Thursday, September 01, 2005

 

Dad was still writing short stories in 1940; Temple has an Oriental setting

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Dad was still writing short stories in 1940; Temple has an Oriental setting
The Temple of the White Flame
by J. R. Johnston (Jackson MI, circa 1940)

The bole of the tree fairly bristled with gaudy, ocher-tinted Chinese arrows. One, more carefully aimed than the rest, had ripped across Don Cameron's left shoulder-blade as he lay on his stomach at the base of the tree, but the young American had merely grinned at the bite of the barb and promptly dropped the archer with a rifle bullet but before he could string another shaft. The shot was greeted with a howl of rage from the thickets where the other Chinese, some 60 in number, lay hidden and was immediately followed by a burst of firing from ancient firearms that drove Cameron behind the tree to escape the blast of whining slugs.
"H'm," he grinned to himself, calmly slipping a fresh clip of cartridges into his rifle, I don't believe the beggars like the way I shoot.... now what?"
The firing ceased suddenly. Something quite appeared above a patch of brush 100 yards in front of Cameron's position, and an instant later, an officer in resplendent uniform stepped into view, carrying a stick with a knotted handkerchief above his head. He strode arrogantly forward, with a manner meant to be impressive. Cameron rose to his feet, saw that the man was unarmed, and leans his rifle against the tree trunk. It was evident that the officer was no mere underling, but someone in authority.
"Liang Wu regrets deeply that the Honorable Don Cameron has been annoyed by these worthless dogs," he said suavely in liquid Mandarin, which the American understood perfectly. "It is most unfortunate that I was delayed in coming to meet you. Liang Wu begs the Honorable Cameron's forbearance because of the death of his gun-bearer."
Cameron's eyes narrowed. In spite of the man's soft phrases he recognized an undercurrent of menace. Several years in China had taught him much, and he had long since learned to tread warily when trouble seemed most remote.
"I believe enough of your ' worthless dogs' have paid for killing my servant," he said bluntly, speaking in Mandarin also. "Eight, eh?"
Liang Wu bowed slightly.
"Nine," he corrected.
Cameron smiled easily.
"Ah, yes. I forget the archer." Then, sharply: "Let's quit beating around the bush, Wu! Why was this mongrel pact sent to bar my way?"
"It was so ordered by the Honorable Lo Chang, warlord of Shen Tai. It was not meant that you should be fired upon. The Lord Lo Chang will deal harshly with the offender who began that."
"I was doing that very well myself before you interrupted," Cameron told him dryly. "Lo Chang knows my purpose, then?"
Liang Wu nodded.
"The Temple of the White flame is forbidden ground, honorable sir. The Lord of Shen Tai has so decreed, upon pain of death. Even though it is known you have the permission of the Emperor, still does the edict stand."
Cameron lighted a cigarette coolly.
"In other words, it's get out, is it?" he demanded between puffs.
Liang Wu shrugged his shoulders again.
"Let us say, rather, that the river is much safer for the Honorable Cameron than the Temple of the White flame," he suggested with a return of his suave manner. "One trail is open, the other beset by countless perils."
The American ignored the ominous tone of the last sentence. When he spoke it was thoughtfully, as if more to himself than to the waiting Chinaman.
"The ancestors of a Cameron would frown were he to leave his task unfinished," he said in polished Mandarin. "The river lies behind. Before him towers the Temple of the White Flame, beckoning."
The face of the Chinaman was inscrutable, but the eyes smoldered with murky fires. He turned abruptly on his heel and strode back to his hidden band. Cameron, a grin on his lips, stepped backward quickly scooped up his rifle and threw himself down behind the tree. But he did not stay there. Liang Wu meant business, he knew, and if he waited until his opponents worked around him he would be caught neatly in a trap.
Edging backward cautiously, shielded from view by the huge tree and kneehigh grass growing on each side of it, he withdrew down the bank of a small ravine to where the body of his Chinese gun-bearer lay, an arrow through the chest.
"At least I got that damned archer," he said aloud as he stripped the body of several bandoleers and his extra rifle, a Springfield. "Can't wait to bury you, old-timer, or I'll have to be buried with you."
You ran swiftly down the ravine, climbed the opposite bank under cover of a thicket, and set off westward, circling his former position at a respectable distance. It would be some minutes before Liang Wu discovered his absence, he was certain, for the Chinese would be exceedingly wary about approaching the spot from which he had killed nine of their number. And he would have a few more minutes before they could find his trail and determined that it led not back to the river but in the same general direction he had been heading when he found the way barred.
Half an hour later he came out of the forest and saw before him a long, treeless slope at the top of which rose a tall white tower gilded by the sun. At the base of the tower was a sort of mosque, and both were surrounded by a white stone wall eight feet high. A little-used path led up the slope to it, and Cameron wasted no time where he was.
He was halfway up the slope when a yell of discovery rang from the forest-edge. Almost immediately a bullet wind spitefully past his head. He wheeled and shot twice at flitting forms among the trees, heard a cry of pain as one bullet found its mark, and then ran on.
The bellowing of ancient firearms continued from the forest. Slugs kicked up just all around the runner. Cameron had little respect for the marksmanship of the Chinese, but he was taking no chances by staying out of in the open any longer than was absolutely necessary.
He reached the gates of the temple wall, shoved hard on it, but found it barred securely. He muttered something beneath his breath and wheeled about. The wall was not so high that he would have any difficulty in scaling it, but just now there was more important work to do, because 50 some vengeful Chinamen were rushing up the slope toward him with willful murder in their slant-eyes and deadly weapons of practically every description in their hands.
Cameron through himself down behind a boulder fifty feet in front of the wall and went into action abruptly. His Winchester spat spitefully, and with accustomed accuracy. On the left end of the wave of yellow men a huge, pock-marked fellow very what looked like a blunderbus went down heavily; in the center a swordsman collapsed in mid-stride, while on the right three well-aimed bullets brought two of a group of runners crashing to the ground and broke the shoulder of the third.
An arrow swished past Cameron's boulder and stuck quiveringly in a gate post. A heavy leaden slug struck the face of the rock, dashing discharge splinters into his cheeks, and then sang off into space with a sinister sound. The American reloaded feverishly, but without dropping a single cartridge, and opened fire again.
The foremost of the Chinese were only one hundred yards distant now, yelling fiercely to keep up their courage as much as to scare the white man, were that possible. Even a fair marksman could have scored many hits at that distance, and Don Cameron had more than once qualified as an expert rifleman on army ranges.
His first shot accounted for an under-officer brandishing sword and revolver. He fired again quickly, working lever and trigger with a deftness of long experience. From behind him came the sound of wood banging against wood, and of rusty hinges squeaking, but he did not dare turn his head. That rush had to be stopped inside of sixty feet, or his goose was cooked.
Crash! Almost in his ear a rifle roared, and a big, hulking Chinaman went down as if he had been pole-axed. Cameron pulled the trigger again, heard the hammer click hollowly on an empty shell, and glanced sidewards as he reached for a fresh handful of shells.
"For the luva Pete!" he gasped, almost dropping the cartridges in astonishment.
Beside him, cheek cuddling the stock of a Winchester 30-30, knelt a girl! She was barely 20, and a white girl at that. Her face was pale, colorless, strained, but she worked her rifle bravely, surely, making every shot tell.
"Here!" cried Cameron, reaching up and pulling her down beside him. "Haven’t you got enough sense to keep your head down? … Oh, you would, would you!"
The last question was directed at a burly Chinaman who had halted in the act of heaving a broad-plated knife. A bullet broke his wrist before the knife left his hands, and he danced around in agony, getting in the way of some of his comrades and causing no little confusion.
The girl's rifle, now fully loaded again, joined Cameron's in spreading havoc among the Chinese. So fierce was the hail of steel-jacketed bullets from the muzzles of their guns that the attackers broke at last, whirled about and fled precipitately. Cameron emptied his rifle, the whining missiles urging the Chinese to greater speed, and then leaped to his feet.
"C'mon!" he commanded, helping the girl up also. "We better get inside. Something tells me this little fracas isn't over with yet."
She smiled wanly and preceded him through the gate. He said that and dropped the heavyweight wooden bar into place before turning to phaser. For a long moment they looked at each other, silently.
"I guess that explains it," Cameron said slowly.
"What do you mean?" she queried.
"I was wondering why Liang Wu and Lo Chang were so anxious to keep me away from this temple," he told her. "I've heard Lo Chang has an eye for white women, and he must have known you were here. My name is Cameron, Don Cameron. Would you mind telling me what you're doing here?"
" Why, you see, my father was a missionary. He was the Rev. Robert Morgan. I'm Patricia Morgan. We had a little mission near here, but all our people were killed by bandits, and we were forced to flee. We took refuge in this temple -- it's supposed to be abandoned, you know. That was five days ago. The day before yesterday an old Chinaman came to see father. He was Lo Chang, and the man you call Liang Wu was with them. Chang Wu wanted to marry me! Can you imagine?"
Cameron snorted indignantly.
"Why, the old heathen! I hope I get a shot at him! Wait a minute."
He climbed upon a firing step that once had served the priests of the temple in defending it, and peered over the wall. Then he returned.
"They're getting ready for another try at it," he said. "Looks like they've got more men now. But go on. You said your father was a missionary. You mean --?"
She nodded wordlessly, a sob in her throat, and turned to point at a fresh grave in the courtyard on the opposite side of the gate, surrounded by a row of stakes and a crude headstone.
"He-he drove Lo Chang away with a revolver, and Chang told him he'd take me by force. We stood them off all day -- we had plenty of guns and ammunition with us." She tried to smile. "You see, daddy came from Arizona. He always said that he h-had faith in the Lord, but that a bullet could discourage a lot of evil. They -- they got him in the first attack, with an arrow. I buried him, and I've been fighting them alone ever since, until -- until about two hours ago, when they suddenly left. Oh, it -- it was horrible, until you came."
Cameron stared at her aghast. It was almost incredible that this slip of a girl could have successfully stood off attack after attack. Why, she seemed little more than a child in her close-fitting white dress that only served to accentuate her slenderness, but she had proven herself thoroughly capable.
"Good Lord!" He breathed. "You poor kid! I know how you must have felt, cooped up in here alone and lot of raving Chinks outside! Boy, I'm glad I wouldn't let Liang Wu scare me away! I'm after a little jade idol that's hidden here in the temple. They knew I was coming; got word somehow the emperor had given me permission to get the idol, and Liang Wu was sent to turn me back. But here I am, and I'm going to get to out of this if I have to break all the pig-tailed heads in China. Just you keep a stiff upper lip -- Pat!"
She smiled bravely, winking a solitary tear out of her eye.
"I -- I will – Don!" she assured him. "But hadn't we better see what they're doing? That Wu man is a snake, and Chang is worse!"
They climbed upon the parapet together and searched the slope with their eyes. At the edge of the forest was a milling band of Chinese around a figure in a resplendent uniform who evidently was exhorting them to attack fiercely. Cameron estimated their number as more than a hundred.
"They're coming," he said grimly, getting a quick survey of the battle field. They can only attack from in front, praise be to Allah, because of all these rocks on both sides and behind the temple. Guess we can hold out, but you'd better get inside, Pat, where you won't get hit."
"No sir!" She protested. "I want to help. I can shoot almost as good as you!"
"That's right," he agreed. "O.K., but keep your little brown head down, understand? How many guns have you here?"
She brought them to him, two rifles of the same caliber as his Winchester, a revolver, and a shotgun. The latter he took with satisfaction, observing that the shells were filled with heavy shot.
"This'll do a lot of damage at close range," he asserted. "Suppose you reload the rifles for me until they get a little nearer. No use waiting till we can see the whites of their eyes when we can just as well keep some of them from getting that close. Here goes!"
He took brief aim with the Springfield and opened fire. As soon as the weapon was empty Pat handed him a Winchester, reloading the army rifle immediately. Most of Cameron's shots told, but the wave of Chinese came on, yelling savagely and beginning to shoot before they were within good range of their old guns and bows. Cameron observed that Liang remained at the edge of the forest, urging his men on. When Pat again handed him the Springfield he set the sights swiftly for 800 yards, squinted through them at the resplendent figure and pulled the trigger. Liang Wu fell but scrambled up hastily and dove into the shelter of the trees, apparently not badly hurt.
Oh, I wish you'd got him!" The girl cried, applauding the shot. "That'll make him keep out of sight, anyhow."
The American granted and shifted the muzzle of this weapon. Three Chinamen went down in as many shots, 200 yards distant, but the last bullet missed. He reached for a Winchester and cut loose again, spraying the incoming line from one end to the other.
"Wish you'd get up in that tower, Pat," he directed not taking his eyes from his targets. "No, it isn't because I want you to keep out of the fight, so you needn't start getting a refusal all ready. I'm going to have my hands full, I can see that, and you can do a lot more good from there potting any Chinks who try to slip over the wall while I'm busy other places. Take two of the Winchesters and a revolver, and leave the rest with me.
"And listen," gravely, "if -- if they should do me in, save your last shot for -- you know. Now hurry."
She looked at him doubtfully an instant, reluctant to leave, and then obeyed like the good little soldier she was. He spared a glance to watch her run into the temple. She would be much safer there, and she really could do a lot of good from the tower, since she could command the field in any direction.
An arrow hummed ominously passed Cameron’s ear. He dropped the archer in his tracks and swung the muzzle of his rifle toward a running group of yelling Chinamen which a stream of steel-jacketed bullets broke apart as if it had been struck by a burst of shrapnel.
More arrows hummed by or stuck into the wall below Cameron. An old, large-bore gun loaded with a handful of scrap iron, apparently, belched its contents at the American from a distance of two hundred feet. A slug raked painfully along Cameron's jawbone, jerking him halfway around, but he recovered quickly and sent the bearer of the weapon plunging forward on his face with a hole through his chest.
The girl’s rifle began to crash from a tower window now, but there was no stopping that frenzied, savage rush. Fully seventy-five screeching demons converged on the gate, and Cameron's bullets took fearful toll of them before they reached their objectives. The girl, too, fired quickly, coolly, and many a shaven-polled Chinaman went to join his ancestors under her accurate shooting.
The gate shook and trembled as the assault crashed against it, but the heavy bar held firmly. Beyond that a pig-tail appeared as one of the attackers scaled the wall, armed with a gun almost as big as himself. He straightened up to take a shot at Cameron, who was busy smashing heads as fast as they appeared above the parapet near him, but Pat tumbled him back off the wall with as pretty as shot as Cameron had ever seen. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a man disappear from sight, and his fighting heart warmed to the girl in the tower. A good one to have backing him in a battle, he assured himself.
The attempt to scale the wall having proven a failure, a band of Chinamen under command of a petty officer wrenched a heavy post out of the ground in front of the gate and hurled themselves upon it with their improvised battering ram. The gate held, but Cameron knew it could not withstand many more blows like that first one had been.
Over the wall he saw the band draw back for a run at the gate. Disregarding the slugs that wind passed his head, he caught up the shotgun, leaned over the parapet and pulled both triggers. The recoil shoved him back, but not before he had seen the group torn violently apart by the chilled shot. Five of the band were down, three of them dead. Cameron reloaded the weapon feverishly and leaned out again, but there was no need of a second shot. The Chinese had had enough of fighting, for the moment, at least, and were in full flight down the slope, some limping, some clutching at wounds in an effort to stem the flow of blood, but all making good speed. Their one desire was to get away from that shambles, and they lost no time in doing it.
Pat came running out of the temple, her rifle held at the port, her face strained and anxious at sight of the wound on Cameron's jaw.
"Well, we sure held 'em, didn't we?" He said cheerily, stepping down to meet her. "This old shotgun of your dad's came in handy just at the right time."
"Oh, but you -- you're hurt!" she cried.
"Shucks, just a flesh wound," he assured her calmly, allowing her to wipe away the blood with her handkerchief. "I've got another one across my shoulder, but it's stopped bleeding. You're all right?"
"Yes. They didn't shoot at me much. They were trying to kill you so they could get over the wall. Oh, but you were glorious!"
He laughed.
"Here, here! You'll have my chest stuck out like a bantam roaster. You're some little scrapper yourself!"
She smiled at him and then climbed up to look over the wall.
"You can somebody with a flag of truce," she told him suddenly. Maybe they've decided to give up."
She jumped down and ran swiftly to the gate, lifting the bar. Something moved outside. Cameron flung himself forward, yelling hoarsely and clawing at his revolver. Too late! Even as his arm swept the startled girl aside the gate swung violently open before the concerted rush of four murderous-faced Chinamen who had remained hidden beneath the wall while their comrades fled.
A knife quizzed by Cameron’s head, the blade barely nipping the flesh. Cameron fired desperately, so one of them go down, and then leaped frantically aside to avoid the streaking blade of a swordsman. His left fist caught the fellow a stunning blow on the chin before the sword could be lifted again and then the two others were on him, stabbing, striking, lunging at him in a furious effort to cut him to ribbons.
Pat, grabbing at a rifle, shot the swordsman as a scrambled up and started to plunge into the affray. Cameron, escaping a fierce stab by the merest fraction of an inch, poked his revolver into the knifer's stomach and jerked the trigger. The man yelled in agony and clutched at his sole remaining companion for support. The latter shook him off viciously and leaped backward. Cameron dropped to the ground as shining steel darted at him, and then the man was gone, dashing through the open gate and down the slope.
"Let them go, Pat," the American panted, picking himself up. "Whew! This is turning out to be a regular war, isn't it? The first thing they know they'll get me mad!"
"You -- you're all right?" The girl queried earnestly. "Oh, it was all my fault! I shouldn't have opened that gate."
"Don't let that worry you," he told her, grinning. "It's all right. You couldn’t have known they hadn't all beat it. I've got a few more bruises and cuts, but outside of that I'm as sound as a dollar. Let's see what that flag bearer is going to do, now that their little trick has failed."
They went to the gate together. The man with a flag, and under officer of some kind, had stopped a hundred yards distant and was looking after the surviving member of the quartet who had last assaulted the temple defenders. Cameron called to him, and he came on, holding a flag high as if in fear of a bullet.
"Well, what do you want?" The American demanded in Chinese.
"Liang Wu sends the Honorable Don Cameron his respects," the fellow replied stumblingly, evidently none too pleased to be the one chosen to carry a message to this terrible foreign devil. "He -- he say he give you one more chance. He give you until dark to deliver up to him the Temple of the White Flame. He say you can go free, but alone."
"And if I refuse?"
"Then, he say, he will attack once more, this time with five hundred men he have sent for, and the Honorable Cameron he shall not escape."
The American turned to the girl gravely.
"Liang Wu sends an ultimatum. By dark he'll have five hundred more Chinks here. He gives me till then to surrender you and the temple to him."
She looked up at him fearfully.
"What -- what are you going to do?" She asked faintly.
His eyes twinkled.
"Do you by any chance understand Mandarin?"
She shook her head wordlessly. He grinned in satisfaction and turned to the flag bearer once more, launching into a torrent of vituperation that caused the yellow features to blanch. The man backed away uneasily, then wheeled suddenly and raced down the slope, with Cameron's taunting laugh urging him to greater effort.
"What did you tell him?" The girl questioned wonderingly.
Cameron glanced at her in amusement, the twinkled returning to his eyes.
"I told him to tell Liang Wu to go to hell -- or words to that effect."
He looked up at the sun.
"We've got about two hours to find a way out of this mess. Lots of these old temples were built with some kind of escape if the gates were forced," he said musingly. "Have you looked around much?"
"Why, yes. There's a tunnel is some kind under the temple. It goes that way," pointing north," but I've never been through it. I was going to try it some night as a last resort, but then you came."
"H'm," thoughtfully." The river is only a couple of miles north of us. I left a gasoline launch there with a couple of servants to take care of it. I'll bet that tunnel comes out somewhere near the river, and if we can reach my boat we’ll be safe. Listen, do you happen to have any string in your luggage?"
She shook her head doubtfully.
"No-o, I don't think so. But there is a clothes line our Chinese servant used before he was frightened away by Liang Wu. Will that do?"
"Is it one of those three-strand ropes? Good. You get it and unwind the strands while I gather up an armful of this artillery. We’ll fix a little surprise for Mister Liang Wu, and then while that keeps him busy tonight we’ll slip through that tunnel and get away down the river. And you might scare up some food too, Pat, because I'm getting as hungry as a couple of wolves!"
She laughed as lightheartedly as possible under the circumstances, and disappeared into the temple courtyard. Cameron could not help admiring her courage in view of the dangers confronting her.
He moved quickly among the bodies around the gate. Selecting the best of the ancient firearms he found in making sure that he obtained ammunition to fit each one. Three of them had borers large enough to accommodate a small handful of slugs, and were old-fashioned muzzle-loaders made to take a heavy charge of powder. All of them he carried into the courtyard, barring the gate behind him.
"Found just what I needed," he told the girl enthusiastically. "If Liang Wu is rash enough to lead the attack tonight, he's going to get the surprise of his life."
He loaded the guns, primed them, and then began placing them at intervals about the yard, wedging stones against them to hold them steady or fastening the lighter ones to post with pieces of the rope he decided he could spare. With the girl watching interestedly, and helping whenever she could, the next began tying ends of the rope strands to the triggers, using the rear of the trigger-guards for pulleys. That done, he tied the opposite ends to posts or rocks across the yard or to the triggers of other guns. Then he drew back and surveyed his work with satisfaction.
"Get the idea?" He queried. "When those Chinks break-in, this maze of strings will be waiting for them. They won’t be able to see them in the dark. They'll trip over the lower ones and run against the higher once in making a rush for the temple, setting off those guns. You see, some point straight for the gate to take care of those crowding in and others point across the yard to entertain those already inside when the first string is touched. With fourteen young cannons blasting at them from all sides they'll think we've sneaked an army in here. I'll help out from the door of the temple with your dad's shotgun, just so they won't be disappointed. Wouldn't want 'em to go away thinking they hadn't gotten their money's worth."
She smiled at him.
"It's ingenious, Don, and they deserve it. Oh, I don't know what I'd do if you hadn't come!"
He patted her shoulder encouragingly.
"Hold everything!" He cautioned. "We're going to get out of this all right, and then I’ll put you on a liner and ship you back to your relatives in the States. And say, when do we eat? Remember what Napoleon said about an army's stomach!"

