THE VALLEY OF GOLD

DAVID HOWARTH September 1 1921

THE VALLEY OF GOLD

DAVID HOWARTH September 1 1921

THE VALLEY OF GOLD

DAVID HOWARTH

ANDY put his horsefthrough at a stiff pace.

The homestead was shrouded in blackness, as he approached. Riding through the gate he cantered swiftly down the lane, and pulled up beside the house. He had but halted when he discerned the dim movement of figures on all sides of him. With the consciousness of their presence came the realization that they were men.

“Good-night, gentlemen!" he called.

But there was no reply. Instead he could hear smothered cries of chagrin and savage anger, followed by a rush of the encompassing forms. Night’s bridle was seized and strong hands grappled him, dragging him from the saddle. Terrified by the rough handling and mysterious commotion the horse reared and plunged, tearing away from her captors. Leaping free she dashed off down the lane.

As Andy came to earth he clutched one of his assailants and they rolled over. In the darkness the other seizing his foeman by mistake wrenched him away, leaving Andy free.

Leaping to his feet, he backed to the wall of the house. Discovering their mistake they rushed him again. He struck out and a shadow staggered and fell. They closed in as another went down. Hands seized him on everv side. He was struggling mightily, tossing his assailants about, when he heard a voice shrill out above the smothered tumult. He realized that it was Margaret’s cry and conscious that help was near, fought with renewed fury to free his arms. Then something crashed upon his head and he tottered back, falling in a heap against the wall.

Speeding along on the trail behind,

Margaret had not spared her horse.

She had slowed up and was peering through the darkness for the gate when Flash swerved violently, almost unseating her. At the same time there dashed past her some fleeing thing. All she caught was the dim shadow of an empty saddle and flying stirrups. She knew it was Night.

Thrilled by a foreboding of disaster

char ged down the lane. She rode up to the house, halting Flash on his haunches at the group of struggling men. She could hear the heavy breathing and knew that Andy was fighting desperately with his back to the wall. She thought of riding Flash upon them but checked him, fearing she might injure Andy himself. A sense of impotence swept over her. Then flashed into her mind an idea. Rising in her stirrups she shouted:

“Father! Men! This way!

IMMEDIATELY Andy went down, but at the same instant Snoopy Bill and his men were stampeded. Sure that a rescue party was on them they dropped their victim and bolted for the sleighs. Leaping in they whirled their teams about and lashing them to a run fled out of the yard and back over the fields.

Ten minutes later when Grant galloped up with the others they found Margaret sitting in the snow with Andy’s head upon her lap.

“Lassie!” cried the astonished Grant.. “You here?” “Yes, Father!” was her quiet reply. “I got here too late to save Andy. They’ve hurt him terribly.”

“Be easy, lass!” soothed the man, “it may not be sae serious. The lad will be coming round in a meenit.” They carried him into the house and laid him upon a couch. A quick examination discovered a gash in the head from some heavy implement.

“It is a concussion,” said Grant. “But not vera deep. Aye, he is coming out.”

Andy opened his eyes. The first object he became conscious of was the face of Margaret bending over him. Smiling faintly he observed in surprise:

“You here, Margaret? I thought I heard you shout just before they got me.”

He closed his eyes drowsily.

“You sent me home,” she whispered in his ear. “But I changed my mind and followed you.”

When she looked up she discovered that they were

You should not have come,” was the gentle reprimand.

“Indeed? I think you were very rude to send me away.” “But I am glad you are here, now,” said he contentedly! “You really are?”

“Really.”

“And so am I,” said the girl softly. “Because—because Andy that wonderful ‘something’ has happened. Now I know beyond all doubt that I have always loved you and—I love you now.”

“Then,” said he, drawing her head down to him,

“You may kiss me with a clear conscience, Andy.”

WHILE Margaret was dispensing her welcome ministrations, Grant and his men were going over the buildings. Their swift search found everything intact. Two of the riders who had gone out to the portable granary reported all well there. Not a grain of The Red Knight had been touched. While this was gratifying, the men’s faces were exceedingly grave. Nowhere on the premises could they find Dad Blackford. They were beginning to discuss the probability of foul play when Easy Murphy gave a yell.

