E-text prepared by Al Haines
NORTH OF FIFTY-THREE
BERTRAND W. SINCLAIR
Author of The Land of Frozen Suns, Etc.
With Illustrations by Anton Otto Fischer
[Frontispiece: "Oh!" she gasped. "Why—it's gold!"]
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers Copyright, 1914, by Little, Brown, and Company. All rights reserved.
I. WHICH INTRODUCES A LADY AND TWO GENTLEMEN II. HEART, HAND—AND POCKETBOOK III. "I DO GIVE AND BEQUEATH" IV. AN EXPLANATION DEMANDED V. THE WAY OF THE WORLD AT LARGE VI. CARIBOO MEADOWS VII. A DIFFERENT SORT OF MAN VIII. IN DEEP WATER IX. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT X. A LITTLE PERSONAL HISTORY XI. WINTER—AND A TRUCE XII. THE FIRES OF SPRING XIII. THE OUT TRAIL XIV. THE DRONE OF THE HIVE XV. AN ENDING AND A BEGINNING XVI. A BRIEF TIME OF PLANNING XVII. EN ROUTE XVIII. THE WINTERING PLACE XIX. FOUR WALLS AND A ROOF XX. BOREAS CHANTS HIS LAY XXI. JACK FROST WITHDRAWS XXII. THE STRIKE XXIII. THE STRESS OF THE TRAIL XXIV. NEIGHBORS XXV. THE DOLLAR CHASERS XXVI. A BUSINESS PROPOSITION XXVII. A BUSINESS JOURNEY XXVIII. THE BOMB XXIX. THE NOTE DISCORDANT XXX. THE AFTERMATH XXXI. A LETTER FROM BILL XXXII. THE SPUR XXXIII. HOME AGAIN XXXIV. AFTER MANY DAYS
List of Illustrations
"Oh!" she gasped. "Why—it's gold!" . . . . . . Frontispiece
Roaring Bill Wagstaff stood within five feet of her, resting one hand on the muzzle of his grounded rifle
"Hurt? No," he murmured; "I'm just plain scared."
Bill stood before the fireplace, his shaggy fur cap pushed far back on his head
NORTH OF FIFTY-THREE
WHICH INTRODUCES A LADY AND TWO GENTLEMEN
Dressed in a plain white shirt waist and an equally plain black cloth skirt, Miss Hazel Weir, on week days, was merely a unit in the office force of Harrington & Bush, implement manufacturers. Neither in personality nor in garb would a casual glance have differentiated her from the other female units, occupied at various desks. A close observer might have noticed that she was a bit younger than the others, possessed of a clear skin and large eyes that seemed to hold all the shades between purple and gray—eyes, moreover, that had not yet begun to weaken from long application to clerical work. A business office is no place for a woman to parade her personal charms. The measure of her worth there is simply the measure of her efficiency at her machine or ledgers. So that if any member of the firm had been asked what sort of a girl Miss Hazel Weir might be, he would probably have replied—and with utmost truth—that Miss Weir was a capable stenographer.
But when Saturday evening released Miss Hazel Weir from the plain brick office building, she became, until she donned her working clothes at seven A. M. Monday morning, quite a different sort of a person. In other words, she chucked the plain shirt waist and the plain skirt into the discard, got into such a dress as a normal girl of twenty-two delights to put on, and devoted a half hour or so to "doing" her hair. Which naturally effected a more or less complete transformation, a transformation that was subjective as well as purely objective. For Miss Weir then became an entity at which few persons of either sex failed to take a second glance.
Upon a certain Saturday night Miss Weir came home from an informal little party escorted by a young man. They stopped at the front gate.
"I'll be here at ten sharp," said he. "And you get a good beauty sleep to-night, Hazel. That confounded office! I hate to think of you drudging away at it. I wish we were ready to—"
"Oh, bother the office!" she replied lightly. "I don't think of it out of office hours. Anyway, I don't mind. It doesn't tire me. I will be ready at ten this time. Good night, dear."
"Good night, Hazie," he whispered. "Here's a kiss to dream on."
Miss Weir broke away from him laughingly, ran along the path, and up the steps, kissed her finger-tips to the lingering figure by the gate, and went in.
"Bed," she soliloquized, "is the place for me right quickly if I'm going to be up and dressed and have that lunch ready by ten o'clock. I wish I weren't such a sleepyhead—or else that I weren't a 'pore wurrkin' gurl.'"
At which last conceit she laughed softly. Because, for a "pore wurrkin' gurl," Miss Weir was fairly well content with her lot. She had no one dependent on her—a state of affairs which, if it occasionally leads to loneliness, has its compensations. Her salary as a stenographer amply covered her living expenses, and even permitted her to put by a few dollars monthly. She had grown up in Granville. She had her own circle of friends. So that she was comfortable, even happy, in the present—and Jack Barrow proposed to settle the problem of her future; with youth's optimism, they two considered it already settled. Six months more, and there was to be a wedding, a three-weeks' honeymoon, and a final settling down in a little cottage on the West Side; everybody in Granville who amounted to anything lived on the West Side. Then she would have nothing to do but make the home nest cozy, while Jack kept pace with a real-estate business that was growing beyond his most sanguine expectations.
She threw her light wraps over the back of a chair, and, standing before her dresser, took the multitude of pins out of her hair and tumbled it, a cloudy black mass, about her shoulders. Occupying the center of the dresser, in a leaning silver frame, stood a picture of Jack Barrow. She stood looking at it a minute, smiling absently. It was spring, and her landlady's daughter had set a bunch of wild flowers in a jar beside the picture. Hazel picked out a daisy and plucked away the petals one by one.
"He loves me—he loves me not—he loves me—" Her lips formed the words inaudibly, as countless lips have formed them in love's history, and the last petal fluttered away at "not."
"I wonder if that's an omen?" she murmured. "Pshaw! What a silly idea! I'm going to bed. Good night, Johnny boy."
She kissed her finger-tips to him again across the rooftops all grimed with a winter's soot, and within fifteen minutes Miss Weir was sound asleep.
She gave the lie, for once, to the saying that a woman is never ready at the appointed time by being on the steps a full ten minutes before Jack Barrow appeared. They walked to the corner and caught a car, and in the span of half an hour got off at Granville Park.
The city fathers, hampered in days gone by with lack of municipal funds, had left the two-hundred-acre square of the park pretty much as nature made it; that is to say, there was no ornate parking, no attempt at landscape gardening. Ancient maples spread their crooked arms untrimmed, standing in haphazard groves. Wherever the greensward nourished, there grew pink-tipped daisies and kindred flowers of the wild. It was gutted in the middle with a ravine, the lower end of which, dammed by an earth embankment, formed a lake with the inevitable swans and other water-fowl. But, barring the lake and a wide drive that looped and twined through the timber, Granville Park was a bit of the old Ontario woodland, and as such afforded a pleasant place to loaf in the summer months. It was full of secluded nooks, dear to the hearts of young couples. And upon a Sunday the carriages of the wealthy affected the smooth drive.
When Jack Barrow and Hazel had finished their lunch under the trees, in company with a little group of their acquaintances, Hazel gathered scraps of bread and cake into a paper bag.
Barrow whispered to her: "Let's go down and feed the swans. I'd just as soon be away from the crowd."
She nodded assent, and they departed hastily lest some of the others should volunteer their company. It took but a short time to reach the pond. They found a log close to the water's edge, and, taking a seat there, tossed morsels to the birds and chattered to each other.
"Look," said Barrow suddenly; "that's us ten years from now."
A carriage passed slowly, a solemn, liveried coachman on the box, a handsome, smooth-shaven man of thirty-five and a richly gowned woman leaning back and looking out over the pond with bored eyes. And that last, the half-cynical, half-contemptuous expression on the two faces, impressed Hazel Weir far more than the showy equipage, the outward manifestation of wealth.
"I hope not," she returned impulsively.
"Hope not!" Barrow echoed. "Those people are worth a barrel of money. Wouldn't you like your own carriage, and servants, and income enough to have everything you wanted?"
"Of course," Hazel answered. "But they don't look as if they really enjoyed it."
"Fiddlesticks!" Barrow smilingly retorted. "Everybody enjoys luxury."
"Well, one should," Hazel admitted. But she still held to the impression that the couple passing got no such pleasure out of their material possessions as Jack seemed to think. It was merely an intuitive divination. She could not have found any basis from which to argue the point. But she was very sure that she would not have changed places with the woman in the carriage, and her hand stole out and gave his a shy little squeeze.
"Look," she murmured; "here's another of the plutocrats. One of my esteemed employers, if you please. You'll notice that he's walking and looking at things just like us ordinary, everyday mortals."
Barrow glanced past her, and saw a rather tall, middle-aged man, his hair tinged with gray, a fine-looking man, dressed with exceeding nicety, even to a flower in his coat lapel, walking slowly along the path that bordered the pond. He stopped a few yards beyond them, and stood idly glancing over the smooth stretch of water, his gloved hands resting on the knob of a silver-mounted cane.
Presently his gaze wandered to them, and the cool, well-bred stare gradually gave way to a slightly puzzled expression. He moved a step or two and seated himself on a bench. Miss Weir became aware that he was looking at her most of the time as she sat casting the bits of bread to the swans and ducks. It made her self-conscious. She did not know why she should be of any particular interest.
"Let's walk around a little," she suggested. The last of the crumbs were gone.
"All right," Barrow assented. "Let's go up the ravine."
They left the log. Their course up the ravine took them directly past the gentleman on the bench. And when they came abreast of him, he rose and lifted his hat at the very slight inclination of Miss Weir's head.
"How do you do, Miss Weir?" said he. "Quite a pleasant afternoon."
