Adventure Stories for Girls
The Blue Envelope
ROY J. SNELL
The Reilly & Lee Co.
The Reilly & Lee Co.
All Rights Reserved
The Blue Envelope
I A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE II A BOLD STROKE REWARDED III THE MYSTERIOUS PHI BETA KI IV FOR HE IS A WHITE MAN'S DOG V CAST ADRIFT VI THE DREAD WHITE LINE VII THE BLUE ENVELOPE DISAPPEARS VIII THE VISIT TO THE CHUKCHES IX A CLOSE CALL X FINDING THE TRAIL XI "WITHOUT COMPASS OR GUIDE" XII "WHAT IS THAT?" XIII STRANGE DISCOVERIES XIV A LONESOME ISLAND XV TWO RED RIDING HOODS XVI A FORTUNATE DISCOVERY XVII OUT OF THE NIGHT XVIII A NEW PERIL XIX MYSTERIES EXPLAINED
When considering the manuscript of "The Blue Envelope" my publishers wrote me asking that I offer some sort of proof that the experiences of Marian and Lucile might really have happened to two girls so situated. My answer ran somewhat as follows:
Alaska, at least the northern part of it, is so far removed from the rest of this old earth that it is almost as distinct from it as is the moon. It's a good stiff nine-day trip to it by water and you sight land only once in all that nine days. For nine months of winter you are quite shut off from the rest of the world. Your mail comes once a month, letters only, over an eighteen-hundred-mile dog trail; two months and a half for letters to come; the same for the reply to go back. Do you wonder, then, that the Alaskan, when going down to Seattle, does not speak of it as going to Seattle or going down to the States but as "going outside"? Going outside seems to just exactly express it. When you have spent a year in Alaska you feel as if you had truly been inside something for twelve months.
People who live "inside" of Alaska do not live exactly as they might were they in New England. Conventions for the most part disappear. Life is a struggle for existence and a bit of pleasure now and again. If conventions and customs get in the way of these, away with them. And no one in his right senses can blame these people for living that way.
One question we meet, and probably it should be answered. Would two lone girls do and dare the things that Lucile and Marian did? My only answer must be that girls of their age—girls from "outside" at that—have done them.
Helen C——, a sixteen-year-old girl, came to Cape Prince of Wales to keep house for her father, who was superintendent of the reindeer herd at that point. She lived there with her father and the natives—no white woman about—for two years. During that time her father often went to the herd, which was grazing some forty miles from the Cape, and stayed for a week or two at a time, marking deer or cutting them out to send to market. Helen stayed at the Cape with the natives. At times, in the spring, unattended by her father, she went walrus hunting with the natives in their thirty-foot, sailing skin-boat and stayed out with them for thirty hours at a time, going ten or twelve miles from land and sailing into the very midst of a school of five hundred or more of walrus. This, of course, was not necessary; just a part of the fun a healthy girl has when she lives in an Eskimo village.
Beth N——, a girl of nineteen, came to keep house for her brother, the government teacher on Shishmaref Island—a small, sandy island off the shore of Alaska, some seventy-five miles above Cape Prince of Wales. She had not been with her brother long when a sailing schooner anchored off shore. This schooner had on board their winter supply of food. Her brother went on board to superintend the unloading. The work had scarcely begun when a sudden storm tore the schooner from her moorings and sent her whirling southward through the straits.
For some ten or twelve days Beth was on that barren, sandy island entirely alone. The natives were, at this time of the year, off fishing up one of the rivers of the mainland. She did not have as much as a match to light a fire. She had no sort of notion as to how or when her brother would return. The fact of the matter was that had not her brother had in his possession a note from the captain asking him to come aboard, and had he not known the penalty for not returning a landsman to his port under such conditions, the unprincipled seaman would have carried him to Seattle, leaving Beth to shift for herself. He reached home on a gasoline schooner some ten days after his departure.
This same Beth, when spring came and she wished to go "outside," engaged a white guide to take her by dog team to Cape Prince of Wales, where the mail steamer might be caught. It was late in the spring and the ice was soft. They had been traveling for some time on the rough shore ice when they discovered, much to their horror, that their ice pan had broken loose from the shore and was drifting out to sea. They hurried along the edge of it for some distance in the hope of finding a bridge to shore. In this they were disappointed. Beth could not swim. Fortunately the guide could. Leaping into the stinging water he swam from one cake to the next one, leading the dogs. Beth clung to the back of the sled and was thus brought ashore. After wading many swollen torrents, they at last reached Cape Prince of Wales in safety. This sounds very much like fiction but is fact and can be verified.
As to crossing Bering Straits and living with the Chukches in Siberia. I did that very thing myself—went with a crew of Chukches I had never seen, too. I was over there for only three days but might have stayed the summer through in perfect safety. While there I saw a character known as the French Kid, a white man who had crossed the Straits with the natives late in the year and had wintered there.
Crossing twenty or more miles of floe ice might seem a trifle improbable but here, too, actual performance bears me out. I sent the mail to Thompson, the government teacher on the Little Diomede Island, across 22 miles of floe ice by an Eskimo. This man had made the trip many times before. It is my opinion that what an Eskimo can do, any white man or hearty young woman can do.
Well, there you have it. I don't wish to make my fiction story seem tame, or I might tell you more. As it is I hope I may have convinced you that all the adventures of Lucile and Marian are probable and that the author knows something about the wonderland in which the story is set.
THE BLUE ENVELOPE
A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE
At the center of a circular bay, forming a perfect horseshoe with a sandy beach at its center and a rocky cliff on either side, two girls were fishing for shrimps. The taller of the two, a curly-haired, red-cheeked girl of eighteen, was rowing. The other, short and rather chubby, now and again lifted a pocket net of wire-screening, and, shaking a score or more of slimy, snapping creatures into one corner of it, gave a dexterous twist and neatly dropped the squirming mass into a tin bucket.
Both girls had the clear, ruddy complexion which comes from clean living and frequent sallies into the out-of-doors. Lucile Tucker, the tall one of curly hair, was by nature a student; her cousin, Marian Norton, had been born for action and adventure, and was something of an artist as well.
"Look!" exclaimed Lucile suddenly. "What's that out at the entrance of the bay—a bit of drift or a seal?"
"Might be a seal. Watch it bob. It moves, I'd say."
Without further comment Lucile lifted a light rifle from the bow and passed it to her cousin.
Marian stood with one knee braced on the seat and steadied herself for a shot at the object which continued to rise and fall with the low roll of the sea.
Born and reared at Nome on the barren tundra of Alaska, Marian had hunted rabbits, ptarmigan and even caribou and white wolves with her father in her early teens. She was as steady and sure a shot as most boys of her age.
"Boat rocks so," she grumbled. "More waves out there, too. Watch the thing bob!"
"It's gone under!"
"No, there it is!"
"Try it now."
Catching her breath, Marian put her finger to the trigger. For a second the boat was quiet. The brown spot hung on the crest of a wavelet. It was a beautiful target; Marian was sure of her aim.
Just as her finger touched the trigger, a strange thing happened; a something which sent the rifle clattering from nerveless fingers and set the cold perspiration springing to her forehead.
A flash of white had suddenly appeared close to the brown spot, a slim white line against the blue-green of the sea. It was a human arm.
"Who—who—where'd you suppose he came from?" she was at last able to sputter.
"Don't ask me," said Lucile, scanning the sea. Never a mist nor a cloud obscured the vision, yet not a sail nor coil of smoke spoke of near-by craft. "What's more important is, we must help him," she said, seizing the oars and rowing vigorously. Marian, having hung the shrimp trap across the bow, drew a second pair of oars from beneath the seats and joined her in sending the clumsy craft toward the brown spot still bobbing in the water, and which, as they drew nearer, they easily recognized as the head of a man or boy. Lucky for him that he had chanced to throw a white forearm high out of the water just as Marian was prepared unwittingly to send a bullet crashing into his skull.
Realizing that this person, whoever he might be, must have drifted in the water for hours and was doubtless exhausted, the two girls now gave all their strength to the task of rowing. With faces tense and forearms flashing with the oars, they set the boat cutting the waves.
The beach and cliffs back of the bay in which the girls had been fishing were part of the shore line of a small island which on this side faced the open Pacific Ocean and on the other the waters of Puget Sound, off the coast of the state of Washington.
Nestling among a group of giant yellow pines on a ridge well up from the beach, two white tents gleamed. This was the camp of Marian and Lucile. The rock-ribbed and heavily wooded island belonged to Lucile's father, a fish canner of Anacortes, Washington. There was, so far as they knew, not another person on the island. They had expected a maiden aunt to join them in their outing. She was to have come down from the north in a fishing smack, but up to this time had not arrived. Not that the girls were much concerned about this; they had lived much in the open and rather welcomed the opportunity to be alone in the wilds. It was good preparation for the future. They had pledged themselves to spend the following winter in a far more isolated spot, Cape Prince of Wales, on Bering Straits in Alaska. Lucile, who, though barely eighteen years of age, had finished high school and had spent one year in normal school, was to teach the native school and to superintend the reindeer herd at that point. Marian had lived the greater part of her life in Nome, Alaska, but even from childhood she had shown a marked talent for drawing and painting and had now just finished a two-year course in a Chicago art school. Her drawings of Alaskan life and the natives had been exhibited and had attracted the attention of a society of ethnology. In fact, so greatly had they been impressed that they had asked Marian to accompany her cousin to Cape Prince of Wales to spend the winter sketching the village life of that vanishing race, the Eskimo.
