BRANDON OF THE ENGINEERS
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BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Alton of Somasco Lorimer of the Northwest Thurston of Orchard Valley Winston of the Prairie The Gold Trail Sydney Carteret, Rancher A Prairie Courtship Vane of the Timberlands The Long Portage Ranching for Sylvia Prescott of Saskatchewan The Dust of Conflict The Greater Power Masters of the Wheatlands Delilah of the Snows By Right of Purchase The Cattle Baron's Daughter Thrice Armed For Jacinta The Intriguers The League of the Leopard For the Allison Honor The Secret of the Reef Harding of Allenwood The Coast of Adventure Johnstons of the Border Brandon of the Engineers
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BRANDON OF THE ENGINEERS
Author of "Johnstone of the Border," "Prescott of Saskatchewan," "Winston of the Prairie," etc.
New York Frederick A. Stokes Company Publishers
Copyright, 1916, by Frederick A. Stokes Company Published in England under the Title "His One Talent"
All Rights Reserved
CHAPTER PAGE I A Promising Officer 1 II Dick's Troubles Begin 11 III The Punishment 22 IV Adversity 34 V The Concrete Truck 44 VI A Step Up 54 VII Dick Undertakes a Responsibility 65 VIII An Informal Court 75 IX Jake Fuller 85 X La Mignonne 97 XI Clare Gets a Shock 107 XII Dick Keeps His Promise 118 XIII The Return from the Fiesta 129 XIV Complications 140 XV The Missing Coal 151 XVI Jake Gets into Difficulties 161 XVII The Black-Funnel Boat 172 XVIII Dick Gets a Warning 184 XIX Jake Explains Matters 194 XX Don Sebastian 205 XXI Dick Makes a Bold Venture 215 XXII The Official Mind 225 XXIII The Clamp 237 XXIV The Altered Sailing List 247 XXV The Water-Pipe 259 XXVI The Liner's Fate 270 XXVII The Silver Clasp 282 XXVIII Rough Water 294 XXIX Kenwardine Takes a Risk 304 XXX The Last Encounter 314 XXXI Richter's Message 326 XXXII Ida Interferes 336
BRANDON OF THE ENGINEERS
A PROMISING OFFICER
The lengthening shadows lay blue and cool beneath the alders by the waterside, though the cornfields that rolled back up the hill glowed a coppery yellow in the light of the setting sun. It was hot and, for the most part, strangely quiet in the bottom of the valley since the hammers had stopped, but now and then an order was followed by a tramp of feet and the rattle of chain-tackle. Along one bank of the river the reflections of the trees quivered in dark-green masses; the rest of the water was dazzlingly bright.
A pontoon bridge, dotted with figures in khaki, crossed a deep pool. At its head, where a white road ran down the hill, a detachment of engineers lounged in the shade. Their faces were grimed with sweat and dust, and some, with coats unbuttoned, sprawled in the grass. They had toiled hard through the heat of the day, and now were enjoying an "easy," until they should be called to attention when their work was put to the test.
As Lieutenant Richard Brandon stood where the curve was boldest at the middle of the bridge, he had no misgivings about the result so far as the section for which he was responsible was concerned. He was young, but there was some ground for his confidence; for he not only had studied all that text-books could teach him but he had the constructor's eye, which sees half-instinctively where strength or weakness lies. Brandon began his military career as a prize cadet and after getting his commission he was quickly promoted from subaltern rank. His advancement, however, caused no jealousy, for Dick Brandon was liked. He was, perhaps, a trifle priggish about his work—cock-sure, his comrades called it—but about other matters he was naively ingenuous. Indeed, acquaintances who knew him only when he was off duty thought him something of a boy.
In person, he was tall and strongly made, with a frank, sunburned face. His jaw was square and when he was thoughtful his lips set firmly; his light-gray eyes were clear and steady. He was genial with his comrades, but usually diffident in the company of women and older men.
Presently the Adjutant came up and, stopping near, glanced along the rippling line that marked the curve of the bridge.
"These center pontoons look rather prominent, as if they'd been pushed upstream a foot or two," he remarked. "Was that done by Captain Maitland's order?"
"No, sir," Dick answered with some awkwardness. "For one thing, I found they'd lie steadier out of the eddy."
"They do, but I don't know that it's much of an advantage. Had you any other reason for modifying the construction plans?"
Dick felt embarrassed. He gave the Adjutant a quick glance; but the man's face was inscrutable. Captain Hallam was a disciplinarian where discipline was needed, but he knew the value of what he called initiative.
"Well," Dick tried to explain, "if you notice how the wash of the head-rapid sweeps down the middle of the pool——"
"I have noticed it," said the Adjutant dryly. "That's why the bridge makes a slight sweep. But go on."
"We found a heavy drag on the center that flattened the curve. Of course, if we could have pushed it up farther, we'd have got a stronger form."
"It's obvious, sir. If we disregard the moorings, a straight bridge would tend to curve downstream and open out under a shearing strain. As we get nearer the arch form it naturally gets stiffer, because the strain becomes compressive. After making the bridge strong enough for traffic, the problem is to resist the pressure of the current."
"True," the Adjutant agreed with a smile. "Well, we'll let the pontoons stand. The traditions of the British Army are changing fast, but while we don't demand the old mechanical obedience, it might be better not to introduce too marked innovations. Anyhow, it's not desirable that they should, so to speak, strike a commanding officer in the eye. Some officers are conservative and don't like that kind of thing."
He moved on and Dick wondered whether he had said too much. He was apt to forget his rank and comparative unimportance when technical matters were discussed. In fact, it was sometimes difficult not to appear presumptuous; but when one knew that one was right——
In the meantime, the Adjutant met the Colonel, and they stopped together at the bridge-head.
"I think we have made a good job, but the brigade's transport is pretty heavy," the Colonel remarked.
"I'm satisfied with the bridge, sir; very creditable work for beginners. If the other branches of the new armies are as good——"
"The men are in earnest. Things, of course, are changing, and I suppose old-fashioned prejudices must go overboard. Personally, I liked the type we had before the war, but we'll let that go. Young Brandon strikes me as particularly keen."
"Keen as mustard," the Adjutant agreed. "In other ways, perhaps, he's more of the kind you have been used to."
"Now I wonder what you mean by that! You're something of what they're pleased to call a progressive, aren't you? However, I like the lad. His work is good."
"He knows, sir."
"Ah," said the Colonel, "I think I understand. But what about the drawings of the new pontoons? They must be sent to-night."
"They're ready. To tell the truth, I showed them to Brandon and he made a good suggestion about the rounding of the waterline."
The Colonel looked thoughtful.
"Well, the idea of a combined pontoon and light boat that would carry troops is by no means new; but these are rather an unusual type and if it were known that we were building them, it might give the enemy a hint. I suppose you told Brandon the thing's to be kept quiet."
"Yes; I made it plain," the Adjutant said, and they walked on.
Dick had been sitting on the bridge, but he jumped up as a rhythmic tramp of feet came down the hillside. Dust rose among the cornfields and hung in a white streak along the edge of a wood, and then with a twinkling flash of steel, small, ocher-colored figures swung out of the shadow. They came on in loose fours, in an unending line that wound down the steep slopes and reached the bridge-head. Then orders rolled across the stream, the line narrowed, and the measured tramp changed to a sharp uneven patter. The leading platoon were breaking step as they crossed the bridge. Dick frowned impatiently. This was a needless precaution. The engineers' work was good; it would stand the percussive shock of marching feet.
He stood at attention, with a sparkle in his eyes, as the hot and dusty men went by. They were, for the most part, young men, newly raised infantry, now being hardened and tempered until they were fit to be used as the army's spear-head in some desperate thrust for which engineers and artillery had cleared the way. It was some time before the first battalion crossed, but the long yellow line still ran back up the hillside to the spot at which it emerged from the deepening shade, and the next platoon took the bridge with unbroken step. It swayed and shook with a curious regular tremble as the feet came down; but there was no giving way of tie and stringer-beam, and Dick forgot the men who were passing, and thought of fastenings and stressed material.
He was young and the pomp of war had its effect on him, but the human element began to take second place. Although an officer of the new army, he was first of all an engineer; his business was to handle wood and iron rather than men. The throb of the planks and the swing of the pontoons as the load passed over them fascinated him; and his interest deepened when the transport began to cross. Sweating, spume-flecked horses trod the quivering timber with iron-shod hoofs; grinding wheels jarred the structure as the wagons passed. He could feel it yield and bend, but it stood, and Dick was conscious of a strange, emotional thrill. This, in a sense, was his triumph; the first big task in which he had taken a man's part; and his work had passed the test. Taste, inclination, and interest had suddenly deepened into an absorbing love for his profession.
After a time, the Adjutant sent for him and held out a large, sealed envelope.
"These are the plans I showed you," he said. "Colonel Farquhar is driving to Newcastle, and will stop at Storeton Grange for supper at midnight. The plans must be delivered to him there. You have a motorcycle, I think?"
"Very well; it is not a long ride, but I'll release you from duty now. Don't be late at Storeton, take care of the papers, and get Colonel Farquhar's receipt."
There was a manufacturing town not far off, and Dick decided to go there and spend the evening with a cousin of his. They might go to a theater, or if not, Lance would find some means of amusing him. As a rule, Dick did not need amusing, but he felt that he must celebrate the building of the bridge.
