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North of Fifty-Three
by Bertrand W. Sinclair
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"You're about as sociable as a clam," she broke into his absorption at last.

He looked up in surprise, then chucked the volume carelessly aside, and twisted himself around till his head rested in her lap.

"Vot iss?" he asked cheerfully. "Lonesome? Bored with yourself? Ain't I here?"

"Your body is," she retorted. "But your spirit is communing with those musty old philosophers."

"Oh, be good—go thou and do likewise," he returned impenitently. "I'm tickled to death to be home. And I'm fairly book-starved. It's fierce to be deprived of even a newspaper for twelve months. I'll be a year getting caught up. Surely you don't feel yourself neglected because I happen to have my nose stuck in a book?"

"Of course not!" she denied vigorously. The childish absurdity of her attitude struck her with sudden force. "Still, I'd like you to talk to me once in a while."

"'Of shoes and ships and sealing wax; of cabbages and kings,'" he flung at her mischievously. "I'll make music; that's better than mere words."

He picked up his mandolin and tuned the strings. Like most things which he set out to do, Bill had mastered his instrument, and could coax out of it all the harmony of which it was capable. He seemed to know music better than many who pass for musicians. But he broke off in the midst of a bar.

"Say, we could get a piano in here next spring," he said. "I just recollected it. We'll do it."

Now, this was something that she had many a time audibly wished for. Yet the prospect aroused no enthusiasm.

"That'll be nice," she said—but not as she would have said it a year earlier. Bill's eyes narrowed a trifle, but he still smiled. And suddenly he stepped around behind her chair, put both hands under her chin, and tilted her head backward.

"Ah, you're plumb sick and tired to death of everything, aren't you?" he said soberly. "You've been up here too long. You sure need a change. I'll have to take you out and give you the freedom of the cities, let you dissipate and pink-tea, and rub elbows with the mob for a while. Then you'll be glad to drift back to this woodsy hiding-place of ours. When do you want to start?"

"Why, Bill!" she protested.

But she realized in a flash that Bill could read her better than she could read herself. Few of her emotions could remain long hidden from that keenly observing and mercilessly logical mind. She knew that he guessed where she stood, and by what paths she had gotten there. Trust him to know. And it made her very tender toward him that he was so quick to understand. Most men would have resented.

"I want to stack a few tons of hay," he went on, disregarding her exclamation. "I'll need it in the spring, if not this winter. Soon as that's done we'll hit the high spots. We'll take three or four thousand dollars, and while it lasts we'll be a couple of—of high-class tramps. Huh? Does it sound good?"

She nodded vigorously.

"High-class tramps," she repeated musingly.

"That sounds fine."

"Perk up, then," he wheedled.

"Bill-boy," she murmured, "you mustn't take me too seriously."

"I took you for better or for worse," he answered, with a kiss. "I don't want it to turn out worse. I want you to be contented and happy here, where I've planned to make our home. I know you love me quite a lot, little person. Nature fitted us in a good many ways to be mates. But you've gone through a pretty drastic siege of isolation in this rather grim country, and I guess it doesn't seem such an alluring place as it did at first. I don't want you to nurse that feeling until it becomes chronic. Then we would be out of tune, and it would be good-by happiness. But I think I know the cure for your malady."

That was his final word. He deliberately switched the conversation into other channels.

In the morning he began his hay cutting. About eleven o'clock he threw down his scythe and stalked to the house.

"Put on your hat, and let's go investigate a mystery," said he. "I heard a cow bawl in the woods a minute ago. A regular barnyard bellow."

"A cow bawling?" she echoed. "Sure? What would cattle be doing away up here?"

"That's what I want to know?" Bill laughed. "I've never seen a cow north of the Frazer—not this side of the Rockies, anyway."

They saddled their horses, and rode out in the direction from whence had arisen the bovine complaint. The sound was not repeated, and Hazel had begun to chaff Bill about a too-vivid imagination when within a half mile of the clearing he pulled his horse up short in the middle of a little meadow.

"Look!"

The track of a broad-tired wagon had freshly crushed the thick grass. Bill squinted at the trail, then his gaze swept the timber beyond.

"Well!"

"What is it, Bill?" Hazel asked.

"Somebody has been cutting timber over there," he enlightened. "I can see the fresh ax work. Looks like they'd been hauling poles. Let's follow this track a ways."

The tiny meadow was fringed on the north by a grove of poplars. Beyond that lay another clear space of level land, perhaps forty acres in extent. They broke through the belt of poplars—and pulled up again.

On one side of the meadow stood a cabin, the fresh-peeled log walls glaring yellow in the sun, and lifting an earth-covered roof to the autumn sky. Bill whistled softly.

"I'll be hanged," he uttered, "if there isn't the cow!"

Along the west side of the meadow ran a brown streak of sod, and down one side of this a man guided the handles of a plow drawn by the strangest yokemates Hazel's eyes had seen for many a day.

"For goodness' sake!" she exclaimed.

"That's the true pioneer spirit for you," Bill spoke absently. "He has bucked his way into the heart of a virgin country, and he's breaking sod with a mule and a cow. That's adaptation to environment with a vengeance—and grit."

"There's a woman, too, Bill. And see—she's carrying a baby!" Hazel pointed excitedly. "Oh, Bill!"

"Let's go over." He stirred up his horse. "What did I tell you about folk that hanker for lots of elbow-room? They're coming."

The man halted his strangely assorted team to watch them come. The woman stood a step outside the door, a baby in her arms, another toddler holding fast to her skirt. A thick-bodied, short, square-shouldered man was this newcomer, with a round, pleasant face.

"Hello, neighbor!" Bill greeted.

The plowman lifted his old felt hat courteously. His face lit up.

"Ach!" said he. "Neighbor. Dot iss a goot vord in diss country vere dere iss no neighbor. But I am glat to meet you. Vill you come do der house und rest a v'ile?"

"Sure!" Bill responded. "But we're neighbors, all right. Did you notice a cabin about half a mile west of here? That's our place—when we're at home."

"So?" The word escaped with the peculiar rising inflection of the Teuton. "I haf saw dot cabin veil ve come here. But I dink it vass abandon. Und I pick dis place mitout hope off a neighbor. Id iss goot lant. Veil, let us to der house go. Id vill rest der mule—und Gretchen, der cow. Hah!"

He rolled a blue eye on his incongruous team, and grinned widely.

"Come," he invited; "mine vife vill be glat."

They found her a matron of thirty-odd; fresh-cheeked, round-faced like her husband, typically German, without his accent of the Fatherland. Hazel at once appropriated the baby. It lay peacefully in her arms, staring wide-eyed, making soft, gurgly sounds.

"The little dear!" Hazel murmured.

"Lauer, our name iss," the man said casually, when they were seated.

"Wagstaff, mine is," Bill completed the informal introduction.

"So?" Lauer responded. "Id hass a German sount, dot name, yes."

"Four or five generations back," Bill answered. "I guess I'm as American as they make 'em."

"I am from Bavaria," Lauer told him. "Vill you shmoke? I light mine bibe—mit your vife's permission."

"Yes," he continued, stuffing the bowl of his pipe with a stubby forefinger, "I am from Bavaria. Dere I vass upon a farm brought oop. I serf in der army my dime. Den Ameriga. Dere I marry my vife, who is born in Milvaukee. I vork in der big brreweries. Afder dot I learn to be a carpenter. Now I am a kink, mit a castle all mine own, I am no more a vage slafe."

He laughed at his own conceit, a great, roaring bellow that filled the room.

"You're on the right track," Bill nodded. "It's a pity more people don't take the same notion. What do you think of this country, anyway?"

"It iss goot," Lauer answered briefly, and with unhesitating certainty. "It iss goot. Vor der boor man it iss—it iss salfation. Mit fife huntret tollars und hiss two hants he can himself a home make—und a lifing be sure off."

Beside Hazel Lauer's wife absently caressed the blond head of her four-year-old daughter.

"No, I don't think I'll ever get lonesome," she said. "I'm too glad to be here. And I've got lots of work and my babies. Of course, it's natural I'd miss a woman friend running in now and then to chat. But a person can't have it all. And I'd do anything to have a roof of our own, and to have it some place where our livin' don't depend on a pay envelope. Oh, a city's dreadful, I think, when your next meal almost depends on your man holdin' his job. I've lived in town ever since I was fifteen. I lost three babies in Milwaukee—hot weather, bad air, bad milk, bad everything, unless you have plenty of money. Many a time I've sat and cried, just from thinkin' how bad I wanted a little place of our own, where there was grass and trees and a piece of ground for a garden. And I knew we'd never be able to buy it. We couldn't get ahead enough."

"Und so," her husband took up the tale, "I hear off diss country, vere lant can be for noddings got. Und so we scrape und pinch und safe nickels und dimes for fife year. Und here ve are. All der vay from Visconsin in der vaigon, yes. Mit two mules. In Ashcroft I buy der cow, so dot ve haf der fresh milk. Und dot iss lucky. For von mule iss die on der road. So I am plow oop der lant und haul my vaigon mit von mule und Gretchen, der cow."

Hazel had a momentary vision of unrelated hardships by the way, and she wondered how the man could laugh and his wife smile over it. She knew the stifling heat of narrow streets in mid-summer, and the hungry longing for cool, green shade. She had seen something of a city's poverty. But she knew also the privations of the trail. Two thousand miles in a wagon! And at the journey's end only a rude cabin of logs—and years of steady toil. Isolation in a huge and lonely land. Yet these folk were happy. She wondered briefly if her own viewpoint were possibly askew. She knew that she could not face such a prospect except in utter rebellion. Not now. The bleak peaks of the Klappan rose up before her mind's eye, the picture of five horses dead in the snow, the wolves that snapped and snarled over their bones. She shuddered. She was still pondering this when she and Bill dismounted at home.



