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Title: On the Yukon Trail - Radio-Phone Boys Series, #2
Author: Snell, Roy J. (Roy Judson), 1878-1959
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 Yukon Trail - Radio-Phone Boys Series, #2" ***

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                     _The Radio-Phone Boys Stories_



                                 On the
                              Yukon Trail


                                  _By_
                              JAMES CRAIG


                          The Reilly & Lee Co.
                                Chicago


               _Printed in the United States of America_

                            Copyright, 1922
                                   by
                          The Reilly & Lee Co.
                         _All Rights Reserved_



                                CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I The Whisper from Afar                                              9
  II On Arctic Feathers                                               18
  III A Clue                                                          27
  IV Joe Missing                                                      36
  V Dangerous Business                                                44
  VI The Battle Cry                                                   51
  VII Revenge for a Lost Comrade                                      58
  VIII A Watch at the Side of the Trail                               66
  IX Who Is This Whisperer?                                           73
  X On the Yukon                                                      80
  XI A Moving Spot on the Horizon                                     88
  XII A Bad Follow Up                                                 95
  XIII Saved by a Whisper                                            103
  XIV A Strange Sight                                                113
  XV Curlie Vanishes                                                 120
  XVI A Strange Steed                                                128
  XVII A Knotty Problem                                              138
  XVIII A Mysterious Attack                                          145
  XIX Ships That Pass in the Night                                   154
  XX “We Have Met with Disaster”                                     163
  XXI A Tense Situation                                              170
  XXII A Mad Dream                                                   179
  XXIII “A Bear! A Bear!”                                            186
  XXIV A Wild Mix-Up                                                 193
  XXV The Wild Stampede                                              199
  XXVI The Sparkle of Diamonds                                       206
  XXVII Diamonds and Other Things                                    214



                           On the Yukon Trail



                               CHAPTER I
                         THE WHISPER FROM AFAR


Curlie Carson sat before an alcohol stove. Above and on all sides of him
were the white walls of a tent. The constant bulging and sagging of these
walls, the creak and snap of ropes, told that outside a gale was blowing.
Beneath Curlie was a roll of deerskin and beneath that was ice; a
glacier, the Valdez Glacier. They were a half day’s journey from the city
of Valdez. Straight up the frowning blue-black wall of ice they had made
their way until darkness had closed in upon them and a steep cliff of ice
had appeared before them.

In a corner of the tent, sprawled upon a deerskin sleeping-bag, lay Joe
Marion, Curlie’s pal in other adventures.

“Lucky we’ve got these sleeping-bags,” Joe drawled. “Even then I don’t
see how a fellow’s going to keep warm, sleeping right out here on the ice
with the wind singing around under the tent.” He shivered as he drew his
mackinaw more closely about him.

Curlie said nothing. If you have read the other book telling of Curlie’s
adventures, “Curlie Carson Listens In,” you scarcely need be told that
Curlie Carson is a boy employed by the United States Bureau of Secret
Service of the Air, a boy who has the most perfect pair of radio ears of
any person known to the service.

In that other adventure which had taken him on a wild chase over the
ocean in a pleasure yacht, he had had many narrow escapes, but this new
bit of service which had been entrusted to him promised to be even more
exciting and hazardous.

He had been sent in search of a man who apparently was bent on destroying
the usefulness of the radiophone in Alaska; his particular desire seeming
to be to imperil the life of Munson, a great Arctic explorer, by
interrupting his radiophone messages. This man was known to be possessed
of abundant resources, to be powerful and dangerous. He had a perfect
knowledge of all matters pertaining to the radiophone and was possessed
of a splendidly equipped sending and receiving set. By moving this set
about from place to place, he had succeeded in eluding every government
operator sent out to silence him. Already he had done incalculable damage
by breaking in upon government messages and upon private ones as well.

Just at this moment, Curlie sat cross-legged upon his sleeping-bag. With
head and shoulders drooping far forward, as if weighed down by the
radiophone receiver which was clamped upon his ears, he appeared half
asleep. Yet every now and again his slim, tapered fingers shot out to
give the coil aerial which hung suspended from the ridge pole of the tent
a slight turn.

“I don’t see how we are going to get the rest of the way over this
glacier!” grumbled Joe. “That wall looks straight up; slick as glass,
too. How y’ ever goin’ to get three sleds and eight hundred pounds of
junk up there? Ought to have taken the lower trail. What if it is three
times as far? Good trail anyway.”

“Leave that to Jennings,” murmured Curlie.

“Oh! Jennings!” exclaimed Joe. “Mebby he doesn’t know so much. He’s been
gone too long already. What’s that package he took with him? Gave us the
slip already, maybe. Might be just a frame-up to keep us from making good
time.”

“Jennings looks all right to me,” persisted Curlie.

He gave the aerial another turn.

“Well, anyway!”—

“Sh”—Curlie held up a warning finger. His nose was wiggling like a
rabbit’s when he eats clover. Joe knew what that meant; Curlie was
getting something from the air.

Curlie started as the first word came to him—a whisper. He had heard that
whisper many times before. For many days it had been silent. Now she was
speaking to him again, that mysterious phantom girl of the air.

As he eagerly pressed the receivers to his ears, he caught, faint as if
coming from afar, yet very distinctly, the whispered words:

“Hello - Curlie - I - wonder - if - you - are - listening - in -
to-night. You - are - on - your - way - north. I - wanted - to - tell -
you - the - man - you - are - after - is - on - the - Yukon - Trail -
coming - south. He - started - yesterday. You - may - meet - him - Curlie
- but - be - careful. It - is - big - Curlie - and - awful - awful -
dangerous.”

Cold beads of perspiration stood out upon the tip of Curlie’s nose as the
whisper ceased.

He had measured the distance. The girl was a thousand miles away to the
north. So that was it? The man he had been sent to track down by means of
the radio-compass was coming south over the trail. They would meet. He
wondered how and where. There were wild, desolate stretches of tundra and
forest on that trail. Inhabited only by Indians and wolves, these offered
fitting background for a tragedy. Whose tragedy would it be?

“We might wait for him,” he mused, “but, no, that wouldn’t do. He might
turn back. Then all that time would be lost. No, we must press on. We
must get off this glacier at once.”

In spite of his optimism, this glacier bothered him. He had taken this
trail at the suggestion of Jennings, a man who had gone over the trail
during the gold rush of ’98 and who had offered to go with them now
without pay. He had, as he expressed it, been called back by the “lure of
the North,” and must answer the call. Curlie had decided to accept his
assistance and advice. Now he wrinkled his brow in thought. Had he made a
mistake in the very beginning?

Just then, as if in answer to his question, Jennings, a short,
broad-shouldered person with keen, deep-set blue eyes and drooping
moustache, parted the tent-flaps and entered.

“What? Not turned in yet?” His eyes showed surprise.

“Had to see that you got back safe,” smiled Curlie. He made a mental note
of the fact that Jennings had not brought back the package he had carried
away. Only a light axe swung at his belt.

“Well, that’s kind and thoughtful,” said Jennings. “But we’d better get
into them sleepin’-bags pronto. Got a good stiff day to-morrow. Make good
progress too or I’m no sourdough-musher.”

Fifteen minutes later, Curlie having buried himself deep in the hairy
depths of his sleeping-bag, had given himself over to a few moments of
thought before the drowsy quiet of the tent lulled him to repose.

The sleeping-bags, in spite of Joe’s forebodings, proved to be all that
one might ask. With nothing but a square of canvas between his
sleeping-bag and the ice, and with the temperature at thirty below, clad
only in his pajamas Curlie felt quite as comfortable as he might have
felt in his own bed back home.

“Wonderful thing, these bags,” he thought dreamily. His thought about the
future, the day just before him, was not quite so reassuring. They had
come to ridges of ice on the surface of the glacier just at nightfall.
There were many of these ridges. Dogs without sleds could climb them, but
up their slopes they could not pull a pound. A man climbed them with
difficulty. His feet slipping at every attempted step, he was constantly
in danger of being dashed to the bottom. How were they to pack eight
hundred pounds of equipment and supplies over these seemingly
unsurmountable barriers?

Yet he dreaded to think of turning back. That meant four days of travel
to reach a point which, straight over the glacier, was but twenty miles
before them.

“Ho, well,” he sighed at last, “let to-morrow take care of itself.
Perhaps Jennings really knows a way. He doesn’t look like a
four-flusher.”

With that his mind turned for a moment to the girl, the Whisperer. Though
he had never seen her, he had come to think of this Whisperer as a real
person. And indeed she must be, for, times without number, in the Secret
Tower Room back there in the city, in the wireless room on the yacht, in
the tent on the trail, her whisper had come to him. Always it told of the
doings of one man, the man he had been sent after. But what sort of
person? He had pictured her to himself as a small, dark, vivacious girl
with snapping black eyes. Yet that was only a piece of fancy. He knew
nothing about her save the fact that she seemed always near the man he
now was seeking. He wondered vaguely now whether he would meet her upon
this trip. He tried to imagine the cabin, the lonely trail or the deep
forest of the north where he might meet her.

“Probably never will,” he told himself at last. “Probably will always be
just a whisper.”

In the midst of his revery he fell asleep.



                               CHAPTER II
                           ON ARCTIC FEATHERS


A tardy dawn had scarcely come creeping over the surface of the glacier
when they broke camp. Having breakfasted heartily on sourdough flapjacks,
warmed-over baked beans and coffee, they were ready for anything.

“We’ll sleep in a better bed to-night,” remarked Jennings as he rolled up
the canvas floor to their tent and threw it on his sled.

“Couldn’t be warmer,” said Curlie.

“No, but softer.”

“Cheer-o,” shouted Joe, “that sounds good to me.”

“Now,” said Jennings, producing from the depths of his pack two small
double pulleys and a coil of rope, “the next thing is to get over the
ridges. Have to use block and tackle.”

“That sounds all right,” smiled Curlie, “but how you going to hitch a
block to a smooth surface of ice?”

“Leave it to me,” laughed the miner. “Between four and five thousand of
us went over this glacier in ’98. Had mighty few dogs and pulled 1400
pounds of outfit apiece too. That was tough sledding. Didn’t make a
thousand feet progress in a day sometimes. Three of our crowd never did
get over; froze to death right here on the glacier. But I tell you,” he
exclaimed suddenly, “those were the days! Those were the men! It’s always
the bravest and the best that go first in a rush like that. The cheap,
the idle, the crooked ones come later to live off the gains of those who
dared much in the beginning.” Having ended this little oration, he got
down to business.

“You boys string the rope through those blocks. When you get that done,
throw me up one of the blocks.”

“Here,” he exclaimed, “better strap these on your shoes. They’ll help you
a lot.”

The things he threw at their feet were made of steel and leather. When
they were strapped upon the soles of one’s shoes they transformed their
plain, heavy felt-lined shoes into something resembling baseball shoes.

“Great stuff!” exclaimed Joe, driving the sharp steel barbs beneath the
balls of his feet into the ice. “Couldn’t slip in these if you tried to.”

A moment later they tossed one of the blocks into which the rope had been
threaded up to Jennings on the icy ridge above.

“All right,” he sang out a moment later. “Hitch the other block to the
sled and heave away.”

Much to the surprise of the boys, when they pulled at the rope, the
block, out of sight on the ridge above, held firm, and the sled climbed
slowly up the almost perpendicular bank. A moment later, they saw
Jennings drag the sled to a safe position on the icy bench.

“How does he do it?” whispered Joe.

“Got me,” Curlie whispered back. “He surely couldn’t hold it.”

“Say not! Took both of us to pull it up and we had the advantage of the
blocks.”

“All right,” came from above as a block glided back to them, “let’s have
the next one.”

When the three sleds were upon the bench and the dogs had been induced to
follow, the boys climbed up, eager to discover the miner’s secret.

“Oh!” exclaimed Joe. “Only a stake in the ice. Who could have left it?”

He was staring at a stout stake which stuck ten inches above the surface
of the ice.

“Nobody. I put it there,” Jennings smiled. Then, seeing their look of
incredulity, he went on, “You’ll remember I left the cabin last night
with a package under my arm. Also, you will remember that I melted a
bucket of snow water while supper was cooking. In the bundle there was
nothing but stout stakes; a dozen of them. You’ll find them up the
glacier, all frozen in. All I had to do was to chip a hole in the ice,
then thrust in a stake. After that I filled the hole full of snow, then
poured water over it. The snow and water froze together almost instantly
and here we have our stakes. We’ll have lunch on the other side of the
ridge and to-night we will sleep in a spruce forest. We shall then have
gained a full two days on our journey. With the trail in its present
condition we could not have made the journey over the roundabout valley
in less than four days and even then we would have worn down our dogs.”

When, a few hours later, all the miner’s prophecies had been fulfilled
and the boys were preparing the second night’s camp, they were
enthusiastic in their praise of their new-found friend.

“To-night,” smiled the miner, “we will sleep on a bed of Arctic
feathers.”

“Arctic feathers!” exclaimed Curlie in surprise. “What are they?”

“Wait and see.”

Jennings studied the shapely spruce trees which towered about them on
every side. Then he allowed his eyes to wander over the surface of the
earth’s two-foot-thick mantle of snow.

“That’s a good place,” he pointed at a smooth spot which was surrounded
by trees. “First we’ll tramp down the snow. No need of shoveling it
away.”

At once they set to work packing down a square of snow.

“Might as well start right,” said the miner. “We’re going into a land of
long nights. Fairly long now but they’ll get much longer. Get to be
twenty hours. If we start making camp right we’ll have all the comforts
of home.”

“There,” he said at last, “guess that’ll do. Now we’ll divide up the work
and make the jobs regular; each fellow do the same thing every night.
System, that’s what you need on the trail, as well as in business.”

Turning to Joe he said: “There’s a likely looking tree right there. Cut
it down.”

“It won’t burn; it’s green.”

“Who said it would?”

Joe grinned as he seized an axe to drive it into the thick bark of the
tree.

“There’s a dead tree for you, Curlie,” said the miner. “Get it down and
cut it into wood for the Yukon stove.”

Turning to the camp kit, he was soon at work straightening out the tent,
which had collected dampness from the previous night and was frozen stiff
in spots.

He spread it over their tent-site and set it up as best he could. Then,
crawling inside, he set up the sheet-iron stove and started a fire. As
the tent, warmed by the fire, began to soften, he gradually drew it into
its accustomed shape.

In the meantime each boy had felled his tree and had trimmed it up.

“Now, Joe,” said the veteran camper, “cut your tree into lengths to go
across each side of our tent and chop the first six inches of each end
half off as if you were building a log house.”

When this had been accomplished, he assisted Joe in placing the poles in
a square about the tent. He next drew the lower edges of the tent out
over the logs and packed snow over them to the depth of several inches.
After that he spread a square of canvas as a floor to the tent.

“There,” he sighed at last; “won’t any air get into our tent to-night.
Next thing is a lot of spruce boughs. Cut ’em right off and drag ’em
inside.”

When the tent was packed half full of boughs, he took out a large clasp
knife and began to clip off the small twigs on the branches. The boys
followed his example. In a few moments the shorn branches were all
outside the tent and the canvas floor was buried ten inches deep with
spruce needles and fine twigs.

“Now,” said the miner, “the two of you hold up the stove while I spread a
canvas over the whole of it and our camp is made.”

“Just like an old-fashioned feather bed!” exclaimed Joe, as he bounced
down upon the springy bed of twigs.

“That’s it,” smiled the miner. “Those are Arctic feathers. If we take
time to make a camp like this every night, we’ll get a lot of comfort out
of it and be all the better fitted for the trail. I’ll go out and set up
a shelter for the dogs while you boys get supper, then we’ll be through
for the night.”



                              CHAPTER III
                                 A CLUE


After a hearty supper, Curlie brought forth his instruments and carefully
wound his coil aerial.

The miner watched him for a long time in silence. Having lived in
out-of-the-way places, he had learned nothing of this wonderful new
invention, the radiophone.

“You don’t mean to tell me,” he broke forth at last, “that you can hear
folks talk with just that outfit, no wires at all, and them fifty miles
away?”

“Yes,” smiled Curlie, “five hundred miles or a thousand if you like.
Almost any distance when conditions are right.”

Dropping back upon his sleeping-bag the miner watched with increasing
interest. It was evident that he found the thing hard to believe and that
at the same time he did not wish to doubt the word of a boy who had never
told him a lie.

“Joe,” said Curlie, “here’s something brand new. I think it’s going to
help us a lot.”

He placed a small instrument on top of a metal box, then connected it by
a tube to a loud-speaker. After that he tuned in on the 750 meter wave
length and spoke a few words into his transmitter. Having done this, he
settled back as if to await an answer.

Presently a loud jumble of sound, resembling nothing quite so much as a
flock of crows fighting over a carcass, began coming forth from the
loud-speaker.

Joe Marion’s brow wrinkled. At the end of three seconds he exploded:

“Tune her up, why don’t you!”

Curlie grinned, but did not move.

“No use letting it go on like that,” expostulated Joe, making a move to
take a hand in the business. “He might be sending something important.”

“He is,” said Curlie, pushing his companion back to his seat. “He’s
saying something mighty important. That’s why I don’t change it. I told
you I had something new. Can’t you wait to see it tried out?”

Sinking back into his place, Joe listened to the strange clack-clack in
silence.

A few seconds later the sounds ceased. Quickly removing a small
instrument and disconnecting the tube from the loud-speaker, Curlie tuned
in on 350 and, a moment later, they were listening to a concert which was
being broadcasted somewhere on the Pacific Coast.

“Do you mean to tell me that that thing is a phonograph?” said Jennings.

“No,” said Curlie, “I don’t. That music comes to us over five hundred
miles of space, perhaps a thousand; Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco, I
don’t know which.”

Again the miner was silent.

Removing a small disc from the instrument which had produced the strange
jumble of sounds, Curlie slipped it upon a second instrument which
resembled a small phonograph.

“Now listen to this,” he said to Joe, as he shut off the radiophone.

From the phonograph-like instrument there came first a grating sound,
then in a somewhat metallic but very distinct tone:

“Valdez speaking. Your man is still active. Doing much damage in air.
Last night interrupted an important U. S. army order. Seemed nearer.
Appears to be moving toward us. Location somewhere south of Fort Yukon.
Advise speed and caution. N. T. S.”

“Well, now, what do you think of that!” exclaimed Joe.

“I think,” said Curlie, “that we have put one over on our old friend up
north there who persists in raising hob in the air.

“You see,” he went on more soberly, “it’s a very recent invention. You
slip a little affair on your sending instrument, which tears your tones
all into little bits and sends them out as so much mental mince pie. But
this little instrument here straightens them out for the person at the
other end and gives them to him just as they have been spoken. I feel
sure that the man we are after does not possess one of the outfits. That
means that we may speak with Valdez at any time without fear of
detection. All that an outside party gets is a jumble of sounds.

“If we ever get separated on the trail we may speak to one another in the
same way. You have that small, reserve sending and receiving set on your
sled and I am going to give you a set of these new instruments.

“Once more,” he smiled, “I want to state that it is my belief that if you
keep your little radiophone dry and tuned up, it will help you out of any
dangerous position.”

Had they known under what strange circumstances this belief would be
tried in the days to come and on this very trip, the two boys might not
have laughed quite so merrily as Curlie again threw on the radiophone and
they listened to jazz being broadcasted from Seattle.

Joe, tired out from the day’s struggle over the glacier, feeling the cozy
warmth of the fire, stretched himself out on his sleeping-bag and fell at
once into a drowsy slumber.

“Here,” said Curlie, noting the eager manner in which Jennings listened
to the bits of music and gossip which drifted in from the air, “you
listen with this.” He snapped a receiver over the miner’s head. “I’ve got
to shut off that loud-speaker. Want to listen in and see what I can
catch.”

For a time he listened on short wave lengths for his friend, the
Whisperer. At last, having given that up, he tuned in on long wave
lengths and at once began picking up something.

Having tuned his instrument accurately and adjusted his coil aerial, he
succeeded in listening in in a very satisfactory matter.

“Big business,” he whispered to himself. “Shouldn’t wonder if that was a
clue.”

