A. L. Burt Company Publishers—New York Published by arrangement with W. J. Watt & Company Printed in U. S. A.
Copyright, 1922, by W. J. Watt & Company All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
CHAPTER PAGE I. A SON OF THE WEST 1 II. THE BRIGHT LIGHTS 14 III. SOCIAL ADVANCEMENT 28 IV. ANGELA 48 V. FROST AND FIRE 69 VI. THE GREAT AWAKENING 86 VII. THE CLIMAX 100 VIII. THE WHITE TRAIL 114 IX. HIGH STAKES 127 X. ANGELA MEETS A FRIEND 144 XI. FRUITLESS TOIL 157 XII. INTO THE WILDERNESS 171 XIII. THE TERROR OF THE NORTH 186 XIV. THE BREAKING-POINT 198 XV. THE QUEST 208 XVI. THE GREAT LIE 224 XVII. A CHANGE OF FRONT 234 XVIII. A GLEAM OF SUNSHINE 245 XIX. THE CRISIS 258 XX. COMPLICATIONS 268 XXI. NATALIE TRIES HER LUCK 279 XXII. GOLD 291 XXIII. DEPARTURE 302 XXIV. CONCLUSION 311
A SON OF THE WEST
Out of the brooding darkness was born the first timid blush of the morn. It sprang to life along the serried edge of the Medicine Bow, a broadening band of blood-red light. For one instant it seemed that some titan breath had blown at the source, darkening the red to purple; and then, with startling suddenness, the whole wide range flamed up. The full red rim of the sun smote aloft, sending the shades scuttling down the valleys, to vanish in thin air.
The man at the window of the Medicine Bow Hotel drew in his breath with a slight hissing sound, as the whole magnificent landscape sprang into dazzling light. It had always taken him like that. He remembered the day when, as a boy of seven, he had first seen the sun soar over the ridge, from the old "Prairie Schooner" encamped in "The Garden of the Gods." No less wonderful was it now; for Jim Conlan, late owner of Topeka Mine, and almost millionaire, was but a magnified version of the boy of twenty-three years back. Time had brought its revenges, its rewards, its illusions; but the great winds, the everlasting hills, and the wild life of the West had combined in cementing the early resolutions and ideas.
He had won through by dint of muscle and hard thinking. He saw now that the secret of his success was determination. He had earned a reputation for never letting go anything to which he had put his hand. Men feared him, but loved him at the same time. He had proved himself to be a staunch friend but an implacable enemy. His six feet three inches of bone and sinew was usually sufficient to scare off any trouble-seekers. Colorado Jim, as they called him, was the product of primal Nature, unpolished, rough as the gaunt mountains of the Medicine Bow, and as inscrutable.
All through the short summer night he had sat at the window waiting for the dawn. The man who never let go had let go something this time, and that something was nothing less than his whole life. He never believed it would hurt him like it did. For the past three years he had been restless. The soul and mind of him ached for expansion. The chief incentive to work had gone. He had more money than he could spend—in the West. Yonder was New York, Paris, London. Alluring visions of civilization flashed through his brain. What was the use of money if not to burn, and where in the whole of Colorado could one burn money and get full value?
The idea to sell out began to obsess him, and in the end he sold. Hating sentimentality and fearing any demonstration of such, he had packed up secretly and left the rough shack by the Topeka Mine for the comparatively Arcadian comforts of the hotel in the township ten miles back. In a few hours he would be on the train bound for the East—and the future.
Thorough in all things, he had packed his bags overnight, leaving but a few necessities such as razor and tooth-brush (recent acquisitions) to complete. He left the window now with a curious sigh, and gave a last pull on the strap of the largest bag with his big, muscular hands. Even now, with the ramshackle stage-coach almost at the door, he could not bring himself to believe that the old life was over and done with. What the devil was he up to, anyway, hiking around in creased trousers and black boots? Colorado Jim bound for Europe—London! It sounded impossibly fantastic. But there it was, written on the labels of his bags—"James Conlan, London, via New York." He tucked the rebellious collars of his soft blue shirt into his waistcoat, and pulled out an enormous watch.
"Rob ain't on time," he muttered; then, "Emily!"
A voice that sounded like the action of a saw in contact with a nail came from below.
"But you ain't had no breakfas' yet."
"Ain't takin' none. Come along right now and give a hand with these grips."
The owner of the voice, a shriveled-up, extremely untidy girl of about eighteen, with her hair in "crackers" and her eyes scarcely more than half open, entered the room, and stood gaping at him. She had gaped at him consistently for two whole days, and he didn't like it. He wasn't used to women—didn't understand them and didn't want to. He didn't even understand that the romantic Emily had fallen passionately in love with him exactly forty seconds after her sleepy eyes had first beheld him.
"For God's sake don't stare at me! Take the grips, gal, take 'em. Not that one, it would dislocate your internals."
She dropped the big one like a hot brick and grabbed the two smaller ones. At the door she found opportunity to scan him once more, and to murmur under her breath, "Lor', ain't he wonderful!" before her master came along and ended her rapturous soliloquies. He entered the room and nodded to Jim.
"So you're making out, Jim?"
"Looks like it."
"Wal, I'm sure sorry, and there ain't a guy in these parts who ain't sorry too."
Jim shrugged his big shoulders and jerked out his chin.
"Maybe there ain't one more sorry than yours truly."
"It's junk you're talking."
Jim smiled whimsically.
"Nope, it's God's truth. I didn't figure it all out till I came here. I wish I hadn't sold out. I guess I'm best fitted for running mines or herding cattle, Dan. And I'm leaving all the boys who know me for those who don't—and I don't git on with folks who don't know me. God knows what persuaded me to sell to that macaroni-eating swab. But it's done, and there ain't no manner of good wailing about it."
Dan laughed lugubriously.
"A man that can knock a million out of a mountain can git along most anywheres, I guess. Wish I had your chance."
"What'd you do?"
"I'd hitch up to some smart gal in New York or London and start a family."
Jim made a grimace.
"'Pears to me you ain't strong on originality. I'd rather run a cattle ranch—they don't talk back."
"Gosh! man, wimmen's all right if you know how to treat 'em. They're like bosses, they want careful breakin' in."
Jim shook his head. He remembered the time when a girl from down East, on a holiday tour, had looked over his mine. Her eloquent blue eyes had made him feel decidedly sheepish. Colorado Jim, who had tackled most of the bad men around Medicine Bow, and had tamed the wildest bronchos that ever roved prairie, was lamentably lacking where the fair sex was concerned. He didn't know what to do, what to say, or how to say it.
"Dan," he said, "you hev to have a gift that way—an' I ain't got it."
"My lad, you've got a figure and a 'physog' that'll sure turn every gal's head that takes a slant at 'em."
"Let up!" growled Jim.
"It's honest truth, laddie. Gee! I gotta hankering for the bright lights myself. I lived in New York once. Some village. And with a million in your wallet ... Ah!"
He gave a long sigh as he reflected upon the quantity of "bright lights" a million would purchase.
"I'd have three houses, a hundred suits, a footman with a powdered wig like I seen in the magazine pictures. I'd have a bath each night in eau-de-Cologne, and go to roost in real silk peejamas. I'd larn to dance, and have a valee to dress me and shave me...."
"Yep," mused Jim, "and then you'd wake up, Dan. Here, where's that bill? You talk too much. What in hell is that?"
A terrific hullabaloo came up from below. A roar of laughter and the babble of male voices was mixed with the rumble of wheels and the pistol-like crack of a whip.
"Looks like a celebration," said Dan.
Jim sauntered to the window. Underneath was Rob's coach, packed full of miners. They slid from the roof of the vehicle and from inside, and began to fire revolvers and dance around like niggers. Then one of them saw Jim.
"Hi, Colorado Jim, come out of that!" he bawled.
Jim ducked back from the window as a roar came up from below.
"Looks like they're for giving you a send-off," said Dan.
"Who told them? I kept it quiet—can't stand ceremonies."
"It must have been Rob."
"Confound him! There's no time for kissing. It's fifty miles to Graymount, and the train is scheduled for noon. Send 'em away."
Dan opened his eyes with horror at the suggestion.
"I ain't takin' risks. You got heaps of time. It's only five o'clock and the road is good to Graymount."
"More'n Rob's hosses are. That off-side mare's like a sausage on four crooked sticks."
"Jim! We want Colorado Jim!" was howled up from below.
The much desired went to the window.
"Boys," he bawled, "you all run along home. I gotta catch a train."
His voice was drowned by horrible threats of what they would do if he didn't hike down immediately. He turned to Dan.
"They're a darn fine lot of boys, but I wish they wouldn't git so worked up. Where's Emily?"
Emily, who was standing in the doorway, ogling him unseen, came forward.
"There's something to buy a dress with, and see here, don't get a draughtboard pattern. If there's any money over, buy soap—scented soap."
Emily's eyes almost fell from her head at the sight of the fifty-dollar note. She rubbed her hands down her dress and took it. Jim had grabbed the heavy bag and was half-way down the stairs before she could summon enough breath to murmur the incessant refrain, "Ain't he jest wonderful!"
At the door Jim was grabbed by a dozen hefty pairs of hands and hoisted on to shoulders. One man took the big bag, and with remarkable skill flung it clean on the top of the waiting coach, much to Rob's disgust. The hurtling missile came down like a thunderbolt, and nearly went through the roof.
