LISTER'S GREAT ADVENTURE
BY HAROLD BINDLOSS
Author of "THE WILDERNESS MINE," "WYNDHAM'S PAL," "PARTNERS OF THE OUT-TRAIL," "THE BUCCANEER FARMER," "THE LURE OF THE NORTH," "THE GIRL FROM KELLER'S," "CARMEN'S MESSENGER," ETC.
PART I—BARBARA'S REBELLION
I CARTWRIGHT MEDDLES
II IN THE DARK
III BARBARA VANISHES
IV THE GIRL ON THE PLATFORM
V SHILLITO GETS AWAY
VI WINNIPEG BEACH
VII LISTER'S DISSATISFACTION
VIII THE TEST
IX BARBARA PLAYS A PART
X VERNON'S CURIOSITY
PART II—THE RECKONING
I VERNON'S PLOT
II BARBARA'S RETURN
III LISTER CLEARS THE GROUND
IV A DISSATISFIED SHAREHOLDER
V CARTWRIGHT'S SCRUPLES
VI A NASTY KNOCK
VII THE SHAREHOLDERS' MEETING
VIII A STOLEN EXCURSION
IX CARTWRIGHT SEES A PLAN
X A BOLD SPECULATION
XI THE START
PART III—THE BREAKING STRAIN
I THE FIRST STRUGGLE
II THE WRECK
III A FUEL PROBLEM
IV MONTGOMERY'S OFFER
V MONTGOMERY USES HIS POWER
VI LISTER MEETS AN OLD ANTAGONIST
VII BARBARA'S REFUSAL
VIII CARTWRIGHT GETS TO WORK
IX LISTER MAKES GOOD
X BARBARA TAKES CONTROL
XI LISTER'S REWARD
PART I—BARBARA'S REBELLION
Dinner was over, and Cartwright occupied a chair on the lawn in front of the Canadian summer hotel. Automatic sprinklers threw sparkling showers across the rough, parched grass, the lake shimmered, smooth as oil, in the sunset, and a sweet, resinous smell drifted from the pines that rolled down to the water's edge. The straight trunks stood out against a background of luminous red and green, and here and there a slanting beam touched a branch with fire.
Natural beauty had not much charm for Cartwright, who was satisfied to loaf and enjoy the cool of the evening. He had, as usual, dined well, his cigar was good, and he meant to give Mrs. Cartwright half an hour. Clara expected this, and, although he was sometimes bored, he indulged her when he could. Besides, it was too soon for cards. The lights had not begun to spring up in the wooden hotel, and for the most part the guests were boating on the lake. When he had finished his cigar it would be time to join the party in the smoking-room. Cartwright was something of a gambler and liked the American games. They gave one scope for bluffing, and although his antagonists declared his luck was good, he knew his nerve was better. In fact, since he lost his money by a reckless plunge, he had to some extent lived by bluff. Yet some people trusted Tom Cartwright.
Mrs. Cartwright did so. She was a large, dull woman, but had kept a touch of the beauty that had marked her when she was young. She was kind, conventional, and generally anxious to take the proper line. Cartwright was twelve years older, and since she was a widow and had three children when she married him, her friends declared her money accounted for much, and a lawyer relation carefully guarded, against Cartwright's using her fortune.
Yet, in a sense, Cartwright was not an adventurer, although his ventures in finance and shipping were numerous. He sprang from an old Liverpool family whose prosperity diminished when steamers replaced sailing ships. His father had waited long before he resigned himself to the change, but was not altogether too late, and Cartwright was now managing owner of the Independent Freighters Line. The company's business had brought him to Montreal, and when it was transacted he had taken Mrs. Cartwright and her family to the hotel by the Ontario lake.
Cartwright's hair and mustache were white; his face was fleshy and red. He was fastidious about his clothes, and his tailor cleverly hid the bulkiness of his figure. As a rule, his look was fierce and commanding, but now and then his small keen eyes twinkled. Although Cartwright was clever, he was, in some respects, primitive. He had long indulged his appetites, and wore the stamp of what is sometimes called good living.
The managing owner of the Independent Freighters needed cleverness, since the company was small and often embarrassed for money. For the most part, it ran its ships in opposition to the regular liners. When the Conference forced up freights Cartwright quietly canvassed the merchants and offered to carry their goods at something under the standard rate, if the shippers would engage to fill up his boat. As a rule, secrecy was important, but sometimes, when cargo was scarce, Cartwright let his plans be known and allowed the Conference to buy him off. Although his skill in the delicate negotiations was marked, the company paid small dividends and he had enemies among the shareholders. Now, however, he was satisfied. Oreana had sailed for Montreal, loaded to the limit the law allowed, and he had booked her return cargo before the Conference knew he was cutting rates.
Mrs. Cartwright talked, but she talked much and Cartwright hardly listened, and looked across the lake. A canoe drifted out from behind a neighboring point, and its varnished side shone in the fading light. Then a man dipped the paddle, and the ripple at the bow got longer and broke the reflections of the pines. A girl, sitting at the stern, put her hands in the water, and when she flung the sparkling drops at her companion her laugh came across the lake. Cartwright's look got keen and he began to note his wife's remarks.
"Do you imply Barbara's getting fond of the fellow?" he asked.
"I am afraid of something like that," Mrs. Cartwright admitted. "In a way, one hesitates to meddle; sometimes meddling does harm, and, of course, if Barbara really loved the young man—" She paused and gave Cartwright a sentimental smile. "After all, I married for love, and a number of my friends did not approve."
Cartwright grunted. He had married Clara because she was rich, but it was something to his credit that she had not suspected this. Clara was dull, and her dullness often amused him.
"If you think it necessary, I won't hesitate about meddling," he remarked. "Shillito's a beggarly sawmill clerk."
"He said he was treasurer for an important lumber company. Barbara's very young and romantic, and although she has not known him long—"
"She has known him for about two weeks," Cartwright rejoined. "Perhaps it's long enough. Shillito's what Canadians call a looker and Barbara's a romantic fool. I've no doubt he's found out she'll inherit some money; it's possible she's told him. Now I come to think about it, she was off somewhere all the afternoon, and it looks as if she had promised the fellow the evening."
He indicated the canoe and was satisfied when Mrs. Cartwright agreed, since he refused to wear spectacles and own his sight was going. Although Clara was generous, he could not use her money, and, indeed, did not mean to do so, but he was extravagant and his managing owner's post was not secure. When one had powerful antagonists, one did not admit that one was getting old.
"I doubt if Shillito's character is all one could wish,'" Mrs. Cartwright resumed. "Character's very important, don't you think? Mrs. Grant—the woman with the big hat—knows something about him and she said he was fierce. I think she meant he was wild. Then she hinted he spent money he ought not to spend. But isn't a treasurer's pay good?"
Cartwright smiled, for he was patient to his wife. "It depends upon the company. A treasurer is sometimes a book-keeping clerk. However, the trouble is, Barbara's as wild as a hawk, though I don't know where she got her wildness. Her brother and sister are tame enough."
"Sometimes I'm bothered about Barbara," Mrs. Cartwright agreed. "She's rash and obstinate; not like the others. I don't know if they're tame, but they had never given me much anxiety. One can trust them to do all they ought."
Cartwright said nothing. As a rule, Clara's son and elder daughter annoyed him. Mortimer Hyslop was a calculating prig; Grace was finicking and bound by ridiculous rules. She was pale and inanimate; there was no blood in her. But Cartwright was fond of the younger girl. Barbara was frankly flesh and blood; he liked her flashes of temper and her pluck.
When the canoe came to the landing he got up. "Leave the thing to me," he said. "I'll talk to Shillito."
He went off, but when he reached the steps to the veranda in front of the hotel he stopped. His gout bothered him. At the top Mortimer Hyslop was smoking a cigarette. The young man was thin and looked bored; his summer clothes were a study in harmonious colors, and he had delicate hands like a woman's. When he saw Cartwright stop he asked: "Can I help you up, sir?"
Cartwright's face got red. He hated an offer of help that drew attention to his infirmity, and thought Mortimer knew.
"No, thanks! I'm not a cripple yet. Have you seen Shillito?"
"You'll probably find him in the smoking room. The card party has gone in and he's a gambler."
"So am I!"
Mortimer shrugged, and Cartwright wondered whether the fellow meant to imply that his gambling was not important since he had married a rich wife. The young man, however, hesitated and looked thoughtful.
"I don't know your object for wanting Shillito, but if my supposition's near the mark, might I state that I approve? In fact, I'd begun to wonder whether something ought not to be done. The fellow's plausible. Not our sort, of course; but when a girl's romantic and obstinate—"
Cartwright stopped him. "Exactly! Well, I'm the head of the house and imagine you can leave the thing to me. Perhaps it doesn't matter if your sister is obstinate. I'm going to talk to Shillito."
He crossed the veranda, and Mortimer returned to his chair and cigarette. He did not approve his step-father, but admitted that Cartwright could be trusted to handle a matter like this. Mortimer's fastidiousness was sometimes a handicap, but Cartwright had none.
Cartwright entered the smoking-room and crossed the floor to a table, at which two or three men stood as if waiting for somebody. One was young and tall. His thin face was finely molded, his eyes and hair were very black, and his figure was marked by an agile grace.
