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´╗┐Title: On the Edge of the Arctic - or, An Aeroplane in Snowland
Author: Sayler, H. L. (Harry Lincoln), 1863-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "On the Edge of the Arctic - or, An Aeroplane in Snowland" ***

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The Aeroplane Boys Series

ON THE EDGE OF THE ARCTIC

or

An Aeroplane in Snowland

by

ASHTON LAMAR

Illustrated by Norman P. Hall



[Illustration: The _Gitchie Manitou_ ready for its first flight in the
Far North.]



The Reilly & Britton Co.
Chicago

Copyright, 1913
by
The Reilly & Britton Co.
All Rights Reserved

ON THE EDGE OF THE ARCTIC



CONTENTS

   CHAPTER                                                       PAGE

         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



ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                                   PAGE

  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

CHAPTER I

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."



CHAPTER II

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.



CHAPTER III

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--"

[Illustration: "I've an idea and I got it the minute I saw your
aeroplane to-day."]

"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."



CHAPTER IV

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.



CHAPTER V

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.



CHAPTER VI

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."

"You can go in an automobile," suggested young Zept, who apparently had
secured some information about the country.

But Colonel Howell shook his head. "There are only two automobiles in
that service and they're both stuck somewhere in the mud between here and
the Landing. Besides, that wouldn't do us much good. I find that my two
carloads of oil machinery are yet in Edmonton and then there's the
airship crates."

"Can't we carry it all by wagon?" asked Norman.

"Hardly," responded the colonel. "It'd make a caravan. We might get
through in good weather but the trail is impassable now. We've got to go
by train."

"And can't!" commented Roy.

"Not to-day," laughed Colonel Howell, "but the season's young yet.
There'll be another train starting out day after to-morrow. We'll have to
turn up something. Meanwhile, let's have breakfast."

This meal over, Norman and Roy accompanied Colonel Howell out into the
city. As they well know, Edmonton was the town from which all were forced
to take their start into the northern country and, as the colonel had
already discovered, they soon confirmed the fact that transportation
facilities were in a chaotic condition. A stage was to leave that day,
but its passenger facilities were wholly inadequate, and what there were
had been engaged for many days.

The first visit of the investigators was to the offices of the Hudson's
Bay Company, that great trading institution which is at once the banker
and the courier for all travelers in the great Northwest. Although
altogether obliging, at the present time the Company was helpless. The
agent thought he might arrange for teams, but it would require several
days. Then Colonel Howell visited the offices of the railroad
contractors, where he ascertained definitely that passage on the
construction train was out of the question.

"Maybe we'll have to stay here until the mud dries," laughed Colonel
Howell.

The two boys almost groaned.

"But something may turn up," continued Colonel Howell, "and I'll be
enough to look after things. You boys had better take a run over town. If
I don't see you at noon, I'll see you at dinner this evening."

The boys returned to the hotel, found that Mr. Zept and his son had
finally gone out with friends, and they put in the rest of the day
inspecting the lively young city.

Colonel Howell's acquaintances were not confined to the Northwest--he
also had friends in Winnipeg. After leaving the contractors' offices, he
went to the Dominion Telegraph Building and sent this message to a
business friend in Winnipeg: "Please see the Canada Northern officials
and tell them that I am stranded in Edmonton with a party of friends and
would like to get to Athabasca Landing."

In two hours, he was called up at the hotel by the general superintendent
of that road, located in Edmonton, who said he had just been ordered by
the Winnipeg officials to extend every facility to Colonel Howell and his
friends in their advance to Athabasca Landing.

"We're running a mixed train to a little village twenty-five miles out
from Edmonton," explained the superintendent, "and when it goes again,
Wednesday morning, I'll put an extra car on this train. Meet me that
morning at eight thirty, at the depot, and I will escort you personally
as far as this train goes. Then I'll arrange to have your car attached to
the construction train. There has never been a passenger car in Athabasca
Landing. You can have the distinction of finishing your journey in the
first passenger car to touch the great rivers of the Mackenzie Basin."

Colonel Howell proceeded at once to the superintendent's office,
expressed his gratitude at the courtesy shown, and arranged that the
other cars containing his outfit and the airship should be carried
through at the same time.

When the members of the party returned to the hotel late in the
afternoon, and received the news of the happy solution of their
difficulty, congratulations rained on Colonel Howell. The boys had a new
respect for the influence of the man with whom they were casting their
fortunes and who had so little to say about himself.

The effect was a little bit different on the Count, who had rather
persisted all day in a theory of his own that automobiles were the things
to be used. He had canvassed liveries and accosted chauffeurs, but he had
made no practical advance in securing help of this kind.

"Our own private car!" was one of Norman's outbursts. "That'll be great."

"And the first one into the North!" added Roy. "That's greater yet. And
it gives us another day in Edmonton."

"Which isn't very great," commented the Count. "I've seen all I want to
of this place. It's nothing but banks and restaurants. What's Athabasca
Landing like, Colonel Howell?" he added a little petulantly.

"Oh, the Landing's nothing but saloons and the river, and beyond it," he
added significantly, "there's nothing but the river."

At seven o'clock that evening, Mr. Zept and Colonel Howell with the three
boys attended a baseball game, leaving it at nine thirty in full
daylight.

"To-morrow is vacation," explained Colonel Howell, as they separated for
the night, "and Wednesday at eight thirty we'll board our private car."



CHAPTER VII

A TEMPESTUOUS VOYAGE TO ATHABASCA LANDING


During their stay in Edmonton, the two Indian rivermen had been living
royally in a lodging house near the depot. Early on the morning of the
departure, Colonel Howell rounded up his old employees and when the mixed
freight and passenger train backed up to the depot, the party was ready
to board it. It was with satisfaction that all saw two Chicago & North
Western freight cars, which Colonel Howell identified as those containing
his oil outfit, and next to the extra passenger coach, the special
baggage car.

A mist was falling and it was not cheerful. It was time for Mr. Zept to
take his leave. For some moments he and Colonel Howell spoke apart and
then, without any special word of admonition to his son, he grasped the
hand of each boy in turn.

"I hope you'll all be friends," was his general good-bye, "and that
you'll all stand by each other. Good-bye. Colonel Howell is my friend and
I advise all of you to do just as he tells you. Take care of yourselves,"
and with no further words, the rich ranch owner helped the little party
to load its baggage into the express car.

There were many curious people at the depot, among whom, not the least
conspicuous, were Moosetooth and La Biche. Men from the frontier and a
dapper young mounted policeman all came to speak to the two Indians.

With most of the passengers either hanging out of the car windows or
jammed together on the platforms--for at the last moment, Colonel Howell
had readily given his consent to the superintendent that he might also
throw open the special car to the general public, as far at least as
Morineville, the end of the passenger run--the creaking train crawled
around a bend, and while the boys and Colonel Howell waved a farewell to
Mr. Zept, the journey northward on the new road began.

The privacy of the special car at once disappeared. The unusual jam was
due to the impassable condition of the stage trail. Into the special car
there came not only hunters and traders, but many women and children who
had prevailed upon the railway officials to help them forward on the last
stage of their journey into the river land.

As the pitching train made its way slowly beyond the city limits, Norman,
Roy and Paul also found themselves on the platform, ready for the first
sight of a new country. They were looking for sterile plains. Instead,
they found black land freely dotted with clumps of trees, with walls of
wild flowers on each side of the track. Magnificent strawberries almost
reddened the ground, while, by the fences, the ripening Saskatoon berry
gave the first positive sign of the new vegetation of which they were to
see so much.

For three hours the train crept forward, stopping now and then at little
stations, and at last reached the considerable settlement of Morineville.
Here, Colonel Howell expected to meet the construction train to which the
special car was to be attached, and from this point they were to make the
remainder of their journey of seventy-five miles to Athabasca Landing as
the sole passengers of their car.

But bad news awaited the travelers. The construction train had not
arrived but it was expected during the afternoon. The superintendent,
taking leave of his guests, left orders that their car should be
forwarded on the returning construction train and at noon he left on the
passenger train for Edmonton. Colonel Howell's car was switched onto a
spur and then began a wait for news of the construction train.

An affable telegraph operator did what he could to appease the anxious
travelers. By telephone he learned that the expected train had not yet
made half the journey between Athabasca Landing and Morineville, and in
that distance had been off the track four times. On the operator's
suggestion, the adventurers made their way to the village for dinner and
then returned to their car and spent the afternoon in hearing from time
to time that the construction train was off the track again.

"Promises well for a night ride!" suggested Roy.

"It doesn't mean anything," explained Colonel Howell. "They just slap
down an iron frog and run on again. Don't get scared about that."

When time for supper arrived, the agent gave it as his judgment that the
train couldn't get in before midnight and, in that event, that it
certainly would not go back until the next morning. Being assured by this
employee that in case his theory was not correct he would send them word,
the party abandoned their car to have supper and sleep in a little French
hotel.

The supper was bad and the beds were worse. Norman and Roy longed for
their new blankets and the woods, and slept with difficulty. Some time,
about the middle of the night, the two boys heard the strident shriek of
a locomotive. They at once rushed to Colonel Howell's room, eager to make
their way back to the depot, but recalling the operator's promise, the
prospector persuaded them to go to bed again and when it was daylight
they all awoke to find no train in sight. But the operator was waiting
for them and ate breakfast with the party.

"She come in with a busted cylinder," he exclaimed, "and they had to go
to Edmonton to get 'er fixed. But she'll be back this morning sometime
and you'll have a nice ride to the Landing." Then he laughed. "That is,
if you can pull a heavy passenger coach over them tracks."

It was eleven o'clock when the old-fashioned engine reappeared but any
motive power seemed good enough and when the little Irish conductor read
his orders, he cheerfully busied himself in making the passenger car and
the three other cars a part of his train. The spirit of discontent
disappeared and once again the northbound expedition was on its way.

Until twelve o'clock that night, the indefatigable little Irishman pushed
his heavy train, which included many cars of long-delayed freight, over
the new tracks, which alternately seemed to float and sink into the soft
sand and muskeg. Four times in that journey some one car of the train
slid off the track and just as often the energetic crew pulled it back
again. Once the accident was more serious. When the piling-up jarring
told that another pair of wheels were in the muskeg and the train came to
a crashing stop, it was found that the front axles of the car had jammed
themselves so far rearward that the car was out of service. But again
there was little delay. With two jack screws, the little Irishman lifted
the car sideways and toppled it over. Coupling up the other cars, the
train proceeded.

At six o'clock in the evening supper was found in the cook car of a
construction camp. It did not grow dark until eleven o'clock, and by this
time, Colonel Howell and his friends were beginning to get a little sleep
curled up on the seats of their car. An hour later, having creakingly
crossed a long trestle, the strange train, still bumping and rattling,
made its way along the even newer and worse track which led into
Athabasca Landing.

There were neither depot nor light to make cheer for the tired travelers.
With the help of Moosetooth and La Biche and a few half-breeds, the
considerable baggage of the party was dumped out onto the sand of the new
roadway and then, all joining in the task, it was carried across the
street to the new Alberta Hotel. For the first time the boys discovered
that there was almost a chill of frost in the air; in the office of the
hotel a fire was burning in a big stove and from the front door Colonel
Howell pointed through the starlight to a bank of mist beyond the
railroad track.

"There she is, boys," he remarked.

"You mean the river?" exclaimed Roy.

"Our river now," answered their elder. "There's plenty of room here and
good beds. Turn in and don't lose any time in the morning. We've got
nothing ahead of us now but work. And remember, too, you're not in the
land of condensed milk yet; you'll have the best breakfast to-morrow
morning you're going to have for many a day."

Moosetooth and old La Biche had already disappeared toward the misty
riverbank.

Dawn came early the next morning and with almost the first sign of it
Norman and Roy were awake. From their window they had their first sight
of the Athabasca. A light fog still lay over the river and the
three-hundred-foot abrupt hills on the far side. Had they been able to
make out the tops of these hills, they would have seen a few poplar
trees. A steep brown road that started from the end of a ferry and
mounted zigzag into the fog, was the beginning of a trail that at once
passed into a desolate wilderness. They were within sight of the endless
untraveled land that reached, unbroken by civilization, to the
far-distant Arctic.

Beneath the fog the wide river slipped southward, a waveless sheet moving
silently as oil, and whose brown color was only touched here and there by
floating timber and the spume of greasy eddies.

"Not very cheerful looking," was Norman's comment.

"No," answered Roy, "she's no purling trout-brook; she couldn't be and be
what she is--one of the biggest rivers in America."

The boys dressed and hurried through the new railroad yards to the muddy
banks of a big river. The town of Athabasca Landing lay at their backs.
The riverbank itself was as crude and unimproved as if the place had not
been a commercial center for Indians and fur men for two hundred years.

To the left there was an exception, where, close on the riverbank, white
palisades inclosed the little offices and warehouse of the Northern
Transportation Company. Just beyond this, a higher and stronger palisade
protected the riverbank from the winter ice jam. To the right and down
the river a treeless bank extended, devoid of wharves and buildings.
Opposite the main portion of the town, in this open space, a steamboat
was approaching completion on crude ways. Near this there were a few
ancient log cabins, used for generations by the Hudson's Bay Company as
workshops and storehouses.

Three blocks to the west and in the heart of the new city the old
historic H. B. Company was then erecting a modern cement and pressed
brick store, probably at the time the most northern expression of
civilization's thrift. Still farther to the south the river swerved in a
bend to the east and lost itself beyond a giant sweep of hills. Not the
least suggestive objects that came within the two boys' hasty view were a
few Hudson's Bay flatboats, moored to the bank and half full of water to
protect their tarred seams. In craft such as these, Norman and Roy, with
their friends, were now about to venture forth on the river flowing
swiftly by them, and not even the new steamboat was as attractive as
these historic "sturgeon heads."

Also, in the far distance, on the riverbank where it curved toward the
east, the young adventurers could make out the thin smoke of camp fires
where a few tents and bark shacks marked the settlement of the river
Indians. Here they knew Moosetooth and La Biche had passed the night.

Colonel Howell's prediction as to the breakfast was fully confirmed.
After this, real activity began at once. Norman and Roy knew that they
had reached the end of civilization, and had already abandoned city
clothes. Both the boys appeared in Stetson hats, flannel shirts, belts,
and half-length waterproof shoes.

Colonel Howell made no change other than to put on a blue flannel shirt.
The young Count made a more portentous display. When he rejoined the
others after breakfast, he wore a soft light hat, the wide brim of which
flapped most picturesquely. His boots were those of a Parisian
equestrian, high-heeled like those of a cowboy, but of varnished black
leather. His clothing was dark, and the belted coat fitted him trimly.

Colonel Howell left at once to give orders about the placing of his cars,
and Norman and Roy were dispatched to the Indian camp to find Moosetooth
and La Biche, who were to go a short distance up the river and bring the
waiting flatboats down to a point opposite the freight cars. This duty
appeared to interest young Zept and he cheerfully joined the other boys
in their task.

Opposite the new steamboat they passed a larger and noisier hotel, in
front of which were collected many curious people of the country, many of
whom were lazy-looking, slovenly-garbed half-breeds.

Young Zept was full of animation, spoke jovially to any one who caught
his eye and, although it was early in the day, suggested that his young
friends stop with him in the bar room. But Norman and Roy's whole
interest was in the task before them and when they saw the Count abruptly
salute a red-jacketed mounted policeman who was standing in the door of
the hotel, they hurried on without even the formality of declining Paul's
invitation.

By the time the old steersmen had been found, the Count was out of their
minds. Although the riverbank was sticky with mud, there was an
exhilarating crispness in the air and the river fog had now disappeared.
Led by the two Indians, the boys made their way a half mile up the river.
Here, on a high clean bank, stood the big red river warehouse of the H.
B. Company. Among the willow bushes opposite it was a fleet of new
"sturgeon heads," and just below these, two boats that had been put aside
for Colonel Howell.

From among the bushes near the warehouse the two Indians produced a pump
and then for two hours took turns in drawing the water from the half
submerged boats. Just before noon, Moosetooth taking his place in the
stern of the rear boat with a small steering oar, La Biche loosened the
craft and Norman and Roy were on their first voyage in the historic
flatboat of the Athabasca.

It was curious to note the skill with which the veteran riverman allowed
the current to carry his boats on their way, and the ease with which they
were finally drawn in to the bank opposite the freight cars.

Roy proposed to secure a shovel for cleaning out the mud, but old La
Biche laughed.

"The sun," he said, "he goin' do dat."

Near the landing, as the boys returned to the hotel, they discovered a
thing they had not noticed in the morning. A grizzled "Baptiste," as
Norman liked to designate each Indian, was busy with a draw knife, a
chisel and a maul, finishing steering oars. These enormous objects
resembled telegraph poles, being of pine timber, slightly flattened at
one end to resemble the blade of an oar, and at the other end cut down
into long handles that the user might clasp with his two hands.

When the Indian had roughly trimmed these giant oars, with the help of an
assistant, who in the meantime seemed to have no other duty except to
puff his charred black pipe, the old "Baptiste" balanced the piece of
timber on a rock. Carefully testing the spar, in order to get the exact
point of equilibrium, the oar maker then made a rectangular hole through
the six inches of timber. The two boys understood.

At the rear of each flatboat a steel pin extended seven or eight inches
above the woodwork. When this pin was thrust through the hole in the oar,
the great sweep hung almost balanced, and the steersman who used it to
guide the unwieldy craft forced the blade of the oar back and forth
against the current with the force of his body. The boys found it almost
impossible to lift one of the oars.

"I can see now," panted Roy, as he looked over the tree-like sweep,
"where experience comes in."