DARKNESS CAME quickly, but found the defenders prepared and with their appetites satisfied. Cameron had explored the tunnel for some distance, returning to report that it appeared to lead straight down the slope in the rear of the temple toward the river. The entrance was in a sort of cellar, heavily curtained, and he left a candle burning near it and another at the head of the stone steps leading to it.
As the darkness grew more intense, Cameron left the girl at the door of the temple, circled the guns he had placed and climbed upon the wall. He listened carefully for a long while, and suddenly slipped down and returned.
"I think they're coming," he told her in the low tone. "I heard a lot of rustlings, so we probably won't have long to wait. Where's that shotgun?"
She handed it to them silently, together with a handful of shells. He could not see more than her silhouette in the blackness, but he knew that she wore a cartridge belt and revolver around her waist, and that she had her rifle ready for action if necessary.
"The minute the shooting starts," he commanded in a whisper, "you beat it for that tunnel, understand? I'll join you as soon as I heave a few loads of shot at them to help the cause along. Listen!"
Something moved on top of the wall close to the gate. A dark form wiggled over and dropped softly to the ground, outlined against the whiteness of the wall. It moved silently to the gate, and there came a sound of the being removed. The gate swung inward, and through the opening poured a black mass.
WHAM! Cameron's shotgun crashed thunderously as it spat its roaring load at the attackers. Yells of pain rent the air, and then the Chinese rushed on, toward the temple door. One stumbled, fell, and from both sides of the courtyard the heavy guns Cameron had placed belched flame and death as the first of the strings was hit.
But the wave came on, and more guns roared, hurling whining, biting slugs into the mass of men pushing on into the yard. Many went down and lay still. Others shrieked in agony and got in the way of their comrades. Those left on their feet fired blindly at the flashes coming from their flanks, or threw knives and swords whose blades shown momentarily in the air as the flames of the guns struck them.
Cameron, alone now in the temple entrance, fired coolly, quickly into the main body of the invaders. Under the unexpected crossfire the Chinese were thrown into confusion. Bewilderment gave way to panic, and in an instant they were fighting among themselves, stabbing, slashing, shooting in an effort to get out of that terrible place. Cameron fired his last shell, threw the shotgun into the melee, and raced back into the temple.
Pat was waiting anxiously at the tunnel mouth. She handed him his rifle, relief in her eyes.
"Guess we can go now," a grinned. "I've got them fighting among themselves out there, and the way to the river ought to be clear.
"Wait a minute! I forgot that blasted idol! I know right where it is; the priest who told me about it explained just where it's hidden. It's only a little thing, big as my hand. Be right back."
Before she could stop him he had raced up the steps, the flame of the two candles flickering in the wind of his passing, and disappeared. But in less than thirty seconds he was back again, stuffing a small jade image into his shirt.
"Got it!" he said eagerly. "All I had to do is reach into a hole and drag it out. All right, in you go into that tunnel!"
Her gaze shifted past him, up the stone steps, and her eyes widened in horror even as she screamed a warning. Cameron whirled, sweeping the girl into the tunnel mouth as he did so.
His eyes caught the gleam of spinning metal shooting straight at him. He tried to dodge, but the knife drove into the muscles of his left arm, pinning it to the wall. He plucked it out, dropped it. In the dim light from the candles he saw the evil, smirking face of Liang Wu at the top of the steps, a revolver lifting in his hand.
Cameron shot desperately from the hip, knowing he would not have time to raise his rifle. Plainly he heard the bullet strike. Liang Wu screamed, spun halfway around, and then came crashing down the stairs with his blood staining the white stone. He rolled almost to the American's feet and lay still, his slat-like, slanting eyes staring vacantly upward.
Pat called, pleadingly. Cameron answered, stepping over the dead body to dash the candle to the floor. He listened a moment as the sounds of tumult swelled in the courtyard. Then he turned, plunging into the black mouth of the tunnel and safety.