He looked up sharply as Cartwright advanced.
"I want you for a few minutes," Cartwright said roughly, as if he gave an order.
Shillito frowned, but went with him to the back veranda. Although the night was warm and an electric light burned under the roof, nobody was about. Cartwright signed the other to sit down.
"I expect your holiday's nearly up, and the hotel car meets the train in the morning," he remarked.
"What about it?" Shillito asked. "I'm not going yet."
"You're going to-morrow," said Cartwright grimly.
Shillito smiled and gave him an insolent look, but his smile vanished. Cartwright's white mustache bristled, his face was red, and his eyes were very steady. It was not for nothing the old ship-owner had fronted disappointed investors and forced his will on shareholders' meetings. Shillito saw the fellow was dangerous.
"I'll call you," he said, using a gambler's phrase.
"Very well," said Cartwright. "I think my cards are good, and if I can't win on one suit, I'll try another. To begin with, the hotel proprietor sent for me. He stated the house was new and beginning to pay, and he was anxious about its character. People must be amused, but he was running a summer hotel, not a gambling den. The play was too high, and young fools got into trouble; two or three days since one got broke. Well, he wanted me to use my influence, and I said I would."
"He asked you to keep the stakes in bounds? It's a good joke!"
"Not at all," said Cartwright dryly. "I like an exciting game, so long as it is straight, and when I lose I pay. I do lose, and if I come out fifty dollars ahead when I leave, I'll be satisfied. How much have you cleared?"
Shillito said nothing, and Cartwright went on: "My antagonists are old card-players who know the game; but when you broke Forman he was drunk and the other two were not quite sober. You play against young fools and your luck's too good. If you force me to tell all I think and something that I know. I imagine you'll get a straight hint to quit."
"You talked about another plan," Shillito remarked.
"On the whole, I think the plan I've indicated will work. If it does not and you speak to any member of Mrs. Cartwright's family, I'll thrash you on the veranda when people are about. I won't state my grounds for doing so; they ought to be obvious."
Shillito looked at the other hand. Cartwright's eyes were bloodshot, his face was going purple, and he thrust out his heavy chin. Shillito thought he meant all he said, and his threat carried weight. The old fellow was, of course, not a match for the vigorous young man, but Shillito saw he had the power to do him an injury that was not altogether physical. He pondered for a few moments, and then got up.
"I'll pull out," he said with a coolness that cost him much.
Cartwright nodded. "There's another thing. If you write to Miss Hyslop, your letters will be burned."
He went back to the smoking-room, and playing with his usual boldness, won twenty dollars. Then he joined Mrs. Cartwright on the front veranda and remarked: "Shillito won't bother us. He goes in the morning."
Mrs. Cartwright gave him a grateful smile. She had long known that when she asked her husband's help difficulties were removed. Now he had removed Shillito, and she was satisfied but imagined he was not. Cartwright knitted his white brows and drew hard at his cigar.
"You had better watch Barbara until the fellow starts," he resumed. "Then I think you and the girls might join the Vernons at their fishing camp. Vernon would like it, and he's a useful friend; besides, it's possible Shillito's obstinate. Your letters needn't follow you; have them sent to me at Montreal, which will cover your tracks. I must go back in a few days."
Mrs. Cartwright weighed the suggestion. Vernon was a Winnipeg merchant, and his wife had urged her to join the party at the fishing camp in the woods. The journey was long, but Mrs. Cartwright rather liked the plan. Shillito would not find them, and Mrs. Vernon had two sons.
"Can't you come with us?" she asked. "Mortimer is going to Detroit."
"Sorry I can't," said Cartwright firmly. "I don't want to leave you, but business calls."
He was relieved when Mrs. Cartwright let it go. Clara was a good sort and seldom argued. He had loafed about with her family for two weeks and had had enough. Moreover, business did call. If the Conference found out before his boat arrived that he had engaged Oreana's return load, they might see the shippers and make trouble. Anyhow, they would use some effort to get the cargo for their boats. Sometimes one promised regular customers a drawback on standard rates.
"I'll write to Mrs. Vernon in the morning," Mrs. Cartwright remarked.
"Telegraph" said Cartwright, who did not lose time when he had made a plan. "When the lines are not engaged after business hours, you can send a night-letter; a long message at less than the proper charge."
Mrs. Cartwright looked pleased. Although she was rich and sometimes generous, she liked small economies.
"After all, writing a letter's tiresome," she said. "Telegrams are easy. Will you get me a form?"
IN THE DARK
In the morning Cartwright told the porter to take his chair to the beach and sat down in a shady spot. He had not seen Barbara at breakfast and was rather sorry for her, but she had not known Shillito long, and although she might be angry for a time, her hurt could not be deep. Lighting his pipe, he watched the path that led between the pines to the water.
By and by a girl came out of the shadow, and going to the small landing-stage, looked at her wrist-watch. Cartwright imagined she did not see him and studied her with some amusement. Barbara looked impatient. People did not often keep her waiting, and she had not inherited her mother's placidity. She had a touch of youthful beauty, and although she was impulsive and rather raw, Cartwright thought her charm would be marked when she met the proper people and, so to speak, got toned down.
Cartwright meant her to meet the proper people, because he was fond of Barbara. She had grace, and although her figure was slender and girlish, she carried herself well. Her brown eyes were steady, her small mouth was firm, and as a rule her color was delicate white and pink. Now it was high, and Cartwright knew she was angry. She wore boating clothes and had obviously meant to go on the lake. The trouble was, her companion had not arrived.
"Hallo!" said Cartwright. "Are you waiting for somebody?"
Barbara advanced and sat down on a rocky ledge.
"No," she said, "I'm not waiting now."
Cartwright smiled. He knew Barbara's temper, and his line was to keep her resentment warm.
"You mean, you have given him up and won't go if he does arrive? Well, when a young man doesn't keep his appointment, it's the proper plan."
She blushed, but tried to smile. "I don't know if you're clever or not just now, although you sometimes do see things the others miss. I really was a little annoyed."
"I've lived a long time," said Cartwright. "However, perhaps it's important I haven't forgotten I was young. I think your brother and sister never were very young. They were soberer than me when I knew them first."
"Mortimer is a stick," Barbara agreed. "He and Grace have a calm superiority that makes one savage now and then. I like human people, who sometimes let themselves go—"
She stopped, and Cartwright noted her wandering glance that searched the beach and the path to the hotel. He knew whom she expected, and thought it would give her some satisfaction to quarrel with the fellow. Cartwright did not mean to soothe her.
"Mr. Shillito ought to have sent his apologies when he found he could not come," he said.
Barbara's glance got fixed, and Cartwright knew he had blundered.
"Oh!" she said, "now I begin to see! Mother kept me by her all the evening; but mother's not very clever and Mortimer's too fastidious to meddle, unless he gets a dignified part. Of course, the plot was yours!"
Cartwright nodded. Sometimes he used tact, but he was sometimes brutally frank.
"You had better try to console yourself with the Wheeler boys; they're straight young fellows. Shillito is gone. He went by the car this morning and it's unlikely he'll come back."
"You sent him off?" said Barbara, and her eyes sparkled. "Well, I'm not a child and you're not my father really. Why did you meddle?"
"For one thing, he's not your sort. Then I'm a meddlesome old fellow and rather fond of you. To see you entangled by a man like Shillito would hurt. Let him go. If you want to try your powers, you'll find a number of honest young fellows on whom you can experiment. The boys one meets in this country are a pretty good sample."
"There's a rude vein in you," Barbara declared. "One sees it sometimes, although you're sometimes kind. Anyhow, I won't be bullied and controlled; I'm not a shareholder in the Cartwright line. I don't know if it's important, but why don't you like Mr. Shillito?"
Cartwright's eyes twinkled. In a sense, he could justify his getting rid of Shillito, but he knew Barbara and doubted if she could be persuaded. Still she was not a fool, and he would give her something to think about.
"It's possible my views are not important," he agreed. "All the same, when I told the man he had better go he saw the force of my arguments. He went, and I think his going is significant. Since I'd sooner not quarrel, I'll leave you to weigh this."
He went off, but Barbara stopped and brooded. She was angry and humiliated, but perhaps the worst was she had a vague notion Cartwright might be justified. It was very strange Shillito had gone. All the same, she did not mean to submit. Her mother's placid conventionality had long irritated her; one got tired of galling rules and criticism. She was not going to be molded into a calculating prude like Grace, or a prig like Mortimer. They did not know the ridiculous good-form they cultivated was out of date. In fact, she had had enough and meant to rebel.
Then she began to think about Shillito. His carelessness was strangely intriguing; he stood for adventure and all the romance she had known. Besides, he was a handsome fellow; she liked his reckless twinkle and his coolness where coolness was needed. For all that, she would not acknowledge him her lover; Barbara did not know if she really wanted a lover yet. She imagined Cartwright had got near the mark when he said she wanted to try her power. Cartwright was keen, although Barbara sensed something in him that was fierce and primitive.
Perhaps nobody else could have bullied Shillito; Mortimer certainly could not, but Barbara refused to speculate about the means Cartwright had used.
Shillito ought not to have gone without seeing her; this was where it hurt. She was entitled to be angry—and then she started, for a page boy came quietly out of the shade.
