"Well, my dear. I can't tell you how delighted I am to get you back," he said, pausing at her side. "My work's not been by any means satisfactory with you away. There's just no one suits me in this house like you. But the thing I'm most glad about is your success. That's been wonderful. I felt you would make good, but I didn't know how good. Now I'm going to ring this fellow up and fix things to see him. Meanwhile you get your big report of the camps ready for the Board. Then, when you're ready, I'm going to let them see you, and hear it all from you first hand, and I'm going to get them to give you the head of the forestry department right here. It'll be a mighty jump, but—well—"
Nancy was on her feet and her eyes were shining a gratitude which words could never express. Impulsively she held out a hand in ardent thanks.
"Why, say—" she began.
The man had seized the delicate tapering fingers and held them warmly in the palms of both of his.
"Now just don't say a thing," he said. "I know. I know just how you feel, and the things you want to say. But don't. You've earned the best, and I'm going to see you get it. I'm going to lose a smart secretary, but I don't care if I make one good little friend. Now, Nancy, what about to-night? I think we ought to celebrate your triumphant return with a little dinner up at the Chateau. What say? Will you—honour me? Eight o'clock. Thank goodness we're not a dry country yet, and it's still possible to enjoy our successful moments properly. Will you?"
Nancy longed to withdraw the hand the man still held. It was curious. Every word he said expressed just those things and tributes which her girlish vanity had desired. There was not a word in all of it to give offence. But for the second time she experienced a sense of trouble which her woman's instinct prompted, and a feeling akin to panic stirred. But she resisted it, as she knew she must, and her mind was quite made up.
"You're—very kind," she said, with all the earnestness she could summon, and with a gentleness that was intended to disarm. "But I'm so very—very tired. You don't know what it was like on the Myra. We were battered and beaten almost to death. I feel as if I needed sleep for a week."
The man released her hand lingeringly. His disappointment was intense, but he smiled.
"Why, sure," he said, "if you feel that way. I hadn't thought."
Then he turned abruptly back to his desk. "That's all right. Guess we'll leave it. You go right home and get your rest."
For a moment Nancy hesitated. She was fearful of giving offence. She felt the man's disappointment in his tone, and in the manner of his turning away. But she dared not yield to his request. Suddenly she remembered, and all hesitation passed.
"I—I just want to thank you for your kind thought sending me those flowers and fruit," she exclaimed. "I wanted to thank you before, but I was too excited with my news. I—"
The man cut her short.
"That's all right, my dear," he said. Then he nodded and deliberately turned to his work. "I'm glad. Now—just run right along home and—rest."
The palatial halls and public rooms of the hotel were crowded. Everywhere was the hum of voices, which penetrated even to the intended quiet of the writing rooms. Every now and then the monotony of it all was broken by the high-pitched, youthful voices of the messenger boys seeking out their victims.
Bull Sternford was at work. Within an hour of his arrival he was plunged in the affairs connected with the great business organisation he projected. The earlier date of his visit to Quebec had necessitated considerable changes in plans already prepared. He had entailed for himself endless added work for the pleasure of the companionship of a beautiful girl on the journey down the coast, and begrudged no detail of it. Just now he was writing to a number of important people, bankers and financial men, re-arranging appointments to suit his change of plans.
There was something tremendously purposeful in the poise of the man's body as he sat at one of the many writing tables scattered about the smoking lounge. There were few passers-by who did not glance a second time in his direction with that curiosity which is unfailing in human nature at sight of an unusual specimen of their kind.
Twice a name was called by a uniformed boy in that unintelligible fashion which seems to be the habit of his species. The boy hovered round. Then he came up behind the chair on which Bull was seated and hurled his final challenge.
"Sternford, sir?" he asked curtly.
His victim turned.
"Wanted on the 'phone, sir."
The boy was gone on the run. He had hunted his quarry down. There were still fresh victories to be achieved.
* * * * *
Bull was at the 'phone, and his eyes were smiling at an insurance advertisement set up for the edification and interest of those whose use of the instrument prevented their escape.
"Yes. Oh, yes. Got in this morning. What's that? Oh, pretty rough. Yes. It's a bad sea most all the time. Why, that's good of you, Mr. Peterman." His smile broadened. "Yes. You sent an excellent ambassador. A charming girl. Well, there's no time like the present. Yes. I've lunched. I'm just through with my mail. Four o'clock would suit me admirably. Why sure I'd like to. All right. G'bye."
He stood for a moment after replacing the receiver. Then, becoming aware of another wanting to use the instrument, he moved away.
Returning to the smoking lounge he finished off his correspondence and took possession of one of the couches and lit a cigar.
For a time the hang-over of business pre-occupied him. But it was not for long. His whole thought swiftly became absorbed in Nancy McDonald, with her wonderful halo of vivid hair. It had been the same during the whole of his journey down from Sachigo, in fact, from the moment he had first set eyes on her when she entered his office on that memorable day of her visit. She pre-occupied all his leisure.
He had thought deeply on the meaning of her visit to him, and his thought had had little to do with the mission she had come upon. Swift decision had dealt with that. No, it was the girl herself who claimed him.
He understood the sheer design of the Skandinavia in sending so perfect a creature to him. That was easy. It only helped to prove their desire—their urgent desire—to free themselves from the threat of his competition. But he wondered at their selection.
Somehow he felt that the Skandinavia should have chosen, if their choice fell upon a woman, a clever, brilliant, unscrupulous creature who knew her every asset, and was capable of playing every one of them in the game of commercial warfare. Instead of that they had sent Nancy, with her sweetly beautiful face and perfect hair, to be their unthinking tool. He realised her simplicity, her splendid loyalty to those she served. He knew she was without design or subterfuge. She was just the most beautiful, desirable creature he had ever beheld in his life.
He told himself it was all wrong. This wonderful child should never have been sent on such a journey, on such an errand. She was fit only for the shelter of a happy home life, protection from every roughness, every taint with which the sordid world of commerce could besmirch her. His chivalry was stirred to its depths, and the wrong of it all, as he saw it, only the more surely deepened his purpose for his dealings with an unscrupulous rival who could commit so egregious an outrage.
Bull Sternford's existence, until now had always been a joyous heart-whole striving which had no more in it than the calmly conceived ideals of a heart undisturbed by sexual emotions. Now—now that had been completely changed. Perhaps he was not yet wholly aware of the thing that had come to him. He saw a woman, a perfect creature who had come to him out of the forest world in which his whole life was bound up, and a passionate excitement had taken possession of him. There could be no denial of that. But so far the full measure of his feelings had not revealed itself. All he wanted was to think of nothing and nobody just now, but this girl who had stirred him so deeply. So he stretched himself out on the well-sprung couch and yielded to the delight of it all.
But the hour he had been free to dispose of thus was swiftly used up with his pleasant dreaming. And it was with a feeling of real irritation that he finally flung away his cigar and bestirred himself. His irritation did not last long, however, and his consolation was found in the fact that Elas Peterman was awaiting him, and Elas Peterman was the man who had so outrageously offended against his ideas of chivalry.
He stood up and brushed the fallen cigar ash from his clothing. His one desire now was to get through with the business once and for all, to do the thing that should leave Nancy McDonald with the reward of her labours. Yes, he wanted to do that. Afterwards—well, he must leave the "afterwards" to itself.
He hurried away in search of his heavy winter overcoat.
* * * * *
Elas Peterman looked up as the door opened to admit his visitor. His first impression startled him not a little.
It was the first time he had encountered the man from Sachigo.
Bull moved into the room with that large ease which big men so often display. And he paused and frankly gripped the carefully manicured hand Peterman held out to him.
"I'm real glad to meet you, Mr. Peterman," he said quietly. Then he dropped into the chair set for him, while his eyes responded unsmilingly to the measuring gaze of the other.
"It's queer we've never met before," Bull said, leaning back in his chair.
Peterman laughed. He pushed a large box of cigars close to the visitor's hand.
"It's mostly that way with the high command in—war," he said easily. "The opposing generals don't meet except at the—peace table. Those are Bolivars. Try one?"
Bull helped himself with a laugh that was about as real as the other's.
"The pipe of—peace, eh?" he said.
"That's how I hope," Peterman replied.
Bull nodded as he lit his cigar.
"Most of us hope for peace, and do our best to aggravate war. That so?"
"It's damn fool human nature."
Peterman sat back in his chair, and laughed a little boisterously. Then he turned to the window while Bull silently consulted the white ash of his cigar.
"You're projecting a big thing in pulp," the Swede said a moment later. "You figger to split the Canadian pulp trade into two opposing camps. The Skandinavia and the Labrador enterprises. It means one great, big prolonged battle in which one or the other is to be beaten. Guess it's liable to be a battle in which the public'll get temporary benefit, while we—who fight it—look like losing all along the line. It seems a pity, eh?"
"War's a tough proposition, anyway," Bull replied slowly. "Its only excuse is it's Nature's way of wiping out the fool mistakes and crimes human nature spends most of its time committing. If two sets of criminals set out to grab, it's odds they'll do hurt to each other, and end by leaving the world easier when they're completely despoiled."
"Sure," he said. "And these fool criminals? Is there need for them to fall out?"
"That's how we of the Skandinavia feel. That's the notion always in my mind. Say—"
Bull's eyes were squarely gazing. Their clear depths looked straight into the dark eyes of the man at the desk. Their regard was intense. It was almost disconcerting.
"What's the proposition?" he went on. And his firm lips closed over the last word and contrived to transform the simple question into a definite challenge.
Peterman stirred uneasily. At that moment he beheld more clearly than ever the picture of this man with his great arms about the body of the woman he coveted, and feeling lent sharpness to his tone.
