On the Edge of the Arctic - Harry Lincoln Sayler - ebook

On the Edge of the Arctic:  An Aeroplane in Snowland written by Harry Lincoln Sayler who was a newspaperman and novelist.  This book was published in 1913. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.

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On the Edge of the Arctic

An Aeroplane in Snowland


Harry Lincoln Sayler

Illustrated by Norman P. Hall

Table of Contents


















The Gitchie Manitou ready for its first flight in the Far North. 


This story, which is an account of the peculiar and marvelous adventures by which two Canadian boys—Norman Grant and Roy Moulton—achieved a sudden fame in the Arctic wilderness of the great Northwest, had its beginning in the thriving city of Calgary. The exact time was the big day of the celebrated “Stampede,” Calgary’s famous civic celebration. It was in July and among the many events that had drawn thousands of people to the new Northwestern metropolis, Norman and Roy were on the program as aviators and exhibitors of their new aeroplane.

These young men were born in Calgary and had lived eighteen years in that city. Since this almost covered the period of Calgary’s growth from a trading post to a modern city, each young man had a knowledge of the wilderness and its romance that other boys could get only from history. This meant that they knew plainsmen, scouts, ranchmen, cowboys, hunters, trappers, and even Indians as personal friends. It meant also that they had a real knowledge of the prairies, the woods and even of the mountains. Their knowledge of these men and the land in which they lived was personal and did not come from the fanciful narratives of books of adventure.

Each boy was the son of a mechanic, men who had come into the Province of Alberta with the first railroads. And each boy was educated in all that a grammar school affords. The picturesque romance of the Northwest having been a part of the life of each, it might have been supposed that the ambitions of the two lads would have run toward mining or ranch life or even toward the inviting work of hunters or trappers.

To the gratification of their fathers, however, they fell in with the modern movement and turned toward mechanics. When the furore for aeronautics reached even far-away Calgary, the boys found themselves passionately absorbed in all airship discoveries. Mr. Grant’s position as a division mechanic of a great trunk railroad, and Mr. Moulton’s “Electrical Supply Factory,” gave the boys their starting point. Later, in Mr. Moulton’s factory, an outbuilding was appropriated and in this place, with the approval and assistance of their fathers, the two boys finally completed an airship. This was but a spur to a renewed effort, and within a year, the boys attending school meanwhile, they finished their improved aeroplane. It was named the “Gitchie Manitou” or “Spirit of the Wind”—words taken from the Cree Indians.

The original ideas that resulted in this ingenious contrivance came mainly from the boys themselves. Yet they neglected no suggestions that they could find in the latest aeronautical journals. This wonderful machine was only locally known, but when the citizens of Calgary planned their local celebration, known as the “Stampede,” there was knowledge among the promoters, of the just completed “Gitchie Manitou.” It was fitting that this modern invention should be shown in contrast with all that was being collected to exhibit the past, so an arrangement was made with the young aviators to give a daily flight in the new airship.

“It really isn’t made for work of this kind,” argued Norman to his companion when the suggestion was made to them, “but if it’ll work in the winter in the wind and snow, as we’ve planned, I reckon we ought to be able to put it over in the park.”

“Oh, it’ll work all right,” responded Roy. “But what if it does? I never quite figured out that we were to turn ourselves into showmen.”

“Listen!” interrupted Grant at once. “You’ve got to show your goods first. It’s just the place where we may meet people who will understand what it’s good for.”

“And even then what are we going to do?” asked Roy. “Sell it to some mail or stage contractor? To some one who works in the blizzard?”

The other boy shook his head: “I don’t know,” he answered slowly, “but it’s certainly going to come in handy for some one. I don’t know of any other machine that you can run in a snowstorm or that would be any good up here in the wilderness when the bad weather comes on. They’re not going to pay us much for risking our necks, but I’m in favor of making a contract, just to see if some one doesn’t come along who’ll understand it.”

“Then,” suggested Roy with a smile, “I suppose all that’ll be left for us to do will be to sell it and go to work on another one.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” answered young Grant slowly, “there aren’t many aviators ’round here!”

“What do you mean?”

“We might get a job running it.”

The other boy’s eyes sparkled. “That settles it,” he announced. “Let’s sign up and do the best we can.”