It was indeed big business that was flashing through the air that night.
It was the report of a government official, the announcement of the
securing of sufficient evidence at Nome, Alaska, to convict a bold band
of smugglers who had been carrying valuable jewels, taken from rich
families in Russia, into America by way of Alaska. These smugglers had
escaped detection for some time by traveling in native skin-boats across
Behring Straits. In some way, Curlie could hardly make out how, the great
explorer Munson had been of assistance to the government in bringing
these men to justice. Because of this service the government was
instructing all its officials, especially wireless operators, to lend
every assistance possible to Munson in his dash to the Pole.

“Don’t see how a fellow three thousand miles away can help an explorer
reach the Pole,” Curlie told himself, “but I suppose there must be a
way—”

His thoughts were cut short by an interruption to the message. Someone
with a powerful sending set had cut loose into the air with his sparker.
The result was utter bedlam of the air. Not one word could be recognized.

“That’s the man,” Curlie breathed excitedly, “that’s the fellow I’m
after! Now for his location.”

His fingers moved rapidly from instrument to pencil and paper, then back
to instrument again. There was a look of tense excitement on his face,
such a look as comes upon the hunter as he sights a moose not a hundred
yards away. Curlie was a born hunter, a hunter of the air. He had got
scent of a prey, a dangerous prey, and was at this moment hunting him
down.

“There,” he breathed as the bedlam ceased, and he drew the receiver from
his head. “I know where you are, at least. You’re moving. I wonder if
we’ll meet and when. I know what I’m going to say to you when we meet.
Wonder if you know what you’re going to say to me!”

Having packed his instruments away, he stretched himself out before the
fire to think. Events were moving on apace. It looked as if his journey
would be shorter than he had at first believed it would be. You never
could tell, though. He thought for the hundredth time of the Whisperer;
wondered who she really was and why her whisper had been missing
to-night.

At last, reaching over to Joe, he shook him into wakefulness and told him
to turn in. Having undressed, he slipped on a suit of pajamas, crept into
his sleeping-bag and was soon fast asleep.



                               CHAPTER IV
                              JOE MISSING


Curlie Carson was worried. As he sat on his rolled-up sleeping-bag in the
tent which had been set with the usual care for a night’s comfort, his
fingers drummed incessantly on the box which held his three-stage
amplifier, while he muttered ever now and again:

“Wish he’d come. I don’t like the looks of it. What’s keeping him? That’s
what I’d like to know.”

Joe was three hours overdue. After many days of travel they had made
their way far into the interior of Alaska, well away toward the Yukon.
Day by day they had broken trail for their dogs and day by day moved
forward. At first the trail had been hard-packed from many dog teams
passing from village to village. But as they pushed farther and farther
into the wilderness these villages had vanished. Towns that were towns
only in name greeted them now as they advanced. An Indian’s hovel here,
the shack of a long-bearded patriarch of a miner there, that was all.

Snow had fallen in abundance. They were obliged to break every foot of
trail before their dog teams.

Food was scarce. The question of feeding their dogs had become a problem.
Then, only this very afternoon an Indian had told of a cache of caribou
meat some ten miles away in the forest. If they would wait for him to
bring it, they would have fine fresh meat in abundance.

The boys had debated the question. They were eager to go forward. A
whispered message of the night before had led them to believe that their
quest was nearing its end; that the man they sought was not far before
them on the trail; yet the dogs must be fed.

It had been decided at last that Joe Marion with an all but empty sled
should await the supply of meat, while the others pressed on breaking the
trail until near nightfall, when they would make camp and await his
arrival.

Curlie and Jennings had carried out their part of the program, but when
he should have arrived Joe had not appeared, rounding the clump of spruce
trees to the south of them.

After an hour of anxious waiting, Jennings, taking his rifle, had gone
out to search for him.

“May have lost his way,” he had commented.

Curlie had remained to listen in on his radiophone. Joe carried with him,
attached to his sled, a complete sending and receiving set. In time of
trouble the first thing he would think of would be getting off a
radiophone message to his companions.

“Ought to be getting something,” Curlie mumbled. “I wonder what could
have happened? I wonder—”

He paused for reflection. Night by night as he had sat upon his
sleeping-bag, listening in, strange messages had come to him from the
sky. Now the rude interference of the unknown man who had been tearing up
the traffic of the air told Curlie that they were coming closer to one
another, and now the whisper of the girl, that ghostlike creature who
appeared to haunt the track of the lawbreaker, told Curlie of the day
fast approaching when he and the outlaw of the air must meet face to
face. At such times he had wondered if he should then meet the girl as
well as the man.

On the previous night the whisper had informed him that they were but
seventy-five miles apart.

“Coming, coming,” Curlie had whispered to himself.

The trail had been heavy. They had made but fifteen miles. What of the
stranger? How far had he come?

Curlie’s heart skipped a beat at the realization that he must be very
near at hand.

At the same time there came a disturbing question. Had this man of evil
intentions somehow stolen a march on them? Had he been in league with the
Indian who had claimed to possess a supply of caribou meat? Had this been
but a ruse to get them separated?

“Well, if it was, it’s been a complete success,” he exclaimed. “Three of
us and not one of us knows where the others are.”

Turning, he reached for a box-magazine rifle. After examining the clip in
the chamber, he slipped three other loaded ones in his pockets.

“You can never tell,” he whispered, “you sure can not.”

A great silence hovered over the forest which bounded the banks of the
Tanana River. Such silences existed in these Arctic wilds as Curlie had
never before experienced.

“Fairly spooky,” he whispered to himself. “Wish I could hear
something—wind in the treetops, even. But there’s not a breath.”

The forest lay all about him. Everywhere the ground was buried in two
feet of snow. Muffled footsteps might at this moment be approaching the
camp.

At last, unable to bear it longer, he snapped off the radiophone for a
moment to adjust a smaller set and tune it to 200, the wave length he and
Joe had agreed to use if in distress.

When this smaller set had been called into action, he tuned the larger
set to longer wave lengths. He hoped to catch some sound from the air
which might relieve the awful silence.

“Wonderful thing this radiophone,” he told himself. “Great boon to the
Arctic. Think of the trader, the trapper, the gold hunter alone in his
cabin, tired of the sound of his own voice and that of his dog. Think of
being able to tune in on his radio and bring down snatches of song, of
instrumental music and of ordinary conversation, right out of the
air—some young girl sending her lover a good-night kiss, for instance,”
he chuckled to himself. “But—”

He paused abruptly. He was getting something on the long wave lengths.
Faint, indistinct at first came the message. Yet he caught it clearly.
His nerves tingled as he listened. It was Munson, the great Arctic
explorer. He was attempting to inform the outside world, especially the
men who had financed his expedition, of his plans. He had established a
large supply station on Flaxman Island; then he had pushed fearlessly out
through the floes toward the Pole. His ship was strongly built, with an
extra covering of iron-wood on its keel. Its engines were powerful. He
would go as far as the steamer would carry him, then he would hop off in
an airplane and attempt the Pole. He was supplied with three airplanes.
In these, if his ship should be wrecked, he would be able to carry his
entire company and crew to the supply house on Flaxman Island.

This brief report was followed by a personal message to his wife, then
the air was once more clear. The old, monotonous silence settled down
upon Curlie’s little world. During all the time he had listened in, his
fingers had been flying across a sheet of paper. He had written down the
message. It was within the realm of possibility that he was the only
operator who had got it. In that case it would be his duty to relay it to
those for whom it was intended.

During all this time one question had been revolving in his mind: Why had
not the man he sought, the outlaw of the air, broken in on this message?
He had been informed that this man had taken delight in breaking up
Munson’s communications. Why then this silence? Could it be that he
himself was out scouting around, trying to ambush Joe and Jennings and in
time even Curlie himself? Or was he merely afraid of being detected at
this time?

“Possibly,” said Curlie to himself, “there was something about that
message which interested him. In that case he would want to hear to the
end.”

Suddenly his hand made a clutch at his rifle. What was that? Had he
caught the sound of a footstep or was it merely a white owl flapping his
wings? He sat there listening, scarcely breathing, awaiting he hardly
knew what. And, at this moment, on the 200 meter wave lengths a message
came to his waiting ears.



                               CHAPTER V
                           DANGEROUS BUSINESS


The Indian who had promised to provide the boys with caribou meat had not
deceived them. At the appointed hour he had returned with an abundant
supply.

In his eagerness to secure provisions for a long lap of the journey, Joe
had piled his sled high with meat. In doing this he had made a mistake,
but this he did not know at the time.

Having paid the Indian, he lashed his rifle to the top of the load, and,
shouting to his dogs, went racing away after his companions.

The short day was nearing its close when, on passing a turn in the trail,
Joe found himself swinging out of the forest into an open stretch of wild
meadow.

He had hardly made a hundred rods of this open trail when he heard a
sharp howl which came from the edge of the forest.

“Wolves!” he muttered. “Caught the scent of this meat. Indians say it has
been a bad winter for wolves. Starving, I guess. Well, we’ll show those
boys our heels.”

Reaching out to the sled as he traveled forward, he unlashed his rifle
and threw it across his arm. As he did so, he caught his breath. There
were, he suddenly remembered, but four cartridges in the rifle and none
on the sled. Their supply of ammunition was on Curlie’s sled.

Shouting at the dogs, he gripped the handle of the sled with one hand and
with the rifle poised in the other, went pit-patting along over the
trail.

He had reached the center of the open space and was hoping to arrive at
the forest soon and find the others encamped there, when tragedy suddenly
descended upon him.

A dull crash was followed by a sickening thud. The sled, having been
twisted sideways in crossing a dry ravine, had crumpled down. Springing
forward, the boy found that all the lashings and braces of one runner
were torn away.

“Smashed beyond repair,” he muttered. “Now how am I going to get that
meat to camp?”

He thought of unhitching the dogs and of clinging to the main draw rope
as he raced away to his friends for aid. This thought was speedily
banished when a dismal, long-drawn howl came from the edge of the forest.

“Wolves,” he muttered. “They’d eat it all.”

He thought of making the canvas covering of his pack into an improvised
sled and placing the meat upon it, of hitching the dogs to that.

“Don’t believe they could haul it,” he decided. “The trail’s too narrow.
Snow on sides is too deep.”

Again there came the dismal howl. This time it was followed by a
yap-yap-yap. To the boy’s consternation, this yapping was answered from a
dozen points at once.

“Lot of them out there. Gaunt, hungry beasts. Dangerous, I guess.”

Again he thought of the four cartridges. They were not enough. He might
be obliged to cut his team loose and make a dash for it.

The dogs heard the challenging call from the wild creatures of the forest
and bunched together as if for defense. Their manes stood straight up.
The leader, a part-hound, was growling in a low tone, as if talking to
himself.

This team of five dogs which Joe drove was a pick-up team. Besides the
part-hound leader, there was one huskie and three dogs of uncertain
breed. The huskie’s team mate, Sport, was slight of build and inclined to
shirk. The two “wheel-horses” were short, stocky fellows who worked well
in traces and showed signs of being good fighters.

Like some scout preparing for an Indian attack, Joe now loosened the
dogs’ traces from the sled. But that they might not rush out heedless of
danger to be cut up by the merciless fangs of the wolves he chained each
dog to the sled.

“Time enough to let you at them later,” he murmured. He felt a certain
amount of security in their companionship.

Just what he meant to do, he did not for the moment know. Darkness had
fallen. Like twin glowworms, the eyes of the wolves shone at the edge of
the forest. Already some of them were creeping out into the open. There
were a number of them; just how many he could not tell.

“The one that sent out the call was probably the daddy of a large
family,” he told himself, “and he’s invited the whole family to a feast.
But,” he said as he set his teeth hard, “there won’t be any feast if I
can help it.”

Leaning his rifle against the sled, he dropped his chin on his hands to
lapse into deep thought. Then suddenly he leaped into action.

“Why didn’t I think of that before?” he exclaimed as he tore at the
wrappings of the sled.

He had thought of the radiophone equipment packed away on his sled, the
reserve outfit which always rode there.

“If I can only get it set up,” he told himself, “I’ll be able to call
Curlie. Then he and Jennings will make a dash for it. With rifles and
plenty of ammunition they’ll beat the wolves off. We’ll feed some of
their carcasses to the dogs and have that much more caribou meat for
ourselves.”

His fingers trembled as he unpacked the detector and set it firmly upon
the overturned sled. He had caught the gleam of a pair of flashing eyes
much closer than he had thought the wolves would dare to come. He had
caught, too, the ominous sound of chop-chopping jaws. Pete, the huskie,
was ki-yi-ing and straining at his chain. Major, the dog who always
guarded the sled at night, was sending forth a low rumbling challenge.

As Joe set his amplifier into position, he sent a flash of light from his
electric torch full upon one of those gray beasts. The wolf, recoiling as
if shot by a rifle, doubled into a heap, then sprang snarling away.

Joe laughed at this wild demonstration of fear. The next instant his face
sobered. He was surprised at the size of these timber wolves and at their
gauntness.

“Starved to skin and bones. Ready for anything,” he muttered grimly as he
set two jointed poles straight up in the snow.

From the top of these poles hung suspended his coil aerial. There
remained but to connect the batteries. He was bent over the sled, intent
upon making these connections secure, when he was startled by a mad chop
of jaws directly behind him. The next instant there was a wild whirling
of legs and fur, as Major engaged a wolf in combat.

Snatching his rifle, Joe stood ready to do deadly execution once the
combatants separated.

“But only four cartridges,” he breathed, “and my call for help not yet
sent.” His heart sank.



                               CHAPTER VI
                             THE BATTLE CRY


Even hampered as he was by the chain attached to his collar, the faithful
old watchdog was more than a match for his lighter opponent. Over and
over they tumbled. Twice the chain, tangling about the wolf’s legs,
seemed about to make him prisoner. At last with a savage onslaught Major
leaped clean at the enemy’s throat. There followed a gurgling cough. For
a second the end seemed at hand. But the next instant, Major’s teeth lost
their grip. The wolf, feeling himself free, and having had quite enough,
slunk away into the shadows.

“Might as well let him go,” was the boy’s mental comment. “He’s well
licked. He’ll not want to come back. Save my shots for those who mix in
next.”

In this, perhaps he made a mistake. Bleeding from many wounds, the wolf
carried a rank scent of battle and blood back to his companions, a scent
more maddening than was that of the frozen meat upon the sled. Hardly had
he disappeared into the darkness than there arose from out that darkness
a war song such as Joe had never before given ear to, a song that made
his blood run cold.

“Not a second to lose,” he exclaimed as he snapped the receiver over his
head, threw on the switch and pressed his lips to the transmitter.

He was talking on 200. “Hello! Hello! Curlie, you hear? Wolves. Six miles
from Indian’s shack. Sled broken. Must fight for life. Got four shots.
Bring rifles. Come quick.”

Eagerly he pressed the receivers to his ears. Wildly his heart beat. It
was a tense moment. Would Curlie be listening in on 200? Would the
message carry? Would he respond?

After a moment had elapsed, with the gleam of eyes coming ever closer, he
repeated his message. Again he pressed the receivers to his ears.

“He won’t hear,” he muttered half in despair. “Have to make a dash for
it. Meat might save us—might satisfy them. But they’re mad with the smell
of fresh food. They’re—”

A voice boomed in his ear. It was Curlie.

“Coming,” he roared. “Hold fast.”

“Ah!” Joe breathed as he snatched the receiver from his head and clutched
at his rifle, “that’s better!”

Even as he said it, a flash from his electric torch caught a huge fellow,
the leader of the pack, all but upon them. Like the other, he doubled up
and leaped away, but this only made the boy understand that his position
was still perilous. Curlie had not told him how far he was away.

“Must be at least five miles,” he groaned. “Take him a half hour. Major,
old boy, do you think we can hold them?” The answer from the dog was a
low, rumbling growl.

There was a deal of comfort to be obtained from that growl. Heretofore
Joe had thought of these sled-dogs as mere beasts of burden; thought of
them as he might have thought of horses or mules on the flat, sleepy,
safe prairies of the Mississippi valley. Now he found himself regarding
them as friends, as fellow warriors engaged in a common business, the
business of protecting their lives against the onrush of the enemy.

“Some dogs you are,” he murmured gratefully. “You not only pull a
fellow’s load for him, but in time of danger you turn in and fight for
him.”

He knew that if he came out of this combat alive he would always cherish
a feeling of loyal friendship for these five companions in combat.

It was a tense moment. They were in a tight place. A chill raced up his
spine and his knees trembled as he caught the gleam of new pairs of eyes
burning holes into the darkness. Others had heard the blood-curdling war
song and had come to join in the battle.

The flash of the torch held the beasts at bay for a time, but at last it
only maddened them as they pressed closer in.

Joe was in despair. Should he loose the dogs? He scarcely dared. They
would rush out at those burning eyes and be destroyed. Then he would be
alone. And yet, if worse came to worst, if the enemy rushed in, there
would not be time to loose them, and chained as they were, the dogs would
fight at a disadvantage.

In the meantime, Curlie Carson was bounding over the trail. Now he had
covered a mile, now two, now three. There were three miles more. Panting,
perspiring, staggering forward, now tripping over a snow-covered bush,
and now falling over a log, he struggled on.

“He—he can’t make it!” Joe all but sobbed as he counted the moments! “Ah,
here they come!”

There was time only to loose the chain of Major before three gray streaks
leaped at them.

Major met one and downed him. Ginger, the hound leader, chained as he
was, grappled with a second. The third leaped at the boy’s throat. Just
in time he threw up the rifle barrel. Gripped in both his hands, it
stopped the beast. Kicking out with his right foot, he sent him
sprawling. The next instant the rifle cracked. One shot gone, but an
enemy accounted for.

A fourth wolf sprang upon the gentle, inoffensive Sport and bore him to
the snow.

Leaping upon the sled, Joe stood ready to sell his life as dearly as he
might. Catching the ki-yi of Pete, the huskie, he reached over and
unsnapped his chain, to see him leap at the throat of the nearest enemy.
“They’re coming, coming!” Joe sang out.

All fear had left him now. He was in the midst of a battle. That they
would win that battle he did not dream. Curlie could never reach them in
time. But, like Custer’s men, they would die game.

Sport was down. Major was strangling the life from a clawing wolf. Ginger
was engaged in an unfinished battle. Two wolves leaped at the sled, one
from either side. The rifle cracked. A wolf leaped high and fell. The
second sprang. He was instantly met and borne to the snow by Bones, the
second “wheel-horse.”

But now they came in a drove, five, six, seven, gaunt gray beasts with
chop-chopping jaws.

With deliberate aim the boy dropped the foremost, then the second. Then,
calmly clubbing his rifle, he waited.

The foremost wolf was not two yards from the sled, when Joe was startled
to hear a rifle crack and see the wolf leap high in air. He was
astonished. Curlie could not possibly have reached his objective in this
time. Who was this man, his deliverer? Leaning far forward, he tried to
peer into the darkness, as the rifle cracked again and yet again.



                              CHAPTER VII
                       REVENGE FOR A LOST COMRADE


For a second, as he stood there on the sled, with the big Arctic moon
rising above the forest, with the crack of the strange rifle, the roar of
dogs and the howl of wolves dinning in his ears, Joe fancied himself
acting a part in the movies. It was too strange to seem real.

This lasted but a second; then, realizing that the battle was more than
half won but that some of his dogs might be in danger, he sprang from the
sled. The next instant with the butt of his rifle he crushed the skull of
a wolf whose fangs were tearing at the throat of a dog. The wolf,
crumpling over, lay quivering in death.

As he bent over the prostrate dog he saw that it was Sport.

Frightened, bewildered, disheartened by the crack-crack of the newcomer’s
rifle, the remnant of the wolf-pack took to its heels. Soon save for the
growl and whine of dogs, silence reigned in meadow and forest.

The man with the rifle stepped forward. To Joe’s surprise he saw that it
was Jennings.

“Why! It’s you!” he exclaimed.

“Who did you think it might be?” laughed the miner.

“Why, it might have been most anyone. Might even have been the man
Curlie’s looking for, the outlaw of the air. I thought you were with
Curlie. Curlie’s coming—must be most of the way here.”

