In her heart the Irish girl did not doubt that Jack was guilty, but this would not prevent her from saving him if she could. There came to her a swift vision of two helpless girls in a cabin with drinking ruffians, of the entry of a man into the picture, of his fight against odds to save her and Joyce from insult. Beside this abstract justice became a pale and misty virtue.
"Of course you'll not tell anyone," Joyce repeated.
Moya brought her gaze back from the window. "I shall tell Mr. Kilmeny."
"But it isn't your secret. You have no right to."
"Have you forgotten that night in the cabin?" asked Moya in a low, clear voice. "If you have, I haven't."
"I don't care," Joyce answered petulantly. "He's so hard. Why can't he be nice about this? Why can't he understand—instead of sneering at me? It's a good deal harder for me than for him. Think of fifty years of Dobyans Verinder."
"Would you care to write Mr. Kilmeny a note? I'll take it to him if you like," Moya suggested gently.
Joyce considered. "No, I couldn't put it on paper. But—you might tell him."
"I don't think I could quite do that."
"If it came up right; just show him how I'm placed."
"Perhaps. Shall I tell him that you asked me to warn him?"
Joyce nodded, eyes shining. She was a young woman capable of changing her mind in the snap of a finger. Dainty and exquisite as apple blossoms, she was like a young plant with delicate tendrils forever reaching out. Love she must have and ever more of it. To admiration she was sensitive in every fiber. Whenever she thought of Jack Kilmeny's contempt tears scorched her eyes.
It was like Moya that she carried her warning immediately and directly. Kilmeny was not easy to find. He had been seen entering the office of a lawyer, but had left before she arrived. The attorney understood Jack to say that he was going to an assayer's office, and the young woman learned there that he had not been seen yet by the assayer. From here she walked toward his boarding house, thinking that she might catch him at lunch.
A quick step on the boardwalk behind her caught the girl's attention. Almost at the same moment a voice hailed her.
"Whither away, Miss Dwight?"
She turned, heart beating fast. "I was looking for you, Mr. Kilmeny."
"And you've found me. What luck—for Jack Kilmeny!" His friendly smile—the same one that had claimed comradeship on the Gunnison—beamed upon her with its hint of irony.
A miner with a dinner bucket was coming toward them. Moya spoke quickly.
"I want to see you ... alone. I've something important to tell you."
His cool eyes searched her face alertly. "Come up with me to the old Pandora dump."
They took a side street that ran up the hill, presently came to the end of it, and stopped at the foot of a trail leading to the abandoned shaft-house.
The girl fired her news at him point blank. "Mr. Verinder has found out what you mean to do to-night and you are to be trapped."
"What I mean to do?" he repeated.
"About the ore—shipping it or something. I don't know exactly—somebody was drinking and talked, I think."
Moya, watching Kilmeny's face, saw only the slightest change. The eyes seemed to harden and narrow the least in the world.
"Tell me all you know about it."
She repeated what Joyce had overheard, adding that her friend had asked her to tell him.
The faintest ironic smile touched his face. "Will you thank Miss Seldon for me, both for this and many other favors?"
"You don't understand Joyce. You're not fair to her," Moya said impulsively.
"Perhaps not." A sudden warmth kindled in his eyes. "But I know who my real friends are. I'm fair to them, neighbor."
The color beat into her face, but she continued loyally. "May I ... assume you have a kindly interest in Joyce?"
"I'll listen to anything you care to tell me. I owe my friend, Miss Dwight, that much."
"She told me ... a little about you and her. Be fair to her. Remember how she has been brought up. All her life it has been drilled into her that she must make a good match. It's a shameful thing. I hate it. But ... what can a girl like Joyce do?"
"You justify her?"
"I understand her. A decision was forced on her. She had no time to choose. And—if you'll forgive my saying so—I think Joyce did wisely, since she is what she is."
"Of course she did," he answered bitterly.
"Think of her. She doesn't love him, but she sacrifices her feeling to what she considers her duty."
"Shall we substitute ambition for duty?"
"If you like. Her position is not a happy one, but she must smile and be gay and hide her heartache. You can afford to be generous, Mr. Kilmeny."
"I've been a fool," he admitted dryly. "The turn that things have taken is the best possible one for me. But I'm not quite prepared to thank Miss Seldon yet for having awakened me."
She saw that his vanity was stung more than his heart. His infatuation for her had been of the senses. The young woman shifted to another issue.
"You'll be careful to-night, won't you?"
"Very. Mr. Verinder will have to wait for his coup, thanks to you."
"You mean...?" The question hung fire on her lips.
"Go on, neighbor."
"No. It was something I had no business to ask." The cheeks beneath the dusky eyes held each a patch of color burning through the tan.
"Then I'll say it for you. You were going to ask if they would really have caught me with the goods. Wasn't that it?"
She nodded, looking straight at him with the poise of lithe, slim youth he knew so well. Her very breathing seemed for the moment suspended while she waited, tremulous lips apart, for his answer.
"You mean that ... you are a highgrader?"
"I ... was afraid so."
His eyes would not release her. "You made excuses for Miss Seldon. Can you find any for me?"
"You are a man. You are strong. It is different with you."
"My sin is beyond the pale, I suppose?"
"How do I know? I'm only a girl. I've never seen anything of real life. Can I judge you?"
"But you do."
The troubled virginal sweetness of the girl went to his soul. She was his friend, and her heart ached because of his wrongdoing.
"I can't make myself think wrong is right."
"You think the profits from these mines should all go to Verinder and his friends, that none should belong to the men who do the work?"
"I don't know.... That doesn't seem fair.... But I'm not wise enough to know how to make that right. The law is the law. I can't go back of that."
"Can't you? I can. Who makes the laws?" He asked it almost harshly.
"The people, I suppose."
"Nothing of the kind. The operators control the legislatures and put through whatever bills they please. I went to the legislative assembly once and we forced through an eight hour law for underground workers. The state Supreme Court, puppets of capital, declared the statute unconstitutional. The whole machinery of government is owned by our masters. What can we do?"
"I don't know."
"Neither do I—except what I am doing. It is against the law, all right, but I try to see that the workmen get some of the profits they earn."
"Would the operators—what would they do if they proved you guilty of highgrading?"
"It is hard to prove. Ore can't easily be identified."
"But if they did?" she persisted.
"I'd go over the road quick as their courts could send me." A sardonic flicker of amusement moved him to add: "Would you obey the Scriptural injunction and visit me in prison, Miss Dwight?"
"I wouldn't be here. We're going back to England next week."
"But if you were. Would your friendship stand the test?"
Once again she answered, "I don't know," her heart beating wildly as her glance fell away from his.
"I shan't have to try you out this time, neighbor. I'm not going to the pen if I can help it."
"Are you sure of that? The mine owners are quite determined to punish some of the highgraders. Suppose I hadn't come to you to-day. What then?"
He smiled down upon her with the easy recklessness that distinguished him. "I don't think it would have run quite to a prison sentence. The burden of proof lies on the accuser. Because I am in possession of rich ore, it does not follow that I did not come by it legitimately. Ore can't be sworn to like bric-a-brac. I may have shipped this in from South Africa, so far as the law knows. Bleyer knows that. I figure he would have played his hand in the Goldbanks way."
"And how would that be?"
"He would forget the law too, just as we've done on our side. A posse of men would have fallen on me maybe after I had got out of town, and they would have taken that ore from me. They would have been masked so that I could not swear to them."
"Why, that is highway robbery."
He laughed. "We don't use such big words out here, ma'am. Just a hold-up—a perfectly legitimate one, from Bleyer's viewpoint—and it would have left me broke."
He nodded. "Dead broke. I've got twenty thousand dollars invested in that ore—every cent I've got in the world."
"You paid that to the miners for it?"
"We pay fifty per cent. of what is coming to the men as soon as a rough assay is made, the other fifty after we get the smelter returns. That wagon load of ore is worth—unless I miss my guess badly—about sixty thousand dollars."
"Dear me. So much as that?" She could not quite keep a note of sarcasm out of her voice. "And have you it in a safety deposit vault?"
His cool gaze took her in quietly. He was willing to bet his last dollar on her loyalty, and it was like him to back his judgment in one wild throw. "Not exactly. It is lying in a pile of hay in my barn, all sacked up ready for shipment."
"Waiting there for anybody that wants it," she suggested.
"For anybody that wants it worse than I do," he corrected, the fighting gleam in his eyes.
"I've a right to ask one thing of you—that there will be no bloodshed to-night because of what I have told you."
"There will be none of my seeking," he replied grimly.
"No. That's not enough. You must find a way to avoid it."
"By handing over my hard-earned dishonest profits to the virtuous Verinder?" he asked dryly.
"I don't care how. But I won't have on my shoulders ... murder."