The End
WC= ~5680

Thursday, August 18, 2005

 

A short story of romance my dad wrote, found among his writings

[Working from an undated original manuscript (on onion paper!), I now joyfully present one of my dad's shorts stories. Here, he has stepped outside the fictional world of cowboys and detectives ... to show his romantic nature? That's for the reader to decide. -- I, too, would like to know if it was publshed and when. Enjoy! Ed.]
Love Flies West

by J. R. Johnston

No one on the big airliner seemed to notice the tall young man who boarded the plane at all, least of all, Judith Mason. Not that the daughter of old Jacob Mason, owner of the line, was immune to romantic ideas about attractive young males. She was too engrossed in staring absently out the window to notice.
Even after the ship had taken off and had left the Municipal Airport far behind she did not turn to see who was in the seat behind her, although she must have been vaguely aware someone was there. Absently she had noticed the fat salesman who kept ogling her from across the aisle, the two spinster sisters who quite evidently were not enjoying their first plane trip, and the grey-haired father and his 19 or 20-year-old son just ahead of her, but she had had no occasion to turn and survey the rest of the plane's interior.
It was not until the co-pilot, slender, boyish Jimmy Bell, stuck his head out of the cabin that she saw him.
“We’re running into a bit of a storm, folks,” Pilot Bell announced with a reassuring grin. “Probably just a little wind and snow. Nothing to worry about, but see that your safety belts are tight.”
The two spinster sisters let out little mouse-like squeals of alarm as the pilot went back into the cabin. Being somewhat comparatively new to this service, Jimmy was not as cock-sure as most pilots are, and his manner did not tend to instill supreme confidence in first-flight passengers, especially timid ladies.
“Snow!“ cried one of them. “Gracious! How will they be able to see? It's getting too dark, too. Why, we’ll all be killed!”
"Nuts!“ said a voice behind the trim, auburn head of Judith Mason. The word was inelegant, Judith decided, but highly expressive. “Didn’t they ever hear of radio beams, blind flying and all that?”
Judith slowly turned her head and surveyed the young man coldly. There was something vaguely familiar about him, about the way he was smiling at her, but her feeling was one of disdain. Why should he speak to her of radio beams? Was she not “Bull" Mason's daughter, and therefore possessed of a higher-than-average knowledge of the airways?
“Possibly they are also aware that radio beams sometimes go haywire and swing off,“ she answered, a tinge of ice in her voice.
He pretended to shiver. "My, what cold eyes you have, grandma!"
She turned her back on him haughtily, picking up a magazine from the seat beside her. As she did so, the plane lurched suddenly, seemed to flutter like an unsteady leaf, and then was on even keel again. A small air pocket,, she decided, looking out of the window.
Darkness had fallen, and all she could see was a very faint radiance from the port wing lights. All else was blotted out by thick flakes of the swirling snow which beat against the window. She wondered if the storm would delay them; pictured her father scanning weather reports at Salt Lake City and grumpily ordering everybody about while he waited for her.
She was conscious of a wave of affection sweeping over her. Dear old dad. He had worked hard to build Pacific Air Express, first as a pilot flying a lone ship, then as manager of a fleet of planes plying between Salt Lake and Los Angeles, and finally as the line grew in popularity and prosperity, president of a company whose great airliners raced the sun from Chicago to the coast. The proud boast of PAE had always been the safety of its ships, the carefulness of its pilots.
The door of the cabin opened again. Jimmy Bell came out and motioned to Nan Grey, the pretty stewardess. She went forward hurriedly. In the momentary glance that she had of Bell’s face, Judith thought she caught a strained, unnatural expression. Something was worrying him. Maybe it was his first blizzard, or Tom Evans, the pilot, was having a little difficulty climbing over the range.
And then it happened.
One moment the big plane was whirring smoothly through space, except for the buffeting of the wind. The next, something seemed to reach up and grab at the landing gear. There was a horrible crunching and scraping underneath.
“Trees!” cried the young man behind Judith.
That one instant always would stand out vividly in her mind, like a terrible nightmare. She saw a great welt appear in the floor, as if some giant hand had struck it from below with a mighty hammer.
The ship yawed crazily. The screaming, frightened spinsters tumbled into a disheveled heap in the aisle, revealing that they had unfastened their safety belts in unreasoning fear. The grey-haired businessman pulled his son down upon the seat, shielding him with his own big body.
She saw no more. From behind her an arm came across her breast, pinning her to the back of the seat with muscles like corded iron.
“Steady!” bade the voice of the young man behind her. "Hold ti---"
The world upheaved unexpectedly. Judith was aware of a terrific shock, of grinding steel and splintering wood. Of ripping fabric and shattering glass. Something struck her on the side of the head, and all went black.

It was a ghastly, unreal world that Judith Mason struggled back to. Daylight had come, and the wind had died. There was a blurring in her eyes, a strange inability to focus properly. When it cleared she saw that snow was still falling in big, feathery flakes. She tried to rise, and was suddenly aware of a violent throbbing in her temples.
Her attempt at moving, however, brought a face into her line of vision, the face of the young man who would been in the seat behind her. His hat was gone, and there was a wide streak of blood across one cheek. That streak stirred a memory, took her back to her childhood, to a day when a bloody-faced boy had risen triumphantly from thrashing the neighborhood bully for pestering her.
“You!” she gasped. “I know you now. You-- you're Bob Morgan, who used to tease me in school!"
“Yes, and you're that snooty little girl who lived up the street from me,” he grinned easily. “Judy Mason.. I knew you the minute I saw you on the plane. How do you feel?”
“Rather weak, and my head is splitting. Where are the others?”
His face sobered.
“They’re -- they're dead. We're all that’s left. I've just finished covering the bodies with snow, and marking the spot. Luckily the plane didn't catch fire. They must have clicked off the switches just as she hit. Otherwise, the ship would probably have caught fire.“
Judith shuddered involuntarily at the thought of being trapped in a blazing plane. She had once watched, horror-stricken, while **attractive landing flyer burned to death when his ship, too heavily laden with gasoline, failed on the takeoff and crashed in a ditch. She shuddered again.
“Cold?” queried Morgan solicitously.
She shook her head, noticing for the first time that she was lying on a blanket under a big evergreen.
“No, just thinking how terrible it would of been for us if we have been caught in there, and burned. Where is the plane?”
“Back of you. You can see if you turn your head. It's a mess, but it could've been worse. Evans managed to keep her going straight somehow. Otherwise it would've been smashed to bits.
One short look was enough. She agreed it was a mess, all right. The big airliner lay canted on its side against a huge tree that had sheared off the left wing as though it had been paper. The other wing was gone too, but was nowhere in sight. The **wreaking fumes of gasoline filled the air, mingled with the pungent odor of balsam fir.
“I smell gasoline,” she said, sniffing. “Isn't it dangerous?”
He shook his head. “No, not now. There's nothing to set it off. Whatever has been spilled will evaporate in a few hours. There's enough of a breeze to blow the fumes away. Want to get up? Here, I'll help you.“
She tried to stand, then sank back as pain stabbed through her right ankle.
“Oh!" she cried in dismay. “I'm afraid I can't. My ankle!“
He knelt hastily in the snow and gently to **offer pop. The ankle was swollen, he saw quickly, but not that severely. He sighed with relief after he had ascertained there was no fracture.
“Just wrenched, I think,” he smiled at her. “Best thing you can do is take off your stocking and put that foot right down in the snow. Can you stand it, or are you still a little 'fraidy-cat like you used to be?”
Resentment flamed in her eyes.
. “You always called me that, didn't you? And I always hated you for it, Bob Morgan! I'll show you whether I'm afraid or not."
He showed his amusement.
“OK. You know, this will probably be the making of you--this experience, I mean. Somehow, I rather pictured you as growing up to be a hot house plant. You shouldn't be now. That is,” he added soberly, “if we ever get out of this. Wish I knew where we are. Probably a hundred miles from the nearest habitation, and maybe just as far from the air lanes."
He turned away toward the wrecked plane. Better not let her know how really serious their predicament was. After all, it was likely the first time in her sheltered life that she had been thrown upon her own resources.