So this month of camping, hunting and fishing was but a preparatory one to fit them the more perfectly for the more important adventure.
When they reached the mysterious swimmer they were surprised to find him a mere boy, some fourteen years of age.
"What a strange face!" whispered Marian, when they had assisted the dripping stranger into the boat.
They studied him for a moment in silence. His hair and eyes were black, his face brown. He wore a single garment, cleverly pieced together till it seemed one skin, but made of many bird skins, eiderduck, perhaps. This garment left his arms and legs free for swimming.
He said nothing, simply stared at them as if in bewilderment.
"We must get him ashore at once," said Lucile. "He must have swum a long way."
Fifteen minutes later, after tying up the boat, Lucile came upon Marian picking the feathers from a duck they had shot that morning.
"Goin' to make him some broth," she explained, tossing a handful of feathers to the wind. "Must be pretty weak."
Lucile stole a glance at the stranger's face.
"Do you think he's oriental?" she whispered.
"Might be," said Marian. "You don't have to be so careful to whisper though; he doesn't speak our language, it seems, nor any other that I know anything about. Very curious. I tried him out on everything I know."
"Chinese, trying to smuggle in?"
"He doesn't seem exactly oriental," said Lucile, looking closely at his face.
With his eyes closed as if in sleep, the boy did not, indeed, seem to resemble very closely any of the many types Lucile had chanced to meet. There was something of the clean brown, the perfect curve of the classic young Italian; something of the smoothness of skin native to the Anglo-Saxon, yet there was, too, the round face, the short nose, the slight angle at the eyes which spoke of the oriental.
"He looks like the Eskimos we have on the streets of Nome," suggested Marian, "only he's too light-complexioned. Couldn't be, anyway."
"Not much likelihood of that," laughed Lucile. "Come two thousand miles in a skin kiak to have his craft wrecked in a calm sea. That couldn't happen."
"Whoever he is, he's a splendid swimmer," commented Marian. "When we reached him he was a mile from any land, with the sea bearing shoreward, and there wasn't a sail or steamer in sight."
The two of them now busied themselves with preparing the evening meal, and for a time forgot their strange, uninvited guest.
When Lucile next looked his way she caught his eyes upon her in a wondering stare. They were at once shifted to the kettle from which there now issued savory odors of boiling fowl.
"He's hungry all right," she smiled.
When the soup was ready to serve they were treated to a slight shock. The bird had been carefully set on a wooden plate to one side. Their guest was being offered only the broth. This he sniffed for a moment, then, placing it carefully on the ground, seized the bird and holding it by the drumsticks began to gnaw at its breast.
Marian stared at him, then smiled. "I don't know as a full meal is good for him, but we can't stop him now."
She set a plate of boiled potatoes before him. The boy paused to stare, then to point a finger at them, and exclaimed something that sounded like: "Uba canok."
"Do you suppose he never ate potatoes?" exclaimed Lucile in surprise. "What sort of boy must he be?"
She broke a potato in half and ate one portion.
At once a broad smile spread over the brown boy's face as he proceeded to add the potatoes to his bill of fare.
"Guess we'll have to start all over getting this meal," smiled Lucile; "our guest has turned into a host."
When at last the strange boy's hunger was assuaged, Lucile brought two woolen blankets from one of the tents and offered them to him. Wrapping himself in these, he sat down by the fire. Soon, with hands crossed over ankles, with face drooped forward, he slept.
"Queer sort of boy!" exclaimed Lucile. "I'd say he was an Indian, if Indians lived that way, but they don't and haven't for some generations. Our little brown boy appears to have walked from out another age."
Night crept down over the island. Long tree shadows spread themselves everywhere, to be at last dissolved into the general darkness. Still the boy sat by the fire, asleep, or feigning sleep.
Not feeling quite at ease with such a stranger in their camp, the girls decided to maintain a watch that night. Marian agreed to stand the first watch until one o'clock, Lucile to finish the night. In the morning they would take their small gasoline launch, which was at this moment hidden around the bend in a small creek, and would carry the boy to the emigration office at Fort Townsend.
They had worked and played hard that day. When Lucile was wakened at one o'clock in the morning, she found herself unspeakably drowsy. A brisk walk to the beach and back, then a dash of cold spring water on her face, roused her.
As she came back to camp she thought she caught a faint and distant sound.
"Like an oarlock creaking," she told herself, "yet who would be out there at this time of night?"
She retraced her steps to the beach to scan the sea that glistened in the moonlight. Not hearing or seeing anything, she concluded that she had been mistaken.
Back at the camp once more, she glanced at the motionless figure seated by the bed of darkening coals. Then, creeping inside the tent, she drew a blanket over her shoulders and sat down, lost at once in deep thought.
As time passed her thoughts turned into dreams and she slept. How long she slept she could not tell. She awoke at last with a start; she felt greatly disturbed. Had she heard a muffled shout? Or was that part of a dream?
Lifting the flap of the tent, she stared at the boy's place by the fire. It was vacant. He was gone!
"Marian," she whispered, shaking her cousin into wakefulness. "Marian! He's gone. The brown boy's gone!"
"Let him go. Who wants him?" Marian murmured sleepily.
At that instant Lucile's keen ears caught the groan of oarlocks.
"But I hear oars," she whispered hoarsely. "They've come for him. Someone has carried him away. I heard him try to cry for help. We must stop them if we can find a way."
Catching up their rifles they crept stealthily from their tents. Nothing was to be seen save the camp and the forest.
"Think we better try to follow them?" asked Lucile, as she struggled into her shoes, wrapping the laces round and round her ankles for the sake of speed.
"I don't know," said Marian. "They're probably rough men and we're only girls. But we must try to find out what has happened."
In a moment they were creeping stealthily, rifles in hand, toward the beach. As they paused to listen they heard no sound. Either the intruders had rounded the point or had stopped rowing.
Lucile threw the circle of her flashlight out to sea.
"Stop that!" whispered Marian in alarm. "They might shoot."
"Look!" exclaimed Lucile suddenly; "our boat's gone!"
Hastening down the beach, they found it was all too true; the rowboat had disappeared.
"There weren't any men," exclaimed Marian with sudden conviction. "That boy's taken our boat and rowed away."
"Yes, there were men," insisted Lucile. "I just saw a track in the sand. There it is." She pointed to the beach.
An inspection of the sand showed three sets of footprints leading to the water's edge where a boat had been grounded. These same footprints were about the spot where the stolen boat had been launched.
"There's one queer person among them," said Lucile, after studying the marks closely. "He limps; one step is long and one short, also one shoe is smaller than the other. We'd know that man if we ever saw him."
"Listen!" said Marian suddenly.
Out of the silence that ensued there came the faint pop-pop-pop of a motorboat.
"Behind the point," said Lucile.
"Our motorboat!" whispered Marian.
Without a word Lucile started down the beach, then up the creek. She was followed close by Marian. Tripped by creeping vines, torn at by underbrush, swished by wet ferns, they in time arrived at the point where the motorboat had been moored.
"Gone!" whispered Lucile.
"We've been deceived and robbed," said Marian mournfully. "Deceived by a boy. His companions left him swimming in the sea so we would find him. As soon as we were asleep, he crept away and towed the schooner down the river, then he flashed a signal and the others came in for him. Probably Indians and half-breeds. They might have left us a rowboat, at least!" she exclaimed in disgust.
With early dawn streaking the sky they sat down to consider. The loss of their motorboat was a serious matter. They had but a scant supply of food, and while their aunt might arrive at any moment, again she might not. If she did not, they had no way of leaving the island.
"We'd better go down the beach," said Marian. "They might have engine trouble, or something, and be obliged to land, then perhaps we could somehow get our boat."
"It's the only thing we can do," said Lucile. "It's a good thing we had our food supply in our tent, or they would have taken that."
"Speaking of food," said Marian, "I'm hungry. We'd better have our breakfast before we start."
A BOLD STROKE REWARDED
Bacon grease was spilled and toast burned in the preparation of breakfast, which was devoured in gulps. Then, with some misgivings but much determination, the two girls hurried away up the beach in the direction from whence had come the pop-popping of their stolen motorboat.
Coming at last to the place where sandy shore was replaced by ragged bowlders, they began making their way through the tangled mass of underbrush, fallen tree-trunks and ferns, across the point of land which cut them off from the next sandy beach.
"This would be splendid if it wasn't so serious," said Marian as they reached the crest of the ridge and prepared to descend. "I always did like rummaging about in an unexplored wilderness. Look at that fallen yellow-pine; eight feet through if it is an inch; and the ferns are almost tall enough to hide it. And look at those tamaracks down in that gully; they look like black knights. Wouldn't they make a picture?"
"Not just now; come on," exclaimed Lucile, who was weary of battling with the jungle. "Let's get down to the beach and see what's there. There's a long stretch of beach, I think, maybe half a mile. But we must be careful how we make our way down. We might discover something—and we might be discovered first."
To descend a rock-ribbed hill, overgrown with tangled underbrush and buried in decaying tree-trunks, is hardly easier than to ascend it. Both girls were thoroughly out of breath as they finally parted the branches of a fir tree and peered through to where the beach, a yellow ribbon of sand, circled away to the north.
