KINDRED OF THE DUST
PETER B. KYNE
Author of Cappy Ricks, The Valley of the Giants, Webster—Man's Man, etc.
Illustrated by Dean Cornwell
MY DEAR, TYRANNICAL, PRACTICAL LITTLE FOSTER-SISTER
WITHOUT WHOSE AID AND COMFORT, HOOTS, CHEERS AND UNAUTHORIZED STRIKES, THE QUANTITY AND QUALITY OF MY ALLEGED LITERARY OUTPUT WOULD BE APPRECIABLY DIMINISHED, THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY
Hector McKaye was bred of an acquisitive race
She stole to the old square piano and sang for him
Donald bowed his head, "I can't give her up, father"
"I'm a man without a home and you've just got to take me in, Nan"
In the living-room of The Dreamerie, his home on Tyee Head, Hector McKaye, owner of the Tyee Lumber Company and familiarly known as "The Laird," was wont to sit in his hours of leisure, smoking and building castles in Spain—for his son Donald. Here he planned the acquisition of more timber and the installation of an electric-light plant to furnish light, heat, and power to his own town of Port Agnew; ever and anon he would gaze through the plate-glass windows out to sea and watch for his ships to come home. Whenever The Laird put his dreams behind him, he always looked seaward. In the course of time, his home-bound skippers, sighting the white house on the headland and knowing that The Laird was apt to be up there watching, formed the habit of doing something that pleased their owner mightily. When the northwest trades held steady and true, and while the tide was still at the flood, they would scorn the services of the tug that went out to meet them and come ramping into the bight, all their white sails set and the glory of the sun upon them; as they swept past, far below The Laird, they would dip his house-flag—a burgee, scarlet-edged, with a fir tree embroidered in green on a field of white—the symbol to the world that here was a McKaye ship. And when the house-flag fluttered half-way to the deck and climbed again to the masthead, the soul of Hector McKaye would thrill.
"Guid lads! My bonny brave lads!" he would murmur aloud, with just a touch of his parents' accent, and press a button which discharged an ancient brass cannon mounted at the edge of the cliff. Whenever he saw one of his ships in the offing—and he could identify his ships as far as he could see them—he ordered the gardener to load this cannon.
Presently the masters began to dip the house-flag when outward bound, and discovered that, whether The Laird sat at his desk in the mill office or watched from the cliff, they drew an answering salute.
This was their hail and farewell.
One morning, the barkentine Hathor, towing out for Delagoa Bay, dipped her house-flag, and the watch at their stations bent their gaze upon the house on the cliff. Long they waited but no answering salute greeted the acknowledgment of their affectionate and willing service.
The mate's glance met the master's.
"The old laird must be unwell, sir," he opined.
But the master shook his head.
"He was to have had dinner aboard with us last night, but early in the afternoon he sent over word that he'd like to be excused. He's sick at heart, poor man! Daney tells me he's heard the town gossip about young Donald."
"The lad's a gentleman, sir," the mate defended. "He'll not disgrace his people."
"He's young—and youth must be served. Man, I was young myself once—and Nan of the Sawdust Pile is not a woman a young man would look at once and go his way."
* * * * *
In the southwestern corner of the state of Washington, nestled in the Bight of Tyee and straddling the Skookum River, lies the little sawmill town of Port Agnew. It is a community somewhat difficult to locate, for the Bight of Tyee is not of sufficient importance as a harbor to have won consideration by the cartographers of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, and Port Agnew is not quite forty years old. Consequently, it appears only on the very latest state maps and in the smallest possible type.
When Hector McKaye first gazed upon the bight, the transcontinental lines had not yet begun to consider the thrusting of their tentacles into southwestern Washington, and, with the exception of those regions where good harbors had partially solved the problem of transportation, timber in Washington was very cheap. Consequently, since Hector McKaye was one of those hardy men who never hesitate to take that which no man denies them, he reached forth and acquired timber.
A strip of land a quarter of a mile wide and fronting the beach was barren of commercial timber. As grazing-land, Hector McKaye was enabled to file on a full section of this, and, with its acquisition, he owned the key to the outlet. While "proving up" his claim, he operated a general store for trading with the Indians and trappers, and at this he prospered. From time to time he purchased timber-claims from the trappers as fast as they "proved up," paying for these stumpage-prices varying from twenty-five to fifty cents per thousand.
On his frequent trips to the outer world, McKaye extolled the opportunities for acquiring good timber-claims down on the Skookum; he advertised them in letters and in discreet interviews with the editors of little newspapers in the sawmill towns on Puget Sound and Grays Harhor; he let it be known that an honest fellow could secure credit for a winter's provisions from him, and pay for it with pelts in the spring.
The influx of homesteaders increased—single men, for the most part, and poor—men who labored six months of the year elsewhere and lived the remaining six months in rude log huts on their claims down on the Skookum. And when the requirements of the homestead laws had been complied with and a patent to their quarter-section obtained from the Land Office in Washington, the homesteaders were ready to sell and move on to other and greener pastures. So they sold to the only possible purchaser, Hector McKaye, and departed, quite satisfied with a profit which they flattered themselves had been the result of their own prudence and foresight.
Thus, in the course of ten years, Hector McKaye' acquired ten thousand acres of splendid Douglas fir and white cedar. But he had not been successful in acquiring claims along the south bank of the Skookum. For some mysterious reason, he soon found claims on the north bank cheaper and easier to secure, albeit the timber showed no variance in quantity or quality. Discreet investigations brought to light the fact that he had a competitor—one Martin Darrow, who dwelt in St. Paul, Minnesota. To St. Paul, therefore, journeyed Hector McKaye, and sought an audience with Martin Darrow.
"I'm McKaye, from the Skookum River, Washington," he announced, without preamble.
"I've been expecting you, Mr. McKaye," Darrow replied. "Got a proposition to submit?"
"Naturally, or I wouldn't have come to St. Paul. I notice you have a weakness for the timber on the south bank of the Skookum. You've opposed me there half a dozen times and won. I have also observed that I have a free hand with claims north of the river. That's fair—and there's timber enough for two. Hereafter, I'll keep to my own side of the river."
"I see we're going to come to an understanding, Mr. McKaye. What will you give me to stick to my side of the river?"
"An outlet through the bight for your product when you commence manufacturing. I control the lower half-mile of the river and the only available mill-sites. I'll give you a mill-site if you'll pay half the expense of digging a new channel for the Skookum, and changing its course so it will emerge into the still, deep water under the lee of Tyee Head."
"We'll do business," said Martin Darrow—and they did, although it was many years after Hector McKaye had incorporated the Tyee Lumber Company and founded his town of Port Agnew before Darrow began operations.
True to his promise, McKaye deeded him a mill-and town-site, and he founded a settlement on the eastern edge of Port Agnew, but quite distinct from it, and called it Darrow, after himself. It was not a community that Hector McKaye approved of, for it was squalid and unsanitary, and its untidy, unpainted shacks of rough lumber harbored southern European labor, of which Hector McKaye would have none. In Darrow, also, there were three groggeries and a gambling-house, with the usual concomitant of women whose profession is the oldest and the saddest in the world.
Following his discovery of the Bight of Tyee, a quarter of a century passed. A man may prosper much in twenty-five years, and Hector McKaye, albeit American born, was bred of an acquisitive race. When his Gethsemane came upon him, he was rated the richest lumberman in the state of Washington; his twenty-thousand board-feet capacity per day sawmill had grown to five hundred thousand, his ten thousand acres to a hundred thousand. Two thousand persons looked to him and his enterprise for their bread and butter; he owned a fleet of half a dozen steam-schooners and sixteen big wind-jammers; he owned a town which he had called Port Agnew, and he had married and been blessed with children. And because his ambition no longer demanded it, he was no longer a miser.
In a word, he was a happy man, and in affectionate pride and as a tribute to his might, his name and an occasional forget-me-not of speech which clung to his tongue, heritage of his Scotch forebears, his people called him "The Laird of Tyee." Singularly enough, his character fitted this cognomen rather well. Reserved, proud, independent, and sensitive, thinking straight and talking straight, a man of brusque yet tender sentiment which was wont to manifest itself unexpectedly, it had been said of him that in a company of a hundred of his mental, physical, and financial peers, he would have stood forth preeminently and distinctively, like a lone tree on a hill.
Although The Laird loved his town of Port Agnew, because he had created it, he had not, nevertheless, resided in it for some years prior to the period at which this chronicle begins. At the very apex of the headland that shelters the Bight of Tyee, in a cuplike depression several acres in extent, on the northern side and ideally situated two hundred feet below the crest, thus permitting the howling southeasters to blow over it, Hector McKaye, in the fulness of time, had built for himself a not very large two-story house of white stone native to the locality. This house, in the center of beautiful and well-kept grounds, was designed in the shape of a letter T, with the combination living-room and library forming the entire leg of the T and enclosed on all three sides by heavy plate-glass French windows.
Thus, The Laird was enabled to command a view of the bight, with Port Agnew nestled far below; of the silver strip that is the Skookum River flowing down to the sea through the logged-over lands, now checker-boarded into little green farms; of the rolling back country with its dark-green mantle of fir and white cedar, fading in the distance to dark blue and black; of the yellow sandstone bluffs of the coast-line to the north, and the turquoise of the Pacific out to the horizon.