"What's the price you set on your enterprise up at Labrador?" he said.
Bull removed his cigar. He emitted a pensive stream of smoke. His eyes were again pre-occupied with the white ash, so firm and clean on its tip. Then quite suddenly he looked up.
"If you'll tell me the price you set on the whole of the Skandinavia, I'll talk."
"What d'you mean?"
The Swede had less command of his feelings than the other. He had never learnt the methods of the forest as Bull had learned them.
"Why, I can't set a price on Sachigo till I know the price you set on the Skandinavia," Bull's eyes were smiling. "You see I should need to double it for—Sachigo."
The man from Labrador had driven home to the quick, and the Teutonic vanity of the Swede was instantly aflame. Peterman had committed the one offence which the younger man could not forgive. He had dared, in his vanity, to believe that the situation between them was a question of price.
"I didn't invite you here to sell you—the Skandinavia," Peterman blustered, giving way to anger he could not restrain.
"No. And I didn't accept your invitation for the purpose of selling—Sachigo. If there's any buying and selling going on you'd best understand quite clearly I am the buyer."
There was a dangerous light in Bull's eyes levelled so steadily on the angry face of the Swede.
Bull shrugged at the challenge.
"I'm quite indifferent," he said coldly.
There was a moment of tense silence. Then the Swede smiled.
"You're ready then to let the fool public benefit at your expense?"
"No." A smile of real humor flashed in Bull's eyes. "At yours."
"You mean—you think to—smash us?"
"Just as sure as the sun'll rise to-morrow. Just as sure as Providence set up forest and water powers on Labrador such as you've never dreamed of since you forgot your boyhood. Just as sure as your Shagaunty's played out and you need to start in on fresh limits you aren't sure of yet. Just as sure as they're going to cost you a heap more than when you were busy treating the fortune that Shagaunty handed you like the worst fool-head spendthrift who ever broke a bank at the gambling tables."
Bull rose abruptly from his chair.
"I'm obliged for this interview, Mr. Peterman," he went on. "It's suited me. That's why I came along down in a hurry. You're fortunate in that lady representative. Her tact and persuasion left me feeling you had a real proposition that was worth considering. I guess she'll go a long way for you, and if there's any live person can help your ship along, she's that live person. But you can't buy me, and you can't smash me. I mean that. You see, I know your position. It's my job to know the position of any possible competitor, and naturally I know yours. Your Shagaunty's run dry, and, well, I don't need to tell you all that means to you." He dropped the stump of his cigar into an ash tray. "That's a good cigar," he went on with a derisive smile. "Thanks. Good-bye."
* * * * *
Bull was at the telephone again. He was again smiling at the insurance advertisement. But now his smile was of a different quality. It was full of delighted anticipation.
"Oh, yes," he was saying. "I spent quite a pleasant ha'f hour with him. I enjoyed it immensely. Yes. He seems to be the man to run an enterprise like yours. He certainly has both initiative and confidence. A little hasty in judgment, I think. But—yes, I'd like to tell you all about it. What are you doing this evening? Oh, resting. I suppose you eat while resting. Yes. It's necessary, isn't it? Anyway I find it so. Eh? Oh, yes. You see, I've a big frame to support. Will you help me to support it this evening? I mean dinner here? Will you? Oh, that's fine. I'd love to tell you about it all. Fine. Right. Eight o'clock then. I'll go and arrange it all now. It shall be a very special dinner, I promise you. Good-bye."
He put up the receiver and turned away. His smile remained, and it had no relation to anything but his delight that Nancy McDonald had consented to dine with him.
AT THE CHATEAU
Nancy was standing before the mirror which occupied the whole length of the door of the dress-closet with which her modest bedroom had been provided by a thoughtful architect.
She was studying the results of her preparations. She was to dine with Bull Sternford, the man who had caught and held her interest for all she knew that they belonged to camps that were sternly opposed to each other. She wanted to look her best, whatever that best might be, and she was haunted by a fear that her best could never rank in its due place amongst the superlatives.
However, she had arrayed herself in her newest and smartest party frock. She had spent hours, she believed, on her unruly masses of hair, and furthermore, she had assiduously applied herself to obliterating the weather stain which the fierce journey from Labrador had inflicted upon the beautiful oval of her cheeks. Now, at last, the final touches had been given, and she was critically surveying the result.
The longer she studied her reflection the deeper grew the discontent in her pretty, hazel eyes. It was the same old reflection, she told herself. It was a bit tricked out; a bit less real. It was a tiresome thing which gave her no satisfaction at all. There was the red hair that looked so very red. There were the eyes, which, at times, she was convinced were really green. There was the stupid nose that always seemed to her to occupy too much of her face. And as for her cheeks, the wind and sea had left them looking more healthy, but—She sighed and hurriedly turned away. She felt that mirrors were an invention calculated to upset the conceit of any girl.
She moved quickly round the little room. Her gloves, her wrap. She picked them up. The gloves she was painfully aware had already been cleaned twice, and her cloak had no greater merits than the modest-priced frock which had strained her limited bank roll. Then she consulted the clock on her bureau, and, picked up her scent-spray. This was the last, the final touch she could not resist.
In the midst of using it she set it down with a feeling of sudden panic.
She had remembered. She stood staring down at the dressing table with a light of trouble in her eyes. The whole incident had been forgotten till that moment. She remembered she had refused to dine with Elas Peterman that night on a plea of weariness, and without a thought had unhesitatingly accepted the invitation of the man whom the Skandinavia had marked down for its victim.
For some seconds the enormity of the thing she had done overwhelmed her. Then a belated humour came to her rescue and a shadowy smile drove the trouble from her eyes.
Suppose—but no. Her chief would be dining at home, as was his habit. Then, anyway, there could be no harm. She was concerned in this thing. She had a right. She even told herself it was imperative she should know what had transpired at the interview she had brought about. Besides, was there not the possibility of certain rougnnesses occurring between the two men which it might be within her power to smooth down? That was surely so. She had no right to miss any opportunity of furthering the ends of her own people.
Then she laughed outright. Oh, it was excuse. She knew. She was looking forward to the evening. Of course she was. Then, just as suddenly all desire to laugh expired. Why? Why was she looking forward to dining with Bull Sternford?
Bull! What a quaint name. She had thought of it before. She had thought of it at the time when the lonely missionary of the forest had told her of him.
Swiftly her thought passed on to her meeting with the man himself. She remembered her nervousness when she had first looked into his big, wholesome face, with its clear, searching eyes. Yes, she had realised then the truth of Father Adam's description. He would as soon fight as laugh. There could be no doubt of it.
And then those days on the Myra. She recalled their talk of the sea-gulls, and of the men of the forests, and she remembered the almost brutal contempt for them he had so downrightly expressed. Then the moment of disaster to herself. It was he who had saved her, he who had fought for her, although he had been in little better case himself.
What was it they had told her? He must be bought or smashed. She wondered if they realised the man they were dealing with. She wondered what they would have felt and thought if they had listened to the confident assurance of Father Adam. If they had listened to Bull Sternford himself, and learned to know him as she had already learned to know him. The Skandinavia was powerful, but was it powerful enough to deal as they desired with this man who was as ready to fight as to laugh?
She shook her head. And it was a negative movement she was unaware of. Well, anyway, the game had begun, and she was in it. Her duty was clear enough. And meanwhile she would miss no opportunity to pull her whole weight for her side, even when she knew that was not the whole thought in her mind.
But somehow there were things she regretted when she remembered the fight ahead. She regretted the moment when this man had saved her from almost certain death against the iron stanchions and sides of the Myra. She regretted his fine eyes, and he had fine eyes which looked so squarely out of their setting. Then, too, he had been so kindly concerned that she should achieve the mission upon which she had embarked. It would have been so easy and even exacting had he been a man of less generous impulse. A man whom she could have thoroughly disliked. But he was the reverse of all those things which make it a joy to hurt. He was—
She pulled herself up and seized the pretty beaded vanity bag lying ready to her hand. Then the telephone rang.
It was the cab which the porter had ordered, and she hastily switched off the lights.
On the way down in the elevator her train of thought persisted. And long before she reached the Chateau, a feeling that she was playing something of the part of Delilah took hold of her and depressed her.
But she was determined. Whatever happened her service and loyalty was in support of her early benefactors, and no act of hers should betray them.
* * * * *
The scene was pleasantly seductive. There was no doubt or anxiety in Nancy McDonald's mind now. How should there be? She was young. She was beautiful. The man with whom she was dining was remarkable amongst the well-dressed throng that filled the great dining-room. Then the dinner had been carefully considered.
But it was the delightful surroundings, the little excitement of it all that left the girl's thought care-free. The shaded table lights. The wonderful flowers. The dark panelling of the great room constructed and designed in imitation of an old French Chateau. Then the throng of beautifully gowned women, and the men who purposed an evening of enjoyment. The soft music of the distant string band and—oh, it was all dashed with a touch of Babylonic splendour with due regard for the decorum required by modern civilisation, and Nancy was sufficiently young and unused to delight in every moment of it.
The first excitement of it all had spent itself, and laughing comment had given place to those things with which the girl was most concerned.
"Folks can't accuse us of dilatoriness," she said. "Let's see. Why, we made land this morning after every sort of a bad passage, battered and worn, and in less than how many hours?—eight?—nine?—" she laughed. "Why, I guess a sewing bee wouldn't have got through their preliminary talk in that time."
"No." Bull too was in the mood for laughter. "A sewing bee's mighty well named. There's a big buzz mostly all the time, and the tally of work only needs to be figgered when the season closes. We've settled up the future of two enterprises liable to cut big ice in this country's history in record time."
"You've settled with Mr. Peterman?"
The man's eyes were shining with a smile of keen enjoyment.