"Not there," whispered Marian.
Lucile gripped her cousin's arm.
"What's that thing two-thirds of the way down, at the water's edge?"
"Don't know. Rock maybe. Anyway, it's not our motorboat."
"No, it's not. It's worth looking into, though. Let's go."
Eagerly they hurried along over the hard-packed sand. The tide was ebbing; the beach was like a floor. Their steps quickened as they approached the object. At last, less than half-conscious of what they were doing, they broke into a run. The thing they had seen was a boat. And a boat to persons in their position was a thing to be prized.
Arrived at its side, they looked it over for a moment in silence.
"It's pretty poor and very heavy, but it will float, I think," was Marian's first comment.
"It's theirs. Thought it wasn't worth risking a stop for."
"But how did they get into our camp? We haven't seen their tracks through the brush."
"Probably took up one small stream and down another."
The boat they had found was a wide, heavy, flat-bottomed affair, such a craft as is used by fishermen in tending pond-nets.
For a time the two girls stood there undecided. The chances of their recovering the motorboat seemed very poor indeed. To go forward in this heavy boat meant hours of hand-blistering rowing to bring them back to camp. Yet the thought of returning to tell Lucile's brother that they had lost his motorboat was disheartening. To go on seemed dangerous. True, they had rifles but they were, after all, but two girls against three rough men. In spite of all this, they decided in the end to go on. Pushing the boat into the sea they rowed out a few fathoms, then set the sail and bore away before the brisk breeze. The fact that the oar-locks, which were mere wooden pegs, were worn smooth and shiny, told that the boat had not been long unused.
In a short time they found themselves well out from shore in a gently rippling sea, while the point, behind which lay their camp, grew smaller and smaller in the distance.
Presently they cleared a wooded point of land and came in view of a short line of beach. Deep set in a narrow bay, it might have escaped the eye of a less observant person than Marian; so, too, might the white speck that shone from the brown surface of that beach.
"What's that in the center?" she mumbled, reaching for the binoculars by her side. "It's our schooner," she exclaimed after a moment's survey. "Yes, sir, it is! Anyway, it's a motor-boat, and if not ours, whose then?"
"We'd better pull in behind the point, drag our boat up on the rocks and come round by land," whispered Lucile.
"Yes, if we dare," said Marian, overcome for a moment with fear. "If they have seen us and come out to meet us, what then?"
"I hardly think they'd see us without a field glass," said Lucile.
Bending to the oars they set their boat cutting across the wavelets that increased in size with the rising wind.
Ten minutes of hard pulling brought their boat in behind the point, where it was quieter water and better rowing. This took them to a position quite out of sight of the white spot on the distant beach. If the pirate robbers were truly located in the bay and had not seen the girls they were safe to steal up close.
"Well, suppose they have. If the worst comes to the worst we can escape into the brush," said Marian. "We won't be worse off then than we are now."
"If only we can catch them off guard and get away with our motorboat!" said Lucile fervently.
Two hours of fighting the wilderness brought them at last to the beginning of the short, sandy beach. By peering through the branches they discovered that a clump of young tamaracks, growing close down to the shore, still hid the white spot they had taken for their boat.
Lucile stepped out upon the sand, then bent down to examine a footprint. Quickly she dodged back into the brush.
"They're here, all right," she whispered. "That's the track of the fellow with the mis-mate feet."
"Listen!" said Marian.
"Sounds like shouting," said Lucile, after a moment's silence.
"What do you suppose?"
"We'd better move around to a better position."
Cautiously they worked their way through the dense undergrowth. Pausing now and again to listen, they laid their course by the sounds. These sounds resolved themselves into bursts of song and boisterous laughter.
"They're drinking," said Lucile with a shudder.
"If they are, we daren't get near them," whispered Marian.
Closer and closer they crept until at last they expected at any moment to come into view of the camp.
"It's no use," said Lucile at last, shrinking back into the brush. "I can't go on. They're drunk, and all drunken men are dangerous. It is no use risking too much for a motorboat."
Wearily then they made their way back through the brush. So sore were their muscles by this time that every step gave them pain. Missing their way, they came out upon the beach a hundred yards from their boat. There, behind the sheltering boughs of a dwarf fir tree they threw themselves upon the bed of pine needles to rest.
"Look!" exclaimed Lucile suddenly. "What's that out there?"
"Our motorboat," Marian gasped. "It's broken loose and is going out with the tide. They must not have seen it. Quick! Our rowboat! We may beat them yet!"
With wildly beating hearts they raced up the beach. Having reached the heavy rowboat they pushed it off. Wading knee-deep in the sea to give the boat a good start, they at last leaped to their seats and grasped the oars, and with strong, deft, strokes set her cutting the water. Length by length they lessened the distance between them and the drifting prize.
Now they were two hundred yards away, now one hundred, now fifty, now—
There came a shout from the shore. With a quick glance over her shoulder Lucile took in the situation.
"We'll make it," she breathed. "Pull hard. They're a long way off."
Moments seemed hours as they strained at the oars, but at last they bumped the side of the motorboat and the next second found themselves on board.
Marian clung to the tiller of the rowboat while she swung round to the wheel. Lucile gave the motor a turn and to their great joy the noble little engine responded with a pop-pop-pop.
There came another shout, a hopeless one, from the robbers.
"We beat them. We—" Marian broke short off. "Look, Lucile. Look over there!"
To the right of them, bobbing up and down as they had seen it once before, was the head of the strange brown boy.
"Do you suppose they did kidnap him?" said Lucile.
"We can go by where he is," said Marian. "They can't catch us now."
The boat swung round and soon they were beside the swimmer.
"Look," cried Lucile, "his feet are tied tightly together! He mustn't have been their friend. They carried him off. They had him bound and he rolled down to the beach to escape by swimming."
They dragged the boy on board. Then they were away again, full speed once more.
"Well, that's done," sighed Lucile, as she settled herself at the wheel. "They've our rowboat and we have theirs. I hope that after this they will let us alone."
"The person who is bothering me," said Marian with a frown, "is this little brown visitor of ours. Who is he? Where did he come from? Where does he want to go? Where should he go? What are we going to do with him?"
"That," said Lucile, wrinkling her brow, "is more than I know. Neither do I know how those men came to steal him. They probably kidnapped him from his home, wherever that is, and have been making a slave of him."
"I think you are right," said Marian, "and probably the problem will solve itself in time."
The problem did solve itself, at least part of it, that very night; the remaining part of the problem was to be solved months later under conditions so strange that, had the girls been able to vision them lying away, like a mirage on the horizon of the future, they would have been tempted to change their plans for the year just before them.
The first question, what was to be done with the little brown stranger, was solved that night. He solved it himself. The girls had decided upon maintaining a watch. Lucile was on the second watch at something like one o'clock in the morning, when she saw the brown boy stirring in his place by the fire. She was seated far back in the shadowy depths of the tent with a rifle across her knee. He could not see her, though she could catch his every move in the moonlight.
With a gliding motion he carried his two blankets to a shadowy spot and there folded each one, laying one upon the other. He then proceeded to gather up certain articles about camp. A small ax, a knife, fishing tackle and matches were hurriedly thrown upon the blanket. Now and again, like some wild thing of the forest, he paused to cock his head to one side and listen.
"Should I call Marian and stop him?" Lucile asked herself. The question was left all undecided. The little drama being enacted was too fascinating to suffer interruption. It was like something that had happened in her earlier childhood when she had lain in a garret watching a mother mouse carry away her five children, Lucile thereby suffering a loss of six cents, for she would have been paid a cent apiece for the capture of those mice.
The brown boy next approached the kitchen tent. He entered, to appear a moment later with a modest armload of provisions.
When these had been placed on the blanket, with marvelous speed and skill he converted the whole into a convenient pack.
"Shall I stop him?" Lucile asked herself.
She was about to call out from her dark corner, when a peculiar action of the boy arrested her. He appeared to be taking some small object from beneath the collar of his strange suit of bird-skin.
"I wonder what it is?" she puzzled.
Whatever it was, he walked with it to a broad, flat rock, and placing it in the very center, turned and left it there. The object gave forth such a startling lustre in the moonlight, and Lucile was so intent upon watching it, she did not realize that the brown boy had thrown his pack over his shoulder and disappeared into the woods.
When she did discover it, she merely shrugged her shoulders and smiled:
"Probably for the best," she told herself. "He's taken nothing of any great value and nothing we will need badly, and, unless I miss my guess, he'll be quite able to take care of himself in a wood that is full of game and berries and where there are fish for throwing in the hook. Let's see what he left, though."
Cautiously she crept out into the moonlight. A low exclamation escaped her lips as her hand closed upon the glistening object. As she examined it closely, she found it to be three teeth, apparently elk teeth. They were held together with a plain leather thong, but set in the center of each was a ring of blue jade and in the center of each of two of the rings was a large pearl. The center of the third was beyond doubt a crudely cut diamond of about two carats weight. Lucile turned it over and over in her palm.
"Why, the poor fellow," she murmured. "He's given us a king's ransom for a few trinkets and a little food! And I thought he was stealing," she reproached herself.
Her first instinct was to attempt to call him back. "But," she told herself, "my voice would not carry far in that dense woods. Besides, he wouldn't understand me and would only be frightened."