CHAPTER XXV

THE DOLLAR CHASERS

Granville took them to its bosom with a haste and earnestness that made Hazel catch her breath. The Marshes took possession of them upon their arrival, and they were no more than domiciled under the Marsh roof than all her old friends flocked to call. Tactfully none so much as mentioned Andrew Bush, nor the five-thousand-dollar legacy—the disposition of which sum still perplexed that defunct gentleman's worthy executors. And once more in a genial atmosphere Hazel concluded to let sleeping dogs lie. Many a time in the past two years she had looked forward to cutting them all as dead as they had cut her during that unfortunate period. But once among them, and finding them willing, nay, anxious, to forget that they had ever harbored unjust thoughts of her, she took their proffered friendship at its face value. It was quite gratifying to know that many of them envied her. She learned from various sources that Bill's fortune loomed big, had grown by some mysterious process of Granville tattle, until it had reached the charmed six figures of convention.

That in itself was sufficient to establish their prestige. In a society that lived by and for the dollar, and measured most things with its dollar yardstick, that murmured item opened—indeed, forced open—many doors to herself and her husband which would otherwise have remained rigid on their fastenings. It was pleasant to be sought out and made much of, and it pleased her to think that some of her quondam friends were genuinely sorry that they had once stood aloof. They attempted to atone, it would seem. For three weeks they lived in an atmosphere of teas and dinners and theater parties, a giddy little whirl that grew daily more attractive, so far as Hazel was concerned.

There had been changes. Jack Barrow had consoled himself with a bride. Moreover, he was making good, in the popular phrase, at the real-estate game. The Marshes, as she had previously known them, had been tottering on the edge of shabby gentility. But they had come into money. And as Bill slangily put it, they were using their pile to cut a lot of social ice. Kitty Brooks' husband was now the head of the biggest advertising agency in Granville. Hazel was glad of that mild success. Kitty Brooks was the one person for whom she had always kept a warm corner in her heart. Kitty had stood stoutly and unequivocally by her when all the others had viewed her with a dubious eye. Aside from these there were scores of young people who revolved in their same old orbits. Two years will upon occasion make profound changes in some lives, and leave others untouched. But change or no change, she found herself caught up and carried along on a pleasant tide.

She was inordinately proud of Bill, when she compared him with the average Granville male—yet she found herself wishing he would adopt a little more readily the Granville viewpoint. He fell short of it, or went beyond it, she could not be sure which; she had an uneasy feeling sometimes that he looked upon Granville doings and Granville folk with amused tolerance, not unmixed with contempt. But he attracted attention. Whenever he was minded to talk he found ready listeners. And he did not seem to mind being dragged to various functions, matinees, and the like. He fell naturally into that mode of existence, no matter that it was in profound contrast to his previous manner of life, as she knew it. She felt a huge satisfaction in that. Anything but a well-bred man would have repelled her, and she had recognized that quality in Bill Wagstaff even when he had carried her bodily into the wilderness against her explicit desire that memorable time. And he was now exhibiting an unsuspected polish. She used to wonder amusedly if he were possibly the same Roaring Bill whom she had with her eyes seen hammer a man insensible with his fists, who had kept "tough" frontiersmen warily side-stepping him in Cariboo Meadows. Certainly he was a many-sided individual.

Once or twice she conjured up a vision of his getting into some business there, and utterly foregoing the North—which for her was already beginning to take on the aspect of a bleak and cheerless region where there was none of the things which daily whetted her appetite for luxury, nothing but hardships innumerable—and gold. The gold had been their reward—a reward well earned, she thought. Still—they had been wonderfully happy there at the Pine River cabin, she remembered.

They came home from a theater party late one night. Bill sat down by their bedroom window, and stared out at the street lights, twin rows of yellow beads stretching away to a vanishing point in the pitch-black of a cloudy night. Hazel kicked off her slippers, and gratefully toasted her silk-stockinged feet at a small coal grate. Fall had come, and there was a sharp nip to the air.

"Well, what do you think of it as far as you've gone?" he asked abruptly.

"Of what?" she asked, jarred out of meditation upon the play they had just witnessed.

"All this." He waved a hand comprehensively. "This giddy swim we've got into."

"I think it's fine," she candidly admitted. "I'm enjoying myself. I like it. Don't you?"

"As a diversion," he observed thoughtfully, "I don't mind it. These people are all very affable and pleasant, and they've rather gone out of their way to entertain us. But, after all, what the dickens does it amount to? They spend their whole life running in useless circles. I should think they'd get sick of it. You will."

"Hardly, Billum," she smiled. "We're merely making up for two years of isolation. I think we must be remarkable people that we didn't fight like cats and dogs. For eighteen months, you know, there wasn't a soul to talk to, and not much to think about except what you could do if you were some place else."

"You're acquiring the atmosphere," he remarked—sardonically, she thought.

"No; just enjoying myself," she replied lightly.

"Well, if you really are," he answered slowly, "we may as well settle here for the winter—and get settled right away. I'm rather weary of being a guest in another man's house, to tell you the truth."

"Why, I'd love to stay here all winter," she said. "But I thought you intended to knock around more or less."

"But don't you see, you don't particularly care to," he pointed out; "and it would spoil the fun of going any place for me if you were not interested. And when it comes to a show-down I'm not aching to be a bird of passage. One city is pretty much like another to me. You seem to have acquired a fairly select circle of friends and acquaintances, and you may as well have your fling right here. We'll take a run over to New York. I want to get some books and things. Then we'll come back here and get a house or a flat. I tell you right now," he laughed not unpleasantly, "I'm going to renig on this society game. You can play it as hard as you like, until spring. I'll be there with bells on when it comes to a dance. And I'll go to a show—when a good play comes along. But I won't mix up with a lot of silly women and equally silly she-men, any more than is absolutely necessary."

"Why, Bill!" she exclaimed, aghast.

"Well, ain't it so?" he defended lazily. "There's Kitty Brooks—she has certainly got intelligence above the average. That Lorimer girl has brains superimposed on her artistic temperament, and she uses 'em to advantage. Practically all the rest that I've met are intellectual nonentities—strong on looks and clothes and amusing themselves, and that lets them out. And they have no excuse, because they've had unlimited advantages. The men divide themselves into two types. One that chases the dollar, talks business, thinks business, knows nothing outside of business, and their own special line of business at that; the other type, like these Arthur fellows, and Dave Allan and T. Fordham Brown, who go in for afternoon teas and such gentlemanly pastimes, and whose most strenuous exercise is a game of billiards. Shucks, there isn't a real man in the lot. Maybe I'll run across some people who don't take a two-by-four view of life if I stay around here long enough, but it hasn't happened to me yet. I hope I'm not an intellectual snob, little person, any more than I'm puffed up over happening to be a little bigger and stronger than the average man, but I must say that the habitual conversation of these people gives me a pain. That platitudinous discussion of the play to-night, for instance."

"That was droll." Hazel chuckled at the recollection, and she recalled the weary look that had once or twice flitted over Bill's face during that after-theater supper.

But she herself could see only the humor of it. She was fascinated by the social niceties and the surroundings of the set she had drifted into. The little dinners, the impromptu teas, the light chatter and general atmosphere of luxury more than counterbalanced any other lack. She wanted only to play, and she was prepared to seize avidly on any form of pleasure, no matter if in last analysis it were utterly frivolous. She could smile at the mental vacuity she encountered, and think nothing of it, if with that vacuity went those material factors which made for ease and entertainment. The physical side of her was all alert. Luxury and the mild excitements of a social life that took nothing seriously, those were the things she craved. For a long time she had been totally deprived of them. Nor had such unlimited opportunities ever before been in her grasp.

"Yes, that was droll," she repeated.

Bill snorted.

"Droll? Perhaps," he said. "Blatant ignorance, coupled with a desire to appear the possessor of culture, is sometimes amusing. But as a general thing it simply irritates."

"You're hard to please," she replied. "Can't you enjoy yourself, take things as they come, without being so critical?"

He shrugged his shoulders, and remained silent.

"Well," he said presently, "we'll take that jaunt to New York day after to-morrow."

He was still sitting by the window when Hazel was ready to go to bed. She came back into the room in a trailing silk kimono, and, stealing softly up behind him, put both hands on his shoulders.

"What are you thinking so hard about, Billy-boy?" she whispered.

"I was thinking about Jake Lauer, and wondering how he was making it go," Bill answered. "I was also picturing to myself how some of these worthy citizens would mess things up if they had to follow in his steps. Hang it, I don't know but we'd be better off if we were pegging away for a foothold somewhere, like old Jake."

"If we had to do that," she argued, "I suppose we would, and manage to get along. But since we don't have to, why wish for it? Money makes things pleasanter."

"If money meant that we would be compelled to lead the sort of existence most of these people do," he retorted, "I'd take measures to be broke as soon as possible. What the deuce is there to it? The women get up in the morning, spend the forenoon fixing themselves up to take in some innocuous gabblefest after luncheon. Then they get into their war paint for dinner, and after dinner rush madly off to some other festive stunt. Swell rags and a giddy round. If it were just fun, it would be all right. But it's the serious business of life with them. And the men are in the same boat. All of 'em collectively don't amount to a pinch of snuff. This thing that they call business is mostly gambling with what somebody else has sweated to produce. They're a soft-handed, soft-bodied lot of incompetent egotists, if you ask me. Any of 'em would lick your boots in a genteel sort of way if there was money in it; and they'd just as cheerfully chisel their best friend out of his last dollar, if it could be done in a business way. They haven't even the saving grace of physical hardihood."