Nancy experienced a thrill of added excitement as she disposed of her last oyster.
"I haven't a right to butt in asking too many questions," she suggested.
Bull tasted his wine and thoughtfully set his glass down. Then he looked across at the eager face alight with every question woman's curiosity and interest could inspire. He smiled into it. And somehow his smile was very, very gentle.
"That's pretty well why we're here now though," he said. "You can just ask all you fancy to know, and I'll tell you. But maybe I can save you worry by telling you first."
"Why, yes," Nancy said eagerly. "You see, I'm only a secretary. I'm not one of the heads of the Skandinavia. I sort of feel this is high policy which doesn't really concern me. You're sure you feel like telling me? Was Mr. Peterman—friendly?"
"As amiable as a tame—shark."
"That's pretty fierce."
Bull shook his head.
"It's just a way of putting it. Y'see even a tame shark don't get over a lifetime habit of swallowing most things that come his way. Peterman figures to swallow me—whole."
Nancy's eyes widened. But the man's tone had been undisturbed. There was a contented smile in his eyes, and an atmosphere of unruffled confidence about him that was rather inspiring. The girl felt its influence.
"You mean he figures to have you join up with the Skandinavia?"
Bull shook his head as the waiter set the next course on the table.
"No. He guesses the Skandinavia can buy me."
Nancy waited. She remembered this man was as ready to fight as to laugh. Somehow she scented the battle in him now, for all the ease in his manner.
"I told him it couldn't. I pointed out if there was any buying to be done I figgered to do it."
"You mean you would buy up—the Skandinavia?"
Bull's smile deepened. The girl's incredulity amused him. He understood. To her the Skandinavia Corporation was the beginning and end of all things. In her eyes it was the last word in power and influence and wealth. She knew nothing beyond—the Skandinavia. A man in her place would have received prompt and biting retort. But she was a girl, and Bull was young, and strong, and at the beginning of a great manhood. He shook his head.
"Well, not just that," he said. "But say, let's get it right. How'd a woman feel if she'd an elegant baby child, thoroughbred from the crown of his dandy bald head to the pretty pink soles of his feet? Just a small bit of her, of her own creation. Then along comes some big, swell woman, who's only been able to raise a no account, sickly kid, an' wants to buy up the first mother's bit of sheer love. Wouldn't she hear the sort of things a woman of that sort ought to? Wouldn't she get hell raised with her?"
"But the Skandinavia's no—sickly kid."
The girl's eyes were challenging. There was warmth, too, in her retort. His words had stirred her as he intended them to stir her.
"You think that?" he said. "You think that they have the right to demand my—child? You approve? That was your desire when you came to me—that they should buy me up?"
Bull's smile still remained. There was no shadow of change in it. But his questions came in headlong succession.
Just for an instant a feeling of helplessness surged through the girl's heart. Then it passed, leaving her quite firm and decided. She looked squarely into the smiling eyes, and hers were unsmiling but earnestly honest.
"My approval isn't of any concern. I knew that was the Skandinavia's purpose when I came to you."
"And you called it a business arrangement?"
"No. You did."
The man broke into a laugh. It was a laugh of sheer amusement.
"That's so," he said. "You were going to hand me the story of your mission, and I—and I butted in and told it to you—myself."
The girl nodded.
"You were very good to me," she said. "You saw I was going to flounder, and you took pity on me."
Bull's denial was prompt.
"I just short-circuited things. That's all," he said. Then he laughed again. "And I'm going to do it again right now. Here, I want you to hear things the way they seem to me. You think the Skandinavia's no sickly kid. Well, I tell you it is. Anyway, in this thing. Peterman wants to buy me. Why? Don't you know? I think you do. The Skandinavia's got a mighty bad scare right now. The Shagaunty's played out. And I'm jumping the market. For the practical purposes of the moment the Skandinavia's mighty sick. So Peterman and his friends reckon to buy me. You're wise to it all?"
Bull's eyes were levelled squarely at the girl's. There was a challenge in them. But there was no roughness. It was his purpose to arrive at the full measure of the girl's feelings and attitude, so far as this effort on the part of his rivals was concerned.
Nancy was swift to understand. In an ordinary way her reply would have been prompt. There would have been no hesitation. But, somehow, there was reluctance in her now. She made no attempt to analyse her feelings. All she knew was that this man had a great appeal for her. He was so big, he was so strongly direct and fearless. Then, too, his manner was so very gentle, and his expressive eyes so kindly smiling, while all the while she felt the fierce resentment against her people going on behind them.
After a moment decision came to her rescue. She was of the opposing camp. She could not, and would not, pretend. It was clear that war lay ahead, and her position must be that of an honest enemy.
"Yes," she said simply. "I think I know all there is to know about the position."
She hesitated again. Then she went on in a fashion that displayed the effort her words were costing.
"We're out to buy you or break you, and I shall play the part they assign me in the game. Oh, I've nothing to hide. I've no excuse to make. You will fight your battle, and we shall fight ours. Maybe we shall learn to hate each other in the course of it. I don't know. Yet there's nothing personal in the fight. That's the queer thing in commercial warfare, isn't it? I'd be glad for our two concerns to run right along side by side. But they can't. They just can't. And, as I understand, one or the other's got to go right to the wall before we're through. Can't all this be saved? Must all this sort of—bloodshed—go on? We're two great enterprises, and, combined, we'd be just that much greater. Together we'd rule the whole world's markets and dictate our own terms. And then, and then—"
"We'd be doing the thing I'm out to stop—if it costs me all I have or am in this world."
For a moment the man's eyes forgot to smile, and Nancy was permitted to gaze on the great, absorbing purpose his manner had hitherto held concealed. She was startled at the passionate denial, and robbed of all desire to reply.
"Here!" Bull set his elbows on the table and supported his chin on his hands. "Get this. Get it good, and all the time. I wouldn't work with the Skandinavia for all the dollars this country's presses could print. I'm not going to hand you the reason. Some day, maybe when your folks have smashed me, or I've smashed them, I'll tell you about it. But I tell you this now, there's no sort of business arrangement I ever figgered to enter into with Elas Peterman, and there's no sort of thing in God's world ever could, or would, induce me to come to any terms of his."
Then his manner changed again, and his passionate moment became lost in a great laugh.
"Maybe you'll want to know why I changed my plans so easily, and came along down in a hurry to see Peterman. Why I seemed ready to fall for his proposition. Well, I guess I won't hand you the reason of that, either. I'd like to, but I won't." He shook his head and his laugh had gone again. "Anyway, it served my purpose, and Peterman knows just how things stand—and are going to stand—between us."
"Then it's war? Ruthless, implacable—war?" There was awe in the girl's tone and her lips were dry. She sipped her wine quickly to moisten them, and set the glass down with a hand that was not quite steady. Bull saw the signs of distress.
"Oh, yes, it's war all right," he said quietly. "Maybe it's ruthless, implacable. But it's part of the game. Don't worry a thing. You're in the enemy lines. You've got your duty. So far you've done your duty; and you've made good, and will get the reward you need. Well, go right on doing that duty, and there isn't a just creature on God's earth that'll have right to blame you. I won't blame you. Go right on; and when it's all through, I'll be ready to sit here with you again, and talk and laugh over it, as we've been doing—"
He broke off. A frightened look had leapt into Nancy's eyes. She was no longer attending to him. She was watching the tall, squarely military figure of a man moving down one of the aisles between the softly lit tables. The man's dark eyes were searching over the room, as he followed the head waiter conducting him to the table that had been reserved for him. Bull turned and followed the direction of the girl's gaze. And as he did so he encountered the cold, unsmiling glance of the other man's eyes. It was only for an instant. Then he turned back to the girl.
"Friend Peterman," he said.
Nancy made a pretence of eating.
"Yes," she said, without raising her eyes.
Nancy's emotion was painfully obvious. Bull realised it. She was afraid. Why? A swift thought flashed through the man's mind, to be followed by a feeling such as he had never known before. Hitherto Elas Peterman had represented only a sufficiently worthy adversary who must be encountered and defeated. Now, all in a moment, that was changed into something fiercer, more furiously human and abiding.
"Does it matter?" he asked very quietly.
Nancy looked up from her plate. There was a flicker of a smile in the eyes that a moment before had expressed only apprehension. She shook her head.
"I don't know—yet," she said. Her smile deepened. "You see, I refused to dine with him here to-night. I excused myself on a plea of weariness. I really did want rest. But—well, I didn't want to dine with him, anyway. He's seen me—with you."
"Do you often dine with him?"
The man had no smile in response, and his question came swiftly.
"I've never dined with him."
Bull sat back. His eyes were smiling.
"Well, I guess the answer's easy. You're here fighting for the Skandinavia. And I'd say you've been doing it mighty well. Maybe Peterman'll feel sore, but he'll see it that way after—awhile."
Nancy thought long and earnestly over her breakfast. She thought deeply as she proceeded to her office. Even the business of again taking up the thread of her work failed to absorb her.
Apprehension disturbed, and a certain sense of guilt weighed upon her. The vision of the tall figure of Elas Peterman as it moved down the dining-room at the Chateau remained with her. She had caught the glance of his dark eyes. She knew he had recognised her; and there had been neither smile nor recognition in the swift exchange that had passed between them.
So she answered the usual morning summons of her chief without any pleasant anticipation. She expected a bad time, and strove to prepare herself for it.
But alarm vanished the moment she ushered herself into the man's presence. He was not at his desk poring over his littered correspondence. She found him standing before his favourite window, gazing out reflectively upon the grey light of the early winter day. He turned at the sound of her entry, and his smile of greeting lacked nothing of its usual cordiality.