"That's a right hard word, neighbor," he said, falling again into the Western drawl he sometimes used as a mark of his friendship for her. "But have it your own way. I'll not even tote a gat."
"Thank you." She gave him a brisk little nod, suddenly choked up in her throat, and turned to go.
Jack fell into step beside her. "Have I lost my little friend—the one who used to come to me in my dreams and whisper with a lisp that I wasn't a 'stwanger'?" he asked, very gently.
She swallowed twice and walked on without looking at him. But every nerve of her was conscious of his stimulating presence. Since the inner man found expression in that lithe body with the undulating flow of well-packed muscles, in the spare head set so finely on the perfect shoulders, in the steady eyes so frank and self-reliant, surely he was not unworthy the friendship of any woman. But he had just confessed himself a thief. What right had he to ask or she to give so much?
Her hand went out in an impetuous little gesture of despair. "How do I know? You are doing wrong, but ... Oh, why do you do such things?"
"It's in my blood not to let prudence stop me when I've made up my mind to a thing. My father was that way. I'm trying in a rough way to right an injustice—and I like the excitement—and I daresay I like the loot too," he finished with a reckless laugh.
"I wish I could show you how wrong you are," she cried in a low voice.
"You can't. I'll go my own way. But you are still going to let me come and visit you in your dreams, aren't you?"
The glow in her quick live eyes was not a reflection of the sun. She felt the color flood her cheeks in waves. She dared not look at him, but she was poignantly aware that his gaze was fixed on her, that it seemed to bore to the soul and read the hidden secret there. A queer lightheadedness affected her. It was as if her body might float away into space. She loved him. Whatever he was, the man held her heart in the hollow of his careless, reckless hand. To him she would always deny it—or would have if he had thought enough of her to ask—but she knew the truth about herself from many a passionate hour of despair.
Dry as a whisper came her answer, in a voice which lacked the nonchalance she tried to give it. "I daresay I'll be as friendly ... as you deserve."
"You've got to be a heap more friendly than that, partner."
They had come back to the boardwalk which marked the parting of the ways for them. She had won control of herself again and offered him a steady hand.
"I suppose we'll not see each other again.... Good-by."
He was suddenly conscious that he desired very greatly her regard and her approval.
"Is that all you have to say? Are you going to leave me like this?"
"What more is there to be said?" She asked it quietly, with the calm courage that had its birth in hopelessness.
"This much, at least. I don't release you from ... the old tie that used to bind us. We're still going to be dream friends. I haven't forgotten little Moya, who kissed me one night on the deck of the Victorian."
"She was a baby at the time," answered the girl.
He had not released her hand. Now, as he looked straight into the sweet face with eyes like troubled stars, it came to him on a flood of light that he had made a fatal mistake.
He dropped her fingers abruptly. "Good-by."
His crisp footfalls seemed to print themselves on a heart of lead. How could she know that he carried away with him a vision of sweet youth that was to endure!
The clock at the new Verinder Building showed ten minutes past eleven as Jack Kilmeny took the Utah Junction road out of Goldbanks with his loaded ore wagon. It was a night of scudding clouds, through which gleamed occasionally a fugitive moon. The mountain road was steep and narrow, but both the driver and the mules were used to its every turn and curve. In early days the highgrader had driven a stage along it many a night when he could not have seen the ears of the bronchos.
His destination was the Jack Pot, a mine three miles from town, where intermittently for months he had been raising worthless rock in the hope of striking the extension of the Mollie Gibson vein. It was not quite true, as Bleyer had intimated, that his lease was merely a blind to cover ore thefts, though undoubtedly he used it for that purpose incidentally.
Bleyer had guessed shrewdly that Kilmeny would drive out to the Jack Pot, put up in the deserted bunk-house till morning, and then haul the ore down to the junction to ship to the smelter on the presumption that it had been taken from the leased property. This was exactly what Jack had intended to do. Apparently his purpose was unchanged. He wound steadily up the hill trail, keeping the animals at a steady pull, except for breathing spells. The miner had been a mule skinner in his time, just as he had tried his hand at a dozen other occupations. In the still night the crack of his whip sounded clear as a shot when it hissed above the flanks of the leaders without touching them.
He ran into the expected ambush a half mile from the mine, at a point where the road dipped down a wooded slope to a sandy wash.
"Hands up!" ordered a sharp voice.
A horseman loomed up in the darkness beside the wagon. A second appeared from the brush. Other figures emerged dimly from the void.
Jack gave his mules the whip and the heavy wagon plowed into the deep sand. Before the wheels had made two revolutions the leaders were stopped. Other men swarmed up the side of the wagon, dragged the driver from his seat, and flung him to the ground.
Even though his face was buried in the sand and two men were spread over his body, the captive was enjoying himself.
"This is no way to treat a man's anatomy—most unladylike conduct I ever saw," he protested.
He was sharply advised to shut up.
After the pressure on his neck was a little relieved, Jack twisted round enough to see that his captors were all masked.
"What is this game, boys—a hold-up?" he asked.
"Yes. A hold-up of a hold-up," answered one.
Three of the men busied themselves moving the ore sacks from his wagon to another that had been driven out of the brush. A fourth, whom he judged to be Bleyer, was directing operations, while the fifth menaced him with a revolver shoved against the small of his back.
The situation would have been a serious one—if it had not happened to be amusing instead. Kilmeny wanted to laugh at the bustling energy of the men, but restrained himself out of respect for what was expected of him.
"I'll have the law on you fellows," he threatened, living up to the situation. "You'd look fine behind the bars, Bleyer."
"All those sacks transferred yet, Tim?" barked the superintendent.
"Good. Hit the trail."
The wagon passed out of the draw toward Goldbanks. For some minutes the sound of the wheels grinding against the disintegrated granite of the roadbed came back to Jack and the two guards who remained with him.
"Hope this will be a lesson to you," said the superintendent presently. "Better take warning. Next time you'll go to the pen sure."
"Wait till I get you into court, Bleyer."
"What'll you do there?" jeered the other man. "You'd have a heluvatime swearing to him and making it stick. You're sewed up tight this time, Jack."
"Am I? Bet you a new hat that by this time to-morrow night you fellows won't be cracking your lips laughing."
"Take you. Just order the hat left at Goldstein's for the man who calls for it."
For an hour by the superintendent's watch Kilmeny was held under guard. Then, after warning the highgrader not to return to town before daybreak, the two men mounted and rode swiftly away. Jack was alone with his mules and his empty wagon.
He restrained himself no longer. Mirth pealed in rich laughter from his throat, doubled him up, shook him until he had to hang on to a wagon wheel for support. At last he wiped tears from his eyes, climbed into the wagon, and continued on the way to the Jack Pot. At intervals his whoop of gayety rang out boyishly on the night breeze. Again he whistled cheerfully. He was in the best of humor with himself and the world. For he had played a pretty good joke on Bleyer and Verinder, one they would appreciate at its full within a day or two. He would have given a good deal to be present when they made a certain discovery. Would Moya smile when Verinder told her how the tables had been turned? Or would she think it merely another instance of his depravity?
The road wound up and down over scarred hillsides and through gorges which cut into the range like sword clefts. From one of these it crept up a stiff slope toward the Jack Pot. One hundred and fifty yards from the mine Jack drew up to give the mules a rest.
His lips framed themselves to whistle the first bars of a popular song, but the sound died stillborn. Sharply through the clear night air rang a rifle shot.
Jack did not hear it. A bolt of jagged lightning seared through his brain. The limp hands of the driver fell away from the reins and he fell to the ground, crumpling as a dry leaf that is crushed in the palm.
From the shadow of the bunk-house two men stole into the moonlight heavily like awkward beasts of prey. They crept stealthily forward, rifles in hand, never once lifting their eyes from the huddled mass beside the wagon.
The first looked stolidly down upon the white face and kicked the body with his heavy boot.
"By Goad, Dave, us be quits wi' Jack Kilmeny."
The other—it was Peale, the Cornish miner—had stepped on a spoke of the wheel and pulled himself up so that he could look down into the bed of the wagon. Now he broke out with an oath.
"The wagon's empty."
"What!" Trefoyle straightened instantly, then ran to see for himself. For a moment he could not speak for the rage that surged up in him. "The dommed robber has made fool of us'n," he cried savagely.
In their fury they were like barbarians, cursing impotently the man lying with a white face shining in the moonlight. They had expected to pay a debt of vengeance and to win a fortune at the same stroke. The latter they had missed. The disappointment of their loss stripped them to stark primeval savagery. It was some time before they could exult in their revenge.
"He'll interfere wi' us no more—not this side o' hell anyway," Peale cried.
"Not he. An' we'll put him in a fine grave where he'll lie safe."
They threw the body into the wagon and climbed to the seat. Peale drove along an unused road that deflected from the one running to the Jack Pot.