"You're awful!" Hazel commented.

Bill snorted again.

"To-morrow, you advise our hostess that we're traveling," he instructed. "When we come back we'll make headquarters at a hotel until we locate a place of our own—if you are sure you want to winter here."

Her mind was quite made up to spend the winter there, and she frankly said so—provided he had no other choice. They had to winter somewhere. They had set out to spend a few months in pleasant idleness. They could well afford that. And, unless he had other plans definitely formed, was not Granville as good as any place? Was it not better, seeing that they did know some one there? It was big enough to afford practically all the advantages of any city.

"Oh, yes, I suppose so. All right; we'll winter here," Bill acquiesced. "That's settled."

And, as was his habit when he had come to a similar conclusion, he refused to talk further on that subject, but fell to speculating idly on New York. In which he was presently aided and abetted by Hazel, who had never invaded Manhattan, nor, for that matter, any of the big Atlantic cities. She had grown up in Granville, with but brief journeys to near-by points. And Granville could scarcely be classed as a metropolis. It numbered a trifle over three hundred thousand souls. Bill had termed it "provincial." But it meant more to her than any other place in the East, by virtue of old associations and more recent acquaintance. One must have a pivotal point of such a sort, just as one cannot forego the possession of a nationality.

New York, she was constrained to admit, rather overwhelmed her. She traversed Broadway and other world-known arteries, and felt a trifle dubious amid the unceasing crush. Bill piloted her to famous cafes, and to equally famous theaters. She made sundry purchases in magnificent shops. The huge conglomeration of sights and sounds made an unforgettable impression upon her. She sensed keenly the colossal magnitude of it all. But she felt a distinct wave of relief when they were Granville bound once more.

In a week they were settled comfortably in a domicile of their own—five rooms in an up-to-date apartment house. And since the social demands on Mrs. William Wagstaff's time grew apace, a capable maid and a cook were added to the Wagstaff establishment. Thus she was relieved of the onus of housework. Her time was wholly her own, at her own disposal or Bill's, as she elected.

But by imperceptible degrees they came to take diverse roads in the swirl of life which had caught them up. There were so many little woman affairs where a man was superfluous. There were others which Bill flatly refused to attend. "Hen parties," he dubbed them. More and more he remained at home with his books. Invariably he read through the daytime, and unless to take Hazel for a walk or a drive, or some simple pleasure which they could indulge in by themselves, he would not budge. If it were night, and a dance was to the fore, he would dress and go gladly. At such, and upon certain occasions when a certain little group would take supper at some cafe, he was apparently in his element. But there was always a back fire if Hazel managed to persuade him to attend anything in the nature of a formal affair. He drew the line at what he defined as social tommyrot, and he drew it more and more sharply.

Sometimes Hazel caught herself wondering if they were getting as much out of the holiday as they should have gotten, as they had planned to get when they were struggling through that interminable winter. She was. But not Bill. And while she wished that he could get the same satisfaction out of his surroundings and opportunities as she conceived herself to be getting, she often grew impatient with his sardonic, tolerant contempt toward the particular set she mostly consorted with. If she ventured to give a tea, he fled the house as if from the plague. He made acquaintances of his own, men from God only knew where, individuals who occasionally filled the dainty apartment with malodorous tobacco fumes, and who would cheerfully sit up all night discoursing earnestly on any subject under the sun. But so long as Bill found Granville habitable she did not mind.

Above all, as the winter and the winter gayety set in together with equal vigor, she thought with greater reluctance of the ultimate return to that hushed, deep-forested area that surrounded the cabin.

She wished fervently that Bill would take up some business that would keep him in touch with civilization. He had the capital, she considered, and there was no question of his ability. Her faith in his power to encompass whatever he set about was strong. Other men, less gifted, had acquired wealth, power, even a measure of fame, from a less auspicious beginning. Why not he?

It seemed absurd to bury one's self in an uninhabited waste, when life held forth so much to be grasped. Her friends told her so—thus confirming her own judgment. But she could never quite bring herself to put it in so many words to Bill.



CHAPTER XXVI

A BUSINESS PROPOSITION

The cycle of weeks brought them to January. They had dropped into something of a routine in their daily lives. Bill's interest and participation in social affairs became negligible. Of Hazel's circle he classed some half dozen people as desirable acquaintances, and saw more or less of them—Kitty Brooks and her husband; Vesta Lorimer, a keen-witted young woman upon whom nature had bestowed a double portion of physical attractiveness and a talent akin to genius for the painting of miniatures; her Brother Paul, who was the silent partner in a brokerage firm; Doctor Hart, a silent, grim-visaged physician, whose vivacious wife was one of Hazel's new intimates. Of that group Bill was always a willing member. The others he met courteously when he was compelled to meet them; otherwise he passed them up entirely.

When he was not absorbed in a book or magazine, he spent his time in some downtown haunt, having acquired membership in a club as a concession to their manner of life. Once he came home with flushed face and overbright eyes, radiating an odor of whisky. Hazel had never seen him drink to excess. She was correspondingly shocked, and took no pains to hide her feelings. But Bill was blandly undisturbed.

"You don't need to look so horrified," he drawled. "I won't beat you up nor wreck the furniture. Inadvertently took a few too many, that's all. Nothing else to do, anyhow. Your friend Brooks' Carlton Club is as barren a place as one of your tea fights. They don't do anything much but sit around and drink Scotch and soda, and talk about the market. I'm drunk, and glad of it. If I were in Cariboo Meadows, now," he confided owlishly, "I'd have some fun with the natives. You can't turn yourself loose here. It's too blame civilized and proper. I had half a notion to lick a Johnnie or two, just for sport, and then I thought probably they'd have me up for assault and battery. Just recollected our social reputation—long may she wave—in time."

"Your reputation certainly won't be unblemished if any one saw you come in in that condition," she cried, in angry mortification. "Surely you could find something better to do than to get drunk."

"I'm going straight to bed, little person," he returned. "Scold not, nor fret. William will be himself again ere yet the morrow's sun shall clear the horizon. Let us avoid recrimination. The tongue is, or would seem to be, the most vital weapon of modern society. Therefore let us leave the trenchant blade quiescent in its scabbard. I'd rather settle a dispute with my fists, or even a gun. Good night."

He made his unsteady way to their extra bedroom, and he was still there with the door locked when Hazel returned from a card party at the Krones'. It was the first night they had spent apart since their marriage, and Hazel was inclined to be huffed when he looked in before breakfast, dressed, shaved, and smiling, as if he had never had even a bowing acquaintance with John Barleycorn. But Bill refused to take her indignation seriously, and it died for lack of fuel.

A week or so later he became suddenly and unexpectedly active. He left the house as soon as his breakfast was eaten, and he did not come home to luncheon—a circumstance which irritated Hazel, since it was one of those rare days when she herself lunched at home. Late in the afternoon he telephoned briefly that he would dine downtown. And when he did return, at nine or thereabouts in the evening, he clamped a cigar between his teeth, and fell to work covering a sheet of paper with interminable rows of figures.

Hazel had worried over the possibility of his having had another tilt with the Scotch and sodas. He relieved her of that fear, and she restrained her curiosity until boredom seized her. The silence and the scratching of his pen began to grate on her nerves.

"What is all the clerical work about?" she inquired. "Reckoning your assets and liabilities?"

Bill smiled and pushed aside the paper.

"I'm going to promote a mining company," he told her, quite casually. "It has been put up to me as a business proposition—and I've got to the stage where I have to do something, or I'll sure have the Willies."

She overlooked the latter statement; it conveyed no special significance at the time. But his first statement opened up possibilities such as of late she had sincerely hoped would come to pass, and she was all interest.

"Promote a mining company?" she repeated. "That sounds extremely businesslike. How—when—where?"

"Now—here in Granville," he replied. "The how is largely Paul Lorimer's idea. You see," he continued, warming up a bit to the subject, "when I was prospecting that creek where we made the clean-up last summer, I ran across a well-defined quartz lead. I packed out a few samples in my pockets, and I happened to show them as well as one or two of the nuggets to some of these fellows at the club a while back. Lorimer took a piece of the quartz and had it assayed. It looms up as something pretty big. So he and Brooks and a couple of other fellows want me to go ahead and organize and locate a group of claims in there. Twenty or thirty thousand dollars capital might make 'em all rich. Of course, the placer end of it will be the big thing while the lode is being developed. It should pay well from the start. Getting the start is easy. As a matter of fact, you could sell any old wildcat that has the magic of gold about it. Men seem to get the fever as soon as they finger the real yellow stuff. These fellows I've talked to are dead anxious to get in."

"But"—her knowledge of business methods suggested a difficulty—"you can't sell stock in a business that has no real foundation—yet. Don't you have to locate those claims first?"

"Wise old head; you have the idea, all right." He smiled. "But this is not a stock-jobbing proposition. I wouldn't be in on it if it were, believe me. It's to be a corporation, where not to exceed six men will own all the stock that's issued. And so far as the claims are concerned, I've got Whitey Lewis located in Fort George, and I've been burning the wires and spending a bundle of real money getting him grub-staked. He has got four men besides himself all ready to hit the trail as soon as I give the word."

