THE SILVER HORDE
BY REX BEACH
Author of "The Auction Block" "The Spoilers" "The Iron Trail" etc.
BOOKS BY REX BEACH
TOO FAT TO FIGHT THE WINDS OF CHANCE LAUGHING BILL HYDE RAINBOW'S END THE CRIMSON GARDENIA AND OTHER TALES OF ADVENTURE HEART OF THE SUNSET THE AUCTION BLOCK THE IRON TRAIL THE NET THE NE'ER-DO-WELL THE SPOILERS THE BARRIER THE SILVER HORDE GOING SOME
I. WHEREIN A SPIRITLESS MAN AND A ROGUE APPEAR II. IN WHICH THEY BREAK BREAD WITH A LONELY WOMAN III. IN WHICH CHERRY MALOTTE DISPLAYS A TEMPER IV. IN WHICH SHE GIVES HEART TO A HOPELESS MAN V. IN WHICH A COMPACT IS FORMED VI. WHEREIN BOREAS TAKES A HAND VII. AND NEPTUNE TAKES ANOTHER VIII. WHEREIN BOYD ADMITS HIS FAILURE IX. AND IS GRANTED A YEAR OF GRACE X. IN WHICH BIG GEORGE MEETS HIS ENEMY XI. WHEREIN BOYD EMERSON IS TWICE AMAZED XII. IN WHICH MISS WAYLAND IS OF TWO MINDS XIII. IN WHICH CHERRY MALOTTE BECOMES SUSPICIOUS XIV. IN WHICH THEY RECOGNIZE THE ENEMY XV. THE DOORS OF THE VAULT SWING SHUT XVI. WILLIS MARSH COMES OUT FROM COVER XVII. A NEW ENEMY APPEARS XVIII. WILLIS MARSH SPRINGS A TRAP XIX. IN WHICH A MUTINY IS THREATENED XX. WHEREIN "FINGERLESS" FRASER RETURNS XXI. A HAND IN THE DARK XXII. THE SILVER HORDE XXIII. IN WHICH MORE PLANS ARE LAID XXIV. WHEREIN "THE GRANDE DAME" ARRIVES, LADEN WITH DISAPPOINTMENTS XXV. THE CHASE XXVI. IN WHICH A SCORE IS SETTLED XXVII. AND A DREAM COMES TRUE
THE GIRL STOOD BAREHEADED UNDER THE WINTRY SKY OUT ACROSS THE LONESOME WASTE THEY JOURNEYED MILDRED CEASED PLAYING AND SWUNG ABOUT—"WHAT DO YOU MEAN?"
THE SILVER HORDE
WHEREIN A SPIRITLESS MAN AND A ROGUE APPEAR
The trail to Kalvik leads down from the northward mountains over the tundra which flanks the tide flats, then creeps out upon the salt ice of the river and across to the village. It boasts no travel in summer, but by winter an occasional toil-worn traveller may be seen issuing forth from the Great Country beyond, bound for the open water; while once in thirty days the mail-team whirls out of the forest to the south, pauses one night to leave word of the world, and then is swallowed up in the silent hills. Kalvik, to be sure, is not much of a place, being hidden away from the main-travelled routes to the interior and wholly unknown except to those interested in the fisheries.
A Greek church, a Russian school with a cassocked priest presiding, and, about a hundred houses, beside the cannery buildings, make up the village. At first glance these canneries might convey the impression of a considerable city, for there are ten plants, in all, scattered along several miles of the river-bank; but in winter they stand empty and still, their great roofs drummed upon by the fierce Arctic storms, their high stacks pointing skyward like long, frozen fingers black with frost. There are the natives, of course, but they do not count, concealed as they are in burrows. No one knows their number, not even the priest who gathers toll from them.
Early one December afternoon there entered upon this trail from the timberless hills far away to the northward a weary team of six dogs, driven by two men. It had been snowing since dawn, and the dim sled-tracks were hidden beneath a six-inch fluff which rendered progress difficult and called the whip into cruel service. A gray smother sifted down sluggishly, shutting out hill and horizon, blending sky and landscape into a blurred monotone, playing strange pranks with the eye that grew tired trying to pierce it.
The travellers had been plodding sullenly, hour after hour, dispirited by the weight of the storm, which bore them down like some impalpable, resistless burden. There was no reality in earth, air, or sky. Their vision was rested by no spot of color save themselves, apparently swimming through an endless, formless atmosphere of gray.
"Fingerless" Fraser broke trail, but to Boyd Emerson, who drove, he seemed to be a sort of dancing doll, bobbing and swaying grotesquely, as if suspended by invisible wires. At times, it seemed to the driver's whimsical fancy as if each of them trod a measure in the centre of a colorless universe, something after the fashion of goldfish floating in a globe.
Fraser pulled up without warning and instantly the dogs stopped, straightway beginning to soothe their trail-worn pads and to strip the ice-pellets from between their toes. But the "wheelers" were too tired to make the effort, so Emerson went forward and performed the task for them, while Fraser floundered back and sank to a sitting posture on the sled.
"Whew!" he exclaimed, "this is sure tough. If I don't see a tree or something with enough color to bust this monotony I'll go dotty."
"Another day like this and we'd both be snow-blind," observed Emerson grimly, as he bent to his task. "But it can't be far to the river now."
"This fall has covered the trail till I have to feel it out with my feet," grumbled Fraser. "When I step off to one side I go in up to my hips. It's like walking a plank a foot deep in feathers, and I feel like I was a mile above the earth in a heavy fog." After a moment he continued: "Speaking of feathers, how'd you like to have a fried chicken a la Maryland?"
"Shut up!" said the man at the dogs, crossly.
"Well, it don't do any harm to think about it," growled Fraser, good- naturedly. He felt out a pipe from his pocket and endeavored unsuccessfully to blow through it, then complained:
"The damn thing is froze. It seems like a man can't practice no vices whatever in this country. I'm glad I'm getting out of it."
"So am I," agreed the younger man. Having completed his task, he came back to the sled and seated himself beside the other.
"As I was saying a mile back yonder," Fraser resumed, "whatever made you snatch me away from them blue-coated minions of the law, I don't know. You says it's for company, to be sure, but we visit with one another about like two deef-mutes. Why did you do it, Bo?"
"Well, you talk enough for both of us."
"Yes, but that ain't no reason why you should lay yourself liable to the 'square-toes.' You ain't the kind to take a chance just because you're lonesome."
"I picked you up because of your moth-eaten morals, I dare say. I was tired of myself, and you interested me. Besides," Emerson added, reflectively, "I have no particular cause to love the law, either."
"That's how I sized it," said Fraser, wagging his head with animation, "I knew you'd had some kind of a run-in. What was it? This is low down, see, and confidential, as between two crooks. I'll never snitch."
"Hold on there! I'm not a crook. I'm not sufficiently ingenious to be a member of your honorable profession."
"Well, I guess my profession is as honorable as most. I've tried all of them, and they're all alike. It's simply a question of how the other fellow will separate easiest." He stopped and tightened his snow-shoe thong, then rising, gazed curiously at the listless countenance of his travelling companion, feeling anew the curiosity that had fretted him for the past three weeks; finally he observed, with a trace of impatience:
"Well, if you ain't one of us, you'd ought to be. You've got the best poker face I ever see; it's as blind as a plastered wall. You ain't had a real expression on it since you hauled me off that ice-floe in Norton Sound."
He swung ahead of the dogs; they rose reluctantly, and with a crack of the whip the little caravan crawled noiselessly into the gray twilight.
An hour later they dropped from the plain, down through a gutter-like gully to the river, where they found a trail, glass-hard beneath its downy covering. A cold breath sucked up from the sea; ahead they saw the ragged ice up-ended by the tide, but their course was well marked now, so they swung themselves upon the sled, while the dogs shook off their lethargy and broke into their pattering, tireless wolf-trot.
At length they came to a point where the trail divided, one branch leading off at right angles from the shore and penetrating the hummocks that marked the tide limit. Evidently it led to the village which they knew lay somewhere on the farther side, hidden by a mile or more of sifting snow, so they altered their course and bore out upon the river.
The going here was so rough that both men leaped from their seats and ran beside the sled, one at the front, the other guiding it from the rear. Up and down over the ridges the trail led, winding through the frozen inequalities, the dogs never breaking their tireless trot. They mounted a swelling ridge and rushed down to the level river ice beyond, but as they did so they felt their footing sag beneath them, heard a shivering creak on every side, and, before they could do more than cry out warningly, saw water rising about the sled-runners. The momentum of the heavy sledge, together with the speed of the racing dogs, forced them out upon the treacherous ice before they could check their speed. Emerson shouted, the dogs leaped, but with a crash the ice gave way, and for a moment the water closed over him.
Clinging to the sled to save himself, his weight slowed it down, and the dogs stopped. "Fingerless" Fraser broke through in turn, gasping as the icy water rose to his armpits. Slowly at first the sled sank, till it floated half submerged, and this spot which a moment before had seemed so safe and solid became now a churning tangle of broken fragments, men and dogs struggling in a liquid that seemed dark as syrup contrasted with the surrounding whiteness. The lead animals, under whose feet the ice was still firm, turned inquiringly, then settled on their haunches with lolling tongues. The pair next ahead of the sledge paddled frantically, straining to reach the solid sheet beyond, but were held back by their harness. Emerson used the sled for a footing and endeavored to gain the ice at one side, but it broke beneath him and he lunged in up to his shoulders. Again he tried, but again the ice broke under his hand, more easily now.