MR. VERINDER IS TREATED TO A SURPRISE
The morning after the seizing of the ore Verinder came to breakfast in a mood so jubilant that he could not long keep to himself the cause of his exultation. Kilmeny and Farquhar were away on a hunting trip, and none of the ladies except Moya was yet up. He was especially eager to tell his news to her, because she had always been such an open defender of the highgrader. She gave him his opening very promptly, for she was anxious to know what had occurred.
"Has some distant connection passed away and left you a fortune, Mr. Verinder? Or have you merely found a new gold mine since I saw you last?" she asked.
"By Jove, you're a good guesser, Miss Dwight. I found a gold mine last night. Wonder if you could think where."
Her heart beat faster. "You're so pleased about it I fancy the quartz must have been sacked up for you ready for the smelter," she said carelessly.
Verinder flashed a quick look at her. "Eh, what? How's that?"
Moya opened her lips to confess what she had done, but the arrival of a waiter delayed this. Before he had left, Lady Farquhar entered and the girl's chance was temporarily gone.
"I was just telling Miss Dwight that we've found another gold mine, Lady Farquhar—and of all places in the world located in the bed of a wagon."
"In the bed of a wagon! How could that be?"
"Fact, 'pon my word! High-grade ore too, we fancy; but we'll know more about that when we hear from the assayer."
The matron intercepted the look of triumph—it was almost a jeer—that the mine owner flung toward Miss Dwight. She did not understand what he was talking about, but she saw that Moya did.
"If you'd tell us just what happened we'd be able to congratulate you more intelligently," the latter suggested, masking her anxiety.
"Jove, I wish I could—like to tell you the whole story. We pulled off a ripping surprise on one of your friends. But—the deuce of it is I'm sworn to secrecy. We played the highgraders' game and stepped a bit outside the law for once. Let it go at this, that the fellow had to swallow a big dose of his own medicine."
Moya pushed one more question home. "Nobody hurt, I suppose?"
"Only his feelings and his pocketbook. But I fancy one highgrader has learned that Dobyans Verinder knows his way about a bit, you know."
The subject filled Moya's thoughts all day. Had Kilmeny after all failed to take advantage of her warning? Or had his opponents proved too shrewd for him? From what Verinder had told her she surmised that Jack had tried to reach the railroad with his ore and been intercepted. But why had he not changed his plans after her talk with him? Surely he was not the kind of man to walk like a lamb into a trap baited for him.
Late in the afternoon Moya, dressed in riding costume, was waiting on the hotel porch for India and her brother when she saw Verinder coming down the street. That he was in a sulky ill humor was apparent.
"Lord Farquhar and Captain Kilmeny came back a couple of hours ago," she said by way of engaging him in talk.
"Any luck?" he asked morosely and with obvious indifference.
"A deer apiece and a bear for the captain."
"That fellow Kilmeny outwitted us, after all," he broke out abruptly. "We've been had, by Jove! Must have been what Bleyer calls a plant."
"I don't understand."
"The rock we took from him was refuse stuff—not worth a dollar."
The girl's eyes gleamed. "Your gold mine was salted, then."
"Not even salted. He had gathered the stuff from some old dump."
"He must have profited by my warning, after all," Moya said quietly.
The little man's eyes narrowed. "Eh? How's that? Did you say your warning?"
In spite of herself she felt a sense of error at having played the traitor to her host. "Sorry. I didn't like to do it, but——"
"What is it you did?" he asked bluntly.
"I told Mr. Kilmeny that his plan was discovered."
"You—told him." He subdued his anger for the moment. "If it isn't asking too much—how did you know anything about it?"
She felt herself flushing with shame, but she answered lightly enough. "You shouldn't discuss secrets so near the breakfast-room, Mr. Verinder."
"I see. You listened ... and then you ran to your friend, the highgrader, with the news. That was good of you, Miss Dwight. I appreciate it—under the circumstances."
She knew he referred to the fact that she was his guest. To hear him put into words his interpretation of the thing she had done, with implications of voice and manner that were hateful, moved her to a disgust that included both him and herself.
"Thank you, Mr. Verinder—for all the kind things you mean and can't say."
She turned on her heel and walked to the end of the veranda. After a moment's thought he followed her.
"Have I said a word too much, Miss Dwight? You did listen to a private conversation you weren't meant to hear, didn't you? And you ran to your friend with it? If I'm wrong, please correct me."
"I daresay you're right. We'll let it go at that, if you please."
Verinder was irritated. Clearly in the right, he had allowed her to put him in the wrong.
"I'll withdraw listened, Miss Dwight. Shall we substitute overheard?"
Her angry eyes flashed into his cold, hard ones. "What would you expect me to do? You know what he did for Joyce and me. And he is Captain Kilmeny's cousin. Could I let him go to prison without giving even a warning?"
"Evidently not. So you sacrifice me for him."
"You think I wasn't justified?"
"You'll have to settle that with your conscience," he said coldly. "Don't think I would have been justified in your place."
"You would have let him go to prison—the man who had fought for you against odds?"
"Does that alter the fact that he is a thief?" Verinder demanded angrily.
"It alters my relation to the fact—and it ought to alter yours. He did a great service to the woman you are engaged to marry. Does that mean nothing to you?"
"The fellow was playing off his own bat, wasn't he? I don't see I owe him anything," the mine owner sulkily answered. "Truth is, I'm about fed up with him. He's a bad lot. That's the long and short of him. I don't deny he's a well-plucked daredevil. What of it? This town is full of them. There was no question of his going to prison. I intended only to get back some of the ore he and his friends have stolen from me."
"I didn't know that."
"Would it have made any difference if you had?"
She considered. "I'm not sure."
Captain Kilmeny and India emerged from the hotel and bore down upon them.
"All ready, Moya," cried India.
"Ready here." Moya knew that it must be plain to both Captain Kilmeny and his sister that they had interrupted a disagreement of some sort. Characteristically, she took the bull by the horns. "Mr. Verinder and I are through quarreling. At least I'm through. Are you?" she asked the mine owner with a laugh.
"Didn't know I'd been quarreling, Miss Dwight," Verinder replied stiffly.
"You haven't. I've been doing it all." She turned lightly to her betrothed. "They didn't send up the pinto, Ned. Hope he hasn't really gone lame."
Verinder had been put out of the picture. He turned and walked into the lobby of the hotel, suddenly resolved to make a complaint to Lady Farquhar about the way Moya Dwight had interfered with his plans. He would show that young lady whether she could treat him so outrageously without getting the wigging she deserved.
Lady Farquhar listened with a contempt she was careful to veil. It was not according to the code that a man should run with the tale of his injuries to a young woman's chaperon. Yet she sympathized with him even while she defended Moya. No doubt if Captain Kilmeny had been at hand his fiancee would have taken the matter to him for decision. In his absence she had probably felt that it was incumbent on her to save his cousin from trouble.
The mine owner received Lady Farquhar's explanations in skeptical silence. In his opinion, Moya's interest in Jack Kilmeny had nothing to do with the relationship between that scamp and the captain. He would have liked to say so flatly, but he felt it safer to let his manner convey the innuendo. In her heart Lady Farquhar was of the same belief. She resolved to have a serious talk with Moya before night.
COLTER TAKES A HAND
Moya combed her long rippling hair while Lady Farquhar laid down the law that hedges a young woman from the satisfaction of her generous impulses. For the most part the girl listened in silence, a flush burning through each of her dusky cheeks. There was nothing to be said that would avail. She might defend the thing she had done, but not the feelings that had inspired her action.
"It is all very well to be independent within limits, my dear, but young women of our class are subject to the penalties that go with our privileges. When I was a girl I rebelled but had to obey. So must you." Lady Farquhar interrupted herself to admire the vivid rebel she was admonishing. "What wonderful hair you have—so long and thick and wavy. It must take a great deal of care."
"Yes," Moya admitted absently.
She did not resent the rebuke Lady Jim had come to give her while she was undressing. No doubt she deserved it. She had been unmaidenly, and all for love of this light-hearted vagabond who did not care the turn of a hand for her. All day her thoughts had been in chaotic ferment. At times she lashed herself with the whip of her own scorn because she cared for a self-confessed thief, for a man who lived outside the law and was not ashamed of it. Again it was the knowledge of her unwanted love that flayed her, or of the injustice to her betrothed in so passionate a feeling for another man. With all her strong young will she fought against this devouring flame that possessed her—and she knew that she fought in vain.
In the shipwreck of her self-respect she clung to one spar. Soon they would be on their way back to that well-ordered world where she would be entirely in the groove of convention. Her engagement to Captain Kilmeny would be announced. Surely among the many distractions of London she would forget this debonair scamp who had bewitched her.