This room Hector McKaye enjoyed best of all things in life, with the exception of his family; of his family, his son Donald was nearest and dearest to him. This boy he loved with a fierce and hungry love, intensified, doubtless, because to the young Laird of Tyee, McKaye was still the greatest hero in the world. To his wife, The Laird was no longer a hero, although in the old days of the upward climb, when he had fiercely claimed her and supported her by the sweat of his brow, he had been something akin to a god. As for Elizabeth and Jane, his daughters, it must be recorded that both these young women had long since ceased to regard their father as anything except an unfailing source of revenue—an old dear who clung to Port Agnew, homely speech, and homely ways, hooting good-naturedly at the pretensions of their set, and, with characteristic Gaelic stubbornness, insisting upon living and enjoying the kind of life that appealed to him with peculiar force as the only kind worth living.
Indeed, in more than one humble home in Port Agnew, it had been said that the two McKaye girls were secretly ashamed of their father. This because frequently, in a light and debonair manner, Elizabeth and Jane apologized for their father and exhibited toward him an indulgent attitude, as is frequently the case with overeducated and supercultured young ladies who cannot recall a time when their slightest wish has not been gratified and cannot forget that the good fairy who gratified it once worked hard with his hands, spoke the language and acquired the habits of his comrades in the battle for existence.
Of course, Elizabeth and Jane would have resented this analysis of their mental attitude toward their father. Be that as it may, however, the fact remained that both girls were perfunctory in their expressions of affection for their father, but wildly extravagant in them where their mother was concerned. Hector McKaye liked it so. He was a man who never thought about himself, and he had discovered that if he gave his wife and daughters everything they desired, he was not apt to be nagged.
Only on one occasion had Hector McKaye declared himself master in his own house, and, at the risk of appearing paradoxical, this was before the house had been built. One day, while they still occupied their first home (in Port Agnew), a house with a mansard roof, two towers, jig-saw and scroll-work galore, and the usual cast-iron mastiffs and deer on the front lawn, The Laird had come gleefully home from a trip to Seattle and proudly exhibited the plans for a new house.
Ensued examination and discussion by his wife and the young ladies. Alas! The Laird's dream of a home did not correspond with that of his wife, although, as a matter of fact, the lady had no ideas on the subject beyond an insistence that the house should be "worthy of their station," and erected in a fashionable suburb of Seattle. Elizabeth and Jane aided and abetted her in clamoring for a Seattle home, although both were quick to note the advantages of a picturesque country home on the cliffs above the bight. They urged their father to build his house, but condemned his plans. They desired a house some three times larger than the blue-prints called for.
Hector McKaye said nothing. The women chattered and argued among themselves until, Elizabeth and Jane having vanquished their mother, all three moved briskly to the attack upon The Laird. When they had talked themselves out and awaited a reply, he gave it with the simple directness of his nature. It was evident that he had given his answer thought.
"I can never live in Seattle until I retire, and I cannot retire until Donald takes my place in the business. That means that Donald must live here. Consequently, I shall spend half of my time with you and the girls in Seattle, mother, and the other half with Donald here. When we built our first home, you had your way—and I've lived in this architectural horror ever since. This time, I'm going to have my own way—and you've lived with me long enough to know that when I declare for a will of my own, I'll not be denied. Well I realize you and the girls have outgrown Port Agnew. There's naught here to interest you, and I would not have woman o' mine unhappy. So plan your house in Seattle, and I'll build it and spare no expense. As for this house on the headland, you have no interest in it. Donald's approved the plans, and him only will I defer to. 'Twill be his house some day—his and his wife's, when he gets one. And there will be no more talk of it, my dears. I'll not take it kindly of ye to interfere."
At a period in his upward climb to fortune, when as yet Hector McKaye had not fulfilled his dream of a factory for the manufacture of his waste and short-length stock into sash, door, blinds, moldings, and so forth, he had been wont to use about fifty per cent. of this material for fuel to maintain steam in the mill boilers, while the remainder passed out over the waste-conveyor to the slab pile, where it was burned.
The sawdust, however, remained to be disposed of, and since it was not possible to burn this in the slab fire for the reason that the wet sawdust blanketed the flames and resulted in a profusion of smoke that blew back upon the mill to the annoyance of the employees, for many years The Laird had caused this accumulated sawdust to be hauled to the edge of the bight on the north side of the town, and there dumped in a low, marshy spot which formerly had bred millions of mosquitoes.
Subsequently, in the process of grading the streets of Port Agnew and excavating cellars, waste dirt had been dumped with the sawdust, and, occasionally, when high winter tides swept over the spot, sand, small stones, sea-shells, and kelp were added to the mixture. And as if this were not sufficient, the citizens of Port Agnew contributed from time to time old barrels and bottles, yard-sweepings, tin cans, and superannuated stoves and kitchen utensils.
Slowly this dump crept out on the beach, and in order to prevent the continuous attrition of the surf upon the outer edge of it from befouling the white-sand bathing-beach farther up the Bight of Tyee, The Laird had driven a double row of fir piling parallel with and beyond the line of breakers. This piling, driven as close together as possible and reenforced with two-inch planking between, formed a bulkhead with the flanks curving in to the beach, thus insuring practically a water-tight pen some two acres in extent; and, with the passage of years, this became about two-thirds filled with the waste from the town. Had The Laird ever decided to lay claim to the Sawdust Pile, there would have been none in Port Agnew to contest his title; since he did not claim it, the Sawdust Pile became a sort of No Man's Land.
After The Laird erected his factory and began to salvage his waste, the slab fire went out forever for lack of fuel, and the modicum of waste from the mill and factory, together with the sawdust, was utilized for fuel in an electric-light plant that furnished light, heat, and power to the town. Consequently, sawdust no longer mercifully covered the trash on the Sawdust Pile as fast as this trash arrived, and, one day, Hector McKaye, observing this, decided that it was an unsightly spot and not quite worthy of his town of Port Agnew. So he constructed a barge somewhat upon the principle of a patent dump-wagon, moored it to the river-bank, created a garbage monopoly in Port Agnew, and sold it for five thousand dollars to a pair of ambitious Italians. With the proceeds of this garbage deal, The Laird built a very pretty little public library.
Having organized his new garbage system (the garbage was to be towed twenty miles to sea and there dumped), The Laird forbade further dumping on the Sawdust Pile. When the necessity for more dredger-work developed, in order to keep the deep channel of the Skookum from filling, he had the pipes from the dredger run out to the Sawdust Pile and covered the unsightly spot with six feet of rich river-silt up to the level of the piling.
"And now," said Hector McKaye to Andrew Daney, his general manager, "when that settles, we'll run a light track out here and use the Sawdust Pile for a drying-yard."
The silt settled and dried, and almost immediately thereafter a squatter took possession of the Sawdust Pile. Across the neck of the little promontory, and in line with extreme high-water mark on each side, he erected a driftwood fence; he had a canvas, driftwood, and corrugated-iron shanty well under way when Hector McKaye appeared on the scene and bade him a pleasant good-morning.
The squatter turned from his labor and bent upon his visitor an appraising glance. His scrutiny appearing to satisfy him as to the identity of the latter, he straightened suddenly and touched his forelock in a queer little salute that left one in doubt whether he was a former member of the United States navy or the British mercantile marine. He was a threadbare little man, possibly sixty years old, with a russet, kindly countenance and mild blue eyes; apart from his salute, there was about him an intangible hint of the sea. He was being assisted in his labors by a ragamuffin girl of perhaps thirteen years.
"Thinking of settling in Port Agnew?" The Laird inquired.
"Why, yes, sir. I thought this might make a good safe anchorage for Nan and me. My name is Caleb Brent. You're Mr. McKaye, aren't you?"
The Laird nodded.
"I had an idea, when I filled this spot in and built that bulkhead, Mr. Brent, that some day this would make a safe anchorage for some of my lumber. I planned a drying-yard here. What's that you're building, Brent? A hen-house?"
Caleb Brent flushed.
"Why, no, sir. I'm making shift to build a home here for Nan and me."
"Is this little one Nan?"
The ragamuffin girl, her head slightly to one side, had been regarding Hector McKaye with alert curiosity mingled with furtive apprehension. As he glanced at her now, she remembered her manners and dropped him a courtesy—an electric, half-defiant jerk that reminded The Laird of a similar greeting customarily extended by squinch-owls.
Nan was not particularly clean, and her one-piece dress, of heavy blue navy-uniform cloth was old and worn and spotted. Over this dress she wore a boy's coarse red-worsted sweater with white-pearl buttons. The skin of her thin neck was fine and creamy; the calves, of her bare brown legs were shapely, her feet small, her ankles dainty.
With the quick eye of the student of character, this man, proud of his own ancient lineage for all his humble beginning, noted that her hands, though brown and uncared-for, were small and dimpled, with long, delicate fingers. She had sea-blue eyes like Caleb Brent's, and, like his, they were sad and wistful; a frowsy wilderness of golden hair, very fine and held in confinement at the nape of her neck by the simple expedient of a piece of twine, showed all too plainly the lack of a mother's care.
The Laird returned Nan's courtesy with a patronizing inclination of his head.
"Your granddaughter, I presume?" he addressed Caleb Brent.
"No; my daughter, sir. I was forty when I married, and Nan came ten years later. She's thirteen now, and her mother's been dead ten years."