CHAPTER VIII

COUNT ZEPT MAKES HIMSELF KNOWN AT THE LANDING


At the noon meal, Count Zept reported that Athabasca Landing was
certainly a live town. He explained that he had met the most important
man in town, the sergeant of the mounted police, and that he had been
introduced to many of the influential merchants. He had examined the
store of the Revillon Freres and was somewhat disappointed in his
inability to secure a black fox skin which he had promised to send to his
sister.

The Revillon Freres being the well-known rival of the Hudson's Bay
Company, young Zept in his disappointment had also gone to the Hudson's
Bay store, but there he had been equally unsuccessful, although at both
places he saw plenty of baled skins. Colonel Howell laughed.

"My dear boy," he explained, "furs do not go looking for buyers in this
part of the world. Inexperienced travelers seem to have the idea that
Indians stand around on the corners waiting to sell fox skins. Skins are
getting to be too rare for that now and, believe me, the fur companies
get their eye on them before the traveler can. And the companies pay all
they're worth."

"Anyway," remarked the Count, "I can get a small eighteen-foot canoe for
a hundred and twenty-five dollars. Don't you think I'd better buy one?
The H. B. Company has some fine ones--the kind the mounted police use. I
was looking for a bark one."

Even the boys smiled at this and Colonel Howell laughed again.

"Indians don't trouble to make bark canoes any more," he answered. "That
is, when they can buy a good cedar boat. And next to his blanket, the
Indian prizes his wooden boat above his family. But don't bother about a
canoe. Moosetooth has one that we'll carry down the river with us and
I've got a good one at the Fort. Don't buy _anything_. I'm buying enough
for all of us."

But the Count could not resist the temptation and later in the day, when
the boys saw him, he and the sergeant of police were each wearing a
highly embroidered pair of mooseskin gauntlets that Paul had found in a
trading store.

Paul had been in the company of this new friend most of the day and it
was apparent that they had been to the big hotel more than once.

After dinner, the unloading of the drilling machinery, the engine and the
airship crates began. It was a task that Colonel Howell soon assigned to
his young assistants, who had under their direction a few paid laborers
and many more volunteer laborers who were more curious than useful. When
Colonel Howell turned over this task to Norman and Roy, he returned to
the outfitting stores and devoted himself anew to the purchase of
supplies.

On the morning of the second day the loading of the boats began. Each of
these was over thirty feet long and could hold an immense amount of
freight. It was generally planned that all of the drilling machinery, the
engine, and some lumber were to go in La Biche's boat, and that the
provisions and the airship were to be carried in Moosetooth's batteau. In
the end of each boat there was a little deck the width of the narrowing
end of the boat and about six feet long.

While the boats were moving, the decks in the rear were devoted wholly to
the use of the steersmen, who required all the space as they occasionally
shifted the position of their giant sweeps. On the forward decks the
passengers must sleep and unless they disposed themselves on the cargo,
find sitting room during the day. There was neither house nor tent for
protection. A charcoal brazier was provided, on which at times on the
stern deck some cooking might be done. But in the main, unless the night
was clear and good for running, the boats were to be tied up while supper
and sleep were had on the shore.

A part of the equipment of each boat was six heavy oars. These were for
use by the Indian crew when from time to time it was necessary to cross
quickly over the broad river to escape rapids or other obstructions. As
these things were revealed to the young aviators, they grew more and more
anxious for the hour of departure.

When Colonel Howell's outfit began to reach the riverbank the next
morning, Moosetooth and La Biche had part of their men on hand to assist
in the loading. It was a motley group, moccasined in mooseskin with their
straight black hair showing defiantly beneath their silver-belted black
hats. Mostly they wore collarless checked flannel shirts and always from
the hip pocket of their worn and baggy trousers hung the gaudy tassels of
yarn tobacco pouches. Most of them were half-breeds, young men eager to
show the smartness of a veneer of civilized vices. But this did not
bother Colonel Howell, for Moosetooth and La Biche were alone responsible
and these two men well enacted the roles of foremen. Sitting idly on the
bank, cutting new pipes of tobacco or breaking twigs, with slow guttural
exclamations they directed the work to be done.

The loading began and proceeded wholly without order. For this reason the
prospector suggested that the airship crates be left until the last. Bags
of flour, of which there were fifty, were dumped in the bottom of the
boat where the mud and water were sure to spoil part of the flour.

"But that's the way they do it," explained Colonel Howell. "It's the
method of the river Indians. They're doing the work now and don't make
suggestions or try to help them. They'll resent it and think less of you
for it."

While this work was going on, young Zept appeared from time to time and
seemed to be interested but he as continually absented himself.

Loading went forward slowly. Deliveries of stores were made several times
during the day, but there was an entire lack of snap and the Indians took
their time in stowing things away. Colonel Howell was absent most of the
day and in the middle of the afternoon the two boys took their first
opportunity to look over the town.

Reaching the main street, they were not surprised to see the young Count,
mounted on a lively looking pony, dash along the main thoroughfare. It
was hard to tell whether the ease and surety with which young Zept rode
or his flapping Paris hat attracted more attention. As the boys waved
their hats to him and he gracefully saluted, they noticed that he must
have been riding for some time. The pony was covered with perspiration
and its nostrils were dilated. As the rider passed an intersecting street
in the heart of the town, the little animal made a turn as if preferring
another route. The Count threw it on its haunches and headed it on down
the street at renewed speed.

A little later, having visited the post office, Norman and Roy came out
just in time to see young Zept whirling his exhausted mount into a livery
stable. When the boys reached this, they found the proprietor, who from
his sign was a Frenchman, and Paul in a heated argument. It was in
vociferous French and in the course of it the boys saw young Zept
excitedly tear a bill from a roll of money in his hand and hurl it on the
floor of the barn. The proprietor, hurling French epithets at his
customer, kicked the money aside.

Norman pushed his way between the spectators and with assumed jocularity
demanded to know the cause of dispute. In broken English, the liveryman
exclaimed:

"He is no gentleman. He kills my horse. For that he shall pay two dollars
more."

"Well, what's the matter?" went on Norman laughing. "Isn't that enough?
There's your money," and he picked up a Canadian ten-dollar bill and
handed it to the owner of the pony.

"His money is nussing," retorted the pony owner. "He is no gentleman."

The absurdity of this must have appealed to young Zept. Perhaps the
presence of his two companions somewhat shamed him.

"Don't have a row," broke in Roy. "The colonel's sure to hear of it."

The Count turned again to the excited Frenchman and began another torrent
of apparent explanation, but it was in a different tone. He was now suave
and polite. As he talked he held out his hand to the proprietor of the
stable and smiled.

"He's been drinking again," whispered Roy to Norman, a fact which was
quite apparent to the latter.

Then to the surprise of both boys, with Norman still holding the money in
his hand, the excited Frenchman grasped his customer's hand, and he and
Paul hurried from the barn. A block away, the disturbed Norman and Roy
saw the two men arm in arm disappear behind the swinging door of the big
hotel bar room. Ascertaining the amount of their friend's bill from one
of the stable employees, Norman paid it and he and his companion left.

That evening, Norman handed Paul five dollars he had received in change
and the incident was closed.

For three more days the loading of the scows continued slowly. It finally
became apparent that the little flotilla would set out Saturday evening.
In these days Count Paul's manner of life was so different from that of
the boys that they did not see a great deal of him. Now and then he was
on the river front, but more frequently he was a patron of the livery
stable, and even in the evening he was frequently not in the hotel when
Norman and Roy retired.

His acquaintance with the mounted policeman put him much in that man's
company. This officer, always in immaculate uniform, was very English in
appearance, and he wore a striking tawny moustache. Being in charge of
the local police station, as the sergeant, he was the highest police
authority in that district. As the boys noticed him on the street at
times, gloved and swishing his light cane, they were surprised at the
open signs of his indulgence in drink. But what surprised them even more,
knowing as they now did of the arrangement between Paul's father and
Colonel Howell, was the colonel's apparent indifference to young Zept's
conduct.

"I have a theory," said Norman to his friend at one time. "You know
Colonel Howell told us he wasn't taking Paul in hand to act as his
guardian. I think he's letting him go the pace until he gets him where
he'll have to quit what he's doing. Then it's going to be up to Paul
himself. If he doesn't make a man of himself, it'll be his own fault."

"I think a good call-down is what he needs," answered Roy, "and the
colonel ought to give it to him."

"I reckon he thinks that isn't his business," commented Norman. "It's
certainly not ours. I reckon it'll work out all right."

"Like as not this is Paul's idea of roughing it in the wilds," suggested
Roy.

"Then there's hope," answered his chum. "He'll be out of the swing of
this in a few days and when he learns what the real thing is, if he likes
it and takes to it, he'll forget this kind of life."

Finally the evening for the departure arrived. There was no fixed hour,
but Colonel Howell's party had an early supper at the hotel and then a
gang of Indians carried their newly packed equipment to the boats. All
these articles were dropped indiscriminately as the Indians felt
disposed, and soon after six o'clock Norman and Roy were ready for the
long voyage. Count Paul had turned his camera over to the young aviators
and their first step was to make a number of snaps of the boats and their
crews.

Then, piling their rifles and their new blankets in the bow of
Moosetooth's boat, the boys took station on the riverbank, prepared to
embark at any moment.

In keeping with the methods that they had found common, it was then
discovered that parts of the provisions had not yet arrived. Colonel
Howell and Paul had not accompanied the boys directly to the boats. Even
after a wagon had arrived with the last of the provisions, and these had
been distributed by the Indians on the high heaped cargo, there was yet
no sign of their patron. Nor was Count Zept anywhere to be seen.

The Indian wives of the crew sat around their little tepee fires, but
between them and their husbands passed no sign of emotion or farewell;
this, in spite of the fact that no one on the boats might expect to
return for several weeks.

It began to grow cooler and finally the night fog began to fall over the
swift brown river.

As the sun began to grow less, the barren hills on the far side of the
river turned into a dark palisade. Finally Colonel Howell appeared. He
had been engaged in settling his accounts and a merchant who came with
him spent some time in checking up goods already aboard the scow. But
when Colonel Howell learned that the Count was not present he strolled
away almost nonchalantly.

"It's the way of the North," almost sighed Roy. "Nothing goes on schedule
in this part of the world."

"Why should it?" grunted Norman. "When your journey may mean a year's
delay in getting back, what's a few minutes more or less in starting
out?"

It was far after nine o'clock and the sun was dropping behind the
southern hills--the air chillier and the fog deeper, when Paul finally
appeared. His boisterous manner was all the testimony needed to indicate
how he had spent the evening.

With him was his friend, the sergeant of police. He had undoubtedly been
with his new comrade to celebrate the departure, but the dignified
officer, being now in the field of duty, gave few signs of personal
indiscretions. For the first time he was formally presented to all and in
a courteous and high-bred manner extended to the voyageurs his good
wishes for a safe voyage.

Before the representative of the law, each Indian at once sprang to his
feet and lifted his hat. And to each of these in turn the uniformed
policeman answered in salute. When it seemed to Norman and Roy that there
would be no end to the long delay, Colonel Howell also reappeared. With a
nod of his head to all, he spoke quickly in the Cree language to his
steersmen.

Old Moosetooth grunted a command and the men ran to the hawsers holding
the scows against the current. Then Moosetooth and La Biche, without even
a look at their unconcerned families sitting stolidly in the gloom on the
riverbank, took their places in the stern of each boat. Each began, as he
leaned on his oar, to cut himself a new pipe of tobacco and Colonel
Howell turned to the policeman.

"Sergeant," he remarked, "I think we are ready. Will you examine the
outfit?"

The tall sergeant bowed slightly and with a graceful wave of his hand,
stepped to the edge of one of the nearest scows. With a cursory glance at
the mixed cargo of boxes, barrels and bags--hardly to be made out in the
twilight--he turned and waved his hand again toward Colonel Howell. Then,
quite casually, he faced the two steersmen.

"Bon jour, gentlemen," he exclaimed and lifted his big white hat.

Colonel Howell and his friends took the sergeant's hand in turn and then
sprang aboard the boat. While the two steersmen lifted their own hats and
grunted with the only show of animation that had lit their faces, the
ceremony of inspection was over and the long voyage was officially begun.



CHAPTER IX

THE SONG OF THE VOYAGEUR


Hardly seeming to move, the deeply laden scows veered more and more into
the current, until at last the swift flow of the river began to push them
forward. But even before La Biche's boat, which was ahead and farthest
from the shore, was fully in the grasp of a swirling eddy, the bronzed
steersman, his pipe firmly set in his teeth, hurled his body on the
steering oar and plunged the far end of it against the oily current.

At the same moment Moosetooth dropped his own oar and almost instantly
both boats straightened out before the onrushing waters. It was a moment
long waited for by Norman and Roy, and at the time no thought was given
to any arrangements for comfort. The boys threw themselves on the forward
deck, their sweaters close about their throats against the chilling fog
and the cool breeze, while Colonel Howell sat muffled in his overcoat on
the edge of the deck.

Such events in the history of the Northern rivers were in the old days
momentous. Their only ceremony had been the parting "Bon jour" of the
policeman.

"In the old days," suggested Norman, "in the days that our friend Paul
would have loved, the voyageurs had a song for a time like this."

"The riverman's song of farewell," spoke up young Zept with animation. "I
wish I knew one."

Almost instantly, those on the fast-receding shore heard from the boat
the soft notes of some one in song. Under the conditions, whatever the
words and the air, they floated back as many of those left behind had
heard the old voyageur take his leave. But this song came from neither of
the weatherworn steersmen, nor from the stolid members of their
half-breed crew. Count Zept, his hat in his hand and the cool river wind
paling his flushed face, had mounted to the top of the cargo and was
singing something he had learned in far away lands. The fascinating tenor
of his voice carried far over the river.

Even out of the hidden heights on the far side of the current, the
strains of the song came back with a melancholy pathos. Perhaps the young
singer himself was moved. But to those who listened, it wafted over the
waters as for two centuries the voyageurs into the unknown north had
celebrated the setting out of the long voyage that might have no return.
None in the boat spoke to him, but as he went on, repeating the lines,
and his voice gradually dropping lower and lower, the boats, lost in the
fog and darkness, swept into the great bend, and the stragglers on shore
turned and left the river.

Although he did not realize it then, Paul Zept's impromptu tribute in
farewell marked the great turning point in his life.

Three hundred miles of dangerous water lay before the travelers and their
valuable outfit. On this part of the voyage the river ran wide and deep.
At the suggestion of the steersmen, it was at once decided to make no
landing that night but to take advantage of the easy going, as the cold
wind would soon sweep the fog away. Strongly touched by the air of Paul's
song, which the singer laughingly explained was a song without words, as
he had made it up mainly from snatches of Italian opera, the words of
which he could not recall, Norman and Roy got Paul on the rear deck and
began to prepare for the night. The assistance of one of the crew was
necessary to prepare the blankets in an expert manner. Before midnight
Colonel Howell and the three young men, snugly wrapped in their new "four
points," found no trouble in losing themselves to the world without.

Long before the sun showed itself above the high poplar-crowned hills
that lined each bank of the Athabasca, Norman and Roy had slipped out of
their blankets. It was their first view of an absolute wilderness. The
boats were still drifting silently forward, with no sign of life except
in the erect forms of Moosetooth and old La Biche, who were yet standing
against their long steering oars as they had stood through the night.
Neither of them gave salutation, Moosetooth's dripping oar following in
silence now and then a like sweep of his companion's blade in the water
ahead.

Not arousing their companions, the two boys perched themselves where Paul
had sung the night before and, shivering in the new day, began to drink
in the scene before them.

What they saw at that moment was a picture repeated for nearly two weeks
to come. Although drifting at the rate of four miles an hour, much time
was lost while the boats made their way back and forth across the river,
and although it was but three hundred miles to Fort McMurray, there was
constant delay in camps ashore, and at the beginning of the Grand Rapids
a week was lost in portaging the entire cargo. Colonel Howell did not
welcome another lost outfit and he was quite satisfied when both
Moosetooth and La Biche took their empty scows safely through the
northern whirlpool.

Rising almost from the water, the hills, little less than mountains in
height, ran in terraces. Strata of varicolored rock marked the clifflike
heights and where black veins stood out with every suggestion of coal,
the young observers got their first impression of the mineral
possibilities of the unsettled and unknown land into which they were
penetrating.

The first deer which they observed standing plainly in view upon a
gravelly reef aroused them to excitement. But when Moosetooth, not
speaking, but pointing with a grunt to a dark object scrambling up the
rocky shelf on the other side of the river and the boys made out a bear,
Roy sprang for his new twenty-two.

"Nothin' doin'," called Norman in a low tone. "That's where we need the
.303 and of course that's knocked down."

"Well, what's the use anyway?" retorted Roy, resuming his seat. "I can
see there's going to be plenty of this kind of thing. And besides, you
can bet our friend here isn't going to stop for a bear, dead or alive."

From that time on, although they did not find animals so close together
again, they saw eagles, flocks of wild geese floating ahead of them on
the river, and three more deer. And continually the magnificent hills,
hanging almost over the river, gave them glimpses of vegetation and
objects new to them.

"I'm glad I came," remarked Norman, "but I wonder how this country looks
when winter comes."

"You know how this river'll look," answered Roy. "It'll be a great,
smooth roadway and a lot of people waitin' now to get back to
civilization will make it a path for snowshoes and dog sleds."

"Some trip up here from Fort McMurray," suggested Norman.

"You said it," exclaimed Roy. "But the colonel won't have to make it on
foot this winter--not with the old _Gitchie Manitou_, and this ice road
to guide us."

He looked with longing at the crates of the airship, the two smaller ones
of which took up one side of their own scow, while the others were lashed
diagonally on top of the crate in the forward boat. The two boats had
kept their relative positions throughout the night.

Just as the sun began to gild the water in their wake, Paul stuck his
nose out of the blankets. All had slept in their clothes during the
night, Colonel Howell having promised them a chance at their pajamas on
the following evening. There was no dressing to be done and when Paul
joined his companions all made preparation to souse their faces over the
edge of the boat.