Had she observed him a moment before it must have been different. But she had been spared all sight of the mood that had driven him to abandon urgent correspondence in favour of the drab outlook beyond the window. It was a bad expression. It was the expression of a man of fierce cruelty. It was not an expression of open, hot anger, which flares up, passes, and is forgotten like the fury of a summer storm. It was rather the slowly banking clouds of winter, piling up for a climax that should be devastating. And through it all he had smiled, smiled with angry eyes that seemed to grow colder and harder every moment.
Nancy knew little of the world, and less of men and women. It could not have been otherwise. Vital with a youthful optimism and strong purpose, she had devoted herself to work to the exclusion of everything else. And before that there had only been the scrupulous care of the good matrons of Marypoint. A wider experience, a maturer mind would have yielded her doubt as she beheld the man's smiling greeting now. She would have reminded herself of her offence, and understood its enormity in the eyes of a man. She would have had a better appreciation of her own attractions, and would have long since understood this man's regard for her.
As it was she snatched at the relief his smile inspired.
The man laughingly shook his head as the girl approached.
"Nancy, my dear, I hope Mr. Bull Sternford gave you as good a dinner as I would have given you, and—as good a time generally. You look well rested, anyway."
There was a sting in the words that all the man's care could not quite shut out. But the tone was of intended good-nature. In a moment Nancy was explaining.
"Oh, I know you must think me terribly mean," she cried impulsively. "You must think I was just lying to you when you asked me to dine yesterday. But it wasn't so. It surely wasn't. May I tell you about it?"
The man came back to his desk, and indicated the empty chair beside it.
"Sure, if you feel that way," he said, dropping into his seat while Nancy took hers. "But I'm not angry. Truth I'm not." For a moment he gazed smilingly into the girl's troubled eyes. "Here," he went on. "I'll tell you just how I think. Maybe you won't figger it flattering, but it's just plain truth. Now I'm a married man and you're a young girl. Well, the Chateau isn't the sort of place for you and me to be seen together in. I didn't think of it when I asked you. I just wanted to hand you a good time for the good work you've done. Sort of prize for a good girl, eh? I hadn't another thought about it. And when you refused me, and I thought it over, I was kind of glad—I might have compromised you, and I certainly would have compromised myself. You get that? You understand me? Of course you do. That's what I like. You're so darn sensible. Now you tell me—if you fancy to?"
Nancy sighed her relief. Her last cloud had passed away.
"Oh, yes," she began at once. "I do want to tell you. You see I think it's all-important."
The man's smile was unchanged. But there was a dryness in his monosyllable that only Nancy could have missed.
"Mr. Sternford 'phoned me after his interview with you."
"He had your 'phone number?"
"Surely, I gave him that before he left me after driving up from the docks."
"I see. Of course. You drove up together after landing. I forgot."
"I don't think I told you," she said. "But it doesn't matter, anyway. Yes, he drove me up. And the whole of this affair was so interesting I just had to hear the result of the interview with you. So I told him my 'phone number. Well, right after he'd seen you he rang me up. He told me he couldn't speak over the 'phone the things that passed, and asked me to dine. I just had to fall for that. You see, this thing meant so much to me. It was the first big thing I'd handled, and—and I was so crazy to make good for you. So I promised. And it wasn't till after it was all fixed I realised the mean way I'd acted. You'll forgive me, won't you, Mr. Peterman? I just hadn't a notion to be mean, and I was all tired to death. But I had to hear about the things you'd fixed."
"And you heard?"
The man was leaning on the desk with one hand supporting his head. Not one shadow of condemnation or resentment was permitted in voice or look. And the girl was completely disarmed. But her smile died out and a swift apprehension, that had no relation to herself, replaced it. In a moment her mind had gone back to the declaration of war which was to involve the two enterprises.
"Yes. He told me."
"Oh, it's all wrong. It's all foolish, and wrong, and just terrible," she broke in impulsively. Then she became calmly thoughtful, and her even brows drew together in an effort to straighten out the things she wanted to say. She shook her head. "I'm sure he can be handled," she went on deliberately. "Oh, yes. In spite of the things they say of him."
"Why he's as ready to fight as to laugh."
"Who says that?"
"That's the way they speak of him."
"Who speaks that way?"
"It was just a queer sort of missionary who told me. I met him when I was at Arden Laval's camp. A man they call Father Adam."
"And you guess he can be handled?"
"I think so." Nancy spread out her hands. "Oh, it's not for me to talk this way to you, Mr. Peterman, but—but—"
"Go on." The man was patiently reassuring as the girl hesitated. "It's good to hear you talk. And then it was you who got him to listen to our proposal at all."
The compliment had prompt effect. The girl's cheeks flushed, and a light of something approaching delight shone in the hazel depths of her eyes.
"I don't know," she cried. "But it seems to me he's sort of reasonable. He's kind of full of ideals and that sort of notion. He's out for a big purpose and all that. But I don't believe he'd turn down any business arrangement that would hand him the thing he wants—"
"Business arrangement?" Peterman sat up. The laugh accompanying his words was full of amiable derision. He shook his head. "If he won't sell he's got to be smashed. That's the only business arrangement that suits us. We're far too big for compromise. No, my dear. He won't sell. He asked to buy us. He—this darn fool man from Sachigo. He thinks to buy the Skandinavia like he's buying up all the mills he can lay hands on. But he bit off a chunk when he handed that stuff to me. He's as ready to fight as to laugh. Well, I guess he's going to get all the fight he needs. He'll get it plenty."
"Then you mean to—smash him?"
"Just as sure as it's started to snow right now," the man exclaimed, pointing at the window.
Nancy's gaze followed the pointing finger. But it was not the snow she was thinking of. It was the man whom she beheld staggering under the tremendous weight of the Skandinavia's might. She felt pity for him. And incautiously she permitted Elas Peterman to realise her pity.
"Can't anything be done?" she ventured gently. "Have you handled him? I mean—Oh, I'm sure he's reasonable. Can't the offer be made—more suitable? More—?"
Peterman's eyes suddenly hardened.
"What do you mean? I haven't handled him right? I've blundered? I—" He laughed without any mirth. "See here, Nancy, my dear, you're a bright girl, but don't hand me your worry for this darn fool. You're kind of tender-hearted. You guess it's a pretty tough thing to see a good-looker boy go down in a big commercial fight. That's because you're a woman. This sort of thing's part of business. It's harsher, more ruthless than even war on the battlefield with guns, and bombs, and stinking gas. We're going to fight this thing just that way. There's no mercy for Mr. Bull Sternford. He'll get all I can hand him just the way I know best how to hand it. And the tougher I can make it the better it'll please me. See? Now you just run right along and see to those things that are going to make you big in the Skandinavia, and don't give a thought for the feller who's handed me stuff I don't stand for in any man. There's liable to be big work for you in this fight, and I'd say you'll make as good in fight as in peace. You've got my goodwill anyway, my dear, just for all it's worth. That's all."
* * * * *
The door had closed behind the girl. Elas Peterman was on his feet pacing the thickly carpeted floor. There was no longer any attempt at disguise. A surge of jealous fury was raging through his hot heart and drove him mercilessly.
The picture of Nancy, radiantly beautiful, seated at dinner with Bull Sternford had lit a fire of bitter hatred in his Teutonic heart. So he paced the room and permitted the fierce tide to flood the channels of sanity and set them awash with the ready evil of his impulse.
From the first moment of the girl's story of her successful effort with this man, Sternford, this vaunting rival, Peterman had been bitterly stirred. The man's change of plans at her bidding he had understood on the instant. The man from Labrador had not changed his plans at the bidding of the Skandinavia. It was the girl who had induced him. It was she who had attracted him. Then the boat trip, and the girl's confession of his having, perhaps, saved her life. What had preceded that incident? What had followed it? And when Elas Peterman asked himself such questions it was simple for him to find the answer. He had seen Sternford, and had judged the position. He knew what would have happened had he been in this man's place. Sternford wasn't the man to throw away such chances, either. He had fallen for the girl, and she doubtless had—The picture he had witnessed at the Chateau had left him without any doubt. The driving up together from the docks, the telephone. Sternford had taken her to her apartment. Oh, it was all as clear as daylight. Then the girl's pity for the man who was to feel the weight of the Skandinavia's wrathful might. She had said he was reasonable. She had hinted that he, Peterman, had blundered. There was only one reasonable interpretation to the position. And it did not leave him guessing for one single moment.
Once he passed a fleshy hand up over his forehead and brushed back his dark hair. Once he came to a pause before his window and stood gazing out at the falling snow with hot eyes. No such fury of jealousy had ever entered into his life before. Never had he dreamed before of the tremendous hold this girl had obtained upon him. His claim on her had all seemed so natural, so easy. He had looked upon her as property that was indisputably his. He might have learned something from his feelings when he had paraded her before Hellbeam. But he had not done so. Now he knew. Now he knew the whole measure of them. And the bitterness of his awakening was maddening.
Well, Bull Sternford should get away with no play of that sort at his expense. He warned himself that he was no simple fool to be played with. And if Nancy wanted the man—But he broke away from under the lash of impotent fury, and turned to a channel of thought which was bound to serve a nature such as his in his present mood.
He returned to his desk and flung himself into the chair. And after a while his mind settled itself to the task his mood demanded. He sat staring straight ahead of him, and presently the heat passed out of his eyes, and they grew cold, and hard. Later, they began to smile again—but it was a smile of cruelty, of evil purpose. It was a smile more unrelenting in its cruelty than any frown could have expressed.