Calgary is to-day the little Chicago of the great Northwest. In the heart of it one may find the last of the old-time frontier life, while around and over this is all that makes a modern city. At this time the civic pride of the city had prompted its citizens to prepare an exhibit typical of that part of the country which, throughout Canada and the States, was also described in placards and vivid pictures as the “Stampede.”

The main reason for this was that in the pushing westward of the refinements of civilization it was perhaps the last thing of its kind that could be celebrated on such a scale on this continent. The modern Provincial Fairground, lying well within the city limits of Calgary, was selected as the site of the performance. Here, when the “Stampede” finally took place, thousands of people made their way from the Western States and northwestern Canada. There were among them many theatrical producers, moving picture operators, and others especially interested in such a unique exhibit, from the far East. All could foresee possibilities that might never again be presented.

It would bring together the last of the plainsmen, scouts, trappers, and many others who had been engaged in the conquest of the wilderness. This meant a strange mixture of the men who had made possible the romance of both western America and the wide Canadian Northwest. There were to be full-blood Indians, half-breeds, and that curious mixture of foreigners who had made their way through the fur-bearing North by way of frozen Hudson’s Bay. The men would be there who had traveled through pathless woods, who had found and named rivers and who had scaled unknown mountain peaks—many of them in the leather coats and moccasins of old days.

Where it was possible, these survivors of a period now gone were to bring with them the weapons of the frontier and the implements of camp life. There were to be stage coaches and freight wagons of the prairies, relics of the trail and the paraphernalia of the frontier.

The program of the Stampede included the exhibition of these people and their old-time life as well as it could be reproduced. Horses noted for their viciousness, Mexican bulls especially selected for their savageness, and the untamed range cayuse, were to exhibit the prowess of the horsemen. With these, the Indians and their families were to copy the life of the woods in the tepee and the movements on the trail.

Having concluded a contract to become participants in this unique affair, Norman Grant and Roy Moulton developed an interest in it that they did not know they possessed. To them most of it was an old story. But, having superintended the erection of an aerodrome on the edge of the open field inside the race track, they were surprised at the interest they began to take in the many curious people who soon began to arrive and install themselves in tents and cabins.

The exhibition was to last one week. On Monday morning of Stampede week, while the two boys were engaged in installing the aeroplane, Roy suddenly disappeared. He was gone over a half hour and when he returned, flushed with some new enthusiasm, he found his chum Norman much disgruntled. The machine had been set up before Roy left and he had stolen away while Norman was working with the engine.

“Everything all right?” asked Roy a little guiltily as he observed his companion seated on a box, a half scowl on his face.

“I guess so,” answered Grant without a smile. “At least, I did all I could, alone.”

“I didn’t think there was much to do,” exclaimed Roy apologetically. “I had something I wanted to do—I’d have asked you to go, but I didn’t think you’d care. I’ve been to see those La Biche rivermen.”

“Where’s La Biche, and what rivermen?”

“Oh, you know, Lac la Biche, way up country, where the rivermen come from.”

“I don’t know anything about ’em—you mean ‘scow men’?”

“Of course,” answered Roy, taking off his coat. “I wanted to see ’em and I knew they got in last night. I’ve met all kind of Indians, but these old boatmen don’t get down this way very often.”

“Why’d you think I didn’t care?” asked the other boy. “If you mean a real old batteau steersman, I never saw one either. I reckon I’d have gone a few hundred yards to see one of ’em if he’s the real goods. Since the steamboats came in, I thought they’d all played out. Are these fellows half-breeds or full-bloods?”

“Don’t make any mistake about ’em!” responded Roy eagerly. “I’ve seen all kinds of Indians but these are some I never did see. They’re all right, too. If there’s anything about a canoe or a flatboat that they don’t know, I guess nobody can tell it to ’em.”

“They’ll have a fine time doing any paddling or steering around here in this race track,” suggested Norman gruffly. “How are they goin’ to show ’em off? But what do they look like?”

“They’re not wearing Indian togs much,” explained Roy, taking a seat by his friend, “and I’ve never seen real old full-blood Indian rivermen, but I know these fellows look like ’em. But I’d change their names if I was going to put ’em on the program.”

“Don’t sound Indian enough?” suggested Norman. “Full-bloods never do seem to have real Indian names. Seems like all the loafin’ half-breeds take the best names.”