"Don't get fresh, boys," pleaded Jim. "These are my Sunday clothes."
They ran him twice up the main street, yelling and whooping like a pack of wild Indians. A queer awry figure stuck its head from the window of a tumble-down shop and, seeing the cause of the disturbance, shook his fist and yelled:
"The sheriff ought to be fired, to allow ..."
A shot from a revolver shivered his shop-window to atoms, and a ten-dollar note was flung at him. He slammed down the window, realizing that discretion was the better part of valor. The high-spirited men went on their way, rousing the whole population as they progressed. After about twenty minutes of these capers they reached the hotel again. Jim was praying that the business was over. He fought his way to the ground, but was immediately hoisted on to the top of Rob's coach.
"Give over, boys ..."
"Who is the whitest man in Medicine Bow?" sang Ned Blossom.
"Colorado Jim!" howled the chorus.
"Who is the huskiest two-hundred-pounder in the hul of Ameriky?"
"Who is it the gals all lu-huv?"
Jim swung his big figure over the side of the coach. He grabbed two of his tormentors by the scruffs of their necks and jerked them on to the ground.
"I'm through with all this," he cried. "Rob, get that animated bunch of horse-hair going."
Ned Blossom held up his hand.
"Cut it out, boys," he ordered. "See here, Jim, we got wise to this absconsion of yours, and we thought we'd jest bunch in. The boys are feeling queer about it, though there ain't much show of handkerchiefs. We—we thought mebbe you'd accept a little—kinder keepsake. It—it ain't much, but—but—— Wal, here it is."
He jerked something from his pocket and put it into Jim's hand. It was a gold cigarette-case, with an inscription worked in small diamonds: "To Colorado Jim from his chums." Jim stood gazing at this token of their regard. He hated sentiment, and yet was as big a victim of it as anyone. When he spoke his great voice wavered.
"I'm going a hell of a distance before I find boys like you. I wish I wasn't going. I—wish——"
He grabbed Ned's hand quickly, and then that of each of the other men, and jumped into the coach. They understood the emotion in the big heart of him. Rob started the team and away went the coach in a cloud of dust. Hats went up in the air and revolvers barked.
"Good-bye, Colorado Jim! Good-bye!"
Emily at the door, clasping the fifty-dollar note in her grimy paw, waited until the coach was a mere dot in the distance. Then she rubbed a sorrowful eye.
"Gee, but he was jest wonderful!" she moaned.
THE BRIGHT LIGHTS
New York brought Jim Conlan up with a start. Everything was amazing; everything was bewildering. He felt like a lost soul, stunned with the noise, dazed by the sights. In the fastnesses of his beloved West he had never imagined that such a place existed on the face of the earth. He felt stifled and ill at ease. His clothes were different to those worn in this city. People gave him a quick passing glance, knowing him at once for a Westerner. Feeling a trifle embarrassed under their glances, he reflected upon the advisability of buying new and more appropriate garb. A tailor was requisitioned and, finding his client to be indifferent in the matter of costs, fixed him up with a fine wardrobe—and a fine bill.
Jim spent the best part of two hours trying on the new things. The long mirror in his bedroom did its best, but it wasn't good enough for Jim. He groaned as he saw this stranger staring at him from the mirror. He wasn't built for that sort of garb. The hard hat looked perfectly idiotic and the starched collars nearly choked him. Eventually he tore the offending article from his sunscorched neck and flung it across the room. The other things followed. He stood once more in the rough gray clothes that served for "best" out West, and jammed the comfortable Stetson hat on his head.
"I'm darned if I'll wear 'em!" he growled.
A few days of shopping and theaters, and he began to grow homesick. Thoughts of Colorado and the boys constantly flickered in his brain. Here he was an outcast—a nonentity. He was not good at making friends, and the New Yorkers were not falling head over heels to shake hands with him, though more than one pair of eyes looked admiringly at his magnificent physique.
The loneliness of big cities! How terrible a thing it was. Never at any time had Jim felt so lonely. The rolling wind-swept prairie had at least something to offer. In every manifestation of nature he had found a friend. The wind, and the hills, and the wild animals seemed in some queer way sterling comrades; but here—— He began to hate it. It was one huge problem to him. How did it live? What did all the millions do for a subsistence? It was the first time he had seen the poor—the real, hopeless, inevitable poor. He had seen men "broke," down to their last cent; men on the trail, starving, and lost to all sense of decency. But that was merely transitory. These people were different; they were born poor, and would be poor until their bones were laid in some miserable congested cemetery. He found them actually reconciled to it—unquestioningly accepting their fate and fighting to postpone the end for as long as possible. It sickened him.
Oh, Colorado! With your wide prairie and your eternal peaks, your carpeted valleys and your crystalline streams, your fragrant winds and your gift of God—good men!
He was sitting in the lounge of his hotel one evening, feeling more than usually homesick, when he noticed a beautiful woman sitting near him. Her evening dress was cut well away at the shoulders, displaying a white neck around which a pearl necklace glowed in the light. A mass of auburn hair was coiled up neatly round her head, with a rebellious little curl streaming down one ear.
The curl fascinated Jim. He thought it ought to be put back in its proper place, but a second's reflection revealed to him the fact that it was intended to trickle thus alluringly. It was there for effect. It enhanced her considerable charm. In the midst of his interested survey she turned and caught his eye. He began to study his boots with an embarrassed blush. When he ultimately stole another glance at this wealth of feminine beauty he found she was busily engaged in similar scrutiny—of himself. They both smiled. Then she stood up, languidly, and came across to him.
"Pardon me, but you are from the West, aren't you?"
"Right first time."
"Ah, I thought so. You Westerners can't disguise yourselves. I love the West. I was born in Wyoming."
Here at last was a sympathetic soul. Jim edged along a little. She sat down.
"You don't like New York?" she queried.
"I don't," he replied emphatically. "It leaves me gasping for breath."
"I felt like that when first I came down. I wish I were you to be going back again."
"But I'm not going back."
She opened her brilliant eyes and then laughed.
"I know. You've made a pile and are now seeing life. Is that it?"
"Something like that."
"I knew it."
Jim was getting his nerve back. It was the first time he had been in close proximity to a powdered back and rouged lips, and the sensation was curious. No man with blood in his veins could help admiring the soft lines of her neck and arms—and Jim had plenty of blood about him.
"Where'd you say you hailed from?" he queried.
"Rock Springs, Wyoming. D'you know it?"
"Know it? I should say! Wal, if that ain't the pink limit!"
"We ran a ranch there," she went on in a rich musical voice. "I wish I was there now, but there's a spell about cities. You'll find that out soon enough."
"I ain't seen much spell about this one," retorted Jim. "Gee! I've never seen such a bunch of blank-mangy-looking men. The wimmen ain't so bad."
"And cyards! Suffering Moses! I seen a guy deal a straight flush to himself and no one savvied he'd got the pack sandpapered. Out in Medicine Bow he'd hev' bin filled up with lead to his shoulder-blades. I guess this is a darn bad place."
"You're lovely!" she said merrily. "But when in Rome, do as Rome does. Do you go to dinner in that rig-out?"
Jim felt nervously at his throat.
"What's wrong with it?"
"Nothing. It suits you admirably. But the hotel won't like it."
"See here," he retorted, "I don't give a tinker's cuss what the hotel likes. Anyway, it's decent, which is considerably more'n some of the dresses I've seen. There's a gal with nothin' more'n a bit of muslin she could fold up and put in her mouth. She's got Mother Eve beaten to a frazzle."
They gossiped for half an hour, and then Edith (he heard a friend call her by that name) left him and went to dinner. The next meeting happened on the following day. Edith's company appealed to him. She certainly used a lot of "make-up," and creams that smelt like a chemist's shop; but all New York smelt vile to Jim, so he didn't complain.
Taking his courage in both hands, he invited her to dine with him. She accepted with as much eagerness as maidenly modesty would permit, and Jim went off to lunch in the best hotel in town, to take careful note of the proper procedure of a gentleman "standing treat" to a lady. He got it off fairly well, making notes on a sheet of paper. Then he went to his room and rehearsed it all. He started dressing himself about five o'clock, and had nearly got his clothes to his satisfaction by the appointed time—seven-thirty.
The dinner was a roaring success. Conversation was feeble because all his time was taken up in observing correct decorum. Edith sat and regarded him with curious eyes. She wondered, for good reasons, what the emotions of such a man might be. Behind those quiet, simple eyes of his there occasionally flashed something that made her afraid—dreadfully afraid. She had not wasted time that day. She knew this big, uncultured fellow was James Conlan, late of Topeka Mine—a millionaire.
Jim breathed a huge sigh of relief when they left the dining-hall and walked through the lounge into the wide balcony. He was standing looking out over the street when he noticed her totter and clutch a chair.
"What's wrong?" he gasped.
"I—I feel faint. I——"
She closed her eyes. Here was a situation that had not been rehearsed by Jim. He wondered whether he ought to ring the fire alarm or call the police. Edith solved the problem.
"If—you will assist me—to the elevator——"
He had never thought of that. He grabbed her arm and helped her to the elevator. She still looked pale and distressed.
"Fourteenth floor. No. 633!" she murmured.