To the best of Hazel's knowledge, Mr. Andrew Bush was little given to friendly recognition of his employees, particularly in public. But he seemed inclined to be talkative; and, as she caught a slightly inquiring glance at her escort, she made the necessary introduction. So for a minute or two the three of them stood there exchanging polite banalities. Then Mr. Bush bowed and passed on.
"He's one of the biggest guns in Granville, they say," Jack observed. "I wouldn't mind having some of his business to handle. He started with nothing, too, according to all accounts. Now, that's what I call success."
"Oh, yes, in a business way he's a success," Hazel responded. "But he's awfully curt most of the time around the office. I wonder what made him thaw out so to-day?"
And that question recurred to her mind again in the evening, when Jack had gone home and she was sitting in her own room. She wheeled her chair around and took a steady look at herself in the mirror. A woman may never admit extreme plainness of feature, and she may deprecate her own fairness, if she be possessed of fairness, but she seldom has any illusions about one or the other. She knows. Hazel Weir knew that she was far above the average in point of looks. If she had never taken stock of herself before, the reflection facing her now was sufficient to leave no room for doubt on the score of beauty. Her skin was smooth, delicate in texture, and as delicately tinted. The tan pongee dress she wore set off her dark hair and expressive, bluish-gray eyes.
She was smiling at herself just as she had been smiling at Jack Barrow while they sat on the log and fed the swans. And she made an amiable grin at the reflection in the glass. But even though Miss Weir was twenty-two and far from unsophisticated, it did not strike her that the transition of herself from a demure, business-like office person in sober black and white to a radiant creature with the potent influences of love and spring brightening her eyes and lending a veiled caress to her every supple movement, satisfactorily accounted for the sudden friendliness of Mr. Andrew Bush.
HEART, HAND—AND POCKETBOOK
Miss Weir was unprepared for what subsequently transpired as a result of that casual encounter with the managing partner of the firm. By the time she went to work on Monday morning she had almost forgotten the meeting in Granville Park. And she was only reminded of it when, at nine o'clock, Mr. Andrew Bush walked through the office, greeting the force with his usual curt nod and inclusive "good morning" before he disappeared behind the ground-glass door lettered "Private." With the weekday he had apparently resumed his business manner.
Hazel's work consisted largely of dictation from the shipping manager, letters relating to outgoing consignments of implements. She was rapid and efficient, and, having reached the zenith of salary paid for such work, she expected to continue in the same routine until she left Harrington & Bush for good.
It was, therefore, something of a surprise to be called into the office of the managing partner on Tuesday afternoon. Bush's private stenographer sat at her machine in one corner.
Mr. Bush turned from his desk at Hazel's entrance.
"Miss Weir," he said, "I wish you to take some letters."
Hazel went back for her notebook, wondering mildly why she should be called upon to shoulder a part of Nelly Morrison's work, and a trifle dubious at the prospect of facing the rapid-fire dictation Mr. Bush was said to inflict upon his stenographer now and then. She had the confidence of long practice, however, and knew that she was equal to anything in reason that he might give her.
When she was seated, Bush took up a sheaf of letters, and dictated replies. Though rapid, his enunciation was perfectly clear, and Hazel found herself getting his words with greater ease than she had expected.
"That's all, Miss Weir," he said, when he reached the last letter. "Bring those in for verification and signature as soon as you can get them done."
In the course of time she completed the letters and took them back. Bush glanced over each, and appended his signature.
"That's all, Miss Weir," he said politely. "Thank you."
And Hazel went back to her machine, wondering why she had been requested to do those letters when Nelly Morrison had nothing better to do than sit picking at her type faces with a toothpick.
She learned the significance of it the next morning, however, when the office boy told her that she was wanted by Mr. Bush. This time when she entered Nelly Morrison's place was vacant. Bush was going through his mail. He waved her to a chair.
"Just a minute," he said.
Presently he wheeled from the desk and regarded her with disconcerting frankness—as if he were appraising her, point by point, so to speak.
"My—ah—dictation to you yesterday was in the nature of a try-out, Miss Weir," he finally volunteered. "Miss Morrison has asked to be transferred to our Midland branch. Mr. Allan recommended you. You are a native of Granville, I understand?"
"Yes," Hazel answered, wondering what that had to do with the position Nelly Morrison had vacated.
"In that case you will not likely be desirous of leaving suddenly," he went on. "The work will not be hard, but I must have some one dependable and discreet, and careful to avoid errors. I think you will manage it very nicely if you—ah—have no objection to giving up the more general work of the office for this. The salary will be considerably more."
"If you consider that my work will be satisfactory," Miss Weir began.
"I don't think there's any doubt on that score. You have a good record in the office," he interrupted smilingly, and Hazel observed that he could be a very agreeable and pleasant-speaking gentleman when he chose—a manner not altogether in keeping with her former knowledge of him—and she had been with the firm nearly two years. "Now, let us get to work and clean up this correspondence."
Thus her new duties began. There was an air of quiet in the private office, a greater luxury of appointment, which suited Miss Hazel Weir to a nicety. The work was no more difficult than she had been accustomed to doing—a trifle less in volume, and more exacting in attention to detail, and necessarily more confidential, for Mr. Andrew Bush had his finger-tips on the pulsing heart of a big business.
Hazel met Nelly Morrison the next day while on her way home to lunch.
"Well, how goes the new job?" quoth Miss Morrison.
"All right so far," Hazel smiled. "Mr. Bush said you were going to Midland."
"Leaving for there in the morning," said Nelly. "I've been wanting to go for a month, but Mr. Bush objected to breaking in a new girl—until just the other day. I'm sort of sorry to go, too, and I don't suppose I'll have nearly so good a place. For one thing, I'll not get so much salary as I had with Mr. Bush. But mamma's living in Midland, and two of my brothers work there. I'd much rather live at home than room and live in a trunk. I can have a better time even on less a week."
"Well, I hope you get along nicely," Hazel proffered.
"Oh, I will. Leave that to me," Miss Morrison laughed. "By the way, what do you think of Mr. Bush, anyway? But of course you haven't had much to do with him yet. You'll find him awfully nice and polite, but, my, he can be cutting when he gets irritated! I've known him to do some awfully mean things in a business way. I wouldn't want to get him down on me. I think he'd hold a grudge forever."
They walked together until Hazel turned into the street which led to her boarding place. Nelly Morrison chattered principally of Mr. Bush. No matter what subject she opened up, she came back to discussion of her employer. Hazed gathered that she had found him rather exacting, and also that she was inclined to resent his curt manner. Withal, Hazel knew Nelly Morrison to be a first-class stenographer, and found herself wondering how long it would take the managing partner to find occasion for raking her over the coals.
As the days passed, she began to wonder whether Miss Morrison had been quite correct in her summing up of Mr. Andrew Bush. She was not a great deal in his company, for unless attending to the details of business Mr. Bush kept himself in a smaller office opening out of the one where she worked. Occasionally the odor of cigar smoke escaped therefrom, and in that inner sanctum he received his most important callers. Whenever he was in Miss Weir's presence, however, he manifested none of the disagreeable characteristics that Nelly Morrison had ascribed to him.
The size of the check which Hazel received in her weekly envelope was increased far beyond her expectations. Nelly Morrison had drawn twenty dollars a week. Miss Hazel Weir drew twenty-five—a substantial increase over what she had received in the shipping department. And while she wondered a trifle at the voluntary raising of her salary, it served to make her anxious to competently fill the new position, so long as she worked for wages. With that extra money there were plenty of little things she could get for the home she and Jack Barrow had planned.
Things moved along in routine channels for two months or more before Hazel became actively aware that a subtle change was growing manifest in the ordinary manner of Mr. Andrew Bush. She shrugged her shoulders at the idea at first. But she was a woman; moreover, a woman of intelligence, her perceptive faculties naturally keen.
The first symptom was flowers, dainty bouquets of which began to appear on his desk. Coincident with this, Mr. Bush evinced an inclination to drift into talk on subjects nowise related to business. Hazel accepted the tribute to her sex reluctantly, giving him no encouragement to overstep the normal bounds of cordiality. She was absolutely sure of herself and of her love for Jack Barrow. Furthermore, Mr. Andrew Bush, though well preserved, was drawing close to fifty—and she was twenty-two. That in itself reassured her. If he had been thirty, Miss Weir might have felt herself upon dubious ground. He admired her as a woman. She began to realize that. And no woman ever blames a man for paying her that compliment, no matter what she may say to the contrary. Particularly when he does not seek to annoy her by his admiration.
So long as Mr. Bush confined himself to affable conversation, to sundry gifts of hothouse flowers, and only allowed his feelings outlet in certain telltale glances when he thought she could not see. Hazel felt disinclined to fly from what was at worst a possibility.
Thus the third month of her tenure drifted by, and beyond the telltale glances aforesaid, Mr. Bush remained tentatively friendly and nothing more. Hazel spent her Sundays as she had spent them for a year past—with Jack Barrow; sometimes rambling afoot in the country or in the park, sometimes indulging in the luxury of a hired buggy for a drive. Usually they went alone; occasionally with a party of young people like themselves.
But Mr. Bush took her breath away at a time and in a manner totally unexpected. He finished dictating a batch of letters one afternoon, and sat tapping on his desk with a pencil. Hazel waited a second or two, expecting him to continue, her eyes on her notes, and at the unbroken silence she looked up, to find him staring fixedly at her. There was no mistaking the expression on his face. Hazel flushed and shrank back involuntarily. She had hoped to avoid that. It could not be anything but unpleasant.
She had small chance to indulge in reflection, for at her first self-conscious move he reached swiftly and caught her hand.
"Hazel," he said bluntly, "will you marry me?"