“Then,” said Jennings quickly, “I’d better go back and meet him, then he
and I will go back and bring the other sleds. Here,” he handed Joe two
clips of cartridges, “guess they’ll not come back. Never can tell though.
You’ll be safe with these.” He turned and walked quickly away.

Left with his dogs and his outfit, Joe made a thorough examination of
things. Three of his dogs, Ginger, the leader, Major, the sled guard, and
Bones, his team-mate, were sitting on their haunches or curled up licking
their wounds.

“Sport’s done in,” he murmured with a queer catch in his throat. “Dogs
get to be a fellow’s pals up here. Pete’s missing. Rushed out after the
retreating enemy to avenge his team-mate, I guess. Only hope he doesn’t
get the worst of it.”

Five dead wolves lay near the sled. These he dragged into a pile. “Enough
pelts there for a splendid rug,” he told himself. “I’ll get some Indian
woman to tan them.”

Then, realizing that it would be some time before his companions would
return, and having nothing else to do, he began skinning the carcasses.
He had nearly completed the task when, from the edge of the forest, there
came a long-drawn howl.

“What, again?” he exclaimed seizing his rifle. “All right, come on. I’m
ready for you this time.”

A pair of fiery balls shone out of the shadowy edge of the forest.

Lifting his rifle he took steady aim. His breath came quick. To shoot in
the quiet calm of perfect self-composure was quite different from a
pitched battle.

He had a perfect bead on the spot between the eyes, when the creature
moved.

He came a few paces closer; then again halted and howled.

And now once more the boy had a perfect aim. His finger was on the
trigger. It was a high-power rifle. The shot could not fail.

“Now!” he whispered to himself. “Now!”

But at that instant a strange thing happened. Old Ginger, the leader,
answered the creature’s call. The answer was not hostile but friendly.

Joe’s rifle dropped with a soft plump into the snow. The next instant he
cupped his hands and shouted.

“Pete! Pete, you old fool, come on in here. You nearly got shot.”

It was indeed Pete, the huskie. He had returned safely from his
expedition of revenge for a lost comrade.

As he came trotting in, head up and ears pricked forward, he marched
straight up to Joe, as a huskie will, and jamming his nose straight
against his leg, gave a big sniff. After that he curled up with his
comrades to lick his wounds.

Two hours later the camp in the forest was once more in order. The meat
had been piled high upon a hastily made cache of strong boughs, roped
between trees. The dogs had been bedded down with spruce boughs. All was
snug for the night.

They were preparing to turn in. To-morrow would be a busy day. They would
spend the greater part of it in camp. The broken sled must be mended.
Joe’s dogs must be allowed to recover from the first shock of the battle.
Jennings would repair the sled. Curlie and Joe would go ahead breaking
the trail on snowshoes for a few miles. This would be the day’s work;
that and keeping a sharp lookout for the outlaw of the air.

“The outlaw of the air!” Curlie was thinking of him when there came a
rattle from the loud-speaker attached to the receiving set tuned for long
wave lengths.

Leaping to the tuner, he touched its knob, twisted it first this way,
then that. He touched a second and a third knob, then bent his ear for
the message.

“Another government affair,” he told himself. Then, suddenly, as if
bursting out from the very room, came a loud, “Bar-r-r-r!”

Instantly his hands flew to the radio-compass as he muttered.

“That’s him, the outlaw!”

He measured the distance accurately, calculated the direction, then
located it on the map.

“There!” he murmured. “He’s right there. Not forty miles. A little off
the trail. For safety from discovery I suppose. Camped there for the
night. By a forced march we could reach that spot before nightfall
to-morrow. Question is, shall we do it?”

Throwing on his coat, he went out of the tent. There for ten minutes he
bathed his temples, throbbing with excitement, in the cold night air.
Pacing up and down on the narrow trail he debated the problem.

“If we try to steal upon him, he may discover us first and elude us,” he
told himself. “If he does that, probably we can’t catch him, for his dogs
will be fresher than ours. If we wait for him here, he may take some
Indian trail which cuts around this point and we may never see him. So
there it is.”

It was a difficult decision but much quiet thinking led him to believe
that there was more to be gained by waiting than by moving. They ought
not break trail beyond the point where they now were. That would but give
the man warning. Early in the morning, he would send Joe exploring
across-trail for any other trail that might pass close to this one. They
would move camp to a position a few yards off trail in the forest. Then
he would set a watch.

Instinctively, as he entered the tent, he examined the clip of cartridges
in his rifle.

“Not looking for him to-night, are you?” grinned Joe.

“No, not looking for him, but you never can tell,” said Curlie soberly.

“Think it’s necessary to set a watch?”

“No. That dog that guards your sled, old Major, is watch enough. He’ll
let us know if anyone comes down the trail, and even if they should
attempt to escape us they couldn’t do it—not with two of our teams in
prime condition.”



                              CHAPTER VIII
                    A WATCH AT THE SIDE OF THE TRAIL


Early next morning Curlie established himself in the midst of a thick
clump of young pine trees where he could keep a constant watch on the
trail and not be seen by anyone approaching.

He had dragged into the clump a number of spruce boughs. On these he sat.
On one side of him was his smaller radiophone receiving set and on the
other his rifle. The receiver of the radiophone was clamped over his ears
beneath his cap. This day he was to be a detective of the earth as well
as of the air.

The camp had been moved well back from the trail, where without danger of
being heard Jennings could work upon the broken sled. Whether their
quarry were caught in their trap this day or not, they must be prepared
to travel on the morrow.

As he sat there with his eyes moving up and down the trail he thought of
the adventures his calling as a secret service man of the air had brought
him. He recalled those wild hours on the tossing sea when death appeared
so near that it seemed almost to beckon. He thought of the girl, Gladys
Ardmore, who had behaved so bravely on that night. He wondered what she
might be doing at that moment.

Then his mind carried him back to the adventure which appeared to be just
before him. The man he was seeking had repeatedly broken all the laws of
the air. He was subject not only to heavy fines but also to long years of
imprisonment. That he would fight and willingly commit murder to escape
punishment Curlie did not doubt. Yet here was Curlie, ready and willing
to attempt to stop him in his mad career.

“One does not do such a thing for himself,” he reasoned. “He does it for
the good of others. Here in Alaska are thousands of lonely people who can
be cheered by music, stories and speeches broadcasted over thousands of
miles. Yet a few outlaws of the air can spoil all that. It is the duty of
some of us to see that they do not do it. There are matters of even
greater importance; a miner lost on the tundra, snow-blind and all but
hopeless, can, if he has a small radiophone set, send out a call for aid.
From a large station this message may be picked up. He may be located and
his life saved. Even the great explorer, Munson, may need some such
assistance.”

Had he known how prophetic this last thought was, and how much he was to
have to do with the explorer who was at that moment more than two
thousand miles away on a ship beset by the perpetual ice of the Arctic,
he would have been startled.

As it was, his mind turned to the mystery that always surrounds true
adventure. He recalled the words of an old friend:

“Adventure, true adventure, like fame, does not come to those who seek
it. It comes unbeckoned and unannounced. Oh! yes, you can blunder about
and get into all kind of scrapes which really do not mean anything to
yourself nor to anyone else, but that is not adventure. You may even
succeed in getting yourself killed without experiencing an adventure.

“You’ll know an adventure when you see it. When, with no willing of your
own, but following the plain lead of duty, you feel yourself going into
something as dark and mysterious as an unexplored cave; when your heart
beats madly, your knees tremble and your tongue clings to the roof of
your mouth, yet you go straight on because you know that duty leads you,
then you may be sure that you are about to enter upon a genuine
adventure.”

As Curlie recalled these words he wondered whether or not, before the day
was done, he would find himself entering upon a true adventure. Would his
quarry, the outlaw of the air, come down the trail?

The day wore on. Noon came. He ate a frozen lunch. The sun sank lower and
lower. His vigil did not relax, but he began to lose faith in his plan.

“Joe said he would come and tell me if he found other trails,” he told
himself. “The outlaw can’t have gone round us. Where can he be? If we’ve
missed him—well, anyway, he can’t escape us. They’ll take him when he
enters Valdez.”

And yet, as he thought it through, he was not so sure of it. The man was
utterly unknown. Not one person who was in any way interested in his
capture had ever seen him. Hundreds of strange men drifted in and out of
the seaport city of Valdez every day. How then was anyone to put his hand
on any one of them and say, “This is the man”?

He was interrupted in these disconcerting reflections by a sound in his
receiver. It was a whisper—_the_ whisper.

“Hello - hello - Curlie,” it said. “Hello - are - you - there? Do - you -
hear - me? I - have - something - important—dreadfully - important - to
say. He—the - man - you - want—has - turned - back. Went - forty - miles
- to-day. Now he - is camped. So - you - see - you - did - not - get -
him - did - you - Curlie? I - am - sorry - Curlie - extremely - sorry -
for - he - goes - fast—very - very - fast. You - cannot - catch - him -
can - you - Curlie? So - good-bye.”

As the sound ceased, Curlie leaped to his feet. His fists were clenched.
Through his tight set teeth he hissed: “I can catch him! I can! I can!
And I will.”

Hastily gathering up his equipment and his rifle he hurried away at once
to break the news to his companions.

Strange to say, in all this time it had never occurred to him to doubt
the truth of the Whisperer’s message nor to question her sincerity in
wishing him well or in desiring to assist him. And yet she had been
playing a very artful game of hide-and-go-seek in the air with him for
many weeks and in all that time, except perhaps that time in the hotel
window (told about in “Curlie Carson Listens In”), he had not caught one
single glimpse of her. He had heard her whisper, that was all. Can one
judge a person’s character by the quality of his whisper? Well, that’s
the question.



                               CHAPTER IX
                         WHO IS THIS WHISPERER?


“What does it mean?” puzzled Joe, as Curlie reported the Whisperer’s
message. “Did he listen in last night when I was calling for help? And
was he frightened by that?”

“Might have,” said Curlie, “but anyway you couldn’t help that. You were
in a mess and had to be helped out.”

For a moment the two boys were silent. Then Curlie spoke again:

“Might not be that at all. I listened in on a message last night. It was
from Munson, the explorer. It was not broken in upon as his others have
been. There may have been something in that message which caused the
outlaw to turn back.”

“Well, anyway,” he exclaimed, “whatever the cause is, we’ll go out and
after them the first thing after dawn. Is everything all right; sled
fixed and dogs doctored up?”

“Everything’s fine as silk.”

“All right then, let’s have some chow. After that we’ll turn in. Luck
doesn’t go with any one person forever. Why, even to-morrow we might
catch up with our outlaw friend.”

“Hardly that,” smiled Joe. “We’ve got forty or fifty miles of unbroken
trail to make before we really get on the scent at all. By that time,
traveling on a hard-packed trail as he is, he’ll have a big lead on us.
There are probably forks and crosses in the trail a hundred miles or so
farther on, so we’ve got a real task ahead of us. We’ll have to be sly as
foxes to catch him now.”

“I suppose that’s so,” Curlie sighed, “but we’ll get him, see if we
don’t.”

“Say!” exclaimed Joe suddenly, “who is this whispering friend of yours
anyway?”

“Don’t know,” said Curlie, scratching his head.

“Ever seen her?”

“I don’t know.”

“How’s she come to be traveling with this man anyway?”

“Can’t say.”

“Mighty queer, I’d say.”

“I’d say as much myself. Queer and interesting. I may as well admit that
I am as much interested in coming up with the Whisperer as I am in
catching this outlaw.”

“Well, we won’t do either if we don’t eat and turn in,” said Joe as he
reached for the frying pan.

Joe’s prophecy that they would not at once catch up with the man they
sought, proved correct. The first two days they struggled forward through
soft snow, over a trackless wilderness. Then they came upon the campsite
of the outlaw, his last camping place before he turned back.

To Curlie this was a thrilling moment. It was the first earthly sign he
had ever seen of this strange pair, the outlaw and the Whisperer.
Heretofore he had followed only the trackless trail of the air. Now he
had footprints of a man and of many dogs to go by. The mark of the camp,
though three days old, was as fresh as if it had been abandoned but two
hours before. There had been no snowfall. There was never a breath of
wind in that forest.

“As long as his trail is not joined by any other,” Jennings told the
boys, “we can follow it with our eyes shut. We could do that three months
from now. There might be four feet of snowfall, but on top of it all
there would be the depression made in the first two feet of snow. There
is never any wind to move the snow about, so there’s your trail carved in
the snow, permanent as marble till the spring thaw comes.”

“But when he comes to the Yukon River trail?” suggested Curlie.

“Well, that’s going to be harder.” The miner wrinkled his brow. “But
we’ll find a way to track him—the way he hitches his dogs, track of his
sled. There’s always something if you are sharp enough to see it.”

Curlie examined the marks of the camp very carefully. It was evident that
the man knew as much about making an Arctic camp as did Jennings. The
square made by the tent floor showed that he had spread down a canvas
floor and the heaps of spruce twigs tossed all about told that he had
bedded the place down before he spread out his blankets or sleeping-bags.

“Two teams,” was Jennings’ comment, “and eight or nine dogs to the team.
Fine big fellows too. Shouldn’t wonder if they were Siberian wolf
hounds.”

One thing Curlie made a secret search for: footprints. There were enough
of one sort. The broad marks of a man’s foot clad in moccasins or Eskimo
skin-boots were everywhere present. What he sought was the mark of a
smaller foot, a much smaller foot, the foot of the Whisperer. But though
he examined every square yard of trampled ground around the camp, and
though he ran ahead of the dogs for two miles after resuming the trail,
he saw no trace of a woman’s footprint.

“Looks like he drove one dog team and led the other,” he told himself.
“Looks as if—”

For the first time he began to doubt the existence of the Whisperer.

“Can it be,” he asked himself, “that the outlaw and the Whisperer are
one? Does he change his voice and pretend to give me tips when he is in
reality only leading me on?”

In his mind he went back over the times when the Whisperer had broken in
on the silence of the night. There had been those two times when he had
been listening in at the Secret Tower Room, back there in the city (told
about in “Curlie Carson Listens In”). There had been two times when he
had caught her whisper out over the sea.

“That time,” he told himself, “she told me he had gone north. Why should
this man keep me informed of his own doings? He ought to know that I’d
report it; that someone would follow him if I didn’t.

“No,” he told himself, “there must be a real Whisperer. The girl must
exist. She’s somewhere up there on the trail ahead of us. And yet,” he
reasoned, “if she is there, where are her tracks?”

Again he began convincing himself that she did not exist, that it was all
a hoax invented by the mind of this clever outlaw. The more he thought of
it the more sure he became that this was true. The more sure he became of
it the more his anger grew.

“To be shamed, to be tricked, deceived, buncoed by the man you are
pursuing!” he exploded. “That is adding insult to injury!”

With the plain trail stretching straight out before them, they now
traveled far into the night, traveled until dogs and men were ready to
drop. Only then did they turn to the right of the trail and set their
weary muscles to the task of making camp.



                               CHAPTER X
                              ON THE YUKON


To follow the trail of the outlaw of the air for the first four days was
but to trace out his sled-tracks in a wilderness that was trackless save
for the footprints of caribou, wolf and bear. But once he had reached the
Yukon, all this was changed. There were three trails to choose from.
Which had he taken? The one to the left which led up the river, the one
to the right, down the river; or the one which led straight before them
up one of the branches of the mighty Yukon? The last trail, less traveled
than the others, led away toward the Arctic Ocean.

“He may have taken the down-river trail, for that would carry him farther
and farther from communication with the outside world,” said Jennings, as
he searched in vain to distinguish his track from those of scores of
other travelers.

“Might have taken the up-river trail,” he went on. “He’d be in some
danger of getting caught by a message sent on ahead but since the
telegraph wires are down the message would have to be sent by radiophone,
so he could listen in and take up some branch and over the hills if he
needed to.”

“You don’t think he’d go straight ahead, up the branch?” said Curlie.

“Why should he?” the miner looked at him in surprise. “Up that trail for
fifty or a hundred miles you’ll find Indian huts and miners’ cabins here
and there. After that you’ll find nothing but a blind trail that grows
steeper and steeper. There’s no food to be had save wild game and little
enough of that. Why should he go up there?”

“Might run up there for a blind and live with an Indian for a time.”

“If he did we’d trap him like a rabbit in a hollow stump!” declared the
miner emphatically.

“Well, since we don’t know which way to go and it is getting dark,”
suggested Joe, “I move that we make camp right here.”

This suggestion was acted upon and some two hours later Curlie might have
been seen nodding over his radiophone boxes. His companions were fast
asleep but he had remained up with the receiver clamped over his head in
the rather forlorn hope that the outlaw would let slip some fragment of
message which might reveal his whereabouts.

“Fact is,” he told himself, “that in spite of all the evidence against
it, I still have a sneaking feeling that the Whisperer is a real person,
a girl, and that she’s up here somewhere in the white wilderness. I—I
sort of hope that sooner or later she’ll whisper some more secrets to
me.”

In this hope, for the night at least, he was doomed to disappointment. No
whispered secrets came to him from out the air.

A message came, however, a message which set his mind at work. He had
fallen quite asleep when he was suddenly wakened by a voice in his ear.
He recognized at once the voice of the government official who had
dictated that other message regarding the band of smugglers caught
operating on Behring Straits.

The message itself to him was unimportant, or at least for the time it
seemed so. It gave more definite details of the evidence procured and
stated one fact that was most important: The big man, the one higher up,
the brains of the smugglers, had not been apprehended. Indeed, it was not
even known who he was. It was thought that he might be at this moment in
Alaska, but where? This question could not be answered.

The message had proceeded to this point. Curlie had maintained a drowsy
interest in it, when he sat up with a sudden start, all awake.

The message had been broken in upon by a powerful sending set which was
much nearer to Curlie than was that of the government man.

“Got—gotta get him,” he mumbled as his slim fingers caressed his
radio-compass coil.

“There! Got him! That’s it!”

He was not a moment too soon, for not only had the message ceased but the
interruption as well.

“Huh!” he grunted, scratching his head. “Huh! Up there. Wouldn’t have
believed it. Why, good gracious, it can’t be! Yet I couldn’t have missed
it. How that man travels! Two hundred miles! And no trail to speak of.
Probably none at all.”

For a moment he sat in a brown study. Then he suddenly shook his fist
toward the north.

“We’ll get you now, old boy!” he exclaimed. “We’ll get you! You’re
breaking trail for us. We’ll follow that trail if it takes us right out
on the ice-floes of the Arctic and we’ll get you, just as Jennings says,
like a rabbit in a hollow tree. That is,” he said more soberly, “if there
doesn’t come a heavy snow.”

The man, so the radio-compass had said, had taken the trail which led
straight away toward the Arctic Ocean.

Then for a long time Curlie sat staring at the knob of his tuner. He did
not see the knob. He did not see anything. He was concentrating,
reasoning, thinking hard, trying to put a lot of facts together and make
them fit.

So the master-mind of the smugglers had not been caught. What if the
outlaw of the air proved to be that man. Why might he not? That would
explain why he was so continually breaking in upon the message regarding
it.

“And that,” he whispered, leaping to his feet and dashing out of the tent
in his excitement, “that would explain why he appears so eager to
frustrate all of Munson’s plans to keep in touch with the outside world
by radiophone. Munson assisted in breaking up the smuggler band. If the
outlaw is their leader, there is nothing he would not do to wreak
revenge.

“And—and”—he breathed hard because of the thoughts that came trooping
into his mind mind—“that might explain the man’s change of plans. The
very night that Munson sent his message telling of his supply of food on
the shore of the ocean this outlaw, who probably listened in, turned
about and started straight north, to—to where?”

Dashing back into the tent, he unfolded a map. For a moment with strained
attention he studied it.

When he straightened up it was to whisper, “Yes, sir! That’s it! Flaxman
Island! His present course will bring him straight to Flaxman Island and
Munson’s food supply.”

He sat down again. “Now,” he asked himself, “once he arrives there, what
will he do? Will he winter there, living upon the explorer’s supplies and
thus save himself from prison, or will he, out of revenge, destroy the
supplies? If he stays and lives on the supplies, what will happen if
Munson comes ashore with his band? Huh, some interesting problems there!”