“Anyway,” went on Roy, “these men are John Martin, or old ‘Moosetooth,’ and William La Biche.”

“Moosetooth and La Biche are all right,” commented Norman. “Do they wear shoes?”

“No,” explained Roy, “they’re in moccasins—plain mooseskin wrapped around the ankles. You’d know ’em by that. And they both carry the Cree tobacco pouch, with the long tassels hanging out of their hip pocket—so they can find the pouch in the dark, I suppose.”

“And black Stetson hats?” added Norman, “with big silver buttons all around the leather band?”

“Sure!” answered the other boy. “But you ought to see their arms. Neither one of ’em is big, but if you saw their arms you’d know how they swing those twenty-foot steering oars. I got a hankerin’ after those fellows. Any man who can stand in the stern of an old Hudson Bay Company ‘sturgeon head’ and steer it through fifteen hundred miles o’ rivers and lakes, clear down to the Arctic Ocean, and then walk back if necessary, has got it all over the kind of Indians I know.”

Norman looked at him a few moments and then got up and motioned him out of the aerodrome. He swung the big doors together, locked them, and then exclaimed:

“I don’t care to get excited over every old greasy Indian that comes along but lead me to old Moosetooth.”

Roy, who was well pleased over so easily placating his chum, at once led the way around the race track and through the fringe of tepees, tents and other shelters being erected for the housing of the fast gathering arrivals. At last he stood before a group of mooseskin tepees in which were gathered several families of Cree Indians. These people had been brought from the present famous Indian encampment on the shores of Lac la Biche, just south of Athabasca River, where it turns on its long northward journey to the Arctic Ocean.

It is the men of this region who are sought by the great fur companies, by adventurers and sportsmen and by all those traffickers who use the great riverway to the north. And it is from them that the skilled canoe men and the experienced flatboat steersmen are selected for the conduct of the precious flotillas on these northern waters.

From Lac la Biche the veterans are called each year when the ice is gone out of the Athabasca, to take charge of the great Hudson’s Bay Company’s fleet of batteaux whose descent of the river means life to those who pass their winters in the far north. These things both boys knew, and hence their interest in Moosetooth Martin and old man La Biche.

“Here they are!” announced young Moulton as, without hesitation, he made his way through the litter of the little camp where the women were already cooking the inevitable bannock.

Norman greeted each man and welcomed them to the camp. The Indians were beyond middle age and the dark face of each was seamed with wrinkles. Nothing in Moosetooth’s yellow regular teeth warranted his name, however. This might better have been applied to La Biche, whose several missing teeth emphasized his few remaining ones.

The two men and others were squatted near the fire, each smoking a short black pipe. Some spoke English but there was little conversation. The boys turned to examine a couple of rare birch-bark canoes and the camp itself, but almost at once they were distracted by the appearance of a new spectator in the group already surrounding the camp.

This was a young man, not much beyond the two boys in age but older in expression. He had a foreign look, and wore a small moustache. Norman instantly noted that his face showed mild traces of dissipation. The stranger was tall and although slight in build seemed full of energy and somewhat sinewy in body. His clothes were distinctive and of a foreign cut. He wore smart riding gloves, a carelessly arranged but expensive necktie in which was stuck a diamond studded horseshoe. He was smoking a cigarette.

“Hello,” he said to Norman. “Pretty classy boats these, eh?”

“Yes,” responded the boy, “and pretty rare too. You don’t see many of these around any more.”

“I thought all the Indians used birch-bark boats in the North,” commented the young man.

“No more!” explained Roy. “They ship cedar boats up to Herschel Island now. I haven’t seen one of these bark boats for years. But these are the real stuff!”

“Do you live here?” asked the young man, drawing on his cigarette.

“Both of us have lived here all our lives,” answered Roy, looking the unusual young man over carefully.

“Well, I’m a stranger,” resumed the young man, proffering his cigarette case, which appeared to be of gold and bore a crest on it. When the boys declined he went on: “I’m going to live here now, however. I’ve just come from Paris. I’m Mr. Zept’s son. You know him?”

The two boys straightened. Mr. Zept was one of the richest and most active citizens of Calgary. He was even ranked as a millionaire, having made his money with the other big horse ranchmen in that part of the world. He was a close friend of Norman’s father and had been especially active in organizing the Stampede.