Miss Weir gasped. Coming without warning, it dumfounded her. And while her first natural impulse was to answer a blunt "No," she was flustered, and so took refuge behind a show of dignity.
"Mr. Bush!" she protested, and tried to release her hand.
But Mr. Bush had no intention of allowing her to do that.
"I'm in deadly earnest," he said. "I've loved you ever since that Sunday I saw you in the park feeding the swans. I want you to be my wife. Will you?"
"I'm awfully sorry," Hazel stammered. She was just the least bit frightened. The man who stared at her with burning eyes and spoke to her in a voice that quivered with emotion was so different from the calm, repressed individual she had known as her employer. "Why, you're——" The thing that was uppermost in her mind, and what she came near saying, was: "You're old enough to be my father." And beside him there instantly flashed a vision of Jack Barrow. Of course it was absurd—even though she appreciated the honor. But she did not finish the sentence that way. "I don't—oh, it's simply impossible. I couldn't think of such a thing."
"Why not?" he asked. "I love you. You know that—you can see it, can't you?" He leaned a little nearer, and forced her to meet his gaze. "I can make you happy; I can make you love me. I can give you all that a woman could ask."
He interrupted her quickly. "Perhaps I've surprised and confused you by my impulsiveness," he continued. "But I've had no chance to meet you socially. Sitting here in the office, seeing you day after day, I've had to hold myself in check. And a man only does that so long, and no longer. Perhaps right now you don't feel as I do, but I can teach you to feel that way. I can give you everything—money, social position, everything that's worth having—and love. I'm not an empty-headed boy. I can make you love me."
"You couldn't," Hazel answered flatly. There was a note of dominance in that last statement that jarred on her. Mr. Bush was too sure of his powers. "And I have no desire to experiment with my feelings as you suggest—not for all the wealth and social position in the world. I would have to love a man to think of marrying him—and I do. But you aren't the man. I appreciate the compliment of your offer, and I'm sorry to hurt you, but I can't marry you."
He released her hand. Miss Weir found herself suddenly shaky. Not that she was afraid, or had any cause for fear, but the nervous tension somehow relaxed when she finished speaking so frankly.
His face clouded. "You are engaged?"
He got up and stood over her. "To some self-centered cub—some puny egotist in his twenties, who'll make you a slave to his needs and whims, and discard you for another woman when you've worn out your youth and beauty," he cried. "But you won't marry him. I won't let you!"
Miss Weir rose. "I think I shall go home," she said steadily.
"You shall do nothing of the sort! There is no sense in your running away from me and giving rise to gossip—which will hurt yourself only."
"I am not running away, but I can't stay here and listen to such things from you. It's impossible, under the circumstances, for me to continue working here, so I may as well go now."
Bush stepped past her and snapped the latch on the office door. "I shan't permit it," he said passionately. "Girl, you don't seem to realize what this means to me. I want you—and I'm going to have you!"
"Please don't be melodramatic, Mr. Bush."
"Melodramatic! If it is melodrama for a man to show a little genuine feeling, I'm guilty. But I was never more in earnest in my life. I want a chance to win you. I value you above any woman I have ever met. Most women that—"
"Most women would jump at the chance," Hazel interrupted. "Well, I'm not most women. I don't consider myself as a marketable commodity, nor my looks as an aid to driving a good bargain in a matrimonial way. I simply don't care for you as you would want me to—and I'm very sure I never would. And, seeing that you do feel that way, it's better that we shouldn't be thrown together as we are here. That's why I'm going."
"That is to say, you'll resign because I've told you I care for you and proposed marriage?" he remarked.
"Exactly. It's the only thing to do under the circumstances."
"Give me a chance to show you that I can make you happy," he pleaded. "Don't leave. Stay here where I can at least see you and speak to you. I won't annoy you. And you can't tell. After you get over this surprise you might find yourself liking me better."
"That's just the trouble," Hazel pointed out. "If I were here you would be bringing this subject up in spite of yourself. And that can only cause pain. I can't stay."
"I think you had better reconsider that," he said; and a peculiar—an ugly—light crept into his eyes, "unless you desire to lay yourself open to being the most-talked-of young woman in this town, where you were born, where all your friends live. Many disagreeable things might result."
"That sounds like a threat, Mr. Bush. What do you mean?"
"I mean just what I say. I will admit that mine is, perhaps, a selfish passion. If you insist on making me suffer, I shall do as much for you. I believe in paying all debts in full, even with high interest. There are two characteristics of mine which may not have come to your attention: I never stop struggling for what I want. And I never forgive or forget an injury or an insult."
"Well?" Hazel was beginning to see a side of Mr. Andrew Bush hitherto unsuspected.
"Well?" he repeated. "If you drive me to it, you will find yourself drawing the finger of gossip. Also, you will find yourself unable to secure a position in Granville. Also, you may find yourself losing the—er—regard of this—ah—fortunate individual upon whom you have bestowed your affections; but you'll never lose mine," he burst out wildly. "When you get done butting your head against the wall that will mysteriously rise in your way, I'll be waiting for you. That's how I love. I've never failed in anything I ever undertook, and I don't care how I fight, fair or foul, so that I win."
"This isn't the fifteenth century," Hazel let her indignation flare, "and I'm not at all afraid of any of the things you mention. Even if you could possibly bring these things about, it would only make me despise you, which I'm in a fair way to do now. Even if I weren't engaged, I'd never think of marrying a man old enough to be my father—a man whose years haven't given him a sense of either dignity or decency. Wealth and social position don't modify gray hairs and advancing age. Your threats are an insult. This isn't the stone age. Even if it were," she concluded cuttingly, "you'd stand a poor chance of winning a woman against a man like—well—" She shrugged her shoulders, but she was thinking of Jack Barrow's broad shoulders, and the easy way he went up a flight of stairs, three steps at a time. "Well, any young man."
With that thrust, Miss Hazel Weir turned to the rack where hung her hat and coat. She was thoroughly angry, and her employment in that office ended then and there so far as she was concerned.
Bush caught her by the shoulders before she took a second step.
"Gray hairs and advancing age!" he said. "So I strike you as approaching senility, do I? I'll show you whether I'm the worn-out specimen you seem to think I am. Do you think I'll give you up just because I've made you angry? Why, I love you the more for it; it only makes me the more determined to win you."
"You can't. I dislike you more every second. Take your hands off me, please. Be a gentleman—if you can."
For answer he caught her up close to him, and there was no sign of decadent force in the grip of his arms. He kissed her; and Hazel, in blind rage, freed one arm, and struck at him man fashion, her hand doubled into a small fist. By the grace of chance, the blow landed on his nose. There was force enough behind it to draw blood. He stood back and fumbled for his handkerchief. Something that sounded like an oath escaped him.
Hazel stared, aghast, astounded. She was not at all sorry; she was perhaps a trifle ashamed. It seemed unwomanly to strike. But the humor of the thing appealed to her most strongly of all. In spite of herself, she smiled as she reached once more for her hat. And this time Mr. Bush did not attempt to restrain her.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she had gained the street, and she did not in the least care if her departure during business hours excited any curiosity in the main office. Moreover, she was doubly glad to be away from Bush. The expression on his face as he drew back and stanched his bleeding nose had momentarily chilled her.
"He looked perfectly devilish," she told herself. "My, I loathe that man! He is dangerous. Marry him? The idea!"
She knew that she must have cut him deeply in a man's tenderest spot—his self-esteem. But just how well she had gauged the look and possibilities of Mr. Andrew Bush, Hazel scarcely realized.
"I won't tell Jack," she reflected. "He'd probably want to thrash him. And that would stir up a lot of horrid talk. Dear me, that's one experience I don't want repeated. I wonder if he made court to his first wife in that high-handed, love-me-or-I'll-beat-you-to-death fashion?"
She laughed when she caught herself scrubbing vigorously with her handkerchief at the place where his lips had touched her cheek. She was primitive enough in her instincts to feel a trifle glad of having retaliated in what her training compelled her to consider a "perfectly hoydenish" manner. But she could not deny that it had proved wonderfully effective.
"I DO GIVE AND BEQUEATH"
When Jack Barrow called again, which happened to be that very evening, Hazel told him simply that she had left Harrington & Bush, without entering into any explanation except the general one that she had found it impossible to get on with Mr. Bush in her new position. And Jack, being more concerned with her than with her work, gave the matter scant consideration.
This was on a Friday. The next forenoon Hazel went downtown. When she returned, a little before eleven, the maid of all work was putting the last touches to her room. The girl pointed to an oblong package on a chair.
"That came for you a little while ago, Miss Weir," she said. "Mr. Bush's carriage brought it."
"Mr. Bush's carriage!" Hazel echoed.
"Yes'm. Regular swell turnout, with a footman in brown livery. My, you could see the girls peeking all along the square when it stopped at our door. It quite flustered the missus."
The girl lingered a second, curiosity writ large on her countenance. Plainly she wished to discover what Miss Hazel Weir would be getting in a package that was delivered in so aristocratic a manner. But Hazel was in no mood to gratify any one's curiosity. She was angry at the presumption of Mr. Andrew Bush. It was an excellent way of subjecting her to remark. And it did not soothe her to recollect that he had threatened that very thing.
She drew off her gloves, and, laying aside her hat, picked up a newspaper, and began to read. The girl, with no excuse for lingering, reluctantly gathered up her broom and dustpan, and departed. When she was gone, and not till then, Miss Weir investigated the parcel.
Roses—two dozen long-stemmed La Frances—filled the room with their delicate odor when she removed the pasteboard cover. And set edgewise among the stems she found his card. Miss Weir turned up her small nose.
