THE VALLEY OF GOLD
A Tale of the Qu’Appelle
THE east wind blew furiously, beating gray sheets down the streaming panes. Along the village street flowed a turbid torrent, the squalid wash of an "oldtimer-three-days'-blow" from the Great Lakes. Threshing was hung up. Every wheel was stopped for a thousand miles across the prairies.
Sparrow’s pool - room was a cavern of smoke. Through the blue-ringed mists of tobacco moved the unkempt silhouettes of
boisterous threshermen. Suddenly over the hubbub rose a jeering cry. Ned Pullar leaned down and knocked the ashes out of his briar. His immobile face gave no sign that the cry was an insulting challenge. Opening his knife he slowly scooped out the bowl of his pipe. Tapping the inverted briar on the palm of his hand, he proceeded leisurely to fill in the tobacco. This act duly completed, he turned about and looked McClure
in the face. In bis eyes was a faint twinkle, but he elected to hold his tongue. His deliberate silence provoked his tormentor. Hitherto McClure had addressed him in a low tone. Now his great voice rose above the chatter of the players and the noise of the crashing balls. “Come, Pullar!” he sneered. “You’re yellow. How about odds?” Play ceased and all eyes turned on the two men. “Pull easy, Rob!” adjured some partisan of McClure’s. “He’s soft in the mouth.” The crowd raised applauding guffaws. “Naw, it’s the blind staggers, pards,” cried a smooth voice. “Watch his blinkers.” The immoderate laugh of the crowd had a curiously menacing note. Pullar’s blinkers were not blinking, however. He held McClure’s eyes with a level glance. Thrusting hands to hips akimbo McClure eried insolently: “S-s-stumped! You quitter!” Pullar was still silent. His clear eye was taking in the situation. McClure was plainly bent on baiting him and his purpose was beginning to dawn on the Valley boss. A quick survey of the room discovered to him the presence of nine of McClure’s men. He could see them moving about into position to cut off all egress from the one door. Not a man of his own gang was in sight and the two or three outsiders were not promising allies. The stench of liquor and the savage flashing of wild eyes warned him of their fell intention. In the swift process of his thought he realized that they were about to pull him down and “jump” him with the unspeakable savagery of drunken fools. He was trapped. With every sense alert he went ahead imperturbably preparing to light up. Drawing a wad of bills from his pocket, McClure thrust them under Pullar’s nose. “Five hundred bucks!” he challenged. “Five hundred little bucks to lay against you two to one that we can lick the Valley Outfit in a thirty day run any old time you want to take it on. No time like the present, Pullar!” Ned Pullar stood straight and immense, a muscular figure In overalls and smock. His fresh, youthful face looked almost innocently from under the peak of his cap. His eyes
were serious for an instant, then released an amused “Rob McClure!” he said quietly. “You are developing an interesting humour. Three times to-day you have flaunted this trifling wager in my face. It means nothing to me—nothing more than do you yourself, Robbie, mon, or your engaging gang.” The mocking tone provoked a swift change in McClure. His eyes narrowed to slits that gleamed
impotently mute. Backing their boss with yells of rage the gang moved menacingly toward the speaker. Suddenly above the foul oaths rang out a voice. It was one of the outsiders who had slipped unnoticed to the door. With his hand on the knob he called out: “Hold ’em, Ned. I’ll fetch the Valley Outfit mighty quick.” There was a rush toward him, but he
him, dashed out of the door and away. Then followed an instant move toward the solitary and defiant figure of the Valley boss. “Halt! You drunken dogs!” cried Pullar in a voice that effected his purpose. Pausing, the crowd eyed their quarry cautiously, warned by the terrible flame leaping from the eyes where but a moment before glimmered a whimsical smile. Holding his pipe to his lips with a match ready to light, he addressed them quietly.
“I was getting ready,” said he, “to hit the trail for The Craggs when McClure worked himself up over this bet. I’m not interested in his little gamble. But I am tolerably anxious over "he important matter of biking along home to milk the cows. I’m going to pass out that door and I d hate to hustle any of you fellows unnecessarily.” He took a step toward them. There was an involuntary movement’to retreat. Pullar laughed and the threshers, with wild yells, rushed at their prey. Above the clamour rose the bull-like roar of McClure. “Throw the big stiff!” he shouted. “Mush him under your boots before his gang get here. Put him out and we’ll handle them.” With answering shouts they leaped to the attack. Pullar stepped back lightly, feigning retreat. Drawn by the ruse two sprang after him. Suddenly they felt a clutch like steel. Separating the two assailants he brought them together with a trap-like shutting of his muscular arms. Their heads met with a muffled shock and he sent them reeling to the wall. Hands were grasping for him as he shot out his right fist and his left and two more of his demented foes sank to their knees. Making a lightning side step he sprang away, freeing himself from the gripping tentacles of the gang. In a flashing glimpse he found that he had dodged the attack en masse only to throw himself in the path of Snoopy Bill Baird. The huge slouching form was charging him wickedly. He twisted aside to elude the onset but was unable to avoid the kick of the heavy boot. It caught him along the cheek-bone, ripping the flesh. He closed, clinching his assailant. The big fellows were well matched, but with a confusing speed Pullar had pinned Baird’s arms in a girdling grip. Tripping his great, writhing captive over his hip he flung him clean away above his head. Like a flying missile the man shot through the air, crashing down sprawling upon a pool table. OULLAR was not aware that his huge an1 tagonist lay on the table a groaning heap, for they were dragging him down on all sides. Two of his assailants clung to his arms, robbing him of any means of defense, while a third belaboured him fiercely about the head. Still an-
other fastened on his throat. This latter clutched Pullar’s neck with both hands, gouging his thumbs into the windpipe with vicious design to strangle. The vital grip began to tell and slowly at first, then with a chuck, they went to the floor.
“Hold him! Hold him!” shouted McClure gleefully, as he danced about seeking a chance to strike. But a sudden change came over the battle. The fall had shaken the bulldog clutch. By a prodigious effort Pullar wrenched his right arm free. There was a series of quick, jabbing motions and the four assailants fell magically away. With a bound I ullar was on his feet facing McClure. The latter struck furiously for the face but bis blow was swept aside by something rigid. Pullar stood inside his enemy’s guard. He had but to strike and it would be over. He did not strike.
Instead he smiled through the blood and stepped lightly back.
“No, McClure!” said he, with a grim smile. ‘‘I do not need to.”
The other looked at him a moment then breathed a low oath of surprise. At that instant there was a great shout and the Valley Gang charged through the door. Turning to the door Ned Pullar lifted his hands and shouted above the tu-
“Back, men! This fracas is over!”
“Not on yer life!” cried Easy Murphy, angered to fighting-mad pitch by the sight of the bloody face of his boss.
“The fight is over!” cried Ned, holding back his men.
“Begobs! Ye don’t know this wan Irish divil, Ned!” screamed Murphy. “I will be afthurr pluggin’ the lights uv me frind McClure. ’
At the words he stepped toward McClure, followed by the others. But he was intercepted by a swift motion of Pullar.
“No, Easy!” cried the young boss firmly. “Stick with me, lad. This is my powwow'. We are about to smoke the pipe of peace.”
For a fleeting instant he caught the Irishman’s eye. The flash of intelligence that passed between them checked the belligerent passion in Murphy’s wild heart. With a significant and rueful nod the thresher agreed to Pullar’s wish.
“Ah, Ned, darlint!” said he affectionately, taking in the room at a sweeping glance. “For why have ye bin mussin’ up Rob’s bowld byes? ’Tis a cyclone •blower ye are, me hearty. Go ahead wid the show. The Valley Gang’s occupyin’ the front sates.”
With a very bad grace the Valley Outfit followed their spokesman’s lead. The eyes of the two gangs turned to Ned.
Aside from the gash along his cheek he was unhurt. Stalking in among McClure’s men he picked up his pipe. Repacking the tobacco carefully he lit up. Throwing a series of blue circles to the oeiling he indulged in a moment's reminiscence. Finally he spoke, addressing Easy Murphy in his usual quiet
“A few minutes ago,” said he, “Rob McClure was eating his head off over a certain little proposition when—we had a slight interruption. In fact, I was anxious to get home to the milking. I have changed my mind. Rob’s proposal will interest you. He wants to stack his huskies up against the Valley Gang on a thirty-day run. He contends laying down a trifle
of five hundred dollars that he can lick my gang-"
Here arose a sudden commotion, savage threats and a sinister movement of the Valley Gang. Ned waved his men back with a laugh.
“Just a minute, lads,” said he. “Let me have my say. McClure pretends that he can lick the Valley Outfit in a thirty-day eut-put. Strange as it may seem I cannot agree with him. If he will make a real bet, make it cash and approve Jack Butte qs holder ef stakes, we’ll be able to start something right eff the bat.”
On the heels of his words rose a chorus of defies from his men. Hands flew to pockets ana wads appeared. Snoopy Bill caught his feet gpoggily, scenting a gamble. In Rob McClure’s eyes shone "he gleam of the shark.
“Now you’re spunking up!” said he with a sneer. “Butte’s our man.”
