The Centre of Gravity
A Story of the Gold Boom Days in British Columbia
Who wrote “Face Dp,” “What the (Jude Send.'' etc.
EDITORS N( VTE.—Mr. Moorhouse presents hert with a ton character—Andy Doolin, proprietor of the Silver Dollar, a typical publican of the gold boom days out West. Andy's recital of the exciting and curious events in the gold camps will he worked into a series of short stories, and we shall hear more of Dutch McGee and Jim ( rotty and Jipe Kerry. This trill he the best series typical (Canadian stories that has appeared in years.
OUEER things bein’ done by queer individual was common enough in them days out there in the Slocasn country. But lookin’ back, I can’t find nothin’ to take the trick from Joe Kerry. So it was fittin’ and proper that the biggest doin’s Joe ever got mixed up in started in some burnin’ hay. For if the hay hadn’t caught fire on top of a load of giant powder, Kerry wouldn’t have handed Andy Doolin his talk on the barrenness of life; and but for said talk, said Doolin, which same is yours truly, wouldn’t have steered him up against that rattle-sr.ake proposition. An’ if the snake hadn’t been quicker’n Joe, he’d merely have moseyed on up the trail to the next camp, kickin’ himself for a discard, an’ thereby missed meetin’ Sally Lane. ,
Joe held the royal flush for recklessness in half a dozen camp9 along his route. When he pulled up in front of the “Silver Dollar” bar that day with a load of giant
an' hay, he just natcherally tossed his glowin' cigarette over his shoulder, climbed down, hitched the team an’ made for the thirst emporium.
Meantime sundry citizens was hittin’ sand for the timber an’ hollerin’ like a bunch of Siwashes. When Joe happens out casual to see what’s movin’ in the world of man he finds nothin’ more excitin’ than burnin’ hay on a load of powder. So he just finished rollin’ another smoke, gets up lazy on his wagon, kicks said blazin’ hay off, follows it to the ground ar,’ proceeds to smother same with a horse blanket.
“By Gander!” he swears, kind of interested. “I came darn near havin’ to go back for more hay. Andy.”
“Yes,” I snorts, “an’ you come mighty near sendin’ this here booze bazaar, w’hich includes myself, nearer Heaven than we’re carded for!”
His jaw-hinge weakened at that an’ I
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could see by the way he held his mouth that he was some impressed.
"By Gander, that’s right!” he admits. "Somethin’ might’ve happened—but did it? No, Andy, it did not.” And he start*shakin’ his head and lookin’ at me sorrowful. “No, Andy, it did NOT!” he repeats, solemn and sad. “Nothin’ EVER does. It’s gettirt’ tiresome—so tiresome, Andy, that there are times when I feel that I must crawl away into a lonely cave among the dead bones of the beasts an’ lay me down and die.”
I_I IS voice was hollow as said cave, an* *■ * he pulled a faded flower look on me that made me think of coffins an’ a dreary iain-soaked grave on a bleak hill.
“Have a drink.” I suggested, kind of hasty; for Joe Kerry had a funny-bone a* was some abnormal an’ enterprisin’. “Mebbe it’ll help dispel the envelopin' gloom.”
He shakes his head as he sits the glass down an’ stares at it dejected.
"Here I am. Ar~dy," he proceeds, "a full grown, h~althy citizen of five and thirty summers an' a like number of win ter~, an' tOt a darn thing out uf the or dinary ever happened me. It's my hoodoo." he .`~ays. "When it comes to bein' recognized by seif-respectin' and' in It.
terestin’ Evjents, I’ve got the measles an' smallpox arj’ yellow fever all rolled into one. j
“Andy,” fays he, mournful, “I'm only a bit of scum in a stagnant pool.! I’m only the wooden post on the graveyard gate! I’m the centre of gravity, that’s what I
In the feather that dropped from o’ the Great Bird o’ Progress!" “An’ the minute I flutter near thát looks like somethin’, it falls can’t even find the edges of it. ibed onto some of the cussedest ever corailed an’ the blame things Iked off with me just as if they enjoyed it. An’ the next fellow that tried to saddle ’em, the critters would bite a square fóot of hide off him, kick him in the face, an' then roll over on him! Fact,
I tell 3 ou.
