Vane of The Timberlands
BY HAROLD BINDLOSS
I. A FRIEND IN NEED II. A BREEZE OF WIND III. AN AFTERNOON ASHORE IV. A CHANGE OF ENVIRONMENT V. THE OLD COUNTRY VI. UPON THE HEIGHTS VII. STORM-STAYED VIII. LUCY VANE IX. CHISHOLM PROVES AMENABLE X. WITH THE OTTER HOUNDS XI. VANE WITHDRAWS XII. IN VANCOUVER XIII. A NEW PROJECT XIV. VANE SAILS NORTH XV. THE FIRST MISADVENTURE XVI. THE BUSH XVII. VANE POSTPONES THE SEARCH XVIII. JESSY CONFERS A FAVOR XIX. VANE FORESEES TROUBLE XX. THE FLOOD XXI. VANE YIELDS A POINT XXII. EVELYN GOES FOR A SAIL XXIII. VANE PROVES OBDURATE XXIV. JESSY STRIKES XXV. THE INTERCEPTED LETTER XXVI. ON THE TRAIL XXVII. THE END OF THE SEARCH XXVIII. CARROLL SEEKS HELP XXIX. JESSY'S CONTRITION XXX. CONVINCING TESTIMONY XXXI. VANE IS REINSTATED
VANE OF THE TIMBERLANDS
A FRIEND IN NEED
A light breeze, scented with the smell of the firs, was blowing down the inlet, and the tiny ripples it chased across the water splashed musically against the bows of the canoe. They met her end-on, sparkling in the warm sunset light, gurgled about her sides, and trailed away astern in two divergent lines as the paddles flashed and fell. There was a thud as the blades struck the water, and the long, light hull forged onward with slightly lifted, bird's-head prow, while the two men swung forward for the next stroke with a rhythmic grace of motion. They knelt, facing forward, in the bottom of the craft, and, dissimilar as they were in features and, to some extent, in character, the likeness between them was stronger than the difference. Both bore the unmistakable stamp of a wholesome life spent in vigorous labor in the open. Their eyes were clear and, like those of most bushmen, singularly steady; their skin was clean and weather-darkened; and they were leanly muscular.
On either side of the lane of green water giant firs, cedars and balsams crept down the rocky hills to the whitened driftwood fringe. They formed part of the great coniferous forest which rolls west from the wet Coast Range of Canada's Pacific Province and, overleaping the straits, spreads across the rugged and beautiful wilderness of Vancouver Island. Ahead, clusters of little frame houses showed up here and there in openings among the trees, and a small sloop, toward which the canoe was heading, lay anchored near the wharf.
The men had plied the paddle during most of that day, from inclination rather than necessity, for they could have hired Siwash Indians to undertake the labor for them, had they been so minded. They were, though their appearance did not suggest it, moderately prosperous; but their prosperity was of recent date; they had been accustomed to doing everything for themselves, as are most of the men who dwell among the woods and ranges of British Columbia.
Vane, who knelt nearest the bow, was twenty-seven years of age. Nine of those years he had spent chopping trees, driving cattle, poling canoes and assisting in the search for useful minerals among the snow-clad ranges. He wore a wide, gray felt hat, which had lost its shape from frequent wettings, an old shirt of the same color, and blue duck trousers, rent in places; but the light attire revealed a fine muscular symmetry. He had brown hair and brown eyes; and a certain warmth of coloring which showed through the deep bronze of his skin hinted at a sanguine and somewhat impatient temperament. As a matter of fact, the man was resolute and usually shrewd; but there was a vein of impulsiveness in him, and, while he possessed considerable powers of endurance, he was on occasion troubled by a shortness of temper.
His companion, Carroll, had lighter hair and gray eyes, and his appearance was a little less vigorous and a little more refined; though he, too, had toiled hard and borne many privations in the wilderness. His dress resembled Vane's, but, dilapidated as it was, it suggested a greater fastidiousness.
The two had located a valuable mineral property some months earlier and, though this does not invariably follow, had held their own against city financiers during the negotiations that preceded the floating of a company to work the mine. That they had succeeded in securing a good deal of the stock was largely due to Vane's pertinacity and said something for his acumen; but both had been trained in a very hard school.
As the wooden houses ahead rose higher and the sloop's gray hull grew into sharper shape upon the clear green shining of the brine, Vane broke into a snatch of song:
"Had I the wings of a dove, I would fly Just for to-night to the Old Country."
He stopped and laughed.
"It's nine years since I've seen it, but I can't get those lines out of my head. Perhaps it's because of the girl who sang them. Somehow, I felt sorry for her. She had remarkably fine eyes."
"Sea-blue," suggested his companion. "I don't grasp the connection between the last two remarks."
"Neither do I," admitted Vane. "I suppose there isn't one. But they weren't sea-blue; unless you mean the depth of indigo when you are out of soundings. They're Irish eyes."
"You're not Irish. There's not a trace of the Celt in you, except, perhaps, your habit of getting indignant with the people who don't share your views."
"No, sir! By birth, I'm North Country—England, I mean. Over there we're descendants of the Saxons, Scandinavians, Danes—Teutonic stock at bottom, anyhow; and we've inherited their unromantic virtues. We're solid, and cautious, respectable before everything, and smart at getting hold of anything worth having. As a matter of fact, you Ontario Scotsmen are mighty like us."
"You certainly came out well ahead of those city men who put up the money," agreed Carroll. "I guess it's in the blood; though I fancied once or twice that they would take the mine from you."
Vane brought his paddle down with a thud.
"Just for to-night to the Old Country,—"
He hummed, and added:
"It sticks to one."
"What made you leave the Old Country? I don't think you ever told me."
"That's a blamed injudicious question to ask anybody, as you ought to know; but in this particular instance you shall have an answer. There was a row at home—I was a sentimentalist then, and just eighteen—and as a result of it I came out to Canada." His voice changed and grew softer. "I hadn't many relatives, and, except one sister, they're all gone now. That reminds me—she's not going to lecture for the county education authorities any longer."
The sloop was close ahead, and slackening the paddling they ran alongside. Vane glanced at his watch when they had climbed on board.
"Supper will be finished at the hotel," he remarked. "You had better get the stove lighted. It's your turn, and that rascally Siwash seems to have gone off again. If he's not back when we're ready, we'll sail without him."
Supper is served at the hotels in the western settlements as soon as work ceases for the day, and the man who arrives after it is over must wait until the next day's breakfast is ready. Carroll, accordingly, prepared the meal; and when they had finished it they lay on deck smoking with a content not altogether accounted for by a satisfied appetite. They had spent several anxious months, during which they had come very near the end of their slender resources, arranging for the exploitation of the mine, and now at last the work was over. Vane had that day made his final plans for the construction of a road and a wharf by which the ore could be economically shipped for reduction, or, as an alternative to this, for the erection of a small smelting plant. They had bought the sloop as a convenient means of conveyance and shelter, as they could live in some comfort on board; and now they could take their ease for a while, which was a very unusual thing to both of them.
"I suppose you're bent on sailing this craft back?" Carroll remarked at length. "We could hire a couple of Siwash to take her home while we rode across the island and got the train to Victoria. Besides, there's that steamboat coming down the coast to-night."
"Either way would cost a good deal extra."
"That's true," Carroll agreed with an amused expression; "but you could charge it to the company."
"You and I have a big stake in the concern; and I haven't got used to spending money unnecessarily yet, I've been mighty glad to earn a couple dollars by working from sunup until dark, though I didn't always get it afterward. So have you."
"How are you going to dispose of your money, then? You have a nice little balance in cash, besides the shares."
"It has occurred to me that I might spend a few months in the Old Country. Have you ever been over there?"
"I was across some time ago; but, if you like, I'll go along with you. We could start as soon as we've arranged the few matters left open in Vancouver."
Vane was glad to hear it. He knew little about Carroll's antecedents, but his companion was obviously a man of education, and they had been staunch comrades for the last three years. They had plodded through leagues of rain-swept bush, had forded icy rivers, had slept in wet fern and sometimes slushy snow, and had toiled together with pick and drill. During that time they had learned to know and trust each other and to bear with each other's idiosyncrasies.
Filling his pipe again as he lay in the fading sunlight, Vane looked back on the nine years he had passed in Canada, and, allowing for the periods of exposure to cold and wet and the almost ceaseless toil, he admitted that he might have spent them more unpleasantly. He had a stout heart and a muscular body, and the physical hardships had not troubled him. What was more, he had a quick, almost instinctive, judgment and the faculty for seizing an opportunity.
Having quarreled with his relatives and declined any favors from them, he had come to Canada with only a few pounds and had promptly set about earning a living with his hands. When he had been in the country several years, a friend of the family had, however, sent him a small sum, and the young man had made judicious use of the money. The lot he bought outside a wooden town doubled in value, and the share he took in a new orchard paid him well; but he had held aloof from the cities, and his only recklessness had been his prospecting journeys into the wilderness. Prospecting for minerals is at once an art and a gamble. Skill, acquired by long experience or instinctive—and there are men who seem to possess the latter—counts for much, but chance plays a leading part. Provisions, tents and packhorses are expensive, and though a placer mine may be worked by two partners, a reef or lode can be disposed of only to men with means sufficient to develop it. Even in this delicate matter, in which he had had keen wits against him, Vane had held his own; but there was one side of life with which he was practically unacquainted.