"You won't have to go?" she put in quickly.

"No," he murmured. "It isn't necessary, at this particular stage of the game. But I wouldn't mind popping a whip over a good string of dogs, just the same."

"B-r-r-r!" she shivered involuntarily. "Four hundred miles across that deep snow, through that steady, flesh-searing cold. I don't envy them the journey."

Bill relapsed into unsmiling silence, sprawling listless in his chair, staring absently at the rug, as if he had lost all interest in the matter.

"If you stay here and manage this end of it," she pursued lightly, "I suppose you'll have an office downtown."

"I suppose so," he returned laconically.

She came over and stood by him, playfully rumpling his brown hair with her fingers.

"I'm glad you've found something to loose that pent-up energy of yours on, Billy-boy," she said. "You'll make a success of it, I know. I don't see why you shouldn't make a success of any kind of business. But I didn't think you'd ever tackle business. You have such peculiar views about business and business practice."

"I despise the ordinary business ethic," he returned sharply. "It's a get-something-for-nothing proposition all the way through; it is based on exploiting the other fellow in one form or another. I refuse to exploit my fellows along the accepted lines—or any lines. I don't have to; there are too many other ways of making a living open to me. I don't care to live fat and make some one else foot the bill. But I can exploit the resources of nature. And that is my plan. If we make money it won't be filched by a complex process from the other fellow's pockets; it won't be wealth created by shearing lambs in the market, by sweatshop labor, or adulterated food, or exorbitant rental of filthy tenements. And I have no illusions about the men I'm dealing with. If they undertake to make a get-rich-quick scheme of it I'll knock the whole business in the head. I'm not overly anxious to get into it with them. But it promises action of some sort—and I have to do something till spring."

In the spring! That brief phrase set Hazel to sober thinking. With April or May Bill would spread his wings for the North. There would be no more staying him than the flight of the wild goose to the reedy nesting grounds could be stayed. Well, a summer in the North would not be so bad, she reflected. But she hated to think of the isolation. It grieved her to contemplate exchanging her beautifully furnished apartment for a log cabin in the woods. There would be a dreary relapse into monotony after months of association with clever people, the swift succession of brilliant little functions. It all delighted her; she responded to her present surroundings as naturally as a grain of wheat responds to the germinating influences of warmth and moisture. It did not occur to her that saving Bill Wagstaff's advent into her life she might have been denied all this. Indeed she felt a trifle resentful that he should prefer the forested solitudes to the pleasant social byways of Granville.

Still she had hopes. If he plunged into business associations with Jimmie Brooks and Paul Lorimer and others of that group, there was no telling what might happen. His interests might become permanently identified with Granville. She loved her big, wide-shouldered man, anyway. So she continued to playfully rumple his hair and kept her thoughts to herself.

Bill informed her from time to time as to the progress of his venture. Brooks and Lorimer put him in touch with two others who were ready to chance money on the strength of Bill's statements. The company was duly incorporated, with an authorized capital of one hundred thousand dollars, five thousand dollars' worth of stock being taken out by each on a cash basis—the remaining seventy-five thousand lying in the company treasury, to be held or sold for development purposes as the five saw fit when work began to show what the claims were capable of producing.

Whitey Lewis set out. Bill stuck a map on their living-room wall and pointed off each day's journey with a pin. Hazel sometimes studied the map, and pitied them. So many miles daily in a dreary waste of snow; nights when the frost thrust its keen-pointed lances into their tired bodies; food cooked with numbed fingers; the dismal howling of wolves; white frost and clinging icicles upon their beards as they trudged across trackless areas; and over all that awesome hush which she had learned to dread—breathless, brooding silence. Gold madness or trail madness, or simply adventurous unrest? She could not say. She knew only that a certain type of man found pleasure in such mad undertakings, bucked hard trails and plunged headlong into vast solitudes, and permitted no hardship nor danger to turn him back.

Bill was tinged with that madness for unbeaten trails. But surely when a man mated, and had a home and all that makes home desirable, he should forsake the old ways? Once when she found him studying the map, traversing a route with his forefinger and muttering to himself, she had a quick catch at her heart—as if hers were already poised to go. And she could not follow him. Once she had thought to do that, and gloried in the prospect. But his trail, his wilderness trail, and his trail gait, were not for any woman to follow. It was too big a job for any woman. And she could not let him go alone. He might never come back.

Not so long since she and Kitty Brooks had been discussing a certain couple who had separated. Vesta Lorimer sat by, listening.

"How could they help but fail in mutual flight?" the Lorimer girl had demanded. "An eagle mated to a domestic fowl!"

And, watching Bill stare at the map, his body there but the soul of him tramping the wild woods, she recalled Vesta Lorimer's characterization of that other pair. Surely this man of hers was of the eagle brood. But there, in her mind, the simile ended.

In early March came a telegram from Whitey Lewis saying that he had staked the claims, both placer and lode; that he was bound out by the Telegraph Trail to file at Hazleton. Bill showed her the message—wired from Station Six.

"I wish I could have been in on it—that was some trip," he said—and there was a trace of discontent in his tone. "I don't fancy somebody else pawing my chestnuts out of the coals for me. It was sure a man's job to cross the Klappan in the dead of winter."

The filing completed, there was ample work in the way of getting out and whipsawing timber to keep the five men busy till spring—the five who were on the ground. Lewis sent word that thirty feet of snow lay in the gold-bearing branch. And that was the last they heard from him. He was a performer, Bill said, not a correspondent.

So in Granville the affairs of the Free Gold Mining Company remained at a standstill until the spring floods should peel off the winter blanket of the North. Hazel was fully occupied, and Bill dwelt largely with his books, or sketched and figured on operations at the claims. Their domestic affairs moved with the smoothness of a perfectly balanced machine. To the very uttermost Hazel enjoyed the well-appointed orderliness of it all, the unruffled placidity of an existence where the unexpected, the disagreeable, the uncouth, was wholly eliminated, where all the strange shifts and struggles of her two years beyond the Rockies were altogether absent and impossible. Bill's views he kept largely to himself. And Hazel began to nurse the idea that he was looking upon civilization with a kindlier eye.

Ultimately, spring overspread the eastern provinces. And when the snows of winter successively gave way to muddy streets and then to clean pavements in the city of Granville, a new gilt sign was lettered across the windows of the brokerage office in which Paul Lorimer was housed.

FREE GOLD MINING COMPANY

P. H. Lorimer, Pres. J. L. Brooks, Sec.-Treas.

William Wagstaff, Manager.

So it ran. Bill was commissioned in the army of business at last.



CHAPTER XXVII

A BUSINESS JOURNEY

"I have to go to the Klappan," Bill apprised his wife one evening. "Want to come along?"

Hazel hesitated. Her first instinctive feeling was one of reluctance to retrace that nerve-trying trail. But neither did she wish to be separated from him.

"I see you don't," he observed dryly. "Well, I can't say that I blame you. It's a stiff trip. If your wind and muscle are in as poor shape as mine, I guess it would do you up—the effort would be greater than any possible pleasure."

"I'm sorry I can't feel any enthusiasm for such a journey," she remarked candidly. "I could go as far as the coast with you, and meet you there when you come out. How long do you expect to be in there?"

"I don't know exactly," he replied. "I'm not going in from the coast, though. I'm taking the Ashcroft-Fort George Trail. I have to take in a pack train and more men and get work started on a decent scale."

"But you won't have to stay there all summer and oversee the work, will you?" she inquired anxiously.

"I should," he said.

For a second or two he drummed on the table top.

"I should do that. It's what I had in mind when I started this thing," he said wistfully. "I thought we'd go in this spring and rush things through the good weather, and come out ahead of the snow. We could stay a while at the ranch, and break up the winter with a jaunt here or some place."

"But is there any real necessity for you to stay on the ground?" She pursued her own line of thought. "I should think an undertaking of this size would justify hiring an expert to take charge of the actual mining operations. Won't you have this end of it to look after?"

"Lorimer and Brooks are eminently capable of upholding the dignity and importance of that sign they've got smeared across the windows downtown," he observed curtly. "The chief labor of the office they've set up will be to divide the proceeds. The work will be done and the money made in the Klappan Range. You sabe that, don't you?"

"I'm not stupid," she pouted.

"I know you're not, little person," he said quietly. "But you've changed a heap in the last few months. You don't seem to be my pal any more. You've fallen in love with this butterfly life. You appear to like me just as much as ever, but if you could you'd sentence me to this kid-glove existence for the rest of my natural life. Great Caesar's ghost!" he burst out. "I've laid around like a well-fed poodle for seven months. And look at me—I'm mush! Ten miles with a sixty-pound pack would make my tongue hang out. I'm thick-winded, and twenty pounds over-weight—and you talk calmly about my settling down to office work!"

His semi-indignation, curiously enough, affected Hazel as being altogether humorous. She had a smile-compelling vision of that straight, lean-limbed, powerful body developing a protuberant waistline and a double chin. That was really funny, so far-fetched did it seem. And she laughed. Bill froze into rigid silence.

"I'm going to-morrow," he said suddenly. "I think, on the whole, it'll be just as well if you don't go. Stay here and enjoy yourself. I'll transfer some more money to your account. I think I'll drop down to the club."