Returning to her tent, she hid the strange bit of jewelry, which, to its wearer, had doubtless been a charm, then waited the end of her watch to tell of the strange occurrence to her cousin. When Marian awoke Lucile told her story.
Together, in that early hour of the morning, they exclaimed over the rare treasure that had come into their hands; together agreed that, somehow, it must be returned to the original owner, and at last, after much talk on the subject, agreed that, on the whole, the departure of the brown boy reduced the possible complications to a considerable degree.
Next day their aunt arrived and with her a school-teacher friend. With their forces increased by two the girls were not afraid to maintain their camp. In fear of the return of the robbers they established a nightly watch. That this fear was not unfounded was proved by the events of the third night of vigil. It was again in the early morning when Marian was on guard, that heavy footsteps could be heard in the underbrush about the camp.
She had left the tent flap open, commanding a view of the shore line. The gasoline schooner lay high and dry on the sandy beach, within her line of vision. This she watched carefully. A man who dared touch that boat was in danger of his life, for a rifle lay across her knees and, with the native hardihood of an Alaskan, she would not fail to shoot quick and sure.
But the man did not approach the boat. He merely prowled about the tents as if seeking information. Marian caught one glimpse of him over the cooking tent. Though he was gone in an instant, she recognized him as one of the men who had stolen their motorboat.
After a time his footsteps sounded far down the beach. Nothing more was heard from him.
"Guess he was looking for the brown boy, but became satisfied that he was not here," explained Marian next morning.
"Perhaps they'll let us alone after this," said Lucile.
This prophecy came to pass. After a few nights the vigil was dropped and the remaining days on the island were given over to the pleasures of camp life.
The discovery of a freshly abandoned fire on the beach some miles from camp proved that Lucile's belief that the brown boy could take care of himself was well founded. His footprints were all about in the sand. Feathers of a wild duck and the heads of three good-sized fishes showed that he had fared well.
"We'll meet him again somewhere, I am sure," said Lucile with conviction, "and until we do, I shall carry his little present as a sort of talisman."
The weeks passed all too quickly. One day, with many regrets, they packed their camp-kit in the motorboat and went pop-popping to Lucile's home.
Three weeks later saw them aboard the steamship Torentia bound for Cape Prince of Wales by way of Nome. They were entering upon a new and adventure-filled life. This journey, though they little guessed it, brought them some two thousand miles nearer the spot where, once again under the strangest of circumstances, they were to meet the brown boy who had come swimming to them from the ocean.
THE MYSTERIOUS PHI BETA KI
It was some months later that Marian stood looking down from a snow-clad hill. From where she stood, brushes and palette in hand, she could see the broad stretch of snow-covered beach, and beyond that the unbroken stretch of drifting ice which chained the restless Arctic Sea at Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska. She gloried in all the wealth of light and shadow which lay like a changing panorama before her. She thrilled at the thought of the mighty forces that shifted the massive ice-floes as they drifted from nowhere to nowhere. Now for the thousandth time she stood spellbound before it.
As she gazed out to sea, her mind went back over the year and a half that had passed since she and Lucile had spent that eventful month on Mutineer's Island. But her thoughts were cut short. Throwing up her hands in wild glee, she exclaimed:
"The mail! The mail!"
The coming of the mail carrier was, indeed, a great event in this out-of-the-way spot. Once a month he came whirling around the point, behind a swift-footed dog-team. He came unheralded. Conditions of snow and storm governed his time of travel, yet come he always did.
No throng greeted his coming. No eager crowd hovered about the latticed window waiting for the mail to be "made up." If a dozen letters were in the sack, that was what might be expected.
But these letters had come eighteen hundred miles by dog-team. Precious messages they were. Tomorrow, perhaps, a bearded miner would drop in from Tin City, which was a city only in name. This lone miner would claim one of the letters. Two, perhaps, would go to another miner on Saw Tooth Mountain. Next week, an Eskimo happening down from Shishmaref Island, seventy-five miles north, would take three letters to Ben Norton and his sister, the government teachers for the Eskimos. Two would go in a pigeon-hole, for Thompson, the teacher on Little Diomede Island, twenty-two miles across the drifting ice. Later a native would be paid ten sacks of flour for attempting to cross that floe and deliver the contents of that box. There might be a scrawled note for some Eskimo, a stray letter or two, and the rest would be for Marian. At the present moment, she was the only white person at Cape Prince of Wales, a little town of three hundred and fifty Eskimos.
"Pretty light this time," smiled the grizzled mail carrier as he reached the cabin at the top of the hill; "mebby ten letters."
"Uncle Sam takes good care of his people," smiled Marian, "the teachers of his native children and the miners who search for his hidden treasures."
"I'll say he does! Must have cost all of ten dollars apiece to deliver them letters," chuckled the carrier. "And the people that mailed 'em stuck on a measly red two-cent stamp. I git fifty dollars for bringin' 'em the last sixty miles."
"And it's worth it, too."
"You're just right. Pretty tough trail. Pretty tough! Say!" he exclaimed, suddenly remembering a bit of gossip, "did ye hear about Tootsie Silock?"
"No." Marian was busy with the mail.
"Jist gossip, I reckon, but they say she's left her Eskimo husband—"
Marian did not answer. Gossip did not interest her. Besides, she had found a letter that did interest her even more than those addressed to her. A very careful penman had drawn the Greek letters, Phi Beta Ki, on the outside of an envelope, and beneath it had written, "Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska."
She was on the point of sharing the mystery with the carrier, but checked herself. Just some new gossip for him, was her mental comment.
"Here's the sack," she said, noting that he had finished drinking the coffee she had prepared for him. "I hope there'll be more mail next time. Letters mean so much to these people up at the top of the world. Spring thaw'll be here pretty soon, then they can't get mail for two or three months."
"That's right; it's fierce," said the carrier, taking the sack and turning toward the door.
"Phi Beta Ki," Marian pronounced the letters softly to herself as the door closed. "Now who could that be?"
She was still puzzling over the mysterious letter when, after a hasty luncheon, she again took up her palette and brushes and wound her way around the hill to a point where stood a cabinet, ten feet square and made of fiber-board.
She returned to her painting. She was doing a mass of ice that was piling some two hundred yards out to sea. The work was absorbing, yet, eager as she was to work, her mind went back to that letter in the pigeon-hole up in the cabin.
She was deep in the mystery of it when a voice startled her. It came from back of the cabinet.
"I say," the voice sang cheerily, "have you any letters in your little P. O. on the hill?"
The voice thrilled her. It was new and sounded young.
"Yes," she said, throwing open the back of the cabinet and standing up, "we have, quite—quite a variety."
The visitor was young, not more than twenty, she thought.
"What color?" she said teasingly, as she stepped from her cabinet.
"Blue," he said seriously.
"Blue?" She started. The mysterious letter was blue; the only blue one she had seen for months.
"Well, you see," the young man flushed, "not—not any real name; just the Greek letters, Phi Beta Ki."
He stepped into the cabinet and, with deft fingers, drew with charcoal the characters.
"Like that," he smiled.
"Yes," she smiled back, "there is one."
"Grand!" he exclaimed. "Let's get it at once, shall we?"
They hastened up the hill. Marian wondered at herself, as she handed out the letter; wondered that she did not question him further to make sure he was really the rightful owner. But there was something free and frank about his bearing. It disarmed suspicion.
After he had read the letter, she thought she caught a look of disappointment on his face. If she did, it quickly vanished.
While she was dispensing the accustomed hospitality of the Northland, a steaming plate of "mulligan" and a cup of coffee, she felt his eyes resting upon her many times.
When at last he had finished eating, he turned and spoke hesitatingly:
"I—I'd like to ask a favor of you."
"If another letter like that comes to me here, you keep it for me, will you?"
"Why, yes, only I won't be here much longer. I'm going to Nome after the break-up."
"I'm going north. I'll be back before then. But if I'm not, you keep it, will you?" There was a tense eagerness about him that stirred her strongly.
"Why, yes—I—I—guess so. But what shall I do if you don't get back before I leave?"
"Take it with you. Leave word where I can find you and take it."
"You see," he half-apologized, after a moment's thought, "these northern P. O.'s change hands so much, so many people handle the mail, that I—I'm afraid I might lose one of these letters, and—and—they're mighty important; at least, one of them is going to be. Will you do it? I—I think I'd trust you—though I don't just know why."
"Yes," Marian said slowly, "I'll do that."
Three minutes later she saw him skillfully disentangling his dogs and sending them on their way:
"One of those college boys," she whispered to herself. "They come North expecting to find gold shining in the sand of the beach. I've seen so many come up here as he is, happy and hopeful, and in three or four years I've seen them go 'outside,' old beyond their years, half-blind with snow-blindness, or worse; broken in body and spirit. I only hope it does not happen to him. But what's all the mystery, I'd like to know?"
She gave a sudden start. For the first time she realized that he had not given her his name.
"And I promised to personally conduct that mysterious mail of his!" she exclaimed under her breath.
FOR HE IS A WHITE MAN'S DOG
Two months had elapsed since the mysterious college boy had passed on north with his dog-team.