The gasoline fumes were not quite so noticeable now, but they were acrid enough to cause him to cough intermittently. Beside the smashed wing, close to the body of the plane, he discovered a steady dripping, and realized that here was something they might need, slowly losing itself in the snow. He climbed into the ship in search of containers.
In the tiny pantry he found several small pans and a coffee pot. The latter he left there temporarily, but carried all but one of the pans outside and put them in the snow under the dripping gasoline. That done, he returned for the coffee pot and the other pan, got his traveling bag and one that had Judith's name on it, and plowed through the drifts to where she lay watching him, her injured ankle packed with snow.
He set the bags down near her. Then he kicked and scraped a clear spot preparatory to building a fire.
“Might as well make ourselves at home,” he said with a forced attempt at being cheerful. “Found some grub in the plane, enough to last the two of us a week or 10 days, anyhow. Hungry?”
“Practically starved,” she admitted. “How long do I have to freeze this foot?”
She winced a trifle as he ran his fingers lightly over the foot muscles.
“Sore, eh?’ he asked, looking up at her drawn face. “I think the swelling has started to go down though. But you won't be able to put much weight on it for a couple of days. Soon as we have some hot coffee I’ll get the emergency kit and bind it up for you."
“Hot coffee!” she exclaimed. “Don’t tell me you've discovered a restaurant, Mr. Morgan."
“Cafeteria style, only. You don't know how practical I can be."
From the under limbs of the nearby pines he broke off an armful of dead twigs and branches, dumped them in the middle of the cleared space, and then went to the plane. One of the pans was already full of gasoline, so he replaced it with an empty one, came back and pored a few drops upon the pile of twigs. Judith edged back on her blanket.
“You’re not going to use that to start a fire with, are you?” she asked apprehensively. “It’ll explode!”
He laughed at her. “Gasoline doesn't explode unless it is confined. Like gunpowder in a cartridge. Burns darned fast, though."
He stepped back a pace, struck a match from the box he took from his pocket, and tossed it upon the twigs. It went out. He repeated the action more quickly, before the brimstone ceased flaring. Flame puffed out instantly. The wood burned merrily as he piled on more twigs, and the heat gradually melted the snow surrounding it.
“There, I guess that will make things more homelike,” Morgan said, holding chilled fingers to the blaze. “Now for some coffee. There's only a little water left in the galley tank, so we’ll probably have to resort to snow water soon."
For the first time, she smiled at him, a little wearily to be sure, but still a smile. He thought: “How beautiful she has grown to be."
“You’re a sight,” she told him. “If you get a towel and melt some snow, I'll fix that cut on your face for you. Are you hurt anywhere else?”
He explored a bump on the back of his head with tender fingers.
“Got a knot here just as we struck. I think it hit us both at the same time, whatever it was. Our heads were pretty close together."
She nodded as he started melting snow in the pan.

"I remember now. You were holding me down in the seat. If it hadn't been for you, I'd be like ---” she motioned wordlessly toward that telltale mound close to the ship.
“It saved me too, I guess, though I think I got a cracked rib against the back of the seat. Hurts when I **breathe in deeply. All the others were thrown up front. Belts snapped."
“Tell me about it."
He shook his head. “I'd rather not. You see, Jimmy was like a brother to me. He died ... in my arms."
She stared at him incredulously.
“Jimmy?”
“Bell, the co-pilot. I taught him all he knew of flying. We work together for Eastern Airlines till three months ago. Then he got this job, and wrote me that there was an opening for me. Said the old man's daughter was flying back from New York on the 10th, in one of his letters. That could only be you, so I decided to take the same plane."
“And Jimmy? He was the boyish looking one?”
“Yes. The wheel got him. Crushed his chest. The others were all smashed and tangled up against the bulkhead. Jimmy was still alive when I got out. He sort of grinned at me once, but that was all. A grand boy, Jimmy."
Judith drew the blanket closer about her, and buried her face in her hands to shut out the picture.

It stopped snowing about midmorning, and by noon the sky cleared. Weak and tired, Judith fell asleep soon after Morgan had fixed a lunch, and he took the opportunity to look around a bit. It was three o'clock when he returned. She was wide-awake. He thought he caught a look of relief in her eyes, but it was gone immediately.
“You might have told me you're going away,” she said peevishly. But I suppose it's just like a man to make others worry all the more."
He bridled at that, throwing a furry bundle angrily to the ground.
“Whoa, now! I was beginning to have hopes for you, but I can see you’re the same stuck-up little snob you always were. I've been out trying to locate some hunter or trapper to help us. To get you some fresh meat, I chased a rabbit half a mile through the snow in spite of the pain in my side --- and you snap at me like a bulldog when I get back!”
“Well,” defensively, “you could of said something about going. How did I know you hadn't deserted me? And you don't talk to me like that, Bob Morgan! Remember you’re only a hired man."
His lip curled slightly. "And you’re the boss's daughter, eh? Well, you and that bull-necked Old Man and of yours can go jump in the lake if you think I’m going to be your yes-man. Besides, I'm not working for him yet."
He turned on his heel disgustedly and started over to the plane, coming back with a pan and a small knife. She watched him covertly as he skinned the rabbit he had killed, but neither spoke until he had it up and set it over the fire to stew.
“You-- you didn't find anyone, did you?” she asked him.
He shook his head, avoiding her gaze.
“No. Not a sign of anyone. Or anything else, for that matter, except the rabbit and tracks of some big animal that had feet like a cat's. I'm afraid we're a long way from civilization, maybe hundreds of miles."
“I suppose the radio is smashed?”
"Uh-huh. I looked at it after I packed you over here. No use trying to get help that way. We’ll just have to wait until you're able to travel, or until someone happens along. If your dad hasn't forgotten all his training, he'll have half the planes in the country searching for us by this time."
But it might be days, she knew, before they were found. She recalled that an airliner that had disappeared in Utah last December had not been discovered until spring.
“I did find the other wing,” Morgan went on. “It was smashed off against a tree. Saw the first tree we hit, too."
“Up there on the hill?” she pointed to the rim of the valley to the eastward.
“Yes. Five feet higher, and we'd have cleared. Too bad."
She glanced over at the mound where lay eight still bodies, and shuddered.
“Can’t we go somewhere else? It's so near to --”
He nodded, understanding fully.
“Yes, of course. I'd been thinking the same thing. We'd be more comfortable in the plane after some of the wreckage was cleared away, but those gasoline fumes are still dangerous. There's a cave over by that black cliff. I presume we'd be better off there if another storm came up.
“Soon as we have supper, I'll pack you over there, and come back for whatever we might need. Wonder if there's a gun of some kind in the plane?”
“There may be one somewhere in the cockpit. Most of our pilots have one along. In case of emergency, you know."
"Humph. If this isn't an emergency, it'll do till one comes along."
She was silent a moment. Then: "Still angry with me? I'm sorry if I was nasty. This is a new experience for me, you know. I was really afraid of -- of being alone."
“Forget it. I guess I'm a little overwrought, too."
By the time the stew was done, it was getting dark. They ate with relish, but Judith had no word of praise for Morgan's cooking, although the food tasted better than a meal at the Ritz-Plaza.
That first night was something of a nightmare to Judith. It took several trips for Morgan to transport all the blankets, provisions and other things over the snow, but it was accomplished as darkness settled over the valley. The cave was small, and rather damp and cold, but a fire at the entrance soon made it cozy.
Twice, near midnight, Judith saw twin spots of light staring at their fire from the blackness beyond. Fright overwhelmed her as she remembered tales of wolves, and what they did to the helpless.
The second time, the fire was so low that only the embers were visible, and the glowing eyes approached quite close. She called to Morgan in a terrorized voice. He was awake and on his feet at once, demanding to know what was the matter.
“Some animal,” she quavered from the depths of her blankets. “He’s gone now, but I could see his eyes staring at me. Do you think there are wolves around here?”
He laughed, putting away the automatic he had found in the plane.
“More likely it was a coyote looking for something the eat. Don't worry. You'll be all right. I'll build up the fire again. That'll keep any animal away. Go back to sleep."
It was three days before the pain had gone from Judith's ankle and she could walk again. Meanwhile, Morgan had not wandered far from her, devoting most of his time to preparing meals and cutting wood. The galley had furnished a butcher knife and a small cleaver which were inadequate enough to make the task a tiresome one. However, the pile he was building halfway between the cave and the plane grew steadily in size, and finally stirred Judith's curiosity.
“What are you gathering so much wood for?” she queried from her seat on a boulder nearby. “Are you planning on being here all winter?”
He heaved part of a rotted log upon the pile and shook his head.
“No. It's for a signal smoker. I'll put some green wood on top of it, and send up a column of smoke that will be seen for miles. There's a chance that somebody'll see it and---”
“Listen!” she interrupted breathlessly. “Listen!”
A faint, far away humming came to his ears.
“A plane!" she cried excitedly, pointing toward a bank of clouds on the northern horizon. “Oh -- Bob, it's a plane! Do something!”
A tiny black speck crawled flylike across the face of the clouds, heading steadily eastward. From its actions, Morgan realized it was not a searching plane.
“It’s going away from us,” he said grimly. “Not looking around, either. Must be one of the regular liners. But if we can get this fire going, maybe we can attract its attention.
“Judy -- there's a pan of gasoline in the cave. Get it while I break off some green boughs, will you?”
“Of course. Oh--hurry, hurry, Bob!”
“I will. Be careful of that ankle,” he called after her.
He ran to the nearest tree, hacking at the lower branches with the butcher knife. As fast as he could break off a bough, it landed on the pile of wood.
“Bob! Bob! Help!”
A wild scream. Dropping the branch in his hands Morgan raced frantically for the cave.
Another scream, accompanied by a fierce snarl, spurred him on. He shifted the butcher knife to his left hand as he reached the cave entrance, pulled the automatic from his pocket with the other and snapped off the safety.
Judith, her brown curls a tangled mass, was down on the floor of the cave. Astride her, trying to reach her slim throat with yellowed, dripping fangs, was a panther.
Morgan fired hastily over the animal's head, trying to distract it. The panther raised his slavering jaws, snarling fiercely. The long tail lashed angrily. Then, suddenly, it sprang.
Morgan fired again, just as a ripping claw knocked the weapon spinning from his hand. The big cat sank its teeth in his shoulder, falling on top of to him.
Sharp claws dug into his stomach, tearing, slashing through his clothes. Desperately he stabbed again and again at the panther’s side with the butcher knife. The beast snarled and broke away from them, jerking the knife out of his hand. He scrambled up hurriedly as the animal pulled the dripping blade from its side with its teeth and launched a fresh attack.
A gun roared beside Morgan. The panther collapsed in midair, fell to the ground. It kicked convulsively once or twice, its hate-filled eyes watching Morgan, and then lay still.
Judith dropped the still smoking automatic and threw herself into Morgan's arms, weeping copiously.
“Oh, Bob, I was so scared!” she sobbed. “He was in the back of the cave, eating our food. Before I knew it, he'd knocked me down. Oh, if you hadn't come!"
She trembled violently, pressing against him. He forgot the biting pain in his fang-torn shoulder, the dull throbbing of his cracked rib, in the sheer thrill of holding her close. He knew now that he had wanted to do that for a long time.
“There, there,” he said with the gentleness that surprised even himself. “It’s all over. You saved my life too, you know, shooting him when you did. How’d you manage to get the gun so quickly?”
“It fell right beside me. I-I guess I didn't think much. I just picked it up and fired.“
“Are you hurt?”
She drew away from him, still trembling, and took inventory. “A few scratches, I guess. He was chewing on my coat, mostly. But you, Bob! Your shoulder is all red."
He glanced ruefully down and **its, conscious again of his pain. The panther's fangs had sunk deep under the skin."
“Didn’t do me any good,” he admitted. “I'd better get some water and iodine from the kit and fix it up."
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” she told him spiritedly. “You’ve taken care of me long enough. Now it's my turn. You sit down there while I --" Sudden panic seized her. “Bob! The plane!”
He sniffed glumly. “I almost forgot it. Must be gone by now. Maybe we’d best light the fire, anyhow. I'll do it while you get the water."