They left the elevator at the fourteenth floor. No sooner had the lift disappeared than Edith collapsed on the floor. He looked round for a friend in need, but the corridor was deserted. The door near at hand was numbered 630. So 633 must be near by! He stooped and picked up the still figure as though she were a child. In half a dozen strides he was at 633. The door was unlocked, so he pushed it open and entered. He found the electric-light switch, and then placed his burden gently on the bed. He was drawing his arm from under her when she opened her eyes.
He searched and found a water decanter and a glass. She seemed too weak to sit up, so he helped her by placing one arm under her head. She sipped the liquid and looked into his eyes. Then to his utter amazement she clasped both her arms round his neck and pulled his face close to hers.
"Hell!" he muttered.
"I love you!" she said. "Don't you see I——"
"Say, you're bad!" he said. "Drink some more water——"
He strove to free himself, but finding he could only do so by hurting her, refrained, and tried to bring her to her senses. Undoubtedly she had suddenly gone mad! The ingenuous Jim could find no other solution. He was telling her to "be a good kid" and not "to get fresh," when the door opened and slammed. He looked round to find a tall dark man, in evening dress, surveying him fiercely.
"Good-evening," said the stranger cuttingly. Jim broke away and faced the latter.
"Who in hell are you?"
Jim turned to Edith. She seemed strangely perturbed.
"Wal, I'm glad to meet you," said Jim coolly. "Your wife had a fit or something, so I jest brought her along. I guess I'll be mushing."
To his amazement the man barred his path.
"A nice story," he said.
The eyes of Colorado Jim narrowed to the merest slits. He turned to the woman.
"Tell him!" he growled.
She shrunk before those terrible eyes of his, and gripped the pillow with nerveless hands. Her lips opened but she said nothing. Jim started, and then caught her by the shoulder.
"Did you git me? He's wanting to know why I'm here. Tell him."
"How can I tell him?" she wailed.
The man laughed.
"You needn't waste breath. So this is how Mr. James Conlan spends his time. It'll make a fine story...."
Jim's brain was working fast; but he was slow in the uptake in such circumstances as this. The woman had seemed so genuine. Why did she maintain silence? It was a novel experience in his life. All the ways of this strange city were foreign to him.
The man's voice broke in:
"A fine story it will make in the press."
"The morals of a millionaire."
"Eh!" growled Jim again.
"Maybe you wouldn't like this to appear in print?..."
And then Jim saw it all. It was like a story from a magazine. He had never believed those things could be true. But here it was in real life. A frame-up—a dirty piece of blackmail.
"Can't we come to terms, Mr. Conlan...."
The suave voice got no farther than that. He saw six-feet-odd of bone and muscle rear up like a piece of steel and descend on him. A great hard hand caught him by the neck and bounced him up and down the room.
"You swab! You tinhorn! I've manured a potato patch with better stuff, by Gawd! And she's your wife, you dirty trash! She ain't your wife—no, sir. I savvy what she is. Suffering rattlesnakes! I'm waitin' to hear about it. When did you frame to put this over me? Talk up or I'll yank you outer the window into the street."
"Damn you—let me go!"
"I'll 'damn you,' you muck! Take that!"
A resounding slap sounded as a hand like leather met the man's face. Edith screamed.
"We—arranged—it—this afternoon," gasped the man.
Jim flung him to the floor and advanced on the pallid Edith. She retreated before him. He was about to clasp her when a voice rang out.
He swung round to find his late victim brandishing a revolver. An ugly leer crossed his face. He evidently meant business. Jim stared at the revolver.
"Put 'em up or I'll drill you. I can plead the unwritten law. I've got you now, my buck-jumping desperado."
Jim coolly blew his nose.
"Put 'em up!"
He put up his hands and dropped the handkerchief. He stooped to pick up the latter and, with a lightning movement, caught the edge of the mat and pulled with all his strength. The man, standing on the end of it, came to earth with a crash. Jim flew at him and made for the hand that held the gun. Over and over they went like cats. Then it was that Edith lent a hand—to her confederate. She ran to the dressing-table and took up a small penknife. Jim was leaning over his victim, wresting the gun from his hand, when she reached him. The knife came down twice in his shoulder. The intense pain caused him to drop the gun, but he picked it up again, hurled his inert opponent across the room, and went to Edith. The knife dropped from her fingers as she saw the blood streaming down his white shirtfront.
"I don't fight wimmen," he growled. "There ain't nothing I can do to you, 'cept this."
He suddenly caught her and, holding both her wrists in one hand, with the other tore every shred of clothing from her.... Then without a word he strode out of the room.
"I'm through with this place," he muttered. "Bright lights! Gosh, I'm looking for where they don't shine so strong."
Somewhere in England were the graves of his ancestors. He didn't want to see the graves of his forefathers, even if he could find them, but the desire to give London the "once over" was now stronger than ever. The next day he booked a steamer berth and packed his bags.
Jim's first impression of London was an ocean of flying mud, through which myriads of phantasmagorial creatures and things moved in sullen, unceasing procession; an all-enveloping wall of brown fog; and a roar like unto some monster in pain. When he stood on the Embankment and strove to get a glimpse of the river, he came to the conclusion that "the hub of the Universe" was not up to specification. The famous Strand amazed him by its narrowness and its shortness. The buildings were dirtier than any buildings he had ever seen before, and the people cold, self-contained, units who seemed visibly to shrink back into their shells at his every attempt to hold conversation.
For a whole week the fog and the drizzle continued as though no sun existed, or ever could exist. He wandered aimlessly, like a lost sheep, wondering how long a man could swallow quarts of dirt with his oxygen without getting permanently transformed into a human sewer.
But he was getting a grip on things. His brain was gradually adapting itself to changed conditions. No longer did he gasp when a child in Stepney picked up orange-peel from the gutter and ate it. Here was the unending manifestation of Nature's inexorable law, the survival of the fittest, more clearly and cruelly displayed than in New York. Wealth and Poverty were more definitely marked. If they merged at all, it was away in the suburbs, or in the Jewish quarter, whence issued, on Saturdays, thousands of dark-skinned lads and girls, westward bound, to spend one hectic evening in the pleasure-ground west of St. Paul's.
The East End, strangely enough, appealed to him more than the West. He took expeditions down among the docks, and sat in squalid public-houses listening to the coarse conversation of their habitues. There was always something new to shock, or interest, the eyes. It was no strange thing to find a woman performing certain domestic avocations before a pot of beer. Some of them brought potatoes and peas, peeling and shelling these in the bar in preference to the hovels which they inhabited. The "pub" was their club and general meeting-house.
Once he managed to get into conversation with one of these products of "the hub of the Universe." Her point of view staggered him. Her meek acceptance of her lot sickened him. Why didn't she fly—she and her man—away to green fields and fresh air, away from this plague-ridden, dismal city? The suggestion brought from her a peal of mirthless laughter. Later he arrived at the truth. These people suffered from the greatest disease of all—The Fear of Living. Their hearts were rotten. They lived and died, rooted to some few acres of mud and muck because they feared what lay beyond. Like children they feared the unknown. Daylight lay beyond the jungle, but they believed it to be the pit of doom—of empty stomachs and endless tribulation.
Nothing could be done for them until the system was smashed. Unsophisticated, uncultured as he was, he succeeded in grasping the root of the problem—Education. They were living a lie. The very environment conspired to perpetuate that lie. When one among them stood up and averred that Life meant something more than this, that Man was not made to eke out his life in bitter misery, that the result of the toil of the worker was filched by some inexplicable process, he was immediately voted "balmy." They were not ripe for fighting. There was as yet no clearly seen Cause that would rouse them from their torpor. But one day the flood would burst the dam of besotted ignorance, and the human cataract would descend with appalling force.
Colorado Jim, born out of Nature, succored by the sweet winds of heaven, was learning things. When at nights he stood at his window, at the top of the hotel, and gazed over the vastness of this squat monster, London, Colorado seemed very far away.
Hitherto he had been a poor reader; he had had no time for books. Now a book came into his hands. Feeling lonely, he dipped into it. It was Reade's "Martyrdom of Man." All night long he sat and read. All the civilizations of earth passed before him in perspective. It gave him a new interest in life. He wanted to go out and take this London by the throat. It was a mockery of what civilization should be. It was an insult to dead generations of men. Man had fought and suffered and died for—this! Humanity had labored for tens of centuries to give birth to—this!
But his healthy mind recoiled from morbid speculation. He took a trip into Devonshire, and found there a recrudescence of the old calm joyousness that he believed had somehow left him. He roved the Devon hills in wind and rain, drew into his lungs the fragrant breath of the moorland, and felt a better man. He sang as he walked—a great deep song that went echoing along the valleys. Space—space! There was the magic potion. What were Money, Success, Power, compared to the free delights of Nature?
On his return to London he seriously reflected upon the advisability of going back to Medicine Bow. Man is a gregarious animal, and Jim was feeling the need of friends. What envy was his when he perceived little groups of friends, gathered together around some table, laughing and making merry! He had found the big London clubs astonishingly exclusive. A man had to be proposed and seconded, and what not, by existing members, who had to vouch for his moral or social standing. Jim felt an outsider; an alien among strange people, whose ways were not his ways. It might have been Colorado for him but for a totally unexpected occurrence.