Fraser struggled to get out in the opposite direction, each man aiming to secure an independent footing, but their efforts only enlarged the pool. The chill went through them like thin blades, and they chattered gaspingly, fighting with desperation, while the wheel dogs, involved in the harness, began to whine and cough, at which Emerson shouted:
"Cut the team loose, quick!" But the other spat out a mouthful of salt water and spluttered:
"I—I can't swim!"
Whereupon the first speaker half swam half dragged himself through the slush and broken debris to the forward end of the sled, and seeking out the sheath-knife from beneath his parka, cut the harness of the two distressed animals. Once free, they scrambled to safety, shook themselves, and rolled in the dry snow.
Emerson next attempted to lift the nose of the sled up on the ice, shouting at the remainder of the team to pull, but they only wagged their tails and whined excitedly at this unusual form of entertainment. Each time he tried to lift the sled he crashed through fresh ice, finally bearing the next pair of dogs with him, and then the two animals in the lead. All of them became hopelessly entangled.
He could have won his way back to the permanent ice as Fraser was doing, but there was no way of getting his team there and he would not sacrifice those dumb brutes now growing frantic. One of them pawed the sheath-knife from his hand. He had become almost numb with cold and despair when he heard the jingle of many small bells, and a sharp command uttered in a new voice.
Out of the snow fog from the direction in which they were headed broke a team running full and free. At a word they veered to the right and came to a pause, avoiding the danger-spot. Even from his hasty glance Emerson marvelled at the outfit, having never seen the like in all his travels through the North, for each animal of the twelve stood hip-high to a tall man, and they were like wolves of one pack, gray and gaunt and wicked. The basket-sled behind them was long and light, and of a design that was new to him, while the furs in it were of white fox.
The figure wrapped up in them spoke again sharply, whereupon a tall Indian runner left the team and headed swiftly for the scene of the accident. As he approached, Emerson noted the fellow's flowing parka of ground-squirrel skins, from which a score of fluffy tails fell free, and he saw that this was no Indian, but a half-breed of peculiar coppery lightness. The man ran forward till he neared the edge of the opening where the tide had caused the floes to separate and the cold had not had time as yet to heal it; then flattening his body to its full length on the ice, he crawled out cautiously and seized the lead dog. Carefully he wormed his way backward to security, then leaned his weight upon the tugline.
It had been a ticklish operation, requiring nice skill and dexterity, but now that his footing was sure the runner exerted his whole strength, and as the dogs scratched and tore for firm foothold, the sled came crunching closer and closer through the half-inch skin of ice. Then he reached down and dragged Emerson out, dripping and nerveless from his immersion. Together they rescued the outfit.
The person in the sledge had watched them silently, but now spoke in a strange patois, and the breed gave voice to her words, for it was a woman.
"One mile you go—white man house. Go quick—you freeze." He pointed back whence the two men had come, indicating the other branch of the trail.
Fraser had emerged meanwhile and circled the water-hole, but even this brief exposure to the open air had served to harden his wet garments into a crackling armor. With rattling teeth, he asked:
"Ain't you got no dry clothes? Our stuff is soaked."
Again the Indian translated some words from the girl.
"No! You hurry and no stop here. We go quick over yonder. No can stop at all."
He hurried back to his mistress, cried once to the pack of gray dogs, "Oonah!" and they were off as if in chase. They left the trail and circled toward the shore, the driver standing erect upon the heels of the runners, guiding his team with wide-flung gestures and sharp cries, the rush of air fluttering the many squirrel-tails of his parka like fairy streamers.
As they dashed past, both white men had one fleeting glimpse of a woman's face beneath a furred hood, and then it was gone. For a moment they stood and stared after the fast-dwindling team, while the breath of the Arctic sea stiffened their garments and froze their boot-soles to the ice.
"Did you see?" Fraser ejaculated. "Good Lord, it's a woman! A blonde woman!"
Emerson stirred himself. "Nonsense! She must be a breed," said he.
"Breeds don't have yellow hair!" declared the other.
Swiftly they bent in the free dogs and lashed the team to a run. They felt the chill of death in their bones, and instead of riding they ran with the sled till their blood beat painfully. Their outer coverings were like shells, their underclothes were soaked, and although their going was difficult and clumsy, they dared not stop, for this is the extremest peril of the North.
Ten minutes later they swung over the river-bank and into the midst of great rambling frame buildings, seen dimly through the falling snow. Their trail led them to a high-banked cabin, from the stovepipe of which they saw heat-waves pouring. The dogs broke into cry, and were answered by many others conjured from their hiding-places. Both men were greatly distressed by now, and could handle themselves only with difficulty. Another mile would have meant disaster.
"Rout out the owner and tell him we're wet," said Emerson; "I'll free the dogs."
As Fraser disappeared, the young man ran forward to slip the harness from his animals, but found it frozen into their fur, the knots and buckles transformed into unmanageable lumps of ice, so he wrenched the camp axe from the sled and cut the thongs, then hacked loose the stiff sled- lashings, seized the sodden sleeping-bags, and made for the house. A traveller's first concern is for his dogs, then for his bedding.
Before he could reach the cabin the door opened and Fraser appeared, a strange, dazed look on his face. He was followed by a large man of coarse and sullen countenance, who paused on the threshold.
"Don't bother with the rest of the stuff," Emerson chattered.
"It's no use," Fraser replied; "we can't go in."
The former paused, forgetting the cold in his amazement.
"What's wrong? Somebody sick?"
"I don't know what's the matter. This man just says 'nix,' that's all."
The fellow, evidently a watchman, nodded his head, and growled, "Yaas! Ay got no room."
"But you don't understand," said Emerson. "We're wet. We broke through the ice. Never mind the room, we'll get along somehow." He advanced with the tight-rolled sleeping-bags under his arm, but the man stood immovable, blocking the entrance.
"You can't come in har! You find anoder house t'ree mile furder."
The traveller, however, paid no heed to these words, but pushed forward, shifting the bundle to his shoulder and holding it so that it was thrust into the Swede's face. Involuntarily the watchman drew back, whereupon the unwelcome visitor crowded past, jostling his inhospitable host roughly, laughing the while, although in his laughter there rang a dangerous metallic note. Emerson's quick action gained him entrance and Fraser followed behind into the living-room, where a flat-nosed squaw withdrew before them. The young man flung down his burden, and addressed her peremptorily.
"Punch up that fire, and get us something to eat, quick!" Turning to the owner of the house, who lumbered in after them, he disregarded the fellow's scowl, and said:
"Why, you've got lots of room, old man! We'll pay our way. Now get some more firewood, will you? I'm chilled to the bone. That's a good fellow." His forceful heartiness forbade dispute, and the man obeyed, sourly.
The two new-comers stripped off their outer clothing, and in a trice the small room became littered and hung with steaming garments. They took possession of the house, and ordered the Swede and his squaw about with firm good nature, until the couple slunk into an inner room and began to talk in low tones.
Fraser had been watching the fellow, and now remarked to his companion:
"Say, what ails that ginney?"
The assumption of good-nature fell away from Boyd Emerson as he replied:
"I never knew anybody to refuse shelter to freezing men before. There's something back of this—he's got some reason for his refusal. I don't want any trouble, but—"
The inner door opened, and the watchman reappeared. Evidently his sluggish resolution had finally set itself.
"You can't stop har!" he said. "Ay got orders."
Emerson was at the fire, busy rubbing the cramps from his arms, and did not answer. When Fraser likewise ignored the Swede, he repeated his command, louder this time.
"Get out of may house, quick!"
Both men kept their backs turned and continued to ignore him, at which the fellow advanced heavily, and threatened them in a big, raucous voice, trembling with rage:
"By Yingo, Ay trow you out!"
He stooped and gathered up the garments nearest him, then stepped toward the outer door; but before he could make good his threat, Emerson whirled like a cat, his deep-set eyes dark with sudden fury, and seized his host by the nape of the neck. He jerked him back so roughly that the wet clothes flapped to the floor in four directions, whereat the Scandinavian let forth a bellow; but Emerson struck him heavily on the jaw with his open hand, then hurled him backward into the room so violently that he reeled, and his legs colliding with a bench, he fell against the wall. Before he could recover, his assailant stepped in between his wide-flung hands and throttled him, beating his head violently against the logs. The fellow undertook to grapple with him, at which Emerson wrenched himself free, and, stepping back, spoke in a quivering voice which Fraser had never heard before:
"I'm just playing with you now—I don't want to hurt you."
"Get out of my house! Ay got orders!" cried the watchman wildly, and made for him again. It was evident that the man was not lacking in stupid courage, but Emerson, driven to it, stepped aside, and swung heavily. The squaw in the doorway screamed, and the Swede fell full length. Again Boyd was upon him, the restraint of the past long weeks now unbridled, his temper unchecked. He dragged his victim through the store-room, grinding his face into the floor at every effort to rise. He forced him to his own door-sill, jerked the door open, and kicked him out into the snow; then barred the entrance, and returned to the warmth of the logs, his face convulsed and his lips working.
"Fingerless" Fraser gazed at him queerly, as if at some utterly strange phenomenon, then drawled, with a sly chuckle:
"Well, well, you're bloody gentle, I must say. I didn't think it was in you."
When the other vouchsafed no answer, he took his pipe from a pocket of his steaming mackinaw, and filled it from a tobacco-box on the window-sill; then, leaning back in his chair, he propped his feet up on the table and sighed luxuriously, as he murmured:
"These scenes of violence just upset me something dreadful!"