Turning to one of his gang, he said:
“Sc->ot out, Ford, and get him.”
While the man started off to carry out his bidding he whipped out his check book and filled in a form. As Snoopy Bill spied the amount he let out a low whistle.
“Two thousand!" he exclaimed. “Rob, you’re a la-la.”
McClure handed the book to Pullar. Ned read it with immobile face. Amid a deep silence the crowd pressed around the bosses. Would Pullar call the Muff?
npHE year of which we write was the fall of nineteen hundred. The smoke of the tractor was rarely seen in the land. Of the gas-power machine there was no sign whatever. For five years Ned had swung steadily along the Valley’s brow with his twenty-horse, thirty-six inch portable mill, threshing the line of farmers rimming the northern bank of The Qu’Appelle. If a farmer got Pullar’s mill it assured him a straight crew, a quick, dean job and all his grain. The Valley Gang was thoroughly workmanlike, the crack outfit of the Pellawa stretches.
This supremacy was not disputed. Some ten years before McClure had come from the East with bag3 of money and bushels of confidence, not to mention a stock of real ability. He was keen to get and heady and aggressive in the getting. Three years before he had entered the threshing game and pitened in with his usual gusto. One of his first moves was to cross the Valley and make a bold raid on Pullar’s run. But his effort failed. Pullar’s line of jobs remained intact. He managed to pick up a few farmers thrown on the threshing market through the defunct condition of their syndicate machine. Since Pullar’s outfit was full up for a hig season the cluster of jobs fell to McClure. The farmers of the Pullar run threw out some banter and an occasional Jab resenting the attempt of McClure to cut inThis nettled McClure and was the small beginning of a bitter rivalry. Smothering his chagrin McClure set to work to build up a gang that would lower the colors of the Valley Outfit. At the end of the season it was found that Pullar’s bushelage had far exceeded that of the rival machine. The following year repeated their fortunes. Then McClure startled Pellawa by exchanging his portable outfit for an immense fortyinch separator driven by a thirty-horse tractor steam power, of course. The new machine was equipped with self-feeder, self-bagger and cyclone blower.
Adding extensively to his run he put on a larga gang and began the season with everything in his favor.
Though facing alarming odds, Pullar took up the gauge in his quiet way. Rumors of record days by both machines drifted about the settlement with the result that the annual threshing derby began to show a tendency toward even money. The interested public pricked up its ears, enjoying the come-back of N.d. This popularity, with the complication of a threeday booze-iest, was responsible for McClure's Insulting challenge.
Ned was still scanning the check when Jack Butte appeared in the doorway.
“Just in time, Jack!” greeted Ned with a grin. “Hold this money for McClure. We are hooking up for a two-hand game, gang for gang.”
There was a roar of aplause from .■;« »alley threshers. Above the noise rose the voice of Easy Murphy. He was performing the sailor’s hornpipe before the shifty form cf Snoopy Bill.
“Come across wid yer dust,” challenged Murphy. “Fifty till fifty we skin ye doive!”
“Taken!” was the eager acceptance. “Here, Butte’s the dough. You can hand it back when the cows come
Butte was deluged with wagers.
“Hold your horses !” cried he, lifting protesting hands. “Two at a time. Come along quietly
Taking out his note-book he made punctilious entry of all stakes. His task completed he took the trouble to plainly restate conditions.
“I’ll bank this bunch of grass,” he concluded. “The game winds up at eight p.m. on the last day of October. W'e’ll meet in Louie Swale’s emporium and cash in. Meet me there at ten o’clock. And, gentlemen—” He paused, reading the faces of the bosses and their men with keen eyes.
“This game’s to be run on the square. Do you
“Right-o !” agreed McClure. “We’ll shear these lambs on Hallowe’en.”
Ignoring the jibe, Ned Pullar pointed to the checks wedged in the pile of bills. They were McClure’s and his own. Speaking quietly to Butte, he said: “You’ll cash those papers and re-bank the whole amount in your own name?"
“Exactly!” replied Butte, flashing sharp eyes at the young boss.
Taking a step nearer McClure, Pullar fastened his eyes on the face »f his enemy. The Hps of the olderman were parted about to make some insulting flingwhen he bit his tongue. Ned’s eyes were smiling, but. behind the smile glittered an ominous light that made McClure strike an attitude of defence. He retreated a step, watching the other. In an instant tne air was electrie. There was a shout from the Valley men and they leaped up beside their boss.
“Since this little deal Í6 satisfactorily arranged, McClure,” said Ned casually, “it may occur to you that your eows need milking. At any rate, the Valley Gang have taken a sudden whim to be alone. Think it over. We’ll give you exactly ana minute to get out. If you are here sixty seconds hence we’ll maul you a little and—throw you out.”
Ned took his watch from his pocket while the Valley Gang let out a defiant and joyful shout.
There was a malignant growl from the belligerent gang across the room at the sudden challenge. Rage swept over them but they made no move to close with their taunting enemies. The Valley men flung Jeer and jibe in wild effort to provoke a charge. Hissing a terrible oath McClure turned to his men. What he saw decided him. Pointing to the door he addressed them.
“Cowards!” he snarled. "Get eut!"
With a slouching alacrity they obeyed, vanishing
through the door in swift and ignominious retreat. McClure passed after them without a word.
“Tin seconds till spare, the lucky divils!” cried Easy Murphy regretfully.
At his rueful words the Valley Outfit lifted a victorious roar, following McClure and his men with shouts of derision.
Ten minutes later as Ned Pullar stood in the poolroom door a white Hbrse dashed by, cantering along the slushy street. Astride swayed the form of a girl clothed in a slicker. Beneath her quaint hood Hashed the light of brown eyes. Their quick glance caught his salute. She acknowledged the greeting by a dainty tip of her head and the faintest of smiles.
The slight recognition sent his blood atingle. In' a moment she disappeared about a building. The vision of the girl remained with him and a shadow contended with the pleasure the sudden meeting had brought into his face. Finally the shadow triumphed and a deeply troubled look came into his eyes.
“Ah, Mary!” he reflected. “Where will this day’s work lead us?”
The girl was Mary McClure, only child of his avowed enemy.
THE VALLEY OF GOLD
npHE wind drifted along the valley crisp with the breath of the harvest dawn. It blew gently over the prairies flowing in from the west. Speeding valleyward a horse and rider zigzagged in easy canter through the shrublands. They clung to the deep paths of the buffaloes, dug long years ago by countless droves threading their way to the stream in the great ravine.
It was the girl’s delight to “trail” these grassgrown ruts through the dense groves hanging shaggily to the south banks. In a little they ran out on a high shoulder of the Qu’Appelle. Here the bare hill was ribbed with the parallel paths to the number of seven or eight that slipped over the ravine crest, disappearing a few paces below into a thick grove of stunted oak. Halting the eager broncho, the girl let her eyes rest on the valley.
It was a pretty gorge gulfing the prairie for a width of three or four miles and winding out of sight into the blue distance. There was visible the shine of lakes and their linking streams. Under the amber light of the autumnal sunrise the valley was pricked out into a landscape of gold. The bank upon which they stood swept away to the southeast in a forest crescent wonderful with the variegated leafage of the searing year. Paling greens, bright yellows, faint oranges mingled with browns and buffs and the brilliant wines and reds. Falling away from their feet the colourful forest was a charming Joseph’s coat, but in the spacious distance its mottled glory blent into the russet-yellow of the prairie autumn.
The north bank rose beyond, walling the ravine in a billowy rank of great, rounded hills bald as the skull of the golden eagle and seamed with dark lines of wooded gulches. On the floor of the valley a lake spread out in a broad, silver ribbon that rose toward the skyline for miles into the west. Grain fields filled the clearings, climbing far up the slopes, their serried lines of stooks casting black battalions of long, deep shadows. The myriads of shocks of wheat and oats kissed by the gilding light studded the fields with a million tiny pyramids turning the Qu’Appelle into a valley of nuggets.
“You beautiful Qu’Appelle!” cried the girl softly. “We love you—Bobs and I.”
For many minutes she revelled in the ecstasy of gleaming morning and golden valley, her cheeks bitten to roses by the tanging winddrift. At length she granted release to her impatient horse and let him dash down into the trees. Under their branches she drew him to a walk and, leaving the selection of their trail to the petulant Bobs, abandoned herself to the alchemy of the harvest woods.
Passing slowly through the depths of a grove of white-stemmed poplars they ran out into a tiny glade. Here The Willows, a pretty brook, dammed by industrious beavers, gathered itself into a little pond before its last wild rush to the lake. As they cleared the
trees Bobs pricked up his ears and quickened his step, giving a low whinny. His rider glanced curiously ahead, surprised to see a horseman in the pool. Her face changed suddenly from surprise to pleasure. The horse was sipping the cool water. The rider was Ned Pullar.
“Mary!” he cried delightedly, sending his horse through the stream. “This is my lucky day. Darkey and I have been haunting Willow Glade for an hour past, hoping just this, but never dreaming that you and Bobs would really show up.”
“How did you know I was coming?” demanded the girl happily.
