The Aeroplane Boys Series
ON THE EDGE OF THE ARCTIC
An Aeroplane in Snowland
Illustrated by Norman P. Hall
The Reilly & Britton Co. Chicago
Copyright, 1913 by The Reilly & Britton Co. All Rights Reserved
ON THE EDGE OF THE ARCTIC
I Introducing An Airship And Count Zept 9
II A Curious Stranger Learns the Object of the Gitchie Manitou 27
III Colonel Howell Makes a Novel Proposal 42
IV Colonel Howell Discovers an Old Friend in Jack Zept 58
V Negotiating and Outfitting 72
VI The Expedition Strikes a Snag in Edmonton 86
VII A Tempestuous Voyage to Athabasca Landing 100
VIII Count Zept Makes Himself Known at the Landing 114
IX The Song of the Voyageur 128
X Paul Awakens to the Situation 142
XI Preparing Camp for Winter 155
XII Breasting a Blizzard in an Airship 169
XIII In the Land of Caribou, Moose and Musk Ox 187
XIV In the Cabin of the Paralyzed Indian 201
XV A Letter Goes Wrong 217
XVI Roy Conducts a Hunt 232
XVII The Gitchie Manitou Wins a Race 248
The Gitchie Manitou ready for its first flight in the Far North. Frontispiece
"I've an idea and I got it the minute I saw your aeroplane to-day." 51
"Don't shoot," he protested. "What's the use?" 181
"They must have seen us," panted Roy as he and Norman advanced. 205
ON THE EDGE OF THE ARCTIC OR AN AEROPLANE IN SNOWLAND
INTRODUCING AN AIRSHIP AND COUNT ZEPT
This story, which is an account of the peculiar and marvelous adventures by which two Canadian boys—Norman Grant and Roy Moulton—achieved a sudden fame in the Arctic wilderness of the great Northwest, had its beginning in the thriving city of Calgary. The exact time was the big day of the celebrated "Stampede," Calgary's famous civic celebration. It was in July and among the many events that had drawn thousands of people to the new Northwestern metropolis, Norman and Roy were on the program as aviators and exhibitors of their new aeroplane.
These young men were born in Calgary and had lived eighteen years in that city. Since this almost covered the period of Calgary's growth from a trading post to a modern city, each young man had a knowledge of the wilderness and its romance that other boys could get only from history. This meant that they knew plainsmen, scouts, ranchmen, cowboys, hunters, trappers, and even Indians as personal friends. It meant also that they had a real knowledge of the prairies, the woods and even of the mountains. Their knowledge of these men and the land in which they lived was personal and did not come from the fanciful narratives of books of adventure.
Each boy was the son of a mechanic, men who had come into the Province of Alberta with the first railroads. And each boy was educated in all that a grammar school affords. The picturesque romance of the Northwest having been a part of the life of each, it might have been supposed that the ambitions of the two lads would have run toward mining or ranch life or even toward the inviting work of hunters or trappers.
To the gratification of their fathers, however, they fell in with the modern movement and turned toward mechanics. When the furore for aeronautics reached even far-away Calgary, the boys found themselves passionately absorbed in all airship discoveries. Mr. Grant's position as a division mechanic of a great trunk railroad, and Mr. Moulton's "Electrical Supply Factory," gave the boys their starting point. Later, in Mr. Moulton's factory, an outbuilding was appropriated and in this place, with the approval and assistance of their fathers, the two boys finally completed an airship. This was but a spur to a renewed effort, and within a year, the boys attending school meanwhile, they finished their improved aeroplane. It was named the "Gitchie Manitou" or "Spirit of the Wind"—words taken from the Cree Indians.
The original ideas that resulted in this ingenious contrivance came mainly from the boys themselves. Yet they neglected no suggestions that they could find in the latest aeronautical journals. This wonderful machine was only locally known, but when the citizens of Calgary planned their local celebration, known as the "Stampede," there was knowledge among the promoters, of the just completed "Gitchie Manitou." It was fitting that this modern invention should be shown in contrast with all that was being collected to exhibit the past, so an arrangement was made with the young aviators to give a daily flight in the new airship.
"It really isn't made for work of this kind," argued Norman to his companion when the suggestion was made to them, "but if it'll work in the winter in the wind and snow, as we've planned, I reckon we ought to be able to put it over in the park."
"Oh, it'll work all right," responded Roy. "But what if it does? I never quite figured out that we were to turn ourselves into showmen."
"Listen!" interrupted Grant at once. "You've got to show your goods first. It's just the place where we may meet people who will understand what it's good for."
"And even then what are we going to do?" asked Roy. "Sell it to some mail or stage contractor? To some one who works in the blizzard?"
The other boy shook his head: "I don't know," he answered slowly, "but it's certainly going to come in handy for some one. I don't know of any other machine that you can run in a snowstorm or that would be any good up here in the wilderness when the bad weather comes on. They're not going to pay us much for risking our necks, but I'm in favor of making a contract, just to see if some one doesn't come along who'll understand it."
"Then," suggested Roy with a smile, "I suppose all that'll be left for us to do will be to sell it and go to work on another one."
"Oh, I don't know," answered young Grant slowly, "there aren't many aviators 'round here!"
"What do you mean?"
"We might get a job running it."
The other boy's eyes sparkled. "That settles it," he announced. "Let's sign up and do the best we can."
Calgary is to-day the little Chicago of the great Northwest. In the heart of it one may find the last of the old-time frontier life, while around and over this is all that makes a modern city. At this time the civic pride of the city had prompted its citizens to prepare an exhibit typical of that part of the country which, throughout Canada and the States, was also described in placards and vivid pictures as the "Stampede."
The main reason for this was that in the pushing westward of the refinements of civilization it was perhaps the last thing of its kind that could be celebrated on such a scale on this continent. The modern Provincial Fairground, lying well within the city limits of Calgary, was selected as the site of the performance. Here, when the "Stampede" finally took place, thousands of people made their way from the Western States and northwestern Canada. There were among them many theatrical producers, moving picture operators, and others especially interested in such a unique exhibit, from the far East. All could foresee possibilities that might never again be presented.
It would bring together the last of the plainsmen, scouts, trappers, and many others who had been engaged in the conquest of the wilderness. This meant a strange mixture of the men who had made possible the romance of both western America and the wide Canadian Northwest. There were to be full-blood Indians, half-breeds, and that curious mixture of foreigners who had made their way through the fur-bearing North by way of frozen Hudson's Bay. The men would be there who had traveled through pathless woods, who had found and named rivers and who had scaled unknown mountain peaks—many of them in the leather coats and moccasins of old days.
Where it was possible, these survivors of a period now gone were to bring with them the weapons of the frontier and the implements of camp life. There were to be stage coaches and freight wagons of the prairies, relics of the trail and the paraphernalia of the frontier.
The program of the Stampede included the exhibition of these people and their old-time life as well as it could be reproduced. Horses noted for their viciousness, Mexican bulls especially selected for their savageness, and the untamed range cayuse, were to exhibit the prowess of the horsemen. With these, the Indians and their families were to copy the life of the woods in the tepee and the movements on the trail.
Having concluded a contract to become participants in this unique affair, Norman Grant and Roy Moulton developed an interest in it that they did not know they possessed. To them most of it was an old story. But, having superintended the erection of an aerodrome on the edge of the open field inside the race track, they were surprised at the interest they began to take in the many curious people who soon began to arrive and install themselves in tents and cabins.
The exhibition was to last one week. On Monday morning of Stampede week, while the two boys were engaged in installing the aeroplane, Roy suddenly disappeared. He was gone over a half hour and when he returned, flushed with some new enthusiasm, he found his chum Norman much disgruntled. The machine had been set up before Roy left and he had stolen away while Norman was working with the engine.
"Everything all right?" asked Roy a little guiltily as he observed his companion seated on a box, a half scowl on his face.
"I guess so," answered Grant without a smile. "At least, I did all I could, alone."
"I didn't think there was much to do," exclaimed Roy apologetically. "I had something I wanted to do—I'd have asked you to go, but I didn't think you'd care. I've been to see those La Biche rivermen."
"Where's La Biche, and what rivermen?"
"Oh, you know, Lac la Biche, way up country, where the rivermen come from."
"I don't know anything about 'em—you mean 'scow men'?"
"Of course," answered Roy, taking off his coat. "I wanted to see 'em and I knew they got in last night. I've met all kind of Indians, but these old boatmen don't get down this way very often."
"Why'd you think I didn't care?" asked the other boy. "If you mean a real old batteau steersman, I never saw one either. I reckon I'd have gone a few hundred yards to see one of 'em if he's the real goods. Since the steamboats came in, I thought they'd all played out. Are these fellows half-breeds or full-bloods?"
"Don't make any mistake about 'em!" responded Roy eagerly. "I've seen all kinds of Indians but these are some I never did see. They're all right, too. If there's anything about a canoe or a flatboat that they don't know, I guess nobody can tell it to 'em."
"They'll have a fine time doing any paddling or steering around here in this race track," suggested Norman gruffly. "How are they goin' to show 'em off? But what do they look like?"
"They're not wearing Indian togs much," explained Roy, taking a seat by his friend, "and I've never seen real old full-blood Indian rivermen, but I know these fellows look like 'em. But I'd change their names if I was going to put 'em on the program."