He was returning from a trip to the Crystal Palace, and was waiting on the railway platform for his train, when a drunken man started a commotion a few paces from him. Exhibiting signs of violence, two porters came forward to remove him. That was, apparently, exactly what he wanted. He slipped off his coat and danced round in ungainly fashion. The porters advanced. He lunged out and caught the foremost man a heavy blow under the chin. The man reeled back and collided violently with an immaculately dressed man who was standing on the edge of the platform. The latter staggered, lost his balance, and fell on to the line. A frenzied voice screamed:
"Oh, my God, the train!"
The locomotive arrived with a roar. The man on the line tried to rise, but the sight of the approaching doom paralyzed him. Women shrieked and men stood rooted to the spot. No one saw the big form of Jim descend like a thunderbolt on the back of the terrified man. An instant later the engine passed over them....
Underneath the moving mass Jim's fourteen stone of human tissue was pressed close to the form beneath him. He was scarcely conscious of taking the leap. His brain had yelled one distinct order to his active limbs: "Keep him down flat!" He had obeyed that subconsciously. For a second or so it was pure oblivion, and then he realized what had happened. If there should not be enough clearance?... Any considerable projection would mean....
But something happened which drove the specter of fear away. There came a sharp pain in his back. It grew to intense torture. A small, red-hot cinder from the engine was eating into his flesh. He wanted to raise his head, to put out his arm and remove this merciless thing. But Will prevailed. The pain grew less. The roar ceased. He realized that the train had stopped. He could hear the excited murmur of voices. Everyone seemed to be talking at once.
"There's another there—that big man. I tell you...."
"Mary, come away...."
"It went right over him. Oh, poor fellow!..."
"The big man was holding him down. They're safe, I tell you."
A quavering male voice—that of the guard—came down through the space between the platform and the footboard of the train.
"Hel-lo, down there!"
"Yank your darned train out. There's a cinder half-way through my back," growled Jim.
Shouts were heard and the train began to move. It seemed an eternity before the last coach passed over them. By that time the cinder had grown cold. Jim kneeled up and gasped. He caught the other man in his arms and climbed on to the platform. The crowd rushed forward to shake him by the hand. He could have kissed any woman there without asking, but it never occurred to him. His one idea was to get away from this hand-shaking crowd. He made for the waiting-room, still carrying his man.
"For Gawd's sake keep that crush out," he begged of the station-master. The latter carried out this difficult task with ultimate success. When he came back the immaculate one had recovered his senses. He was still suffering from shock, but he found enough strength to wedge a monocle into his eye and to survey Jim, wonderingly.
"Great Scott—what a feat!" he exclaimed.
Jim was rubbing his injured back.
"My deah fellah, it was positively superhuman! You saved my life—what!"
"Oh, that's all right."
"Bai Jove, I should think so! It was positively and indubitably the most courageous thing I have ever seen or read of."
His cultured lisping speech and his well-bred air interested Jim. Here was one of the upper ten thousand, the real flower of British aristocracy. Jim's eyes traveled over him, noting the cut of his clothes and his general air of careless lassitude. It had taken ten generations to produce that finished article, and the man from the "Wilds" wondered what was the real nature of the animal. Physically he was a degenerate. His hands were long and tapered, and his limbs were exceeding small. But he possessed grace of movement. Jim felt a sneaking admiration for the hundred-and-one little tricks of movement that characterized the Immaculate One. But was it only veneer? Were these polished externals without inward counterpart? In the meantime the Immaculate One had taken stock of his saviour. He found much to admire in this amazing giant, with swells of muscle outlined behind the cloth that covered it. No man of his set could have done what this man had done. Sensitiveness, Culture, seemed to negate spontaneity of action. Reason had usurped the throne of Will. Colorado Jim only reasoned in his immature fashion. He acted without reason, on the impulse of the moment. Impulse had its advantages. Had he stopped to reason, the Immaculate One would have soon been the object of a Coroner's jury. Jim found the slim white hand extended towards him. He shook it.
"I should—ah—like to know to whom I am indebted?"
"Jim Conlan, but it don't matter a cuss."
"It matters a great deal—to me. I should like to give you my card."
He produced a gold card-case and extracted a thin piece of paste-board. Jim scanned it: Alfred Cholmondeley, Huntingdon Club.
"I gather you are not the sort of fellah who loves a torrent of oral thanks," drawled Cholmondeley; "but if at any time I can be of the slightest service to you, you have only to command me."
It was then that an inspiration came to Jim. He scanned the card again.
"Say, you mean that?"
"Wal, if you'd like to balance the account good and proper, git me into this yere club."
Cholmondeley stared, and coughed.
"It's—ah—it's a deuced expensive club."
Jim's face relaxed.
"I guess I can stand the pace."
Cholmondeley was at his wits' end. Of all the impossible things on earth Jim had asked the most impossible. The Huntingdon was the doyen of London clubs; its titled members could have filled a very large volume. And here was this primal man of the wilderness seeking admission!
"It don't matter," said Jim, with a curl of his lip.
Cholmondeley set his teeth.
"I'll do it," he said. "It's going to be demned difficult, but it shall be done. What's your address?"
"Count it as done."
The great feat was ultimately achieved. Jim received notification to the effect that he was now a member on probation. By pre-arrangement with the Immaculate One he turned up one morning at the big building in Pall Mall. Cholmondeley, who met him in the vestibule, nearly had a fit when he saw him. He had tacitly thrown out a hint that the Huntingdon was correct in the matter of dress—and Jim turned up in his usual garb.
The wind was knocked clean out of Jim's sails by the commissionaire's greeting to Cholmondeley, "Morning, your Lordship."
"What did that guy say?" he exclaimed.
"I forgot to tell you I'm a Viscount," replied Cholmondeley.
"Gee, what's that?"
"It's a title conferred on one of my ancestors for something he did for his king. But it's not of the least importance."
Jim felt nervous. He wished he might have fallen through the earth before suggesting that he should become a member of a club of this sort. Cholmondeley was mildly amused. He had fought tooth and nail against the prejudices of some of the blue bloods, who had never heard of James Conlan in their lives and had looked him up in Burke in vain. Cholmondeley, half-way through his adventure, was beginning to enjoy it. He had come to like Jim immensely, though the latter's speech at times wounded his tender susceptibilities.
"My deah fellah, we have a stormy—ah—passage to weather. If I may be allowed to tender a little advice, don't talk too much—yet."
Jim's brows clouded.
"I get you. They won't like my kind of chin-music?"
"They certainly will not. Let us now have a drink to celebrate this extraordinary occasion."
They were sitting in the lounge when a boy came in with a telegram.
"Lord 'Chum-ley'!" he yelled.
He eventually spotted Cholmondeley and gave him the telegram. Jim's eyes opened wide.
"Say, that ain't your name, is it?"
"Wal, if that don't beat the band!"
A man that could make "Chumley" out of Cholmondeley was certainly a juggler with letters.
"Why in hell do you spell it that way?"
"Euphony, my deah chap—euphony!"
Who "Euphony" might have been Jim hadn't the foggiest notion. He relapsed into a moody silence, wishing the club at the bottom of the sea and himself back at Medicine Bow, where men pronounced words in the way they were spelt—more or less.
Jim's career in that club was anything but smooth. Under the wing of Cholmondeley he was saved from absolute ostracism. Two weeks of utter purgatory were lived through, but Cholmondeley was staunch. Every day he turned up at the club and bade Jim, on peril of his life, do likewise.
"Stick it out, Conlan," he argued. "They're expecting you to run away and die with humiliation. When they discover you are not a—what was the word you used?—ah—quitter—they'll begin to appreciate you."
Jim hung on. Even when Cholmondeley was not present he used the club. His personality began to have effect, and he soon made two or three firm friends. One of these was the Honorable Claude Featherstone, a healthy, good-looking youth, without a trace of snobbishness or social pride in his composition. He had been the first to come to Jim with extended hand.
"You're American, aren't you?"
"Nope, I'm English all right, but America's my country."
Claude's eyes traveled over Jim's muscular figure.
"Ye gods! they breed 'em big where you come from. I don't think I'll try catch-as-catch-can with you. What do you think of this menagerie of ours? That fat man over there is the Duke of Aberdale. If he comes and tells you a tale about having left his purse at home—beware!"
Claude's acquaintanceship ripened into intimate friendship. It may have been pure hero-worship, but the fact remained that he thought Jim the finest specimen of manhood he had ever known. Jim, on the other hand, began to drop a few of his early prejudices. He came to realize that all men have something in common, and that accident of birth placed no insuperable bar between one and another. Once penetrate that icy reserve, and more often than not there was a stout heart behind it.
Jim began to get popular. It was rumored he was fabulously wealthy—a slight exaggeration—and this helped him through, for the money-worship fetish prevailed even among "noble lords." Cholmondeley, who knew all the ropes in this intricate mesh of British social life, intimated that a peerage might be bought for L50,000. But Jim wasn't "taking any of that dope."
"It won't make my blood any bluer, I guess," he said.
In two months he had thoroughly established himself—a plebeian had taken root in a forest of belted earls and lisping aristocrats. But it stopped at that. A retired "cowboy" was all very well in a club. If he chose to take up "gun-throwing" or garrotting, there was always a score or two of hefty servants to deal with him; but in a man's home, with wives and daughters present, well——! So Jim's meteoric social ascent went no farther than that. Even Cholmondeley, who was his eternal debtor, never took him to house parties. Jim had introspection enough to see the barrier.
It was towards the end of winter that Jim created a commotion which was nearly the cause of his being "blackballed." But for the intervention of his considerable circle of admirers, who believed his action to be justified, and threatened to resign en bloc if the matter were not quashed, Jim would have shaken the dust of the Huntingdon from his feet.