“Hist, ladies and gintlemen!” said he. “Take a look. ’Tis the missing link himsilf, disguised as Santa Claus.” They all took a look and there on the porch stood Dad Blackford hatless and dishevelled, with snow-matted beard and a very red and perspiring face. He was blowing like a grampus and looked for all the world like the merry personality of Christmas tide. His eyes were astonished at the sight they met and how they sparkled as they recounted to him the night’s adventures. His joy at finding that all was well more than compensated for the shameless treatment he had received at the hands of the artful Sykes.

When Margaret got him alone she surprised him.

“Never mind, Dad,” she confided. “After all it’s been a delightful adventure. Andy got a sore head but it will soon be better. His heart is well again.”

Dad looked at her a moment dumbfounded. Then he tumbled and the laughter of a merry heart twinkled in his eyes.

“Been ’avin’ a quarrel with un?” he teased.

“No. Just a little misunderstanding,” she whispered back.

This bit of confidence turned the whole affair into a thing of joy for the kind-hearted old Englishman.

rHILE this tete-a-tete was taking place the men were riding down the vandals by the aid of lighted lanterns. The trail was dim to begin with however, and grew dimmer as they swerved to the west out upon the high prairie., Here it vanished altogether and the party returned. The blackness of the night and the heavily drifting snow enabled Snoopy Bill( and his men to make a clean get-

Following Sykes’ plan providing for misadventure they turned into the west instead of the east and recrossed the Valley about the west end of the lake, eventually arriving in the Square Room thoroughly wearied and disgruntled and two hours behind schedule time.

Sykes’ face was a picture of blank dismay; McClure’s of rage.

“Where is the squealer?” cried Bob McClure as he stalked among the men. Blasphemous and resentful protestations quite evidently sincere came! from all parts of the room.

“No, Rob!” said Snoopy Bill deliberately. “You are a liar if you say it. There isn’t a squealer in the gang. Not a man laid down. Any squealing tl)at mày have taken place was let out by the gents who stayed behind.”-’ Reddy Sykes read the savage light in Baird’s eyes. #

“You are straight, Bill,” he cried soothingly. “Straight as a die and 1 know it.The boys came through. But somebody outside got wise. We’ll find out and when we do somebody’s due to get a blankety unpleasant surprise. The whole thing ran out to dope. We should have that wheat in Hunt’s shack. It’s Pullar’s luck. But it will change. Here’s to a lucky break.”

He held his flask high. The men caught his spirit and responded with a shout. For an hour the crew caroused, drinking heavily as they debated the fiasco, breaking up before dawn.

Dad Blackford made a full report to Ned. Though no trace of the perpetrators of the offense had been obtained, his mind flew instantly to his two enemies. The Red Knight had been their objective. The incident was big with warning to him. It assured him of two things.of their malicious, untiring hate; of their dangerous resource. Thoughts of Mary pressed heavily upon him. He remembered her words:

“There is no other way. But, Ned, you will have to be right, always, as well as irresistible. I know you will be.”

“It’s a stiff programme, little girl,” he reflected ruefully. “But we’ll stay with it.” ■

XVI

The Spider Weaves

SNOW! Snow! In glistening deserts! Ghastly white • blankets of it hung to the sky-rim. The hills, frosted bridal cakes, terrace on terrace! The valleys, rolls and folds and gokges of white! Over all the blue yawn of an empty sky! The air stabs with its invisible, minute Damascus daggers. One’s breath floats from the lips in a powdered cloud of whitening mist. It is winter—the snapping, crackling, detonating, hoary-headed winter of the North!

The February sun pours down on the plains in a fierce, garish flow, shedding no warmth from its low-slanting shafts. Pellawa is hushed to sepulchral solitude in the grim embrace of “forty below.” An occasional sleigh drifts phantom-like along the street, its runners emitting

a frosty singing. Only the dozens of smoke columns rising straight and high in the air proclaim the village a ¡haunt of the living.

Wrapped in the comfort of an immense buffalo coat, i Reddy Sykes stepped into a waiting cutter, i “Rob McClure’s!” was his brief direction to the driver.

As the team trotted down the street and out over the white expanse he settled himself snugly among the robes. Sykes was in fine fettle, with eyes unusually bright. His great chest expanded in deep breaths of self-gratification. His elation was somewhat due to the bibber’s effervescence. The odour of his habitual elixir exhaled copiously from his breath. But here was another stimulant none the less powerful. The fox was out with his nose in the wind hugging a live trace. There was game in the wind.