Lance Brandon was becoming known as an architect, and he had a good deal of constructive talent. The physical likeness between him and Dick was rather marked, but he was older and they differed in other respects. Lance knew how to handle men as well as material, and perhaps he owed as much to this as to his artistic skill. His plans for a new church and the remodeling of some public buildings had gained him recognition; but he already was popular at country houses in the neighborhood and was courted by the leading inhabitants of the town.
Dick and he dined at the best hotel and Lance listened sympathetically to the description of the bridge. He was not robust enough for the army, but he hinted that he envied Dick; and Dick felt flattered. He sometimes bantered Lance about his social gifts and ambitions, but he had never resented the favors his father had shown his cousin. Lance had been left an orphan at an early age and the elder Brandon—a man of means and standing—had brought him up with his son. They had been good friends and Dick was pleased when his father undertook to give Lance a fair start at the profession he chose. He imagined that now Lance was beginning to make his mark, his allowance had stopped, but this was not his business. Lance was a very good sort, although he was clever in ways that Dick was not and indeed rather despised.
"What shall we do next?" Dick asked when they had lounged for a time in the smoking-room.
Lance made a gesture of resignation as he stretched himself in a big chair. He was dressed with quiet taste, his face was handsome but rather colorless, and his movements were languid.
"You're such an energetic beggar," he complained. "The only theater where they put on plays worth seeing is closed just now, but there's a new dancer at the nearest hall and we might look in. I hope my churchwarden patrons won't disapprove if they hear of it, because they talk about building an ornamental mission room."
"They wouldn't find fault with you. Somehow, nobody does."
"There's some truth in that; the secret is that I know when to stop. One can enjoy life without making the pace too hot. People aren't really censorious, and even the narrow-minded sort allow you certain limits; in fact, I imagine they rather admire you if you can play with fire and not get singed. Women do, anyhow; and, in a sense, their judgment's logical. The thing that doesn't hurt you can't be injurious, and it shows moderation and self-control if you don't pass the danger line."
"How do you know when you have come to the line?"
"Well," smiled Lance, "experience helps; but I think it's an instinct. Of course, if you do show signs of damage, you're done for, because then the people who envied you throw the biggest stones."
"Let's start," said Dick. "I'm not much of a philosopher. Building bridges and digging saps is good enough for me."
"They're healthy occupations, so long as you don't get shot; but, considering everything, it's strange that they still monopolize your interest."
Dick colored. He knew what his cousin meant. He had been attracted by a girl of whom his father approved and who was well-bred, pretty, and rich. Dick imagined that his father's views were agreeable to Helen's relatives and that she was not ignorant of this. Still, nothing had been actually arranged, and although he admired Helen, it would be time enough to think of marriage when he was a captain, for instance.
"Pontoons and excavations have their charm for men with constructive tastes," Lance went on; "but you may find later that they don't satisfy all your needs."
"Get your hat!" Dick returned with a smile, jumping up as he spoke.
The music-hall was badly filled. The audience seemed listless and the performance dragged. Even the much-praised dancer was disappointing, and there was an unusual number of shabby loungers in the bar. Dick had come prepared to enjoy himself after a day of arduous work, and by way of doing so, he ordered a drink or two that he did not really want. As a rule, he was abstemious, but the hall was very hot. It struck him as glaring and tawdry after the quiet dale where the water sparkled among the stones; and the pallid loungers with their stamp of indulgence differed unpleasantly from the hard, brown-faced men he led.
"Let's clear out," he said at last. "Is there anywhere else to go?"
"My rooms," Lance suggested.
"Oh, I want something fresh to-night," Dick replied with a smile.
"Well, I can show you some keen card-play and perhaps a clever game of billiards, besides a girl who's a great deal prettier than the dancer. But it's four miles out of town."
Dick glanced at his watch.
"I can take you on the carrier," he said. "I've plenty of time yet."
They set off, and presently stopped at a tall iron gate on the edge of a firwood. A glimmer of lights indicated that a house stood at the end of the drive.
"Kenwardine will be glad to receive you as a friend of mine," Lance said; "and you needn't play unless you like. He's fond of company and generally has a number of young men about the place."
"A private gambling club?"
"Oh, no. You're very far from the mark. Kenwardine certainly likes a bet and sometimes runs a bank, but all he wins wouldn't do much to keep up a place like this. However, you can see for yourself."
Dick was not a gambler and did not play many games, but he wanted a little excitement, and he looked forward to it as he followed his cousin up the drive.
DICK'S TROUBLES BEGIN
It was with mixed feelings that Clare Kenwardine got down from the stopping train at a quiet station and waited for the trap to take her home. The trap was not in sight, but this did not surprise her, for nobody in her father's household was punctual. Clare sometimes wondered why the elderly groom-gardener, whose wages were very irregularly paid, stayed on, unless it was because his weakness for liquor prevented his getting a better post; but the servants liked her father, for he seldom found fault with them. Kenwardine had a curious charm, which his daughter felt as strongly as anybody else, though she was beginning to see his failings and had, indeed, been somewhat shocked when she came home to live with him not long before.
Now she knitted her level brows as she sat down and looked up the straight, white road. It ran through pastures, and yellow cornfields where harvesters were at work, to a moor on which the ling glowed red in the fading light. Near the station a dark firwood stretched back among the fields and a row of beeches rose in dense masses of foliage beside the road. There was no sound except the soft splash of a stream. Everything was peaceful; but Clare was young, and tranquillity was not what she desired. She had, indeed, had too much of it in the sleepy cathedral town she had left.
Her difficulty was that she felt drawn in two different ways; for she had inherited something of her father's recklessness and love of pleasure, though her mother, who died when Clare was young, had been a shy Puritan. Clare was kept at school much longer than usual; and when she insisted on coming home she found herself puzzled by her father's way of living. Young men, and particularly army officers, frequented the house; stylish women came down from town, often without their husbands; and there was generally some exciting amusement going on. This had its attraction for Clare; but her delicate refinement was sometimes offended, and once she was even alarmed. One of the young men had shown his admiration for her in a way that jarred, and soon afterward there had been a brawl over a game of cards.
Kenwardine had then suggested that she make a long visit to her aunts, in the cathedral town. They had received her gladly but she soon found her stay there irksome. The aunts were austere, religious women, who moved in a narrow groove and ordered all their doings by a worn-out social code. Still, they were kind and gave Clare to understand that she was to stay with them always and have no more to do with Kenwardine than duty demanded. The girl rebelled. She shrank with innate dislike from license and dissipation, but the life her aunts led was dreary, and she could not give up her father. Though inexperienced, she was intelligent and she saw that her path would not be altogether smooth now that she was going home for good. While she thought about it, the trap arrived and the shabby groom drove her up the hill with confused apologies.
An hour or two after Clare reached home, Lance and Dick Brandon entered the house and were met by Kenwardine in the hall. He wore a velvet jacket over his evening clothes and Dick noticed a wine-stain on the breast. He was thin, but his figure was athletic, although his hair was turning gray and there were wrinkles about his eyes.
"Very glad to see your cousin," he said to Lance, and turned to Dick with a smile. "Soldiers have a particular claim on our hospitality, but my house is open to anybody of cheerful frame of mind. One must relax now and then in times like these."
"That's why I brought Dick," Lance replied. "He believes in tension. But I wonder whether your notion of relaxing is getting lax?"
"There's a difference, though it's sometimes rather fine," Kenwardine answered with a twinkle. "But come in and amuse yourselves as you like. If you want a drink, you know where to find it."
They played a game of billiards and then went into another room, where Dick lost a sovereign to Kenwardine. After that, he sat in a corner, smoking and languidly looking about, for he had been hard at work since early morning. Two or three subaltern officers from a neighboring camp stood by the table, besides several other men whose sunburned faces indicated a country life. The carpets and furniture were getting shabby, but the room was large and handsome, with well-molded cornices and paneled ceiling. The play was not high and the men were quiet, but the room was filled with cigar smoke and there was a smell of liquor. Dick did not object to drink and gambling in moderation, though it was seldom that he indulged in either. He found no satisfaction in that sort of thing, and he now felt that some of Kenwardine's friends would do better to join the new armies than to waste their time as they were doing.
At last Kenwardine threw down the cards.
"I think we have had enough for a time," he said. "Shall we go into the music-room, for a change?"
Dick followed the others, and looked up with surprise when Clare came in. Lance had spoken of a pretty girl, but she was not the type Dick had expected. She wore a very plain white dress, with touches of blue that emphasized her delicate coloring. Her hair was a warm yellow with deeper tones, her features were regular and well-defined, and Dick liked the level glance of her clear, blue eyes. He thought they rested on him curiously for a moment. She had Kenwardine's slender, well-balanced figure, and her movements were graceful, but Dick's strongest impression was that she was out of place. Though perfectly at ease, she did not fit into her environment: she had a freshness that did not harmonize with cigar smoke and the smell of drink.
Clare gave him a pleasant smile when he was presented, and after speaking to one or two of the others she went to the piano when Kenwardine asked her to sing. Dick, who was sitting nearest the instrument, stooped to take a bundle of music from a cabinet she opened.