"A note, miss," he said with a grin. "I was to give it you when nobody was around."
Barbara's heart beat, but she gave the boy a quarter and opened the envelope. The note was short and not romantic. Shillito stated he had grounds for imagining it might not reach her, but if it did, he begged she would give him her address when she left the hotel. He told her where to write, and added if she could find a way to get his letters he had much to say.
His coolness annoyed Barbara, but he had excited her curiosity and she was intrigued. Moreover, Cartwright had tried to meddle and she wanted to feel she was cleverer than he. Then Shillito was entitled to defend himself, and to find the way he talked about would not be difficult. Barbara knitted her brows and began to think.
At lunch Mrs. Cartwright told her they were going to join the Vernons in the woods and she acquiesced. Two or three days afterwards they started, and at the station she gave Cartwright her hand with a smiling glance, but Cartwright knew his step-daughter and was not altogether satisfied. Barbara did not sulk; when one tried to baffle her she fought.
The Vernons' camp was like others Winnipeg people pitch in the lonely woods that roll west from Fort William to the plains. It is a rugged country pierced by angry rivers and dotted by lakes, but a gasolene launch brought up supplies, the tents were large and double-roofed, and for a few weeks one could play at pioneering without its hardships. The Vernons were hospitable, the young men and women given to healthy sport, and Mrs. Cartwright, watching Barbara fish and paddle on the lake, banished her doubts. For herself she did not miss much; the people were nice, and the cooking was really good.
When two weeks had gone, Grace and Barbara sat one evening among the stones by a lake. The evening was calm, the sun was setting, and the shadow of the pines stretched across the tranquil water. Now and then the reflections trembled and a languid ripple broke against the driftwood on the beach. In the distance a loon called, but when its wild cry died away all was very quiet.
Grace looked across the lake and frowned. She was a tall girl, and although she had walked for some distance in the woods, her clothes were hardly crumpled. Her face was finely molded, but rather colorless; her hands were very white, while Barbara's were brown. Her dress and voice indicated cultivated taste; but the taste was negative, as if Grace had banished carefully all that jarred and then had stopped. It was characteristic that she was tranquil, although she had grounds for disturbance. They were some distance from camp and it would soon be dark, but nothing broke the gleaming surface of the lake. The boat that ought to have met them had not arrived.
"I suppose this is the spot where Harry Vernon agreed to land and take us on board?" she said.
"It's like the spot. I understand we must watch out for a point opposite an island with big trees."
"Watch out?" Grace remarked.
"Watch out is good Canadian," Barbara rejoined. "I'm studying the language and find it expressive and plain. When our new friends talk you know what they mean. Besides, I'd better learn their idioms, because I might stop in Canada if somebody urged me."
Grace gave her a quiet look. Barbara meant to annoy her, or perhaps did not want to admit she had mistaken the spot. Now Grace came to think about it, the plan that the young men should meet them and paddle them down the lake was Barbara's.
"I don't see why we didn't go with Harry and the other, as he suggested," she said.
"Then, you're rather dull. They didn't really want us; they wanted to fish. To know when people might be bored is useful."
"But there are a number of bays and islands. They may go somewhere else," Grace insisted.
"Oh well, it ought to amuse Harry and Winter to look for us, and if they're annoyed, they deserve some punishment. If they had urged us very much to go, I would have gone. Anyhow, you needn't bother. There's a short way back to camp by the old loggers' trail."
Grace said nothing. She thought Barbara's carelessness was forced; Barbara was sometimes moody. Perhaps she felt Shillito's going more than she was willing to own. For all that, the fellow was gone, and Barbara would, no doubt, presently be consoled.
"If mother could see things!" Barbara resumed. "Sometimes one feels one wants a guide, but all one gets is a ridiculous platitude from her old-fashioned code. One has puzzles one can't solve by out-of-date rules. However, since she doesn't see, there's no use in bothering."
"I'm your elder sister, but you don't give me your confidence."
Barbara's mood changed and her laugh was touched by scorn. "You are worse than mother. She's kind, but can't see; you don't want to see. I'd sooner trust my step-father. He's a very human old ruffian. I wish I had a real girl friend, but you tactfully freeze off all the girls I like. It's strange how many people there are whom virtuous folks don't approve."
Grace missed the note of appeal in her sister's bitterness. She did not see the girl as disturbed by doubts and looked in perplexity for a guiding light. Afterwards, when understanding was too late, Grace partly understood.
"Mr. Cartwright is not a ruffian." she said coldly.
"I suppose you're taking the proper line, and you'd be rather noble, only you're not sincere. You don't like Cartwright and know he doesn't like you. All the same, it's not important. We were talking about getting home, and since the boys have not come for us we had better start."
The loon had flown away and nothing broke the surface of the lake; the shadows had got longer and driven back the light. Thin mist drifted about the islands, the green glow behind the trunks was fading, and it would soon be dark.
"In winter, the big timber wolves prowl about the woods," Barbara remarked. "Horrible, savage brutes! I expect you saw the heads at the packer's house. Still, one understands they stay North until the frost begins."
She got up, and when they set off Grace looked regretfully across the lake, for she would sooner have gone home on board the fishing bateau. She was puzzled. The bays on the lake were numerous, and islands dotted the winding reaches, but it was strange the young men had gone to the wrong spot. They knew the lake and had told Barbara where to meet them. In the meantime, however, the important thing was to get home.
Darkness crept across the woods, and as she stumbled along the uneven trail Grace got disturbed. She felt the daunting loneliness, the quiet jarred her nerve. The pines looked ghostly in the gloom. They were ragged and strangely stiff, it looked as if their branches never moved, and the dark gaps between the trunks were somehow forbidding.
Grace did not like Canada. Her cultivation was artificial, but Canada was primitive and stern. In the towns, one found inventions that lightened labor, and brought to the reach of all a physical comfort that in England only the rich enjoyed, but the contrasts were sharp. One left one's hotel, with its very modern furniture, noisy elevators and telephones, and plunged into the wilderness where all was as it had been from the beginning. Grace shrank from primitive rudeness and hated adventure. Living by rule she distrusted all she did not know. She thought it strange that Barbara, who feared nothing, let her go in front.
They came to a pool. All round, the black tops of the pines cut the sky; the water was dark and sullen in the gloom. The trail followed its edge and when a loon's wild cry rang across the woods Grace stopped. She knew the cry of the lonely bird that haunts the Canadian wilds, but it had a strange note, like mocking laughter. Grace disliked the loon when its voice first disturbed her sleep at the fishing camp; she hated it afterwards.
"Go on!" said Barbara sharply.
For a moment or two Grace stood still. She did not want to stop, but something in Barbara's voice indicated strain. If Barbara were startled, it was strange. Then, not far off, a branch cracked and the pine-spray rustled as if they were gently pushed aside.
"Oh!" Grace cried, "something is creeping through the bush!"
"Then don't stop," said Barbara. "Perhaps it's a wolf!"
Grace clutched her dress and ran. At first, she thought she heard Barbara behind, but she owned she had not her sister's pluck and fear gave her speed. She must get as far as possible from the pool before she stopped. Besides, she imagined something broke through the undergrowth near the trail, but her heart beat and she could not hear properly.
At length her breath got labored and she was forced to stop. All was quiet and the quiet was daunting. Barbara was not about and when Grace called did not reply. Grace tried to brace herself. Perhaps she ought to go back, but she could not; she shrank from the terror that haunted the dark. Then she began to argue that to go back was illogical. If Barbara had lost her way, she could not help. It was better to push on to the camp and send men who knew the woods to look for her sister. She set off, and presently saw with keen relief the light of a fire reflected on calm water.
Grace's arrival was greeted by a shout, and when she stopped in front of the dining-tent a group of curious people surrounded her. The double roof of the big tent was extended horizontally, and a lamp hanging from a pole gave a brilliant light. Grace would sooner the light had been dim, for she was hot and her clothes were torn and wet with dew. Besides, she must tell her tale and admit that she had not played a heroic part.
"Where's Barbara?" Mrs. Cartwright asked.
"I don't know. Harry Vernon did not meet us and we started home by the loggers' trail. I lost Barbara by the pool. Something in the bush tried to creep up to us; a wolf, I think—"
"Oh, shucks!" remarked a frank Winnipeg girl who did not like Miss Hyslop. "In summer, you can't find a wolf south of Broken Range. Looks as if you were scared for nothing, but I can't see why Barbara didn't beat you at hitting up the pace."
Others asked questions, and when Grace got breath she tried to satisfy their curiosity. Some of the group looked thoughtful and Mrs. Vernon said:
"Nothing can have hurt Barbara, and if she has lost her way, she cannot wander far, because she must be in the loop between the river and the lake. But Harry did go to meet you, and when he found you had not come back went off again with Bob. I expect they'll soon arrive with Barbara."
They waited for half-an-hour, and then, when the splash of paddles stole out of the dark, ran down to the beach. Presently a double-ended bateau crossed the beam of light and grounded. A young man helped Barbara out and gave her his arm.
"You mustn't bother, Harry. I can walk all right," she said.
"Get hold," said Vernon. "You're not going to walk. If you're obstinate, I'll carry you."