It was in the afternoon, and a trio of men were seeking for a fourth to make up a card party. Seeing Jim lounging on a settee they invited him to join in. He rather reluctantly assented, for one of the players was Meredith, a man he disliked intensely, which dislike was thoroughly reciprocated.
They played all the afternoon, and Meredith won steadily. He talked a lot about his abnormal luck, but one man present seemed to be constantly on the fidget. Jim had been weaned on cards in a place where gambling was the salt of life, and "tinhorns" were as plentiful as mosquitoes in summer. He kept his eyes on the slim, nimble hands of Meredith, and what he saw did not please him.
Meredith was in the middle of a deal when Jim suddenly flung his cards across the table and stood up.
"I'm through with this," he growled.
The other players gasped, and Meredith's brow contracted. By this time the room was full of members lounging and talking before dinner. The tone of Jim's voice suggested that something was wrong.
"What's the matter?" asked one of the players.
"I don't like the deal."
Meredith leaped from his chair.
"Do you dare insinuate...."
"I don't insinuate nothin'. I jest ain't playin' this hand."
Claude came behind him.
"Careful, Jim," he whispered. "You are making a very serious accusation."
Meredith came across and stood within a foot of Jim's taut face.
"Mr. Conlan," he said, "I am waiting for an explanation."
"Where I come from," said Jim grimly, "men who slip cards that way are lynched on the nearest tree."
A gasp came from the company. Never in the history of the club had anything like that happened.
"You liar!" snapped Meredith.
Jim's hand came out. His fingers buried themselves in Meredith's shoulder, till the pale face winced with pain. His great body tightened up and his eyes were like cold steel. No one had ever called him "liar" before. It aroused all the innate fury within him. The other hand was drawn back to strike—and then he remembered. He gave an almost pitiful grunt and released his grip. Cholmondeley and a few others dragged him away.
"Conlan," said Claude, "you oughtn't to have said that. It isn't done."
"There's no way out," whispered Cholmondeley. "You'll have to apologize."
A dapper little man, a bosom friend of Meredith's, hurried forward, bristling with indignation.
"You have grossly insulted a member of this club, sir. We demand an apology," he said.
"Better apologize," whispered Claude.
Jim was trying to be a "gentleman," but the word "liar" from the lips of a card-sharp had pierced the thin veneer that a few months of sophisticated environment had brought about, and scratched into the coarser material beneath. Restraint went to the winds.
"Apologize!" he roared. "Apologize to a swindling tinhorn? I should smile!"
The Featherstones were a remarkable family—remarkable in their unparalleled irresponsibility. They had a house in Grosvenor Place and another in Devonshire. The latter, like the Featherstones, was gorgeous in its external aspect, but thoroughly unstable in its foundations. The instability of Lord Featherstone was of a financial character. He, like the rest of his family, believed in giving a wide berth to such sordid considerations as money. Whenever he wanted money he called in the family solicitor, who promptly raised another mortgage on something.
Featherstone was so used to signing his name on pieces of paper that custom grew into habit. Lady Featherstone still gave expensive house parties, and the Honorable Angela acted as though all the wealth of the Indies was behind those magic signatures of papa.
Young Claude, with a liberal allowance per annum, managed to wring a few thousands overdraft from his banker by dint of a plausible tongue and a charm of manner. When the crash came and Featherstone was forced to face realities, the house was like a mortuary.
"But surely you can raise the wind, my dear Ayscough?"
The aged solicitor, an intimate friend of the family, shook his head.
"There's Little Badholme."
"Mortgaged to the last penny. It was never worth the ten thousand they advanced."
Featherstone paced up and down and blew rings of smoke into the air.
"We shall have to economize, my dear Ayscough. We shall have to economize."
He had said that so many times before, that like the production of his autograph it had become a habit. Ayscough, seeing Carey Street looming in the distance, was unusually glum. Economy was scarcely an antidote at this stage, for mortgagees were threatening foreclosure.
"I rely upon you, Ayscough. I rely on you absolutely."
Ayscough looked blank. It was no use trying to explain to Featherstone the exact state of the family's finance. Generations of Featherstones had eaten well into the coffers. Prodigality was their outstanding characteristic.
"If I might make a suggestion——"
Featherstone was in the mood to consider the wildest suggestion. He had none of his own.
"There is—er—Miss Angela."
"There is, Ayscough. Precisely—there is." Then he suddenly halted and looked at the lawyer. "By Jove! I see your point. But it won't avail us. Angela is a queer girl. She has distinct aversions to marriage."
"But if she knew that a wealthy—er—fortunate marriage would save you and Lady Featherstone a certain amount of anxiety——?"
"I doubt it. Besides, wealthy husbands are not so easily picked up. There are a dozen girls after every man of ample means. No, I think we may discard that possibility. Think it over, my dear Ayscough. I leave it entirely in your hands."
Ayscough had been thinking it over for the last three years. He went away with visions of the fall of the house of Featherstone at no very distant date.
At that moment the Honorable Angela was busily engaged sending out invitations to a dinner party. She was two years older than Claude, a typical Featherstone, fair and straight of limb, with finely chiseled features and delicate complexion. Her eyes were large and long-lashed, but somewhat cold. A life of indolence and luxury had bred a certain air of imperiousness in her. She was known to her friends as Angela the frigid. But this appellation was not quite justified. At times she was far from frigid. Under different circumstances she might have been as warm-blooded as any Southern peasant-girl, but pride of birth and breeding had dampered down most of the natural emotions. She was exquisite in every physical detail.
She had almost finished her list of invitations when Claude burst into the library. She turned her head for a second and went on writing. He strode up to the table and began to read the cards.
"Please go away, Claude. Don't touch them. They're still wet."
"Great heavens! You aren't asking Mrs. Carruthers!" he ejaculated.
"She's simply impossible. Angela, take her off the list."
"This is mother's list, not mine."
"But that woman—Angela, she isn't proper."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, you know."
"Well, ask any of her friends. Oh, by the way, I want one of those cards. Thanks!"
He took one, to her great annoyance, and then asked for a pen. She gave it to him with a little sigh. He filled in the blank card and read it with a grin.
"Mother will be annoyed if you send out invitations without consulting her."
"I'll tell her when I've posted it. It's to a fellow I know very well."
Angela took the pen. She began to write the last card, hesitated, and then asked:
"Who is he?"
"Man named Conlan."
The pen dropped from her fingers.
"Not your cowboy friend?"
"Even so, fair sister. And why not? I tell you Jim—Conlan is the greatest thing on earth. Oh, you'll love him."
"Don't be ridiculous, Claude. You simply can't ask that man here. You told me he swore and——"
"But only when he's annoyed. You swear when you are annoyed, don't you? I've heard you."
"Claude!" She jerked her beautiful head upward.
"Swearing isn't a matter of words entirely—it's an emotion. You say 'bother,' I should say 'damn,' and Conlan would say something far more effective, and they each express exactly the same emotion. But you can't judge a man by his vocabulary."
"I judge him by your description of him—a retired cowboy, with few manners and less morals——"
Claude put the card into an envelope and sealed the latter with a heavy blow of his fist.
"Angela, you are perfectly cattish at times. Why shouldn't I ask Conlan here? He's as good as you or I, or any of the people who visit us. That he is rough in his ways and speech is due to the fact that he has had to work for his living."
Angela's lips curled a little.
"And, moreover, unless something happens to prevent it, I shall in all probability have to solicit orders for motor-cars, or some other necessary evil. You, Angela, may have to write figures in a ledger, or look after somebody else's children."
Angela treated him to a withering glance.
"It's not so big an exaggeration after all," he resumed. "You've seen Ayscough hanging around of late, haven't you? What does it convey? We're broke, Angela. Lord, we are an extraordinary family! Broke, and sending out invitations to scores of the high and mighty as though we owned the earth!"
Angela flushed. Even now the specter of bankruptcy failed to affect her. She had never reckoned luxury in terms of money. Money values she was positively ignorant of. Things were ordered and delivered, and there was an end of it. She suddenly burst into laughter.
"You are most amusing, Claude. Bring your American Hercules here and we'll charge half a guinea for a sight of him."
Claude said nothing. He posted his letter, and meant to make it clear to Angela and the family that Conlan was a friend of his, and therefore should be treated as any other guest would be. When, later, he confessed his escapade to his parents, they were almost too shocked for words.
"You must write and tell him it was a mistake," urged Her Ladyship.
"My dear Claude!" expostulated Featherstone. "You let impetuosity carry you to the verge of insanity. What can this poor fellow——"
"Poor fellow be hanged!" retorted Claude, now thoroughly roused. "He's no more poor fellow than you. He's rich enough to buy us up lock, stock, and barrel; and he is as proud of his name as we are of ours, though he doesn't make a song about it."
Featherstone looked hurt at this exhibition of filial revolt. Being a wise man he dropped the subject pro tem. Later Claude went in and apologized.
"Pater, I particularly want you to meet Conlan. He isn't what you think him to be. If, when you see him, you don't approve of him, I'll never ask him home again."
Featherstone gripped his son's hand.
"Very well, my boy. You can rely upon me. But I do hope he won't swear—much."