Hector McKaye had an idea that the departed mother was probably just as well, if not better, off, free of the battle for existence which appeared to confront this futile old man and his elf of a daughter. He glanced at the embryo shack under construction and, comparing it with his own beautiful home on Tyee Head, he turned toward the bight. A short distance off the bulkhead, he observed a staunch forty-foot motor-cruiser at anchor. She would have been the better for a coat of paint; undeniably she was of a piece with Caleb Brent and Nan, for, like them, The Laird had never seen her before.
"Yours?" he queried.
"You arrived in her, then?"
"I did, sir. Nan and I came down from Bremerton in her, sir."
The Laird owned many ships, and he noted the slurring of the "sir" as only an old sailor can slur it. And there was a naval base at Bremerton.
"You're an old sailor, aren't you, Brent?" he pursued.
"Yes, sir. I was retired a chief petty officer, sir. Thirty years' continuous service, sir—and I was in the mercantile marine at sixteen. I've served my time as a shipwright. Am—am I intruding here, sir?"
The Laird smiled, and followed the smile with a brief chuckle.
"Well—yes and no. I haven't any title to this land you've elected to occupy, although I created it. You see, I'm sort of lord of creation around here. My people call me 'The Laird of Tyee,' and nobody but a stranger would have had the courage to squat on the Sawdust Pile without consulting me. What's your idea about it, Brent?"
"I'll go if you want me to, sir."
"I mean what's your idea if you stay? What do you expect to do for a living?"
"You will observe, sir, that I have fenced off only that portion of the dump beyond high-water mark. That takes in about half of it—about an acre and a half. Well, I thought I'd keep some chickens and raise some garden truck. This silt will grow anything. And I have my launch, and can do some towing, maybe, or take fishing parties out. I might supply the town with fish. I understand you import your fish from Seattle—and with the sea right here at your door."
"I see. And you have your three-quarters pay as a retired chief petty officer?"
"Anything in bank? I do not ask these personal questions, Brent, out of mere idle curiosity. This is my town, you know, and there is no poverty in it. I'm rather proud of that, so I—"
"I understand, sir. That's why I came to Port Agnew. I saw your son yesterday, and he said I could stay."
"Oh! Well, that's all right, then. If Donald told you to stay, stay you shall. Did he give you the Sawdust Pile?"
"Yes, sir; he did!"
"Well, I had other plans for it, Brent; but since you're here, I'll offer no objection."
Nan now piped up.
"We haven't any money in bank, Mr. Laird, but we have some saved up."
"Indeed! That's encouraging. Where do you keep it?"
"In the brown teapot in the galley. We've got a hundred and ten dollars."
"Well, my little lady, I think you might do well to take your hundred and ten dollars out of the brown teapot in the galley and deposit it in the Port Agnew bank. Suppose that motor-cruiser should spring a leak and sink?"
Nan smiled and shook her golden head in negation. They had beaten round Cape Flattery in that boat, and she had confidence in it.
"Would you know my boy if you should see him again, Nan?" The Laird demanded suddenly.
"Oh, yes, indeed, sir! He's such a nice boy."
"I think, Nan, that if you asked him, he might help your father build this house."
"I'll see him this afternoon when he comes out of high school," Nan declared.
"You might call on Andrew Daney, my general manager," The Laird continued, turning to Caleb Brent, "and make a dicker with him for hauling our garbage-scow out to sea and dumping it. I observe that your motor-boat is fitted with towing-bitts. We dump twice a week. And you may have a monopoly on fresh fish if you desire it. We have no fishermen here, because I do not care for Greeks and Sicilians in Port Agnew. And they're about the only fishermen on this coast."
"Thank you, Mr. McKaye."
"Mind you don't abuse your monopoly. If you do, I'll take it away from you."
"You are very kind, sir. And I can have the Sawdust Pile, sir?"
"Yes; since Donald gave it to you. However, I wish you'd tear down that patchwork fence and replace it with a decent job the instant you can afford it."
"Ah, just wait," old Brent promised. "I know how to make things neat and pretty and keep them shipshape. You just keep your eye on the Sawdust Pile, sir." The old wind-bitten face flushed with pride; the faded sea-blue eyes shone with joyous anticipation. "I've observed your pride in your town, sir, and before I get through, I'll have a prettier place than the best of them."
A few days later, The Laird looked across the Bight of Tyee from his home on Tyee Head, and through his marine glasses studied the Sawdust Pile. He chuckled as he observed that the ramshackle shanty had disappeared almost as soon as it had been started and in its place a small cottage was being erected. There was a pile of lumber in the yard—bright lumber, fresh from the saws—and old Caleb Brent and the motherless Nan were being assisted by two carpenters on the Tyee Lumber Company's pay-roll.
When Donald came home from school that night, The Laird asked him about the inhabitants of the Sawdust Pile with relation to the lumber and the two carpenters.
"Oh, I made a trade with Mr. Brent and Nan. I'm to furnish the lumber and furniture for the house, and those two carpenters weren't very busy, so Mr. Daney told me I could have them to help out. In return, Mr. Brent is going to build me a sloop and teach me how to sail it."
The Laird nodded.
"When his little home is completed, Donald," he suggested presently, "you might take old Brent and his girl over to our old house in town and let them have what furniture they require. See if you cannot manage to saw off some of your mother's antiques on them," added whimsically. "By the way, what kind of shanty is old Brent going to build?"
"A square house with five rooms and a cupola fitted up like a pilot-house. There's to be a flagpole on the cupola, and Nan says they'll have colors every night and morning. That means that you hoist the flag in the morning and salute it, and when you haul it down at night, you salute it again. They do that up at the Bremerton navy-yard."
"That's rather a nice, sentimental idea," Hector McKaye replied. "I rather like old Brent and his girl for that. We Americans are too prone to take our flag and what it stands for rather lightly."
"Nan wants me to have colors up here, too," Donald continued. "Then she can see our flag, and we can see theirs across the bight."
"All right," The Laird answered heartily, for he was always profoundly interested in anything that interested his boy. "I'll have the woods boss get out a nice young cedar with, say, a twelve-inch butt, and we'll make it into a flagpole."
"If we're going to do the job navy-fashion, we ought to fire a sunrise and sunset gun," Donald suggested with all the enthusiasm of his sixteen years.
"Well, I think we can afford that, too, Donald."
Thus it came about that the little brass cannon was installed on its concrete base on the cliff. And when the flagpole had been erected, old Caleb Brent came up one day, built a little mound of smooth, sea-washed cobblestones round the base, and whitewashed them. Evidently he was a prideful little man, and liked to see things done in a seamanlike manner. And presently it became a habit with The Laird to watch night and morning, for the little pin-prick of color to flutter forth from the house on the Sawdust Pile, and if his own colors did not break forth on the instant and the little cannon boom from the cliff, he was annoyed and demanded an explanation.
Hector McKaye and his close-mouthed general manager, Andrew Daney, were the only persons who knew the extent of The Laird's fortune. Even their knowledge was approximate, however, for The Laird disliked to delude himself, and carried on his books at their cost-price properties which had appreciated tremendously in value since their purchase. The knowledge of his wealth brought to McKaye a goodly measure of happiness—not because he was of Scottish ancestry and had inherited a love for his baubees, but because he was descended from a fierce, proud Scottish clan and wealth spelled independence to him and his.
The Laird would have filled his cup of happiness to overflowing had he married a less mediocre woman or had he raised his daughters as he had his son. The girls' upbringing had been left entirely in their mother's hands. Not so with young Donald, however—wherefore it was a byword in Port Agnew that Donald was his father's son, a veritable chip of the old block.
By some uncanny alchemy, hard cash appears to soften the heads and relax the muscles of rich men's sons—at least, such had been old Hector's observation, and on the instant that he first gazed upon the face of his son, there had been born in him a mighty resolve that, come what might, he would not have it said of him that he had made a fool of his boy. And throughout the glad years of his fatherhood, with the stern piety of his race and his faith, he had knelt night and morning beside his bed and prayed his God to help him not to make a fool of Donald—to keep Donald from making a fool of himself.
When Donald entered Princeton, his father decided upon an experiment. He had raised his boy right, and trained him for the race of life, and now The Laird felt that, like a thoroughbred horse, his son faced the barrier. Would he make the run, or would he, in the parlance of the sporting world, "dog it?" Would his four years at a great American university make of him a better man, or would he degenerate into a snob and a drone?
With characteristic courage, The Laird decided to give him ample opportunity to become either, for, as old Hector remarked to Andrew Daney: "If the lad's the McKaye I think he is, nothing can harm him. On the other hand, if I'm mistaken, I want to know it in time, for my money and my Port Agnew Lumber Company is a trust, and if he can't handle it, I'll leave it to the men who can—who've helped me create it—and Donald shall earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Tools," he added, "belong to the men that can use them."
When Donald started East for college, old Hector accompanied him as far as Seattle. On the way up, there was some man-talk between them. In his youth, old Hector had not been an angel, which is to state that he had been a lumberjack. He knew men and the passions that beset them—particularly when they are young and lusty—and he was far from being a prude. He expected his son to raise a certain amount of wild oats; nay, he desired it, for full well he knew that when the fires of youth are quenched, they are liable to flare disgracefully in middle life or old age.
"Never pig it, my son," was his final admonition. "Raise hell if you must, but if you love your old father, be a gentleman about it. You've sprung from a clan o' men, not mollycoddles."
"Hence the expression: 'When Hector was a pup,'" Donald replied laughingly. "Well, I'll do my best, father—only, if I stub my toe, you mustn't be too hard on me. Remember, please, that I'm only half Scotch."
At parting, The Laird handed his son a check for twenty-five thousand dollars.
