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CHAPTER XII A SECOND CAPTIVE
“Keep ’em up.”

Roberta’s heart hammered, but she misunderstood the last part of the order, and faced about quickly.

“Say, what are you doing; I told you not to turn around!”

“I’m not,” Roberta retorted.

“You’re—say, you’re a girl!” A decidedly unkempt looking young man, with nothing more deadly in his hands than a knotted stick, came toward her quickly. “You look like Langwell, the Lurtiss kid pilot.”

“I am Roberta Langwell and I’m not a kid,” she replied indignantly as she dropped her hands.

“Sure, I saw you when you were touring206 with the Wallaces. What the— that is, I mean, what are you doing up here?” His hand went to his collar as if to adjust his tie, but there was none there, and a look of dismay spread over his bewhiskered features. “My name’s Arnold, but I’m no relation to the guy who tried to betray his country.”

“I am a prisoner, Mr. Arnold,” she told him.

“You look it. Tell me another,” he answered.

“Just the same, that’s the truth,” she replied, and then, as there was a stump handy, she sat down. “Please don’t let me keep you standing. Are we in the Bering Sea?” Arnold sat down with a chuckle.

“The island is,” he told her.

“What islands are they, I mean, what are their names?”

“Don’t believe these have any because they are not very large, but they belong to the Pribilof group. I believe this is the farthest north and it’s a bit over three hundred miles to Alaska.”

“Thanks,” she said with a sigh. “It’s mighty nice to know where one is at. I was207 piloting for a woman called Pollzoff; and she fed me some kind of dope that knocked me out, then tied me up like a chicken ready to roast, and brought me to an island below here.”

“Pollzoff?”

“Yes.”

“Go on and tell me the rest.” There was no doubt in his tone or manner now.

“Guess I’m what is called kidnaped,” Roberta began, then told him quickly all that had happened to her right up to that moment.

“You certainly have been having a terrible time,” he remarked soberly. “What was that spring thing in your plane?”

“It’s an invention of Mr. Wallace’s and I really cannot tell much about it except that it’s tuned with the radio stations’ broadcasting band and when it is open, if the signal is investigated, Nike can be located.”

“That’s rich! And Pollzoff went off in your plane; flying right into the arms of the police looking for you. Wish I could see the performance.”

“I don’t believe she will do anything so208 stupid as fly into anyone’s arms, but just the same, they can find out where Nike goes, that is, if the thing works. Now, tell me, what are you doing here?”

“Sort of a prisoner myself,” he answered.

“Oh, did somebody catch you?”

“In a way, yes. I was one of the war air-kids, and after that didn’t want to do anything but fly, but the woods were full of fellows trying to do the same thing and the jobs were almost as few and far apart as hen’s teeth. Well, I grubbed around like a ground-hog at a desk I finally landed until I saved enough money to buy a plane.”

“Yes,” Roberta was intensely interested.

“That was before Col. Lindbergh made the air a place for Americans to fly in and while I hopped about, here, there and several other places I wasn’t exactly a bright and shining success. Then one day I answered an advertisement I read in a middle west paper and took off on a job that seemed too good to be true. As they told me I would be working for a chain of business firms, I swallowed it hook, line and sinker, with the pole and reel thrown in, and didn’t think209 anything of it when I carried males and females all over the map. I figured they were members of boards, big business stuff with headquarters scattered.” He paused again and frowned.

“I see,” the girl encouraged.

“I’d been with them a year, and had a real roll in the bank before I made my first trip to Alaska with any of them. It was six months after that before I went over to the Pribilof Islands—”

“Is that where we are?”

“Yes, but not the main ones. They are a bit further south, but these little fellows I guess are all on the same range, like an underseas chain of mountains,” he answered, then went on. “I carried mail, supplies and stuff back and forth between them and the mainland, sometimes down to the Aleutian Islands. The Indian woman you call Nomie is an Aleut.”

“I wondered.”

“That’s what she is. Her husband was a seal fisher and got killed when the kid was little. They had the dugout and lived where you’re being held so she stayed and worked210 for the gang, she nurses them when they get sick, and all that sort of thing.”