"One minute," exclaimed Norman. He dug among his baggage and in a short
time reappeared with the aluminum basin.

"Non! Non!" came from the statuelike figure of old Moosetooth. Then he
pointed to the abrupt cut bank of the river a few hundred yards ahead and
called something in the Cree language to La Biche. The latter nodded his
head and in turn called aloud in the Indian tongue.

Instantly from between the pipes and crates on the forward boat a dozen
half-breeds crawled sleepily forth. One of these, with a coil of rope,
sprang into the bow of the forward scow, and another similarly equipped
took his place in the rear of La Biche, as if ready to spring on the
second scow when opportunity presented. Both boats were headed for the
cut bank.

The commotion aroused Colonel Howell, and while he gave a nod of
approval, the scows drifted in under the sweep of the steersmen's oars
where the deep water ate into the tree-covered shore.

As La Biche's boat touched the bank and the second scow ran forward, the
two half-breeds scrambled onto the roots of the trees and before the
scows could bump away into the stream once more, they had been skillfully
snubbed around the trunks of the nearest trees, a third Indian springing
from the forward boat onto Moosetooth's craft and making fast a line
thrown him from the shore. Then while the two boats bumped and struggled
to turn their free ends into the current, the other Indians, with the
skill of long experience, swiftly transferred hawsers from the free ends
of the scows to other trees.

"Whew!" shouted Paul, after the first excitement was over. "Whatever
we're going to do, I hope'll be short and sweet," and he waved his arms
violently about his head.

The close vegetation of the shore was alive with mosquitoes.

"Don't worry about these," laughed Roy. "This is the breeding place of
the best mosquitoes in the world. Don't fight 'em--forget 'em."

Colonel Howell, near by, exclaimed:

"Don't worry, young men. Mosquito time is about over. You won't see many
of them after the end of July."

"By the way," interrupted Norman, "what day is this? Is it July yet?"

"That's another thing you don't need to worry about," went on Colonel
Howell with a chuckle. "When the mosquitoes have gone, you'll know that
July is gone, and then we won't have anything to trouble us till the ice
comes."

"Bum almanac," commented Roy. "Mostly gaps, I should say."

"Not so much," continued the colonel still laughing. "It isn't as much of
a gap between the mosquitoes and ice as you might think. But it's
breakfast time. We've got two cooks with us, one for the crew and one for
the cabin passengers. You'd better take your morning dip and then, if you
like, you can take the canoe and pull over to that gravel reef. You won't
find so many mosquitoes there and you can stretch your legs."

The boys put off their swimming until they had reached the island, where
they had the satisfaction of arousing a young buck from the poplar
underbrush, and the mortification of trying to catch it by chasing it
toward the mainland in a canoe. An Indian fired at the deer from one of
the scows, but it made the river bank in safety and disappeared in the
bush.

"There, you see," announced Roy at once. "The twenty-two would have been
all right, but you've got to have it with you."

The colonel's prediction was true and the three young men had a dip in
the shallow water off the island that was certainly bracing. When they
returned to the shore they found both cooks in full operation a few
hundred yards from the scows and on the open riverbanks.

The difference in the output of the cooks was considerable, but
satisfactory to each party served. The colonel's party was making the
best of fresh eggs, fresh butter and new bread and a beefsteak, which
would be their only fresh meat for many days. The crew, out of a common
pan, helped themselves to boiled potatoes and fried pork, to which each
man appeared to add bannock from his own home supplies. The Indians drank
tea.

"Gentlemen," remarked Colonel Howell, as he lifted a tin of steaming
coffee, "here's to a friend of civilization--delicious coffee. We will
know him but a few days longer. He will then give way to the copper
kettle and tea."

"How about fresh eggs and beefsteak?" laughed Paul.

"Eggs, my dear sir, have always been a superfluous luxury patronized
mostly by the infirm and aged. As for beefsteak, it cannot compare with a
luscious cut of moosemeat, the epicurean delight of the Northwest. It is
a thing you may not have at the Waldorf, and a delicacy that not even the
gold of the gourmet may lure from the land of its origin."

"How about bear meat?" asked Roy, recalling with some concern his lost
opportunity in the early dawn.

"Rather than starve, I would eat it," responded Colonel Howell, "and
gladly. But to it I prefer rancid salt pork."

In such badinage, the leisurely stop passed while the boys finished their
first meal in the wilderness, topping it off with the luscious red
raspberries that were just in perfection all around the camp.

That day the boats drifted fifty miles, luncheon being eaten on the rear
deck. A night landing was made on a gravelly island to escape as far as
possible the many mosquitoes. Tents were not erected but alongside a good
fire the blankets were spread on the soft grass beneath the stunted
island trees and with mosquito nets wrapped about their heads all slept
comfortably enough.

Where the Indians slept no one seemed to know. When the boys and their
patron turned in as dark came on, at eleven o'clock, the half-breeds were
still eating and smoking about their removed camp fire. In this manner,
with no accidents, but with daily diversions in the way of shooting,
venison now being one of the daily items of food, the voyageurs at last
reached the Grand Rapids.

From this place, for sixty miles, a tumultuous and almost unnavigable
stretch of water reached to the vicinity of Fort McMurray, the end of
their journey. The greatest drops in the water and the most menacing
perils were encountered at the very beginning of the Rapids, where for
half a mile an irregular island of rock divided the stream. On one side
of this the river rushed in a whirlpool that no craft could attempt. On
the other side, and the wider, skilled boatmen had a chance of safely
conducting light craft through the many perils. Here it was necessary
that both boats should be unloaded and the entire outfit be portaged to
the far end of the island.

But travel on the river was so important that those concerned in it had,
many years before, constructed a crude wooden tramway which, repaired by
every newcomer, was available for use in transporting the heavy freight.

Permanent camp was made at the head of the island when this arduous task
began. It had taken four days to load the boats and seven days were spent
on the island in getting the cargoes of the two boats to the far end. The
sixth day fell on a Sunday, when no Indian does any labor. On the
afternoon of the next day Moosetooth and La Biche made their spectacular
races down the Rapids. Not a boy of the party that did not entreat
Colonel Howell to let him go with the first boat, but in his refusal
their patron was adamant. The only man to accompany each boat as it
started on its flight was an experienced member of the crew who sat on
the bow with a canoe practically in his lap. He was ready to launch this
any moment to rescue the steersman, but both attempts were engineered by
the veteran river men with no other bad results than the shipping of a
great deal of water.

Paul posted himself opposite the most dangerous point and made pictures
of the tossing boats and their bareheaded pilots as long as they were in
sight.

Then came the laborious task of reloading the boats, but under Colonel
Howell's direct attention, this operation now took far less than four
days. Within ten hours' travel from the foot of the Rapids, the boats
rounded a bend at three o'clock the next afternoon and came in sight of a
lone cabin on the bare and rocky shore of the river.

"Look in the trees behind it," exclaimed Colonel Howell.

Like a gallows, almost concealed behind a fringe of poplar trees, stood
the familiar lines of an oil derrick.

"I'm sorry they haven't got a flag out," remarked Colonel Howell, "but
that's the place. All there is of Fort McMurray is just beyond."



CHAPTER X

PAUL AWAKENS TO THE SITUATION


At first Colonel Howell's camp appeared to be deserted, but as the boats
made in toward the shore and the crew began shouting, two men appeared
from the cabin. These were Ewen and Miller--Chandler was not in sight.

The new log cabin with its flat tar-paper roof, glistening with its many
tin washers, and with a substantial looking chimney built against one
end, had a satisfactory look. In addition, several large ricks of
cordwood standing at the edge of the clearing gave sign that the men had
not been idle during the spring. At the same time, there were many
evidences of a lack of thrift to be seen in the debris left from the
cabin building.

No arrangements had been made for a boat landing and Colonel Howell's
canoe was lying carelessly against the steep bank. Both Norman and Roy
felt somewhat disappointed. While neither was bothered with the romantic
ideas usually attached to the woodland cabins of fiction, each had
expected a smarter camp. Nor were they very favorably impressed with the
two men who appeared on the bank. They were not exactly tidy in
appearance and their figures and faces suggested that they had spent a
winter of comparative ease among the colonel's stores.

"Where's the Englishman?" was Colonel Howell's salutation, as he and his
friends sprang ashore.

"Over at the settlement," answered Ewen, as he jerked his thumb down the
river. "There wasn't much doing here and he went over there a few days
ago to visit some friends."

"A few days ago," exclaimed the colonel, as his eyes made a survey of the
littered-up clearing. "He might have put in a little time clearin' out
these stumps."

"We just got through cuttin' the wood," broke in Miller as he and Ewen
shook hands with their boss, "and we just got the finishin' touches on
the cabin. We didn't know when to expect you."

Colonel Howell, followed by his men and the new arrivals, scrambled up
the bank and, with no great show of enthusiasm, began a close examination
of the new cabin and its surroundings. Nor were the boys any more
impressed with the structure, which, inside, showed very little
ingenuity. It had been made for the use of four men--seven were going to
crowd it. After Colonel Howell had inspected the derrick, he returned and
seated himself on a stump.

"When's Chandler comin' back?" he asked abruptly. Without waiting for a
reply, which neither of his men seemed able to give him, he added: "One
of you fellows had better take the canoe and go and get him this
afternoon--that is, if he wants to come back."

There was some irritation in his tone that showed everyone that things
were not exactly to his liking.

"It's only two miles," remarked Ewen showing some alacrity, "and I'll go
by the trail."

When he had gone, Colonel Howell turned to Miller, whose unshaven and
somewhat bloated face told that he had not lost any flesh during his stay
at the camp.

"Miller," he said, "go down and take hold of these scows. We've got to
get this stuff up here on the bank and under some protection. I don't
want these Indians on my hands any longer than necessary. Keep 'em at it
until midnight, if necessary, and then make up an outfit for 'em
to-morrow and let 'em hit the trail."

"What are you going to do with the boats?" asked Roy.

"We're going to use 'em to make a cabin big enough for our new family,"
answered the colonel, smiling perfunctorily. "This one's all right for
our cooking and eating, but it doesn't appeal to me as a bunk house. I
think we'll add another room. The season's getting away from us and we
can't afford to lose any time."

The man Miller had already shown signs of great activity when Colonel
Howell suddenly called him back.

"On second thought, Miller," he said, rising and throwing off his coat,
"I think you'd better tackle the cabin first. There's a lot of truck in
there that ought to be in a storehouse and it's got a kind o' musty
smell. Open all the windows and clean out the place. We've got to sleep
in there to-night. When you've done that, get that kitchen stuff and use
some river water and sand on it. Looks like an Indian shack in the middle
o' winter. Young men," he went on, again forcing a smile, "I reckon it's
up to us to get this gang busy."

There was nothing in this that discouraged Norman and Roy and even Paul
seemed interested in the unloading of the boats. Before this was begun,
however, Moosetooth spoke in an undertone to Colonel Howell and,
shrugging his shoulders, the prospector waved his hand.

"All right," he exclaimed, "they'll work the better for it. Feed 'em.
Four meals a day--that's the least that any half-breed demands."

While Colonel Howell and the crew began getting the two scows broadside
along the bank, the Cree cooks unloaded the two cook outfits and the grub
boxes. The laborious task of hoisting the crates and boxes of the rest of
the cargo up the treacherous bank had hardly begun when the cooks,
disdaining the fireplace within the cabin, had their fires going in the
open clearing.

Within an hour the Indians were devoting themselves to a filling supper
and a little later Colonel Howell and his assistants made a hasty meal of
tinned roast mutton, pickles, Indian bannock, and tea. All about was
confusion. The personal baggage of the newly arrived had been assembled
just without the cabin door and Miller and a couple of the crew were
beginning to carry in balsam boughs, on which, in their blankets, the
colonel and his friends were to pass the night.

No attempt was made, further than Miller's crude efforts, to make the
inside of the cabin more inviting. A big fire of rotten wood had been
started near by, as a mosquito smudge, but all were too busy to give
these pests much attention.

While the Indians were at supper, Ewen returned with Chandler.

The latter arrived with much effusiveness, but his greeting by Colonel
Howell was rather curt.

"Of course you'll remember this," the colonel remarked, "when it comes to
settling."

Chandler changed his attitude instantly. His expression and speech showed
that he was not sober.

"I'm ready to settle now," he retorted, as his eyes swept over the
growing heaps of the many boxes, barrels, bags and crates that littered
the shore.

"I think I am too," remarked Colonel Howell, "when it suits me.
Meanwhile, you're off the chuck roll. Get out of camp and when you're in
a proper condition and can show me what you've earned, come back!"

The tall and emaciated Englishman drew himself up and glared at Colonel
Howell.

"Get out!" exclaimed the latter in a tone that was wholly new to the
three boys.

"I'll go when I get my money!" mumbled Chandler, half defiantly.

Without more words, Colonel Howell shot out his right arm and caught the
man by his shoulder. He whirled Chandler and sent him sprawling on the
trail.

The man's defiance was gone. "My pay's comin' to me," he whimpered, "and
I've worked hard for it."

"We'll see about that," snapped the oil man, "when the time comes."

As if dismissing the incident from his mind, he turned toward the scows.

"Look out!" exclaimed the three boys, almost together, but their warning
was hardly needed. As Colonel Howell turned, the sinewy form of old
Moosetooth had thrown itself upon the crouching Englishman. The two men
sank to the ground and there was a surge forward by those near by. Then
the Indian tore himself from the partly helpless Chandler and struggled
to his feet. In his hand he held Chandler's short double-edged knife.
With indistinguishable imprecations and his arms waving in the air, the
Englishman disappeared within the fringe of poplar trees.

Excited, but with no excuse for asking questions, the boys turned and,
with Colonel Howell, resumed the task of getting their cargo ashore. Old
Moosetooth looked at the knife, placed it inside his belt and began
cutting a fresh pipe of tobacco.

"Life in the wilds!" remarked Colonel Howell, as he and the boys regained
the scows. "A lazy man's bad enough, but a booze fighter doesn't belong
in this camp."

"Where could he get anything to drink up here?" asked Norman, a little
nervously.

"Tell me!" responded Colonel Howell. "That's what we all want to know.
Anyway," he went on, "we've done our part towards cutting it out. There
isn't a drop of it in this outfit."

When he could do so without attracting attention, Norman glanced at Paul.
The latter as quickly averted his eyes and plunged with greater energy
into his share of the work.

These events had taken place just before the "cabin passengers" had been
called to supper. Efforts were being made to forget the Chandler episode
and Colonel Howell especially was talkative and jolly. Paul was just the
opposite. At last, when the cook had left them with their tea, the young
Austrian seemed to become desperate. Norman and Roy were just about to
leave the cabin when Paul stopped them, more and more embarrassed.

"I want to say something, boys," he began. Then he turned to his host
and, the perspiration thick on his face, added suddenly: "Colonel Howell,
I don't know how to say it, but I've got to tell you. I lied to you the
other night in the hotel at Edmonton. You didn't ask me to stop drinking,
but you talked to me pretty straight, and that's what I meant to do. Well
I didn't stop--I just put it off, a little. I didn't do the right thing
back at the Landing. I knew it then, but I knew I was going to stop when
I came up here and I just put it off a little longer."

The colonel made a half deprecating motion, as if it embarrassed him to
listen to the young man's confession.

"I thought it was all right," he said, as if to somewhat relieve Paul's
embarrassment, "and I knew you meant to stop. Of course we knew what you
were doing, but you're pretty young," concluded the colonel with a laugh.

Norman and Roy each gave signs of an inclination to relieve Paul's
embarrassment and Norman especially showed concern. But he and his friend
remained silent.

"We'll let that all be bygones," suggested Colonel Howell, "and here's to
the future--we'll drink to what is to come in Canada's national
beverage--black tea reeking with the smoke of the camp fire."

A laugh of relief started round, as Paul's three companions hit the table
with their heavy tin cups, but in this the young Count did not join.

"That ain't it," he blurted suddenly. "That was bad enough, but I've done
worse than that."

The colonel's face sobered and Norman's eyes turned toward the heap of
personal belongings just outside the cabin door. Paul's trembling arm
motioned toward these boxes and bags.

"I've got a case of brandy out there and I've got to tell you how I've
lied to you."

"Hardly that!" protested Colonel Howell. "You hadn't spoken to me of it."

"No, I didn't," confessed Paul, his voice trembling, "but I just heard
you say we hadn't anything like that with us and I might as well have
lied, because I had it."

"Did that sergeant of police know this?" broke in Roy. "I thought he
examined everything. He certainly said we were all right."

"Yes, he knew it," answered Paul, "but he isn't to blame. Don't think I'm
making that an excuse."

Colonel Howell sat with downcast eyes and an expression of pain on his
face.

"Why did you do it?" he asked in a low tone at last. "Did you mean to
hide it from me?"

"No, no," exclaimed his young guest. "I don't know why I did it. I don't
want it. I'm going to quit all that. That's why I came up here. You know
that, Colonel Howell--don't you believe me?"

But Colonel Howell's face now bore a different expression.

"My friend," he remarked after a few moment's thought, "I may have done
wrong to ask your father to let you come with us. I thought you knew all
the conditions. If this is a life that is not going to interest you,
you'd better go back. The Indians will be returning to-morrow or the next
day and you won't find it such a hard trip."

Paul gulped as if choking and then sprang from the table. From the
baggage outside he extracted a canvas-bound box, his own name on the
side. While his companions sat in silence he hurled it on the floor at
their feet and then, with a sweep of his knife, cut the canvas from the
package. With a single crush by his heavy boot, he loosened one of the
boards of the cover. Carefully packed within were a dozen bottles of
expensive brandy. Paul caught one of them and appeared to be about to
smash it on the edge of the table. The colonel raised his hand.