"No," she said; "you may put those down. I'm afraid we have nothing quite so good, and perhaps it's silly, but I've fallen back on our own composers since the fourth of August."
Dick spread out the music, to display the titles.
"These fellows have been dead some time," he argued humorously. "They'd probably disown their descendants if they'd survived until now. But here's a Frenchman's work. They're on our side, and his stuff is pretty good, isn't it?"
"Yes," she said, "it's certainly good; but I'd rather sing something English to-night."
She began a patriotic ballad Dick knew and liked. He was not much of a musician, but his taste was good. The song rang true; it was poetry and not warlike jingle, but he had not heard it sung so well before. Clare's voice had been carefully trained and she used it well, but he knew that she had grasped the spirit of the song. One or two of the men who had been sitting got up, two young subalterns stood very stiff and straight, but Dick noted that Kenwardine did not change his lounging attitude. He was smiling, and Lance, glancing at him, looked amused. Dick remembered this afterward, but he now felt that Lance was not quite showing his usual good form.
When the song was finished, Dick turned to Clare. He wanted to begin talking to her before anybody else came up.
"It was very fine. I don't understand the technique of music, but one felt that you got the song just right. And then, the way you brought out the idea!"
"That is what the mechanical part is for," she answered with a smile and a touch of color. "As it happens, I saw an infantry brigade on the march to-day, and watched the long line of men go by in the dust and sun. Perhaps that helps one to understand."
"Did you see them cross the bridge?" Dick asked eagerly.
"No," she answered; and he felt absurdly disappointed. He would have liked to think that his work had helped her to sing.
"Have you another like the first?" he asked.
"I never sing more than once," she smiled. Then as Lance and another man came toward them, she added, glancing at an open French window: "Besides, the room is very hot. It would be cooler in the garden."
Dick was not a man of affairs, but he was not a fool. He knew that Clare Kenwardine was not the girl to attempt his captivation merely because he had shown himself susceptible. She wanted him to keep the others off, and he thought he understood this as he glanced at Lance's companion. The fellow had a coarse, red face and looked dissipated, and even Lance's well-bred air was somehow not so marked as usual. Well, he was willing that she should make any use of him that she liked.
They passed the others, and after stopping to tell Kenwardine that she was going out, Clare drew back a curtain that covered part of the window. Dick stepped across the ledge and, seeing that the stairs below were iron and rather slippery, held out his hand to Clare. The curtain swung back and cut off the light, and when they were near the bottom the girl tripped and clutched him. Her hand swept downward from his shoulder across his chest and caught the outside pocket of his coat, while he grasped her waist to steady her.
"Thank you," she said. "I was clumsy, but the steps are awkward and my shoes are smooth."
Dick was glad it was dark, for he felt confused. The girl had rested upon him for a moment and it had given him a thrill.
They crossed the broad lawn. Half of it lay in shadow, for a wood that rolled up a neighboring hillside cut off the light of the low, half moon. The air was still, it was too warm for dew, and there was a smell of flowers—stocks, Dick thought, and he remembered their pungent sweetness afterward when he recalled that night. Clare kept in the moonlight, and he noted the elusive glimmer of her white dress. She wore no hat or wrap, and the pale illumination emphasized the slenderness of her figure and lent her an ethereal grace.
They stopped at a bench beneath a copper-beech, where the shadow of the leaves checkered with dark blotches the girl's white draperies and Dick's uniform. Some of the others had come out, for there were voices in the gloom.
"Perhaps you wonder why I brought you here," Clare said frankly.
"No," Dick answered. "If you had any reason, I'm not curious. And I'd rather be outside."
"Well," she said, "the light was rather glaring and the room very hot." She paused and added: "Mr. Brandon's your cousin?"
"He is, and a very good sort. He brought me to-night, but I felt that it was, perhaps, something of an intrusion when you came in."
"You didn't feel that before?"
Dick knew that he was on dangerous ground. He must not admit that he suspected Kenwardine's motive for receiving promiscuous guests.
"Well, not to the same extent. You see, Lance knows everybody and everybody likes him. I thought I might be welcome for his sake."
"It's plain that you are fond of your cousin. But why did you imagine that I should think your visit an intrusion?"
Dick was glad he sat in the shadow, for his face was getting hot. He could not hint that he had expected to find a rather daring coquette—the kind of girl, in fact, one would imagine a semi-professional gambler's daughter to be. It now seemed possible that he had misjudged Kenwardine; and he had certainly misjudged Clare. The girl's surroundings were powerless to smirch her: Dick was sure of that.
"Oh, well," he answered awkwardly, "although Lance obviously knows your father pretty well, it doesn't follow that he's a friend of yours."
"It does not," she said in a curious tone. "But do you know the man he was with?"
"I never saw him before, and somehow I don't feel anxious to improve his acquaintance."
"That's a quick decision, isn't it? Are you a judge of character?" she asked.
"I have been badly mistaken," Dick admitted with a smile. "Still, I know the people I'm going to like. How is it I haven't seen you about? We're not very far off and most of the people in the neighborhood have driven over to our camp."
"I only came home to-night, after being away for some time."
Dick was relieved to learn this. He did not like to think of her living at Kenwardine's house and meeting his friends. It was scarcely half an hour since he met Clare Kenwardine, but she had, quite unconsciously he thought, strongly impressed him. In fact, he felt rather guilty about it. Since he was, in a manner, expected to marry some one else, he had no business to enjoy yielding to this stranger's charm and to thrill at her touch.
They sat in silence for a few moments, and then Lance strolled up with his companion.
"Don't forget the time, Dick," he remarked as he passed. "You mustn't let him keep you too long, Miss Kenwardine. He has an important errand to do for his colonel."
"If you don't mind, I won't go just yet," Dick said to Clare; and understood from her silence that she did not want to dismiss him.
For the first time since they were boys, he was angry with his cousin. It looked as if Lance had meant to take him away when Miss Kenwardine needed him. He was flattered to think she preferred his society to the red-faced man's, and had used him to keep the other at a distance. Well, he would stay to the last minute and protect her from the fellow, or from anybody else.
A little later Kenwardine joined them, and Dick knew that he must go. Clare gave him her hand with a quick, grateful look that made his heart beat, and Lance met him as he went into the house.
"You're cutting it very fine," he said. "Come along; here's your cap."
"In a moment! There's an infantry man I asked over to our camp."
"You haven't time to look for him," Lance answered, and good-humoredly pushed Dick into the hall. "Get off at once! A fellow I know will give me a lift home."
Dick ran down the drive and a few moments later his motorcycle was humming up the road. He sped through a dark firwood, where the cool air was filled with resinous scent, and out across a hillside down which the stocked sheaves stood in silvery rows, but he noticed nothing except that the white strip of road was clear in front. His thoughts were back in the garden with Clare Kenwardine, and he could smell the clogging sweetness of the stocks. This was folly, and he changed the gear on moderate hills and altered the control when the engine did not need it, to occupy his mind; but the picture of the girl he carried away with him would not be banished.
For all that, he reached Storeton Grange in time and, running up the drive, saw lights in the windows and a car waiting at the door. Getting down and stating his business, he was shown into a room where a stern-faced man in uniform sat talking to another in evening clothes.
"I understand you come from Captain Hallam," said the Colonel.
"Yes, sir. He sent me with some papers."
"You know what they are?"
"Plans of pontoons, sir."
"Very well," said the Colonel, taking out a fountain pen. "Let me have them."
Dick put his hand into his breastpocket, which was on the outside of his coat. The pocket was unbuttoned, and the big envelope had gone. He hurriedly felt the other pockets, but they too were empty, and his face got red.
The Colonel looked hard at him, and then made a sign to the other man, who quietly went out.
"You haven't got the plans! Did you leave them behind?"
"No, sir," Dick said awkwardly. "I felt to see if they were in my pocket when I left the camp."
The Colonel's face hardened.
"Did you come straight here?"
"No, sir. I had an hour or two's leave."
"And spent it with your friends? Had you anything to drink?"
"As much as, or more than, usual?"
"Perhaps a little more," Dick said in confusion.
The Colonel studied him with searching eyes; and then took some paper from a case on the table and began to write. He put the note in an envelope and gave it to Dick.
"It's your Commanding Officer's business to investigate the matter and you'll take him this. Report yourself to him or to the Adjutant when you reach camp. I'll telegraph to see if you have done so."
He raised his hand in sign of dismissal and Dick went out, crushed with shame, and feeling that he was already under arrest. If he were not in camp when the telegram came, he would be treated as a deserter.
On reaching camp and reporting himself, Dick was sent to his tent, where he slept until he was aroused by the bustle at reveille. He had not expected to sleep; but he was young and physically tired, and the shock of trouble had, as sometimes happens, a numbing effect. He awoke refreshed and composed, though his heart was heavy as he dressed, because he feared it was the last time that he would wear his country's uniform. The suspense was trying as he waited until the morning parade was over; then he was summoned to a tent where the Colonel and the Adjutant sat.
"I have a telegram asking if you have arrived," the Colonel said in a curious, dry tone. "You must understand that you have laid yourself open to grave suspicion."
"Yes," Dick answered, wondering whether the Colonel meant that it might have been better if he had run away.
"Very well. You admitted having received the plans. What did you do with them?"
"Buttoned them into the left pocket of my coat. When I got to Storeton, the envelope was gone."