IN WHICH THEY BREAK BREAD WITH A LONELY WOMAN
It was perhaps two hours later that Fraser went to the window for the twentieth time, and, breathing against the pane, cleared a peep-hole, announcing:
Emerson, absorbed in a book, made no answer. After his encounter with the householder he had said little, and upon finding this coverless, brown- stained volume—a tattered copy of Don Quixote—he had relapsed into utter silence.
"I say, he's gone!" reiterated the man at the window.
Still no reply was forthcoming, and, seating himself near the stove, Fraser spread his hands before him in the shape of a book, and began whimsically, in a dry monotone, as if reading to himself:
"At which startling news, Mr. Emerson, with his customary vivacity, smiled engagingly, and answered back:
"'Why do you reckon he has departed, Mr. Fraser?"
"'Because he's lost his voice cussing us,' I replied, graciously.
"'Oh no!' exclaimed the genial Mr. Emerson, more for the sake of conversation than argument; 'he has got cold feet!' Evidently unwilling to let the conversation lag, the garrulous Mr. Emerson continued, 'It's a dark night without, and I fear some mischief is afoot.'
"'Yes; but what of yonder beautchous gel?' said I, at which he burst into wild laughter."
Emerson laid down his book.
"What are you muttering about?" he asked.
"I merely remarked that our scandalized Scandalusian has got tired of singin' Won't You Open that Door and Let Me In? and has ducked."
"Where has he gone?"
"I ain't no mind-reader; maybe he's loped off to Seattle after a policeman and a writ of ne plus ultra. Maybe he has gone after a clump of his countrymen—this is herding-season for Swedes."
Without answering, Emerson rose, and, going to the inner door, called through to the squaw:
"Get us a cup of coffee."
"Coffee!" interjected Fraser; "why not have a real feed? I'm hungry enough to eat anything except salt-risin' bread and Roquefort cheese."
"No," said the other; "I don't want to cause any more trouble than necessary."
"Well, there's a lot of grub in the cache. Let's load up the sled."
"I'm hardly a thief."
"Fingerless" Fraser fell back into sour silence.
When the slatternly woman had slunk forth and was busied at the stove, Emerson observed, musingly:
"I wonder what possessed that fellow to act as he did."
"He said he had orders," Fraser offered. "If I had a warm cabin, a lot of grub—and a squaw—I'd like to see somebody give me orders."
Their clothing was dry now, and they proceeded to dress leisurely. As Emerson roped up the sleeping-bags, Fraser suddenly suspended operations on his attire, and asked, querulously:
"What's the matter? We ain't goin' to move, are we?"
"Yes. We'll make for one of the other canneries," answered Emerson, without looking up.
"But I've got sore feet," complained the adventurer.
"What! again?" Emerson laughed skeptically. "Better walk on your hands for a while."
"And it's getting dark, too."
"Never mind. It can't be far. Come now."
He urged the fellow as he had repeatedly urged him before, for Fraser seemed to have the blood of a tramp in his veins; then he tried to question the woman, but she maintained a frightened silence. When they had finished their coffee, Emerson laid two silver dollars on the table, and they left the house to search out the river-trail again.
The early darkness, hastened by the storm, was upon them when they crept up the opposite bank an hour later, and through the gloom beheld a group of great shadowy buildings. Approaching the solitary gleam of light shining from the window of the watchman's house, they applied to him for shelter.
"We are just off a long trip, and our dogs are played out," Emerson explained. "We'll pay well for a place to rest."
"You can't stop here," said the fellow, gruffly.
"I've got no room."
"Is there a road-house near by?"
"I don't know."
"You'd better find out mighty quick," retorted the young man, with rising temper at the other's discourtesy.
"Try the next place below," said the watchman, hurriedly, slamming the door in their faces and bolting it. Once secure behind his barricade, he added: "If he won't let you in, maybe the priest can take care of you at the Mission."
"This here town of Kalvik is certainly overjoyed at our arrival," said Fraser, "ain't it?"
But his irate companion made no comment, whereat, sensing the anger behind his silence, the speaker, for once, failed to extemporize an answer to his own remark.
At the next stop they encountered the same gruff show of inhospitality, and all they could elicit from the shock-headed proprietor was another direction, in broken English, to try the Russian priest.
"I'll make one more try," said Emerson, between his teeth, gratingly, as they swung out into the darkness a second time. "If that doesn't succeed, then I'll take possession again. I won't be passed on all night this way."
"The 'buck' will certainly show us to the straw," said "Fingerless" Fraser.
"The 'buck'—the sky-dog—oh, the priest!"
But when, a mile farther on, they drew up before a white pile surmounted by a dimly discerned Greek cross, no sign of life was to be seen, and their signals awakened no response.
"Gone!—and they knew it."
The vicious manner in which Emerson handled his whip as he said the words betrayed his state of mind. Three weeks of unvarying hardship and toilsome travel had worn out both men, and rendered them well-nigh desperate. Hence they wasted no words when, for the fourth time, their eyes caught the welcome sight of a shining radiance in the gloom of the gathering night. The trail-weary team stopped of its own accord.
"Unhitch!" ordered Emerson, doggedly, as he began to untie the ropes of the sled. He shouldered the sleeping-bags, and made toward the light that filtered through the crusted windows, followed by Fraser similarly burdened. But as they approached they saw at once that this was no cannery; it looked more like a road-house or trading-post, for the structure was low and it was built of logs. Behind and connected with it by a covered hall or passageway crouched another squat building of the same character, its roof piled thick with a mass of snow, its windows glowing. Those warm squares of light, set into the black walls and overhung by white-burdened eaves, gave the place the appearance of a Christmas-card, it was so snug and cozy. Even the glitter was there, caused by the rays refracted from the facets of the myriad frost-crystals.
They mounted the steps of the nigh building, and, without knocking, flung the door open, entered, then tossed their bundles to the floor. With a sharp exclamation at this unceremonious intrusion, an Indian woman, whom they had surprised, dropped her task and regarded them, round-eyed.
"We're all right this time," observed Emerson, as he swept the place with his eyes. "It's a store." Then to the woman he said, briefly: "We want a bed and something to eat."
On every side the walls were shelved with merchandise, while the counter carried a supply of clothing, skins, and what not; a cylindrical stove in the centre of the room emanated a hot, red glow.
"This looks like the Waldorf to me," said "Fingerless" Fraser, starting to remove his parka, the fox fringe on the hood of which was white from his breath.
"What you want?" demanded the squaw, coming forward.
Boyd, likewise divesting himself of his furs, noticed that she was little more than a girl—a native, undoubtedly; but she was neatly dressed, her skin was light, and her hair twisted into a smooth black knot at the back of her head.
"Food! Sleep!" he replied to her question.
"You can't stop here," the girl asserted, firmly.
"Oh yes, we can," said Emerson. "You have plenty of room, and there's lots of food"—he indicated the shelves of canned goods.
The squaw, without moving, raised her voice and called: "Constantine! Constantine!"
A door in the farther shadows opened, and the tall figure of a man emerged, advancing swiftly, his soft soles noiseless beneath him.
"Well, well! It's old Squirrel-Tail," cried Fraser. "Good-evening, Constantine."
It was the copper-hued native who had rescued them from the river earlier in the day; but although he must have recognized them, his demeanor had no welcome in it. The Indian girl broke into a torrent of excited volubility, unintelligible to the white men.
"You no stop here," said Constantine, finally; and, making toward the outer door, he flung it open, pointing out into the night.
"We've come a long way, and we're tired," Emerson argued, pacifically. "We'll pay you well."
Constantine only replied with added firmness, "No," to which the other retorted with a flash of rising anger, "Yes!"
He faced the Indian with his back to the stove, his voice taking on a determined note. "We won't leave here until we are ready. We're tired, and we're going to stay here—do you understand? Now tell your 'klootch' to get us some supper. Quick!"
The breed's face blazed. Without closing the door, he moved directly upon the interloper, his design recognizable in his threatening attitude; but before he could put his plan into execution, a soft voice from the rear of the room halted him.
"Constantine," it said.
The travellers whirled to see, standing out in relief against the darkness of the passage whence the Indian had just come a few seconds before, the golden-haired girl of the storm, to whom they had been indebted for their rescue. She advanced, smiling pleasantly, enjoying their surprise.
"What is the trouble?"
"These men no stop here!" cried Constantine violently. "You speak! I make them go."
"I—I—beg pardon," began Emerson. "We didn't intend to take forcible possession, but we're played out—we've been denied shelter everywhere—we felt desperate—"
"You tried the canneries above?" interrupted the girl.
"And they referred you to the priest? Quite so." She laughed softly, her voice a mellow contralto. "The Father has been gone for a month; he wouldn't have let you in if he'd been there."
She addressed the Indian girl in Aleut and signalled to Constantine, at which the two natives retired—Constantine reluctantly, like a watch-dog whose suspicions are not fully allayed.
"We're glad of an opportunity to thank you for your timely service this afternoon," said Emerson. "Had we known you lived here, we certainly should not have intruded in this manner." He found himself growing hotly uncomfortable as he began to realize the nature of his position, but the young woman spared him further apologies by answering, carelessly:
"Oh, that was nothing. I've been expecting you hourly. You see, Constantine's little brother has the measles, and I had to get to him before the natives could give the poor little fellow a Russian bath and then stand him out in the snow. They have only one treatment for all diseases. That's why I didn't stop and give you more explicit directions this morning."
"If your—er—father—" The girl shook her head.
"Then your husband—I should like to arrange with him to hire lodgings for a few days. The matter of money—"
Again she came to his rescue.