There are no social amenities on the rangeside or in the bush, where women are scarce. Vane had lived in Spartan simplicity, practising the ascetic virtues, as a matter of course. He had had no time for sentiment, his passions had remained unstirred; and now he was seven and twenty, sound and vigorous of body, and, as a rule, level of head. At length, however, there was to be a change. He had earned an interlude of leisure, and he meant to enjoy it without, so he prudently determined, making a fool of himself.
Presently Carroll took his pipe from his mouth.
"Are you going ashore again to the show to-night?"
"Yes," Vane answered. "It's a long while since I've struck an entertainment of any kind, and that yellow-haired mite's dancing is one of the prettiest things I've seen."
"You've been twice already," Carroll hinted. "The girl with the blue eyes sings her first song rather well."
"I think so," Vane agreed with a significant absence of embarrassment. "In this case a good deal depends on the singing—the interpretation, isn't it? The thing's on the border, and I've struck places where they'd have made it gross; but the girl only brought out the mischief. Strikes me she didn't see there was anything else in it"
"That's curious, considering the crowd she goes about with. Aren't you cultivating a critical faculty?"
Vane disregarded the ironical question.
"She's Irish; that accounts for a good deal."
He paused and looked thoughtful.
"If I knew how to do it, I'd like to give five or ten dollars to the child who dances. It must be a tough life, and her mother—the woman at the piano—looks ill. I wonder whatever brought them to a place like this?"
"Struck a cold streak at Nanaimo, the storekeeper told me. Anyway, since we're to start at sunup, I'm staying here." Then he smiled. "Has it struck you that your attendance in the front seats is liable to misconception?"
Vane rose without answering and dropped into the canoe. Thrusting her off, he drove the light craft toward the wharf with vigorous strokes of the paddle, and Carroll shook his head whimsically as he watched him.
"Anybody except myself would conclude that he's waking up at last," he commented.
A minute or two later Vane swung himself up onto the wharf and strode into the wooden settlement. There were one or two hydraulic mines and a pulp mill in the vicinity, and, though the place was by no means populous, a company of third-rate entertainers had arrived there a few days earlier. On reaching the rude wooden building in which they had given their performance and finding it closed, he accosted a lounger.
"What's become of the show?" he asked.
"Busted. Didn't take the boys' fancy. The crowd went out with the stage this afternoon; though I heard that two of the women stayed behind. Somebody said the hotel-keeper had trouble about his bill."
Vane turned away with a slight sense of compassion. More than once during his first year or two in Canada he had limped footsore and weary into a wooden town where nobody seemed willing to employ him. An experience of the kind was unpleasant to a vigorous man, but he reflected that it must be much more so in the case of a woman, who probably had nothing to fall back upon. However, he dismissed the matter from his mind. Having been kneeling in a cramped position in the canoe most of the day, he decided to stroll along the waterside before going back to the sloop.
Great firs stretched out their somber branches over the smooth shingle, and now that the sun had gone their clean resinous smell was heavy in the dew-cooled air. Here and there brushwood grew among outcropping rock and moss-grown logs lay fallen among the brambles.
Catching sight of what looked like a strip of woven fabric beneath a brake, Vane strode toward it. Then he stopped with a start, for a young girl lay with her face hidden from him, in an attitude of dejected abandonment. He was about to turn away softly, when she started and looked up at him. Her long dark lashes glistened and her eyes were wet, but they were of the deep blue he had described to Carroll, and he stood still.
"You really shouldn't give way like that," he said.
It was all he could think of, but he spoke without obtrusive assurance or pronounced embarrassment; and the girl, shaking out her crumpled skirt over one little foot, with a swift sinuous movement, choked back a sob and favored him with a glance of keen scrutiny as she rose to a sitting posture. She was quick at reading character—the life she led had made that necessary—and his manner and appearance were reassuring. He was on the whole a well-favored man—good-looking seemed the best word for it—though what impressed her most was his expression. It indicated that he regarded her with some pity, not as an attractive young woman, which she knew she was, but merely as a human being. The girl, however, said nothing; and, sitting down on a neighboring boulder, Vane took out his pipe from force of habit.
"Well," he added, in much the same tone he would have used to a distressed child, "what's the trouble?"
She told him, speaking on impulse.
"They've gone off and left me! The takings didn't meet expenses; there was no treasury."
"That's bad," responded Vane gravely. "Do you mean they've left you alone?"
"No; it's worse than that. I suppose I could go—somewhere—but there's Mrs. Marvin and Elsie."
"The child who dances?"
The girl assented, and Vane looked thoughtful. He had already noticed that Mrs. Marvin, whom he supposed to be the child's mother, was worn and frail, and he did not think there was anything she could turn her hand to in a vigorous mining community. The same applied to his companion, though he was not greatly astonished that she had taken him into her confidence. The reserve that characterizes the insular English is less common in the West, where the stranger is more readily taken on trust.
"The three of you stick together?" he suggested.
"Of course! Mrs. Marvin's the only friend I have."
"Then I suppose you've no idea what to do?"
"No," she confessed, and then explained, not very clearly, that it was the cause of her distress and that they had had bad luck of late. Vane could understand that as he looked at her. Her dress was shabby, and he fancied that she had not been bountifully fed.
"If you stayed here a few days you could go out with the next stage and take the train to Victoria." He paused and continued diffidently: "It could be arranged with the hotel-keeper."
She laughed in a half-hysterical manner, and he remembered what she had said about the treasury, and that fares are high in that country.
"I suppose you have no money," he added with blunt directness. "I want you to tell Mrs. Marvin that I'll lend her enough to take you all to Victoria."
Her face crimsoned. He had not quite expected that, and he suddenly felt embarrassed. It was a relief when she broke the brief silence.
"No," she replied; "I can't do that. For one thing, it would be too late when we got to Victoria, I think we could get an engagement if we reached Vancouver in time to get to Kamloops by—"
Vane knit his brows when he heard the date, and it was a moment or two before he spoke.
"There's only one way you can do it. There's a little steamboat coming down the coast to-night. I had half thought of intercepting her, anyway, and handing the skipper some letters to post in Victoria. He knows me—I'm likely to have dealings with his employers. That's my sloop yonder, and if I put you on board the steamer, you'd reach Vancouver in good time. We should have sailed at sunup, anyhow."
The girl hesitated and turned partly from him. He surmised that she did not know what to make of his offer, though her need was urgent. In the meanwhile he stood up.
"Come along and talk it over with Mrs. Marvin," he urged. "I'd better tell you that I'm Wallace Vane, of the Clermont Mine. Of course, I know your name, from the program."
She rose and they walked back to the hotel. Once more it struck him that the girl was pretty and graceful, though he had already deduced from several things that she had not been regularly trained as a singer nor well educated. On reaching the hotel, he sat down on the veranda while she went in, and a few minutes later Mrs. Marvin came out and looked at him much as the girl had done. He grew hot under her gaze and repeated his offer in the curtest terms.
"If this breeze holds, we'll put you on board the steamer soon after daybreak," he explained.
The woman's face softened, and he recognized now that there had been strong suspicion in it.
"Thank you," she said simply; "we'll come."
There was a moment's silence and then she added with an eloquent gesture:
"You don't know what it means to us!"
Vane merely took off his hat and turned away; but a minute or two later he met the hotel-keeper.
"Do these people owe you anything?" he asked.
"Five dollars; they paid up part of the time. I was wondering what to do with them. Guess they've no money. They didn't come in to supper, though we would have stood them that. Made me think they were straight folks; the other kind wouldn't have been bashful."
Vane handed him a bill.
"Take it out of this, and make any excuse you like. I'm going to put them on board the steamboat."
The man made no comment, and Vane, striding down to the beach, sent a hail ringing across the water. Carroll appeared on the sloop's deck and answered him.
"Hallo!" he cried. "What's the trouble?"
"Get ready the best supper you can manage, for three people, as quick as you can!"
"Supper for three people!"
Vane caught the astonished exclamation and came near losing his temper.
"For three people!" he shouted. "Don't ask any fool questions! You'll see later on!"
Then he turned away in a hurry, wondering somewhat uneasily what Carroll would say when he grasped the situation.
A BREEZE OF WIND
There were signs of a change in the weather when Vane walked down to the wharf with his passengers, for a cold wind which had sprung up struck an eerie sighing from the somber firs and sent the white mists streaming along the hillside. There was a watery moon in the sky, and when they reached the water's edge Vane fancied that the singer hesitated; but Mrs. Marvin laid her hand on the girl's arm reassuringly, and she got into the canoe. A few minutes later Vane ran the craft alongside the sloop and saw the amazement in Carroll's face by the glow from the cabin skylight. He fancied, however, that his comrade would rise to the occasion, and he helped his guests up.
"My partner, Carroll. Mrs. Marvin and her daughter; Miss Kitty Blake. You have seen them already. They're coming down with us to catch the steamer."
Carroll bowed, and Vane thrust back the cabin slide and motioned the others below. The place was brightly lighted by a nickeled lamp, though it was scarcely four feet high and the centerboard trunk occupied the middle of it. A wide cushioned locker ran along either side a foot above the floor, and a swing-table, fixed above the trunk, filled up most of the space between. There was no cloth on the table, but it was invitingly laid out with canned fruit, coffee, hot flapjacks and a big lake trout, for in the western bush most men can cook.
"You must help yourselves while we get sail upon the boat," said Vane cheerily. "The saloon's at your disposal—my partner and I have the forecastle. You will notice that there are blankets yonder, and as we'll have smooth water most of the way you should get some sleep. Perhaps you'd better keep the stove burning; and if you should like some coffee in the early morning you'll find it in the top locker."