"How do you account for that?"
"I can't account for it, sir."
The Colonel was silent for a few moments, and then he looked fixedly at Dick.
"Your statements were very unsatisfactory last night, and now that you have had time to think over the matter, I advise you to be frank. It's plain that you have been guilty of gross negligence, but that is not the worst. The drawings are of no direct use to the enemy, but if they fell into their hands they might supply a valuable hint of the use to which we mean to put the pontoons. You see what this implies?"
"I don't know how we mean to use them, sir, and I don't want to hide anything."
"That's a wise resolve," the Colonel answered meaningly; and Dick colored. After all, there was something he meant to hide.
"You took the plans with you when you left the camp, three or four hours before you were due at Storeton," said the Adjutant. "Where did you go?"
"To my cousin's rooms in the town."
"Mr. Lance Brandon's," said the Adjutant thoughtfully. "Did you stay there?"
"No; we dined at The George."
"A well-conducted house," the Adjutant remarked. "You took some wine at dinner?"
"Two glasses of light claret."
"Then where did you go next?"
"To the new music-hall."
"And ordered drinks in the bar! Who suggested this?"
"I can't remember," Dick replied with an angry flush. "Of course, I see where you're leading, but I was quite sober when I left the hall."
The Adjutant's expression puzzled him. He had felt that the man was not unfriendly, and now he looked disappointed.
"I'm not sure your statement makes things better," the Colonel observed with some dryness. "Did you go straight to Storeton from the hall?"
"No, sir. I spent an hour at a friend's house."
"Whose house was it?"
Dick pondered for a few moments, and then looked up resolutely.
"I must decline to answer, sir. I've lost the plans and must take the consequences; but I don't see why my private friends, who have nothing to do with it, should be involved in the trouble."
The Adjutant leaned forward across the table and said something quietly to the Colonel, and neither of them spoke for the next minute or two. Dick was sensible of physical as well as mental strain as he stood stiffly in the middle of the tent. His knees felt weak, little quivers ran through his limbs, and a ray of hot sunshine struck through the hooked-back flap into his face, but he dared not relax his rigid pose.
The two officers looked puzzled but grave.
"Go back to your tent and stay there until I send for you," the Colonel said at last.
Dick saluted and went out, and when he sat down on his camp-bed he moodily lighted a cigarette and tried to think. His military career was ended and he was ruined; but this was not what occupied him most. He was wondering whether Clare Kenwardine had taken the plans. If so, it was his duty to accuse her; but, actuated by some mysterious impulse, he had refused.
The longer he thought about it, the clearer her guilt became. He was a stranger and yet she had suggested a stroll through the garden and had slipped and clutched him as they went down the steps. Her hand had rested on the pocket in which the envelope was. She was the daughter of a man who kept a private gaming house; it was not surprising that she was an adventuress and had deceived him by her clever acting. For all that, he could not condemn her; there was a shadow of doubt; and even if she were guilty, she had yielded to some strong pressure from her father. His feelings, however, were puzzling. He had spent less than an hour in her society and she had ruined him, but he knew that he would remember her as long as he lived.
Dick's common sense led him to smile bitterly. He was behaving like a sentimental fool. On the whole, it was a relief when the Adjutant came in.
"You must have known what the Colonel's decision would be," he said with a hint of regret. "You're to be court-martialed. If you take my advice, you'll keep nothing back."
* * * * *
The court-martial was over and Dick could not question the justice of its sentence—he was dismissed from the army. Indeed, it was better than he had expected. Somewhat to his surprise, the Adjutant afterward saw him alone.
"I'm thankful our official duty's done," he said. "Of course, I'm taking an irregular line, and if you prefer not to talk—"
"You made me feel that you wanted to be my friend," Dick replied awkwardly.
"Then I may, perhaps, remark that you made a bad defense. In the army, it's better to tell a plausible tale and stick to it; we like an obvious explanation. Now if you had admitted being slightly drunk."
"But I was sober!"
The Adjutant smiled impatiently.
"So much the worse for you! If you had been drunk, you'd have been turned out all the same, but the reason would have been, so to speak, satisfactory. Now you're tainted by a worse suspicion. Personally, I don't think the lost plans have any value, but if they had, it might have gone very hard with you." He paused and gave Dick a friendly glance. "Well, in parting, I'll give you a bit of advice. Stick to engineering, which you have a talent for."
He went out and not long afterward Dick left the camp in civilian's clothes, but stopped his motorcycle on the hill and stood looking back with a pain at his heart. He saw the rows of tents stretched across the smooth pasture, the flag he had been proud to serve languidly flapping on the gentle breeze, and the water sparkling about the bridge. Along the riverside, bare-armed men in shirts and trousers were throwing up banks of soil with shovels that flashed in the strong light. He could see their cheerful brown faces and a smart young subaltern taking out a measuring line. Dick liked the boy, who now no doubt would pass him without a look, and he envied him with the keenest envy he had ever felt. He had loved his profession; and he was turned out of it in disgrace.
It was evening when he stood in the spacious library at home, glad that the light was fading, as he confronted his father, who sat with grim face in a big leather chair. Dick had no brothers and sisters, and his mother had died long before. He had not lived much at home, and had been on good, more than affectionate, terms with his father. Indeed, their relations were marked by mutual indulgence, for Dick had no interest outside his profession, while Mr. Brandon occupied himself with politics and enjoyed his prominent place in local society. He was conventional and his manners were formal and dignified, but Dick thought him very much like Lance, although he had not Lance's genial humor.
"Well," he said when Dick had finished, "you have made a very bad mess of things and it is, of course, impossible that you should remain here. In fact, you have rendered it difficult for me to meet my neighbors and take my usual part in public affairs."
This was the line Dick had expected him to take. It was his father's pride he had wounded and not his heart. He did not know what to say and, turning his head, he looked moodily out of the open window. The lawn outside was beautifully kept and the flower-borders were a blaze of tastefully assorted colors, but there was something artificial and conventional about the garden that was as marked in the house. Somehow Dick had never really thought of the place as home.
"I mean to go away," he said awkwardly.
"The puzzling thing is that you should deny having drunk too much," Brandon resumed.
"But I hadn't done so! You look at it as the others did. Why should it make matters better if I'd owned to being drunk?"
"Drunkenness," his father answered, "is now an offense against good taste, but not long ago it was thought a rather gentlemanly vice, and a certain toleration is still extended to the man who does wrong in liquor. Perhaps this isn't logical, but you must take the world as you find it. I had expected you to learn more in the army than you seem to have picked up. Did you imagine that your promotion depended altogether upon your planning trenches and gun-pits well?"
"That kind of thing is going to count in the new armies," Dick replied. "Being popular on guest-night at the mess won't help a man to hold his trench or work his gun under heavy fire."
"You won't have an opportunity for showing what you can do. I don't know where you got your utilitarian, radical views; but we'll keep to the point. Where do you think of going?"
"To New York, to begin with."
"Why not Montreal or Cape Town?"
"Well," Dick said awkwardly, "after what has happened, I'd rather not live on British soil."
"Then why not try Hamburg?"
"You might have spared me that, sir! I lost the plans; I didn't sell them."
"Very well. This interview is naturally painful to us both and we'll cut it short, but I have something to say. It will not be forgotten that you were turned out of the army, and if you succeeded me, the ugly story would be whispered when you took any public post. I cannot have our name tainted and will therefore leave the house and part of my property to your cousin. Whether you inherit the rest or not will depend upon yourself. In the meantime, I am prepared to make you an allowance, on the understanding that you stay abroad until you are sent for."
Dick faced his father, standing very straight, with knitted brows.
"Thank you, sir, but I will take nothing."
"May I ask why?"
"If you'd looked at the thing differently and shown a little kindness, it would have cut me to the quick," Dick said hoarsely. "I'm not a thief and a traitor, though I've been a fool, and it hurts to know what you think. I'm going away to-morrow and I'll get on, somehow, without your help. I don't know that I'll come back if you do send for me."
"You don't seem to understand your position, but you may come to realize it before very long," Brandon replied.
He got up and Dick left the library; but he did not sleep that night. It had been hard to meet his father and what he said had left a wound that would take long to heal. Now he must say good-by to Helen. This would need courage, but Dick meant to see her. It was the girl's right that she should hear his story, and he would not steal away like a cur. He did not think Helen was really fond of him, though he imagined that she would have acquiesced in her relatives' plans for them both had things been different. Now, of course, that was done with, but he must say good-by and she might show some regret or sympathy. He did not want her to suffer, but he did not think she would feel the parting much; and she would not treat him as his father had done.
When he called the next morning at an old country house, he was told that Miss Massie was in the garden, and going there, he stopped abruptly at a gap in a shrubbery. Beyond the opening there was a stretch of smooth grass, checkered by moving shadow, and at one side a row of gladioli glowed against the paler bloom of yellow dahlias. Helen Massie held a bunch of the tall crimson spikes, and Dick thought as he watched her with a beating heart that she was like the flowers. They were splendid in form and color, but there was nothing soft or delicate in their aggressive beauty. Helen's hair was dark and her color high, her black eyes were bright, and her yellow dress showed a finely outlined form. Dick knew that she was proud, resolute, and self-confident.