The column of smoke was cheering , if nothing more. It rose like a beckoning finger to the sky as Judith applied stinging iodine to the teeth marks in Morgan's bare shoulder.
“Might do some good,” he grinned, “for surely someone is looking for us. But you know, if that panther spoiled much of our food, we'd be more sensible trying to get somewhere than to stay here and starve."
“Don’t be silly,” she scoffed. “You’re in no condition to go rambling around the country."
“I'm all right. What good would it do to stay here? Besides, what if the panther's mate should be back there in the cave ready to ---”
One such experience was quite a enough for her frazzled nerves.
“Bob! You're joking!”
He smiled down at her strained features, arms tightening around her.
“I don't remember how it came about, but I've never forgotten how I felt at the time. You moved away shortly afterward, and I didn't hear anything about you until four years ago. I've been keeping pretty good track of you since then."
Her eyes were as curious as her throaty "Why?”
“Couldn’t get the memory of you of my mind, I guess. That's why I took this plane on my way to see your dad about a job. I didn't think you'd recognize me, and I wanted to see you again. Then, when I did see you, I wanted to do this."
His head bent, but she was too quick for him. His lips brushed her cheek as she squirmed out of his arms and leaped to her feet.
“When I want to be kissed, I’ll tell you,“ she said, trying to straighten her hair. “If we're going, let's get started."
He rose slowly, half angry, half amused. “Sometimes I don't know whether to love you, or hate you, Judy Mason. All right, let's pack what ` we can carry, and get out of here. If we go in one direction far enough, we ought to reach someone."
They decided northeastward was as logical as any way to go. So, after salvaging what little food they could, and rolling it into the blankets, they started up a long slope in the direction they had seen the plane.
In their weakened condition, it was not long before they became tired, and were compelled to halt frequently to rest.
“I must of lost more blood than I thought,” he confessed at last as they lay panting beneath a fir. "Think we can make it to the top of the ridge? It'll be easier going on the other side."
She looked at the mass of rock in front of them and shook her head dubiously. “I don't know but we can try. Let's go up the east side, where there isn't so much snow. Here, lean on me."
“Daddy's little helper, eh?” he managed to grin. “There may be some hope for you, after all. Come on, I'm good for another hundred miles."
But he wasn’t, and Judith realized it only too well. His face was getting white, strained, and he winced with pain at every step. He had not complained about it, but she was sure the panther had somehow hurt that cracked rib.
They were going up the steepest part of the ridge now, and the high altitude took their breath. Often they slipped, skidding backward a few precious feet before they could stop and start upward again.
It was an anxious, despairing young woman who half-dragged Morgan over the crest and dropped breathlessly to the ground. Morgan closed his eyes and relaxed, exhausted. Judith was exhausted, too, but she did not relax. Instead, she was staring, fascinated, at something in the valley on the other side. A hysterical burst of laughter escaped her.
Morgan sat bolt upright, startled.
“Judy!” he cried. “What’s the matter with you?”
She pointed down the slope, unable to control her hysteria.
“There! Look!” she exclaimed brokenly. “A town, Bob, a town!”
Morgan whirled, unmindful of a twinge in his side, and stared in disbelief. A town, for sure! A drab little hamlet, dirty and squalid, surrounded by a dozen mine slag heaps, but a sight to delight the eyes of a Mecca-bound pilgrim.
"Do you understand, Bob?” Judith cried, shaking him. “A town --- and all the time we were within five miles of it! Think what might of happened to us if we'd gone some other way!”
He drew her down to him, breathing heavily.
“It isn't. I know it isn’t, she said. “Can you walk? I want to get you to a doctor. You’re getting a fever.”
“Two fevers, Judy,” he said. “One of them is because I love you.”
She laughed, but this time it was an easy laughter, with no hysteria about it.
“But you can't, Bob Morgan. You think I'm a hot house plant, a little snob, and a lot of other things. You told me so yourself."
“Oh, that. Well, you used to be. Maybe you still are, but I can't help loving you. I think I always have, even when you made me so mad I could have spanked you. Didn't you used to care for me--just a bit?”
She evaded the question by the simple expedient of burying her face against his shoulder. The pressure was painful, but he didn't mind.
“A little while ago,” she said in muffled tones, “I said I'd tell you if I wanted to be kissed. Do you think you could do such a favor for a personable young lady?”
She raised provocative, tremulous lips. There was no restraint in the soft arm that stole around his neck.
“I'll tell the world I could!” he answered happily.
[The End]

Monday, August 15, 2005

 

Copyright 2005 Steve A. Johnston

My blog is copyrighted.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

 

A short story my dad wrote, found among his writings

Love Flies West

by J. R. Johnston [from 1940 original typewritten manuscript; the double asterisk (**) marks words not deciphered]