He withdrew, closing the slide, and went forward with Carroll to shorten in the cable; but when they stopped beside the bitts his companion broke into a laugh.
"Is there anything amusing you?" Vane asked curtly.
"Well," drawled Carroll, "this country, of course, isn't England; but, for all that, it's desirable that a man who expects to make his mark in it should exercise a certain amount of caution. It strikes me that you're making a rather unconventional use of your new prosperity, and it might be prudent to consider how some of your friends in Vancouver may regard the adventure."
Vane sat down upon the bitts and took out his pipe.
"One trouble in talking to you is that I never know whether you're in earnest or not. You trot out your cold-blooded worldly wisdom—I suppose it is wisdom—and then you grin at it."
"It seems to me that's the only philosophic attitude," Carroll replied. "It's possible to grow furiously indignant with the restraints stereotyped people lay on one, but on the whole it's wiser to bow to them and chuckle. After all, they've some foundation."
Vane looked up at him sharply.
"You've been right in the advice you have given me more than once. You seem to know how prosperous, and what you call stereotyped, people look at things. But you've never explained where you acquired the knowledge."
"Oh, that's quite another matter," laughed Carroll.
"Anyway, there's one remark of yours I'd like to answer. You would, no doubt, consider that I made a legitimate use of my money when I entertained that crowd of city people—some of whom would have plundered me if they could have managed it—in Vancouver. I didn't grudge it, of course, but I was a little astonished when I saw the wine and cigar bill. It struck me that the best of them scarcely noticed what they got—I think they'd been up against it at one time, as we have; and it would have done the rest of the guzzlers good if they'd had to work with the shovel all day on pork and flapjacks. But we'll let that go. What have you and I done that we should swill in champagne, while a girl with a face like that one below and a child who dances like a fairy haven't enough to eat? You know what I paid for the last cigars. What confounded hogs we are!"
Carroll laughed outright. There was not an ounce of superfluous flesh upon his comrade, who was hardened and toughened by determined labor. With rare exceptions, which included the occasions when he had entertained or had been entertained in Vancouver, his greatest indulgence had been a draught of strong green tea from a blackened pannikin, though he had at times drunk nothing but river water. The term hog appeared singularly inappropriate as applied to him.
"Well," replied Carroll, "you'll no doubt get used to the new conditions by and by; and in regard to your latest exploit, there's a motto on your insignia of the Garter which might meet the case. But hadn't we better heave her over her anchor?"
They seized the chain, and a sharp, musical rattle rang out as it ran below, for the hollow hull flung back the metallic clinking like a sounding-board. When the cable was short-up, they grasped the halyards and the big gaff-mainsail rose flapping up the mast. They set it and turned to the head-sails, for though, strictly speaking, a sloop carries only one, the term is loosely applied in places, and as Vane had changed her rig, there were two of them to be hoisted.
"It's a fair wind, and I dare say we'll find more weight in it lower down," commented Carroll. "We'll let the staysail lie and run her with the jib."
When they set the jib and broke out the anchor, Vane took the helm, and the sloop, slanting over until her deck on one side dipped close to the frothing brine, drove away into the darkness. The lights of the settlement faded among the trees, and the black hills and the climbing firs on either side slipped by, streaked by sliding vapors. A crisp, splashing sound made by the curling ripples followed the vessel; the canoe surged along noisily astern; and the frothing and gurgling grew louder at the bows. They were running down one of the deep, forest-shrouded inlets which, resembling the Norwegian fiords, pierce the Pacific littoral of Canada; though there are no Scandinavian pines to compare with the tremendous conifers which fill all the valleys and climb high to the snow-line in that wild and rugged land.
There was no sound from the cabin, and Vane decided that his guests had gone to sleep. The sloop was driving along steadily, with neither lift nor roll, but when, increasing her speed, she piled the foam up on her lee side and the canoe rode on a great white wave, he glanced toward his companion.
"I wonder how the wind is outside?" he questioned.
Carroll looked around and saw the white mists stream athwart the pines on a promontory they were skirting.
"That's more than I can tell. In these troughs among the hills, it either blows straight up or directly down, and I dare say we'll find it different when we reach the sound. One thing's certain—there's some weight in it now."
Vane nodded agreement, though an idea that troubled him crept into his mind.
"I understand that the steamboat skipper will run in to land some Siwash he's bringing down. It will be awkward in the dark if the wind's on-shore."
Carroll made no comment, and they drove on. As they swept around the point, the sloop, slanting sharply, dipped her lee rail in the froth. Ahead of them the inlet was flecked with white, and the wail of the swaying firs came off from the shadowy beach and mingled with the gurgling of the water.
"We'll have to tie down a reef and get the canoe on board," suggested Carroll.
"Here, take the tiller a minute!"
Scrambling forward Vane rapped on the cabin slide and then flung it back. Mrs. Marvin lay upon the leeward locker with a blanket thrown over her and with the little girl at her feet; Miss Blake sat on the weather side with a book in her hand.
"We're going to take some sail off the boat," he explained. "You needn't be disturbed by the noise."
"When do you expect to meet the steamer?" Miss Blake inquired.
"Not for two or three hours, anyway."
Vane fancied that the girl noticed the hint of uncertainty in his voice, and he banged the slide to as he disappeared.
"Down helm!" he shouted to Carroll.
There was a banging and thrashing of canvas as the sloop came up into the wind. They held her there with the jib aback while they hauled the canoe on board, which was not an easy task; and then with difficulty they hove down a reef in the mainsail. It was heavy work, because there was nobody at the helm; and the craft, falling off once or twice while they leaned out upon the boom with toes on her depressed lee rail, threatened to hurl them into the frothing water. Neither of them was a trained sailor; but on that coast, with its inlets and sounds and rivers, the wanderer learns readily to handle sail and paddle and canoe-pole.
They finished their task; and when Vane seized the helm Carroll sat down under the shelter of the coaming, out of the flying spray.
"We'll probably have some trouble putting your friends on board the steamer, even if she runs in," he remarked. "What are you going to do if there's no sign of her?"
"It's a question I've been shirking for the last half-hour," Vane confessed.
"It would be very slow work beating back up this inlet; and even if we did so there isn't a stage across the island for several days. No doubt, you remember that you have to see that contractor on Thursday; and there's the directors' meeting, too."
"It's uncommonly awkward," Vane answered dubiously.
"It strikes me that your guests will have to stay where they are, whether they like it or not; but there's one consolation—if this wind is from the northwest, which is most likely, it will be a fast run to Victoria. Guess I'll try to get some sleep."
He disappeared down a scuttle forward, leaving Vane somewhat disturbed in mind. He had contemplated taking his guests for merely a few hours' run, but to have them on board for, perhaps, several days was a very different thing. Besides, he was far from sure that they would understand the necessity for keeping them, and in that case the situation might become difficult. In the meanwhile, the sloop drove on, until at last, toward morning, the beach fell back on either hand and she met the long swell tumbling in from the Pacific. The wind was from the northwest and blowing moderately hard; there was no light as yet in the sky above the black heights to the east; and the onrushing swell grew higher and steeper, breaking white here and there. The sloop plunged over it wildly, hurling the spray aloft; and it cost Vane a determined effort to haul in his sheets as the wind drew ahead. Shortly afterward, the beach faded altogether on one hand, and the sea piled up madly into foaming ridges. It seemed most improbable that the steamer would run in to land her Indian passengers, but Vane drove the sloop on, with showers of stinging brine beating into her wet canvas and whirling about him.
As the Pacific opened up, he found it necessary to watch the seas that came charging down upon her. They were long and high, and most of them were ridged with seething foam. With a quick pull on the tiller, he edged her over them, and a cascade swept her forward as she plunged across their crests. Though there were driving clouds above him, it was not very dark and he could see for some distance. The long ranks of tumbling combers did not look encouraging, and when the plunges grew sharper and the brine began to splash across the coaming that protected the well he wished that they had hauled down a second reef. He could not shorten sail unassisted, however; nor could he leave the helm to summon Carroll, who was evidently sleeping soundly in the forecastle, without rousing his passengers, which he did not desire to do.
A little while later he noticed that a stream of smoke was pouring from the short funnel of the stove and soon afterward the cabin slide opened. Miss Blake crept out and stood in the well, gazing forward while she clutched the coaming.
Day was now breaking, and Vane could see that the girl's thin dress was blown flat against her. There was something graceful in her pose, and it struck him again that her figure was daintily slender. She wore no hat, and it was evident that the wild plunging had no effect on her. He waited uneasily until she turned and faced him.
"We are going out to sea," she said. "Where's the steamer?"
It was a question Vane had dreaded; but he answered it honestly.
"I can't tell you. It's very likely that she has gone straight on to Victoria."
He saw the suspicion in her suddenly hardening face, but the quick anger in it pleased him. He had not expected her to be prudish, but it was clear that the situation did not appeal to her.
"You expected this when you asked us to come on board!" she cried.
"No," Vane replied quietly; "on my honor, I did nothing of the kind. There was only a moderate breeze when we left, and when it freshened enough to make it unlikely that the steamer would run in, I was as vexed as you seem to be. As it happened, I couldn't go back; I must get on to Victoria as soon as possible."
She looked at him searchingly, but he fancied that she was slightly comforted.
"Can't you put us ashore?"