He reached McClure’s as the sun rolled under the reddened valley in a disk of blood. Leaving the cutter he stepped briskly to the door. While stamping the snow from his feet, preparatory to knocking, a musical voice greeted him, and Mary McClure appeared miraculously at his side, an apple-cheeked, cherry-lipped Venus-infurs. She had just driven in from The Craggs.

“Pardon me!” said Sykes, in cavalier attentiveness, reaching out for the knob she had already taken. The rare beauty of the girl and her close presence ensnared him. Recklessly obedient to a sudden impulse, he seized her hand and drew her closer to him. For the briefest in tant he looked into her eyes with daring assurance.

“Mary!” he said softly, imprisoning firmly her struggling hand, “what a chic little wench you are! Do you realize that you are maddening in those furs, with your eyes and colour and lips? Your lips!” he repeated, leaning toward her.

The cordial smile faded swiftly from her eyes and the red cheeks blanched.

“Please release my hand, Mr Sykes,” she commanded, in a low, distressed tone.

Looking down into her indignant eyes he saw something there that counselled hasty obedience. He let. go at once.

“Sorry, Mary!” was his apology in a tone affecting deep penitence. “I am demented over you. You are distracting to-night. Will you let me in? I have come to see your father.”

Making no reply she opened the door.

“Mr Sykes is here, Mother,” was the quiet announcement. “He drove up just as I came in from stabling Dobs. He wishes to see Father at once.”

Mrs McClure cordially welcomed the effusively agreeable guest, guiding him to the office. In a very few minutes he reappeared, accompanied by McClure, who proceeded to make hasty preparations for the trail.

“You go ahead,” said he to Sykes. “I’ll come along in my own rig.”

“Are you leaving before tea?” asked Mrs. McClure in surprise.

“Yes,” was the abrupt response. “We have a big deal on. I’ll not be back until late.”

AS THE men went out the two women looked at each other in silent significance. On the topic of father and husband their lips were sealed. At the moment their minds were exceedingly busy. The burning light in Mary’s eyes disturbed her mother.

“You are troubled, daughter?” was the gentle question as she threw her arms about the girl. “Perhaps it will help us both to talk it over. I think it high time that we should resume our little confidences.”

Returning the embrace and caress, Mary looked soberly into her mother’s eyes.

“It is a fear I have had for weeks, Mother,” said she, responding to her mother’s question.

“Until to-day it was more or less vague.

Now it is real. I am convinced there is ground for a little anxiety on my part. Can you surmise it?”

Helen McClure studied the serious eyes so near her. She shook her head.

“No. I do not think it would be wise to guess. Can you not tell me?”

“I shudder at the influence Mr Sykes has over Father,” said

Mary reminiscently. “It alarms me to see that power grow stronger every day. Candidly, Mother, I am afraid of the deal they are in such haste to arrange. There was something unpleasantly secretive in their manner just now. I did not like the look in Dad’s eyes.”

“Is this your fear?” pressed the mother gently.

“This is involved,” returned Mary. “I have an even more personal anxiety. I am afraid of the man, Chesley Sykes. He is growing too attentive and familiar. Why? I do not know. I have never liked him and he has no right Ho press his intimacy. He is irrepressible, laughs at my snubs and deports himself with such annoying confidence. This all came about suddenly in the early winter. Why should he insist on a friendship that is detestable to me?”

Mary paused awaiting some response to her appeal. But her mother hazarded no guess.

“You will remember, Mother,” resumed Mary reflectively, “that I stopped riding the Valley during those wonderful days in December. I did that because of a wholesome fear of Chesley Sykes. I had a persistent feeling that he was shadowing me. Several times during my rides along the river I ‘happened’ upon him. One day, seized with an intuition that somebody was trailing me, I slipped into a cowpath and detouring quickly, watched the back trail from a covert. In a few minutes Sykes rode up on that big hunter of his. He pulled up at the cowpath and leaning down studied it a moment. Satisfied, at length, he turned into Bobs’ tracks and followed me. As he turned down the path he spoke to his horse. I caught the words and they frightened me.

“ ‘King!’ said he, with that confident laugh, ‘nothing our little lady can do will blind our trail. She’ll find one Sykes in at the killing. She’s a neat little fox but we’ll gather her brush.’