"Stop!" ordered his host. "Are you going back or do you want to stay with
us?"

"Colonel Howell," almost sobbed the young man, "I'd give anything I have
or can do for you if you'll let me stay."

"There's only one condition," answered Colonel Howell, and he no longer
attempted to conceal his irritation. "If you're not strong enough to do
without that kind of stuff, you're not welcome here. If you are, you are
very welcome."

"I'll throw it all in the river," exclaimed Paul, chokingly.

"Which would prove nothing," announced Colonel Howell. "Put that bottle
back in the box and nail it up. When you want it again, come and tell me
and I'll give you the case and an escort back to the Landing."

The episode had become more than embarrassing for Norman and Roy and they
arose and left the room. Paul's face was buried in his hands and his head
was low on the table. Fifteen minutes later, the young Count and the oil
man made their appearance, both very sober of face.

At midnight when the last of the cargo had been unshipped, when the
Indians had been fed again and when the white men had had a late supper
of bannock and Nova Scotia butter and fresh tea, and when Colonel Howell
and the boys had spread their heavy blankets on the fresh balsam, in
Paul's corner of the cabin lay the box that had brought him so much
chagrin. Not once during the evening had the humiliating incident been
referred to by those who participated in it.



CHAPTER XI

PREPARING CAMP FOR WINTER


Colonel Howell being a far from hard taskmaster, especially in his
dealings with the Indians, it was not until the morning of the second day
that Moosetooth and La Biche led their men out of camp on the
three-hundred mile tramp to Athabasca Landing. But the beginning of work
in the camp did not await their departure. Colonel Howell took time to
explain his plans so far as they concerned his young friends, and the
morning after the arrival of the boats work at once began with the
regularity of a factory.

The things to be done included a substantial addition to the present
cabin, to be made in the main out of the straight poplar timber. The roof
of this was to be of sod and the new bunk house formed a "T" with the old
cabin. A clay floor was packed within and on this a board floor was made
of some of the inside timber from one of the scows. New timber and poplar
posts were used to make the bunks, which, packed heavily with shredded
balsam, soon provided clean and fragrant sleeping berths. Colonel Howell
had learned of a sheet-iron stove to be had in the McMurray settlement,
and this was to be installed before cold weather arrived.

The other cabin was renovated and thoroughly cleaned. A provision
storehouse was added in the rear, and the clay fireplace was enlarged and
extended into the room. This work under way, Norman and Roy, assisted by
Paul, undertook to construct a rough but adequate aerodrome. The open
space in front of the cabin was not sufficient for a landing and a large
part of the clearing in the rear of the cabin was leveled for the airship
shed. To decrease the size of the structure, it was also made in "T"
shape, the extension for the tail of the machine reaching back toward the
cabin, for the new shelter faced away from the cabin so that there might
be no obstacle in starting and landing the machine.

In spite of its simple character, the boys made elaborate sketches for
this shed and used in the main small uniform poplar trees easily carried
on their shoulders. The entire frame of the building was made of this
timber. The front of it was to be made of the colonel's three enormous
tarpaulins. The sides and top being of heavy hemlock bark, this feature
of the work required many days and it was often tiresome.

In the three weeks that this work went on, Colonel Howell appeared to be
in no hurry to resume his prospecting. The boys learned that the old
Kansas oil men had not been wholly idle in this respect and that they had
located several good signs, all of which Colonel Howell took occasion to
examine.

The boys also learned that the best prospects were not those found where
the derrick had been erected. From their experience, the men who had been
left in camp strongly urged another location in a dip of land farther
inland.

"It's as good a surface sign as I ever saw," Colonel Howell explained to
the young men. "It's a rock cut, but there's enough tar floating loose to
show that there's oil mighty close. But there's no use getting excited
about it and tapping a gusher. We'd only have to cap it and wait for the
tank cars. Everything around here is prospective, of course. All we can
do is to cover the field and establish our claim. And I guess that's a
good winter's job."

"Ain't you goin' to work this derrick?" asked Paul, indicating the one
erected near the camp.

"Looks like there might be gas around here," was the colonel's laughing
response. "We'll sink a shaft here an' maybe we can find a flow of
natural gas. That'd help some when she gets down to forty below."

It was surprising how all these preparations consumed time. It was nearly
the end of August when these plans had been worked out and with the
setting up of the _Gitchie Manitou_ in its novel aerodrome and the
storing away of its oil and gasoline in a little bark lean-to, the camp
appeared to be ready for serious work.

For a week Ewen and Miller had been setting up the wood boiler and engine
for operating the derrick. From the night he unceremoniously left camp,
Chandler, the Englishman, had not been heard from.

Each Sunday all labor ceased in camp and Ewen and Miller invariably spent
the day, long into the night, in Fort McMurray. The boys also visited
this settlement, which had in it little of interest. There was no store
and nothing to excite their cupidity in the way of purchases. They heard
that Chandler had gone down the river, but the information was not
definite and, although Colonel Howell left messages for his discharged
employee, the man did not reappear and sent no word.

Colonel Howell's other workmen, Ewen and Miller, were not companionable
and did not become comrades of the boys. Now and then, in the month's
work, Norman and Roy had heard Colonel Howell freely criticize them for
the method of their work or for some newly omitted thing they had failed
to do during the winter.

When the stores and supplies had been compactly arranged in the rear of
the living room and the new storehouse, the cabin and its surroundings
seemed prepared for comfortable occupancy in the coldest weather.

The only man retained out of the river outfit was a Lac la Biche
half-breed, a relative of Moosetooth, who was to serve both as a cook and
a hunter. At least once a week, the entire party of young men went with
Philip Tremble, the half-breed hunter, for deer or moose. This usually
meant an early day's start, if they were looking for moose, and a long
hike over the wooded hills to the upland.

One moose they secured on the second hunt and to the great joy of the
boys Philip brought the skin of the animal back to camp. The antlers,
being soft, were useless. This episode not only afforded a welcome change
in meat which, as Colonel Howell had predicted, could not be told from
tender beef, but it sadly interfered with the work on the aerodrome.

When the Indian had prepared a frame for dressing the skin and lashed the
green hide with heavy cord between the four poplar sides and had produced
a shaving knife from somewhere among his private possessions, the boys
fought for the opportunity to work upon the hide.

For almost two days, Norman, Roy and Paul, by turns, scraped at the
muscle, sinews and fat yet adhering to the skins until at last their
first trophy shone as tight and clean in the sunshine as a drumhead.
Philip had also brought, from the upland, the animal's brains tied up in
his shirt. In the tanning process he then took charge of the cleaned skin
and buried it until the hair had rotted, and in this condition the
outside of the skin was also cleaned. Then came a mysterious process of
scouring the skin with the long preserved brains.

At Colonel Howell's suggestion, and with the complete approval of the
boys, this part of the process was carried on at some distance from the
cabin. Thereafter, when the weather was clear, Philip exposed the skin to
the smoke of a smouldering fire, devoting such time as he had to rubbing
and twisting the hide while it turned to a soft, odorous yellow.

Before the real winter began, the skin, which is the wealth of the
Canadian Indian, began to make its appearance in strong moccasins, which
were usually worn around the fireplace and often in bed.

From somewhere in the outfit a calendar had made its appearance, and this
had found a lodging place in the front of the fireplace. The morning that
Colonel Howell made a mark on September 1, with a bit of charred stick,
he remarked:

"Well, boys, the postman seems to have forgotten us. What's the matter
with running up to Athabasca and getting our mail? A piece of beef
wouldn't go bad, either. How about it?"

So intense had the interest of Norman and Roy been in the hundreds of
things to be done in camp that the aeroplane, although not out of mind,
was not always foremost in their thoughts. No reply was needed to this
suggestion. Instantly, the proposition filled the air with airship talk.

This first trip had been discussed many times. It required no particular
planning now.

"I like to travel about fifty miles an hour," exclaimed Norman, "and it's
three hundred miles to the Landing. We'll leave to-morrow morning at five
o'clock and land on the heights opposite the town at eleven. One of us'll
go across in the ferry--"

"Both of us," broke in Roy. "There's no need to watch the
machine--everybody's honest in this country."

"Let me go and watch it?" asked Paul, who was now the constant associate
of the other boys in their work and pleasures.

"Not this time," answered Norman. "It isn't exactly a bus, you know. We
can take care of it all right."

"Then we'll have dinner at the good old Alberta," suggested Roy with his
features aglow, "do our errands, and start back about three o'clock. It's
a cinch. With the river for our guide, we ought to give you a beefsteak
about nine o'clock."

"And don't forget a few magazines," put in Paul.

This flight, which began promptly on time the next morning, after an
early breakfast of toasted bannock, bacon and the inevitable tea, which
Philip never spoiled with smoke, however, was made with all the ease of
the exhibitions at the Stampede.

The _Gitchie Manitou_ was wheeled out of the hangar for a thorough
inspection. Then the boys climbed in and the engines were started. With a
wave of the hand they were off.

For a short time after the yellow-winged monoplane had mounted and turned
south and westward over the vapory river, the boys had a new sensation.
The rising fog started air currents which for a time they did not
understand. Perhaps Norman's hand was a little out of a practice and at
times Roy showed nervousness.

When Norman finally guessed the cause, he mounted higher and took a
course over the uplands where, as the sunshine cleared the atmosphere,
the _Gitchie Manitou_ became more easily manageable. The line of vapor
rising from the river some distance on their left was sufficient guide.
This at last disappeared in turn and Norman threw the car back on its old
course.

Once again above the river, whose brown, oily surface now shone clearly
beneath them, Roy especially busied himself with the many attractions of
the stream. Animal life was plentiful and, despite Norman's renewed
protests, his companion insisted now and then in fruitlessly discharging
his rifle at small game.

They made better time than fifty miles and made a safe landing on the
heights opposite Athabasca some time before eleven o'clock. What had
seemed to them, from Athabasca, to be an uninhabited bluff, was now found
to contain several poor cabins. Afraid to leave the car alone near those
who would certainly be curious, Norman decided to stay with the monoplane
and Roy undertook to visit the town across the river. But dinner at the
Alberta was eliminated and Roy, in addition to his mail and meat and
magazines, was to bring back luncheon for both the aviators.

Norman accompanied him to the brow of the hill and saw him scramble down
the winding road to the ferry landing below. Here, also, he saw him wait
nearly a half hour before the cumbersome gravity flatboat put out from
the other shore, and then he devoted himself to picking and eating
Saskatoon berries, with which the hills were covered.

It was two o'clock when Roy returned, burdened with packages. For an hour
Norman had been asleep in the invigorating hill air. Roy had certainly
gone the limit in the matter of meat. He had two roasts and six thick
steaks and, what was more to his own taste, he proudly displayed a leg of
lamb. His mail, of which there seemed to be a great deal for everyone, he
had tied in one end of a flour sack. In the other end he had six loaves
of fresh bread. On his back in another bag he had a weight of magazines.

"I thought we'd take what we could," he began, "and I guess it's a good
thing we came when we did. Somebody's been pounding telegrams in here for
several days for Colonel Howell. I got a half dozen of 'em and I sent all
he gave me. I got off some messages to the folks, too, but I wonder what
the colonel's so busy about."

"This ain't the only iron he has in the fire," answered Norman drowsily.
"But where's our own eats?"

Roy dumped his bags and bundles on the grass and then began to explore
his own capacious pockets. From one he took a can of salmon and from
another a box of sardines.

"And here's the lemon for 'em," he explained, producing it from his shirt
pocket. "Help yourself to the bread."

"Is that all?" complained Norman. "I'll bet a nickel you had dinner at
the Alberta!"

"All but this," went on Roy, and he began unbuttoning the front of his
flannel shirt. "It feels kind of soft."

While Norman watched him, he extracted a greasy bag, flat and crumpled,
and tore it open to expose what was left of an originally fine hot raisin
pie.

His companion turned up his nose in disgust.

"I fell down on the hill," explained Roy, "but if you don't want it,
don't bother. It's just a little squashed. I'll eat it all right."

Norman began to straighten out the crumpled pieces with his finger, when
his chum added, with some exultation: "And these."

Then, from within his unbuttoned shirt, he began to unload a dozen large
sugar-coated doughnuts.

As Norman's mouth began to water, and he turned to the bread bag, a new
odor caught his nostrils.

"What's this?" he exclaimed, pulling another greasy bag from among the
bread loaves.

"Oh, I forgot," sputtered Roy, a part of one of the doughnuts already in
his mouth; "that's some baked ham I found at the butcher shop. I guess
that's some eats."

"Didn't you get any pop?" was Norman's only answer, a look of added
disgust spreading over his face.

Roy turned, with a startled look: "I couldn't carry any more," he
answered a little guiltily, "but I drank a couple o' bottles myself."

"I knew I'd get stung if I let you go!" growled his companion.

Norman looked at him with indignation. Then, having already appropriated
a doughnut, he mounted quickly on the side of the car and sprang down
again with the aluminum basin in his hand.

"Now you go down to the river and get me a drink. You've had it soft
enough."

The return trip was almost a duplicate of the morning flight. In this,
however, the aviators were able to follow the stream itself, and they
flew low, protected from the evening breeze by the river hills. The ride
did not seem long, and the boys were particularly interested in another
view of the Rapids, which they had been unable to study in the morning
flight. Not a single human being, going or coming, had they seen on the
long stretch of river.

In Athabasca, Roy had learned that their boat crew had not all returned,
but that La Biche and Moosetooth had reached town and that both were
already serving as pilots on the new Hudson's Bay Company steamer that
had been launched in their absence and was now making its first trip up
the river. They were almost passing the oil camp when the sound of a shot
attracted their attention and then, guided by Paul's worn and faded hat,
they banked and landed in the rear of the aerodrome at ten minutes of
nine.



CHAPTER XII

BREASTING A BLIZZARD IN AN AIRSHIP


When Roy turned over his half dozen telegrams to Colonel Howell, the two
boys saw that the messages were of some significance. A little later they
saw their patron reading them a second time. But when the beefsteak
supper was served he seemed to have forgotten business. But that was only
his way. When the prospector had reached his after-dinner cigar, he said
abruptly:

"So you say everything went all right!"

"Like taking a buggy ride," answered Norman. "Don't you want us to go
oftener? If it wasn't for using up the gas, there isn't any reason why we
shouldn't meet each mail stage."

"I'm glad o' that," answered Colonel Howell, smiling. "I'd like to have
you take a telegram over for me in the morning and wait for an answer."

"Don't you think I can go in this time?" asked Paul at once.

The other boys gave him no heed for a moment.

"We could go to-night," volunteered Norman, "if you like."

"That wouldn't do any good," answered the colonel. "You probably couldn't
get the operator. I'll be more than satisfied if you duplicate to-day's
trip--except as to the meat," he added. "We've enough of that for some
days."

Paul sat in suppressed excitement.

"I don't want to butt in," he urged in the pause that followed; "but I
want to help all I can. You don't need to be afraid--"

The boys could not resist a glance toward the bunk house door, where they
well knew that Paul's embarrassing box still stood intact. And both
Norman and Roy flushed.

"You can go," announced Norman instantly. "You won't be afraid!"

"Only afraid of disappointing Roy," answered the elated Paul.

The latter was disappointed, but he gave no sign of it and when he smiled
and waved his hand, the thing was settled.

"I've been holding an option on a fine piece of oil property near Elgin,
Kansas," the colonel began in explanation, "and I had forgotten that the
limit was about to expire. Several of these telegrams are from my agent,
who tells me we must have the property. The telegrams are now over three
weeks old and I've just got two days in which to get word to him to buy."

"Write your message to-night," suggested Norman, "for we'll get away a
little earlier in the morning, since we've got to wait for an answer."

The second flight to Athabasca Landing was of course Paul's first
experience in an airship. For some time he was subdued and Norman could
see his tense fingers gripping the edge of the cockpit. But when
assurance came to him, he made up for his preliminary apprehension and
was soon taking impossible pictures of the far-away hills and trees
beneath him.

Reaching the landing place on the Athabasca Hills, Paul at once said:

"I s'pose you'd feel better if you looked after the telegrams yourself.
I'll stay with the machine."

This was the program Norman had outlined but when the suggestion came
from the young Austrian himself, Norman had not the courage to humiliate
his companion with such a plain indication of his fear. Without
hesitation, he answered:

"What are you talking about? Nothing like that now! Besides, I want to
look over the engine. You go and attend to things--I'll be here when you
get back."

A little after twelve o'clock, a boy arrived from the other side of the
river, carrying Norman's dinner in a basket. The messenger was from the
Alberta Hotel and he also carried a note from Paul announcing that no
answer had yet been received to Colonel Howell's telegram.

As the afternoon wore slowly away, Norman became more and more
apprehensive. It was nearly six o'clock when Paul came in sight,
breathless and exhausted from his rapid climb up the hill. Norman could
not resist a sigh of relief when he saw that the delay was not due to any
new indiscretion of the young Austrian.

"I don't blame you," panted Paul, "and I bet you've been sweating blood.
I don't deserve anything else, but you're going to save a lot of time if
you'll just forget what I used to be. I ain't going to make any promises,
but I'll show all of you that I'm not what you all thought I was."

Norman only smiled, but he gave his young friend a look of sympathy. Then
he announced a little variation in the general plan.

"We're so late now that it's goin' to be dark before we get back and a
little further delay won't do any harm. Just back of the new H. B.
Company store I remember there's quite an open space on the other side of
the town. We're flying pretty light and I think we'll cross the river,
make a landing there, and get a couple of tins of gasoline. We want an
extra supply on hand."