"I wonder if he sends these as a sort of peace offering?" she snorted. "I wonder if a few hours of reflection has made him realize just how exceedingly caddish he acted? Well, Mr. Bush, I'll return your unwelcome gift—though they are beautiful flowers."
And she did forthwith, squandering forty cents on a messenger boy to deliver them to Mr. Bush at his office. She wished him to labor under no misapprehension as to her attitude.
The next day—Sunday—she spent with Jack Barrow on a visit to his cousin in a near-by town. They parted, as was their custom, at the door. It was still early in the evening—eight-thirty, or thereabout—and Hazel went into the parlor on the first floor. Mr. Stout and one of her boarders sat there chatting, and at Hazel's entrance the landlady greeted her with a startling bit of news:
"Evenin', Miss Weir. 'Ave you 'eard about Mr. Bush, pore gentleman?" Mrs. Stout was very English.
"Mr. Bush? No. What about him?" Hazel resented Mr. Bush, his name, and his affairs being brought to her attention at every turn. She desired nothing so much since that scene in the office as to ignore his existence.
"'E was 'urt shockin' bad this awft'noon," Mrs. Stout related. "Out 'orseback ridin', and 'is 'orse ran away with 'im, and fell on 'im. Fell all of a 'eap, they say. Terrible—terrible! The pore man isn't expected to live. 'Is back's broke, they say. W'at a pity! Shockin' accident, indeed."
Miss Weir voiced perfunctory sympathy, as was expected of her, seeing that she was an employee of the firm—or had been lately. But close upon that she escaped to her own room. She did not relish sitting there discussing Mr. Andrew Bush. Hazel lacked nothing of womanly sympathy, but he had forfeited that from her.
Nevertheless she kept thinking of him long after she went to bed. She was not at all vindictive, and his misfortune, the fact—if the report were true—that he was facing his end, stirred her pity. She could guess that he would suffer more than some men; he would rebel bitterly against anything savoring of extinction. And she reflected that his love for her was very likely gone by the board now that he was elected to go the way of all flesh.
The report of his injury was verified in the morning papers. By evening it had pretty well passed out of Hazel's mind. She had more pleasant concerns. Jack Barrow dropped in about six-thirty to ask if she wanted to go with him to a concert during the week. They were sitting in the parlor, by a front window, chattering to each other, but not so engrossed that they failed to notice a carriage drawn by two splendid grays pull up at the front gate. The footman, in brown livery, got down and came to the door. Hazel knew the carriage. She had seen Mr. Andrew Bush abroad in it many a time. She wondered if there was some further annoyance in store for her, and frowned at the prospect.
She heard Mrs. Stout answer the bell in person. There was a low mumble of voices. Then the landlady appeared in the parlor doorway, the footman behind her.
"This is the lady." Mrs. Stout indicated Hazel. "A message for you, Miss Weir."
The liveried person bowed and extended an envelope. "I was instructed to deliver this to you personally," he said, and lingered as if he looked for further instructions.
Hazel looked at the envelope. She could not understand why, under the circumstances, any message should come to her through such a medium. But there was her name inscribed. She glanced up. Mrs. Stout gazed past the footman with an air of frank anticipation. Jack also was looking. But the landlady caught Hazel's glance and backed out the door, and Hazel opened the letter.
The note was brief and to the point:
MISS WEIR: Mr. Bush, being seriously injured and unable to write, bids me say that he is very anxious to see you. He sends his carriage to convey you here. His physicians fear that he will not survive the night, hence he begs of you to come. Very truly,
ETHEL B. WATSON, Nurse in Waiting.
"The idea! Of course I won't! I wouldn't think of such a thing!" Hazel exclaimed.
"Just a second," she said to the footman.
Over on the parlor mantel lay some sheets of paper and envelopes. She borrowed a pencil from Barrow and scribbled a brief refusal. The footman departed with her answer. Hazel turned to find Jack staring his puzzlement.
"What did he want?" Barrow asked bluntly. "That was the Bush turnout, wasn't it?"
"You heard about Mr. Bush getting hurt, didn't you?" she inquired.
"Saw it in the paper. Why?"
"Nothing, except that he is supposed to be dying—and he wanted to see me. At least—well, read the note," Hazel answered.
Barrow glanced over the missive and frowned.
"What do you suppose he wanted to see you for?" he asked.
"How should I know?" Hazel evaded.
She felt a reluctance to enter into any explanations. That would necessitate telling the whole story, and she felt some delicacy about relating it when the man involved lay near to death. Furthermore, Jack might misunderstand, might blame her. He was inclined to jealousy on slight grounds, she had discovered before now. Perhaps that, the natural desire to avoid anything disagreeable coming up between them, helped constrain her to silence.
"Seems funny," he remarked slowly.
"Oh, let's forget it." Hazel came and sat down on the couch by him. "I don't know of any reason why he should want to see me. I wouldn't go merely out of curiosity to find out. It was certainly a peculiar request for him to make. But that's no reason why we should let it bother us. If he's really so badly hurt, the chances are he's out of his head. Don't scowl at that bit of paper so, Johnnie-boy."
Barrow laughed and kissed her, and the subject was dropped forthwith. Later they went out for a short walk. In an hour or so Barrow left for home, promising to have the concert tickets for Thursday night.
Hazel took the note out of her belt and read it again when she reached her room. Why should he want to see her? She wondered at the man's persistence. He had insulted her, according to her view of it—doubly insulted her with threats and an enforced caress. Perhaps he merely wanted to beg her pardon; she had heard of men doing such things in their last moments. But she could not conceive of Mr. Andrew Bush being sorry for anything he did. Her estimate of him was that his only regret would be over failure to achieve his own ends. He struck her as being an individual whose own personal desires were paramount. She had heard vague stories of his tenacity of purpose, his disregard of anything and everybody but himself. The gossip she had heard and half forgotten had been recalled and confirmed by her own recent experience with him.
Nevertheless, she considered that particular episode closed. She believed that she had convinced him of that. And so she could not grasp the reason for that eleventh-hour summons. But she could see that a repetition of such incidents might put her in a queer light. Other folk might begin to wonder and inquire why Mr. Andrew Bush took such an "interest" in her—a mere stenographer. Well, she told herself, she did not care—so long as Jack Barrow's ears were not assailed by talk. She smiled at that, for she could picture the reception any scandal peddler would get from him.
The next day's papers contained the obituary of Mr. Andrew Bush. He had died shortly after midnight. And despite the fact that she held no grudge, Hazel felt a sense of relief. He was powerless to annoy or persecute her, and she could not escape the conviction that he would have attempted both had he lived.
She had now been idle a matter of days. Nearly three months were yet to elapse before her wedding. She and Barrow had compromised on that after a deal of discussion. Manlike, he had wished to be married as soon as she accepted him, and she had held out far a date that would permit her to accumulate a trousseau according to her means.
"A girl only gets married once, Johnnie-boy," she had declared. "I don't want to get married so—so offhand, like going out and buying a pair of gloves or something. Even if I do love you ever so much."
She had gained her point after a lot of argument. There had been no thought then of her leaving Harrington & Bush so abruptly. Jack had wanted to get the license as soon as he learned that she had thrown up her job. But she refused to reset the date. They had made plans for October. There was so sense in altering those plans.
It seemed scarcely worth while to look for another position. She had enough money saved to do everything she wanted to do. It was not so much lack of money, the need to earn, as the monotony of idleness that irked her. She had acquired the habit of work, and that is a thing not lightly shaken off. But during that day she gathered together the different Granville papers, and went carefully over the "want" columns. Knowing the town as she did, she was enabled to eliminate the unlikely, undesirable places. Thus by evening she was armed with a list of firms and individuals requiring a stenographer. And in the morning she sallied forth.
Her quest ended with the first place she sought. The fact of two years' service with the biggest firm in Granville was ample recommendation; in addition to which the office manager, it developed in their conversation, had known her father in years gone by. So before ten o'clock Miss Hazel Weir was entered on the pay-roll of a furniture-manufacturing house. It was not a permanent position; one of their girls had been taken ill and was likely to take up her duties again in six weeks or two months. But that suited Hazel all the better. She could put in the time usefully, and have a breathing spell before her wedding.
At noon she telephoned Jack Barrow that she was at work again, and she went straight from lunch to the office grind.
Three days went by. Hazel attended the concert with Jack the evening of the day Mr. Andrew Bush received ostentatious burial. At ten the next morning the telephone girl called her.
"Some one wants you on the phone, Miss Weir," she said.
Hazel took up the dangling receiver.
"That you, Hazel?"
She recognized the voice, half guessing it would be he, since no one but Jack Barrow would be likely to ring her up.
"Surely. Doesn't it sound like me?"
"Have you seen the morning papers?"
"Look 'em over. Particularly the Gazette."
The harsh rattle of a receiver slammed back on its hook without even a "good-by" from him struck her like a slap in the face. She hung up slowly, and went back to her work. Never since their first meeting, and they had not been exempt from lovers' quarrels, had Jack Barrow ever spoken to her like that. Even through the telephone the resentful note in his voice grated on her and mystified her.
Something in the papers lay at the bottom of it, but she could comprehend nothing, absolutely nothing, she told herself hotly, that should make Jack snarl at her like that. His very manner of conveying the message was maddening, put her up in arms.
She was chained to her work—which, despite her agitation, she managed to wade through without any radical errors—until noon. The twelve-to-one intermission gave her opportunity to hurry up the street and buy a Gazette. Then, instead of going home to her luncheon, she entered the nearest restaurant. She wanted a chance to read, more than food. She did not unfold the paper until she was seated.
A column heading on the front page caught her eye. The caption ran: "Andrew Bush Leaves Money to Stenographer." And under it the subhead: "Wealthy Manufacturer Makes Peculiar Bequest to Miss Hazel Weir."