“I did not know,” was the reply. “I only knew this to be one of your favorite haunts on a Sunday morning and conceived a long chance of meeting you here. It was necessary to have a personal talk with you. This morning I determined to see you before the day was gone.”
“Are you in trouhle, Ned?” cried the girl suddenly, a soberness driving the pleasure , rom her face.
“Very great trouble, Mary,” said Ned. “Do you not know?”
Deeply he searched the eyes looking into his. He could tell by the innocence, the solicitude of them that they had not learned the thing he feared. He was greatly relieved.
“What is it, Ned?” was her anxious query. “I have heard of no trouble.”
“Perhaps it is only a cloud over the sun,” was the reply. “It may pass by. Indeed you have brightened things a lot for me already. Let us breathe our broncs while we talk it all over.”
CLIPPING from his saddle he assisted her to dis^ mount. Taking charge of the horses he secured them to adjacent trees and followed to where she had seated herself on a gnai'led log at the foot of the little falls.
“I have a little surprise for you,” said he, throwing himself on the leaves at her feet. “I am not returning to college this fall.”
Her eyes opened wide, expressing incredulity.
“Sad, but true!” was his reiteration.
“But your year, Ned! It is your final. You must
“Sheer foolishness, eh? This smashing of a final year? So it seemed to me for a little. Only a little.
I cannot leave Dad.”
At the words he averted his eyes.
She studied the downcast face, an expression of pride growing in her eyes.
“You understand, I am sure,” said he softly. “It has been worse this vacation than ever before. Dad’s at a great disadvantage now and I have to watch him like a lynx. Swale’s bar is a powerful lodestone. But he is bracing gamely. He has not touched the stuff for three weeks and if I stay with him now I believe he’ll win out. Then I’ll not lose the year after all. A steady grind at the homestead should work out an extra-mural pass, and 1 could pull down my degree with the rest of you.”
“You will be missed, Ned.”
He looked up quickly into her eyes. They were a peculiar mixture of sympathy and fun.
“Undoubtedly!” agreed Ned disconsolately, though his eyes twinkled. “How the Registrar will grieve at the non-appearance of my hitherto regular fee. And Grimes, sweet janitor! He will drop not a tear, but a diabolic wink at my sudden demise.”
“Mercenary Registrar!” sighed Mary. “And unspeakably happy Grimes! Doubtful mourners, I admit. But others will follow the two chiefs. I see the rugby team pacing after slowly and aghast. They mourn captain and star punter at one fell stroke, or rather in the unavailable person of one fellow, Pullar. Methinks there was to have been a great international debate. But now?—How can I go on down the long line? Behold the winged seven, favorites for the hockey cup, now, alas, the wingless six! And the eight-oared crew?—Can you not see that you will be missed ever so little?”
Ned looked up with a rueful grin.
“Grave losses all,” replied Ned. “The ironic heartlessness of the small Co-ed notwithstanding. Varsity will gradually recover from her terrible handicap. Infinitely more terrible is it for me. Calculate the unmaterialized wisdom of four hundred priceless lectures. But, after all—it is nothing.” “No-o?” commented Mary ^lyly in sceptical demur.
Ned glanced into the brown eyes in time to surprise a smile uniquely pleasing in its whimsical delight. Instantly they became mockingly sober.
“Mary!” said he seriously, holding her gaze. “Will you miss me?”
The girl’s eyes wandered suddenly to tree, sky, brook, finally resting on a log at their feet.
“What a sudden switch from general to particular,” said she, absorbed apparently in the task of pecking a hole in the bark with the dainty toe of her riding-boot.
Laughing quietly Ned proceeded.
“If you could peep into my mind, Mary, you would find a seething resentment there. And all because of you. Soon you will be rejoining the old class. There’s the rub. I cannot conceive of Pellawa without you."
“And a very big ‘indeed,’” aggrieved Ned. “To think that Rooter Combes and his ra'nrahs will be in clover. This obsession has been actively depressiftg since last Thursday. Perhaps you remember riding by Sparrow’s. You looked quaintly desirable in that chic, brown slicker--”
“With my face all spattered and Bobs a mud tramp!”
“I did not see Bobs at all, just a chic hooded girl with peeping curls of brown hair, flashing eyes and a nod adorably imperious but very welcome.”
“I should not have recognized you.”
“But you did, and at that particular moment the act was doubly precious to me. How can I resign you, Mary, to the too tender solicitude of Combes and those dear fellows?”’ Mary tipped her head reflectively while she read his half-serious eyes.
“Is this your trouble, Ned?” said she smiling frankly down at him. “Do you mean that you will miss me—quite a little?”
“Just so. Since you comprise the population
of Pellawa-for me. But--' Continued on page 51
Continued from page 15
“VZOU may not be called upon to fore■I go the society of this so immensely necessary person.”
Now it was his eyes that opened wide. “I have a piece of big news for you,” continued Mary, shaking her head wisely while she enjoyed his surprise. “I, too, am dropping out. No Varsity for me this term. You see me to-day, Ned, a specially permitted schoolma’am. Last Thursday as I rode to Sparrow’s I was on my way to sign the entangling documents. Bridges are all burned. Tomorrow I begin teaching—where do you think?”
He shook his head.
“In the school of—The Craggs. I shall be your very close neighbor. Mary McClure is not flitting away from you. Combes and his tender-hearted fellows should worry very considerably, I
“Mary, Mary!” was the elated cry. “I am sorry for you but riotously happy for myself.”
She looked down upon him a moment with eyes brimmingly glad, then a shadow crept into them.
“I am spending this year with Mother and Dad,” she said simply.
Looking earnestly at her he caught the shine of tears. Stifling the gay words leaping to his lips he rose and stepping to her drew her head to his breast.
“Mary.” said he gently, “our work is planned for a year ahead. Home is the only place for us just now.”
“We’ll make it a great year, Ned,” was the hopeful reply. “When I was a little girl, everything good for Mother srd Dad was described as ‘bestest.’ This is to be the ‘bestest’ year for our loved ones that they have ever known. Can we make it so?”
“You are only a little girl yet,” said Ned, kissing the face turned up to him. “And this is to be their ‘bestest’ year. We shall see to that. Now for my trouble, the thing that drove me out to find you. These last moments have made it deepen rather than vanish. On Thursday afternoon, a short time before I saw you, I had an adventure. Have you heard of it?”
“Not even a rumor, Ned. Mother and I are not as intimate with Pellawa life as we should be.”
“I am glad you have not heard,” said Ned earnestly. “There was an encounter in the poolroom. Your father was involved.”
At Ned’s words a fear flashed into the girl’s eyes.
“Your father and I have made rather slow progress in our mutual acquaintanceship. We got to know each other much better at Sparrow’s. I cannot say the event has helped any. We are ■now enemies publicly acknowledged. At least your father so considers me. The clash was sharp and promises serious trouble ahead for us. It will hamper us not a little in our plans of the last few minutes.”
“Ned!” she cried with lips a-tremble. “You did not fight? Not that?”
‘No. We did not fight. It was a touch and go, but resulted in nothing more than a sharp brush with your father’s eamr. That scratch is from the boot of Bill Baird. I was able to restrain the Valley Gang, thanks to Easy Murphy’s loyalty. Otherwise the worst would have happened. We did not ficht and I am confident I can give you my promise that we never shall.” Immense relief filled the girl’s eyes.
You were in a hard place,” said she, her look of strange comprehension searching his face. “You held your hand because—because of our love! I know it.”
Her sure intuition astonished him, hut before he could speak she continued: “There is startling cause for cheer in all this, Ned. If you can prevent the terrible possibility I am thinking of, you can win Dad.”
“How would you have me do it, Mary?” was his abrupt appeal.
She pondered deeply, her eyes growing in solicitude as the moments passed. At length she looked at him with troubled face, shaking her head.
“I do not know,” was her helpless confession. “How would you win him?” “The only way is to play the man with him,” was the slow answer. “He would turn over heaven or hell to break me. Obviously I must break him.”
The girl shuddered at the words. Watching the quivering face he was surprised to hear her say:
“I know there is no other way. One of you must conquer. But there is a condition I want to make. You will be right, always, Ned, as well as irresistible. I know you will.”
“I shall always have the right with me. I have it now,” was the quick reply. “I expect to butt into stone walls at times, but we shall win out. There is only one great, lurking dread. Sometimes I fear your father may strike at me through you, we mean so much to each other.”
As he spoke he fancied he saw in her eyes the glimmer of a haunting fear. But it vanished so swiftly he doubted he had ever glimpsed it. The big eyes reading his were heavy with grief. With sudden impulse he crushed her in the shelter of his great arms.
'“I should not have breathed the thought,” said he penitently. “Nothing conceivable can ever strike our love, Mary. You are not afraid?”
“Not of that,” was the reply as she nestled contentedly within the strength of him. “Many things may happen, but not that. Just now Father is obsessed with his new friendship. It is a thousand pities that the friend should be Chesley Sykes. His presence in Pellawa is an ominous mystery to me. So far he has deported himself with desirable aloofness. May he continue to do so. He is completely outside .of this beautiful moment. Let us forget him.” “And ride away together,” suggested Ned.
