there.” “Try winging over those peaks in a seaplane—with no chance to get down.”
But her anger was gone.
“Please, Mel.” she said. “For dad if you won’t for me.” “Thanks—and no. Peter and Marvin may have enjoyed that silly rivalry, but it died with them. I’m playing this out alone.”
He saw her again, of course. People cannot avoid seeing each other on the thin shelf between mountain and sea which is Juneau. But there was no more belligerency in Dot.
Jack was not dead but dying—the result of a thrill-seeking movie director’s dare. Dot grasped her telephone. Five in Juneau from California. She hours later she was in a Los Angeles hospital, remained for a while, then returned “Old timer,” she replied coldly to the surgeon’s protest, to college. The winter wore on. She “this Hogan is the only man in the world who knows where did not write. No human agency Mel Blackford is—and I’m going to find out.”
She refused to rise to Mel’s taunts. She decked herself in trunkloads of clothes from San Francisco shops. She gave parties for old sourdoughs—friends of her father and of Peter Blackford. Men flocked in. Laughter echoed when she walked down the street. Children ran after her. A month went by before Mel realized that he never saw her alone.
He departed soon afterward, believing that he was hurt and angry and that other things were more important. Jack Hogan took him in. Jack was a freelance pilot, owning his plane. He was from the South and it was his first year in Alaska, but he was quick to get the idea of secrecy, aided by a promise of a $200 bonus if he kept his mouth shut.
“I can keep mum without being paid,” Jack said. “I may be a common carrier, but I’m not a common gossip.”
“I pay you or I shoot you,” Mel said coldly. “I'm through hunting information for beachcombers.”
“Don’t worry, kid. I’ll fly blind both ways and stay dumb. And on June fifteenth, next year, I’ll pick you up.” Dot returned to the university. The day after the big game that fall she wakened at noon. California had won and she had celebrated with thousands of others. But somehow the victory had left her flat. While the crowd went mad in the huge bowl and drilled puppets cavorted on the immaculate greensward, she could not escape the thought of another bowl two thousand miles to the north—a bowl immeasurably larger, and filled with a huge white silence across which a lone figure moved. And that figure would be there—alone, lonely, plodding, toiling—for seven more months.
“Big game!” In disgust she whipped aside the blazoned sheet of a newspaper as she lay in bed. Dot knew games that were far bigger, and perversely she began at the last page.
A headline sprang out. “Stunt Aviator Dies for Film.” She still flew often—seeking a whiff of Alaska above the sunshine of California—and her eyes caught the name “Jack Hogan.”
They went in to Jack Hogan’s room.
“I—ain’t got—much time,” gasped the flier, this ...”
He spoke of rivers and peaks and glaciers, of angles and compass readings and altitudes.
“Got it all—written?” he concluded. “Fly?”
“Soon,” Dot answered.
“Get pilot. It’s hell among those peaks—never clear— have lots — power.”
“Quit crabbing. I’m so happy for "COR TWELVE HOURS each day Dot Greer was in the And you’ll be free soon, won’t you?” air, learning to fly her own plane.
“The Alaskan Sweepstakes is just a game compared to this,” she said to her instructor. “That crate has got to be right or I’m going to shoot somebody. Come on, we’ve got some daylight left. I’m going to circle Old Baldy and land with the floods.”
Dot received a jolt in March.
“They turned me down for a pilot’s license,” she told her instructor. “Admitted I’d had plenty hours, but two lines wouldn’t jibe on a screen and colors went queer
“You’re through, then.”
“Watch me! You can always take me up as a passenger in a dual control, can’t you? Now let’s get busy learning how to land on water with pontoons.”
They started north in May, officially as a private plane owned by Dorothy Greer and piloted by Ralph Holmes. It was perfectly legal, except that Holmes never touched a control until they reached Seattle, and there, because of sheer funk, he could not have reached one. Dot got down on to Lake Washington somehow, and taxied to shore.
“A couple more hops and we’re there,” she said coolly. “Not so much hurry now. Lakes frozen in the mountains yet. But we don’t want to be late.”
They went on a week later, when weather reports were favorable, and they never saw a tree top from Campbell River to Swanson Bay. Scotland Yard could not have found evidence of Holmes’s presence in the plane, and even Dot was glad to be down. Two days later she tore a pontoon loose while landing in Ketchikan. But the next night she was in Juneau.
“I’m through,” Holmes announced when his feet were on solid earth. “When’s the first ship back?”
“You’re sticking !” Dot snapped. “But don’t worry. Only a Greer can bring out a Blackford. You’re just a front from now on.”
Juneau had no news of Mel. But it had known for
Continued on page 52
Continued from page 7
several months about Jack Hogan’s death.
"Might as well hunt a flea with a broken hind leg on all the dogs on the Yukon,” an old timer told Dot. "Mel gambled, trusting one man, and that man’s dead. Mel might be north, south or east. He might be within thirty miles—or three hundred—of Juneau. I’m not even guessing.”