“I’ve sät in poker games in all the camps along this trail an’ got plumb reckless tryin’ to start somethin’. But I ain’t never been able to quit loser mor’n a dollar an’ never won more’n six bits in one sittin’!
‘I’ve got a couple o’ thousand in the bank that I ain’t got no particular need of, an’ ffm makin’ a couple o’ hundred every tiip up the darn old trail. An’ though lyn just pinin’ to have things bust loose. I can’t get no more excitement out o’ life than a hearse-driver. Ain’t it the limit? Now, honest, Andy, ain’t it?” "Well,” 9ays I, “it may be that I’m a queer sort. Kirt I never cotijd work up any kind of .ndignation over havin’ things go ’long r ice an’ smooth like. But every man to his taste, Joe.”
“What would you do, if you was me?" he says, lookin’ earnest.
“If I was you?” I says, speculatin’. “Wfiy, I don’t know, JoeiGuess I’d go out, pick up a rattler by the tail an’ snap his head off before he could get to me.”
HE looked at me kind of queer, but the subject was dropped complete. After we'd talked about other things for awhile, Kerry mounted his seat an’ drove off.
’Boi t an hour later he come tearin’ back Into camp, astride one of his horses. He swung off at the “Silver Dollar,” rushed. ín, graboed a bottle of whiskey from the bar and emptied same without stoppin’. Next thing I knew he’d keeled over on .the floor an’ 1 got to him faster’n it takes to tell. His arm was swollen an’ black from the wrist to a thong twisted tightly around it, just below the elbow. ’Bout half way up I could see the marks of the rattler’s fangs plain enough. I slashes the wound with my pocket knife an’ sends Jimmy on the run for Doc. Bradley.
Of course, Kerry wasn’t in condition to continue his trip, an’ his partner, returnin’ light from up trail next day, exchanged outfits and hauled the powder away. It was not till severafldays later that the blamed idiot took up his uneventful career and proceeded down to the railway. A id on the next trip up Sally Lane was perched on the seat beside him. So you see how fate had worked it all out.
THE whole camp was out to greet the now school teacher. An’ I tell you a prettier little schoolmarm than Miss Lane never come West. Every man in Clover Bar was kow-towin’ to her before her first little boot sunk into the gumbo. An’ inside a week every woman in‘the place was cullin’ her a “dear little girl,” which
is chalkin’ up some murks for aforementioned young lady.
It didn’t take yours truly long to straddle the fact that he’d lost a good customer an’ that Joe was some punctured. Miss Lane had decided views, it seemed, on the consumption of alcoholic beverages an’ the regular stoppin’ place of one trail freight wagon was now the little schoolhouse just above the camp. Sometimes, when Jimmy was relievin’ an’ I was out takin* the ozone, I used to meet Joe an’ at such times he took to confidin’ how he was gettin’ along. An’ though I had one ear always open for it, I wasn’t hearin’ any more talk ’bout lonely caves an’ dead bones, an’ life bein’ tiresome.
’Stead of that he’d taken to nibblin’ dainty lunches spread out on the schoolmarm’s desk, him listenin’ to her pretty prattle ’bout nothin’ in partickler, an’ the two of ’em smilin’ across at each other with nothin’ to smile at. I didn’t say nothin’, but plucked a few flowers of thought that made me feel, somehow, that the “Silver Dollar” was plugged money compared to u’hat was goin’ on at the schoolhouse.
HERE was others that run to similar A reflections, for these spreads was gettin’ to be so regular that Clover Bar housewives took to rejoicin’ at the way Joe had reniged on the’Demon Rum. Everybody liked Joe a heap. But just when the aforesaid skif-t brigade, was figgerin’ as how Miss Lane would most likely not go back East, didn’t Kerry himself waltz in an’ spoil everythin’.
“ItV my hoodoo again, Andy,” he laments, some lugubrious.