"It might be possible if I could find a sheltered beach farther on, but it wouldn't be wise. You would find yourselves twenty or thirty miles from the nearest settlement, and you could never walk so far through the bush."
"Then what are we to do?"
There was distress in the cry, and Vane answered it in his most matter-of-fact tone.
"So far as I can see, you can only reconcile yourselves to staying on board. We'll have a fresh, fair wind for Victoria, once we're round the next head, and with moderate luck we ought to get there late to-night"
Vane felt sorry for her.
"I'm afraid I can't even promise that; it depends upon the weather," he replied. "But you mustn't stand there in the spray. You're getting wet through."
She still clung to the coaming, but he fancied that her misgivings were vanishing, and he spoke again.
"How are Mrs. Marvin and the little girl? I see you have lighted the stove."
The girl sat down, shivering, in the partial shelter of the coaming, and at last a gleam of amusement, which he felt was partly compassionate, shone in her eyes.
"I'm afraid they're—not well. That was why I kept the stove burning; I wanted to make them some tea. There is some in the locker—I thought you wouldn't mind."
"Everything's at your service, as I told you. You must make the best breakfast you can. The nicest things are at the back of the locker."
She stood up, looking around again. The light was growing, and the crests of the combers gleamed a livid white. Their steep breasts were losing their grayness and changing to dusky blue and slatey green, but their blurred coloring was atoned for by their grandeur of form. They came on, ridge on ridge, in regularly ordered, tumbling phalanxes.
"It's glorious!" she exclaimed, to his astonishment. "Aren't you carrying a good deal of sail?"
"We'll ease the peak down when we bring the wind farther aft. In the meanwhile, you'd better get your breakfast, and if you come out again, put on one of the coats you'll find below."
She disappeared, and Vane felt relieved. Though the explanation had proved less difficult than he had anticipated, he was glad that it was over, and the way in which she had changed the subject implied that she was satisfied with it. Half an hour later, she appeared again, carrying a loaded tray, and he wondered at the ease of her movements, for the sloop was plunging viciously.
"I've brought you some breakfast. You have been up all night."
"As I can take only one hand from the helm, you will have to cut up the bread and canned stuff for me. Draw out that box and sit down beneath the coaming, if you mean to stay."
She did as he told her. The well was about four feet long, and the bottom of it about half that distance below the level of the deck. As a result of this, she sat close at his feet, while he balanced himself on the coaming, gripping the tiller. He noticed that she had brought out an oilskin jacket with her.
"Hadn't you better put this on first? There's a good deal of spray," she said.
Vane struggled into the jacket with some difficulty, and she smiled as she handed him up a slice of bread and canned meat.
"I suppose you can manage only one piece at a time," she laughed.
"Thank you. That's about as much as you could expect one to be capable of, even allowing for the bushman's appetite. I'm a little surprised to see you looking so fresh."
"Oh, I used to go out with the mackerel boats at home—we lived at the ferry. It was a mile across the lough, and with the wind westerly the sea worked in."
"The lough? I told Carroll that you were from the Green Isle."
It struck him that this was, perhaps, imprudent, as it implied that they had been discussing her; but, on the other hand, he fancied that the candor of the statement was in his favor.
"Have you been long out here?" he added.
The girl's face grew wistful.
"Four years. I came out with Larry—he's my brother. He was a forester at home, and he took small contracts for clearing land. Then he married—and I left him."
Vane made a sign of comprehension.
"I see. Where's Larry now?"
"He went to Oregon. There was no answer to my last letter; I've lost sight of him."
"And you go about with Mrs. Marvin? Is her husband living?"
Sudden anger flared up in the girl's blue eyes, though he knew that it was not directed against him.
"Yes! It's a pity he is! Men of his kind always seem to live!"
It occurred to Vane that Miss Blake, who evidently had a spice of temper, could be a staunch partizan, and he also noticed that now that he had inspired her with some degree of trust in himself her conversation was marked by an ingenuous candor.
"Another piece, or some tea?" she asked.
"Tea first, please."
They both laughed when she handed him a second slice of bread.
"These sandwiches strike me as unusually nice," he informed her. "It's exceptionally good tea, too. I don't remember ever getting anything to equal them at a hotel."
The blue eyes gleamed with amusement.
"You have been in the cold all night—but I was once in a restaurant." She watched the effect of this statement on him. "You know I really can't sing—I was never taught, anyway—though there were some of the settlements where we did rather well."
Vane hummed a few bars of a song.
"I don't suppose you realize what one ballad of yours has done. I'd almost forgotten the Old Country, but the night I heard you I felt I must go back and see it again. What's more, Carroll and I are going shortly—it's your doing."
This was a matter of fact; but Kitty Blake had produced a deeper effect on him, although he was not yet aware of it.
"It's a shame to keep you handing me things to eat," he added disconnectedly. "Still, I'd like another piece."
She smiled delightfully as she passed the food to him.
"You can't help yourself and steer the boat. Besides—after the restaurant—I don't mind waiting on you."
Vane made no comment, but he watched her with satisfaction while he ate. There was no sign of the others; they were alone on the waste of tumbling water in the early dawn. The girl was pretty, and there was a pleasing daintiness about her. What was more, she was a guest of his, dependent for her safety upon his skill with the tiller. So far as he could remember, it was a year or two since he had breakfasted in a woman's company; it was certain that no woman had waited on him so prettily. Then as he remembered many a lonely camp in the dark pine forest or high on the bare rangeside, it occurred to him for the first time that he had missed a good deal of what life had to offer. He wondered what it would have been like if when he had dragged himself back to his tent at night, worn with heavy toil, as he had often done, there had been somebody with blue eyes and a delightful smile to welcome him.
Kitty Blake belonged to the people—there was no doubt of that; but then he had a strong faith in the people, native-born and adopted, of the Pacific Slope. It was from them that he had received the greatest kindnesses he could remember. They were cheerful optimists; indomitable grapplers with forest and flood, who did almost incredible things with ax and saw and giant-powder. They lived in lonely ranch houses, tents and rudely flung-up shacks; driving the new roads along the rangeside or risking life and limb in wild-cat adits. They were quick to laughter, and reckless in hospitality.
Then with an effort he brushed the hazy thoughts away. Kitty Blake was merely a guest of his; in another day he would land her in Victoria, and that would be the end of it. He was assuring himself of this when Carroll crawled up through the scuttle forward and came aft to join them. In spite of his prudent reflections, Vane was by no means certain that he was pleased to see him.
AN AFTERNOON ASHORE
Half the day had slipped by. The breeze freshened further and the sun broke through. The sloop was then rolling wildly as she drove along with the peak of her mainsail lowered down before a big following sea. The combers came up behind her, foaming and glistening blue and green, with seamy white streaks on their hollow breasts, and broke about her with a roar. Then they surged ahead while she sank down into the hollow with sluicing deck and tilted stern. Vane's face was intent as he gripped the helm; three or four miles away a head ran out from the beach he was following, and he would have to haul the boat up to windward to get around it. This would bring the combers upon her quarter, or, worse still, abeam. Kitty Blake was below; and Mrs. Marvin had made no appearance yet. Vane looked at Carroll, who was standing in the well.
"The sea's breaking more sharply, and we'd get uncommonly wet before we hammered round yonder head. There's an inlet on this side of it where we ought to find good shelter."
"The trouble is that if you stay there long you'll be too late for the directors' meeting. Besides, I'm under the impression that I've seen you run an open sea-canoe before as hard a breeze as this."
"They can't have the meeting without me, and if it's necessary they can wait," Vane answered impatiently. "I've had to. Many an hour I've spent cooling my heels in corridors and outer offices before the head of the concern could find time to attend to me. No doubt it was part of the game, done to impress me with a due sense of my unimportance."
"It's possible," Carroll laughed.
"Besides, you can drive one of those big Siwash craft as hard as you can this sloop; that is, so long as you keep the sea astern of her."
"Yes; I dare say you can. After all, you hadn't any passengers on the occasion I was referring to. I suppose you feel you have to consider them?"
Vane colored slightly.
"Naturally, I'd prefer not to land Mrs. Marvin and the child in a helpless condition; and I understand they're feeling the motion pretty badly."
Kitty Blake made her appearance in the cabin entrance, and Vane smiled at her.
"We're going to give you a rest," he announced. "There's an inlet close ahead where we should find smooth water, and we'll put you all ashore for a few hours until the wind drops."
There was no suspicion in the girl's face now. She gave him a grateful glance before she disappeared below with the consoling news.
A quarter of an hour later Vane closed with the beach, and a break in the hillside, which was dotted with wind-stunted pines, opened up. While the two men struggled with the mainsheet, the big boom and the sail above it lurched madly over. The sloop rolled down until half her deck on one side was in the sea, but she hove herself up again and shot forward, wet and gleaming, into a space of smooth green water behind a head. Soon afterward, Vane luffed into a tiny bay, where she rode upright in the sunshine, with loose canvas flapping softly in a faint breeze while the cable rattled down. They got the canoe over, and when they had helped Mrs. Marvin and her little girl, both of whom looked very wobegone and the worse for the voyage, into her, Vane glanced around.
"Isn't Miss Blake coming?" he asked.
"She's changing her dress," explained Mrs. Marvin, with a smile. She glanced at her own crumpled attire as she added: "I'm past thinking of such things as that!"
They waited some minutes, and then Kitty appeared in the entrance to the cabin. Vane called to her.
"Won't you look in the locker, and bring along anything you think would be nice? We'll make a fire and have supper on the beach—if it isn't first-rate, you'll be responsible!"
