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Title: Icky Of Oluk Lake
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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Icky Of Oluk Lake

by

Fred M White




Published in Munsey's, Vol. XCVI, No. 1, Feb 1929, pp 101-107


I

BIG BILL KOGGS had sent off a day-message, prepaid, rush, to J. Claudius Bruno, at the Grand Central Hotel, Butte, Montana. The news thus communicated was as follows:

WHAT THE HELL, JAKE? THE HOT SPRINGS HAS GONE COLD.
W. KOGGS.

In due course there came a reply—day-message, collect—addressed to

"William Koggs, Hot Springs Hotel, Oluk Lake, Montana," and reading thus:

YOU MUST HAVE LET THE FIRE GO OUT UNDER THE BOILER.
BRUNO.

Big Bill crumpled the yellow sheet into a crinkly wad and hurled it into the dark fire box.

"So that," he observed, "is what’s haywire with this layout! Damned if I hadn’t ought to 'a' stayed in the garage business. Yessir, I ought to 'a' knowed any hotel that open cutout Jake Bruno sold me'd have a cracked cylinder an' a flat tire !"

"Tire flat?" asked a deep voice at his elbow.

"No, but I am," snapped Bill. "Here, you big Indian cheese, what you know about this ?"

"All 'bout it," said the one addressed. "Me build um."

"Whassat?"

"I said I'm thoroughly familiar with the hot springs, because I constructed them."

Even in his dirty shirt and torn overalls, which somehow suggested horses, the Indian retained his dignity. In his humbler moments he might have posed for a statue of Powhatan telling the early Virginians where to get off his hunting grounds.

"Well, I'll be scrapped for a mess o' junk!" breathed the former garageman. "So you can talk United States when you want to, eh?"

"Sure! Me go Carlisle."

"Whassat?"

"I said I'm a Carlisle graduate. You may have heard of me. The late Walter Camp once did me the honor of selecting me for all-American end."

"And you knowed all the time them hot springs had to be heated! Why the hell didn't you say sumpin'?"

"You no ask um."

"Whassat?"

"I said you didn't inquire of me. If you had, I should have informed you."

"Well, if you're workin' here, get busy and help steam up this percolator instead of talkin' so much, or our guests 'll all run out on us—yessir, all three of 'em!" ·

With the telegram from the recent owner as a nucleus, a fire was soon glowing in the grate, and the hiss of escaping steam announced that another wonder of nature had been saved for summer boarders. Mopping his brow, Bill Koggs studied the sputtering array of pipes and the dejected-looking pile of coal with a professional eye.

"So that's where the profits in the hotel business goes!" he remarked to himself. "This here boiler'll eat up forty dollars' worth o' coal per week keepin' the hot springs hot. No wonder Jake Bruno was willin' to sell the joint cheap; and she looked like such a bargain!" He turned to the Indian, who leaned gracefully against the door jamb. "So you rigged up this here steam kettle, eh, chief?"

"Sure."

"Your own idea?"

"Nope."

"Whose, then?"

"Bruno say what do. Me fixum."

"Whassat?"

"I said Bruno conceived the plan of heating the springs. I merely installed the boiler under his directions."

"Well, as a mechanic, you're a fine car washer. That's a bum rig! We're losin' too much heat. I'll fix it better when I get time. You go with this place, do yuh?" .

"Sure," said the Indian.

Briefly he explained how, in the mornings, he consented to perform certain menial tasks in the saddle-horses-for-hire department of the hotel, in exchange for his room and board. This left him free to spend his afternoons parading before the admiring ladies in his more or less tribal finery, the while he disposed, at handsome profit, of genuine Indian bead-work which he obtained, postage prepaid, from a well-known mail order house in Chicago. He intimated his willingness to continue this arrangement under the new management.

Bill consented, tentatively. The hotel business was all new to him. He had much to learn, but with the aptitude of a good mechanic he was learning rapidly.

It had all sounded so inviting as the suave Bruno had presented it, while Big Bill deftly adjusted a carburetor and changed the oil, back there in Butte. No more struggling with faltering flivvers and misused motors, no more nicked knuckles and oily overalls, but fine clothes to be worn in the sunshine of a mountain resort as lord of the place! Bruno had mentioned the profits, too, and his own prosperous person was eloquent proof of the wealth to be obtained in the hotel business.

At the very first Mr. Koggs had been interested. Then, as the acquaintance between the two men ripened into the "Bill" and "Jake" stage, he had become convinced. At the last Bruno had tucked his friend's soiled check into the pocket of his faultlessly tailored suit, clapped his expensive fedora jauntily on his bullet-shaped head, and made for the bank.