“Interesting and foolish,” he told himself as he dropped into another
mood. “All imagination, I guess. Suppose there’s nothing to it. Probably
he’s not the king of smugglers at all, but just a plain mischief-maker of
the air. When he caught Joe’s message to me, that night when we fought
the wolves, he knew he was being pursued and turned back. Now he’s hiding
out till the storm blows over. Possibly knows where there is a native
reindeer herder up there at the end of the stream and over the hills!

“Well, old top,” he again shook his fist toward the north, “you might
just as well come out of your hole. The storm isn’t going to blow over.
Your little cabin of false dreams is going to be wrecked by it, and that
before many days.”



                               CHAPTER XI
                      A MOVING SPOT ON THE HORIZON


But the outlaw’s teams of powerful dogs had endurance to exceed anything
ever before witnessed by those who followed on their trail. Even Jennings
was astonished by the manner in which they ate up the miles.

“Those dogs are devils!” he exclaimed after ten days of trailing them.
“Devils is what they are and the prince of devils is their driver.”

Straight north the trail ran. There could be no mistaking it. In the soft
snow of the forest, as Jennings had said, it might have been followed
after three months had elapsed just as surely as on the day after it was
made.

Up frozen streams, over ridges when streams were too rapid to freeze even
in midwinter, down narrow Indian trails when snow-laden branches
constantly showered the traveler with snow, the trail led. On and on and
on. Always, as nearly as possible, due north.

At night, camp made and supper over, Curlie, his instruments before him,
his receiver over his head, always sat on his sleeping-bag. With arms
crossed over his feet, with head dropping forward, like Jack London’s
primitive man, he listened for sounds. The sounds he expected to hear
were from the air, not from the forest; that was the only difference.
Otherwise he was that same primitive man, hunting and being hunted in
turn. He was ever pursuing the outlaw, but who could tell when this same
outlaw might face about upon the trail and become himself the hunter?

So they moved forward. Once Curlie received a thrill. On examining a camp
lately deserted by the one who went before, he came upon a strange
footprint, a single print of moccasin or skin-boot in the snow. Yet how
it made his heart beat! This footprint was much smaller than that of the
outlaw. Could this be the Whisperer? At first it seemed to him that there
could be but one answer: “It is.” But at that time they were not beyond
the creeks and rivers inhabited and traveled by Indians. Two Indian sleds
had not long since passed that way. Might it not be that some Indian
woman or girl had visited the camp of the outlaw? So Curlie’s certainty
was destroyed, yet he still had a feeling that this might have been the
footprint of the Whisperer.

Nothing more came to him from the air. The outlaw was silent. So too was
the Whisperer. Night after night he caught only now and again a fragment
of some song or some orchestra production being broadcasted thousands of
miles away. Now and again there would come fragments of messages from
afar, but never anything of importance.

From the air they learned nothing of the position of the outlaw, but by
examining the signs of camp and trail Jennings, long accustomed to these
signs, was able to announce to them each night that they were drawing
closer, ever nearer to the man they sought. Now they were three days’
journey from him; now two, now one and a half, now only one. Faint and
far distant they fancied they caught sight of the column of smoke rising
straight above the forest from his camp fire.

Food became scarce. They had bought dried fish from the last Indian camp
they had come upon. Now this had to suffice for both men and dogs. The
outlaw, they knew by signs of the trail, had been more fortunate. Once, a
reindeer straying from some distant domestic herd had forfeited life by
crossing his path; at another time a caribou doe and her fawn had fallen
victim to his rifle.

“It’s tough luck,” Jennings had exclaimed. “Him with all that fresh meat
and us with none; but the tables will turn. We’re gaining, gaining every
day. The soft trail for him becomes hard for us, after the night’s
freeze. You’ll see, we’ll get him yet.”

“But where do you think he’s heading for?” Joe demanded.

“Can’t tell,” Jennings scratched his head. “Maybe some Eskimo village,
maybe some reindeer camp and maybe—did you say Munson had a supply camp
somewhere?”

“Yes.”

“Well, maybe he’s heading for that.”

“To use it or destroy it?”

“Destroy it?” Jennings stared at him in astonishment. “What would be the
sense of destroying it? He doesn’t know he’s being followed; leastwise, I
don’t think he does. Who’d think of destroying a winter’s supply of grub?
It wasn’t Napoleon who burned Moscow, was it?”

Joe did not answer, but he and Curlie had their own private notions about
the matter.

Then, just as they hoped to be closing in upon the prey, two things
happened which postponed that great event for many days. They came
suddenly out upon the open tundra, where the snow was hard-packed by the
wind, where the trail was difficult to follow, and where, with as good a
trail as the boys had to follow, the soft snow no longer gave them the
advantage and the outlaw could make as good time as they—probably better,
for his dogs were stronger.

“Bad luck to us,” Jennings stormed. “We’ll have to follow him straight to
the Arctic and us with no food but a dozen pounds of fish. If we don’t
watch out we’ll be in full retreat, eating our dogs as we go.”

Curlie, who had been sitting on his sled silently watching something in
the distance, suddenly leaped to his feet exclaiming:

“It moves!”

“What does?” demanded Joe.

“Something off there to the left.”

“Think it’s him?”

“Who?”

“The outlaw.”

“No, I don’t. What I do think though is that it’s a reindeer or caribou.”
A moment later he ordered: “Make camp right here. We’ve got to have meat
and this is our chance.”

Looking to the clip in his rifle, he turned to go, then, after a second’s
reflection he turned back, partly unpacked the sled and, having dragged
out a strange-looking belt, buckled it on beneath his mackinaw.

“Just by way of extra precaution,” he smiled.

Atop the nearest ridge he turned to wave his hand. Had he known what
events would transpire before he saw his companions again he would most
surely have turned back. Not knowing, he shaded his eyes for a moment
once more to locate the moving spot on the horizon, then went strolling
down the low hill.



                              CHAPTER XII
                            A BAD FOLLOW UP


Having covered half the distance between himself and the brown spot on
the horizon, Curlie decided to drop down below the crest of the hill. By
going up a narrow ravine for a half mile, then creeping over the ridge
and following down the bend of a second ravine, he would, he was sure,
come out close to the feeding animal, quite close enough for a shot.

Stealthily he carried out his plans. When at last he reached the end of
this little journey and, with finger on the trigger, slowly rose from the
ground where he had been creeping for the last hundred yards, he was so
surprised that for a second he felt paralyzed.

There, not twenty yards away, with his back to the boy, feeding like some
contented domesticated creature in a pasture, stood as fine a buck
caribou as one might ask to see. The wind being away from him, and toward
the boy, he had neither smelled, heard nor seen Curlie. He did not even
know of the boy’s presence there.

To say that Curlie was suddenly stricken with buck fever, would be
putting it mildly. His fingers trembled. Cold perspiration stood out upon
his brow.

This lasted but a second, then he was himself again. It was a tense
moment. The fate of their expedition might hang upon his shot; the
question of going on or turning about must be decided by their ability to
procure food.

“How,” he whispered, “how in time do you shoot a caribou when he’s got
his back to you?”

He hesitated. A shot fired now might not reach a vital spot, yet the
creature might at any moment sense his presence and go crashing away over
the hard-crusted snow.

At this moment he was startled by a loud “ark-ark-ark” to the right and
above him.

“Two of ’em,” he whispered as he dropped behind his snow bank.

The thing he now witnessed both surprised and amused him. A second
caribou had appeared at the crest of a steep hill. Having paused there
long enough to call to his companion, instead of racing away to a place
of gradual descent, he spread out his snowshoe-like hoofs and with a loud
“ark-ark,” went scooting, toboggan-fashion, down the hill. So fascinated
was Curlie with the sight of this performance that for a moment he forgot
his duty to his friends and himself. But just in time he brought himself
up with a snap. The rifle went to his shoulder. Just as the second buck,
the larger of the two, reached the bottom and stood at attention, the
rifle cracked. The buck leaped high, to plunge back upon the snow.

Crack-crack-crack went the hoofs of the first caribou as he raced away,
and the crack-crack-crack answered the rifle.

It took not a second glance to tell Curlie that his first shot had
reached its mark.

“Think I hit the other. Two’s better than one,” he muttered as he raced
away over the fresh trail. True enough, there were drops of blood here
and there on the snow.

“Went over the ridge. I’ll get him!” Curlie snapped a fresh cartridge
into his magazine as he went zig-zagging his way up the hard-packed and
slippery hill. Twice he lost his footing and narrowly escaped a slide to
the bottom, but each time he escaped by digging into the snow with
fingers and toes.

At the top he breathed a sigh of relief. For a few seconds he could catch
no sight of the caribou, then he saw it disappearing over the next ridge.
Just as it dropped from sight, it appeared to stumble and fall.

“Done for!” exulted the boy. “Just one more ridge and I’ve got him.”

For a second he hesitated. It was growing dark.

“Ought to go back,” he mumbled. “But there’ll be a moon in an hour and I
can get along without light till then.”

Hurriedly sliding down the ridge, he made his way up the other. Arrived
there, he glanced straight ahead, expecting to see the caribou lying at
the bottom of the ravine. But not a brown speck marred the whiteness of
that snow.

“That’s queer!” he exclaimed. “I was sure he was done for.”

By looking closely, he was able to see four sharply-cut paths in the snow
crust.

“He tobogganed down and I thought he fell,” Curlie grinned. “That’s one
on me. Well, there’s no use to follow him. If he is well enough to go
tobogganing, he’s not greatly in need of attention. I better get back and
tend to the other one.”

Darkness had fallen. It was with the greatest difficulty that he made his
way back to the spot where the dead caribou lay.

Once there he proceeded to cut up the meat. Then, having built a cache
out of blocks of snow which would keep the meat out of reach of wolves
and foxes, he shouldered one hind quarter and turned to go.

Then and not till then did he realize that he did not exactly know the
way back to camp. He had come a considerable distance, and in the eager
excitement of the hunt had failed to take note of each turn in his trail
or to fix in his memory the shapes of the hills about him that they might
serve him as guide posts.

“Pretty pickle!” he told himself. “Here I’ve got a heavy load and I’ll
likely as not have to walk ten miles to make five. Going to storm, too,”
he told himself as he studied the hazy horizon. “The mountains were
smoking with snow forty miles away this afternoon. Ho, well, guess I’ll
make it some way.”

Shouldering his burden, he went slipping, sliding down the hill. He had
not been going many minutes before he realized that he was not going to
“make it someway”—not that night at least.

A playful breeze began throwing fine snow in his face. As he approached
the crest of a ridge this breeze grew rude. It gave him a shove which
landed him halfway back down the hill.

“Stop that, you!” he grumbled as he gathered himself up and attempted the
hill anew.

But the thing did not stop. It grew in violence until the boy knew he was
facing one of the sudden, severe blizzards known only on the Arctic
hills, a storm which no man can face for hours and live.

“It’s no use,” he told himself. “I’d just blunder round till I’m hot and
exhausted, then sit down and freeze. Better sit down here while I’m still
all here.”

Making his way to a spot somewhat sheltered by a cut bank, he placed his
burden on the ground, then set to work with his sheath knife cutting
blocks from a snow bank. Out of these he built a snow-fort-like affair
which protected him on two sides.

“Wish I knew how to build a snow-house,” he told himself. “But I don’t,
so what’s the use to try?”

Having accomplished this much, he cut thin strips of meat from the
caribou carcass. These he placed upon the snow. When they had frozen he
ate them with relish.

“M-m!” he murmured. “Most as good as cooked and a whole lot better than
dried fish.”

Having eaten, he gathered his garments close in about him and sat down
upon the ground.

Presently he rose suddenly and, having drawn several small articles from
pockets in his belt, proceeded to wind a coil antenna. This when
completed he hung to the top of his Alpine staff which he had stuck
upright in the snow. Then, having thrust a pair of receivers over his
head, he sat down again.

In the belt there was arranged a complete radiophone receiving set with a
range of two hundred miles.

“Might hear something more interesting than the storm,” he told himself.
“B’r’r’r! It’s sure going to be bad.”



                              CHAPTER XIII
                           SAVED BY A WHISPER


Back in the camp Jennings was working on an Eskimo type of harness for
Ginger, Joe Marion’s leader. The white man’s collar, which was very much
like a leather horse collar, had worn a sore spot on his neck. A harness
made of strips of sealskin and fashioned in a manner somewhat similar to
a breast collar, would relieve this.

Joe Marion had gone a short way from camp in the hope of finding a
snowshoe rabbit or a ptarmigan. His search had been rewarded. In crossing
a low hill he had caught the whir of wings and had, a moment later,
sighted three snow-white ptarmigan. These quails of the Arctic wilderness
went racing away across the snow. His aim was good and, with all three of
these in his bag, he was sure of some delicious broth and tender, juicy
meat that night.

He was searching about for other birds when a sudden gust of wind sent
cutting bits of snow into his face.

“Huh!” he grunted, looking away to his left. “Well, now, that looks like
business. Came up quick, too. I’d better be getting back.”

He had no trouble finding his way back to camp, but by the time he
reached it the snow fog was so thick he could not see three rods before
him.

He found Jennings struggling with the tent ropes. The tent was in a
complete state of collapse.

“Wind tore it down,” shouted Jennings. “Give—”

The wind caught the tent and fairly tore it from his grasp.

“Give us a hand,” he puffed as he regained his hold. “This is going to be
bad. Got to pack up and get out of here and find shelter of some kind.
Tent won’t stand here.”

“There’s a lot of willow bushes with the dead leaves on down there by a
little stream,” suggested Joe.

“That’s the place. We can tie the ropes to the willows. Willows keep off
the wind. Come on, let’s pack up.” Jennings threw the tent into a heap.

“But Curlie? He’ll be coming back.”

“Set up a stake. Write a note. Tell where we’ve gone. Got a pencil,
paper?”

“Yes.”

“You write it.”

Creeping beneath the overthrown tent, Joe managed to scribble a note.
This he fastened securely to an Alpine staff and, having tied a red
handkerchief to the staff that Curlie might not miss it, set it solidly
in a hard-packed snowbank.

“That’ll do,” said Jennings. “Now give us a hand. Watch your face; it’s
freezin’—your cheeks. Take your mitten off and rub ’em.”

The dogs, with tails to the wind, stood patiently enduring the storm. But
when Jennings tried to get his team together they backed, twisted and
turned in such a manner as to render them useless.

“Here, Ginger,” shouted Joe, “here Bones, Pete, Major. Show ’em what a
real dog team can do!”

So great was the comradeship between these dogs and their young master
that he was able in a moment’s time to hitch them to the sled, ready for
action.

“Good old boys!” he muttered hoarsely; “we’ve fought wolves together. Now
we’ll fight this blizzard.”

A sled-load of camp equipment was soon moving down to the willows by the
creek bed.

In the course of an hour they had succeeded in establishing a safe and
fairly comfortable camp. The dry willow leaves served in lieu of Arctic
feathers, while the stems and branches made a crackling fire whose genial
warmth pervaded the tent in spite of the storm.

“Now for a feed,” said Joe, producing his hunting bag.

“What you got?”

“Ptarmigan. Three of ’em.”

“Good!”

“We’ll save one for Curlie,” said Joe, tossing one of the birds into the
corner. “It’ll be better piping hot.”

“I’m worried about Curlie,” said Jennings, cocking his head on one side
to listen to the howl of the storm. “This is no night to be out alone.
Ought to do something, only we can’t; not a thing. Be lost yourself in no
time if you went out to look for him.”

“You fix these birds and I’ll set up the radio-phone,” suggested Joe. “He
took his belt set with him. We can at least listen in for him.”

A half hour later, as he sipped a cup of delicious broth, Joe gave an
exclamation of disgust:

“What’s the good of all my listening in? He can’t get a message off. He’d
have to have a high aerial for that. Could manage it with balloons on a
still night, but not in this gale. Wires would tangle in an instant. You
can—”

He broke off abruptly, to clasp his receivers to his ears. He was getting
something.

                            * * * * * * * *

Curlie had once read a book written by a man whose daring exploits in the
north he had greatly admired. This writer had said that the notion that
falling asleep when out in a blizzard might cause one’s death by freezing
was a great mistake.

“Should you find yourself lost in a blizzard,” he remembered the words as
well as he might had he read them but an hour before, “seek out a
sheltered spot and compose yourself as best you can. Save your strength.
If you can fall asleep, so much the better. You will awake refreshed. You
will not freeze. If you become chilled, the cold will waken you.”

“I wonder if that is true?” he thought to himself as he huddled against
the cut bank between his two walls of snow to watch the snow sifting down
the hillside like sand down a dune.

He did not attempt to decide whether or not he would put the thing to a
test. He merely sat there until the white, sifting snow became brown and
gold, until the gale became a gentle breeze, until all about him was the
warmth of a tropical clime.

Before him a palm tree spread its inviting shade. Across the horizon a
slow procession moved, camels and horses. “A caravan,” he murmured. Then
silently the scene shifted. Before him instead of palms were cacti.
Instead of camels a great herd of cattle urged on by men on horseback,
who swung sombreros and lariats. A cloud of dust followed the herd
lazily. But ever just before him the brown sand sifted, sifted, sifted
eternally.

Into this scene there moved a beautiful girl. She was dressed in the gay
costume of a Mexican; her cheeks were brown with the sun, but she was
good to look at. Moving with a strange grace, she came close to him and
whispered in his ear. What she said was:

“Curlie! Curlie Carson, are you there?”

The question seemed so strange that he started, and, starting, he
suddenly awoke. The girl and her desert vanished like magic. Before him
the sifting still went on, but now again it was sifting snow. Drowsy with
fatigue, benumbed but not chilled by the cold, he had fallen asleep and
had been dreaming. The two deserts were but dreams.

As he sat there staring at the snow he suddenly realized that part of his
dream was reality; the whisper continued:

“Curlie Carson, can you hear me?”

Clapping his hands to his ears, he suddenly realized that his belt radio
was working and that the Whisperer had returned.

Springing to his feet, he attempted to grasp the coil aerial. His hands
and arms were like blocks of wood.

Madly he thrashed them about until circulation was partially restored.
The Whisperer was still speaking. What she said was not as important as
the mere fact that she was speaking at all. He had remembered that he was
lost. He thought he knew about where she and the outlaw should be
located. If he could but discover the direction from which this whisper
came, he might take a course to the left of it and in that way find the
camp of his companions. It was a desperate chance but better than none.
He was now convinced that the writer of that book was mistaken. He knew
now that a person with a clear conscience has no business going to sleep
when the mercury is thirty or forty below.

“Are you - there - Curlie?” came the whisper. “I would - have - called -
you - sooner Curlie - but I - could not. We - have come - a - long way.”

Ah, now his fingers were working. He could move the coil. He held his
breath. Had the last word been spoken? Was he lost as before? No!

“Something - tells - me - you - are - near - us - now - Curlie. Do - be -
careful. It - is - dangerous - very - very dangerous.”

As the whispered words ceased, Curlie’s fingers trembled. He had located
the Whisperer not forty miles away. He thought he knew the way back to
camp. The wind had fallen somewhat. There was now a chance, a chance for
his life. Dragging out his pocket compass, he fought his way to the top
of the hill, then mapped out as best he could a course which should take
him to camp.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                            A STRANGE SIGHT


Before leaving his shelter Curlie hacked from the quarter of caribou meat
a piece the size of a roast. This he managed to tie to his back. He then
faced up the hill and, having reached the top, scrambled and slid to the
valley beyond.

A wild battle with the storm followed. Panting, freezing, aching in every
muscle, yet doggedly determined, he fought his way from hilltop to
hilltop.

“Ought to be getting near the place,” he told himself as he found himself
in a valley broader than any other he had crossed. “Nothing looks
familiar. Can’t see far. Blamed snow keeps blowing so.”

Suddenly he stopped short. A black hulk loomed just before him. His heart
skipped a beat? What was it? A cabin? Some Indian’s hut? A miner’s shack?
What a boon in a wild night such as this!

He was not left long in doubt. Pressing eagerly forward for twenty yards
he at last paused to exclaim: “Willows! Just willows with dead leaves
on!”

But willows were something. They meant a shelter from the blasts of wind
which had been slowly beating the life out of him. They meant, too, a
possible fire.