“I shook him by sending Bobs into the Willow and upstream. After riding out of sight about a bend we stole into the trees and made all haste for home.

“To-night at the door he was rude and maudlin. He had been drinking and was therefore unwise. He professed to be penitent, yet I could see his audacious assurance cropping out. This is the thing that makes me tremble. He has some reason for his boldness. He has Dad’s approval. It is evidently Dad’s will that I foster intimate relations with his friend. That I will not do.”

LOOKING into her daughter’s glowing eyes, Helen McClure was deeply conscious of the trouble there. Her own mind was alarmed and had been for many days. She knew only too well that Mary had plumbed correctly her father’s intentions as to her relations with Sykes. She was also sure of something that the girl was only dimly suspicious of. "She had long since concluded that the two men had reached some definite agreement that had far-reaching interest'for Mary. Their projects seemed to involve her compliance. The mother knew that circumstances were leading to a clash of wills. But she decided that reticence was best for the present.

"I am sorry you are in trouble, Mary,” said the mother affectionately. “You have certainly real ground for your distrust of Sykes. Avoid him. And if a swift decision should ever be thrust upon you, follow your heart. That is the only safe way. But we must not grow pessimistic,

daughter. There are bright days ahead. We will help them to come quickly.”

The reserve with which her mother spoke convinced Mary of grave reasons for caution. Running up to her room she pondered the events of the last hour. As she dwelt upon her experiences and pieced her disturbing reflections she found herself looking into the future with a distinct sense of trepidation.

The night was dark, a night of stars dazzlingly bright. There was a traveller on the Pellawa trail. Ned Pullar was drawing near the homestead upon his return from the village. The air was calm save for the slight drift of a five-mile breeze caused by his ride into the north. Even this faint wind had the biting tang of the extremely low temperature, forcing him to avert his face from its freezing breath. Giving a sudden piercing whistle he sent his horses into a smart trot.

He was the prey to a vague uneasiness. That morning he had set out with his father with their two loads of Red Knight. A great deal of time had been spent at the village making up the shipments to the various national farms. It was late before they were ready to set out for home. Then occurred a hitch. They were taking back with them a power fanning mill. When they drove up to Nick Ford’s implement shed they were disappointed to find that the mill had not been completely set up. It would take quite half an hour, so Ford advised them.

“I’ll take the engine with me,” said Ned. “I can set out ahead and get busy with the chores. You will be along in an hour or so.”

“That will be the best plan,” agreed the old man.

His father had no sooner agreed to the suggestion than a misgiving swept over Ned. A glance at his father's face reassured him, however, and he let the arrangement stand. Loading the gasoline engine he set off. As he drove along he debated the wisdom of his decision. Three months ago he would not have left his father alone in Pellawa. But these months had seen a remarkable change in Edward Pullar. He had developed a dignity and selfreliance that Ned knew was based in a sudden accretion of strength. His dreams of the Red Knight were ennobling and the achievement of the hopes of long years had rallied him. He felt it safe to trust him alone in the village with its lurking danger, and yet—he wished again and again he had waited with his father. The nearer he drew to the homestead the greater grew his uneasiness.

EDWARD Pullar went into the little office occupying a corner of the implement shed and sat down prepared to patiently await the completion of Ford’s task. It was the only place in the village where he could pass he time with safety. Louie Swale’s and Sparrow’s both toccurred to him as the common rendezvous of travel ers, but he passed them up with a shudder. He well knew) his weakness and wished greatly to vindicate Ned’s fait h in him. The business of setting up the mill did not progress continuously. In fact, several times Ford had dropped his tools to visit the Square Room. There he at length met Sykes and McClure. The trio held ominous consultation.

“Old Ed. is in my office,” replied Ford to a question from Sykes. “Ned must be nearly home. You did not meet him?”

“No. He slipped down into the Valley just as we drove out of Rob’s.”

“I’ve killed about all the time I dare without arousing his suspicion. Let us get him in here.”

McClure shook his head emphatically.

Nothing d o i n g,” was his impatient retort. “He’s dodged it for months. We’ll have to get him without his knowing it.” Sykes sat back watchit g the others and sipping his glass reflectively. With a laugh of easy assurance he rocked forward in his chair.