Many things could have happened to him in those months. As Marian sat looking away at the vast expanse of drifting ice which had been restless in its movements of late, telling of the coming of the spring break-up, she wondered what had happened to the frank-eyed, friendly boy. He had not returned. Had a blizzard caught him and snatched his life away? The rivers were overflowing their banks now, though thick and rotten ice was still beneath the milky water. Had he completed his mission north, and was he now struggling to make his way southward? Or was he securely housed in some out-of-the-way cabin, waiting for open water and a schooner?
A letter had come, a letter in a blue envelope, and addressed as the other to Phi Beta Ki. That was after Lucile's return. Lucile had been away to the Nome market with her deer herd when the first letter had come, but had now been home for a month. The two of them had laughed and wondered about that letter. They had put it in the pigeon-hole, and there it now was. But Marian had not forgotten her promise to take it with her in case the boy did not return before she left the Cape.
Now, as she watched-the restless ocean, she realized that it would not be many days before it would break its bonds. The ice would then float away to points unknown. Little gasoline schooners would go flitting here and there like sea-gulls, and then would come the hoarse voice of the Corwin, mail steamer for Arctic. She would take that steamer to Nome. Would the boy be back by then, or would she carry the mysterious letter with her? For a long time Marian gave herself up to speculation.
As she sat dreaming of these things, she started suddenly. Something had touched her foot.
"Oh;" she exclaimed, then laughed.
The most forlorn-looking dog she had ever seen had touched her foot with his nose. His hair was ragged and matted. His bones protruded at every possible point. His mouth was set awry, one side hanging half-open.
"So it's you," she said; "you're looking worse than common."
The dog opened his mouth, allowing his long tongue to loll out.
"I suppose that means you're hungry. Well, for once you are in luck. The natives caught a hundred or more salmon through the ice. I have some of them. Fish, Old Top, fish! What say?"
The dog stood on his hind legs and barked for joy. He read the sign in her eyes if he did not understand her lip-message.
In another moment he was gulping down a fat, four-pound salmon, while Marian eyed him, a curious questioning look on her face.
"Now," she said, as the dog finished, "the question is what are we going to do with you? You're an old dog. You're no good in a team. Too old. Bad feet. No, sir, you can't be any good, or you wouldn't be back here in five days. We gave you to Tommy Illayok to lead his team. You were a leader in your day all right, and you'd lead 'em yet if you could, poor old soul!"
There was a catch in her voice. To her dogs were next to humans. In the North they were necessary servants as well as friends.
"The thing that makes it hard to turn you out," she went on huskily, "is the fact that you're a white man's dog. Yes, sir! a white man's dog. And that means an awful lot; means you'd stick till death to any white person who'd feed you and call you friend. Mr. Jack London has written a book about a white man's dog that turned wild and joined a wolf-pack. It's a wonderful book, but I don't believe it. A white man's dog wants a white man for a friend, and if he loses one he'll keep traveling until he finds another. That's the way a white man's dog is, and that's why you come back to us, poor old dear." She stooped and patted the shaggy head.
"I'll tell you what," she murmured, after a moment's reflection. "If the fish keep running, if the wild ducks come north, or the walrus come barking in from Bering Sea, then you can stay with us and get sleek and fat. You can sleep by our door in the hallway every night, and if anyone comes prowling around, you can ask them what they want. How's zat?"
The dog howled his approval.
Marian smiled, and turning went into the cabin. The dog did not belong to them. He was an old and decrepit leader, deserted by a faithless master. He had adopted their cabin as his home. When food had become scarce, they had been forced to give him to an Eskimo traveling up the coast. Now, in five days he was back again. Marian was not sure that Lucile would approve of the arrangement she had made with the dog, but when her heart prompted her, she could only follow its promptings.
She had hardly entered the cabin than she heard a growl from the dog, followed by the voice of a stranger.
"Down, Rover!" she shouted, as she sprang to the door.
The man who stood before her was badly dressed and unshaven. His eyes bore a shifty gleam.
"Get out, you cur!" He kicked at the dog with his heavy boot.
Marian's eyes flashed, but she said nothing.
"This the post office?" The man attempted a smile.
"'S there a letter here for me?"
"I don't know," she smiled. "Won't you come in?"
The man came inside.
"Now," she said, "I'll see. What is your name?"
"Ben—" he hesitated. "Oh—that don't matter. Won't be addressed to my name. Addressed like that."
He drew from his pocket a closely-folded, dirt-begrimed envelope.
Marian's heart stopped beating. The envelope was blue—yes, the very shade of blue of that other in the pigeon-hole. And it was addressed: Phi Beta Ki, Nome, Alaska.
"Is there a letter here like that?" the man demanded, squinting at her through blood-shot eyes.
It was a tense moment. What should she say? She loathed the man; feared him, as well. Yet he had asked for the letter and had offered better proof than the mysterious college boy had. What should she say?
"Yes," she said, and then hesitated. Her heart beat violently. His searching eyes were upon her. "Yes, there was one. It came two months ago. A young man called for it and took it away."
"You—you gave it to him!"
The man lifted a hand as if to strike Marian. She did not flinch.
There came a growl from the door. Looking quickly, Marian caught the questioning gleam in the old leader's eye.
The man's arm fell.
"Yes," she said stoutly, "I gave it to him. Why should I not? He offered no real proof that he was the right person, it is true—"
"But neither have you," Marian hurried on. "You might have picked that envelope up in the street, or taken it from a wastepaper basket. How do I know?"
"What—what sort of a boy was it?" the man asked more steadily.
"A good-looking, strapping young fellow, with blue eyes and an honest face."
"That's him! That's him!" the man almost raved. "Honest-lookin', yes, honest-lookin'. They ain't all honest that looks that way."
Again came the growl from the door.
Marian's eyes glanced uneasily toward the pigeon-hole where the latest blue envelope rested. She caught an easy breath. A large white legal envelope quite hid the blue one.
"Well, if another one comes, remember it's mine! Mine!" growled the man, as he went stamping out of the room.
"Old Rover," Marian said, taking the dog's head between her hands. "I'm glad you're here. When there are such men as that about, we need you."
And yet, as she spoke her heart was full of misgivings. What if this man's looks belied his nature? What if he were honest? And what if her good-looking college boy was a rascal? There in the pigeon-hole was the blue envelope. What was her duty?
Pulling on her calico parka, she went for a stroll on the beach. The cool, damp air of Arctic twilight by the sea was balm to her troubled brain. She came back to the cabin with a deep-seated conviction that she was right.
She was not given many days to decide whether she should take the letter with her or leave it. A sudden gale from the south sent the ice-floes rushing through the Straits. They hastened away to seas unknown, not to return for months. The little mail steamer came hooting its way around the Point. It brought a letter of the utmost importance to Marian.
While in Nome the summer before she had made some hasty sketches of the Chukches, natives of the Arctic coast of Siberia, while they camped on the beach there on a trading voyage in a thirty-foot skin-boat. These sketches had come to the notice of the ethnological society. They now wrote to her, asking that she spend a summer on the Arctic coast of Siberia, making sketches of these natives, who so like the Eskimos are yet so unlike them in many ways. The pay, they assured her, would be ample; in fact, the figures fairly staggered her. Should she complete this task in safety and to the satisfaction of the society, she would then be prepared to pay her way through a three years' course in the best art school of America. This had long been a cherished dream. Marian's eyes shone with happiness.
When she had read the letter through, she went for a five-mile walk down the beach.
Upon returning she burst in on her companion.
"Lucile," she exclaimed, "how would you like to spend the summer in Siberia?"
"Fine! Salt mine, I suppose," laughed Lucile. "But I thought all political prisoners had been released by the new Russian government?"
"I'm not joking," said Marian.
Marian did explain. At the end of her explanation Lucile agreed to go as Marian's traveling companion and tent-keeper. In two weeks her school work would be finished. It would be a strange, a delightful summer. Their enthusiasm grew as they talked about it. Long after they should have been asleep they were still making plans for this, their most wonderful adventure.
"But how'll we go over?" exclaimed Lucile suddenly.
"Gasoline schooner, I suppose."
"I'd hate to trust any men I know who run those crafts," said Marian thoughtfully.
Lucile considered a moment.
"Native skin-boat, then."
"That would be rather thrilling—to cross from the new world into the old in a skin-boat."
"And safe enough too," said Marian. "Did you ever hear of a native boat being lost at sea?"
"One. But that one turned up at King's Island, a hundred and fifty miles off its course."
"I guess we could risk it."
"All right, let's go."
Marian sprang to her feet, threw back the blankets to her couch, and fifteen minutes later was dreaming of a tossing skin-boat on a wild sea of walrus monsters and huge white bears.
Her wild dreams did not come true. When the time came to cross the thirty-five miles of water which separates the Old World from the New, they sailed and paddled over a sea as placid as a mill-pond. Here a brown seal bobbed his head out of the water; here a spectacled eiderduck rode up and down on the tiny waves, and here a great mass of tubular seaweed drifted by to remind them that they were really on the bosom of the briny ocean.
Only one incident of the voyage caused them a feeling of vague unrest. A fog had settled down over the sea. They were drifting and paddling slowly forward, when the faint scream of a siren struck their ears. It came nearer and nearer.
"A gasoline schooner," said Marian.
The natives began shouting to avert a possible collision.
Presently the schooner appeared, a dark bulk in the fog. It took shape. Men were seen on the deck. It came in close by. The waves from it reached the skin-boat.
