Transcriber's Note: Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Dialect spellings, contractions and discrepancies have been retained.
A Tale of the Great Northwest
JAMES B. HENDRYX
A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York
Published by Arrangements with G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
COPYRIGHT, 1915 BY JAMES B. HENDRYX
BY JAMES B. HENDRYX
The Promise The Gun Brand Connie Morgan in Alaska Connie Morgan with the Northwest Mounted
This edition is issued under arrangement with the publishers G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS, NEW YORK AND LONDON
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
I.—THE PACE 1
II.—"BROADWAY BILL" 8
III.—THE FINAL KICK 17
IV.—LOVE OR HATE 26
VI.—THE CROOKED GAME 39
VII.—THE WRECK 47
VIII.—NEW FRIENDS 53
IX.—BILL GETS A JOB 59
X.—NORTHWARD, HO! 65
XI.—BILL HITS THE TRAIL 72
XII.—THE TEST 83
XIII.—ON THE TOTE-ROAD 90
XIV.—AT BAY 99
XV.—THE WERWOLF 106
XVII.—A TWO-FISTED MAN 125
XVIII.—"BIRD'S-EYE" AND PHILOSOPHY 133
XIX.—A FRAME-UP 138
XX.—A FIRE IN THE NIGHT 147
XXI.—DADDY DUNNIGAN 161
XXII.—CREED SEES A GHOST 169
XXIV.—THE LOG JAM 187
XXVI.—MAN OR TOY MAN? 209
XXVIII.—A PROPHECY 222
XXIX.—A BUCKSKIN HUNTING-SHIRT 230
XXXI.—THE ROBE OF DIABLESSE 246
XXXII.—THE ONE GOOD WHITE MAN 253
XXXIII.—THE PROMISE 259
XXXIV.—THE NEW BOSS 263
XXXV.—A HUNTING PARTY 274
XXXVI.—TOLD ON THE TRAIL 282
XXXVII.—IN THE OFFICE 287
XXXVIII.—CHARLIE FINDS A FRIEND 296
XXXIX.—BILL'S WAY 306
XL.—CHARLIE GOES HUNTING 314
XLI.—THE BLIZZARD 319
XLII.—BUCKING THE STORM 326
XLIII.—IN CAMP AGAIN 338
XLIV.—THE MISSING BONDS 347
XLVI.—AN ANNOUNCEMENT 366
XLVII.—MONCROSSEN PAYS A VISIT 374
XLVIII.—THE WEDDING 382
XLIX.—ON THE RIVER 391
L.—FACE TO FACE 399
LI.—THE PROMISE FULFILLED 406
LII.—THE BIG MAN 415
Young Carmody awoke to the realization of another day.
The sun of mid-forenoon cast a golden rhombus on the thick carpet, and through the open windows the autumnal air, stirred by just the suspicion of a breeze, was wafted deliciously cool against his burning cheeks and throbbing temples.
He gazed about the familiar confines of the room in puffy-eyed stupidity.
There was a burning thirst at his throat, and he moistened his dry lips with a bitter-coated tongue. His mouth was lined with a brown slime of dead liquor, which nauseated him and sent the dull ache to his head in great throbbing waves.
Upon a beautifully done mahogany table near the door stood a silver pitcher filled to the brim with clear, cold ice-water. It seemed miles away, and, despite the horrible thirst that gnawed at his throat, he lay for many minutes in dull contemplation of its burnished coolness.
The sodden condition of his imagination distorted his sense of proportion. The journey across the room loomed large in the scheme of things. It was a move of moment, to be undertaken not lightly, but after due and proper deliberation.
He threw off the covers and placed a tentative foot upon the floor.
A groan escaped him as his right hand brushed the counterpane. Gingerly he brought the member within range of his vision—it was swollen to the wrist and smeared with dried blood, which had oozed from an ugly split in the tight-drawn skin. Slowly he worked the fingers and frowned—more in perplexity than distress—at the sharp pain of the stiffened knuckles.
He crossed to the table and, springing the silver catch of a tiny door, cunningly empaneled in the wall, selected from the cellaret a long-necked, cut-glass decanter, from which he poured a liberal drink. The sight of it sickened him, and for an instant he stood contemplating the little beads that rushed upward and ranged themselves in a sparkling semicircle along the curve of the liquor-line.
"The hair of the dog is good for the bite," he muttered, and with an effort closed his eyes and conveyed the stuff jerkily to his lips. Part of the contents spilled over his fingers and splashed upon the polished table-top. As the diffused odor reached his nostrils a wave of nausea swept over him. With a shudder he drained the glass at a gulp and groped blindly for the water-pitcher, from which he greedily swallowed great quantities of ice-water.
He paused before a tall pier-glass and surveyed himself through bloodshot eyes. The telephone upon the opposite wall emitted a peremptory ring. Young Carmody turned with a frown of annoyance. He ignored the summons and carefully scrutinized his damaged hand.
His brain was rapidly clearing and, from out the tangled maze of dancing girls, popping corks, and hilarious, dress-suited men, loomed large the picture of a policeman. Just how it all happened he could not recollect. He must see the boys and get the straight of it.
His mirrored image grinned at the recollection of the officer, the quick, hard-struck blow, and the hysterical screams and laughter of the girls as they were seized in the strong arms of their companions, rushed across the sidewalk, and swung bodily into the waiting taxis.
B-r-r-r-r-r. B-r-r-r-r-r-r. B-r-r-r-r-r! Again the telephone bell cut short his musing. There was a compelling insistency in the sound and, with a muttered imprecation, he jerked the receiver from the hook.
"Well?" he growled. "Yes, this is William Carmody. Oh, hello, governor! I will be right down. I overslept this morning. Stay where I am! Why? All right, I'll wait."
"Now what?" he murmured. "The old gentleman seems peeved."
After a cold bath and a vigorous rub he began leisurely to dress. His eyes cleared and he noted with satisfaction that aside from a slight pouchiness, and the faint mottling of red that blotched his cheeks, all traces of the previous night's orgy had disappeared. True his hand pained him, but he had neatly mended the split with plaster and the swelling had, in a great measure, yielded to the cold water.
"Getting fat," he grunted, as he noticed the increasing heaviness at his girth. "Fat and soft," he added, as a huge muscle yielded under the grip of his strong fingers.
In college this man had pulled the stroke oar of his crew, and on the gridiron had become a half-back of national renown. By the end of his second year no amateur could be found who would willingly face him with the gloves, and upon several occasions, under a carefully guarded sobriquet, he had given a good account of himself against some of the foremost professionals of the squared circle. He was a man of mighty muscles, of red blood, and of iron, to whom the strain and sweat of physical encounter were the breath of life.
He wondered as he carefully selected a tie, at the strange request he had received at the telephone. He glanced at the French clock on the mantel. His father, he knew, had been at his desk these two hours.
They had little in common—these two. After the death of his young wife, years before, Hiram Carmody had surrounded himself with a barrier of imperturbability beyond which even his son never ventured. Cold and unyielding, men called him—a twentieth century automaton of big business. Rarely, outside of banking hours, did the two meet. Never but once did they hold extended conversation. It was upon the occasion of the younger man's return from a year's Continental travel that his father summoned him and, with an air of impersonal finality, laid out his life work. The time had come for him to settle down to business. In regard to the nature of this business, or any choice he might have in the matter, William was not consulted. As a matter of course, being a Carmody, he was to enter the bank. His official position was that of messenger. His salary, six dollars a week, his private allowance, one hundred. And thus he was dismissed.
It cannot be chronicled that young Carmody was either surprised or disappointed at thus being assigned to a career. In truth, up to that time he had thought very little of the future and made no plans. He realized in a vague sort of way that some time he would engage in business; therefore, upon receipt of the paternal edict he merely looked bored, shrugged, and with a perfunctory, "Yes, sir," quit the room without comment.
He entered upon his duties stoically and without enthusiasm. At the end of a year his salary had increased to twelve dollars a week, and his sphere of usefulness enlarged to embrace the opening and sorting of mail. The monotony of the life palled upon him. He attended to his duties with dogged persistence and in the evenings haunted the gymnasiums. His athletic superiority was soon demonstrated and after a time, neither in the ring nor on the mat could he find an opponent worthy the name.
More and more he turned for diversion toward the white lights of Broadway. Here was amusement, excitement—life! He became immensely popular among certain of the faster set and all unconsciously found himself pitted against the most relentless foeman of them all—John Barleycorn.
Gradually the personnel of his friends changed. Less and less frequently did he appear at the various social functions of the Avenue, and more and more did he enter into the spirit of the Great White Way. On every hand he was hailed as "Bill Carmody," and by the great force of his personality maintained his universal popularity. Many smiled at the rumors of his wild escapades—some even envied—a few frowned. If his father knew he kept his own council—it was his way.
Only one warned him. Ethel Manton, beautiful, imperious, and altogether desirable, with just the suspicion of a challenge in her daringly flashing eyes, was the one person in all the world that Bill Carmody loved. And loving her, he set her high upon a pedestal and entered the lists with all the ardor of his being. His was the love of desire—the love of a strong man for his mate, bringing out by turns all that was best and worst in him.
Yet she remained cold—this girl of his golden dreams. Only at rare intervals did she unbend and allow him a fleeting glimpse of her very soul. At such times her eyes grew tender and she seemed very near to him—and very dear. And then he would tell her of his great love, and always her answer was the same: She would marry no man who was content to live upon an allowance. He must make good—must win to the fore in the business world as he had won in the athletic. And above all he must forswear the pace!
In vain he explained that business held no interest for him; that it was no man's game, but a sordid struggle of wits for the amassing of unneeded gold. In vain he argued that his father, already rich, would, in the event of their marriage, settle a large amount upon them in their own right. In answer to her reference to his habits he would laugh. He was not afraid; there was a man's game!