Barbara leaned upon his arm, but her color was high and her look strained when he helped her across the stones. Harry Vernon was a tall, thin, wiry Canadian, with a quiet face. When he got to the tent he opened the curtain, and beckoning Mrs. Cartwright, pushed Barbara inside.
"You'll give her some supper, ma'am, and I'll chase the others off," he said. "The little girl's tired and mustn't be disturbed."
Barbara gave him a grateful look and the blood came to his sunburned skin.
"I am a little tired," she declared, and added, too quietly for Mrs. Cartwright to hear: "You're a white man."
Vernon pulled the curtain across, and joining the others, lighted a cigarette.
"The girls stopped at False Point, two miles short of the spot we fixed," he said. "I reckon Bob's directions were not plain enough. Since we didn't come along, they started back by the loggers' trail, while we went to look for them by the other track. At the pool, they thought they heard a wolf. That's so, Miss Hyslop?"
"Yes," said Grace. "I ran away and thought I heard Barbara following. But what happened afterwards?"
"She fell. Hurt her foot, had to stop, and then couldn't make good time. We found her limping along, and shoved through the bush for the river, so she needn't walk. Well, I think that's all."
It was plausible, but Grace was not altogether satisfied. Moreover, she imagined Vernon was not, and noted that Mrs. Vernon gave him a thoughtful glance. All the same, there was nothing to be said, and she went to her tent.
At daybreak Vernon left the camp, and when he reached the pool walked round its edge and then sat down and lighted his pipe. A few yards in front, a number of faint marks were printed on a belt of sand. By and by he heard steps, and frowned when Winter came out from an opening in the row of trunks. They were friends, and Bob was a very good sort, but Vernon would sooner he had stopped away.
"Hallo!" he said. "Why have you come along?"
"I lost my hunting-knife," Winter replied. "It was hooked to my belt and I thought the clip let go when we helped Miss Hyslop over the big log. A bully knife; I wanted to find the thing." He paused and smiled when he resumed: "I reckon you pulled out of camp to meditate?"
Vernon hesitated. Had Winter stopped a few yards off, he would have begun some banter and drawn him away from the pool. Bob was a woodsman and his eyes were keen. The sun was, however, rising behind the pines and a beam of light touched the sand. There was no use in trying to hide the marks. In fact, Vernon imagined Bob had seen them.
"No," he said. "I thought I'd try to trail the wolf Miss Hyslop talked about."
"Looks as if you'd found some tracks," Winter remarked. "Well, they're not a wolf's." He sat down opposite Vernon. "A man's! I saw another at a soft spot. He followed the girls from the lake and stopped for some time. I allow I reckoned on something like that."
Vernon made an experiment. "Might have been a packer going to a logging camp, or perhaps an Indian."
"Shucks!" said Winter, although he gave Vernon a sympathetic smile. "There are no Indians about the lake and packers' boots don't make marks like those. A city boot and a city man! A fellow who's wise to the bush lifts his feet. Anyhow, I reckon he doesn't belong to your crowd."
"A sure thing!" Vernon agreed. "I can fix where all the boys were. Besides, if somebody in our lot had wanted to talk to Miss Hyslop, he wouldn't have hung around in the woods. My mother's pretty fastidious about her guests. Well, I'll own up the thing bothers me."
Winter nodded. Harry was frank and honest, and Bob imagined he had felt Barbara Hyslop's charm. He was sorry for Harry. The thing was awkward.
"What are you going to do about it?" he asked.
"To begin with, I'm going to hide these tracks. After all, I don't see much light. I suppose I ought to tell my mother and put Mrs. Cartwright wise; but I won't. Spying on a girl and telling is mean. All the same, I'm surely bothered. In a sense, my mother's accountable for her guests and the girl's nice. I'd like it if I could talk to the man."
"Nothing doing there; he'll watch out. Well, we'll hide up his tracks and look for my knife. D'you think Grace Hyslop knew the job was put up?"
"I don't," said Vernon dryly. "I reckon she was puzzled, but that's all. You couldn't persuade Miss Hyslop her sister liked adventures in the dark. Anyhow, the thing's done with. We have got to let it go."
They went off and Winter pondered. Harry had got something of a knock. Perhaps he was taking the proper line; anyhow, it was the line Harry would take, but Bob doubted. The girl was very young and the man who met her in the dark was obviously a wastrel.
When they returned for breakfast Barbara had joined the others and wore soft Indian moccasins. Bob looked at Harry and understood his frown. Harry had played up when he helped her home, but he, no doubt, thought the game ought to stop. Bob wondered whether Barbara knew, because she turned her head when Harry advanced.
After breakfast, Mrs. Vernon, carrying a small bottle, joined Mrs. Cartwright's party under the pines outside the tent. The dew was drying and the water shone like a mirror, but it was cool in the shade. Barbara occupied a camp-chair and rested her foot on a stone, Mrs. Cartwright knitted, and Grace studied a philosophical book. Her rule was to cultivate her mind for a fixed time every day. Harry Vernon strolled up to the group and Mrs. Cartwright put down her knitting.
"You're kind, but the child's obstinate and won't let me see her foot," she said to Mrs. Vernon.
"It's comfortable now," Barbara remarked. "When something that hurt you stops hurting I think it's better to leave it alone. Besides, one doesn't want to bother people."
"You won't bother me, and I'll fix your foot in two or three minutes so it won't hurt again," Mrs. Vernon declared. "The elixir's famous and I haven't known it to miss. I always carry some when we camp in the woods." She turned to her son. "Tell Barbara how soon I cured you when you hurt your arm."
"You want to burn Miss Hyslop with the elixir?"
"It doesn't burn much. You said you hardly felt it, and soon after I rubbed your arm the pain was gone."
Harry glanced at Barbara and saw she was embarrassed, although her mouth was firm. Since she did not mean to let Mrs. Vernon examine her supposititious injury, his business was to help, and he laughed.
"Miss Hyslop's skin is not like my tough hide. You certainly fixed my arm, but it was a drastic cure, and I think Miss Hyslop ought to refuse. I try to indulge you, like a dutiful son, but you are not her mother."
"I am her mother and she will not indulge me," Mrs. Cartwright remarked with languid grievance, and Barbara gave Harry a quick, searching glance. His face was inscrutable, but she wondered how much he knew. She felt shabby and ashamed.
When Mrs. Vernon went off with the elixir, Harry sat down.
"If you could bring Mr. Cartwright out, I might persuade my father to come along," he said. "The old man likes Cartwright; declares he's a sport."
"He is a ship-owner." Grace remarked. "I think he used to shoot, but it's some time since."
Harry looked at Barbara and his eyes twinkled. "American English isn't Oxford English, but your people are beginning to use it and Miss Barbara learns fast. All the same, running the Independent Freighters is quite a sporting proposition, and I imagine Mr. Cartwright generally makes good. The old man and I would back him to put over an awkward deal every time."
"My husband is a good business man," Mrs. Cartwright agreed. "But you belong to Winnipeg and I understand his business is at Montreal."
"The steamship Conference understood something like that, until Cartwright put them wise. You see, we Western people grow the wheat that goes down the lakes, and when the Conference got to know an Independent boat was coming out they went round and offered Montreal shippers and brokers a drawback on the rates. That is, if the shippers gave them all their stuff, they'd meet their bills for a rebate some time afterwards. Bully for the shippers, but it left the Western men, who raised the wheat, in the cold. Well, while the Conference got after him at Montreal, Cartwright came West and booked all the grain he could load before it started off. When the Conference got wise, the cargo was in the Independent freighter's hold. Cartwright's surely a business man."
Barbara laughed and Mrs. Cartwright languidly agreed, but Grace frowned. Although she did not approve Cartwright, he was the head of her house, and to know his clever tricks were something of a joke hurt her dignity. Harry saw her frown.
"Anyhow, Cartwright's promise stands," he resumed. "If he ran his boat across half empty, he'd make good. You can trust him."
He went off and Barbara mused unhappily. She thought Harry had talked to help her over an awkward moment, and she was grateful but disturbed. It looked as if he knew something and he might know much. All the same, when he talked about her step-father she agreed. Cartwright was bold and clever, and, although he was sometimes not very scrupulous, people did trust him. Barbara wished she had his cleverness and his talent for removing obstacles. There were obstacles in her path and the path was dark. Yet she had promised to take it and must make good. She tried to banish her doubts and began to talk.
After lunch she allowed one of the party to help her on board a canoe. The afternoon was calm, and the light breeze that now and then sighed in the pine-tops hardly ruffled the shining water. In the evening, when the straight trunks cut against a blaze of gold and green, they sat by a smudge fire that kept off the mosquitoes and sang to an accompaniment of banjos and mandolins. Barbara sang with the others, but it cost her an effort. The tranquil day was nearly done and she felt it was the last tranquillity she might know for long. Her companions were frank and kind, Canadians, but her sort, and she was going to make a bold plunge with another who was not. Yet she knew one could not rebel for nothing, and she had pluck. The light faded behind the trees, a loon's wild cry rang across the dark water, and the party went to bed.
In the morning Grace awoke Mrs. Cartwright quietly.
"Barbara is gone," she said.
"Ridiculous!" said Mrs. Cartwright.
"She is gone. Her clothes are not about; but we must be calm and not disturb the camp. Mrs. Vernon ought to know, but nobody else. You see, it's important—"
Mrs. Cartwright saw, and a few minutes afterwards her hostess knew.