“I have an hour yet,” calculated
“We will spend it riding No-trail Gulch,” tempted Ned.
“Let us away,” laughed the girl gaily.
“For the trail is-”
“Is luring,” completed Ned, leading her to the horses.
A moment later they clattered over the gravel bed of the brook and into the
THE month of October sped swiftly away in one long attack on oceans of stooks amid the blue blaze of cloudless skies. The threshers were having a run of “great weather,” as the blank fields and the piles of straw averred. The matter of the McClure - Pullar wager had of course leaked out and become the one thrilling feature of the annual wind-up. Aside from the two gangs there was a keenly interested and, alas, gambling public. The sympathy of the plains went to Ned Pullar; the odds to Rob McClure. Jack Butte had become an inhuman sphinx. Into Jack’s elevator had come the steady stream of grain from the contending mills but to no one had he divulged the respective records. No system of tapping his books had yet succeeded. This was due to the fact that Jack Butte was an irreproachable and resourceful stakeholder. As rare evidence of his unique qualifications he had sworn the secrecy of every farmer threshed by the rivals. It was a tribute to the sporting public that with but three days to run only one man knew of the interesting situation.
The Valley Outfit was resting. Ned Pullar was oiling-up and cleaning his engine during the dinner interim. Every bit of brass about her was gleam-
ing gold while the friction surfaces shone clean like new silver. The “Old Lady” had established a personal reputation in the Valley as a “mighty good engine,” and her engineer was justly proud of her. To Ned she had become a living thing. Mounting on the footboard he grasped the throttle. During the pounding grind of the past month he had formed the habit of communing with this thing of power that he controlled with so masterful a hand. As his eyes read gauge and water-glass with satisfaction he spoke to the engine, addressing her not by word of mouth but with the voice ot his reflec-
"Just n couple of days more and we will ease up on you, old girl. You’ve been a game old pal and you’ll not throw me down now.”
The Old Lady made violent protest at even the hint of such infidelity by throwing a hissing cloud of steam from her exhaust. Ned smiled, gripping the throttle with a fond clutch.
“Same old ready bird!” said he. “Eager to get at it are you? Just five minutes, Old Lady, and we’ll set you purring again."
With the flames roaring through her flues the thing of steel waited restively for the thing of will that held her levers in sinewy grasp.
At the separator the men resting for a few minutes upon the straw were looking up into the face of Andy Bissett, the separator man, listening to him as he worked away with wire prod and oil can.
“I tell you, lads, we are up against a stiffer proposition than any of you fellows think. Ned’s out for blood. He doesn’t care a whiff for that wager Butte holds. But he’s got to win it.”
“Hold on, Andy!” cried Lawrie, the big feeder. “You’ve got me up in the air. I thought the Valley Outfit was after McClure’s long green.”
“So they be,” agreed Dad Blackford belligerently. “And Ned, ’e’s a-goin’ to get hit,”
But Andy shook his head.
“You don’t get me,” said he, pausing in his work. “And I can’t explain for I’m as much at sea as the rest of you. But we’ve got to win this little bet. If we put it over McClure it will only be by a thousand or two. Ned says he won’t push the Outfit any harder, but I’ve taken the liberty to put on the squeeze play for a couple of days. Grant’s putting on two extra stook wagons and a couple of men. Here they come now. We’re going to slam through a couple of thousand above the regular If Grant can bung this old fanning mill I don’t know it.”
The men leaped to their feet, for the extra wagons had rattled up. There was a fresh determination in every face. They had been working at high pressure for the long run, but they were right on their toes in the face of the challenge. Each man went to his place addressing himself to the struggle in the workmanlike fashion of the Valley Outfit. Jean Benoit, the little French bagger, plucked the tankman’s sleeve as the group broke up.
“What Ned hole on hees cheek?” questioned the Frenchman excitedly.
Easy Murphy looked at him a moment deeply puzzled. Suddenly light broke.
“Begobs, ’tis the tongue in his chake yer dappy about. Why, sez you, does not the sly divil be afthur-r showin’ the hand uv him? Shure Ned’s not wearin’ his heart on his lapel, me frind from Montmorenci.”
JEAN searched the Irishman’s face as ^ it went through the contortion of an excessively wise and secretive wink.
“Mon Gar!” exclaimed the confused fellow. “De boss wan woodhead ! Why he de debble not squeal? Eef we know, den lak wan blankety busy bee we work de whole gang. Eef we not know, Ned he ged him on de neck.”
“You’re right, Jean!” was the emphatic pronouncement. “And yit Ned
wull not be afthurr tellin’ his saycrits till the gintle lugs uv the Valley gang. Can’t ye see whut’s eggin’ him on? ’Tis not the wee wager. ’Tis a man.” Tapping the Frenchman wisely on the breast he whispered tragically, “The boss is thrailin’ a varmint be the cognomin uv Robbie McClure and he’ll be afthurr gittin’ his man dead or aloive. Put that intill the poipe uv ye and smoke ut, not forgettin’ till wur’rk like hell in the manetoime. Farewell!”
Jean did not understand quite all, but he turned to the bagger with fierce resolution. As he knocked the filling bag with his knee he caught sight of McClure’s smoke through the cloud of dust enveloping him. His dark eyes shone.
“We lick heem! We lick heem!” was his low soliloquy. Then he added joyously as he gave the bag a vicious jab, “Ha! Eet will be good!”
The thought energized him mightily. Deftly settling the bag and closing it he seized it adroitly and by united force of arms, knees and back hurled it up into the wagon, remarking ferociously: “So we give McClure the beeg fall. We give him beeg scare too, eh? And mebbe leetle licking also.”
Smiling gleefully he settled to the grind.
Easy Murphy was absorbed in a brown study as he climbed up on his water tank and started his horses over the stubble. Suddenly he came out of the maze of his cogitations and called fiercely at his horses.
“Arrah, me beauties, shake the legs uv ye or I’ll be afthurr pokin’ yer rumps wid me number tins.”
The horses took the hint and broke into a lumbering trot. They were making a trip to the water-hole and at the moment were passing through a field of oats into which they would soon be hauling the Outfit. As he drove through the wire gate out into the road-allowance he saw a buckboard pull up at the fence some distance away. The sole occupant dropped out of the vehicle and passing through the strands of wire walked a considerable distance into the stocks. Pausing for a moment the stranger knelt down beside a stook, then rising walked on to another, where he knelt again. His actions excited a keen curiosity in his observer.
“Begobs, me hearty!” exclaimed Easy. “Ye’re not pickin’ pansies in an oatfield. Nathur are ye adorin’ the Almighty, for ye’re almighty loike Snoopy Bill Baird, head foozler of McClure’s bums. I’ll hail yuh, Bill, till I find out yer tack.”
He was about to yell when he checked himself, muttering:
“Howld yer jaw, ye owld fool.”
The other had noticed his approach and loitered a few minutes shelling the grain, interested evidently in the yield. This matter duly settled, he climbed back through the fence and re-entering the buckboard drove slowly along toward the tank. It was Snoopy Bill all right. As they drew abreast Easy pulled up his horses. A roguish twinkle played in his eyes as he said:
“ ’Tis a foine day wur-r havin’, Bill. A pleasant day indade for pluckin’ swate bookays.”
“Great day! Great day! Murphy!” was the jocular reply.
“Bin pickin’ pansies the day,” continued Easy naively, curious to discover what he could.
Snoopy Bill looked at him sharply. But no guile could he discover in the face grinning down at him.
“No such luck, Murphy,” said he casually. “I was taking a squint at the yield. Pretty dum good, eh?”
“And it’s the yield ye’re afthurr meddlin’ with and not the swate and gowlden daisies. I saw yuh pokin’ around among the stooks as I pulled through the gate.”
The smile on Snoopy Bill’s face ceased to deepen while the whole man became suddenly alert. Easy Murphy caught the change.
“Ye’re Snoopy Bill, shure enough,” blurted he. “And I’ll lay ye a tin-spot
ye were up to no godly devowshuns kneeling in the muck by the stooks. Ye’re not prominint for religion, are ye, Snoopy?”
SNOOPY BILL’S tone was galling to Easy’s inflammable spirit as he replied imperturbably:
“Leaving the matter of the ‘swate daisies’ aside, Murphy. I was praying for you, honest. I was putting in a lick for the Valley Gang asking the good Lord to have a look to Pullar’s Outfit when we clean them up.”
Easy’s jaw set, a sign that an ultimatum was imminent.
“Ye blatherin’ spalpeen!” he cried, his hands opening and shutting convulsively. “I’ll be afthurr spilin yer sassy mug if ye open it agin.”
Snoopy Bill opened his “mug” with commendable lack of hesitation. An impudent drawl pointedly accentuated did not tend to reduce Easy’s evident irritation.-
“Talking about mugs, Murphy,” said he confidentially, “it seems to me we have some curious and fine large samples hereabouts gopping wide open for free inspection.”
The sardonic grin that accompanied the casual observation touched off a whole magazine of high explosive. Easy’s mouth was a generously ample specimen and his posture of attention was to sit with it ajar. The amplitude of that particular area of his facial map was a source of constant regret. Hence the remark rankled.