Of course, once married, all that would be changed. But, pshaw; it is all in a lifetime! And then he would lightly promise to mend his ways—a promise that was forgotten within the hour. What do women know of a strong man's play?
But one woman did know, and, knowing, cared.
William Carmody had scarcely completed his careful grooming when, with a tap at the door, his father entered, closely followed by a rather burly individual in citizen's clothing, whose jaw was correctly and artistically swathed in bandages.
The two advanced a few paces into the room and paused. Father and son regarded each other in silence. At length the older man spoke:
"Where were you last night?"
William flushed at the tone and cast an inquiring glance at the man in bandages, who awkwardly shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His father motioned him to proceed.
"I was out with a bunch from Philly. Chesterton, '05; Burke, '03; little Hammond, '06; and old Busk Brater, star guard of the naughty-naughts."
"Drunk, were you?" The words sounded coldly impersonal, and the tone showed no surprise.
"Why, no, that is, I wouldn't exactly say——" his father silenced him with a gesture.
"Did you ever see this man before?"
William scrutinized the other carefully.
"I think not."
"Oh, you hain't, eh?"
The man's awkwardness disappeared, he advanced a step and it was evident that he spoke with difficulty.
"How about last night in front of Shanley's? Guess you wasn't there, eh? Guess I just dreamt about a bunch of souses turkey-trottin' along the sidewalk? I'd of stood for it, at that, but the girls got to pullin' it too raw even for Broadway.
"I know'd you by sight an' started in to give you the tip to put the soft pedal on the wiggle stuff, when, zowie! I guess you didn't reach out an' soak me—a cop!" He tapped the bandage upon the aggressively advanced jaw.
"Maybe the Times Building just tangoed across the square an' fell on me!" he went on with ponderous sarcasm. "An' that ain't all; when I gathers myself up, here's the tail-lights of a couple of taxis disappearin' into Forty-fourth Street, an' the crowd laughin' an' joshin' me somethin' fierce. I guess I dreamt that, too, eh?
"An' that ain't the worst of it. Down to headquarters I draws a thirty-day space—without! An' then, again, I guess they'll shove me right along for promotion on top of this. Not! I tell you I'm in bad all the ways around, with the whole force passin' me the grin an' askin' me have I saw Broadway Bill lately? An' in comes the inspector this mornin' with an order when I came back on, to report to McClusky, up in Harlem, an' help shoo the goats away from eatin' up the new sidewalks in front of the five-dollar-instalment lots.
"Nice kettle of fish for me, that was in line for a lieut. I ain't layin' it up again' you so much for the jolt; you're sure there with the punch, nor for the thirty-day space, neither, though with my family I can't afford that none. But, damn it, kid, you've broke me! With this here again' me I'll never be a lieut in a thousand years. I'm done!"
During the recital, the officer's voice lost its belligerent tone. He spoke as man to man, with no hint of self-pity. Young Carmody was honestly sorry. Here was a man who, in the act of giving him a friendly warning, had been felled by a brutal and unexpected blow. A hot blush of shame reddened his cheeks. He was about to speak but was interrupted by the voice of his father.
The old man seemed suddenly to have aged. His fine features, always pallid, appeared a shade paler. Gone was the arrogant poise of the head which for forty years had dominated boards of directors. The square-set shoulders drooped wearily, and in the eyes was the tired, dumb look of a beaten man.
"Officer, it seems hardly necessary for me to express my thanks for the consideration you have shown in coming directly to me with this matter," he said at last. "Had you been so inclined you could have stirred up a nasty mess of it, and no one would have blamed you."
He stepped to a small table and, seating himself, produced check-book and pen.
"I trust this will reimburse you for any financial loss you may have incurred by reason of this most unfortunate affair," he went on; "and as for the rest, leave that to me. I have, I believe, some little influence at headquarters, and I shall personally call upon the inspector."
The officer glanced at the slip of paper which the other thrust into his hand. It was written in four figures. He looked up. Something in the old man's attitude—the unspoken pain in the eyes—the pathetic droop of the shoulders, struck a responsive chord in the heart of the officer.
Impulsively he extended the hand in which the check remained unfolded.
"Here, Mr. Carmody, I can't take your money. You didn't get me right. I start out to knife you for what I can get, an' you wind up by treatin' me white. It wasn't your fault, nohow, an' I didn't know how you felt about—things."
There may have been just the shadow of a smile at the corners of Hiram Carmody's mouth as he waved a dismissal.
"We will consider the incident closed," he said.
At the door the officer turned to the younger man, who had been a silent listener.
"It's a pity to waste yourself that way. It's a punk game, kid, take it from me—they don't last! Where's your Broadway Bills of ten years ago? Stop an' think, kid. Where are they at?"
"My God," he muttered, as he passed down the broad stairway, "how many old fathers in New York is hidin' their feelin's behind a bold front, an' at the same time eatin' their hearts out with worry for their boys! An' folks callin' them good fellows!
"Money ain't everything in this here world, after all," he added, as his gaze traveled over the paintings and tapestries that lined the great hall.
Above stairs an uncomfortable atmosphere of constraint settled upon father and son. Both felt the awkwardness of the situation.
Young Carmody was a man with a heart as warm as his ways were wild. His was an impulsive nature which acted upon first impressions. Loving alike a fight or a frolic, he entered into either with a zest that made of them events to be remembered. He glanced across to where his father stood beside the table toying with a jade ink-well, and noted the unwonted droop of the shoulders and the unfamiliar gaze of the gray eyes in which the look of arrogance had dulled almost to softness—a pathetic figure, standing there in his own house—alone—unloved—a stranger to his only son.
The boy saw for the first time, not the banker, the dictator of high finance—but the man. Could it be that here was something he had missed? That through the long years since the death of his wife, the sweet-faced mother whom the boy remembered so vividly, this strange, inscrutable old man had craved the companionship of his son—had loved him?
At that moment, had the elder man spoken the word—weakened, he would have called it—the course of lives would have been changed. But the moment passed. Hiram Carmody's shoulders squared to their accustomed set, and his eyes hardened as he regarded his son.
"Well?" The word rang harsh, with a rising inflection that stung. The younger man made no reply and favored the speaker with a level stare.
"And you a Carmody!"
"Yes, I am a Carmody! But, thank God, I am only half Carmody! It is no fault of mine that I bear the Carmody name! At heart I am a McKim!"
The young man's eyes narrowed, and the words flashed defiantly from his lips. The shaft struck home. It was true. From the boy's babyhood the father had realized it with fear in his heart.
The beautiful, dashing girl he had wooed so long ago; had married, and had loved more deeply than she ever knew, was Eily McKim, descendant of the long line of Fighting McKims, whose men-children for five hundred years had loomed large in the world-wars of nations. Men of red blood and indomitable courage—these, who pursued war for the very love of the game, and who tasted blood in every clime, and under the flag of every nation. Hard-riding, hard-drinking, hard-fighting cavaliers, upon whose deeds and adventures the staid, circumspect Carmodys looked aghast. And this girl-wife, whose soft eyes and gentle nature had won his love, had borne him a son, and by some freak of atavism had transmitted to him the turbulent spirit of the Fighting McKims.
Again the old man spoke, and his voice was the voice that Wall Street knew—and feared.
"I suppose you are well pleased with yourself. You are referred to as one of 'a bunch of souses.' You were 'pulling it too raw even for Broadway.' You are known to fame as 'Broadway Bill.' You are a sport! You, and your college friends. And last night you achieved the crowning success of your career—you 'soaked a cop'! You, the last of a line of men, who for a hundred years have dominated the finances of a nation! You, the last of the Carmodys, are Broadway Bill, the sport!"
The biting scorn of his father's tone was not lost upon the younger man, who paled to the lips.
"Where are the securities you were supposed to have delivered to Strang, Liebhardt & Co.?"
"Here, in my desk. I intended to deliver them on my way to the bank this morning. The boys blew in yesterday and it was up to me to show them around a bit."
"I will relieve you of the securities. The deal with Strang, Liebhardt & Co. is off. It depended upon the delivery of those bonds during banking hours yesterday."
Without a word William crossed to the desk and, withdrawing a packet sealed in a heavy manila envelope, handed it to his father.
"The bank no longer requires your services," went on the old man coldly. "That a Carmody should prove himself absolutely untrustworthy and unreliable is beyond my ken. I do not intend to take you to task for your manner of living. It is a course many have chosen with varying results. You have made your bed—now lie in it. I need only say that I am bitterly disappointed in my son. Henceforth we are strangers.
"Here is my personal check for ten thousand dollars. That is the last cent of Carmody money you will receive. Properly invested it will yield you a competence. Many men have builded fortunes upon less. As pocket money for a Broadway Bill it will soon be squandered."
Mechanically the younger man picked up the check from the table.
"I think, sir," he answered, "that you have succeeded in making yourself perfectly clear. As a Carmody, I am a failure. You spoke of an investment. I am about to make one of which any McKim would approve."
With slow, deliberate movements he tore the check into tiny pieces and scattered them upon the carpet. "I shall leave your house," he continued, meeting the other's gaze squarely, "without a dollar of Carmody money, but with ten thousand dollars' worth of McKim self-respect. Good-by."
There was a note of cold finality in those last two words and the elder Carmody involuntarily extended his hand. He quitted the room abruptly as the boy, ignoring the civility, turned away.
An hour later William walked hurriedly down the steps of the Carmody mansion and, with never a backward glance, hailed a taxi and was whirled rapidly uptown.
THE FINAL KICK
It was Saturday, and Ethel Manton was lunching early that she might accompany her fifteen-year-old brother on a ride through the park.
A certain story in the morning paper arrested her attention, and she reread it with flushed face and tightening lips. It was well done, as newspaper stories go, this account of a lurid night on Broadway which wound up in a crescendo of brilliance with the flooring of a policeman. No names were mentioned, but the initiated who read between the lines knew that only one man could have pulled off the stunt and gotten by with it.