This flight was easily accomplished but it involved an experience that
Norman had not anticipated. Having made a safe landing, while he visited
the trading post and arranged to have oil delivered at once, nearly
everyone in Athabasca Landing seemed to learn of the arrival of the
airship. When he came riding back to the monoplane, in the delivery
wagon, the _Gitchie Manitou_ was the center of a mob of curious people.
The sergeant of police was there, as well as the people from the hotel.
It was impossible to leave at once. Politeness demanded decent replies to
many inquiries but Norman almost felt repaid when he noted that this was
the first meeting during the day between Paul and his old friend, the
Mounted Policeman.

Yet, in the midst of the general greeting, the boys finally took their
leave. As they swung over the city and the river, the mist was beginning
to rise from the latter. For a part of the return trip at least, Norman
knew that he would have to resort to his compass or to the guidance of
the varying air currents that marked the river course at night.

For several days in the latter part of August there had been nightly
frosts. Then there had been a short spell of warm weather and this night
the boys could see that cool weather was rapidly approaching. As the
monoplane winged its way into the gathering gloom and the crisp evening
passed into dusk, the body of the _Gitchie Manitou_ grew wet with cold
dew. After dark, this began to turn into frost. Paul was able to wrap a
light blanket about himself, but Norman, with no relief present, stuck to
his post, protected only by his gloves and sweater.

As it was impossible to make out the course of the river from any
distance, he had to defy the air currents in the rather hazardous light
between the high river banks. It was far from the even flight made during
the day in the sunlight, and again Norman could see his companion
gripping the edge of the cockpit. There was little conversation, and in
order to divert his companion, Norman manufactured a job for Paul by
assigning to him the duty of watching the engine revolution gauge and the
chronometer.

As Paul flashed the bulbs, throwing their little shaded lights on these
instruments, and sang out the reading every few moments, Norman could not
resist a smile. He read both instruments each time as quickly as his
assistant.

About eleven thirty, the sun having now wholly disappeared, Norman's
long-waiting ear caught the unmistakable roar of the head of the Grand
Rapids. From this place, he had a compass bearing to Fort McMurray, and
he could have predicted their arrival at the camp almost within minutes.

"You can take it easy now," he suggested to Paul. "We're practically
home."

When the roar of the Rapids finally ceased, the river fog cleared
somewhat and, with the help of the stars, the outline of the river became
plainer below.

"How much longer?" asked Paul in a tired tone.

"We've been coming pretty slow," was Norman's cheery response. "We'll hit
her up a bit. It's forty miles to the camp, but we'll save a little by
cutting out the big bend. See if I ain't there in three-quarters of an
hour."

"I'd think they'd have a light for us."

"If they're all asleep," answered Norman.

But they were not asleep. Some apprehension on the part of even Roy had
kept him and the colonel wide awake. When it grew dark and the monoplane
had not returned, he made a fire of cordwood and during the long evening
renewed it constantly. At half past one the _Gitchie Manitou_ concluded
its second successful trip.

The answer brought to Colonel Howell, in response to his telegram,
appeared to be highly satisfactory to that gentleman. As he read it in
the light of Roy's poplar wood signal fire, he remarked:

"I told you young men that you didn't know how much you might be worth to
me. If I hadn't made good on that option, there's no way to tell what I
might have lost. I wouldn't let go the deal I made to-day for twenty-five
thousand dollars."

"I'm sorry I didn't have anything to do with it," exclaimed the benumbed
Paul, "but I'm glad I got a ride at last."

Colonel Howell opened his mouth as if to make reply and then checked
himself with a smile. The words behind his lips were: "And a month ago
you'd have probably spoiled any deal you had a finger in."

"You had as much to do with it as anyone," Norman suggested aloud. Then
he laughed and added: "But you mustn't work so hard. Look at your hands."

Paul opened his yet clenched fingers and held them before the snapping
blaze. The palm of each hand bore traces of blood.

"That's where I lifted her over the high places," he said with a laugh of
his own. "But look, it's dry. I ain't been doing it for some time."

This night was the real beginning of the colder weather. When they were
able, in late July, Ewen and Miller had sacrificed a few potatoes out of
their store to plant a patch of this vegetable. During August the little
garden had thriven and was at last in full bloom. But this night, to the
keen disappointment of all, the creamy blossoms fell a victim to the
first blighting frost. From now on, while the days were even sunnier and
often quite warm, the nights rapidly grew colder and each morning there
were increasing frosts.

For two weeks preliminary to the removal of the derrick to the better
prospect, the arm of the drill pounded ceaselessly up and down all day.
There were small accidents that frequently delayed the work, but no
result other than dulled drills and the accumulation of promising-looking
sand and rock.

The hunting trips also continued and moose now became very plentiful.
Philip, the cook and hunter, did not always accompany the boys on
shooting trips, as the half-breed had joined Ewen and Miller in the work
on the well.

The airship was safely housed, as if for the winter. The third week in
September came in with a lessening in the daily sunshine. A haze began to
hang over the river valley and a murkiness now and then took the place of
the keen and clear atmosphere. The evenings had grown so cool that
considerable attention was being given the fire in the living room.

On an evening such as this, while Colonel Howell and his young assistants
stood on the riverbank, watching the red sun turn to silver gray, Colonel
Howell exclaimed:

"By our calendar, the fall's coming along a little early. And judging by
the trees over there and the nip in the air, we're going to have some
weather before long. Maybe not for several days, but it's on its way.
Before it gets here, why not make another trip to the Landing and see if
there's anything at the post office?"

"All letters ready at five in the morning," announced Norman impulsively.
"Mail for Athabasca Landing, Edmonton, Calgary and points south leaves at
that time."

"Better bring a little more beef this time," suggested the colonel with a
laugh, "and anything else that looks tasty and you've got room for."

"I guess I've had all that's coming to me," suggested Paul. "Don't think
I'm afraid. Whenever you want a helper," he went on, addressing Norman,
"don't fail to call on me."

"I guess we won't make many more trips this season!" put in Roy, but in
that he was mistaken. The trip made the next day was memorable, but two
more that were to be made later were more than that, and the last one was
certainly ample justification for Colonel Howell's daring introduction of
the monoplane into these silent places of the North.

Shortly before five o'clock the next morning, in spite of an ominous gray
sky and a new sound of the wind in the trees, Norman and Roy were off on
their three hundred mile flight. They planned a short stay at the Landing
and upon reaching camp again before the shortening day was at an end.
They carried in the cockpit their Mackinaw jackets and their winter caps.
Philip also prepared a cold luncheon to be eaten on the return trip, thus
saving time at the Athabasca stop.

Early on their outward flight, for a time the red sun made an effort to
get through the clouds, but after nine o'clock had wholly disappeared and
the temperature began to fall. An almost imperceptible fine dry snow
appeared, but it was not enough to interfere with the conduct of the
machine. When a landing was finally made at the old place in the bend of
the river, although the day was dreary enough, only the chill atmosphere
and a few traces of snow gave premonition of possible storm.

This time Norman made the visit across the river and he was not gone much
over an hour and a half. To facilitate the delivery of his stores, which
were considerable, he pressed a horse and wagon into service and a little
after twelve o'clock Roy was glad to see his companion reappear in the
delivery wagon. The spitting snow had begun again. No time was lost in
luncheon this day, but the fresh meat, eggs and butter and a few fresh
vegetables were quickly stored in the rear of the cockpit.

There were no telegrams this time, but a larger quantity of mail with
considerable for the boys, some of which Norman had examined. At twelve
thirty o'clock everything was in readiness. On the wind-swept heights it
was now cold. Before mounting into the cockpit the boys put on their
winter caps, Mackinaw jackets and gauntlets.

Then, elevating the front protecting frame, they started the _Gitchie
Manitou_ on its return flight, the wind and snow already smiting its
resonant sides in a threatening manner.

The young aviators had little to say concerning the situation. They were
not alarmed and could not afford to be, as their surroundings were mild
compared with the conditions that the unique monoplane had been made to
overcome. And yet they were now beyond theorizing, and it looked as if
before the day was done they were to prove the merits or weaknesses of
their much-lauded craft.

"I'm glad of one thing," suggested Roy, a little later; "we're going to
have daylight all the way back."

"I hope so," answered Norman, but not very confidently.

"We ought to be there by seven o'clock!" retorted Roy.

"That's all right," said Norman in turn, "but I've seen snow in the
daytime so heavy that it might as well have been night."

"Anyway, as long as we don't lose the river," suggested Roy, "we can't go
far wrong. And the compass ought to help some."

"A compass is all right to keep you in a general direction," answered
Norman, "but the best of them, in a three hundred mile run, won't land
you at any particular street number."

"I think," suggested Roy again, a little later, "that we might as well
put up these shelters and have something to eat."

By this time the wind had died somewhat and the volume of the snow had
increased. It was falling so heavily that the top of the car was white.
Norman's silence giving approval, Roy managed to elevate the protecting
sections, which in turn immediately began to be plastered with soft
flakes. Almost at once part of the section on the lee side, which by good
chance happened to be the one next to the river, was lowered again that
the pilot might get a clear view. Then Roy opened Philip's bag of food.

[Illustration: "Don't shoot," he protested. "What's the use?"]

The aviators had both tea and water, but they drank only the latter and
made no attempt to use the heating apparatus.

At four o'clock the increasing snowfall was beginning to give the machine
some trouble, and yet it was plowing its way steadily through the air and
neither boy was more than apprehensive. Soon after this the snow ceased
suddenly and the wind rose as quickly.

"We're losing some of our extra cargo anyway," announced Roy, as the
first gusts tore some of the accumulated snow from the weighted planes.

"And we're losing some considerable gas," added Norman. "I hope we don't
have to buck this wind very long--it's coming dead ahead." It was just
then, the gloom merging into dark, that the alert Roy exclaimed:

"Look; a bunch o' deer!"

The car was crossing the snow-flecked river and flying low. Norman raised
himself and made out, in the edge of the timber below them, a group of
deer.

"Don't shoot," he protested. "What's the use?"

But his admonition was too late. Roy's twenty-two had already sounded.
However, nothing but a bullet was lost. When the monoplane had passed
swiftly on its way, the placid and apparently unmoved animals stood
gazing after the airship.



CHAPTER XIII

IN THE LAND OF CARIBOU, MOOSE AND MUSK OX


Within another hour, the first storm of the season had turned into a
blizzard. With the provisions they had on hand the boys would have made a
landing to get what protection they might from the blinding snow and the
now-piercing wind had they dared. They had not yet changed the landing
wheels of the monoplane for their novel snow runners and they realized
that a new start in the rapidly increasing snow was practically hopeless.

Working directly ahead into the gale had so reduced their speed that
Norman had adopted a series of long tacks. He did this in spite of the
fact that for miles at a time it took him from the river valley, which he
was now locating mainly by the wind eddies he had learned to know. There
was no use turning on the searchlight, as it merely gave them a little
longer view into the deep gray emptiness before them.

Thoroughly appreciating their danger, the boys also recognized that a
panic of fear would not help them. If the car should become unmanageable,
they would make the best landing they could and, half burying the
monoplane in the snow, would await in the protected cockpit the breaking
of the blizzard and a new day.

"Anyway," announced Roy at one time, "while I ain't exactly stuck on
being here and it ain't as cheerful as I thought it would be, you got to
say this, the _Gitchie Manitou_ ain't falling down any."

No attention was given to supper and it did not get so cold but that the
heavy clothing and enclosed cockpit--for they had long since been forced
to put up all the sections--were ample protection for the young men.
Seven o'clock, by which time they had expected to be in camp, came, as
did eight and nine. It was now long after dark and, while the storm had
abated somewhat, there was still a heavy wind and plenty of snow.

For hours the boys had been simply following the compass. They had not
caught the roar of the Grand Rapids and felt themselves practically lost.
By their calculation, and allowing for a head wind, they had concluded
that they would have covered the three hundred miles by ten o'clock. If
at that time they could make out no signal light, they had decided to
come down on the upland and go into camp for the night.

Their calculation was purely a guess but it was not a bad one. Some time
after half past nine both boys made out in the far eastern sky a soft
glow.

"I thought it had to be a clear night for the Aurora Borealis," suggested
Roy, conscious that his companion had also seen the same glow. For a time
Norman made no response but he headed the machine directly toward the
peculiar flare and ceased his tacking.

"That's no Aurora," he said at last. "I think the woods are on fire."

For ten minutes, through the thinning wind-tossed snowflakes, the
_Gitchie Manitou_ groaned its way forward.

"I wonder if it ain't a big signal fire for us," suggested Roy at last.

"It's a big blaze of some kind," answered Norman.

Through the obscuring snow, the nervous aviators had located the light
many miles in the distance. Now it began to rise up so suddenly before
them that they knew it had not been very far away. Yet they could not
make up their mind that it was a signal fire. It did not at all resemble
a blaze of that kind.

"Well, don't run into it, whatever it is," shouted Roy a few minutes
later as a tall spire-like shaft of yellow light seemed almost to block
their progress.

But Norman was already banking the machine, and the flying car responded
while the wonder-struck boys gazed open-mouthed.

"It's the camp," Norman yelled just then as a little group of shadowy
buildings seemed to rise up out of the snow.

"They've struck gas!" blurted Roy, as he sprang to his feet. "The men
have struck gas and it's a gusher!"

Even as he yelled these words, the aviators heard a quick fusilade of
shots and as the car darted onward were just able to catch sight of
shadowy forms running about within the glare of the burning gas well. The
sight was enough of a shock to Norman to throw him off his guard and the
snow-weighted car careened wildly toward the earth. Roy attempted to
spring to his companion's assistance and realized almost too late that
this would be fatal. While the perspiration sprang to Roy's chilled face,
Norman's presence of mind returned and he threw the car upward and into
equilibrium again.

Then, straining every nerve, he made a wide detour but while his brain
acted, the muscles of his hands and arms seemed suddenly paralyzed. The
car dropped slowly and safely in the midst of the clearing, and when it
touched the snow the landing chassis caught and the airship stopped as if
in collision with a wall. Both boys lunged forward and when Roy got to
his feet he found Norman curled up among the steering apparatus, cold and
motionless.

It was a good half hour later when the young aviator had been revived.
His first inquiry was about the _Gitchie Manitou_. When he learned that
this was apparently little injured and had already been backed into the
aerodrome, he gave more evidence of his all-day's strain by again
relapsing into unconsciousness on the cot that had been improvised for
him before the fire in the living room.

The more fortunate Roy was able to relate their adventures and hear the
details of the gas gusher's discovery that night. Within the protected
clearing, the storm had been more of a heavy downfall of snow and less of
a blizzard. Anxious to move the derrick before winter was fully upon
them, Colonel Howell and his two men had persisted in working the drill
all day. When the gas vein was unexpectedly tapped late in the afternoon,
the drill pipes had been blown out and the escaping gas, igniting from
the near-by boiler, had consumed the derrick. Fortunately, the tubing and
drills had been forced through the derrick and were saved.

The engine house had also caught fire, but this had been pulled down and
it was thought that the engine and boiler were undamaged. These details
were discussed while Roy ate a late supper and drank with more relish
than ever before his tin of black tea. Norman was so improved by morning
that he was early astir, eager for a view of the still roaring volume of
gas. He found that Colonel Howell had also taken advantage of the first
daylight to inventory the possible damage.

While the twisting yellow flame of the uncapped well was less inspiring
as day broke, the roar of the escaping flame fascinated the young
aviator.

"It's a gusher, and a dandy," explained Colonel Howell as he and Norman
stood close by it in the melting snow. "But I think we're prepared for it
and we'll try to cap it to-day."

All else, the clearing, the camp structures and the banks of the river,
were peaceful and white under the untracked mantle of new-fallen snow.
The wind had died out and the gas camp at Fort McMurray stood on the
verge of the almost Arctic winter.

The excitement attendant upon the wonderful discovery and the attempt
made at once to control the fiery shaft again interfered with Colonel
Howell's real plans of active prospecting. For days the experienced oil
men made futile efforts to extinguish the gusher and to cap the shaft.
When they were of no assistance in this work, Norman and Roy overhauled
the airship and substituted the ski-like runners in place of the
aluminum-cased rubber-tired landing wheels.

It seemed as if every trader, trapper and prospector within fifty miles
visited the camp. A week after the discovery, somewhat to the surprise of
all, although apparently not so much to Ewen and Miller, the long missing
Chandler appeared at the clearing late one evening. If he had any apology
to make to Colonel Howell, the boys did not hear it. But he was sober
enough this time and somewhat emaciated. He had come to settle with his
old employer and explained his long delay in doing this by saying: "I
knew my money was good any time," and that he had been trapping farther
down the river.

He lounged about the camp the greater part of the day and even
volunteered his services in the still unsuccessful attack of the flaming
gas. But Colonel Howell seemed without any interest in his offers. The
man was invited, however, to eat in the camp and spend the night there.

When the boys retired, Colonel Howell, the visitor, and Ewen and Miller
were still smoking before the big fire. The next morning the boys slept
late and when they responded to Philip's persistent call to breakfast,
they found that Chandler had eaten and gone. Colonel Howell was awaiting
the boys, Ewen and Miller being already at work on the blazing well, and
he seemed to have something on his mind.

"Would there be any great danger," he began at once, addressing Norman,
"in making a short flight in your airship in weather like this?"

"This isn't bad," volunteered Roy. "It's only a few degrees below zero.
There's a good fall of snow for our runners and there hasn't been any
wind since the blizzard."

"Well," resumed Colonel Howell, almost meditatively, "it seems a shame
for us to be livin' here in what you might call luxury and folks starving
all around us. Look at this," he went on, and he led the three boys near
one of the windows where a large Department of the Interior map of
northern Alberta was tacked to the wall. "Here's Fort McMurray and our
camp," he began, pointing to a black spot on the almost uncharted white,
where the McMurray River emptied into the Athabasca. Then he ran his
finger northward along the wide blue line indicating the tortuous course
of the Athabasca past Fort McKay and the Indian settlement described as
Pierre au Calumet (marked "abandoned"), past the Muskeg, the Firebag and
the Moose Rivers where they found their way into the giant Athabasca
between innumerable black spots designated as "tar" islands, and at last
stopped suddenly at the words "Pointe aux Tremble."