"It's plain I must give Harry my confidence, to some extent," Mrs. Vernon said, and went to look for her son.
She found him going off for a swim, and when she told her tale he frowned.
"In a way, perhaps, I'm accountable, but we'll talk about this again," he said. "Get Mrs. Cartwright on board the launch and come along yourself. As soon as Bob's inside his clothes we'll start."
"But Bob—" Mrs. Vernon began.
"Bob knows, and I'll need a partner. If Miss Hyslop didn't leave the settlement on the night express, she'll be hitting the trail through the woods for the United States. You must hustle."
Mrs. Vernon left him, and a few minutes afterwards the fast motor launch swung out from the landing and sped down river with a white wave at her bows. Grace watched the boat vanish behind a wooded point and then went to her tent. She was horribly angry and shocked. Barbara had cheated her and disgraced them all.
THE GIRL ON THE PLATFORM
The Vancouver express was running in the dark through the woods west of Fort William. After the rain of early summer, wash-outs that undermine the track are numerous and the express had been delayed. Now, however, the road was good and the engineer drove his big locomotive with throttle wide open. Black smoke blew about the rocking cars, cinders rattled on the roofs, and showers of sparks sped past the windows. The wheels roared on shaking trestles and now and then awoke an echoing clang of steel, for the company was doubling the track and replacing the wooden bridges by metal.
This was George Lister's business, and he lounged in a corner of a smoking-compartment, and rather drowsily studied some calculations. He was bound West from Montreal, and in the morning would resume his labors at a construction camp. There was much to be done and the construction bosses who had sent for him were getting impatient.
Lister's thoughts wandered from the figures. He liked his occupation and admitted that he had been lucky, but began to see he had gone as far as he could expect to go. The trouble was, he had not enjoyed the scientific training that distinguished the men who got important posts. His mechanical career began in the engine-room of a wheat-boat on the lakes, and he had entered the railroad company's service when shipping was bad and steamers were laid up. Although he had studied for a term or two at McGill University, he knew his drawbacks. Sometimes promotion was given for merit, but for the most part the men who made progress came from technical colleges and famous engineering works.
An accident in the ranges on the Pacific slope, when a mountain locomotive jumped the track and plunged down a precipitous hillside, gave Lister his first chance. He got the locomotive back to the line, and being rewarded by a better post, stubbornly pushed himself nearer the front. Now, however, it looked as if he must stop. Rules were not often relaxed in favor of men who had no highly-placed friends. Yet Lister wondered.
Not long since, a gentleman whose word carried some weight at the company's office had visited the construction camp with his indulged daughter. The girl was clever, adventurous, and interested by pioneer work, and Lister had helped her to some thrills she obviously enjoyed. She had, with his guidance, driven a locomotive across a shaking, half-braced bridge, fired a heavy blasting shot, and caught big gray trout from his canoe. Although Lister used some reserve, their friendship ripened, and when she left she hinted she had some power she might be willing to use on his behalf.
All the same, Lister was proud. The girl belonged to a circle he could not enter, and if he got promotion, it must be by his merits. He was not the man to get forward by intrigue and the clever use of a woman's influence; he had no talent for that kind of thing. He let it go, and tried to concentrate on his calculations.
By and by the colored porter stopped to tell him his berth was fixed and the passengers were going to bed. Lister nodded, put up his papers, and then lighted a cigarette. The smoking-compartment was hot, the light the rocking lamp threw about had hurt his eyes, and he thought he would go out on the platform for a few minutes.
He went. The draught that swept the gap between the cars was bracing and cool. There was a moon, he saw water shine and dark pines stream past. The snorting of the locomotive broke in a measured beat through the roll of wheels; the rocks threw back confused echoes about the clanging cars. Then the gleam among the trees got wider and Lister knew they were nearing a trestle that crossed an arm of a lake. In fact, he had wondered whether he would be sent to pull down the bridge and rebuild it with steel.
He sat down on the little box-seat, with his back against the door. The platform had not the new guards the company was then fitting; there was an opening in the rails, and one could go down the steps when the train was running. The moonlight touched the back of the car in front, but Lister was in the gloom, and when the vestibule door opposite opened he was annoyed. If somebody wanted to go through the train, he must get up.
A girl came out of the other car and seizing the rails looked down. She was in the light, and Lister remarked that she did not wear traveling clothes; he thought her small, knitted cap, short dress, and loose jacket indicated that she had come from a summer camp. Then she turned her head and he saw her face was rather white and her look was strained. It was obvious that something had disturbed her.
The girl did not see him, and while he wondered whether he ought to get up she put her foot on the step and leaned out, as if she weighed the possibility of jumping off. She swung back when the cars lurched round a curve, and the measured roll of wheels changed to a sharp, broken din. The train was running on to the trestle and Lister saw the water shine below the platform. He got up, and moving quietly, seized the girl's arm and pulled her from the rails.
"A jolt might throw you off," he said.
She looked up with a start and the blood came to her skin, but she gave him a quick, searching glance. Lister was athletic, his face was bronzed by frost and sun, and his look was frank. She lowered her eyes and her color faded.
"Does the train stop soon?" she asked.
"If the engineer's lucky, we won't stop until he makes the next water-tank, and it's some distance."
She turned with a quick, nervous movement and glanced at the door. Lister imagined she was afraid somebody might come out.
"Could one persuade or bribe the conductor to pull up?"
Lister hesitated. He knew the train gang and was a railroad boss, but the company was spending a large sum in order to cut down the time-schedule and somebody must account for all delay.
"I think not. You see, unless there's a washout or the track is blocked, nothing is allowed to stop the Vancouver express."
The girl glanced at the door again and then gave him an appealing look.
"But I must get off! I oughtn't to have come on board. I want to go East, towards Montreal, and not to Winnipeg."
Although he was not romantic, Lister was moved. She was very young and her distress was obvious. Somehow he felt her grounds for wanting to leave the train were good. Indeed, he rather thought she had meant to jump off had they not run on to the bridge. Yet for him to stop the express would be ridiculous; the conductor and engineer would pay for his meddling. With quiet firmness he pulled the girl farther from the opening of the rails.
"We stop long before we get to Winnipeg," he said soothingly. "Then it's possible we'll be held up by a blocked track. Wash-outs are pretty numerous on this piece of line. However, if we do stop and you get down, you'll be left in the woods."
"Oh!" she said, "that's not important! All I want is to get off."
"Very well," said Lister. "If we are held up, I'll look for you. But I don't know if the jolting platform is very safe. Hadn't you better go back to your car?"
She gave him a quick glance and he thought she braced herself.
"I'm not going back. I can't. It's impossible!"
Lister was curious, but hesitated about trying to satisfy his curiosity. The girl was afraid of somebody, and, seeing no other help, she trusted him.
"Then, you had better come with me and I'll find you a berth where you won't be disturbed," he said.
She followed him with a confidence he thought moving, and when they met the conductor he took the man aside.
"That's all right," said the other. "Nobody's going to bother her while I'm about."
Lister returned to the smoking-compartment, but the adventure had given him a pleasant thrill and he did not feel sleepy. He got out his calculations and tried to interest himself until a man entered the car. The fellow was rather handsome and his clothes were good, but Lister thought he looked perplexed. He gave Lister a keen glance and went on through the car. Some minutes afterwards, he came back, frowning savagely, stopped in front of Lister, as if he meant to speak, hesitated, and went out by the vestibule.
It was plain the fellow had gone to look for the girl and had not found her. The conductor had seen to that. Lister smiled, but admitted that the thing was puzzling. The man was older than the girl, although he was not old enough to be her father. If he were her husband, she would not have run away from him, and it did not look as if he were her lover. Lister saw no light, but since it was obvious she feared the man he resolved, if possible, to help her to escape.
Some time afterwards, the whistle pierced the roll of wheels, and Lister, going to the platform, saw a big electric head-lamp shine like a star. The cars were slowing and he imagined the operator had tried to run a construction train across the section before the express came up. They would probably stop for a minute at the intersection of the main and side tracks. Hurrying through the train, Lister found the conductor, who look him to a curtained berth, and the girl got down. She was dressed and wore her knitted cap.
"If you are resolved to go, I may be able to help you off," Lister said.
"I must go," she replied, and although Lister remarked that her hands trembled as she smoothed her crumpled dress, her voice was steady.
"Very well," he said. "Come along."
When he opened the vestibule door the train was stopping and the beam from a standing locomotive's head-lamp flooded the track with dazzling light. For a moment the girl hesitated, but when Lister went down the steps she gave him her hand and jumped. Lister felt her tremble and was himself conscious of some excitement. He did not know if he was rash or not, but since she meant to go, speed was important, because the man from whom she wanted to escape might see them on the line. He went to the waiting engine in front of a long row of ballast cars, on which a big gravel plough loomed faintly in the dark.
"Who's on board?" he asked.
A man he knew looked out from the cab window.
"Hallo, Mr. Lister! I'm on board with Jake. We're going to Malcolm cut for gravel. Washout's mixed things; operator reckoned he could rush us through—"
"Then you'll stop and get water at the tank," Lister interrupted. "Will you make it before the East-bound comes along?"