Then she turned her head and saw him, and he knew that she had heard of his disgrace, for her color deepened and her glance was rather hard than sympathetic. The hand that held the flowers dropped to her side, but she waited until he came up.
"I see you know, and it doesn't matter who told you," he said. "I felt I had to come before I went away."
"Yes," she answered calmly, "I heard. You have courage, Dick; but perhaps a note would have been enough, and more considerate."
Dick wondered gloomily whether she meant that he might have saved her pain by staying away, or that he had involved her in his disgrace by coming, since his visit would be talked about. He reflected bitterly that the latter was more probable.
"Well," he said, "we have been pretty good friends and I'm leaving the country. I don't suppose I shall come back again."
"When do you go?"
"Now," said Dick. "I must catch the train at noon."
Helen's manner did not encourage any indulgence in sentiment and he half resented this, although it made things easier. He could not say he had come to give her up, because there had been no formal engagement. Still he had expected some sign of pity or regret.
"You don't defend yourself," she remarked thoughtfully. "Couldn't you have fought it out?"
"There was nothing to fight for. I lost the papers I was trusted with; one can't get over that."
"But people may imagine you did something worse." She paused for a moment and added: "Don't you care what I might think?"
Dick looked at her steadily. "You ought to know. Do you believe it's possible I stole and meant to sell the plans?"
"No," she said with a touch of color. "But I would have liked you, for your friends' sake, to try to clear yourself. If you had lost the papers, they would have been found and sent back; as they were not, it looks as if you had been robbed."
That she could reason this out calmly struck Dick as curious, although he had long known that Helen was ruled by her brain and not her heart.
"I've been careless and there's nothing to be done but take my punishment."
She gave him a keen glance. "Are you hiding something, Dick? It's your duty to tell all that you suspect."
Dick winced. Helen was right; it was his duty, but he was not going to carry it out. He began to see what this meant, but his resolution did not falter.
"If I knew I'd been robbed, it would be different, but I don't, and if I blamed people who were found to be innocent, I'd only make matters worse for myself."
"I suppose that's true," she agreed coldly. "However, you have made your choice and it's too late now. Where are you going, Dick?"
"To New York by the first boat from Liverpool."
He waited, watching her and wondering whether she would ask him to stop, but she said quietly: "Well, I shall, no doubt, hear how you get on."
"It's unlikely," he answered in a hard voice. "I've lost my friends with my character. The best thing I can do is to leave them alone."
Then he looked at his watch, and she gave him her hand. "For all that, I wish you good luck, Dick."
She let him go, and as he went back to the gate he reflected that Helen had taken the proper and tactful line by dismissing him as if he were nothing more than an acquaintance. He could be nothing more now, and to yield to sentiment would have been painful and foolish; but it hurt him that she had realized this.
When he wheeled his bicycle away from the gate he saw a boy who helped his father's gardener running along the road, and waited until he came up, hot and panting. The boy held out a small envelope.
"It came after you left, Mr. Dick," he gasped.
"Then you have been very quick."
The lad smiled, for Dick was a favorite with his father's servants.
"I thought you'd like to have the note," he answered, and added awkwardly: "Besides, I didn't see you when you went."
It was the first hint of kindness Dick had received since his disgrace and he took the lad's hand before he gave him half a crown, though he knew that he must practise stern economy.
"Thank you and good-by, Jim. You must have taken some trouble to catch me," he said.
Then he opened the envelope and his look softened.
"I heard of your misfortune and am very sorry, but something tells me that you are not to blame," the note ran, and was signed "Clare Kenwardine."
For a moment or two Dick was sensible of keen relief and satisfaction; and then his mood changed. This was the girl who had robbed and ruined him; she must think him a fool! Tearing up the note, he mounted his bicycle and rode off to the station in a very bitter frame of mind.
When he had sold his motorcycle at Liverpool, Dick found it would be prudent to take a third-class passage, but regretted this as soon as the liner left the St. George's channel. The food, though badly served, was good of its kind, and his berth was comfortable enough for a man who had lived under canvas, but when the hatches were closed on account of bad weather the foul air of the steerage sickened him and the habits of his companions left much to be desired. It was difficult to take refuge in the open air, because the steerage deck was swept by bitter spray and often flooded as the big ship lurched across the Atlantic against a western gale.
A spray-cloud veiled her forward when the bows plunged into a comber's hollow side, and then as they swung up until her forefoot was clear, foam and green water poured aft in cataracts. Sometimes much of her hull before the bridge sank into the crest of a half-mile sea and lower decks and alleyways looked like rivers. The gale held all the way across, and Dick felt jaded and gloomy when they steamed into New York, a day late. He had some trouble with the immigration officers, who asked awkward questions about his occupation and his reason for giving it up, but he satisfied them at length and was allowed to land.
The first few days he spent in New York helped him to realize the change in his fortunes and the difficulties he must face. Until the night he lost the plans, he had scarcely known a care; life had been made easy, and his future had looked safe. He had seldom denied himself anything; he had started well on a career he liked, and all his thoughts were centered on fitting himself for it. Extravagance was not a failing of his, but he had always had more money than would satisfy his somewhat simple needs. Now, however, there was an alarming difference.
To begin with, it was obvious that he could only stay for a very limited time at the cheap hotel he went to, and his efforts to find employment brought him sharp rebuffs. Business men who needed assistance asked him curt questions about his training and experience, and when he could not answer satisfactorily promptly got rid of him. Then he tried manual labor and found employment almost as hard to get. The few dollars he earned at casual jobs did not pay his board at the hotel where he lived in squalid discomfort, but matters got worse when he was forced to leave it and take refuge in a big tenement house, overcrowded with unsavory foreigners from eastern Europe. New York was then sweltering under a heat wave, and he came home, tired by heavy toil or sickened by disappointment, to pass nights of torment in a stifling, foul-smelling room.
He bore it for some weeks and then, when his small stock of money was melting fast, set off to try his fortune in the manufacturing towns of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Here he found work was to be had, but the best paid kind was barred to untrained men by Trade-union rules, and the rest was done by Poles and Ruthenians, who led a squalid semi-communistic life in surroundings that revolted him. Still, he could not be fastidious and took such work as he could get, until one rainy evening when he walked home dejectedly after several days of enforced idleness. A labor agent's window caught his eye and he stopped amidst the crowd that jostled him on the wet sidewalk to read the notices displayed.
One ticket stated that white men, and particularly live mechanics, were wanted for a job down South, but Dick hesitated for a few minutes, fingering a dollar in his pocket. Carefully spent, it would buy him his supper and leave something towards his meals next day, and he had been walking about since morning without food. If he went without his supper, the agent, in exchange for the dollar, would give him the address of the man who wanted help, but Dick knew from experience that it did not follow that he would be engaged. Still, one must risk something and the situation was getting desperate. He entered the office and a clerk handed him a card.
"It's right across the town, but you'd better get there quick," he said. "The job's a snap and I've sent a lot of men along."
Dick boarded a street-car that took him part of the way, but he had to walk the rest, and was tired and wet when he reached an office in a side street. A smart clerk took the card and gave him a critical glance.
"It looks as if we were going to be full up, but I'll put down your name and you can come back in the morning," he remarked. "What do you call yourself?"
"A civil engineer," said Dick. "But where is the job and what's the pay?"
"I guess Central America is near enough; mighty fine country, where rum's good and cheap. Pay'll pan out about two-fifty, or perhaps three dollars if you're extra smart."
"You can get as much here," Dick objected, thinking it unwise to seem eager.
"Then why don't you get it?" the clerk inquired. "Anyhow, you won't be charged for board and all you'll have to do is to drive breeds and niggers. It's a soft thing, sure, but you can light out now and come back if you feel it's good enough for you to take your chance."
Dick went away, and had reached the landing when a man who wore loose, gray clothes and a big, soft hat, met him.
"What do you want?" he asked.
"I've been applying for the job in the South."
The other gave him a searching glance and Dick thought he noted his anxious look and wet and shabby clothes.
"What can you do?" he resumed.
"To begin with, I can measure cubic quantities, plan out excavating work, and use the level. If this kind of thing's not wanted, I can handle a spade."
"Where have you done your digging?"
"In this city. Laying sewers for a contractor, who, the boys said, had to squeeze us to make good the graft he put up to get the job."
The other nodded. "That's so; I know the man. You can use a spade all right if you satisfied him. But the sewer's not finished yet; why did you quit?"
"The foreman fired three or four of us to make room for friends that a saloon-keeper who commands some votes sent along."
"Well," said the other, smiling, "you seem to understand how our city bosses fix these things. But my job will mean pretty tough work. Are you sure you want it?"
"I can't find another," Dick answered frankly.
"Very well, I'll put you on. Look round to-morrow and get your orders. I've a notion that you're up against it; here's a dollar on account."
Dick took the money. He rather liked the man, whose abruptness was disarmed by his twinkling smile. For the first time, with one exception, during his search for employment, he had been treated as a human being instead of an instrument for doing a certain amount of work.
It was raining hard when he reached the street, and supper would be over before he arrived at his cheap hotel, where one must eat at fixed times or wait for the next meal. There was, however, a small restaurant with an Italian name outside a few blocks further on, and going in he was served with well-cooked food and afterwards sat in a corner smoking and thinking hard. He now felt more cheerful; but the future was dark and he realized the difficulties in his path.
