The 8 January 1918 edition for All-Story Weekly gifts us with this remarkably cold, and very much adult, novel, of the frozen far wastes of the Canadian wilderness. Written by the talented James B. Hendryx, “The One Big Thing” is what our protagonist, Gregg North, is direly in search of attaining.
Having completed a generously big assignment on the railroad expansion project, he resigns to pursue bigger game. North wants to make a name for himself, and seeks to map out the Athabasca and surrounding areas, in order to eliminate the need for old-fashioned canoe-trips delivering furs from the far regions, trips that often take months or years, even. These are costs that add up, and he desires to map the waterways, convert powerful rapids to dams churning out electricity, and create locks. Developing the northland will convert and unbreachable region into a powerhouse.
However, he is warned against the likes of the seemingly cloaked in mystery Louis Robespierre, whose Robespierre House, deep in the wilderness, is refuge to any and all that seek out its walls.
Hiring a guide to navigate him up through the waterways, North, aided by Raoul, traverse the rivers and byways. North, with notebook, makes notes at every opportunity. But one night, he finds his notebook to be stolen. He suspects Raoul of foul-play, but keeps silent. His suspicions are somewhat shattered when he is unexpectedly shot at by another Indian and Raoul unexpectedly comes to his rescue.
Believing all his ill-fortune is somehow the dark and sinister machinations of this mysterious Robespierre entity, North demands Raoul to change directions and deliver him unto Robespierre House, for a confrontation.
Arriving at his final destination, North is held up weeks on end, while Robespierre is reportedly out. The time arrives, finally, when a heavily wooded paneled door swings open and a bear of a man enters. He knows already all about North and even surrenders the stolen notebook back into his care, after North confesses to the man his entire life plan.
Robespierre admits that he himself owns much of the real estate, both from his own work over the decades and inheritances from prior generations that inhabited the region. Realizing that he is forced to work with Robespierre, the pair shake and mutually work toward the completion of North’s “big” plans.
But the plans go awry, when Robespierre is sniped and mortally wounded. Learning of his injury, North returns to find Louis gravely wounded and slowly dying. As thus, the big man informs North that five years earlier he had sent his daughter to America for higher learning, but does not know where the daughter, Honoré, is located. The local priest knew, but, he is dead.
North demands Robespierre to stay alive long enough for him to secure the girl and bring her back to her father. The deadline is Christmas Day. North traverses to the deceased priest’s home and ransacks the papers. Here, he finds a receipt for Boston.
Yeah, and you know North is headed south and then east on the next available train. His reception at the private school is met with scorn, as the head mistress disbelieves his tale of the dying father, believing he is there to kidnap the beautiful young lady. The credibility of the novel stumbles here when coincidentally, of all the possible girls that could walk past and overhear the conversation, who should it be but the young Honoré?
She catches enough of the conversation, and seeing North dressed as one from her home region, grasps the situation immediately and the pair spring for escape. Encouraging North to change clothes from wilderness to something more citified, the pair elude a nationwide manhunt demanded by the headmistress. Nearing their final rail destination, Honoré realizes that even on board the train, they are hounded, and so North pulls a gun and calls for the train to come to a screeching halt. Herewith, they are on foot and miraculously, through a blizzard, North delivers the young lady to her dying father, on Christmas Day.
The next day, he is dead.
They read a will that he left in their care, and it states that they are both to inherit, etc. There are some gruesome scenes that follow that I will not detail, as I do not wish to ruin someone else’s potential enjoyment in reading this novel.
In the end, North must fight to protect the girl he has come to love and hunt the man that fatally and eventually, has come to become the Robespierre’s murderer. However, the conclusion is anything but expected, as Honoré begs North not to pursue the killer. He painfully backs down, but, not before handing the flattened bullet, retrieved from the dead man, to another Indian, whom recognizes marks left on the bullet and has full realization as to the identity of the murder. With a nod, the Indian accepts the unvocalized mission to slay Honoré’s father’s murderer.