A few minutes later they paddled ashore, and Vane landed them on a strip of shingle. Beyond it a wall of rock arose, with dark firs clinging in the rifts and crannies. The sunshine streamed into the hollow; the wind was cut off; and not far away a crystal stream came splashing down a ravine.
"There's a creek at the top of the inlet," Vane told them, as he and Carroll thrust out the canoe, "and we're going to look for a trout. You can stroll about or rest in the sun for a couple of hours, and if the wind drops after supper we'll make a start again."
They paddled away, with a fishing-rod and a gun in the canoe, and it was toward six o'clock in the evening when they came back with a few trout. Vane made a fire of resinous wood, and Carroll and Kitty prepared a bountiful supper. When it was finished, Carroll carried the plates away to the stream; Mrs. Marvin and the little girl followed him; and Vane and Kitty were left beside the fire. She sat on a log of driftwood, and he lay on the warm shingle with his pipe in his hand. The clear green water splashed and tinkled upon the pebbles close at his feet, and a faint, elfin sighing fell from the firs above them. It was very old music: the song of the primeval wilderness; and though he had heard it often, it had a strange, unsettling effect on him as he languidly watched his companion. There was no doubt that she was pleasant to look upon; but, although he did not clearly recognize this, it was to a large extent an impersonal interest that he took in her. She was not so much an attractive young woman with qualities that pleased him as a type of something that had so far not come into his life; something which he vaguely felt that he had missed. One could have fancied that by some deep-sunk intuition she recognized this fact, and felt the security of it.
"So you believe you can get an engagement if you reach Vancouver in time?" he asked at length.
"How long will it last?"
"I can't tell. Perhaps a week or two. It depends upon how the boys are pleased with the show."
Vane frowned. He felt very compassionate toward her and toward all friendless women compelled to wander here and there, as she was forced to do. It seemed intolerable that she should depend for daily bread upon the manner in which a crowd of rude miners and choppers received her song; though there was, as he knew, a vein of primitive chivalry in most of them.
"Suppose it only lasts a fortnight, what will you do then?"
"I don't know," said Kitty simply.
"It must be a hard life," Vane broke out. "You must make very little—scarcely enough, I suppose, to carry you on from one engagement to another. After all, weren't you as well off at the restaurant? Didn't they treat you properly?"
She colored a little at the question.
"Oh, yes. At least, I had no fault to find with the man who kept it or with his wife."
Vane made a hasty sign of comprehension. He supposed that the difficulty had arisen from the conduct of one or more of the regular customers. He felt that he would very much like to meet the man whose undesired attentions had driven his companion from her occupation.
"Did you never try to learn keeping accounts or typewriting?" he asked.
"I tried it once. I could manage the figures, but the mill shut down."
Vane made his next suggestion casually, though he was troubled by an inward diffidence.
"I've an idea that I could find you a post. It looks as if I'm going to be a person of some little influence in the future, which"—he laughed—"is a very new thing to me."
He saw a tinge of warmer color creep into the girl's cheeks. She had, as he had already noticed a beautifully clear skin.
"No," she said decidedly; "it wouldn't do."
Vane knit his brows, though he fancied that she was right.
"Well," he replied, "I don't want to be officious—but how can I help?"
"You can't help at all."
Vane saw that she meant it, and he broke out with quick impatience:
"I've spent nine years in this country, in the hardest kind of work; but all the while I fancied that money meant power, that if I ever got enough of it I could do what I liked! Now I find that I can't do the first simple thing that would please me! What a cramped, hide-bound world it is!"
Kitty smiled in a curious manner.
"Yes; it's a very cramped world to some of us; but complaining won't do any good," She paused with a faint sigh. "Don't spoil this evening. You and Mr. Carroll have been very kind. It's so quiet and calm here—though it was pleasant on board the yacht—and soon we'll have to go to work again."
Vane once more was stirred by a sense of pity which almost drove him to rash and impulsive speech; but her manner restrained him.
"Then you must be fond of the sea," he suggested.
"I love it! I was born beside it—where the big, green hills drop to the head of the water and you can hear the Atlantic rumble on the rocks all night long."
"Ah!" exclaimed Vane; "don't you long for another sight of it now and then?"
The girl smiled in a way that troubled him.
"I'm wearying for it always; and some day, perhaps, I'll win back for another glimpse at the old place."
"You wouldn't go to stay?"
"That would be impossible! What would I do yonder, after this other life? Once you leave the old land, you can never quite get back again."
Vane lay smoking in silence for a minute or two. On another occasion he had felt the thrill of the exile's longing that spoke through the girl's song, and now he recognized the truth of what she said. One changed in the West, acquiring a new outlook which diverged more and more from that held by those at home. Only a wistful tenderness for the motherland remained. Still, alien in thought and feeling as he had become, he was going back there for a time; and she, as she had said, must resume her work. A feeling of anger at his impotence to alter this came upon him.
Then Carroll came up with Mrs. Marvin and Elsie, and he felt strongly stirred when the little girl walked up to him shyly with a basket filled with shells and bright fir-cones. He drew her down beside him with an arm about her waist while he examined her treasures. Glancing up he met Kitty's eyes and felt his face grow hot with an emotion he failed to analyze. The little mite was frail and delicate; life, he surmised, had scanty pleasure to offer her; but now she was happy.
"They're so pretty, and there are such lots of them!" she exclaimed. "Can't we stay here just a little longer and gather some more?"
"Yes," answered Vane, conscious that Carroll, who had heard the question, was watching him. "You shall stay and get as many as you want. I'm afraid you don't like the sloop."
"No; I don't like it when it jumps. After I woke up, it jumped all the time."
"Never mind, little girl. The boat will keep still to-night, and I don't think there'll be any waves to roll her about to-morrow. We'll have you ashore the first thing in the morning."
He talked to her for a few minutes, and then strolled along the beach with Carroll until they could look out upon the Pacific. The breeze was falling, though the sea still ran high.
"Why did you promise that child to stay here?" Carroll asked.
"Because I felt like doing so."
"I needn't remind you that you've an appointment with Horsfield about the smelter; and there's a meeting of the board next day. If we started now and caught the first steamer across, you wouldn't have much time to spare."
"That's correct. I shall have to wire from Victoria that I've been detained."
Carroll laughed expressively.
"Do you mean to put off the meeting and keep your directors waiting, to please a child?"
"I suppose that's one reason. Anyway, I don't propose to hustle the little girl and her mother on board the steamer while they're helpless with seasickness." A gleam of humor crept into his eyes. "As I think I told you, I've no great objections to letting the gentlemen you mentioned await my pleasure."
"But they found you the shareholders, and set the concern on its feet."
"Just so. On the other hand, they got excellent value for their services—and I found the mine. What's more, during the preliminary negotiations most of them treated me very casually."
"There's going to be a difference now. I've a board of directors—one way or another, I've had to pay for the privilege pretty dearly; but it's not my intention that they should run the Clermont Mine."
Carroll glanced at him with open amusement. There had been a marked change in Vane since he had located the mine, though it was one that did not astonish his comrade. Carroll had long suspected him of latent capabilities, which had suddenly sprung to life.
"You ought to see Horsfield before you meet the board," he advised him.
"I'm not sure," Vane answered. "In fact, I'm uncertain whether I'll give Horsfield the contract, even if we decide about the smelter. He was offensively patronizing once upon a time and tried to bluff me. Besides, he has already a stake in the concern. I don't want a man with too firm a hold-up against me."
"But if he put his money in partly with the idea of getting certain pickings?"
"He didn't explain his intentions; and I made no promises. He'll get his dividends, or he can sell his stock at a premium, and that ought to satisfy him."
"If you submitted the whole case to a business man, he'd probably tell you that you were going to make a hash of things."
"That's your own idea?"
"Oh, I'll reserve my opinion. It's possible you may be right. Time will show."
They rejoined the others, and when the white mists crept lower down from the heights above and the chill of the dew was in the air, Vane launched the canoe.
"It's getting late and there's a long run in front of us to-morrow," he informed his passengers. "The sloop will lie as still as if moored in a pond; and you'll have her all to yourselves. Carroll and I are going to camp ashore."
He paddled them off to the boat. Coming back with some blankets, he cut a few armfuls of spruce twigs in a ravine and spread them out beside the fire. Then sitting down just clear of the scented smoke he lighted his pipe and asked an abrupt question.
"What do you think of Kitty Blake?"
"She's attractive, in person and manners."
"Anybody could see that at a glance!"
"Well," Carroll added cautiously, "I must confess that I've taken some interest in the girl—partly because you were obviously doing so. In a general way, what I noticed rather surprised me. It wasn't what I expected."
"You smart folks are as often wrong as the rest of us. I suppose you looked for cold-blooded assurance, tempered by what one might call experienced coquetry?"
"Something of the kind," Carroll agreed. "As you say, I was wrong. There are only two ways of explaining Miss Blake, and the first's the one that would strike most people. That is, she's acting a part, possibly with an object; holding her natural self in check, and doing it cleverly."
Vane laughed scornfully.
"I've lived in the woods for nine years, but I wouldn't have entertained that idea for five seconds!"
"Then, there's the other explanation. It's simply that the girl's life hasn't affected her. Somehow, she has kept fresh and wholesome. I think that's the correct view."
"There's no doubt of it!" declared Vane.
"You offered to help her in some way?"