“She’s been mighty nice to me,” Roberta said quickly.

“She’s a darned good Indian and she had to make her living somehow, same as a lot of the rest of us.”

“Of course,” Roberta agreed.

“At first I hopped on Nomie’s island and hopped off again within an hour. Sometimes I took a bale of furs that I thought the other Indians had left there to be sold in the States or Canada. Gee—this story is stretching out and we gotta remember that tide.”

“It was going down,” Roberta told him.

“Yes, I know it. Well then I began to make longer stops and carry bigger loads, and after a while I happened to pick up a magazine with an article and pictures of the Pribilofs. It told about the seal fishing, how there used to be thousands of the beasts killed every year even at mating time. The United States bought the islands from Russia along with Alaska in 1867 and made laws to prevent the seals being exterminated. Before the war, 1911 I think it was, the211 United States, Japan, Great Britain and Russia made a treaty agreeing that the white men were not to do any more seal slaughtering. The Indians, because they don’t do it in such wholesale lots and because it means the only means of living to a great many of them, are the only people who can kill the migrating seals. They have to do it in canoes with spears or harpoons, can’t use guns or motor boats. It was a mighty interesting article, told how the seals start up in pairs from all over the country to raise their young ones.”

“Why sure, there’s a wonderful story Rudyard Kipling wrote called The White Seal. My mother read it to me when I was a kid, and I always loved it. The White Seal went to an Island called St. Paul’s.”

“That’s it. I liked that story too. Well, I knew radio as well as flying, so by and by I had to relieve the regular chap at that.”

“I’ve wondered if they have a radio.”

“They have, but it isn’t much of one. It’s just used for signals. While I was doing that I discovered that when the seals came up in April and all through the summer, a212 bunch of them were run through a sort of pen and killed. There aren’t as many of them coming up now as there used to be but the gang goes after them any old way and slaughters two hundred times more than the Indians bring in every season. It was while I was there that Wat was put in charge. I figured he was in the same boat with me; that he had been working for them for a long time before they let him get hep to what was going on, then they’d sunk him so deep he couldn’t do anything but hang on; besides he’s got a kid sister in Saranac trying to get a permanent T. B. cure and that costs a lot of money. I know because he asked me to drop down there one time and pay the bill—it was some bill, and I saw the kid, she’s only about thirteen years old.”

“That’s too bad,” Roberta said.

“Sure. Well, I’m free, white, and twenty-one, and when I figured I was signed up with a bunch of crooks I made up my mind to quit. I got a full-sized fondness for my Uncle Sam, been batting about other countries a lot, so while I don’t think the United States hasn’t room for improvement, it suits213 me right down to the ground, and I haven’t any hankering to end my brilliant career in a Federal prison while the guy I work for stays hidden and lets me hold the bag. First I thought Pollzoff was the head of the thing, then I heard Wat tell her where to get off at a couple of times for not obeying orders, but she’s got some money invested in the business so does somewhat as she pleases.”

“I wish she hadn’t picked on me,” Roberta said ruefully.

“She got everlastingly sore when she could not get a license, and I figure, from what you say, that while she was flying around with you, she got jealous because you landed what she couldn’t. When a woman of her type gets jealous, she’s deadlier than a whole herd of males. Probably they planned to get you to work for them as a sort of blind, but she couldn’t wait, and shoved the works hard. Anyway, when I made up my mind to quit, I knew I had to do it mighty carefully. I wasn’t leaving Nomie’s very often then and it wasn’t easy, but finally one day I started off in the plane, that was about six weeks ago, but they must have been wise. Wat214 wasn’t there that day and the fellow in charge had the machine gun turned on me before I could get very high. The shot ripped off my tail but I gave the bus the gas and went on just the same. Couldn’t do a very good job of steering, and it was foggy, so this is as far as I got. Now, you know all about me.” He stared ahead with a scowl.

“My goodness, how have you managed to live? Were you hurt when you came down?”