"This is the first year's allowance, Donald," he informed the boy gravely. "It should not require more than a hundred thousand dollars to educate a son of mine, and you must finish in four years. I would not care to think you dull or lazy."
"Do you wish an accounting, father?"
The Laird shook his head.
"Keeping books was ever a sorry trade, my son. I'll read the accounting in your eye when you come back to Port Agnew."
"Oh!" said young Donald.
At the end of four years, Donald graduated, an honor-man in all his studies, and in the lobby of the gymnasium, where the athletic heroes of Princeton leave their record to posterity, Hector McKaye read his son's name, for, of course, he was there for commencement. Then they spent a week together in New York, following which old Hector announced that one week of New York was about all he could stand. The tall timber was calling for him.
"Hoot, mon!" Donald protested gaily. He was a perfect mimic of Sir Harry Lauder at his broadest. "Y'eve nae had a bit holiday in all yer life. Wha' spier ye, Hector McKaye, to a trip aroond the worl', wi' a wee visit tae the auld clan in the Hielands?"
"Will you come with me, son?" The Laird inquired eagerly.
"Certainly not! You shall come with me. This is to be my party."
"Can you stand the pressure? I'm liable to prove an expensive traveling companion."
"Well, there's something radically wrong with both of us if we can't get by on two hundred thousand dollars, dad."
The Laird started, and then his Scotch sense of humor—and, for all the famed wit of the Irish, no humor on earth is so unctuous as that of the Scotch—commenced to bubble up. He suspected a joke on himself and was prepared to meet it.
"Will you demand an accounting, my son?"
Donald shook his head.
"Keeping books was ever a sorry trade, father, I'll read the accounting in your eye when you get back to Port Agnew."
"You braw big scoundrel! You've been up to something. Tell it me, man, or I'll die wi' the suspense of it."
"Well," Donald replied, "I lived on twenty-five hundred a year in college and led a happy life. I had a heap of fun, and nothing went by me so fast that I didn't at least get a tail-feather. My college education, therefore, cost me ten thousand dollars, and I managed to squeeze a roadster automobile into that, also. With the remaining ninety thousand, I took a flier in thirty-nine hundred acres of red cedar up the Wiskah River. I paid for it on the instalment plan —yearly payments secured by first mortgage at six per cent., and——"
"Who cruised it for you?" The Laird almost shouted. "I'll trust no cruiser but my own David McGregor."
"I realized that, so I engaged Dave for the job. You will recall that he and I took a two months' camping-trip after my first year in Princeton. It cruised eighty thousand feet to the acre, and I paid two dollars and a half per thousand for it. Of course, we didn't succeed in cruising half of it, but we rode through the remainder, and it all averaged up very nicely. And I saw a former cruise of it made by a disinterested cruiser——"
The Laird had been doing mental arithmetic.
"It cost you seven hundred and eighty thousand dollars—and you've paid ninety thousand, principal and interest, on account. Why, you didn't have the customary ten per cent, of the purchase-price as an initial payment!"
"The owner was anxious to sell. Besides, he knew I was your son, and I suppose he concluded that, after getting ninety thousand dollars out of me at the end of three years, you'd have to come to my rescue when the balance fell due—in a lump. If you didn't, of course he could foreclose."
"I'll save you, my son. It was a good deal—a splendid deal!"
"You do not have to, dad. I've sold it—at a profit of an even two hundred thousand dollars!"
"Lad, why did you do it? Why didn't you take me into your confidence? That cedar is worth three and a half. In a few years, 'twill be worth five."
"I realized that, father, but—a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush—and I'm a proud sort of devil. I didn't want to run to you for help on my first deal, even though I knew you'd come to my rescue and ask no questions. You've always told me to beware of asking favors, you know. Moreover, I had a very friendly feeling toward the man I sold my red cedar to; I hated to stick him too deeply."
"You were entitled to your profit, Donald. 'Twas business. You should have taken it. Ah, lad, if you only knew the terrible four years I've paid for yon red-cedar!"
"You mean the suspense of not knowing how I was spending my allowance?"
The Laird nodded.
"Curiosity killed a cat, my son, and I'm not as young as I used to be."
"I had thought you'd have read the accounting in my eye. Take another look, Hector McKaye." And Donald thrust his smiling countenance close to his father's.
"I see naught in your eye but deviltry and jokes."
"None are so blind as they that will not see. If you see a joke, dad, it's on you."
Old Hector blinked, then suddenly he sprang at his son, grasped him by the shoulders, and backed him against the wall.
"Did you sell me that red cedar?" he demanded incredulously.
"Aye, mon; through an agent," Donald burred Scottishly. "A' did nae ha' the heart tae stick my faither sae deep for a bit skulin'. A'm a prood man, Hector McKaye; a'll nae take a grrand eeducashun at sic a price. 'Tis nae Christian."
"Ah, my bonny bairn!" old Hector murmured happily, and drew his fine son to his heart. "What a grand joke to play on your puir old father! Och, mon, was there ever a lad like mine?"
"I knew you'd buy that timber for an investment if I offered it cheap enough," Donald explained. "Besides, I owed you a poke. You wanted to be certain you hadn't reared a jackass instead of a man, so you gave me a hundred thousand dollars and stood by to see what I'd do with it—didn't you, old Scotty?" Hector nodded a trifle guiltily. "Andrew Daney wrote me you swore by all your Highland clan that the man who sold you that red cedar was ripe for the fool-killer."
"Tush, tush!" The Laird protested. "You're getting personal now. I dislike to appear inquisitive, but might I ask what you've done with your two hundred thousand profit?"
"Well, you see, dad, I would have felt a trifle guilty had I kept it, so I blew it all in on good, conservative United States bonds, registered them in your name, and sent them to Daney to hide in your vault at Port Agnew."
"Ah, well, red cedar or bonds, 'twill all come back to you some day, sonny. The real profit's in the fun—"
"And the knowledge that I'm not a fool—eh, father?"
Father love supernal gleamed in The Laird's fine gray eyes.
"Were you a fool, my son, and all that I have in the world would cure you if thrown into the Bight of Tyee, I'd gladly throw it and take up my life where I began it—with pike-pole and peavy, double-bitted ax, and cross-cut saw. However, since you're not a fool, I intend to continue to enjoy my son. We'll go around the world together."
Thus did the experiment end. At least, Donald thought so. But when he left the hotel a few minutes later to book two passages to Europe, The Laird of Tyee suddenly remembered that thanks were due his Presbyterian God. So he slid to his old knees beside his bed and murmured:
"Lord, I thank thee! For the sake of thine own martyred Son, set angels to guard him and lead him in the path of manly honor that comes at last to thy kingdom. Amen."
Then he wired Andrew Daney a long telegram of instructions and a stiff raise in salary.
"The boy has a head like a tar-bucket," he concluded. "Everything I ever put into it has stuck. We are going to frolic round the world together, and we will be home when we get back."
Donald was twenty-four and The Laird fifty-eight when the pair returned from their frolic round the world—Donald to take up this father's labors, The Laird to lay them aside and retire to The Dreamerie and the books he had accumulated against this happy afterglow of a busy and fruitful life.
Donald's mother and sisters were at The Dreamerie the night the father and son arrived. Of late years, they had spent less and less of their time there. The Laird had never protested, for he could not blame them for wearying of a little backwoods sawmill town like Port Agnew.
With his ability to think calmly, clearly, and unselfishly, he had long since realized that eventually his girls must marry; now Elizabeth was twenty-six and Jane twenty-eight, and Mrs. McKaye was beginning to be greatly concerned for their future. Since The Laird had built The Dreamerie in opposition to their wishes, they had spent less than six months in each year at Port Agnew. And these visits had been scattered throughout the year. They had traveled much, and, when not traveling, they lived in the Seattle house and were rather busy socially. Despite his devotion to his business, however, The Laird found time to spend at least one week in each month with them in Seattle, in addition to the frequent business trips which took him there.
That night of his home-coming was the happiest The Laird had ever known, for it marked the culmination of his lifetime of labor and dreams. Long after his wife and the girls had retired, he and Donald sat in the comfortable living-room, smoking and discussing plans for the future, until presently, these matters having been discussed fully, there fell a silence between them, to be broken presently by The Laird.
"I'm wondering, Donald, if you haven't met some bonny lass you'd like to bring home to Port Agnew. You realize, of course, that there's room on Tyee Head for another Dreamerie, although I built this one for you—and her."
"There'll be no other house on Tyee Head, father," Donald answered, "unless you care to build one for mother and the girls. The wife that I'll bring home to Port Agnew will not object to my father in my house." He smiled and added, "You're not at all hard to get along with, you know."
The Laird's eyes glistened.
"Have you found her yet, my son?"
Donald shook his head in negation.
"Then look for her," old Hector ordered. "I have no doubt that, when you find her, she'll be worthy of you. I'm at an age now when a man looks no longer into the future but dwells in the past, and it's hard for me to think of you, big man that you are, as anything save a wee laddie trotting at my side. Now, if I had a grandson—"
When, presently, Donald bade him good-night, Hector McKaye turned off the lights and sat in the dark, gazing down across the moonlit Bight of Tyee to the sparks that flew upward from the stacks of his sawmill in Port Agnew, for they were running a night shift. And, as he gazed, he thrilled, with a fierce pride and a joy that was almost pain, in the knowledge that he had reared a merchant prince for this, his principality of Tyee.