No one on the big airliner seemed to notice the tall young man who boarded the plane at all, least of all, Judith Mason. Not that the daughter of old Jacob Mason, owner of the line, was immune to romantic ideas about attractive young males. She was too en-grossed in staring **absently out the window to notice.
Even after the ship had taken off and had left the municipal airport far behind she did not turn to see who was in the seat behind her, although she must have been vaguely aware someone was there. **Absently, she had noticed the fat salesman who kept ogling her from across the aisle, the two spinster sis-ters who quite evidently were not enjoying their first plane trip, and the grey-haired father and his 19 or 20-year-old son just ahead of her, but she had had no occasion to turn and survey the rest of the plane's in-terior.
It was not until the co-pilot, slender, boyish Jimmy Bell, stuck his head out of the cabin that she saw him.
“We’re running into a bit of a storm, folks,” Pilot Bell announced with a reassuring grin. “Probably just a little wind and snow. Nothing to worry about, but see that your safety belts are tight.”
The two spinster sisters let out **old mouse-like squeals of alarm as the pilot went back into the cabin. Being somewhat comparatively new to this service, Jimmy was not as cocksure as most pilots are, and his manner did not tend to instill supreme confidence in first-flight passengers, especially timid ladies.
“Snow!“ cried one of them. “Gracious! How will they be able to see? It's getting too dark, too. Why, we’ll all be killed!”
"Nuts!“ said a voice behind the trim, auburn head of Judith Mason. The word was inelegant, Judith de-cided, but highly expressive. “Didn’t they ever hear of radio beams, blind flying and all that?”
Judith slowly turned her head and surveyed the young man coldly. There was something vaguely fa-miliar about him, about the way he was smiling at her, but her feeling was one of disdain. Why should he speak to her of radio beams? Was she not “Bull" Ma-son's daughter, and therefore possessed of a higher-than-average knowledge of the airways?
“Possibly they are also aware that radio beams sometimes go haywire and swing off,“ she answered, a tinge of ice in her voice.
He pretended to shiver. "My, what cold eyes you have, grandma!"
She turned her back on him haughtily, picking up a magazine from the seat beside her. As she did so, the plane lurched suddenly, seemed to flutter like an unsteady leaf, and then was on even keel again. A small air pocket, she decided, looking out of the win-dow.
Darkness had fallen, and all she could see was a very faint radiance from the port wing lights. All else was blotted out by thick flakes of the swirling snow which beat against the window. She wondered if the storm would delay them; pictured her father scanning weather reports at Salt Lake City and grumpily order-ing everybody about while he waited for her.
She was conscious of a wave of affection sweep-ing over her. Dear old dad. He had worked hard to build Pacific Air Express, first as a pilot flying a lone ship, then as manager of a fleet of planes plying be-tween Salt Lake and Los Angeles, and finally as the line grew in popularity and prosperity, president of a company whose great airliners raced the sun from Chicago to the coast. The proud boast of PAE had always been the safety of its ships, the carefulness of its pilots.
The door of the cabin opened again. Jimmy Bell came out and motioned to Nan Grey, the pretty stew-ardess. She went forward hurriedly. In the momen-tary glance that she had of Bell’s face, Judith thought she caught a strained, unnatural expression. Some-thing was worrying him. Maybe it was his first bliz-zard, or Tom Evans, the pilot, was having a little diffi-culty climbing over the range.
And then it happened.
One moment the big plane was whirring smoothly through space, except for the buffeting of the wind. The next, something seemed to reach up and grab at the landing gear. There was a horrible crunching and scraping underneath.
“Trees!” cried the young man behind Judith.
That one instant always would stand out vividly in her mind, like a terrible nightmare. She saw a great welt appear in the floor, as if some giant hand had struck it from below with a mighty hammer.
The ship yawed crazily. The screaming, fright-ened spinsters tumbled into a disheveled heap in the aisle, revealing that they had unfastened their safety belts in unreasoning fear. The grey-haired business-man pulled his son down upon the seat, shielding him with his own big body.
She saw no more. From behind her an arm came across her breast, pinning her to the back of the seat with muscles like corded iron.
“Steady!” bade the voice of the young man be-hind her. "Hold it ---"
The world upheaved unexpectedly. Judith was aware of a terrific shock, of grinding steel and splinter-ing wood. Of ripping fabric and shattering glass. Something struck her on the side of the head, and all went black.
It was a ghastly, unreal world that Judith Mason struggled back to. Daylight had come, and the wind had died. There was a blurring in her eyes, a strange inability to focus properly. When it cleared she saw that snow was still falling in big, feathery flakes. She tried to rise, and was suddenly aware of a violent throbbing in her temples.
Her attempt at moving, however, brought a face into her line of vision, the face of the young man who would been in the seat behind her. His hat was gone, and there was a wide streak of blood across one cheek. That streak stirred a memory, took her back to her childhood, to a day when a bloody-faced boy had risen triumphantly from thrashing the neighborhood bully for pestering her.
“You!” she gasped. “I know you now. You-- you're Bob Morgan, who used to tease me in school!"
“Yes, and you're that stuck-up little girl who lived up the street from me,” he grinned easily. “Judy Ma-son. I knew you the minute I saw you on the plane. How do you feel?”
“Rather weak, and my head is splitting. Where are the others?”
His face sobered.
“They’re -- they're dead. We're all that’s left. I've just finished covering the bodies with snow, and mark-ing the spot. Luckily the plane didn't catch fire. They must have clicked off the switches just as she hit. Otherwise, the ship would probably have caught fire.“
Judith shuddered involuntarily at the thought of being trapped in a blazing plane. She had once watched, horror-stricken, while **attractive landing flyer burned to death when his ship, too heavily laden with gasoline, failed on the takeoff and crashed in a ditch. She shuddered again.
“Cold?” queried Morgan solicitously.
She shook her head, noticing for the first time that she was lying on a blanket under a big evergreen.
“No, just thinking how terrible it would of been for us if we have been caught in there, and burned. Where is the plane?”
“Back of you. You can see if you turn your head. It's a mess, but it could've been worse. Evans man-aged to keep her going straight somehow. Otherwise it would've been smashed to bits.
One short look was enough. She agreed it was a mess, all right. The big airliner lay canted on its side against a huge tree that had sheared off the left wing as though it had been paper. The other wing was gone too, but was nowhere in sight. The **wreaking fumes of gasoline filled the air, mingled with the pun-gent odor of balsa and fir.
“I smell gasoline,” she said, sniffing. “Isn't it dan-gerous?”
He shook his head. “No, not now. There's noth-ing to set it off. Whatever has been spilled will evapo-rate in a few hours. There's enough of a breeze to blow the fumes away. Want to get up? Here, I'll help you.“
She tried to stand, then sank back as pain stabbed through her right ankle.
“Oh!" she cried in dismay. “I'm afraid I can't. My ankle!“
He knelt hastily in the snow and gently to **offer pop. The ankle was swollen, he saw quickly, but not that severely. He sighed with relief after he had as-certained there was no fracture.
“Just wrenched, I think,” he smiled **letter. “Best thing you can do is take off your stocking and put that foot right down in the snow. Can you stand it, or are you still a little 'fraidy-cat like you used to be?”
Resentment flamed in her eyes.
. “You always called me that, didn't you? And I al-ways hated you for it, Bob Morgan **exhibition. I'll show you whether **afraid or not."
He showed his amusement.
“OK. You know, this will probably be the making of you--this experience, I mean. Somehow, I rather pictured you as growing up to be a hot house plant. You shouldn't be now.** That is,” he added soberly, “if we ever get out of this. Wish I knew where we are. Probably a hundred miles from the nearest habitation, and maybe just as far from the air lanes."
He turned away toward **direct plane. Better not let her know how really serious their predicament was. After all, it was likely the first time in her sheltered life that she had been thrown upon her own resources.
The gasoline fumes were not quite so noticeable now, but they were acrid enough to cause him to cough and remotely. ___**___ the smashed wing, close to the body of the plane, he discovered a steady dripping, and realized that here was something they might need, slowly losing itself in the snow. He climbed into the ship in search of containers.
In the tiny pantry he found several small pans and a coffee pot. The latter he left there temporarily, but carried all but one of the pans outside and put them in the snow under the dripping gasoline. That done, he returned for the coffee pot and the other pan, got his traveling bag and one that had Judith's name on it, and plowed through the drifts to where she lay watch-ing him, her injured ankle packed with snow.
He set the bags down near her. Then he kicked and scraped a clear spot preparatory to building a fire.
“Might as well make ourselves at home,” he said with a forced attempt at being cheerful. “Found some grub in the plane, enough to last the two of us a week or 10 days, anyhow. Hungry?”
“Practically starved,” she admitted. “How long do I have to freeze this foot?”
“Sore, eh?’ he asked, looking up at her drawn face. “I think the swelling has started to go down though. But you won't be able to put much weight on it for a couple of days. Soon as we have some hot coffee I’ll get the emergency kit and bind it up for you."
“Hot coffee!” she exclaimed. “Don’t tell me you've discovered a restaurant, Mr. Morgan."
“Cafeteria style, only. You don't know how prac-tical I can be."
From the under limbs of the nearby pines he broke off an armful of dead twigs and branches, dumped them in the middle of the cleared space, and then went to the plane. One of the pans was already full of gasoline, so he replaced it with an empty one, came back and pored a few drops upon the pile of twigs. Judith edged back on her blanket.
“You’re not going to use that to start a fire with, are you?” she asked apprehensively. “It’ll explode!”
He laughed at her. “Gasoline doesn't explode un-less it is confined. Like gunpowder in a cartridge. Burns darned fast, though."
He stepped back a pace, struck a match from the box he took from his pocket, and tossed it upon the twigs. It went out. He repeated the action more quickly, before the brimstone ceased flaring. Flame puffed out instantly. The wood burned merrily as he piled on more twigs, and the heat gradually melted the snow surrounding it. “There, I guess that will make things more home-like,” Morgan said, holding chilled fingers to the blaze. “Now for some coffee. There's only a little water left in the galley tank, so we’ll probably have to resort to snow water soon."
For the first time, she smiled at him, a little __wearily___, to be sure, but still a smile. He thought: “how beautiful she has grown to be."
“You’re a sight,” she told him. “If you get a towel and melt some snow, I'll fix that cut on your face for you. Are you hurt anywhere else?”
He explored a bump on the back of his head with tender fingers.
“Got a knot here just as we struck. I think it hit us both at the same time, whatever it was. Our heads were pretty close together."
She nodded as he started melting snow in the pan.
"I remember now. You were holding me down in the seat. If it hadn't been for you, I'd be like ---” she motioned wordlessly toward that telltale mound close to the ship.
“It saved me too, I guess, though I think I got a cracked rib against the back of the seat. Hurts when I **breathe in deeply. All the others were thrown up front. Belts snapped."
“Tell me about it."
He shook his head. “I'd rather not. You see, Jimmy was like a brother to me. He died ... in my arms."
She stared at him incredulously.
“Jimmy?”
“Bell, the co-pilot. I taught him all he knew of fly-ing. We work together for Eastern Airlines till three months ago. Then he got this job, and wrote me that there was an opening for me. Said the old man's daughter was flying back from New York on the 10th, in one of his letters. That could only be you, so I de-cided to take the same plane."
“And Jimmy? He was the boyish looking one?”
“Yes. The wheel got him. Crushed his chest. The others were all smashed and tangled up against the bulkhead. Jimmy was still alive when I got out. He sort of grinned at me once, but that was all. A grand boy, Jimmy."
Judith **pulled the blanket closer about her, and buried her face in her hands to shut out the picture.
It stopped snowing about midmorning, and by noon the sky cleared. Weak and tired, Judith fell asleep soon after Morgan had fixed a lunch, and he took the opportunity to look around a bit. It was three o'clock when he returned. She was wide-awake. He thought he caught a look of relief in her eyes, but it was gone immediately.
“You might have told me you're going away,” she said peevishly. But I suppose it's just like a man to make others worry all the more."
He bridled at that, throwing a furry bundle angrily to the ground.
“Whoa, now! I was beginning to have hopes for you, but I can see you’re the same stuck-up little snob you always were. I've been out trying to locate some hunter or trapper to help us. To get you some fresh meat, I chased a rabbit half a mile through the snow in spite of the pain in my side --- and you snap at me like a bulldog when I get back!”
“Well,” defensively, “you could of said something about going. How did I know you hadn't deserted me? And you don't talk to me like that, Bob Morgan! Re-member you’re only a hired man."
His lip curled slightly. "And you’re the boss's daughter, eh? Well, you and that bull-necked Old Man and of yours can go jump in the lake if you think I’m going to be your yes-man. Besides, I'm not working for him yet."
He turned on his heel disgustedly and started over to the plane, coming back with a pan and a small knife. She watched him covertly as he skinned the rabbit he had killed, but neither spoke until he had it up and set it over the fire to stew.
“You-- you didn't find anyone, did you?” she asked him.
He shook his head, avoiding her gaze.
“No. Not a sign of anyone. Or anything else, for that matter, except the rabbit and tracks of some big animal that had feet like a cat's. I'm afraid we're a long way from civilization, maybe hundreds of miles."
“I suppose the radio is smashed?”
"Uh-huh. I looked at it after I packed you over here. No use trying to get help that way. We’ll just have to wait until you're able to travel, or until some-one happens along. If your dad hasn't forgotten all his training, he'll have half the planes in the country searching for us by this time."
But it might be days, she knew, before they were found. She recalled that an airliner that had disap-peared in Utah last December had not been discov-ered until spring.
“I did find the other wing,” Morgan went on. “It was smashed off against a tree. Saw the first tree we hit, too."
“Up there on the hill?” she pointed to the rim of the valley to the eastward.
“Yes. Five feet higher, and we'd have cleared. Too bad."
She glanced over at the mound where lay eight still bodies, and shuddered. “Can’t we go somewhere else? It's so near to --”
He nodded, understanding fully.
“Yes, of course. I'd been thinking the same thing. We'd be more comfortable in the plane after some of the wreckage was cleared away, but those gasoline fumes are still dangerous. There's a cave over by that black cliff. I presume we'd be better off there if an-other storm came up.
“Soon as we have supper, I'll pack you over there, and come back for whatever we might need. Wonder if there's a gun of some kind in the plane?”
“There may be one somewhere in the cockpit. Most of our pilots have one along. In case of emer-gency, you know."
"Humph. If this isn't an emergency, it'll do till one comes along."
She was silent a moment. Then: "Still angry with me? I'm sorry if I was nasty. This is a new experience for me, you know. I was really afraid of -- of being alone."
“Forget it. I guess I'm a little overwrought, too."
By the time the stew was done, it was getting dark. They ate with relish, but Judith had no word of praise for Morgan's cooking, although the food tasted better than a meal at the Ritz-Plaza.
That first night was something of a nightmare to Judith. It took several trips for Morgan to transport all the blankets, provisions and other things over the snow, but it was accomplished as darkness settled over the valley. The cave was small, and rather damp and cold, but a fire at the entrance soon made it cozy.
Twice, near midnight, Judith saw twin spots of light staring at their fire from the blackness beyond. Fright overwhelmed her as she remembered tales of wolves, and what they did to the helpless.
The second time, the fire was so low that only the embers were visible, and the glowing eyes ap-proached quite close. She called to Morgan in a ter-rorized voice. He was awake and on his feet at once, demanding to know what was the matter.
“Some animal,” she quavered from the depths of her blankets. “He’s gone now, but I could see his eyes staring at me. Do you think there are wolves around here?”
He laughed, putting away the automatic he had found in the plane.
“More likely it was a coyote looking for something the eat. Don't worry. You'll be all right. I'll build up the fire again. That'll keep any animal away. Go back to sleep."
It was three days before the pain had gone from Judith's ankle and she could walk again. Meanwhile, Morgan had not wandered far from her, devoting most of his time to preparing meals and cutting wood. The galley had furnished a butcher knife and a small cleaver which were inadequate enough to make the task a tiresome one. However, the pile he was build-ing halfway between the cave and the plane grew steadily in size, and finally stirred Judith's curiosity.
“What are you gathering so much wood for?” she queried from her seat on a boulder nearby. “Are you planning on being here all winter?”
He heaved part of a rotted log upon the pile and shook his head.
“No. It's for a signal smoker. I'll put some green wood on top of it, and send up a column of smoke that will be seen for miles. There's a chance that some-body'll see it and---”
“Listen!” she interrupted breathlessly. “Listen!”
A faint, far away humming came to his ears.
“A plane!" she cried excitedly, pointing toward a bank of clouds on the northern horizon. “Oh -- Bob, it's a plane! Do something!”
A tiny black speck crawled flylike across the face of the clouds, heading steadily eastward. From its ac-tions, Morgan realized it was not a searching plane.
“It’s going away from us,” he said grimly. “Not looking around, either. Must be one of the regular lin-ers. But if we can get this fire going, maybe we can attract its attention.
“Judy -- there's a pan of gasoline in the cave. Get it while I break off some green boughs, will you?”
“Of course. Oh--hurry, hurry, Bob!”
“I will. Be careful of that ankle,” he called after her.
He ran to the nearest tree, hacking at the lower branches with the butcher knife. As fast as he could break off a bough, it landed on the pile of wood.
“Bob! Bob! Help!”
A wild scream. Dropping the branch in his hands Morgan raced frantically for the cave.
Another scream, accompanied by a fierce snarl, spurred him on. He shifted the butcher knife to his left hand as he reached the cave entrance, pulled the automatic from his pocket with the other and snapped off the safety.
Judith, her brown curls a tangled mass, was down on the floor of the cave. Astride her, trying to reach her slim throat with yellowed, dripping fangs, was a panther.