“It will be easy,” said he with a cryptic smile. “It all depends on you. Ford. If you will take your finie and keep your 'lie thing is done, ftot the paper Did Ed. can a tankful and as straight as a I’ve seen him as a lord, but all appearances as quiet and wise as a judge. We’ll get Cy Marshall in to witness the deal. Cy’s eye—

sight, is not what it used to be, but it is all we could desire. Might be lucky later to have the documents 0 K’d by a magistrate whose record is without blemish. Here is a little secret,” said he, drawing a small vial from his pocket.

Opening the tube he dropped a tiny tablet into his palm. Glancing significantly at Ford, he said:

“You are the only one who ran use it, Nick.”

But Ford shook his head dubiously.

‘‘Perfectly harmless!” urged Sykes. “He’ll sleep it down in six hours and—it gets you a couple of hundred now and a share when Foyle comes through.”

Ford shifted. Sykes took out a roll of bills. While Ford hung back Sykes opened a flask and dropped in the tablet. The drug dissolved swiftly, leaving the liquor as before. Sykes laughed.

“I repeat, it is perfectly harmless,” said he. “I could drink it myself.” Then he added with a fiendish glimmer in his eyes Rob McClure had seen there once before, “They got you sloppy drunk last fall, Nick, and put Rob’s gang on the hog, then threw you into the lake to cool you off. Here is your chance to hand Pullar a sleeper. Are you afraid to put this easy thing across?”

With a vengeful laugh Nick reached for the flask.

«gee what we can do with it,” said he grimly. “The laugh’s on Ned.”

“Rob and I’ll meander down to the office,” said Sykes casually.

“We’ll camp there for an hour.

Cy is handy any time we want him.

I’ll stay at the desk. Rob will keep his eye on you and Old Ed. We’ll have to work fast, but without any hurry, remember that, without any hurry while Cy is around.

Thrusting the flask in an inner pocket Ford took his departure.

MEANWHILE Edward Puiiar waited in the implement office.

The room was very small and

warmed by a very large air-tight heater. He grew so warm he took off his fur coat. Ford passed in and out, spending a moment in pleasant chat. Alone once more his inactivity and the warmth combined to make him drowsy. His head dropped forward at times in a brief doze. But he would instantly rouse and glance out the window. His throat and lips grew dry and a thirst came over him. He went over to a pail in the corner, but was disappointed to find it contained no water. He resumed his chair.

As he sat by the window looking out into the falling night Ford entered and after shuffling a moment about the little desk went out. The thirst recurred, but as there was no way to slake it, he patiently endured the discomfort His thoughts followed Ned along the trail or drifted into the fascinating world of The Red Knight. Then the “thing” began to creep upon him. Gradually he became aware of an odour familiar and bibulously gratifying. At first it was but a fleeting inhalation. Then it became continuous, tripling in its pleasing gratefulness. A possibility flashed into his mind. He glanced about. There it was upon the desk within easy reach. He could just discern it in the dim light. It was a flask three parts full. Ford had left it carelessly on the edge of the drop leaf, the cork out. Without any act of volition his hand reached out and his fingers closed on the glass. As he felt the dear familiar form of the flask a mighty thirst welled up. But he halted, and, letting go of the bottle, snatched his hand away as if stung by a serpent. The realization of what he was about to do shook him strangely. Clenching his hands he turned away, lifting his head in proud resolution. He would fight this devil sitting so quietly by

Ford came in again and lit the dirty lamp. He picked up the bottle.

“You’ll excuse me, Ed.,” said he apologetically. “But it’s so raw out there I’ve got to take a warmer. Just a nip. There!”

He had tipped the glass, but none of the liquor had passed his lips. The gurgle was maddening to the old man.

“You’re welcome to a swig, Ed.,” said Ford in a friendly manner. “But I’ll not ask you to indulge, for I know you’re on the water-wagon these days. I’ll leave the ‘wee drap’ handy in case you take a notion.”

He went out.

Ten minutes passed and the fight against the heat and the terrible thirst went swayingly on. The sight of the yellow liquid coupled with the subtle and odorous fumes from the breath of Bacchus plied him with an exquisite torment. He began to fear the “thing” again. Rising he put on his coat and prepared for a stroll in the keen night without. With his hand on the doorknob he looked back, pausing irresolute. Slowly his fingers relaxed and he sat down once more.

