18 January 2017

Pickled Wilderness


[A passage from The Motor Chums in Alaska, or, The Search for Incan Gold, written 18 January 1979]
T
he intrepid party now found itself in a wild and desolate region of mountainous aspect. Huge volcanoes flared intermittently in the distance, seemingly in answer to the spouts of water beneath the chums—the famous geysers of the Yellowstone country. So savage was the country that one could easily imagine that hordes of untamed Indians still roamed the land as in ages past. Not a sign of civilization was visible. Only the picnic benches, lights, marked trails and the gigantic Ferris wheel gave mute evidence that the hand of man had ever touched the region.
“This is Yellowstone National Park,” Harry observed unnecessarily, as usual acting as a guide for the expedition. “Founded in 1872 it is the oldest of all National Parks, and contains nearly 3000 acres of scenic beauty, wildlife, and geysers. Attempts to exterminate all dangerous animals from the park have yet to prove successful, but with the rapid removal of many of their natural defenses, such as the trees, and the building of many new roads, it will not be long before the result is assured. Soon the park will be made so secure that even children and the elderly will be able to enjoy the thrill of being in a real wilderness in perfect safety.”
Phil laughed. “A playground for the elite,” he said. “How many of the factory workers in Trenton or Montreal are ever going to visit this park?”
“If they worked their way to the top they would,” Ned pointed out.
“It does seem like a waste of good farmland,” said Laura, “Although of course it is rather pretty.”
They were interrupted by the sound of hissing air from above them and a howl of anguish from the control cabin. At once Harry moved to the front of the ship, arriving in time to see the control rods detach themselves from the free-spinning flywheels and fly through the canvas gasbag above. With that the ship began to settle rapidly.
Not one whit alarmed, Tom shut off the fuel-valves “to prevent an explosion” and short-circuited the alarm system “so as not to frighten the passengers.”
“What happened?” Harry inquired.
“How in the blue blazes am I supposed to know that?” demanded Tom. “I’m not a walking encyclopedia.”
“Well, the emergency parachute system appears to have activated itself correctly on this occasion,” Harry said. “We should land safely.”
“If we aren’t smashed on the rocks and don’t land in the river,” put in Mr. Kemp, “or get blown up by a geyser.”
“Don’t let the passengers hear you talk,” Harry cautioned him, “They’re nervous enough as it is.”
Tom strode out and gave a brief explanation to the others. “We’ve decided to camp out to-night at the park, so as to make a few minor adjustments to the engine. We will be landing in a moment.”
This prophecy proved correct, as the ship abruptly came to a halt and then tilted to an angle, throwing the passengers against the walls.
“We landed in the river,” shouted Mr. Kemp. “I predicted this would happen!”
“Well, let’s go out and take a look at the park before sunset,” suggested Tom, “while I check the Rainbow II for damage.” This was done, and soon the young people were enjoying themselves in Father Sam’s own playground.
Tom and Harry, with the assistance of Ersatz, examined the ship carefully. Harry looked over the engine while Tom supervised Ersatz in inspecting the gasbag. Suddenly Ersatz raised a shout. “Dis am bery strange,” he exclaimed. “De bag am full ob little holes! Dere mus’ be t’ousands ob dem in dis ol’ canvas!”
“Can you see anything else?” Tom called.
“Birdshit!” the colored lad replied.
“And, by the way, Tom,” Harry interrupted, “the whole engine mechanism seems to be fouled.”
“With what?” Tom demanded.
“With feathers, and what appears to be some kind of excrement,” Harry told him. “I can’t be certain, of course, but I would say that it originated with birds.”
“Marse Tom,” said Ersatz, landing with a thump beside his chums, “Ah t’ink de birds am got it in fo’ us.”
“It’s one of the tests the legend spoke of,” said Mr. Kemp. “I knew better than to come along with you lads, but I did, and now we must all be punished. ‘To enter the gold city one must be pure of heart—one must be tested and found worthy, by ice, by capture, by wild beast.’ By wild beast.” He paused. “There are still beasts wild enough in Yellowstone Park, God knows.”
As if in conformation to these words a growl emanated from the ship. “Help, help, alretty!” came a cry. “A lion loose on de ship iss!”
“Lions are not indigenous to North America,” Harry nitpicked.
“Maybe he means a puma,” Tom suggested. “Where are the guns?”
“In the control cabin stores,” Harry replied. Further conversation was prevented by the sudden apparition of Franz Joseph fairly flying over the railing and landing in a heap about twenty feet away from the chums.
“A lion hass the control room overtaken! He iss pigger dan pig—de granfadder of all lions alretty!” he babbled breathlessly.
“Maybe we can entice him out with some meat,” suggested Tom. “It doesn’t seem sportsmanlike but without our guns we don’t really have that much of a choice.” 
“We have no meat, either,” said Harry. “We may be reduced to hoping he will leave the ship of his own accord.”

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