“Hurt some, sure, but not bad. Got a crack on my head that seems to have affected my eyes. Then I discovered a vessel wrecked off the other side and managed to salvage her stores. Hunted for some of the crew but none of them got as far as the island, I guess. Been trying to fix up the bird again, but it’s been slow work and I’ve been wondering if I can fly her when she is finally fixed.”

“Well, if you can’t,” Roberta said eagerly, “I can.”

“By Jove, that’s so. Tell you what, you go back with Nomie and come here again. Know how to paddle a canoe?”

“A little, but I could never manage one of the native boats.”

215 “Get Natell to teach you. Take advantage of everything you can while you’re stranded. The whole country will be looking for you by this time, and they won’t stop. Nobody knows I disappeared, but maybe when they get you out, someone will help me.”

“Of course they will. Do you think I’ll go off without you?” Roberta demanded indignantly. Wasn’t he a fellow pilot in distress? “And, when we get to the United States you can have your eyes attended to and they’ll be all right again.”

“Say, funny thing. I’ve heard about you in a lot of different places and from different people, and the same phrase popped into my head that I’ve heard about you. They all say, you’re a great kid, but,” he added hastily, “They don’t mean that you’re a baby, or anything like that; and I don’t either, you know what I mean.”

“Sure,” she agreed heartily.

“Now, while we’ve been talking, I’ve got a sort of plan.”

“What is it?”

“You go back with Nomie. Don’t say a word about seeing me, and come with her216 again as often as she’ll fetch you. Perhaps they’ll let you have a little boat. I can’t put up any kind of signal for I don’t want them to spot me before I’m ready to take off. You don’t do any more snooping around because I know the whole works and you might get into further difficulties. Just keep your eyes open ordinarily and wait. I’ll look around for you every day and see you when you are coming this way, then if you have any news you can tell me, and if I think of anything more, I can tell you. I’ll go on, finishing the plane, and if we don’t get away before that’s ready, we can make a plan to give them the slip. There was a small boat on that vessel and I’ve got it hauled up under some weeds; haven’t thought of using it, but we may be glad to have it,” he proposed eagerly and Roberta was intensely interested.

“That’s a corking plan.”

“I don’t suppose you have any of your instruments.”

“They are all in Nike.”

“I have a pocket compass off the ship, a real good one. You take it back with you and keep it out of sight. If you should come217 alone, it will help you.” He gave her the highly sensitive instrument and after examining it carefully, she dropped it into the pocket of her blouse.

“May I see the plane?”

“Sure.” He swept an armful of boughs and sand off the machine showing that he had not only been working on the plane, but had cleared a take-off space which he covered again. “Nomie and Natell come up around the other end of these twin islands for fish and wood a couple of times a week, but neither have been over here yet. You’re my first caller and I guess I didn’t give you a very polite reception.” He noticed that the girl, although she made a hasty examination of the plane, seemed to see every detail.

“Your reception was all right and the bus looks great. It’s a wonder to me that you didn’t have more of a crack-up than you did when you came down.”

“I tried my darndest to save the pieces,” he grinned.

“And you’ve got these parts fixed evenly. Why you’re doing a bang-up job. Did you find tools on the vessel?”

218 “Sure, a whole load of them in the carpenter’s outfit. Don’t know where the tub came from, her name was scraped off, but I surely thanked Providence for depositing the boat right here. There is still some of her left. Perhaps, next time you come you can go around and see what’s left of her if the sea doesn’t bang her up.”

“I should like to very much,” Roberta answered, then went on a bit anxiously. “Guess I’d better not linger too long now or Nomie might take it into her head to come looking for me. Now that we’ve talked over the plan I won’t try to do any investigating. I suppose that crack I saw and the noise I heard is the place where the seals are driven and killed.”

“That’s right, it is, although the seals do not come up in any great numbers any more. Be mighty careful to let them all think over there that you haven’t any interest in what they are doing. Wat’s pretty decent, as decent as he can be, but he’s only one. He and Slim are in a bad crowd of rough-necks. You had a sample of that last night, so be careful,” he urged.