"You should have come to me—or to India for that matter. She is his cousin and is in a different position from you. Don't you see that, my dear?" Lady Farquhar asked gently.
And again Moya said "Yes" wearily.
"James and I understand you—how impulsive you are—and how generous. But Mr. Kilmeny—and Mr. Verinder—what do you suppose they think?"
"I don't care what Mr. Verinder thinks." And Moya began to coil her hair loosely for the night.
"But that's just it—a girl must care. She can't afford to allow anyone an opportunity to think unpleasant things about her. She has to guard her reputation very jealously."
"And I suppose I've been playing ducks and drakes with mine," Moya said, pushing home a hairpin.
"I don't say that, dear. What I say is that Mr. Kilmeny may misunderstand your interest in him."
"He may think I'm in love with him. Is that it?" flashed the girl.
"He might. Give a man's vanity the least chance and——"
A reckless impulse to hurt herself—the same which leads a man to grind on an aching tooth in heady rage—swept Moya like a flame.
"Then he would think the truth," she interrupted. "What's the use of denying it? I ... I'm in love with him."
"Moya." Lady Farquhar's protest came in a horrified gasp.
The young woman turned her slim body in the chair with supple grace so as to face her chaperon. Beneath the dark eyes spots of color burned through the tan.
"It's true. I've cared ... ever since we met him."
"And he—has he ever made love to you?"
"Never. He's thought only of Joyce. That's what makes it more shameless."
Lady Farquhar took a moment to absorb the unwelcome news. "I never dreamed it was as bad as this. Of course I knew he interested you a good deal, but——"
Moya could not keep scorn of herself out of her voice. "But you didn't think I was so lost to decency as to throw myself at his head. You see I am."
"Nonsense," cut in her chaperon with sharp common sense. "You're not the first girl that has fancied a man who won't do. It's imagination—a good deal of it. Make yourself forget him. That's all you can do."
"I can't do that. I've tried," confessed Moya miserably.
"Then try again—and again—and still again. Remember that you are engaged to a man worth a dozen of him. Call your pride to help you."
"It seems that I have none. I've told myself forty times that he's a highgrader and that doesn't help."
Her friend was alarmed. "You don't mean that you would marry a man who is a—a man who steals ore."
"No. I wouldn't marry him ... even if he wanted me—which he doesn't. I haven't fallen that far."
"Glad to hear you say that," answered Lady Farquhar with a sigh of relief. She took the girl in her arms and patted one of the shoulders over which the hair cascaded. "My dear, it's hard. You're intense and emotional. But you've got to—to buck up, as James says. You're brave—and you're strong-willed. Make a winning fight."
"What about ... Ned?"
"Does he suspect?"
"I don't know. Sometimes I think he does. But you know how generous he is. He never says anything, or avoids the subject of his cousin in any way." She added, after an instant: "Ned knows that I don't ... love him—that is, in one way. He says he is ready to wait till that comes."
"Ned Kilmeny is a man out of a million."
Moya nodded. "Yes. That's why this is so unfair to him. What ought I to do? Shall I break the engagement? That's what I want to do, but it will hurt him a good deal."
"Wait. Give yourself and him a chance. In a few days we'll be started home."
"That's what I've been telling myself. Everything here reminds me of—him. It will be different then, I try to think. But—down in my heart I don't think it will."
"And I know it will," the matron told her promptly. "Time, my dear, heals all our woes. Youth has great recuperative power. In a year you will wonder how he ever cast such a spell over you."
Moya heard the last belated reveler pass down the corridor to his room before she fell asleep. When she awoke it was to see a long shaft of early sunshine across the bed.
She rose, took her bath, and dressed for walking. Her desire drew the steps of the young woman away from the busy street toward the suburb. She walked, as always, with the elastic resilience of unfettered youth. But the weight that had been at her heart for two days—since she had learned from Jack Kilmeny's lips that he was a highgrader—was still tied there too securely to be shaken away by the wonder of the glorious newborn day.
Returning to the hotel, she met a man on the porch whose face stirred instantly a fugitive memory. He came to her at once, a big leather-skinned man with the weatherbeaten look of the West.
"Aren't you the Miss Dwight I've heard Jack Kilmeny mention?"
"Yes. This is Mr. Colter, isn't it?"
He nodded, watching her with hard narrowed eyes. "Something's wrong. Can you tell me what it is? Jack's mules—two of them, anyhow—came back to the barn during the night with bits of broken harness still attached to them. Looks like there had been a runaway and the wagon had come to grief. The keeper of the livery stable says Bell took the wagon around to Jack's place and left it with him. He was seen driving out of town soon after. He has not been seen since."
Her heart flew to alarm. "You mean ... you think he has been hurt?"
"Don't know. He's not in town. That's a cinch. I've raked Goldbanks with a toothcomb. Where is he?"
"Couldn't he be at his mine?"
"I sent a boy out there. He's not at the Jack Pot."
"What is it that you think? Tell me," she cried softly.
"You're his friend, aren't you?"
"There's some talk around town that he was held up by Bleyer. I came up here to see him or Verinder. Foul play of some kind, that's my guess."
"But—you surely don't think that Mr. Bleyer or Mr. Verinder would ... hurt him."
The look of dogged resolution on the man's granite face did not soften. "They'll have to show me—and by God! if they did——"
Her mind flew with consternation to the attack upon Kilmeny that had been made by Bleyer. But Verinder had told her nobody had been hurt. Could they have taken the highgrader prisoner? Were they holding him for some purpose?
"Mr. Verinder gets up about this time usually," she said.
"I'm waiting for him. He said he would be down at once."
"Will you tell me anything you find out, please? I'll be on the veranda upstairs."
Colter joined her a quarter of an hour later. "I saw both Bleyer and Verinder. They've got something up their sleeve, but I don't think they know where Jack is or what has become of him. They pretended to think I was trying to put one over on them."
"What will you do now?"
"I'll go out to the Jack Pot myself. I've reason to believe he intended to go there."
"If you find out anything——"
"Yes, I'll let you know."
Moya went directly from Colter to Bleyer. The superintendent entered a curt denial to her implied charge.
"Miss Dwight, I don't know what you do or do not know. I see someone has been blabbing. But I'll just say this. When I last saw Jack Kilmeny he was as sound as I am this minute. I haven't the least idea where he is. You don't need to worry about him at all. When he wants to turn up he'll be on deck right side up. Don't ask me what his play is, for I don't know. It may be to get me and Verinder in bad with the miners. Just be sure of one thing: he's grandstanding."
She was amazingly relieved. "I'm so glad. I thought perhaps——"
"——that Mr. Verinder and I had murdered him. Thanks for your good opinion of us, but really we didn't," he retorted in his dryest manner.
She laughed. "I did think perhaps you knew where he was."
"Well, I don't—and I don't want to," he snapped. "The less I see of him the better I'll be satisfied."
The superintendent of the Verinder properties had found a note addressed to him in one of the sacks of quartz taken from Kilmeny. The message, genial to the point of impudence, had hoped he had enjoyed his little experience as a hold-up. To Bleyer, always a serious-minded man, this levity had added insult to injury. Just now the very mention of the highgrader's name was a red rag to his temper. It was bad enough to be bested without being jeered at by the man who had set a trap for him.
It was well on toward evening before Colter paid his promised visit to Miss Dwight. She found him waiting for her upon her return from a ride with Captain Kilmeny, Verinder, and Joyce.
Moya, as soon as she had dismounted, walked straight to him.
"What have you found out, Mr. Colter?"
"Not much. It rained during the night and wiped out the tracks of wagon wheels. Don't know how far Jack got or where he went, but the remains of the wagon are lying at the bottom of a gulch about two miles from the Jack Pot."
"How did it get there?"
"I wish you could tell me that. Couldn't have been a runaway or the mules would have gone over the edge of the road too." He stepped forward quickly as Verinder was about to pass into the hotel. "I want to have a talk with you."
The little man adjusted his monocle. "Ye-es. What about, my man?"
"About Jack Kilmeny. Where is he? What do you know? I'm going to find out if I have to tear it from your throat."
Verinder was no coward, but he was a product of our modern super-civilization. He glanced around hastily. The captain had followed Joyce into the lobby. Moya and he were alone on the piazza, with this big savage who looked quite capable of carrying out his threat.
"Don't talk demned nonsense," the mine owner retorted, flushing angrily.
Colter did not answer in words. The strong muscular fingers of his left hand closed on the right arm of Verinder just below the shoulder with a pressure excruciatingly painful. Dobyans found himself moving automatically toward the end of the porch. He had to clench his teeth to keep from crying out.
"Let me alone, you brute," he gasped.
Colter paid no attention until his victim was backed against the rail in a corner. Then he released the millionaire he was manhandling.
"You're going to tell me everything you know. Get that into your head. Or, by God, I'll wring your neck for you."