"Don't sound Indian enough?" suggested Norman. "Full-bloods never do seem to have real Indian names. Seems like all the loafin' half-breeds take the best names."
"Anyway," went on Roy, "these men are John Martin, or old 'Moosetooth,' and William La Biche."
"Moosetooth and La Biche are all right," commented Norman. "Do they wear shoes?"
"No," explained Roy, "they're in moccasins—plain mooseskin wrapped around the ankles. You'd know 'em by that. And they both carry the Cree tobacco pouch, with the long tassels hanging out of their hip pocket—so they can find the pouch in the dark, I suppose."
"And black Stetson hats?" added Norman, "with big silver buttons all around the leather band?"
"Sure!" answered the other boy. "But you ought to see their arms. Neither one of 'em is big, but if you saw their arms you'd know how they swing those twenty-foot steering oars. I got a hankerin' after those fellows. Any man who can stand in the stern of an old Hudson Bay Company 'sturgeon head' and steer it through fifteen hundred miles o' rivers and lakes, clear down to the Arctic Ocean, and then walk back if necessary, has got it all over the kind of Indians I know."
Norman looked at him a few moments and then got up and motioned him out of the aerodrome. He swung the big doors together, locked them, and then exclaimed:
"I don't care to get excited over every old greasy Indian that comes along but lead me to old Moosetooth."
Roy, who was well pleased over so easily placating his chum, at once led the way around the race track and through the fringe of tepees, tents and other shelters being erected for the housing of the fast gathering arrivals. At last he stood before a group of mooseskin tepees in which were gathered several families of Cree Indians. These people had been brought from the present famous Indian encampment on the shores of Lac la Biche, just south of Athabasca River, where it turns on its long northward journey to the Arctic Ocean.
It is the men of this region who are sought by the great fur companies, by adventurers and sportsmen and by all those traffickers who use the great riverway to the north. And it is from them that the skilled canoe men and the experienced flatboat steersmen are selected for the conduct of the precious flotillas on these northern waters.
From Lac la Biche the veterans are called each year when the ice is gone out of the Athabasca, to take charge of the great Hudson's Bay Company's fleet of batteaux whose descent of the river means life to those who pass their winters in the far north. These things both boys knew, and hence their interest in Moosetooth Martin and old man La Biche.
"Here they are!" announced young Moulton as, without hesitation, he made his way through the litter of the little camp where the women were already cooking the inevitable bannock.
Norman greeted each man and welcomed them to the camp. The Indians were beyond middle age and the dark face of each was seamed with wrinkles. Nothing in Moosetooth's yellow regular teeth warranted his name, however. This might better have been applied to La Biche, whose several missing teeth emphasized his few remaining ones.
The two men and others were squatted near the fire, each smoking a short black pipe. Some spoke English but there was little conversation. The boys turned to examine a couple of rare birch-bark canoes and the camp itself, but almost at once they were distracted by the appearance of a new spectator in the group already surrounding the camp.
This was a young man, not much beyond the two boys in age but older in expression. He had a foreign look, and wore a small moustache. Norman instantly noted that his face showed mild traces of dissipation. The stranger was tall and although slight in build seemed full of energy and somewhat sinewy in body. His clothes were distinctive and of a foreign cut. He wore smart riding gloves, a carelessly arranged but expensive necktie in which was stuck a diamond studded horseshoe. He was smoking a cigarette.
"Hello," he said to Norman. "Pretty classy boats these, eh?"
"Yes," responded the boy, "and pretty rare too. You don't see many of these around any more."
"I thought all the Indians used birch-bark boats in the North," commented the young man.
"No more!" explained Roy. "They ship cedar boats up to Herschel Island now. I haven't seen one of these bark boats for years. But these are the real stuff!"
"Do you live here?" asked the young man, drawing on his cigarette.
"Both of us have lived here all our lives," answered Roy, looking the unusual young man over carefully.
"Well, I'm a stranger," resumed the young man, proffering his cigarette case, which appeared to be of gold and bore a crest on it. When the boys declined he went on: "I'm going to live here now, however. I've just come from Paris. I'm Mr. Zept's son. You know him?"
The two boys straightened. Mr. Zept was one of the richest and most active citizens of Calgary. He was even ranked as a millionaire, having made his money with the other big horse ranchmen in that part of the world. He was a close friend of Norman's father and had been especially active in organizing the Stampede.
"Oh, of course!" exclaimed Norman. "Everyone knows Mr. Zept. He's the big man in this show. I'm glad to know you. I am Norman Grant and my friend here is Roy Moulton."
"Oh, you're the fellows who are going to give the airship show," responded the young man with a marked interest. "I am glad to meet you. I'm Paul Zept. I'm just through school—in Paris. I've been living with my grandfather. Now I'm going to live here. My father wants me to go on one of his ranches. I like horses but I don't think I like ranches."
"Your father has some fine ones," suggested Roy.
"Yes, I know," answered the young man, "but I want to get out on the frontier. I thought this was the frontier." He smiled as he turned to wave his hand toward the skyscrapers and factory chimneys and suburban homes near by on the hills. "But this doesn't look much like it. I want to get out in the wilds—and that's where I'm going."
"Do you know what that means?" asked Norman with a smile in turn. "Do you know about the spoiled pork and bannock and mosquitoes?"
"I suppose you mean the rough part," answered the young man. "I've never had much of that but I want to try it. I want to get beyond civilization. I want to get where I can see things I can't read about. I'm tired of Paris and school and I want to see the real wilderness."
"It's gone!" interrupted Roy again with a laugh.
"All gone?" asked the young man with a peculiar look.
"Nearly all," exclaimed Norman; "unless you go a great ways from here. Unless," he continued, his smile broadening into a grin, "you can arrange to go home with Moosetooth here or La Biche."
"Well," responded the young man as he lit a new cigarette, "if that's true I think I'm going with them."
His tone was so positive and so conclusive that neither Norman nor Roy made any immediate comment. Moved by politeness they asked the young man if he would care to have a look at the airship. While Norman explained something about himself and his companion the three young men made their way back to the aerodrome. Before they reached it he had related their own small adventures.
Then young Zept had made them further acquainted with himself. Like his father he had been born in Austria and later had been sent to school in Paris. There, as Norman and Roy could see, he had received a more than ordinary education, part of which, as the boys afterwards learned, was devoted to music. They also learned later that although not a great singer he had a pleasing tenor voice.
Paul told them himself that he had devoted a great deal of time to horsemanship. This, he explained, was doubtless due to the fact that his father had always engaged in the raising and selling of horses. The young man also explained to the boys that he had not only received the ordinary riding lessons but that he had also been trained under Austrian and Italian military riding masters. His interest in the coming "Stampede" was due largely to the exhibit of horsemanship that he expected to see.
"I can't see why you wouldn't like life on a horse ranch," commented Roy at last.
"No matter!" responded the young man. "I do like horses and I know it's going to be a jolly row with the governor but I've always had my own way and I don't think he'll stop me now. I think I'm going into the wilderness—even if I have to go alone. I've been riding horses all my life. Now I want to do something. The governor wants me to go in for making money. I want to discover something."
Again the two boys looked at each other without knowing just what to say. Their new acquaintance was certainly affable enough, but his education and his foreign bearing put him somewhat above the young men and they felt a certain reticence in his presence. Finally, as Norman unlocked the door of the aerodrome, it occurred to him to say:
"This wilderness idea is pretty fine at long range or in books, but it seems to be like some other things. If you've got the real hankering for it, rotten food and all the mosquitoes in the world won't keep you from it."
"You don't know it," broke in the young Austrian instantly, "but if we're going to live in the same town I might as well tell you that a lot of people call me 'Count Zept.' Of course I'm not a 'Count' and I don't know why they gave me the title, unless it's because I've never been good for much. Now I'm going to get rid of that handle to my name by showing my folks and others that I can do something besides ride horses. I'm going home with old Moosetooth and La Biche and stay there long enough to forget there's a place like Paris."
A CURIOUS STRANGER LEARNS THE OBJECT OF THE Gitchie Manitou
The announced flight of the young aviators Monday afternoon was delayed until the hour grew so late that this feature of the program was postponed until the next day. It was the old story of over-enthusiastic amateur assistants who persisted in giving unsolicited aid when the airship was being taken from the aerodrome. A young man who thought the machine had to be carried instead of being wheeled onto the starting field sought to lift the rear truss by means of the lateral rudder. In doing this, he punctured the oiled silk plane. After a futile attempt to sew the rent, Norman was forced to ask the police to clear their enclosure. When Mr. Zept, one of the committeemen, called and learned of the situation, he advised a postponement of the flight until the next afternoon.
"My son tells me," remarked Mr. Zept as he was about to leave the aerodrome, "that he had the pleasure of meeting you boys this morning. I'm glad of it. I hope you'll be friends."
"He's a fine young man," answered Norman. "You ought to be proud of him."
"All parents should be proud of their children," answered Mr. Zept with a sober face. "I've tried to give Paul a good education and I hope I've done the best for him. But I have never seen much of him and, in a way," he added with a smile, "I hardly know him as well as I do you boys."
"He's certainly enthusiastic," remarked Roy, "and—and impulsive," he added, hesitatingly.
"He really has some peculiar ideas," commented Mr. Zept. "But I suppose they're natural. I had peculiar ideas myself."