“I’ll just get into them and see what can be done,” he mumbled as he once
more beat his way forward.

So great was the relief from getting away from the knife-edged wind that
he felt there must be somewhere among the willows a hidden fire.

“Might make one, at that,” he told himself.

Struggling through the dense growth, he came at last to an open spot some
five yards in diameter which, he decided, was probably a frozen pool.
About this the willows grew to a height of eight feet. The protection
from the gale was complete.

“I’ll camp here till it blows over!” he thought as he began cutting down
some slender willows with his sheath knife. These he spread on the smooth
surface of the bare spot. Above them he built a tent-shaped shelter with
only one end open. This completed, he began making a pile of dry twigs
and leaves. Over this at last he piled larger, green branches. Finally he
dug down in the soft snow to where deep beds of mosses lay. These were
soft and dry.

“Good tinder,” he murmured as he unwrapped a package of matches and
struck one of them.

Soon he had a crackling fire.

“That’s better,” he chuckled. “Much better! Might even do a little
cooking.”

Chipping off strips of frozen meat, he sharpened a twig and strung them
upon it. These he held before the fire until they were done to a
delicious brown.

“Mm!” he exulted. “Couldn’t be better! I only wish the other boys had
some. Wonder just where they are now.”

Had he but known it, they were camped in the other end of this willow
clump, not a quarter of a mile away. Five minutes’ walk down the frozen
stream would have brought him to them. But they had allowed their fire to
die down and had crept into their sleeping-bags. No smoke came from them
to him and the smoke from his fire was blown directly away from them; so
they passed the night in ignorance of their close proximity to each
other. When morning came they took courses which carried them miles
apart.

As for Curlie, when morning broke and he found the storm had passed, he
at once made his way to the top of the hill to reconnoiter. There strange
things awaited him.

As he reached the crest of the hill he beheld, apparently on the ridge
just beyond, a sight which caused his pulse to quicken. He saw two dog
teams moving along at a steady walk. There were seven dogs in the first
team and eight in the second. They were hitched white man fashion, two
and two abreast. The sleds of the long, basket type were well loaded.
Atop the first rode a powerfully built man, dressed in an Eskimo parka.
On the second sled, with back to Curlie, rode another person. Dressed as
this one was in an Eskimo costume, one might have said he was looking at
a small Eskimo man, a woman or a girl.

“The outlaw and the Whisperer,” he murmured.

Involuntarily his feet moved forward. To approach them alone would seem
madness. Yet, so great was his desire to unravel their secret that beyond
question he would have risked it. But a strange thing happened at that
moment.

The sled party had come to the end of the ridge. They should naturally
have gone gliding down the slope but, to Curlie’s vast astonishment, they
moved straight on into thin air.

“What”—his mouth flew open in astonishment.

The next instant he laughed.

“A mirage!”

And so it was. As he focused his eyes closely upon the scene he could
detect the faint outline of the long ridge upon which the party was
really traveling.

“Might be forty miles away,” he told himself, “and I was going to stop
them. Well, anyway,” he mused, “it’s a glimpse that may aid us in the
future.”

He set himself to studying every detail of the equipment—dogs, harnesses,
sleds, clothing, everything. He even sat down on the snow and traced on
an old envelope with the stub of a pencil the picture as he saw it.

Then, suddenly, the sleds dropped from view.

“Light changed or they came to the edge of the ridge,” he told himself.

Left to his own thoughts, he began to doubt that this was the outlaw and
his companion. There were natives in this region. These people had been
dressed as natives. True, the dogs were hitched white man fashion and the
sleds were white man type, but the Eskimo had learned many things from
the whites; they took pleasure in imitating this superior race of people.

“No,” he said to himself, “it might not have been them. I don’t really
know that the Whisperer exists at all. I don’t—”

He paused suddenly, to stare away to the left of him where was another
stream and a second long clump of willows. The wind had dropped to a
whisper. The air was keen and clear. From the midst of this clump of
willows, straight up a hundred feet there rose a thin, pencil-like column
of white vapor which appeared to be smoke.

“Now who,” he asked himself, “can be camping down there?”

His heart beat fast. Was it Jennings and Joe? He would see.

Hurriedly, yet with utmost caution, he made his way down the hill toward
that clump of willows from which the thin column continued to rise.



                               CHAPTER XV
                            CURLIE VANISHES


As soon as morning broke, Joe and Jennings were out of the tent and away
to make a search for their lost comrade.

With Joe’s team of four dogs and an empty sled they struck away up the
hill in the direction of their old camp. They found the tattered
handkerchief still fluttering in the breeze and Joe’s note safe beside
it.

“Not been here,” said Joe. “Better drive out there in the direction he
took when he went after that caribou.”

Taking his team to the right of the old camp site he led them backward
and forward until Ginger, the leader, suddenly pricked up his ears and
whined.

“He’s got the scent,” said Joe. “He’s on the trail. He’s a hound. Hounds
are great for that. All we got to do is to follow. Ginger will find him.”

Away they raced after the dogs. Ginger did not hesitate for a moment
until he led them straight to the pile of snow on which Curlie had cached
his caribou meat, the part he could not carry away.

“Shows he got his game,” said Joe, looking with a feeling of pure joy at
the pile of fresh meat.

As for the dogs, they stood on their haunches and howled with delight.
Hacking off some small pieces Jennings threw one to each dog. These they
swallowed at a gulp. He next piled the meat on the sled and lashed it
there securely.

“Might as well take it along,” he explained.

Once more Joe took the dogs in a circle that they might pick up the
trail. They found it at once and went racing away. But at the crest of
the second hill they paused and refused to go farther.

Urge them as he might, lead them back and forth as he did, Joe could not
get them to pick up the trail and go on.

The truth was that the trail did not go on. They had come to the spot
where, after following the second caribou, Curlie had turned back. All
tracks were snow blown but the scent was still there.

“Lost the trail,” said Jennings after a half hour of fruitless endeavor.

“Guess so,” said Joe, wrinkling his brow. “Guess the only thing we can do
is to look around over the hills.”

They did “look around over the hills.” They searched until darkness began
to fall, but discovered no trace of their missing comrade.

“Might as well go back to camp,” suggested Jennings. “He may have found
his way back. He—he’s sure to turn up.”

There was a tone in his voice which suggested that Curlie might not turn
up.

Hungry and weary, they were making their way back to camp when, on
reaching the end of the willow clump farthest from camp old Ginger
suddenly pricked up his ears and springing into the bushes attempted to
drag his teammates after him.

“Hey there, you Ginger!” shouted Joe. “What you doin’ there. Got a rabbit
er something?”

“Might be a trail,” said Jennings excitedly. “Cut him out of the team;
hang on to his trace, follow him and see where he takes you.”

To Joe’s great astonishment the dog led him straight to a willow bush
camp and the ashes of a burned-out fire.

“A camp!” he exclaimed. Then he shouted:

“Oh, Jennings! Tie up the other dogs and come in here.

“Do you think it could have been Curlie that made this camp?” he asked
after the miner had looked it over.

“Might have. There’s nothing to prove he did or didn’t. Snow’s too hard
to leave footprints and there’s no other sign.”

“Seems queer, doesn’t it? Not a hundred rods from our camp.”

“Question is,” said Jennings, “whoever he may be, where has he gone? If
he’s a stranger he may have looted our tent by now.”

“That’s right,” said Joe, greatly disturbed.

“Let’s get out on the edge of the bushes and see if Ginger doesn’t pick
up his trail.”

The old leader did pick up a trail at once. The trail led away from their
camp. They were tired and hungry, but for all that, so eager were they to
find some trace of Curlie and to solve this new mystery that they cached
the meat in the tops of some stout willows and supperless turned their
faces to the trail.

It was growing dark but since there was nothing to be done save to follow
the dog leader, they marched on over hill and valley in silence.

At last they found they were approaching a second clump of willows.
Involuntarily Joe reached for his rifle.

“May be camped there,” he whispered. “May be all right; may not. In a
wilderness like this you never can tell.”

They approached the clump of bushes in silence. It was a small clump,
soon searched. It was empty. They were about to leave it in disgust when
Joe suddenly exclaimed:

“Look here at this!”

He pointed at some bushes from which the leaves had been completely
stripped.

“Reindeer or caribou,” whispered the miner as if afraid of being
overheard. Snapping on his flashlight, Joe examined the bushes and the
ground.

“Believe you’re right. There are his tracks. He’s trampled the ground in
a circle and eaten all the leaves in a circle too. How do you account for
that?”

“Reindeer tied to the bushes.”

“Reindeer of the man we have been following,” said Joe thoughtfully.

The conclusion was so obvious that neither of them troubled to voice it.
Curlie Carson had no reindeer, therefore it was evident that it had not
been he whom they had been following on this new scent. Some man, who it
was they could not even guess, had come to their willow clump and had
camped there all night. Before coming he had tied his reindeer to this
other clump and had left him there. In the morning he had returned to the
reindeer and, having untied him, had driven away. At least this was the
way Joe reasoned it out in his own mind. It was probable that Jennings’
conclusion was not far from the same.

“It is probable,” Joe went on to assure himself, “that this fellow is
some Eskimo herder, who having left his reindeer to search for other
reindeer or for rabbit and ptarmigan, has been caught in the storm and
been obliged to camp in our willow clump for the night.”

All this fine reasoning was, as reasoning very often is, entirely wrong.
But since neither Joe nor Jennings knew it to be wrong, they turned their
reluctant dogs toward camp and wearily made their way back.

Joe was thoroughly downhearted. Curlie, he felt sure, had been frozen to
death. There was nothing left but to go on without him, but without his
genius to aid them it seemed probable that the expedition would end in
utter failure.

The message he had caught the night before had been that of the
Whisperer; the one which had so fortunately wakened Curlie from what
might have been a fatal sleep.

“And the Whisperer was less than forty miles away,” Joe now told himself.
“If Curlie had got back to camp we might by now have had our man in
handcuffs. As it is, he has made another day’s travel and the race is
still young. But,” he thought, with a feeling of determination, “with
Curlie, we’d catch him yet.”



                              CHAPTER XVI
                            A STRANGE STEED


As you have doubtless guessed, the camp discovered by Joe and Jennings
was that made by Curlie. They had been on his trail and not on the trail
of some stranger. But had they attempted to follow his trail from that
last clump of willows where the reindeer had been tied they would have
become more and more bewildered, and had they followed that trail all
night they would have caught no glimpse of their lost companion.

That you may understand why all this is true, I must tell you what
happened to Curlie after he began to approach the clump of willows from
which rose the thin column of white vapor.

“Glad I’ve got my rifle,” he told himself, as he moved in close to the
willows. “You can never tell what you’re coming up against.”

Walking on tiptoes, he approached the end of the willow clump farthest
from the column of white vapor.

“Just slip in through here and have the first look,” he whispered.

Pushing aside the bushes, he disappeared behind the dead leaves. There
was not a breath of wind. This made it hard. It was impossible to avoid
rustling the leaves. Since there was no wind to stir up other leaves, he
felt sure that his presence must be detected.

His breath came quick as he paused to listen. No sound came to him. He
moved on a few paces, then suddenly he paused. Had he caught a sound?
Yes, there it was, a rustling of the leaves, of branches switching
together.

“What’s that for?” he whispered, crouching low. “May be a signal.”

For some time he did not move. When at length he ventured to go forward,
it was on hands and knees. Down low there were no leaves. Traveling in
this manner he made no sound.

Only once his foot touched his rifle, causing a rattling sound.

Stopping dead still, he paused with wildly beating heart to listen.

“What a fool I am,” he told himself at last, “creeping up on some simple
innocent people probably. But when a fellow is a hunter, he gets the
habit of wanting to have the first look.”

A moment later he did get the “first look.” And at that instant he leaped
to his feet and let out a wild shout of laughter.

The only creature to be seen in the bushes was a milk-white reindeer.
This deer was hitched to a short, flat sled, such as reindeer herders
use. The sled was overturned and had tangled with the willows. Because of
this and because of the three inch wide rawhide strap which held him to
the sled, the reindeer was unable to move from the spot.

The explanation of the column of vapor was not far to seek. It was merely
the deer’s breath rising straight up from the willows. Since it was
intensely cold the moisture from his breath froze at once and since there
was not a breath of air stirring it could be seen mounting in air for
many feet.

“Wouldn’t do to get too close to an enemy on such a day,” he told
himself; “he’d spot you in an instant.”

This knowledge was destined to prove of great value to him in the days
that were to come.

“Well, now,” he said, addressing the deer, “I’ve got you. Question is,
what am I going to do with you. You’re evidently a bad actor; must have
run away from your master. And I never drove a reindeer in my life.”

He paused in thought. The reindeer would be of service to him if he could
but learn to drive him. He needed no food save that which the tundra
supplied, the reindeer moss under the snow. To ride on the broad-bottomed
sled in his search for his companions would be far preferable to walking;
besides, it meant more speed.

“Huh!” he grunted, “try anything once. So, you old lost ship on the
Arctic desert, let’s turn you over and see what you’ve got on you.”

Grasping the sled he disentangled it enough to allow him to turn it over.
The sled carried a light load, all of which was covered with a piece of
canvas securely bound on by a rawhide rope. That the reindeer had
traveled some distance was testified to by the fact that many holes had
been torn in the canvas as the sled traveled upside-down.

“Let’s see what treasure is hidden here,” he said.

His fingers trembled from curiosity as he untied the rope.

To his joy he found a very good sleeping-bag of deerskin, a pair of
deerskin mittens, three large frozen fish and a camp-kit consisting of
knives, spoons, cups, a tinplate, matches, reindeer sinew for thread and
various other odds and ends beneath the canvas.

“For all these,” Curlie said, “old reindeer, I thank you. They’ll come in
handy when we take the trail.”

He proceeded to replace all the articles and to rebind the sled.

Hardly had this been accomplished than the reindeer, who had stood all
this time with head down like a tired workhorse, suddenly sprang into
action. With a wild snort he cleared with one leap a low willow bush and
dragging the sled after him, sprang away at a terrific speed.

Curlie had barely time to leap, stomach-down, upon the sled and to grasp
the rawhide rope with both hands. He was determined not to be left
behind.

Scarcely realizing that his most priceless possession, his rifle, was not
on the sled, he still clung there while he was whirled along at a
terrific gait.

Rocking like a rowboat in a storm the sled took the ridges of snow as a
boat would the waves.

Expecting at every moment to see the sled go over and to be forced to
loose his hold, Curlie lay prepared for any emergency.

But the short, broad, low-runnered sled, built for just such an emergency
as this, did not turn turtle. So, across one ridge and down it they
raced, along the side of a low, receding slope, then across a valley they
sped. Skirting a willow clump, they crossed a narrow stream to climb a
hill again.

“Ought to let him rip and go back after my rifle,” the boy told himself,
but, tired as he was, hungry and sleepy too, he was still game. This
beast had challenged his power of wits and endurance; he would stick to
the end.

“Wonder how in time you go about it to stop ’em?”

He tried shouting, but this only served to frighten the deer into greater
speed, so again he was silent.

They shot down a hill. There was danger that the sled would overtake the
deer and that they would be tumbled into a heap. To prevent this he began
using his foot as a brake. It worked; that gave him an idea. “Have to
tire him out,” he told himself. “Keep the brake on all the time. That’ll
help.”

Digging his heel in as hard as he could, he created a great deal of
friction which in time began to tell upon the reindeer. He traveled with
his mouth open, and his breath began to come in hoarse pants.

“I’ll get you!” Curlie triumphed. “Sorry to do it, old boy, but it seems
to be the only way we can come to terms.”

Slowly and yet more slowly they traveled. The reindeer had dropped almost
to a walk when, with a sudden spurt, he did a peculiar thing. They were
near a clump of willows. Charging straight at these, like an ostrich
hiding his head in the sand, he buried himself in the rustling leaves.

“Well!” said Curlie, rising stiffly, “that’s that!

“And now,” he said, rubbing his eyes sleepily. “I think I’ll just tie you
up here and leave you to browse on these tender willow leaves while I
have a bit of frozen fish. After that I’ll drag the sleeping-bag into the
brush for forty winks.”

A half hour later two thin columns of vapor rose from the willows, one
from the reindeer and one from Curlie.

“Wonder if anyone will see them?” Curlie puzzled before he fell asleep.
“Well, if they do, they do. I can’t help it and I’m too dead for sleep to
care.”

Curlie’s runaway reindeer had carried him far. Hardly had he fallen
asleep when two dog teams appeared over the crest of the ridge. This
ridge, a mile away, looked down upon the willows from which the breath of
Curlie and the reindeer arose.

The foremost of the two powerful dog teams was driven by a strongly built
man who ran beside the sled. Upon the other sled rode a second
individual.

“Whoa!” The weary dogs halted.

“Some one camped down there.” The man spoke more to himself than to his
companion. “Might mean some food.” He looked to the loading of his rifle.
“Might mean trouble.” So he stood there, apparently undecided, while the
columns of vapor continued to rise from the willows.

Had Curlie Carson possessed a guardian spirit he would beyond doubt have
whispered in his ear:

“Curlie! Curlie Carson! Awake! You are in danger!”

But since he had none, he slept peacefully on.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                            A KNOTTY PROBLEM


Joe Marion and Jennings were facing a problem. They had returned to their
camp after following what they thought was the trail of some other person
than Curlie. You will remember that they had discovered the marks of a
reindeer which had apparently been tied in the brush. This reindeer, they
had concluded, belonged to some herder who had camped in the other clump
of willows for the night. It was in fact the very reindeer which Curlie
had found tangled in the brush. But this they did not know. And since
they did not know it they supposed they had lost all trace of their
companion and were more than half convinced that he had been frozen to
death in the blizzard.

Now, under the circumstances, what were they to do? They had come a long
and dangerous way to capture a man, the air outlaw. To get his man had
been Curlie’s constant thought. He was doubtless getting farther and
farther from them as the hours passed. They now had meat to last them
three or four days. What should they do? Press on as rapidly as they
could, leaving Curlie to find their trail and follow if he were still
alive, or should they continue the search for him, circling the hills and
the tundra with the dogs in the hopes of again picking up his trail?

“Might be still alive but with frozen feet, unable to travel,” suggested
Joe.

“Yes, that has happened often in the Arctic!” said Jennings.

“But he has his belt radiophone set,” said Joe thoughtfully. “The air is
quiet now. His balloon aerial would work beautifully. Why don’t—”

Suddenly he started. In his eager search for his companion he had
neglected the radiophone.

Now he turned his attention to it. Tuning it to 200, their agreed wave
length, he listened in while Jennings fried caribou steak.

“That’s a rare treat,” said Jennings as he set his teeth in a juicy
morsel. “It’s surprising how you can keep a liking for caribou and
reindeer meat. In ’98 we came in four or five thousand strong over the
trail from Valdez. We each had sixteen hundred pounds of kit and grub
which cost us about four hundred dollars. With that food and the fish and
game we got, we lived up here a year and a half. Think of it; a year and
a half on a sled load of grub.”

“Did you find much gold?” asked Joe.

“Not many of us did. Most of us went back to the States poorer than when
we came. That is, we did as far as money goes, but in other ways we had
gained much. We had learned how to live without the white man’s luxuries.
We had learned to face danger, hardship and even death with a smile. We
had lived hundreds of miles from doctors, drugs and nurses, and yet most
of us came out of it, brown, sturdy, hard-muscled, keen of nerve and of
mind, ready for anything that life might hand us. That’s the pay men get
for daring a wilderness.”

“Sh—”

Joe held up a warning finger. He was getting something out of the air.

He knew at once that it was not Curlie speaking, yet he felt sure it was
important. It came from the north.

“Steamship Torrentia. Munson, the explorer, speaking.” Joe thrilled at
the sound of that name.

“Torrentia - crushed - by ice,” the voice went on. “Sinking - by - the -
bow. Position about - one - thousand - miles - due - north - of - Flaxman
- Island. All supplies - unloaded - on floating - ice pans. Shall attempt
- pole - by plane. Later - return - by plane - to Flaxman. Must - have -
transportation - for thirty - men from - Flaxman. Authorize - any
necessary expense.”