"I am the man of the house. I'm boss here. This splendor is all mine." She waved a slender white hand majestically at the rough surroundings, laughing in a way that put Boyd Emerson more at his ease. "You are quite welcome to stay as long as you wish. Constantine objects to my hospitality, and treats all strangers alike, fearing they may be Company men. When you didn't arrive at dark, I thought perhaps he was right this time, and that you had been taken in by one of the watchmen."
"We throwed a Swede out on his neck," declared Fraser, swelling with conscious importance, "and I guess he's 'crabbed' us with the other squareheads."
"Oh, no! They have instructions not to harbor any travellers. It's as much as his job is worth for any of them to entertain you. Now, won't you make yourselves at home while Constantine attends to your dogs? Dinner will soon be ready, and I hope you will do me the honor of dining with me," she finished, with a graciousness that threw Emerson into fresh confusion.
He murmured "Gladly," and then lost himself in wonder at this well-gowned girl living amid such surroundings. Undeniably pretty, graceful in her movements, bearing herself with certainty and poise—who was she? Where did she come from? And what in the world was she doing here?
He became aware that "Fingerless" Fraser was making the introductions. "This is Mr. Emerson; my name is French. I'm one of the Virginia Frenches, you know; perhaps you have heard of them. No? Well, they're the real thing."
The girl bowed, but Emerson forestalled her acknowledgment by breaking in roughly, with a threatening scowl at the adventurer:
"His name isn't French at all, Madam; it's Fraser—'Fingerless' Fraser. He's an utterly worthless rogue, and absolutely unreliable so far as I can learn. I picked him up on the ice in Norton Sound, with a marshal at his heels."
"That marshal wasn't after me," stoutly denied Fraser, quite unabashed. "Why, he's a friend of mine—we're regular chums—everybody knows that. He wanted to give me some papers to take outside, that's all."
Boyd shrugged his shoulders indifferently:
"Not at all! Not at all!" airily.
Their hostess, greatly amused at this remarkable turn of the ceremony, prevented any further argument by saying:
"Well, French or Fraser, whichever it is, you are both welcome. However, I should prefer to think of you as a runaway rather than as an intimate friend of the marshal at Nome; I happen to know him."
"Well, we ain't what you'd exactly call pals," Fraser hastily disclaimed. "I just sort of bow to him"—he gave an imitation of a slight, indifferent headshake—"that way!"
"I see," commented their hostess, quizzically; then recalling herself, she continued: "I should have made myself known before; I am Miss Malotte."
"Ch—" began the crook, then shut his lips abruptly, darting a shrewd glance at the girl. Emerson saw their eyes meet, and fancied that the woman's smile sat a trifle unnaturally on her lips, while the delicate coloring of her face changed imperceptibly. As the fellow mumbled some acknowledgment, she turned to the younger man, inquiring impersonally:
"I suppose you are bound for the States?"
"Yes; we intend to catch the mail-boat at Katmai. I am taking Fraser along for company; it's hard travelling alone in a strange country. He's a nuisance, but he's rather amusing at times."
"I certainly am," agreed that cheerful person, now fully at his ease. "I've a bad memory for names!"—he looked queerly at his hostess—"but I'm very amusing, very!"
"Not 'very,'" corrected Emerson.
Then they talked of the trail, the possibilities of securing supplies, and of hiring a guide. By-and-by the girl rose, and after showing them to a room, she excused herself on the score of having to see to the dinner. When she had withdrawn, "Fingerless" Fraser pursed his thin lips into a noiseless whistle, then observed:
"Who is she?" asked Emerson, in a low, eager tone. "Do you know?"
"You heard, didn't you? She's Miss Malotte, and she's certainly some considerable lady."
The same look that Emerson had noted when their hostess introduced herself to them flitted again into the crook's unsteady eyes.
"Yes, but who is she? What does this mean?" Emerson pointed to the provisions and fittings about them. "What is she doing here alone?"
"Maybe you'd better ask her yourself," said Fraser.
For the first time in their brief acquaintance, Emerson detected a strange note in the rogue's voice, but it was too slight to provoke reply, so he brushed it aside and prepared himself for dinner.
The Indian girl summoned them, and they followed her through the long passageway into the other house, where, to their utter astonishment, they seemed to step out of the frontier and into the heart of civilization. They found a tiny dining-room, perfectly appointed, in the centre of which, wonder of wonders, was a round table gleaming like a deep mahogany pool, upon the surface of which floated gauzy hand-worked napery, glinting silver, and sparkling crystal, the dark polish of the wood reflecting the light from shaded candles. It held a delicately figured service of blue and gold, while the selection of thin-stemmed glasses all in rows indicated the character of the entertainment that awaited them. The men's eyes were too busy with the unaccustomed sight to note details carefully, but they felt soft carpet beneath their feet and observed that the walls were smooth and harmoniously papered.
When one has lived long in the rough where things come with the husk on, he fancies himself weaned away from the dainty, the beautiful, and the artistic; after years of a skillet-and-sheath-knife existence he grows to feel a scorn for the finer, softer, inconsequent trifles of the past, only to find, of a sudden, that, unknown to him perhaps, his soul has been hungering for them all the while. The feel of cool linen comes like the caress of a forgotten sweetheart, the tinkle of glass and silver are so many chiming fairy bells inviting him back into the foretime days. And so these two unkempt men, toughened and browned to the texture of leather by wind and snow, brought by trail and campfire to disregard ceremony and look upon mealtime as an unsatisfying, irksome period, stood speechless, affording the girl the feminine pleasure of enjoying their discomfiture.
"This is m—marvelous," murmured Emerson, suddenly conscious of his rough clothing, his fur boots, and his hands cracked by frost. "I'm afraid we're not in keeping."
"Indeed you are," said the girl, "and I am delighted to have somebody to talk to. It's very lonesome here, month after month."
"This is certainly a swell tepee," Fraser remarked, staring about in open admiration. "How did you do it?"
"I brought my things with me from Nome."
"Nome!" ejaculated Emerson, quickly.
"Why, I've been in Nome ever since the camp was discovered. It's strange we never met."
"I didn't stay there very long. I went back to Dawson."
Again he fancied the girl's eyes held a vague challenge, but he could not be sure; for she seated him, and then gave some instructions to the Aleut girl, who had entered noiselessly. It was the strangest meal Boyd Emerson had ever eaten, for here, in a forgotten corner of an unknown land, hidden behind high-banked log walls, he partook of a perfect dinner, well served, and presided over by a gracious, richly gowned young woman who talked interestingly on many subjects, For a second time he lost himself in a maze of conjecture. Who was she? What was her mission here? Why was she alone? But not for long; he was too heavily burdened by the responsibility and care of his own affairs to waste much time by the way on those of other people; and becoming absorbed in his own thoughts, he grew more silent as the signs of refinement and civilization about him revived memories long stifled. Fraser, on the contrary, warmed by the wine, blossomed like the rose, and talked garrulously, recounting marvellous stories, as improbable as they were egotistical. He monopolized his hostess' attention, the while his companion became more preoccupied, more self-contained, almost sullen.
This was not the effect for which the girl had striven; her younger guest's taciturnity, which grew as the dinner progressed, piqued her, so at the first opportunity she bent her efforts toward rallying him. He answered politely, but she was powerless to shake off his mood. It was not abashment, as she realized when, from the corner of her eye, she observed him covertly stroke the linen and finger the silver as if to renew a sense of touch long unused. Being unaccustomed to any sort of indifference in men, his spiritless demeanor put her on her mettle, yet all to no avail; she could not find a seam in that mask of listless abstraction. At last he spoke of his own accord:
"You said those watchmen have instructions not to harbor travellers. Why is that?"
"It is the policy of the Companies. They are afraid somebody will discover gold around here."
"You see, this is the greatest salmon river in the world; the 'run' is tremendous, and seems to be unfailing; hence the cannery people wish to keep it all to themselves."
"I don't quite understand—"
"It is simple enough. Kalvik is so isolated and the fishing season is so short that the Companies have to send their crews in from the States and take them out again every summer. Now, if gold were discovered hereabouts, the fishermen would all quit and follow the 'strike,' which would mean the ruin of the year's catch and the loss of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, for there is no way of importing new help during the short summer months. Why, this village would become a city in no time if such a thing were to happen; the whole region would fill up with miners, and not only would labor conditions be entirely upset for years, but the eyes of the world, being turned this way, other people might go into the fishing business and create a competition which would both influence prices, and deplete the supply of fish in the Kalvik River. So you see there are many reasons why this region is forbidden to miners."
"You couldn't buy a pound of food nor get a night's lodging here for a king's ransom. The watchmen's jobs depend upon their unbroken bond of inhospitality, and the Indians dare not sell you anything, not even a dogfish, under penalty of starvation, for they are dependent upon the Companies' stores."
"So that is why you have established a trading-post of your own?"
"Oh dear, no. This isn't a store. This food is for my men."
"Yes, I have a crew out in the hills on a grub-stake. This is our cache. While they prospect for gold, I stand guard over the provisions."
Fraser chuckled softly. "Then you are bucking the Salmon Trust?"
"After a fashion, yes. I knew this country had never been gone over, so I staked six men, chartered a schooner, and came down here from Nome in the early spring. We stood off the watchmen, and when the supply-ships arrived, we had these houses completed, and my men were out in the hills where it was hard to follow them. I stayed behind, and stood the brunt of things."
"But surely they didn't undertake to injure you?" said Emerson, now thoroughly interested in this extraordinary young woman.
