Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/39

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trip south, and since he arrived in San Francisco, that Murphy had instituted himself door dragon to keep them away. But even Murphy relented toward Captain Ek. The old seaman's bearing was kindly and commanding. Then, too, he had given Murphy a brief outline of a proposition for Commander Crayne to consider.

"I was sayin'," continued Captain Ek, "that we left Fort Chipewyan in the early spring, 1789, and to make a long story short, got to the Arctic Sea. I've gone over that trail again but I can't get the waterlane we found. I left MacKenzie. We'd had some words, and anyway he was crazier to reach the Pacific then to go north."

"Murphy, you've got that date, 1789," Commander Crayne interpolated. "Remember Chicago wasn't born then; I'm not sure, but I don't believe even Fort Dearborn was in existence on the site of Chicago. Seventeen-eighty-nine," he mused. "George the Third was reigning in England. Arkwright was making his spinning-jenny and Watts working on his steam engine. Burns was busy with his poems. Lord Byron was a baby. The French Revolution was at its height. America as a nation was about twelve years old. And Captain Ek says he was on his way north."

"It's jake with me," commented Murphy; "he made a bigger noise than that when I was listening first."

For an hour or more, Commander Crayne listened to the account of Captain Ek, fascinated by a story that was interlocked with data and detail, yet fantastic beyond belief. Then the old man took a checkbook from his pocket and unscrewed the cap of a fountain pen.

"You don't believe this, young man," he said, "and I don't blame you none. But they's a sayin' in this country that money talks! What I told you for was to get you to take a trip north on my account. I want to git back to that big bowl in the earth. I can pay for the job and maybe make it worth your while. What will it take for flying-machines that'll be able to stay there a couple or three months if necessary?"

"Offhand, I couldn't tell you, Captain Ek. But I've great faith in a machine the English are making, and with a few improvements of my own, I think she'd do. It would cost a good deal."

"You'll go, then?" asked the old man.

"Certainly, if it can be managed."

Captain Ek filled out a check, tore it loose and handed it to Crayne, who looked at it, then slowly smiled, and returned it. "I'll put this in the bank," said the old man. "They'll let you know it's there for you to draw on. Now get busy, sir."

He rose and held out his hand, which Crayne grasped. He felt a spontaneous liking for Captain Ek, and a vast pity. There was no doubt the old fellow was mad, but his tale had held the young men deeply interested, and he had surprised them by his exact knowledge of polar conditions, his figures and dates, his nautical bearings and astronomical observations. Crayne, a stickler for detail and with a prodigious memory, found no flaw.

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