"That's an Indian town," went on Colonel Howell, "and it's about as far
south as you ever find the Chipewyans. It isn't much over a hundred miles
from here and Chandler says there ain't a man left in the village. Pretty
soon, he thinks, there'll be no women and children left. Maybe he's
making a pretty black picture but he says all the men have gone over
toward the lake hunting. They've been gone over two weeks and the camp
was starving when they left."

The colonel, with a peculiar look on his face, led the way back to the
breakfast table.

"These Indians are nothing to me," he went on at last, "and all Indians
are starving pretty much all the time, but they die just the same. But
somehow, with plenty of pork and flour here and this great invention here
right at hand from which nobody's benefitting, it seems to me we must be
pretty hard-hearted to sit in comfort, stuffing ourselves, while little
babies are dying for scraps that we're throwing in the river. I----"

"Colonel," exclaimed Roy at once, "you've said enough. Get up what you
can spare and we'll have bannocks baking in that settlement before noon."

"I don't want to get you into another blizzard," began the colonel, yet
his satisfaction was apparent.

"Don't you worry about that," broke in Norman. "I think we feel a good
deal the same way about this. Besides, aren't we working for you?"

"Nothing like that!" expostulated the oil prospector. "This isn't an
order."

"I'll help get the stuff ready," began Paul, "for I know that's all I can
do. Is this Chandler trapping near there?" he went on, as he gulped down
the last of his tea.

"Says he's been helping them," explained Colonel Howell, "but he couldn't
have done much, judging by his appearance."

"Is he going back there?" asked Roy curiously.

"He didn't say," answered Colonel Howell slowly. "But he's got his money
now and I imagine he won't go much farther than Fort McMurray. I don't
care for him and I don't like him around the camp. He's too busy talking
when the men ought to be at work."

It was an ideal winter's day, the atmosphere clear and the temperature
just below zero. There was no cause for delay and while Norman made a
tracing and a scale of the route, Paul and Roy drew the _Gitchie Manitou_
into the open. Colonel Howell and the half-breed cook had been busy in
the storehouse, arranging packets of flour and cutting up sides of fat
pork. Small packages of tea were also prepared, together with sugar, salt
and half a case of evaporated fruit. The only bread on hand was the
remainder of Philip's last baking of bannock.

"See how things are," suggested Colonel Howell, when these articles were
passed up to Roy, "and if they're as bad as Chandler says, we'll have to
send Philip out for a moose. These things'll carry 'em along for a few
days at least."

The look on the young Count's face was such that Norman was disturbed.

"Paul, old man," he said, "I know you'd like to go with us and we'd like
to have you. But we've got more than the weight of a third man in all
this food. I hope you don't feel disappointed."

"Well, I do, in a way," answered Paul, with a feeble attempt at a smile,
"but it isn't just from curiosity. I envy you fellows. You're always
helping and I never find anything to do."

"You can help me to-day," laughed Colonel Howell. "I'm going to cap that
gas well or bust it open in a new place. I'll give you a job that may
make both of us sit up and take notice."

"Come on," exclaimed Paul, seeming instantly to forget the mission of the
machine. "I've been wanting a finger in that pie from the start."

"Good luck to you," called out Norman, as he sprang aboard the monoplane,
and the colonel caught Paul laughingly by the arm and held him while
Norman threw the big propeller into sizzling revolution.

The powerful car slid forward for the first time on its wooden snowshoes.
As it caught the impulse of the great propeller, it sprang into the air
and then dropped to the snow again with the wiggling motion of an
inexperienced skater. Then, suddenly responding again to the propeller,
it darted diagonally toward a menacing tree stump; but Norman was too
quick for it. Before harm could result, the planes lifted and the
airship, again in its native element, hurled itself skyward steadily and
true.

It was an exhilarating flight. For the first time the boys got a
bird's-eye view of Fort McMurray and were surprised to find that the main
settlement drifted down to the river in a long-drawn-out group of cabins.
Few people were in sight, however, and all the world spread out beneath
them as if frozen into silence. The big river continued its course
between the same high hills and, as the last cabin disappeared, the boys
headed the _Gitchie Manitou_ directly for the top of the hills, where the
plains began that led onward and onward until the sparse forests finally
disappeared in the broken land of the Barren Grounds. And on these, not
much farther to the North, they knew that caribou and moose roamed in
herds of thousands, and that the musk ox, the king of the Northland big
game, made his Arctic home.



CHAPTER XIV

IN THE CABIN OF THE PARALYZED INDIAN


No sooner had the monoplane begun to disappear over the northern hills
than the impatient Paul demanded the attention of Colonel Howell.

"Colonel," he began, "I'm almost ashamed to even make the suggestion, but
I've been watching the men at work on the gusher. They don't seem able to
get a plug into the pipe or to put a cap on the end of it, even with the
rigging they've managed to set up."

"We seem to be at the end of our string," laughed Colonel Howell. "But
laymen frequently make suggestions that never occur to professionals.
Have you an idea?"

"Not much of a one," answered Paul diffidently, "but I learned one thing
in school--I think it was in what you call 'Physics.'"

"Speak out," laughed Colonel Howell. "We've utilized all our own ideas;
that is, all but one, and I don't like that. I suppose we can dig a pit
around the pipe and smother the blaze. But that's goin' to be quite a
job, and I'm not sure it would work."

"A pit!" exclaimed Paul. "Now I've got it. They used to tell me, when you
strike a force you can't handle, try to break it up into parts."

Colonel Howell looked up quickly.

"We don't need a pit," went on Paul, "but something like a trench. Let's
dig down alongside the pipe until we're ten or fifteen feet beneath the
ground and then tap the tube and let some of the gas out where it won't
do any harm. If we can't drill a hole, we can rig up a long-handled
chisel and punch an opening. When the gas rushes out, down there in the
trench, maybe it won't catch fire for a few minutes and it's sure to shut
off a good deal of the pressure at the mouth of the tube. If it does,
maybe we can get the cap and the regulator on the top. Then we can plug
the opening below. It'll leak, of course, but the regulator'll fix things
so we can use the gas at least."

Colonel Howell thought a moment and then slapped the young man on the
back. Without a word, he hurried to the two workmen and in a few moments
Ewen and Miller had begun digging into the frozen ground. Colonel
Howell's orders were for them to make a trench about four feet wide and
extending toward the river about twenty feet. It was to be twenty feet
deep alongside the pipe and in the form of a triangle, the long side to
incline toward the river. This was to facilitate the removal of the
gravel and dirt and to afford a path to the deep side of the trench where
it touched the gas tubing.

"Five feet from the bottom," explained the enthusiastic Paul, "we'll put
a shelf across the trench and we'll work from this, so that when a hole
is made in the pipe no one will be in danger from the rush of gas."

"That's right," added Colonel Howell. "All the gas can't get out through
the new opening, but enough of it ought to escape to make it possible to
work on the top opening. But we'll hardly finish the ditch before the
boys get back?"

"Hardly," smiled the happy Paul. "They ought to be here before dark."

While Ewen and Miller were busy with picks and shovels, Colonel Howell
and Paul devoted themselves to improvising the long wooden handle for the
chisel to be used in cutting the pipe. But the workmen had not finished
the trench when night came and, to the surprise of Colonel Howell and
Paul, the _Gitchie Manitou_ had not returned. This fact especially
disturbed Colonel Howell and Paul because soon after noon the bright day
had ended and the afternoon had passed with lowering clouds and other
evidences, including a decided drop in the temperature, that a bad night
was approaching.

The northward flight of the aviators had been made without any
premonition of this change. After the monoplane had reached the high
ground, Norman could not resist a temptation to make his way some miles
back from the river, where the boys could see that the sparse timber grew
very much thinner and that within five miles of the river the timberland
disappeared altogether in a wide prairie or plain. Still farther to the
east, they could make out irregular elevations on the plain, which
appeared to be treeless ridges.

"I wish we had time to go over there," remarked Roy, "for we may never
get back this way and I'd like to have had one good look at the caribou
lands."

But the general nature of this treeless, barren waste had been
ascertained and Norman brought the swift car back on its flight toward
the river. Colonel Howell had explained to them that the Indian village
they were seeking was one hundred miles from the gas camp. As it was not
certain that Pointe aux Tremble could be easily made out from a distance,
it was necessary to keep careful watch of the chronometer and the
propeller revolution gauge.

The flight over the picturesque banks of the great river was now getting
to be an old story to the boys and protected as they were in the inclosed
cockpit, the journey proceeded with only occasional comment. They had
left the camp at nine twenty-five o'clock, having set the engines at
fifty miles, and, allowing for their detour, at a quarter after eleven
o'clock Roy arose and began to use his binoculars. But either the reputed
distance or the boys' calculations were wrong, for it was not until a
quarter of twelve o'clock that they caught sight of a few cabins
scattered along the riverbank within a fringe of poplar trees.

It was necessary to find a suitable landing place and both aviators
busied themselves in this respect with no great result. What clearing
there was seemed to be full of tree stumps and large brush. The car,
having passed over the few cabins of what seemed to be a deserted
village, with no living thing in sight, it was necessary to make a turn
to look for a landing place in the vicinity. In doing this, Norman made a
wide swing.

The only naturally open place was some distance to the east. Without
consulting Roy, he made for this white glare of snow. As the monoplane
dropped toward the wide opening, Roy made a desperate dive toward the
floor of the cockpit and, before Norman learned the situation, his chum
was pulling its new mooseskin jacket from the .303 rifle.

"It's a moose!" shouted Roy, "and a dandy. Gi' me a shot at it. I've got
to shoot something from the machine."

"I thought there wasn't any game around here," answered Norman, trying in
vain to get his eyes above the cockpit.

"I guess the hunters have all gone too far," answered Roy breathlessly.
"Anyway, there's a dandy bull right out there in the open. Give me a shot
at it."

As he spoke, he dropped one of the front sections and pointed to one side
of the basin-like opening among the spruce trees. The moment Norman
caught sight of the animal, which stood with its forefeet together, its
head erect, and its immense spread of antlers reared almost defiantly, he
brought the machine directly toward the animal. There was a heavy
discharge from Roy's rifle, but no sign that his shot had gone home.

"Try him again," laughed Norman. "He's big as a barn."

But while Roy pumped a new shell into place, the erect animal suddenly
stumbled and then with a snort whirled and sprang toward the trees. This
time when the rifle sounded the great antlers seemed to rise higher and
then the moose lunged forward on its head and began kicking in the snow.
Norman, gazing at the struggling animal, brought the monoplane to the
wide drifts of snow.

"You get out and finish him," he exclaimed as the _Gitchie Manitou_ came
to a jolting stop. "It's getting colder. I'm going to put some alcohol
an' glycerine in the radiator. This isn't a very good place to freeze
up."

"Why not wait till we get over to the camp?" asked Roy as he dropped one
of the side sections.

"We've got enough of a load now," answered Norman as he began to prowl
around among the extra supplies. "There isn't much snow among the trees.
We'll take all we can carry of this fresh meat and go to the camp on
foot. There's no place to land there, anyway."

Closing the machine, the two boys soon quartered the moose, and leaving a
part of the carcass in the lower limbs of a spruce tree, shouldered the
remainder and made their way toward the Indian village. The snow and
their heavy load made this a panting task and in the mile walk they
paused to rest several times.

When they finally reached the edge of the Indian settlement and broke
their way through the last of the trees, they found before them a picture
that had escaped them from the airship. In the distance lay the deserted
looking cabins but, nearer by and as if seeking protection among the
scrub spruce, rose a single tepee. Before it stood two men and two
squaws.

"They must have seen us," panted Roy, as he and Norman advanced, bending
low under their burdens. "They seem to be watchin' for us."

In fact, one of the men had his arms outstretched. The cheerless group
was made even more so by a small, almost blazeless fire, in the thin
smoke of which was suspended a black kettle.

[Illustration: "They must have seen us," panted Roy as he and Norman
advanced.]

"No wonder they let a moose almost stick his nose in camp," was Norman's
comment. "The men seem to be as old as Methuselah."

There was nothing dramatic in the arrival of the boys, for the Indians
spoke no English and gave not the least sign of gratitude when the
quarters of the moose were thrown on the ground. Both the women sank on
their knees and one of them eagerly bit into the raw flesh. After vainly
attempting to talk to the men, Norman pointed to a knife in the belt of
one of them and then at the freezing flesh on the ground.

While the boys watched them, this aged and emaciated Chipewyan also
dropped on his knees and hastily cut off four strips of flesh. Without
any attempt at cooking these the starving group attacked them voraciously
in their raw condition. After a few moments, the boys took the other
quarter and, motioning toward the other cabins, started toward them. They
decided, if they found no younger men, to take the two old men back to
the monoplane and deliver to them their other provisions.

Having reached the first cabin, the boys at once discovered that Chandler
had not overstated the camp condition. Neither in this filthy structure,
nor in any but one of the other half dozen did they find anyone but women
and children. In each cabin there was heat in plenty, but signs of food
were wholly missing. In each place the air was foul, and half-clad
children made the situation pitiable. In one fortunate cabin, the
children were chewing shreds of skin.

Still unable to find anyone who could speak English, the boys continued
their work of rescue by cutting off a generous piece of moose and then
continuing their investigation. Having reached the last cabin, which
differed in no respect from the others, Norman and Roy came across a
surprise that was a shock to them. Swinging open the door, without
warning, they entered a chill interior that was reeking with new odors. A
small fire burned in one corner and before it, on a pallet of worn and
greasy blankets, lay the distorted figure of a man. He was the sole
occupant of the almost dark room.

While the boys hesitated, choking with the rancid and stifling odors
about them, they saw the figure turn its head with an effort. Then they
saw that it was a man of about middle age, who was almost completely
paralyzed. He could move neither his legs nor his body, but with the use
of his elbows, he was just able to turn the upper part of his body.

He did not resent the intrusion but he did not give the young men the
least sign of welcome. In his left hand rested a charred stick. With this
he was able to reach the little fire at his side, in front of which was
piled a heap of small sticks and branches--his firewood.

The fireplace and chimney, which was also inside the cabin, were made of
clay and occupied the corner of the uninviting apartment. Near the fire
stood a smoke-begrimed frying pan in which there was a piece of black
meat of some kind. On the dirty clay hearth was a tin basin, in which
were a few ounces of soiled looking meal or flour.

"The man's paralyzed," remarked Norman in an undertone. "But at that he
seems better off than the rest."

"He ain't starvin', at least," answered Roy. "But we'd better give him
his share of moose."

He spoke to the man and was surprised to receive a grin in return. It
meant that the invalid did not understand. But the moment they offered
the meat to the almost-helpless man, they were glad to see that he had
the full use of his arms and fingers. Reaching for a knife that lay under
him, he began to cut off pieces of fat with celerity. These he ate
without cooking.

The close cabin was so crowded with articles of various kinds that the
boys could not resist an examination before they took their leave.

"Somebody's been livin' here besides this man," exclaimed Roy at once. He
pointed to the opposite corner of the cabin where there were indications
that some one had had a bunk. Then in the other end of the room they
found the cause of the heavy odors. Hanging from the rafters were several
dozen skins, stretched tightly on trappers' boards, and in various states
of curing. There was also a collection of steel traps, a dog sled and a
jumbled mass of dog harness.

Curing skins was not exactly a novelty to either of the boys but they
knew a valuable skin from an ordinary one and they could not resist the
temptation to look for a possible silver fox. They soon decided that the
trapper who might have collected these furs was one of no great
experience. Roy pointed to the skins, then made signs to the Indian as if
to ask if the skins belonged to him. The man grinned in silence and
punched up his little fire. Roy was examining one of the stretched hides
when he suddenly called to Norman and pointed to a name written with
indelible pencil near the bottom of the board.

"Well, what do you think of that?" exclaimed the astonished Norman.

The two boys were looking at the scrawl which was plainly "E. O.
Chandler."

"There you are!" exclaimed Roy. "Here's where our friend made his
headquarters. No wonder he knew that the Indians were starving."

There was a light tapping on the floor and the paralyzed and speechless
Indian pointed toward the corner of the room where there were signs of a
bunk. In the gloom the boys went to this place. But they noticed nothing
in particular until the prostrate Indian again lifted his stick upward.
And then, shoved in a crevice between the logs, they saw a soiled and
crumpled envelope. Taking it to the window, they read plainly enough the
address--"E. O. Chandler, Fort McMurray." There was no postmark but in
the upper left hand corner was this printing--"Hill Howell, Contractor,
Centralia, Kansas."

"It's one of the envelopes that Colonel Howell has down in camp,"
exclaimed Roy.

"Yes," answered Norman slowly, "and I'll bet you it's a message that
either Ewen or Miller wrote to Chandler after he left us."

"Do you think we ought to read it?" asked Roy, his fingers grasping the
greasy envelope as if itching to extract the enclosure.

"I reckon it's none of our business," answered Norman, as if with some
regret, "but I'll bet it concerns Colonel Howell and I believe we ought
to take it to him."

Roy turned toward the Indian and made signs of putting the letter in his
pocket. If this meant anything to the helpless man, he gave no sign other
than the same peculiar grin. Roy put the envelope in his pocket and,
making signs of farewell, the two boys left the cabin.



CHAPTER XV

A LETTER GOES WRONG


The conditions that the young aviators had just encountered had not
sharpened their appetites. But again in the fresh air, they decided to
use speed and complete their mission and, incidentally, to have a little
tea and some bannock at the airship.