"For goodness' sake, Eth, aren't you ever going to finish? You'll waste the whole afternoon over that old paper!"
Young Charlie had bolted his luncheon and waited impatiently in a deep window-seat overlooking the park. His sister laid down the paper with a sigh.
"Are the horses ready?" She asked the question in a dull, listless tone, so unlike her usual self that even Charlie noticed.
"Gee! You don't seem very keen about it. And look what a day! You look like you were going to a funeral."
Before the girl could reply he turned again to the window: "Look, a taxi is stopping and somebody is getting out. Oh, it's Bill Carmody! Ain't he a crackerjack, though? Say, Eth, why don't you marry Bill? He's just crazy about you—everybody says so, and——"
"Charlie!" The word was jerked out hysterically, and the boy was puzzled at the crimson of her face.
"Well, I don't care, it's so! And then I'd be a brother-in-law to Bill Carmody! Why, he can lick everybody down to the gym. He put on the gloves with me once," he boasted, swelling visibly, "just sparring, you know; but he promised to teach me the game. And football! There never was a half-back like Bill Carmody! Why he——"
"Do hush! He might hear you. Run along, now. You ride on and I will overtake you. I—I must see Mr. Carmody alone."
"Mr. Carmody! So you two have had a scrap! Well, if I was a girl, and Bill Carmody wanted to marry me, you bet, I'd marry him before he got a chance to change his mind. You bet, when I grow up I'm going to be just like him—so there!"
The boy flounced defiantly out of the room, leaving the girl alone with a new fear.
Since the death of her parents she had bravely and capably undertaken the management of the household, and her chief care was this impulsive boy who was so dear to her heart.
"Look after Charlie as long as he shall need you." The words of her dying mother came to her vividly. "He is really a noble little fellow—but hard to manage."
And now, added to the sorrow that already seemed crushing her, was this new anxiety.
Charlie had set up an idol—and the fact that his idol was also her idol—although she never admitted it—struck fear to her heart. For the undiscerning eyes of the boy were blind to the feet of clay.
In the library across the hall, William Carmody paced nervously up and down, pausing at each turn to gaze abstractedly out of the window.
After what seemed an interminable wait, the portieres parted and the girl stepped into the room. In her hand she carried a carefully folded newspaper. She crossed to the table and, regarding the man with a cold, disconcerting stare, waited for him to speak.
"Hello, Ethel! No, thank you, I have had luncheon. I——" His gaze encountered the unwavering blue eyes, and he suddenly dropped the air of flippant assurance. "Er, I came to see you," he added lamely.
"Yes?" There was little of encouragement in the word with its accompanying inflection.
"You see, I am leaving New York."
"Yes, I am going away." He paused, but receiving no answer, continued, "I am going away to—to make good. And I came to say good-by. When I return, if—if you are still free, I will have something to tell you—something I have often told you before, but—well, things will be different, then."
"I suppose you said good-by to your other friends last night?" Her glance rested for a moment on the folded newspaper, and the silky sneer of her retort was brutal—with the studied brutality of the female of the species who would inflict pain. The man winced under its sting.
"Last night cannot be recalled," he replied gravely. "Whatever happened then is past and gone. You are right; figuratively speaking, I have said good-by to the others—to Broadway, and all it stands for. You alone know of my going. I am making no promises. If I fail no one will know—nor care. When I make good I will return—and then——"
The girl looked up. Their glances met, and in the depths of the steady gray eyes the soft blue ones read purpose—unflinching purpose to fight and win for the glory of an infinite love.
Her eyes dropped. She felt the hot blood mount to her face under the compelling magnetism of his gaze. She loved this man. In all the world no other could so move her. She loved—yet feared him. The very strength of him—the overmastering force of his personality—his barbaric disregard of conventionality at once attracted and frightened her.
In that moment she knew, deep down in her heart, that if this man should take her in his arms and hold her close against the throbbing of his great heart, his lips find hers, and should he pour into her ears the pent-up torrent of his love, her surrender would be complete.
His was the master mind, and in all the years to come that mind would rule, and she, the weaker one, would be forced under the yoke of its supremacy. She prayed for strength.
Let those who believe that once the living flesh has turned to clay the spirit dies, ascribe to a trick of memory the vision of her dying mother that flashed before the eyes of the girl, and the whispered words: "Look after Charlie as long as he shall need you."
But those there are who know that in that momentary vision spoke in faint memory-whispers the gentle spirit-mother, who—ranking high in that vast army which, in the words of the immortal Persian,
"Before us passed the door of Darkness through,"
—would guide the footsteps of her loved ones.
Thus strength came and steeled the heart of one great little woman who battled alone against love for her right to rule and shape the destiny of lives. The momentary flush receded from her face, and when her eyes again sought the man's, their glance was coldly repellent. She even forced a smile.
"Is it so amusing, then—my going?" he asked a little grimly.
"Yes, rather amusing to consider where a man would go and what he would do. A man, I mean, whose sole recommendation seems to be that he can 'lick' most anybody, and can 'drink more and stay soberer than any of the sports he travels with.'"
The dull red flooded the man's face at her words. Unconsciously he squared his shoulders and there was an unwonted dignity in his reply:
"I am well aware that my accomplishments are more in the nature of liabilities than assets. In spite of this I will make good—somewhere."
He stepped closer to the girl, and his voice grew harsh, almost rasping in its intensity. "I can beat the game. And I will beat it—now! Just to show you and your kind what a man can do—a man, I mean," he added, "'whose sole recommendation seems to be that he can lick most anybody—and can drink more and stay soberer than any of the sports he travels with.' Incidentally, I am glad to know your real opinion of me. I once believed that you were different from the others—that in you I had found a woman who possessed a real soul."
He laughed, a short, grating laugh—deep down, as though rude fingers drew a protest from raw heart-strings—a laugh that is not good to hear.
"I even thought," he went on, "that you cared for me—a little. That you were the one woman who, at the last of things, would give a man a helping hand, a little word of encouragement and hope, perhaps, instead of the final kick."
He bowed stiffly and turned toward the door. "Good-by!" he said, and the heavy portieres closed behind him.
In the room the girl, white as marble, heard the click of the front door, the roar of a newly cranked motor, and the dying chug, chug of the retreating taxi.
That afternoon Charlie Manton rode alone, and when he returned, hungry as a young wolf, to be told that his sister had retired with a sick headache, he drew his own conclusions, nodding sagely over his solitary dinner.
Later, as he passed her door on the way to his room, he placed his ear at the keyhole and listened a long time to her half-muffled sobs.
"Gee!" he muttered as he passed down the hall, "they must have had an awful scrap!" He turned and quietly retraced his steps. In the library he switched on the lights and crossed to the telephone.
"There isn't any sense in that," he said, speaking to himself. "Bill loves Eth—that's a cinch. And she does love him, too, even if she won't let on.
"She wouldn't stick up in her room all day bawling her eyes out if she didn't. I'll call Bill up and tell him so, then he'll come and they'll make up. I bet he's sorry, too, by now."
At the Carmody residence he was told that Bill was not in. He received the same answer from several clubs, at each of which he left explicit instructions for Mr. Carmody to call him up at the first possible moment.
Thereafter Charlie frequented the gymnasiums and made industrious inquiry, but it was many a day before he again saw his idol. Bill Carmody was missing from his accustomed haunts, and none could tell whither he had gone.
Those were days fraught with anxiety for the boy. Ethel, to whom he was devoted, went about the house listless and preoccupied, in spite of her efforts to appear cheerful. When he attempted to reason with her she burst into tears and forbade him to mention Bill Carmody's name in her hearing as long as he lived. Whereupon the youngster retired disconsolately to his room to think things over.
"Love's a bum thing," he told himself. "If they do get married they die or get a divorce or something; and if they don't—well, Bill has prob'ly committed suicide and Eth is moping around, and most likely now she'll marry that dang St. Ledger." He made a wry face as he thought of St. Ledger.
"Runty little mollycoddle! Couldn't lick a chicken—him and his monocle. And that day the wind took his hat and rolled it through the mud, and he said: 'Oh, pshaw!' instead of damn it! Oh—slush! And I promised mother I'd take care of Eth."
He burrowed his face deep into the pillow, as, in spite of himself, tears came to his eyes.
LOVE OR HATE
Thus a week passed, in the course of which the heart of the girl was torn by conflicting emotions. Love clashed with hate and self-pity with self-reproach. Was it true—what he had said? Had she administered the final kick to a man who was down—who, loving her—and deep down in her heart she knew that he did love her—had come to her in the extremity of his need for a word of encouragement?
Now that he was gone she realized how much he had meant to her. How, in spite of his reckless disregard of life's serious side, she loved him. Try as she would she could not forget the look of deep hurt that dulled his eyes at her words.
Had she not been justified? Had he not needed just that to bring him to a realization of his responsibilities? Had she not, at the sacrifice of her own love, spurred and strengthened his purpose to make good? Or, had she, by raising a barrier between them, removed his one incentive to great effort?
Over and over the girl pondered these things. One moment her heart cried out for his return, and the next she reiterated her undying hate for the man in whose power it was so sorely to wound her with a word.
And so she sat one evening before an open fire in the library which had been the scene of their parting. Mechanically she turned the pages of a novel, but her mind was elsewhere, and her eyes lingered upon the details of the room.
"He stood there," she mused, "and I here—and then—those awful words. And, oh! the look in his eyes that day as the portieres closed between us—and he was gone. Where?"
Somehow the idea obsessed her that he had gone to sea. She pictured him big and strong and brave, battling before the mast on some wallowing, storm-hectored trading ship outbound, bearing him away into the melting-pot of strange world-ways.