She followed him out into the hall, and, as he wriggled into his coat, she had an impulse to throw her arms around his neck and declare, in all sincerity, that she would go to the Klappan or to the north pole or any place on earth with him, if he wanted her. But by some peculiar feminine reasoning she reflected in the same instant that if Bill were away from her in a few weeks he would be all the more glad to get back. That closed her mouth. She felt too secure in his affection to believe it could be otherwise. And then she would cheerfully capitulate and go back with him to his beloved North, to the Klappan or the ranch or wherever he chose. It was not wise to be too meek or obedient where a husband was concerned. That was another mite of wisdom she had garnered from the wives of her circle.

So she kissed Bill good-by at the station next day with perfect good humor and no parting emotion of any particular keenness. And if he were a trifle sober he showed no sign of resentment, nor uttered any futile wishes that she could accompany him.

"So long," he said from the car steps. "I'll keep in touch—all I can."

Then he was gone.

Somehow, his absence made less difference than Hazel had anticipated. She had secretly expected to be very lonely at first. And she was not. She began to realize that, unconsciously, they had of late so arranged their manner of life that separation was a question of degree rather than kind. It seemed that she could never quite forego the impression that Bill was near at hand. She always thought of him as downtown or in the living-room, with his feet up on the mantel and a cigar in his mouth. Even when in her hand she held a telegram dated at a point five hundred or a thousand miles or double that distance away she did not experience the feeling of complete bodily absence. She always felt as if he were near. Only at night, when there was no long arm to pillow her head, no good-night kiss as she dozed into slumber, she missed him, realized that he was far away. Even when the days marched past, mustering themselves in weekly and monthly platoons and Bill still remained in the Klappan, she experienced no dreary leadenness of soul. Her time passed pleasantly enough.

Early in June came a brief wire from Station Six. Three weeks later the Free Gold Mining Company set up a mild ripple of excitement along Broad Street by exhibiting in their office window a forty-pound heap of coarse gold; raw, yellow gold, just as it had come from the sluice. Every day knots of men stood gazing at the treasure. The Granville papers devoted sundry columns to this remarkably successful enterprise of its local business men. Bill had forwarded the first clean-up.

And close on the heels of this—ten days later, to be exact—he came home.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE BOMB

"You great bear," Hazel laughed, in the shelter of his encircling arms. "My, it's good to see you again."

She pushed herself back a little and surveyed him admiringly, with a gratified sense of proprietorship. The cheeks of him were tanned to a healthy brown, his eyes clear and shining. The offending flesh had fallen away on the strenuous paths of the Klappan. He radiated boundless vitality, strength, alertness, that perfect co-ordination of mind and body that is bred of faring resourcefully along rude ways. Few of his type trod the streets of Granville. It was a product solely of the outer places. And for the time being the old, vivid emotion surged strong within her. She thrilled at the touch of his hand, was content to lay her head on his shoulder and forget everything in the joy of his physical nearness. But the maid announced dinner, and her man must be fed. He had missed luncheon on the train, he told her, by reason of an absorbing game of whist.

"Come, then," said she. "You must be starving."

They elected to spend the evening quietly at home, as they used to do. To Hazel it seemed quite like old times. Bill told her of the Klappan country, and their prospects at the mine.

"It's going to be a mighty big thing," he declared.

"I'm so glad," said Hazel.

"We've got a group of ten claims. Whitey Lewis and the original stakers hold an interest in their claims. I, acting as agent for these other fellows in the company, staked five more. I took in eight more men—and, believe me, things were humming when I left. Lewis is a great rustler. He had out lots of timber, and we put in a wing dam three hundred feet long, so she can flood and be darned; they'll keep the sluice working just the same. And that quartz lead will justify a fifty-thousand-dollar mill. So I'm told by an expert I took in to look it over. And, say, I went in by the ranch. Old Jake has a fine garden. He's still pegging away with the mule 'und Gretchen, der cow.' I offered him a chance to make a fat little stake at the mine, but he didn't want to leave the ranch. Great old feller, Jake. Something of a philosopher in his way. Pretty wise old head. He'll make good, all right."

In the morning, Bill ate his breakfast and started downtown.

"That's the dickens of being a business man," he complained to Hazel, in the hallway. "It rides a man, once it gets hold of him. I'd rather get a machine and go joy riding with you than anything else. But I have to go and make a long-winded report; and I suppose those fellows will want to talk gold by the yard. Adios, little person. I'll get out for lunch, business or no business."

Eleven-thirty brought him home, preoccupied and frowning. And he carried his frown and his preoccupation to the table.

"Whatever is the matter, Bill?" Hazel anxiously inquired.

"Oh, I've got a nasty hunch that there's a nigger in the woodpile," he replied.

"What woodpile?" she asked.

"I'll tell you more about it to-night," he said bluntly. "I'm going to pry something loose this afternoon or know the reason why."

"Is something the matter about the mine?" she persisted.

"No," he answered grimly. "There's nothing the matter with the mine. It's the mining company."

And that was all he vouchsafed. He finished his luncheon and left the house. He was scarcely out of sight when Jimmie Brooks' runabout drew up at the curb. A half minute later he was ushered into the living-room.

"Bill in?" was his first query.

"No, he left just a few minutes ago," Hazel told him.

Mr. Brooks, a short, heavy-set, neatly dressed gentleman, whose rather weak blue eyes loomed preternaturally large and protuberant behind pince-nez that straddled an insignificant snub nose, took off his glasses and twiddled them in his white, well-kept fingers.

"Ah, too bad!" he murmured. "Thought I'd catch him.

"By the way," he continued, after a pause, "you—ah—well, frankly, I have reason to believe that you have a good deal of influence with your husband in business matters, Mrs. Wagstaff. Kitty says so, and she don't make mistakes very often in sizing up a situation."

"Well, I don't know; perhaps I have." Hazel smiled noncommittally. She wondered what had led Kitty Brooks to that conclusion. "Why?"

"Well—ah—you see," he began rather lamely. "The fact is—I hope you'll regard this as strictly confidential, Mrs. Wagstaff. I wouldn't want Bill to think I, or any of us, was trying to bring pressure on him. But the fact is, Bill's got a mistaken impression about the way we're conducting the financial end of this mining proposition. You understand? Very able man, your husband, but headstrong as the deuce. I'm afraid—to speak frankly—he'll create a lot of unpleasantness. Might disrupt the company, in fact, if he sticks to the position he took this morning. Thought I'd run in and talk it over with him. Fellow's generally in a good humor, you know, when he's lunched comfortably at home."

"I'm quite in the dark," Hazel confessed. "Bill seemed a trifle put out about something. He didn't say what it was about."

"Shall I explain?" Mr. Brooks suggested. "You'd understand—and you might be able to help. I don't as a rule believe in bringing business into the home, but this bothers me. I hate to see a good thing go wrong."

"Explain, by all means," Hazel promptly replied. "If I can help, I'll be glad to."

"Thank you." Mr. Brooks polished his glasses industriously for a second and replaced them with painstaking exactitude. "Now—ah—this is the situation: When the company was formed, five of us, including your husband, took up enough stock to finance the preliminary work of the undertaking. The remaining stock, seventy-five thousand dollars in amount, was left in the treasury, to be held or put on the market as the situation warranted. Bill was quite conservative in his first statements concerning the property, and we all felt inclined to go slow. But when Bill got out there on the ground and the thing began to pay enormously right from the beginning, we—that is, the four of us here, decided we ought to enlarge our scope. With the first clean-up, Bill forwarded facts and figures to show that we had a property far beyond our greatest expectations. And, of course, we saw at once that the thing was ridiculously undercapitalized. By putting the balance of the stock on the market, we could secure funds to work on a much larger scale. Why, this first shipment of gold is equal to an annual dividend of ten per cent on four hundred thousand dollars capital. It's immense, for six weeks' work.

"So we held a meeting and authorized the secretary to sell stock. Naturally, your husband wasn't cognizant of this move, for the simple reason that there was no way of reaching him—and his interests were thoroughly protected, anyway. The stock was listed on Change. A good bit was disposed of privately. We now have a large fund in the treasury. It's a cinch. We've got the property, and it's rich enough to pay dividends on a million. The decision of the stockholders is unanimously for enlargement of the capital stock. The quicker we get that property to its maximum output the more we make, you see. There's a fine vein of quartz to develop, expensive machinery to install. It's no more than fair that these outsiders who are clamoring to get aboard should pay their share of the expense of organization and promotion. You understand? You follow me?"

"Certainly," Hazel answered. "But what is the difficulty with Bill?"

Mr. Brooks once more had recourse to polishing his pince-nez.

"Bill is opposed to the whole plan," he said, pursing up his lips with evident disapproval of Bill Wagstaff and all his works. "He seems to feel that we should not have taken this step. He declares that no more stock must be sold; that there must be no enlargement of capital. In fact, that we must peg along in the little one-horse way we started. And that would be a shame. We could make the Free Gold Mining Company the biggest thing on the map, and put ourselves all on Easy Street."

He spread his hands in a gesture of real regret.

"Bill's a fine fellow," he said, "and one of my best friends. But he's a hard man to do business with. He takes a very peculiar view of the matter. I'm afraid he'll queer the company if he stirs up trouble over this. That's why I hope you'll use whatever influence you have, to induce him to withdraw his opposition."

"But," Hazel murmured, in some perplexity, "from what little I know of corporations, I don't see how he can set up any difficulty. If a majority of the stock-holders decide to do anything, that settles it, doesn't it? Bill is a minority of one, from what you say. And I don't see what difference his objections make, anyway. How can he stop you from taking any line of action whatever?"