"Yes," suggested Norman, "he makes a great deal out of things that are old stories to us. If we didn't live here and know the West as well as we do, I suppose we would have the same romantic ideas."
Mr. Zept was just making his departure, but at this he paused.
"What do you mean?" he asked suddenly and with some concern in his voice.
"Oh, you know he's determined to see the real wilderness," laughed Roy. "He wants to get a taste of the life the story books describe. I told him it might not be such an appetizing meal but I imagine he's set on it."
"So I believe," answered Mr. Zept, "although it isn't what I had planned for him.
"By the way," he added quickly, "you young men know how little there is in indulging this longing for wilderness adventure. I hope if you have a chance you won't fail to impress upon Paul the facts as we know them. I want him to live at home now, with his mother and me. I'm afraid he's been too long away from us."
That evening the two young men could not resist the temptation to visit the downtown district where the hotels were crowded with visitors and the city was resplendent with unusual activity. Norman left Roy with some friends at the King George Hotel and went home at an early hour. When Roy called at Norman's house the next morning, on his way to the Stampede Grounds, he spoke of some new information he had picked up the night before.
"I found out last night," he began at once, "that everything isn't as sunshiny in the Zept home as it might be. Our new friend, the Count, I was told by some friends, got a pretty early start in the fast life of Paris. Mr. Zept wants Paul to stay at home a while, as I get it, to make some changes in him if he can."
"What do you mean?" asked Norman. "But I can guess it—it's in his face. And it isn't cigarettes either."
"Right," answered Roy. "We call it booze out here, but in the young man's circle in Paris I reckon it wouldn't be worse than wine. Anyway, they say, young as he is, that's one of his pleasures. He doesn't look to me as if drinking had ever bothered him much but, from what I hear, he's come to the point where his father thinks he's got to stop it if it's ever going to be stopped. He's only been in town a few days and they say he rides like a States' Indian. But this hasn't taken all his time. He's already in with the fast set here and you know, in a pinch there's people in Calgary who can give a pretty good imitation of high life in great cities."
"I can guess the rest," said Norman. "His father brought him out here to put him on a ranch. When he found that his son hadn't this idea, it rather upset certain plans."
"And he'd like us to put in a few knocks but I reckon that'll be some job. As far as I can see, it's young fellows like Zept who turn these hardships into glories. I've heard of kids like him who are really at home where there's no trail and whose idea of luxury is a canoe and a blanket and a piece of pork."
"Well," concluded Norman, "if I didn't have the aeroplane bug just now, I'd like to have a chance at the ponies and horses on one of Mr. Zept's big ranches. A canoe and a blanket are all right, but on a cold evening when the snow's spitting I don't think they've got anything on a chuck wagon and a good tent."
On the way to the show grounds, Roy went into further details of the gossip he had heard concerning young Zept's escapades, not only in Paris but in the south of France.
"One thing's sure," commented Norman at last, "wild as he may be about a lot of things, he ain't crazy about airships. That's saying something these days."
This remark was made because the Count, while showing a polite interest in the Gitchie Manitou, had not bubbled over with exuberance. The boys felt somewhat chagrined over this lack of enthusiasm until they recalled that to young Zept an airship was an old story, the young man having witnessed many flights by the most improved French monoplanes.
On this, the second day of the Stampede, about five o'clock Norman made a respectable if not very exciting flight. He was somewhat nervous and was glad when the exhibition was over, and had no sooner landed than he determined on the following day to attempt a more ambitious demonstration. On Wednesday and Thursday he added some thrills to his evening flight, making on the latter evening a landing in the shape of a corkscrew spiral that got for him special notice in the newspapers the next morning. It also got for him an admonition from his father, when the latter read this story, that a repetition of it would result in a breaking of his contract with the Stampede authorities.
"All right, father," conceded the young aviator, "but that ain't a marker to the possibilities of the machine. I haven't put over the real stunt yet."
"And what's that?" demanded his parent.
"I had planned, on the last day of the show, to make an ascent as high as one reservoir of gas would take me—and that means so high that you couldn't see me—and then make a volplane back to the ground without using the engine."
"Are you going to try that?" demanded his father sternly.
The boy looked at him and laughed.
"Probably not—now," he remarked, "although the show'd be over then."
"Try it," snapped his father, "and that'll be the last thing you'll have to do with your Gitchie whatever-you-call-it."
The next evening, which concluded the big day of the Stampede, twenty thousand people attended the long afternoon's program. When the aeroplane appeared for its fourth flight, an army of people surrounded the starting field. Warned by his father, Norman made a less dangerous exhibit, but one that was on the whole more interesting to the eager spectators. Having given illustrations of many of the tricks of show aviators, including the roll and the banking of racing machines on short circular courses, he made a journey out over the hills until the aeroplane was lost to sight. The enthusiasm that greeted his reappearance and the approach of the machine like a bird through the blue haze of the endless prairies, stirred the crowd as the more dangerous maneuvers had not. Before reaching the inclosure, the monoplane climbed about four thousand feet into the air and then volplaned gracefully toward one of the large exhibition buildings just in the edge of the grounds. When it seemed as if Norman was about to smash the Gitchie Manitou against the big green-roofed building, even Roy started and held his breath. Then there was a quick spring upwards and, with the last momentum of the gliding monoplane, it lifted over the structure and settled upon the dust of the race track inclosure like a wide-winged bird.
When, escorted by ample police, the aeroplane had been wheeled into the aerodrome, the two boys immediately closed the doors and the officers dispersed the onlookers. It was late and there was not much trouble in doing this. When only a few persons were left in the vicinity, the doors were thrown open again and the car was trundled out to receive its after-flight examination. Norman, yet wearing his cap and jacket, had climbed into the cockpit to overhaul the rudder wires and engine valves; Roy was inspecting the body of the car, when the attention of both boys was attracted by a cheery salutation from a stranger.
"Good evening, young gentlemen," exclaimed a man who was unmistakably from the States. "I've been trying to have a look at your machine but I've only just now succeeded in evading the police. I hope I'm not in the way?"
Since there were few persons about, the boys smiled.
"Glad to see you," answered Roy. "Glad to see anyone if he comes alone. It's only the mob that bothers us."
The stranger smiled and lifted his hat in renewed greeting.
"I've been watching your flight to-day," he went on, directing his remark to Norman, "and I judge it must require some nerve."
"It requires a good machine and some little experience," responded Norman deprecatingly.
The man was a well-set-up, ruddy complexioned individual somewhat beyond middle age. His clothes might have been made anywhere in the East and yet, in spite of certain smart touches in them, the man wore a negligee shirt, a flowing black necktie and an abundance of hair that indicated an acquaintance with the freer costumes and manners of the West. A large diamond ring on his weatherworn and sinewy finger suggested that this jewelry was probably only worn on occasions. He had a good-natured countenance which unquestionably could easily show decision and force of character.
"Come in," remarked Roy, good-humoredly. "Sorry I can't offer you a chair."
"Seriously," retorted the stranger, "I've been watching you with more than mere curiosity. I have a special desire to know something about your airship if you can give me a few minutes."
Without questioning the man further, the two boys, glad enough of the opportunity, at once began an explanation of the craft that had in the last few days demonstrated its practicability. The stranger followed them intently, interrupting them now and then with questions, and showed a surprising interest in the elaborate description given him by the young aviators. Considering its origin, the aeroplane was a more than ingenious piece of work. In general it followed the stream lines of the modern French monoplane. Its distinguishing variation was a somewhat wider bulge in the forward part of its birdlike body.
While in most monoplanes this framework, to which the planes are attached, is made only wide enough to accommodate a narrow cockpit and the compact engine located in its apex, in this car the cockpit was almost double in size that of the average machine. So wide was it that two passengers might sit side by side. The flying planes of the car and its five-foot body gave the aeroplane an entire width of thirty-seven feet.
The planes were attached to the body proper by rigid flanges, reinforced by wires running from tip to tip of the planes, passing directly over the body, and not elevated on bracing chandelles. These wires were taut and made a part of the planes, much like reinforcing ribs. Beneath the planes three heavy wires ran from their forward tips to the bottom of the car.
There were no flexing devices to manipulate the rear edges of the planes, but on the rigid frames of each plane was a lateral rudder manipulated by one lever standing in the forward part of the cockpit.
The stream lines of the body tapered birdlike to the horizontal rudder twenty feet in the rear. The truss work of the body was covered with diagonally crossing strips of veneer, so that, as a whole, with the rigid planes, the monoplane had a substantial appearance. This frame, covered with waterproof canvas, made the body of the car impervious to rain.
The two rudders at the rear of the body resembled in all ways the steering devices of the best modern air vehicles. A difference was found at once, however, in the fact that the rudders were heavily waterproofed and in that the steering wires passed the pilot's cockpit through the protected body of the car. There was nothing new in either the big single propeller fixed to the front of the body, nor in the Gnome engine that afforded motive power.
"We didn't make the engine," explained Norman. "It represents all the money Moulton and I have ever saved, some we haven't saved but expect to save, and all that we could borrow of our fathers. It's eighty horse power, came all the way from France, and if anything happens to it, we're bankrupt for life."
The stranger smiled with a curious sparkle in his eyes, rubbed his chin, and without direct answer, remarked:
"It doesn't seem an ordinary machine—looks more substantial than most of 'em."