“Ye’ve said it!” was his angry utterance as he threw down the lines. With a leap he was off the tank. They dropped to the road together, but Snoopy Bill having a shorter descent recovered first and rushing at his antagonist swung swiftly and struck, planting a powerful blow on the chest, hurling the other against the tank. He followed quickly for the head with his other hand, but Easy’s native wit acted with surprising speed and he ducked. Snoopy Bill’s closed fist rapped on the hard surface of the tank, skinning the knuckles.
“Thry agin!” yelled the Irishman, mockingly, with a vicious thrust into his enemy’s ribs. The blow staggered his opponent. Swiftly he followed it with a jolting up-cut, yelling again, “Take wan yerself and be hanged!”
The blow made Snoopy Bill’s head bob back and he dropped to his knees. Easy stood over him furiously triumphant. Stooping he called into the other’s ear: “Git busy at yer devowshuns, me hearty. Put in a wur’rd for McClqre and his divils.”
With a weak smile Snoopy Bill staggered to his feet.
“You are a hard hitter, Murphy,” said he dazedly.
Picking his late antagonist up bodily Easy bundled him into his buckboard and slapping the horse smartly on the hip sent him off at a trot. Placing his hands to his mouth the tankman shouted:
“If ye want anny more forgitmenots come back the morrow, the garden’s full.”
With this parting shot he climbed up on his tank and resumed his trip to the water-hole.
THE MAN, ROB McCLURE.
ROB McCLURE sat before his rolltop desk, his head resting upon his hands. He was perturbed. Occasionally his head would sink into a posture of dejection. In a moment he would straighten, shrug his shoulders and look out of the window, his face swept by the irony of an uncouth smile.
He was a man of powerful physique, large of frame, possessor of a presence singularly impressive. He was conscious of his power. An habitual, impatient shrug revealed a restive spirit deeply antagonistic to baffling ele-
menfs. A relentless, implacable expression inwrought the face that exhibited even in the act of smiling the dominance of an over-riding will. There was something cruel in the hard lines about the mouth, while the deep little wrinkles about the eyes more than hinted brutal cunning. One felt that given sufficient pressure Rob McClure was capableof the unspeakable. There were, however, relieving features to the hard visage, most prominent of all a high, expansive broxv shaped for noble thought and great, volcanic eyes.
Looking out of the window his eyes fell on the yellow stretches of stubble, empty now save for the huge piles of straw thrown up by the blower. In the west the plain was gulfed by the blue depths of the Qu’Appelle Valley. His glance swept over the autumn landscape all unseeing, for his gaze was fixed on two streams of distant smoke that rose for a little in straight columns, then floated off in long parallel lines to the west. Clenching his fist he brought it down on the desk.
“I’ve got him nailed!” he breathed fiercely, smiMng his strange smile.
T1ien his confidence seemed to shake. The txvo lines of smoke were streaming over the fields evenly abreast.
“Pullar’s a silent devil,” he whispered darkly. “He is deep—deep as Old Nick himself, and he cleans up a pile of stuff.”
He meditated for a little then added decisively: “But I’ve got him nailed tight.”
The irresolution disappeared and the cruel smile stole out again.
“If he should xvin,” was the jocular reflection, “we’ll take a look at the little game proposed by Reddy Sykes. Reddy has a way—a fetching way.” The name brought a certain merriness to his face. The humor was not attractive.
With a satisfied shrug he rocked back in his chair. As he did so his eyes rested on a photograph above his desk. Doxvn upon him gazed two beautiful faces. Instantly a tender light softened the hard features. His lips moved, shaping involuntarily the names: “Helen! Mary!”
The picture held his searching gaze until the sound of approaching footsteps broke the spell. At the sound the tender light vanished and a conflict surged over his face. Gradually his jaw set and the steel of the unyielding will revealed itself. The door opened quietly and in a moment a hand rested gently on his head.. The voice that fell on his ear was sympathetic and affectionate. Mary had broken into his sanctum.
“Why, Daddy,” she cried, “you are looking very serious. Are you troubled about something?”
The very solicitude of the voice seemed to chafe him.
“No,” he exclaimed abruptly.
Nothing daunted, she fondled his hair, j ‘ff, no*; inning well, Dad-
The appeal in the voice caused a relenting of his face, but his tone was forbidding as he replied:
“Yes. She’s running along fine. I must go out to her right away.”
Submitting brusquely to her kiss he rose and snapping the roll-top shut took his departure.
Mary McClure sat doxvn in the vacated chair, resting her head on her hands as her father had done.
“Poor Daddy!” she murmured. “You are so busy, so preoccupied.”
There xvas a trace of pain in the voice, a great wistfulness in the eyes. Once again she was confronted with the tragedy of affection unrequited.
Looking at the father one would expect in his daughter the robust, ample type. But she was small and fragile, a delicate bloom of young womanhood. Out of the bright face looked lustrous brown eyes, a seriousness lying in their playful depths. In appearance only was she fragile, for the small form was well compacted, lithe and wiry, capable
of really great endurance. She was more than equal to exhausting rides along the ravine and the trails of the upper country. Sitting by the desk she was a diminutive, disconsolate figure. She had drooped into a pensiveness that of late visited her all too frequently. Nose and chin had the dainty grace of the spirituelle and such was Mary McClure. Yet xvas she human, fired with an intense passion for people. A quick, light glance of her eyes or the flash of her smile threw the spell that xvas irresistible. Life opened to her on all sides. The girl was fortunate in her mother. The glory of a great affection enveloped her. In the mother appeared the culture of Old Varsity, giving to the McClure home a distinguishing atmosphere not often found on a western farm. Helen McClure was a fine companion for the vivacious girl, and the two enjoyed a delightful camaraderie. ,
In her father Mary was presented with the most cruel enigma. Here lay the secret of the solemnness that so often filled her eyes. By him all affectionate approach xvas resented. He seemed deliberately striving to quench her natural attachment. But Mary’s affection knew no repulse. Patiently she pressed the attack, intent on destroying the barrier he would insist on building between them. At times she fancied a relenting had rewarded her efforts.
Rising, she walked to the window and looked out pensively upon the autumn fields. Her heart xvas conscious of « dearth as great as that of the barren stubble. Her lips trembled as she whispered musingly:
“Daddy doesn’t seem to want my love. Why is he so busy—so—so unfriendly? So buried from us in a hundred cares?”
As she pondered she shuddered, for she remembered times when he was well-nigh brutal. Then the fetid odor flowed from his breath. Rapt in the poignant moment her face drew into sad lines and a mist stole over her eyes, blurring the autumn vision.
V/IcCLURE had made all haste and ■‘-’A drew near his machine. As he approached the engine slowed up and stopped and the pitchers, jabbing their forks into the sheaves, lay down on the loads. Urging his horse to great speed he rode up to the machine. A lively altercation was in progress. A knot of excited men were gathered about Snoopy Bill Baird and Sid Smithers, the farmer. Smithers’ voice rose high in angry tones.
“She stops right now,” he cried vehemently. “And you pull your outfit off my farm.”
Throwing down the lines McClure strode in among the men. His heavy voice rose above the hubbub.
“What’s the kick?” was his demand. “Smithers is trying to put a crimp in this job,” replied Snoopy Bill. “He’s ordered the mill off the farm. He contends we’re throwing over his grain.” Smithers interposed warmly.
“And you are doing it,” said he wrathfully. “It’s a cussed shame. I can prove it. Come back to the straw
He promptly led the way and the crowd moved hack quickly to the blower. Reaching into the straw pile Smithers drew out a coal shovel. His voice was indignant as he said:
“Here’s what I caught in five minutes at the mouth of that blower.”
The men crowded round. Cleaning the straxvs away he disclosed a layer of plump yellow grains covering the bottom of the shovel. As the sight met his eye McClure gave an involuntary start and his face grew dark. His voice was mollifying, however, when he
“That looks pretty bad, Smithers,” said he, quietly. “But you just happened to catch a shoal of grain thrown over on a bunch of straw. I’ll bet you ten to one we haven’t thrown over five bushels in the last three days.”
But Smithers stood firm.
“You can’t pull the wool here, McClure,” was the menacing retort. “There is a heap of my stuff going over and you quit. Easy Murphy gave me a line on Grant’s yield and he’s beating me bad. My crop’s as good as Grant’s, and you know it. Haul your outfit off my farm.”
Smithers was determined. For a moment McClure was silent. Then he spoke in an appeasing tone.
“I don’t want to quit this job right now,” said he. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Let me finish this run in my own way and if your yield doesn’t equal Grant’s I’ll make up the shortage and not charge you a sou for your threshing. Is that square?”
Smithers turned the matter over deliberately.
“Make it law,” said he shrewdly, “and I’ll hook up with you.”
“Agreed!” was the quick response. “I’ll sign the papers to-night. Meet me at Reddy Sykes’ at ten and we’ll put it through.”
“Go ahead on that condition,” said Smithers, climbing into his wagon.
Quickly the men were in their places and the machine went roaring into the twilight. As McClure stood by the separator he signalled to Snoopy Bill.