"We ought to make it half-an-hour ahead. Wires all right that way. Nothing's on the road."
Lister turned to the girl. "If you're going East you must buy a new ticket at Malcolm. Have you money?"
"I have some—" she said and stopped, and Lister imagined she had not until then thought about money and had not much.
"You'll take this lady to Malcolm, Roberts, and put her down where she can get to the station," he said to the engineer. "Nobody will see you have a passenger, but if the agent's curious, I'll fix the thing with him."
It was breaking rules, but the man knew Lister, and Lister knew he could be trusted. He took some bills from his wallet, and as he helped the girl up the steps pushed the paper into her hand.
She turned to the cab door, and Lister imagined she was hardly conscious of the money he had given her. Her color was high but her look indicated keen relief.
"Oh!" she said, "I owe you much! You don't know all you have done. I will not forget—"
Somebody waved a lantern, a whistle shrieked, and the locomotive bell began to toll. Lister jumped back and seized the rails above the platform steps as the car lurched forward. They moved faster, the beam of the head-lamp faded, and the train rolled on into the dark.
SHILLITO GETS AWAY
When the train started Lister did not go to his berth. His curiosity was excited and he wondered whether he had been rash. Now he came to think about it, the girl was attractive, and perhaps this to some extent accounted for his willingness to help. Moreover she was young, and it was possible her relations had put her in the man's control. If so, his meddling could not be justified.
After a time he heard the whistle, and imagined the train was going to stop at a small station to which mails were brought from some mining camps. The neighboring country was rugged and lonely, but a trail ran south through the woods to the American frontier. When the cars stopped he pushed down the window and looked out.
Small trees grew along the track and the light from the cars touched their branches. The line was checkered by illuminated patches and belts of gloom. Lister heard somebody open the baggage car and then saw a man run along the line beside the train. Another jumped off a platform and they met not far from Lister's window. The man who got down was the fellow who had gone through the car looking for the girl. The locomotive pump throbbed noisily and Lister could not hear their talk, but he thought they argued.
The one who came up the line looked impatient and put his hand on his companion's arm, as if to urge him away. The other stepped back, and his gesture implied that he refused to go. The train was long, the passengers were asleep, and the men, no doubt, imagined nobody saw them. Lister thought the fellow who got down did not know the girl was gone and did not mean to leave the train without her. The light touched the men's faces, and it was obvious that one was angry and the other disturbed. The scene intrigued Lister. It was like watching an act in a cinema play of which one did not know the plot.
After a minute or two a lantern flashed up the track, the bell tolled, and the nearer man jumped back on the step. Lister heard a vestibule door shut and then the throb of wheels began. The fellow on the line frowned and threw out his hands angrily. From the movement of his lips Lister thought he swore, but the car rolled past him and he melted into the dark.
Lister went to his berth, but did not undress. Much of the night had gone, he would reach his camp soon after daybreak, and the train would only stop long enough for him to jump off. He could sleep in his clothes for an hour or two. A slackening of the roll of wheels wakened him and he got out of his berth, but the big lamps were burning and when he went to the door he saw dawn had not come. It was obvious they had not reached the construction camp. Lister shivered, and was returning to his berth when the conductor opened the door.
"Our luck's surely not good to-night," he said. "They're pulling us up at Maple. If it's not a washout, somebody will get fired."
He went off, grumbling, but when the train stopped came back with a trooper of the North-West Mounted Police.
"Where's the guy you told me to watch out for?" he asked.
Lister said he did not know and offered to go with them and help find the man. It looked as if he were going to see the end of the play.
When they opened a vestibule door a man came out of the car in front and stopped, as if he were dazzled by the beam from the conductor's lifted lamp.
"That's the fellow," Lister shouted.
He thought the other saw the trooper's uniform, because he stepped back quickly. The door, however, was shut. When he let go the handle the spring-bolt had engaged.
"Nothing doing that way!" said the trooper. "My partner's coming along behind you; you're corraled all right. I've a warrant for you, Louis Shillito."
The North-West Police work in couples and the situation was plain. One trooper had begun his search at the front of the train, the other at the back, and Shillito, hearing the first turn the passengers out of their berths, had tried to steal away and met the other. His face got strangely white, but Lister thought it was rather with rage than fear. His lips drew back in a snarl, and the veins swelled on his forehead. He occupied the center of the illuminated circle thrown by the conductor's lamp, and his savage gaze was fixed. Lister saw he was not looking at the policeman but at him.
"Blast you!" Shillito shouted. "If you hadn't butted in—"
"Cut it out!" said the trooper. "Hands up; we've got you! Don't make trouble."
Shillito's hand went behind him. It was possible he felt for the door knob, but the trooper meant to run no risks. Although he had put down his rifle and taken out his handcuffs, he jumped forward, across the platform, and Shillito bent sideways to avoid his spring. The fellow was athletic and his quick side-movement indicated he was something of a boxer; the policeman was embarrassed by his handcuffs and young. Shillito seized him and threw him against the rails, close to the gap where the steps went down. The trooper gasped, his grasp got slack, and his body slipped along the rails. It looked as if Shillito would throw him down the steps, and Lister jumped.
He saw Shillito's hand go up and next moment got a heavy blow. For all that, he seized the man and held on, though blood ran into his eyes and he felt dizzy. Shillito struggled like a savage animal and Lister imagined the trooper did not help much. He got his arms round his antagonist and tried to pull him down; Shillito was trying to reach the opening in the rails. After a moment or two, Lister felt his muscles getting slack, lurched forward, and saw nothing in front. He plunged out from the gap, struck a step with his foot, and somebody fell on him. Then he thought he heard a rifle-shot, and knew nothing more.
By and by somebody pulled him to his feet and he saw the conductor holding his arm. A group of excited passengers stood round them in the light that shone from the train and some others ran along the edge of the woods. The trooper and Shillito were gone.
Lister's head hurt, he felt shaky, and when he wiped his face his hand was wet with blood.
"My head's cut. S'pose I hit something when I fell," he said.
"Shillito socked it to you pretty good," the conductor replied, and waved his lamp. "All aboard!" he shouted, and pushed Lister up the steps.
When they reached the platform the car jolted and Lister sat down, with his back against the door.
"My legs won't hold me," he said in an apologetic voice. "Did Shillito get off?"
"Knocked out the trooper and made the bush; the other fellow was way back along the train," the conductor replied. "They want him for embezzlement and will soon get on his trail, but the wash-out's broke the wires and I reckon he'll cross the frontier ahead. Now you come along and I'll try to fix your cut."
Lister went, and soon after a porter helped him into his berth. His head hurt and he felt very dull and slack, but he slept and when he woke bright sunshine streamed into the standing car and he saw the train had stopped at Winnipeg. Soon afterwards the conductor and one of the station officials put him into an automobile.
"If the reporters get after you, remember you're not to talk about the girl," he said to the conductor.
The other nodded, and signed the driver to start. The car rolled off and stopped at the house of a doctor who dressed the cut on Lister's head and ordered him a week's rest. Lister went to a hotel, and in the morning found a romantic narrative of Shillito's escape in the newspaper, but was relieved to note that nothing was said about the girl. The report, however, stated that a passenger who tried to help the police had got badly hurt and Shillito had vanished in the woods. The police had not found his trail and it was possible he would reach the American frontier.
Lister thought the thing was done with, and when a letter arrived from the construction office, telling him to stay until he felt able to resume his work, resigned himself to rather dreary idleness. For some days his head ached and he could not go out; the other guests were engaged in the city and there was nobody to whom he could talk. He got badly bored, and it was a relief when one afternoon the gentleman he had met at the construction camp arrived with his daughter. For all that, Lister was surprised. Duveen was a man of some importance, Miss Duveen was a fashionable young lady, and Lister had imagined they had forgotten him. He took his guests to a corner of the spacious rotunda where a throbbing electric fan blew away the flies, and Duveen gave him a cigarette.
"The Record did not give your name, but we soon found out who was the plucky passenger," he said with a friendly smile. "Ruth thought she'd like to see you, and since I wasn't engaged this afternoon we came along."
"I did want to come, but I really think you proposed the visit," Ruth remarked.
"Oh, well," said Duveen, "I don't know if it's important, but perhaps we oughtn't to make Mr. Lister talk."
Lister declared he wanted to talk, and Duveen said presently, "I don't see why you butted in."
For a moment or two Lister hesitated. He was resolved to say nothing about the girl; it was obvious she would not like her adventure known, but he must be cautious. Duveen was clever, and he thought Miss Duveen gave him a curious glance.
"The trooper was young and I sympathized with his keenness. Looked as if it was his first important job and he meant to make good."
"A romantic impulse?" Duveen remarked, and laughed. "Well, when one is young, I expect it's hard to stand off while a fight's going on. All the same, it's strange you didn't sympathize with the fellow who was corraled. That's youth's natural instinct, although I allow it's not often justified."
"The trooper was corraled. He'd put down his rifle and Shillito had a gun; I reckon it was the sharp butt of a heavy automatic that cut my head. Then I didn't like the fellow; he'd come through the train before and looked a smart crook."
"He is a crook and got away with a big wad of the lumber firm's money. However, you were rash to jump for a man with a pistol. You didn't know he'd use the butt. All the same, you look brighter than we thought and can take a rest. I expect the construction office won't rush you back until you're fit."