Roy had secured a box, and placing it alongside the car he motioned their guest to mount.
"There is a difference," he began at once with new enthusiasm. "This machine is made for wind and weather. If any airship can make its way through blizzards, the Gitchie Manitou can. If it doesn't, it's a rank failure."
The guest gave a look at each boy, as if this was what he suspected.
"Look!" went on Roy. Springing into the cockpit, the two boys caught the sides of the cockpit framework and in a moment had drawn above their heads four light but strong frames of wood. When these met above their heads, they formed a curved and tightly-jointed canopy. The four frames were filled with small panes of glasslike mica. Within the canopy the inmates were as well protected from the elements as if they had been under a roof.
While the stranger's face flushed and his eyes grew wider, the boys unsnapped the frames and they fell back into place, disappearing within the sides of the cockpit.
"That isn't all," exclaimed Norman, and he pointed to two small, dark, metal boxes just in the rear of the two seats. "Look," he went on, as he also pointed to a small dynamo mounted just in the rear of the circular engine. "As long as the car's moving, these two little car heaters will not only keep us from getting frost bites but, in a pinch, we can cook on 'em."
"And here," added Roy, as he tapped a chestlike object on which the seats were mounted, "is where we get the stuff to do the trick. We can put gas enough in there to carry us three hundred miles. Back here," he went on, pointing to a nest of skeleton shelves adjoining the rear of the cockpit, "we can carry extra supplies of oil, gas, and food to carry us five hundred miles, if we ever get that far from home."
In what was little less than complete enthusiasm, the curious guest sprang speechless from the box, and took a few quick steps as if to arrange his thoughts.
"Don't think that's all," exclaimed the hardly less enthusiastic Norman as he vaulted from the novel pilot-cage. "I guess you see what we're driving at and why we called our machine Gitchie Manitou. You know that's Cree for—"
"I know," broke in the stranger; "Injun for 'Storm God'!"
"I thought it was 'God of the Winds,'" exclaimed Roy. "But names don't count. If they did, we should have called it 'The Snow King,' because that's where it ought to shine. See these landing wheels?" he urged. "Well, they're only put on for use around here. If this machine ever gets where it belongs it's going to have runners like a sled, where these wheels are. And I've got a theory that these are all it needs to make a trip where dogs and sleds can't travel."
The two boys, eager to continue their half-told description, paused for a moment. The stranger, his hat in his hand, seemed to be drinking in the story he had just heard, with an interest so profound that the puzzled boys could not grasp it.
"Young men," said the man at last, "I'm mighty glad to hear all this. I wish you'd let me do some talking myself for a few moments. Will you let me tell you something about myself? It won't take long. I hope," and he motioned the two boys to the seats on the box, "when I'm through, it will interest you." That it did, the next chapter will amply prove.
COLONEL HOWELL MAKES A NOVEL PROPOSAL
"My name is Howell," began the man; "Hill Howell," he went on, "and in the places where I'm best known I'm frequently called 'Colonel' Howell, but I don't get that title because I am a native Kentuckian. I secured it up in this part of the world—just why, I don't know. I'm not going to tell you the story of my life or of any remarkable adventures, because I'm only a plain business man. But I'll have to repeat to you some account of my experience in the Northwest before you understand why I'm so interested in your machine and in you young men.
"In Kentucky," resumed Colonel Howell, after he had helped himself to a cigar from his vest pocket, "we once thought we had oil. To prove how little we had, I spent my own small means and, while I got no oil to speak of, I got a considerable knowledge of this industry. This came just in time for me to make my way to Kansas. That was fifteen years ago. There I found not only oil but considerable return for my labors. It didn't make me a rich man, but it gave me all the money I needed.
"Then I discovered that I had considerable of the spirit of adventure in me and I started for the Klondike. Like many another mistaken prospector, I determined to go overland and down the Mackenzie River. With a small party I started down the Athabasca River from Athabasca Landing. I would probably have gone on and died in the wilderness, as most adventurers did who took this route, but when we had gone three hundred miles down the river and were just below the Big Rapids, at a place they call Fort McMurray, I caught the odor of oil again and the Klondike fever disappeared.
"When I saw the tar sands and the plain signs of oil in the Fort McMurray region, I separated from the party and stopped in the new oil region. There were a few prospectors in the vicinity and having got the oil mania again, I found I was not prepared to make more than a preliminary prospect. My former companions had consented to leave me but few provisions. I had to live practically alone and without adequate provisions or turn back towards civilization at once.
"To the others in the field I discredited the possibilities of the region and set out on foot, with a single Indian as a guide, to make my way to Athabasca Landing. Here I planned to secure food and proper tools and machinery to return to Fort McMurray and develop what I believed would be a sensational sub-arctic oil region."
"I've heard about it," broke in Norman. "You pass Lac la Biche going there, don't you?"
Colonel Howell nodded and proceeded: "It was impossible to return to Athabasca Landing by canoe, as the river is too swift. For that reason I made a thirty-day trip on foot and reached the Landing with the winter well advanced.
"Here I found I could not get what machinery I needed and I put off my project until the next season when the ice had gone out of the river. I returned to the States and in the following July I went back to the Landing ready to go down the river once more. I took with me, from Chicago and Edmonton, well-boring machinery and ample provisions for a year's stay in the wilderness. At Athabasca Landing I found it impossible to buy proper boats and I lost considerable time in making two large flatboats patterned after the Hudson's Bay Company's batteaux."
"'Sturgeon heads,'" exclaimed Roy. "I've always wanted to see one of them."
"That's what they call 'em," exclaimed the colonel. "I guess I don't need to describe them to you. Well, when they were completed, I loaded my machinery, quite a batch of lumber, and my flour and pork—I freighted all of this one hundred miles from Edmonton—and with three workmen, set out down the river with an Indian crew and a couple of old-time steersmen."
"Who were they?" broke in Roy, with apparently uncalled-for eagerness.
"The best on the river," answered the colonel. "Old Moosetooth Martin and Bill La Biche."
"Why, they're here on the ground!" almost shouted Roy.
"Yes," exclaimed Colonel Howell. "Do you know them? I'm on my way back to the Landing now. They're going with me again."
Roy's mouth was open, as if this was a statement not to be lightly passed over, but Norman stopped him with an impatient: "Go on, please."
"I'll tell you about them later," the colonel added, as if to appease Roy. "They're both fine old Indians and I've been with them a good bit to-day. But even the best of them have their faults. You know, at the Grand Rapids these flatboats ought to be unloaded. Even then the best steersman is bound to lose a boat now and then on the rocks. Both Moosetooth and La Biche cautioned me against running the Rapids loaded, but as it would take a week to portage around the Rapids, I took a chance. Moosetooth got through all right, but La Biche—and I reckon he's the better man of the two—at least I had him on the more valuable boat—managed to find a rock and we were in luck to reach the bank alive.
"All my iron tubing and drilling machinery disappeared in the Rapids. There was no way to recover it and we went to Fort McMurray in the other boat. It carried my lumber and most of the provisions, but I couldn't work without tools. There was nothing to do but make the best of it and I left my three men to build a cabin and spend the winter in the wilderness while I went back on foot again to the Landing to buy a new outfit."
"Gee, that was tough," commented Norman.
"You boys have lived in the Northwest long enough to have learned the great lesson of this country," explained Colonel Howell. "This is a region where you can't have a program and where, if you can't do a thing to-day, you can do it some other time. And, after all, it isn't a bad philosophy, just so long as you keep at it and do it sometime. They seem to do things slowly sometimes up in this wilderness land, but they always seem to do them in the end. I guess it's the Indian way. I notice they always drive ahead until they get there, although there may be a good many stops on the way."
"Then what?" persisted Roy.
"I had to come back to the States—that was the end of last season," continued the man, "and now I'm on my way again to reach the Athabasca. My outfit is in Edmonton, I hope. But this year I'll have a little less trouble. There's a railroad now between Edmonton and Athabasca Landing and I expect to get my equipment and my stores to the river in freight cars. I've been detained by other business and should have been in Fort McMurray by this time, as the ice goes out of the river late in May. And I have my boats this year that I bought before I left the Landing.
"But when I tried to arrange for my old steersmen to pilot me down the river again, I found that energetic Calgary had beaten me to it. Moosetooth and La Biche are not the best boatmen on the Athabasca, but they are the ones I want. And I'm here, waiting for the show to close. They will go with me, and I suppose their families as well," added Colonel Howell with a grimace, "directly to Athabasca Landing, and in a week from now there is no reason why we should not be drifting down the big river again."
"Then your trouble'll begin again, won't it?" asked Norman.
Instead of answering, Colonel Howell sat in silence a few moments.
"There's a good deal I might say about the country I'm going into," he continued at last, "but I think you young men understand it pretty well."
"Pretty well up into the Barren Lands, isn't it?" asked Roy.
"The last of the wilderness before you reach the treeless plains," explained the colonel, "but as far as Fort McMurray the region is a vast trail-less extent of poplar and spruce. The winter comes in November and lasts until June. In that period, when the nights grow long, you have a pretty good imitation of the Arctic. There are Indians here and there and game abounds, but the white man passes only now and then. The dog and sled are yet the winter means of transportation and here you may find the last of the trappers that have made history in the great Northwest.