At two of the cabins where they had seen the strongest women, they
stopped and made signs for the squaws to follow them. At the tepee in the
edge of the woods they found the two old men and the two women huddled
around a fire on the inside of the tepee, with every sign of having
gorged themselves upon the food given them. In the kettle outside, chunks
of the moose were stewing under a now brisk fire. This entire party was
also enlisted and Norman and Roy made their way back to the snow basin in
the woods. Without delay they passed out all the supplies to the Indians
who had accompanied them, showed them the remainder of the moose and made
signs that these should be distributed equally among all. With every
expression of pleasure, but none of gratitude, the six Indians took
instant departure.

"It's three o'clock," announced Norman, when this had been done. "Now for
a little camp fire out here in the snow, some tea and a piece of bannock,
and we'll make a record trip back home."

Unaware of the disastrous discovery they were soon to make the two boys
took a leisurely rest.

"It's the only time I miss a pipe," remarked Roy as he sat behind a snow
bank with his feet toward the cheery blaze.

"Well, if ever I begin," said Norman in turn, "I'll never try to manipulate
any of this plug smokin' stuff. I'll go to the States for a mixture of some
kind and not try to shave down the brick of hydraulic-pressed tobacco that
the half-breeds use."

After a long loaf before the fire the boys made preparations to return.

"Looks a little like the blizzard day," remarked Roy, "and it's certainly
getting some colder. I hope the wind won't come up. If it does, I hope it
comes out of the north."

While he spoke, the two boys took hold of the frame of the monoplane to
pull it out onto the smooth snow and head it south. The airship had been
resting upon what seemed to be a little ridge. Pulling the chassis from
this rise in the snow, they were both astounded to find the body of the
car shift to one side and sink into the snow.

Both sprang to that side of the car and Norman, running his hand along
the wooden landing ski, gasped with astonishment when he found the long
runner broken sharply in the middle.

"That's fine!" he shouted. "This runner's out of business!"

Roy ran to the rear where the car had stopped and found underneath the
snow a rocky ledge.

"She hit this!" he exclaimed. "Can't we tie her up?"

Norman was plainly in doubt but they cleared away the surrounding snow
and found that, instead of a single break, a section of the runner had
been shattered. Two jagged ends of wood extended into the soft snow.

"If you'll find any way to fix them," exclaimed Norman, "maybe we can get
a start. But it looks to me as if we'd have to make a new runner."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Roy, beating his numbing hands together. "We can
fix 'er."

The two boys made this attempt and, as often as they thought they had
patched up the shattered ski and mounted into the car in attempts to make
a start, the patched strip of wood would part and the chassis would lunge
again into the snow.

After a half hour of attempts of this kind, Roy recalled the dog sled in
the distant hut of the paralyzed Indian and, in desperation, after four
o'clock, for it was now getting desperately cold, he secured Norman's
consent to a trip back to the Indian's cabin and the securing of at least
a part of the sled to patch up their machine.

The winter days were now growing short and when Roy hurried away into the
gray woods night was fast coming on. Nor did he find an easy task before
him. In the end it was necessary to pay the paralytic twenty-five dollars
before he could secure possession of the sled. As he made his way back to
his waiting companion, he had to stick to the trails that they had
previously made, for in the woods darkness had already come.

At the airship camp he found Norman had put in his waiting time in
collecting a pile of fallen timber. It was now so cold that this served a
double purpose--they needed the warmth and it served to illuminate the
vicinity.

The benumbed Roy also found tea ready and, better yet, a generous piece
of moose meat frying in the edge of the fire. These, with some broken
bannock heated in the fat of the meat, gave the boys a welcome supper.
Then, piling new wood on the fire, they began again the task of repairing
the chassis. Here they were handicapped by the darkness, as they were
afraid to get the monoplane and its reservoirs of gasoline too near the
blazing camp fire.

Finally they solved this difficulty by starting the engine and using one
of their adjustable light bulbs, which they hung over the side of the
car. Yet the cold had become so intense, although it was a dry Arctic
cold, that the work went forward only by stages, the boys being forced to
stop and warm their hands from time to time at the camp fire.

When the new moon showed through the dark border of spruce trees and the
brilliant northern stars pierced the black sky, the young aviators were
ready for another trial. It was eight o'clock. This time they packed the
snow for a hundred yards in front of the chassis of the car, and then,
arranging their few blankets in the cockpit and refreshing themselves
with some newly-made hot tea, exhausted and nervous, they climbed aboard.
Putting on all their power and holding their runners steadily to the
packed snow, they again started the _Gitchie Manitou_.

While the runners were yet gliding over the evenly-packed snow drifts,
there came an ominous jar on the side of the repaired ski and Norman
instantly threw the planes upward. It was a chance for, if the car
settled again, the new runner would probably give away. In its gathering
momentum, the airship drifted snowward again while both boys gulped. Then
as if guiding itself, it sprang upward once more.

"It's all right!" shouted Roy, "but we had a close call. If we have to
come down again we'll never get up."

"When we land again," added Norman, his mouth dry, "it'll be in the gas
camp."

In a few minutes the airship was over the Athabasca River again, which
was now vaporless and white beneath them.

"It's cold, all right," was Roy's comment at this moment. "I think
there's ice on the river."

In spite of the increasing coldness, the _Gitchie Manitou_ made its way
without trouble toward the distant camp. There was no wind and, although
the boys computed the temperature outside at not less than twenty below
zero, the interior of the little cockpit soon became cozy enough. The
heating appliances had been connected with the dynamo and Norman at times
even complained of the heat. After the first hour of flight, both boys
began looking for the flare of the gas well. When this at last came in
sight, the car was headed directly for it. At that time both boys agreed
that the river beneath was covered with ice from shore to shore.

"Anyway," said Norman, as the gas well came into full view, "looks as if
Paul didn't succeed in capping the gusher to-day."

To warn their friends of their arrival, the boys threw on their
searchlight, and the arrival back of the aerodrome was unmarked, except
by the vociferous welcome accorded by the alarmed occupants of the camp.

Another supper was awaiting the relief expedition and for some time all
were busy with the cause of the delay and the details of the condition of
the Indian encampment. Unquestionably there would have to be another
visit to the camp to ascertain at least the result of the hunting
expedition.

Strangely enough, before the matter of Chandler's letter was reached, the
discussion reached the work on the gas well that day. When Roy suddenly
recalled the episode of the discovery in the paralyzed Indian's cabin he
started to produce the letter, but hesitated because both Ewen and Miller
were present. In his discussion with Norman on the way back, it had been
decided that the letter had probably been written by one or the other of
these men and that its appearance might cause embarrassment. Both Ewen
and Miller had been very curious about the settlement at Pointe aux
Tremble, but they had asked no questions that connected Chandler with the
place.

When the hour grew late and Colonel Howell proposed retiring to the bunk
room where the iron stove was red hot, since neither Ewen nor Miller gave
signs of turning in, Roy put off the matter of the letter until later.
When the three boys sought their bunks, Ewen and Miller still lingered in
the big room, and Colonel Howell was asleep.

"Time enough in the morning," suggested Norman.

In the morning, however, Colonel Howell and Paul with Ewen and Miller
were up and at work before Norman and Roy were astir. The weather had not
moderated but Colonel Howell was anxious to bring the work on the gusher
to a close. Ewen and Miller attacked the frost hardened ground before
breakfast and this work had now reached the point where Paul could help
in removing the heavy clods.

When the young aviators joined their friends at breakfast, Ewen and
Miller were present again and the letter was not exhibited. Then all
hurried out to complete the work of attempting to control the gusher. The
regulator and the ordinary apparatus to connect it with the mouth of the
pipe, together with the smaller tubes and their valves that were to be
attached above the regulator, were all in place. In the end, Colonel
Howell proposed, with still smaller pipes, to lead part of the gas into
the fireplace and the bunk house stove.

At eleven o'clock the perspiring men in the trench announced this part of
the work completed. Then it required only a few minutes to brace a narrow
platform about five feet above the bottom of the trench, next to the
tube, and all paused for a short rest before making the final experiment.
At last the men took their places near the roaring gusher and, at Paul's
request, he was given the opportunity to use his well-muscled arms in
swinging the sledge, Colonel Howell taking his place on the platform in
charge of a long-handled chisel.

The duties of Norman and Roy were to assist the two workmen in
manipulating the chain pulley, by which the first tap was to be forced on
the open end of the pipe. This of course was pierced with holes, so that
the pressure beneath it might not be altogether shut off. This was to be
forced down upon the steel drill tube, after which the regulator was to
be similarly attached to the threads of the preliminary cap. The
situation was hazardous for all. There was danger that the out-rushing
gas in the trench below might explode when it rose and came in contact
with the roaring blaze above. But it was hoped that the work might be
done so quickly that this would not result.

When Ewen had laid out his apparatus about the mouth of the tube with all
the care of a surgeon preparing for a hasty operation, and Paul and
Colonel Howell had taken their position on the scaffold far below, Ewen
suddenly shouted:

"Ready!"

A heavy blow resounded in the narrow pit. Then another, and another, and
a new roar broke out below. Dropping their tools, Colonel Howell and Paul
fled up their improvised ladder and when they reached the surface they
saw the workmen and Norman and Roy, their faces distorted with effort and
their clothes almost scorching, bend to the task before them. The
escaping gas was still roaring and the flames were leaping sideways.

Norman and Roy were almost flat on the ground, hanging on to the pulley
chain. The first cap was in place and, with a long wrench, Ewen was
twisting it onto the thread. A new volume of gas was already rolling from
the pit, while from the incline opposite the mouth of the new opening,
gravel and clods of earth were shooting riverward like the sparks of a
Bessemer furnace. Paul threw himself on the ground with the other boys
and added his strength to theirs in holding the cap in place. All seemed
to forget the possibility of a new explosion.

There was a hoarse shout from Ewen and the boys released the pulley chain
while Miller slapped the regulator between the guide rods. As the three
young men again threw themselves upon the chain and forced the regulator
into place, the crucial moment had arrived. The controlling valve of the
regulator was open, of course, and as the rushing gas was again
concentrated into one stream, a new fiery jet shot upward. But the
lateral streams had been controlled and again Ewen applied the wrench to
thread the regulator to the first cap. Once he failed and then the
threads caught. With a yell of victory the veteran gas man threw himself
against the long wrench again.

"You've got 'er!" exclaimed Colonel Howell as he sprang to Ewen's side
and joined him in screwing the regulator into place. Even before he spoke
there was a renewed roar in the trench beneath and a new volume of gas
poured upward.

"Fill 'er in!" shouted Paul. "The big rocks first." And then, while the
newly confined gas still shot upward through the regulator in a screaming
stream of fire, six pairs of hands, including those of the energetic
Philip, hurled a collected heap of rocks to the bottom of the trench and
around the new opening.

"This ain't goin' to stop the flow," explained Colonel Howell to Norman
and Roy, as all panted in their work, "but it's Paul's idea, and I think
he's put it over."

"Now for the dirt!" shouted Paul, who was leading in the work. With
shovels and pieces of board, the excavated material was rapidly dumped
into the trench. With each new shovelful of material, the escape of gas
from the trench became less and the roar from the open regulator became
more deafening. When at last only an odor of gas escaped from the newly
packed trench, Paul exclaimed:

"Plenty of water dumped in here ought to make a solid cake of ice around
the opening and that ought to fix us till spring anyway."

"The cleverest idea you've yet given us!" exclaimed Colonel Howell, as
all paused for breath. "Now, go over and finish your job. Turn off the
regulator."

Proudly enough, Paul sprang to the roaring gusher and gave the protected
valve wheel a few quick turns. Instantly the flow was shut off and
silence followed. The young Austrian had made good.

Many other mechanical details had to be seen to but the great problem had
been solved and all were elated. The main work accomplished, Colonel
Howell and the young men retired to the cabin, where, as soon as the
excitement over Paul's victory had somewhat subsided, Roy produced the
letter he had found in the cabin of the paralyzed Indian. Colonel Howell,
having heard the explanation of the finding of the letter, without any
hesitation and evidently without any qualms of conscience, drew out the
enclosure. The letter was an illiterate scrawl.

"Mr. Chandler," it began, "we have decided our answer is this. Mebbe you
are right and we three have done all the work here, but Colonel Howell
has always been on the square. If you think you are intitled to go to
Edmonton and make a claim for this property, we don't. It's been a perty
hard job, but we been paid for it and don't think we have no claim fur a
title to this claim. Besides, this ain't no time to try to go to Edmonton
and get out papers. If we was goin, we'd wait till the river froze and
take a dogsled. When you get your money you can go if you like. Like we
promised you, we wont say nothin. So long as Colonel Howell treats us
square we're goin to stick. So no more at present.

                                                       Ewen and Miller."

The message was dated August 10th and was evidently a reply to some
proposition made by Chandler after he was kicked out of the camp. While
Colonel Howell read it, his face was very sober. Then he read it aloud to
the boys and tossed it on the table while he lit a new cigar. All sat in
silence for some time and then Norman said:

"I guess Chandler must have changed his mind too. He was here yesterday
morning."

"But the river's frozen now," suggested Roy quickly. "What does this
mean, Colonel Howell?" went on Roy, his curiosity overcoming him.

The colonel took a long draw on his cigar and at last found his old-time
smile.



CHAPTER XVI

ROY CONDUCTS A HUNT


"At first," he said, "it looked simple enough. So far as this letter is
concerned, I'm not bothered. That is, I'm not afraid of Ewen and Miller.
But Chandler's proposition is another matter. It's plain enough that he
wanted our men to join him and go to Edmonton and file papers on this
claim. But that isn't as ridiculous as it appears. You know," he said,
"Mr. Zept asked me if I hadn't grubstaked these fellows. If they could
make it appear that I had, then part of this claim would belong to them.
And if they all got together and swore that I had, I don't know how I
could prove that they were working for me on wages. Even if our own men
would testify for me that this was my claim, if Chandler should happen to
file his papers, this would cloud my title. Besides," went on the
colonel, "Chandler is a naturalized Canadian and you know the mining laws
up here are not made to favor the outsider. A foreigner such as I am,
when he's working in these unsurveyed districts, can only stake out his
claim, wait for the survey and then buy the property. Chandler would have
it all over me if he set up the claim of a native, especially ahead of
me."

"I don't think he's gone," suggested Paul, "for he ate breakfast here
yesterday morning."

"And it's somewhere between two hundred and fifty and three hundred miles
between here and the land office," exclaimed Norman.

"It would be interesting to know whether he has gone," answered Colonel
Howell.

"Why not ask Miller or Ewen?" broke in Roy. "They might know something
about him."

Colonel Howell shook his head: "They'd better know nothing about the
letter," he answered at last. "It was written a long time ago."

"You mean they may have changed their minds?" asked Norman.

"I don't mean that," answered Colonel Howell, his face again sober, "but
they had the matter under consideration once. I don't suspect them. I'll
just keep my eyes open and say nothing. If they are all right they might
get sore and leave me."

"Do you mind," asked Roy, "if I go out and do a little investigating?
Chandler may be over to Fort McMurray."

The colonel thought a moment and then answered:

"That won't do any harm. All of you might go hunting this afternoon over
in that direction--if it isn't too cold."

Eagerly enough the boys accepted the suggestion. Protected by their heavy
clothing and carrying the camera and their skin-protected rifles, they
found the trip to the settlement only exhilarating. At Fort McMurray the
temperature, which was twenty-two below zero, did not give much trouble
so long as the wind did not blow. To those whom they met, the boys talked
of being on their way to the hills for moose. But later they determined
not to venture upon the highlands, deciding to make a detour in the
timber on their way back for a possible deer.

They had no trouble in getting trace of Chandler. In the cabin of a white
prospector, where Chandler was well known, they picked up the latest town
gossip. This was that Chandler, who yet seemed to have plenty of money,
had hired Pete Fosseneuve, a half-breed, only two days before to take him
back to his trapping camp at Pointe aux Tremble.

"He's been working there all fall," explained their informant, "and
Fosseneuve has a team of six fine dogs. He paid Pete a lot of money to
take him back to his camp night before last. They ought to be there
to-morrow some time."

This statement allayed the suspicion directed against the dissolute
Englishman and the young men made an early return to the camp.

"I'm glad I didn't say anything to Ewen and Miller," commented Colonel
Howell, when he learned that Chandler had gone still further into the
woods. "Now we'll get to work on our prospecting in earnest."

When the controlled gas had been piped into the cabin, in spite of the
cold weather, Ewen and Miller at once went to work building a new derrick
near the best prospect and sledging the boiler and engine to that
location. In this work nearly a week went by, the boys finding little to
do. The weather seemed settled into a cold spell in which the thermometer
ranged at noonday about twenty below.

It was at this time that a long suppressed ambition of Norman and Roy
came to the surface. They wanted a real hunting trip. The three young men
were natural lovers of the open and curious about animal life in the
wilderness. But, so far, none of the younger members of the camp had
really had an opportunity to test himself amid the rigors of a northern
winter.

Colonel Howell finally consented to their leaving on a hunting expedition
that would give them at least one over-night camp in the snow. This was
on the condition that Philip should accompany the shooting party and that
it should not proceed over a day's march from camp.

The plan of the hunt was really Roy's. He prepared the provisions and was
accepted as leader of the party.

"It wouldn't be any trouble to equip ourselves like tenderfeet," he
explained to Colonel Howell, "and to make a featherbed trip of this. But
we're going to travel like trappers."

The hunt was to be for caribou back over the hills in the direction of
the Barren Lands. In the end Colonel Howell agreed that the party might
advance two days' travel into the wilderness but that it must return to
camp on the evening of the fourth day.

Less than an hour's preparation was necessary and when Philip and the
three boys left camp one morning, the expedition had little appearance of
the usual, heavily laden winter hunters. Each member of the party was on
snowshoes, and behind them they drew a small sled containing their camp
equipment. It was hardly more than a packload for a strong Indian but the
sled was taken in the hope that it might bring in a return load of fresh
meat.

