Sunday, January 4, 2015

"Mission of Mercy" by Bert N. Dean

Mission of Mercy
Bert N. Dean

Under his sealskin parka Inspector Don Norton, ace manhunter of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, wore the tunic of a special constable so as not to arouse suspicion when he reached the Mackenzie delta by dog sled.

His lone companion on the perilous trek into the Arctic was a young surgeon who had only recently been assigned to duty with the police. Doc Gibson, the young medic, had plied Norton with questions about the typhoid epidemic along the delta, but the inspector made it clear that he did not want to discuss a number of matters concerning the epidemic and their trek into the delta.

Reaching the first Eskimo settlement, they found that three persons had already died of the plague, and seven more were seriously ill.

Doc Gibson busied himself with the stricken Eskimos and inoculated all those who had not fallen ill. He could not gather any information from the people, for their knowledge of English was scanty and the doctor knew not a word of the Eskimo tongue.

But Inspector Norton, who introduced himself as Constable Jones to the head man of the settlement, could speak the Eskimo dialect fluently. Wise in the ways of the North, Norton put forth no direct questions. He used clever suggestion to make the hardy trappers talk about the things he had come to find out.

Uvalak, a sturdy, bronze-skinned man, showed Norton a great store of white fox and otter pelts in a shed fashioned from sealskins stretched between poles of driftwood. The inspector knew that the Eskimos had made a record breaking catch of fur, and this strengthened his suspicion as to the origin of the epidemic.

Not until the second day did Uvalak, grinning with pride, show Norton a shiny new Winchester rifle. Norton still didn't ask questions, but he was soon rewarded for his tact when Uvalak told him that the rifle had been given him by one of the two white men who had passed down the delta a fortnight before. They had, of course, given skinning knives and tobacco to all the villagers on the promise that none would make known that they had come through the settlement.

That night when all were inside the huts, Inspector Norton put the sled dogs in their harnesses and told Doc Gibson that they were leaving. He cautioned the surgeon not to arouse any attention.

Making fast time on the hard-packed snow, the inspector drove the dog sled across the frozen delta and reached a settlement on the opposite shore three days later. He told the surgeon to go about his business immediately, for they would be heading back to the nearest police post before darkness fell.

Norton unhitched the sled dogs, chained them to stakes and went about as though he were planning to stop there several days. The Eskimos came in small groups to greet him, for like all Eskimos they recognized a Mountie as a friend. Norton greeted them cheerfully, but asked no questions. He knew that the epidemic had already struck them.

An hour passed before two white men came forth from a tent at the edge of the settlement. They told Norton that they were brothers, and were searching for a friend who had inherited a fortune after going into the wilderness for the trapping season. Norton, the manhunter, knew they were lying. In a flash, he drew his revolver and ordered the men to turn around and throw up their hands. He disarmed them quickly.

"Which of you is the typhoid carrier?" Norton demanded gruffly.

The pair knew the jig was up. The taller of the two nodded toward his companion. "Neal's the carrier, Constable."

"Don't be fooled by my chevrons," Norton snapped. "I'm an inspector, and you don't need three guesses to hit on why I was sent up here. You figured that by wiping out the villages with typhoid, you could make off with this year's catch of fur. I'm arresting you both for conspiracy and murder!"

No comments:

Post a Comment