2015 November 24 “The One Big Thing” by James B. Hendryx

20 The One Big Thing

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.

2015 November 24 “The One Big Thing” by James B. Hendryx

2015 October 21 “The Challenge of the North” by James B. Hendryx

08 The Challenge Of The North

Book 8 in the Garden City series brings us to “The Challenge of the North” by James B. Hendryx. Originally published in the 10 January 1922 issue of Short Stories pulp magazine, the cover art by Edgar Franklin Wittmack hails from the 10 July 1922 edition.

While the tale is one of the Frozen North timberland, the cover fails entirely to accurate depict the content within (yet again). Why the publishers couldn’t sit down and match up covers more accurately, or, make an attempt, is bewildering. But, that is neither here, nor there….

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. As expected, Hendryx delivers a beautiful wilderness tale wrapped up with a business venture (I tend to despise business stories, but it was essential to the overall plot), romance, deceit, and, a murder!

Putting the entire plot into this blog would take a hell of an undertaking, but, I will do the best possible….

The story opens with Oskar Hedin, head clerk of the fur department, owned by John McNabb, in Terrace City (while such a city does exist, in British Columbia, it is not clear whether this is the same as referred to in the story, or if Hendryx merely invented it). He is in love with McNabb’s daughter, Jean, whom has just turned 21. John had promised her a fur on her 21st, and sends her over to Oskar for a proper choosing. Oskar selects a baum marten and then deftly switches it out with a Russian sable worth tens of thousands of dollars (she is to return it the next day for proper fitting, at which time, he’ll swap it back to the original fur). Why? Well, Jean is to go about the town with John’s competitor, one Fred Orcutt, a banker, and his wife, as well as Jean’s boyfriend, Wentworth, a former Captain, honorably discharged after The Great War ended.

Wentworth notices that the fur is not a baum marten, and sneaks back into the department store and steals the cheaper fur. Then while at Orcutt’s home, he swaps the furs in the coat closet, and begs to be excused home as he left his wallet behind. Under this veil, he escapes with the sable.

Meanwhile, Oskar is waiting outside the theatre. He wants to see the effect of the sable on Jean. However, the fur was not given to Jean to please her; rather, it was placed there to tempt Mr. Orcutt’s wife, whom is a fur connoisseur, but refuses to buy from McNabb on general principle that they are sworn business enemies. To his horror, the sable is not wrapped about her. It’s the wrong fur!

In mortal terror, he flees the scene, returns to the store, has the guard open up and rummage through the fur department. Both furs are gone! Realizing his fate, to be sacked and possibly jailed, he awaits the inevitable. When business opens, he confesses to John, and while John believes him, he places him under arrest.

Oskar punches out the policeman and escapes, only to be recaptured shortly thereafter and jailed.

The scenario is later explained to Jean, and she cries that Oskar is innocent, and could never have stolen the fur. John is surprised by her passion, but elated because he both likes the young man and, secretly, had hoped that Oskar and Jean might one day wed. Before Wentworth had materialized, she had been interested in Oskar.

Oskar then finds that someone has posted for his $10,000 bail. Returning home, he is confronted by John, whom lays out a plan to confirm Wentworth as crook, schemer, and, nail his competitor, Orcutt, to the wall.

Under the imbecile guise of Sven Larsen, Oskar is sent north to God’s Lake (a real location). He shaves off his mustache and grows a beard, and plays the part of bumbling idiot and retained only for his superior knowledge of furs. This part he plays well, much to the ire of Wentworth, whom arrives days later, after being hired on by John McNabb.

John’s game is deep, and a win / win. He sends Wentworth to investigate the area for business feasibility in setting up a mill, transport of trucks and pulp-wood, etc. This Wentworth does, but sends the data to John and his enemy, Orcutt. Why the duplicity on Wentworth’s part? Pure strategy, to ensure he keeps a paying job, either way. John (lyingly) let slip that his contract expired in August, but it expires in July. Hence, if John never figures out the slip, Orcutt gets the deal and Wentworth gets a permanent position, with higher pay. If John does figure out his reportedly erroneous slip, then, well, Wentworth still is paid for his time, etc.

On arriving at God’s Lake, Wentworth is all-a-steam about his Indian guide, whom he beat with a whip. One RCMP Corporal Downey, whom happens to be on the scene, mentions that that particular Indian is bad medicine, and will kill him for his assault, but never fear, when he does, Downey will capture the Indian. Wentworth sluffs off the casual remark and is all arrogance over the matter.

He fails entirely to recognize Oskar for anything but a Scandinavian moron, and Wentworth goes on to fulfill his tasks. The appointed time in July arrives, John fails to make an appearance, and Orcutt shows up instead with the funds and signs the paperwork. Believing that he now owns the entire pulp-wood area, he and Wentworth strike out immediately to investigate the area.

Half hour later, the lawyer that signed over the project is approached by the erstwhile dimwit Oskar, whom suddenly is anything but, and wishes to sign the documents. The lawyer, Cameron, is flabbergasted, and states that the papers were already signed at noon, as agreed. Oskar notes that that is impossible, as it is only 11:30am. Cameron fails to see, and suspects a cruel joke. But, on viewing his own pocket watch, realizes that Orcutt’s watch was still set an hour later (clearly indicating the Terrace City is fictional in this story and could not possibly be WEST of God’s Lake, but must be EAST). Ergo, the contract is null and void.

Oskar, appointed representative, signs the new contract and hands over the funds.

Long story short, Orcutt is in financial ruin. He failed to recognize the trick for a whole month, in which time, he had already built up a trucking fleet and extracted the wood. John buys him out at 10 cents on the dollar, a nefariously crude offer that Orcutt himself had once earlier offered John, in spite!

Wentworth eventually arrives, and sneers in their faces that John and Jean are fools. He thinks the Orcutt deal is still on! They finally inform him it is not, after Cameron finally arrives on the scene and explains what happened in the past month that Cameron spent traipsing over Canada trying to track them down. He returns the $350,000 to Wentworth, as Orcutt’s rep, to return to Orcutt.

Oskar finally has his say and beats the man senseless, then digs in the man’s coat pocket for a key to the man’s trunk, and has a local Indian open the trunk and bring them the stolen Russian sable.

Wentworth is permitted to leave. Realizing he is bust, he makes to keep and steal the money, but his only avenue of escape is neither by road or trail. He must take to the river by canoe. This he does, and here, Hendryx enters the dark, horrific world of blood-and-thunder. He sends our whipped Indian after him. He chases him down the river and slowly catches up. All a game to him, our Indian, one Cree half-breed name of Alex Thumb, mentally tortures Wentworth, informing that he will kill him, then cut out his heart, and maybe eat it. Taxed by the threats, Wentworth flees.

Alex Thumb laughs, and allows him a four-hour lead, then pursues. Wentworth is eventually found, mired in muck and trying to stay alive holding onto a spruce. Extracted, Wentworth is tied to the same tree, and Alex eventually shoots him.

Far away, RCMP Downey hears the shot. He was already on Thumb’s trail, knowing he would kill Wentworth. An expert tracker himself, he finds the man shot dead, his heart dug out, and Alex roasting the $350,000 over a fire-pit.

2015 October 21 “The Challenge of the North” by James B. Hendryx