* * * * *
For the first time Nancy's eyes were open to the things of life as they really were. She had tasted a certain bitterness in the early days of her girlhood. But up till now the world had seemed something of a rose garden in which it was a delight to labour. Up till now she had seen no reverse to the picture of life as youth had painted it for her. Now, however, it was borne in upon her that there was a reverse, a reverse that was ugly and painfully distressing. It was this declaration of war between her own people and the man from Labrador.
She lay in her bed that night thinking, thinking, and without any desire for sleep. Strive as she would to search the position out logically, to estimate the true meaning of it all, to fathom the chances of this war, and to grasp the necessity for it, all these efforts only resulted in a tangle of thought revolving about the picture of a youthful man of vast stature, with eyes that were always clear-searching or smiling, and with a head of hair that reminded her of a lion's mane. And as she gazed upon this mental picture there were moments when it seemed to her there was grave trouble in the clear depths which so appealed to her. The smile in her eyes seemed to fade out, to be replaced by a look that seemed to express the hurtful knowledge of a man disheartened, defeated, crushed. They were in rival camps. They were at war. Each desired victory. And yet the sight she beheld, the signs of defeat she discovered in the man's eyes gave her no joy, no satisfaction.
She felt that the battle could end only one way. The might of the Skandinavia was too great for anything but its complete victory. She was sure, quite sure. Oh, yes. And she knew she would not have it otherwise. But the pity of it. This creature of splendid manhood. To think that he must go down—smashed. That was the word they used—smashed.
How she hated the word. The big soul of him with his ready kindliness. Oh, it was a pity. It was a distracting thought. And why should it be? For the life of her she could see no need. A little yielding on his part. Just a shade less iron stubbornness. The whole thing could have been avoided she was sure. The olive branch had been held out by the Skandinavia. But he had deliberately refused it.
No. He had made himself their enemy. Then surely there could be no complaint at the disaster that would overtake him. He was clearly to blame. So why let the contemplation of it distract her?
She strove a hundred times to dismiss the whole thing from her mind. She courted sleep in every conceivable way. But it was all useless. The man's fine eyes and great body haunted her. They pursued her to her last waking thought. And, at last, she fell asleep, thinking of the strong supporting arms that had held her safe from the fury of Atlantic waves.
THE PLANNING OF CAMPAIGN
Nathaniel Hellbeam sat ominously calm and unruffled while Elas Peterman told of his meeting with Bull Sternford. He gave no sign whatever. There was just the flicker of a smile of appreciation of Bull's effrontery when he heard of his response to Peterman's invitation to sell. That alone of the whole story seemed to afford him interest. For the rest, it had only been the sort of thing he expected.
He waited until the other had finished. Then he stirred in his chair. It was an expression of relief that his long, silent sitting had ended.
"So," he said. "We do not buy him. No. We smash him."
There was obvious satisfaction that the more peaceful process was to be set aside.
He sat blinking at his subordinate in the fashion of a man who is thinking hard, and has no interest in the object upon which he is gazing.
"It is as I think—all the time," he said at last. "That is all right. I make no cry out. It is easy to fight. I would fight always with an enemy. It is good. Now my friend, you have acted so. You bring the man from Sachigo to tell you to go to hell. Eh? Well you have thought much? You have planned for the fight? How is it you make this fight?"
Elas was standing before the desk. He had, yielded his place to this man who was master of the Skandinavia. Now he looked down at the square-headed creature with his gross, squat body. It was a figure and face bristling with venom and purpose; and somehow he was conscious of a sudden lack of his usual assurance.
"Oh, yes," he replied thoughtfully. "I've planned—sure. But I guess I'm in the dark a bit. It's going to cost a deal. It's not going to be easy. You were ready to buy. It was not necessarily to be the Skandinavia who bought. Well, are you—going to vote the credit for this fight?" He smiled uncertainly. "And to what extent?"
"The limit. Go on."
"There's no commercial enterprise that can stand idleness. His work must stop. His—"
"That is the A.B.C. of it."
There was sharp impatience in the financier's biting tone.
"Just so. It is the A.B.C. of it."
Hellbeam set back in his chair. He clasped his hands across his stomach.
"I will tell you," he said, a wicked smile lighting his deep-set eyes, his cheeks rounding themselves in his satisfaction. "His work will stop. His mill is far away. There is no protection from attack except that which he can set up himself. He is going away. He will have eighteen hundred miles of water between him and his mill. It should be easy with a good plan and all the money. Listen.
"His work must stop. How? There are ways. His mill may burn. His forests may burn. His men may revolt. They may refuse to work for him. All, or any of these things may serve. There are men at all times ready to carry out these things. You can tell them, or you need not, the way they must act." He shook his head. "You say to them his work must stop; and you pay them more than he can pay them. So his work will stop. That is so? Yes? Very well. There is ha'f a million dollars that will pay for his work to stop. I say that."
Peterman was startled. He had not been prepared for so sweeping a proposal. He had understood that the man had been prepared to stand at almost nothing in his desire to achieve some end, the nature of which still remained somewhat obscure to him. For all his own lack of scruple in his dealings with those who offended, the calm, fiendish purpose of this man shocked him not a little.
He took the chair usually occupied by his visitors.
"You will pay ha'f a million dollars for this thing?" he demanded, to re-assure himself.
Self-satisfaction looked out of the eyes of the man behind the desk.
"By God! You must hate this boy, Sternford."
Peterman's feelings had broken from under his control.
"Sternford? Psha! It is not Sternford. No."
The smile had gone from Hellbeam's eyes. They were fiercely burning. They were the hot, passionate eyes of a man obsessed, of a man possessed of a monomania. Peterman, watching, beheld the sudden change in him. He shrank before the insanity he had so deeply probed.
Hellbeam sat forward in his chair. His forearms were resting on the desk, and his hands were clenched so that the finger-nails almost cut into the flesh of their palms. His massive face was flushed, and the coarse veins at his temples stood out like cords.
"Here, I tell you," he cried gutturally, returning in his fury to the native Teuton in him. "Can you hate—yes? Have you known hate? Eh? No. You the white liver have. You cannot hate. It is not in you. Oh, no. It is for me. Yes. It has been so for years. And I tell you it is the only thing in life. Woman? No. I have known them. They mean little. They are a pleasure that passes. Money? What is it when you play the market as you choose? The day comes when you can help yourself. And you no longer desire so to do. Hate? That lives. That feeds on body and brain. That consumes till there is only a dead carcase left. Ah! Hate is for the lifetime. It can leave all those others as nothing. In it there is joy, despair, all the time, every hour of life."
He held up one hand and opened his fingers. Then he slowly closed them with a curious expressive movement of ruthless destruction.
"You hate and you think. You see your vengeance in operation. You see him there in your hand; and you see the blood sweat as you squeeze and crush out the life that has offended. Man, it is a joy that never leaves you till you accomplish this thing. Then, after, you have the memory. And while you think, even though he is dead, smashed in your grip, he still suffers as you think. Oh, yes."
"And you hate—that way?"
A feeling of sudden fear had taken possession of Peterman. This gross, squat man had become something terrible to him.
The Teuton leapt in the furious emphasis hurled.
"Oh, ja! I hate. I tell you of it."
The man with the insane eyes picked up a pen. He turned it about in his fingers. Then, suddenly, but slowly, the fingers began to break it. The wood split under their pressure, and the pieces littered the table. He gazed at them for a moment. Then one hand clenched and came down with a crash on the blotting pad. Then he sat back in his chair again, with his cruel eyes gazing straight out at the window opposite.
"It is years now. Oh, yes." A deep breath escaped from between the man's coarse lips. "I ruled the markets. I ruled them so that they obeyed me. I was the money power of this continent. I did as I chose. So I thought. Then he came. This man. He did not disturb me. Oh, no. I slept good all the time. Then I woke. I woke to find I was beaten of ten million dollars; and that Wall Street, the markets of the world, were laughing that this schoolmaster, this fool Scotsman from over the water, had picked my pocket while I slept. It was not the money. It was the laugh. And he got away. Oh, yes. I tell it now. The market knew of it then. They laughed. How they laughed. So I sat and thought. I had all. There was nothing more to have. And then I learned to hate."
The narrowed eyes came back to the face of the man beside the desk. There was a sharp intake of breath.
"This mill, this Sachigo, was built out of my money. And the man who built it was the man who robbed me while I slept."
A world of fierce bitterness lay in the final words, and the man listening realised the enormity of the offence, as this man saw it. But he was left puzzled.
"But you would have—bought this Sachigo?" he said, said.
Hellbeam's eyes were again turned to the window.
"Oh, yes," he said. "I would have bought. It would bring me to meet this man. It is that I ask. That only. My hands would close upon him. And I would see the blood sweat of his heart ooze under them."
Hellbeam had finished. Peterman understood that. The passion had passed out of his eyes and the veins of his forehead were no longer distended. He remained gazing at the window.
For some moments the younger man made no attempt to intrude further. He had little desire to, anyway. Without scruple himself, he still found little pleasure in probing the heart of this man, who was so powerful in his own destiny. That which he had witnessed had served only to show him the delicacy of his own position. He knew that the story had been told for one reason only. It was to convince him, for the sake of his own wellbeing in the Skandinavia, that he must make no mistake in the warfare he must wage against the people of Sachigo. It was for him to wage the battle with every faculty that was in him; and any failure of his would mean disaster for himself. This was no commercial warfare. It was the insane purpose of a monomaniac.