American industry was highly organized. The man who hoped for advancement must specialize and make himself master of some particular branch. Dick had specialized in England, and thought he knew his subject, but could not use his knowledge. The Americans to whom he tried to sell it would have none of him, and Dick owned that he could not blame them; since it was natural to suppose that the man who was unfaithful to his country would not be loyal to his employer. When he looked for other openings, he found capital and labor arrayed in hostile camps. There was mechanical work he was able to do, but this was not allowed, because the organized workers, who had fought stubbornly for a certain standard of comfort, refused to let untrained outsiders share the benefits they had won.
Business was left; but it needed money, and if he tried to enter it as a clerk, he must first obtain smart clothes and find somebody to certify his ability and character, which was impossible. It looked as if he must be content with manual labor. The wages it commanded were not low and he was physically strong, but he shrank from the lives the lower ranks of toilers led when their work was done. The crowded bunk-house and squalid tenement revolted him. Still, he was young and optimistic; his luck might change when he went South and chance give him an opportunity of breaking through the barriers that shut him in. He sat in the corner, pondering, until it got late and the tired Italian politely turned him out.
Next morning he joined a group of waiting men at the railroad station. They had a dejected look as they sat upon their bundles outside the agent's office, except for three or four who were cheerfully drunk. Their clothes were shabby and of different kinds, for some wore cheap store-suits and some work-stained overalls. It was obvious that adversity had brought them together, and Dick did not think they would make amiable companions. About half appeared to be Americans, but he could not determine the nationality of the rest, who grumbled in uncouth English with different accents.
By and by the clerk whom Dick had met came out of the office with a bundle of tickets, which he distributed, and soon afterwards the train rolled into the depot. Dick was not pleased to find that a car had been reserved for the party, since he would sooner have traveled with the ordinary passengers. Indeed, when a dispute began as the train moved slowly through the wet street, he left the car. In passing through the next, he met the conductor, who asked for his ticket, and after tearing off a section of the long paper, gave him a card, which he gruffly ordered him to stick in his hat. Then he put his hand on Dick's shoulder, and pushed him back through the vestibule.
"That's your car behind and you'll stop right there," he said. "Next time you come out we'll put you off the train."
Dick resigned himself, but stopped on the front platform and looked back as the train jolted across a rattling bridge. A wide, yellow river ran beneath it, and the tall factories and rows of dingy houses were fading in the rain and smoke on the other side. Dick watched them until they grew indistinct, and then his heart felt lighter. He had endured much in the grimy town; but all that was over. After confronting, with instinctive shrinking, industry's grimmest aspect, he was traveling toward the light and glamour of the South.
Entering the smoking compartment, he found the disturbance had subsided, and presently fell into talk with a man on the opposite seat who asked for some tobacco. He told Dick he was a locomotive fireman, but had got into trouble, the nature of which he did not disclose. Dick never learned much more about his past than this, but their acquaintance ripened and Kemp proved a useful friend.
It was getting dark when they reached an Atlantic port and were lined up on the terminal platform by a man who read out a list of their names. He expressed his opinion of them with sarcastic vigor when it was discovered that three of the party had left the train on the way; and then packed the rest into waiting automobiles, which conveyed them to the wharf as fast as the machines would go.
"Guess you won't quit this journey. The man who jumps off will sure get hurt," he remarked as they started.
In spite of his precautions, another of the gang was missing when they alighted, and Kemp, the fireman, grinned at Dick.
"That fellow's not so smart as he allows," he said. "He'd have gone in the last car, where he could see in front, if he'd known his job."
They were hustled up a steamer's gangway and taken to the after end of the deck, where their conductor turned his back on them for a few minutes while he spoke to a mate.
"Now's your time," said Kemp, "if you feel you want to quit."
Dick looked about. The spar-deck, on which the boats were stowed, covered the spot where he stood, and the passage beneath the stanchions was dark. There was nobody at the top of the gangway under the big cargo-lamp, and its illumination did not carry far across the wharf. If he could reach the latter, he would soon be lost in the gloom, and he was sensible of a curious impulse that urged him to flight. It almost amounted to panic, and he imagined that the other men's desertion must have daunted him. For a few moments he struggled with the feeling and then conquered it.
"No," he said firmly; "I'll see the thing through."
Kemp nodded. "Well, I guess it's too late now."
Two seamen, sent by the mate, went to the top of the gangway, and the fellow who had brought the party from the station stood on guard near. Dick afterward realized that much depended on the choice he swiftly made and wondered whether it was quite by chance he did so.
"You were pretty near going," his companion resumed.
"Yes," said Dick, thoughtfully; "I believe I was. As a matter of fact, I don't know why I stopped."
The other smiled. "I've felt like that about risky jobs I took. Sometimes I lit out, and sometimes I didn't, but found out afterward I was right either way. If you feel you have to go, the best thing you can do is to get a move on."
Dick agreed with this. He did not understand it, but knew that while he had still had time to escape down the gangway and felt strongly tempted to do so, it was impressed upon him that he must remain.
A few minutes later their conductor left them with a sarcastic farewell, the ropes were cast off, and the steamer swung out from the wharf. When, with engines throbbing steadily, she headed down the bay, Dick went to his berth, and on getting up next morning found the American coast had sunk to a low, gray streak to starboard. A fresh southwest breeze was blowing under a cloudy sky and the vessel, rolling viciously, lurched across the white-topped combers of the warm Gulf Stream.
After breakfast, some of his companions gathered into listless, grumbling groups, and some brought out packs of greasy cards, but Dick sat by himself, wondering with more buoyant feelings what lay before him. He had known trouble and somehow weathered it, and now he was bound to a country where the sun was shining. It was pleasant to feel the soft air on his face and the swing of the spray-veiled bows. After all, good fortune might await him down South.
THE CONCRETE TRUCK
It was very hot in the deep hollow that pierced the mountain range behind Santa Brigida on the Caribbean Sea. The black peaks cut against a glaring sky and the steep slopes of red soil and volcanic cinders on one side of the ravine were dazzlingly bright. The other was steeped in blue shadow that scarcely seemed to temper the heat, and the dark-skinned men who languidly packed the ballast among the ties of a narrow-gage railroad that wound up the hill panted as they swung their shovels. At its lower end, the ravine opened on to a valley that got greener as it ran down to the glittering sea, on the edge of which feathery palms clustered round Santa Brigida.
The old city, dominated by its twin, cathedral towers, shone ethereally white in the distance, with a narrow fringe of flashing surf between it and the vivid blue of the Caribbean. It was a thriving place, as the black dots of steamers in the roadstead showed, for of late years American enterprise had broken in upon its lethargic calm. The population was, for the most part, of Spanish stock that had been weakened by infusions of Indian and negro blood, but there were a number of Chinamen, and French Creoles. Besides these, Americans, Britons, and European adventurers had established themselves, and the town was a hotbed of commercial and political intrigue. The newcomers were frankly there for what they could get and fought cunningly for trading and agricultural concessions. The leading citizens of comparatively pure Spanish strain despised the grasping foreigners in their hearts, but as a rule took their money and helped them in their plots. Moreover, they opened a handsome casino and less reputable gambling houses with the object of collecting further toll.
Such wealth as the country enjoyed was largely derived from the fertile soil, but the district about Santa Brigida was less productive than the rest and had been long neglected. There was rain enough all round, but much of the moisture condensed on the opposite side of the range and left the slopes behind the town comparatively arid. To remedy this an irrigation scheme was being carried out by American capitalists, and the narrow-gage railroad formed part of the undertaking.
A man dressed in rather baggy, gray clothes and a big, soft hat sat in the shadow of the rock. His thin face had been recently browned by the sun, for the paler color where his hat shaded it showed that he was used to a northern climate. Though his pose was relaxed and he had a cigar in his mouth, there was a hint of energy about him and he was following the curves of the railroad with keenly observant eyes. A girl in white dress of fashionable cut sat near him, holding a green-lined sunshade, for although they were in the shadow the light was strong. The likeness between them indicated they were father and daughter.
"I expect you're feeling it pretty hot," Fuller remarked.
"It is not oppressive and I rather like the brightness," the girl replied. "Besides, it's cool enough about the tent after the sun goes behind the range. Of course, you are used to the climate."
"I was, but that was twenty-four years ago and before you were born. Got my first lift with the ten thousand dollars I made in the next state down this coast, besides the ague and shivers that have never quite left me. However, it's pretty healthy up here, and I guess it ought to suit Jake all right."
Ida Fuller looked thoughtful, and her pensive expression added to the charm of her attractive face. She had her father's keen eyes, but they were, like her hair, a soft dark-brown; and the molding of brows and nose and mouth was rather firm than delicate. While her features hinted at decision of character, there was nothing aggressive in her look, which, indeed, was marked by a gracious calm. Though she was tall, her figure was slender.
"Yes," she agreed, "if he would stay up here!"
Fuller nodded. "I'd have to fix him up with work enough to keep him busy, and ask for a full-length report once a week. That would show me what he was doing and he'd have to stick right to his job to find out what was going on."
"Unless he got somebody to tell him, or perhaps write the report. Jake, you know, is smart."