"I want to get back. Loafing round the hotel is dreary and my job's not getting on. Although I'm ordered to lie off, this won't count for much. I'll be made accountable for getting behind."
Duveen said nothing for a moment or two, but he looked thoughtful, and Lister imagined Miss Duveen studied him quietly. He did not belong to the Duveens' circle; he was ruder. In fact, it was rather strange to see these people sitting with him, engaged in friendly talk, although, now he thought about it, Miss Duveen had not said much.
She was a pretty girl and Lister liked her fashionable dress. Somehow Ruth Duveen harmonized with the tall pillars and rich ornamentation of the rotunda. One felt she belonged to spacious rooms. Duveen's clothes were in quiet taste, he wore a big diamond, and looked commanding. One felt this was a man whose word carried weight.
"You're something of a hustler," he remarked with a smile. "For all that, you got a nasty knock, and your quitting for a time is justified. Well, if you feel lonesome, come along and dine at our hotel. Then we'll go and see the American opera. I'm told the show is good."
Lister made some excuses, but Duveen would not be refused.
"When we stopped at your camp you made things smooth for us. You gave Ruth some thrills, showed her the romance of track-grading, and generally helped her to a good time. Anyhow, the thing is fixed. We'll send the car for you."
They went off soon afterwards, and Lister mused and smoked. He had hardly expected to meet the Duveens again and wondered whether he owed the visit to Ruth or her father; he had remarked at the camp that she was generally indulged. Well, it was plain Duveen could help him and Lister was ambitious, but he frowned and pulled himself up. He was not going to intrigue for promotion and use a girl's friendship in order to force his chiefs to see his merits. Things like that were done, but not by him; it demanded qualities he did not think were his. Moreover he did not know if Ruth Duveen was his friend. She was attractive, but he imagined she was clever. All the same, if he could get the doctor to fix his bandage so as to make it inconspicuous he would dine with the Duveens.
Lister went to the opera with his hosts and was moved by the music and the feeling that he was one of a careless, pleasure-seeking crowd. For the most part, his life had been strenuous and the crowds he knew were rude. His home was a bare shack, sometimes built on the wind-swept alkali plains, and sometimes in the tangled woods. From daybreak until dusk fell, hoarse shouts, the clank of rails, the beat of heavy hammers filled his ears, and often the uproar did not stop at dark. When a soft muskeg swallowed the new track, he must watch, by the flaring blast-lamps, noisy ploughs throw showers of gravel from the ballast cars.
Labor and concentration had left their mark. Lister's muscles were hard, but his body and face were thin. He looked fine-drawn and alert; his talk was direct and quick. As a rule, his skin was brown, but now the brown was gone, and the lines on his face were deeper. His injury accounted for something and he felt the reaction from a strain he had hardly noted while it must be borne. Although he had not altogether hidden his bandage and his clothes were not the latest fashion, Ruth Duveen was satisfied. Somehow he looked a finer type than the business men in the neighboring stalls. One felt the man's clean virility and got a hint of force.
Lister was highly strung. The music stirred his imagination, and when the curtain went down the light and glitter, the perfume that drifted about, the women's dress, and the society of his attractive companion gave him a curious thrill. He began to see he had missed much; ambitions that had forced him to struggle for scope to use fresh efforts took another turn. Life was not all labor. Ruth Duveen had enlightened him.
He studied her. She had grace and charm; it was much to enjoy, for one evening, the society of a girl like this. Duveen went off between the acts to meet his friends, but Ruth stopped and talked. Her smile was gracious and Lister let himself go. He told her about adventures on the track and asked about her life in the cities. Perhaps it was strange, but she did not look bored, and when the curtain went down for the last time he felt a pang. The evening was gone and in a day or two he must resume his labor in the wilds. Lister did not cheat himself; he knew the strange, romantic excitement he had indulged would not be his again. When they went down the passage Ruth gave him a smiling glance and saw his mouth was firm.
"You look rather tired," she said. "Have we tired you?"
Lister turned and his eyes were thoughtful. She had stopped to fasten her cloak, and the people pushing by forced her to his side. An electric lamp burned overhead and her beauty moved him. He noted the heavy coils of her dark hair, her delicate color, and the grace of her form.
"I'm not at all tired," he said. "I feel remarkably braced and keen, as if I'd waked up from sleep. In fact, I think I have awakened."
Ruth laughed. She saw he was not smiling and his graveness gave her a sense of power. He had owned, with typical frankness, that she had moved him.
"Sometimes to wake up suddenly gives one a jolt," she said. "However, you will soon get calm again in the woods."
He sensed something provocative and challenging in her voice, but he would not play up.
"I wonder—" he said quietly. "In a way, the proper line's to go to sleep again."
"Sometimes one dreams! I expect you dream about locomotives breaking through trestles and dump-cars plunging into muskegs?"
He laughed. "They're things I know, and safe to dream about. All the same, I rather expect I'll be haunted by lights and music, pretty dresses and faces—"
He stopped, and Ruth remarked: "If these have charm, there are no very obvious grounds for your going without. You can command a locomotive and Winnipeg's not very far from your camp. But we're stopping the people, and I can't fix this clasp."
She moved, and the opera cloak fell back from her arm, which was uncovered but for the filmy sleeve that reached a little below the shoulder. He noted its fine curves and the silky smoothness of her skin. Although he fastened the clasp with a workman's firm touch, he thrilled. Then the crowd forced them on and they found Duveen waiting by the car. When they stopped at Lister's hotel Ruth said, "We are going to Winnipeg Beach, Saturday. Would you like to come?"
Duveen nodded. "A happy thought! I've got to talk to some business people who make Ruth tired. If you come along, I needn't bother about her."
"That's how one's father argues!" Ruth exclaimed.
Lister hesitated. "I was told to lie off because I was hurt. If I'm fit to enjoy an excursion, I'm fit to work."
"You're too scrupulous, young man. Have a good time when it's possible, or you'll be sorry afterwards. I reckon you're justified to take all the company will give."
"It was caution, not scruples. Suppose I meet one of the railroad chiefs?"
"I'll fix him," Duveen rejoined. "Your bosses won't get after you when you belong to my party. Anyhow, we'll look out for you."
The car rolled off, and Lister, going to the rotunda, lighted a cigarette and mused. Ruth Duveen had beauty, he liked her but must use caution, since he imagined the friendship she had given him was something of an indulged girl's caprice. Then he began to think about the girl he had met on board the train. Now he was able, undisturbed, to draw her picture, he saw she, too, had charm, but she was not at all like Ruth. The strange thing was, one did not note if she were beautiful or not. In a way, this did not matter; her pluck and firmness fixed one's interest.
Lister threw away his cigarette. He was poor and not romantic. The girl he had helped had vanished, and after their excursion he hardly expected to see Ruth again. Ruth was kind, but she would soon forget him when he was gone. He would go to Winnipeg Beach with her, and then return to the woods and let his job absorb him. In the meantime, his head had begun to ache and he went to bed.
The Saturday morning was typical of Winnipeg in summer. The fresh northwest breeze that sweeps the Manitoba plains had dropped. Dark thunder-clouds rolled about the sky, but the sun was hot and an enervating humidity brooded over the town. The perspiring crowd in Main Street moved slackly, the saloon bars were full, and the groups of holiday-makers flocking to the station wore a languid look.
Lister met his hosts in the marble waiting hall where a gold-framed panorama of Canadian scenery closes the view between the rows of stately pillars. Duveen had brought three or four keen-eyed, nervous business men, a rather imposing lady, and Ruth, and they got on board a local train soon after Lister arrived. Winnipeg Beach was then beginning to attract holiday-makers from the prairie town. One could row and fish in sheltered bays, and adventure on board a gasoline launch into the northern wilds. Boating, however, had no charm for Duveen's friends. The excursion was an opportunity for friendly business talk, and when lunch was over Ruth and Lister went out on the lawn in front of the hotel.
There was no wind. A few dark clouds floated motionless overhead, but outside their shadow the lake shone like glass, running back until it melted into faint reflections on the horizon. A varnished launch flashed in the sun and trailed a long white wake across the water.
"Do you want to stay and talk to Mrs. Knapp?" Ruth asked.
"I do not," said Lister. "Anyhow, I imagine Mrs. Knapp doesn't want to talk to me. I'm not a big-business man."
Ruth laughed. "Oh, well, when you speculate at the Board of Trade, a railroad engineer is not a useful friend. I suppose I ought to stay, but the things one ought to do are tiresome. Let's go on the lake."
Lister got a canoe, and fixing a cushion for Ruth, picked up the paddle.
"Where shall we go?"
"North, as far as you can. Let's get away from the boats and trippers and imagine we're back in the woods where you helped me catch the big gray trout."
"Then you liked it at the construction camp?" Lister remarked. "It was a pretty rude spot."
"For an indulged city girl?" Ruth said, smiling. "Well, perhaps I'd got all the satisfaction dinner parties and dances and the society at hotels can give. I knew the men who handle finance and work the wires behind the scenes, but I wanted to know the others who do the strenuous things and keep the country going. I came, and you helped me to understand the romance of the lakes and woods."