"Oh, not that at all," Brooks hastily assured. "Of course, we can outvote him, and put it through. But we want him with us, don't you see? We've a high opinion of his ability. He's the sort of man who gets results; practical, you know; knows mining to a T. Only he shies at our financial method. And if he began any foolish litigation, or silly rumors got started about trouble among the company officers, it's bound to hurt the stock. It's all right, I assure you. We're not foisting a wildcat on the market. We've got the goods. Bill admits that. It's the regular method, not only legitimate, but good finance. Every dollar's worth of stock sold has the value behind it. Distributes the risk a little more, that's all, and gives the company a fund to operate successfully.

"If Bill mentions it, you might suggest that he look into the matter a little more fully before he takes any definite action," Brooks concluded, rising. "I must get down to the office. It's his own interests I'm thinking of, as much as my own. Of course, he couldn't block a reorganization—but we want to satisfy him in every particular, and, at the same time, carry out these plans. It's a big thing for all of us. A big thing, I assure you."

He rolled away in his car, and Hazel watched him from the window, a trifle puzzled. She recalled Bill's remark at luncheon. In the light of Brooks' explanation, she could see nothing wrong. On the other hand, she knew Bill Wagstaff was not prone to jump at rash conclusions. It was largely his habit to give others the benefit of the doubt. If he objected to certain manipulations of the Free Gold Mining Company, his objection was likely to be based on substantial grounds. But then, as Brooks had observed, or, rather, inferred, Bill was not exactly an expert on finance, and this new deal savored of pure finance—a term which she had heard Bill scoff at more than once. At any rate, she hoped nothing disagreeable would come of it.

So she put the whole matter out of her mind. She had an engagement with a dressmaker, and an invitation to afternoon tea following on that. She dressed, and went whole-heartedly about her own affairs.

Dinner time was drawing close when she returned home. She sat down by a window that overlooked the street to watch for Bill. As a general thing he was promptness personified, and since he was but twenty-four hours returned from a three months' absence, she felt that he would not linger—and Granville's business normally ceased at five o'clock.

Six passed. The half-hour chime struck on the mantel clock. Hazel grew impatient, petulant, aggrieved. Dinner would be served in twenty minutes. Still there was no sign of him. And for lack of other occupation she went into the hall and got the evening paper, which the carrier had just delivered.

A staring headline on the front page stiffened her to scandalized attention. Straight across the tops of two columns it ran, a facetious caption:

WILLIAM WAGSTAFF IS A BEAR

Under that the subhead:

Husky Mining Man Tumbles Prices and Brokers. Whips Four men in Broad Street Office. Slugs Another on Change. His Mighty Fists Subdue Society's Finest. Finally Lands in Jail.

The body of the article Hazel read in what a sob sister would describe as a state of mingled emotions.

William Wagstaff is a mining gentleman from the northern wilds of British Columbia. He is a big man, a natural-born fighter. To prove this he inflicted a black eye and a split lip on Paul Lorimer, a broken nose and sundry bruises on James L. Brooks. Also Allen T. Bray and Edward Gurney Parkinson suffered certain contusions in the melee. The fracas occurred in the office of the Free Gold Mining Company, 1546 Broad Street, at three-thirty this afternoon. While hammering the brokers a police officer arrived on the scene and Wagstaff was duly escorted to the city bastile. Prior to the general encounter in the Broad Street office Wagstaff walked into the Stock Exchange, and made statements about the Free Gold Mining Company which set all the brokers by the ears. Lorimer was on the floor, and received his discolored optic there.

Lorimer is a partner in the brokerage firm of Bray, Parkinson & Co., and is president of the Free Gold Mining Company. Brooks is manager of the Acme Advertisers, and secretary of Free Gold. Bray and Parkinson are stockholders, and Wagstaff is a stockholder and also manager of the Free Gold properties in B. C. All are well known about town.

A reporter was present when Wagstaff walked on the floor of the Stock Exchange. He strode up to the post where Lorimer was transacting business.

"I serve notice on you right now," he said loudly and angrily, "that if you sell another dollar's worth of Free Gold stock, I'll put you out of business."

Lorimer appeared to lose his temper. Some word was passed which further incensed Wagstaff. He smote the broker and the broker smote the floor. Wagstaff's punch would do credit to a champion pugilist, from the execution it wrought. He immediately left the Stock Exchange, and not long afterward Broad Street was electrified by sounds of combat in the Free Gold office. It is conceded that Wagstaff had the situation and his three opponents well in hand when the cop arrived.

None of the men concerned would discuss the matter. From the remarks dropped by Wagstaff, however, it appears that the policy of marketing Free Gold stock was inaugurated without his knowledge or consent.

Be that as it may, all sorts of rumors are in circulation, and Free Gold stock, which has been sold during the past week as high as a dollar forty, found few takers at par when Change closed. There has been a considerable speculative movement in the stock, and the speculators are beginning to wonder if there is a screw loose in the company affairs.

Wagstaff's case will come up to-morrow forenoon. A charge of disturbing the peace was placed against him. He gave a cash bond and was at once released. When the hearing comes some of the parties to the affair may perchance divulge what lay at the bottom of the row.

Any fine within the power of the court to impose is a mere bagatelle, compared to the distinction of scientifically man-handling four of society's finest in one afternoon. As one bystander remarked in the classic phraseology of the street:

"Wagstaff's a bear!"

The brokers concerned might consider this to have a double meaning.

Hazel dropped the paper, mortified and wrathful. The city jail seemed the very Pit itself to her. And the lurid publicity, the lifted eyebrows of her friends, maddened her in prospect. Plain street brawling, such as one might expect from a cabman or a taxi mahout, not from a man like her husband. She involuntarily assigned the blame to him. Not for the cause—the cause was of no importance whatever to her—but for the act itself. Their best friends! She could hardly realize it. Jimmie Brooks, jovial Jimmie, with a broken nose and sundry bruises! And Paul Lorimer, distinguished Paul, who had the courtly bearing which was the despair of his fellows, and the manner of a dozen generations of culture wherewith to charm the women of his acquaintance. He with a black eye and a split lip! So the paper stated. It was vulgar. Brutal! The act of a cave man.

She was on the verge of tears.

And just at that moment the door opened, and in walked Bill.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE NOTE DISCORDANT

Bill had divested himself of the scowl. He smiled as a man who has solved some knotty problem to his entire satisfaction. Moreover, he bore no mark of conflict, none of the conventional scars of a rough-and-tumble fight. His clothing was in perfect order, his tie and collar properly arranged, as a gentleman's tie and collar should be. For a moment Hazel found herself believing the Herald story a pure canard. But as he walked across the room her searching gaze discovered that the knuckles of both his hands were bruised and bloody, the skin broken. She picked up the paper.

"Is this true?" she asked tremulously, pointing to the offending headlines.

Bill frowned.

"Substantially correct," he answered coolly.

"Bill, how could you?" she cried. "It's simply disgraceful. Brawling in public like any saloon loafer, and getting in jail and all. Haven't you any consideration for me—any pride?"

His eyes narrowed with an angry glint.

"Yes," he said deliberately. "I have. Pride in my word as a man. A sort of pride that won't allow any bunch of lily-fingered crooks to make me a party to any dirty deal. I don't propose to get the worst of it in that way. I won't allow myself to be tarred with their stick."

"But they're not trying to give you the worst of it," she burst out. Visions of utter humiliation arose to confront and madden her. "You've insulted and abused our best friends—to say nothing of giving us all the benefit of newspaper scandal. We'll be notorious!"

"Best friends? God save the mark!" he snorted contemptuously. "Our best friends, as you please to call them, are crooks, thieves, and liars. They're rotten. They stink with their moral rottenness. And they have the gall to call it good business."

"Just because their business methods don't agree with your peculiar ideas is no reason why you should call names," she flared. "Mr. Brooks called just after you left at noon. He told me something about this, and assured me that you would find yourself mistaken if you'd only take pains to think it over. I don't believe such men as they are would stoop to anything crooked. Even if the opportunity offered, they have too much at stake in this community. They couldn't afford to be crooked."

"So Brooks came around to talk it over with you, eh?" Bill sneered. "Told you it was all on the square, did he? Explained it all very plausibly, I suppose. Probably suggested that you try smoothing me down, too. It would be like 'em."

"He did explain about this stock-selling business," Hazel replied defensively. "And I can't see why you find it necessary to make a fuss. I don't see where the cheating and crookedness comes in. Everybody who buys stock gets their money's worth, don't they? But I don't care anything about your old mining deal. It's this fighting and quarreling with people who are not used to that sort of brute action—and the horrid things they'll say and think about us."

"About you, you mean—as the wife of such a boor—that's what's rubbing you raw," Bill flung out passionately. "You're acquiring the class psychology good and fast. Did you ever think of anybody but yourself? Have I ever betrayed symptoms of idiocy? Do you think it natural or even likely for me to raise the devil in a business affair like this out of sheer malice? Don't I generally have a logical basis for any position I take? Yet you don't wait or ask for any explanation from me. You stand instinctively with the crowd that has swept you off your feet in the last six months. You take another man's word that it's all right and I'm all wrong, without waiting to hear my side of it. And the petty-larceny incident of my knocking down two or three men and being under arrest as much as thirty minutes looms up before you as the utter depths of disgrace. Disgrace to you! It's all you—you! How do you suppose it strikes me to have my wife take sides against me on snap judgment like that? It shows a heap of faith and trust and loyalty, doesn't it? Oh, it makes me real proud and glad of my mate. It does. By thunder, if Granville had ever treated me as it tried to treat you one time, according to your own account, I'd wipe my feet on them at every opportunity."