Hector McKaye had always leaned toward the notion that he could run Port Agnew better than a mayor and a town council, in addition to deriving some fun out of it; consequently, Port Agnew had never been incorporated. And this was an issue it was not deemed wise to press, for The Tyee Lumber Company owned every house and lot in town, and Hector McKaye owned every share of stock in the Tyee Lumber Company.
If he was a sort of feudal baron, he was a gentle and kindly one; large building-plots, pretty little bungalows, cheap rentals, and no taxation constituted a social condition that few desired to change. As these few developed and The Laird discovered them, their positions in his employ, were forfeited, their rents raised, or their leases canceled, and presently Port Agnew knew them no more. He paid fair wages, worked his men nine hours, and employed none but naturalized Americans, with a noticeable predilection for those of Scotch nativity or ancestry.
Strikes or lockouts were unknown in Port Agnew—likewise saloons. Unlike most sawmill towns of that period, Port Agnew had no street in which children were forbidden to play or which mothers taught their daughters to avoid. Once an I.W.W. organizer came to town, and upon being ordered out and refusing to go, The Laird, then past fifty, had ducked him in the Skookum until he changed his mind.
The Tyee Lumber Company owned and operated the local telephone company, the butcher shop, the general store, the hotel, a motion-picture theater, a town hall, the bank, and the electric-light-and-power plant, and with the profits from these enterprises, Port Agnew had paved streets, sidewalks lined with handsome electroliers, and a sewer system. It was an admirable little sawmill town, and if the expenses of maintaining it exceeded the income, The Laird met the deficit and assumed all the worry, for he wanted his people to be happy and prosperous beyond all others.
It pleased Hector McKaye to make an occasion of his abdication and Donald's accession to the presidency of the Tyee Lumber Company. The Dreamerie was not sufficiently large for his purpose, however, for he planned to entertain all of his subjects at a dinner and make formal announcement of the change. So he gave a barbecue in a grove of maples on the edge of the town. His people received in silence the little speech he made them, for they were loath to lose The Laird. They knew him, while Donald they had not known for five years, and there were many who feared that the East might have changed him. Consequently, when his father called him up to the little platform from which he spoke, they received the young laird in silence also.
"Folks—my own home folks," Donald began, "to-day I formally take up the task that was ordained for me at birth. I am going to be very happy doing for you and for myself. I shall never be the man my father is; but if you will take me to your hearts and trust me as you have trusted him, I'll never go back on you, for I expect to live and to die in Port Agnew, and, while I live, I want to be happy with you. I would have you say of me, when I am gone, that I was the worthy son of a worthy sire." He paused and looked out over the eager, upturned faces of the men, women, and children whose destinies he held in the hollow of his hand. "My dear friends, there aren't going to be any changes," he finished, and stepped down off the platform.
From the heart of the crowd a lumberjack cried, "Ya-hoo-o-o-o-o!" as only a lusty lumberjack can cry it. "He's a chip of the old block!" cried another, and there were cheers and some tears and a general rush forward to greet the new master, to shake his hand, and pledge allegiance to him.
When the reception was over, old Hector took charge of the homely games and athletic contests, and the day's delights culminated in a log-burling contest in the Skookum, in which the young laird participated. When, eventually, he fell in the river and was counted out, old Hector donned his son's calked boots and, with a whoop such as he had not emitted in forty years, entered the lists against the young fellows. In the old days in the Michigan woods, when burling was considered a magnificent art of the lumberjack, he had been a champion, and for five minutes he spun his log until the water foamed, crossing and recrossing the river and winning the contest unanimously. From the bank, Mrs. McKaye and his daughters watched him with well-bred amusement and secret disapproval. They could never forget, as he could, that he was The Laird of Tyee; they preferred more dignity in the head of the house.
The McKaye family drove home along the cliff road at sunset. Young Donald paused on the terrace before entering the house, and, stirred by some half-forgotten memory, he glanced across the bight to the little white house far below on the Sawdust Pile. The flag was floating from the cupola, but even as he looked, it came fluttering down.
Donald turned toward the McKaye flag. It was still floating. "The old order changeth," he soliloquized, and hauled it down, at the same time shouting to his father within the house:
"Hey, dad; fire the sunset gun!"
The Laird pressed the button and the cannon boomed.
"We've neglected that little ceremony since you've been away," he remarked, as Donald entered the room. "'Other times, other customs,' I dare say."
He hurried up-stairs to dress for dinner (a formality which he disliked, but which appeared to please his wife and daughters), and Donald took his father's binoculars and went out on the terrace. It had occurred to him that he had not seen old Caleb Brent and Nan at the barbecue, and he wondered why. Through the glasses, he could make out the figure of a woman in the cupola window, and she was watching him through a long marine telescope.
"There's my old friend Nan, grown to womanhood," Donald soliloquized, and waved his arm at her. Through the glasses, he saw her wave back at him.
The morning after the barbecue, Donald McKaye reported at eight o'clock to his father's faithful old general manager, Andrew Daney. Daney had grown gray in his father's service, and it was no part of Donald's plans to assign him to a back seat.
"Well, Mr. Daney," he inquired affably, "what are your plans for the new hired man?"
Old Daney looked up quizzically.
"You do the planning here, Don," he replied.
"You heard me say yesterday that there would be no changes, Mr. Daney. Of course, I haven't grown up in Port Agnew without learning something of my heritage, but, in view of the fact that I still have considerable to learn, suppose you indicate just where I ought to start."
Daney was pleased at a deference he had not anticipated.
"Start in the woods," he replied. "That's where your daddy started. Felling timber and handling it is rather a fine art, Don. I'd wrestle logs for a month and follow them down the Skookum to the log boom. Then I'd put in six months in the mill and six more in the factory, following it with three months on the dock, tallying, and three months of a hand-shaking tour out among the trade. After that, you may sit in at your father's desk, and I'll gradually break you in to his job."
"That's a grand idea, and I'll act on it," Donald declared.
"Well, it's too late to act on it to-day, Don. The up-river launch to the logging-camp left at seven o'clock. However, I have a job for you. We really need the Sawdust Pile for an extension of our drying-yard. Our present yard lies right under the lee of that ridge of which Tyee Head is an extension, and it's practically noon before the sun gets a fair chance at it. The Sawdust Pile gets the sun all day long, and the winds have an uninterrupted sweep across it. We can dry our cedar decking there in half the time it requires now."
"But the Sawdust Pile is—"
"A rat's nest, Don. There are a number of other shacks there now—some Greek fishermen, a negro, and a couple of women from the overflow of Tyee. It ought to be cleaned out."
"I noticed those shacks last night, Mr. Daney, and I agree with you that they should go. But I haven't the heart to run old Caleb Brent off the Sawdust Pile. I gave it to him, you know."
"Well, let Brent stay there. He's too old and crippled with rheumatism to attend to his truck-garden any more; so if you leave him the space for his house and a chicken-yard, he'll be satisfied. In fact, I have discussed the proposition with him, and he is agreeable."
"Why did dad permit those other people to crowd him, Mr. Daney?"
"While your father was in Europe with you, they horned in, claimed a squatter's right, and stood pat. Old Brent was defenseless, and while the boys from the mill would have cleaned them out if I had given the word, the Greeks and the negro were defiant, and it meant bloodshed. So I have permitted the matter to rest until your father's return."
Donald reached for his hat.
"Caleb Brent's squatter-right to that Sawdust Pile is going to be upheld," he declared. "I'll clean that colony out before sunset, or they'll clean me."
"I'd proceed cautiously if I were you, Don. They have a host of friends up in Darrow, and we mustn't precipitate a feud."
"I'm going over now and serve notice on them to vacate immediately." He grinned at old Daney. "A negro, a handful of Greeks, and those unfortunate women can't bluff the boss of Port Agnew, Mr. Daney."
"They tell me there's a blind pig down there, also."
"It will not be there after to-day," Donald answered lightly, and departed for the Sawdust Pile.
As he came up to the gate in the neat fence Caleb Brent had built across the Sawdust Pile nine years before, a baby boy, of perhaps three years of age, rose out of the weeds in which he had been playing and regarded the visitor expectantly.
"Hello, bub!" the young laird of Tyee greeted the child.
"Hello!" came the piping answer. "Are you my daddy?"
"Why, no, Snickelfritz." He ran his fingers through the tot's golden hair. "Don't you know your own daddy?"
"I haven't any daddy," the child drawled.
"No? Well, that's unfortunate." Donald stooped and lifted the tike to his shoulder, marveling the while that such a cherub could be the product of any of the denizens of the Sawdust Pile. At once, the boy's arms went round his neck and a velvet cheek was laid close to his. "You're an affectionate little snooks, aren't you?" Donald commented. "Do you live here?"
"Somebody's been teaching you manners. Whose little boy are you?"
"And who might mother be?"
"Yo-ho! So you're Nan Brent's boy! What's your name?"
"No; that isn't it, son. Brent is your mother's name. Tell me your father's name."
"Ain't got no farver."
"Well then, run along to your mother."
He kissed the child and set him down just as a young woman came down the sadly neglected shell walk from Caleb Brent's little white house. Donald opened the gate and advanced to meet her.
"I'm sure you must be Nan," he said, "although I can't be certain. I haven't seen Nan in six years."
She extended her hand
"Yes; I'm Nan," she replied, "and you're Donald McKaye. You're a man now, but somehow you haven't changed greatly."
"It's fine to meet you again, Nan." He shook her hand enthusiastically.