They were passing with a salute, when a strange thing happened. Rover, the old dog-leader, who had been riding in the bow standing well forward, as if taking the place of a painted figurehead, suddenly began to bark furiously. At the same time, Marian caught sight of a bearded face framed in a porthole.
Involuntarily she shrank back out of sight. The next instant the schooner had faded away into the fog. The dog ceased barking.
"What was it?" asked Lucile anxiously.
"Only a face."
"The man who wanted the blue envelope; Rover recognized him first."
"You don't suppose he knew, and is following?"
"How could he know?"
"But what is he going to Siberia for?"
"Perhaps to trade. They do that a great deal. Let's not talk of it." Marian shivered.
The incident was soon forgotten. They were nearing the Siberian shore which was to be their summer home. A million nesting birds came skimming out over the sea, singing their merry song as if to greet them. They would soon be living in a tent in the midst of a city of tents. They would be studying a people whose lives are as little known as were those of the natives in the heart of Africa before the days of Livingstone.
As she thought of these things Marian's cheeks flushed with excitement.
"What new thrill will come to us here?" her lips whispered.
There was a shallow space beneath a tray of color-tubes in the very bottom of Marian's paint-box. There, on leaving Cape Prince of Wales, she had stowed the blue envelope addressed to Phi Beta Ki. She had not done this without misgivings. Disturbing thoughts had come to her. Was it the right thing to do? Was it safe? The latter question had come to her with great force when she saw the grizzled miner's face framed in the porthole of that schooner.
But from the day they landed at Whaling, on the mainland of Siberia, all thoughts of the letter and the two claimants for its possession were completely crowded from her mind.
Never in all her adventurous life had Marian experienced anything quite so thrilling as this life with the Chukches of the Arctic coast of Siberia.
In Alaska the natives had had missionaries and teachers among them for thirty years. They had been Americanized and, in a sense, Christianized. The development of large mining centers to which they journeyed every summer to beg and barter had tended to rob them of the romantic wildness of their existence. But here, here where no missionaries had been allowed nor teachers been sent, where gold gleamed still ungathered in the beds of the rivers, here the natives still dwelt in their dome-like houses of poles and skins. Here they fared boldly forth in search of the dangerous walrus and white bear and the monstrous whale. Here they made strange fire to the spirits of the monsters they had slaughtered, and spoke in grave tones of the great spirit that had come down from the moon in the form of a raven with a beak of old ivory.
It is little wonder that Marian forgot all thought of fear amid such surroundings, as she worked industriously at the sketches which were to furnish her with three years of wonderful study under great masters.
But one day, after six weeks of veritable dream life, as she lifted the tray to her paint-box her eyes fell on that blue envelope. Instantly a flood of remembrance rushed through her mind; the frank-faced college boy, the angry miner, old Rover, the dog, who, sleek and fat on whale meat, lay curled up beside her, then again the grizzled face of the miner framed in a port-hole; all these passed before her mind's vision and left her chilled.
Her hand trembled. She could not control her brush. The sketch of two native women in deerskin unionsuits, their brown shoulders bared, working at the task of splitting walrus skins, went unfinished while she took a long walk down the beach.
That very evening she had news that caused her blood to chill again. A native had come from East Cape, the next village to the south. He had seen a white man there, a full-bearded man of middle age. He had said that he intended coming to Whaling in a few days. He had posed among the natives as a spirit-doctor and had, according to reports, worked many wonderful cures by his incantations. Three whales had come into the hands of the East Cape hunters. This was an excellent catch and had been taken as a good omen; the bearded stranger was doubtless highly favored by the spirits of dead whales.
"I wish our skin-boat would come for us," said Lucile suddenly, as they talked of it in the privacy of their tent.
"But it won't, not for three weeks yet. That was the agreement."
"And we haven't a wireless to call them with. Besides, my sketches are not nearly complete."
"I know," said Lucile, her chin in her hands. "But, all the same, that man makes me afraid."
"Well, I'll hurry my sketches, but that won't bring the boat any sooner."
Had Marian known the time she would have for sketching, she might not have done them so rapidly. As it was, she worked the whole long eighteen-hour days through.
In the meantime, chill winds began sweeping down from the north. Still the bearded white man did not come to Whaling, but every day brought fresh reports of the good fortune of the people of East Cape. They had captured a fourth whale, then a fifth. Their food for the winter was secured. Whale meat was excellent food. They would have an abundance of whale-bone to trade for flour, sugar and tea.
But if the East Capers were favored, the men of Whaling were not. One lone whale, and that a small one, was their total take. Witch-doctors began declaring that the presence of strange, white-faced women in their midst was displeasing to the spirits of dead whales. The making of the images of the people on canvas was also sure to bring disaster.
As reports of this dissatisfaction came to the ears of the girls, they began straining their eyes for a square sail on the horizon. Still their boat did not come.
Then came the crowning disaster of the year. The walrus herd, on which the natives based their last hope, passed south along the coast of Alaska instead of Siberia. Their caches were left empty. Only the winter's supply of white bear and seal could save them from starvation.
"Dezra! Dezra!" (It is enough!) the natives whispered among themselves.
The day after the return of the walrus canoes Marian and Lucile went for a long walk down the beach.
Upon rounding a point in returning Marian suddenly gave a gasp. "Look, Lucile! It's gone—our tent!"
"Gone!" exclaimed Lucile unbelievingly.
"I wonder what—"
"Look, Marian; the whole village!"
"Where to? We'd starve in two days, or freeze. Come on. They won't hurt us."
With anxious hearts and trembling footsteps they approached the solid line of fur-clad figures which stretched along the southern outskirts of the village.
As they came close they heard one word repeated over and over: "Dezra! Dezra!" (Enough! Enough!)
And as the natives almost chanted this single word, they pointed to a sled on which the girls' belongings had been neatly packed. To the sled three dogs were hitched, two young wolf-hounds with Rover as leader.
"They want us to go," whispered Lucile.
"Yes, and where shall we go?"
"East Cape is the only place."
"And that miner?"
"It may not be he."
Three times Marian tried to press her way through the line. Each time the line grew more dense at the point she approached. Not a hand was laid upon her; she could not go through, that was all. The situation thrilled as much as it troubled her. Here was a people kind at heart but superstitious. They believed that their very existence depended upon getting these two strangers from their midst. What was there to do but go?
They went, and all through the night they assisted the little dog-team to drag the heavy load over the first thin snow of autumn. Over and over again Marian blessed the day she had been kind to old Rover because he was a white man's dog, for he was the pluckiest puller of them all.
Just as dawn streaked the east they came in sight of what appeared to be a rude shack built of boards. As they came closer they could see that some of the boards had been painted and some had not. Some were painted halfway across, and some only in patches of a foot or two. They had been hastily thrown together. The whole effect, viewed at a distance, resembled nothing so much as a crazy-quilt.
"Must have been built from the wreckage of a house," said Lucile.
"Yes, or a boat."
"A boat? Yes, look; there it is out there, quite a large one. It's stranded on the sandbar and half broken up."
The girls paused in consternation. It seemed they were hedged in on all sides by perils. To go back was impossible. To go forward was to throw themselves upon the mercies of a gang of rough seamen. To pass around the cabin was only to face the bearded stranger, who, they had reason to believe, was none other than the man who had demanded the blue envelope.
A few minutes' debate brought them to a decision. They would go straight on to the cabin.
"Mush, Rover! Mush!" Marian threw her tired shoulders into the improvised harness, and once more they moved slowly forward.
It was with wildly beating hearts that they eventually rounded the corner of the cabin and came to a stand by the door. At once an exclamation escaped their lips:
And so it proved. Snow that had fallen two days before lay piled within the half-open doorway. No sign of occupation was to be found within save a great rusty galley range, two rickety chairs, an improvised table, two rusty kettles and a huge frying-pan.
"They have given the ship up as a total loss, and have left in dories or skin-boats," said Marian.
"Yes," agreed Lucile. "Wanted to get across the Straits before the coming of the White Line."
The "coming of the White Line." Marian started. She knew what that meant far better than Lucile did. She had lived in Alaska longer, had seen it oftener. Now she thought what it would mean to them if it came before the skin-boat came for them. And that skin-boat? What would happen when it came to Whaling? Would the Chukches tell them in which direction they had gone? And if they did, would the Eskimo boatmen set their sail and go directly to East Cape? If they did, would they miss this diminutive cabin standing back as it did from the shore, and seeming but a part of the sandbar?
"We'll put up a white flag, a skirt or something, on the peak of the cabin," she said, half talking to herself.
"Do you think we ought to go right on to East Cape?" said Lucile.
"We can't decide that now," said Marian. "We need food and sleep and the dogs need rest."
Some broken pieces of drift were piled outside the cabin. These made a ready fire. They were soon enjoying a feast of fried fish and canned baked beans. Then, with their water-soaked mucklucks (skin-boots) and stockings hanging by the fire, they threw deerskin on the rude bunk attached to the wall and were soon fast asleep.
Out on the wreck, some two hundred yards from shore, a figure emerged from a small cabin aft. The stern of the ship had been carried completely about by the violence of the waves. It had left this little cabin, formerly the wireless cabin, high and dry.
The person came out upon the deck and scanned the horizon. Suddenly his eyes fell upon the cabin and the strange white signal which the girls had set fluttering there before they went to sleep.
Sliding a native skin-kiak down from the deck, he launched it, then leaping into the narrow seat, began paddling rapidly toward land.