"I did; I don't know how you guessed it. I said I'd find her a situation. She wouldn't hear of it."
"She was wise. Vancouver isn't a very big place yet, and the girl has more sense than you have. What did you say?"
"I'm afraid I lost my temper because there was nothing I could do."
"There are limitations—even to the power of the dollar. You'll probably run up against more of them later on."
"I suppose so," yawned Vane. "Well, I'm going to sleep."
He rolled himself up in his blanket and lay down among the soft spruce twigs, but Carroll sat still in the darkness and smoked out his pipe. Then he glanced at his comrade, who lay still, breathing evenly.
"No doubt you'd be considered fortunate," he said, apostrophizing him half aloud. "You've had power and responsibility thrust upon you. What will you make of it?"
Then he, too, lay down, and only the soft splash of the tiny ripples broke the silence while the fire sank lower.
They sailed the next morning, and when they arrived in Victoria the boat which crossed the straits had gone, but the breeze was fair from the westward, and, after despatching a telegram, Vane sailed again. The sloop made a quick passage, and most of the time her passengers lounged in the sunshine on her gently slanted deck. It was evening when they ran through the Narrows into Vancouver's land-locked harbor and saw the roofs of the city rise tier on tier from the water-front. Somber forest crept down to the skirts of it, and across the glistening water black hills ran up into the evening sky, with the blink of towering snow to the north of them.
Half an hour later Vane landed his passengers, and it was not until he had left them that they discovered he had thrust a roll of paper currency into the little girl's hand. Then he and Carroll set off for the C.P.R. hotel, although they were not accustomed to a hostelry of that sort.
A CHANGE OF ENVIRONMENT
On the evening after his arrival in Vancouver, Vane paid a visit to one of his directors; and, in accordance with the invitation, he and Carroll reached the latter's dwelling some little time before the arrival of several other guests, whose acquaintance it was considered advisable he should make. In the business parts of most western cities iron and stone have now replaced the native lumber, but on their outskirts wood is still employed with admirable effect as a building material, and Nairn's house was an example of the judicious use of the latter. It stood on a rise above the inlet; picturesque in outline, with its artistic scroll-work, Its wooden pillars, its lattice shutters and its balustraded verandas. Virgin forest crept up close about it, and there was no fence to the sweep of garden which divided it from the road.
Vane and his companion were ushered into a small room, with an uncovered floor and simple, hardwood furniture. It was obviously a working room, for, as a rule, the work of the western business man goes on continuously except when he is asleep; but a somewhat portly lady with a good-humored face reclined in a rocking chair. A gaunt, elderly man of rugged appearance rose from his seat at a writing-table as his guests entered.
"So ye have come at last," he said. "I had ye shown in here, because this room is mine, and I can smoke when I like. The rest of the house is Mrs. Nairn's, and it seems that her friends do not appreciate the smell of my cigars. I'm no sure that I can blame them."
Mrs. Nairn smiled placidly.
"Alic," she explained, "leaves them lying everywhere, and I do not like the stubs of them on the stairs. But sit ye down and he will give ye one."
Vane felt at home with both of them. He had met people of their kind before, and, allowing for certain idiosyncrasies, considered them the salt of the Dominion. Nairn had done good service to his adopted country, developing her industries—with some profit to himself, for he was of Scottish extraction; but, while close at a bargain, he could be generous afterward. In the beginning, he had fought sternly for his own hand, and it was supposed that Mrs. Nairn had helped him, not only by sound advice, but by such practical economies as the making of his working clothes. Those he wore on the evening in question did not fit him well, though they were no longer the work of her capable fingers. When his guests were seated he laid two cigar boxes on the table.
"Those," he said, pointing to one of them, "are mine. I think ye had better try the others; they're for visitors."
Vane had already noticed the aroma of the cigar that was smoldering on a tray and he decided that Nairn was right; so he dipped his hand into the second box, which he passed to Carroll.
"Now," declared Nairn, "we can talk comfortably. Clara will listen. Afterwards, it's possible she will favor me with her opinion."
Mrs. Nairn smiled at them encouragingly, and her husband proceeded.
"One or two of my colleagues were no pleased at ye for putting off the meeting."
"The sloop was small, and it was blowing rather hard," Vane explained.
"Maybe. For all that, the tone of your message was no altogether what one would call conciliatory. It informed us that ye would arrange for the postponed meeting at your earliest convenience. Ye did not mention ours."
"I pointed that out to him, and he said it didn't matter," Carroll interrupted with a laugh.
Nairn spread out his hands in expostulation, but there was dry appreciation in his eyes.
"Young blood must have its way." He paused and looked thoughtful. "Ye will no have said anything definite to Horsfield yet about the smelter?"
"No. So far, I'm not sure that it would pay us to put up the plant; and the other man's terms are lower."
"Maybe," Nairn answered, and he made the single word very expressive. "Ye have had the handling of the thing; but henceforward it will be necessary to get the sanction of the board. However, ye will meet Horsfield to-night. We expect him and his sister."
Vane thought he had been favored with a hint, but he fancied also that his host was not inimical and was merely reserving his judgment with Caledonian caution. Nairn changed the subject.
"So ye're going to England for a holiday. Ye will have friends who'll be glad to see ye yonder?"
"I've one sister, but no other near relatives. But I expect to spend some time with people you know. The Chisholms are old family friends, and, as you will remember, it was through them that I first approached you."
Then, obeying one of the impulses which occasionally swayed him, he turned to Mrs. Nairn.
"I'm grateful to them for sending me the letter of introduction to your husband, because in many ways I'm in his debt. He didn't treat me as the others did when I first went round this city with a few mineral specimens."
He had expected nothing when he spoke, but there was a responsive look in the lady's face which hinted that he had made a friend. As a matter of fact, he owed a good deal to his host. There is a vein of human kindness in the Scot, and he is often endowed with a keen, half-instinctive judgment of his fellows which renders him less likely to be impressed by outward appearances and the accidental advantages of polished speech or tasteful dress than his southern neighbors. Vane would have had even more trouble in floating his company had not Nairn been satisfied with him.
"So ye are meaning to stay with Chisholm!" the latter exclaimed. "We had Evelyn here two years ago, and Clara said something about her coming out again."
"It's nine years since I saw Evelyn."
"Then there's a surprise in store for ye. I believe they've a bonny place—and there's no doubt Chisholm will make ye welcome."
The slight pause was expressive. It implied that Nairn, who had a somewhat biting humor, could furnish a reason for Chisholm's hospitality if he desired, and Vane was confirmed in this supposition when he saw the warning look which his hostess cast at her husband.
"It's likely that we'll have Evelyn again in the fall," she said hastily. "It's a very small world, Mr. Vane."
"It's a far cry from Vancouver to England," Vane replied. "How did you first come to know Chisholm?"
Nairn answered him.
"Our acquaintance began with business. A concern that he was chairman of had invested in British Columbian mining stock; and he's some kind of connection of Colquhoun's."
Colquhoun was a man of some importance, who held a Crown appointment, and Vane felt inclined to wonder why Chisholm had not sent him a letter to him. Afterward, he guessed at the reason, which was not flattering to himself or his host. Nairn and he chatted a while on business topics, until there was a sound of voices below, and going down in company with Mrs. Nairn they found two or three new arrivals in the entrance hall. More came in; and when they sat down to supper, Vane was given a place beside a young lady whom he had already met.
Jessy Horsfield was about his own age; tall and slight in figure, with regular features, a rather colorless face, and eyes of a cold, light blue. There was, however, something striking in her appearance, and Vane was gratified by her graciousness to him. Her brother sat almost opposite them: a tall, spare man, with a somewhat expressionless countenance, except for the aggressive hardness in his eyes. Vane had noticed this look, and it had aroused his dislike, but he had not observed it in the eyes of Miss Horsfield, though it was present now and then. Nor did he realize that while she chatted she was unobtrusively studying him. She had not favored him with much notice when she was in his company on a previous occasion; he had been a man of no importance then.
He was now dressed in ordinary attire, and the well-cut garments displayed his lean, athletic figure. His face, Miss Horsfield decided, was a good one: not exactly handsome, but attractive in its frankness; and she liked the way he had of looking steadily at the person he addressed. Though he had been, as she knew, a wandering chopper, a survey packer, and, for a time, an unsuccessful prospector, there was no coarsening stamp of toil on him. Indeed, the latter is not common in the West, where as yet the division of employments is not practised to the extent it is in older countries. Specialization has its advantages; but it brands a man's profession upon him and renders it difficult for him to change it. Except for the clear bronze of his skin, Vane might just have left a Government office, or have come out from London or Montreal. He was, moreover, a man whose acquaintance might be worth cultivating.
"I suppose you are glad you have finished your work in the bush," she remarked presently. "It must be nice to get back to civilization."
Vane smiled as he glanced round the room. It ran right across the house, and through the open windows came the clank of a locomotive bell down by the wharf and the rattle of a steamer's winch. The sounds appealed to him. They suggested organized activity, the stir of busy life; and it was pleasant to hear them after the silence of the bush. The gleam of snowy linen, dainty glass and silver caught his eye; and the hum of careless voices and the light laughter were soothing.
"Yes; it's remarkably nice after living for nine years in the wilderness, with only an occasional visit to some little wooden town."
A fresh dish was laid before him, and his companion smiled.
"You didn't get things of this kind among the pines."