A PHYSICAL lassitude began to steal over him, due to the excessive heat. The desire to drink became overmasteringly insistent. The smell of the vaporizing whiskey was sweeter than perfumes of Arabia. In a little he hecame conscious of nothing else. Then he found himself sitting beside the desk, leaning heavily upon it, the empty flask in his hand. His throat was parched and his brain on fire. He looked at the bottle with burning eyes. It was empty! Empty! As he contemplated it wildly Ford entered.

“Your mill is about ready,” said he. “How are you making it?”

“Say, Nick!” whispered the old man cunningly, “I’ve stolen a march on you. The whiskey’s all gone. I’d give a hundred dollars for a right good drink. Where can we get it?”

Arsene Lupin in Maclean’s

SERIES of eight wonderfully thrilling detective-mystery stories i Maurice Le Blanc will appear in MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE, beginning with the October l issue. Each story will be complete in itself, although two central characters will figure in each of the eight stories.

The first story will be entitled “On the Top of the Tower’’ and its swiftly-flowing action will appeal to MACLEAN’S readers.

Whenever you think of the famous detectives of fiction, the three which immediately come into your mind are Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes; Gaboriau’s Lecocq; and Maurice Le Blanc’s Arsene Lupin. None is more ingenious than this master of mystery, Arsene Lupin, who has become during the past twenty years not only an idol of the reading public of France, but also of the civilized world.

Ford looked at the inebriate, startled at the wild leer and the pitiable obsequiousness of the great figure.

“Too bad she’s dry!” was the response. “That was the last drop I had. Come along with me. I’ll fix you up.”

They went out together, arriving a few minutes later at Sykes’ office. Before they entered Ford whispered in his ear:

“Straighten up, Ed. That was strong stuff. It’s got you swinging. These fellows will let you have all you want after you sign up.”

“How?—how is that?” cried the old man in a halfstartled voice, as he forced himself to walk erect.

“Hush!” was the admonitory reply. “It’s this way. They have no right to let you have it, and unless you sign three or four little papers, promising not to give them away, why, of course, they don’t take the chance. You do the signing and leave the rest-to me. Keep straight while we are inside. We’ll get a bottle and go back to the shed.”

“I understand, Nick,” was the solemn response. “I’ll protect the boys.”

They entered. McClure, Sykes and Cy Marshall were within.

“Here is Ed. Pullar,” said Nick. “He’s ready to sign up and in an all-fired hurry. It’s a long trip to The Craggs.”

“We’ll let him go quick,” responded Sykes in a businesslike tone. “You sign here, Mr Pullar.”

Exerting all his power of will Edward Pullar wrote his name on a number of papers. The signature was duly certified by Cy Marshall. They loitered a moment, during which Sykes kept up a casual chat. Stepping near, Ford at length whispered:

“We’ll get out. I’ve got it. Steady and slow, old man.”

/"OBEDIENTLY the old man followed him through the door. As the door ghut his fingers closed around the promised flask. Then with a' drunken punctiliousness he halted.

“Say, Nick!” was the shocked whisper. “We forgot to settle with the boys!”

Nick laughed.

“It’s all right, Ed.,” was the soothing response. “I laid down the price. It’s my treat.”

With a relieved laugh the old man trudged after him.

Ford assisted his victim to hitch up his horses and load the mill, joining him in a last drink before he sent him into the bitter night.

At his office Sykes sat back in his chair rubbing his hands complacently, while Rob McClure stared at the parchments deeorated with the clear signature of Edward Pullar.

“It’s a tidy little clean-up.” was Rob’s gratified observation.

"Tidy’s the word and tight!” agreed Sykes with acquiescing nods. “We’ve got Pullar hog-tied with a twa-

in eh rope. The law isn’t made that can bust these agreements. When Hank Foyle signs up we wind up a very pleasant and totally regular deal.”

Arrived at the homestead, Ned worked swiftly at his tasks. The chores finished, he ran into the house and busied himself preparing their simple meal. This too accomplished, he opened the mail and delved into the pile of letters. He had barely entered upon the perusal of the first letter when he set it down absent-mindedly. He was troubled at the non-appearance of his father. The uneasiness aroused along the trail changed suddenly to a fear that all was not right. He had expected to hear the bells within an hour after his arrival. It was now nearly two. Throwing on cap and coat, he walked down the lane to the road-allowance and peered into the main trail. It was empty as far as the eye could define.