Morgan fired hastily over the animal's head, trying to distract it. The panther raised his slavering jaws, snarling fiercely. The long tail lashed angrily. Then, suddenly, it sprang.
Morgan fired again, just as a ripping **cloth knocked the weapon spinning from his hand. The big cat sank its teeth in his shoulder, falling on top of to him.
Sharp claws dug into his stomach, tearing, slash-ing through his clothes. Desperately he stabbed again and again at the panther’s side with the butcher knife. The beast snarled and broke away from them, jerking the knife out of his hand. He scrambled up hurriedly as the animal pulled the dripping blade from its side with its teeth and launched a fresh attack.
A gun roared beside Morgan. The panther col-lapsed in midair, fell to the ground. It kicked convul-sively once or twice, its hate-filled eyes watching Morgan, and then lay still.
Judith dropped the still smoking automatic and threw herself into Morgan's arms, weeping copiously.
“Oh, Bob, I was so scared!” she **stopped. “He was in the back of the cave, eating our food. Before I knew it, he'd knocked me down. Oh, if you hadn't come!"
She trembled violently, pressing against him. He forgot the biting pain in his fang-torn shoulder, the dull throbbing of his cracked rib, in the sheer thrill of hold-ing her close. He knew now that he had wanted to do that for a long time.
“There, there,” he said with the gentleness that surprised even himself. “It’s all over. You saved my life too, you know, shooting him when you did. How’d you manage to get the gun so quickly?”
“It fell right beside me. I-I guess I didn't think much. I just picked it up and fired.“
“Are you hurt?”
She drew away from him, still trembling, and took inventory. “A few scratches, I guess. He was chewing on my coat, mostly. But you, Bob! Your shoulder is all red."
He glanced ruefully down and **its, conscious again of his pain. The panther's fangs had sunk deep under the skin."
“Didn’t do me any good,” he admitted. “I'd better get some water and iodine from the kit and fix it up."
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” she told him spirit-edly. “You’ve taken care of me long enough. Now it's my turn. You sit down there while I --" Sudden panic seized her. “Bob! The plane!”
He **sighed glumly. “I almost forgot it. Must be gone by now. Maybe we’d best light the fire, anyhow. I'll do it while you get the water."

The column of smoke was cheering, if nothing more. It rose like a beckoning finger to the sky as Ju-dith applied stinging iodine to the teeth marks in Morgan's bare shoulder.
“Might do some good,” he grinned, “for surely someone is looking for us. But you know, if that pan-ther spoiled much of our food, we'd be more sensible trying to get somewhere than to stay here and starve."
“Don’t be silly,” she scoffed. “You’re in no condi-tion to go rambling around the country."
“I'm all right. What good would it do to stay here? Besides, what if the panther's mate should be back there in the cave ready to ---”
One such experience was quite a enough for her frazzled nerves.
“Bob! You're joking!”
He smiled down at her strained features, arms tightening around her.
“I don't remember how it came about, but I've never forgotten how I felt at the time. You moved away shortly afterward, and I didn't hear anything about you until four years ago. I've been keeping pretty good track of you since then."
Her eyes were as furious as her throaty "Why?”
“Couldn’t get the memory of you of my mind, I guess. That's why I took this plane on my way to see your dad about a job. I didn't think you'd recognize me, and I wanted to see you again. Then when I did see you, I wanted to do this."
His head bent, but she was too quick for him. His lips brushed her cheek as she squirmed out of his arms and leaped to her feet.
“When I want to be kissed, I’ll tell you,“ she said, trying to straighten her hair. “If we're going, let's get started."
He rose slowly, half angry, half amused. “Some-times I don't know whether to love you, or hate you, Judy Mason. All right, let's pack what ` we can carry, and get out of here. If we go in one direction far enough, we ought to reach someone."
They decided northeastward was as logical as any way to go. So, after salvaging what little food they could, and rolling it into the blankets, they started up a long slope in the direction they had seen the plane.**
In their weakened condition, it was not long be-fore they became tired, and were compelled to halt frequently to rest.
“I must of lost more blood than I thought,” he con-fessed at last as they lay panting beneath a fir. "Think we can make it to the top of the ridge? It'll be easier going on the other side."
She looked at the mass of rock in front of them and shook her head dubiously. “I don't know but we can try. Let's go up the east side, where there isn't so much snow. Here, lean on me."
“Daddy's little helper, eh?” he managed to grin. “There may be some hope for you, after all. Come on, I'm good for another hundred miles."
But he wasn’t, and Judith realized it only too well. His face was getting white, strained, and he winced with pain at every step. He had not complained about it, but she was sure the panther had somehow hurt that cracked rib.
They were going up the steepest part of the ridge now, and the high altitude took their breath. Often they slipped, skidding backward a few precious feet before they could stop and start upward again.
It was an anxious, despairing young woman who half-dragged Morgan over the crest and dropped breathlessly to the ground. Morgan closed his eyes and relaxed, exhausted. Judith was exhausted, too, but she did not relax. Instead, she was staring, fasci-nated, at something in the valley on the other side. A hysterical burst of laughter escaped her.
Morgan sat bolt upright, startled.
“Judy!” he cried. “What’s the matter with you?”
She pointed down the slope, unable to control her hysteria.
“There! Look!” she exclaimed brokenly. “A town, Bob, a town!”
Morgan whirled, unmindful of a twinge in his side, and stared in disbelief. A town, for sure! A drab little hamlet, dirty and squalid, surrounded by a dozen mine slag heaps, but a sight to delight the eyes of a Mecca-bound pilgrim.
"Do you understand, Bob?” Judith cried, shaking him. “A town --- and all the time we were within five miles of it! Think what might of happened to us if we'd gone some other way!”
He drew her down to him, breathing heavily.
“It isn't. I know it isn’t, she said. “Can you walk? I want to get you to a doctor. You’re getting a fever.”
“Two fevers, Judy,” he said. “One of them is because I love you.”
She laughed, but this time it was an easy laugh-ter, with no hysteria about it.
“But you can't, Bob Morgan. You think I'm a hot house plant, a little snob, and a lot of other things. You told me so yourself."
“Oh, that. Well, you used to be. Maybe you still are, but I can't help loving you. I think I always have, even when you made me so mad I could have spanked you. Didn't you used to care for me--just a bit?”
She evaded the question by the simple expedient of burying her face against his shoulder. The pres-sure was painful, but he didn't mind.
“A little while ago,” she said in muffled tones, “I said I'd tell you if I wanted to be kissed. Do you think you could do such a favor for a personable young lady?”
She raised provocative, tremulous lips. There was no restraint in the soft arm that stole around his neck.
“I'll tell the world I could!” he answered happily.
[The end]

Sunday, August 07, 2005

 

Dad left too little behind -- he was a PR officer in 1945. An interesting & humorous piece!


Col. G. R. Johnston
AAF Public Relations School
Craig Field, Ala.

SCRIBE HOTEL, PARIS
by
G. R. JOHNSTON

No history of World War II would be complete without some reference to that curious institution—born in the minds of men who should have known better—called the “Press Camp”. Each theater of operations had its own, where war correspondents of both sexes and assorted nationalities congregated to bedevil harassed public relations officers (PROs), and to grind out ream upon ream of copy from grisly communiqués, interviews or personal observation. Many subordinate commands had their press camps, too, all devoted to the same end—the care and facilitation of corres¬pondents—and they were as varied and individual as the temperamental characters who inhabited them.
Africa, Italy, England, the Marianas, the Philippines, Japan and the OBI all possessed press camps of one form or another. Germany had several close to the war’s end and afterward, notably those at Wiesbaden, Hamburg and Frankfurt. And yes, at Bad Kissengen, headquarters of the Ninth Air Force, where public relations was housed in a former Nazi “baby factory”— a place where strong-bodied German Storm Troopers came to consort with strapping Nazi maidens to produce more specimens of the “master race”,
And at Nuremberg, too, for coverage of the war crimes trials, there was a press camp located in ancient Sabor Castle, a dank, tremendous pile of stone once owned by the Eberhard-Faber pencil magnates. Here W.B. Courtney, of Colliers, Anne O’Hare McCormack, of the New York Times, Geoff Parsons of the New York Herald Tribune, and many others—including Carl Levin, of United Press, the man who got the interview on de-Nazification which cost Gen. Patton his job, and indirectly his life.
Unlike any other wartime innovation was the press camp. And the most fantastic of these curious institutions, and the one most remembered by military men and correspondents alike, was the Hotel Scribe, in Paris.
Hotel Scribe—a kaleidoscopic combination of events and people, of grotesque happenings and singular experiences, yet a place brimful of human interest and nostalgic memories. For here, in the glamour capital of the world, amidst the tense days of the Battle of the Bulge and the surge to final victory, were written many of the most gripping tales of our times.
Scene of some of the heaviest verbal battles of the war, the Scribe was occupied by public relations officers and war correspondents while the wild scenes of the liberation of the French capital were still in progress. As they were the first uniformed Allied forces to come to roost after the hurried departure of the Hitler horde, they were the subject of great curiosity and emotional greetings.
Hundreds of women descended upon the hotel when the word got around, all wanting to see or feel an ally—an occurrence which, while pleasurable, interfered greatly with the preparation of news of the glad event. Mil¬itary police eventually had to be stationed at the front and rear doors of the hotel—and some near the skylights—to protect the shy Americans from mass feminine adulation.
For a time, those who had entered the city with French or American troops were the only correspondents and public relations personnel in the Scribe. But when Gen. Eisenhower moved his Supreme Headquarters from London to Paris, another swarm of correspondents came with him. These, representing many nations, were crowded more or less haphazardly into the hotel, where they promptly proceeded to get in all kinds of trouble.
Located on the Rue Scribe near the Opera, the Scribe was only a half-block from the Chatham, where all the SHAEF brass was billeted, and was only a block from SHAEF offices in the American Express build¬ing. So the correspondents were handy to everything, not excluding the cold atmosphere of the Follies Begere, where goose-pimply “babes” performed their routines in satisfactory stages of undress.
Life at the Scribe was one of continual adjustment and readjust¬ment. Prior to its liberation, it had been occupied by German propaganda forces, and it took considerable time to get the hotel employees to refrain from saying “nein” and similar Germanic expressions. And there was always the hustle and bustle of change in military personnel, the arrival, and also the departure—sometimes with loud huzzas—of members of the correspondent corps.
Most of the correspondents had permanent rooms assigned to them, from which they operated. Those unlucky souls without good billets carefully cultivated those correspondents who were often at the front, so that they could borrow their keys and live in splendor for a time, least.
Military operations—as distinguished from other varieties—in the Scribe were begun when public relations officers set up a press conference room and plastered its walls with huge maps. The entire Western Front was pictured, and keep up-to-date except during the Battle of the Bulge when no one, including SHAEF, knew where any unit was. Correspondents complained, and not without reason, that the room was the coldest spot south of the Arctic Circle.
Four press conferences were held daily, at 10:30 A.M., 2:30, 5:30 and 10:30 P.M., with an occasional one for good measure at 2 A.M. The tough session for PROs was at 10:30 p.m., when newsmen habitually ranted and raved, bellowed and burped because most of the news handed out had been on BBC radio earlier in the evening. This was attributed to leaks from No. 10 Downing Street. Although SHAEF officers could do nothing about it, the cries of rage directed at them for releasing stale news could usually he heard as far as the Moulin Rouge.
But despite this trouble, many vivid accounts of the war, including all of those concerning the hectic Battle of the Bulge, were prepared somewhere within the dingy recesses of the Scribe. So were all of the dispatches about the progress of the Allies across France into Germany which were datelined “SHAEF”.
“WIDEWING—code name for USSTAF headquarters—acquired the dubious honor of running the Scribe when SHAEF moved on, and retained possession until the press camp closed officially—but not regretfully—in December, 1945. Other public relations organizations at times operated there, also. “Gangway”, for instance, didn’t mean “One side, brother!” around the Scribe. That was 9th Air Force public relations, which maintained an office on the third floor next to WIDEWING.
Communications facilities of Press Wireless and MacKay Radio were set up in the hotel, and there was a restaurant and bar in the basement where any given person, military or correspondent, could be found at specified times. With food, lodgings and working facilities under one roof, many correspondents covering headquarters did not get out of the building for days at a time. They wrote their daily stories, slept, ate, entertained female friends, and did their elbow-bending without going outdoors sometimes for a week or two.
War correspondents from all over the world were numbered among the Scribe’s “guests”. There were Americans, Canadians, British, French, Chinese, South Americans, and Swedes, as well as more Europeans after their countries were freed of the Germans. Their tastes all differed. Some wanted “Borsht” and others “Smorgasbord”; some wanted news bulletins on the hour and others on the half-hour. Many a PRO—already convinced that “No one in his right mind would ever be a __”, rued the day he had agreed to take on such duties. No zanier collection of characters—from those harmless individuals who sported Custer-style mustachios, to others bordering on the gibbering idiot—was ever assembled under one roof be¬fore or since.
Perhaps, to do them justice, it was the conditions under which they labored to enlighten the world that contributed to their zaniness. In winter there was little heat, though it was better than the 15 degrees C. maintained in most of the other occupied buildings. Soap at times was scarce, and the food got pretty monotonous. Frequently the power system failed, and correspondents many times clustered shiveringly around the hall desk and wrote their stories by the feeble light of sputtering candles. The two tiny elevators moved with maddening slowness, and when a correspondent of the Quentin Reynolds type got in, the cables squeaked and groaned until the other passengers could barely keep from shouting, “Run for your life!”
In the famous news blackout immediately following the Ardennes breakthrough, when SHAEF decreed nothing would go out for several days, the Scribe was the scene of fierce verbal battles between PROs and the correspondents. Even the incessant poker and gin rummy games were inter¬rupted while the newsmen cornered harassed PROs and tried to wheedle, trick or frighten them into making a release.