“Oh, of course!” exclaimed Norman. “Everyone knows Mr. Zept. He’s the big man in this show. I’m glad to know you. I am Norman Grant and my friend here is Roy Moulton.”

“Oh, you’re the fellows who are going to give the airship show,” responded the young man with a marked interest. “I am glad to meet you. I’m Paul Zept. I’m just through school—in Paris. I’ve been living with my grandfather. Now I’m going to live here. My father wants me to go on one of his ranches. I like horses but I don’t think I like ranches.”

“Your father has some fine ones,” suggested Roy.

“Yes, I know,” answered the young man, “but I want to get out on the frontier. I thought this was the frontier.” He smiled as he turned to wave his hand toward the skyscrapers and factory chimneys and suburban homes near by on the hills. “But this doesn’t look much like it. I want to get out in the wilds—and that’s where I’m going.”

“Do you know what that means?” asked Norman with a smile in turn. “Do you know about the spoiled pork and bannock and mosquitoes?”

“I suppose you mean the rough part,” answered the young man. “I’ve never had much of that but I want to try it. I want to get beyond civilization. I want to get where I can see things I can’t read about. I’m tired of Paris and school and I want to see the real wilderness.”

“It’s gone!” interrupted Roy again with a laugh.

“All gone?” asked the young man with a peculiar look.

“Nearly all,” exclaimed Norman; “unless you go a great ways from here. Unless,” he continued, his smile broadening into a grin, “you can arrange to go home with Moosetooth here or La Biche.”

“Well,” responded the young man as he lit a new cigarette, “if that’s true I think I’m going with them.”

His tone was so positive and so conclusive that neither Norman nor Roy made any immediate comment. Moved by politeness they asked the young man if he would care to have a look at the airship. While Norman explained something about himself and his companion the three young men made their way back to the aerodrome. Before they reached it he had related their own small adventures.

Then young Zept had made them further acquainted with himself. Like his father he had been born in Austria and later had been sent to school in Paris. There, as Norman and Roy could see, he had received a more than ordinary education, part of which, as the boys afterwards learned, was devoted to music. They also learned later that although not a great singer he had a pleasing tenor voice.

Paul told them himself that he had devoted a great deal of time to horsemanship. This, he explained, was doubtless due to the fact that his father had always engaged in the raising and selling of horses. The young man also explained to the boys that he had not only received the ordinary riding lessons but that he had also been trained under Austrian and Italian military riding masters. His interest in the coming “Stampede” was due largely to the exhibit of horsemanship that he expected to see.

“I can’t see why you wouldn’t like life on a horse ranch,” commented Roy at last.

“No matter!” responded the young man. “I do like horses and I know it’s going to be a jolly row with the governor but I’ve always had my own way and I don’t think he’ll stop me now. I think I’m going into the wilderness—even if I have to go alone. I’ve been riding horses all my life. Now I want to do something. The governor wants me to go in for making money. I want to discover something.”

Again the two boys looked at each other without knowing just what to say. Their new acquaintance was certainly affable enough, but his education and his foreign bearing put him somewhat above the young men and they felt a certain reticence in his presence. Finally, as Norman unlocked the door of the aerodrome, it occurred to him to say:

“This wilderness idea is pretty fine at long range or in books, but it seems to be like some other things. If you’ve got the real hankering for it, rotten food and all the mosquitoes in the world won’t keep you from it.”

“You don’t know it,” broke in the young Austrian instantly, “but if we’re going to live in the same town I might as well tell you that a lot of people call me ‘Count Zept.’ Of course I’m not a ‘Count’ and I don’t know why they gave me the title, unless it’s because I’ve never been good for much. Now I’m going to get rid of that handle to my name by showing my folks and others that I can do something besides ride horses. I’m going home with old Moosetooth and La Biche and stay there long enough to forget there’s a place like Paris.”


The announced flight of the young aviators Monday afternoon was delayed until the hour grew so late that this feature of the program was postponed until the next day. It was the old story of over-enthusiastic amateur assistants who persisted in giving unsolicited aid when the airship was being taken from the aerodrome. A young man who thought the machine had to be carried instead of being wheeled onto the starting field sought to lift the rear truss by means of the lateral rudder. In doing this, he punctured the oiled silk plane. After a futile attempt to sew the rent, Norman was forced to ask the police to clear their enclosure. When Mr. Zept, one of the committeemen, called and learned of the situation, he advised a postponement of the flight until the next afternoon.