She smiled a little sadly.
"I saw you at colors last night, Donald. When your flag came down and the gun was fired, I knew you'd remembered."
"Were you glad?" he demanded, and immediately wondered why he had asked such a childish question.
"Yes, I was, Donald. It has been a long time since—since—the gun has been fired—for me. So long since we were children, Donald."
"You weren't at the barbecue yesterday. I missed you and Caleb. You two are very old friends of mine, Nan. Was it quite loyal of you to stay home?"
"You're the only person that missed us, Donald," she answered, with just the suspicion of a tremor in her sweet voice. "But, then, we are accustomed to being left out of things."
He made no effort to formulate an answer to this. Truth does not require an answer. Yet he was sensible of a distinct feeling of sympathy for her, and, manlike, he decided to change the topic of conversation.
"You have neighbors on the Sawdust Pile, Nan."
"Yes. They came when The Laird was in Europe."
"They would never have dared it had he been in Port Agnew. I'm surprised that Andrew Daney permitted it. I had thought of him as a man of courage, but, strange to say, these people outgamed him."
"They didn't outgame him, Donald. He just didn't care. I—I—fancy he concluded they would make agreeable neighbors—for me."
"I'm sorry, Nan. However, I'm the new laird of Tyee, and I've come down to stage an eviction. I didn't know of this state of affairs until this morning."
She smiled a little wistfully and bitterly.
"I had flattered myself, Donald, you had called to visit your old friends instead. When you waved at me last night, I—oh, you can't realize how happy it made me to know that you had noticed me—that you really were big enough to be the big man of Port Agnew. And I thought perhaps you would come because of that."
He smiled tolerantly upon her.
"Something has occurred to make you bitter, Nan. You're not like the girl I used to know before I went away to school. If it will help to restore me to your previous good opinion, however, please believe that when I waved at you last night, simultaneously I made up my mind to make an early visit to the Sawdust Pile. The discovery that these cattle have intruded upon you and your old father, because you were unable to defend yourselves and no one in Port Agnew would defend you, merely hastened my visit. I couldn't in decency come any earlier; could I, Nan? It's just half after eight. And if you're going to keep me standing at the gate, as if I were a sewing-machine agent instead of a very old friend, I may conclude to take offense and regret that I called."
"Oh, I'm sorry! Please forgive me, Donald. I'm so much alone—so very lonely—I suppose I grow suspicious of people and their motives."
"Say no more about it, Nan. May I come in, then, to greet Caleb and your husband?"
"Father is in the house. I'll call him out, Donald. As for my husband—" She hesitated, glanced out across the bight, and then resolutely faced him. "You cannot have heard all of the town gossip, then?"
"I hadn't even heard of your marriage. The first I knew of it was when his little nibs here hailed me, and asked me if I was his father. Then he informed me he was your boy. He's a lovely child, Nan, and I have been the recipient of some of his extremely moist kisses."
She realized that he was too courteous to ask whether her husband was dead or if there had been a divorce.
"I'm rather glad you haven't heard, Donald," she replied evenly. "I much prefer to tell you myself; then you will understand why I cannot invite you into our house, and why you must not be seen talking to me here at the gate. I am not married. I have never been married. My baby's name is—Brent, and I call him Donald, after the only male human being that has ever been truly kind to my father and me."
"Ah," said Donald quietly, "so that's why he misses his father and appears to want one so very much."
She gazed forlornly out to sea and answered with a brief nod. Seemingly she had long since ceased to be tragic over her pitiful tragedy.
"Well," he replied philosophically, "life is quite filled with a number of things, and some of them make for great unhappiness." He stooped and lifted the baby in his great arms. "You're named after me, sonny; so I think I'll try to fill the gap and make you happy. Do you mind, Nan, if I try my hand at foster-fathering? I like children. This little man starts life under a handicap, but I'll see to it that he gets his chance in life—far from Port Agnew, if you desire." She closed her eyes in sudden pain and did not answer. "And whatever your opinion on the matter may be, Nan," he went on, "even had I known yesterday of your sorrow, I should have called to-day just the same."
"You call it my 'sorrow!'" she burst forth passionately. "Others call it my trouble—my sin—my disgrace."
"And what does Caleb call it, Nan?"
"He doesn't call it, Donald. It hasn't appeared to make any difference with him. I'm still—his little girl."
"Well, I cannot regard you as anything but a little girl—the same little girl that used to help Caleb and me sail the sloop. I don't wish to know anything about your sorrow, or your trouble, or your disgrace, or your sin, or whatever folks may choose to call it. I just want you to know that I know that you're a good woman, and when the spirit moves me—which will be frequently, now that I have this young man to look after—I shall converse with you at your front gate and visit you and your decent old father in this little house, and be damned to those that decry it. I am the young laird of Tyee. My father raised me to be a gentleman, and, by the gods, I'll be one! Now, Nan, take the boy and go in the house, because I see a rascally negro in the doorway of that shack yonder, and I have a matter to discuss with him. Is that white woman his consort?"
Nan nodded again. She could not trust herself to speak, for her heart was full to overflowing.
"Come here—you!" Donald called to the negro. The fellow slouched forth defiantly. He was a giant mulatto, and his freckled face wore an evil and contemptuous grin.
"I'm Donald McKaye," Donald informed him. "I'm the new laird of Tyee. I want you and that woman to pack up and leave."
"How soon, boss?"
"Immediately." Anticipating a refusal, Donald stepped closer to the mulatto and looked him sternly in the eye.
"We-ll, is dat so?" the yellow rascal drawled. "So youh-all's de new la'rd, eh? Well, ah'm de king o' de Sawdust Pile, an' mah house is mah castle. Git dat, Mistah La'rd?"
Donald turned toward Nan.
"I'm going to have trouble here, Nan. Please go in the house."
"Proceed," she replied simply. "I have a most unwomanly and unladylike desire to see that beast manhandled."
Donald turned, in time to go under a sizzling right-hand blow from the mulatto and come up with a right uppercut to the ugly, freckled face and a left rip to the mulatto's midriff. The fellow grunted, and a spasm of pain crossed his countenance. "You yellow dog!" Donald muttered, and flattened his nose far flatter than his mammy had ever wiped it. The enemy promptly backed away and covered; a hearty thump in the solar plexus made him uncover, and under a rain of blows on the chin and jaw, he sprawled unconscious on the ground.
Donald left him lying there and stepped to the door of the shack. The frightened drab within spat curses at him.
"Pack and go!" he ordered. "Within the hour, I'm going to purge the Sawdust Pile with fire; if you stay in the house, you'll burn with it."
She was ready in ten minutes. Three more of her kind occupying an adjacent shack begged to be allowed time in which to load their personal possessions in an express-wagon. The four Greeks were just about to set out for a day's fishing, but, having witnessed the defeat of the mulatto bully, the fever of the hegira seized them also. They loaded their effects in the fishing-launch, and chugged away up river to Darrow, crying curses upon the young laird of Tyee and promising reprisal.
Donald waited until the last of the refugees had departed before setting fire to the shacks. Then he stood by old Caleb Brent's house, a circle of filled buckets around him, and watched in case the wind should suddenly shift and shower sparks upon the roof. In half an hour the Sawdust Pile had reverted to its old status and a throng of curious townspeople who, attracted by the flames and smoke, had clustered outside Caleb Brent's gate to watch Donald at work, finally despaired of particulars and scattered when they saw Donald and Nan Brent enter the house.
Caleb Brent, looking twenty years older than when Donald had seen him last, sat in an easy chair by the window, gazing with lack-luster eyes out across the bight. He was hopelessly crippled with rheumatism, and his sea-blue eyes still held the same lost-dog wistfulness.
"Hello, Caleb!" Donald greeted him cordially. "I've just cleaned up the Sawdust Pile for you. You're back in undisputed possession again."
He shook hands with old Caleb and sat down in a chair which Nan drew up for him.
"It's good of you to call, Mr. Donald," the old man piped. "But isn't that just like him, Nan?" he demanded. "Many's the day—aye, and the night, too, for of late the nights have been bad here—we've thought of you, sir, and wished you were back in Port Agnew. We knew what would happen to those scoundrels when Mr. Donald got around to it." And he laughed the asthmatic, contented chuckle of the aged as Nan related briefly the story of Donald's recent activities.
Their conversation which followed was mostly of a reminiscent character—recollections of boat-races in the bight, fishing excursions off the coast, clambakes, hew boats, a dog which Donald had given Nan when he left for prep school and which had since died of old age. And all the while Nan Brent's child stood by Donald's knee, gazing up at him adoringly.
During a lull in the conversation, he created some slight embarrassment by reiterating his belief that this strange man must be his father, and appealed to his mother for verification of his suspicions.
Poor child! His baby mind had but lately grasped the fact that for him there was something missing in the scheme of life, and, to silence his persistent questioning, Nan had told him that some day his father would come to see them; whereupon, with the calm faith of innocence, he had posted himself at the front gate, to be in position to receive this beloved missing one when the latter should appear. Donald skilfully diverted the child's mind from this all-consuming topic by sliding the boy down to his foot and permitting him to swing gently there.
Presently Nan excused herself, for the purpose of looking after the embers of Donald's recent raid. The instant the door closed behind her, old Caleb Brent looked across at his visitor.
"You've heard—of course, Mr. Donald?" he queried, with a slight inclination of his head toward the door through which his daughter had disappeared.