“Hoodoo nothin’!” I makes change. “It’s plumb foolishness. Some i s born fools an’ some make fools of themselves. You come in both classes,” I says, layin’ on the brandin’ iron some hot
For the blame idiot had been ravin’ to Miss Lane ’bout the beauty and desirability of a certain girl back East. Her eyes were nearly the same blue as the schoolmarm’s, he had said, an’ her hair curled down over her forehead, in the same enticin’ manner, an’ a few more things of like an’ similar refrain. The fact that there never had been no such girl an’ that Kerry was only tryin’ to tell her what he thought of her wasn't sufficient obtrusive for Sally Lane to follow his play. So the atmosphere just nacherally got so chilly Joe’s enthusiasm froze solid an’ 9udden, an’ he didn’t notice Miss Lane transferrin’ a diamond ring from her right hand to the third finger on her left.
“Really, Mr. Kerry, you must be excusin’ me now,” she warbles, extreme polite. “I promised Mr. Laughlin I’d go up and see the mine with him th¡9 afternoon.”
Joe, he sjts there a minute, gulpin’ for his equilibrium an’ finally observes as how he’ll drop in to see her on his way back. Saturday. But she’d promised Mr. Laughlin that, there bein' no school on Saturday, she’d go ridin’ with him an’ they’d probably be gone most of the day. Then Joe got a flash of the diamond and left with his feelin’s quiverin' an’ his think-tank full of leaks.
HE was so numb that he mounts his load an’ drives off without lookin’ back once. Things was happenin’ so fast that it made him dizzy. He didn’t know.
of course, that Miss Lane had no intention of goin’ up to the mine with Mr. Laughlin. What she really did when he left was to go out to a nook beside a little creek an’ take to ponderin’ long; result—diamond back on right hand, determination to show Joe^Kerry a thing or two, also to really go »din’ with Laughlin on Saturday if sai^ Laughlin could be made to ask her to go. ,
She lived near the. school an’ on her way back she was lucky, enough to meet Jim Laughlin. Good enough feller, Jim was—he’d beat Joe out at a beauty show any day. His salary as timekeeper at the mines, though, wasn’t high enough to reach the knee of Matrimonial Aspirations; but he was some pleased at the tempefature of Sally Lane’s greetin' and basked in same all the way to the school. It wasn’t till he left her that he backed a few facts into a corner an’ examined their teeth—discoverin’ that the} hadn’t talked 'bout anythin’ but horsekiok ridin’ and the beautiful country to be seen surroundin', an’ that he had actually asked her to go horseback ridin’ with him on Saturday an* him never on a beast’s back in his life an’ scared cold at thought of said stunt.
That’s how it come that Joe Kerry, on his way down trail that Saturday, found the stage-settin’ complete for the worst foolishness of all. The Laughlin-Iane excursion was halted at the creek crossin’. Miss Lane had ridden her bromâcrost the little bridge, but Laughlin’s piebald critter had sudden come to the conclusion . that he’d be darned if he was goin’ to cross over. Joe Kerry's funny-bone, perceivin’ that the clouds was gatherin’, told him to whoa his team an’ he done so, rollin’ a pill an’ settlin’ back comfortable to take in the cirkis.
“How do you do. Miss Lane?” he'nods, complacent.
“Very well, thank you,” she follers suit, icin’ her voice.
“Mr. Laughlin appears to be havin’ a little trouble,” he leads back. %
She passes—truth of statement requirin’ no comment.
“Why don’t you push on the reins?” says Joe, switchin’ from the queen to the jack; but Laughlin was some busy an’ anxious an’ said nothin’.
“Ill tell you what to do,” Kerry goes on. “Get the horse headed right an’ then lean over an’ prod him with your thumb, low down on the neck, just in front of the shoulder-blade.”
Laughlin was some*' desperate an’ he covered instructions prompt. The broncho arched sudden just under the saddle an’ cleared the bridge in one bound, leavin’ his rider performin’ a graceful curve through the air an’ cornin’ to rest, settlin’ in the middle of the creek.
“Joe Kerry, you’re no gentleman!” volunteered the girl, emphatic, thereby puttin’ a fat, round period to roarin’ amusement of party specified. She galloped back to the 9choolhouse without lingerin’ in the situation an’ hitches her mount to the fence for Jim Laughlin to tome an’ get when it suited him.