“Let her rip, Bill,” was his shout. “Crowd through a couple of thousand extra before to-morrow night."
Snoopy Bill passed the word and the engineer opened the throttle. The gang responded with a will and soon a great stream of straw was gushing from the blower.
A T that moment Mary McClure was ■‘X standing up in her stirrups with eyes fixed intently on a spur of the north bank of the Valley. As she watched, a yelling scream came dvef the rounded hilltops. She smiled delightedly. On the tip of the lofty spur she caught sight of a red flash that she knew instantly as the shining coat of a certain bay broncho.
“It is Flash, with Margaret up!” was the pleased exclamation. "I believe she wants me.”
Forming a horn with her hands she called back in the cry of the hills. The rider on the spur waved her gauntlet in reply, beckoning to the rider in the Valley. Instantly Mary turned Bobs into the trees, sending nim up a steep bridle path to the left. In a few minutes the girls were together and they set out through the stubble to where the Valley Gang was finishing the wheat.
“We are just in time to see the move,” said Margaret. . “For you, of course, the engineer is the whole gang. You will be able to see Ned in action.”
“And you will be absorbed in the rest of the gang, that is in the antics of the separator man,” countered Mary.
“At present,” laughed Margaret, “I am going to make a raid on your preserves and talk to Ned.”
She rode up to the engine.
At that moment there was a boisterously gallant salute from the gang, accompanied by a vigorous waving of caps and the shrill scream of the engine. The girls acknowledged the reception by a gay flourish of gauntlets.
“We are going to time the move, Ned,” shouted Margaret above the roar of the engine, showing him her watch. “Let us see what the Valley Outfit can do."
Drawing his watch from his pocket Ned blew the whistle, promptly gaining the attention of the whole gang. Waving his hand toward the site of the new setting, he lifted high his watch and pointed to Margaret. With a ringing cheer they accepted the challenge and addressed themselves to the race against time. One of the feats of a crack outfit is the swift move to a new setting without mishap or confusion.
Already the last stook teams have pulled away from the separator and are careering in wild race to the adjacent field. With the tossing in of the final shovelful of chaff the separator stands
clean and naked above the stubble. As the last bit of wheat dribbles into the bag Ned signals the stop and Margaret lifts her watch aloft.
“It is up to the Valley crew now,” comes the silvery challenge, and the boys respond with a merry shout and the address that marks the discipline of the gang.
As the fly-wheel slows up the pitchers deftly throw the belt, roll it up and hang it in place. At the same time the carriers are lowered and secured and the two waiting grain-teams hooked to the separator. Leaning well on the lines the drivers give the word. With a sharp gee and a steady pull they haul the mill up on the stubble and head in a curved line for tne site of the new setting a quarter of a mile away. There a space has been already cleared and a circle of loaded stookwagons is beginning to form, awaiting the arrival of the machine.
The feat par excellence of all the teaming about a threshing mill is that of pulling the engine out of the holes into which she has settled and over the intervening stubble. Usually two teams are detailed to this duty, but here the big tank team is sufficient. At the drop of the belt Easy Murphy hitched the grays. The two big beasts stand expectant. Seizing the lines Easy gives the inspiration of his invigorating brogue. Thrusting their great shoulders at the collars the team leans steadily forward. Straining with their mighty muscles they sink their toes deep into the turf. The traces stretch into tense, vibrating thongs. Hawing sharply the real pull commences. The mass begins to move. Swaying slightly as his horses’ heads go down, Easy heartens them.
“Stiddy now, me beauties, and aisy ut is or the stubble wull be aft'nurr ticklin’ the bellies uv ye.”
Suddenly the wheels rise out of the holes and the heavy mass rolls along.
“Aye, ’tis an aisy waltz fer yez, me bantams!” crows the tankman as the big team swings through the soft muck with the weighty Old Lady in tow. At precisely the same instant the separator has made its start. Glancing at her watch Margaret is surprised to observe that barely a minute has elapsed.
Arriving at the eieared area the separator, under the guidance of Andy Bissett, circles to the east, coming up to position in the teeth of the wind. The engine takes a curve to the west, swinging east to meet it. With the separator in place and blocked, every man springs to his task. Carriers are swung into proper elevation, feeder and band-cutter’s stands dropped and the belt run out to the engine.
Ned stands on the rear of his engine with eye sighting along the fly-wheel. Now is the critical moment. An inch too much to right or left means the loss of minutes.
“Gee a little!” comes the crisp command. “Steady ahead! Let her swing to gee! Easy now! Hold!”
At the final order Easy Murphy brings his horse« to a dead stop. Quickly the belt is slipped on and tauted. Every man stands in his place poised for work. Two short shrteks of the siren and the whole scene leaps into animation. Volumes of smoke belch from the funnel, the big belt speeds flapping along to the separator, starting the whirring of a maze of lesser belts and the spinning of countless pulleys. In a moment the cylinder is devouring an endless flood of sheaves. From the side of the mill the oats gush out while the straw rolls up over the carriers in a golden stream.
The girls ride op to tiie engine, admiration in their eyes.
“What time did we kill?” inquired Ned, smiling through his layers of grease.
“You made time,” corrected Mary, flashing a bright smile down upon him. “That was wonderful work, quite worthy of the Valley Outfit.”
"Time," said Margaret with official dignity, "is the surprising record of eight minutes and twenty seconds.”
“I must let the gang know,” said Ned in high elation. “That is a Pr®tty, cent record.” Reaching out he blew eight screeching calls. The threshers paused long enough to respond with a 1 ____ Tlion hark thev
“What a furiously busy gang you have, Ned,” was Mary’s ingenuous observation, her eyes on the lively sight. “You all work as if we are to have a two-foot fall of snow during the night. Why this haste?”
x TED smiled peculiarly and was siiN ient. Margaret came quickly to his relief. She was aware of the exact situation and entirely disapproved, but she knew Ned wished to hold the truth from Mary.
“The Valley Outfit have been rushing along at this breakneck speed for the whole of October,” said Margaret. “They are gambling, Mary. The boys have a wager that they can pile up^ a record output for the month. The trial winds up to-morrow night. Ned Pullar and his vaunted Valley Gang are a company of very foolish gentlemen.
“There are exceptions in the case, I suspect,” insinuated Mary. “Our little Miss Grant exempts all tall, good-looking separator men. Hum!”
“Were it not for the dust,” said he, “I would take you girls over for a chat with our rather handsome fellow. I have a hunch, however, that Margaret would scarcely enjoy it.”
“What ? The handsome fellow? posed Mary, mischievously.
“No. The dust,” replied Ned.
“It is a little matter,” agreed Mar-
ga;‘The handsome fellow?” teased Ned.
“No. The dust,” prompted Mary aschly.
All three laughed.
“Here, White!” called Ned to his fireman. “You handle the throttle while I take the girls to the mill.”
In spite of the dust the four-cornered interview though necessarily brief resolved itself into a charming “little matter.” Andy was back in his place on top of the mill oiling near the carriers. Ned stood beside the girls, who were sitting their horses just beyond the cloud of dust. They were enjoying a few moments’ contemplation of the lively scene before departure for the Grant homestead when suddenly a vivid light flashed red in the twilight, flaring on the sweating face of Lawrie, the big feeder. Instantly followed a loud metallic crashing. With a strange, muffled shout Lawrie threw up Ills hands and fell on the feed table, pitching forward into the jaws of the machine. An instant more and he must be seized by the deadly teeth of the whizzing cylinder.
At the blare of fire Ned uttered a cry of alarm and rushed toward the separator. Realizing Lawrie’s horrible plight he shouted to White at the throttle and taking a lightning leap drew himself up on the separator above the whirring teeth. Already they were fanning the hair of the insensible feeder as his head settled nearer to the blurred shine of the hideous jaws. Reaching over, Ned seized the helpless man and lifted him by the sheer strength of his powerful arms out of the fangs of the machine. But the weight of his inert burden swinging suddenly overbalanced him. Poised over that maw of whirling death the two men hung for an awful instant as Ned fought to recover. But the weight was too much; Lawrie began to sink. It was evident the two men were falling back into the cylinder. A scream of terror leaped from the lips of the horror-stricken band-cutters. Then it was Ned felt his shoulder clutched in a mighty grip and he with his precious burden was dragged back to the roof of the mill.
“Thank God you were there, Andy!” exclaimed the big fellow breathlessly as they composed the huddled form of the unconscious Lawrie.
“A touch and go, Ned!” was the solemn rejoinder. “I did not know anything was amiss—until I heara your shout. It took me an instant to spot you in the dust. Lawrie’s badly smashed.” And so it seemed, for the man’s face was washed w:th blood.
Meanwhile White had shut down and willing kands helped them move the wounded man to the ground. Water was speedily applied and the blood sopped up, revealing a deep gash along the forehead gouged by some missile thrown out by the rotating cylinder. Under the steady bathing there were soon signs of returning consciousness. Slowly opening his eyes Lawrie was surprised to find Ned bending over him, looking at him with anxious, sober gaze. A gleam of intelligence crept into the man’s face and he smiled faintly-
“Oh, yes!” he said reminiscently. “I remember. I felt it slip in and tried to draw it back but it got away.” After a moment’s pause he added: “I am afraid it has played hob with the cylinder and concave. Have you taken a look, Ned ?”