PROs often were told their system “stank to High Heaven”, and one particularly vitriolic writer termed it “the worst public relations setup in six years of war.” Another said bitterly “You can call it ‘private relations’ if you want to, but you’ve got no right to call it ‘public relations’.” Such battles went on and on, and in sober analysis it is something of a miracle that generally friendly relations prevailed.
From the correspondents’ standpoint—expressed as often as they could get anyone to listen—everything was wrong with the way SHAEF and WIDE¬WING and GANGWAY ran things. PROs customarily announced newsworthy developments when received, at any hour of the day or night. Some corres¬pondents complained that they missed news, and then were the recipients of sarcastic queries from the home office, because they would be asleep when the releases were made.

So the PROs laboriously installed an intricate system of bells throughout the hotel, and announced they would ring once for an ordinary handout which only the most hardy would bother about, and three times if a communiqué was too important to hold for the usual process of mim¬eographing.
A few correspondents declared they could not hear the tinkling of the bells. The PROs—always a helpful lot—took out the bells and in¬stalled a system of horns which sounded half-way between an air-raid siren and a buzz bomb. That was all right for some, but others who were not interested in spot news—magazine and Sunday supplement writers—were unable to sleep. So these began slipping stealthily down the dark corridors snipping the wires here and there, with the result that when a really important release was ready for distribution, no one appeared to show the slightest interest. A violent battle of verbiage and invective occurred in the conference room over that one, terminated only when Col. R. K. Dupuy, then in charge, hinted darkly at what might happen to sabo¬teurs.
Taking a bath was a major operation at the Scribe for PROs and newsmen alike. The supply of coal was insufficient to heat water all day long, and various hours were tried, but it was impossible to please everyone. At last, in desperation, it was ordered that hot water would be available only from 7 to 10 in the morning, and that was the way it stood. Correspondents of morning papers who slept late, usually left a call for 9:30 or 9:45. Then they would get up, fill the tub with hot water, and go back to bed. At noon, when they again awoke, the water still would be warm enough to bathe in. Some took their baths at 10 and went back to bed, but this practice was generally frowned upon as indecent, and those who persisted were practically ostracized.
With such a heterogeneous conglomeration of characters infesting it, the Scribe naturally could be expected to have its immoral moments. An event which had all Paris in a dither concerned a big dance to which a batch of society girls and wives of diplomats were invited. During the affair, someone officiously decided that the credentials of the “guests” should be checked. There was considerable chagrin when it was discovered that mingling with the “upper crust” were many girls who carried cards of a decidedly yellowish hue—as required by trench law for followers of the world’s oldest profession.
And there was a great hullabaloo over a report that an army officer, and a PRO to boot, had a woman in his room. Investigation proved, however, that it was a woman correspondent who had invited a GI friend in for "tea", and the matter was dropped.
The spot where PROs and correspondents foregathered to talk over the progress of the war was, by mutual consent, the bar in the Scribe basement. The bar was a curious feature of an already curious institution. Well-dressed French women who through some strange quirk of fate had become acquainted with a PRO or correspondent, mingled readily with the hotels habitués and were considered an essential part of the establishment. Wo¬men correspondents and French liaison officers of the opposite sex also participated in operations.
Attendance at the bar fluctuated in direct proportion to the drinkables available. At times there would be plenty of champagne and cognac for sale, and then would come long, dry spells when only pale wine and tomato juice could be had.
One boisterous evening a member of the press started into the bar without his trousers. There was some consternation until it was learned that he was a photographer. Then everybody settled quietly back in their seats, for news photographers are reputed to lack about three staves of being round, and it didn’t matter whether they wore trousers or not.
*********
Into this atmosphere, fresh from the city desk of the Kalamazoo HERALD, walked big Bill Jordan, on assignment to cover the last stages of the war for the Booth Newspaper chain. Tall, good looking, in the Cary Grant or Gary Cooper manner, he was the type often mistaken for awkward or clumsy. But Bill Jordan was a newspaperman’s newspaperman, as smart as they came despite his outward appearance, and a writer without peer. He’d never had time to take typing lessons—he’d been too busy on a police beat for that—but his ability with one finger on the left hand and two on the right was amazing.
He stood in the doorway of the Scribe bar, looking quizzically into the dark interior. There appeared to be no one there, except for the French bartender and a lone figure on the other side of the room. He strolled that way, wondering if it were someone he knew, or someone he could strike up an acquaintance with. On closer scrutiny he saw it was just a cameraman, to judge by the Speed Graflex beside him, glowering into a glass containing a villainous-looking liquid. He turned back, just in time to trip over a feminine ankle which protruded suddenly from a darkened booth. He tried to catch himself, uttering a startled “Damn!”, but failed and fell flat on his face.
“Oh, I’m so s—sorr—y!” exclaimed the owner of the ankle, trying to help him to his feet. “I thought you were going on. You—you turned so suddenly I—”
He rose and glowered at her, then stared in frank interest. She was French, a French WAC, or its equivalent, and quite pretty, and she was evidently sincerely concerned over the mishap.
“Oh, forget it,” he said, brushing off his clothes—that corres¬pondent’s uniform which was embarrassing because of its obvious new¬ness. “My fault. I didn’t see anybody around. Just clumsy, I guess.”
“You’re sure you’re not hurt?” she inquired, with just a trace of an accent. “Can I do anything for you?”
“Well,” he grinned boyishly. “You could have a drink with me. I’m new here, just arrived from the states. Thought I might see some¬one I knew, or someone who could get me used to things. How about it?”
She smiled hesitantly, then sat down in the booth and motioned him to the bench opposite her.
“I guess I owe you that much,” she smiled. “But there’s nothing left to drink—unless you want tomato juice. This is one of our dry spells. Next week, Pierre says—champagne!”
“Hope I’ll be here next week, then. My names Jordan, Bill Jordan. Booth Syndicate. That’s up in Michigan.”
“Meechigan?” Her dimples showed when she smiled. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of this Meechigan. Where they make the automobiles, no?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Only they’re not making any now. Tanks, and guns and airplanes—things to lick the Nazis with. Tell me about the Scribe—but first, yourself. Who are you?”
She told him she was a lieutenant, detached from the French army’s public relations equivalent as liaison officer to SHAEF and WIDEWING’s public relations division—Madeleine D’Arcy. There was little else, for suddenly, with a muttered apology, she was on her feet and walking swiftly toward the door where a tall American officer was looking inquiringly around. They went of f together, without a backward glance from the girl, but with one hard, penetrating look from the officer.
“You’re new here, ain’t you?” queried a voice at Jordan’s elbow. He turned quickly, to find the cameraman perched on the table, his Graflex dangling from his hand. "I'm Joe Siddall. Cleveland Dispatch.”
Jordan gave his name and asked, nodding toward the door, “Who’s the big guy? Didn’t seem to like my talking to her.”
“That’s Lt. Col. Thomas—Clarke Thomas. He’s the PRD exec. Thinks Maddy is his property. Just last week he hung a shiner on Harry Nickels, of the Memphis Star, for trying to get fresh with her—so he said. Harry was just lonesome. Better keep away from her, though, unless you’re the kind who likes trouble.” After he’d gone, Jordan finds Maddy had left a small leather case in the booth. He was about to leave it with the bartender, but decided he didn’t like the man’s looks and takes it to his room. That night the door opens—no lock—and in the dark he is dragged from bed and beaten unconscious. When he awakes he finds his room has been thorough¬ly searched and the leather case taken. Gripped in one hand is a part of a sleeve—the strap from the wristband used to fasten it around the wrist, and from a French correspondent’s uniform.
The Scribe seems full of uniforms the strap will match, but it is not until he observes he is followed wherever he goes that he suspects Jean Dubois, of L’Matin. Later Maddy seeks him out, trying to get back her case, which she finally admits contains a list of prominent members of the French underground, or Maquis, which will mean death to many held prisoner by the Germans if it reaches them. She tells him she suspects that some of the employees of the hotel—a few of whom are from Alsace—are really Nazi sympathizers, left behind by the Germans to keep them informed of SHAEF activities.
Together they search Dubois’ room, but just as they discover the case and the list where he has hidden them, he surprises them and attacks them. Beating Jordan down, he forces Maddy to accompany him and escapes. Col. Thomas arrives and accuses Jordan of spiriting Maddy away, but finally agrees to listen; and the two team up and take after Dubois, who apparently is headed for the press camp at SHAEF advance headquarters in Luxembourg, hoping to continue posing as a French correspondent and getting through the lines.
They overtake Dubois just as he reaches a German patrol. The Germans are about to shoot Maddy, Jordan and Thomas, when an American infantry battalion rises up between the Germans and their line of retreat and captures the whole caboodle. What fun!

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