Jim's sensations at receiving the invitation were indescribable. Claude's people were the cream of English aristocracy. At first he decided he wouldn't go, but second thoughts brought him to realize that Claude must have arranged this, and his regard for Claude was very deep. He hunted out the discarded dress-suit and tried it on again. Certainly he felt more at home in it than of yore. The collar caused him less torture, and he managed to keep the "breastplate" of the shirt from buckling, which it seemed to delight in doing. He had lost some of his facial sun-brown, and this lent him a more refined appearance.
"I'll go," he muttered, "if it kills me."
When the great day arrived he felt as though some invisible being were pouring quarts of ice-water down his spine. He had already made himself acquainted with "Enquire Within," and found that Claude's mother should be addressed as "Lady Featherstone"; but the question of Angela caused him anxious moments. He thought "Honorable Miss" sounded a little too Japanese. He tackled Claude on this delicate problem.
"Oh, call her anything," said that worthy. "What do you say to 'Angy'?"
Jim didn't feel like jesting on so serious a subject. He decided that in Angela's case he would drop the ceremonial form, and call her Miss Featherstone.
The memory of that evening is destined to live as long as the body of James Conlan inhabits this mortal coil. When he gave the servant his hat and stick and the footman his card, and heard that powdered monstrosity bawl "Mr. James Conlan" to a room filled with shimmering gowns and glistening shirt-fronts, Jim's flesh went cold. But the vigilant Claude helped him through. Claude was like a streak of greased lightning, bouncing Jim here and there to be introduced to a hundred and one people, leaving our hero a nervous wreck.
Featherstone and his wife acted in the most courteous fashion, her Ladyship having been coerced into accepting the inevitable with as good a grace as possible. Featherstone himself was instantly impressed by this muscular giant, who looked like an enlarged statue of Phoebus Apollo. He adjusted his monocle to get a fuller view.
"Claude has spoken a good deal about you, Mr. Conlan," he drawled. "It is a pleasure to meet you here."
Jim, scarcely trusting his voice, carried out a bow, at which much practice had been put in.
"Say, kid, how did I do that?" he whispered.
"Fine!" said Claude.
They found Angela strolling with a girl friend in the conservatory, which was gayly illuminated with Chinese lanterns. They turned at the sound of footsteps. Angela wore a dress of deep mauve, against which her pale Grecian face and her exquisite neck shone with enhanced beauty. The other girl was literally outshone by her beautiful companion. Jim felt a hot wave run through him. Never in his life had he seen anything so amazingly beautiful as Angela. He heard Claude's introduction, and bowed automatically. Then Claude did the most outrageous thing: he took the arm of Angela's companion and tripped away with her.
Jim was horrified. He looked round seeking for some way of escape, but there was none. Angela's face relaxed in a cold smile as she realized the terrible nervousness of this big uncouth man. It pleased her somewhat to feel that she was the cause of it.
"You are a member of my brother's club, aren't you?" she asked.
"Yep—yes," he stuttered.
He wondered if he ought to offer his arm as Claude had done to the other girl, and escort her back to the house; but he dare not. There was a seat near by. Angela sank into it.
"Won't you sit down?" she asked.
He did so, with a sigh of relief. He was more at his ease sitting than standing. For the first time in his life he was ashamed of his size. Angela's delicate limbs and hands made his, by contrast, appear elephantine.
"Have you been long in England?"
"And what do you think of it?"
Here was a question that was easy enough to answer.
"I guess it's a cute little country, but it ain't big enough for a man to breathe in. There's no wind, no sunshine. And the people are as cold as the climate."
"So we are cold?"
"Oysters. I came the hul way from Devonshire to London in a train with another guy—man. 'Good-morning,' says I. 'Good-morning,' says he—and that's all there was to it. It beats me, this frostiness—ain't natural."
Angela winced at the speech. The mutilated Anglo-Saxon caused her almost physical pain, yet the voice was musical enough and deep as a bassoon.
"All you Americans say the same thing."
"But I ain't American. I was born in Cornwall. Went to Colorado in '82 and sailed round in a prairie schooner, with wild Injuns after our scalps. I reckon that was no picnic for my people. I was a little fellow then—not big enough to tell an Injun from a bear. We didn't find gold, but we found God's own country. Wal, I can't remember much about it—thank God, I can't remember much."
She looked at him, amazed by the tenseness of his words.
"What don't you wish to remember?"
His brows contracted and the big hands closed till the knuckles almost penetrated the skin that covered them.
"The Injuns got us in the end," he said huskily. "I jest remember the huge red sun going down on the prairie, with the wagon and two tents down by a stream, where the horses were watering. There was a kind o' grotto affair beyond the stream. Old Sam, the driver, came and yanked me into that. I was young, but I savvied what it meant.... It was hell arter that—shooting and screaming.... When I came out.... When I came out...."
He said no more. His eyes were staring into nothingness as through his brain flashed the dreadful scene of youth. He remembered running and crying—running and crying into the wilderness until a party of emigrants rescued him from madness.
Angela sat with parted lips. It was strange to be sitting there listening to such horrors. She was conscious of the giant personality behind his nervousness. The great voice commanded her attention. In those few moments she was afraid of him.
"Let us go in," she said.
The rest of the evening was a dream to Jim. Occasionally people stared at him as though he were a creature from a menagerie, and several adventurous folks actually talked with him. But all this was like a hazy background against which shone the almost unearthly beauty of Angela. A new phase had been entered in the life of Colorado Jim. Passion, long dampered down by wild living and arduous toil, leaped up in one soul-consuming flame. He was in love with a woman—a woman as far above him, and as unattainable as a star. He moved about like a drunken man, bewildered by this new and terrible desire.
"What do you think of Angy?" queried Claude.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he said fiercely.
"Tell you what?"
"Tell me she was like that."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
Jim shut his mouth with a snap.
"Nothin'," he said.
These Featherstones knew how to enjoy themselves. For hour after hour the dreamy strains of waltz music came from the string orchestra, and couples moved rhythmically round the big room, as though fatigue was a thing unknown. Once or twice Jim caught sight of the angel of his dreams, with face no longer pale, hanging on some man's arm, immersed in the all-consuming measure. It was maddening....
He was sitting in the conservatory, smoking, when Featherstone came out. All the evening he had kept an inquisitive eye on Jim. This was Featherstone's mental day, and one of those rare occasions when he thought about money and things.
"Ah, Mr. Conlan," he drawled. "So you don't dance?"
"No—leastways, not that sort."
"Pity. Dancing is a fine exercise."
"I guess I'm not in want of exercise."
"No?" He looked at Jim's huge figure. "'Pon my word, I think you're right.... Are you settling down in this country—buying a small estate, making the most of your fortune, and all that sort of thing?"
"There ain't no place in this country big enough to hold me long. I could swaller all the oxygen in the Strand in one gulp."
Featherstone laughed amusedly.
"London isn't England. It's a growth upon the land. There is still Wales, Scotland, Devonshire——"
"Ah, Devonshire! Now, that is some pretty little garden, I agree."
"Oh, you like it?"
"So do I. Wish I might live there always, but one must consider one's family, and Bond Street and the Opera have their attractions for the young people. That is why I am selling the Devonshire place. Can't let good property lie unoccupied, and letting is so devilishly unsatisfactory."
He was congratulating himself he had wrapped that pill up not so badly for an unbusiness-like man. Jim took the bait quite well, too. He didn't want to buy any property, but he wasn't averse to keeping on the right side of Featherstone. Where Featherstone was there was Angela, and he might extend negotiations over months of time and then "turn down" the proposition if he felt like it.
"Say, is that property sold yet?" he queried casually.
"No. It was only recently that I decided to sell. I have another country place in Kent, much more convenient."
"Mebbe I could see it?"
"Certainly. My agent will be pleased to show you over."
As an afterthought he added: "Better still, we are spending a fortnight there, and I should be happy if you would spend the time with us. You could—ah—then examine the place at your leisure."
Jim's eyes glistened. The prospect of a fortnight in close proximity to Angela—it was magnificent, unbelievable! He strove to control his eagerness.
"I'll be sure pleased," he said.
Jim went home with his brain in a whirl. Love had come, late, but with tremendous fury. He gained no sleep that night. The star of his desire shone like a mocking mirage before his mind's eye. It was all impossible, hopeless, but to love and lose were better than to live in ignorance of life's strongest passion. To dally with the impossible were sheer madness, he knew that. But what was to be done but obey the yearnings of his heart, though it brought its own revenge?
The next morning saw Featherstone in a perfectly angelic mood. The cause was soon revealed.
"My dear," he confided to his wife, "I have sold Little Badholme."
"Ah, I thought that would come in the nature of a surprise."
"But you said it was mortgaged?"
"Quite so, but I shall get a sum much in excess of the mortgage."
"That American fellow—Conlan; not a bad chap, not at all a bad chap."
Lady Featherstone looked a trifle hurt. She looked more so when her noble spouse added:
"So I've invited him down with us for a fortnight to look over the place."
"Claude! Whatever has taken possession of you? I thought we had done with that man. And besides, I am not going to bury myself in Devonshire at the height of the season."
"If you don't, my dear, there is likely to be no season—for us. You must look realities in the face. If I can sell Badholme——"
"But you said you had sold it!"
"Tut—tut! It is as good as sold. He can't refuse it after having stayed there with us. Besides, the fellow is as rich as Croesus!"
It was accordingly settled. Featherstone sent volleys over the telephone.
