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CHAPTER X TREACHERY
The realization that Mrs. Pollzoff was too clever a woman to permit herself to be so easily caught ruined the tiny bit of fun Roberta had found in days. For minutes she stood, staring out at the sea and trying desperately to convince herself that she would soon find a way to escape. At first the fact that she were allowed to go about without guards and not kept under cover appeared to be a good thing, but as she thought that over, she made up her mind that this particular island was so far away from any line of travel or settlement that her captors had no fear of her being found by plane or boat; and she couldn’t get away, so they were safe in letting her roam at will.

167 “No one would take Nike up,” she said aloud because it was pleasant to hear something beside the ceaseless splash of the water on the shore. “Then,” she added a bit later, “perhaps it’s still here.” The abode of Nomie was built in a rock so that anyone passing would not notice that it was a habitation; so perhaps a similar hiding place had been found for her plane.

Hopefully she set out again, and this time she investigated every high rock, shrub, clump of trees, and low cliff. For an hour she continued the search, and although she half skirted the island, there was little difference in the scene from one point to another. The sameness of it all was appallingly dreary. She tried hard to keep thoughts of her mother and father out of her mind, for she knew just how anxious and worried they must be. She could picture them listening for the familiar roar of the machine which would announce her return; running to the telephone every time it rang, eager for news that didn’t come; hurrying to the door when the mail-man whistled, only to be disappointed when he brought no card or letter.168 Dad was doubtlessly making brave efforts to assure his wife that their daughter was quite safe—perhaps even fibbing a bit in an effort to make it easier. He had probably already got in touch with Mr. Trowbridge and her former flying-mates had been urged to keep an eye out for their girl Sky-Pilot, as they had dubbed her.

All those things made her heart sick and she wandered on and on hardly noticing where she went and twice she had to scramble up over rocks to get out of water into which her stumbling feet had taken her. At last, utterly weary and discouraged, she sank down on a hard wide stretch of sand and buried her head on her arm. Although she was nearly overcome with discouragement she did not give way to tears, for she knew they wouldn’t help any. There was nothing she could do but wait, no matter how long it was. She sat quietly for a quarter of an hour and felt more rested, then a sort of plan formed itself in her mind. She must find out just where she was! With that information she might discover a way to escape. But with that encouraging idea, into her brain popped a hopeful169 thought that she would probably be watched to some extent and any move she made would be immediately reported. As she sat there feeling desperately lonely, she heard a gruff voice a short distance further on and recognized the man Wat, but could not see him.

“Well, I’ve fixed her up, just as you want, but whether you like it or not, I’m telling you it’s no good. My advice—”

“I’m not asking you for your advice.” That harsh voice was none other than Mrs. Pollzoff’s.

“You’re gettin’ it gratis, see! When the Boss finds out how you balled up the works you’re going to get plenty, I don’t care how much of a drag you have with him. He told you what to do and you didn’t do as he ordered—”

“Will you shut up!” The woman screamed.

“No, I won’t. You haven’t got a leg to stand on—”

“I tell you the girl was having us spied on—”

“You can tell me all you like, but I don’t believe it, see? Now, this stunt you want170 to pull is a fizzle—and you’ll get thrown as sure as you’re born. You were told to stay here and look after the girl—”

“How do you know so much about what I was told?”

“That’s an easy one. I was told that when the pair of you got here you’d stay, see, so I know those were your orders. If you found you were spied on, you had your orders to go on to Miami and keep away from here, and you were to keep out of the pilot seat. Instead of that you signaled that you were coming along O.K. and it wasn’t until the re-fill that anyone knew you were at the controls—”

“I brought the plane through, didn’t I? And I gave the fellows that were spying on us the slip, didn’t I?” There was proud defiance in her tone.

“I’m not so sure that you did. You got here, yes, with the girl almost dead, and you flew the plane to satisfy your own conceit—”

“This plane belongs to me, understand, I’m doing what I please with it and you are obeying my orders regarding it! Bear that in mind. I made up my mind I was going to171 have it the first time I rode in it, if I had to steal it.”

“Yes!” Wat remarked without much interest.

“Yes. Now I’ve got it, it’s mine, I’m keeping it in payment for the buckshot that girl’s father peppered on my chin. As long as there is the faintest sign of a scar, I’ll feel they are still in my debt.” She spoke with such passion that Roberta gasped in amazement and horror.

“Yes. Well, all I’ve got to say is that it’s a pity her father had such darned poor aim—.” Just then an engine roared and cut off further remarks, and Roberta leaped to her feet, for she recognized Nike’s thunder. A moment later it rounded a curve and came rushing swiftly along the hard stretch of beach.