Would he come clean through the moil, winning honor and his place among men? And thus would he some day return—to her? Or would the sea claim him for her own, roughen him, and buffet him about through the long years among queer Far Eastern hell-ports where, jostling shoulder to shoulder with brutish men and the women who do not care, he would drink deep and laugh loud among the flesh-pots of society's discards?
The uncertainty was terrible to the girl, and she forced her thoughts into the one channel in which there was a ray of comfort.
"At least," she murmured, "he has ceased to be a menace to Charlie."
"Mr. Hiram Carmody, miss."
The old manservant who had been with the Mantons always, stood framed in the inverted V of the parted portieres.
Ethel started. Why had he called? During the lifetime of her father the elder Carmody had been a frequent visitor in the Manton home.
Was it about Bill? Was he sick? Had there been an accident, and was he hurt—possibly dead? There was an icy grip at her heart, though her voice was quite firm as she replied:
"I will see Mr. Carmody at once, Craddon."
As the man silently withdrew from the doorway a new thought came to her.
Could it be that Bill was still in New York? That his going away had been an empty threat? And was he now trying to bring about a reconciliation through the medium of his father? How she could despise him for that!
Her lips thinned, and there was a hint of formality in her greeting as she offered her hand to the tall, gray-haired man who advanced toward her.
"Well, well! Miss Ethel," he began, "all alone with a book and a cozy fire. That is what I call solid comfort." He crossed the room and extended his hands to the blaze.
"It is a long time since you have called, Mr. Carmody."
"Yes. We old fellows rarely drift outside the groove of our fixed orbit. One by one we drop out, and as each one passes beyond it shortens the orbit of the others. The circle is always contracting—never expanding. The last one of us will be found in his dotage never venturing beyond the circle of his own fireside until he, too, shall answer the call."
The voice held a note of sadness which touched the girl deeply, and she suddenly noted that the fine patrician face had aged.
"You should not speak of being old," she said gently. "Why, you are called the Wizard of Wall Street."
"A man is only as old as he feels. Until recently I have considered myself a young man. But of late I feel that I am losing my grip."
"Isn't that a dangerous admission? If it should become known on the Street——"
"Ha!"—the heavy gray eyebrows met with a ferocity which belied the smile that curved the thin lips—"if it were but whispered upon the Street the wolves would be at my throat before morning. But they would have a fight on their hands! However, all that is beside the purpose. I suppose you are wondering why I called?"
The girl was momentarily at a loss for a reply. "Why, I—You know you are always welcome here."
"Yes, yes. But, as you must have surmised, I called with a definite object in view. A matter that concerns you and—er, my son."
The girl turned a shade paler.
"I do not understand," she replied.
"Nor do I. I have come to you at the risk of being thought a meddling old fool! But the fact is, I have several times lately heard your name mentioned in connection with William's, and recently there came into my possession this packet of letters addressed to my son in a feminine hand and bearing the Manton crest."
The girl's face flushed as she took the proffered packet and waited for him to continue.
"Fred Manton was my best friend," went on the old man, "and I won't see harm come to his daughter, if I can prevent it. You two may be just friends; you may be engaged—or married, for all I know. My son never deemed it worth while to take me into his confidence. In either case, I am here—and I will have my say. I shall put myself in the place of your father and speak as, I believe, he would have spoken. I may seem harsh and bitter toward my own son, but remember, Miss Ethel, I have had vastly more experience in the ways of the world than you have—and I know whereof I speak.
"Slight as is the difference between your ages, you are but an inexperienced girl, as the world knows experience, and William is a man—and a man, I am sorry to say, who is no fit associate for a woman like you."
Surprised and perplexed the girl felt her anger rise against this man. Instinctively she rallied to Bill's defense:
"He is not bad at heart!" she said resentfully.
"What worse can you say?" returned Carmody with a harsh laugh. "Of all expressions coined to damn a man with faint praise, there is only one more effective: 'He means well.'"
Ethel was thoroughly angry now. She drew herself up, and her blue eyes darkened as she faced him.
"That is not so!" she cried. "Bill is not bad at heart! And he does mean well! Whose fault is it that he has grown up reckless and wild? Who is to blame? What chance has he had? What have you done for him? Filled his pockets with money and packed him off to school. Filled his pockets with money and sent him to college. Filled his pockets with money and shipped him abroad.
"Then, without consulting his taste or desire, you peremptorily thrust him into a business which he loathes—on an office boy's salary and an allowance out of all proportion to his requirements.
"You say he has never taken you into his confidence. Have you ever invited that confidence? Have you ever sought his companionship—even his acquaintance?"
The man was astonished at her vehemence. Uncomfortably he found himself forced to the defensive.
"He had his chance. I placed him in the bank that he might learn the business as I learned it. If he had had the right stuff in him he would have made good. As it was, he attended to his duties in the most perfunctory and superficial manner. He showed not the slightest interest in the business. In fact, his position could have been ably filled by the veriest gutter-snipe. And he is the man who one day, in all probability, would have come into control of the Carmody millions! And he would have scattered them in a riot of dissipation the length and breadth of Broadway.
"But I have forestalled him. He is foot-loose—gone, God knows where, to follow the fortune of adventure, perhaps, at the ends of the earth. For in him, transmitted in some unaccountable manner through the blood of the gentlest, sweetest little woman who ever warmed a heart, is the restless spirit of the roistering, fighting McKims."
"Is it the boy's fault that he is a McKim?" returned the girl a little sharply. "Who chose his mother? Of all men you should be the last to speak disparagingly of a McKim. Turn the pages of history and you will find written large in the story of the upbuilding of nations the name of McKim. Carmody gold is the cabala of Carmody suzerainty. But the McKim name has been carved deep in the annals of nations by sheer force of the personalities behind blades of naked steel.
"Even now the crying world-need for men—big men—is as great as in the days when the fighting McKims deserted their hearthstones to answer the call of the falchion's clash or the cannon's roar. And some day you will realize this—when your bank messenger makes good!"
The old man regarded her with a look of admiration.
"You love him!" he said quietly.
The girl started. Her eyes flashed and the play of the firelight gave an added touch of crimson to her cheeks.
"I do not love him! I—I hate him!" Her voice faltered, and the man saw that she was very near to tears.
"A strange hate, this, Miss Ethel. A strange and a most dangerous hate for a girl to hold against a man who is a thief."
"A man who is a thief!" The words fell distinctly from Carmody's lips with the studied quiet of desperation. Ethel stared wild-eyed at the speaker, and in the frozen silence of the room her tiny fists doubled until the knuckles whitened.
Noting the effect upon the girl, he continued, speaking more rapidly now that the dreaded word had been uttered.
"I had no wish to tell you this thing. It is a secret I would gladly have kept locked within my own breast. But I came here this evening with a purpose—to save, in spite of herself, if need be, the daughter of my dead friend from a life of suffering which would inevitably fall to the lot of any pure-hearted woman who linked her life with that of an unscrupulous scoundrel, in whom even common decency is dead, if, indeed, it ever lived."
"He is not a thief! He——" began Ethel vehemently, but the man interrupted her.
"Wait until you have heard the facts. Last week, on Friday, there was entrusted to my son's care for delivery a heavy manila envelope containing fifty thousand dollars' worth of negotiable bonds. It was a matter of vital importance that these be delivered within a specified time. Ignoring this fact, he pocketed the bonds, and, in company with a number of his acquaintances, indulged in a drunken spree which culminated after midnight in a disgraceful street scene in the Broadway theatre district.
"The following morning, when I confronted him, he flouted me to my face, whereupon I virtually disinherited him. Not wishing to turn him away penniless, I handed him a check for a considerable amount which he saw fit to destroy melodramatically in my presence. Upon my request for the return of the securities, he handed me an envelope identical with that in which the bonds had been placed. I carried the packet to the bank where it was opened and found to contain not the bonds—but those letters.
"To avoid a scandal I made good the loss. I learned later, through investigation, that upon leaving home he came directly to this house, where he remained for upward of a half-hour.
"Further than this I know nothing of his movements except that he reentered the taxi and proceeded down-town. At Thirty-Fourth Street, where the chauffeur slowed down for instructions, he found the cab empty."
"And these are the facts upon which you base your accusation?" asked the girl coldly. "You, his own father!"
"To an unbiased mind the evidence allows but one interpretation."
"But his eyes! Oh, can't you see there has been some mistake? His eyes are not the eyes of a thief!"
"There has been no mistake. A most thorough search of the premises has failed to disclose a trace of the missing securities. In his desk from which he took the substituted packet were found several similar envelopes, but these contained only worthless rubbish—newspaper clippings of sporting events and the like.
"No, Miss Ethel, when William Carmody left my house that morning he carried with him those bonds. And he came here, knowing that he was a thief, with his pocket bulging with plunder!
"As I told you, I know nothing of the relations existing between you and my son. I only hope that he has gone forever out of your life, as he has gone out of mine."
The light died out of the girl's eyes and her voice sounded strangely dull as she replied:
"Yes, he has gone out of my life—maybe forever. He came to me here, to tell me that he was going away to make good. And I—I was not big enough to see it. I sent him away with a sneer. Bill is no thief. For what he has been you are to blame—you and the Carmody money. For the first time in his life he has a fair chance. He has left New York the man you made him. He will return the man he makes himself. Oh! If—if I only——"
"There, there, Miss Ethel, your loyalty is admirable, if misplaced——"
"Don't speak to me of loyalty! I have been as narrow and as mean as—as you have!"
"My dear girl, you are overwrought. The sooner we learn that William Carmody has ceased to exist the better it will be for both of us. I bid you good-night."
The girl sank into the depths of her big chair and watched the sputtering little jet-flames lick futilely at the artificial logs of the fireplace. Believing herself alone, she was startled by the sound of footsteps hurrying noisily across the room. The next instant a tousle-headed boy with eyes ablaze was at her side working her hands like pump-handles.
"By Jimmy, Eth, you're a brick—the way you gave it to him! You bet I'll tell Bill how you stuck up for him."