Philip and Norman carried rifles carefully protected in mooseskin cases.
Paul carried nothing but his camera and an automatic revolver. Roy took
the first turn at the sled. The morning was fair but cold, and the bright
sun had no effect upon the snow-laden trees.

When the enthusiastic hunters reached the Fort McMurray settlement just
below the camp they left the river and struck inland. Within an hour they
had passed through the pines and poplars fringing the river and had
reached the summit of a "hog-back" range of hills beyond which there was
known to be a little valley running at right angles to the course of the
river.

When the four travelers reached the top of the "hog-back" and saw the
frozen snow-covered valley before them, like children out for a lark,
Philip no less active than the others, they coasted into the valley.
Until the sun was high above them they made their way along the frozen
creek toward the head of the wide defile. About noon, camp was made, tea
was brewed and, partly behind the protection of a little frozen
waterfall, bannock and cold meat were added to the hot tea. No time was
lost in cooking.

With faces and ears protected by their heavy caps, and with heavy mittens
to guard their fingers against frost bite, not one of the party
complained of the intense cold.

"It's all right," explained Philip, "unless the wind comes up, and if it
does we'll have to go into camp."

But in the valley no wind arose to make any trouble. The party set
forward to reach the head of the valley before time to go into camp. They
did this by three o'clock and then, mounting an elevation and passing
through a thin fringe of dwarf pines, the boys found themselves on a
wind-swept plateau where the snow clung with difficulty.

They had seen plenty of deer, rabbits and small game during the day but
had done no shooting. They were after caribou or moose. The first look
over the desolate plateau, where not even trees broke the landscape, was
far from inviting. As the sun began to go down and little was to be seen
other than a few rocky irregularities and a thin covering of snow with
drifts here and there like white islands, camp prospects were not as
inviting as they had seemed in the valley behind them.

"Come on," exclaimed Roy, as the party paused on the edge of the heights.
"This begins to look like the real thing."

"Maybe some moose," was Philip's rejoinder. "No moose track on de valley
below."

"Hear that?" exclaimed Roy. "Everybody get busy. I reckon we can't go any
farther inland to-night than that heap o' rock way over there." He
pointed to a barren elevation on the already darkening horizon. "You
hunters," he added, indicating Norman and Philip, "ought to spread out
and look for game tracks in the swales to the right and left. But don't
go too far. Work your way in toward those rocks before night. You'll find
us there. Come on, Paul," he added with unusual enthusiasm, considering
that it was rapidly growing colder in the open country, "there's probably
no wood over there. You and I'll get some here and meet the hunters at
the rock pile."

While Norman and the Indian started out, Roy loosened the axe and drew
the sled back into the pine scrub to look for fallen timber. This was a
tedious process and it was even more of a task to load the firewood onto
the sled.

"The tent'll fix us all right," explained Roy as he backed against the
wind and began to dump his firewood on the snow. "But first we've got to
make a camp site. Take off your snowshoes."

Where the wind had been cutting over the tops of the rocks a sort of
vacuum had been formed behind the ridge and into this the snow had been
piled up to a depth of four or five feet. With a snowshoe, each boy
tackled this bank. Soon they had dug a pit in it about ten by ten feet.
By throwing the loose snow around the edge of this they created a wall
about seven feet high.

"Now I'll show you a trick I read about," exclaimed Roy.

From the pine grove on the edge of the plateau he had dragged the slender
trunk of a poplar tree about twelve feet long. This he now threw over the
opening in the snow, making a sort of a ridge pole, and then with Paul's
assistance unrolled the tent and spread it across. While Paul held the
edges of the somewhat awkward canvas in place on top of the snow wall Roy
piled snow on the ends of the canvas and just as it was too dark to see
more the excavation was thoroughly roofed except in one corner where the
irregular canvas did not fit.

"We need that for a chimney opening anyway," exclaimed Roy.

Before a fire could be started, however, there was the sound of a rifle
off to the south, to which Paul responded with a pistol shot. Then the
camp makers carried their wood into the snow house and while Paul
attended to their scanty food supply and arranged the sleeping bags as
rugs on the crisp snow floor, Roy started a fire. The blaze emphasized
the darkness without and, realizing that their companions had no signal,
the two boys split up a torch with the axe and carried it outside where,
while they could keep it alight, it might serve as a beacon.

But this was not necessary. Both the Indian and Norman came in, guided by
Paul's revolver shot. Neither reported signs of game. Both were elated
over the house which was already so warm within that the heavy coats and
mittens could be discarded.

"I s'pose supper's all ready," exclaimed Norman after he had got his
numbed limbs warmed.

"No," answered Roy, "I've just been waiting for you so we could have it
all fresh and hot. I'm going to prepare it myself and everything's going
to be in trapper style. It won't be much but it's all you need and it's
according to the rules and regulations. I've already got my hot water.
Now I'll get the bannocks ready."

"Didn't you bring those I made for you?" asked Philip, the camp cook and
hunter.

"I prefer to make 'em myself," answered Roy, "just as the Indians make
'em in the woods."

Philip smiled and Norman and Paul looked somewhat disappointed but
neither made objection.

"Here's my flour," explained Roy who had already rolled up his sweater
sleeves and produced an old flour bag with a few pounds of flour in the
bottom of it. "I mixed the baking powder with the flour before we left
camp so as to save time," he explained.

"Seems to me we've got all night," interrupted Norman. "They don't do
that to save time--you're mixed. They do that to save carrying the baking
powder in a separate package."

"Anyway," retorted Roy, "it's the way real trappers do."

He had rolled the sides of the sack down to make a kind of receptacle at
the bottom of which lay his flour. Then with a piece of wood he pried off
the top of the tea kettle and was about to pour some boiling water onto
the flour when Philip with a grunt stopped him.

"Non," exclaimed the Indian. "You spoil him."

Over Roy's feeble protest the Indian scooped up snow and deposited it in
the boiling water until the fluid was somewhat cooler. Then he passed the
kettle to the waiting Roy who began to mix his Indian bread. But had
Philip allowed Roy to proceed in his generous application of water, his
proposed bannocks would have resulted in flour paste. In the end, because
Roy had to get his pork ready, the volunteer cook permitted Philip to
finish the fashioning of a bannock as big as the frying pan,--the only
cooking utensil that Roy had thought necessary to bring with them.

"Now," exclaimed Roy, as he deposited a generous piece of salt pork in
the frying pan, "I'll show you how the hungry trapper makes a supper fit
for a king."

As the pork began to sizzle in the pan those who were eagerly watching
the amateur cook saw the piece separating into thin sections.

"You see, that's what we trappers always do," explained Roy rather
proudly. "You can't slice pork when it's frozen solid. I sliced my pork
before we left camp this morning."

By this time the rashers of pork were swimming about in the hot fat like
doughnuts in bubbling lard.

"It certainly smells all right," exclaimed Paul, as the appetizing odor
from the frying meat filled the snow cave. "Hurry up and give us a
piece."

Roy made no reply but busied himself stirring the bits of meat with the
point of his knife.

"Is the bread ready?" the cook asked, turning to Philip.

The Indian only pointed to the big ball of dough flattened out like a
gigantic pancake and ready for the skillet.

There upon Roy seized the handle of his frying pan, shifted the skillet
to one side and, resting it on the snow, began to flip the bits of salt
pork onto the snow floor.

"Here, what are you doing?" shouted Norman.

"You don't eat those scraps," announced Roy positively. "The only good in
pork is the fat and the fat's all in the skillet. We trappers give these
scraps to the dogs--only we ain't got any dogs."

"Well I'll be a dog all right," exclaimed Norman and as fast as Roy
flipped the brown rashers out with his knife point Norman and Paul
grabbed them up.

"There ain't any need of doin' that," snorted Roy. "I tell you there
ain't any good in those things and it's against all the rules anyhow.
You'll get all the fat you want when our bannock's done."

"Well, then, why don't you start it?" asked Paul. "I suppose it'll take
it an hour to cook. And your fat's getting cold anyway."

"That's where you show your ignorance," retorted Roy. "I suppose you
fellows think I don't know my business. If I'd put that bannock right
into this hot fat it would have fried like a doughnut. I've got to get
this grease soaked up in my bread. That's why I'm lettin' the grease get
cool."

With this he took the flat looking loaf from the Indian's hands and
slipped it into the already nearly full frying pan. But Roy knew his
limitations. As he lifted the pan back upon the coals and the grease
began to sizzle and snap he knew that he had exhausted his culinary
knowledge.

"Here," he said to the Indian, "you can watch this while it cooks."

With a smile the Indian took the handle of the pan, shook it deftly a few
times, lifted the edge of the dough with skilled fingers and then settled
the pan upon a bed of coals just outside the heart of the fire and,
squatted by its side, carefully watched the baking. Meanwhile, Norman and
Paul were crunching bacon scraps while Roy was mopping his perspiring
brow with the sleeve of his sweater.

"If that's all we're going to have," broke in Norman, "I want to go
home."

But that was all they did have. The conscientious Roy, who had given the
subject much consideration, had carefully refrained from bringing any
luxuries other than tea and a little sugar. But by the time the bannock
was done--and the Indian knew how to cook it--the three boys had become
so hungry that the Indian bread was eaten ravenously. Then the party
crept into their sleeping bags at an early hour and passed the night
without discomfort.

Philip took charge of the camp in the morning and before the boys crept
out of their bags he served each of them with a cup of hot tea. When the
boys looked outside of their snow tent it seemed hardly dawn and yet it
was after eight o'clock. Philip shook his head and announced prospects of
bad weather. There was no sun and, although it was no colder than it had
been the day before, there was a gloom over all that suggested a storm.

Not one of the boys would have suggested it but the Indian did not
hesitate to warn them that they should return to the camp at once.

"I don't know how I would vote on this question," said Norman, "if we'd
had proper provisions. But I don't propose to live three more days on the
_ghost_ of salt pork. And, besides, we've got plenty of moose meat in
camp. I'm not so keen about going to the Barren Lands as I was."

This was why late that afternoon Colonel Howell was both surprised and
glad to see his young friends trot into camp.



CHAPTER XVII

THE _Gitchie Manitou_ WINS A RACE


Norman and Roy soon became restless and after a few days' idleness asked
Colonel Howell for permission to make their delayed visit to the Pointe
aux Tremble Indian camp. The day set for this second relief expedition
promised a continuation of clear dry weather. Almost duplicating their
last provisions, the monoplane got away at dawn. At the last moment, Paul
was substituted for Roy, and he and Norman made an uneventful flight
directly up the river. This time a landing was made at the foot of the
bluff on the smooth ice of the river. The provisions were distributed and
then the two boys visited the cabin of the paralytic Indian.

"Chandler probably will be out running his trap line," suggested Norman,
"but he may be at home."

Within the cabin they found only the Indian. To Norman's surprise, the
rusty traps still hung on the wall, with no sign of having been touched
since he and Roy visited the cabin. Norman's observing eye at once
examined the other parts of the room.

In the bunk corner there was absolutely no change. He would have sworn
that Chandler had not slept in the place since he returned. A sudden
suspicion coming into Norman's mind, he walked to the bunk corner of the
room and pointed to the crevice from which they had taken the letter. The
Indian grinned. Then Norman pointed to the curing boards, made motions
with his hands to indicate a man of about Chandler's build and other
pantomimes of inquiry. The Indian responded with his usual grin, then
shook his head. Norman's jaw dropped.

"Paul," he exclaimed, "we're a lot of chumps. Chandler never came back to
this camp. He hired the best dog team in this part of the world and while
we were all asleep he's been hurrying to Edmonton. He's had seven days'
start, and the way these dogs travel, he'll cover that distance in jig
time. Come on," he almost shouted, "we've got something to do now besides
feeding lazy Indians. The hunters are back, anyway, and there won't be
any starving around here. We've got to get back to Colonel Howell as fast
as the airship'll go."

Philip's supper was awaiting the return of the _Gitchie Manitou_, but its
serving was long delayed. For an hour the conference that took place
immediately upon the safe housing of the monoplane continued while each
participant contributed his views. The conclusion was inevitable. Colonel
Howell must proceed to Edmonton at once. There was a discussion as to
whether this perilous flight should be made to Athabasca Landing, where
Colonel Howell would have to make the last hundred miles of journey by
train, or whether the trip through the Arctic skies should be made by
compass directly to Edmonton.

Finally it was decided, in view of the comprehensive charts that they had
of the intervening country, that the latter should be the program, even
if it were necessary to make a landing on the way.

"The trains from Athabasca Landing," concluded Colonel Howell at last,
"run only three times a week, and I'm not sure of the schedule."

"Then," announced Norman, "we'll do it by _Air Line_. We can make it, if
you want to trust me."

"I think it's worth while," laughed the colonel.

"You haven't much time," broke in the excited Roy. "They've had good hard
snow, and this half-breed's got a great team, I understand. If they made
forty miles a day, and I've heard o' them doing that, you'll have to get
a hustle on you."

"We leave to-night," announced Norman, springing to his feet. "Philip!"
he called.

Colonel Howell, with a disturbed look on his face, interrupted:

"Couldn't we leave in the morning--early?" he suggested. "I think I'd
rather ride by daylight."

"You'll feel more comfortable by night," laughed Paul, "and you don't
need to miss your sleep. Norman won't have any use for you."

The discussion did not close for some time after this and when supper was
finally served, the last detail had been arranged. The meal proceeded
without any sign of the momentous event to follow. At its conclusion,
Colonel Howell turned to Ewen and Miller and said, almost nonchalantly:

"Boys, I'm going to leave you for a few days. Your friend Chandler is on
his way to Edmonton to make trouble for me."

Both men looked startled and Ewen exclaimed:

"What's that?"

"The same thing he wanted you boys to do and in which you wouldn't join
him."

"What do you mean?" Miller managed to ask.

"What you wrote him a letter about," answered Colonel Howell calmly. "I
read that. But," he went on, as both men gave new signs of alarm, "I'm
goin' to forget it. Do you men want to go on working for me as you have
in the past?"

Flushed faces made any other answer unnecessary.

"All right," continued Colonel Howell, "then that's settled. But I want
you to get Chandler out of your systems. You can stay here. To show you
that I trust you, I'm going to leave you in the camp again."

Immediately, activity began; Norman and Roy working on the _Gitchie
Manitou_, the half-breed preparing supplies, and Colonel Howell making
notes and getting papers together on the still littered table.

On an air line, the young aviators estimated the distance across country
at about two hundred and seventy miles. After a consultation it was
decided to proceed at the rate of about thirty-five miles an hour. This
meant eight hours in the air. As there was no need of reaching the
distant city before eight o'clock, it was agreed to start at midnight. At
seven o'clock, all preparations having been made, Norman turned in for a
few hours' sleep.

Colonel Howell devoted some time to his private arrangements and spent
the remainder of the evening discussing the flight with the other
occupants of the cabin. Norman being sound asleep at twelve o'clock, the
others agreed not to arouse him for another hour, considering the work he
had done that day. But at one o'clock new activity began.

A match was again applied to the gas well and the monoplane was whirled
out into the spectacular illumination. There could be only a brief
handshake all around. Then, without a slip, the monoplane was off in the
light of the waning moon.

Least of all did the voyagers suffer from the keen cold. With a plentiful
store of gasoline, the heaters were at once started but in a short time
Colonel Howell asked Norman to shut off one of them. The passenger had
been assigned the duty of watching the engine gauge and recording it,
together with the chronometer record. Norman did not find this necessary
but it was a check upon his own observations and a safeguard against
errors in noting their progress.

It was too dark for the colonel to feel any sense of apprehension. As
there was no wind, the conditions were ideal for an aerial flight, and
Norman having once shaped his course, the powerful car sped on its way as
if sliding downhill. In time the monotonous whir of the propellers
appeared to have its effect upon Colonel Howell, and Norman caught him
dozing more than once. He then explained to his passenger that his
observations were no longer necessary and persuaded Colonel Howell to
wrap up in his blanket and go to sleep.

When the passenger aroused himself, about five o'clock, Norman asked him
to make some tea and see what Philip had prepared in the way of food. It
was his only way of relaxing under the strain and he ate heartily. Later,
Colonel Howell again pulled his blankets about him and did not stir until
the gray of the winter dawn was in the air. The moon had long since
disappeared but the stars were brilliant.

When the land beneath came into view, the oil prospector took his place
in front of the port section for his first view of the world from the
clouds. Then day came and the east grew red. No settlement was yet in
sight, but as the golden sun began to glisten on the snow-weighted trees,
Colonel Howell gave an exclamation.

"There's the railroad!" he shouted. "We're crossing it."

"Just after eight o'clock," muttered Norman, as he craned his neck to
make out the land beneath. "We're certainly this side o' the town and
we'll take to the tracks."

With this, he brought the steady airship about and began to follow the
rails, which were now plain enough below. For another quarter of an hour,
the monoplane made its way steadily to the south and then a sudden blur
broke the landscape in the distance.

"There she is," remarked Norman, almost casually. "Don't forget your
packages and bundles."

At nine o'clock Colonel Howell and Norman were eating breakfast at the
Royal George Hotel. At half past ten they were leaving the big new
Provincial Capitol Building. The colonel had filed his claims and had his
papers safely in his pocket. A little later, entering the busy hotel
office once more, Norman hastily caught his patron's sleeve. Seated in
front of the hotel fireplace, as if gratefully drinking in its warmth,
was the worn and emaciated Chandler. By his side was Fosseneuve the
half-breed, already far gone in intoxication.

Colonel Howell stepped forward, as if about to speak to the defeated man.
Then he paused.

"Can't do any good," he exclaimed in an undertone to Norman. "We got
there first. And he might have beaten us at that if he hadn't stopped
here in the hotel too long. We'll take the afternoon train down to
Calgary for a day's visit. Then, when you're ready, we'll go back to the
boys."





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