"Get the place thoroughly redecorated, Ayscough. It has to be finished in three weeks. Armies of workers.... And the blue room on the first floor, put in a new ceiling, something elaborate. What's that? Can't do it in three weeks? But it has to be done. I leave it to you, my dear Ayscough.... Oh, the garden wants seeing to. I must have the garden put straight.... And the paths graveled.... A few sheep in the park might lend a nice effect.... Don't talk about impossibilities. This is a very urgent matter. Do you think you could hire half a dozen horses?"
When Claude heard the extraordinary news that the family was leaving for Little Badholme in three weeks' time he wondered what was in the wind. When he subsequently learned that one James Conlan was to visit them as guest, his suspicions overleaped his delight. Angela, the imperturbable, merely went on reading Bernard Shaw.
FROST AND FIRE
Little Badholme hung on the sheer edge of a precipice. Its hundred acres of park and meadow wooed the blue waters of the Atlantic on the western side, and climbed dizzy heights on the southern, affording the spectator an uninterrupted view of the Dartmoor Tors. The front of the house faced seawards and, in bad weather, the spindrift, hurled over the cliff, drenched the windows and the rather unsightly stucco which the position of the house rendered necessary.
Featherstone had shown considerable acumen in giving Jim the corner room on the first floor. It looked over country of unparalleled beauty. Patchwork farmlands stretched away, on the one hand, extending to the estuary of the Teign; whilst from the windows on the western side the rolling ocean shone under the summer sun. All the best furniture had been placed in that room, including a genuine Hepplewhite suite of beautiful design. Jim had no eye for antiques, but he had a fine appreciation of scenery.
Ten days had passed on wings of magic. He saw Angela every day and Claude all day. Featherstone was perfectly charming. He could not have exhibited greater solicitude for the comfort of his guest had he been the Shah of Persia or the Prince of Wales. Lady Featherstone was polite, and no more. Angela was frigid. She seemed to be beyond his power to excite. Once or twice she showed a slight interest in his actions or reminiscences. She had even openly admired his wonderful horsemanship; but she never failed to make perfectly clear the huge gulf that loomed between a "cowboy" and a daughter of British aristocracy.
The ingenuous Claude was feeling extremely uncomfortable. He could not bring himself to believe that his father's extraordinary behavior was genuine. Politeness was one thing, but flattery was another. All that "attention" seemed so out of place with His Lordship, who was notoriously vain of his name and antecedents. Claude himself was a little sick of family pride. He had even on one occasion intimated to his mother that he knew for a fact that the first Featherstone got his Letters Patent for the noble act of assassinating a certain Duke whose wife Henry Eighth had taken a violent liking for, a remark which so upset Her Ladyship that she took to bed for ten days.
On convenient occasions Featherstone appropriated Jim to himself and deftly led the conversation into channels most dear to him. What did Conlan think of the property?
It was by pure accident that Claude stumbled across the plot. Featherstone was speaking to Ayscough on the telephone, on the question of the price of Little Badholme. Claude was flabbergasted—L25,000 for a place that was leaky and draughty through half the year, and which showed a tendency to slide seaward! The whole business was disgusting. He waited until his father had finished, and then interrogated him.
"Pater, you—you aren't trying to sell this place to Conlan?"
Featherstone shrugged his shoulders.
"Mr. Conlan approached me on the matter."
"But it's not worth that price."
The noble lord resented this remark.
"Claude, isn't this a matter that concerns Mr. Conlan and me? It's not at all pleasant to find you—eavesdropping."
"Eavesdropping—great Scott! You don't mean you think...."
Featherstone came up to him.
"I didn't mean that. But this is a matter of business. Mr. Conlan wants to buy and I want to sell. He's a perfectly free agent in the matter."
He abruptly left the room. Claude felt sick, humiliated. It was all so perfectly clear. Jim knew nothing about English property. It was only natural he should place himself in Featherstone's hands. He determined to put a stop to such a swindle as was contemplated. But his plan to warn Jim was frustrated by the later realization that Jim was madly in love with Angela. This astonishing fact was sufficient to drive everything else from his mind. He had no delusion as far as Angela was concerned. Dozens of men had tried their luck on Angela, and Angela remained as frozen as the North Pole. Poor Jim! He blamed himself for having been instrumental in bringing this meeting about. In her proud heart Angela would merely despise any advances that Jim was foolish enough to make. He watched Jim carefully for the next two days. The evidence thus gained was painful to bear. The honest, magnificent, unsophisticated Jim was torn and tortured by a mad, hopeless love. Claude could stand it no longer.
"Jim," he said, "don't think me impertinent. I can't help noticing—you're in love."
Jim started and the color flamed up in his cheeks.
"It's mad, Jim, mad. She has no heart. You don't know her as I do. She's my sister and I love her, but I can't bear to see you living on hopes that are doomed to be fruitless. If you speak of this to her she'll hurt you. She doesn't mean it. It's her temperament. Don't you see that to a girl of Angela's social status a proposal from a man—like you is——"
Jim's eyes narrowed. He didn't like this.
"Jim," added Claude swiftly, "don't do me an injustice. I'd be damned proud to have you as a brother-in-law. But don't court disappointment and pain by speaking to her——"
"Who said I was going to speak?"
"I can see it—in your eyes."
Jim shrugged his shoulders.
"You're right. I am," he jerked out.
Claude drew in his breath with a little hiss. Jim suddenly swung round on him.
"See here, I'm not quitting on this. I've never been a quitter and I've clinched bigger propositions than this. What's wrong with me, eh? I guess I've bin taking a lot lying down of late. Last night I see it all—cut and dried. There ain't nothin' in this blood business—nothin'. If your family sprang from William the Conqueror I guess mine was there at the time. If there's anything in that Adam and Eve yarn, I reckon they were my grandparents as well as yours. What's wrong with me? Am I blind, lame, consumptive? See here, kid, I know what it is to work. I know what it is to starve. I've never stolen or lied or murdered.... There's never been a gal on this earth that had cut any ice with me. I've bin too busy working to go galivanting after skirts. But this 'ere's different. I—I—wal, I guess I love her some. Oh, I know she's proud and cold and thinks there ain't nothin' in trousers good enough for her. But I'm obstinate and I'm free with my tongue—at times. So we both got our faults. They kinder equalize. Anyway, I love her, and that's good enough excuse for anyone who cares a damn about himself. And there ain't no law on this earth, sir, that says a man can't put a straight proposition to a gal he loves—no, by God!"
There was something different about him. He had changed in one day. The old nervousness had gone. He was dogged, determined. There was nothing to be done with him. He meant to speak to Angela, though she took the compliment as a dire insult. Claude, fascinated by the ring of his bass voice and the flash of fire from his amazing eyes, wondered if, after all, he had not cause for courage—and optimism.
But something strange happened the following morning. Angela, with a smile, asked Jim to go riding with her. It was the first time she had expressed the slightest desire for his company, and it sent thrills of delight running down his spine. They took the best two of the borrowed horses, and under a perfect July sky rode out into the moors.
Jim was like a boy. The intoxication of her presence sent all the foreboding from his brain. He did riding tricks, at her request, and set her marveling at his uncanny control of his mount. He seemed to be on intimate terms with the latter, stranger though it was. Weird "cluckings" from his mouth were understood and obeyed without use of spurs.
"It's marvelous!" she said. "He seems to understand all those noises."
"It's horse language," he replied simply.
He made no reply, but dismounted. The horse stood perfectly still.
"You watch out," he said. "I'm going to tell him to walk forrard."
He made a queer noise, like water running out of a bottle, and the animal walked forward. A slight variation of the sound, and it stopped. He laughed at her mystified expression, and bidding her ride on, ran at his horse and with a magnificent leap sprang clear on to its back. In a second he was rushing like the wind across the moor. He jerked up the animal until it stood almost perpendicular on its hind-legs, and came back to her.
"It's jest thinking in horse-sense," he said. "I ran a ranch for seven years, and you can't do that without thinking like a horse."
They sat on the top of Hay Tor, and looked across the tumbling country to where the sea lay like a strip of cloth twenty miles away. Right across the moors came the steady westerly wind, sighing and soughing, touching their cheeks with its fresh fingers.
"Is Colorado better than this?" she queried.
"You shouldn't ask me that."
"It's your home, and one loves one's home."
"One loves one's home." The phrase amused her. He must have read that somewhere. She laughed, and instinctively he knew the cause of it. He bit his lips in anger as he realized that she merely mocked his attempts at better speech.
But he forgot that later as they rode home through the gloaming. Once only it occurred to him that to mock her horsemanship would be scarcely worse than jibing at his mode of expression—a thing which would have seemed sacrilege in his eyes. So all the culture—if culture meant refinement of thoughts and actions—was not confined to the blue-blooded aristocrats!
Sweet dreams, Colorado Jim! Dreams of a pair of blue eyes in the face of a Greek goddess, with limbs that Praxiteles never surpassed. And these to be won by a man from the wilderness! He awoke to despise the day with its uncertainties. She might be cold again this morning—cold as she had been the day before yesterday.
But it proved to be otherwise. She greeted him with a soft "Good-morning," and walked with him into the garden, among the roses and sweet-smelling things of summer. And then—oh, wonderful, exquisite marvel!—plucked a sprig of mignonette, smelled it, and placed it in his buttonhole.