"Charlie Manton! You were listening—eavesdropping."
"I didn't! I wasn't! I mean I couldn't help hearing! The door of the den was open and I was in there studying. Old man Carmody is an old liar!"
"Well, he is, and you know it! I hate him! You bet he wouldn't dare call Bill a thief to his face! Bill could lick forty-seven like him with one hand tied behind his back. Bill is square. He wouldn't swipe a million dollars—let alone a rotten, measly fifty thousand!"
"Charlie Manton! What kind of talk is that? You ought to be ashamed!"
"Well, I ain't—so there! And I'm Bill's friend, and I ain't afraid to say so, either. You do love Bill—and you know it! You can claim you hate him till you're black in the face, but you can't fool me! What did you stick up for him for if you hated him? I bet old man Carmody swiped the bonds himself!"
"Stop right there! Aren't you ashamed to speak so disrespectfully of Mr. Carmody? He was an old friend of father's."
"I don't care if he was. I'm an old friend of Bill's, too. And Bill ain't a thief, no matter what he says!"
"You go to bed this minute. I am surprised and mortified to think that you would be so contemptible as to listen to other people's affairs."
"'Taint any worse than lying!"
The boy stamped angrily from the room, and the girl sat long by the fire and, one by one, fed letters to the flames.
THE CROOKED GAME
"Clickity-click, clickity-click, clickity-click," the monotonous song of the rails told off the miles as the heavy train rushed westward between the endless cornfields of a flat middle State. To the well-built athletic young man who was one of the four occupants of the little end-room, smoking compartment, the outlook was anything but cheerful.
As far as the eye could reach long rows of shriveled husks, from which the season's crop of yellow ears had been torn, flapped dejectedly against their dried and broken stalks. Here and there a square of rich, black loam, freshly turned, bespoke the forehanded farmer; while in the fields of his neighbors straggling groups of cattle and hogs gleaned half-heartedly in the standing roughage.
"Not much for scenery, is it?" The offensively garrulous passenger directed his remarks to the young man, who abstractedly surveyed the landscape. "No, sir," he continued, "you've got to go West for Scenery. Ever been West?"
The young man nodded without removing his gaze from the window.
"I live in Coloraydo," the other persisted. "Went out there for my health—and I stayed. Johnson's my name. I'm in the mining business."
His eyes swept the compartment to include the others in the too evident geniality of their glance.
"Now that we're all acquainted," he ventured—"how about a little game of seven-up, just to pass away the time? How about you, dad?"
Thus flippantly he addressed the ruddy-faced, middle-aged gentleman in gray tweeds, whose attention was apparently concentrated upon the lengthening ash of his cigar.
With enthusiasm undampened by the curtness of the latter's refusal, he turned to the remaining passenger—a youth upon whose lip sprouted a tenderly pruned mustache, so obviously new that it looked itchy.
"How about you, captain?" The top-heavy youth closed his magazine and unlocked a brain-cell.
"I don't mind." He ostentatiously consulted a very gold watch. "Must be in Chicago this evening," he muttered quite audibly, pulling a ten, twent, thirt frown that caused his labial foliage to rustle with importance.
He drew from his pocket a card upon which the ink was scarcely dry and handed it to the effervescent Johnson, who read aloud:
Mr. LINCOLN S. TARBEL Municipal Investigator
"You see," explained its owner, "it has reached the ears of the managing editor of my paper in South Bend that vice in various forms flourishes in Chicago! Thereupon he immediately sent for me and ordered a sweeping investigation."
Further information was forestalled by the entrance of a suave-mannered individual who introduced himself as a cigar salesman, and who was readily induced to take a hand in the game.
The lightning-like glances that passed between the newcomer and the Western Mr. Johnson, while entirely unnoted by the investigator of municipal vice, aroused the interest of the athletic young man to the point of assenting to make the fourth. Here, evidently, was something about to be pulled off, and he decided to be actively among those present.
The game progressed through several uneventful deals. Suddenly Johnson, scrutinizing a hand dealt him by the cigar salesman, emitted a low whistle.
"If we were playing poker now I'd have something to say!"
"Oh, I don't know! I've got some poker hand myself," opined the dealer. "Discard one, to make a five-card hand, and I bet you five dollars I beat you."
"You're on!" Each produced a bill which he handed to the athletic young man to hold.
"Three eights and a pair of deuces," boasted the Westerner, exposing the full hand upon the board.
"Beats three kings," admitted the other, ruefully laying down his hand. The winner pocketed the money with an exaggerated wink in the direction of the newspaper youth who had been an interested spectator.
The game progressed, and before many deals another challenge was passed and accepted between the two. This time it was the salesman who profited to the extent of twenty-five dollars which he received from the stakeholder with the remark that he would bet his whole roll on a jack full any old day.
The elderly gentleman smoked in silence and amused himself by mentally cataloguing the players. Suddenly his attention became riveted.
What he saw jarred harshly upon his estimate of the athletic young man who, at the conclusion of his deal, dexterously slipped some cards beneath the table from his pile of tricks, then, bunching the pack, passed it to the Westerner for the next deal.
He was on the point of exposing this cheap bit of knavery when the young man glanced in his direction. Something in the steady gaze of the gray eyes, though for the life of him he could not have told what, stayed his purpose, and he settled into his seat, more puzzled than before.
"If it had been any one of the others," he thought to himself; "and then to think that he turns around and with a look virtually makes me a party to his tuppenny trickery!"
His reflections were cut short by a sharp exclamation from the investigator of vice who, in spite of his desire to appear composed, was evidently laboring under great excitement.
"I'll bet twenty-five dollars I've got the best poker hand this time!" He was staring at his tight-gripped cards. Johnson looked his hand over—and with a careless:
"Here's where I get even," tossed the amount to the athletic young man, who laid his cards upon the table. The cigar salesman broke in:
"Hold on! I'm in on this, too! Got a pretty fair hand myself. And just to show you sports I'm game, I'll make it a hundred."
He passed a handful of bills to the stakeholder and glared defiantly at the newspaper person who was in the act of returning a bill-fold to his pocket.
"Why, that is all I've got!" he gasped, "and it's expense-money!"
"Well, of course," the other replied, "if you don't care to see my hand, and I don't mind telling you it's more than a middling good one——"
"I'll bet"—the hand that extracted the neatly folded bills from the leather case shook and the voice rose to a ludicrous falsetto—"I've got you beat, and if I had any more money with me I'd come back at you."
"You've got a watch there," remarked Mr. Johnson. "Let's see it. I ain't going to stay for the raise. My three sevens don't look as good as they did."
"I paid fifty dollars for it!" piped the youth, passing the watch across the board. Both men examined it.
"Oh, well, I don't know anything about watches, but I'll take your word for it. Stick her up—here's the fifty."
"I've got four aces!" squealed the reporter as he spread them out face upward. He stared wildly at the other, and his hands made wet marks where they touched the board.
"No good," remarked his opponent blandly. "Mine's hearts—all in a row, with the jack at the top." One by one he laid them down—a straight flush. South Bend stared incredulously at the cards.
"All right, Mr. Stakeholder," laughed the salesman, "pass over the kale. Just slip out a five for your trouble."
"Just a minute." The voice of the stakeholder was quiet and his lips smiled. The two across the board bristled aggressively and the plucked one sniffled.
"Well"—there was an ugly note in the cigar salesman's voice—"a straight flush beats four aces, don't it?"
"Oh, yes, there is no question as to that. Are these the same cards we have been using?"
"Of course they are! What do you mean?" asked the dealer.
"Oh, nothing. I just wanted to know. Our friend here has the right to know that he got a square deal. Count the cards." The look of apprehension on the faces of the two men faded into smiles.
"Sure thing. That's fair enough," acquiesced the dealer, proceeding to gather the cards from the board. Slowly and deliberately he counted; "fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two," he finished. "Here, captain, count them yourself." He handed them to the youth, who mechanically ran them through.
"They are all here," he admitted.
"Now, that is funny," smiled the stakeholder, "because last deal I dropped several cards onto the floor. This gentleman saw me do it."
He nodded toward the elderly gentleman, who was now keenly interested, and reached under the table.
"See—here they are. And, by the way, the nine and ten of hearts are among them. And now, you cheap crooks," he added as he flung a handful of bills onto the board, "take your money and beat it!"
The two men opposite looked for an instant into the narrowing gray eyes, noted a certain tightening of the square jaw and the clenching of a pair of very capable fists, and tarried not upon further orders. Sweeping the money into their pockets they quit the compartment, casting venomous back glances toward the young man whose lips could smile while his eyes threatened.
"Here is yours, kid. And let me put you wise to something. The first thing you do when you strike Chicago, buy a ticket to South Bend. They are waiting for you in the wicked town—they can see you coming. The next ones will spring a real live game, green goods, or wire tapping. They will roll you before you can locate a rescue mission. About the only form of vice they will give you time to investigate will be what the taxi boy does to you.
"The cold-deck stunt you just fell for, sonny, is so old it totters. It is the identical trick that started the coolness between Brutus and Julius Caesar."
The early darkness of late autumn settled over the flat country. Tiny lights twinkled from distant farmhouses as the Limited plowed through the night.
The athletic young man continued to stare moodily out of the window.
The black expanse of country became more thickly studded with lights. They flashed in the foreground in regular constellations as the train whizzed with undiminished speed past tall block towers and tiny suburban stations.
Long parallel rows, narrowing to a point under a distant hazy nimbus, marked the course of the outreaching arteries of a great city. Warning bells clanged peremptorily at the lowered gates of grade crossings.
The car wheels crashed noisily over an ever-increasing number of frogs and switch points, an occasional brilliantly illuminated trolley car crept slowly over its rails, and the hundreds of green and red and yellow lights of the widening railroad yards lent a variety of color to the scene.