"If you'd explain," Hazel began hesitatingly. She was thoroughly startled at the smoldering wrath that flared out in this speech of his. She bitterly resented being talked to in that fashion. It was unjust. Particularly that last fling. And she was not taking sides. She refused to admit that—even though she had a disturbing consciousness that her attitude could scarcely be construed otherwise.

"I'll explain nothing," Bill flashed stormily. "Not at this stage of the game. I'm through explaining. I'm going to act. I refuse to be raked over the coals like a naughty child, and then asked to tell why I did it. I'm right, and when I know I'm right I'll go the limit. I'm going to take the kinks out of this Free Gold deal inside of forty-eight hours. Then I'm through with Granville. Hereafter I intend to fight shy of a breed of dogs who lose every sense of square dealing when there is a bunch of money in sight. I shall be ready to leave here within a week. And I want you to be ready, too."

"I won't," she cried, on the verge of hysterics. "I won't go back to that cursed silence and loneliness. You made this trouble here, not I. I won't go back to Pine River, or the Klappan. I won't, I tell you!"

Bill stared at her moodily for a second.

"Just as you please," he said quietly.

He walked into the spare bedroom. Hazel heard the door close gently behind him, heard the soft click of a well-oiled lock. Then she slumped, gasping, in the wide-armed chair by the window, and the hot tears came in a blinding flood.



CHAPTER XXX

THE AFTERMATH

They exchanged only bare civilities at the breakfast table, and Bill at once went downtown. When he was gone, Hazel fidgeted uneasily about the rooms. She had only a vague idea of legal processes, having never seen the inside of a courtroom. She wondered what penalty would be inflicted on Bill, whether he would be fined or sent to prison. Surely it was a dreadful thing to batter men like Brooks and Lorimer and Parkinson. They might even make it appear that Bill had tried to murder them. Her imagination magnified and distorted the incident out of all proportion.

And brooding over these things, she decided to go and talk it over with Kitty Brooks. Kitty would not blame her for these horrid man troubles.

But she was mistaken there. Kitty was all up in arms. She was doubly injured. Her husband had suffered insult and brutal injury. Moreover, he was threatened with financial loss. Perhaps that threatened wound in the pocketbook loomed larger than the physical hurt. At any rate, she vented some of her spleen on Hazel.

"Your husband started this mining thing," she declared heatedly. "Jimmie says that if he persists in trying to turn things upside down it will mean a loss of thousands. And we haven't any money to lose—I'm sure Jimmie has worked hard for what he's got. I'm simply sick over it. It's bad enough to have one's husband brought home looking as if he'd been slugged by footpads, and to have the papers go on about it so. But to have a big loss inflicted on us just when we were really beginning to get ahead, is too much. I wish you'd never introduced your miner to us."

That speech, of course, obliterated friendship on the spot, as far as Hazel was concerned. Even though she was quite prepared to have Bill blamed for the trouble, did in fact so blame him herself, she could not stomach Kitty's language nor attitude. But the humiliation of the interview she chalked up against Bill. She went home with a red spot glowing on either cheekbone. A rather incoherent telephone conversation with Mrs. Allen T. Bray, in which that worthy matron declared her husband prostrated from his injuries, and in the same breath intimated that Mr. Wagstaff would be compelled to make ample reparation for his ruffianly act, did not tend to soothe her.

Bill failed to appear at luncheon. During the afternoon an uncommon number other acquaintances dropped in. In the tactful manner of their kind they buzzed with the one absorbing topic. Some were vastly amused. Some were sympathetic. One and all they were consumed with curiosity for detailed inside information on the Free Gold squabble. One note rang consistently in their gossipy song: The Free Gold Company was going to lose a pot of money in some manner, as a consequence of the affair. Mr. Wagstaff had put some surprising sort of spoke in the company's wheel. They had that from their husbands who trafficked on Broad Street. By what power he had accomplished this remained a mystery to the ladies. Singly and collectively they drove Hazel to the verge of distraction. When the house was at last clear of them she could have wept. Through no fault of her own she had given Granville another choice morsel to roll under its gossipy tongue.

So that when six o'clock brought Bill home, she was coldly disapproving of him and his affairs in their entirety, and at no pains to hide her feelings. He followed her into the living-room when the uncomfortable meal—uncomfortable by reason of the surcharged atmosphere—was at an end.

"Let's get down to bed rock, Hazel," he said gently. "Doesn't it seem rather foolish to let a bundle of outside troubles set up so much friction between us two? I don't want to stir anything up; I don't want to quarrel. But I can't stand this coldness and reproach from you. It's unjust, for one thing. And it's so unwise—if we value our happiness as a thing worth making some effort to save."

"I don't care to discuss it at all," she flared up. "I've heard nothing else all day but this miserable mining business and your ruffianly method of settling a dispute. I'd rather not talk about it."

"But we must talk about it," he persisted patiently. "I've got to show you how the thing stands, so that you can see for yourself where your misunderstanding comes in. You can't get to the bottom of anything without more or less talk."

"Talk to yourself, then," she retorted ungraciously. And with that she ran out of the room.

But she had forgotten or underestimated the catlike quickness of her man. He caught her in the doorway, and the grip of his fingers on her arm brought a cry of pain.

"Forgive me. I didn't mean to hurt," he said contritely. "Be a good girl, Hazel, and let's get our feet on earth again. Sit down and put your arm around my neck and be my pal, like you used to be. We've got no business nursing these hard feelings. It's folly. I haven't committed any crime. I've only stood for a square deal. Come on; bury the hatchet, little person."

"Let me go," she sobbed, struggling to be free. "I h-hate you!"

"Please, little person. I can't eat humble pie more than once or twice."

"Let me go," she panted. "I don't want you to touch me."

"Listen to me," he said sternly. "I've stood about all of your nonsense I'm able to stand. I've had to fight a pack of business wolves to keep them from picking my carcass, and, what's more important to me, to keep them from handing a raw deal to five men who wallowed through snow and frost and all kinds of hardship to make these sharks a fortune. I've got down to their level and fought them with their own weapons—and the thing is settled. I said last night I'd be through here inside a week. I'm through now—through here. I have business in the Klappan; to complete this thing I've set my hand to. Then I'm going to the ranch and try to get the bad taste out of my mouth. I'm going to-morrow. I've no desire or intention to coerce you. You're my wife, and your place is with me, if you care anything about me. And I want you. You know that, don't you? I wouldn't be begging you like this if I didn't. I haven't changed, nor had my eyes dazzled by any false gods. But it's up to you. I don't bluff. I'm going, and if I have to go without you I won't come back. Think it over, and just ask yourself honestly if it's worth while."

He drew her up close to him and kissed her on one anger-flushed cheek, and then, as he had done the night before, walked straight away to the bedroom and closed the door behind him.

Hazel slept little that night. A horrid weight seemed to rest suffocatingly upon her. More than once she had an impulse to creep in there where Bill lay and forget it all in the sweep of that strong arm. But she choked back the impulse angrily. She would not forgive him. He had made her suffer. For his high-handedness she would make him suffer in kind. At least, she would not crawl to him begging forgiveness.

When sunrise laid a yellow beam, all full of dancing motes, across her bed, she heard Bill stir, heard him moving about the apartment with restless steps. After a time she also heard the unmistakable sound of a trunk lid thrown back, and the movements of him as he gathered his clothes—so she surmised. But she did not rise till the maid rapped on her door with the eight-o'clock salutation:

"Breakfast, ma'am."

They made a pretense of eating. Hazel sought a chair in the living-room. A book lay open in her lap. But the print ran into blurred lines. She could not follow the sense of the words. An incessant turmoil of thought harassed her. Bill passed through the room once or twice. Determinedly she ignored him. The final snap of the lock on his trunk came to her at last, the bumping sounds of its passage to the hall. Then a burly expressman shouldered it into his wagon and drove away.

A few minutes after that Bill came in and took a seat facing her.

"What are you going to do, Hazel?" he asked soberly.

"Nothing," she curtly replied.

"Are you going to sit down and fold your hands and let our air castles come tumbling about our ears, without making the least effort to prevent?" he continued gently. "Seems to me that's not like you at all. I never thought you were a quitter."

"I'm not a quitter," she flung back resentfully. "I refuse to be browbeaten, that's all. There appears to be only one choice—to follow you like a lamb. And I'm not lamblike. I'd say that you are the quitter. You have stirred up all this trouble here between us. Now you're running away from it. That's how it looks to me. Go on! I can get along."

"I dare say you can," he commented wearily. "Most of us can muddle along somehow, no matter what happens. But it seems a pity, little person. We had all the chance in the world. You've developed an abnormal streak lately. If you'd just break away and come back with me. You don't know what good medicine those old woods are. Won't you try it a while?"

"I am not by nature fitted to lead the hermit existence," she returned sarcastically.

And even while her lips were uttering these various unworthy little bitternesses she inwardly wondered at her own words. It was not what she would have said, not at all what she was half minded to say. But a devil of perverseness spurred her. She was full of protest against everything.

"I wish we'd had a baby," Bill murmured softly. "You'd be different. You'd have something to live for besides this frothy, neurotic existence that has poisoned you against the good, clean, healthy way of life. I wish we'd had a kiddie. We'd have a fighting chance for happiness now; something to keep us sane, something outside of our own ego to influence us."