With hand to ear he listened.

There was no sound in all the frozen stillness. It was a deadly night for the helpless traveller. The temperature was creeping lower every minute. He thought of the white death that steals noiselessly through a night like this. With the thought came a premonition. A depressive fear weighed him down.

Hurrying back to the house he made ready for a drive, leaving the waiting meal untouched. Throwing the driving harness on Darkey and his mate he hitched them to the cutter and set off for the village. They sped along at a twelve-mile clip, their nimble hoofs tattooing the dash with a fusillade of snow chips. The wind of their own motion smote his face with its subtle sting, blanching its exposed surfaces before he realized the frost was at work. Ducking into the warm collar, he avoided a bad bite. Crouching behind the wall of fur, his mind swiftly conjured the fate of an unfortunate numbed by the fancied warmth of liquor. Pathetic cases of terrible exposures and death flitted before his mind. Scarcely aware of it, he urged his flying horses to fifteen miles.

T TNCEASINGLY he searched the shadowy twin-ribbon of trail beyond the end of the cutter tongue. At length they dipped into the Northwest Cut and dashed over the Valley to the south climb. There as they were taking the sharp curve about a shoulder of the hill, his horses swerved suddenly in a shying leap. He halted them perilously near the edge of the steep embankment. Coming slowly about the hill was his father’s team. They were taking the decline soberly and carefully and apparently on their own initiative. There was no driver in sight. At a sharp command from Ned they halted. Leaping from his cutter, he looked over the edge of the double box. In the bottom of the sleigh lay his father, motionless.

With a poignant cry Ned vaulted into the sleigh. He was shocked with a horrible fear as he discovered cap and gauntlets removed and coat wide open. A quick glance filled him with increased alarm. Hands and faee of the sleeper were white with the wax-like colour of the dead. Hastily he thrust on cap and gauntlets and closed the open coat. Arranging the robes in the cutter, he carried the drunken form to the vehicle and placed it upon the seat. Taking the robes and even the empty bags out of the sleigh, he wrapped them about his father and took his place beside him. Whirling his frost-coated drivera about, he sent them furiously down the hill, leaving the heavy team to follow at their own sedate pace.

He did not spare the willing brutes ahead and pulled them up at the door in a cloud of steam. Throwing the robes upon them, he carried his father in and laid him upon the floor. Rushing out, he brought in pails of snow and set to work massaging the frozen face and hands. Circulation once more established, ’ he carried the still; inert form to his bed. This accomplished, he went out t«r his team and stabled them. The dumb brutes wondered at the swift tenderness with which he groomed away the thick coat of frost.

“You are not hurt a whit,” said he gratefully, as he watched them happily munching their oats. “And you saved Dad.”

The gentle taps with which he bid them good-night were comforting to their faithful equine spirits.

It was a lonely night for Ned Pullar—the loneliest he had ever known.

XVII

Hank Foyle, Unexpected Guest

'TpHREE weeks later Edward Pullar was sitting up for the first time since his unfortunate visit to Pellawa. The scars of his terrible exposure were losing their viruContinued on page 15

Continued from page 24

lence and strength was creeping back into the emaciated limbs.

No conversation touching the lamentable adventure had taken place. Once only had the father referred to it in broken and pathetic apology that was instantly hushed by the son. With the gentle assiduity of a mother Ned had nursed his patient and nobody in the settlement was aware of the disgrace of Edward Pullar, or of his narrow escape from the White Death of the northern

For Ned, the lapse was after all only one in many. It was the latest, only a little more disappointing, more unfortunate and with the addition of tragedy barely avoided. To the father it was all this and more, infinitely more. There was a fear at his heart. He was penitent as usual, with an almost childish contrition. The debauch was mysteriously clouded. All he could remember was the fact of draining Nick’s flask. This was clear. After that he had faint intimations of a hellish thirst—some effort to satisfy it. Through all his secret musings there ran a fear, a vague foreboding, but he could not define it. Memory would not work. He dwelt in a state of suspense, the victim of an intangible but real Nemesis. He expected something inimical to strike. Ned could see that something unusual was preying upon his father’s mind and it troubled him deeply.