"So this is what I bought!" Bill now reflected, as he stood on the wide porch of his hotel and looked off across the lake. "It ain't the first cost—it's the upkeep. For fuel consumption this baby beats any 1910 model on the lot. If I don't do sumpin' about it quick, she's goin' to ride me right into the poorhouse!"

II

THE season was still early, and Mr. Koggs took comfort in the thought that business might pick up as the weather grew warmer. As a matter of fact it did, but not enough to offset the cost of maintaining the big hotel and keeping the hot springs hot. Then the State of Montana kindly dumped a quantity of newly crushed rock on the highway from which a byroad led to Oluk Lake, and Mr. Koggs perforce became a garageman again. Hardly an automobile arrived at the Hot Springs Hotel but exhibited at least one lacerated tire and blown-out tube; so Big Bill donned his overalls once more and went to work, while dollars tinkled in the cash register, and the pile of discarded tires mounted in the garage.

The anxious pucker vanished from the hotel owner's besmudged brow as the ledger at last showed the venture breaking even—almost. An accountant would have mentioned such items as depreciation and interest, but Big Bill's bookkeeping was of the direct sort, free of encumbering technicalities.

As the summer days wore on, the stalwart Indian's attachment, at first tentative, became permanent. Tricked out in a Sioux war bonnet and Apache leggings, he made up as a scenic attraction for whatever shortcomings he might have as a stableman. Bill had more than once heard a sojourning dowager from east of the Mississippi remark, on beholding the statuesque figure:

"Ah, at last this is the real West!"

One drowsy afternoon, as Bill, having stoked the ever-hungry maw of the hot springs boiler, passed by the broad veranda on his way to replace two balloon tires on a newly arrived limousine, he was arrested by a sirupy contralto voice imploring:

"Chief, can you tell me what is the meaning of the name 'Oluk Lake'?"

The Indian stretched a dramatic arm toward the water.

"Oluk," he intoned, "in language of my people, mean 'serpent.'"

"Oh, how thrilling!" gasped the contralto. "Can you tell me why it is called Serpent Lake?"

The Indian glanced about the veranda, assured himself that his audience was attentive, and proceeded:

"Many summers ago wigwam of mighty chief Soaring Eagle stand by lake here. Long, long ago, so say story of my people, Soaring Eagle go away to war. He leave beautiful young squaw at home. Young chief Running Fox of 'nother tribe come along while braves all gone. Young chief Running Fox see beautiful young squaw. Young squaw listen to love talk of Running Fox. Many times young squaw go on lake in young chief's canoe.

"Bimeby Soaring Eagle come home. Him see um young squaw on lake in 'nother man's canoe. Soaring Eagle call in loud voice to spirits of water to punish young squaw. Out of deep come great serpent monster. Gulp! He swallow up young chief Running Fox. Gulp! He swallow up young squaw. Gulp, gulp! He swallow up canoe, and down go serpent monster to deep again. Pretty young squaw like you go on lake, you be plenty sure go with right man. Mebbe so bimeby serpent monster come back again. You like buy Indian beadwork?"

Big Bill chuckled and passed on to the garage. Presently the Indian joined him there.

"Some fish story," said Bill.

"Ugh!" said the Indian. "Story sell um beads."

"Whassat?"

"I said that that is one of my very best stories. It seldom fails to procluce a sale."

Big Bill flexed an inner tube absenly, his brow corrugated in thought.

"Think they's anything to it?" he asked.

"Ugh! No can tell."

"Whassat?"

"I said it's impossible to judge at this late date. Like most legends, it probably has some slight basis in fact."

Bill set his vulcanizer going and watched abstractedly as it sealed a neat patch over a ragged tear in the rubber.

"Oh, boy!" he murmured. "Wouldn't that oil the bearings?" He fixed the Indian with a rapt expression and exclaimed again: "Oh, boy!"

III

THE world rolled on for a week, during which William Koggs was little seen and the lordly Indian reaped a meager harvest of dimes and quarters from bored customers. Then, about the middle of July, the event occurred that put Oluk Lake on the map and the Hot Springs Hotel on the front pages of a nation's newspapers.

A party of sleepy-eyed fishermen, shoving off hopefully from the hotel landing at the first faint crack of dawn, came tearing back with a speed that stove in the starboard gunwale and roused the slumbering guests. A window was raised and an indignant voice shouted:

"Stop that racket!"

"It was thirty feet long!" replied the first fisherman.

"It had jaws like a shark!" cried the second.

"Flippers like a seal!" yelled the third.

"It was a sea serpent!" added the first.

"With red eyes!" bellowed the second.

"And a long tail!" roared the third.

Sounds of slamming doors and hurrying footsteps filled the hotel. A group began togather on the porch. Big Bill Koggs appeared, rubbing his eyes.

"What seems to be the trouble?" he inquired.

"It's thirty feet long!" replied the first fisherman.

"It has jaws like a shark!" cried the second.