“You Lawrie!” cried Ned, smiling at the game fellow. “It’s the man first here, you know. How are you feeling?”
“O.K., Ned, though by gum I seem to have taken the count.”
Recovering, he rose on his elbow and looked around curiously. The gang were gathered about him, a circle of solemn faces. Giving a little laugh he said naively:
“What’s got your goat, pals?”
“Shure ’tis the lucky, quare divil ye are till be dead wan minute and assistin’ at your own post mortim the nixt.”
A hearty laugh passed round the circle, relieving the tension. No more was said, but Lawrie understood the grip of Ned’s strong hand.
“We must fix that cut, Lawrie,” said he, looking helplessly about. “This ‘ir* v»ll never do.”
The moment the girls realized the accident they had dismounted and assumed the official duties of Red Cross first aid. Mary McClure smiled at Ned’s words. She had already arrived at a solution. Rising from her place beside Lawrie she spoke.
“Ned,” said she curiously, “havé you a knife?”
“Here,” was the prompt response as he produced a jack-knife.
“Margaret, you take it,” said the girl, “and if the Valley Gang will close their eyes for a minute I’ll direct you what to do.”
At the words she lifted her skirt daintily, revealing the snowy white edge of the petticoat beneath. With dancing eyes the gang made the right about turn and Lawrie decided on an immediate snooze. A few minutes later his brow was bound with a clean bandage and he was making his way shakily to the feed-board. Calling a farewell the fair riders rode away over the stubble, followed by the applause of the grateful fellows.
TV/fEANWHILE at the machine there iVA were interesting developments. Jean Benoit, who was working in on the shakers, gave a sudden shout and popped out of the separator holding something in his hand. It was a heavy wrench. He examined it in a puzzled manner for a moment then handed it to Easy Murphy. The tool was minus one of its jaws. On the remaining jaw some initials had been punched, but they had been almost obliterated through the recent offices of a file.
“Dat no Valley wrench!” exclaimed Jean.
“Probably one of Grant’s left on the stook during the binding,” said Ned.
Easy Murphy shook his head sceptically.
"Ah!” was his fierce cry as he tipped the tool at a new angle to the light. “So I think. By the Hovrly St. Paddy! Take a look, Ned. Can you
Ned took a look and there in the bright shine of the filed surface were
good traces of the punch marks forming plainly the letters, R-M. Over him swept an ominous conviction. Without a word he placed the wrench carefully in the tool-box.
“’Tis the hand uv Snoopy Bill,” said Easy Murphy darkly. “And ’tis his foul plot near did fer Lawrie and Ned.” Clenching his hands he dropped suddenly into a vengeful silence.
A desire for revenge swept through the gang like an electric shock. Even Ned’s cool eyes emitted a dangerous glare. Andy Bissett saw the dire change in his companion. Laying his hand on Ned’s shoulder he said quietly:
“Ned, it’s a dastardly trick but Lawrie will be well in half an hour. It’s up to the Valley Outfit to call the bluff and play the winning card. Half a dozen teeth are gone in the concave and several others twisted. The cylinder is about as bad. With fast work it will mean only a two-hour stop. Let us finish strong.”
“Very well!” agreed Ned. But his face did not resume its usual imperturbable demeanour.
There was no mors threshing that night. Morning found them out an hour earlier, however, pounding grimly ahead, bent on recovering the lost time. As Ned stood at the throttle, a masterful shadow in the gray dawn, he thought over the adventure of the night before. It seemed to hold some sinister portent. Easy Murphy had in the meantime recounted to him the episode with Snoopy Bill Baird. Two more heavy tools had been discovered in one of the loads. Suddenly he became conscious of the malignant nature of the foe with whom he was striving. His jaw set tightly and a mighty resolution shot from his eyes. Unconsciously he opened the throttle and the power throbbed with a fresh leap along the great belt. As he did so a vision flitted unexpectedly before him. He saw Mary McClure standing amid the gang, her eyes alight with laughter while she held her skirt daintily lifted to disclose the snowy fabric for Lawrie’s wound. Suddenly his face lost its seriousness and he laughed delightedly.
“Mary!” he cried softly.
Shutting off the throttle he curbed the engine in her impulse to race.
“I guess we have a bunch of pressure left, Old Lady,” said he confidently, as he guided her into steadiness. The thing of power steamed on into the strenuous day while the thing of will threw down tne challenge of youth.
AT THE WATER-HOLE.
EASY MURPHY Shaded his eyes from the sun as he gazed eagerly over the prairie. After a prolonged look he remarked:
“Begobs, I belave he’s coming!”
A further scanning of the landscape elicited a cry of satisfaction.
“Nick’s headin’ for the howl all right,” said he elatedly.
The Irishman was standing on the tank, his hand on the pump-handle. He had backed the grays into a pool fed by a small creek that here expanded into a miniature pond some dozen yards across. In Western threshing the tankman draws his water from the nearest hole or stream. For some days both Easy and Nick Ford, the McClure tankman, had been filling their tanks at the same pool.
Nick Ford visas known familiarly as Boozey Ford, a self-explanatory sobriquet. Whiskey aside, he was one of the most reliable tankers along the Valley. With whiskey by his side his water-wagon whs apt to receive a diluted attention.
As the days sped by the struggle between the two outfits became intense. The two tankmen were nearing the
point of interpersonal complications in their heated conversations on the issue. Easy Murphy was feeling irrepressibly loquacious on this occasion, for he had not met Boozey since the affair of the
R-M wrench. However, as Nick drove up he began a foxy approach, greeting him in a friendly manner.
“Nick! How is the wur-r-rld using you?” was his opening.
“So, so!” was Nick’s no less friendly response.
“Ye’ll be afthurr faylin’ a demi-semiquaver in yer boots, Nick, since tillnight’s the night the Valley Outfit take the candy from the kid.”
“There’s sure going to be a lark tonight,” agreed Nick. “We’ll have a howling time putting the kibosh on your little, old Outfit. You mark my words, Murphy, when Jack Butte hands out his estimates you’ll freeze stiff. I’ll bet you even money we lick you by a thousand.”
“Just cover that wee trifle,” said Easy, revealing a ten-dollar bill.
“Sorry to rob you, Murphy,” said Nick, “but it’s awfully decent of you to accommodate me. We’ll hand it to Butte just before the curtain goes up.”
“ ’Tis a great pleasure till contribute,” agreed Easy light-heartedly. Then he added slyly. “By the way, Nick, did ye miss anny tools from yer tool-chist lately?”
“Not that I know of,” was the frank
“Shure we found wan uv Rob McClure’s wrenches in our separator yisturr-day.”
Nick’s interest perceptibly increased.
“ 'Tis not the act uv a gintleman, but a dirty trick uv Snoopy Bill Baird, and ’tis achin’ I am till spile the impudint jaw of the Snoopy wan fer the same foul act.”
Nick’s blood began to sweep into his animated face. But the other continued.
“Howld yer timper, lad. I’m not afthurr blamin’ you, Nick. Yer as innocent as the lambs in the spring.”
His voice grew sweet as honey and he made a suspicious motion to his breast pocket.
“We’ll just have a wee dthrop as gintlemen together on the head uv the divilment, and part—frinds.”
He drew an amber-colored flask from his pocket.
“ ’Tis the rale Irish, Nick. Be afthurr washin’ down a swate swallow.”
He extended the bottle convivially.
Nick took in the sight with fascinated and thirsty eyes. All hostility magically vanished and a supreme joy capered shamelessly into his face.
“Don’t care if I do,” said he, with a too casual unconcern. "Dad, that’s prime stuff!” was his genuine approval as he handed back the flask.
“Shure I’m afthurr sayin’ the same mesilf. Yer over modest, lad. Take a sip that wull tingle the toes uv ye.”
So gracious a pressure was not to be resisted, and Nick responded with a ready acquiescence that left nothing to be desired. Easy emulated in pantomime, tipping the flask adroitly but permitting no drop to pass his lips. Taking another “sensation,” Nick scurried off to his own tank and began pumping vigorously. Soon, however, he felt the desire for still another touch and was back at the flask. Easy Murphy kept the bottle supplied from some mysterious source about his person. So the best part of an hour passed and signs began to appear that Nick was rivalling the tanks in the quantity of liquid he was carrying. In the meantime Easy had leisurely filled his own tank. Suddenly The Mogul, McClure’s giant engine, sounded the water call. Nick recognized the signal and, dropping the pump-handle, seized the lines and started off, urging his amazed horses in a line of patter that was new to them. As he drove away Easy slipped down off his own wagon and, stealing craftily after, tapped the bung of Nick’s tank with a stone. One or two skillful knocks and the peg fell out, letting the water away in a heavy gush. Throwing the bung into the grass, Easy climbed up on his tank and followed.