The Englishman had never before been confronted with such a situation. He was a citizen of a country where wealth hedges a man from such assaults. The color ebbed from his face, then came back with a rush.
"Go to the devil, you big bully," he flung out sharply.
Moya, taken by surprise at Colter's abrupt desertion of her, had watched with amazement the subsequent flare-up. Now she crossed the porch toward them.
"What are you doing, Mr. Colter?"
"None of your funeral, ma'am," the miner answered bluntly, not for a moment lifting his hard eyes from Verinder. "Better unload what you know. I've had a talk with Quint Saladay. I know all he knows, that Bleyer and you and him with two other lads held up Jack and took his ore away. The three of them left you and Bleyer guarding Jack. What did you do with him?"
"It's a bally lie. I didn't stay with Bleyer to guard him."
"That's right. You didn't. You came back with the others. But you know what Bleyer did. Out with it."
"I don't admit a word of what you say," said Verinder doggedly.
Colter had trapped him into a half admission, but he did not intend to say any more.
Moya spoke, a little timidly. "Wait a minute please, Mr. Colter. Let me talk with Mr. Verinder alone. I think he'll tell me what you want to know."
Jack's friend looked at her with sharp suspicion. Was she trying to make a dupe of him? Her candid glance denied it.
"All right. Talk to him all you like, but you'll do your talking here," he agreed curtly before he turned on his heel and walked away a few steps.
"You must tell him what he wants to know, Mr. Verinder," urged the young woman in a low voice. "Something has happened to his friend. We must help clear it up."
"I'm not responsible for what has happened to his friend. What do you want me to do? Peach on Bleyer, is that it?"
"No. Send for him and tell Mr. Colter the truth."
"I'll see him hanged and quartered first," he replied angrily.
"If you don't, I'll tell what I know. There's a life at stake," Moya cried, a trace of agitation in her voice.
"Fiddlesticks!" he shrugged. "The fellow's full of tricks. He worked one on us the other night. I'm hanged if I let him play me again."
"You must. I'll tell Captain Kilmeny and Lord Farquhar. I'll not let it rest this way. The matter is serious."
"I'm not going to be bullied into saying a word. That's the long and short of it," he repeated in disgust. "Let Bleyer tell the fellow if he wants to. I'll have nothing to do with it. We're not responsible for what has happened—if anything has."
"Then I'll go and get Mr. Bleyer."
"Just as you please. I'd see this ruffian at Halifax first, if you ask me." The angry color flushed his face again as he thought of the insult to which he had been subjected.
To Colter Moya explained her purpose. He nodded agreement without words.
After two or three attempts she got the superintendent on the telephone at the Mollie Gibson mine and arranged with him that he was to come to the hotel at once. A few minutes later he drove up in his car.
Moya put the case to him.
Bleyer turned to his employer. "You want me to tell Colter what I know?"
"I don't care a turn of my hand whether you tell the fellow or not," drawled Verinder, ignoring the presence of Colter.
The superintendent peered at Moya in his nearsighted fashion over the glasses on his nose. "Can't see that it matters much, Miss Dwight. I'm not worrying a bit about Jack Kilmeny, but, if Colter and you are, I'm willing to tell what I know on condition that you keep the facts to yourselves."
"I'll keep quiet if you haven't injured Jack in any way," Colter amended.
"We haven't. He was sound as a new dollar when I left him Tuesday night. Want to hear the particulars?"
"That's what I'm here for," snapped Colter.
Bleyer told the whole story so far as he knew it.
Farquhar and Captain Kilmeny left next day for another short hunting trip. The captain had offered to give it up, but Moya had urged upon him that it would not be fair to disappoint his companion. He had gone reluctantly, because he saw that his fiancee was worried. His own opinion was that his cousin Jack had disappeared for reasons of his own.
Colter did not relax in his search. But as the days passed hope almost died within him. Jack had plenty of enemies, as an aggressive fighter in a new country always must have. His friend's fear was that some of them had decoyed Kilmeny to his death. The suspicions of the miner centered upon Peale and Trefoyle, both because Jack had so recently had trouble with them and because they knew beforehand of his intention to remove the ore. But he could find no evidence upon which to base his feeling, though he and Curly, in company with a deputy sheriff, had put the Cornishmen through a grilling examination.
It had been understood that the young women should take a trip through the Never Quit before they left Goldbanks, but for one reason or another this had been postponed until after the captain and Farquhar had started on their final hunting expedition. The second afternoon after their departure was the one decided upon for the little adventure.
Verinder, with the extravagance that went hand in hand with an occasional astonishing parsimony, had ordered oilskin suits and waterproof boots made especially for his guests. A room was reserved for the young ladies at the mine, equipped for this one occasion to serve as a boudoir where they might dress in comfort.
The mine owner's guests donned, with a good deal of hilarious merriment, the short skirts, the boots, and the rubber helmets. The costumes could not have been called becoming, but they were eminently suited for the wet damp tunnels of the Never Quit.
After they had entered the cage it was a little terrifying to be shot so rapidly down into the blackness of the mine.
"Don't be afraid. It's quite safe," Bleyer told them cheerfully.
At the tenth level the elevator stopped and they emerged into an open space.
"We're going to follow this drift," explained the superintendent.
They seated themselves in ore cars and were wheeled into a cavern lighted at intervals by electric bulbs. Presently the cars slowed down and the occupants descended.
"This way," ordered Bleyer.
They followed in single file into a hot, damp tunnel, which dripped moisture in big drops from the roof upon a rough, uneven floor of stone and dirt where pools of water had occasionally gathered. The darkness increased as they moved forward, driven back by the candles of the men for a space scarce farther than they could reach with outstretched hands.
Moya, bringing up the rear, could hear Bleyer explain the workings to those at his heel. He talked of stopes, drifts, tunnels, wage scales, shifts, high-grade ore, and other subjects that were as Greek to Joyce and India. The atmosphere was oppressively close and warm, and the oilskins that Moya wore seemed to weigh heavily upon her. She became aware with some annoyance at herself that a faintness was stealing over her brain and a mistiness over her eyes. To steady herself she stopped, catching at the rough wall for support. The others, unaware that she was not following, moved on. With a half articulate little cry she sank to the ground.
When she came to herself the lights had disappeared. She was alone in the most profound darkness she had ever known. It seemed to press upon her so ponderably as almost to be tangible. The girl was frightened. Her imagination began to conjure all sorts of dangers. Of cave-ins and explosions she had heard and read a good deal. Anything was possible in this thousand-foot deep grave. In a frightened, ineffective little voice she cried out to her friends.
Instantly there came an answer—a faint tapping on the wall almost at her ear. She listened breathlessly, and caught again that faint far tap—tap—tap—tap—tap—tap—tap. Instinctively her hand went out, groping along the wall until it fell upon a pipe. Even as she touched this the sound came again, and along with it the faintest of vibrations. She knew that somebody at a distance was hitting the pipe with a piece of quartz or metal.
Stooping, she found a bit of broken rock. Three times she tapped the pipe. An answer came at once.
She tried two knocks. Again the response of seven taps sounded. Four blows brought still seven. Why always seven? She did not know, but she was greatly comforted to know that her friends were in communication with her. After all she was not alone.
A light glimmered at the end of the tunnel and moved slowly toward her. Bleyer's voice called her name. Presently the whole party was about her with sympathetic questions and explanations.
She made light of her fainting attack, but Verinder insisted on getting her back to the upper air in spite of her protests. He had discovered that Joyce was quite ready to return to the sunlight, now that her curiosity was satisfied. A very little of anything that was unpleasant went a long way with Miss Seldon, and there was something about this underground tomb that reminded her strongly of an immense grave.
At dinner Verinder referred to the attack of vertigo. "Feel quite fit again, Miss Dwight?"
"Quite, thank you." Moya was a little irritated at the reference, because she was ashamed of having given way to physical weakness. "It was nothing. I was a goose. That's all."
Bleyer, a guest for the evening, defended the young woman from her own scorn. "It often takes people that way the first time, what with the heat and the closeness. I once knew a champion pugilist to keel over while he was going through a mine."
"Were you afraid when you found yourself alone?" Joyce asked.
"I was until you tapped."
India looked puzzled. "Tapped. What do you mean?"
"On the pipe."
"The one that ran through the tunnel."
Miss Kilmeny shook her head. "I didn't see anybody tap. Perhaps one of us touched it by chance."
"No. That couldn't be. The tap came seven times together, and after I had answered it seven times more."
"Seven times?" asked Bleyer quickly.
"Yes—seven. But, if you didn't tap, who did?"
"Sure it wasn't imagination?" Verinder suggested.
"Imagination! I tell you it was repeated again and again," Moya said impatiently.
"Spirit rapping," surmised Joyce lightly. "It doesn't matter, anyhow, since it served its work of comforting Moya."