In those silent moments Elas Peterman thought with a rapidity inspired by the urgency he felt to be driving him. And the fertility of his imagination served him unfailingly. Oh yes. Necessity was driving. But so, too, was his own personal feelings. He saw in the position that this man had revealed an advantage to himself he had never looked for. With the necessary money forthcoming, and no directors to concern himself with, literally a free hand, he could employ a power which, in these days of unrest and hatred between capital and labour, would be well-nigh overwhelming. The morality of it, the ultimate consequence of it mattered nothing. The smashing of Sachigo would mean the smashing of Bull Sternford. And he saw a way whereby the smashing of Bull Sternford could be achieved through—
His mind focused itself, as it was bound to do, upon this thing as it affected his own desires. He, too, was a passionate hater, for all Hellbeam's denial. His thought leapt at once to Nancy McDonald and the man who had thrust himself between him and his desires. Whatever insane hatred lay behind Hellbeam's purpose, it was not one whit more insensate than Elas Peterman's feelings against the man who had come down from Sachigo at Nancy's bidding.
Suddenly he looked up and glanced at the man occupying the chair that was his. Hellbeam was still gazing at the window, pre-occupied with his own thoughts.
"You can leave this thing in my hands, sir," he said. "Our organisation has been working steadily to undermine the Sachigo people for months past. That has always been part of our policy. I'd say the whole thing's going to fit very well. You say, if necessary, you'll find half a million dollars for the business. We shan't need a tithe of that. However, it's well to know it. And none of it needs to worry our directors. I'll set about it right away—in my own fashion—and I'll promise you a quick result. We'll smash these folk all right. But how it's to hand you the man you need I'm not wise—"
"No." Hellbeam's eyes were certainly derisive as they turned back from the window. "This man, Martin, will show himself when he sees the—destruction. My people will do the rest."
"Unless he leaves it—to Sternford. They tell us this man would as soon fight as laugh. That's how Miss McDonald said the missionary, Father Adam, told her."
"Father Adam?" The derision in the financier's eyes had deepened. "That's the man that other fool talks of."
Peterman shrugged. The sting in the financier's words stirred him to resentment.
"I don't know about that. Anyway—"
"How is it you say? Get busy. Yes."
Hellbeam rose stiffly from his seat and picked up his hat. He was quite untouched by the other's change of tone.
"Do it how you please. Break that mill. I care nothing for the means. Smash 'em, and leave the rest to me. And when you that have done you can do the thing you please. You will have my good will. I say that. Now I go."
* * * * *
Peterman picked up the 'phone the moment the door had closed behind the one man in all the world he really feared, and at the other end of it Nancy took the message summoning her to his presence. The man spoke with unusual urgency. But his tone was pleasant, and more than conciliatory. He wanted her at once. She could leave her reports. She could leave everything. He had some news for her of the pleasantest nature. Oh, yes. He had determined big things for her. She had earned them all. But a thing had happened whereby there need be no limit to her advancement if she would take the chance of a big work offered her. Would she kindly come up right away.
Nancy listened to this message with a stirring of heart. What was the great work that was to place no limit on her advancement? It was a feeling rather than a thought. For a moment she stood in her glass-partitioned office after she had received the message and a smile of great happiness lit her eyes.
She was desperately earnest with a singleness of purpose which had in it something of the recklessness of the father before her. She was a child in all else. A wide vision of achievement was spread out before her. She could see nothing beyond. She could see nothing to give her pause, nothing even to bestir a belated caution. So she left her office for the interview Peterman had demanded without suspicion, and with a heart and mind ready to plunge her headlong into any labours which the Skandinavia demanded of her.
She had completely forgotten, in that moment of exultation, the squarely military figure that had passed down the dining-room of the Chateau, and the coldly unsmiling eyes with which it had regarded her as she sat with her companion over their memorable meal.
THE SAILING OF THE Empress
Bull Sternford was reading over the telegram he had just written. Its phraseology was curious. But it expressed the things he wanted to say, and he knew it would be understood by the man to whom it was addressed.
"HARKER, SACHIGO, LABRADOR.
"Sailing to-morrow. War. Pass mill through hair sieve. Clear all refuse. Watch fireguard. Look around. Plums otherwise ripe. Return earliest date.
He smiled as he looked up from his reading. An acquaintance passed through the hall of the hotel. He nodded to him. Then the smile died out of his eyes, and it was like the passing of a gleam of sunshine. He passed the message across the counter to the attendant and paid for it.
War! It was only an added development in the course of the ceaseless work of life. The thought of it disturbed him not one whit. It was the element in which he thrived. But for all that his mood had lost much of its usual equanimity.
For two weeks he had applied himself assiduously to the work upon which he was engaged. He had travelled hundreds of miles to the other capital cities of the country in pursuit of his affairs. He had worked in that express fashion which was characteristic of him. But under it all, through it all, a depressing disappointment hung like a shadow over every successful effort he put forth. The memory of an evening at the Chateau haunted him. The vision of smiling hazel eyes and a radiant crowning of vivid hair filled every moment of his waking dreaming. He had not seen or heard of Nancy McDonald since that first night in Quebec.
To-morrow he sailed for England. The thought of it afforded him none of the satisfaction with which he had always looked forward to that journey. Yet it meant no less to him now. On the contrary. It really meant more. It meant that his work was marching forward to the great completion which was to crown his labours, and the work of those others who had conceived the task.
It should have been a wonderful moment for him. The house of Leader and Company of London had thrown its doors open to him in welcome. Sir Frank Leader with his millions, his shipping, his great power, and the confidence which his name inspired in British commercial circles, would not fail. The prospect lying ahead, for all the threatened war, should have stirred him to a keen enthusiasm that achievement was within his grasp. But none of these emotions were stirring.
He felt if he could only see Nancy McDonald, that perfect creature with her amazing beauty and splendid courage, just to exchange a few words, just to receive her smiling "bon voyage," and even to hear her laughing declaration of her frank enmity, why—it would—But there was no chance now—none at all. He sailed to-morrow.
He had dreamed a wonderful dream since first he had beheld the charming fur-clad figure enter his office at Sachigo. He had realised, even in those first moments, the impish act of Fate. Nancy McDonald was the one woman in the world who could mean life—real life to him, and they were definitely arrayed against each other in the battle for commercial supremacy in which they were both engaged.
But Fate's act had only added to his desire. The whole thing had appealed to his combative instinct. It had left him feeling there was not alone the storming of the Skandinavia's stronghold to be achieved. There was also a captive, a fair, innocent captive held bound and prisoned within the citadel for him to set free. He wanted Nancy as he wanted nothing else in the world. Sachigo? Canada for the Canadians? These things were cold, meaningless words. He only thought of the dawning of the day that should see Nancy his wife, his everything in life.
He betook himself out on to the Terraces overlooking the slowly freezing waterway of the great St. Lawrence river. It was keenly cold, and the white carpet of winter's first snow remained unmelted on the ground. But the sun was shining, and the crisp air was sparkling, and the terraces were filled with fur-clad folk who, like himself, had found leisure for a half hour of one of the finest views in the world.
He paced leisurely down the great promenade towards the old Citadel with all its memories of great men, and the old time Buccaneers who had made history about its walls. He gazed upon it and wondered. Were they such bad old days? Were the men who lived in those times great men? Were they scoundrelly Buccaneers? Were their scruples and morals any more lax than those of to-day? Were they any different from those who walked under the shadow of the old walls? They were the questions doubtless asked a thousand times in as many minutes by those who paused to think as they contemplated this fine old landmark.
Bull found his own prompt answers. There was no difference, he told himself. The men and women of to-day were doing the same things, enduring the same emotions, fighting the same battles, living and loving, and hating and dying, just as life had ordained from the beginning of time. And as he stood there he wondered how long this round of human effort and passion must continue. How long this—
"Why, I hadn't an idea you were so interested in our old history as to be wasting precious time out here in the snow, Mr. Sternford."
The challenge was full of pleasant, even delighted greeting. And Bull snatched his cigar from his lips and bared his head.
It was the voice he had longed to hear for many days. And it rang with an added charm in his delighted ears. He had turned on the instant, and stood smiling down into eyes that had never ceased from their haunting.
He shook his head.
"If you'll believe me I wasn't wasting time," he said. "I came out here for a very definite purpose. I've done the thing I hoped. Do you know I guessed I'd have to sail to-morrow without seeing you again?"
Nancy's eyes sobered. And without their smile Bull thought he detected a cloud of trouble in them.
"I didn't know you were sailing to-morrow," she said. "It's just a chance I couldn't help that let me meet you now."
"You mean you avoided me—deliberately?"
Bull's smile had passed. But there was no umbrage in his manner. The girl's appeal for him was never so great as at that moment. She had never been more beautiful to him. He had first seen her in that same long fur coat, and had gazed into her pretty eyes under the same fur cap. He was glad she was so clad now. To his mind no other costume could have so much charm for him.
The simple downrightness of the admission might have disconcerted another. But its honesty and lack of subterfuge only pleased the man.
"That's what I thought. It's this business standing between your folk and me?"
"Yes. We are enemies."
"That's so," Bull agreed. "That's the pity of it. If you were on my side—"
"But I'm not. No." Nancy's denial was almost sharp. It certainly was hurried. "I'm kind of glad I've seen you, though," she went on. "I've had it in mind I wanted to say things to you." A smile came back to her eyes. "You see, there are enemies and enemies. There's the enemy you can regard well. There's the enemy you can hate and despise. Well, I just want to say we're enemies who don't need to hate and despise—yet. I don't know how things'll be later. Maybe you'll learn to hate me good before we're through. But that's as maybe. I'm going to do my work for all I know for my folks. I'm going to be in this fight right up to my neck. I've been warned that way. Well, that being so, I'm going to fight without looking for quarter, and I shall give none. That sounds tough, doesn't it? But I mean it. And I wanted to say it before things start. I'm glad I've had the chance—against my notions of things."
Bull laughed. He was in the mood to laugh—now.
"It sounds fine. Say—"
"Are you laughing at me?"