"Some of this region will undoubtedly in time provide farms, but as yet no farmer has learned how to use the rich black soil of its river lands in the short summer seasons. In time, powerful steamers will navigate the Athabasca and also, in time, there will be railroads. When they come," the speaker went on with a chuckle, "I hope to be able to supply them with oil. This at least is why, for the third time, I'm making my way into that little-known country."
"I hope you don't get dumped again," suggested Norman.
"How genuinely do you hope that?" asked Colonel Howell instantly and with renewed animation.
"Why, I just hope it," answered Norman, somewhat perplexed.
Colonel Howell hesitated a moment and then said abruptly: "You two boys are the best guarantee I could have against another accident. I want you to help me make a success of this thing. I've an idea and I got it the moment I saw your aeroplane to-day. Come with me into the wilderness."
"Us?" exclaimed both boys together.
"Why not?" hastily went on the oil man. "Don't you see what I've been driving at? Don't you recall the two long trails I made back to civilization—a month each time? Think of this: When I leave Athabasca Landing, the only way by which I can communicate with the world behind me is by courier, on foot; from Fort McMurray this means a tramp of four weeks for me, and even to a skilled Indian it means three hundred miles through the poplar forest."
"And what could we do?" asked the breathless Roy.
"If what you tell me about your airship is true, you can make almost daily trips for mail. At least, it would be as easy for me to keep in touch with civilization as if I had a railroad train at my disposal," declared Colonel Howell springing to his feet.
"But we couldn't do that," began Norman. "Our fathers—"
"What's the use of all the energy you have expended on this machine?" demanded the man earnestly. "Is it a dream or do you believe what you have told me? I'm not a millionaire, but I'm sure I could make your services to me worth while. At least you don't need to hesitate on that score. I think you can do all you have said this machine can do. Anyway, I'll pay you well for making the attempt, and I'll undertake to get the consent of your fathers. Of course you can't go without that. Would you be willing to go if I can arrange this?"
"You bet your life!" announced Roy instantly.
"It's a pretty serious thing," began Norman, "and dangerous too—"
"Oh," broke in Colonel Howell, "then you'd rather have some one else try out your glass cage and electric stoves."
"But it's a long way from home," went on Norman, growing red in the face.
"No farther for you than for me," explained the colonel, still laughing. "And we'll all go to Fort McMurray on the flatboats. If you can't fly back you can at least do what I have done twice—walk."
"And Moosetooth and La Biche are going to run the boats?" asked Norman.
"They certainly are," answered Colonel Howell, "and if you're interested in those things, there'll be plenty of moose and bear and deer standin' on the river banks waiting for a shot."
Norman looked at Roy, who was almost a picture of disgust, and then, in self-defense, he said: "I'd like to go if the folks consent. As for that car, it'll do everything we've said and don't you forget that."
Colonel Howell, apparently taking this as a surrender, caught the two boys by their shoulders and exclaimed:
"It's gettin' late. Lock up your shop and let's go and see what your fathers think of my project."
Elated and nervous, the boys turned and, as if under a hypnotic spell, began to push the car into the aerodrome. And once inside the little building, with set lips, as if working his courage up to that point, Norman broke the silence by saying: "I was going to make my first trip to the States this winter."
"Next summer would be a better time. Why don't you go in style?" asked Colonel Howell. "We'll come out in the spring and we ought to have a comfortable enough home during the bad weather. You can't spend your money and when you get back home you can make your trip and go all over the States."
Both boys looked at him as if not knowing what to say next.
"I never hired any aviators," went on Colonel Howell, with his old smile coming back, "and I don't know the union price of aerial operators, but I'll give you your board and keep and three hundred dollars a month apiece while you're with me. How does that strike you?"
"I don't think we'll be worth it," were the only words that Roy could find to express his dazed feelings.
"But you don't know anything about that," said Colonel Howell promptly. "You might easily be worth a great deal more."
While the colonel spoke, he could not help noticing Norman's rapid calculation on the ends of his fingers.
"In April, that would be nine months," remarked Norman at last, "and that's twenty-seven hundred dollars. We could go to France on that, Roy," he added suddenly. "Let's lock up and go home."
In a few moments the excited aviators and the well-satisfied Colonel Howell emerged from the aerodrome just as young Count Zept ran up.
"Are you fellows going to stay here all night?" he exclaimed, almost out of breath. "I thought you told me you'd meet me at seven o'clock at the car. Father's been there for a half hour. We're waiting to take you home."
It was necessary at once to introduce Colonel Howell to young Zept. As the oil man heard the name, his face brightened anew.
"You're not the son of Jack Zept, are you?" the colonel asked as he grasped the young man's hand.
"John C. Zept is my father's name," answered the Count. "He's a horse ranchman. Do you know him?"
The colonel chuckled. "Of course," he answered hastily. "I met him on the upper Peace; shot sheep with him in '95. Forgot he lived here. If I can join you, I'd like to meet your father. You can put me down at the King George. I think," the smiling colonel added, turning to Norman and Roy, "that you boys had better go home, talk it over with your fathers, and I'll look you up a little later in the evening."
"Anywhere you like," exclaimed the young Count, "the machine's waiting. Father'll be glad to see an old friend."
COLONEL HOWELL DISCOVERS AN OLD FRIEND IN JACK ZEPT
Although it was well after seven o'clock, it was wholly light, for in Calgary in July dusk does not come until after ten o'clock. While Norman looked at his watch to confirm the delay, Colonel Howell remarked:
"It seems good to get back to long hours again. When we get up to Fort McMurray," and he chuckled, "you boys can read your newspapers, if you can find any, out of doors after eleven o'clock."
"Fort McMurray?" broke in young Zept. "Where's that?"
"Way up in the wilderness," responded Norman, laughing. "Looks as if we're going to beat you into the northland."
Instantly the young Count caught Norman by the arm and stopped him.
"What are you talking about?" he demanded, his face a study in acute interest and surprise.
"Tell you later," answered Norman. "Your father's waiting."
Far from satisfied, the exuberant young Austrian followed the others to Mr. Zept's waiting car. He was not in error as to his father's annoyance. The old ranchman, a heavy cigar buried in the corner of his mouth, watched the approach of the party with a scowl. The moment he saw Colonel Howell, however, this expression politely changed. The ranchman did not at once recognize his old shooting friend but without waiting for an introduction he sprang with agility from his handsome motor.
It required but a word, however, for him to place the stranger and then the delay was forgotten. The joviality of the veteran horse raiser took the place of his petulance and, ignoring the young men, the old friends stood arm in arm for ten minutes recounting the past. The result was inevitable. After Colonel Howell had been catechised as to his present location and plans, he could not refuse an invitation to pass the remainder of his short stay in Calgary at the Zept home.
When the two men at last took the rear seat in the car, Norman and Roy in front of them, and Paul seated alongside the chauffeur, orders were given to drive to the King George.
Avoiding the traffic streets and trolley lines, the big car was turned south through the suburban hills. In the meantime, Paul had lost no opportunity to probe into the mystery of Norman's remark. In return, Norman had rapidly sketched an outline of Colonel Howell's proposition and of the present situation. Norman's rapid words seemed at first to have rather a depressing effect on young Zept, and then, when the whole idea had been put before him, his usual animation rose to what was almost excitement.
No sooner had the motor found its way into the broad suburban streets, than Paul almost sprang over the seat back and in a moment had located himself between his father and Colonel Howell on the rear seat.
"Father," he began impulsively, interrupting some old-time talk, "do you know that Mr. Grant and Mr. Moulton are going to Fort McMurray with Colonel Howell?"
These business details had not reached Mr. Zept, as he and his guest had not yet exhausted their old-time hunting experiences. The result was that Colonel Howell at once related what had taken place that afternoon, to all of which Mr. Zept gave earnest attention. Colonel Howell concluded by telling how he was to see the fathers of the boys that evening in an effort to consummate his deal.
"What do you think about it?" asked Colonel Howell with his usual smile, and looking at Mr. Zept.
The latter paused, as if in grave doubt.
"That's a hard question to answer," he said at last. "These young fellows ought to answer it best themselves. Their airship has given a pretty good account of itself. I did not understand that it was more than the ordinary flying machine, but if it is and they feel sure that it can do what they say it will, it seems to me that the whole thing is pretty much a business proposition. You've made a fine proposition to the young men, financially. If it wasn't for that, if you want me to speak frankly, I wouldn't approve their going into that part of the world simply as prospectors."
"It'd be great!" broke in his son.
"From your point of view, yes," answered his father, affectionately dropping his hand upon Paul's knee, "but you know, my boy, that you have a lot of impractical ideas about this corner of the world."
"I want to go too," persisted the young man, who in his eagerness seemed to have given little heed to his father's words. "Can't I go with you?" he went on, turning to Colonel Howell.
The latter looked somewhat perturbed. He had no answer ready just then and he needed none.
"You're taking men with you," went on Paul as he slid to the edge of the seat. "I'll go and work for you for nothing. You've got to have men on the river and I know I'm as good as any Indian, except Moosetooth of course." Everyone smiled except Mr. Zept. "And I know there are a lot of things that I could do in camp. I wouldn't be any good about the airship, I know, but I can shoot and I know I can stand anything that anyone else can. I—"
"Young man," broke in Mr. Zept at last, "these gentlemen are going north on business. Colonel Howell is not heading a pleasure excursion and I doubt if he has any intention of making an asylum for amateur woodsmen. Let me tell you something: you've got to get on in the world and you only do that, as far as I've noticed, by having a purpose that has some reward at the end of it. Colonel Howell and these young men have a purpose and they'll probably profit by it. Playing Indian or wandering around on the Barren Lands shooting moose may be romantic enough and may be all you want in life, but it doesn't bring success as I count it."