"It might have been some of the workmen," Lady Farquhar guessed.
"Must have been," agreed Bleyer. "And yet—we're not working that end of the mine now. The men had no business there. Odd that it was seven raps. That is a call for help. It means danger."
A bell of warning began to toll in Moya's heart. It rang as yet no clear message to her brain, but the premonition of something sinister and deadly sent a sinking sensation through her.
Verinder sat up with renewed interest. "I say, you know—spirit rapping. Weren't you telling me, Bleyer, that there was a big accident there some years ago? Perhaps the ghosts of some of the lost miners were sending a message to their wives. Eh, what?"
"The accident was in the Golden Nugget, an adjoining mine. The property was pretty well worked out and has never been opened since the disaster."
The color had ebbed from Moya's lips. She was a sane young woman not given to nerves. But she had worried a great deal over the disappearance of Jack Kilmeny. This, coming on top of it, shook her composure. For she was fighting with the dread that the spirit of the man she loved had been trying to talk with her.
Joyce chattered gayly. "How weird! Moya, you must write an account of your experience for the Society for Psychical Research. Put me in it, please."
"Of course, it must have been some of the men, but I don't see——"
Moya interrupted the superintendent sharply. An intuition, like a flash of light, had illumined her brain. "Where does that pipe run, Mr. Bleyer?"
"Don't know. Maps of the workings at the office would show."
"Will you please find out?"
"Glad to look it up for you, Miss Dwight. I'm a little curious myself."
"I mean now—at once."
He glanced at her in quick surprise. Was she asking him to leave the dinner table to do it? Lady Farquhar saw how colorless Moya was and came to the rescue.
"My dear, you are a little unstrung, aren't you?" she said gently. "I think we might find something more cheerful to talk about. We always have the weather."
Moya rose, trembling. "No. I know now who called for help. It was Jack Kilmeny."
Verinder was the first to break the strained silence. "But that's nonsense, you know."
"It's the truth. He was calling for help."
"Where from? What would he be doing down in a mine?"
"I don't know.... Yes, I do, too," Moya corrected herself, voice breaking under the stress of her emotion. "He has been put down there to die."
"To die." Joyce echoed the words in a frightened whisper.
Dobyans laughed. "This is absurd. Who under heaven would put him there?"
A second flash of light burned in upon the girl. "That man, Peale—and the other ruffian. They knew about the shipment just as you did. They waylaid him ... and buried him in some old mine." Moya faced them tensely, a slim wraith of a girl with dark eyes that blazed. She had forgotten all about conventions, all about what they would think of her. The one thing she saw was Jack Kilmeny in peril, calling for help.
But Lady Farquhar remembered what Moya did not. It was her duty to defend her charge against the errant impulses of the heart, to screen them from the callous eyes of an unsympathetic world.
"You jump to conclusions, my dear. Sit down and we'll talk it over."
"No. He called for help. I'm going to take it to him."
Again Verinder laughed unpleasantly. Moya did not at that moment know the man was in existence. One sure purpose flooded her whole being. She was going to save her lover.
India wavered. She, too, had lost color. "But—you're only guessing, dear."
"You'll find it's true. We must follow that pipe and rescue him. To-night."
"Didn't know you were subject to nerve attacks, Miss Dwight," derided Verinder uneasily.
Moya put her hands in front of her eyes as if to shut out the picture of what she saw. "He's been there for five days ... starving, maybe." She shuddered.
"You're only guessing, Miss Dwight. What facts have you to back it?" Bleyer asked.
"We must start at once—this very hour." Moya had recovered herself and spoke with quiet decision. "But first we must find where the pipe leads."
Bleyer answered the appeal in Lady Farquhar's eyes by rising. He believed it to be a piece of hysterical folly, just as she did. But some instinct of chivalry in him responded to the call made upon him. He was going, not to save Kilmeny from an imaginary death, but to protect the girl that loved him from showing all the world where her heart was.
"I'll be back inside of an hour—just as soon as I can trace that pipe for you, Miss Dwight," he said.
"After all, Moya may be right," India added, to back her friend.
"It's just possible," Bleyer conceded.
THE ACID TEST
Jack Kilmeny opened his eyes to find himself in darkness utter and complete except for a pinpoint of light gleaming from far above. His head was whirling and throbbing painfully. Something warm and moist dropped into his eyes, and when he put his hand up to investigate the cause he knew it must be blood from a wound.
Faintly the sound of voices and of harsh laughter drifted down to him. Presently this died away. The stillness was almost uncanny.
"Something laid me out, I reckon. Must have been a bad whack." His finger found a ridge above the temple which had been plowed through the thick curly hair. "Looks as though a glancing bullet hit me. Golden luck it didn't finish the job."
He moved. A sharp pain shot through his lower right leg. Trying to rise, he slipped down at once from a badly sprained ankle. Every muscle in his body ached, as if he had been jarred by a hard fall.
"Better have a look around first," he told himself.
Groping in his pocket, he found a match case and struck a light. What he saw made him shudder. From the ledge upon which he lay fell away a gulf, the bottom of which could be only guessed. His eyes, becoming accustomed to the darkness, made out that he was in some sort of shaft, thirty feet or more below the surface. Rotten from age, the timberings had slipped and become jammed. Upon some of these he was resting. The sprained ankle, by preventing him from moving, had saved him from plunging down the well.
He held out a silver dollar and dropped it. From the time the coin took to strike Jack judged he was a hundred feet from the bottom.
The flare of a second match showed him a wall ladder leading down, but unfortunately it did not extend above him except in rotting fragments. What had happened he could guess. Supposing him to be dead, his enemies had dropped the body down this deserted shaft. Not for a moment did he doubt who they were. The voices had been unmistakably Cornish, and even without that evidence he would have guessed Peale and his partner as the guilty ones.
Since he could not go up he went down, moving warily so as not to jar loose the timbers upon which he lay. Every rung of the ladder he tested with great care before he put his weight upon it. Each step of the journey down sent a throb of pain from the ricked ankle, even though he rested his weight on his hands while he lowered himself. From the last rung—it was by actual count the one hundred forty-third—he stepped to the ground.
Another match showed him a drift running from the foot of the shaft. Along this he dragged himself slowly, uncertain of direction but determined to find out what possibility of escape his prison offered. For two hundred yards the tunnel led forward and brought him up sharply at an impasse. A cave-in blocked farther advance.
"Check," Jack told himself aloud grimly.
He knew now that his situation was a very serious one, for he had been flung alive into a grave that offered only a slight prospect of escape. He was without food, effectually cut off from the surface of the earth, and none but those who had assaulted him knew that he was buried.
The alternatives that lay before him were plain. He might climb the ladder again to the timber ledge and keep calling for help, or he might attempt to dig a way over the cave-in with his hands and his pocketknife, trusting that the tunnel led to another shaft. The former was a chance pure and simple, and a slender one at that. It was not likely that anybody would pass the mouth of a deserted shaft far up in the hills at this season of the year. But it was quite within the probabilities that the tunnel led to some of the workings of a live property. Many miles of underground drifts were connected by intercepting stopes of adjoining mines. If he could force a way through the cave-in there might be safety beyond. To go moling into such a place without timbering would be a dangerous business, but the crisis was one that justified any risk.
He took stock of his assets. Fortunately he had bought at a lunch counter a ham sandwich to stay his appetite during the night trip. This was still in his pocket, badly mashed but still edible. Five cigars were in the case he carried and upon his person all told he found eleven matches. A little trickle of water ran through the tunnel and gave assurance that he would not die of thirst. His pocketknife was a serviceable one and he had plenty of physical strength.
Jack decided that he would eat half of the sandwich that day and reserve the rest for the second one. His cigars were precious luxuries to be indulged in once every twenty-four hours after he had knocked off work.
He attacked the cave-in with the cool energy that characterized him. Out of a piece of board he fashioned a kind of shovel with his knife. Bits of broken timbering lay at the foot of the shaft. These he dragged into the tunnel for fuel to feed a small fire which he built to give light for the work. All through the night and till noon the following day he dug among the fallen rocks and dirt, cleaning this debris away after he had loosened it with his bare hands.
The impact of the fall when he had been thrown down the shaft had jarred him greatly. With the slightest movement of the body his back and shoulders ached, sending shoots of pain in protest to his brain. The sprained ankle he had bound tightly in a wet handkerchief, but every time his weight rested on that leg he had to grit his teeth. But it was not in him to quit. He stuck to his job till he had done the shift set himself.
At noon he crawled back to the foot of the shaft. He was fagged to exhaustion. For half an hour he lay stretched on his back with every muscle relaxed.
Presently he cut from his coat the pocket that contained the sandwich and divided the mash of ham and bread into two parts. One of these he ate. The other he returned to the coat.