"Yes, Caleb. Misfortune comes in various guises."
"I would I could die," the pitiful old fellow whispered. "I will, soon, but, oh, what will my poor darling do then, Mr. Donald? After we first came here, I was that prosperous, sir, you wouldn't believe it. I gave Nan a good schooling, piano lessons, and fine dresses. We lived well, and yet we put by a thousand dollars in six years. But that's gone now, what with the expenses when the baby came, and my sickness that's prevented me from working. Thank God, sir, I have my three-quarter pay. It isn't much, but we're rent-free, and fuel costs us nothing, what with driftwood and the waste from Darrow that comes down the river. Nan has a bit of a kitchen-garden and a few chickens—so we make out. But when I die, my navy-pay stops."
He paused, too profoundly moved by consideration of the destitution that would face Nan and her nameless boy to voice the situation in words. But he looked up at Donald McKaye, and the latter saw again that wistful look in his sea-blue eyes—the dumb pleading of a kind old lost dog. He thought of the thirty-eight-foot sloop old Caleb had built him—a thing of beauty and wondrously seaworthy; or the sense of obligation which had caused old Brent to make of the task a labor of love; of the long, lazy, happy days when, with Caleb and Nan for his crew, he had raced out of the bight twenty miles to sea and back again, for the sheer delight of driving his lee rail under until Nan cried out in apprehension.
Poor, sweet, sad Nan Brent! Donald had known her through so many years of gentleness and innocence—and she had come to this! He was consumed with pity for her. She had fallen, but—there were depths to which destitution and desperation might still drive her, just as there were heights to which she might climb again if some half-man would but give her a helping hand.
"Do you know the man, Caleb?" he demanded suddenly.
"No, I do not. I have never seen him. Nan wrote me when they were married, and told me his name, of course."
"Then there was a marriage, Caleb?"
"So Nan wrote me."
"Ah! Has Nan a marriage certificate?"
"I have never seen it. Seems their marriage wasn't legal. The name he gave wasn't his own; he was a bigamist."
"Then Nan knows his real name."
"Yes; when she learned that, she came home."
"But why didn't she prosecute him, Caleb? She owed that to herself and the child—- to her good name and"
"She had her reasons, lad."
"But you should have prosecuted the scoundrel, Caleb."
"I had no money for lawyers. I knew I was going to need it all for Nan and her child. And I thought her reasons sufficient, Donald. She said it would all come out right in the end. Maybe it will."
"Do you mean she knowingly accepted the inevitable disgrace when she might have—have—" He wanted to add, "proved herself virtuous," but, somehow, the words would not come. They didn't appear to him to be quite fair to Nan.
The old man nodded.
"Of course we haven't told this to anybody else," he hastened to add. "'Twould have been useless. They'd have thought it a lie."
"Yes, Caleb—a particularly clumsy and stupid lie."
Caleb Brent looked up suddenly and searched, with an alert and wistful glance, the face of the young laird of Tyee.
"But you do not think so, do you?" he pleaded.
"Certainly not, Caleb, If Nan told you that, then she told you the truth."
"Thank you, lad."
"Poor old Caleb," Donald soliloquized, "you find it hard to believe it yourself, don't you? And it does sound fishy!"
"I don't believe it's Nan's fault," Donald found himself saying next. "She was always a good girl, and I can't look at her now and conceive her as anything but virtuous and womanly. I'll always be a good friend of hers, Caleb. I'll stand back of her and see that she gets a square deal—she and her son. When you're gone, she can leave Port Agnew for some city where she isn't known, and as 'Mrs. Brent' she can engage in some self-supporting business. It always struck me that Nan had a voice."
"She has, Mr. Donald. They had grand opera in Seattle, and I sent her up there to hear it and having a singing teacher hear her sing 'Alice, Where Art Thou.' He said she'd be earning a thousand dollars a night in five years, Mr. Donald, if somebody in New York could train her. That was the time," he concluded, "that she met him! He was rich and, I suppose, full of fine graces; he promised her a career if she'd marry him, and so he dazzled the child—she was only eighteen—and she went to San Francisco with him. She says there was some sort of marriage, but he gave her no such gift as I gave her mother—a marriage certificate. She wrote me she was happy, and asked me to forgive her the lack of confidence in not advising with me—and of course I forgave her, Mr. Donald. But in three months he left her, and one night the door yonder opened and Nan come in and put her arms round my neck and held me tight, with never a tear—so I knew she'd cried her fill long since and was in trouble." He paused several seconds, then added, "Her mother was an admiral's daughter—and she married me!" He appeared to suggest this latter as a complete explanation of woman's frailty.
"The world is small, but it is sufficiently large to hide a girl from the Sawdust Pile of Port Agnew. Of course, Nan cannot leave you now, but when you leave her, Caleb, I'll finance her for her career. Please do not worry about it."
"I'm like Nan, sir," he murmured. "I'm beyond tears, or I'd weep, Mr. Donald. God will reward you, sir. I can't begin to thank you."
"I'm glad of that. By the way, who is towing the garbage-barge to sea nowadays?"
"I don't know, sir. Mr. Daney hired somebody else and his boat when I had to quit because of my sciatica."
"Hereafter, we'll use your boat, Caleb, and engage a man to operate it. The rental will be ten dollars per trip, two trips a week, eighty dollars a month. Cheap enough; so don't think it's charity. Here's the first month's rental in advance. I'm going to run along now, Caleb, but I'll look in from time to time, and if you should need me in the interim, send for me."
He kissed little Don Brent, who set up a prodigious shriek at the prospect of desertion and brought his mother fluttering into the room. He watched her soothe the youngster and then asked:
"Nan, where do you keep the arnica now? I cut my knuckles on that yellow rascal."
She raised a sadly smiling face to his.
"Where would the arnica be—if we had any, Donald?" she demanded.
"Where it used to be, I suppose. Up on that shelf, inside the basement of that funny old half-portion grandfather's clock and just out of reach of the pendulum."
"You do remember, don't you? But it's all gone so many years ago, Donald. We haven't had a boy around to visit us since you left Port Agnew, you know. I'll put some tincture of iodine on your knuckles, however."
"Do, please, Nan."
A little later, he said:
"Do you remember, Nan, the day I stuck my finger into the cage of old Mrs. Biddle's South American parrot to coddle the brute and he all but chewed it off?"
"And you came straight here to have it attended to, instead of going to a doctor."
"You wept when you saw my mangled digit. Remember, Nan? Strange how that scene persists in my memory! You were so sweetly sympathetic I was quite ashamed of myself."
"That's because you always were the sweetest boy in the world and I was only the garbage-man's daughter," she whispered. "There's a ridiculous song about the garbage-man's daughter. I heard it once, in vaudeville—in San Francisco."
"If I come over some evening soon, will you sing for me, Nan?"
"I never sing any more, Don."
"Nobody but you can ever sing 'Carry Me Back to Old Virginy' for me."
"Then I shall sing it, Don."
"Thank you, Nan."
She completed the anointing of his battle-scarred knuckles with iodine, and, for a moment, she held his hand, examining critically an old ragged white scar on the index-finger of his right hand. And quite suddenly, to his profound amazement, she bent her head and swiftly implanted upon that old scar a kiss so light, so humble, so benignant, so pregnant of adoration and gratitude that he stood before her confused and inquiring.
"Such a strong, useful big hand!" she whispered. "It has been raised in defense of the sanctity of my home—and until you came there was 'none so poor to do me reverence.'"
He looked at her with sudden, new interest. Her action had almost startled him. As their eyes held each other, he was aware, with a force that was almost a shock, that Nan Brent was a most unusual woman. She was beautiful; yet her physical beauty formed the least part of her attractiveness, perfect as that beauty was. Instinctively, Donald visualized her as a woman with brains, character, nobility of soul; there was that in her eyes, in the honesty and understanding with which they looked into his, that compelled him, in that instant, to accept without reservation and for all time the lame and halting explanation of her predicament he had recently heard from her father's lips. He longed to tell her so. Instead, he flushed boyishly and said, quite impersonally:
"Yes; you're beautiful as women go, but that's not the right word to express you. Physically, you might be very homely, but if you were still Nan Brent you would be sweet and compelling. You remind me of a Catholic chapel; there's always one little light within that never goes out, you know. So that makes you more than beautiful. Shall I say—glorious?"
She smiled at him with her wistful, sea-blue eyes—a smile tender, maternal, all-comprehending. She knew he was not seeking to flatter her, that the wiles, the Artifices, the pretty speeches of the polished man of the world were quite beyond him.
"Still the same old primitive pal," she murmured softly; "still thinking straight, talking straight, acting straight, and—dare I say it, Donald?—seeing straight. I repeat, you always were the sweetest boy in the world—and there is still so much of the little boy about you." Her hand fluttered up and rested lightly on his arm. "I'll not forget this day, my dear friend."
It was characteristic of him that, having said that which was uppermost in his mind, he should remember his manners and thank her for dressing his knuckles. Then he extended his hand in farewell.
"When you come again, Donald," she pleaded, as he took her hand, "will you please bring me some books? They're all that can keep me sane—and I do not go to the public library any more. I have to run the gantlet of so many curious eyes."
"How long is it since you have been away from the Sawdust Pile?"
"Since before my baby came."
He was silent a minute, pondering this. Since old Caleb had become house-ridden, then, she had been, without books. He nodded assent to her request.