"Your father's right, young man," suggested Colonel Howell; "success in life to-day is measured by money. If you want to succeed that way, stay where the money is to be found. I can prove it," he said, forcing a laugh. "Look at me. What little money I have, I'm dumping into the northern rivers. Then look at your father. He knew the same wilderness you're trying to break into, but he only goes there for pleasure. He had an idea and he came here and put it over. I don't know what it brought him, and maybe you don't. But I reckon you can easily find out by going through a list of bank directors in this town."
"He's a millionaire anyway," Roy exclaimed with some lack of diplomacy.
Mr. Zept did not seem conscious of this remark, for he sat very stern and hard of face.
"When the time comes, my boy, I will take you into this region that you are so full of. Just now, I have other plans for you. We'll talk these over later." Then, as if dismissing the entire matter, Mr. Zept began to point out to Colonel Howell the improvements of the city while the big machine sped toward the hotel.
Paul, with a sullen look on his face, settled back among the cushions, and Norman and Roy, awed by the decisive tones of the rich man, made no attempt at conversation.
Reaching the hotel, Colonel Howell alighted to prepare his luggage and see to telegrams and mail. Mr. Zept stopped with him while Paul took the young aviators to their homes. A short time later the motor picked up Mr. Zept and his guest and carried them to the Zept home.
Despite his general knowledge of his old friend's wealth, Colonel Howell was surprised at the sight of his host's home. This, less than a half a dozen squares from the hotel, occupied a city block and was a mansion resembling a French chateau, built of the yellow stone of the country. In addition to an attractive fence of stone and iron, the extensive yard was surrounded on all sides by a wind-break hedge of tall and uniform swamp cedars.
When the car dashed up the asphalt drive, Colonel Howell only turned toward his host and smiled. But while his elders alighted, under the porte cochere, Paul did not smile. Waiting for his father and their guest to disappear into the magnificent home, he sprang into the motor again and said to the chauffeur: "Drive to the King George Hotel."
At dinner that evening there was a message from young Paul, excusing himself on the ground of an engagement. When Mr. Zept heard this, he excused himself to telephone to the garage. When he rejoined his guest, his face was again stern and hard, for he knew what his son's engagement meant.
Dinner over, the ranchman and Colonel Howell made their excuses to Mrs. Zept and to Paul's young sister and retired to the library. Here Mr. Zept used no ceremony and at once confided to his old friend the greatest trouble of his life. He told how he had brought his son home from Paris because of his wayward ways and how he had found these even more pronounced than he feared.
"He isn't a bad boy," explained his father, "and the only trouble he has I think I can correct by home influence." He even explained where his son was at that moment and did not attempt to conceal his mortification. "It isn't in the blood," he went on, "but it's Paris and the opportunity he had there."
Colonel Howell had been deeply moved by his friend's talk, and when the latter used the word "opportunity," his sober face suddenly lit up.
"That's it," he exclaimed, "you've hit it. I think I can read the boy like a book. 'Opportunity' to go wrong is what did it. I've an idea. Cut out this 'opportunity' and I think you've solved the question."
"That's what I want to do," replied Mr. Zept, with a sigh, "and I've been trying to make his home take the place of the saloons, but," and he shook his head, "you see where he is now."
"All right," exclaimed Colonel Howell. "That doesn't need to discourage you. I think we'll have to send him where there isn't any Paris and where there aren't any cafes."
"What do you mean?" broke in the disturbed father.
"I mean up to Fort McMurray, where they'll put a man in jail if they find a drink of whisky on his person."
Mr. Zept sat upright and darted a look at his old friend.
"That's right," went on Colonel Howell. "When you leave Athabasca Landing, the fellow who tells you good-bye is a mounted policeman, and he doesn't shake hands with you either. If you've got a drop of whisky with you, you've got to have it inside of you. If you try to take whisky into that country, you've got to be smarter than the smartest policemen in the world. The 'opportunity' is gone. And there's another thing," went on the aroused colonel. "If your boy thinks he's been robbed of something, when he finds he hasn't anything to drink, you can see yourself that he'll have plenty of other things to interest him."
The agitated ranchman sprang to his feet and took a quick turn around the room.
"Howell!" he exclaimed at last, as he returned and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, "this upsets every plan I have."
"Maybe they ought to be upset," rejoined the oil man.
"You're right," answered his friend thickly. "It's all pretty sudden and it's all a kind of a blow to me, but you're right. What can I do?"
"Easy enough," responded the other as he relit his cigar; "he wants to go with me. Let him have his way. I've never been called upon to attempt anything in the reform line and I don't think I will be now. Let your son join us and I think that'll be the end of what is causing you a good deal of misery. It isn't a case of curing him of the whisky habit. I believe he'll simply forget it."
"Will you take him?" suddenly asked Mr. Zept, his face a little white.
"Sure!" exclaimed Colonel Howell. "Call it settled and get this terrible fear off your mind. Paul's all right and I'll bet when you see him again he'll give an account of himself that'll make you proud."
But the boy's father was not so easily assured. "Howell," he said in a nervous tone, "you've done something for me this evening that I don't think I'll ever forget. I don't often talk about money, but I'm a rich man. From what you've told me, I can see you're yet working pretty hard. You may have plenty of money but no matter as to that. I know it takes a lot of money to do what you're doing. I'm not doing this to show my appreciation of what you're willing to do for me, but it looks as if you're the only real friend I have in the world. Let me put some money into this venture with you—I don't care how much—but I've an interest in your project now—"
The Kentuckian was on his feet in a moment. "Jack," he began without any show of resentment, "I've got all the money I'll ever need in this world. It's fine of you to say what you have, but now I'm going to make you a new proposition. I'm willing to take your boy and treat him as my own son but I'll have to put one condition on it."
The ranchman only looked his surprise. A wave of his hand indicated that any condition would be met.
"I want him to go with me but I'll only take him as my guest."
"Hill," said Mr. Zept, after looking his friend directly in the eye, "I knew from the moment we first made camp together up on the Peace, that you were the real stuff. I haven't any way to thank you."
"Let's compromise on another of those cigars," laughed Colonel Howell, "and then, if it is agreeable to you, and I can have the use of your car for a short time, I have some business of my own."
After a few moments with his hostess, Colonel Howell departed in the motor. As soon as he was out of his host's hearing, he ordered the driver to take him to the King George Hotel. Still puffing his new cigar, the oil man entered the hotel and made a quick examination of the bar room. The person he was looking for was apparently not in sight. Nodding his head to an occasional acquaintance, Colonel Howell made his way downstairs to the fashionable cafe.
He did not obtrude himself, but called the head waiter and after a question, took out his card and scribbled a line on it. A few moments later, in the lobby of the hotel, he was joined by young Count Zept, who explained that he had been dining with a few friends. Colonel Howell motioned him to a seat and gave no sign of noticing the boy's flushed face and somewhat thick speech.
He had spoken hardly a dozen words to the excited young man, when the latter seemed to throw off his condition as if it had been a cloak. He even discarded the cigarette he was smoking. Then the colonel resumed his talk with the young man and for several minutes spoke very earnestly in low tones.
As he concluded, the young man sat sober and tense.
"Colonel Howell," he said, "I'll do it. I understand everything. You have given me the greatest chance of my life."
"Then," came the cheery and quick rejoinder of the Kentuckian, relighting his cigar, as he appeared to be always doing under any stress, "we'll begin right away. This is a business proposition and we're all business people. We haven't any time to lose. I want you to go home and begin to pack your kit. The machine is outside. I think your father would like to talk to you."
"I'm ready now," came the quick response. A moment later the Zept motor was on its way home.
NEGOTIATING AND OUTFITTING
It had been an eventful day for the millionaire ranchman and his son Paul, as well as for Norman Grant and Roy Moulton, to whom it had opened up possibilities that they could scarcely yet realize. It was now Colonel Howell's mission further to enact the role of a magician and to see if the plans he had outlined were to bear fruit for the young aviators.
"We'll be waiting to hear," announced the young Count, as he alighted and gave the chauffeur directions for finding the Grant and Moulton homes, "and I want to know the news to-night."
"I'll be disappointed if it isn't good news," responded the Kentuckian, "but don't you worry about that. We're going anyway. You see your father right away and he'll begin to plan your outfit. We're going to leave, the airship with us I hope, at three o'clock Monday afternoon."
It was half past nine when the oil prospector reached the Grant home. The evening there had been one resembling preparations for a funeral. Colonel Howell's offer had fallen on the Grant family with no sign of joy in anyone except the son. Dazed by the dangers which, to Norman's family, overshadowed all possible advantages, small time was lost in calling Mr. and Mrs. Moulton into the conference. After the arrival of the latter, it had been a debate between the two boys, their parents, and several sisters, with no apparent possibility of reaching a decision.