That girl was so put out she couldn’t «pell “cat.” She Walks up an’ down inside, clenchin’ her hands, bitir’ her lips, wipin’ away scaldin’ tears an swearin’ dictionary langwidge, which meant she’d never 9peak to Joe Kerry again. She got
so worked up an’ plumb mad ’bout it she sudden started laughin’ an’ the more she laughed the funnier the whole thing got.
“What a man ! What a man !” she solitaires, and thereupon sits down at the desk with her eyes full of the far distant scene. She was so busy lookin’ in the picture-book of dreams that she didn’t pay no heed to the clatter Joe made, psuin’ the place. The failin’ shadows of the dyin’*day woke her up final an’ she started to get supper. There was enough shreds of the drehmin’ dingin’ to her thoughts to make her set two places at the desk, which all goes to show what teetotal fools some fellers is. ^
ALL this time Kerry’s wagon was tied up in front of bad money, meanin’ the “Silver Dollar,” while he was tellin’ yours truly his troubles. He did have sense enough not to take a drink an’ there was some excuse cornin’ where he did for expert advice, me havin’ been married three
“You wall-eyed son of Loiterin’ Locosis!” I opens up gentle. “You spoon-fed infant! You doggone chump! Not content With makin’ an ass of yourself, you hâve to go an do the same for a young fellow she’s out with. Didn’t you know that your play there at the bridge was to act pTite an show Laughlin how to get acrost? ’Stead of that you get him to thumb the beast an'-thereby humiliate the girl. I don’t see nothin’ for you to do; you can’t be trusted to go an’ explain without makin’ matters worse. I reckon you’ll just have to wait for somethin’ to happen.”
“But, Andy,” he objects, “you know how daim few things happen to me.” At which I ignores him complete.
A LL through fall and early winter the ** days kept on floatin’ in one side of camp an* fadih’ out the other, managin' to fill their pockets with the same old doin’s. Nothin’happened that anyone saw, nothin’ except Jim Laughlin practisin’ on à medicated old bronc of Doc. Bradley’s, When he finally asked the school teacher to go out tidin' with him again, he got away with it. The girl was some lonesome, I reckon, an’ Jim was company of a sort; so they went canterin’ round the hills till the big snowfall begun.
Bát even a mule with the blind staggers could see she was some isolated an’ every time the trail wagon went by, the girl was peekin’ out tween the blind an’ window-sash. I know, ’cause I seen her do it There wasn’t no talkin’ to the boy, long ’bóut then ; his funny-bone was sure ossified an’ he went round lookin’ like Sorrow an’ Pain tryin’ to have a good time. Pale an’ quiet an’ off his feed an’ touchy as a colt from the ranges—that was Joe.
MEN along the old trail still talk about that November. Snow started to come down early in the month. The sun was off on a bust somewhere an’ didn’t show up till the fifteenth. It wac so exhausted that it couldn’t thaw through to within fifty miles of the earth. The roads was blocked an’ in the gulches the snowdrifts was bangin’ over the rocks.
Kerry took the first load over the road. Just above Clover Bar the trail wound through a narrow gulch, not more’n wide enough for two teams to pass. Travelin’ there was some desperate, the snow be-
in’ so deep the horses could wallow clor.g just a few yards at a time, restin’ between whiles. Some big slides was hangit.’ like glistenin’ fangs from the slopes, at 'the top of the cliffs.
“Them’s goin’ to get someone when the sun gets warm an’ makes ’em heavy with water,” thinks Joe; but he got through without dislodgin’ anything.
The mine operators up the line sure welcomed the boy when he got there The storm had hung up every one of their teams in the mountains. The stamp-mills had been workin’ steady an’ each day’s clearin’s, which they usually sent down to the railroad in small amounts, was addin’ to a supply of bullion which was gettin’ altogether too large. They commissioned Kerry totake along over ten thousand dollars’ worth on the down trip.
TEVENSON, boss of the Kelso group, calls Joe to one side an’ looks-him serious in the eye.
“Saunders an’ Pete ’ll go on down with you, Joe,” he says solemn. “They’s both quick on the draw an’ accurate.”
“Rabbits?” grins Kerry, disregardin’.