"There isn't a thing further from my thoughts." Bull's denial was sincere and prompt. "I'm glad you happened along. I'm glad you said those things. Fight this war—as I shall—with all that's in you. It don't matter a thing if you're right or wrong. Fight it square and hard for your folk, and there isn't a right man or woman, but who'll respect you, and think the better of you for it. A good fight's no crime when you're convinced you're right."
The girl drew a deep breath, and, to the man, it seemed in the nature of relief. A great anxiety for her stirred him.
"I'm glad you said that," she said. Then she gazed reflectively up at the old ramparts. "No. It's no crime to fight when you're convinced. Besides it's right, too, to fight for your side at any time. That's how I see it. You'll fight for yours—"
"Any old how." Bull's eyes were deeply regarding. They were very gentle. "Here," he went on, "fight has a clear, definite meaning for me. I fight to win. I'll stop at nothing. It's always a game of 'rough and tough' with me. Gouge, chew, and all the rest of it. Frankly, there's a devil inside me, when it's fight. I want you to know this, so your scruples needn't worry you."
Nancy's gaze was turned seawards.
"And you sail—to-morrow? When do you return?" she asked a moment later.
Bull smilingly shook his head.
"We are at war," he said.
The girl's eyes came back. She, too, smiled.
"I forgot." Then she added: "You go by the Empress?"
They had both contrived to make it difficult. The barrier was growing. Both realised it, and Nancy was stirred more than she knew. She had seen this man and hurried over to him. She had purposely denied him for two weeks, but the sight of him on the promenade had been irresistible. Now—now she hardly knew what to say; and yet there were a hundred things struggling in her mind to find expression. She was paralysed by the memory of the recent interview she had had with her employers—the great financial head of her house included—wherein she had learned all that the coming war meant personally to herself. She would have given worlds at that moment to have been able to blot out that memory. But she had no power to do so. It loomed almost tragically in its significance in the presence of this man.
Bull found it no less difficult. He had striven to make things easy for her. He had no second thought. And now he realised the thing he had done. His words had only served to fling an irrevocable challenge, and thus, finally and definitely, made the longed-for approach between them impossible.
He drew a deep breath.
"Yes. I sail on the Empress."
"And you are glad—of course?"
"Why, I shouldn't be sailing if things weren't going my way," he said. Then he turned about and his movement was an invitation. "But let's quit it," he said. "Let's forget—for the moment. You don't know what this meeting has meant to me. I wanted to see you, if only to say 'good-bye.' I thought I wasn't going to."
They moved down the promenade together.
Nancy did her best. They talked of everything but the impending war, and the meaning of it. But the barrier had grown out of all proportion. And a great unease tugged at the heart of each. At length, as they came back towards the hotel, Nancy felt it impossible to go on. And with downright truth she said so.
"It must be 'good-bye'—now," she said. "This is all unreal. It must be so. We're at war. We shall be at each other's throats presently. Well, I just can't pretend. I don't want to think about it. I hate to remember it. But it's there in my mind the whole time; and it worries so I don't know the things I'm saying. It's best to say 'good-bye' and 'bon voyage' right here. And whatever the future has for us I just mean that."
She held out her hand. It was bare, and soft, and warm, as the man took possession of it.
"I feel that way, too," he said. "But—" he broke off and shook his head. "No. It's no use. You've the right notion of this. Until this war's fought out there is nothing else for it. You'll go right back to your camp and I'll go to mine. And we'll both work out how we can best beat the other. But let's make a compact. We'll do the thing we know to hurt the other side the most we can. If need be we'll neither show the other mercy. And we'll promise each to take our med'cine as it comes, and cut out the personal hate and resentment it's likely to try and inspire. We'll be fighting machines without soul or feeling till peace comes. Then we'll be just as we are now—friends. Can you do it? I can."
For all the feeling of the moment Nancy laughed.
"It sounds crazy," she exclaimed.
"It is crazy. But so is the whole thing."
"Yes. Oh, it surely is. It's worst than crazy." Passion rang in the girl's voice. Then the hazel depths smiled and set the man's pulses hammering afresh. "But I'll make that compact, and I'll keep it. Yes. Now, 'good-bye,' and a happy and pleasant trip."
Their hands fell apart. Bull had held that hand, so soft and warm and appealing to him, till he dared hold it no longer.
"Thanks," he said. "Good-bye. I can set out with a good heart—now."
* * * * *
It was again the luncheon hour. It was also the hour at which the Empress was scheduled to sail. Nancy was again on the Terrace. But now she was standing on the edge of the promenade—alone. She was gazing down at the grey waters of the great river, searching with eager eyes, and listening for the "hoot" of the vessel's siren. This was the last departure the Empress would make from Quebec for the season. By the time she returned across the ocean the ice would deny her approach, and she would make port farther seawards.
Nancy had come there in her leisure just out of simple interest, she told herself. The man was nothing to her. Oh, no. She felt a certain regret that they were at war. She felt a certain pity that it was necessary that so brave a man's hopes must be crushed and all his plans broken, but that was all. She told herself these things very deliberately.
And so she had hurried over her mid-day meal, lest she should miss the sight of the Empress steaming out, with Bull Sternford aboard.
The day was cold and grey. There was snow in the heavy clouds, and the north wind was bitter. But it mattered nothing. Waiting there the girl's feet in their overshoes grew cold. Her hands were cold. Even her slim, graceful body under its outer covering of fur was none too warm. But her whole interest was absorbed and she remained so till the appointed time.
Oh, yes. It was simply interest in the departure of the vessel that held her. Just the same, as it was simply interest that stirred her heart and set it a-flutter, as the sound of the ship's siren came up to her from below. And surely it was only a 'God-speed' to the departing vessel that was conveyed in the fluttering handkerchief she held out and waved, as the graceful giant passed out into the distant mid-channel.
ON BOARD THE Empress
It was the second day out and the passengers on the Empress had already settled down to their week's trip.
The sea was calm, with just that pleasant, lazy swell which the Atlantic never really loses. The decks were thronged with a happy company of men and women determined not to lose one single moment of the bodily ease which the clemency of the weather vouchsafed to them.
Bull Sternford was amongst them. Engulfed in a heavy fur overcoat, he stood lounging against the lee rail of the wide promenade deck, contemplating the oily swell of the waters. His great stature was somewhat magnified by his voluminous coat, with its deep, upturned storm-collar. There was that about him to attract considerable attention. But he remained unconscious of it, and his aloofness was by no means studied.
Deep emotion was stirring. A man of iron nerve and purpose, a man of cool deliberation under the harshest circumstances, just now Bull was afflicted like the veriest weakling with alternating hope and doubt, and something approaching indecision. The youth in him was plunged in that agony of desire which maddens with delight and drives headlong to despair. His whole horizon of life had changed. Old scenes, old dreams, had been suddenly blotted out. And in their place was the wonderful vision of a girl with vivid hair and gentle eyes. Nancy—Nancy McDonald. The name was always with him now, unspoken, unwhispered even; but occupying every waking thought.
It was a time of reckless resolve, of hot-headed planning. He knew in his sober moments how almost impossible was the position. But these were not sober moments. He told himself, in his headlong way, that if Nancy was chained in the heart of Hell he would seek her out, and claim her. She should be his even though every infernal power were arrayed against him. His eyes were alight with a fierce smile, as he contemplated the grey waters. It was a smile of conscious strength, of reckless purpose. Well, he was ready. He was—
"Guess we'll git this sort of stuff all the way."
Bull started and swung around. A fur-coated man with a dark close-cropped beard was leaning over the rail beside him. He was expensively clad. His astrachan collar was turned up about his neck to shut out something of the biting winter air; and a cap of similar fur was pressed low down over his dark head. Bull noted the man's appearance, and his reply was promptly forthcoming.
"Maybe," he admitted without interest.
"Sure we will. It's always that way with the Empress's last trip of the season from Quebec. I most generally make it for that reason. Your first trip?"
"It's my nineteenth. You see," the stranger went on, "I can't spare summer time. I'm too full gettin' orders out. I'm in the lumber business. It's only with the freeze up I can quit my mills. Have a cigar?"
Bull had no alternative. The man was there to talk, and his desire to do so was frankly displayed.
"I won't smoke, thanks," Bull replied without offense. "It's too near dinner."
"Dinner? There's a ha'f hour to the dressing bugle." The stranger returned the elaborate case stuffed full of large, expensive cigars to his pocket, and drew out a gold cigarette case instead. "Still I don't blame you a thing. Cigars? Me for a cigarette all the time. I don't guess any feller ever heard tell of tobacco, till he'd inhaled a good, plain Virginia Cigarette."
Bull looked on while the man wasted half-a-dozen matches lighting his beloved cigarette. He was not without interest. There was a slightly Jewish caste about his face which was frankly smiling, and lit with shrewd, twinkling dark eyes. He conveyed, too, somewhat blatantly, an atmosphere of abounding prosperity.
Bull laughed as the cigarette was finally lighted.
"That's better," he said. "Now—you can inhale."
"Sure I can." The man's smile was full of amiability. "Inhale anything. Say, up in the camps I've inhaled tea-leaves rolled in cracker paper before now. Ever hit a lumber camp?"
"But not out West? British Columbia?"
"No. Only Quebec."
The stranger shook his head disparagingly.
"Quebec! Psha! Quebec ain't a thing. It ain't a circumstance," he said complacently. "No, sir. The West. That's the place for lumbering. B.C. West of the Rockies. Man, it's the world's greatest proposition. The place you can spend a lifetime cutting ninety foot baulks, and lose track of where you cut. Quebec's mostly small stuff," he went on contemptuously, "pulp-wood an' that." He shook his head. "It's no place for capital. And, anyway, the Frenchies have got the whole darn place taped out. Oh, they're wise—the Frenchies. If a feller's lookin' to get ahead of 'em he needs to stake out the Arctic, where you'd freeze the ears of a brass image. The Frenchies got it all. The only big stuff lies on Labrador, anyway. I know. I prospected. No, it's me for the big hills, West. The big hills and the big waterways that 'ud leave Quebec rivers looking like a leak in a bone dry bar'l. My name's Aylin P. Cantor, Vancouver, B.C. Maybe you know the name?"