Even the appearance of Colonel Howell did not seem to help matters very much, but the formalities having worn off and the prospector having been invited to give his version of his own plans, the possibilities began to brighten for the young men. In the process of argument, even the somewhat hesitating Norman had talked himself into a wild eagerness to be allowed to go.
Roy was so impatient that he stuttered. The different effect of Colonel Howell's explanation was undoubtedly due to the fact that he emphasized the great possibilities of the business part of the trip. Roy had sought to win favor by expatiating on the ease with which the Gitchie Manitou was to overcome the perils and privations of the almost Arctic region.
Norman had also grown hoarse in demonstrating the entire safety of their aircraft. But their patron seemed to dismiss these arguments as matters needing no discussion. Rather, he drew a picture of the opportunities to be presented to the boys in seeing the new land, of what he called the comforts of their snug cabin and of the advantages that must come to all young men in becoming acquainted with the little-known frontiers of their country. He said little of the immediate pecuniary reward, but said enough to have both fathers understand just what this was to be.
Both Mr. Grant and Mr. Moulton had had their share of roughing it on the frontier and neither seemed to welcome the sending of their children against the privations that they had endured.
While the discussion dwindled into indecision, Colonel Howell, as if in afterthought, repeated in substance his talk with Mr. Zept, omitting of course some of the unfortunate details, all of which, however, were already well known to those present.
Mr. Zept was the leading citizen of Calgary, an influential and important man. He was also a character whom most men in that part of the country were proud to count as a friend. Among those of her own sex, Mrs. Zept occupied about the same position. When the flurry of questions concerning Mr. Zept's determination to send his son as a member of the party had died somewhat, it was perfectly plain that both Mrs. Grant and Mrs. Moulton had new thoughts on the proposition.
"Is he going as a workman?" asked Roy impulsively.
"Oh, he'll do all he's called upon to do," answered Colonel Howell, taking advantage of his opening, "but I really didn't need any more help. He's going because his father thought it would prove an advantage to him. In fact," continued the colonel, "Mr. Zept was kind enough to want to contribute to our expenses because his son was to be with us. But as I told my old friend, I was not running an excursion, and I have invited the young man to go as my guest."
"And he's paying us nearly three thousand dollars to do what the Count was willing to pay for," exclaimed Norman, as a clincher. "What have you got to say to that?" he added almost defiantly, addressing his mother.
"But he won't have to go up in a flying machine," meekly argued Mrs. Grant.
Norman only shrugged his shoulders in disgust. "There won't be any more danger in that," he expostulated, "than I've been in all week."
Colonel Howell turned to Mr. Grant, who held up his hands in surrender. Then he looked at Mr. Moulton. The latter shook his head, but the debate seemed to be closed.
"I guess they're able to take care of themselves," conceded Mr. Grant.
"I started out younger," added Mr. Moulton.
"I'm planning to leave at three o'clock Monday afternoon," announced the Kentuckian, with his most genial smile, "and we'll have a car ready for the machine Monday morning."
The conference immediately turned into a business session to discuss immediate plans and the outfit needed by the newly enlisted assistants. In this the mothers took a leading part, seeming to forget every foreboding, and when Colonel Howell left, the two families were apparently as elated as they had been despondent on his arrival.
The next day's performance at the Stampede was more or less perfunctory, so far as the young aviators were concerned, and was only different from the others in that Roy accompanied Norman in the exhibition flight.
Colonel Howell, after a day of activity in the city, was present when the flight was made. No time had been lost by the boys in arranging for their departure, and mechanics in Mr. Grant's railroad department had been pressed into service in the construction of three crates—a long skeleton box for the truss body of the car, another, wider and almost as long, to carry the dismounted planes, and a solidly braced box for the engine. The propeller and the rudders were to go in the plane crate. These were promised Sunday morning, and Norman and Roy took a part of Saturday for the selection of their personal outfits. Over this there was little delay, as the practical young men had no tenderfoot illusions to dissipate.
The kind of a trip they were about to make would, to most young men, have called for a considerable expenditure. But to the young aviators, life in the cabin or the woods was not a wholly new story. Overnight they had talked of an expensive camera, but when they found that young Zept was provided with a machine with a fine lens, they put aside this expenditure, and the most expensive item of their purchases was a couple of revolvers—automatics.
Norman already owned a .303 gauge big game rifle, but it was heavy and ammunition for it added greatly to the weight to be carried in the airship. With the complete approval of Colonel Howell, he bought a new .22 long improved rifle, which he figured was all they needed in addition to their revolvers.
"It's a great mistake," explained Colonel Howell, who had met the two boys at the outfitting store just before noon, "for travelers to carry these big game high-powered rifles. The gun is always knocked down, is never handy when you want it, and the slightest neglect puts it out of commission. You take this little high-powered in your pocket, and you'll get small game and birds while you're tryin' to remember where the big gun is."
"That's right," answered Roy. "Grant and I were up in the mountains a year ago, back of Laggan. We weren't hunting especially, but I was carryin' the old .303. Up there in the mountains we walked right up on as fine an old gold-headed eagle as you ever saw. I was going to shoot, when I recollected that this wasn't a deer four hundred yards away. If I'd shot, I'd have torn a hole through that bird as big as your hat. If I'd had this," and he patted the smart looking little .22, "somebody would have had a fine golden-headed eagle."
Colonel Howell had few suggestions to make, but while he was in the store, he selected a small leather-cased hatchet and an aluminum wash-pan.
"Don't laugh," he explained. "Just take the word of an old campaigner and keep these two things where you can put your hands on 'em. You can get along in the wilderness without shootin' irons—or I can—but you'll find this tin pan a mighty handy friend. If your wise friends laugh at your luxury just wait, they'll be the first ones to borrow it. You can cook in it, wash in it, drink out of it, and I've panned for gold with 'em. It's the traveler's best friend."
The outfitter was busy enough displaying his wares, of which he had a hundred things that he urged were indispensable, but he was not dealing with States tenderfeet, and the volume of his sales was small. In it, however, the boys finally included two heavy Mackinaw jackets, two still heavier canvas coats reinforced with lambs' wool, two cloth caps that could be pulled down over the face, leaving apertures for the eyes, and two pairs of fur gauntlets, mitten-shaped, but with separate fore-fingers for shooting.
The boys made these purchases on their own account, and then Colonel Howell asked permission to make them a present. He selected and gave each of the boys a heavy Hudson's Bay blanket, asking for the best four-point article.
"They'll last as long as you live," explained the oil man, "and when you don't need 'em in the woods for a house or tent or bed, or even as a sail, you'll find they'll come in handy at home on your couch or as rugs."
Each boy had his own blankets at home, but at sight of those their new friend gave them their eyes snapped. Roy selected a deep cardinal one and Grant took for his a vivid green, both of which had the characteristic black bars.
"These look like the real things," exclaimed Roy, with enthusiasm.
"An Indian will give you anything he owns for one of 'em," chuckled the colonel. "The tin pan is a luxury, but you've got to have these. If you learn the art of how to fold and sleep in 'em, you'll be pretty well fixed."
Colonel Howell did not seem to be worrying about his own outfit, and when he left the boys his work for the day was probably financial.
By the middle of Sunday afternoon, the Gitchie Manitou had been safely stored in its new crates, and then, with a small tool chest and a hastily-made box crowded with extra parts, had been loaded on a large motor truck and forwarded to the railroad yards. The remainder of the day was utilized by the young aviators in compactly packing their personal belongings, and in the evening the two young men had dinner at the Zept home. The young Count, whom they had not seen since the day before when he accompanied Colonel Howell at the closing exercises of the Stampede, was present and nervously enthusiastic.
After dinner the three boys went to Paul's room where Grant and Roy were astonished at the elaborateness of their friend's outfit. Paul had not confined himself to those articles suggested by his practical father but had brought together an array of articles many of which were ridiculously superfluous.
He had worked so seriously in his selection, however, that it was not a laughing matter. So his new friends hesitated to tell him that half of his baggage was not necessary. Therefore they said nothing until Paul, having proudly exhibited his several costumes, his new leather cases for carrying his camera, field glasses, revolvers, and two guns, noticed the lack of approval on their faces.
"Well," he said, with a smile, "out with it. I couldn't help getting them, but I know I don't need all this stuff. You fellows know. Throw out what I don't need. I bought a lot of it in Paris, but don't mind that. I'm not going to take a thing that I can do without."
Greatly relieved, Norman and Roy fell to work on the elaborate assortment and in a short time had but little more left in the heap than one man could carry.
"What's this?" asked Roy, as they reached a soft leather roll about the size of a big pillow, carefully strapped.
"It's my blankets," explained Paul, opening the flap and exhibiting two soft fleecy articles. "They're from London."
"Well," exclaimed Norman positively, "you give them to your sister for her picnics. Then you go down to-morrow morning and get a four-point Hudson's Bay blanket, fourteen feet long, pay your twelve dollars for it, get a strap to hang it on your back, and I reckon you'll have about all you need."
A little later, when Paul's father and Colonel Howell visited the room and Paul good-naturedly explained what his friends had done, Mr. Zept laughed.
"I told you all that," he exclaimed, "but I guess it was like the advice of most fathers. These young men know what they're doing. Hill," he said, turning to his guest, "I guess you haven't made any mistake in signing up these kids. There's a lot they may have to find out about the wilderness, but it looks to me as if they weren't going to have very much to unlearn."