“My son tells me,” remarked Mr. Zept as he was about to leave the aerodrome, “that he had the pleasure of meeting you boys this morning. I’m glad of it. I hope you’ll be friends.”

“He’s a fine young man,” answered Norman. “You ought to be proud of him.”

“All parents should be proud of their children,” answered Mr. Zept with a sober face. “I’ve tried to give Paul a good education and I hope I’ve done the best for him. But I have never seen much of him and, in a way,” he added with a smile, “I hardly know him as well as I do you boys.”

“He’s certainly enthusiastic,” remarked Roy, “and—and impulsive,” he added, hesitatingly.

“He really has some peculiar ideas,” commented Mr. Zept. “But I suppose they’re natural. I had peculiar ideas myself.”

“Yes,” suggested Norman, “he makes a great deal out of things that are old stories to us. If we didn’t live here and know the West as well as we do, I suppose we would have the same romantic ideas.”

Mr. Zept was just making his departure, but at this he paused.

“What do you mean?” he asked suddenly and with some concern in his voice.

“Oh, you know he’s determined to see the real wilderness,” laughed Roy. “He wants to get a taste of the life the story books describe. I told him it might not be such an appetizing meal but I imagine he’s set on it.”

“So I believe,” answered Mr. Zept, “although it isn’t what I had planned for him.

“By the way,” he added quickly, “you young men know how little there is in indulging this longing for wilderness adventure. I hope if you have a chance you won’t fail to impress upon Paul the facts as we know them. I want him to live at home now, with his mother and me. I’m afraid he’s been too long away from us.”

That evening the two young men could not resist the temptation to visit the downtown district where the hotels were crowded with visitors and the city was resplendent with unusual activity. Norman left Roy with some friends at the King George Hotel and went home at an early hour. When Roy called at Norman’s house the next morning, on his way to the Stampede Grounds, he spoke of some new information he had picked up the night before.

“I found out last night,” he began at once, “that everything isn’t as sunshiny in the Zept home as it might be. Our new friend, the Count, I was told by some friends, got a pretty early start in the fast life of Paris. Mr. Zept wants Paul to stay at home a while, as I get it, to make some changes in him if he can.”

“What do you mean?” asked Norman. “But I can guess it—it’s in his face. And it isn’t cigarettes either.”

“Right,” answered Roy. “We call it booze out here, but in the young man’s circle in Paris I reckon it wouldn’t be worse than wine. Anyway, they say, young as he is, that’s one of his pleasures. He doesn’t look to me as if drinking had ever bothered him much but, from what I hear, he’s come to the point where his father thinks he’s got to stop it if it’s ever going to be stopped. He’s only been in town a few days and they say he rides like a States’ Indian. But this hasn’t taken all his time. He’s already in with the fast set here and you know, in a pinch there’s people in Calgary who can give a pretty good imitation of high life in great cities.”

“I can guess the rest,” said Norman. “His father brought him out here to put him on a ranch. When he found that his son hadn’t this idea, it rather upset certain plans.”

“And he’d like us to put in a few knocks but I reckon that’ll be some job. As far as I can see, it’s young fellows like Zept who turn these hardships into glories. I’ve heard of kids like him who are really at home where there’s no trail and whose idea of luxury is a canoe and a blanket and a piece of pork.”

“Well,” concluded Norman, “if I didn’t have the aeroplane bug just now, I’d like to have a chance at the ponies and horses on one of Mr. Zept’s big ranches. A canoe and a blanket are all right, but on a cold evening when the snow’s spitting I don’t think they’ve got anything on a chuck wagon and a good tent.”

On the way to the show grounds, Roy went into further details of the gossip he had heard concerning young Zept’s escapades, not only in Paris but in the south of France.

“One thing’s sure,” commented Norman at last, “wild as he may be about a lot of things, he ain’t crazy about airships. That’s saying something these days.”

This remark was made because the Count, while showing a polite interest in the Gitchie Manitou, had not bubbled over with exuberance. The boys felt somewhat chagrined over this lack of enthusiasm until they recalled that to young Zept an airship was an old story, the young man having witnessed many flights by the most improved French monoplanes.