"No," laughed Vane. "In fact, cookery is one of the bushman's trials; anyway, when he's working for himself. You come back dead tired, and often very wet, to your lonely tent, and then there's a fire to make and supper to get before you can rest. It happens now and then that you're too played out to trouble, and you go to sleep instead."
"Dreadful!" sympathized the girl. "But you have been in Vancouver before?"
"Except on the last occasion, I stayed down near the water-front. We were not provided with luxurious quarters or with suppers of this kind there."
"It's romantic; and, though you're glad it's over, there must be some satisfaction in feeling that you owe the change to your own efforts. I mean it must be nice to think one has captured a fair share of the good things of life, instead of having them accidentally thrust upon one. Doesn't it give you a feeling that in some degree you're master of your fate? I should like that"
It was subtle flattery, and there were reasons why it appealed to the man. He had worked for others, sometimes for inadequate wages, and had wandered about the Province, dusty and footsore, in search of employment, besides being beaten down at many a small bargain by richer or more fortunately situated men. Now, however, he had resolved that there should be a difference; instead of begging favors, he would dictate terms.
"I should have imagined it," he laughed, in answer to her last remark; and he was right, for Jessy Horsfield was a clever woman who loved power and influence.
Vane dropped his napkin, and was stooping to pick it up when an attendant handed it back to him. He noticed and responded to the glimmer of amusement in his companion's eyes.
"We are not accustomed to being waited on in the bush," he explained. "It takes some time to get used to the change. When we wanted anything there we got it for ourselves."
"Is that, in its wider sense, a characteristic of most bushmen?"
"I don't quite follow."
The girl laughed.
"I suppose one could divide men into two classes: those who are able to get the things they desire for themselves—which implies the possession of certain eminently useful qualities—and those who have them given to them. In Canada the former are the more numerous."
"There's a third division," Vane corrected her, with a trace of grimness. "I mean those who want a good many things and have to learn to do without. It strikes me they're the most numerous of all."
"It's no doubt excellent discipline," retorted his companion.
She looked at him boldly, for she was interested in the man and was not afraid of personalities.
"In any case, you have now passed out of that division."
Vane sat silent for the next few moments. Up to the age of eighteen most of his reasonable wishes had been gratified. Then had come a startling change, and he had discovered in the Dominion that he must lead a life of Spartan self-denial. He had had the strength to do so, and for nine years he had resolutely banished most natural longings. Amusements, in some of which he excelled, the society of women, all the small amenities of life, were things which must be foregone, and he had forced himself to be content with food and, as a rule, very indifferent shelter. This, as his companion suggested, had proved a wholesome discipline, since it had not soured him. Now, though he did not overvalue them, he rejoiced in his new surroundings, and the girl's comeliness and quickness of comprehension had their full effect.
"It was you who located the Clermont Mine, wasn't it?" she went on. "I read something about it in the papers—I think they said it was copper ore."
This vagueness was misleading, for her brother had given her a good deal of definite information about the mine.
"Yes," replied Vane, willing to take up any subject she suggested; "it's copper ore, but there's some silver combined with it. Of course, the value of any ore depends upon two things—the percentage of the metal, and the cost of extracting it."
Her interest was flattering, and he added:
"In both respects, the Clermont product is promising."
After that he did not remember what they talked about; but the time passed rapidly and he was surprised when Mrs. Nairn rose and the company drifted away by twos and threes toward the veranda. Left by himself a moment, he came upon Carroll sauntering down a corridor.
"I've had a chat with Horsfield," Carroll remarked.
"He may merely have meant to make himself agreeable, and he may have wished to extract information about you: If the latter was his object, he was not successful."
"Ah! Nairn's straight, anyway, and to be relied on. I like him and his wife."
"So do I, though they differ from some of the others. There's not much gilding on either of them."
"It's not needed; they're sterling metal."
"That's my own idea."
Carroll moved away and Vane strolled out onto the veranda, where Horsfield joined him a few minutes later.
"I don't know whether it's a very suitable time to mention it; but may I ask whether you are any nearer a decision about that smelter? Candidly, I'd like the contract."
"I am not," Vane answered. "I can't make up my mind, and I may postpone the matter indefinitely. It might prove more profitable to ship the ore out for reduction."
Horsfield examined his cigar.
"Of course, I can't press you; but I may, perhaps, suggest that, as we'll have to work together in other matters, I might be able to give you a quid pro quo."
"That occurred to me. On the other hand, I don't know how much importance I ought to attach to the consideration."
His companion laughed with apparent good-humor.
"Oh, well; I must wait until you're ready."
He strolled away, and presently joined his sister.
"How does Vane strike you?" he asked. "You seem to get on with him."
"I've an idea that you won't find him easy to influence," answered the girl, looking at her brother pointedly.
"I'm inclined to agree with you. In spite of that, he's a man whose acquaintance is worth cultivating."
He passed on to speak to Nairn; and shortly afterward Vane sat down beside Jessy in a corner of a big room. Looking out across the veranda, he could see far-off snowy heights tower in cold silver tracery against the green of the evening sky. Voices and laughter reached him, and now and then some of the guests strolled through the room. It was pleasant to lounge there and feel that Miss Horsfield had taken him under her wing, which seemed to describe her attitude toward him. She was handsome, and he noticed how finely the soft, neutral tinting of her attire, which was neither blue nor altogether gray, matched the azure of her eyes and emphasized the dead-gold coloring of her hair.
"As Mrs. Nairn tells me you are going to England, I suppose we shall not see you in Vancouver for some months," she said presently. "This city really isn't a bad place to live in."
Vane felt gratified. She had implied that he would be an acquisition and had included him among the number of her acquaintances.
"I fancy that I shall find it a particularly pleasant place," he responded. "Indeed, I'm inclined to be sorry that I've made arrangements to leave it very shortly."
"That is pure good-nature," laughed his companion.
"No; it's what I really feel."
Jessy let this pass.
"Mrs. Nairn mentioned that you know the Chisholms."
"I'd better say that I used to do so. They have probably changed out of my knowledge, and they can scarcely remember me except by name."
"But you are going to see them?"
"I expect to spend some time with them."
Jessy changed the subject, and Vane found her conversation entertaining. She appealed to his artistic perceptions and his intelligence, and it must be admitted that she laid herself out to do so. She said nothing of any consequence, but she knew how to make a glance or a changed inflection expressive. He was sorry when she left him, but she smiled at him before she moved away.
"If you and Mr. Carroll care to call, I am generally at home in the afternoon," she said.
She crossed the room, and Vane joined Nairn and remained near him until he took his departure.
Late the next afternoon, an hour or two after an Empress liner from China and Japan had arrived, he and Carroll reached the C.P.R. station. The Atlantic train was waiting and an unusual number of passengers were hurrying about the cars. They were, for the most part, prosperous people: business men, and tourists from England going home that way; and when Vane found Mrs. Marvin and Kitty, he once more was conscious of a stirring of compassion. The girl's dress, which had struck him as becoming on the afternoon they spent on the beach, now looked shabby. In Mrs. Marvin's case, the impression was more marked, and standing amid the bustling throng with the child clinging to her hand she looked curiously forlorn. Kitty smiled at him diffidently.
"You have been so kind," she began, and, pausing, added with a tremor in her voice: "But the tickets—"
"Pshaw!" interrupted Vane. "If it will ease your mind, you can send me what they cost after the first full house you draw."
"How shall we address you?"
"Clermont Mineral Exploitation. I don't want to think I'm going to lose sight of you."
Kitty looked away from him a moment, and then looked back.
"I'm afraid you must make up your mind to that," she said.
Vane could not remember his answer, though he afterward tried; but just then an official strode along beside the cars, calling to the passengers, and when a bell began tolling Vane hurried the girl and her companions onto a platform. Mrs. Marvin entered the car, Elsie held up her face to kiss him before she disappeared, and he and Kitty were left alone. She held out her hand, and a liquid gleam crept into her eyes.
"We can't thank you properly," she murmured, "Good-by!"
"No," Vane protested. "You mustn't say that."
"Yes," answered Kitty firmly, but with signs of effort. "It's good-by. You'll be carried on in a moment!"
Vane gazed down at her, and afterward wondered at what he did, but she looked so forlorn and desolate, and the pretty face was so close to his. Stooping swiftly, he kissed her, and had a thrilling fancy that she did not recoil; then the cars lurched forward and he swung himself down. They slid past him, clanking, while he stood and gazed after them. Turning around, he was by no means pleased to see that Nairn was regarding him with quiet amusement.
"Been seeing the train away?" the latter suggested. "It's a popular diversion with idle folk."
"I was saying good-by to somebody I met on the west coast," Vane explained.
"Weel," chuckled Nairn, "she has bonny een."
THE OLD COUNTRY
A month after Vane said good-by to Kitty he and Carroll alighted one evening at a little station in northern England. Brown moors stretched about it, for the heather had not bloomed yet, rolling back in long slopes to the high ridge which cut against leaden thunder-clouds in the eastern sky. To the westward, they fell away; and across a wide, green valley smooth-backed heights gave place in turn to splintered crags and ragged pinnacles etched in gray and purple on a vivid saffron glow. The road outside the station gleamed with water, and a few big drops of rain came splashing down, but there was a bracing freshness in the mountain air.
The train went on, and Vane stood still, looking about him with a poignant recollection of how he had last waited on that platform, sick at heart, but gathering his youthful courage for the effort that he must make. It all came back to him—the dejection, the sense of loneliness—for he was then going out to the Western Dominion in which he had not a friend. Now he was returning, moderately prosperous and successful; but once again the feeling of loneliness was with him—most of those whom he had left behind had made a longer journey than he had done. Then he noticed an elderly man, in rather shabby livery, approaching, and he held out his hand with a smile of pleasure.