Having beached his kiak, he hurried toward the cabin. His hand was on the latch, when he chanced to glance up at the white emblem of distress which floated over his head.
His hand dropped to his side; his mouth flew open. An expression of amazement spread over his face.
"Jumpin' Jupiter!" he muttered beneath his breath.
He beat a hasty retreat. Once in his kiak he made double time back to the wreck.
Marian was the first to awaken in the cabin. By the dull light that shone through the cracks, she could tell that it was growing dark.
Springing from her bunk, she put her hand to the latch. Hardly had she done this than the door flew open with a force that threw her back against the opposite wall. Fine particles of snow cut her face. The wind set every loose thing in the cabin bobbing and fluttering. The skirt they had attached to a stout pole as a signal was booming overhead like a gun.
"Wow! A blizzard!" she groaned.
Seizing the door, she attempted to close it.
Twice the violence of the storm threw her back.
When at last her efforts had been rewarded with success, she turned to rouse her companion.
"Lucile! Lucile! Wake up? A blizzard!"
Lucile turned over and groaned. Then she opened her eyes.
"Wha—wha—" she droned sleepily.
"A blizzard! A blizzard from the north!"
Lucile sat up quickly.
"From the north!" she exclaimed, fully awake in an instant. "The ice?"
"And if it comes?"
"We're stuck, that's all, in Siberia for nine months. Won't dare try to cross the Straits on the ice. No white man has ever done it, let alone a woman. Well," she smiled, "we've got food for five days, and five days is a long time. We'd better try to bring in some wood, and get the dogs in here; they'd freeze out there."
THE DREAD WHITE LINE
Three days the blizzard raged about the cabin where Lucile and Marian had found shelter. Such a storm at this season of the year had not been known on the Arctic for more than twenty years.
For three days the girls shivered by the galley range, husbanding their little supply of food, and hoping for something to turn up when the storm was over. Just what that something might be neither of them could have told.
The third day broke clear and cold with the wind still blowing a gale. Lucile was the first to throw open the door. As it came back with a bang, something fell from the beam above and rattled to the floor.
She stooped to pick it up.
"Look, Marian!" she exclaimed. "A key! A big brass key!"
Marian examined it closely.
"What can it belong to?"
"The wreck, perhaps."
"Looks like a steward's pass-key."
"But what would they save it for? You don't think—"
"If we could get out to the wreck we'd see."
"Yes, but we can't. There—"
"Look, Marian!" Lucile's eyes were large and wild.
"The white line!" gasped Marian, gripping her arm.
It was true. Before them lay the dark ocean still flecked with foam, but at the horizon gleaming whiter than burnished silver, straight, distinct, unmistakable, was a white line.
"And that means—"
Lucile sank weakly into a chair. Marian began pacing the floor.
"Anyway," she exclaimed at last, "I can paint it. It will make a wonderful study."
Suiting action to words, she sought out her paint-box and was soon busy with a sketch, which, developing bit by bit, or rather, seeming to evolve out of nothing, showed a native dressed in furs, shading his eyes to scan the dark, tossing ocean. And beyond, the object of his gaze, was the silvery line. When she had finished, she playfully inscribed a title at the bottom:
"The Coming of the White Line."
As she put her paints away, something caught her eye. It was one corner of the blue envelope with the strange address upon it.
"Ah, there you are still," she sighed. "And there you will remain for nine months unless I miss my guess. I wish I hadn't kept my promise to the college boy; wish I'd left you in the pigeon-hole at Cape Prince of Wales."
Since the air was too chill, the wind too keen for travel, the girls slept that night in the cabin. They awoke to a new world. The first glimpse outside the cabin brought surprised exclamations to their lips. In a single night the world appeared to have been transformed. The "white line" was gone. So, too, was the ocean. Before them, as far as the eye could reach, lay a mass of yellow lights and purple shadows, ice-fields that had buried the sea. Only one object stood out, black, bleak and bare before them—the hull of the wrecked and abandoned ship.
"Look!" said Lucile suddenly, "we can go out to the ship over the ice-floe!"
"Let's do it," said Marian enthusiastically. "Perhaps there's some sort of a solution to our problem there."
They were soon threading their way in and out among the ice-piles which were already solidly attaching themselves to the sand beneath the shallow water.
And now they reached a spot where the water was deeper, where ice-cakes, some small as a kitchen floor, some large as a town lot, jostled and ground one upon another.
"Wo-oo, I don't like it!" exclaimed Lucile, as she leaped a narrow chasm of dark water.
"We'll soon be there," trilled her companion. "Just watch your step, that's all."
They pushed on, leaping from cake to cake. Racing across a broad ice-pan, now skirting a dark pool, now clambering over a pile of ice ground fine, they made their way slowly but surely toward their goal.
"Listen!" exclaimed Marian, stopping dead in her tracks.
"What is it?" asked Lucile, her voice quivering with alarm.
A strange, wild, weird sound came to them across the floe, a grinding, rushing, creaking, moaning sound that increased in volume as the voice of a cyclone increases.
Only a second elapsed before they knew. Then with a cry of terror Marian dragged her companion to the center of the ice-pan and pulled her flat to its surface. From somewhere, far out to sea, a giant tidal wave was sweeping through the ice-floe. Marian had seen it. The mountain of ice which it bore on its crest seemed as high as the solid ridge of rock behind them on the land. And with its weird, wild, rushing scream of grinding and breaking ice, it was traveling toward them. It had the speed of the wind, the force of an avalanche. When it came, what then?
With a rush the wild terror of the Arctic sea burst upon them. It lifted the giant ice-pan weighing hundreds of tons, tilted it to a dangerous angle, then dropped from beneath it. Marian's heart stopped beating as she felt the downward rush of the avalanche of ice. The next instant she felt it crumble like an egg-shell. It had broken at the point where they lay. With a warning cry of terror she sprang to her feet and pitched forward.
The cry was too late. As she rose unsteadily to her knees, she saw a dark brown bulk topple at the edge of the cake, then roll like a log into the dark pool of water which appeared where the cake had parted. That object was Lucile. Dead or alive? Marian could not tell. But whether dead or alive she had fallen into the stinging Arctic brine. What chance could there be for her life?
For the time being the ice-field was quiet. The tidal wave had spent its force on the sandy beach.
That other, less violent disturbances, would follow the first, the girl knew right well. Hastily creeping to the brink of the dark pool, she strained her eyes for sight of a floating bit of cloth, a waving hand. There was none. Despair gripped her heart. Still she waited, and as she waited, there came the distant sound, growing ever louder, of another onrushing tide.
When Lucile went down into the dark pool she was not dead. She was conscious and very much alive. Very conscious she was, too, of the peril of her situation. Should that chasm close before she rose, or as she rose, she was doomed. In one case she would drown, in the other she would be crushed.
Down, down she sank. But the water was salt and buoyant. Now she felt herself rising. Holding her breath she looked upward. A narrow ribbon of black was to the right of her.
"That will be the open water," was her mental comment. "Must swim for it."
She was a strong swimmer, but her heavy fur garments impeded her. The sting of the water imperiled her power to remain conscious. Yet she struggled even as she rose.
Just when Marian had given up hope, she saw a head shoot above the water, then a pair of arms. The next instant she gripped both her companion's wrists and lifted as she never lifted before. There was wild terror in her eye. The roar of the second wave was drumming in her ears.
She was not a second too soon. Hardly had she dragged the half-unconscious girl from the pool than it closed with a grinding crash, and the ice-pan again tilted high in air.
The strain of this onrush was not so great. The cake held together. Gradually it settled back to its place.
Marian glanced in the direction of the wreck. They were very much nearer to it than to the shore. She thought she saw a small cabin in the stern. Lucile must be relieved of her water soaked and fast-freezing garments at once.
"Can you walk?" she asked as Lucile staggered dizzily to her feet. "I'll help you. The wreck—we must get there. You must struggle or you'll freeze."
Lucile did try. She fought as she had never fought before, against the stiffening garments, the aching lungs and muscles, but most of all against the almost unconquerable desire to sleep.
Foot by foot, yard by yard, they made their way across the treacherous tangle of ice-piles which was still in restless motion.
Now they had covered a quarter of the distance, now half, now three-quarters. And now, with an exultant cry, Marian dragged her half-unconscious companion upon the center of the deck.
"There's a cabin aft," she whispered, "a warm cabin. We'll soon be there."
"Soon be there," Lucile echoed faintly.
The climbing of the long, slanting, slippery deck was a terrible ordeal. More than once Marian despaired. At last they stood before the door. She put a hand to the knob. A cry escaped her lips. The cabin door was locked.
Dark despair gripped her heart. But only for an instant.
"Lucile, the key! The key we found in the cabin! Where is it?"
"The key—the key?" Lucile repeated dreamily.
"Oh, yes, the key. Why, that's not any good."
"Yes, it is! It is!"
"It's in my parka pocket."
The next moment Marian was prying the key from a frozen pocket, and the next after that she was dragging Lucile into the cabin.
In one corner of the cabin stood a small oil-heater. Above it was a match-box. With a cry of joy Marian found matches, lighted one, tried the stove, found it filled with oil. A bright blaze rewarded her efforts. There was heat, heat that would save her companion's life.