That infallible harbinger of an approaching terminal, the colored porter, had appeared in the doorway, whisk-broom in hand, when—suddenly—there was a grinding jar; the heavy coach trembled through its length, and from forward came a muffled roar followed by the tearing crash of riven metal.
The car reared upward—higher and higher it climbed to the accompaniment of the terrible crunching grind that proclaims undirected power and benumbs the brain with the horrid possibilities of energy uncontrolled. When almost perpendicular the sleeper toppled and crashed sidewise across other tracks at right angles to its course.
New sounds supplanted the mighty noise of tearing and rending—little sounds—the sharp jangle of smashing glass, and the thin wail of an infant. These were borne to the young man's ears as from a distance.
It was very dark and he was conscious of a great weight which seemed to be crushing the breath from his body. He raised his arms and tore at the thing on his chest. It yielded slightly to the pressure of his hands but remained immovable. He reached above it and encountered metal—a large iron cylinder with projecting pipes twisted and bent. Frantically he tore at the weight, exerting to the utmost the mighty strength of his shoulders. Inch by inch he worked it sidewise, using the pipes as levers until at length it rolled free and settled with a crash among the wreckage at his side. The other—the thing that yielded—he lifted easily and sat up, filling his exhausted lungs with great drafts of cool air.
His head ached terribly. He passed his hand across his forehead and withdrew it wet and dripping. He struck a match and as the tiny flame flickered and went out he struck another and another.
At his side lay the torso of the young reporter, his head mashed by the heavy water-cooler. He shuddered as he realized that this was the thing he had lifted from his chest.
In the opposite corner the elderly man struggled to release his arm from the grip of a wedging timber. The body of the porter, doubled grotesquely, partially protruded from under a seat.
His last match died out and he crept to the side of the imprisoned man. A heave at the timber satisfied him as to the futility of accomplishing anything in the darkness and without tools.
He stood erect and groped for the door of the compartment which he located in the ceiling almost directly above him. Drawing himself through the aperture, he made the narrow passage, but such was the position of the car that it was only with the greatest difficulty he succeeded in worming his way along, using the dividing wall as a floor.
He gained the body of the coach, and from the darkness about him came groans and curses mingled with great gasping sobs, and that most terrible of all sounds, the shriek of a woman in the night-time.
He located a window and, smashing the glass with his elbow, crawled through.
From every direction men were running toward the scene of the wreck, calling to each other in hoarse, throaty bellows, while here and there in the darkness lanterns flashed.
Sick and dizzy he lowered himself to the ground and staggered across some tracks. He snatched a lantern from the hand of a bewildered switchman and stumbled again toward the overturned car.
Others swarmed upon it. He heard the blows of axes and the smashing of glass. Already an army of men were engaged in the work of rescue.
Inert forms were passed through windows into waiting arms to be deposited in long, ghastly rows upon the cinders of the road-bed, under the flaring torches. A cold, drizzling rain was falling and the smell of smoke was in the air.
A group of firemen hurried past carrying hand-extinguishers. The lantern-light gleamed wetly upon their black rubber coats and metal helmets, from under the brims of which their set faces showed grimly white. Far up the track an ambulance gong clanged frantically.
The young man reentered the coach through a window and made his way slowly toward the smoking compartment, pushing his lantern before him. Reaching the door, he peered over the edge.
Some one was kneeling beside the elderly man, working swiftly by the narrow light of an electric pocket lamp. As his eyes became accustomed to the dim light of the interior, he realized that the elderly man seemed to be resisting the efforts of the other who knelt upon his unpinioned arm. From between the lips, which were forced wide apart, protruded the ends of a handkerchief—he was gagged!
The hands of the kneeling man worked rapidly, but not in the prying loose of the timber which lay across the other's arm. From the side pocket of his coat, where it evidently had been hurriedly thrust, dangled a watch chain which the young man recognized as belonging to the dead reporter.
Suddenly the atrocity of the situation dawned upon him. He had heard of such things, of the ghouls who haunt the scenes of great disaster, preying upon the bodies of the dead—robbing the helpless.
With a curse he seized the wirebound railway lantern. At the sound the man looked up—it was the cigar salesman. The young man swung the weapon with all his might. It cut the air in a descending arc, but the other avoided the blow and the heavy lantern crashed against the wall and went out.
Without an instant's hesitation he dived through the opening and met the fiend as he was rising to his feet. Together they rolled among the wreckage. While no match for his antagonist in size, the pickpocket was tough and wiry and apparently uninjured. He fought viciously, with the violence of desperation.
The athlete could hear the voice of the elderly man, who with his free hand had torn the gag from his mouth, roaring encouragement. He received a stinging blow on the cheek from which the warm blood gushed instantly. Knucks, he thought, the cur!
Suddenly his groping hand came in contact with the other's throat just above the rim of his collar. Instantly his fingers closed about yielding flesh, their ends biting deep between the muscles.
As the clutch tightened the man redoubled his efforts. His body writhed and he lashed out furiously with hands and feet. Blows rained upon the young man's head but he burrowed close, shielding his face—and always his grip tightened—the finger ends drawing closer and closer together.
He was only half-conscious now and the blows ceased to hurt. He experienced a sense of falling from a great height. His subconscious mind concentrated upon one idea—to maintain his hold. He must grip tighter and ever tighter.
The other ceased to struggle and lay limp beneath his body, but of this he knew nothing. The muscles of his arms were rigid, the clamped fingers, nearly together now, were locked, and all the world was a blank.
William Carmody opened his eyes to a sense of drowsy contentment and well-being. That the elegantly appointed room over which his glance traveled was not his room, disturbed him not at all.
He realized that his head was heavily bandaged and that the white-capped, linen-clad young woman at the window was a nurse. He watched her fingers move swiftly and surely in the fashioning of a small round of needlework.
Her face was turned from him but somehow he knew that she was young and, in a dreamy sort of way, hoped she was pretty. He thought of attracting her attention but decided to prolong the suspense—the chances were against it—so many girls are not.
He closed his eyes and tried to think. The fact that he was in a strange room with his head swathed in bandages, and that a young and possibly pretty nurse sat at the window, evidently for the purpose of ministering to him, suggested a hospital.
Young Carmody had never been in a hospital, but the atmosphere of this room did not in any way conform to his rather vague notion of what a hospital should be. There was no long row of white beds all just alike, nor white walls, nor tiled floors over which people tip-toed to and fro and talked in hurried, low-voiced tones; nor was the air laden with the smell of drugs which he had always associated in his mind with such places. He must ask the nurse.
He was so drowsily comfortable that it was with an effort he opened his eyes. A rebellious lock of hair strayed from under her cap as she leaned over her work. The sunlight caught it and through the rich threads of its length shot tiny glints of gold.
"Ethel!" The name sprang involuntarily from his lips and even as he spoke he smiled at the thought. The girl laid aside her work and crossed to the bed.
"You called?" she asked, and the man realized vaguely that her voice was low and very pleasant.
"Yes—that is, no—I mean, you are pretty, aren't you?" He smiled frankly up at her, and somehow the smile was contagious—she even blushed slightly.
"You must excuse me this time," he continued, "I must have been thinking out loud."
"You seem to be a—well, a rather abrupt young man," she smiled. "But you must not try to think—yet. And my name is not Ethel."
"Oh, that's all right. You can't help that, you know—I mean, I think your name is very pretty—whatever it is," he floundered. "The truth is, I don't seem to be able to say what I do mean. But really I am not a fool, although I don't suppose you will ever believe it."
"There, you have talked quite enough. The doctor said you must rest and not get excited." She smoothed the covers with little pats of her soft hands.
"But what I want to know," he persisted, with a frown of perplexity, "is, where am I?"
"You are all right," she soothed. "You are here."
"But why am I here?"
"Because. Now go to sleep like a good boy. The doctor will be here before long and he will hold me responsible for your condition."
Oddly enough her answers seemed eminently sufficient and satisfactory, and he closed his eyes and slept contentedly.
Hours later he was awakened by the opening of a door.
A tall, dark man, with a brown beard neatly trimmed to a point, entered closely followed by an elderly man who carried his arm in a sling, and whom young Carmody recognized as his fellow-passenger of the smoker.
At once the whole train of recent events flashed through his brain: the wild escapade on Broadway, the scene with his father, his parting with Ethel Manton, the wreck, and his fight in the dark—each in its proper sequence.
He was very wide awake now and watched the brown-bearded man eagerly as he picked up a chart from the table and scrutinized it minutely.
"How is the head?" the man asked, with his fingers on the pulse.
"Fine, doctor. Wouldn't know I had one if it were not for these bandages. And your arm, sir?" he added, with a smile of recognition toward the elderly man.
"Doing fairly, thank you. It is broken, but our friend here thinks it will come along all right."
The doctor, with a nod of approval returned the watch to his pocket and was preparing to leave when his patient detained him with a question.
"I have not been able to locate myself. This is not a hospital, is it?"
"Hardly," smiled the other, "although it answers the purpose admirably. This is the Brownstone Hotel."
"With rooms at twenty per!" gasped the invalid. "Doctor, some one has blundered. After buying my railroad ticket I had just four dollars left, and no chance in the world of getting hold of any more until I connect with a job."
The men laughed.
"I must be going," said the doctor. "You two can chat for a while. Don't tire yourself out, young man, and in a day or two you will be fit as a fiddle. Wish I had your physique! That system of yours is a natural shock absorber. We run across them once in a long while—half-killed one day and back the next hunting for more on the rebound."
At the door he paused: "Take care of yourself, eat anything that looks good to you, smoke if you want to, talk, read, sleep, and in the morning we will let you get up and stretch your legs. Good by!"
"Some doctor, that," laughed the patient. "Does a man good just to hear him talk. Most of them go away leaving the patient guessing whether the next visit will be from them or the undertaker—and rather hoping for the latter. But with this fellow the professional man is swallowed up in the human being—he fairly radiates life."