"You haven't changed a bit, Jim!" he exclaimed. "Have you got the young gray in the new cart outside?"
"T' owd gray was shot twelve months since," the man replied. "Broke his leg comin' down Hartop Bank. New car was sold off, done, two or t'ree years ago."
"That's bad news. Anyway, you're the same."
"A bit stiffer in the joints, and maybe a bit sourer," was the answer. Then the man's wrinkled face relaxed. "I'm main glad to see thee, Mr. Wallace. Master wad have come, only he'd t' gan t' Manchester suddenly."
Vane helped him to place their baggage into the trap and then bade him sit behind; and as he gathered up the reins, he glanced at the horse and harness. The one did not show the breeding of the gray he remembered, and there was no doubt that the other was rather the worse for wear. They set off down the descending road, which wound, unconfined, through the heather, where the raindrops sparkled like diamonds. Farther down, they ran in between rough limestone walls with gleaming spar in them, smothered here and there in trailing brambles and clumps of fern, while the streams that poured out from black gaps in the peat and flowed beside the road flashed with coppery gold in the evening light. It was growing brighter ahead of them, though inky clouds still clung to the moors behind.
By and by, ragged hedges, rent and twisted by the winds, climbed up to meet them, and, clattering down between the straggling greenery, they crossed a river sparkling over banks of gravel. After that, there was a climb, for the country rolled in ridge and valley, and the crags ahead, growing nearer, rose in more rugged grandeur against the paling glow. Carroll gazed about him in open appreciation as they drove.
"This little compact country is really wonderful, in its way!" he exclaimed. "There's so much squeezed into it, even leaving out your towns. Parts of it are like Ontario—-the southern strip I mean—with the plow-land, orchards and homesteads sprinkled among the woods and rolling ground. Then your Midlands are like the prairie, only that they're greener—there's the same sweep of grass and the same sweep of sky, and this"—he gazed at the rugged hills rent by winding dales—"is British Columbia on a miniature scale."
"Yes," agreed Vane; "it isn't monotonous."
"Now you have hit it! That's the precise difference. We've three belts of country, beginning at Labrador and running west—rock and pine scrub, level prairie, and ranges piled on ranges beyond the Rockies. Hundreds of leagues of each of them, and, within their limits, all the same. But this country's mixed. You can get what you like—woods, smooth grass-land, mountains—in a few hours' ride."
"Our people and their speech and habits are mixed, too. There's more difference between county and county in thirty miles than there is right across your whole continent. You're cast in the one mold."
"I'm inclined to think it's a good one," laughed Carroll. "What's more, it has set its stamp on you. The very way your clothes hang proclaims that you're a Westerner."
Vane laughed good-humoredly; but as they clattered through a sleepy hamlet with its little, square-towered church overhanging a brawling river, his face grew grave. Pulling up the horse, he handed the reins to Carroll.
"This is the first stage of my pilgrimage. I won't keep you five minutes."
He swung himself down, and the groom motioned to him.
"West of the tower, Mr. Wallace; just before you reach the porch."
Vane passed through the wicket in the lichened limestone wall, and there was a troubled look in his eyes when he came back and took the reins again.
"I went away in bitterness—and I'm sorry now," he said. "The real trouble was unimportant; I think it was forgotten. Every now and then the letters came; but the written word is cold. There are things that can never be set quite right in this world."
Carroll made no comment, though he knew that if it had not been for the bond between them his comrade would not have spoken so. They drove on in silence for a while, and then, as they entered a deep, wooded dale, Vane turned to him again.
"I've been taken right back into the old days to-night; days in England, and afterward those when we worked on the branch road beneath the range. There's not a boy among the crowd in the sleeping-shack I can't recall—first, wild Larry, who taught me how to drill and hid my rawness from the Construction Boss."
"He lent me his gum-boots when the muskeg stiffened into half-frozen slush," Carroll interrupted him.
"And was smashed by the snowslide," Vane went on. "Then there was Tom, from the boundary country. He packed me back a league to camp the day I chopped my right foot; and went down in the lumber schooner off Flattery. Black Pete, too, who held on to you in the rapid when we were running the bridge-logs through. It was in firing a short fuse that he got his discharge," He raised his free hand, with a wry smile. "Gone on—with more of their kind after them; a goodly company. Why are we left prosperous? What have we done?"
Carroll made no response. The question was unanswerable, and after a while Vane abruptly began to talk about their business in British Columbia. It passed the time; and he had resumed his usual manner when he pulled up where a stile path led across a strip of meadow.
"You can drive round; we'll be there before you," he said to the groom as he got down.
Carroll and he crossed the meadow. Passing around a clump of larches they came suddenly into sight of an old gray house with a fir wood rolling down the hillside close behind it. The building was long and low, weather-worn and stained with lichens where the creepers and climbing roses left the stone exposed. The bottom row of mullioned windows opened upon a terrace, and in front of the terrace ran a low wall with a broad coping on which were placed urns bright with geraniums. It was pierced by an opening approached by shallow stairs on which an iridescent peacock stood, and in front of all that stretched a sweep of lawn.
A couple of minutes later, a lady met them in the wide hall, and held out her hand to Vane. She was middle-aged, and had once been handsome, but now there were wrinkles about her eyes, which had a hint of hardness in them, and her lips were thin. Carroll noticed that they closed tightly when she was not speaking.
"Welcome home, Wallace," she said effusively. "It should not be difficult to look upon the Dene as that—you were here so often once upon a time."
"Thank you," was the response. "I felt tempted to ask Jim to drive me round by Low Wood; I wanted to see the place again."
"I'm glad you didn't. The house is shut up and going to pieces. It would have been depressing to-night."
Vane presented Carroll. Mrs. Chisholm's manner was gracious, but for no particular reason Carroll wondered whether she would have extended the same welcome to his comrade had the latter not come back the discoverer of a profitable mine.
"Tom was sorry he couldn't wait to meet you, but he had to leave for Manchester on some urgent business," she apologized.
Just then a girl with disordered hair and an unusual length of stocking displayed beneath her scanty skirt came up to them.
"This is Mabel," said Mrs. Chisholm. "I hardly think you will remember her."
"I've carried her across the meadow."
The girl greeted the strangers demurely, and favored Vane with a critical gaze.
"So you're Wallace Vane—who floated the Clermont Mine! Though I don't remember you, I've heard a good deal about you lately. Very pleased to make your acquaintance!"
Vane's eyes twinkled as he shook hands with her. Her manner was quaintly formal, but he fancied that there was a spice of mischief hidden behind it. Carroll, watching his hostess, surmised that her daughter's remarks had not altogether pleased her. She chatted with them, however, until the man who had driven them appeared with their baggage, when they were shown their respective rooms.
Vane was the first to go down. Reaching the hall, he found nobody there, though a clatter of dishes and a clink of silver suggested that a meal was being laid out in an adjoining room. Sitting down near the hearth, he looked about him. The house was old; a wide stairway with a quaintly carved balustrade of dark oak ran up one side and led to a landing, also fronted with ponderous oak rails. The place was shadowy, but a stream of light from a high window struck athwart one part of it and fell upon the stairs.
Vane's eyes rested on many objects that he recognized, but as his glance traveled to and fro it occurred to him that much of what he saw conveyed a hint that economy was needful. Part of the rich molding of the Jacobean mantel had fallen away, and patches of the key pattern bordering the panels beneath it had broken off, though he decided that a clever cabinet-maker could have repaired the damage in a day. There were one or two choice rugs on the floor, but they were threadbare; the heavy hangings about the inner doors were dingy and moth-eaten; and, though all this was in harmony with the drowsy quietness and the faint smell of decay, it had its significance.
Presently he heard footsteps, and looking up he saw a girl descending the stairs in the fading stream of light. She was clad in trailing white, which gleamed against the dark oak and rustled softly as it flowed about a tall, finely outlined and finely poised figure. She had hair of dark brown with paler lights in its curling tendrils, gathered back from a neck that showed a faintly warmer whiteness than the snowy fabric below it. It was her face, though, that seized Vane's attention: the level brows; the quiet, deep brown eyes; the straight, cleanly-cut nose; and the subtle suggestion of steadfastness and pride which they all conveyed. He rose with a cry that had pleasure and eagerness in it.
She came down, moving lightly but with a rhythmic grace, and laid a firm, cool hand in his.
"I'm glad to see you back, Wallace," she said. "How you have changed!"
"I'm not sure that's kind," smiled Vane. "In some ways, you haven't changed at all; I would have known you anywhere!"
"Nine years is a long time to remember any one."
Vane had seen few women during that period; but he was not a fool, and he recognized that this was no occasion for an attempt at gallantry. There was nothing coquettish in Evelyn's words, nor was there any irony. She had answered in the tranquil, matter-of-fact manner which, as he remembered, usually characterized her.
"It's a little while since you landed, isn't it?" she added.
"A week. I had some business in London, and then I went on to look up Lucy. She had just gone up to town—to a congress, I believe—and so I missed her. I shall go up again to see her as soon as she answers my letter."
"It won't be necessary. She's coming here for a fortnight."
"That's very kind. Whom have I to thank for suggesting it?"
"Does it matter? It was a natural thing to ask your only sister—who is a friend of mine. There is plenty of room, and the place is quiet."