“Coyote?!” reparties Steve, some sharp. “Ain’t you heerd the noos yet? Black Jim Crotty an’ his gang has blowed into this here proximity once more. We happens to know he’s been hangin’ ’round, keepin’ almighty quiet, which same aint no good sign,” worries Steve. “You keep your eye everlastin’ peeled, Joe; fer it’s goin’ to be a dangerous trip.”
Kerry just grin9 again. But he aint sayin’ no more ’bout rabbits an’ when he pulls out o’'amp Big Saunders an’ Pete Hollister is ridin* behind the trail wagon, carryin’ rifles.
This here party, named Crotty, aint no psahn-singin’ Salvationist, I rises to remark. He’s plumb bad—a killer from the Panhandle country what drifted north with the stampede over the Old Cariboo Trail, lookin’ fer pickin’s, an’ fell in with a gang o’ outlaws what Dutch McGee got together. An’ when Dutch was plugged final up near Sanderson, the gang got together again after them ructions an’’chose Black Jim "fer leader. This Crotty was wanted several wheres for train-robbery an’ similar frivolities an’ he was wanted so sincere that there was twenty thousand dollars waiting’ fer the feller as could bring him in, whether Crotty wa9 drawin’ reglar on the ozone at the time or was corpsed stiff an’ cold complete.
DUT Joe Kerry wasn't losin’ any song fraxo over Crotty, bein’ too busy thinkin’ 'bout Miss Sally Lane. If he did think 'bout the trip now bein’ made, it was to wonder whether they’d beat out the big slowslides in the long gulch, the which he’d noted on his way up. When they got there things didn’t look none too promisin’.
Three day9 had given the sun a chance to j buck up an’ it had been busy eatin’ snow. f The road was bare and the water wa9 cornin’ down from the slopes on the north side in ripplin’ rills. Big drifts was hangin’ by their tails over the edge of the precipice, lookin’ for a place to light The water from up the slope Was addin’ to the weight an’ bitin’ holes in them drifts to make ’em let go an’ get out of the way.
Joe didn’t stand round long, admirin’, the scenery. He knew it was risky, but the bullion had to go forward an’ he played to take the trick before the bob-tailed
flush drew out an’ slid down into the tfame. He hitched the lines an’ walked behind the wagon, ready to hike for safety. Behind him again rode the guards. They hadn't more’n got into the gulch when the big drift got a kirk ini its*pinney an’ let out a groan. Guards wheeled mounts an’ made for the open, with Kerry emulatin’. The horses never had a chance. When the boys looked back there was nothin’ in sight but snow, packed into the gulch an’ runnin’ up the sides for fifty feet.
Travelin’ acrost the hills, Clover Bar was only two miles away, though by the road it chalked up ten. The guards sat down on a rock an’ let the sun warm ’em while Joe set out for help] There was a trail he knew' of, up over the hill.
I-I E HADN’T much mor n reached said * * trail than he heerd somebody talkin’ up abovV* him an’ immediate ^thereafter comes four fellers sneak n’ into sight, makin’ way cautious down trail an’ cursin' every time a foot slipped. They was so busy watchin’ their feet hat they aint noticed Joe. who drops flat behind the nearest rock most sudden an’ anxious.
Fer it wra9 that black devil, Crotty, sure 'nough—him an’ three other members o’ the gang—an’ they was healed proper fei trouble. They come 9Üpfin’ an’ slidin’ down an’ stopped direct I side the big rock where Kerry was ind&t; ntin’.
“They won’t be ’long fer a couple a hours yet. We’ll get the two fellers-with the rifles first shot; but I aint perposin’ to do nothin’ to Kerry ’lew he shows fight,” says Mr. Crotty, kind-hearted. “He’s a harmless fool mile-skinner as don’t count. We aint cloüt enough yet, boys. Come on an’ shut u
With which Mr. Crotty an’ his assistants moseys on down the trail aways. As soon’s they was around I fie first turn, Joe was wrigglin’ an’ soon he wa9 over the hill. He aint stoppin’ i er anythin’ at all. He’s slinkin’ fer Clovir Bar as fast a9 he can make it.
From the time he breezed into the Silver Dollar till the was deserted an’ a bunch o’ broncho9 was blo win’ acrost the white-faced landscape wasn’t any longer’n necessary. Crotty ahne was worth twenty thousand dollars to his captor.