The other smiled as he settled himself into the chair near the bedside, vacated by the physician.
"Yes, he is a great doctor. Stands well toward the head of his profession. We have no finer in the Northwest." Young Carmody's face clouded.
"But how am I to pay for all this? It is all well enough for you to laugh, but to me it is a serious matter. I——"
"Young man, you are my guest. I don't know who you are, nor where you came from, but, by gad, I know a man when I see one! From the time you sat in that game to save that poor young fool from being fleeced until you dove into that black hole and throttled that skunk——"
"They caught him, did they?"
"Caught him! They had to pry him loose! You have got the grip of the devil himself. The police surgeon told me they would have to put a whole new set of plumbing in his throat. Said he wouldn't have believed that any living thing, short of a gorilla, could have clamped down that hard with one hand.
"And there I had to lie pinned down and watch him go through a dead man's pockets—it was our friend the reporter. And then he turned around and calmly went through mine. Gad! If I'd had a gun! All the time he kept up a run of talk, joking about the wreck and the easy pickings it gave him.
"He was disappointed when he failed to find you—said he owed you something for gumming his game. Well, he found you all right—and when he gets out of the hospital he is slated for twenty years in Joliet." The man paused and glanced at his watch.
"Bless my soul! It is after two o'clock! We will have luncheon served here."
"It is a peculiar situation," mused the invalid. "The last thing I remember is being in the thick of a railroad wreck, and here I wake up in bed, with a trained nurse in the room, to find myself the guest of a man whose name I do not even know."
"Appleton—H. D. Appleton, of Minneapolis. I am a lumberman—just returning from the National Lumberman's Convention in Buffalo. And yours?"
He was interrupted by a tap at the door and a couple of waiters entered bearing trays.
BILL GETS A JOB
After luncheon, over cigars, the conversation again became personal. Appleton regarded the younger man thoughtfully.
"You spoke of being temporarily out of funds. Allow me to loan you what you require."
"Thank you, sir, but I could not think of it. I am already deeply indebted to you. If it were only a temporary embarrassment I wouldn't mind. But I have no definite plans. I must find work, and I freely confess I don't know exactly how to go about it. It might be a long time before I could repay the loan. Then, too, if a man is broke he will tackle the first job that comes along, whereas if he had money in his pocket he would be tempted to wait for something better, no matter what was offered."
"If you work it right you can easily get a couple of thousand out of the railroad company—damages, you know."
The younger man looked up quickly. "Not me," he smiled. "I have not sustained any loss to speak of. That crack on the head when the coach tipped over didn't even knock me out. And as for the pummeling I got afterward with the knucks—that was my own lookout—the railroad company is not to blame for that. No. Getting something for nothing is not playing the game—it savors too strongly of the methods of our friend the pickpocket."
As he talked the elder man subjected him to a careful scrutiny. He noted the deep-set, unwavering eyes, the smiling lips, and the firm, square set of the jaw.
"So you are really in earnest about going to work?"
"In earnest! Mr. Appleton, you have just witnessed a fair demonstration of the demands of my appetite," with a nod toward the array of empty dishes. "I am subject to those attacks on an average of three times a day. In my pocket are just four one-dollar bills. Can you guess the answer?"
The lumberman smiled.
"What kind of position were you thinking of? What is your business?"
"Haven't any. And I am not thinking of a position—what I want is a job."
"Know anything about lumber?"
The two smoked in silence while the waiters removed the remains of the luncheon. When the door closed behind them the lumberman spoke. He dropped the conversational tone and his words cut crisp and to the point:
"Young man, I can use you. If you are foot-loose and are willing to work, I will give you your chance. I am going to put it up to you straight and let you decide for yourself.
"I can use you in my office at a very fair salary. In two or three years you will, in all probability, become a valuable clerk—later, a lumber salesman at a good salary and better commissions.
"Your duties will not be strenuous, and as you enlarge your acquaintance you will naturally assume the social position to which you are entitled.
"Or I can use you in the woods. Send you into a logging camp to learn the business where it starts. Up there the work is not easy. Instead of a salary you will receive wages—and you will earn them—every cent of them. There are no snap jobs in a logging camp. Everybody, from the boss down, works—and works hard. Instead of roast lamb and green peas you will eat salt pork and baked beans.
"You will be called a lumberjack—a social pariah. Your associates will be big men—some good and some bad—bad as they make them—and all rough. Good and bad, they would rather fight than eat, and they would rather watch others fight than fight.
"In summer you can loaf and blow in your wages, or you can go into the mills and learn how lumber is made—learn to tell at a glance whether a log will saw to the best profit into bridge timber or lath.
"It is no sinecure—the life of the logging camp. A hundred times you will be called upon to face battle, murder, and sudden death, and it will be up to you to make good.
"In the office I have clerks who will be found at the same desk twenty years from now. And in the woods I have hundreds of swampers, skidders, and sawyers who will always be swampers, skidders and sawyers. I have camp bosses who will always be camp bosses, and a few who will become lumbermen.
"But the man who comes up through that school is the man who learns the game—the man who eventually will sit behind locked doors and talk in millions, while the office-made salesman is out on the road dickering in car-loads."
He paused and relighted his cigar.
"And you are offering me the choice of these jobs?"
"Just so. Take your time. Think it over carefully and give me your answer in the morning."
"I have already made up my mind. If it is just the same to you I will go to the woods. I need the exercise," he grinned.
"By the way, you have not told me your name."
"Bill," he answered, and watched the blue smoke curl upward from the end of his cigar.
"Bill what?" Appleton regarded him through narrowing lids.
"Bill," he repeated. "Just Bill, for the present—and no references. Sometime—if I make good, perhaps—but surely Bill ought to be name enough for a lumberjack."
"Well, Bill, you are hired! Most men would call me a fool! Maybe I am—but it's got to be proven. I came up through the woods myself and I know men. It is my business to know men. A name is nothing to me—nor references. Both are easy to get. I hire men—not names. And as for references—I don't pay for past performances. It is up to you to make good!
"I like your eyes. There is honesty in those eyes—and purpose. Your mother's eyes, I should say." The young man turned his face away and the blood surged upward, reddening the skin below the white bandages.
Thoughts of his mother crowded his brain—the beautiful, gentle girl-mother, who used to snatch him up and hold him close—way back in the curly-locks days.
He remembered her eyes—deep, soft blue eyes that shone bright and mysterious with love for the little boy—so often such a bad, self-willed little boy—and he thought of the hurt in those eyes. It was his very worst punishment in the long ago—to read the pain and sorrow in those eyes.
"No, no, no!" he murmured. "Not her eyes—not mother's! Oh, I am glad that she did not live to know—" He stopped abruptly and faced the other, speaking quietly:
"Mr. Appleton, I am not a criminal—not a fugitive from justice—as you may have guessed. But I have been an—an awful fool!" The older man arose and extended his hand:
"Good-by, Bill. You better sleep now. I will see you in the morning."
As the door closed behind Appleton, the pleasant-voiced nurse appeared at the bedside. She straightened the covers, patted the pillows into shape, and fed the patient medicine out of a spoon. She hesitated when she finished and smiled down at him.
"Would you like to send any messages," she asked—"telegrams, to let your people know you are safe?"
Young Carmody returned the smile. The nurse looked into his face and knew that behind the smile was sadness rather than mirth.
"No," he said; "there is no one to tell." She leaned over and laid soft fingers on his bandaged brow.
"Isn't—isn't there a real Ethel—somewhere?" He did not resent the question of the sweet-faced nurse.
"Yes," he answered, "there is a real Ethel—but she would not care. Nobody cares."
Buck Moncrossen was a big man with a shrunken, maggoty soul, and no conscience.
He had learned logging as his horses learned it—by repetition of unreasoning routine, and after fifteen years' experience in the woods Appleton had made him a camp boss.
His camps varied from year to year in no slightest detail. He made no suggestions for facilitating or systematizing the work, nor would he listen to any. He roared mightily at the substitution of horses for oxen; he openly scoffed at donkey engines, and would have none of them.
During his years as a sawyer, by the very brute strength and doggedness of him, he had established new records for laying down timber. And now, as boss, he bullied the sawyers who could not equal those records—and hated those who could.
Arbitrary, jealous, malignant, he ruled his camps with the bluff and bluster of the born coward.
Among the lumber-jacks, he was known and hated as a hard driver of men and a savage fighter. In the quick, brutish fights of the camps, men went down under the smashing blows of his huge fists as they would go down to the swing of a derrick-boom, and, once down, would be jumped upon with calked boots and spiked into submission.
It was told in the woods that whisky flowed unchallenged in Buck Moncrossen's camps. His crews were known as hard crews; they "hired out for tough hands, and it was up to them to play their string out."
At the first cry of "gillon" (stormy days when the crews cannot work) flat flasks and round black bottles circulated freely in the bunk-house, and the day started, before breakfast, in a wild orgy of rough horse-play, poker, and profanity.
But woe betide the man who allowed overindulgence to interfere with the morrow's work. Evil things were whispered of Moncrossen's man-handling of "hold-overs."
In the office, back in Minneapolis, if these things were known they were winked at. For Moncrossen was a boss who "got out the logs," and the details of his discipline were unquestioned.
On the Appleton holdings along Blood River the pine stood tall and straight and uncut.
In the years of plenty—those wasteful years of frenzied logging, when white pine lumber brought from twelve to twenty dollars a thousand and rival concerns were laying down only the choicest of logs—Appleton's crews were ordered to clean up as they went.
Toothpick logging it was called then, and H. D. Appleton was contemptuously referred to as "the toothpicker."
Twenty years later, with the market clamoring for white pine at any price, Appleton was selling white pine, while in the denuded forest the crews of his rivals were getting out cull timber and Norway.