Favoring his ricked ankle as best he could, Jack climbed the wall ladder to the ledge upon which he had found himself lying the previous night. Five minutes' examination of the walls showed him that there was no chance to reach the top of the shaft unaided. He tested the jammed timbers to make sure they were secure before he put his weight upon them. During the next six hours he called aloud every few minutes to attract the attention of anyone who might chance to be passing near.
Toward evening he treated himself to his first cigar, making the most of the comfort that it gave him. When the stub grew short he held it on the small blade of his knife so as not to miss a puff. What was left he wrapped in a pocket handkerchief for later use.
As the stars began to come out in the little patch of blue sky he could see just above his prison Jack lowered himself again to the foot of the shaft. Here he lay down a second time and within five minutes had fallen into a deep sleep.
About midnight he awakened and was aware at once of a ravenous hunger. He was still resolute to win a way out, though the knowledge pressed on him that his chances were slender at the best. Till morning he worked without a moment's rest. The fever in his ankle and the pain of the sprain had increased, but he could not afford to pay any attention to them. Blood from his scarred, torn hands ran down his wrists. Every muscle in his abused body ached. Still he stabbed with his knife into the earth that filled the tunnel and still he pulled great rocks back with his shovel. All his life he had fought for his own hand. He would not let himself believe fate had played so scurvy a trick as to lock him alive into a tomb closed so tightly that he could not pry a way out.
When his watch told him it was eight o'clock he staggered to the shaft again and lay down on his back to rest. Before climbing to the platform above he finished the sandwich. He was very hungry and could have eaten enough for two men had he been given the opportunity. Again for hours he called every few minutes at the top of his voice.
In his vest pocket were a pencil and a notebook used for keeping the accounts of the highgraders with whom he did business. To pass the time he set down the story of the crime which had brought him here and his efforts to free himself.
After darkness fell he let himself down to the foot of the shaft and slept. Either from hunger or from fever in his ankle he slept brokenly. He was conscious of a little delirium in his waking spells, but the coming of midnight found him master of himself, though a trifle lightheaded.
It was impossible to work as steadily as he had done during the two previous nights. Hunger and pain and toil were doing their best to wear out his strength. His limbs moved laggardly. Once he fell asleep in the midst of his labor. He dreamed of Moya, and after he awakened—as he presently did with a start—she seemed so near that it would scarce have surprised him if in the darkness his hands had come in contact with the soft flesh of her vivid face. Nor did it strike him as at all odd that it was Moya and not Joyce who was visiting him when he was in prison. Sometimes she came to him as the little girl of the Victorian, but more often the face he saw was the mocking one of the young woman, in which gayety overran the tender sadness of the big, dusky eyes beneath which tiny freckles had been sprinkled. More than once he clearly heard her whisper courage to him.
Next day the notes in his diary were more fragmentary.
"Broke my rule and smoked two cigars to-day. Just finished my fourth. Leaves one more. I drink a great deal. It helps me to forget I'm hungry. Find a cigar goes farther if I smoke it in sections. I chew the stubs while I'm working.
"Have tunneled in about seventeen feet. No sign that I'm near the end of the cave-in. There's a lot of hell in being buried alive.
"Think I'm losing my voice from shouting so much when I'm in the shaft. Gave it up to-day and let little Moya call for me. She's a trump. Wish she'd stay here all the time and not keep coming and going."
The jottings on the fourth day show the increase of the delirium. Sometimes his mind appears to be quite clear, then it wanders to queer fancies.
"Last cigar gone. Got sick from eating the stub. Violent retchings. Kept falling asleep while working. Twenty-nine feet done—surely reach the end to-morrow.... Another cave-in just after I crawled out from my tunnel. All my work wiped out. Moya, the little devil, laughed and said it served a highgrader right....
"Have telegraphed for help. Can't manage alone. Couldn't make it up the shaft and had to give up the climb. Ordered a big breakfast at the Silver Dollar—steak and mushrooms and hot cakes. The telegraph wires run through pipe along floor of tunnel. Why don't the operator stay on his job? I tap my signals and get no answer."
He began to talk to himself in a rambling sort of way. Sometimes he would try to justify himself for highgrading in jerky half-coherent phrases, sometimes he argued with Peale that he had better let him out. But even in his delirious condition he stuck to his work in the tunnel, though he was scarce able to drag himself about.
As the sickness grew on him, the lightheaded intervals became more frequent. In one of these it occurred to him that he had struck high grade ore and he filled his pockets with samples taken from the cave-in. He spent a good deal of time explaining to Moya patiently over and over again that the business of highgrading was justified by the conditions under which the miners lived. There was no sequence to his thoughts. They came in flashes without logical connection. It became, for instance, a firm obsession that the pipe running through the tunnel was a telegraph wire by means of which he could communicate with the outside world if the operator would only stay on duty. But his interest in the matter was intermittent.
It is suggestive of his condition that when Moya's answer came to his seven taps he took it quite as a matter of course.
"The son of a Greaser is back on the job at last," he said aloud without the least excitement. "Now, I'll get that breakfast I ordered."
He crawled back to the foot of the shaft in a childish, absurd confidence that the food he craved would soon be sent down to him. While he waited, Jack fell into light sleep where he lost himself in fancies that voiced themselves in incoherent snatches of talk.
CAPTAIN KILMENY RETIRES
A voice calling his name from the top of the shaft brought Jack Kilmeny back to consciousness. He answered.
A shout of joy boomed down to him in Colter's heavy bass. He could hear, too, the sweet troubled tones of a woman.
"Hurry, please, hurry.... Thank God, we're in time."
"Got that breakfast with you, little neighbor," Jack called up weakly. He did not need to be told that Moya Dwight was above, and, since she was there, of course she had brought him the breakfast that he had ordered from the Silver Dollar.
"Get back into the tunnel, Jack," Colter presently shouted.
"We're lowering someone to you. The timberings are rotten and they might fall on you. Get back."
Five minutes later the rescuer reached the foot of the shaft. He stood for a moment with a miner's lamp lifted above his head and peered into the gloom.
"Where away, Jack?"
The man was Ned Kilmeny. He and Lord Farquhar had returned to the hotel just after dinner. The captain had insisted—all the more because there was some danger in it—that he should be the man lowered to the aid of his cousin.
"Bring that breakfast?" Jack snapped, testily.
"Yes, old man. It's waiting up above. Brought some soup down with me."
"I ordered it two hours ago. What's been keeping you? I'm going to complain of the service."
The captain saw at once that Jack was lightheaded and he humored him.
"Yes, I would. Now drink this soup."
The imprisoned man drained the bucket to the last drop.
Ned loosened the rope from his own body and fastened it about that of his cousin. He gave the signal and Jack was hauled very carefully to the surface in such a way as not to collide with the jammed timbers near the top. Colter and Bleyer lifted the highgrader over the edge of the well, where he collapsed at once into the arms of his friend.
Moya, a flask in her hand, stooped over the sick man where he lay on the grass. Her fine face was full of poignant sympathy.
Kilmeny's mind was quite clear now. The man was gaunt as a famished wolf. Bitten deep into his face were the lines that showed how closely he had shaved death. But in his eye was the gay inextinguishable gleam of the thoroughbred.
"Ain't I the quitter, Miss Dwight? Keeling over just like a sick baby."
The young woman choked over her answer. "You mustn't talk yet. Drink this, please."
He drank, and later he ate sparingly of the food she had hastily gathered from the dinner table and brought with her. In jerky little sentences he sketched his adventure, mingling fiction with fact as the fever grew on him again.
Bleyer, himself a game man, could not withhold his admiration after he had heard Captain Kilmeny's story of what he had found below. The two, with Moya, were riding behind the wagon in which the rescued man lay.
"Think of the pluck of the fellow—boring away at that cave-in when any minute a million tons of rock and dirt might tumble down and crush the life out of him. That's a big enough thing. But add to it his game leg and his wound and starvation on top of that. I'll give it to him for the gamest fellow that ever went down into a mine."
"That's not all," the captain added quietly. "He must have tunneled in about twenty-five feet when the roof caved again. Clean bowled out as he was, Jack tackled the job a second time."
Moya could not think of what had taken place without a film coming over her eyes and a sob choking her throat. A vagabond and worse he might be, but Jack Kilmeny held her love beyond recall. It was useless to remind herself that he was unworthy. None the less, she gloried in the splendid courage of the man. It flooded her veins joyously even while her heart was full to overflowing with tender pity for his sufferings. Whatever else he might be, Jack Kilmeny was every inch a man. He had in him the dynamic spark that brought him smiling in his weakness from the presence of the tragedy that had almost engulfed him.
There was a little discussion between Colter and Captain Kilmeny as to which of them should take care of the invalid. The captain urged that he would get better care at the hotel, where Lady Farquhar and India could look after him. Colter referred the matter to Jack.