The next morning was a long one. The baggage car secured by Colonel Howell for the aeroplane crates was soon loaded. Then nothing remained to be done except, as Colonel Howell put it, "to line up my Injuns."
Moosetooth and La Biche were yet in camp at the Stampede Grounds. The boys, including Count Zept, accompanied Colonel Howell to the Grounds about noon. Here the oil prospector was able to change his program somewhat, and much to his gratification.
Colonel Howell knew that his old steersmen were accompanied by quite a group of relatives but he did not know the exact extent of the Martin and La Biche families. They were all in charge of a man from Athabasca Landing, who was of course under contract to return the Indians to that place. Colonel Howell had thought it would be necessary to look after the immediate relatives of Moosetooth and La Biche, but when he found that the women and children belonging to these men would just as soon return to the North with their friends, he was able to arrange that the two old river men might precede the main party and accompany him alone.
The Indian makes very little ceremony of his farewells to the members of their families and after Colonel Howell had talked a few moments with them the dark-skinned boatmen announced themselves ready. The matter of luncheon seemed to worry neither Moosetooth nor La Biche. Each man had an old flour bag, into which he indiscriminately dumped a few bannock, some indistinguishable articles of clothing, and relighting their pipes, were ready to start for Fort McMurray.
It was the first ride either Indian had ever had in an automobile, but the quick run back to the city seemed to make no impression upon them. Leaving the taciturn Crees in the baggage car, well supplied with sandwiches, fruit, and a half dozen bottles of ginger ale, the others once more headed for the Zept home. In two hours the expedition would be off.
THE EXPEDITION STRIKES A SNAG IN EDMONTON
At three o'clock the fast express pulled out of the big depot at Calgary on its way to Edmonton, then the northern limit of railroad transportation on the American Continent. A part of the train was the sealed baggage car carrying the airship. In the day coach, with their bags in their laps, and still stolid of face, sat Moosetooth Martin and old La Biche. For the moment their pipes reposed in their vest pockets. Each was eating an orange. Far in the rear of the train, Colonel Howell's little expedition was making itself comfortable in a stateroom. Somewhat to the surprise of the younger members of the party, Mr. Zept had joined them.
The corners of the stateroom and the near-by vestibule of the car were crammed with the personal belongings of those headed for Fort McMurray.
Even in the excitement of leaving and the farewells to the members of their families and friends, neither Norman nor Roy failed to notice that the young Count's face again bore the flush that did not come from exertion. Mr. Zept's face also bore the look that the boys had come to know, the expression that they could not fail to connect with the indiscretions of his son.
If Colonel Howell saw these things, nothing about him indicated it. Having divested himself of his coat, he put himself at once in charge of the party, and was full of animation.
Within a few moments young Zept left the stateroom, without protest from his father, and the two boys partly lost themselves in a close view of the country through which they were passing.
"Things are changing very fast in this region," explained Mr. Zept, motioning to the irregular hill-dotted country, in which patches of vegetation alternated with semi-arid wastes. "See how irrigation is bringing the green into this land. Ten years ago, for fifty miles north of Calgary, we called this The Plains. It's all changing. It's all going to be farms, before long. You'll be surprised, however," he continued, addressing the boys. "Long before night we'll run out of this onto the green prairies. Long before we get to Edmonton, we'll be in some of the best farming land in the world. And it goes on and on, more or less," he added with a faint smile, "a good deal farther than we know anything about—maybe as far as Fort McMurray," he concluded.
"There isn't any reason why Fort McMurray can't be a Calgary some day," replied Colonel Howell; "that is, when the railroads start towards Hudson's Bay."
"You'll have to have some land too," suggested Mr. Zept. "If you just had a few good prairies and some grass lying loose around up there, that'd help."
"How do you know we haven't?" answered the colonel.
"I don't," exclaimed Mr. Zept. "If you have, just send me word. We might start a few horse ranches up there."
As the train sped on and all had adjusted themselves to the limits of their little room, after a time Mr. Zept spoke again: "I wish I had the time to go up there with you," he began, "but of course, that's impossible. I'm going to see you away from Edmonton in good shape. By the way," he remarked, "I've been wondering just how you're going to find things up there, after a year's absence. You say you left three men there. What are they doing?"
"Well," answered Colonel Howell, "they're all on the pay roll. One of 'em's an Englishman from Edmonton, and two of 'em I brought from the gas fields of Kansas. The Kansas men have worked for me for several years."
"Must have had a pretty easy job, with nothing to do but punish your provisions all winter," suggested Mr. Zept.
"Don't you think it," exclaimed his friend. "They had plenty of work cut out for them. In the first place they had to build a cabin, and they had the tools to make a decent one—tar paper for a roof too. I don't care for bark shacks. Then I'm taking a boiler and engine up this time and we can probably use a lot of firewood when we get to drilling. They can put in a lot of time cutting dry cordwood."
"They doing any prospecting?" asked the ranchman.
"They couldn't do much except look for signs," answered Colonel Howell. "And, of course, if they have any extra time, the Kansas men have been in the business long enough to know how to do that. They might save me a lot of work when I get up there, if they're on the job," concluded Colonel Howell.
"A good deal like grub-staking a man, isn't it?" asked Mr. Zept.
"Not much," retorted the oil man with decision. "They're all on my pay roll and they're all working for me. There isn't any halves business in what they find, if they find anything. It all belongs to yours truly—or will, when I prove up on my claim."
"What are the names of the men?" asked Roy with sudden curiosity.
"The Edmonton man I don't know very well," answered Colonel Howell. "He is a kind of a long range Englishman and I think his name is Chandler. The other men are Malcolm Ewen and Donald Miller. Ewen and Miller are good boys, and I know they'll give me a square deal, whether Chandler sticks or not."
In spite of the general conversation, Norman fancied that Mr. Zept's annoyance did not grow less, and it was not hard to conclude that this was due to Paul's absence. Finally both Norman and Roy excused themselves to visit the observation car. They really wanted to find Paul. He was not in the rear car, which fact the young men learned after describing their companion to the colored porter, who smiled significantly when he announced that Paul had left the car some time before.
The young men then went through the train and at last found the Count in jovial companionship with Moosetooth and La Biche. It was plain that both the Indians had been drinking, but there was no liquor now in sight, and the three were enjoying their pipes and their cigarettes. The Count had discovered that the Indians knew more French than English, and he was in high conversation with them. The boy himself was even more jovial when he greeted Norman and Roy with hearty slaps on the back.
For some moments the visitors attempted to join in the conversation between the Indians and Paul, but the conditions were such that the young aviators soon lost interest and they invited young Zept to return to the stateroom for a game of cards.
"Not now," protested the Count, dropping into a seat opposite the Indians again. "My friends here are great Frenchmen. They have been telling me about the Barren Lands. Besides," and he frowned a little, "I didn't know the governor was coming. I don't think I ought to see him just now. He ain't much for this sort of thing."
"What sort of thing?" asked Norman somewhat brusquely.
"You know," answered the Count. "I was just telling the boys good-bye. I'll be all right in a little while, and then I'll come back."
"You aren't fooling anyone," broke in the quick-tongued Roy, "and I think Colonel Howell wants to see you."
Count Zept's laugh ended and he at once arose and followed the young men back to the stateroom. His reappearance seemed to ease his father's mind, and when the three young men and Colonel Howell began a game of auction the incident seemed almost forgotten.
At six o'clock, the superintendent of the dining car came to announce to Colonel Howell that his special table was ready, and the party went in to dinner.
When this elaborate meal was concluded, an hour and a half later, the warm afternoon had cooled and the train was well into the fertile farm land that distinguishes the great agricultural regions south of Edmonton. Somewhat after ten o'clock, the long daylight not yet at an end, the journey came to a close in the city of Strathcona. They had reached the Saskatchewan River. Loading their baggage into two taxicabs, they made a quick trip across the river to Edmonton and the King Edward Hotel.
It was with a feeling of happiness that Norman and Roy found themselves on what is now almost the frontier of civilization. Their joy did not lie in the fact that hereabouts might be found traces of the old life, but that they were at last well on their way toward their great adventure.
Rooms were at once secured and Mr. Zept and Paul immediately retired. Norman and Roy lingered a while to learn from Colonel Howell the next step.
"The crates will come across the river early to-morrow morning," he explained, "and we'll catch the Tuesday train at eight thirty for Athabasca Landing. We'll be there to-morrow evening. Turn in and get a good night's sleep."
It was no trouble for the boys to do this, and at seven o'clock the next morning they were waiting for their friend and patron in the office. When he appeared he was in company with Mr. Zept and Paul, having apparently just aroused them.
"Well, boys," he began, using his perpetual smile, "we've struck a little snag. But remember the philosophy of the country—what you can't do to-day, do when you can. It's the train!"
"What's the matter?" exclaimed Norman.
"Well," explained Colonel Howell, "you know they're just finishing the railroad and I was told that the trains are running to Athabasca Landing. They were running a passenger train about twenty-five miles out, but beyond that there hasn't been anything but a construction train. There's a new Provincial Railway Commission and it decided only the other day that no more passengers could be carried. The road hasn't been turned over yet by the contractor and they're afraid to let anyone ride on the construction train. We could get as far as the passenger train goes and there we'd be stalled. Looks like I'd have to do some hustling."