"Thank God there isn't one!" she muttered.

"Ah, well," Bill sighed, "I guess there is no use. I guess we can't get together on anything. There doesn't seem to be any give-and-take between us any longer."

He rose and walked to the door. With his hand on the knob, he turned.

"I have fixed things at the bank for you," he said abruptly.

Then he walked out, without waiting for an answer.

She heard the soft whir of the elevator. A minute later she saw him on the sidewalk. He had an overcoat on his arm, a suit case in his hand. She saw him lift a finger to halt a passing car.

It seemed incredible that he should go like that. Surely he would come back at noon or at dinner time. She had always felt that under his gentleness there was iron. But deep in her heart she had never believed him so implacable of purpose where she was concerned.

She waited wearily, stirring with nervous restlessness from room to room.

Luncheon passed. The afternoon dragged by to a close. Dusk fell. And when the night wrapped Granville in its velvet mantle, and the street lights blinked away in shining rows, she cowered, sobbing, in the big chair by the window.

He was gone.

Gone, without even saying good-by!



CHAPTER XXXI

A LETTER FROM BILL

All through the long night she lay awake, struggling with the incredible fact that Bill had left her; trying to absolve herself from blame; flaring up in anger at his unyielding attitude, even while she was sorely conscious that she herself had been stubbornly unyielding. If he had truly loved her, she reiterated, he would never have made it an issue between them. But that was like a man—to insist on his own desires being made paramount; to blunder on headlong, no matter what antagonisms he aroused. And he was completely in the wrong, she reasserted.

She recapitulated it all. Through the winter he had consistently withdrawn into his shell. For her friends and for most of her pleasures he had at best exhibited only tolerance. And he had ended by outraging both them and her, and on top of that demanded that she turn her back at twenty-four hours' notice, on Granville and all its associations and follow him into a wilderness that she dreaded. She had full right to her resentment. As his partner in the chancy enterprise of marriage were not her feelings and desires entitled to equal consideration? He had assumed the role of dictator. And she had revolted. That was all. She was justified.

Eventually she slept. At ten o'clock, heavy-eyed, suffering an intolerable headache, she rose and dressed.

Beside her plate lay a thick letter addressed in Bill's handwriting. She drank her coffee and went back to the bedroom before she opened the envelope. By the postmark she saw that it had been mailed on a train.

DEAR GIRL: I have caught my breath, so to speak, but I doubt if ever a more forlorn cuss listened to the interminable clicking of car wheels. I am tempted at each station to turn back and try again. It seems so unreal, this parting in hot anger, so miserably unnecessary. But when I stop to sum it up again, I see no use in another appeal. I could come back—yes. Only the certain knowledge that giving in like that would send us spinning once more in a vicious circle prevents me. I didn't believe it possible that we could get so far apart. Nor that a succession of little things could cut so weighty a figure in our lives. And perhaps you are very sore and resentful at me this morning for being so precipitate.

I couldn't help it, Hazel. It seemed the only way. It seems so yet to me. There was nothing more to keep me in Granville—everything to make me hurry away. If I had weakened and temporized with you it would only mean the deferring of just what has happened. When you declared yourself flatly and repeatedly it seemed hopeless to argue further. I am a poor pleader, perhaps; and I do not believe in compulsion between us. Whatever you do you must do of your own volition, without pressure from me. We couldn't be happy otherwise. If I compelled you to follow me against your desire we should only drag misery in our train.

I couldn't even say good-by. I didn't want it to be good-by. I didn't know if I could stick to my determination to go unless I went as I did. And my reason told me that if there must be a break it would better come now than after long-drawn-out bickerings and bitterness. If we are so diametrically opposed where we thought we stood together we have made a mistake that no amount of adjusting, nothing but separate roads, will rectify. Myself I refuse to believe that we have made such a mistake. I don't think that honestly and deliberately you prefer an exotic, useless, purposeless, parasitic existence to the normal, wholesome life we happily planned. But you are obsessed, intoxicated—I can't put it any better—and nothing but a shock will sober you. If I'm wrong, if love and Bill's companionship can't lure you away from these other things—why, I suppose you will consider it an ended chapter. In that case you will not suffer. The situation as it stands will be a relief to you. If, on the other hand, it's merely a stubborn streak, that won't let you admit that you've carried your proud little head on an over-stiff neck, do you think it's worth the price? I don't. I'm not scolding, little person. I'm sick and sore at the pass we've come to. No damn-fool pride can close my eyes to the fact or keep me from admitting freely that I love you just as much and want you as longingly as I did the day I put you aboard the Stanley D. at Bella Coola. I thought you were stepping gladly out of my life then. And I let you go freely and without anything but a dumb protest against fate, because it was your wish. I can step out of your life again—if it is your wish. But I can't imprison myself in your cities. I can't pretend, even for your sake, to play the game they call business. I'm neither an idler nor can I become a legalized buccaneer. I have nothing but contempt for those who are. Mind you, this is not so sweeping a statement as it sounds. No one has a keener appreciation of what civilization means than I. Out of it has arisen culture and knowledge, much of what should make the world a better place for us all. But somehow this doesn't apply to the mass, and particularly not to the circles we invaded in Granville. With here and there a solitary exception that class is hopeless in its smug self-satisfaction—its narrowness of outlook, and unblushing exploitation of the less fortunate, repels me.

And to dabble my hands in their muck, to settle down and live my life according to their bourgeois standards, to have grossness of soft flesh replace able sinews, to submerge mentality in favor of a specious craftiness of mind which passes in the "city" for brains—well, I'm on the road. And, oh, girl, girl, I wish you were with me.

I must explain this mining deal—that phase of it which sent me on the rampage in Granville. I should have done so before, should have insisted on making it clear to you. But a fellow doesn't always do the proper thing at the proper time. All too frequently we are dominated by our emotions rather than by our judgment. It was so with me. The other side had been presented to you rather cleverly at the right time. And your ready acceptance of it angered me beyond bounds. You were prejudiced. It stirred me to a perfect fury to think you couldn't be absolutely loyal to your pal. When you took that position I simply couldn't attempt explanations. Do you think I'd ever have taken the other fellow's side against you, right or wrong?

Anyway, here it is: You got the essentials, up to a certain point, from Brooks. But he didn't tell it all—his kind never does, not by a long shot. They, the four of them, it seems, held a meeting as soon as I shipped out that gold and put through that stock-selling scheme. That was legitimate. I couldn't restrain them from that, being a hopeless minority of one. Their chief object, however, was to let two or three friends in on the ground floor of a good thing; also, they wanted each a good bundle of that stock while it was cheap—figuring that with the prospects I had opened up it would sell high. So they had it on the market, and in addition had everything framed up to reorganize with a capitalization of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. This all cut and dried before I got there. Now, as it originally stood, the five of us would each have made a small fortune on these Klappan claims. They're good. But with a quarter of a million in outstanding stock—well, it would be all right for the fellow with a big block. But you can see where I would get off with a five-thousand-dollar interest. To be sure, a certain proportion of the money derived from the sale of this stock should be mine. But it goes into the treasury, and they had it arranged to keep it in the treasury, as a fund for operations, with them doing the operating. They had already indicated their bent by voting an annual stipend of ten thousand and six thousand dollars to Lorimer and Brooks as president and secretary respectively. Me, they proposed to quiet with a manager's wage of a mere five thousand a year—after I got on the ground and began to get my back up.

Free Gold would have been a splendid Stock Exchange possibility. They had it all doped out how they could make sundry clean-ups irrespective of the mine's actual product. That was the first thing that made me dubious. They were stock-market gamblers, manipulators pure and simple. But I might have let it go at that, seeing it was their game and not one that I or anybody I cared about would get fleeced at. I didn't approve of it, you understand. It was their game.

But they capped the climax with what I must cold-bloodedly characterize as the baldest attempt at a dirty fraud I ever encountered. And they had the gall to try and make me a party to it. To make this clear you must understand that I, on behalf of the company and acting as the company's agent, grubstaked Whitey Lewis and four others to go in and stake those claims. I was empowered to arrange with these five men that if the claims made a decent showing each should receive five thousand dollars in stock for assigning their claims to the company, and should have employment at top wages while the claims were operated.

They surely earned it. You know what the North is in the dead of winter. They bucked their way through a hell of frost and snow and staked the claims. If ever men were entitled to what was due them, they were. And not one of them stuttered over his bargain, even though they were taking out weekly as much gold as they were to get for their full share. They'd given their word, and they were white men. They took me for a white man also. They took my word that they would get what was coming to them, and gave me in the company's name clear title to every claim. I put those titles on record in Hazleton, and came home.

Lorimer and Brooks deliberately proposed to withhold that stock, to defraud these men, to steal—oh, I can't find words strong enough. They wanted to let the matter stand; wanted me to let it be adjusted later; anything to serve as an excuse for delay. Brooks said to me, with a grin; "The property's in the company's name—let the roughnecks sweat a while. They've got no come-back, anyhow."

That was when I smashed him. Do you blame me? I'd taken over those fellows' claims in good faith. Could I go back there and face those men and say: "Boys, the company's got your claims, and they won't pay for them." Do you think for a minute I'd let a bunch of lily-fingered crooks put anything like that over on simple, square-dealing fellows who were too honest to protect their own interests from sharp practice? A quartet of soft-bodied mongrels who sat in upholstered office chairs while these others wallowed through six feet of snow for three weeks, living on bacon and beans, to grab a pot of gold for them! It makes my fist double up when I think about it.

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