The story ran a full column, and had to do with the contents of the will, made public following his interment. There was a great deal of matter anent the principal beneficiaries. But that which formed the basis of the heading was a codicil appended to the will a few hours before his death, in which he did "give and bequeath to Hazel Weir, until lately in my employ, the sum of five thousand dollars in reparation for any wrong I may have done her."
The Gazette had copied that portion verbatim, and used it as a peg upon which to hang some adroitly worded speculation as to what manner of wrong Mr. Andrew Bush could have done Miss Hazel Weir. Mr. Bush was a widower of ten years' standing. He had no children. There was plenty of room in his life for romance. And wealthy business men who wrong pretty stenographers are not such an unfamiliar type. The Gazette inclined to the yellow side of journalism, and it overlooked nothing that promised a sensation.
Hazel stared at the sheet, and her face burned. She could understand now why Jack Barrow had hung up his receiver with a slam. She could picture him reading that suggestive article and gritting his teeth. Her hands clenched till the knuckles stood white under the smooth skin, and then quite abruptly she got up and left the restaurant even while a waiter hurried to take her order. If she had been a man, and versed in profanity, she could have cursed Andrew Bush till his soul shuddered on its journey through infinite space. Being a woman, she wished only a quiet place to cry.
AN EXPLANATION DEMANDED
Hazel's pride came to her rescue before she was half-way home. Instinctively she had turned to that refuge, where she could lock herself in her own room and cry her protest against it all. But she had done no wrong, nothing of which to be ashamed, and when the first shock of the news article wore off, she threw up her head and refused to consider what the world at large might think. So she went back to the office at one o'clock and took up her work. Long before evening she sensed that others had read the Gazette. Not that any one mentioned it, but sundry curious glances made her painfully aware of the fact.
Mrs. Stout evidently was on the watch, for she appeared in the hall almost as the front door closed behind Hazel.
"How de do, Miss Weir?" she greeted. "My, but you fell into quite a bit of a fortune, ain't you?"
"I only know what the papers say," Hazel returned coldly.
"Just fancy! You didn't know nothing about it?" Mrs. Stout regarded her with frank curiosity. "There's been two or three gentlemen from the papers 'ere to-day awskin' for you. Such terrible fellows to quiz one, they are."
"Well?" Hazel filled in the pause.
"Oh, I just thought I'd tell you," Mrs. Stout observed, "that they got precious little out o' me. I ain't the talkin' kind. I told 'em nothink whatever, you may be sure."
"They're perfectly welcome to learn all that can be learned about me," Hazel returned quietly. "I don't like newspaper notoriety, but I can't muzzle the papers, and it's easy for them to get my whole history if they want it."
She was on the stairs when she finished speaking. She had just reached the first landing when she heard the telephone bell, and a second or two later the land-lady called:
"Oh, Miss Weir! Telephone."
Barrow's voice hailed her over the line.
"I'll be out by seven," said he. "We had better take a walk. We can't talk in the parlor; there'll probably be a lot of old tabbies there out of sheer curiosity."
"All right," Hazel agreed, and hung up. There were one or two questions she would have liked to ask, but she knew that eager ears were close by, taking in every word. Anyway, it was better to wait until she saw him.
She dressed herself. Unconsciously the truly feminine asserted its dominance—the woman anxious to please and propitiate her lover. She put on a dainty summer dross, rearranged her hair, powdered away all trace of the tears that insisted on coming as soon as she reached the sanctuary of her own room. And then she watched for Jack from a window that commanded the street. She had eaten nothing since morning, and the dinner bell rang unheeded. It did not occur to her that she was hungry; her brain was engrossed with other matters more important by far than food.
Barrow appeared at last. She went down to meet him before he rang the bell. Just behind him came a tall man in a gray suit. This individual turned in at the gate, bestowing a nod upon Barrow and a keen glance at her as he passed.
"That's Grinell, from the Times," Barrow muttered sourly. "Come on; let's get away from here. I suppose he's after you for an interview. Everybody in Granville's talking about that legacy, it seems to me."
Hazel turned in beside him silently. Right at the start she found herself resenting Barrow's tone, his manner. She had done nothing to warrant suspicion from him. But she loved him, and she hoped she could convince him that it was no more than a passing unpleasantness, for which she was nowise to blame.
"Hang it!" Barrow growled, before they had traversed the first block. "Here comes Grinell! I suppose that old cat of a landlady pointed us out. No dodging him now."
"There's no earthly reason why I should dodge him, as you put it," Hazel replied stiffly. "I'm not an escaped criminal."
Barrow shrugged his shoulders in a way that made Hazel bring her teeth together and want to shake him.
Grinell by then was hurrying up with long strides. Hat in hand, he bowed to her. "Miss Hazel Weir, I believe?" he interrogated.
"Yes," she confirmed.
"I'm on the Times, Miss Weir," Grinell went straight to the business in hand. "You are aware, I presume, that Mr. Andrew Bush willed you a sum of money under rather peculiar conditions—that is, the bequest was worded in a peculiar way. Probably you have seen a reference to it in the papers. It has caused a great deal of interest. The Times would be pleased to have a statement from you which will tend to set at rest the curiosity of the public. Some of the other papers have indulged in unpleasant innuendo. We would be pleased to publish your side of the matter. It would be an excellent way for you to quiet the nasty rumors that are going the rounds."
"I have no statement to make," Hazel said coolly. "I am not in the least concerned with what the papers print or what the people say. I absolutely refuse to discuss the matter."
Grinell continued to point out—with the persistence and persuasive logic of a good newspaper man bent on learning what his paper wants to know—the desirability of her giving forth a statement. And in the midst of his argument Hazel bade him a curt "good evening" and walked on. Barrow kept step with her. Grinell gave it up for a bad job evidently, for he turned back.
They walked five blocks without a word. Hazel glanced at Barrow now and then, and observed with an uncomfortable sinking of her heart that he was sullen, openly resentful, suspicious.
"Johnnie-boy," she said suddenly, "don't look so cross. Surely you don't blame me because Mr. Bush wills me a sum of money in a way that makes people wonder?"
"I can't understand it at all," he said slowly. "It's very peculiar—and deucedly unpleasant. Why should he leave you money at all? And why should he word the will as he did? What wrong did he ever do you?"
"None," Hazel answered shortly. His tone wounded her, cut her deep, so eloquent was it of distrust. "The only wrong he has done me lies in willing me that money as he did."
"But there's an explanation for that," Barrow declared moodily. "There's a key to the mystery, and if anybody has it you have. What is it?"
"Jack," Hazel pleaded, "don't take that tone with me. I can't stand it—I won't. I'm not a little child to be scolded and browbeaten. This morning when you telephoned you were almost insulting, and it hurt me dreadfully. You're angry now, and suspicious. You seem to think I must have done some dreadful thing. I know what you're thinking. The Gazette hinted at some 'affair' between me and Mr. Bush; that possibly that was a sort of left-handed reparation for ruining me. If that didn't make me angry, it would amuse me—it's so absurd. Haven't you any faith in me at all? I haven't done anything to be ashamed of. I've got nothing to conceal."
"Don't conceal it, then," Barrow muttered sulkily. "I've got a right to know whatever there is to know if I'm going to marry you. You don't seem to have any idea what this sort of talk that's going around means to a man."
Hazel stopped short and faced him. Her heart pounded sickeningly, and hurt pride and rising anger choked her for an instant. But she managed to speak calmly, perhaps with added calmness by reason of the struggle she was compelled to make for self-control.
"If you are going to marry me," she repeated, "you have got a right to know all there is to know. Have I refused to explain? I haven't had much chance to explain yet. Have I refused to tell you anything? If you ever thought of anybody beside yourself, you might be asking yourself how all this talk would affect a girl like me. And, besides, I think from your manner that you've already condemned me—for what? Would any reasonable explanation make an impression on you in your present frame of mind? I don't want to marry you if you can't trust me. Why, I couldn't—I wouldn't—marry you any time, or any place, under those conditions, no matter how much I may foolishly care for you."
"There's just one thing, Hazel," Barrow persisted stubbornly. "There must have been something between you and Bush. He sent flowers to you, and I myself saw when he was hurt he sent his carriage to bring you to his house. And then he leaves you this money. There was something between you, and I want to know what it was. You're not helping yourself by getting on your dignity and talking about my not trusting you instead of explaining these things."
"A short time ago," Hazel told him quietly, "Mr. Bush asked me to marry him. I refused, of course. He—"
"You refused!" Barrow interrupted cynically. "Most girls would have jumped at the chance."
"Jack!" she protested.
"Well," Barrow defended, "he was almost a millionaire, and I've got nothing but my hands and my brain. But suppose you did refuse him. How does that account for the five thousand dollars?"
"I think," Hazel flung back passionately, "I'll let you find that out for yourself. You've said enough now to make me hate you almost. Your very manner's an insult."
"If you don't like my manner—" Barrow retorted stormily. Then he cut his sentence in two, and glared at her. Her eyes glistened with slow-welling tears, and she bit nervously at her under Up. Barrow shrugged his shoulders. The twin devils of jealousy and distrust were riding him hard, and it flashed over Hazel that in his mind she was prejudged, and that her explanation, if she made it, would only add fuel to the flame. Moreover, she stood in open rebellion at being, so to speak, put on the rack.
She turned abruptly and left him. What did it matter, anyway? She was too proud to plead, and it was worse than useless to explain.
Even so, womanlike, she listened, expecting to hear Jack's step hurrying up behind. She could not imagine him letting her go like that. But he did not come, and when, at a distance of two blocks, she stole a backward glance, he had disappeared.