"Oh, didn't they!" she answered, with a peculiar laugh. "You don't appreciate the character of these people. When a man fights for money, just plain, sordid money, he loses all sense of honor, chivalry, and decency, he employs any means that come handy. There is no real code of financial morality, and the battle for dollars is the bitterest of all contests. Of course, being a woman, they couldn't very well attack me personally, but they tried everything except physical violence, and I don't know how long they will refrain from that. These plants are owned separately, but they operate under an agreement, with one man at the head. His name is Marsh—Willis Marsh, and, of course, he's not my friend."
"Sort of 'United we stand, divided we fall.'"
"Exactly. That spreads the responsibility, and seems to leave nobody guilty for their evil deeds. The first thing they did was to sink my schooner—in the morning you will see her spars sticking up through the ice out in front there. One of their tugs 'accidentally' ran her down, although she was at anchor fully three hundred feet inside the channel line. Then Marsh actually had the effrontery to come here personally and demand damages for the injury to his towboat, claiming there were no lights on the schooner."
Cherry Malotte's eyes grew dark with indignation as she continued: "Nobody thinks of hanging lanterns to little crafts like her at anchor under such conditions. Having allowed me to taste his power, that man first threatened me covertly, and then proceeded to persecute me in a more open manner. When I still remained obdurate, he—he"—she paused. "You may have heard of it. He killed one of my men."
"Impossible!" ejaculated Boyd.
"Oh, but it isn't impossible. Anything is possible with unscrupulous men where there is no law; they halt at nothing when in chase of money. They are different from women in that. I never heard of a woman doing murder for money."
"Was it really murder?"
"Judge for yourself. My man came down for supplies, and they got him drunk—he was a drinking man—then they stabbed him. They said a Chinaman did it in a brawl, but Willis Marsh was to blame. They brought the poor fellow here, and laid him on my steps, as if I had been the cause of it. Oh, it was horrible, horrible!" Her eyes suddenly dimmed over and her white hands clenched.
"And you still stuck to your post?" said Emerson, curiously.
"Certainly! This adventure means a great deal to me, and, besides, I will not be beaten"—the stem of the glass with which she had been toying snapped suddenly—"at anything."
She appeared, all in a breath, to have become prematurely hard and worldly, after the fashion of those who have subsisted by their wits. To Emerson she seemed to have grown at least ten years older. Yet it was unbelievable that this slip of a woman should be possessed of the determination, the courage, and the administrative ability to conduct so desperate an enterprise. He could understand the feminine rashness that might have led her to embark upon it in the first place, but to continue in the face of such opposition—why, that was a man's work and required a man's powers, and yet she was utterly unmasculine. Indeed, it seemed to him that he had never met a more womanly woman. Everything about her was distinctly feminine.
"Fortunately, the fishing season is short," she added, while a pucker of perplexity came between her dainty brows; "but I don't know what will happen next summer."
"I'd like to meet this Marsh-hen party," observed Fraser, his usually colorless eyes a bright sea-green.
"Do you fear further—er—violence?" asked Emerson.
Cherry shrugged her rounded shoulders. "I anticipate it, but I don't fear it. I have Constantine to protect me, and you will admit he is a capable bodyguard." She smiled slightly, recalling the scene she had interrupted before dinner. "Then, too, Chakawana, his sister, is just as devoted. Rather a musical name, don't you think so, Chakawana? It means 'The Snowbird' in Aleut, but when she's aroused she's more like a hawk. It's the Russian in her, I dare say."
The girl became conscious that her guests were studying her with undisguised amazement now, and therefore arose, saying, "You may smoke in the other room if you wish."
Lost in wonder at this unconventional creature, and dazed by the strangeness of the whole affair, Emerson gained his feet and followed her, with "Fingerless" Fraser at his heels.
IN WHICH CHERRY MALOTTE DISPLAYS A TEMPER
The unsuspected luxury of the dining-room, and the excellence of the dinner itself had in a measure prepared Emerson for what he found in the living-room. One thing only staggered him—a piano. The bear-skins on the floor, the big, sleepy chairs, the reading-table littered with magazines, the shelves of books, even the basket of fancy-work—all these he could accept without further parleying; but a piano! in Kalvik! Observing his look, the girl said:
"I am dreadfully extravagant, am I not? But I love it, and I have so little to do. I read and play and drive my dog-team—that's about all."
"And rescue drowning men in time for dinner," added Boyd Emerson, not knowing whether he liked this young woman or not. He knew this north country from bitter experience, knew that none but the strong can survive, and recognizing himself as a failure, her calm assurance and self- certainty offended him vaguely. It seemed as if she were succeeding where he had failed, which rather jarred his sense of the fitness of things. Then, too, conventionality is a very agreeable social bond, the true value of which is not often recognized until it is found missing, and this girl was anything but conventional.
Again he withdrew into that silent mood from which no effort on the part of his hostess could arouse him, and it soon became apparent from the listless hang of his hands and the distant light in his eyes that he had even become unconscious of her presence in the room. Observing the cause of her impatience, Fraser interrupted his interminable monologue to say, without change of intonation:
"Don't get sore on him; he's that way half the time. I rode herd one night on a feller that was going to hang for murder at dawn, and he set just like that for hours." She raised her brows inquiringly, at which he continued: "But you can't always tell; when my brother got married he acted the same way."
After an hour, during which Emerson barely spoke, she tired of the other man's anecdotes, which had long ceased to be amusing, and, going to the piano, shuffled the sheet music idly, inquiring:
"Do you care for music?" Her remark was aimed at Emerson, but the other answered:
"I'm a nut on it."
She ignored the speaker, and cast another question over her shoulder:
"What kind do you prefer?" Again the adventurer outran his companion to the reply:
"My favorite hymn is the Maple Leaf Rag. Let her go, professor."
Cherry settled herself obligingly and played ragtime, although she fancied that Emerson stirred uneasily as if the musical interruption disturbed him; but when she swung about on her seat at the conclusion, he was still lax and indifferent.
"That certainly has some class to it," "Fingerless" Fraser said, admiringly. "Just go through the reperchure from soda to hock, will you? I'm certainly fond of that coon clatter." And realizing that his pleasure was genuine, she played on and on for him, to the muffled thump of his feet, now and then feeding her curiosity with a stolen glance at the other. She was in the midst of some syncopated measure when Boyd spoke abruptly: "Please play something."
She understood what he meant and began really to play, realizing very soon that at least one of her guests knew and loved music. Under her deft fingers the instrument became a medium for musical speech. Gay roundelays, swift, passionate Hungarian dances, bold Wagnerian strains followed in quick succession, and the more utter her abandon the more certainly she felt the younger man respond.
Strange to say, the warped soul of "Fingerless" Fraser likewise felt the spell of real music, and he stilled his loose-hinged tongue. By-and-by she began to sing, more for her own amusement than for theirs, and after awhile her fingers strayed upon the sweet chords of Bartlett's A Dream, a half-forgotten thing, the tenderness of which had lived with her from girlhood. She heard Emerson rise, then knew he was standing at her shoulder. Could he sing, she wondered, as he began to take up the words of the song? Then her dream-filled eyes widened as she listened to his voice breathing life into the beautiful words. He sang with the ease and flexibility of an artist, his powerful baritone blending perfectly with her contralto.
For the first time she felt the man's personality, his magnetism, as if he had dropped his cloak and stood at her side in his true semblance. As they finished the song she wheeled abruptly, her face flushed, her ripe lips smiling, her eyes moist, and looked up to find him marvelously transformed. His even teeth gleamed forth from a brown face that had become the mirror of a soul as spirited as her own, for the blending of their voices had brought them into a similar harmony of understanding.
"Oh, thank you," she breathed.
"Thank you," he said. "I—I—that's the first time in ages that I've had the heart to sing. I was hungry for music, I was starving for it. I've sat in my cabin at night longing for it until my soul fairly ached with the silence. I've frozen beneath the Northern Lights straining my ears for the melody that ought to go with them—they must have an accompaniment somewhere, don't you think so?"
"Yes, yes," she breathed.
"They must have; they are too gloriously, terribly beautiful to be silent. I've stood in the whispering spruce groves and tried to sing contentment back into my heart, but I couldn't do it. This is the first real taste I've had in three years. Three years!"
He was talking rapidly, his blue eyes dancing. Cherry remembered thinking at dinner that those eyes were of too light and hard a blue for tenderness. She now observed that they were singularly deep and passionate.
"Why, I've gone about with a comb and a piece of tissue-paper at my lips like any kid. I once made a banjo out of a cigar-box and bale wire, and while I was in the Kougarok I walked ten miles to hear a nigger play a harmonica. I did all sorts of things to coax music into this country, but it is silent and unresponsive, absolutely dead and discordant." He made a gesture which in a woman would have ended in a shudder.
He took a seat near the girl, and continued to talk feverishly, unable to give voice to his thoughts rapidly enough. His reserve vanished, his silence gave way to a confidential warmth which suffused his listener and drew her to him. The overpowering force of his strong nature swept her out of herself, while her ready sympathy took fire and caught at his half- expressed ideas and stumbling words, stimulating him with her warm understanding. Her quick wit rallied him and awoke echoes of his past youth, until they began to laugh and jest with the camaraderie of boy and girl. With their better acquaintance her assumption of masculinity fell from her, and she became the "womanly woman"—dainty, vivacious, captivating.
Fraser, whom both had forgotten, looked on at first in gaping, silent awe, staring and blinking at his travelling companion, who had undergone such a metamorphosis. But restraint and silence were impossible to him for long, and in time he ambled clumsily into the conversation. It jarred, of course, but he could not be ignored, and gradually he claimed more and more of the talk until the young couple yielded to the monologue, smiling at each other in mutual understanding.