A HEAD drove Nick, supremely unconscious of the fact that his tank was fast emptying. When they reaeh-
ed the road-allowance he became suddenly confused. His trail lay directly across the road and into a field. His horses would have taken the right way, but Nick pulled them up sharply. His eyesight was temporarily impaired. He could see only the good road running east and west. Pulling on the left line, he turned into the east. Yet he was not sure, and drew up his horses once more. His tongue was thick as he called back:
‘‘Hello, Eashy! (hic) Ish the trail (hie) all right?”
“Shure and indade it is that,” came the wily response. “Go right ahead to yer outfit. Nick, man. It’s a foine road, the smoothest in the howl counthry.” With a flourish of his whip Nick sent the unwilling team on down the road. Crossing the road-allowance, Easy entered the oat-field through the wire fence and made straight for his own machine. As he hit the stubble trail he heard the Mogul whistle impatiently for water. A moment later she called again. Turning around, he looked at Nick. He, too, had heard the urgent calls and was standing up driving like Jehu. The tank was now empty and the horses responded by breaking into a smart trot. The sight was hugely entertaining to the watcher. He slapped his thigh, shouting in unholy glee.
“Be the wake uv me grandmother!” he cried exultingly, “it’s now we get back the swate and precious minutes they filched by the rascalities uv yisterday.”
Away in the distance Nick was driving like mad while the Mogul tattooed her calls for water with an angry insistence that drove him from her at accelerated speed. The circumstance was too much for the delighted Irishman. Laughing till the tears rolled down his cheeks he called after the disappearing Nick:
“Go it, me hearty! Kape it up, and ye’ll soon reach the broad Atlantic. Begobs! Call in at Winnipeg. They’re shy on water-wagons in the Gateway uv the Gowlden Wist."
Never a word of the matter did he give to his young boss as he emptied his tank in preparation for the next trip. His wickedly radiant face attracted Ned, however, stirring his curiosity.
“What’s tickling you, Easy? Been filling your boiler at Louie’s tank?” “Niveg the dthrop, Ned. Not wanct since the twilfth uv July have I shined up till the deoMntin’ erathur. ’Tis the whistle ur the Mogul that’s drivin’ me tipsy. Somehow the thirsty screamin’ uv it tickles ma since uv the ridiculous."
“Rob’s et*gh*e Is out of water. She has been calling for over half an hour,” observed Ned, looking over the stubble at the rival outfit. “Indeed, Easy, she’s hung up. Their blower is stopped.”
At an unusual hearty chuckle from the tankman, Ned eyed him sharply, a suspicion leaping into his mind.
“Shtopped’s the wurrd!” exclaimed Easy in feigned surprise, shading his eyes the batter to study the Mogul. “Rob wull ba afthurr havin’ a brathin’ spell. May H lart a wake.”
Ned’s eyes detected an unusual excitement on his companion’s averted face. His suspicion took a suddan definite form.
“Easy,” said he seriously, “you are mighty pleased about something and yet not at all surprised. Let me into the secret."
“Shure “tis plated I am this minute, Ned, and the most astonished critter on the Valley Gang.”
“Steady, lad," cautioned Ned. “You can’t fool me. You know more about the water shortage at Rob’s outfit than Rob himsef. What’s keeping Nick?” Easy found a matter for precipitate occupation in the barrel he was filling and did not reply at once. He was seized with sudden panic, for he had caught sight of Ned’s face. The unsmiling eyes filled him with trepidation. When he at length looked up Ned’s clear eyes looked through him. For once the garrulous Irishman was
speechless while a blush flamed slowly over his brown face.
“Tell me,” said Ned simply.
Hitching his overalls nervously and somewhat forcefully. Easy let a broad, sheepish grin play in his ample face. He attempted jocularity.
“’Tis a lugoobrius confession ye’ll be draggin’ out uv me wid the third degree uv yer blazin’ eye.”
“Tell me,” repeated Ned.
“Wull,” said Easy, scratching his head with obvious regret, “since ’tis implacabul ye are, I’ll make it short and swat.e. Nick and yer humble sarvint meets at the mud puddle. We pass the compliments uv the sayson, git intill a small fracas uv the tongue and out uv it by the bottle. We had a wee dthrop. That is, Nick had. Thin he took another and another, et cetra and so on. Nick was oncommon thirsty. In a wurrd, I filled Nick till the neck and pulled the bunge uv his tank. The one is impty and the other full. ’Tis the Mogul and meself knows which and—yersilf, begobs, since ye tapped me wires. To sum up fer ye, me inquisitive frind, Rob’s tank is impty and his tankman full, and the pair uv them is headin’ fer salt water at a spankin’ trot. ’Tis cornin’ till the blackguards if ye ask Easy Murphy.”
Easy stood before his boss with hanging head. His confession had not. stimulated any risible emotions in Ned. Ned, on his part, said nothing, but stood looking for a little at the culprit, a kindly light mingling with the flash of his eyes. Then he stepped over to his engine and, seizing the whistle-cord, gave it a jerk, blowing the one sharp shriek that signals stop. Instantly the work ceased and the outfit slowed to rest. Amid the shouts of the men demanding the cause of the stop, Easy Murphy ran swiftly to Ned.
“Ye’re not afthurr killin’ the outfit,” cried he, a peculiar pleading in his
“Easy,” said Ned quietly, “the Valley Outfit is running this little jig on the square. Not a wheel turns on this mill until McClure makes up every minute we’ve killed for him.”
The Irishman looked into Ned’s face. There had been a glimmer of an accusing look but it was gone. In its place was something big and honest that hushed the angry protest about to leap forth. Their eyes held for a moment, then the tankman’s fell while the flush swept his face once again.
“I’ll explain to the boys,” said Ned, moving away toward the separator.
“No, lad,” cried Easy, impulsively, seizing his arm. “ ’Tis the hot curse I was nearly givin’ ye. Ye’re too white, Nod, fer a divil the loikps uv wan Easy Murphy. Shure ’tis right ye are, though I’m hating the idea. I’ll hike til! the mill and make me diplomatical defence before the gang. Sind me carcase till Belfast whin the boys git through wid ut.”
Making a comical grimace, he set off to the separator to do the hardest thing he had ever attempted.
The men listened silently while Easy made his brief and self-accusative explanation. At the abrupt conclusion there resulted a most awkward pause. The gang were dumb at the unexpectedness of it. Each man was torn by several desires. He wanted to laugh, to howl, in fact. But something fine in him rendered him mute. There was a great admiration for their game boss and an even greater admiration for their game and artful culprit. The embarrassment had about reached the explosive point when Jean Benoit let out a scream.
“Ze res’ do moche good, I think,” said he, shaking with laughter. “Wan, two. tree cheer on de boss an’ dees ver had Irish fellow.”
At his words there broke out a jolly sliout while the gang lay back on the straw and laughed to their heart’s content.
Through the long wait there was not a murmur.
Meanwhile in McClure’s gang consternation reigned. The last drop of water had been sucked up by the in-
spirator and the water was sinking in the glass. The men were perched on all vantage points on the lookout for the delinquent. No sign of him could they discover.
“Get Smithers to haul these barrels filled at the slough,” directed McClure to Snoopy Bill, pointing to the barrels about the engine. “They’ll keep her going until I can find that blankety Nick.”
Nearly two hours after, the Mogul was driving ahead under full pressure, joined shortly by the distant hum of the Valley Gang. Into the dark they raged, fighting ahead until eight, when the defiant whistles of the rival engines told that the great run was over.
THE THRESHING CHAMPIONS
T OUIE SWALE’S restaurant was full, choked with threshers agog for the result of the great struggle. Almost every individual present had a stake involved. The building was a uniquely composite plant, comprising department store, cafe, bar, club, all under the solitary genius of the rotund and active Swale. He combined the offices of proprietor, manager, floorwalker, bartender, chef, cashier, possessing an innocent smile of friendliest amenity. He had certain periodic fines to meet for the vending of ancient beverages that fell without the code. These he paid promptly with sanguine light-heartedness. Louie Swale was universally liked, as are all good fellows whom careless Nature throws into life incomplete in the entire central osseous system of the vertebrate. He was a fat, juicy, even companionable earthworm.
The store carried a through line from roots to ribbons, occupying the front section of the building. Out of the store one wandered into a long room, low and rectangular, where Louie dispensed the quaffable and edible mysteries of his bar-cafe. The rear apartment was a blind room some twenty feet square, containing a few rough chairs and a round table covered with a green baize cloth. A well-thumbed pack on the centre of the table was the only purposeful article visible. There were two doors, both provided with heavy bars on the inside. One opened into the outshed; the other into the bar. This door was locally renowned as The Green Baize Door, and was believed to secrete behind its baize-covered panels a barrel of mysteries unco’, cabalistic and otherwise. Since it was windowless, two dirty lamps did duty night .and day. Obviously, when the “Square Room” was occupied seriously the Green Baize Door was to be found shut. At such times a peculiar knock was the “open sesame.”
Store and cafe were crowded with men anxious to hear the momentous decision of Jack Butte. Suddenly there arose a stamping and shouting. The stakeholder had climbed up on a table and was calling order. Glasses were set down and cards stacked.
To be continued.