“I’m not, either,” Dot answered. “But I’m betting.”
The town knew Dot had brought her own plane and it soon became acquainted with her pilot. He wore a natty uniform and, being warmly received, he talked a bit, especially about the difficulties of the flight j north. Everyone believed that he was going to search for Mel Blackford as soon as the interior lakes opened. And Juneau, knowing men, began to lay odds against his success.
Dot conferred with old timers and gathered information about the mountain lakes. She talked with fishermen about weather. She kept in constant cable communication with Wrangell and conditions up the Stikine.
But no sooner was it agreed that mountain lakes might be free of ice than Southeastern Alaska was being itself. Gales and rain. Low clouds hiding the steep slopes. All the world was a wet, grey smother.
“Ease down, girl,” an old timer advised. “Mel’s all right for months yet.”
“But what if he is sick? Or hurt? I’d give I ten thousand dollars for one glimpse of the
She got it a week later—a dim, red glare late in the day. But Dot had received I cabled reports, too. Next morning Juneau wakened to find the new monoplane gone.
Her pilot blustered and talked of theft, for his hero’s throne had slipped from under him. Juneau only chuckled.
“That girl !” The old timers nudged each other. “She ain’t going to let Marvin Greer lie with the score against him. She’ll come draggin’ Mel out by the hair.”
T"\OT GOT AWAY early. Broken clouds still drove across the sky. The wind was raw. Never had she been alone in a
plane, and there came to her that same empty feeling when, as a child, Marvin Greer had set her on a sleigh behind her first team of two dogs and cried, “Mush !”
Now Dot yelled “Mush!” at the motor — in defiance and in supplication — as Gastineau Channel fell away beneath her.
She turned up Taku Inlet, now filled with slowly marching bergs. A glacier rose up to meet her, and she lifted over it. Peaks barred her way—sharp and clear against the rising sun—and she laughed at them as the plane responded to the stick and she repeated the familiar directions jotted down at Jack Hogan’s deathbed.
The peaks slipped past, and disclosed others—higher—beyond. As Dot noted
them, checking her bearings, they disappeared. The sky disappeared. Only a blank, grey wall remained.
“Peter and dad never quit,” Dot whispered beneath the roar of her motor. “ ‘Northeast by east,’ ” she read from her notes. “ ITen thousand feet. A glacier that twists like a snake and is dirty like a hobo’s hands. I’d ’a’ turned back there, only Mel drove me on.’ ”
She drove into the grey wall, and was alone with her roaring plane. . The mist thickened. A bleak crag reached for a wing tip.
“Maybe that doc was right about colors and parallel lines,” Dot muttered. “Or Jack Hogan was crazy.”
Clouds thickened and thinned. Dot stared at her instruments, and repeated the words of a dying man.
Peaks plucked at her. Glaciers felt for her pontoons. Desolation mocked. Time and again a down draught drove her heart into her throat, or mists opened to disclose granite traps.
Then bright sunshine miraculously flooded the cabin. Close aboard was a sheer wall with transverse, snow-filled crevices.
“ ‘A cross . . . Sharp left beyond it, and straight north across an eighteen-hole course . . ’
“And I never stopped to kiss you good-by, Jack Hogan,” Dot whispered.
It was easy after that. Already Dot could see the distant valley with its sapphire lake.
Soon she was looking for smoke. There was none —even after her roaring plane had circled above the still water.
And there was no beckoning figure on the shore. As she stared at the virginal emptiness, Dot Greer felt certain that no man had ever been in the valley.
But she still trusted Jack Hogan, and came down. A perfect landing brought no thrill. Nothing. Anywhere. For a thousand years these forests had stood thus.
She crept around the shore with partly opened throttle. The motor roared between high mountain walls, and the echoes died; the place was empty.
Then, at the far end of the lake, she saw a tiny cabin beneath the trees. He had been
Desolate, broken, she cut out the motor and paddled ashore. No smoke. No answer to her calls.
“Mel ! Mel !” she sobbed.
A faint trail led from the water. The door stood open, proclaiming emptiness.
“Mel !” she pleaded.
No response. The legs that had thrust so stoutly at rudder controls in the last hour became limp on the smooth path. A hand that had been steady on the wheel when mountains flashed out of the clouds now trembled on the roughly hewn door jamb.
And then she heard a faint whisper.
“You’re just in time, Hogan.”
She stumbled into the dark and windowless shack, and flung herself down beside the dim bunk.
"I'm so sorry, Mel ! But it’s a Greer who’s come for you.”
Silence for a moment. Then Mel spoke.
“I might have known. I mean—it had to be a Greer, sweet. We Blackfords—we can't get rid of ’em.”
Two gaunt arms engulfed her. But even in that moment of surrender Dot flared.
“I had to even the score !”
Mel did not respond to the challenge.
“You little sourdough!” he whispered.
“But, honey! Why are you giving in?"
“Because I’m a better man than my dad. I know when I’m licked. Kiss me again— wildcat !”