Bull shook his head.
"Oh, it don't matter," interjected Mr. Cantor. "You see, the West's one hell of a long way—west. I just didn't get your—"
"Oh, my name's Sternford."
Mr. Cantor's face beamed.
"Why I'm glad to know you, Mr. Sternford," he exclaimed. Then a quick, enquiring upward glance of his shrewd eyes suggested recollection. "But say—you ain't Sternford of Labrador? The groundwood outfit up at—up at—"
"That's it, sure. Guess I'd lost the name a moment."
Bull nodded amusedly.
"Yes. That's where I hail from. And, as you say, there's big stuff up there, too."
"Big? Why I'd say. Well, now! That's fine! I've heard tell big yarns of Labrador. It's just great meeting—"
The man broke off at the sound of the first blast of the dressing bugle.
"Why, it's later than I guessed," he said. "Anyway, you'll take a cocktail with me? This vessel's good and wet, thanks be to Providence, and the high seas being peopled with fish instead of cranks. I hadn't a notion I was goin' to run into a real lumberman on this trip. It's done me a power of good."
* * * * *
Aylin P. Cantor was a diverting creature for all his appearance of ostentatious prosperity. Good fortune had undoubtedly been his, and his whole being seemed to have become absorbed in the trade which had so generously treated him. Before the cocktail was consumed Bull had listened to a long story of British Columbia, and forests of incomparable extent. He had also learned that a country estate, miles in extent, outside the city of Vancouver, and the luxuries associated with the multi-millionaire had fallen to the lot of Aylin P. Cantor. But somehow there was no offence in it all. The man was just a bubbling fount of enthusiasm and delight that this was so. He simply had to talk of it.
But the acquaintance was not to terminate over a cocktail. Shipboard offers few avenues of escape to the man seeking to avoid another. So it came that Bull found himself sipping a brandy, reputed to be one hundred years old, over his coffee after dinner, while Aylin P. Cantor told him the story of how it came into his possession at something far below its market value.
Later, again, while the auction pool was being sold, he found himself ensconced on a lounge in a far corner of the smokeroom beside his fellow craftsman, still listening chiefly, and absorbing fact and anecdote pertaining to a successful lumberman's life. And it was nearly eleven o'clock, and the pool had been sold, and the bulk of the occupants of the smoking-room were contemplating their last rubber of Auction Bridge, when the busy-minded westerner consented to abandon his particular venue for a brief contemplation of the despised East.
"Oh, I guess there's money in your territory, too," he condescended at last. "I ain't a word to say against the stuff I've heard tell of Labrador. But you're froze up more'n ha'f the year. That's your trouble."
Bull nodded over the latter portion of his third cigar which Mr. Cantor had not permitted him to escape.
"Sure," the man laughed. "Oh, the stuff's there. I know that. But Labrador needs a mighty big nerve to exploit. I heard it all from a feller I met when I was prospecting Quebec. You see, I had the notion of playing a million dollars in the Quebec forests once. But I weakened. I kind of fancied my chance against the Frenchies didn't amount to cold water on a red hot cookstove. I cut it out and hunted my own patch, West, again. But I guess I'd have fallen for the stories of Labrador, if it hadn't been for the feller who put me wise."
"Who was that?" Bull had lost interest, but the man invited the enquiry.
"Oh, a sort of missionary crank," Cantor returned indifferently. "You know the sort. We got 'em out West, too. They hound the boys around, chasin' them heavenwards by a through route they guess they know about." He laughed. "But the boys bein' just boys, the round up don't ever seem to make good; and that through trip looks most like a bum sort of freight in the wash-out season. Outside his missioner business I guess the guy was pretty wise, though. And his knowledge of the lumber play left me without a word. He knew it all—an' I guess he told it to me."
Bull laughed. But the laugh was inspired by the thought that there could be found in the world a man who could leave Aylin P. Cantor without a word on the subject of lumber.
"I'd like to make a guess at that feller," he said. "There's just one man I know who's a missionary in Quebec who knows anything about Labrador. Did he call himself, 'Father Adam?'"
"That's the thing he did."
"Ah, I thought so." Bull's smile had passed. "Where did you meet him?" he went on after a moment.
"On the Shagaunty. The Skandinavia Corporation territory. He told me he'd just come along through from Labrador."
Mr. Cantor laughed.
"Why he took me to his crazy shanty and handed me coffee. And he talked. My, how he talked."
"Did he know you were—prospecting?"
There was no lack of interest in Bull now. His steady eyes were alight, as he watched the stewards moving amongst the tables, setting the place straight for the night.
"Yes. I told him."
Cantor's dark eyes were questioning. As Bull remained silent he went on.
"Why? Is he interested for the Skandinavia to keep folk out?"
Bull shook his head.
"No. It isn't that. He's a queer feller. No, I'd say he's got just one concern in life. It's the boys. But you're right, he knows the whole thing—the whole game of lumbering in Eastern Canada. And if he told you and warned you, I'd say it was for your good as he saw it. No. He's no axe to grind, and though you found him on the Skandinavia's territory, I don't think he likes them. I'm sure he doesn't. Still, he's not concerned for any employer. He just comes and goes handing out his dope to the boys, and—You know the forest-jacks. They're a mighty tough proposition. Well, it's said they feel about Father Adam so if a hair of his head was hurt they'd get the feller who did it, and they'd cut the liver out of him, and pass what was left feed for the coyotes."
Mr. Cantor nodded.
"Yes, I sort of gathered something of that from the folks I hit up against. It seems queer a feller devoting his life to bumming through the forests and seekin' shelter where you couldn't find shelter from a summer dew. He's got no fixed home. Maybe he's sort of crazed."
Bull was prompt in his denial.
"Saner than you or me," he said. "You know I'd want to smile if I didn't know the man. But I know him, and—but there we all owe him a deal, we forest men. And maybe I owe him more than anyone."
Mr. Cantor's question came sharply. Even Bull, tired as he was, noted the keenly incisive tone of it. He turned, and his steady eyes regarded the dark face of the lumberman speculatively. Then he smiled, and picked up his glass and drained the remains of his whisky and soda.
"Why, he's more power for peace with the lumber-jacks of Quebec than if he was their trade leader," he said, setting his empty glass down on the table. "We employers owe him there's never any sort of trouble with the boys."
"I see." Mr. Cantor gazed out across the nearly empty room, and a shadowy smile haunted his eyes. "And if there was trouble? Could you locate him in time?"
"We shouldn't need to. He'd be there."
The lumberman stirred, and persisted with curious interest.
"But he must have a place where you folks can get him? This coming and going. It's fine—but—"
Bull stood up and stretched himself.
"Oh, he's got a home, all right. It's the forests."
Mr. Cantor threw up his hands and laughed.
"Who is he, anyway? A sort of Wandering Jew? A ghost? A spook? That sort of thing beats me. He's got to be one of the two things. He's either a crank—you say he ain't—or he's dodging daylight."
But Bull had had enough. Deep in his heart was a feeling that no man had any right to pry into the life of Father Adam. Father Adam had changed the whole course of his life. It was Father Adam who had made possible everything he was to-day—even his association with Nancy McDonald. He shook his head unsmilingly.
"Father Adam's one good man," he said. "And I wouldn't recommend anyone to hand out anything to the contrary within hearing of the men of the Quebec forests. Good-night."
He strode away. And Mr. Cantor followed him, slight and bediamonded in his evening clothes. And somehow the dark eyes gazing on the broad back of the man from Labrador had none of the twinkling shrewdness the other had originally observed in them. They were quite cold and very hard. And there was that in them which suggested the annoyance inspired by a long evening of effort that had ended in complete failure.
The man's dark, foreign-looking features had lost every semblance of their recent good-natured enthusiasm.
THE LONELY FIGURE AGAIN
The laden sled stood ready for the moment of starting on the day's long run. Five train dogs, lean, powerful huskies, crouched down upon the snow. They gave no sign beyond the alertness of their pose and the watchfulness of their furtive eyes. Their haunches were tucked under them. And their long, wolfish muzzles, so indicative of their parentage, were pressed down between great, outstretched forepaws.
The man studied every detail of his outfit. He knew the chances, the desperate nature of the long winter trail. He had no desire to increase the hardship of it all by any act of carelessness.
Behind him lay the mockery of a camping ground. It was a minute, isolated bluff of stunted, windswept trees, set in a white, wide wilderness of barren land. Perhaps there was some half a hundred of them. But that was all. They had served, but only by reason that their shelter had satisfied habit, which, even in the men of the long trail, will not be denied.
He turned away. Everything was to his satisfaction. So his tall, fur-clad figure passed in amongst the dwarf trees.
The dogs remained crouching, their fierce eyes gazing out over the desolate expanse of winter's playground. It lay at a great altitude, several thousands of feet above the level of the sea. The sky was drab. It was bitter with threat. It was unrelieved by any break in the menacing winter cloud. It was a snow sky which only refrained from releasing its burden by reason of the high, top wind that drove the heavy masses relentlessly. The earthly prospect was no more inviting. It was wide, and flat, and devoid of vegetation. There were no hills anywhere, and the skyline was just a vanishing point similar to the horizon of the open sea. One vast, wide field of snow and ice spread out in every direction, and made desolation complete.