The message ended, Joe sat wrapped in deep thought.

“I don’t see how he hopes to get transportation for thirty men from
Flaxman Island. That spot, why that’s off the map—all but off the earth.
Nobody there. No one near. We can help him some with our dogs if we
happen to be there when he arrives but our teams are but a sample of what
he needs.”

“Ought to have left dogs and a native or two with his supplies at
Flaxman,” said Jennings.

“Yes, but he didn’t.”

“No. That’s the real point.”

“Say!” exclaimed Joe suddenly, “there must be a reindeer herd somewhere
near here, otherwise that fellow with the sled deer wouldn’t be wandering
around so close.”

“Probably. But you can’t be sure of it. Those little brown folks think a
lot of their reindeer. I have known them to trail a deer that had run
away in company with wild caribou, for more than five hundred miles.
Anyway, it’s worth looking into. If there is a good-sized herd close to
us, the Eskimo who owns it will have enough sled deers to bring Munson’s
whole party out to civilization. I think we ought to look into that at
once.”

“I’d agree with you but for one consideration,” said Joe thoughtfully.

“What’s that?” said Jennings sharply.

“The outlaw.”

“What’s he got to do with it?”

“He’s going north, isn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“Toward Flaxman Island?”

“Probably. But what of that. What little food he and his companion, if he
has one, will eat, won’t amount to anything.”

“No, it won’t; not if he stops at that. But as Curlie and I have said to
you before, everything goes to indicate that he is sore at Munson; that
he’d like to do him an injury. What greater injury could he do him than
to load down his sled with supplies from Flaxman Island, then touch a
match to the rest? Why, man, the whole thirty of them would starve just
as Sir John Franklin’s hundred and fifty men did in that same region two
or three generations ago!”

“Yes, if the outlaw’s that kind of a bird.”

“Who knows about that? The only way to find out is to go after him. I
think it’s mighty important that we get him and get him quick.”

“Then we’ll have to leave Curlie to make the best of things, to shift for
himself?”

“We-l-l,” said Joe, speaking very slowly, “I—I’m not sure what we should
do. Let’s leave that discussion until morning.”

“Agreed,” said Jennings as he began unlacing his felt shoes, preparatory
to creeping into his sleeping-bag.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                          A MYSTERIOUS ATTACK


After a moment of indecision the man driving the team of powerful dogs,
who, as you remember, was standing looking down at the two columns of
vapor which marked the spot where Curlie Carson slept, spoke to his dog
team. He had been debating the advisability of descending the hill and
entering that clump of willows. What he now said to his dogs was:

“You mush!”

The dogs leaped forward and, since he had given them no order as to
direction, they raced away straight along the ridge and not down to the
willows.

A hundred yards farther on he dug his heels in the snow as he clung to
the handle of the sled and shouted: “Whoa!”

Again he appeared to debate the question. This time he was more prompt in
his decision.

Again the team followed the ridge, while away in the willow clump, all
unarmed and defenseless, Curlie Carson slept and his newly acquired
reindeer munched on at the dead willow leaves. The deer was sleek and
fat. He would have made prime feed for the traveler’s dogs as well as for
him and his companion. And as for Curlie; well, perhaps the man might
have rejoiced at meeting him alone and unarmed. Of that we shall learn
more later.

Curlie slept longer than he had intended doing. His weary brain and tired
body yearned for rest and once this was offered to them they partook of
it in a prodigal manner.

At last he awoke, to poke his head out of the sleeping-bag and to stare
up at the stars.

“Where am I?” he asked himself. “Ah, yes, now I remember; in a clump of
willows. I have a mysterious reindeer but no rifle. I have some frozen
fish. This clump of willows, where is it? Where is our camp? Joe Marion,
Jennings, where are they? Who can tell?” He sat up and scratched his
head.

“Well, I’m here. That much is good.” He caught the sound of the reindeer
stamping the ground. “So’s the reindeer here. That is better. Only hope I
learn to drive him.”

He did learn to drive the reindeer and that quite speedily. He found that
a long rope of rawhide was fastened to the deer’s halter. This was long
enough to run back to the sled. It was, he concluded, used as a
jerk-line, such as was once employed by drivers of oxen.

The harness he found to be of very simple construction. Two wooden
affairs fitting closely to the shoulders and tied together at top and
bottom with stout rawhide thongs, served as both collar and harness. From
the bottom of these ran a broad strap which connected directly with the
sled. This strap was held up from the ground by a second broad strap
which encircled the animal’s body directly behind its forelegs.

“Now,” he told the reindeer, “we’re going to try it over again. We got a
bad start last time. Fact is, you were away before the starter’s whistle
blew.

“You see,” he said, straightening out the jerk strap, “I’m going to hold
on to this. If you get excited and speed up a little too much I’ll pull
your head over on one side and make you go in a circle. That’ll slow you
up. Then I’ll pile off the sled and dig in my heels. That should stand
you on your head. You don’t weigh much; not over three or four hundred.
When I’ve put you on your head a few times I shouldn’t be surprised if
you’d turn into a very good, obedient little reindeer.”

It took but three try-outs to convince the reindeer that Curlie was not
an ill-meaning sort of fellow but that he was one who meant to have his
own way. Then, like all other creatures who have been trained, he settled
down to business and carried his newly acquired master wherever he wanted
to go; that is, he did up to a certain moment. After that moment things
changed and Curlie was carried straight into trouble.

When he left the clump of willows Curlie drove his reindeer up the slope
to the crest of the ridge. He did this that he might get a better view of
the surrounding country, to determine if possible the direction in which
their former camp lay.

Imagine his surprise on coming to a patch of soft, freshly blown snow at
the crest of the ridge, to find the tracks of dogs and sleds.

“Fresh tracks!” he whispered breathlessly, “not ten hours old.”

He bent over to study these tracks. For a moment, he examined each
imprint of a dog’s foot in the snow, each trace of sled runner and every
footprint of the driver, then with a sudden bound he stood up again.

“It is!” he exclaimed. “It is the outlaw! Passed while I slept. Why must
a fellow be everlastingly sleeping his life away?

“But then,” he thought after a moment’s deliberation, “perhaps it was
just as well. What could I have done without help and without weapons of
any kind?”

Seating himself on his sled while his reindeer pawed deep into the snow
in his search for reindeer moss, he thought things through.

“Joe Marion and Jennings,” he told himself, “will sooner or later give up
their search for me and will get back on the outlaw’s trail. They realize
the importance of capturing him. They are brave fellows. They will not
hesitate to undertake it without me. The surest way to get in with them
again is to stay on this trail. Only question is, shall I turn back to
meet them, shall I camp right here, or shall I follow up the outlaw at
once?”

After some deliberation he concluded that going back over the trail would
be risky; he might miss his companions. They might get back on the
outlaw’s trail after he had passed the spot on which they entered the
trail. Remaining inactive did not suit him; he was not that kind of a
boy.

“I’ll follow the outlaw,” he told himself. “I believe I’ve got a speedier
outfit than he has. White men seldom drive reindeer, so the outlaw won’t
suspect me even though he sees me at a distance. I can shadow him and,
even unarmed as I am, may be able to prevent a disaster.”

Having come to this conclusion he led his reindeer to the crest of the
ridge, faced him north, leaped upon the sled, slapped him on the hip with
the jerk rein and was away.

For ten miles to the crack-crack of the reindeer’s hoofs, he shot away
over the snow. As the keen air cut his cheek, as the low, flat sled
bobbed and bumped beneath him, Curlie thought he had never known another
such mode of travel. Surely a reindeer, when well broken, was the ideal
steed of the Arctic.

“And the beauty of it is,” he told himself, “you don’t have to go hunting
out feed for him when the day is done. He finds it for himself under the
snow. You—

“Hey, there!” he exclaimed suddenly. “What you doing?”

The reindeer had suddenly paused in his flight to sniff the air. The next
instant he had gone plunging down the snow-covered ridge.

This was no time to think of stopping or turning him. Should either be
accomplished, Curlie and his sled would have gone spinning in a circle,
at last to go rolling over and over in the snow, in which event Curlie
would beyond doubt find himself at the foot of the ridge, very much
bruised and minus both sled and reindeer.

The most he could do was to hold back the sled with his foot to prevent
its overtaking his mad steed, and to allow the deer to continue in his
wild race.

The ridge here was long and steep. A half mile away it ended in a forest
of scrub spruce trees which beyond doubt lined the bank of a stream.

But what was this he saw as they neared the dwarf forest?

“A herd of reindeer!” he murmured in astonishment. “Five hundred or a
thousand of them. Old Whitie, my friend here, smelled them and yearned
for company. So he—”

What was that? From the edge of the forest there leaped a tongue of fire,
a rifle cracked, a bullet sang over his head, then another and another.

“Say! Do they think I’m a reindeer rustler?” he groaned. “Want to kill
me?”

Instantly he dropped from the sled to hide behind a snow bank.

“Not much use,” he told himself, “but it’ll give a fellow time to think?
Maybe those fellows are rustlers themselves and they think I’m an officer
or something.” His blood ran cold at the thought.



                              CHAPTER XIX
                      SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT


Much as they regretted it, Joe Marion and Jennings after a night’s sleep
were forced to admit that it seemed their duty to push on over the trail
left by the outlaw.

“’Twouldn’t be so bad if we hadn’t caught Munson’s message,” said Joe
thoughtfully. “In a case like this, one is obliged to consider the
highest good to the greatest number. It might easily happen that a delay
on our part at this moment would mean the loss of Munson’s entire party.
It would almost surely mean that if they arrived at Flaxman Island to
find their supply depot in ashes.”

“And as for Curlie,” added Jennings, “if he came out of that blizzard
alive with his rifle in hand, he’ll take care of himself, trust him for
that.”

“Yes, and with that hind-quarter of caribou meat.”

So it was decided that they should press on. They had followed the trail
of the outlaw for ten miles or more when they came upon footprints in the
snow beside the trail which seemed to indicate that the outlaw had paused
in his travel.

“Wonder what he stopped there for?” said Jennings, examining the tracks
carefully. “From the position of his feet I’d say he’d been looking down
the hill.”

“Aw, c’mon,” said Joe. “The big point is, he went straight on and we’re
following.”

A hundred yards farther on they came to a place where a reindeer and sled
joined the trail.

“That’s queer!” said Jennings, pausing again. “Funny that fellow would
follow the outlaw. Looks exactly like the track made by that other fellow
when he pulled out of that clump of willows after he’d left his deer tied
there all night and had camped in our thicket. Wonder if it could have
been the same man.”

He would have wondered still more had he known that his companion,
Curlie, was on that sled and that each mile he traveled brought him
closer to the curly-haired young radiophone expert.

His wonder did grow apace when, mile after mile, the reindeer driver
followed the trail of the outlaw.

“Wonder what he’s after,” he mumbled over and over.

When presently he saw the reindeer tracks suddenly swing to the right and
down the ridge, and by straining his eyes he made out a large herd of
reindeer feeding at the edge of the scrub forest, he was truly
disappointed.

“Thought it meant something,” he grumbled, “his following along that way.
But I guess he was just following the ridge for good going till he got to
his reindeer herd. We might go down and buy some reindeer meat. I think I
see a cabin at the edge of the forest. They might have other things to
eat, coffee, hardtack and the like. Natives often do.”

“Can’t afford to use up the time,” said Joe. “We’re doing well enough on
caribou meat. Got quite a supply of it yet. So we’d better mush along.
All right, Ginger! Let’s go,” he shouted. His leader leaped to his feet
and they were away.

It would be interesting to speculate on just what would have happened had
they decided to descend the hill to trade with the natives. They might
have been ambushed and slain, for Curlie Carson was at that moment in the
cabin at the edge of the forest and he was far from free to go his own
way.

So like ships in the night they passed, Curlie Carson and his pals. Only
once Jennings paused to look back. Then as he shaded his eyes he said to
Joe:

“Seems like I see something hovering up there about the tree tops.”

“White owl or raven,” said Joe.

“No, I don’t think it is. Can’t quite make out what it is, though.”

Then they pressed on over the trail left by the sleds of the outlaw.

The fluttering above the edge of the forest was caused by neither white
owl nor raven, but by three balloons bobbing about in the air; a red one,
a white one and a blue one. These balloons, considerably larger than toy
balloons, were kept from fluttering away by silk cords reaching to the
cabin below.

Before we can explain their presence here we must first tell what had
happened to Curlie Carson since we left him huddled behind a snowbank
with bullets singing over him.

Without knowing why he had been attacked Curlie realized that he was in
grave danger. These rough men, whoever they might be, were apparently
bent on his destruction.

For the moment he was safe. The snowbank was thick and solid. A bullet,
he knew, made little progress in snow. But they might outflank him and
come in to the right or left of him. They doubtless believed him to be in
possession of a rifle, or at least an automatic. They would plan their
attack with extreme caution but in time they would get him.

Twisting about under cover he studied the lie of the snow to right and
left of him. It was not reassuring. True, there were other snow ridges,
but to reach these he must expose himself. This would not do. To cut
himself a trench along the hillside would take too long. Besides he would
be detected in the attempt. He thought of his belt radiophone equipment.

“Might get up a balloon aerial,” he told himself, “and send an S. O. S.
But that would take time—too much time. Besides, who’d come to my rescue?
Deuce of a mess, I’d say!”

He at length determined on a bold move.

“Might get shot down on the spot,” he admitted, “but it’s better than
waiting.”

The thing he did was to leap suddenly upon the crest of the snowbank with
his hands held high in air, at the same time keeping a sharp eye on the
attackers. If they shot he would instantly drop back.

They did not shoot. Their rifles went to their shoulders but when they
saw his hands in air they hesitated.

After a brief consultation, two of them, with rifles extended before them
for a hip-shot, walked slowly toward him.

When they were within twenty yards of him Curlie said in the calmest tone
he could command:

“What’s the matter with you fellows? I didn’t steal your reindeer. Found
him tangled in a thicket where he would have starved. Besides, I have no
guns. What harm could I do you?”

Without a word the two men proceeded to advance. As they came closer
Curlie became convinced that they were Indians and not Eskimos as he had
supposed them to be.

“That makes it look different,” he told himself. “They may be reindeer
rustlers who have stolen the reindeer herd. Probably are. Never heard of
a reindeer herd being given to Indians. Might have, for all that. Or they
may be just herding them for some white men.”

As the two men came up to him one man felt of his clothing for concealed
weapons. After this, with a grunt, he pointed toward the cabin, then led
the way, leaving his companion to bring up the rear.

Arrived at the edge of the forest, the foremost man joined the man who
had remained behind. After a short consultation in tones too low to be
understood, he returned to Curlie and again motioning him to follow, led
him to a low log cabin.

Once inside this cabin, he pushed Curlie into a small dark room, after
which he swung to a heavy door and dropped a ponderous bar.

“Well now, what about that?” Curlie whispered to himself.

A hasty survey of his prison revealed a chair and a rough bed made of
poles on which there rested some filthy blankets. The place was lighted
by two windows, not more than ten inches square. The walls were of heavy
logs.

“I wonder who they are and who they think I am,” he asked himself.

He sat down to think and as he did so his arm brushed his belt. At that
moment an inspiration came to him.

“Worth trying anyway,” he whispered as he rose hastily. “Have to be quick
about it though. Lucky that window’s at the back of the cabin.”



                               CHAPTER XX
                      “WE HAVE MET WITH DISASTER”


Curlie’s fingers, working rapidly yet with trained precision, drew
various articles from his belt. A coil of fine wire, two long spools made
of some black substance, a pocket spirit lamp, a miniature metal retort,
three small balloons made of a specially prepared elastic fiber; all
these and many more things appeared as if by magic, and were spread out
upon a blanket on the cot.

After unwinding and winding again some yards of fine copper wire, he
snapped open the metal-cased spirit lamp and a tiny flame appeared.
Attaching a balloon to the retort he applied the flame to the body of the
retort. At once the balloon began to expand. Chemicals already in the
retort were assuming a gaseous form.

Just here he found himself facing a difficulty; the balloons were going
to expand to a size beyond that of the windows. With lightning-like
decision he climbed upon a chair and thrust balloon, retort, spirit lamp
and all out of the window. There he held them all at arm’s length.

“Might be seen, but I can’t help it,” he muttered.

The balloon was tugging at his hand. When the tug had grown strong he
snapped on a rubber band, withdrew the retort, tied the balloon to a
round of the chair and was at once busy with a second balloon.

When all three balloons were bobbing about outside the window he breathed
a sigh of relief.

Attaching a spool of fine wire to a silk cord which was tied to all three
balloons, he allowed the balloons to rise while he played out two strands
of wire. Having reached the second spool he allowed the fine copper wire
aerial which he had thus made to rise with the balloons until they had
reached a height of three hundred feet.

A fine, insulated copper wire ran from the aerial to the ground. This he
attached to an instrument in his belt. Having tuned in on 200 he sat down
calmly to repeat in a low tone at regular intervals:

“S. O. S.—S. O. S.—S. O. S.”

It was the only way he had been able to think of for letting the world
know he was in trouble.

It brought results, for soon to his waiting ears came a gruff grumble
which resembled the growl of a bear disturbed from his slumber:

“Hey! What’s the rumpus? What do you want?”

“Who are you?” Curlie whispered back.

“Deputy Marshal McDonald of the U. S. Station at Sinizols. Who the blazes
are you?”

Slowly, distinctly, in a tense whisper Curlie told of his predicament.

“I know ’em,” came in a roar through the air. “They stole those deer.
Don’t let ’em know you know. When they come in let ’em listen to me. Tell
’em who I am. They know me. That’ll settle ’em. Tell ’em I’ll follow ’em
to the Pole if they don’t let you go. No—don’t tell ’em. Let me. They
don’t know about radiophones. Just got mine last week. They’re
superstitious. It’ll knock ’em dead. Let me tell ’em.”

“All right,” whispered Curlie, “keep your batteries connected and stand
by. I’ll see what I can find out.

“Nothing like the little old radio,” he told himself; “nothing at all
like it when you’re in a peck of trouble.”

Hanging his receiver on a nail he turned toward the door. Placing his ear
against a crack, he listened.

To his surprise, he found that the men were speaking English. “One of
them is a half-breed, maybe of another tribe, and doesn’t understand the
native language of the others,” was his mental comment.

As he now and then caught a snatch of the conversation, his blood ran
cold. There could be no mistaking the subject of their debate. They were
discussing the question of whether or not, he, Curlie, should be killed.
The half-breed was standing out against it, while the others insisted
that it was the only safe thing to do. So determined were they about it
and so earnest in their debate that at times their voices rose almost to
a shout.

“If you were to consult me in the matter,” Curlie whispered to himself,
“I would most certainly agree with my old friend, the half-breed.”

Even as he joked with himself, the true significance of his situation was
borne more closely in upon him. Here he was many miles from human
habitation in the heart of a wilderness. Three men calmly debated his
destruction. Two against one; there could be no question of the verdict.

Escape was impossible. The windows were too small. The men were
powerfully built; there was no chance to fight his way to freedom.

There stood between him and death a slender wire reaching up to two yet
more slender ones hanging in the sky. What if the gas escaped from the
balloons? What if a sudden gust of wind sent them crashing down into the
treetops to tear and tangle his slender aerials? What if the deputy at
the other end should make some mistake and be unable to listen in?

Little wonder that, as he stood there listening, waiting, his face turned
gray with anxiety and fear.

In the meantime an important message had come to Joe and Jennings as they
listened in on long wave lengths from their camp some ten miles from the
cabin. The message was from the explorer, Munson.

“Munson’s Expedition - Munson - speaking,” came the voice from the air.
“We - have met - with disaster. Dash to - Pole - abandoned. Ice - began -
piling - at - four - this morning. Many supplies - much - gasoline -
lost. Will - not - have - enough - gasoline - to - bring - planes - to -
land. One - plane - smashed. Cannot - bring - food - only - men. If -
supporting - party - can be - sent - from - due - north - of - Flaxman -
Island - it - may save - our lives.”

Joe Marion listened to the message as it was repeated three times, then
turned a grave face to Jennings.

“That’s serious,” he said after he had repeated the message. “I might
answer it but what could I promise him?”