She next attacked the frozen garments. Using a knife where nothing else would avail, she stripped the clothing away until at last she fell to chafing the white and chilled limbs of the girl, who still struggled bravely against the desire to sleep.
A half-hour later Lucile was sleeping naturally in a bunk against the upper wall of the room. She was snuggled deep in the interior of a mammoth deerskin sleeping-bag, while her garments were drying beside the kerosene stove. Marian was drowsing half-asleep by the fire.
Suddenly, she was aroused by a voice. It was a man's voice. She was startled.
"Please," the voice said, "may I come in? That's supposed to be my cabin, don't you know? But I don't want to be piggish."
Marian stared wildly about her. For a second she was quite speechless. Then she spoke:
"Wait—wait a minute; I'm coming out."
THE BLUE ENVELOPE DISAPPEARS
When Marian heard the voice outside the cabin on the wreck, she realized that a new problem, a whole set of new problems had arisen. Here was a man. Who was he? Could he be the grizzled miner who had demanded the blue envelope? If so, what then? Was there more than one man? What was to come of it all, anyway?
All this sped through her mind while she was drawing on her parka. The next moment she had opened the door, stepped out and closed the door behind her.
"Ah! I have the pleasure—"
"You?" Marian gasped.
For a second she could say no more. Before her, dressed in a jaunty parka of Siberian squirrel-skin, was her frank-faced college boy, he of the Phi Beta Ki.
"Why, yes," he said rather awkwardly, "it is I. Does it seem so strange? Well, yes, I dare say it does. Suppose you sit down and I'll tell you about it."
Marian sat down on a section of the broken rail.
"Well, you see," he began, a quizzical smile playing about his lips, "when I had completed my—my—well, my mission to the north of Cape Prince of Wales, it was too late to return by dog-team. I waited for a boat. I arrived at the P. O. you used to keep. You were gone. So was my letter."
"Yes, you said—"
"That was quite all right; the thing I wanted you to do. But you see that letter is mighty important. I had to follow. This craft we're sitting on was coming this way. I took passage. She ran into a mess of bad luck. First we were picked up by an ice-floe and carried far into the Arctic Ocean. When at last we poled our way out of that, we were caught by a storm and carried southwest with such violence that we were thrown upon this sandbar. The ship broke up some, but we managed to stick to her until the weather calmed. We went ashore and threw some of the wreckage into the form of a cabin. You've been staying there, I guess." He grinned.
"Well, the ship was hopeless. Natives came in their skin-boats from East Cape."
"East Cape? How far—how far is that?"
"Perhaps ten miles. Why?"
He studied the girl's startled face.
"Nothing; only didn't a white man come with the natives?"
"A white man?"
"I've heard there was one staying there."
"No, he didn't come."
Marian settled back in her seat.
"Well," he went on, "the captain of this craft traded everything on board to the natives for furs; everything but some food. I bought that from him. You see, they were determined to get away as soon as possible. I was just as determined to stay. I didn't know exactly where you were, but was bound I'd find you and—and the letter." He paused.
"By the way," he said, struggling to conceal his intense interest, "have—have you the letter?"
Marian nodded. "It is in my paint-box over in the cabin."
The boy sprang eagerly to his feet. "May we not go fetch it?"
"I can't leave my friend."
"Then may I go?" He was eager as a child.
Then after a second, "Why, by Jove! I'm selfish. Haven't given you a chance to say a thing. Perhaps your friend's in trouble. Of course she is, or she'd be out here before this. What is it? Can I help you?"
"She's only chilled and recovering from a trifling shock. The tidal wave threw her into the sea."
"Oh!" The boy stood thinking for a moment. "Do—do you intend to remain in Siberia all winter?"
"We had no such intentions when we came, but the storm and the white line caught us. No more boats now."
"The white line of ice from the north? No more boats this season?"
Then quickly, "Say, you two can keep my cabin. The shack on the beach is poor, and I dare say you haven't much food. There's a bunk below the deck where I can be quite comfortable. We'll be snug as a bug in a bushel basket."
Marian lifted a hand in feeble protest. What was the use? They were trapped in Siberia. Here was an American who seemed at least to be a friend.
"I'll go for your things. You stay here. Any dogs?"
"Good! I'll be back quicker than you think."
He was away. Bounding from ice-cake to ice-cake he soon disappeared. Marian turned to enter the cabin.
Lucile was still asleep. Marian sat down to think. She was not certain that their position was at all improved. They knew so little of the young stranger. She felt almost resentful at his occupation of the wireless cabin. They could have been quite cozy there alone. Then again, in quite another mood, she was glad the stranger was here; he might suggest a means of escape from the exile and might assist in carrying it out. At any rate, if they were forced to go to East Cape for food, they would not be afraid to go under his guard.
She fell to wondering if he had reached the shore safely. Leaving the cabin, she climbed to the highest point on the rail. There she stood for some time scanning the horizon.
"Strange he'd be way down there!" she murmured, at last. "Quarter of a mile south of the cabin. Perhaps the ice carried him south."
The distance was so great she could distinguish a figure, a mere speck, moving in and out among the ice-piles that lined the shore.
For a moment she rested her eyes by studying the ship's deck. Then again she gazed away.
"Why," she exclaimed suddenly, "he has reached the cabin! Must have run every step of the way!"
In the cabin on shore, the young stranger began packing the girl's possessions preparatory to putting them on the sled.
"Some careless housekeeper!" he grumbled as he gathered up articles of clothing from every corner of the room, and, having straightened out Marian's paint-box, closed its cover down with a click. He arrived at the schooner an hour later. The sled load was soon stowed away in the wireless cabin.
He brought a quantity of food, canned vegetables, bacon, hardtack, coffee and sugar from his store below. Then he stood by the door.
Marian was bustling about the cabin, putting things to rights.
"Wants to make a good impression," was the young man's mental comment.
Lucile, a trifle pale, was sitting in the corner.
Presently Marian caught sight of him standing there.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "you are waiting for your reward?"
"Any time," he smiled.
"You shall have it right now—the blue envelope."
She seized her paint-box, and throwing back the cover lifted the paint-tray. Then from her lips escaped one word:
He sprang eagerly forward.
"Can't be," Lucile breathed.
"Take a good look," the boy suggested.
Marian inspected the box thoroughly.
"No," she said with an air of finality, "it's not here."
"Your—er—the paint-box was a bit disarranged," he stammered.
"Well, not in the best of order. Letter might have dropped out in the cabin. I dare say it's on the floor back there. Had you seen it lately?"
"Only this morning. I can't understand about the box. The wind must have blown it down, or something."
"I dare say." The boy smiled good-naturedly as he recalled the disordered room.
"I'll hop right back and look for it." He was away like a flash.
It was with a very dejected air that he returned. Marian could not tell whether it was genuine or feigned. Had he been in such haste to secure the letter that he had taken it at once from the box? Was all his later action mere stage-play?
"No," he said, bringing forth a forlorn smile, "I couldn't find it. It's not there."
That evening, after a supper served on a small tip-down table in the wireless cabin, after the boy had gone to his bunk below, and Lucile had fallen asleep, Marian lay awake a long time puzzling over the mysteries of the past and the problems of the future. Where had the blue envelope disappeared to? Did the boy have it? She resolved to search the cabin on the beach for herself. She felt half-inclined to talk matters over frankly with him. There were mysteries which might be cleared up. She remembered with what astonishing speed he had reached the cabin once he had sprung upon the shore. She remembered, too, how he had spoken of the disordered paint-box. She prided herself on neatness. And that paint-box, was it not her work-shop, her most prized possession? She longed to talk it over with him. But on the other hand, she could not bring herself to feel that her trust in him was fully warranted. She hated above all things to be "taken in." If she discussed all these things with him, and if, at the same time, the letter rested in his pocket, wouldn't she be taken in for fair? Wouldn't she, though?
"No," she pressed her lips tight shut, "no, I won't."
But even as she said this, she saw again the downhearted expression on his face, heard his mournful, "I couldn't find it. It's not there." With that she relented, and ere she slept resolved to take up the matter of the mysterious disappearance with him the first thing in the morning.
But morning found the boy in quite a different mood. He laughed and chatted gayly over his sour-dough pancakes.
"Now you know," he said, as he shoved back his stool, "I like your company awfully well, and I'd like to keep this up indefinitely, but truth is I can't; I've got to get across the Straits."
"We'll be sorry to lose you," laughed Marian; "but just you run along. And when you get there tell the missionary breakfast is ready. Ask him to step over and eat with us."
"No, but I'm serious."
"Then you're crazy. No white man has ever crossed thirty-five miles of floeing ice."
"There's always to be a first. Natives do it, don't they?"
"I've heard they do."
"I can go anywhere a native can, providing he doesn't get out of my sight."
"A guide across the Straits! It's a grand idea!" Marian seized Lucile about the waist and went hopping out on deck. "A guide across the Straits. We'll be home for Christmas dinner yet!"
"What, you don't mean—" The boy stared in astonishment.
"Sure I do. We can go anywhere you can, providing you don't get out of our sight."
"That—why, that will be bully."
He said this with lagging enthusiasm. It was evident that he doubted their power of endurance.
"We'll have to go to East Cape to start," he suggested.
"East Cape?" Marian exclaimed in a startled tone.
"Sure. What's wrong with East Cape?"
"Nothing. Only—only that's where that strange white man is."
"What's so terrible about him?"