Emerson listened tolerantly, idly running through the magazines at his hand, his hostess watching him covertly, albeit her ears were drummed by the other's monotone. How much better this mood became the young man! Suddenly the smile of amusement that lurked about his lip corners and gave him a pleasing look hardened in a queer fashion—he started, then stared at one of the pages while the color died out of his brown cheeks. Cherry saw the hand that held the magazine tremble. He looked up at her, and, disregarding Fraser, broke in, harshly:
"Have you read this magazine?"
"Not entirely. It came in the last mail."
"I'd like to take one page out of it," he said. "May I?"
"Why, certainly," she replied. "You may have the whole thing if you like." He produced a knife, and with one quick stroke cut a single leaf out of the magazine, which he folded and thrust into the breast of his coat.
"Thank you," he muttered; then fell to staring ahead of him, again heedless of his surroundings. This abrupt relapse into his former state of sullen and defiant silence tantalized the girl to the verge of anger, especially now that she had seen something of his true self. She was painfully conscious of a sense of betrayal at having yielded so easily to his pleasant mood, only to be shut out on an instant's whim, while a girlish curiosity to know the cause of the change overpowered her. He offered no explanation, however, and took no further part in the conversation until, noting the lateness of the hour, he rose and thanked her for her hospitality in the same deadly indifferent manner.
"The music was a great treat," he said, looking beyond her and holding aloof—"a very great treat. I enjoyed it immensely. Good-night."
Cherry Malotte had experienced a new sensation, and she didn't like it. She vowed angrily that she disliked men who looked past her; indeed, she could not recall any other who had ever done so. Her chief concern had always been to check their ardor. She resolved viciously that before she was through with this young man he would make her a less listless adieu. She assured herself that he was a selfish, sullen boor, who needed to be taught a lesson in manners for his own good if for nothing else; that a woman's curiosity had aught to do with her exasperation she would have denied. She abhorred curiosity. As a matter of fact, she told herself that he did not interest her in the least, except as a discourteous fellow who ought to be shocked into a consciousness of his bad manners, and therefore the moment the two men were well out of the room she darted to the table, snatched up the magazine, and skimmed through it feverishly. Ah! here was the place!
A woman's face with some meaningless name beneath filled each page. Along the top ran the heading, "Famous American Beauties." So it was a woman! She skipped backward and forward among the pages for further possible enlightenment, but there was no article accompanying the pictures. It was merely an illustrated section devoted to the photographs of prominent actresses and society women, most of whom she had never heard of, though here and there she saw a name that was familiar. In the centre was that tantalizingly clean-cut edge which had subtracted a face from the gallery —a face which she wanted very much to see. She paused and racked her brain, her brows furrowed with the effort at recollection, but she had only glanced at the pages when the magazine came, and had paid no attention to this part of it. Her anger at her failure to recall this particular face aroused her to the fact that she was acting very foolishly, at which she laughed aloud.
"Well, what of it?" she demanded of the empty room. "He's in love with some society ninny, and I don't care what she looks like." She shrugged her shoulders carelessly; then, in a sudden access of fury, she flung the mutilated magazine viciously into a far corner of the room.
The travellers slept late on the following morning, for the weariness of weeks was upon them, and the little bunk-room they occupied adjoined the main building and was dark. When they came forth they found Chakawana in the store, and a few moments later were called to breakfast.
"Where is your mistress?" inquired Boyd.
"She go see my sick broder," said the Indian girl, recalling Cherry's mention of the child ill with measles. "She all the time give medicine to Aleut babies," Chakawana continued. "All the time give, give, give something. Indian people love her."
"She's sort of a Lady Bountiful to these bums," remarked Fraser.
"Does she let them trade in yonder?" Boyd asked, indicating the store.
"Oh yes! Everything cheap to Indian people. Indian got no money, all the same." Then, as if realizing that her hasty tongue had betrayed some secret of moment, the Aleut girl paused, and, eying them sharply, demanded, "What for you ask?"
"No reason in particular."
"What for you ask?" she insisted. "Maybe you b'long Company, eh?" Emerson laughed, but she was not to be put off easily, and, with characteristic guile, announced boldly: "I lie to you. She no trade with Aleut people. No; Chakawana lie!"
"She's afraid we'll tell this fellow Marsh," Fraser remarked to Emerson; then, as if that name had some powerful effect upon their informant, Chakawana advanced to the table, and, leaning over it, said:
"You know Willis Marsh?" Her pretty wooden face held a mingled expression of fear, malice, and curiosity.
"Ouch!" said Fraser, shoving back from his plate. "Don't look at me like that before I've had my coffee."
"Maybe you know him in San Flancisco, eh?"
"No, no! We never heard of him until last night."
"I guess you lie!" She smiled at them wheedlingly, but Boyd reassured her.
"No! We don't know him at all."
"Then what for you speak his name?"
"Miss Malotte told us about him at dinner."
"By-the-way, what kind of a looking feller is he?" asked Fraser.
"He's fine, han'some man," said Chakawana. "Nice fat man. Him got hair like—like fire."
"He's fat and red-headed, eh? He must be a picture."
"Yes," agreed the girl, rather vaguely.
"Is he married?"
"I don't know. Maybe he lie. Maybe he got woman."
"The masculine sex seems to stand like a band of horse-thieves with this dame," Fraser remarked to his companion. "She thinks we're all liars."
After a moment, Chakawana continued, "Where you go now?"
"To the States; to the 'outside,'" Boyd answered.
"Then you see Willis Marsh, sure thing. He lives there. Maybe you speak, eh?"
"Well, Mr. Marsh may be a big fellow around Kalvik, but I don't think he occupies so much space in the United States that we will meet him," laughed Emerson; but even yet the girl seemed unconvinced, and went on rather fearfully: "Maybe you see him all the same."
"Perhaps. What then?"
"You speak my name?"
"Why, no, certainly not."
"If I see him, I'll give him your love," offered "Fingerless" Fraser, banteringly; but Chakawana's light-hued cheeks blanched perceptibly, and she cried, quickly:
"No! No! Willis Marsh bad, bad man. You no speak, please! Chakawana poor Aleut girl. Please?"
Her alarm was so genuine that they reassured her; and having completed their meal, they rose and left the room. Outside, Fraser said: "This cannery guy has certainly buffaloed these savages. He must be a slave- driver." Then as they filled their pipes, he added: "She was plumb scared to death of him, wasn't she?"
"Think so?" listlessly.
"Sure. Didn't she show it?"
"Um-m, I suppose so."
They were still talking when they heard the jingle of many bells, then a sharp command from Constantine, and the next instant the door burst open to admit Cherry, who came with a rush of youth and health as fresh as the bracing air that followed her. The cold had reddened her cheeks and quickened her eyes; she was the very embodiment of the day itself, radiantly bright and tinglingly alive.
"Good-morning, gentlemen!" she cried, removing the white fur hood which gave a setting to her sparkling eyes and teeth. "Oh, but it's a glorious morning! If you want to feel your blood leap and your lungs tingle, just let Constantine take you for a spin behind that team. We did the five miles from the village in seventeen minutes."
"And how is your measley patient?" asked Fraser.
"He's doing well, thank you." She stepped to the door to admit Chakawana, who had evidently hurried around from the other house, and now came in, bareheaded and heedless of the cold, bearing a bundle clasped to her breast. "I brought the little fellow home with me. See!"
The Indian girl bore her burden to the stove, where she knelt to lift the covering from the child's face.
"Hey there! Look out!" ejaculated Fraser, retreating in alarm. "I never had no measles." But Chakawana went on cuddling the infant in a motherly fashion while Cherry reassured her guests.
"Is that an Indian child?" asked Emerson, curiously, noting the little fellow's flushed fair skin. The kneeling girl turned upward a pair of tearful, defiant eyes, answering quickly:
"Yes, him Aleut baby."
"Him our little broder," came the deep voice of Constantine, who had entered unnoticed; and a moment later, in obedience to an order from Cherry, they bore their charge to their own quarters at the rear.
IN WHICH SHE GIVES HEART TO A HOPELESS MAN
"I dare say Kalvik is rather lively during the summer season," Emerson remarked to Cherry, later in the day.
"Yes; the ships arrive in May, and the fish begin to run in July. After that nobody sleeps."
She had come upon him staring dispiritedly at the fire, and his dejection softened her and drew out her womanly sympathy. She had renewed her efforts to cheer him up, seeking to stir him out of the gloom that imprisoned him. With the healthy optimism and exuberance of her normal youth she could not but deplore the mischance that had changed him into the sullen, silent brute he seemed.
"It must be rather interesting," he observed, indifferently.
"It is more than that; it is inspiring. Why, the story of the salmon is an epic in itself. You know they live a cycle of four years, no more, always returning to the waters of their nativity to die; and I have heard it said that during one of those four years they disappear, no one knows where, reappearing out of the mysterious depths of the sea as if at a signal. They come by the legion, in countless scores of thousands; and when once they have tasted the waters of their birth they never touch food again, never cease their onward rush until they become bruised and battered wrecks, drifting down from the spawning-beds. When the call of nature is answered and the spawn is laid they die. They never seek the salt sea again, but carpet the rivers with their bones. When they feel the homing impulse they come from the remotest depths, heading unerringly for the particular parent stream whence they originated. If sand-bars should block their course in dry seasons or obstacles intercept them, they will hurl themselves out of the water in an endeavor to get across. They may disregard a thousand rivers, one by one; but when they finally taste the sweet currents which flow from their birthplaces their whole nature changes, and even their physical features alter: they grow thin, and the head takes on the sinister curve of the preying bird."