She returned to the boarding-house. The parlor door stood wide, and the curious, quickly averted glance of a girl she knew sent her quivering up to her room. Safe in that refuge, she sat down by the window, with her chin on her palms, struggling with the impulse to cry, protesting with all her young strength against the bitterness that had come to her through no fault of her own. There was only one cheerful gleam. She loved Jack Barrow. She believed that he loved her, and she could not believe—she could not conceive—him capable of keeping aloof, obdurate and unforgiving, once he got out of the black mood he was in. Then she could snuggle up close to him and tell him how and why Mr. Andrew Bush had struck at her from his deathbed.
She was still sitting by the window, watching the yellow crimson of the sunset, when some one rapped at her door. A uniformed messenger boy greeted her when she opened it:
"Package for Miss Hazel Weir."
She signed his delivery sheet. The address on the package was in Jack's handwriting. A box of chocolates, or some little peace offering, maybe. That was like Jack when he was sorry for anything. They had quarreled before—over trifles, too.
She opened it hastily. A swift heart sinking followed. In the small cardboard box rested a folded scarf, and thrust in it a small gold stickpin—the only thing she had ever given Jack Barrow. There was no message. She needed none to understand.
The sparkle of the small diamond on her finger drew her gaze. She worked his ring over the knuckle, and dropped it on the dresser, where the face in the silver frame smiled up at her. She stared at the picture for one long minute fixedly, with unchanging expression, and suddenly she swept it from the dresser with a savage sweep of her hand, dashed it on the floor, and stamped it shapeless with her slippered heel.
"Oh, oh!" she gasped. "I hate you—I hate you! I despise you!"
And then she flung herself across the bed and sobbed hysterically into a pillow.
THE WAY OF THE WORLD AT LARGE
Through the night Hazel dozed fitfully, waking out of uneasy sleep to lie staring, wide-eyed, into the dark, every nerve in her body taut, her mind abnormally active. She tried to accept things philosophically, but her philosophy failed. There was a hurt, the pain of which she could not ease by any mental process. Grief and anger by turns mastered her, and at daybreak she rose, heavy-lidded and physically weary.
The first thing upon which her gaze alighted was the crumpled photo in its shattered frame; and, sitting on the side of her bed, she laughed at the sudden fury in which she had destroyed it; but there was no mirth in her laughter.
"'Would we not shatter it to little bits—and then,'" she murmured. "No, Mr. John Barrow, I don't believe I'd want to mold you nearer to my heart's desire. Not after yesterday evening. There's such a thing as being hurt so badly that one finally gets numb; and one always shrinks from anything that can deliver such a hurt. Well, it's another day. And there'll be lots of other days, I suppose."
She gathered up the bits of broken glass and the bent frame, and put them in a drawer, dressed herself, and went down to breakfast. She was too deeply engrossed in her own troubles to notice or care whether any subtle change was becoming manifest in the attitude of her fellow boarders. The worst, she felt sure, had already overtaken her. In reaction to the sensitive, shrinking mood of the previous day, a spirit of defiance had taken possession of her. Figuratively she declared that the world could go to the devil, and squared her shoulders with the declaration.
She had a little time to spare, and that time she devoted to making up a package of Barrow's ring and a few other trinkets which he had given her. This she addressed to his office and posted while on her way to work.
She got through the day somehow, struggling against thoughts that would persist in creeping into her mind and stirring up emotions that she was determined to hold in check. Work, she knew, was her only salvation. If she sat idle, thinking, the tears would come in spite of her, and a horrible, choky feeling in her throat. She set her teeth and thumped away at her machine, grimly vowing that Jack Barrow nor any other man should make her heart ache for long.
And so she got through the week. Saturday evening came, and she went home, dreading Sunday's idleness, with its memories. The people at Mrs. Stout's establishment, she plainly saw, were growing a trifle shy of her. She had never been on terms of intimacy with any of them during her stay there, hence their attitude troubled little after the first supersensitiveness wore off. But her own friends, girls with whom she had played in the pinafore-and-pigtail stages of her youth, young men who had paid court to her until Jack Barrow monopolized her—she did not know how they stood. She had seen none of them since Bush launched his last bolt. Barrow she had passed on the street just once, and when he lifted his hat distantly, she looked straight ahead, and ignored him. Whether she hurt him as much as she did herself by the cut direct would be hard to say.
On Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons ordinarily from two to a dozen girl friends called her up at the boarding-house, or dropped in by ones and twos to chat a while, tease her about Jack, or plan some mild frivolity. Hazel went home, wondering if they, too, would stand aloof.
When Sunday noon arrived, and the phone had failed to call her once, and not one of all her friends had dropped in, Hazel twisted her chair so that she could stare at the image of herself in the mirror.
"You're in a fair way to become a pariah, it seems," she said bitterly. "What have you done, I wonder, that you've lost your lover, and that Alice and May and Hortense and all the rest of them keep away from you? Nothing—not a thing—except that your looks attracted a man, and the man threw stones when he couldn't have his way. Oh, well, what's the difference? You've got two good hands, and you're not afraid of work."
She walked out to Granville Park after luncheon, and found a seat on a shaded bench beside the lake. People passed and repassed—couples, youngsters, old people, children. It made her lonely beyond measure. She had never been isolated among her own kind before. She could not remember a time when she had gone to Granville Park by herself. But she was learning fast to stand on her own feet.
A group of young people came sauntering along the path. Hazel looked up as they neared her, chattering to each other. Maud Steele and Bud Wells, and—why, she knew every one of the party. They were swinging an empty picnic basket, and laughing at everything and nothing. Hazel caught her breath as they came abreast, not over ten feet away. The three young men raised their hats self-consciously.
"Hello, Hazel!" the girl said.
But they passed on. It seemed to Hazel that they quickened their pace a trifle. It made her grit her teeth in resentful anger. Ten minutes later she left the park and caught a car home. Once in her room she broke down.
"Oh, I'll go mad if I stay here and this sort of thing goes on!" she cried forlornly.
A sudden thought struck her.
"Why should I stay here?" she said aloud. "Why? What's to keep me here? I can make my living anywhere."
"But, no," she asserted passionately, "I won't run away. That would be running away, and I haven't anything to be ashamed of. I will not run."
Still the idea kept recurring to her. It promised relief from the hurt of averted faces and coolness where she had a right to expect sympathy and friendship. She had never been more than two hundred miles from Granville in her life. But she knew that a vast, rich land spread south and west. She was human and thoroughly feminine; loneliness appalled her, and she had never suffered as Granville at large was making her suffer.
The legal notice of the bequest was mailed to her. She tore up the letter and threw it in the fire as if it were some poisonous thing. The idea of accepting his money stirred her to a perfect frenzy. That was piling it up.
All during the next week she worked at her machine in the office of the furniture company, keeping strictly to herself, doing her work impassively, efficiently, betraying no sign of the feelings that sometimes rose up, the despairing protest and angry rebellion against the dubious position she was in through no fault of her own. She swore she would not leave Granville, and it galled her to stay. It was a losing fight, and she knew it even if she did not admit the fact. If she could have poured the whole miserable tale into some sympathetic ear she would have felt better, and each day would have seemed less hard. But there was no such ear. Her friends kept away.
Saturday of the second week her pay envelope contained a brief notice that the firm no longer required her services. There was no explanation, only perfunctory regrets; and, truth to tell, Hazel cared little to know the real cause. Any one of a number of reasons might have been sufficient. But she realized how those who knew her would take it, what cause they would ascribe. It did not matter, though. The very worst, she reasoned, could not be so bad as what had already happened—could be no more disagreeable than the things she had endured in the past two weeks. Losing a position was a trifle. But it set her thinking again.
"It doesn't seem to be a case of flight," she reflected on her way home, "so much as a case of being frozen out, compelled to go. I can't stay here and be idle. I have to work in order to live. Well, I'm not gone yet."
She stopped at a news stand and bought the evening papers. Up in the top rack of the stand the big heads of an assorted lot of Western papers caught her eye. She bought two or three on the impulse of the moment, without any definite purpose except to look them over out of mere curiosity. With these tucked under her arm, she turned into the boarding-house gate, ran up the steps, and, upon opening the door, her ears were gladdened by the first friendly voice she had heard—it seemed to her—in ages, a voice withal that she had least expected to hear. A short, plump woman rushed out of the parlor, and precipitated herself bodily upon Hazel.
"Kitty Ryan! Where in the wide, wide world did you come from?" Hazel cried.
"From the United States and everywhere," Miss Ryan replied. "Take me up to your room, dear, where we can talk our heads off.
"And, furthermore, Hazie, I'll be pleased to have you address me as Mrs. Brooks, my dear young woman," the plump lady laughed, as she settled herself in a chair in Hazel's room.
"So you're married?" Hazel said.
"I am that," Mrs. Kitty responded emphatically, "to the best boy that ever drew breath. And so should you be, dear girl. I don't see how you've escaped so long—a good-looking girl like you. The boys were always crazy after you. There's nothing like having a good man to take care of you, dear."
"Heaven save me from them!" Hazel answered bitterly. "If you've got a good one, you're lucky. I can't see them as anything but self-centered, arrogant, treacherous brutes."
"Lord bless us—it's worse than I thought!" Kitty jumped up and threw her arms around Hazel. "There, there—don't waste a tear on them. I know all about it. I came over to see you just as soon as some of the girls—nasty little cats they are; a woman's always meaner than a man, dear—just as soon as they gave me an inkling of how things were going with you. Pshaw! The world's full of good, decent fellows—and you've got one coming."
"I hope not," Hazel protested.