“Laughlin an’ the schoo marm started up the rfd on horseback a little while ago,” remarks someone as tl ley was pullin' out.
“By Gander!” swears Ilerry at that. “You boys follow the road,’ he yells back. “I’ll get there, quicker ove: the trail—to head ’em off before they run into that bunch.”
He made straight for the sharp turn in the gulch where the holdip men would be waitin’ for the wagon thi it wouldn’t arrive. He could see the roa; i below the elbow' of the gulch for nearly a mile. As he rode, he saw two figure! come canterin’ into sight. He knew his voice couldn’t reach them from that distance. He knew also that the outlaws would shoot anythin’ on a horse at 9ight.
Joe yanked his mount rqund an’ made for the brink of the gulch.
"A NE of the Crotty gang liad climbed up the cliff in order to pick off the guards before they could give an a arm. He saw Joe cornin’ and opened fire. Joe unlimbered an’ returned the greetin but owin’ to Continued on pagt 76.
( toihmif jfttULyfuttjc 28.
the plungin’ of his horse, he couldn’t seem to shoot straight.
Just as he was cussin’ the beast, said piebald fell into a hole and threw* him clean over his head. He got snow up his sleeves an’ down his neck an’ connected with a Grotty bullet at junction of his left arm an’ the main line, said bullet shatterin’ said shoulder pretty bad. With his prm danglin’ and tloppin’ about foolish, Kerry-stumbled on through the snow, pumpin’ lead with his good hand, his teeth set tight an’ his eyes glitterin’ some determined. Pinal the outlaw gets tired dodgin’ the bullets an’ absorbs one for à change, said absorption knockin’ him clean down the hill.
By this time Joe was out on the drift, bein’ too busy talkin’ to his friend to note minor details. It doesn't take much to start a slide sometimes, an’ down she went, tillir. gulch some more, burying the Grotty gang complote an’ givin* Kerry a ride that was some swift an’ cool.
Posse found him against the rocks, lookin’ as if he was through with, this mundane sphere. They lifted him onto a saddle blanket an’ carried him down-to the road where Sally Lane W*as as bust up mentally as be was physically. She’d have flur.g her arms around him an’ sat rockin him back and forth till he was a sure ’rough goner, if we’d let her, an’ she had sobs all over her only she kep’ em conffaled äs well as she could.
UNSJDERIN’ as I liked the boy a heap J an’ him lyin' there hob-nobbin' with Old Colçl-Reck, it was queer the feelin’ o’ gladness that came over me. An’ when they took the boy into Salty Lane's own little room off the schoolhouse, even though Doe. only give him one chance in a hundred. I figgered this was one time when a long-shot was due to win.
1 was sure right. Nobody could have died under the lovin' care that girl bestowed on that sick boy. When Joe Kerry come out o’ the fever am’ found out where he was an’ who was holdin’ his hand and so forth, he thought at first he had taken again toit’ne Demon Rum, an’ that his upper stope was some haunted by sad echoes o’ the Rast. But when he finally come to —
Well, jthis not bein’ no moonlight-onthe-rivei* effect an’ me not havin’kissed a girl for some years an’ the whole blame thing bein’ nobody’s business anyway, this is where self-respectin’ words just nacherally clogs up, an’ sits right down, fagged put complete.
All I know is that Joe Kerry’s three thousand in the bank had changed to twenty-tihree thousand, him gettin’ the reward for Jim Crotty, which same didn't upset hi* stand-in with the boys so’s you’d notice itl I closed up the old ‘‘Silver Dollar” in honor o’ the weddin’, which went off faster an’ louder’n the biggest funeral in the history of Clover Bar.
“Andy.” says the,boy, callin’ me aside just before he mounts the trail wagon. “Andy,The says, “you’re right an’ I’m sure converted, Yours truly ain’t pinin’ for anythin’ but sunshine an’ flowers from now on.; I ain’t got no more use for a hoodoo. an’ I’m handin’ you that just when said hoodoo is busted an* canterin’ along peaceful;”
“For you know, Andy," he says, “come to think: of it, there’s been a lot o’ things happeniji* round here recent.”