"I had no idea they acted that way," said Boyd. "You paint a vivid picture."
"That's because they interest me. As a matter of fact, these fisheries are more fascinating than any place I've ever seen. Why, you just ought to witness the 'run.' These empty waters become suddenly crowded, and the fish come in a great silver horde, which races up, up, up toward death and obliteration. They come with the violence of a summer storm; like a prodigious gleaming army they swarm and bend forward, eager, undeviating, one-purposed. It's quite impossible to describe it—this great silver horde. They are entirely defenceless, of course, and almost every living thing preys upon them. The birds congregate in millions, the four-footed beasts come down from the hills, the Apaches of the sea harry them in dense droves, and even man appears from distant coasts to take his toll; but still they press bravely on. The clank of machinery makes the hills rumble, the hiss of steam and the sighs of the soldering-furnaces are like the complaint of some giant overgorging himself. The river swarms with the fleets of fish-boats, which skim outward with the dawn to flit homeward again at twilight and settle like a vast brood of white-winged gulls. Men let the hours go by unheeded, and forget to sleep."
"What sort of men do they hire?"
"Chinese, Japs, and Italians, mainly. It's like a foreign country here, only there are no women. The bunk-rooms are filled with opium fumes and noisy with clacking tongues. On one side of the village streets the Orientals burn incense to their Joss, across the way the Latins worship the Virgin. They work side by side all day until they are ready to drop, then mass in the street and knife each other over their rival gods."
"How long does it all last?"
"Only about six weeks; then the furnace fires die out, the ships are loaded, the men go to sleep, and the breezes waft them out into the August haze, after which Kalvik sags back into its ten months' coma, becoming, as you see it now, a dead, deserted village, shunned by man."
"Jove! you have a graphic tongue," said Boyd, appreciatively. "But I don't see how those huge plants can pay for their upkeep with such a short run."
"Well, they do; and, what's more, they pay tremendously; sometimes a hundred per cent. a year or more."
"Impossible!" Emerson was now thoroughly aroused, and Cherry continued:
"Two years ago a ship sailed into port in early May loaded with an army of men, with machinery, lumber, coal, and so forth. They landed, built the plant, and had it ready to operate by the time the run started. They made their catch, and sailed away again in August with enough salmon in the hold to pay twice over for the whole thing. Willis Marsh did even better than that the year before, but of course the price of fish was high then. Next season will be another big year."
"How is that?"
"Every fourth season the run is large; nobody knows why. Every time there is a Presidential election the fish are shy and very scarce; that lifts prices. Every year in which a President of the United States is inaugurated they are plentiful."
Boyd laughed. "The Alaska salmon takes more interest in politics than I do. I wonder if he is a Republican or a Democrat?"
"Inasmuch as he is a red salmon, I dare say you'd call him a Socialist," laughed Cherry.
Emerson rose, and began to pace back and forth. "And you mean to say the history of the other canneries is the same?"
"I had no idea there were such profits in the fisheries up here."
"Nobody knows it outside of those interested. The Kalvik River is the most wonderful salmon river in the world, for it has never failed once; that's why the Companies guard it so jealously; that's why they denied you shelter. You see, it is set away off here in one corner of Behring Sea without means of communication or access, and they intend to keep it so."
It was evident that the young man was vitally interested now. Was it the prospective vision of almighty dollars that was needed to release the hidden spring that had baffled the girl? With this clue in mind, she watched him closely and fed his eagerness.
"These figures you mention are on record?" he inquired.
"I believe they are available."
"What does it cost to install and operate a cannery for the first season?"
"About two hundred thousand dollars, I am told. But I believe one can mortgage his catch or borrow money on it from the banks, and so not have to carry the full burden."
The man stared at his companion with unseeing eyes for a moment, then asked: "What's to prevent me from going into the business?"
"Several things. Have you the money?"
"Possibly. What else?"
"That ought to be easy."
Cherry laughed. "On the contrary, a suitable cannery site is very hard to get, because there are natural conditions necessary, fresh flowing water for one; and, furthermore, because the companies have taken them all up."
"Ah! I see." The light died out of Emerson's eyes, the eagerness left his voice. He flung himself dejectedly into a chair by the fire, moodily watching the flames licking the burning logs. All at once he gripped the arms of his chair, and muttered through set jaws: "God, I'd like to take one more chance!" The girl darted a swift look at him, but he fell to brooding again, evidently insensible to her presence. At length he stirred himself to ask: "Can I hire a guide hereabout? We'll have to be going on in a day or so."
"Constantine will get you one. I suppose, of course, you will avoid the Katmai Pass?"
"Avoid it? Why?"
"It's dangerous, and nobody travels it except in the direst emergency. It's much the shortest route to the coast, but it has a record of some thirty deaths. I should advise you to cross the range farther east, where the divide is lower. The mail-boat touches at both places."
He nodded agreement. "There's no use taking chances. I'm in no hurry. I wish there was some way of repaying you for your kindness. We were pretty nearly played out when we got here."
"Oh, I'm quite selfish," she disclaimed. "If you endured a few months of this monotony, you'd understand."
During the rest of that day Boyd was conscious several times of being regarded with scrutinizing eyes by Cherry. At dinner, and afterward in the living-room while Fraser talked, he surprised the same questioning look on her face. Again she played for him, but he refused to sing, maintaining an unbroken taciturnity. After they retired she sat long alone, her brows furrowed as if wrestling with some knotty problem. "I wonder if he would do it!" she said, at last. "I wonder if he could do it!" She rose, and began to pace the floor; then added, as if in desperation: "Well, I must do something, for this can't last. Who knows—perhaps this is my chance; perhaps he has been sent."
There are times when momentous decisions are influenced by the most trivial circumstances; times when affairs of the greatest importance are made or marred by the lift of an eyebrow or the tone of a voice; times when life-long associations are severed and new ties contracted purely upon intuition, and this woman felt instinctively that such an hour had now struck for her. It was late before she finally came to peace with the conflict in her mind and lay herself down to rest.
On the following morning she told Constantine to hitch up her team and have it waiting when breakfast was finished. Then she turned to Emerson, who came into the room, and said, quietly:
"I have something to show you if you will take a short ride with me."
The young man, impressed by the gravity of her manner, readily consented. Half an hour later he wrapped her up in the sledge-robe and took station at the rear, whip in hand. Constantine freed the leader, and they went off at a mad run, whisking out from the buildings and swooping down the steep bank to the main-travelled trail. When they had gained the level and the dogs were straightened into their gait, they skimmed over the snow with the flight of a bird.
"That's a wonderful team you have," Boyd observed, as he glanced over the double row of undulating gray backs and waving plume-like tails.
"The best in the country," she smiled back at him. "They are good for a hundred miles a day."
The young man gave himself up to the unique and rather delightful experience of being transported through an unknown country to an unknown destination by a charming girl of whom he also knew nothing. He watched her in silence; but when he forebore to question her, she turned, exposing a rounded, ravishing cheek, glowing against the white fur of her hood.
"Have you no curiosity, sir?"
"None! Nothing but satisfaction," he observed.
It was his first attempt at gallantry, and she flashed him a bright, approving glance. Then, as if suddenly checked by second thought, she frowned slightly and turned away. She had mapped out a course of action during the night in which it was her purpose to use this man if he proved amenable, but the success of her plan would depend largely on a continuance of their present friendly relations. In order, therefore, to forestall any possible change of base, she began to unfold her scheme in a business-like tone:
"Yesterday you seemed to be taken by the fishing business."
"I certainly was until you told me there were no cannery sites left."
"There is one. When I came here a year ago the whole river was open, so on an outside chance I located a site, the best one available. When Willis Marsh learned of it, he took up all of the remaining places, and, although at the time I had no idea what I was going to do with my property, I have hung on to it."
"Is that where we are going?"
"Yes. You seemed eager yesterday to get in on a new chance, so I am taking you out to look over the ground."
"What's the use? I can't buy your site."
"Nobody asked you to," she smiled. "I wouldn't sell it to you if you had the money; but if you will build a cannery on it, I'll turn in the ground for an interest."
Emerson meditated a moment, then replied: "I can't say yes or no. It's a pretty big proposition—two hundred thousand dollars, you said?"
"Yes. It's a big opportunity. You can clean up a hundred per cent. in a year. Do you think you could raise the money to build a plant?"
"I might. I have some wealthy friends," he said, cautiously. "But I am not sure."
"At least you can try? That's all anybody can do."
"But I don't know anything about the business. I couldn't make it succeed."
"I've thought of all that, and there's a way to make success certain. I believe you have executive ability and can handle men."
"Oh yes; I've done that sort of thing." His broad shoulders went up as he drew a long breath. "What's your plan?"
"There's a man down the coast, George Balt, who knows more about the business than any four people in Kalvik. He's been a fisherman all his life. He discovered the Kalvik River, built the first cannery here, and was its foreman until he quarrelled with Marsh, who proceeded to discipline him. Balt isn't the kind of man to be disciplined; so, not having enough money to build a cannery, he took his scanty capital and started a saltery on his own account. That suited Marsh exactly; he broke George in a year, absolutely ruined him, utterly wiped him out, just as he intends to wipe out insignificant me! Thinking to bide his time and recoup his fallen fortunes George came back into camp; but he owns a valuable trap site which Marsh and his colleagues want; and before they would give him work, they tried to make him assign it to them, and contract never to go in business on his own account. Naturally George refused, so they disciplined him some more. He's been starving now for two years. Marsh and his companions rule this region just as the Hudson's Bay Company used to govern its concessions: by controlling the natives and preventing independent white men from gaining a foothold.