And this fall Appleton sent Buck Moncrossen into the Blood River country with orders to put ten million feet of logs into the river by spring.
So it was that the few remaining inhabitants of Hilarity were aroused from their habitual apathy one early fall evening by the shrill shrieks of an engine whistle as Moncrossen's ten-car train, carrying crew and supplies for the new camp, came to a stop at the rusty switch. There was something reminiscent in this whistle-sound. It came as a voice from the past.
Time was, some eight or ten years before, when the old No. 9 and her companion engine, No. 11, whistled daily and importantly into Hilarity, pushing long strings of "flats" onto the spurs; and then whistled out again with each car groaning and creaking under its towering pyramid of logs.
But that was in the days of Hilarity's prosperity—in the days when the little town was the chief loading point for two thousand square miles of timber.
It had been a live town then—work and wages and the spirit to spend—quick, hot life, and quick, cold death danced hand in hand to the clink of glasses.
Everything ran wide open, and all night long rough men sinned abysmally in their hell-envied play, and, crowding the saloons, laughed and fought and drank red liquor in front of long pine bars, where the rattle of chips and the click of pool-balls, mingled with lurid profanity, floated out through the open doors and blended with the incessant tintinnabulation of the dance-hall pianos.
These were the days of Hilarity's prosperity, when twenty train-loads of logs were jerked from her spurs by day, and the nights rang loud with false laughter.
A vanished prosperity—for now the little town stood all but deserted in its clearing, with the encircling hills denuded of all vegetation save a tangle of underbrush and a straggling growth of stunted jack pine.
Even the "pig-iron loggers"—the hardwood men—had gleaned the last stick from the ridges, and Hilarity had become but a name on the map.
Only those remained who were old or crippled, and a few—a very few—who had undertaken to grub out tiny farms among the stumps.
Each evening these forlorn remnants were wont to forsake their stolid-faced wives and yammering offspring and pick their way through the solitary stump-dotted street, past windowless, deserted buildings which were the saloons and dance-halls of better days, to foregather around the huge stove in the rear of Hod Burrage's general store, which was decrepit Hilarity's sole remaining enterprise, and there to brag and maunder over the dead town's former glory.
The fact that certain of Hod's jugs never tilted to the filling of the vinegar bottles or molasses pails of the women, not only served to insure unflagging attendance, but the sale of their contents afforded the storekeeper a small but steady income which more than offset any loss incident to the preoccupied inroads upon his cracker barrel.
The sound of the once familiar whistle brought the men tumbling from Burrage's door, while up and down the deserted street aproned forms stood framed in the doorways, beflanked by tousled heads which gazed wonder-eyed from behind tight-gripped skirts.
Not a person in town, except the very newest citizens, and they were too young to care—for nobody ever came to Hilarity except by the stork route—but recognized old No. 9's whistle.
Strange, almost apologetic, it sounded after its years of silence; not at all like the throaty bellow of derision with which the long, vestibuled coast trains thundered through the forsaken village.
A brakeman leaped from the cab and ran ahead. Stooping, he cursed the corroded lock of the unused switch which creaked and jarred to the pull of the lever as old No. 9 headed wheezily onto the rust-eaten rails of the rotting spur.
An hour later she puffed noisily away, leaving Moncrossen's crew encamped in the deserted cabins and dilapidated saloons of the worn-out town.
Moncrossen, by making use of old tote-roads, saved about forty of the eighty miles of road building which lay between Hilarity and the Blood River.
Toward the end of October the work was completed, the camp buildings erected, and a brush and log dam thrown across the river at the narrows of a white water rapid.
Swampers and axe-men set to work building skidways and cross-hauls, and the banks of the river were cleared for the roll-ways. The ground was still bare of snow, but the sawyers were "laying them down," and the logs were banked at the skidways.
Then one morning the snow came.
Quietly it fell, in big, downy flakes that floated lazily to earth from the even gray of the cloud-spread sky, tracing aimless, zigzag patterns against the dark green background of the pines, and covering the brown needles of the forest floor and the torn mold of the skidways with a soft blanket of white.
The men sprang eagerly to their work—heartened by the feel of the snow. The tingling air was filled with familiar man-sounds—the resonant stroke of axes, and the long crash of falling trees, the metallic rattle of chains, the harsh rasp of saws, and the good-natured calls of men in rude banter; sounds that rang little and thin through the mighty silence of the forest.
Gradually the flakes hardened and the zigzag patterns resolved themselves into long, threadlike lines which slanted earthward with a soft, hissing sound.
Fast it fell, and faster, until the background disappeared, and all the world was a swift-moving riot of white.
It was a real snow now—a snow of value which buried the soft blanket of the feathery flakes under a stable covering which would pack hard under the heavy runners of the wide log sleds.
It lodged in thick masses in the trees whose limbs bent under the weight, and the woods rang to the cries of the sawyers when the tottering of a mighty pine sent a small avalanche hurtling through the lower branches, half-burying them in its white smother.
As the early darkness of the North country settled about them the men plowed heavily to the bunk-house through a foot and a half of fresh-fallen snow—and still it snowed.
BILL HITS THE TRAIL
In a long-abandoned shack midway between Moncrossen's Blood River camp and Hilarity, Bill Carmody hugged close the rusty, broken stove.
All day he had tramped northward, guided through the maze of abandoned roads by the frozen ruts of Moncrossen's tote wagons, and it was long after dark when he camped in the northernmost of the old shacks with civilization, as represented by Hilarity's deserted buildings and the jug-tilting, barrel-head conclave of Hod Burrage's store, forty miles to the southward.
It had been a hard day—this first day of his new life in the Northland. And now, foot-sore, dog-tired, and dispirited, he sat close and fed sticks to his guttering fire which burned sullenly and flared red for want of draft.
The chinking had long since fallen from between the logs and the night wind whipped the smoke in stinging volleys from gaping holes in the rust-eaten jacket of the dilapidated air-tight.
Tears streamed from the man's smoke-tortured eyes, every muscle of his body ached horribly from the unaccustomed trail-strain, and his feet, unused to the coarse woolen socks beneath heavy boots, were galled and blistered until the skin hung in rolls from the edges of raw scalds.
He removed his foot-gear and the feel of the cold wind was good to his burning feet. He scowled resentfully at the galling newness of his high-laced boots and with a tentative finger explored his hurts.
Unbuckling his pack, he drew forth the ready prepared food with which he had supplied himself at the store. The pack had seemed trifling when he swung lightly into the trail that morning, but twelve hours later, when he stumbled painfully into the disused shack, it had borne upon his aching shoulders as the burden of Atlas.
Hungry as he was, he glared disgustedly at the flaunting label of the salmon can and the unappetizing loaf of coarse bread dried hard, rather than baked, from sodden dough, by Hod Burrage's slovenly spouse.
And as he glared he pondered the words of advice offered by the old man with the twisted leg who sat upon Burrage's counter and punctuated his remarks with quick, jerky stabs of his stout, home-made crutch.
"Tha' cann't fish ben't no good f'r trail grub, son. Ye're a greener, you be. Better ye lay in what'll stay by ye—a bit o' bacon, like, or some bologny—an' a little tin coffee-pot yonder.
"Ye'll be thinkin' o' steppin' out the door wi' ye're new boots an' ye're pack an' trippin' up to Blood River in maybe it's two walks, wi' naught in ye're belly but a can o' cold fish an' a stun weight o' Mary Burrage's bread, which there ain't no more raisin' into it nor a toggle-chain.
"'Tis plain ye're a greener, son; but take an old fool's advice an' get ye a pair o' the shoe-packs yonder to spell off the boots. Bran' new, they be, an' they'll gald ye're feet till ye'll be walkin' ankle-deep in hell again' night. F'r Oi'll be tellin' ye Blood River lays a fine two walks f'r a good man, an' his boots broke in to the wear."
Now Bill Carmody was, by environment, undemocratic, and he resented being called a greener. Also the emphasis which old Daddy Dunnigan had placed upon the words "good man," in evident contrast to himself, rankled.
How he wished, as he sat in the cold discomfort of the shack, that he had heeded the timely and well-meant advice. His was not an arrogant nature, nor a surly—but the change in his environment had been painfully abrupt. All his life he had chosen for companions men whom he looked upon as his social equals, and he knew no others except as paid hirelings to do his bidding. And all his life money had removed from his pathway the physical discomforts incident to existence.
But all this was in the past. Unconsciously he was learning a lesson and this first lesson would be hard—but very thorough, and the next time he met Daddy Dunnigan he would take him by the hand. For here was a man—a good man—in the making. But a man new to his surroundings. A man who would learn hard—but quickly—and who would fight hard against the very conditions which were to make him.
His perspective must first be broken on the wheel of experience, that he might know human nature, and the relative worth of men. His unplastic nature would one day be his chief bulwark; as now, it was his chief stumbling block. For in his chosen life-work he must take men—many men—rough men—of diverse codes and warring creeds, and with them build an efficient unit for the conquering of nature in her own fastnesses. And this thing requires not only knowledge and strength, but courage, and the will to do or die.
Alighting from the caboose of the local freight train on the previous evening, he entered Hod Burrage's door as he had entered the doors of trades-places all his life. To him, Hod Burrage was not a personality, but a menial existing for the sole purpose of waiting upon and attending to the wants of him, Bill Carmody. The others—the old men, and the crippled ones, and the hard-handed grubbers of stumps, who sat about in faded mackinaws and patched overalls—he regarded not at all.
He deposited his pack-sack on the floor where its canvas sides, outbulging with blankets and duffel, fairly shrieked their newness.
After some minutes of silence—a silence neither friendly nor hostile, during which Bill was conscious that all eyes were turned upon him in frank curiosity, he spoke—and in speaking, inadvertently antagonized the entire male population of Hilarity. For in his speech was no word of greeting.
He addressed no one in particular, but called peremptorily, and with a trace of irritation, for a salesman.