"If I do not say very much, you will understand, nevertheless, how grateful I am," she continued. "To-day, the sun has shone. Whatever your thoughts may have been, Donald, you controlled your face and you were decent enough not to say, 'Poor Nan.'"
He had no answer to that. He was conscious only of standing helpless in the midst of a terrible tragedy. His heart ached with pity for her, and just for old sake's sake, for a tender sentiment for lost youth and lost happiness of the old comradely days when she had been Cinderella and he the prince, he wished that he might take her in a fraternal embrace and let her cry out on his breast the agony that gnawed at her heart like a worm in an apple. But it was against his code to indicate to her by word or action that she was less worthy than other women and hence to be pitied, for it seemed to him that her burden was already sufficient.
"Let me know if those people return to annoy you, Nan," was all he said. Then they shook hands very formally, and the young laird of Tyee returned to the mill-office to report to Andrew Daney that the Sawdust Pile had been cleaned out, but that, for the present at least, they would get along with the old drying-yard.
Somehow, the day came to an end, and he went home with tumult in his soul.
An unerring knowledge of men in general and of his own son in particular indicated to Hector McKaye, upon the instant that the latter appeared at the family dinner-table, that his son's first day in command had had a sobering effect upon that young man. He had gone forth that morning whistling, his eyes alert with interest and anticipation; and a feeling of profound contentment had come to The Laird as he watched Donald climb into his automobile and go briskly down the cliff highway to Port Agnew. Here was no unwilling exile, shackled by his father's dollars to a backwoods town and condemned to labor for the term of his natural life. Gladly, eagerly, it seemed to Hector McKaye, his son was assuming his heritage, casting aside, without one longing backward glance, a brighter, busier, and more delightful world.
Although his son's new arena of action was beautiful and The Laird loved it with a passionate love, he was sufficiently imaginative to realize that, in Port Agnew, Donald might not be as happy as had been his father. Old Hector was sufficiently unselfish to have harbored no resentment had this been so. It had been his one anxiety that Donald might take his place in the business as a matter of duty to himself rather than as a duty to his father, and because he had found his lifework and was approaching it with joy, for The Laird was philosopher enough to know that labor without joy is as dead-sea fruit. Indeed, before the first day of his retirement had passed, he had begun to suspect that joy without labor was apt to be something less than he had anticipated.
The Laird observed in his son's eyes, as the latter took his place at table, a look that had not been there when Donald left for the mill that morning. His usually pleasant, "Evening, folks!" was perfunctory to-night; he replied briefly to the remarks addressed to him by his mother and sisters; the old man noted not less than thrice a slight pause with the spoon half-way to his mouth, as if his son considered some problem more important than soup. Mrs. McKaye and the girls chattered on, oblivious of these slight evidences of mental perturbation, but as The Laird carved the roast (he delighted in carving and serving his family, and was old-fashioned enough to insist upon his right, to the distress of the girls, who preferred to have the roast carved in the kitchen and served by the Japanese butler), he kept a contemplative eye upon his son, and presently saw Donald heave a slight sigh.
"Here's a titbit you always liked, son!" he cried cheerfully, and deftly skewered from the leg of lamb the crisp and tender tail. "Confound you, Donald; I used to eat these fat, juicy little lamb's tails while you were at college, but I suppose, now, I'll have to surrender that prerogative along with the others." In an effort to be cheerful and distract his son's thoughts, he attempted this homely badinage.
"I'll give you another little tale in return, dad," Donald replied, endeavoring to meet his father's cheerful manner. "While we were away, a colony of riffraff from Darrow jumped old Caleb Brent's Sawdust Pile, and Daney was weak enough to let them get away with it. I'm somewhat surprised. Daney knew your wishes in the matter; if he had forgotten them, he might have remembered mine, and if he had forgotten both, it would have been the decent thing to have thrown them out on his own responsibility."
So that was what lay at the bottom of his son's perturbation! The Laird was relieved.
"Andrew's a good man, but he always needed a leader, Donald," he replied. "If he didn't lack initiative, he would have been his own man long ago. I hope you did not chide him for it, lad."
"No; I did not. He's old enough to be my father, and, besides, he's been in the Tyee Lumber Company longer than I. I did itch to give him a rawhiding, though."
"I saw smoke and excitement down at the Sawdust Pile this morning, Donald. I dare say you rectified Andrew's negligence."
"I did. The Sawdust Pile is as clean as a hound's tooth."
Jane looked up from her plate.
"I hope you sent that shameless Brent girl away, too," she announced, with the calm attitude of one whose own virtue is above reproach.
Donald glared at her.
"Of course I did not!" he retorted. "How thoroughly unkind and uncharitable of you, Jane, to hope I would be guilty of such a cruel and unmanly action!"
The Laird waved his carving-knife.
"Hear, hear!" he chuckled. "Spoken like a man, my son. Jane, my dear, if I were you, I wouldn't press this matter further. It's a delicate subject."
"I'm sure I do not see why Jane should not be free to express her opinion, Hector." Mrs. McKaye felt impelled to fly to the defense of her daughter. "You know as well as we do, Hector, that the Brent girl is quite outside the pale of respectable society."
"We shall never agree on what constitutes 'respectable society,' Nellie," The Laird answered whimsically. "There are a few in that Seattle set of yours I find it hard to include in that category."
"Oh, they're quite respectable, father," Donald protested.
"Indeed they are, Donald! Hector, you amaze me," Mrs. McKaye chided.
"They have too much money to be anything else," Donald added, and winked at his father.
"Tush, tush, lad!" the old man murmured. "We shall get nowhere with such arguments. The world has been at that line of conversation for two thousand years, and the issue's still in doubt. Nellie, will you have a piece of the well-done?"
"You and your father are never done joining forces against me," Mrs. McKaye protested, and in her voice was the well-known note that presaged tears should she be opposed further. The Laird, all too familiar with this truly feminine type of tyranny, indicated to his son, by a lightning wink, that he desired the conversation diverted into other channels, whereupon Donald favored his mother with a disarming smile.
"I'm going to make a real start to-morrow morning, mother," he announced brightly. "I'm going up in the woods and be a lumberjack for a month. Going to grow warts on my hands and chew tobacco and develop into a brawny roughneck."
"Is that quite necessary?" Elizabeth queried, with a slight elevation of her eyebrows. "I understood you were going to manage the business."
"I am—after I've learned it thoroughly, Lizzie."
"Don't call me 'Lizzie,'" she warned him irritably.
"Very well, Elizabeth."
"In simple justice to those people from Darrow that you evicted from the Sawdust Pile, Don, you should finish your work before you go. If they were not fit to inhabit the Sawdust Pile, then neither is Nan Brent. You've got to play fair." Jane had returned to the attack.
"Look here, Jane," her brother answered seriously: "I wish you'd forget Nan Brent. She's an old and very dear friend of mine, and I do not like to hear my friends slandered."
"Oh, indeed!" Jane considered this humorous, and indulged herself in a cynical laugh.
"Friend of his?" Elizabeth, who was regarded in her set as a wit, a reputation acquired by reason of the fact that she possessed a certain knack for adapting slang humorously (for there was no originality to her alleged wit), now bent her head and looked at her brother incredulously. "My word! That's a rich dish."
"Why, Donald dear," his mother cried reproachfully, "surely you are jesting!"
"Not at all. Nan Brent isn't a bad girl, even if she is the mother of a child born out of wedlock. She stays at home and minds her own business, and lets others mind theirs."
"Donald's going to be tragic. See if he isn't," Elizabeth declared. "Come now, old dear; if Nan Brent isn't a bad woman, just what is your idea of what constitutes badness in a woman? It would be interesting to know your point of view."
"Nan Brent was young, unsophisticated, poor, and trusting when she met this fellow, whoever he may be. He wooed her, and she loved him—or thought she did, which amounts to the same thing until one discovers the difference between thinking and feeling. At first, she thought she was married to him. Later, she discovered she was not—and then it was too late."
"It wouldn't have been too late with some—er—good people," The Laird remarked meaningly.
"In other words," Donald went on, "Nan Brent found herself out on the end of a limb, and then the world proceeded to saw off the limb. It is true that she is the mother of an illegitimate child, but if that child was not—at least in so far as its mother is concerned—conceived in sin, I say it isn't illegitimate, and that its mother is not a bad woman."
"Granted—if it's true; but how do you know it to be true?" Jane demanded. She had a feeling that she was about to get the better of her brother in this argument.
"I do not know it to be true, Jane."
"But—I believe it to be true, Jane."
"Because Nan told her father it was true, and old Caleb told me when I was at his house this morning. So I believe it. And I knew Nan Brent when she was a young girl, and she was sweet and lovely and virtuous. I talked with her this morning, and found no reason to change my previous estimate of her. I could only feel for her a profound pity."
"'Pity is akin to love,'" Elizabeth quoted gaily. "Mother, keep an eye on your little son. He'll be going in for settlement-work in Port Agnew first thing we know."
"Hush, Elizabeth!" her mother cried sharply. She was highly scandalized at such levity. The Laird salted and peppered his food and said nothing. "Your attitude is very manly and sweet, dear," Mrs. McKaye continued, turning to her son, for her woman's intuition warned her that, if the discussion waxed warmer, The Laird would take a hand in it, and her side would go down to inglorious defeat, their arguments flattened by the weight of Scriptural quotations. She had a feeling that old Hector was preparing to remind them of Mary Magdalen and the scene in the temple. "I would much rather hear you speak a good word for that unfortunate girl than have you condemn her."