"Oh, yes, you have," Mrs. Brooks smilingly assured her. "A woman without a man is only half a human being, anyway, you know—and vice versa. I know. We can cuss the men all we want to, my dear, and some of us unfortunately have a nasty experience with one now and then. But we can't get away from the fundamental laws of being."
"If you'd had my experience of the last two weeks you'd sing a different tune," Hazel vehemently declared. "I hate—I—"
And then she gave way, and indulged in the luxury of turning herself loose on Kitty's shoulder. Presently she was able to wipe her eyes and relate the whole story from the Sunday Mr. Bush stopped and spoke to her in the park down to that evening.
Kitty nodded understandingly. "But the girls have handed it to you worse than the men, Hazel," she observed sagely. "Jack Barrow was just plain crazy jealous, and a man like that can't help acting as he did. You're really fortunate, I think, because you'd not be really happy with a man like that. But the girls that you and I grew up with—they should have stood by you, knowing you as they did; yet you see they were ready to think the worst of you. They nearly always do when there's a man in the case. That's a weakness of our sex, dear. My, what a vindictive old Turk that Bush must have been! Well, you aren't working. Come and stay with me. Hubby's got a two-year contract with the World Advertising Company. We'll be located here that long at least. Come and stay with us. We'll show these little-minded folk a thing or two. Leave it to us."
"Oh, no, I couldn't think of that, Kitty!" Hazel faltered. "You know I'd love to, and it's awfully good of you, but I think I'm just about ready to go away from Granville."
"Well, come and stop with us till you do go," Kitty insisted. "We are going to take a furnished cottage for a while. Though, between you and me, dear, knowing people as I do, I can't blame you for wanting to be where their nasty tongues can't wound you."
But Hazel was obdurate. She would not inflict herself on the one friend she had left. And Kitty, after a short talk, berated her affectionately for her independence, and rose to go.
"For," said she, "I didn't get hold of this thing till Addie Horton called at the hotel this afternoon, and I didn't stop to think that it was near teatime, but came straight here. Jimmie'll think I've eloped. So ta-ta. I'll come out to-morrow about two. I have to confab with a house agent in the forenoon. By-by."
Hazel sat down and actually smiled when Kitty was gone. Somehow a grievous burden had fallen off her mind. Likewise, by some psychological quirk, the idea of leaving Granville and making her home elsewhere no longer struck her as running away under fire. She did not wish to subject Kitty Brooks to the difficulties, the embarrassment that might arise from having her as a guest; but the mere fact that Kitty stood stanchly by her made the world seem less harsh and dreary, made it seem as if she had, in a measure, justified herself. She felt that she could adventure forth among strangers in a strange country with a better heart, knowing that Kitty Brooks would put a swift quietus on any gossip that came her way.
So that Hazel went down to the dining-room light-heartedly, and when the meal was finished came back and fell to reading her papers. The first of the Western papers was a Vancouver World. In a real-estate man's half-page she found a diminutive sketch plan of the city on the shores of Burrard Inlet, Canada's principal outpost on the far Pacific.
"It's quite a big place," she murmured absently. "One would be far enough away there, goodness knows."
Then she turned to the "Help Wanted" advertisements. The thing which impressed her quickly and most vividly was the dearth of demand for clerks and stenographers, and the repeated calls for domestic help and such. Domestic service she shrank from except as a last resort. And down near the bottom of the column she happened on an inquiry for a school-teacher, female preferred, in an out-of-the-way district in the interior of the province.
"Now, that—" Hazel thought.
She had a second-class certificate tucked away among her belongings. Originally it had been her intention to teach, and she had done so one term in a backwoods school when she was eighteen. With the ending of the term she had returned to Granville, studied that winter, and got her second certificate; but at the same time she had taken a business-college course, and the following June found her clacking a typewriter at nine dollars a week. And her teacher's diploma had remained in the bottom of her trunk ever since.
"I could teach, I suppose, by rubbing up a little on one or two subjects as I went along," she reflected. "I wonder now—"
What she wondered was how much salary she could expect, and she took up the paper again, and looked carefully for other advertisements calling for teachers. In the World and in a Winnipeg paper she found one or two vacancies to fill out the fall term, and gathered that Western schools paid from fifty to sixty dollars a month for "schoolma'ams" with certificates such as she held.
"Why not?" she asked herself. "I've got two resources. If I can't get office work I can teach. I can do anything if I have to. And it's far enough away, in all conscience—all of twenty-five hundred miles."
Unaccountably, since Kitty Brooks' visit, she found herself itching to turn her back on Granville and its unpleasant associations. She did not attempt to analyze the feeling. Strange lands, and most of all the West, held alluring promise. She sat in her rocker, and could not help but dream of places where people were a little broader gauge, a little less prone to narrow, conventional judgments. Other people had done as she proposed doing—cut loose from their established environment, and made a fresh start in countries where none knew or cared whence they came or who they were. Why not she? One thing was certain: Granville, for all she had been born there, and grown to womanhood there, was now no place for her. The very people who knew her best would make her suffer most.
She spent that evening going thoroughly over the papers and writing letters to various school boards, taking a chance at one or two she found in the Manitoba paper, but centering her hopes on the country west of the Rockies. Her letters finished, she took stock of her resources—verified them, rather, for she had not so much money that she did not know almost where she stood. Her savings in the bank amounted to three hundred odd dollars, and cash in hand brought the sum to a total of three hundred and sixty-five. At any rate, she had sufficient to insure her living for quite a long time. And she went to bed feeling better than she had felt for two weeks.
Kitty Brooks came again the next afternoon, and, being a young woman of wide experience and good sense, made no further attempt to influence Hazel one way or the other.
"I hate to see you go, though," she remarked truthfully. "But you'll like the West—if it happens that you go there. You'll like it better than the East; there's a different sort of spirit among the people. I've traveled over some of it, and if Jimmie's business permitted we'd both like to live there. And—getting down to strictly practical things—a girl can make a much better living there. Wages are high. And—who knows?—you might capture a cattle king."
Hazel shrugged her shoulders, and Mrs. Kitty forbore teasing. After that they gossiped and compared notes covering the two years since they had met until it was time for Kitty to go home.
Very shortly thereafter—almost, it seemed, by return mail—Hazel got replies to her letters of inquiry. The fact that each and every one seemed bent on securing her services astonished her.
"Schoolma'ams must certainly be scarce out there," she told herself. "This is an embarrassment of riches. I'm going somewhere, but which place shall it be?"
But the reply from Cariboo Meadows, B. C., the first place she had thought of, decided her. The member of the school board who replied held forth the natural beauty of the country as much as he did the advantages of the position. The thing that perhaps made the strongest appeal to Hazel was a little kodak print inclosed in the letter, showing the schoolhouse.
The building itself was primitive enough, of logs, with a pole-and-sod roof. But it was the huge background, the timbered mountains rising to snow-clad heights against a cloudless sky, that attracted her. She had never seen a greater height of land than the rolling hills of Ontario. Here was a frontier, big and new and raw, holding out to her as she stared at the print a promise—of what? She did not know. Adventure? If she desired adventure, it was purely a subconscious desire. But she had lived in a rut a long time without realizing it more than vaguely, and there was something in her nature that responded instantly when she contemplated journeying alone into a far country. She found herself hungering for change, for a measure of freedom from petty restraints, for elbow-room in the wide spaces, where one's neighbor might be ten or forty miles away. She knew nothing whatever of such a life, but she could feel a certain envy of those who led it.
She sat for a long time looking at the picture, thinking. Here was the concrete, visible presentment of something that drew her strongly. She found an atlas, and looked up Cariboo Meadows on the map. It was not to be found, and Hazel judged it to be a purely local name. But the letter told her that she would have to stage it a hundred and sixty-five miles north from Ashcroft, B. C., where the writer would meet her and drive her to the Meadows. She located the stage-line terminal on the map, and ran her forefinger over the route. Mountain and lake and stream lined and dotted and criss-crossed the province from end to end of its seven-hundred-mile length. Back of where Cariboo Meadows should be three or four mining camps snuggled high in the mountains.
"What a country!" she whispered. "It's wild; really, truly wild; and everything I've ever seen has been tamed and smoothed down, and made eminently respectable and conventional long ago. That's the place. That's where I'm going, and I'm going it blind. I'm not going to tell any one—not even Kitty—until, like a bear, I've gone over the mountain to see what I can see."
Within an hour of that Miss Hazel Weir had written to accept the terms offered by the Cariboo Meadow school district, and was busily packing her trunk.
A tall man, sunburned, slow-speaking, met Hazel at Soda Creek, the end of her stage journey, introducing himself as Jim Briggs.
"Pretty tiresome trip, ain't it?" he observed. "You'll have a chance to rest decent to-night, and I got a team uh bays that'll yank yuh to the Meadows in four hours 'n' a half. My wife'll be plumb tickled to have yuh. They ain't much more'n half a dozen white women in ten miles uh the Meadows. We keep a boardin'-house. Hope you'll like the country."
That was a lengthy speech for Jim Briggs, as Hazel discovered when she rolled out of Soda Creek behind the "team uh bays." His conversation was decidedly monosyllabic. But he could drive, if he was no talker, and his team could travel. The road, albeit rough in spots, a mere track through timber and little gems of open where the yellowing grass waved knee-high, and over hills which sloped to deep canons lined with pine and spruce, seemed short enough. And so by eleven o'clock Hazel found herself at Cariboo Meadows.
"Schoolhouse's over yonder." Briggs pointed out the place—an unnecessary guidance, for Hazel had already marked the building set off by itself and fortified with a tall flagpole. "And here's where we live. Kinda out uh the world, but blame good place to live."