"Flippers like a seal!" yelled the third.

"It's a sea serpent!" added the first.

"With red eyes!" bellowed the second.

"And a long tail!" added the third.

"It came up right beside our boat!" they concluded in chorus.

The story spread like measles. At the Hot Springs Hotel nothing else was discussed, and at each repetition the monster gained new anatomical details. By the time the breakfast dishes had been cleared away, there was no one at Oluk Lake who did not know that the creature, appearing first as a huge gray dorsal fin, had slithered up through the lapping waves in its entire enormity, lingered a few minutes on the surface, its sides pulsating as with deep respirations, and then sunk slowly from sight.

News of the phenomenon trickled out to the incredulous world, and nearby newspapers published the story with a wealth of amazing details. More cautious press associations sent it out, much condensed and qualified by "it was said" and "it was reported by alleged observers," to the great journals of the country. Learned scientists replied in the academic equivalent of "there ain't no such animal," and the debate attracted nation-wide interest.

Big Bill Koggs preserved an attitude of neutral skepticism.

"I ain't heard," he stated, "of no new sport model fish being put out this year. I'll have to see the thing first."

Just one week after the first appearance of the monster—on the following Friday, to be precise—the thing happened again. This time there was no room for doubt. Now that its rooms were all full and reserved in advance, the Hot Springs Hotel was renting tents to the overflow crowd. It may have been partly because of the uncomfortable sleeping equipment provided with this emergency housing that there was a crowd of early risers on the hotel porch and about the lake when, in the first light of a new day, the mysterious beast raised its awful gray bulk through the dark water, heaved its ponderous sides in rhythmic pulsations and then submerged.

This time the newspapers treated the affair more respectfully, and congestion at the hotel became acute. Among the early arrivals was Professor Ignatius Harvale, than whom no living authority could boast a closer intimacy with the extinct monsters of past ages.

"Tell me all about it," the professor commanded each and every individual to whom the unknown creature had revealed itself. "Your information may be the means of bridging the gap between the Jurassic and the Cretaceous dinosaurs. Think of it!"

Then he translated into perfectly unintelligible notes the eager accounts of the favored spectators.

"It is truly marvelous," declared the professor to Big Bill Koggs, as the proprietor vainly sought to escape to the boiler room. "I am convinced that this creature is a survivor from remote ages—nothing less than an icthyosaurus!"

"Icky what?" gasped Bill.

"Icthyosaurus, the dominant marine reptile of the mesozoic age, millions of years ago. Its fossil remains abound in certain European and South American strata."

"Gosh!" said Bill. "Millions of years old and still in runnin' order— that's some durability, ain't it, perfessor?"

Three representatives of rival feature syndicates pressed about them.

"What is it, professor?" they demanded as one.

The professor drew into his shell and closed the shell in the conventional pose of a fossilized oyster.

"I have been misquoted in the press so often," he stated, "that I dislike to make any direct comment. My published monograph on this phenomenon will appear at the proper time."

The reporters drew Bill Koggs aside.

"What did he say?" they insisted.

Big Bill was desperate. These men must be disposed of before the springs went cold again.

"He said," replied Bill, "that the critter's first name is Icky. I forget its last name, but it's millions of years old."

"Wow!" said a reporter, slapping his deadly rival on the back. "Icky! Oh, that's great! Won't that give the headline boys something to work on! Come on, gang, 1et's get together on this and cook up a good one!"

The result was all that P.T. Barnum could have desired, and more. Bill Koggs was obliged to telegraph a rush order for more tents—auto tents, pup tents, anything to house the frenzied crowd that surged around the Hot Springs Hotel and ate in relays in its spacious dining room. Mr. Koggs had no time even to compute his profits.

Friday at dawn being now established as Icky's regular breathing time, the next Thursday brought an influx that made the Hot Springs Hotel look like an overgrown gold camp. One of the fresh arrivals was conspicuous, even in this hectic throng, for the natty splendor of his attire. Finding Bill Koggs in earnest conversation with his Indian aid, the dressy guest approached with a let's-be-friends-again smile.

"Jake Bruno!" exclaimed Bill. "I didn't think you'd have the nerve to come here, after the dirty deal you give me!"

"Pshaw!" said Mr. Bruno. "That was a bit raw, wasn't it, Bill? Well, I've felt pretty bad about it, and I've come to take the place off your hands. I'll give you back just what you paid for it, Bill. How's that for a fair offer?"

"It's all wet," said Bill. "I'm makin' money on this here layout now, and I'm goin' to keep right on. You couldn't buy me out if you was as rich as you look, and you ain't."

With which remark Bill turned his back on J. Claudius Bruno and strode to the hotel garage, where his two assistants were busy changing tires.

Bruno's face reddened until it matched his tie.