"No man dares to furnish food to George Balt; no man dares to give him a bed, no cannery will let him work. He has to take a dory to Dutch Harbor to get food. He doesn't dare leave the country and abandon the meagre thousands he has invested in buildings, so he has stayed on living off the country like a Siwash. He's a simple, big-hearted sort of fellow, but his life is centred in this business; it's all he knows. He considers himself the father of this section; and when he sees others rounding up the task that he began, it breaks his poor heart. Why, every summer when the run starts he comes across the marshes and slinks about the Kalvik thickets like a wraith, watching from afar just in order to be near it all. He stands alone and forsaken, harking to the clank of the machinery, every bolt of which he placed; watching his enemies enrich themselves from that gleaming silver army, which he considers his very own. He is shunned like a leper. No man is allowed to speak to him or render him any sort of fellowship, and it has made the man half mad, it has turned him into a vengeful, hate-filled fanatic, living only for retaliation. Some time I believe he will kill Marsh."
"Hm-m! One seems to be forever crossing the trail of this Marsh," said Boyd, who had listened intently.
"Yes. His aim is to gain control of this whole region, and if you decide to go into the enterprise you must expect to find him the most unscrupulous and vindictive enemy ever man had; make no mistake about that. It's only fair to warn you that this will be no child's play; but, on the other hand, the man who beats Marsh will have done something." She paused as if weighing her next words, then said, deliberately: "And I believe you are the one to do it."
But Emerson was not concerned about his destiny just then, nor for the dangerous enmity of Marsh. He was following another train of thought.
"And so Balt knows this business from the inside out?" he said.
"Thoroughly; every dip, angle, and spur of it, so to speak. He's practical and he's honest, in addition to which his trap-site is the key to the whole situation. You see, the salmon run in regular definite courses, year after year, just as if they were following a beaten track. At certain places these courses come close to the shore where conditions make it possible to drive piling and build traps which intercept them by the million. One trap will do the work of an army of fishermen with nets in deep water. It is to get this property for himself that Marsh has persecuted George so unflaggingly."
"Would he join us in such an enterprise, with five chances to one against success?"
"Would he!" Cherry laughed. "Wait and see."
They had reached their destination—the mouth of a deep creek, up which Cherry turned her dogs. Emerson leaped from the sled, and, running forward, seized the leader, guiding it into a clump of spruce, among the boles of which he tangled the harness, for this team was like a pack of wolves, ravenous for travel and intolerant of the leash.
Together they ascended the bank and surveyed the surroundings, Cherry expatiating upon every feature with the fervor of a land agent bent on weaving his spell about a prospective buyer. And in truth she had chosen well, for the conditions seemed ideal.
"It all sounds wonderfully attractive and feasible," said Boyd, at last; "but we must weigh the overwhelming odds against success. First, of course, is the question of capital. I have a little property of my own which I can convert. But two hundred thousand dollars! That's a tremendous sum to raise, even for a fellow with a circle of wealthy friends. Second, there's the question of time. It's now early December, and I'd have to be back here by the first of May. Third, could I run the plant and make it succeed? It must be a wonderfully technical business, and I am utterly ignorant of every phase of it. Then, too, there are a thousand other difficulties, such as getting machinery out here in time, hiring Chinese labor, chartering a ship, placing the output—"
"George Balt has done all that many times, and knows everything about it," Cherry interrupted, with decision. "Every difficulty can be met when the time comes. What other people have done, you ought to be able to do."
But he was not to be won by flattery. Youth that he was, he already knew the vanity of human hopes, and it was his nature to look at all sides of a question before answering it finally.
"The slightest error of judgment would mean failure and ruin," he reflected, "for this country isn't like any other. It is cut off from the rest of the world, and there's no time to go back and pick up."
"The odds are great, of course," she acquiesced, "but the winnings are in proportion. It isn't casino, by any means. This is worth while. Every man who has done anything in this world believes in a goddess of luck, and it's the element of chance that makes life worth living."
"That's all right in theory," he answered her, somewhat cynically, "but in practice you'll find that luck is largely the result of previous judgment. For every obstacle I have mentioned, a thousand unsuspected difficulties will arise, any one of which—" The girl interrupted him sharply for a second time, looking him squarely in the eyes, her own flushed face alight with determination.
"There's only one person in the whole world who can defeat you, and that person is yourself; and no man can finish a task before he begins it. We'll grant there's a chance for failure—a million chances; but don't try to count them. Count the chances for success. Don't be faint-hearted, for there's no such thing as fear. It doesn't exist. It's merely an absence of courage, just as indecision is merely a lack of decision. I never saw anything yet of which I was afraid—and you're a man. The deity of success is a woman, and she insists on being won, not courted. You've got to seize her and bear her off, instead of standing under her window with a mandolin. You need to be rough and masterful with her. Nobody ever reasoned himself out of a street fight. He had to act. If a man thinks over a proposition long enough it will whip him, no matter how simple it is. It's the lightning flash that guides a man. You must lay your course in the blue dazzle, then follow it in the dark; and when you come to the end, it always lightens again. Don't stand still, staring through the gloom, and then try to walk while the lightning lasts, because you won't get anywhere."
Her words were charged with an electric force that communicated itself to the young man and galvanized him into action. He would have spoken, but she stayed him, and went on:
"Wait; I'm not through yet. I've watched you, and I know you are down on your luck for some reason. You've been miscast somehow and you've had the heart taken out of you; but I'm sure it's in you to succeed, for you're young and intelligent, cool and determined. I am giving you this chance to play the biggest game of your life, and erase in eight short months every trace of failure. I'm not doing it altogether unselfishly, for I believe you've been sent to Kalvik to work out your own salvation and mine, and that of poor George Balt, whom you've never seen. You're going to do this thing, and you're going to make it win."
Emerson reached out impulsively and caught her tiny, mittened hand. His eyes were shining, his face had lost the settled look of dejection, and was all aglow with a new dawn of hope. Even his shoulders were lifted and thrown back as if from some sudden access of vigor that lightened his burden.
"You're right!" he said, firmly. "We'll send for Balt to-night."
IN WHICH A COMPACT IS FORMED
Now that he had committed himself to action, Boyd Emerson became a different being. He was no longer the dispirited cynic of yesterday, but an eager, voluble optimist athirst for knowledge and afire with impatience. On the homeward drive he had bombarded Cherry with a running fusillade of questions, so that by the time they had arrived at her house she was mentally and physically fatigued. He seemed insatiable, drawing from her every atom of information she possessed, and although he was still hard, incisive, and aloof, it was in quite a different way. The intensity of his concentration had gathered all feeling into one definite passion, and had sucked him dry of ordinary emotions.
In the days that followed she was at his elbow constantly, aiding him at every turn in his zeal to acquire a knowledge of the cannery system. The odd conviction grew upon her that he was working against time, that there was a limit to his period of action, for he seemed obsessed by an ever- growing passion to accomplish some end within a given time, and had no thought for anything beyond the engrossing issue into which he had plunged. She was dumfounded by his sudden transformation, and delighted at first, but later, when she saw that he regarded her only as a means to an end, his cool assumption of leadership piqued her and she felt hurt.
Constantine had been sent for Balt, with instructions to keep on until he found the fisherman, even if the quest carried him over the range. During the days of impatient waiting they occupied their time largely in reconnoitring the nearest cannery, permission to go over which Cherry had secured from the watchman, who was indebted to her. The man was timid at first, but Emerson won him over, then proceeded to pump him dry of information, as he had done with his hostess. He covered the plant like a ferret; he showed such powers of adaptability and assimilation as to excite the girl's wonder; his grasp of detail was instant; his retentive faculty tenacious; he never seemed to rest.
"Why, you already know more about a cannery than a superintendent does," she remarked, after nearly a week of this. "I believe you could build one yourself."
He smiled. "I'm an engineer by education, and this is really in my line. It's the other part that has me guessing."
"Balt can handle that."
"But why doesn't he come?" he questioned, crossly. A score of times he had voiced his impatience, and Cherry was hard pushed to soothe him.
Nor was she the only one to note the change in him; Fraser followed him about and looked on in bewilderment.
"What have you done to 'Frozen Annie'?" he asked Cherry on one occasion. "You must have fed him a speed-ball, for I never saw a guy gear up so fast. Why, he was the darndest crape-hanger I ever met till you got him gingered up; he didn't have no more spirit than a sick kitten. Of course, he ain't what you'd call genial and expansive yet, but he's developed a remarkable burst of speed, and seems downright hopeful at times."
"Hopeful of what?"
"Ah! that's where I wander; he's a puzzle to me. Hopeful of making money, I suppose."
"That isn't it. I can see he doesn't care for the money itself," the girl declared, emphatically. She would have liked to ask Fraser if he knew anything about the mysterious beauty of the magazine, but refrained.
"I don't think so, either," said the man. "He acts more like somebody was going to ring the gong on him if this fish thing don't let him out. It seems to be a case bet with him."
"It's a case bet with me, too," said the girl. "My men are ready to quit, and—well, Willis Marsh will see that I am financially ruined!"
"Oho! So this is your only 'out,'" grinned "Fingerless" Fraser. "Now, I had a different idea as to why you got Emerson started." He was observing her shrewdly.