Lister did not remember if he had tried to do so and thought he had not. All the same, the girl was keen and interested. In summer, it was not hard to feel the lonely sheets of water and tangled bush were touched by romance. Then, perhaps, everybody felt at times a vague longing for the rude and primitive. But he was not a philosopher, and dipping the paddle, he drove the canoe across the tranquil lake.
In the meantime, he imagined Ruth studied him with quiet amusement, and wondered whether she thought he was not playing up. He did not mean to play up; the game was intricate, and, if he were rash, might cost him much. He had taken off his hat and jacket and effort had brought back the color to his skin. His thin face had the clean bronze tint of an Indian's; the soft shirt showed the fine-drawn lines of his athletic figure; but Lister was not conscious of this. He knew his drawbacks, but not all his advantages.
When he had gone some distance and the hotel and houses began to melt into the background, he stopped and let the canoe drift.
"How far shall we go?" he asked.
Ruth indicated a rocky point, cut off by the glimmering reflection, that seemed to float above the horizon.
"Let's see what is on the other side. Now and then one wants to know. Exploration's intriguing. Don't you think so?"
"Sometimes; in a practical sense. When a height of land cuts the landscape, I wonder whether one could find an easy down-grade for the track across the summit. That's about as far as my imagination goes."
"Oh, well," said Ruth, "exploration like that is useful and one doesn't run much risk. But risk and adventure appeal to some people."
Lister resumed paddling. The girl had charm and he was young; if he were not cautious, there might be some risk for him. He was not a clever philanderer, and Ruth and Duveen had been kind. By and by a puff of cool wind touched his hot skin and he looked round. A black cloud had rolled up and there were lines on the water.
"We may get a blow and some thunder," he remarked. "Shall we go back?"
"Not yet. We'll make the point first. If it does thunder, summer storms don't last."
He paddled harder and a small white wave lapped the canoe's bows. The sky was getting dark, and now the lines that streaked the lake were white, but the wind was astern and they were going fast. The glimmering reflections had vanished and the rocks ahead rose sharply from the leaden water. The point was some distance off, but Lister knew he must reach it soon.
A flash of forked lightning leaped from the sky and touched the lake, there was a long, rumbling peal, and then a humming noise began astern. Angry white ripples splashed about the canoe and lumps of hail beat Lister's head. Then, while the thunder rolled across the sky, the canoe swerved. It was blowing hard, the high bow and stern caught the wind, the strength was needed to hold her straight with the single paddle. If he brought her round, he could not paddle to windward, and to steer across the sea that would soon get up might be dangerous. They must make the point and land. He threw Ruth his jacket, for spray had begun to fly and the drops from the paddle blew on board.
"Put on the thing; I've got to work," he said.
In a few minutes his work was hard. Short, white waves rolled past, the canoe lurched and swerved, and Lister knew if she swung off across wind and sea she might capsize. He must keep her running and let the combers split against her pointed stern. The combers were getting large and their hissing tops surged by some height above the gunwale, but so long as he could keep her before them they would not come on board. When her bows went up she sheered, as if she meant to shoot across the hollow left by the sea that rolled by. He stopped her with a back-stroke and then drove hard ahead, for he must have speed to steer when the next sea came on. In the meantime, the lightning flickered about the lake and between the flashes all was nearly dark. The tops of the waves tossed against leaden cloud and he could hardly see the rocks for which he steered.
By and by, however, the point stood out close ahead. The trees on the summit bent in the wind; spray leaped about the bowlders where the white foam rolled. He must go round and find a landing to lee, but to go round he must cross the belt of breaking water, with the savage wind abeam. The canoe shipped some water, and riding in on a comber's crest, narrowly missed a rock that lifted its top for a moment out of the foam. Then Lister drove her in behind the point and helped Ruth to land on a gravel beach. Her eyes sparkled and he saw she had not been daunted.
"We're all right now, but we have got to stay until the storm blows out," he said.
They found shelter in a hollow of the cliff and sat among the driftwood while the rain that blotted out the lake drove overhead. The deluge did not reach them and the cold was going.
"You go back on Monday?" Ruth said at length.
Lister smiled with humorous resignation. "I must. The strange thing is, when I left my job before I was keen to get back. Now I'd rather stop and loaf."
"Then you were not bored at Winnipeg?"
"Not at all," Lister declared. "If it would give me a holiday like this, I'd get hurt again."
"I expect the woods get dreary. Then, perhaps, one doesn't make much progress by sticking to the track? Don't you want to get into the office where the big plans are made?"
"I don't know," said Lister thoughtfully. "On the track you're all right if you know your job; at headquarters you need qualities I don't know are mine. Anyhow, I'm not likely to get there, if I want or not."
Ruth gave him a curious glance. "Sometimes one's friends can help. Would you really like a headquarters post?"
Lister moved abruptly and his mouth got firm. Perhaps Ruth exaggerated her father's importance, but it was possible Duveen could get him promotion. All the same, Lister saw what his taking the job implied; he must give up his independence and be Duveen's man. Moreover, if the girl meant to help, she had some grounds for doing so. He thrilled and was tempted, but he thought hard. It looked as if she liked him and was perhaps willing to embark upon a sentimental adventure, but he thought this was all. She would not marry a poor man.
"No," he said, with a touch of awkwardness. "I reckon I had better stick to the track. To know where you properly belong is something, and if I took the other job, my chiefs would soon find me out."
"You're modest," Ruth remarked. "One likes modest people, but don't you think you're obstinate?"
"When the trail you hit goes uphill, obstinacy's useful."
"If you won't take help, you may be long reaching the top, but we'll let it go. The wind hasn't dropped much. How can we get back?"
"We must wait," Lister replied with a twinkle. "The trouble about an adventure is, when you start you're often forced to stay with it and put it over. That sometimes costs more than you reckon."
Ruth's eyes sparkled, but she forced a smile. "Logical people make me tired. But why do you imagine I haven't the pluck to pay?"
"I don't," said Lister. "I've no grounds to imagine anything like that. My business was to take care of you and I ought to have seen the storm was coming. Now I'm mad because I didn't watch out."
"Sometimes you're rather nice," Ruth remarked. "You know I made you go on. All the same, we must start as soon as possible."
Lister got up presently and launched the canoe. The thunder had gone, but the breeze was strong and angry white waves rolled up the lake. To drive the canoe to windward was heavy labor, and while she lurched slowly across the combers the sun got low. Lister's wet hands blistered and his arms ached, but he swung the paddle stubbornly, and at length the houses and hotel stood out from the beach. When they got near the landing Ruth looked ahead.
"The train's ready to pull out!" she exclaimed. "Can you make it?"
Lister tried. His face got dark with effort and his hands bled, but in a few minutes he ran the canoe aground. Ruth jumped out and they reached the station as the bell began to toll. Duveen waved to them from the track by the front of the train and then jumped on board, and Lister pushed Ruth up the steps of the last car. The car was second-class and crowded by returning holiday-makers, but the conductor, who did not know Lister and Miss Duveen, declared all the train was full and they must stay where they were. When he went off and locked the vestibule Lister looked about.
All the seats and much of the central passage were occupied, for the most part by young men and women. Some were frankly lovers and did not look disturbed by the banter of their friends. Lister was embarrassed, for Ruth's sake, until he saw with some surprise that she studied the others with amused curiosity. Looking down he met her twinkling glance and thought it something like a challenge. His embarrassment got worse. One could not talk because of the noise and to shout was ridiculous. He must stand in a cramped pose and try not to fall against Ruth when the cars rocked. He admitted that his proper background was the rude construction camp, and it was something of a relief when they rolled into Winnipeg.
Duveen's car was at the station, and Ruth stopped for a moment before she got on board.
"You start on Monday and we will be out of town to-morrow. I wish you good luck."
Lister thanked her, and when she got into the car she gave him a curious smile. "I think I liked you better in the woods," she said, and the car rolled off.
Soon after his return from Winnipeg, Lister stood one evening by a length of track planned to cut out an awkward curve. The new line ran into a muskeg that sucked down brush and logs and the loads of numerous gravel trains. Angry foremen declared one could not fill up the bog, and Lister knew the heads of the construction office grumbled about the delay. He was tired, for he had been strenuously occupied since morning, but could not persuade himself that the work had made much progress.
Small trees lay in tangled rows about the fresh gravel; farther back, the standing bush ran in a broken line against the fading light. In front, thin mist drifted across the muskeg where slender trunks rose from the quaking mud. Not far off a high, wooden trestle carried the rails across a ravine. The bridge would presently be rebuilt with steel, but in the meantime the frame was open and the gaps between the ties were wide.
It was getting dark and noisy blast-lamps threw up pillars of white fire. The line had sunk in the afternoon and it was necessary to lift the rails and fill up the subsidence before the next gravel train arrived. Lister was angry and puzzled, for he had pushed the road-bed across to near the other side, but the rails had not sunk in the new belt but in ground over which the trains had run.
By and by a man joined him and remarked: "The boys have got the ties up, but I reckon they won't fix the track for three or four hours. Looks as if the blamed muskeg was going to beat us."
"She can't beat us," Lister rejoined impatiently. "The trouble is, hauling the stuff she swallows runs up construction costs, and that counts against us. Did you leave Willis with the gang?"
The other laughed. "I did not. He was tired. Wanted something at the office and allowed he'd stop and take a smoke."