“You’d only give our position away to the outlaw.”

“I might try to relay the message to others who might help.”

“There’s no one near enough.”

“Then the only thing we can do is to try to reach them with such supplies
as we can carry.”

“Looks that way just now,” said Jennings, wrinkling his brow. “We might
think of something later. How about the outlaw? Do we get him first?”

“That’s the question. We’ll have to wait and see. May get another message
later. In the meantime, let’s turn in early and get a start to-morrow
before daybreak. The importance of our mission to the north has been
greatly increased.”



                              CHAPTER XXI
                           A TENSE SITUATION


If Curlie’s knees trembled as he heard the heavy bar being lifted from
the door, there was no trace of emotion on his face when at last the door
swung open and he stood facing his three captors.

“Welcome in,” he smiled, coolly. “I was just thinking of calling you.

“You see,” he explained, “I’ve just been talking to your old friend
McGregor of the U. S. Service.”

The men started back to stare about the small room, as if suspecting that
the deputy was hidden somewhere within.

“He’s not here,” smiled Curlie, who in spite of the grave danger which
confronted him was enjoying the situation. “I was just speaking to him
over the phone.”

“Phone!” The half-breed whispered the words.

It was evident that the trio were more bewildered than before. They had
seen telephones and telephone wires in centers of civilization which they
had visited. They knew what they were; knew, too, that there was not a
yard of telephone wire within three hundred miles of their cabin. As for
a telephone, had they not built this cabin? How then could it contain a
telephone without their knowing it?

“Huh!” grunted the older of the two Indians. He uttered a low laugh of
contempt which showed plainer than words that he thought Curlie was
bluffing.

Curlie’s hand went to his side. He lifted a transmitter to his lips, then
touched a button at his belt.

“Are you there, McGregor?” He pronounced the words distinctly.

It was one of those periods of time in which one lives a year in the
space of a moment, a moment tense with terrible possibilities.

Into Curlie’s mind there flashed a score of questions. Was McGregor
there? Would he respond? Would the Indians be frightened to the point of
giving him up if he did? Was the slender aerial still dangling in air and
still working? These and many others sped through his active brain as
breathlessly he waited.

Then, suddenly, with a fervently whispered, “Thank God!” he caught
McGregor’s gruff voice:

“Aye, here! Let me have ’em. Put ’em on.”

The older Indian was so surprised by Curlie’s actions that the receiver
was on his head before he knew it.

The next instant his mouth sagged open, his eyes bulged out, his knees
scarcely supported him. He was hearing McGregor’s voice. He did not know
how nor why, but he heard. It was enough. He was afraid.

For three minutes they all stood there spell-bound. Then apparently the
voice ceased.

“Wha—what do you want?” the Indian quavered.

“Only my reindeer, my sled and a chance to get away from here,” smiled
Curlie.

“Boz Peon, go get ’em.” The Indian spoke to the half-breed. At once he
was away.

“All right, McGregor,” Curlie breathed into the transmitter. “Thanks a
lot. Hope I meet you sometime. If there’s anything further you’ll get my
S. O. S.”

Turning to the window, he began hauling in on the wire and silk cord.
Just as the reindeer arrived at the door, he replaced in his belt the
last bit of apparatus.

“All O. K. for next time,” he whispered to himself. “Trust the old
radiophone to pull you through.”

After leaving the cabin he was obliged to lead his reindeer for the first
two or three miles. Had he not done this the deer might have rebelled
again and gone racing back.

“Wish I’d insisted on their giving me a rifle,” he told himself. “Wish
there was some way of getting that reindeer herd from them,” he thought a
few moments later. “It’s a shame that they should rob the Eskimo that
way. The reindeer are everything to the Eskimo, food, clothing, bedding
and means of travel. It’s a crime to rob them. Of course the rascals will
be caught and punished, but by that time the splendid herd may be
scattered to the four winds.”

Little did he guess the strange circumstances under which he would see
that herd again, nor of the ways in which the herd would assist him in
carrying out the purposes which were already forming in his mind.

An exclamation of joy escaped his lips as he swung back on the trail
running along the ridge.

“They’re after the outlaw! Good old Jennings and Joe! We’ll get him yet.
I’ll catch up with them! Hooray!” He threw his hands in the air and gave
such a lusty shout that the reindeer came near leaping out of his
harness.

He had discovered that while he was being held prisoner by the Indians,
Joe and Jennings in their pursuit of the outlaw had passed him.

“All I’ve got to do,” he told himself, “is to speed up this old white
ship of the Arctic desert and I’ll be with them in twenty-four hours.”

In this he was mistaken, but since he did not know it he went bumping
merrily along over the ridges. Now and then shouting at his reindeer, now
and then bursting forth into snatches of boisterous song, he appeared
filled with quite as much joy as a boy off for a fishing trip.

So, for hours he traveled, until his reindeer was in need of rest and
food, then he turned off into the edge of the scrub-spruce forest. Here,
after tethering the deer in an open spot where there was much moss, he
built himself a rude shelter of green boughs, kindled a fire, roasted
some strips of reindeer meat procured from the Indians, then crept into
his sleeping-bag.

Here for a time, through a crack in his green canopy, he watched the big
dipper in its wide circle about the north star, which blinked down from
nearly straight above him. He at last fell asleep.

In the meantime, in a camp some distance farther down the valley, beneath
a cut-bank at the edge of a frozen river, his two companions were
receiving a strange and startling message. The message was once more from
Munson, the explorer. Again the expedition had met with disaster. Having
attempted the flight to shore in their airplanes they had made but half
the distance when one of the planes became disabled and landed, to crash
into a pile of ice. With the remaining planes much overloaded, they had
been obliged to abandon all food. Two hundred miles from shore the
gasoline had given out. Making fortunate landings on broad ice-pans, they
had at once started on foot for shore. They had been carried to the right
by a strong gale and would doubtless reach land some twenty miles west of
their food depot on Flaxman Island; that is, they would land there if
anywhere. Without food they were well nigh hopeless. Still they had two
light rifles and a hundred rounds of ammunition. There were seals in
water-holes and polar bears wandering over the floes. There was a chance
for life. If anyone listening in on this message were in a position to
come out and meet them they might be the instruments in saving lives.

“That means us,” said Joe. “And it means such a struggle as we have never
experienced before.”

“Means we leave the trail of the outlaw at once,” said Jennings.

“Why—uh—” Joe stammered.

“His trail will lead us twenty miles out of the way. Flaxman Island is
twenty miles to the east of us; these explorers are straight ahead. We
follow this stream straight to the sea. Hard-packed river trail all the
way. The outlaw, unless I miss my guess, will turn off soon to cut across
the hills.”

“We haven’t much food to take to them.”

“We have our dogs,” said Jennings grimly. “Men eat dogs when they are
starving.”

Joe looked at his old leader, Ginger, who lay with feet stretched out
before the fire. The dog rose, stretched himself, then walked over to rub
his cold nose against his young master.

Joe gulped, “Y-e-s, I suppose they do.”

“We’ll unload everything we don’t need, all the radiophone equipment
except the light set, and cache them here. Then we’ll make a flying trip
of it. And,” he said, noting Joe’s discomfort at the thought of
sacrificing his faithful four, the team that had fought with him, starved
with him and carried him so far, “we’ve got rifles and ammunition. Who
knows what game may bob up to take the place of our dogs?”



                              CHAPTER XXII
                              A MAD DREAM


It was with a feeling of great astonishment that Curlie, early in the
afternoon of the next short Arctic day, came upon the pile of radiophone
instruments and other articles which had been piled beside the trail by
his companions.

“Now what does this mean?” he said, addressing his reindeer. “Can’t be
they’ve been ambushed and robbed. Things are piled away too carefully for
that.”

“Hello!” he exclaimed a moment later, “they’ve left the trail of the
outlaw! Of all the unbelievable things! What could have induced them to
do that? Can’t be trying to outflank him. Trail they’ve taken is a lot
longer than his.”

He returned to sit down on the sled and scratch his head.

“Traveling light, they are. I’d never catch them now.”

Again he was silent for some time.

“Wish they’d left me a rifle. I’d go after the outlaw single-handed. But
of course they wouldn’t. Don’t even know I’m alive, let alone on their
trail with a reindeer. Nothing more improbable than that. Wish I’d risked
a call to them. Didn’t dare, though. Outlaw’d know we were after him if
he listened in. Now what’s to be done? Have to see how much radiophone
stuff they left behind.”

For some time he busied himself sorting out the parts of the heavier
radiophone set and connecting them up.

“All here,” he breathed at last, “even my little outfit for making mince
pie of a fellow’s speech then piecing it together again. Joe took all the
smaller set, though. That’s good. Best thing I can do is to camp right
here and wait until I’m sure they must be camped for the night. Then I’ll
send out a signal and see if I can get them. I can talk mince meat
fashion so the outlaw won’t know what it’s about, anyway. Got to get in
touch with them some way or another.”

Realizing that after hearing from them he might want to travel at night
to make up for lost time, after tethering out his reindeer he crept into
his sleeping-bag and, in a moment, fell into a sound sleep.

When he awoke it was quite dark. Getting busy at once with his
radiophone, he sent a signal quivering through the air.

He received no response.

A half hour later he sent out a second. Still no answer.

“That’s queer! Mighty queer,” he murmured. “Still, they may have made
rapid time and got in ahead of the outlaw. May be close in, too close to
risk an answer. No harm to keep on trying, though.”

It will be remembered that Curlie had not listened in on any of the
messages sent by the exploring party. As a consequence he was totally
ignorant of their plight and unable in any way to account for his
companions’ sudden change of course.

“Queer business!” he told himself as he prepared to send his third
signal. “Mighty queer!”

Every half hour for three hours he sent out the signal. Then, just as he
was about to give it up, his receiver rattled and a succession of short,
sharp, meaningless sounds began to pour forth.

“That’s Joe!” he smiled delightedly. “Nobody up here can talk that
language. Now we’ll know what’s what.”

His conclusion was correct. It was Joe speaking. When Curlie had decoded
the jumbled message he needed only to signal back an answering O. K. In
short, concise sentences, Joe had told him all that he needed to know.

“And now,” he sat down rather dizzily on his sled, “where does that leave
me? Far as I can see, it leaves me guardian of that food supply until the
party gets in. It’s the best I can do. And, unless I miss my guess, it’s
going to be some job! I’m to be a guard without a gun. And the fellow I’m
going up against has a gun, probably two or three of them.”

After a few moments had elapsed, he spoke again: “Short day’s journey
now. No use risking coming upon him in the night. Might as well take
another snooze and freshen up a bit.”

At that he crept into his sleeping-bag once more, but not to sleep at
once. His mind was too full of thoughts for that. The curtain to the
crowded third act of this little drama of life which he had been playing
was, he felt sure, about to rise. What was it to be like? What gun-play,
what struggles, what battle of wits would be enacted upon that white and
glistening stage with no audience save the stars?

His mind was filled with a thousand questions. Who was the outlaw? Was he
the smuggler chieftain or was he not? What grudge did he hold against the
great explorer that he would travel all this distance to satisfy it? Or
did he hold a grudge at all? Was he merely coming here to winter in
safety? Would he camp by the food depot or would he destroy it? Who was
his companion? Or did he have no companion? Had it been he who had
appeared in the mirage or had it not?

Who was the Whisperer? Or was there no Whisperer? If there was such a
person, was that person a girl and was she with the outlaw at the present
time? If he succeeded in outwitting the outlaw, would he at last meet the
Whisperer face to face?

All these and many more questions seething through his brain, kept him
for a long time awake. But at last weariness conquered and he fell
asleep.

When, only a few hours later, he awoke, it was with a feeling of
impending danger. Before he opened his eyes, he could hear the reindeer
thrashing about among the willows to which he was tied in a vain attempt
to break away. When he opened his eyes it was to stare up at a broad dome
of sky which appeared to be all on fire.

“The food depot!” he groaned, leaping to his feet. “It was closer than I
thought. It’s gone. Burned!”

“No!” he exclaimed, a second later. “No, it’s worse than that!” He put
his hand to his forehead. The next instant, reeling like a drunken man in
a delirious dream, he stumbled toward his reindeer.



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                           “A BEAR! A BEAR!”


In the meantime Joe Marion and Jennings were making their way over the
treacherous ice floe toward the party of explorers who were battling for
their lives against cold, hunger and ever perilous floes.

They had crossed a broad expanse of ice which, level as a floor, lay
between the shore and a series of low, barren, sandy islands. Then for
three miles farther they had traveled over ice which was frozen to the
shore. This ice, piled as it had been by storms of early winter into
fantastic heaps, here and there mixed with flat cakes and with narrow,
tombstone-like fragments set on end, was nevertheless firmly united to
the shore. Over this, winding back and forth on flat cakes and over
tumbled piles of ice, they traveled without fear.

When they came to what lay beyond this, all was changed. They entered
upon a new life with fear and trembling. True, the ice, pressed hard on
shore by a north wind, was not at this moment moving, yet the slow rising
and falling of a broad cake of ice here, the crumbling of a pile there,
told them that they were now far out over the fathomless ocean; told them
too that should the wind shift to south, east or west they might at any
moment be carried out to sea, never to be heard of again.

“Can’t be helped,” Jennings said grimly, as Joe spoke of this. “When the
lives of thirty of Uncle Sam’s brave citizens are at stake one does not
think of personal danger. He goes straight ahead and does his duty. Our
duty lies out there.” He pointed straight over the ice floes which lay
far as eye could scan, out to sea.

“Right-o,” said Joe as he turned to urge his dogs forward.

It was hard on Joe, this urging of his faithful four forward over the
difficult trail.

“’Twouldn’t be so bad,” he told them, “if I wasn’t driving you straight
on to your own destruction. To think that after all this struggle your
reward is being eaten by some starving explorers. That’s what breaks my
heart.”

“Ho, well,” he sighed as he climbed a tumbled pile of ice fragments,
“there may be a way out yet.”

Night came on, and still by the light of the moon they fought their way
forward. Every moment counted. Their own lives as well as the lives of
those they sought to rescue were at stake.

Only when the dogs, completely exhausted, lay down in the traces and
howled piteously, begging for rest and food, did they pause and seek a
camping place for the night.

A broad cake of ice some hundred yards wide from edge to edge was chosen.
In the center of this they pitched their tent. No Arctic feathers for
them that night, only the hard surface of the ice. But even such a bed as
this was welcome after a day of heroic toil.

When the dogs had been fed and they had eaten their own supper they set
up the radiophone, and braving the danger of being detected by the
outlaw, sought to get into communication with the exploring party.

“Got to find out whether we are going right,” Joe explained.

In a surprisingly short time they received an answer and were cheered by
the news that their course was correct, and that they were at this moment
not more than seventy-five miles from the explorers. With good luck, did
not the ice floe begin to shift, they might almost hope to meet the men
they sought at the evening of the next day and to relieve them of their
suffering from hunger.

After getting in touch with Curlie and rejoicing over the knowledge that
he was alive and safe, they crept into their sleeping-bags and speedily
drifted away to the land of dreams.

Joe was awakened some time later to hear old Major sawing at the chain
which bound him to his sled and barking lustily.

Before his eyes were fully open he heard a ripping sound at the flaps of
the tent. The next instant two great round balls of fire appeared at the
gap made in the tent-wall.

“Jennings! Jennings!” he shouted hoarsely. “A bear! A bear!”

The polar bear, attracted by the sound of his voice, lunged forward,
taking half the tent with him.

Joe had scarcely time to creep back into the depths of his sleeping bag
when the bear’s foot came down with a thud exactly where his head had
been a second before.

                            * * * * * * * *

What Curlie Carson saw as he plunged toward his reindeer there at the
edge of the scrub forest was a spectacle which might well have staggered
a person much older than himself.

The forest of scrub spruce was on fire. The fire was traveling toward
him, seemed, indeed, to be all but upon him.

There was not a breath of air. The fire traveled by leaping from tree to
tree. The very heat of it appeared to seize the dwarf trees and,
uprooting them, to hurl them hundreds of feet in air.

It was such a spectacle as few are called upon to witness. A red column
of flame rose a sheer hundred feet in air. Dry, rosiny spruce cones and
needles rose like feathers high in air, to go rocketing away like sparks
from a volcano. The sky, the very snow all about him, seemed on fire.

“And near! So near!” he muttered through parched lips as he tore at the
thong which bound his terrified reindeer to the willow bush.

His thought had been to loose the reindeer, and clinging to the sled,
attempt to escape.

It was fortunate that the thong resisted his efforts, for just as he was
about to succeed in loosing it, he caught above the tremendous roar of
the fire a strange crack-cracking. The next instant he saw a vast herd of
wild and half tame things, all maddened by the fire, bearing down upon
him. There was just time to flash his knife twice, to cut the thong and
the sled strap, then to leap astride the white reindeer. Then the surge
were upon him. Like a mighty flood they surrounded him, engulfed him,
carried him forward.

He saw them as in a dream, reindeer by hundred, caribou by thousands,
wolves, a bear, all struggling in a mad effort to rush down the narrow
valley from the destroying pillar of fire.

He saw a wolf snap at a caribou’s heels. Saw innumerable hoofs strike the
wolf and bear him down to sure destruction.

“Trampled him to death,” he shivered, “trampled him as they would me if I
fell from my reindeer.”

He clung to the deer’s neck and to his harness with the grim grip of
death.

“Sled’s gone, radiophone set gone. Everything gone but life and a
reindeer. And thus far you are lucky.” So his mind seemed to tell him
things as he felt himself floating forward as if on the backs of the
innumerable host.



                              CHAPTER XXIV
                             A WILD MIX-UP


Just when Joe, trapped in the sleeping-bag, with the ponderous bear
moving near him, was wondering what had happened to Jennings, he felt
himself suddenly lifted from the ice and shaken till his teeth rattled.
Then suddenly he went crashing upon the hard surface beneath him.

He guessed well enough what had happened: The bear had seized the
sleeping-bag and having lifted it as a cat lifts a rat, had shaken it
violently. Then the deerskin had given way beneath Joe’s weight and he
had gone down with a thump.

“What next?” his agitated mind asked him. “What next?”

He could only guess at what happened next. Inside his sleeping-bag he
could see nothing. But that something tremendous was happening he was
forced to believe.

From the mouth of the bear there came a sudden sound like the hissing of
a cat, and after that such a tumbling and thrashing as he had never heard
tell of.

Over and over the bear appeared to roll. There were sounds of tearing
canvas and straining ropes. Once the bear rolled across his feet and for
a second he feared he would be lamed for life. Then suddenly the sound
ceased. He only knew one thing, which was that something heavy rested on
his sleeping-bag.

To realize what had really happened we must follow Jennings as he
proceeded to meet this strange and novel situation. Being more fortunate
than Joe, he had succeeded in wriggling from his sleeping-bag and in
grasping his rifle before the bear saw him. He had been engaged in the
business of getting a bead on the bear’s ponderous head when there came a
sudden tearing at the ropes of the tent. The next instant it doubled up
and came flapping down upon him.

If you are able to imagine what it might be like to be caught in a net
with a whale, you have some notion of Jennings’ position at this time.
The tent had enveloped both him and the bear. Together they rolled over
and over. One moment it seemed he would be crushed to death and the next,
as an opening appeared, a new rent in the canvas, it seemed that he might
be freed.

At last, with a mighty effort, he wrenched himself loose and, much to his
own astonishment, found that he still grasped his rifle in his left hand.

The bear was still thrashing about. Joe was still buried beneath the
tent. Jennings was just trying to figure out the next move, when he heard
one of the dogs let out a wild ki-yi-yi of fright.

Wheeling about, he saw a huge bear grasping a dog by the middle of the
back with his teeth and attempting to carry him away. Since the dog was
chained to a sled and six other dogs were also chained to that sled, it
was necessary for him to drag the sled and six very reluctant dogs after
him.

“Be funny if it wasn’t serious,” said Jennings grimly as he took steady
aim at the beast’s head. Three times his automatic rifle barked. The bear
crumpled up in a heap.