"I'm not going to burden Lady Farquhar or India. Colter can look out for me," the sick man said.
"It's no trouble. India won't be satisfied unless you come to the hotel," Moya said in a low voice.
He looked at her, was about to decline, and changed his mind. The appeal in her eyes was too potent.
"I'm in the hands of my friends. Settle it any way you like, Miss Dwight. Do whatever you want with me, except put me back in that hell."
After a doctor had seen Jack and taken care of his ankle, after the trained nurse had arrived and been put in charge of the sick room, Captain Kilmeny made a report to Moya and his sister.
"He's gone to sleep already. The doctor says he'll probably be as well as ever in a week, thanks to you, Moya."
"Thanks to you, Ned," she amended.
"He sent to you this record of how he spent his time down there—said it might amuse you."
The Captain looked straight at her as he spoke.
"I'll read it."
"Do. You'll find something on the last page that will interest you. Now, I'm going to say good-night. It's time little girls were in bed."
He kissed his sister and Moya, rather to the surprise of the latter, for Captain Kilmeny never insisted upon the rights of a lover. There was something on his face she did not quite understand. It was as if he were saying good-by instead of good-night.
She understood it presently. Ned had written a note and pinned it to the last page of the little book. She read it twice, and then again in tears. It told her that the soldier had read truly the secret her anxiety had flaunted in the face of all her friends.
"It's no go, dear girl. You've done your best, but you don't love me. You never will. Afraid there's no way left but for me to release you. So you're free again, little sweetheart.
"I know you won't misunderstand. Never in my life have I cared for you so much as I do to-night. But caring isn't enough. I've had my chance and couldn't win out. May you have good hunting wherever you go."
The note was signed "Ned."
Her betrothed had played the game like the gentleman he was to a losing finish. She knew he would not whimper or complain, that he would meet her to-morrow cheerfully and easily, hiding even from her the wound in his heart. He was a better man than his cousin. She could not deny to herself that his gallantry had a finer edge. His sense of right was better developed and his courage quite as steady. Ned Kilmeny had won his V. C. before he was twenty-five. He had carried to a successful issue one of the most delicate diplomatic missions of recent years. Everybody conceded that he had a future. If Jack had never appeared on her horizon she would have married Ned and been to him a loving wife. But the harum-scarum cousin had made this impossible.
Why? Why had her roving heart gone out to this attractive scamp who did not want her love or care for it? She did not know. The thing was as unexplainable as it was inescapable. All the training of her life had shaped her to other ends. Lady Farquhar would explain it as a glamour cast by a foolish girl's fancy. But Moya knew the tide of feeling which raced through her was born not of fancy but of the true romance.
TWO IN A BUCKET
Jack heard the story of his rescue from India. He surprised her alone in the breakfast room by hobbling in one morning after the rest had gone.
She popped a question directly at him. "Did the doctor say you could get up?"
"Didn't ask him," he answered with a laugh, and dropped into a seat across the table.
Shaven and dressed in a clean freshly pressed suit, he looked a different man from the haggard grimy vagabond Captain Kilmeny had brought back with him three days earlier. The eyes were still rather sunken and the face a bit drawn, but otherwise he was his very competent and debonair self. His "Good mornin', India," was as cheery and matter of fact as if those five days of horror had never existed.
"Don't believe it will hurt you." Her bright eyes were warm in their approval of him. "You look a lot fitter than you did even yesterday. It's awfully jolly to see you around again, Cousin Jack."
"I'm enjoying it myself," he conceded. "Anything of importance in that covered dish over there?"
"Tell me all about it," she ordered, handing him the bacon. Then, with a shudder, she added: "Must have been rather awful down there."
"Bad enough," he admitted lightly.
"Tell me." She leaned forward, chin in hand.
"What's the use? Those fellows put me down. Your brother took me up. That's all."
"It isn't all. Ned says it is perfectly marvelous the way you dug that tunnel and escaped from being crushed, and then dug it again after it had caved."
"Couldn't lie down and quit, could I? A man in the hole I was can't pick and choose." He smiled lazily at her and took a muffin from a plate handed him by the waiter. "My turn to ask questions. I want the full story of how you guessed I was in the west shaft of the Golden Nugget."
"Haven't you heard? It was Moya guessed it—from the tapping on the pipe, you know."
"So I've been told. Now let's have the particulars." His eyes went arrow-straight into hers and rested there.
India told him. She knew that Ned would make a safer husband for Moya than this forceful adventurer. It was quite likely to be on the cards that he cared nothing for her friend. Indeed, his desperate flirtation with Joyce indicated as much. Moreover, Moya would not marry a man whom she could not respect, one who made his living by dishonest practices. But in spite of all these objections Miss Kilmeny told her cousin how Moya had fought for his life against ridicule and unbelief, regardless of what any of them might think of her.
He made one comment when she had finished. "So I have to thank Moya Dwight for my life."
"Moya alone. They laughed at her, but she wouldn't give up. I never saw anybody so stubborn. There's something splendid in her. She didn't care what any of us thought. The one thing in her mind was that she was going to save you. So Mr. Bleyer had to get up from dinner and find out from the maps where that pipe went. He traced it to the old west shaft of the Golden Nugget."
"And what did you think?" he asked, watching her steadily.
"I admired her pluck tremendously."
"Did Verinder—and Bleyer—and Lady Farquhar?"
"How do I know what they thought?" flamed the girl. "If Mr. Verinder is cad enough——" She stopped, recalling certain obligations she was under to that gentleman.
"Why did she do it?"
She flashed a look of feminine scorn at him. "You'll have to ask Moya that—if you want to know."
He nodded his head slowly. "That's just what I'm going to do."
"You'll have more time to talk with her—now that Joyce is engaged and daren't flirt with you," his cousin suggested maliciously.
Though he tried to carry this off with a laugh, the color mounted to his face. "I've been several kinds of an idiot in my time."
"Don't you dare try any nonsense with Moya," her friend cried, a little fiercely.
"No," he agreed.
"She's not Joyce."
He had an answer for that. "I'd marry her to-morrow if she'd take me."
"You mean you...?"
"Yes. From the first day I met her again. And I didn't know it till I was down in that hell hole. Shall I tell you something?" He put his arms on the table and leaned toward her with shining eyes. "She was with me down there most of the time. Any time I stopped to listen I could hear her whisper courage in that low, sweet voice of hers."
"You know about her and Ned?"
"He's a better man than you are, Jack."
"But you won't let him have her."
"No, by God, not unless she loves him."
"She would have loved him if it hadn't been for you."
"You mean she loves me?"
"She won't marry you. She can't."
"Why not? Because I don't belong to her social set?"
"No. That would be reason enough for Joyce or me, but I don't think it would stop Moya."
Joyce interrupted further confidences by making her usual late appearance for breakfast. At sight of Kilmeny her eyes brightened. Life always became more interesting for her when a possible man was present. Instantly she came forward with a touch of reluctant eagerness that was very effective.
"I'm glad to see you up again—so glad, Mr. Kilmeny."
In the pretty breakfast gown which displayed her soft curves and the ripe roundness of throat and arm she made a picture wholly charming. If Jack was overpowered he gave no sign of it.
"Glad to meet you, Miss Seldon."
Her eyes rained sweet pity on him, a tenderness potent enough to disturb the serenity of any young man not in armor.
"We—we've been so worried about you."
He laughed, genially and without resentment. "Awfully good of you. Shall I ring for the waiter?"
India rose. "I'm going riding with Ned and Moya," she explained.
Alone with the Westerner, Joyce felt her blood begin to quicken.
"Are you quite ... recovered?" she asked.
Their eyes met. In his there was a faint cynical smile of amusement.
She understood the double meaning in his words. Her lashes fell to the soft cheeks, then lifted again. "I thought perhaps there might be ... that you might still be...."
He shook his head vigorously. "It was only a dream. I can laugh at it now—and at myself for taking it seriously."
Joyce bit her lip with vexation. There was something not quite decent in so prompt a recovery from her charms. He did not appear to hold even any resentment.
Nor did he. Kilmeny had been brought too near the grim realities to hold any petty pique. He found this young woman still charming, but his admiration was tinctured with amusement. No longer did his imagination play upon her personality. He focused it upon the girl who had fought for his life against the ridicule and the suspicions of her friends. It was impossible for him to escape the allure of her fine sweet courage so gallantly expressed in every look and motion.
But Moya let him severely alone. Her pride was suffering because she had showed to all her little world too keen an interest in him. In her anxiety to repudiate any claim he might think she felt she had upon him the girl was scornfully indifferent to his advances. Almost rudely she rejected his gratitude.
"The man does not owe me anything. Can't he see that honors are easy?" she said impatiently to Lady Farquhar.