"Damme!" the Indian heard him mutter. "Imagine that guy getting high hat with me! Well, he'll sell to me, or he'll wish he had, if I have to sink his pet sea serpent. No greasy garage mechanic can make a fool out of Claudius Bruno!"

IV

FRIDAY dawned, as Fridays did at Oluk Lake. There was a streak of light above the eastern tree—tops, a ripple on the water, and a gray bulk emerging from the depths, blending with the dark water, but dimly visible to the eager crowd on shore.

From a hilltop beside the hotel a rifle cracked, and a bullet struck the water a few feet away from the behemoth of the deep. A second shot seemed to find its mark, for lcky shuddered horribly, listed to port, and vanished.

A cry of protest welled from the crowd, but the deed was done.

Big Bill Koggs, pushing his way to the front rank of spectators, ran head on into Professor Ignatius Harvale, who was frantic with indignation.

"To think," stormed the antiquarian, "that any one in this enlightened age would be so basely, so abysmally ignorant as to shoot the only living icthyosaurus! Think of the opportunity lost to science! Why, we have thousands of dead icthyosauri, but this was the only one alive—think of it!"

Grappling for the carcass was dis- cussed, but the lake near shore was deep and the proper equipment was lacking. It was suggested that the body might rise to the surface after a while. No one seemed eager to engage hand to mouth, so to speak, with a wounded and possibly angry icthyosaurus, so the crowd settled down to await developments.

The next morning an insomniac tent dweller reported that in the dead of night he had seen two large men, one looking like a bronze statue in the moonlight and the other dressed in a mechanic's overalls, meet before the hotel, go together to the garage, and presently emerge thence and push out on the lake in a boat. There had been a short glow of light over the water, as if some one in the boat had struck a match, and then the tent dweller had gone back and tried again to sleep.

The dawn of another Friday found the Oluk Lake population in breathless suspense. As the stars faded in the east, every vantage point on the lake shore and the hotel porch was occu- pied. Was Icky dead, or would he come up for his weekly breath of air?

A ruddy streak appeared over the tree—tops, and still the surface of the water was as a mirror. Then two men were seen getting into a boat and shoving off from the landing. They were Professor Harvale and J. Claudius Bruno.

"I want to see this thing close up," said Bruno.

"Your interest," stated the professor, "is no less keen than mine."

A tense silence gripped the crowd as the boat moved slowly over the glassy water. Day was dawning. Small objects were becoming visible. The monster was overdue.

Suddenly there was a shrill cry from the boat. The bow of the little craft tilted upward, and Bruno and the professor, clinging desperately together, splashed noisily into the water. Then the watchers on shore saw, beside the overturned boat, the ponderous mass of the monster from the deep. Paying no heed to the two wild-eyed creatures who stared at him over the bottom of their boat, Icky lingered on the surface, worked his great sides in undulating rhythm, and slowly sank from sight.

Bruno and the professor were dragged shivering into another boat, and a dense circle of humanity pressed around them on the landing.

"Marvelous!" said the professor. "It is truly an icthyosaurus. There's nothing else it could be. Most remarkable of all, I actually saw the place where the bullet pierced its hide. The wound is now marked by a red spot—think of it!"

Big Bill Koggs elbowed his way nonchalantly through the crowd.

"Did Icky show?" he asked.

"Did he?" echoed a bystander. "He attacked two men in a boat and dumped 'em in the water!"

"So it's you again," said Bill, gazing on the haggard features of Bruno. "What you tryin' to do to my Icky?"

"I w-w-wanted," chattered Bruno, "to s-see if it was real. Gosh, it is! Bill, I'll double my offer for this hotel!"

"Not enough," replied Bill. "Three times!" said Bruno. "You paid me ten thousand. I'll give you thirty."

"Sold!" said Bill.

The rest of the story may be told in three telegrams. The first, dated August 27, and addressed to "William Koggs, Acme Garage, Butte, Montana," was a day-message, prepaid, rush:

MONSTER HAS NOT SHOWED FOR THREE WEEKS. GUESTS LEAVING. HOW ABOUT IT?
BRUNO.

Big Bill's reply—a day-message, collect, addressed to "J. Claudius Bruno, Hot Springs Hotel, Oluk Lake, Montana "—was prompt and instructive:

PERHAPS YOU FORGOT TO BLOW ICKY UP.
FIND AIR PUMP AND RELEASE VALVE IN BOILER ROOM.
W. KOGGS.

A week later Big Bill had another message—a night-message, collect—to send his friend at Oluk Lake:

SORRY TO LEARN OF YOUR GREAT LOSS. ICKY WAS MADE OF OLD INNER TUBES.
YOU OUGHT NOT TO HAVE GAVE HIM MORE THAN TWELVE POUNDS PRESSURE.
W. KOGGS.


THE END

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