“Oh, they have painted her white,” the girl gasped. Sure enough, Nike, all her own beautiful trimming concealed under the color which would make her hardest to pick out in the sky, was rushing forward swiftly, gaining speed at every turn of her whirling propeller. With an exclamation of dismay, Roberta172 started to run across the beach to her beloved machine and at that moment, Mrs. Pollzoff saw her. The woman’s expression grew uglier than anything the girl had ever seen in her life and with a lurch Nike was spun around sharply; it was tearing after her and in another minute she would be cut to pieces in that cruel wheel. The plane’s nose was pointed directly at the girl, rushing like some maddened demon to destroy her. There was no time to think or act. The only thing she could do was drop flat on her face and pray.

“God help me,” formed on her lips, but before the words were out of her mouth, she felt something brush the full length of her body and knew that the machine had lifted before it touched her and was already two feet in the air. “Thank you,” she sighed gratefully then raised her head lest Mrs. Pollzoff discover that by a miracle her fiendish plan had failed, and turn back to finish it, but Nike was climbing at top speed and was half way across the island.

“Hurt, Miss?” Wat came running.

“Thank you, no,” she told him.

“You’re mighty lucky.” His rough face173 was white through its tan and to relieve his feelings, he shook his fist after the racing plane and its pilot.

“I hope you fly to perdition,” he shouted.

“Second the motion,” Roberta added, then she began to laugh hysterically and Wat stared down at her.

“Sure you’re all right?” he asked again.

“Positive,” she told him.

“You sure got a good guardian angel!”

“You don’t seem overly fond of Mrs. Pollzoff.”

“I don’t know anyone who is,” he replied.

“Did you paint Nike—the plane?” she ventured to ask.

“Yes,” he admitted. “She’s got money in these works so I had to, because she told me to, but it was a hurry-up job just on the outside. It’s hardly dry yet, but that flying fool couldn’t wait.”

“She did appear to be in a hurry,” the girl remarked.

Roberta didn’t say so, but he had given her the information she wanted. They had not taken time to go over the inside of the machine and it was possible that the signal buzzer174 would be heard by someone. The girl wanted awfully to ask Wat where they were, but decided against being too inquisitive.

“I see the kid, Natell, over on the hill. Guess it’s time you got something more to eat,” he told her.

“That would be welcome,” Roberta replied with a smile. She started toward the young Indian girl, but Wat called.

“I say, Miss Langwell!”

“Yes.” She turned about.

“Thought I’d tell you it’s about three hundred miles, air line, to the nearest coast.”

“Three hundred miles!” she exclaimed in dismay.

“Yah, kind of a long stretch when you figure doing it on a raft fer instance, or a canoe,” he added.

“I hadn’t been thinking of a raft,” she grinned.

“Reckon not, but you might. Building one would be a real good way to fill in your time, if you’re a good hand with a hammer, but don’t set no store by it.”

“As a hammerer I’m bad, but I might have tried it. Thanks so much for the tip.”

175 “Keep it for what it’s worth,” he replied and strode off in the opposite direction.

Hurrying toward the waiting Natell, the girl Sky-Pilot’s step was light for she felt that after all its seeming hopelessness, the hours had not been devoid of results. She had learned that Wat and his companions were located on the opposite side of the island, that Mrs. Pollzoff had gone off in the repainted Nike, whose nose pointed east when she disappeared on the horizon, which meant that the nearest point of land was probably that way, three hundred miles. Recalling her maps and large bodies of water in the north, she wondered if the island was in the Bering Sea. If it was, the mainland must be Alaska, United States territory.

If she wasn’t west of Alaska the island might be in one of the large bodies to the north of Canada, but that wouldn’t make a bit of difference, for every pilot, worthy of the name, was a citizen of the world, and the sudden disappearance of one in any part of the globe immediately aroused the interest of every land. It was a mighty comforting thought and Roberta was humming a little176 tune when she joined Natell, who looked at her with wide eyes.

“That wooden bird could not destroy you,” she said as if she could hardly believe the evidence of her own optics.

“No.” Roberta was about to explain that while she might have been cut to shreds, the plane hadn’t really touched her, but then she recalled reading that Indians have many superstitions and if they believed that she was favored by the Gods or had a charmed life, they might be inveigled into helping her escape. She had also read that the natives succeeded in traveling with their frail crafts over waters a white man, unless driven by desperation, would refuse to attempt; and safely reach ports unbelievably distant. The pair reached the dug-out and the young girl immediately started to speak swiftly to her mother in their own tongue and the girl Sky-Pilot guessed that the older woman was getting the details of the miraculous escape of their white charge. Nomie’s own eyes widened during the recital and at its close, she crossed herself piously.

“Eat,” she invited.

177 “Thank you.”

The evening meal consisted of reindeer meat, dried potatoes baked in a sort of pancake form, cornbread which was whiter than that she had eaten earlier in the day, coffee sweetened with canned milk, and a paste of dried fruits. The girl was mighty hungry and she ate her full share, but she watched that she did not overstep the bounds of good breeding. She realized that probably every mouthful had to be brought at regular intervals, not too close together, from the distant mainland and that the rations of Nomie and Natell were necessarily doled out with care so the supplies would not be depleted before they could be replenished. The food tasted good and Nomie seemed to appreciate the fact that her guest or prisoner was not too finical.