After breakfast he bought the property; and he bought it in a manner dear to the heart of the vendor. He wrote a cheque, then and there, for L25,000, and took a receipt, intimating that the "lawyer-man" would see to all the details later.
Something wonderful and mysterious had happened to Angela. Jim was too dazed to do anything but sit and gasp. He had held her hand, and she had let him do it. He had, with amazing intrepidity, taken her arm walking down the long avenue of trees, and she made no attempt to withdraw it. Quick work was needed before some fly came and settled in the ointment! He got in his quick work that evening after dinner.
"Won't you come to the top of the hill? It's a full moon and a fine night," he whispered.
She nodded and, getting a scarf, went out with him. Blue, brilliant moonlight flooded the country. From out of the trees came the eerie cry of owls, and crickets sang out of nowhere. A few bars of gold still lingered in the western sky, deepening as the world moved over.
"I'm going back to-morrow," he said suddenly.
Was it a sigh, or merely an indifferent ejaculation?
"This holiday has been right down beautiful."
"I'm glad of that."
A slight breeze blew the scarf from her neck. He took it and replaced it, and his hand touched the soft warm flesh. It stayed there. He had no power to remove it. This girl of unearthly beauty and fascination paralyzed him. To think that he should be sitting there with the perfectest woman God ever made——! The storm within him broke. His body quivered, and his great hand took the warm slim one and held it like a vice.
"Angela—I've gotta tell you. I—love you. I've loved you since the first night I saw you. I've never wanted anything in my life like I want you."
He stopped, realizing that he was gabbing at a terrific rate.
"I'm rough—real rough, I know. But a man's a man for all that, I guess. And what can any man offer you better'n love—love that ... I'm no good at words—you'll understand that. Chin music ain't my line. But I'm sure crazy about you."
The hand he held trembled a little, but it stayed there.
"Angela—will you marry me?"
Her head turned. He saw the moon reflected in two glorious eyes.
"Yes," she said slowly.
"You mean—you mean that?" he gasped, his voice almost choked with unutterable joy.
"Yes—I mean that."
In another second she was swept up in his arms. All the world went out in that passionate embrace. For the first time in his life his mouth touched a woman's lips.
Featherstone paced up and down the library under the strain of considerable emotion, not to say excitement. Her Ladyship sat with an unread book on her knees gazing into nothingness.
"They're a long time," said Featherstone.
"Angela was sure," he interrupted. "Dear, dear! I wish they'd come back."
Lady Featherstone fidgeted.
"Claude, I don't like this business at all. Oh heaven! to think of Angela married to a parvenu—a common nouveau riche!"
"She might do far worse. Angela herself realizes that. Conlan undoubtedly loves her. It's for him to win her love. Once the marriage is celebrated, she need see him no more—er—that is to say, they can make arrangements whereby they do not become a nuisance to each other. He is apparently fond of this place, and Angela is not. What could be more natural than for Angela to take a flat in town and Conlan to live here?"
Lady Featherstone shivered.
"You think this man will reconcile the situation, once it becomes plain to him? Claude, he is a veritable giant. I—I don't like the look of him at all.... Oh, why couldn't we have waited and found a husband for Angela in her own set!"
Featherstone shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
"Time brooks no delay. We are, my dear, in a pretty devilish position. Thank God Angela realizes that. Rich husbands are not to be picked up every day, and it is essential that Angela marries a wealthy man, and that immediately."
"But to marry a—a cowboy!"
"He may make the best of husbands. Titles are to be bought. I think I could arrange that. No, on the whole I think it is a perfectly happy arrangement for us—and for him. As Angela's husband he will have access to certain houses and clubs that otherwise would be closed to him."
Lady Featherstone lapsed into gloomy silence.
"Claude was coming back to-night, too," said Featherstone. "I don't like the idea of that boy spending nights in Town. He's getting blase, and at times very out of hand. What business could he have in Town——?"
Voices drifted in through the open window. A few minutes later Jim came into the library. Lady Featherstone immediately departed.
"I'd like a word with you, Lord Featherstone."
"Certainly. Take a seat."
Jim sat heavily in the armchair which Featherstone offered.
"To come to the point right now—I'm in love with Angela, and we want to get hitched up—er—married."
Featherstone looked surprised.
"I guess it's a bit of a blow. But you needn't fly off the handle. I love her all right, and I ain't 'xactly penniless."
Featherstone stroked his chin.
"There are certain conditions to my approval. You will realize that Angela occupies a prominent position in the social world, and I should naturally like to be assured that you are in a position to provide for her in a way commensurate with her needs. There would be, of course, some marriage settlement. But I do not wish to deal with that side. My lawyer, Mr. Ayscough, is a very old family friend. He has Angela's interest at heart no less than I. His assurance on the—er—financial side would be sufficient guarantee. In such circumstances I should see no reason to withhold my consent."
"Thanks. Put it there!" said Jim. "Now, where does he hang out?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Where does he live?"
"Oh, Ayscough? Lincoln's Inn Fields."
"Good. I'm off. I'll be along there first thing in the morning and get that settlement fixed up. I ain't a man that wastes time."
The meeting between Ayscough and Jim was very brief. Ayscough explained the position in choice language, and hit up for L50,000 marriage settlement. Jim, who didn't quite see why he couldn't be trusted to look after his own wife, agreed without demur and went out like a whirlwind.
"Gee, it's all over bar shouting," he muttered. "Jim, you husky, you're sure a lucky feller!"
THE GREAT AWAKENING
The marriage of Colorado Jim with the Honorable Angela created no great stir, for the simple reason that it took place in a registry office and received but two lines' notice in the "social" column of the press.
Jim was surprised that the family should wish to keep it so quiet, but as he himself much preferred that method of getting "hitched up" he made no complaint. He drove away with his beautiful bride, feeling that the greatest step in his life had been taken—which was certainly the case. Where that step was to lead him he was fortunately unable to foresee.
The attitude of Claude puzzled him. Since that day in Devonshire, when Claude had endeavored to intervene, the latter had spoken scarcely a dozen words to him. He shook hands with Jim at the station and with Angela, but his congratulations sounded weak and insincere.
Jim speedily forgot him in the thrill of the moment. Nice was their destination—Nice in all her October glory. He was actually on honeymoon with the object of his dreams and ambitions!
This chapter in Jim's life need scarcely be dwelled upon in any detail. It was so amazing, so unexpectedly baffling, that it sent him clean off his pivot of balance. All that marvelous happiness in his heart was shattered little by little. The first night at the hotel at Nice left him pondering. It wasn't due to the fact that Angela occupied a separate room, but that he heard her turn the key in the lock! He sat up half the night "browsing" on that singular occurrence. The second night, and every night after, the same thing happened. Nothing else was needed to send him into fits of inward rage. Not for all the wealth of the Indies would he have touched the handle of that door! Verily he was learning. Each day drove home the lesson, until he writhed under the lash of it. He had married an iceberg.
He found himself very much alone. In Nice Angela met scores of familiar faces. She spent most of her time with these friends, leaving Jim to the terrible naked truth—to wrestle with it as best he might. He had kissed her at Little Badholme, had apparently thawed for ever the chilly heart of her. But here it was again—the frigid exterior that no kisses could melt. What had happened to her? Was it that she had never cared at all—that her acceptance of his marriage offer was dictated by ulterior motives?
Before it was time for them to return to England the last scrap of illusion was knocked out of him. More miserable than ever he had been in his life, he sought for some solution. It was so obvious she didn't care for him. He saw that, in the company of her "high-browed" friends, she despised him. He found himself sitting down under this contempt—meekly accepting the role of enslaved husband, hand-servant to a beautiful and presumably soulless woman.
On the night before they left she came back to the hotel very late, to find him sitting in a brown study. He watched her, furtively, discarding the expensive cloak, and taking off the heavy pearl necklace he had been fool enough to buy. He stood up and stared for a moment, in silence, out over the moonlit sea. When he turned she was going to her room.
She stopped, not liking the imperative note in his voice.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I wasn't aware that anything was wrong."
He leaned across the table.
"Angela. Why did you marry me?"
"Because you asked me."
"No other reason, eh?"
"Isn't that reason enough?"
His mouth set in a grim smile.
"I thought that when wimmen married men there was usually another reason. To take a man and not to tell him the truth ain't 'xactly on the level."
"Don't begin recriminations," she retorted.
"I'm not beginning anything," he growled. "I'm jest telling you we can't go on like this, living in the same place and acting like strangers. I'm beginning to get wise to this queer shuffle of your family's——"
She shivered a little as his intense gaze searched her face.
"It wasn't a straight proposition, because all the perticlers wasn't put in. I didn't know I was buying a woman——"
She flared up in an instant.
"How dare you——!"
"Wal, put it how you wish, it comes to the same thing in the end. I fell to it all right, and I ain't squealing. If I was the sort o' man you, no doubt, take me for, I might want value for money, and I'm big enough to get it.... No need to get scared. Though you love me like you might a rattlesnake, I happen to love you. You might as well know it."
His calmness amazed her. She had half expected a furious onslaught. On one point she wanted to put him right.
"You think I despise you, but that's not true," she said. "I couldn't have married you had I despised you. But I can't love you—I can't. Can't you see that our ways lie far apart? All your life, your very mode of thought and speech, are the direct antithesis of mine. Isn't it plain—wasn't it plain at first that it was a mere bargain? You and I can be nothing to each other but—friends."