"You're fond of your brother, but I sometimes think you're a bit hard on him. I admit I was badly riled when they turned him down from Yale, but it was a harmless fool-trick he played, and when he owned up squarely I had to let it go."
"That's Jake's way. You can't be angry with him. Still, perhaps, it's a dangerous gift. It might be better for him if he got hurt now and then."
Fuller, who did not answer, watched her, as she pondered. Her mother had died long ago, and Fuller, who was largely occupied by his business, knew that Jake might have got into worse trouble but for the care Ida had exercised. He admitted that his daughter, rather than himself, had brought up the lad, and her influence had been wholly for good. By and by she glanced at Santa Brigida.
"It's the casino and other attractions down there I'm afraid of. If you had some older man you could trust to look after Jake, one would feel more satisfied."
"Well," said Fuller with a twinkle, "there's nobody I know who could fill the bill, and I'm not sure the older men are much steadier than the rest."
He stopped as a puff of smoke rose at the lower end of the ravine and moved up the hill. Then a flash of twinkling metal broke out among the rocks, and Ida saw that a small locomotive was climbing the steep track.
"She's bringing up concrete blocks for the dam," Fuller resumed. "We use them large in the lower courses, and I had the bogie car they're loaded on specially built for the job; but I'm afraid we'll have to put down some pieces of the line again. The grade's pretty stiff and the curves are sharp."
Ida was not bored by these details. She liked her father to talk to her about his business, and her interest was quickly roused. Fuller, who was proud of her keen intelligence, told her much, and she knew the importance of the irrigation scheme he had embarked upon. Land in the arid belt could be obtained on favorable terms and, Fuller thought, be made as productive as that watered by the natural rainfall. It was, however, mainly because he had talked about finding her scapegrace brother employment on the work that Ida had made him take her South.
As she glanced at the track she noted that room for it had been dug out of the hillside, which was seamed by gullies that the rails twisted round. The loose soil, consisting largely of volcanic cinders, appeared to offer a very unsafe support. It had slipped away here and there, leaving gaps between the ties, which were unevenly laid and at the sharper bends overhung the steep slope below. In the meantime, the small locomotive came nearer, panting loudly and throwing up showers of sparks, and Ida remarked how the rails bent and then sprang up again as the truck, which carried two ponderous blocks of stone, rolled over them. The engine rocked, sparks flashed among the wheels as their flanges bit the curves, and she wondered what the driver felt or if he had got used to his rather dangerous work.
As a matter of fact, Dick Brandon, who drove the engine, felt some nervous strain. He had applied for the post at Kemp's suggestion, after the latter had given him a few lessons in locomotive work, and had since been sorry that he had obtained it. Still he had now a room to himself at the shed where the engine was kept, and a half-breed fireman to help him with the heavier part of his task. He preferred this to living in a hot bunk-house and carrying bags of cement in the grinding mill, though he knew there was a certain risk of his plunging down the ravine with his engine.
The boiler primed when he started and was not steaming well. The pistons banged alarmingly as they compressed the water that spurted from the drain-cocks, and his progress was marked by violent jerks that jarred the couplings of the bogie truck. Though Dick only wore a greasy shirt and overall trousers, he felt the oppressive heat, and his eyes ached with the glare as he gazed up the climbing track. The dust that rolled about the engine dimmed the glasses, the footplate rattled, and it looked as if his fireman was performing a clumsy dance.
By and by he rather doubtfully opened the throttle to its widest. If the boiler primed again, he might knock out the cylinder-heads, but there was a steep pitch in front that was difficult to climb. The short locomotive rocked and hammered, the wheels skidded and gripped again, and Dick took his hand from the lever to dash the sweat from his eyes.
They were going up, and he would be past the worst if he could get his load round the curve ahead. They were half way round when there was a clang behind him and the engine seemed to leap forward. Glancing over his shoulder as he shut off steam, Dick saw the fireman gazing back, and a wide gap between the concrete blocks and his load of coal. The couplings had snapped as they strained round the bend and the truck would run down the incline until it smashed through the sheds that held the grinding and mixing plant at the bottom. He saw that prompt action was needed, and reversing the machinery, gave the fireman an order in uncouth Castilian.
The fellow looked at him stupidly, as if his nerve had failed, or he thought the order too risky to obey. There was only one thing to be done, and since it must be done at once, Dick must undertake it himself. The engine was now running down the line after the truck, which had not gathered much speed yet, and he climbed across the coal and dropped upon the rear buffer-frame. Balancing himself upon it, he waited until the gap between him and the truck got narrower, and then put his hand on top of the concrete and swung himself across. He got his foot upon the side of the car and made his way along, holding the top of the block, while the dust rolled about him and he thought he would be jolted off. Indeed, there was only an inch-wide ledge of smooth iron to support his foot, which slipped once or twice; but he reached the brake-gear and screwed it down. Then, crawling back, he hooked on the spare coupling and returned, breathless and shaky, to his engine. A minute or two later he brought it to a stop and had got down upon the line when somebody called him.
Looking round, he saw Fuller standing near, and knew him as the man who had given him the dollar in the American town. He had heard that his employer had come out to see what progress was being made, but had not yet encountered him. He did not notice Ida, who was sitting in the shadow of the rock.
"You were smart," said Fuller. "There'd have been an ugly smash if the blocks had got away down the grade. But why didn't you stick to the throttle and send your fireman?"
"I don't think he understood what he ought to do, and there was no time to explain."
Fuller nodded. "So you did it yourself! But why didn't you push the car? You could have held her up better then."
"I couldn't get behind it. The loop-track down at the switches has caved in."
"I see. But it's a stiff grade and you didn't seem to be hustling your engine much."
"The boiler was priming and I was afraid of the cylinders."
"Just so. You pumped up the water pretty high?"
"No; it was at the usual working level," said Dick, who paused and resumed thoughtfully: "I can't account for the thing. Why does a boiler prime?"
There are one or two obvious reasons for a boiler's priming; that is to say, throwing water as well as steam into the engine, but this sometimes happens when no cause can be assigned, and Fuller saw that Dick did not expect an answer to his question. It was rather an exclamation, prompted by his failure to solve a fascinating problem, and as such indicated that his interest in his task was not confined to the earning of a living. Fuller recognized the mind of the engineer.
"Well," he replied, "there's a good deal we don't know yet about the action of fluids under pressure. But do you find the grade awkward when she's steaming properly?"
"I can get up. Still, I think it will soon cost you as much in extra fuel as it would to relay this bit of line. Two hundred cubic yards cut out at the bend would make things much easier."
"Two hundred yards?" said Fuller, studying the spot.
"Two hundred and fifty at the outside," Dick answered confidently, and then felt embarrassed as he saw Miss Fuller for the first time. His clothes were few and dirty and he was awkwardly conscious that his hands and face were black. But his employer claimed his attention.
"What would you reckon the weight of the stuff?"
Dick told him after a short silence, and Fuller asked: "Two-thousand-pound tons?"
"Yes; I turned it into American weight."
"Well," said Fuller, "you must get on with your job now, but come up to my tent after supper."
Dick started his locomotive, and when it panted away up the incline Fuller looked at his daughter with a smile.
"What do you think of that young man?"
"He has a nice face. Of course he's not the type one would expect to find driving a locomotive."
"Pshaw!" said Fuller. "I'm not talking about his looks."
"Nor am I, in the way you mean," Ida rejoined. "I thought he looked honest, though perhaps reliable is nearest what I felt. Then he was very professional."
Fuller nodded. "That's what I like. The man who puts his job before what he gets for it naturally makes the best work. What do you think of his manner?"
"It was good; confident, but not assertive, with just the right note of deference," Ida answered, and then laughed. "It rather broke down after he saw me."
"That's not surprising, anyhow. I expect he's used to wearing different clothes and more of them when he meets stylish young women. It doesn't follow that the young fellow isn't human because he's professional. However, I want to see what the boys are doing farther on."
A STEP UP
Dusk was falling when Dick went to keep his appointment with his employer. Fireflies glimmered in the brush beside the path, and the lights of Santa Brigida flashed in a brilliant cluster on the edge of the shadowy sea. High above, rugged peaks cut black against the sky, and the land breeze that swept their lower slopes brought with it instead of coolness a warm, spicy smell. There was more foliage when Dick reached the foot of a projecting spur, for a dark belt of forest rolled down the hill; and by and by he saw a big tent, that gleamed with a softened radiance like a paper lantern, among a clump of palms. It seemed to be well lighted inside, and Dick remembered having heard orders for electric wires to be connected with the power-house at the dam.
Fuller obviously meant to give his daughter all the civilized comfort possible, and Dick was glad he had been able to find a clean duck suit, though he was not sure he had succeeded in removing all the oily grime from his face. Nothing could be done with his hands. The knuckles were scarred, the nails broken, and the black grease from the engine had worked into his skin. Still, this did not matter much, because he had gradually overcome his fastidiousness and it was not likely that Miss Fuller would notice him.
She was, however, sitting outside the tent, from which an awning extended so as to convert its front into a covered veranda, and Dick was half surprised when she gave him a smile of recognition that warranted his taking off his hat. Then Fuller, beckoning him to come forward, switched on another lamp and the light fell on a table covered with plans. Dick stopped when he reached it and waited, not knowing how his employer meant to receive him.