There was, however, not a second to be wasted. As he turned he found
himself staring at a towering white apparition. This apparition, which
stood some three feet above his head, had red gleaming eyes and a lolling
tongue. The second bear had escaped from the tent. Angered by his
experience and the death of his companion, he was ready for battle with
these strange invaders of his domain.

“Want satisfaction, do you?” said Jennings grimly. “Well! There! Take
it!”

With a movement that for speed and accuracy could not be beaten, he
thrust the muzzle of his rifle at the base of the beast’s skull and
fired.

Thus a second bear had just been bagged by Jennings when Joe came
creeping out of his sleeping-bag. For a few seconds he sat rubbing his
shins. Then suddenly his face lightened with a smile as he sang out:

“We killed the bear! Betsy and I killed the bear.”

“Well, anyway,” smiled Jennings, “you’re going to have one of your
dearest wishes granted. Your old dorgs, Ginger, Pete, Major and Bones,
won’t have to be fed to the starvin’ explorers. Here’s a day’s rations
for a regiment of soldiers. I bet that big bear weighs a ton and a half.”

“Whoop-ee!” cried Joe springing to his feet and rushing over to embrace
his astonished friend, Ginger. “That’s sure good news to us!”

“Sixteen inches between the ears,” pronounced Jennings after measuring
with his hands the skull of the fallen Goliath of the North. “Some bear!”

“Some bear, I’d say!” echoed Joe.

“There’s a day’s work to be done on the tent,” said Jennings. “He ripped
it up something awful. But we’ll have to make it do at least till we meet
Munson.”

“Yes, and till we get ashore.”

“Guess so. Lend a hand and let’s see what shift we can make for a wink
more of sleep before we march on.”

In a few moments Joe and Jennings were curled up in their sleeping-bags,
snoring as if they were safe in bed at home.



                              CHAPTER XXV
                           THE WILD STAMPEDE


At no time in Curlie Carson’s adventurous life had he experienced such
strangely mingled emotions as he did while riding astride the white
reindeer in the midst of the wild stampede. A sea of tossing antlers was
all about him. Behind him was the red glare of a mountain of flame. What
the next moment would bring forth he could not even guess. Now the mass
of struggling life was crowded into a narrow runway between banks of a
river and now they spread out over an open flat. Now his legs were
pinched and bruised by antlers pressed against them, and now he rode
almost alone. But always his white steed plunged on into the night made
light as day by the great conflagration.

“Our hope is in the open tundra, open, treeless tundra,” he told himself
over and over.

The great horde of creatures, seeming to know this by instinct, headed
straight for it. Now he could see the tundra’s broad, white expanse
gleaming before them. Would they make it? The fire was gaining upon them.
He felt the hot breath of flame upon his cheek. The crowding from behind
became all but unbearable. Beside him, mouth open, panting, raced a
monstrous caribou. Before him crashed a spotted reindeer.

Would they make it? Now they were a half mile from safety, now a quarter.
The smell of burning hair came stiflingly from the rear.

And now the foremost of the pack reached the open tundra. Then, like a
swollen stream which has suddenly broken through its barriers, they
spread out, racing still, over the silent glistening expanse of white
prairie-like tundra. “A few of the weaker ones have perished. The great
mass of this wild life is saved,” was Curlie’s mental comment.

A mile from the flames Curlie dropped stiffly from his place on the
reindeer’s back and, patting his head in grateful appreciation, tied him
with a loose rope to a willow bush.

“There,” he murmured, “feed up a bit.”

The reindeer began digging in the snow for moss, while Curlie climbed a
near-by knoll to have a look at the strange spectacle.

As each wild creature pursued his own course, Curlie looked on with
interest. The wolves were the first to slink away. The bear, a huge
barren-ground grizzly, climbed a distant hill, there to suck his sore
paws and nurse his grievances.

The caribou began passing to right and left like some army ordered to
deploy and, in an astonishingly brief space of time, had all disappeared.

Only the reindeer, five hundred to a thousand in number, remained to feed
peacefully upon the moss of the tundra.

“Well,” Curlie said to himself, “it seems I’ve come into possession of a
reindeer herd! Don’t see’s they have any masters. No men in sight.”

Just then a dog barked. It was answered by a second one.

“Dogs!” he exclaimed. “Two of them. That’s interesting. Wonder what
kind.”

Putting two fingers to his lips, he sent out a shrill whistle. A moment
later two beautiful collies came racing up to him.

“Collies!” he cried in great joy, “reindeer collies. Why, here I am all
set up in business, with a herd of reindeer and collies to help herd
them.”

He sat down to think. This was undoubtedly the herd which had been held
by the Indians. Had the fire caught them unawares and had they been
burned alive? Or had they set the fire in the hope of concealing their
theft of the reindeer?

“If they’re still alive and did not set the fire,” he told himself,
“they’ll be along after the fire dies down and there’ll be more trouble.
On the other hand, if I could take some of these deer out upon the ice
floe to meet Joe and the explorers, it would be a great boon to them.
Plenty of meat, the right kind too. It might save their lives.

“But there’s the outlaw!” he exclaimed suddenly. “Got to settle him
first. He can’t—why he can’t be more than eight or ten miles from the
food depot on Flaxman Island. A brisk morning’s walk, that’s all.”

After careful deliberation he decided to mount his reindeer and ride
directly for the shore of the island. The island would be solidly
connected to the shore by the ocean ice. He would search out the depot
and ride boldly up to it.

“Surely,” he told himself, “no man who plots mischief is going to be
afraid of an unarmed boy riding a reindeer. Hope I can catch him unawares
and steal a march on him.”

Having put his plan into action, his faithful reindeer and he soon went
racing away over the tundra. Coming to the shore of the island, in order
to reach the north shore where the food depot was placed he began
skirting it.

The ice was everywhere smooth as a floor and covered with just enough
snow to give the reindeer good footing.

“Would be a regular lark if it wasn’t so dangerous. This marching right
up to a man you have followed for thousands of miles is not what it’s
cracked up to be.”

A high cut-bank hid the food depot, a long, low building, from his sight
until he was all but upon it.

As he rounded the point of the cut-bank he saw a man, whose back was
turned to him, disappear around the northwest corner of the building.

“Did he see me?” he breathed. “I’ll play he didn’t.”

Hastily wheeling his reindeer about, he retreated to the shelter of the
cut-bank.

Here after a moment’s thought he tied the reindeer to an out-cropping
willow root, then, on hands and knees, crept back to the corner.

Peeping around the point, he stood at strained attention. He saw no one,
heard no one. “And yet he might be spying at me,” he whispered. “Got to
risk it, though.”

At that he leaped to his feet and dashed full speed toward the cabin. The
distance was two hundred yards. His heart beat madly. Would he be shot
down before he reached that shelter?

Now he had covered half the distance, now two-thirds, now three-quarters.
That his footsteps might not be heard, he was now running on tiptoes.
With his breath coming in short gasps, he leaped to a corner of the
cabin, threw himself upon the snow close to the wall and was for the
moment safe.

“So much, so good,” he breathed. “Now if only he doesn’t see me first.”



                              CHAPTER XXVI
                        THE SPARKLE OF DIAMONDS


Just as Joe and Jennings had finished their breakfast of polar bear meat
and were preparing to go forward, the broad cake of ice on which they had
camped gave a sudden lurch, then rose to such an angle as threatened to
pitch them all into a yawning gap of black water.

Joe sprang forward. The dogs howled dismally. Only Jennings kept his
head.

“Wonder if that’s the beginning of a break-up?” he said, wrinkling his
brow. “If it is, every man-buck of that exploring party’s lost and we’ll
be doin’ fine if we escape ourselves. It’s a tremendous affair when this
ice gets to pilin’. Big cakes, wide as a city lot and thick as a
one-story house, climb on top of each other like kittens playin’ with a
yarn ball. What’s a man’s chance in a mess like that?”

There was, however, no thought of turning back. As long as there was a
chance of saving Munson’s party their duty lay straight ahead. Only one
part of their plans was changed. It was decided that they would pack
their dogs as burros are packed on mountain trails and that until the
return trip their sled should be abandoned.

It was a strange procession that started out over the roughly piled ice.
Jennings, with a bulky sleeping-bag strapped to his back, led the way. He
was followed by a long line of dogs. On each dog’s back was securely
fastened a long strip of meat. Joe brought up the rear with the other
sleeping-bag.

Had an airplane passed over them as they moved forward, its pilot might
have seen what seemed some huge brown worm wriggling its way in and out
among the ice piles.

To their great relief the ocean staged no more demonstrations. The ice
remained motionless. All day, guided by a compass, they made their way
forward. Far into the night they traveled. Two hours after midnight they
ate and rested, then again pushed forward.

Just as the tardy sun was rising, they heard a shot in the distance and,
to their great joy, found themselves a few moments later being cheered
lustily by the worn-out and starving explorers.

Soon, over a fire of bear fat, caribou meat was roasting.

When, an hour later, they started back over the trail it was with high
hopes of reaching shore in safety. Yet many a mile of treacherous ice lay
between them and that coveted goal.

                            * * * * * * * *

The sight which met Curlie Carson’s gaze as he finally mustered up
courage to creep up to the corner of the food depot building and peer
around it, made his blood boil hot with anger.

Before him, crouching over and placing the last contributions to a huge
bonfire of excelsior, paper and packing-boxes piled against the building,
was the outlaw.

“Guessed right,” Curlie told himself, “and just in time. A moment more
and the thing would have been done, the house all aflame. He means to
burn it, but he won’t.”

A second glance showed him the outlaw’s sled piled high and his dog team
grouped about it.

“All ready to race away,” he breathed as he tightened his muscles for a
spring.

It was a desperate chance. Three paces from the man a rifle leaned
against the cabin. The man was between Curlie and the rifle. There was
not a moment to lose.

With a snarl like a tiger Curlie sprang for the other’s back. They went
crashing to the snow in a heap.

The struggle was brief and terrific. When they broke their hold Curlie
was bruised and bleeding but he had gained a point—an all important
point. He was now between the man and his rifle.

Quicker than a cat, he sprang for it and the next instant aimed it square
at the other’s breast.

With a wild cry of terror the man turned and fled toward the shore where
ice was piled in jagged heaps.

Still panting from his recent struggle, Curlie followed him slowly. He
was examining the rifle. It was of a new design, totally unknown to him.

“Good thing he didn’t know I couldn’t fire it,” he breathed. “They say
what you don’t know don’t hurt you. Well, that’s one time it did.”

After a moment’s struggle he discovered the rifle’s secret. He smiled as
he walked out upon the ocean’s ice.

“Thinks he can hide from me. Guess he failed to notice that in this
still, cold air one’s breath rises far above him. He’ll have to stop
breathing if he wishes to escape.”

He walked straight toward a high ice-pile and a moment later had the
pleasure of seeing a dark object dart away from it.

“I could shoot him,” he told himself. “Deserves it too. Trying to burn
those supplies and leave thirty men to freeze and starve! Wonder why he
did it? I’ll find out. I’ll tire him out, then capture him. After that
I’ll ask him.”

But he never did.

The game of hide-and-go-seek had lasted for two hours, when the man
pursued started straight across a broad expanse of ice which was smooth
as a floor.

“That looks dangerous—looks like new ice,” gasped Curlie as he threw
himself flat down upon it.

With his sheath knife he hacked at it until a stream of water came
bubbling up and he heard the wild rush of the current that raced on
beneath it.

“Not more than half an inch thick!” he breathed to himself.

The next instant he was on his feet, backing off the ice and shouting:
“Hey! Hey, there! Danger! Danger! Thin ice! Dan—”

He did not complete the last word, for just at that minute there came a
wild shout of despair.

Splitting from end to end, the ice caved in at the middle. For a moment
the man clung to the edge, then the current seized him.

Just before he disappeared his right hand went up and a shower of
“sparks,” which glimmered and glistened like stars, went shimmering away
across the dark water to light upon a broad stretch of ice which had not
broken.

“Diamonds!” breathed Curlie. “Diamonds and rubies from Russia! He was the
smuggler chief. Wonder why he threw them that way?”

The question had no answer. Yet, there they lay, thousands of dollars
worth of jewels.

“Out of a fellow’s reach for the present,” Curlie told himself, “but I
guess if the ice doesn’t break up any more for a day or two it will be
easy to come out and pick them out of the ice.

“And now,” he told himself, “I must get in some quick work in behalf of
our friends, the explorers. With a whole reindeer herd at my disposal I
ought to be able to do something.”

He walked away for a hundred yards, then paused to look back.

“It’s tough,” he told himself, “tough to be blinked out like that. No
question he deserved it, but there’s so much bad in the best of us that
we can well afford to feel a lot of pity for the worst of us.”

With this he turned and hurried away toward the shore.



                             CHAPTER XXVII
                       DIAMONDS AND OTHER THINGS


Joe Marion found that five members of the exploring party had had their
feet so badly frozen that they were unable to walk. To carry these over
the piled and tumbled ice to the spot where the sleds had been cached was
no mean task. At the same time there was every possible need for speed.
An unfavorable wind at this time would mean certain death to all of them.

They started out bravely and toiled on for many hours, without food. When
they did pause, there was only one kind of food left to them—polar bear
meat.

“About the worst kind of meat there is in the world,” sighed the great
explorer as he tried to roast a bit of it over a blubber fire. “The only
way you can get any real satisfaction out of it is to chew a piece of it
till your jaws are tired, then swallow it part way down. When your jaws
are rested, cough it up and start chewing all over again. When you have
repeated this about four times it may go all the way down and stay down.”

They all laughed at this plan of procedure, but found on trying the meat
that it was indeed the toughest proposition they had ever tackled.

“Like a bit off the neck of an old bull,” was Jennings’ comment.

When they had rested for a time they again turned their faces shoreward
to resume their march against death.

In the meantime, on shore Curlie had made his way back to the reindeer
herd. A careful study of the deer convinced him that certain of them were
sled deer.

“Got their antlers half cut off; just stubs left,” he told himself.
“Stands to reason that the Eskimo cut them off so they’d travel lighter
in harness.”

Making a packing rope into a lasso, he succeeded in catching one of these
deer by the stubs of his antlers. The marks of a harness told him he was
right about these sled deer.

“I’ll just catch three of them and tie them to old Whitie. Then I’ll lead
all four out to meet Joe and the explorers. They’ll be glad enough to
have some fresh reindeer meat. We’ll make these three into venison, but
not old Whitie! Never! He’s been my pal through too many narrow escapes.
He’s going to live to tell the story.”

Some ten hours later, as the exploring party, weakened by lack of proper
food, struggled forward over the tumbled ice, they were surprised to see
the stubby antlers of a white sled deer appear around an ice pile.

“Reindeer!” someone shouted.

“Reindeer and Curlie Carson!” exclaimed Joe, fairly overcome with joy at
meeting his old pal after so long a lapse of time.

Three hours later, having struggled forward to the safe and solid
shore-ice, the whole party sat down to a real feast of reindeer steak,
while a little distance away, chained to their sled, Major, the old
guard, sent out short woof-woofs in the direction of old Whitie, and
Pete, the huskie, who was nine-tenths wolf, sawed at his chain and
ki-yied his desire to leap at the reindeer’s throat.

When they had finished, and had made such shift as they could for a
night’s rest before making the remaining twenty-five miles to the food
depot on Flaxman Island, Joe and Curlie sat long upon an overturned sled
talking.

“So you think it was the smuggler chief?” said Joe as Curlie finished
telling of his adventure at the food depot.

“Must have been. Look at the diamonds.”

“Think we can get them?”

“Believe so.”

“But, say, how about the Whisperer?”

“Didn’t see a sign of any such person. Guess she was just a hoax—never
existed at all.”

“I’m not sure about that. I think she must be a real person.”

“Well, when we get back there on Flaxman Island we’ll look around.”

They arrived at the food depot next day. As soon as the exploring party
had been made comfortable, Joe and Curlie set out to solve two problems,
the problem of the Whisperer and that of saving the rubies and diamonds.

The question of the Whisperer was soon settled, or at least they believed
it was, for, leading away from the island, they found a three days’ old
sled track. The sled had been drawn by eight powerful dogs. There were no
human footprints beside the sled track.

“Saw what happened to the outlaw and skipped,” was Joe’s comment.

“Yes, and if I had had time to look about I might have stopped her,”
Curlie lamented.

“Would you have wanted to do that?”

“I don’t know.”

“She seems to be a pretty good sort; never did us anything but good.
Though how she came to be traveling with that rascal is more than I can
guess.”

“Well, she’s gone. How about our diamonds?”

Curlie led the way to the spot of the tragedy. There had been no snow.
The spot was not hard to find. As Curlie had expected, the ice had frozen
to a depth of six or eight inches.

“But where are the diamonds?” he exclaimed as he failed to catch any
gleam from them.

A thorough search revealed not a single stone.

“Perhaps the Whisperer came back and got them,” suggested Joe.

“Couldn’t. The ice was too thin then.”

Suddenly Joe bent over to examine a hole the size of a lead pencil in the
ice. Bending over he chipped away at the ice for a second, then,
straightening up, gave out a wild shout.

“Whoopee!”

He held in his hand a splendid solitaire.

“Melted its way into the ice,” he explained.

A careful search revealed other such holes. After two hours the boys had
succeeded in securing twenty-eight stones.

When they felt they had rescued the last one, they turned toward camp.

“We’re rich,” laughed Joe. “Twenty thousand dollars worth of cut stones
and fifty thousand worth of reindeer.”

“Rich for a day,” Curlie laughed back. “The stones we must turn in to the
customs department and the reindeer herd must be restored to its rightful
owners. I must get McGregor, the deputy, on the air at once and find out
about that.”

Three weeks later the two boys were once more on the Valdez Glacier, just
one day’s journey from the port where they might catch a boat for Seattle
and the great “Outside.” Their adventures on the Yukon Trail were about
at an end.

One question remained unsolved: Who was the Whisperer and where was she?
It had been established as a fact that the outlaw was the leader of the
band of smugglers. Since he had been deprived of his illegal gains by the
loyal action of Munson, the explorer, in breaking up his band, he had
planned a cruel revenge—that of destroying his supply station and leaving
him with his faithful companions to starve.

Curlie’s prompt action had averted the catastrophe, but where was the
driver of that powerful dog team that had left the supply cabin, and
where now could she be?

Curlie was seated in the tent, nodding over his radiophone instruments
and thinking of this problem and many other things. He remembered the
gratitude of the Eskimo upon the return of the stolen reindeer herd,
thought too of the frank praise of the explorer, Munson, when he had
parted with him on the trail to Dawson. The jewels had gone with Munson
to Dawson. So all matters were cleared up and Curlie was ready for some
new undertaking.

In the corner of the tent Joe Marion was having a last romp with his
“faithful four,” Ginger, Pete, Major and Bones. To-morrow he would return
them to the owner from whom they had been hired in Valdez.

“Do you know,” he said, a suspicious huskiness creeping into his voice,
“I once heard an old sourdough musher say that of all the things he had
in the Arctic, he hated most to part with his dogs. I laughed at him
then, but now I know it’s true.”

“Yes, sir,” answered Curlie. “It’s queer, but you—”

He broke off suddenly. His nose began wiggling like that of a rabbit
eating clover. He was getting something from the air. That something was
a whisper, the whisper of the Whisperer. It said:

“Hello - Curlie - are - you - there? You - didn’t - see - me - there - up
- at - the - top - of - the - world - on the shore - of - the Arctic -
did you? I thought - you - had - better - not.

“But - Curlie - they - want - you - on the - trail - that - leads - over
- the - Great - American - Desert. Big - things - Curlie - I heard - them
- calling - you. You may - see - me - there - for - that - is - my - home
- and I - am - going - back.”

The whisper ended. Curlie sat staring into space, thinking: “Is the
Whisperer a real person or only a ghostly spirit of the air?”

Almost as if in answer to the question came a call from the station at
Valdez, a relayed message telling him to report for duty on the American
Desert at once.

“Whew!” he breathed as he mopped his brow, “I may solve that mystery
yet.”

How he struggled toward its solution and how he continued to be of
service to his country and his fellow men by the aid of his radiophone
and his wonderful ears, will be told in the next book, entitled: “The
Desert Patrol.”



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original printed text—this e-text
  is public domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the HTML
  version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)





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