Hazel did like the place. Her first impression was thankfulness that her lot had been cast in such a spot. But it was largely because of the surroundings, essentially primitive, the clean air, guiltless of smoke taint, the aromatic odors from the forest that ranged for unending miles on every hand. For the first time in her life, she was beyond hearing of the clang of street cars, the roar of traffic, the dirt and smells of a city. It seemed good. She had no regrets, no longing to be back. There was a pain sometimes, when in spite of herself she would fall to thinking of Jack Barrow. But that she looked upon as a closed chapter. He had hurt her where a woman can be most deeply wounded—in her pride and her affections—and the hurt was dulled by the smoldering resentment that thinking of him always fanned to a flame. Miss Hazel Weir was neither meek nor mild, even if her environment had bred in her a repression that had become second nature.
So with the charm of the wild land fresh upon her, she took kindly to Cariboo Meadows. The immediate, disagreeable past bade fair to become as remote in reality as the distance made it seem. Surely no ghosts would walk here to make people look askance at her.
Her first afternoon she spent loafing on the porch of the Briggs domicile, within which Mrs. Briggs, a fat, good-natured person of forty, toiled at her cooking for the "boarders," and kept a brood of five tumultuous youngsters in order—the combined tasks leaving her scant time to entertain her newly arrived guest. From the vantage ground of the porch Hazel got her first glimpse of the turns life occasionally takes when there is no policeman just around the corner.
Cariboo Meadows, as a town, was simply a double row of buildings facing each other across a wagon road. Two stores, a blacksmith shop, a feed stable, certain other nondescript buildings, and a few dwellings, mostly of logs, was all. Probably not more than a total of fifty souls made permanent residence there. But the teams of ranchers stood in the street, and a few saddled cow ponies whose listlessness was mostly assumed. Before one of the general stores a prospector fussed with a string of pack horses. Directly opposite Briggs' boarding-house stood a building labeled "Regent Hotel." Hazel could envisage it all with a half turn of her head.
From this hotel there presently issued a young man dressed in the ordinary costume of the country—wide hat, flannel shirt, overalls, boots. He sat down on a box close by the hotel entrance. In a few minutes another came forth. He walked past the first a few steps, stopped, and said something. Hazel could not hear the words. The first man was filling a pipe. Apparently he made no reply; at least, he did not trouble to look up. But she saw his shoulders lift in a shrug. Then he who had passed turned square about and spoke again, this time lifting his voice a trifle. The young fellow sitting on the box instantly became galvanized into action. He flung out an oath that carried across the street and made Hazel's ears burn. At the same time he leaped from his seat straight at the other man. Hazel saw it quite distinctly, saw him who jumped dodge a vicious blow and close with the other; and saw, moreover, something which amazed her. For the young fellow swayed with his adversary a second or two, then lifted him bodily off his feet almost to the level of his head, and slammed him against the hotel wall with a sudden twist. She heard the thump of the body on the logs. For an instant she thought him about to jump with his booted feet on the prostrate form, and involuntarily she held her breath. But he stepped back, and when the other scrambled up, he side-stepped the first rush, and knocked the man down again with a blow of his fist. This time he stayed down. Then other men—three or four of them—came out of the hotel, stood uncertainly a few seconds, and Hazel heard the young fellow say:
"Better take that fool in and bring him to. If he's still hungry for trouble, I'll be right handy. I wonder how many more of you fellers I'll have to lick before you'll get wise enough not to start things you can't stop?"
They supported the unconscious man through the doorway; the young fellow resumed his seat on the box, also his pipe filling.
"Roarin' Bill's goin' to get himself killed one uh these days."
Hazel started, but it was only Jim Briggs in the doorway beside her.
"I guess you ain't much used to seein' that sort of exhibition where you come from, Miss Weir," Briggs' wife put in over his shoulder. "My land, it's disgustin'—men fightin' in the street where everybody can see 'em. Thank goodness, it don't happen very often. 'Specially when Bill Wagstaff ain't around. You ain't shocked, are you, honey?"
"Why, I didn't have time to be shocked," Hazel laughed. "It was done so quickly."
"If them fellers would leave Bill alone," Briggs remarked, "there wouldn't be no fight. But he goes off like a hair-trigger gun, and he'd scrap a dozen quick as one. I'm lookin' to see his finish one uh these days."
"What a name!" Hazel observed, caught by the appellation Briggs had first used. "Is that Roaring Bill over there?"
"That's him—Roarin' Bill Wagstaff," Briggs answered. "If he takes a few drinks, you'll find out to-night how he got the name. Sings—just like a bull moose—hear him all over town. Probably whip two or three men before mornin'."
His spouse calling him at that moment, Briggs detailed no more information about Roaring Bill. And Hazel sat looking across the way with considerable interest at the specimen of a type which hitherto she had encountered in the pages of fiction—a fighting man, what the West called a "bad actor." She had, however, no wish for closer study of that particular type. The men of her world had been altogether different, and the few frontier specimens she had met at the Briggs' dinner table had not impressed her with anything except their shyness and manifest awkwardness in her presence. The West itself appealed to her, its bigness, its nearness to the absolutely primeval, but not the people she had so far met. They were not wrapped in a glamor of romance; she was altogether too keen to idealize them. They were not her kind, and while she granted their worth, they were more picturesque about their own affairs than when she came in close contact with them. Those were her first impressions. And so she looked at Roaring Bill Wagstaff, over the way, with a quite impersonal interest.
He came into Briggs' place for supper. Mrs. Briggs was her own waitress. Briggs himself sat beside Hazel. She heard him grunt, and saw a mild look of surprise flit over his countenance when Roaring Bill walked in and coolly took a seat. But not until Hazel glanced at the newcomer did she recognize him as the man who had fought in the street. He was looking straight at her when she did glance up, and the mingled astonishment and frank admiration in his clear gray eyes made Hazel drop hers quickly to her plate. Since Mr. Andrew Bush, she was beginning to hate men who looked at her that way. And she could not help seeing that many did so look.
Roaring Bill ate his supper in silence. No one spoke to him, and he addressed no one except to ask that certain dishes be passed. Among the others conversation was general. Hazel noticed that, and wondered why—wondered if Roaring Bill was taboo. She had sensed enough of the Western point of view to know that the West held nothing against a man who was quick to blows—rather admired such a one, in fact. And her conclusions were not complimentary to Mr. Bill Wagstaff. If people avoided him in that country, he must be a very hard citizen indeed. And Hazel no more than formulated this opinion than she was ashamed of it, having her own recent experience in mind. Whereupon she dismissed Bill Wagstaff from her thoughts altogether when she left the table.
Exactly three days later Hazel came into the dining-room at noon, and there received her first lesson in the truth that this world is a very small place, after all. A nattily dressed gentleman seated to one side of her place at table rose with the most polite bows and extended hand. Hazel recognized him at a glance as Mr. Howard Perkins, traveling salesman for Harrington & Bush. She had met him several times in the company offices. She was anything save joyful at the meeting, but after the first unwelcome surprise she reflected that it was scarcely strange that a link in her past life should turn up here, for she knew that in the very nature of things a firm manufacturing agricultural implements would have its men drumming up trade on the very edge of the frontier.
Mr. Perkins was tolerably young, good looking, talkative, apparently glad to meet some one from home. He joined her on the porch for a minute when the meal was over. And he succeeded in putting Hazel unqualifiedly at her ease so far as he was concerned. If he had heard any Granville gossip, if he knew why she had left Granville, it evidently cut no figure with him. As a consequence, while she was simply polite and negatively friendly, deep in her heart Hazel felt a pleasant reaction from the disagreeable things for which Granville stood; and, though she nursed both resentment and distrust against men in general, it did not seem to apply to Mr. Perkins. Anyway, he was here to-day, and on the morrow he would be gone.
Being a healthy, normal young person, Hazel enjoyed his company without being fully aware of the fact. So much for natural gregariousness. Furthermore, Mr. Perkins in his business had been pretty much everywhere on the North American continent, and he knew how to set forth his various experiences. Most women would have found him interesting, particularly in a community isolated as Cariboo Meadows, where tailored clothes and starched collars seemed unknown, and every man was his own barber—at infrequent intervals.
So Hazel found it quite natural to be chatting with him on the Briggs' porch when her school work ended at three-thirty in the afternoon. It transpired that Mr. Perkins, like herself, had an appreciation of the scenic beauties, and also the picturesque phases of life as it ran in the Cariboo country. They talked of many things, discussed life in a city as compared with existence in the wild, and were agreed that both had desirable features—and drawbacks. Finally Mr. Perkins proposed a walk up on a three-hundred-foot knoll that sloped from the back door, so to speak, of Cariboo Meadows. Hazel got her hat, and they set out. She had climbed that hill by herself, and she knew that it commanded a great sweep of the rolling land to the west.
They reached the top in a few minutes, and found a seat on a dead tree trunk. Mr. Perkins was properly impressed with the outlook. But before very long he seemed to suffer a relaxation of his interest in the view and a corresponding increase of attention to his companion. Hazel recognized the symptoms. At first it amused, then it irritated her. The playful familiarity of Mr. Perkins suddenly got on her nerves.
"I think I shall go down," she said abruptly.
"Oh, I say, now, there's no hurry," Perkins responded smilingly.
But she was already rising from her seat, and Mr. Perkins, very likely gauging his action according to his experience in other such situations, did an utterly foolish thing. He caught her as she rose, and laughingly tried to kiss her. Whereupon he discovered that he had caught a tartar, for Hazel slapped him with all the force she could muster—which was considerable, judging by the flaming red spot which the smack of her palm left on his smooth-shaven cheek. But he did not seem to mind that. Probably he had been slapped before, and regarded it as part of the game. He attempted to draw her closer.