Glancing about the primitive living quarters, Roberta thought of her mother and recalled long ago days when she was a little girl, with a little girl’s likes and dislikes for different foods. Then, Mrs. Langwell had told her if she would learn to eat anything put before her, when she grew up she would178 save herself all sorts of unpleasant experiences and keep from being classified by her friends as too much of a nuisance to have around when they were inviting guests.

“It’s a mighty good thing Mom taught me that,” she said to herself, “for I certainly have landed in all sorts of places, been given all sorts of things to eat, and it has always been jolly.” She thought of “Pa and Ma Perkins,” into whose treacherous “backyard” she had brought the Wallace’s when she was flying blind through a bad fog.

But it wasn’t possible, in the face of her present dilemma to keep her mind on experiences of the past and as she thought of what she had seen of the island Roberta wondered if there was any sort of wireless station on it. She hadn’t seen anything like an antenna, but it seemed hardly possible that the men stationed here had no means of communicating with the outside world. Immediately she began to think seriously of the radio. One of the men had said that Mrs. Pollzoff had signaled that all was O.K. when she was flying toward them. She must have carried some sort of instrument which she had used,179 but, rack her brain as hard as she could, Roberta couldn’t recall a moment when a communication had been sent out. To be sure it might have been done when she was unconscious; also it might have been done on Nike’s radio, but that was not equipped to send. If a station picked her up there were certain signals she could send, a sort of code; also, if Mr. Wallace’s special apparatus was sprung, she could reply to questions, but in order to do that she had to press a switch, which looked like one of the screws on the dial-board. This fact was known to only a few officials inside and outside of the Lurtiss organization; Mrs. Pollzoff was ignorant of their existence, so she could not very well avail herself of them.

The girl Sky-Pilot resolved that on the following day she would search for a radio. Ever since she could remember, Harvey had built them, so she grew up with more than an average understanding of their construction and operation; also, she had learned more during her period of training at Lurtiss Field for Mr. Wallace considered that a pilot who did not understand sending and receiving,180 as well as rig-up, was only half trained. Now, if she could locate a set here she would watch for an opportunity to send out an S.O.S. But she would have to find out first where she was located; just saying that she was on an island which she thought was in the Bering Sea would not be much help. Not only the Bering Sea but every large body of water had numberless uncharted islands and this particular one was probably chosen by the Boss, whoever he was, because of its location and apparent barrenness.

When the meal was finished Roberta offered to help Nomie, but she was brushed aside, although not unkindly, so she went out again. The sun was still high and the girl realized that because she was a good way north there would be a great difference in the length of the days and nights, and she wondered if she would see any of the marvelous coloring and brilliant spectacles of which she had read, but the heavens were clouding over, and far in the horizon she discovered a mist which looked very much like a gathering fog.

181 “Hope it isn’t going to be as thick as it was the other day when we landed,” she remarked, and as she knew a great deal about the density and speed of the all-enveloping mists, she kept her eye on it to be sure that she did not wander too far away. Recalling the treachery of the shore line she had no doubt that she could very quickly lose herself. Observation was also a branch of an aviator’s training, besides it was a part of Roberta’s nature, so as she walked slowly in the opposite direction from that she had taken earlier in the day, she carefully noted every rock, counted her steps when she crossed smooth stretches, and turned about frequently so that she would be familiar with the appearance of the landscape when she returned.

She had been walking nearly an hour by her watch, which she had kept running although she knew the time must be different on the Island than it was at home, when she noticed a hill which rose gradually a short distance in front of her. The fog was coming in, but she was sure she could manage to get back safely, so she proceeded until she182 was standing on the top. There she discovered that it extended in a long, narrow plateau which seemed almost straight, but as she went along she saw that it curved slightly toward the water. The wind was blowing so cold that she wrapped her coat around her tightly and decided to go on and see what it was like on the other side. The surface was not entirely flat; in places it dipped slightly, as if worn down by storms, and in a couple of sections were wide cracks, such as those made by ice in the crevices of rocks.

The whole flat was deadly monotonous and Roberta was about to return before she was caught in the fog, when suddenly, as if from beneath her feet, she heard a confusion of strange sounds. Breaking the island’s solitude as it did, it made her jump, and then, controlling her nerves, she paused to listen. It seemed to her as if it was some kind of an animal, then after a moment she wondered if it could be a baby, but she instantly dismissed that idea. Walking back carefully to the widest crack she had crossed, she bent over to hear better, then got down on her stomach to see what might be there. It occurred183 to her that some young animal might have fallen through and was unable to climb out; it might be hurt and she could help it. But the crevice was dark and then she heard the noises again and distinguished voices. Quickly she pressed her ear close, then jumped, for a hand was laid on her shoulder.


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