"Sit down," said Fuller, indicating a chair, and then gave him one of the plans, some paper, and a fountain pen. "Study that piece of digging and let me know the weight of stuff to be moved, the number of men you'd use, and what you think the job would cost."
Dick set to work, and at once became absorbed. Twenty minutes passed and he did not move or speak, nor did he see the smile with which Ida answered Fuller's look. In another ten minutes he put down the pen and gave Fuller his calculations.
"I think that's near it, sir. I'm reckoning on the use of colored peons."
Fuller nodded. "You haven't left much margin for what we call contingencies. But they're going to bring us some coffee. Will you take a cigar?"
A Chinaman brought out a silver coffee-pot on a tray, which he placed on a folding table in front of Ida, and since it was two or three yards from the other, Dick got up when she filled the cups. She gave him two, which he carried back, but remained where she was, within hearing but far enough away not to obtrude her society upon the others. Dick, who lighted his cigar, felt grateful to Fuller. It was some time since he had met people of any refinement on friendly terms, and until he took up his quarters in the locomotive shed had been living in squalor and dirt.
There was not much furniture outside the tent, but the neat folding tables, comfortable canvas chairs, delicate china, and silver coffee-pot gave the place a luxurious look, and though Miss Fuller was, so to speak, outside the circle, the presence of a well-dressed, attractive girl had its charm. Indeed, Dick felt half embarrassed by the pleasantness of his surroundings. They were unusual and reminded him poignantly of the privileges he had enjoyed in England.
"Where did you learn to make these calculations?" Fuller asked after a time.
"In the British Army, Royal Engineers," Dick answered with a flush.
"Were you an officer?"
Dick had dreaded the question. It looked as if truthfulness would cost him much; but he determined that his new friends should know the worst.
"Then why did you quit?"
Dick glanced at Ida, and imagined that she was interested, though she did not look up.
"I was turned out, sir."
"Ah!" said Fuller, without surprise. "May I ask why? It's not impertinent curiosity."
"I was sent with some important papers, which I lost. This was bad enough, but there was some ground for suspecting that I had stolen them."
"Do you know how they were lost?"
Dick was grateful for the way the question was put, since it hinted that Fuller did not doubt his honesty.
"No," he said. "That is, I have a notion, but I'm afraid I'll never quite find out."
Fuller did not reply for a minute or two, and Dick, whose face was rather hot, glanced back at Ida. Her eyes were now fixed on him with quiet interest, and something in her expression indicated approval.
"Well," said Fuller, "I'm going to give you a chance of making good, because if you had done anything crooked, you wouldn't have told me that tale. You'll quit driving the locomotive and superintend on a section of the dam. I'm not satisfied with the fellow who's now in charge. He's friendly with the dago sub-contractors and I suspect I'm being robbed."
Dick's eyes sparkled. His foot was on the ladder that led to success; and he did not mean to stay at the bottom. Moreover, it caused him an exhilarating thrill to feel that he was trusted again.
"I'll do my best, sir," he said gratefully.
"Very well; you'll begin to-morrow, and can use the rooms behind the iron office shack. But there's something you have forgotten."
Dick looked at him with a puzzled air; and Fuller laughed.
"You haven't asked what I'm going to pay you yet."
"No," said Dick. "To tell the truth, it didn't seem to matter."
"Profession comes first?" Fuller suggested. "Well, that's right, but I've hired professional men, engineering and medical experts, who charged pretty high. Anyhow, here's my offer—"
Dick was satisfied, as was Fuller. The latter was often generous and would not have taken unfair advantage of Dick's necessity, but he did not object to engaging a talented young man at something below the market rate.
"While I'm here you'll come over twice a week to report," he resumed. "And now if there's anything you'd like to ask."
"First of all, I owe you a dollar," Dick remarked, putting the money on the table. "The pay-clerk wouldn't take it, because he said it would mix up his accounts. I'm glad to pay you back, but this doesn't cancel the debt."
"It wasn't a big risk. I thought you looked played out."
"I was played out and hungry. In fact, it took me five minutes to make up my mind whether I'd pay the agent who gave me your address his fee, because it meant going without a meal."
Fuller nodded. "Did you hesitate again, after you knew you'd got the job?"
"I did. When we were hustled on board the steamer, there was nobody at the gangway for a few moments and I felt I wanted to run away. There didn't seem to be any reason for this, but I very nearly went."
"That kind of thing's not quite unusual," Fuller answered with a smile. "In my early days, when every dollar was of consequence, I often had a bad time after I'd made a risky deal. Used to think I'd been a fool, and I'd be glad to pay a smart fine if the other party would let me out. Yet if he'd made the proposition, I wouldn't have clinched with it."
"Such vacillation doesn't seem logical, in a man," Ida interposed. "Don't you practical people rather pride yourselves on being free from our complexities? Still I suppose there is an explanation."
"I'm not a philosopher," Fuller replied. "If you have the constructive faculty, it's your business to make things and not examine your feelings; but my explanation's something like this—When you take a big risk you have a kind of unconscious judgment that tells you if you're right, but human nature's weak, and scares you really don't believe in begin to grip. Then it depends on your nerve whether you make good or not."
"Don't they call it sub-conscious?" Ida asked. "And how does that judgment come?"
"I guess it's built up on past experience, on things you've learned long since and stored away. In a sense, they're done with, you don't call them up and argue from them; but all the same, they're the driving force when you set your teeth and go ahead."
Ida looked at Dick. "That can't apply to us, who have no long experience to fall back upon."
"I've only made one venture of the kind, but I've just discovered that it turned out right."
Fuller smiled. "That's neat." Then he turned to Ida. "But I wasn't talking about women. They don't need experience."
"Sometimes you're merely smart, and sometimes you're rather deep, but I can't decide which you are just now," Ida rejoined. "However, I expect you're longing to get back to the plans."
"No," said Fuller. "They have to be thought of, but life isn't all a matter of building dams. Now I'm getting old, I've found that out."
"And you? Have you any opinion on the subject?" Ida asked Dick.
Dick hesitated, wondering whether she meant to put him at his ease or was amused by his seriousness.
"I don't imagine my views are worth much and they're not very clear. In a way, of course, it's plain that Mr. Fuller's right—"
"But after all, building dams and removing rocks may very well come first?"
Dick pondered this. So far, his profession had certainly come first. He was not a prig or a recluse, but he found engineering more interesting than people. Now he came to think of it, he had been proud of Helen's beauty, but she had not stirred him much or occupied all his thoughts. Indeed, he had only once been overwhelmingly conscious of a woman's charm, and that was in Kenwardine's garden. He had lost his senses then, but did not mean to let anything of the kind happen again.
"Well," he said diffidently, "so long as you're content with your occupation, it doesn't seem necessary to make experiments and look for adventures. I expect it saves you trouble to stick to what you like and know."
He noted Ida's smile, and was silent afterwards while she argued with her father. He did not want to obtrude himself, and since they seemed to expect him to stay, it was pleasant enough to sit and listen.
The air was getting cooler and the moon had risen and cast a silver track across the sea. The distant rumble of the surf came up the hillside in a faint, rhythmic beat, and the peaks above the camp had grown in distinctness. A smell of spice drifted out of the jungle, and Dick, who was tired, was sensible of a delightful languor. The future had suddenly grown bright and besides this, Ida's gracious friendliness had given him back his confidence and self-respect. He was no longer an outcast; he had his chance of making good and regaining the amenities of life that he had learned to value by their loss. He was very grateful to the girl and Fuller, but at length took his leave and returned to the locomotive shed with a light heart and a springy step.
Next morning he began his new work with keen energy. It absorbed him, and as the dam slowly rose in a symmetrical curve of molded stone, its austere beauty commanded his attention. Hitherto he had given utility the leading place, but a change had begun the night he sat beneath the copper-beech with Clare Kenwardine. The design of the structure was good, but Dick determined that the work should be better, and sometimes stopped in the midst of his eager activity to note the fine, sweeping lines and silvery-gray luster of the concrete blocks. There were soft lights at dawn and when the sun sank in which the long embankment glimmered as if carved in mother-of-pearl.
In the meantime, he went to Fuller's tent twice a week and generally met Ida there. Once or twice, he pleaded with his employer for extra labor and cement to add some grace of outline to the dam, and, although this was unproductive expenditure, Fuller agreed.
"I like a good job, but it's going to cost high if you mean to turn out a work of art," he said. "However, if Bethune thinks the notion all right, I suppose I'll have to consent."
Dick colored, and wondered whether he had been given a hint, for Bethune was his superior and a man of ability.
"He doesn't object, sir."
"That's good," Fuller replied with a twinkle. "Still, if you hustle him too much, you'll make him tired."
Dick did not smile, because he did not know how far it was wise to go, but he suspected that Bethune had been tired before he came to the dam. The latter was generally marked by an air of languid indifference, and while his work was well done he seldom exceeded his duty.
Next evening Dick went to see Bethune and found him lying in a hammock hung between the posts of the veranda of his galvanized iron hut. A syphon and a tall glass filled with wine in which a lump of ice floated, stood on a table within his reach, and an open book lay upside down upon the floor. He wore white duck trousers, a green shirt of fine material, and a red sash very neatly wound round his waist. His face was sunburned, but the features were delicately cut and his hands, which hung over the edge of the hammock, were well cared for.