219 “I will,” she promised. “It’s much easier now that I know where I am located and something about the place. Wonder who the big Boss of the whole thing is?”

“So do I, but the information we have may help in catching the Chief Mogul himself.”

“We’ll hope so.”

“You know, that stranded vessel sounds mighty mysterious to me.”

“She is mysterious, but I’ve been so busy with my own troubles I haven’t given her very much thought. I’ll see what I can learn from what is left of her. Perhaps we can solve that mystery too, since we’ve gone into the business,” he laughed.

“I’ll trot along. If Nomie brings me this way again, or I can come alone, how will I find you, by coming around here?” she asked.

“If I see that you are alone I’ll come down to the beach or one of the coves and meet you,” he replied. “I’ll come with you now to the ledge and see that you get over all right. You don’t want to slide off into the Bering. It’s cold and wet all the way to the bottom, and that’s a good mile.”

220 Presently the two had reached the ledge, found the water a foot lower than when she crossed earlier, so she hurried forward while he watched closely, ready to spring at the first sign of danger, but she reached the other side safely.

“I hear Natell,” she called back to him. “So long!”

“S’long, Sky-Pilot,” he answered.

Roberta ran as fast as she could to the nearest point and saw the canoe moving swiftly toward the end of the island, but when the Indians sighted her, they paddled more slowly. The white girl, in her trim aviation suit stood an instant outlined against the blue sky as she paused to glance back toward the wooded island where she saw Arnold outlined dimly against the dark green of the forest behind him, then she hurried toward the bit of beach where Nomie and Natell waited.

Riding back from the twin-islands to Nomie’s in the bottom of the native canoe, Roberta’s heart beat confidently and she felt that her guardian angel had certainly been more than careful of her welfare, but it was221 mighty difficult to hold her face straight, her lips from smiling complacently or joyously. She managed to control herself, to keep her mouth from betraying her, and it was not difficult to either drop her lids or gaze out over the dancing waters of Bering Sea. It was great to know where she was and she resolved to follow Arnold’s instructions to the letter and make no move which would arouse the suspicions of the men on the island. She would avoid being more than ordinarily interested in her surroundings, and at least appear not to be too observant of what went on around her.

The white girl sighed with relief when she saw the desolate island loom up suddenly, looking for all the world as if not a living soul ever went within miles of it.

Presently the canoe shot into a cove and Nomie nodded for her to land, so, while they steadied the boat, she stepped ashore. Immediately the women bent to the oars again and in a few minutes disappeared from sight around a long point of land. Roberta sat down, making the best picture of disconsolation that she could, but with her face hidden222 between her knees, she could indulge herself in a first class relaxation of her features, and she smiled broadly. Why shouldn’t she! Arnold would get the plane ready in record time, she would go over to twin-islands another day, and they would fly away. It was merely a matter of a short wait and in the meantime she would have a rather jolly experience living with the Indian woman and her daughter; furthermore, the seals promised no end of entertainment.

“I am going to have a real good time,” she told herself. “This isn’t a half bad place, and I wager I am the first white girl to visit it, which will be something to tell the newspaper reporters when I get home.” Just then Natell appeared and beckoned with her finger and Roberta followed to see what was wanted.

Natell lead the way around the opposite end of the island to a huge flat section. Here she paused and motioned Roberta to remain perfectly still. For about two minutes she did, then, a little way out, she saw a pair of dark eyes staring at her, and a moment later, a young seal hauled himself to the land and223 started in her direction. He came quite close, within four feet, then stopped again, but just then some one of his family called him, and he returned to the water. When he was gone, Natell crept cautiously forward among the rocks, then, with a movement like lightning, she reached down and came up again with a tiny seal in her arms. He whined pitifully, but his curiosity was greater than his fear, so he gave her a sniff.

“Oh, the cunning little fellow,” Roberta exclaimed. She petted the baby, but about ten minutes later there was another bark from the water and the young seal flapped comically in front of her. He was so funny that she threw back her head and laughed heartily, she couldn’t help it, but it scared the little fellow and he scrambled away. “Next time I must be more polite when I have company,” she told herself.

THE END


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