One thing that surprised Ned was the fact that his father had never referred to The Red Knight. He seemed to have utterly forgotten this darling of his life. Another week passed and the old man was about. Though correspondence was pouring in relative to the planting and culture of the new wheat, Edward Pullar evinced no interest in the matter. The heavy task of writing fell upon Ned. All efforts to rouse his father failed. He seemed unaware of the existence of the thing that had so lately made life new for him. At times an unspeakable fear swept over him as he realized how hopeless was this condition of disinterest.

Late one afternoon Ned was busy at his desk in diligent effort to reduce the piles of unanswered letters when a knock sounded upon the door. On opening, a strange face presented itself.

“Come in!” said Ned courteously.

“Is this Edward Pullar’s ranch?” queried the man as he stepped in.

“It is,” said Ned. “Have a chair.”

The stranger seated himself and glanced about inquisitively.

“My name is Hank Foyle,” said he. “I live up to Athabasca Landing. I was out on a hike in the timber limits when the letter got to me telling me about the deal. That is why I am a month late. I toted along last night and wrote my name into the papers this morning. Thought I’d take a squint at the farm and buildings before moseying back to the Landing. You’ve shore got a comfy joint here. Buildings first-rate.”

Ned looked at his visitor with a puzzled face. Into the old man’s eyes leaped a fear, vacillating and furtive, but real.

“I hardly understand,” said Ned with an apologetic smile.

The other grinned.

“Naturally you don’t know me,” said the man, with a series of nods. “I am the guy that made the swap with you. Hank Foyle’s my name—Foyle of Athabasca Landing.”

The stranger paused, confident that the reiteration of his name would clear up matters. But Ned still looked at him with a nonplussed expression. His father’s face had grown white while the nails of the old man’s clenched hands dug into the flesh.

“Sorry I’m so dense,” said Ned, with a good-natured laugh. “Would you mind going into detail a little?”

Foyle looked at him keenly, studying the firm mouth and chin and the direct eyes. There was something fearless in that face that hinted the possibility of a serious hitch.

"You ain’t changed your mind?" said Foyle, with a narrowing of his eyelids. “You’re a month late, farmer. The deal’s salted away long ago, all regular signed and witnessed. You are no soft come-back, are

^ Ned still smiled his perplexed smile.

“Very well!” said he affably. "What is the deal to which you refer? I’m open to rather detailed explanation, for I have heard Qf no such project.”

THE man rose and stepped up to Ned, looking curiously into his face.

“Say, Pard,”’ said he quizzically, “are you Edward Pullar or just plain hired man?” “There is Edward Pullar,” said Ned, pointing to his father. “He is owner of this

“You mean the man as was owner,” corrected Foyle. “This half section belongs to me now.”

As he spoke he looked at the old man. “You’re the Edward Pullar what’s scratched his name on them agreements?” was his observation as he studied the other contemplatively. “What’s eating you now?”

Ned was surprised to see a look of terror dart from his father’s eyes. There was a confusion about the manner of the old man that caused a little alarm in Ned himself.

“I—I don’t understand,” said Edward Pullar helplessly.

At his words an angry flush darkened Foyle’s face.

“Like the hired man, here, you ain’t wise to the deal, eh?” There was a note of derisionin hisvoice. “Better put it straight,” said he, with a shutting of his jaws. “You mean you don’t want to understand. Getting foxy, old boy? It won’t do, farmer. You can’t string Hank Foyle. You’ll have to tumble to facts. Hank Foyle shuts up like a clam; sticks like a leech. Noted for it. Your farm’s mine and mine’s yours, and you are due in Athabasca Landing agin the crops are in. That’s what the paper says. You plant the crop here. I plant it at the Landing. Then we swaps farms and hikes for home. You’ll have a whole section a scrub to wander through a-Iookin’ fur the

“You are on the wrong farm,” said the old man weakly. “We have not entered any such deal.”

“You’re Edward Pullar, what owned this place?” quizzed Foyle, with an impudent grin. “You haven’t said so yet.”

“I am Edward Pullar,” was the acknowledgment.

“I reckon there ain’t two Edward Pullars. Therefore I conclude there ain’t any mistake either.”

Deliberately Foyle drew a package from his pocket. Drawing out two papers he opened them carefully, and, stooping held them before the old man.

“Them’s the real thing,” said Foyle casually. “Take a good, long squint. You’ll find everything proper.”

Edward Pullar examined the documents. They were, indeed, agreements of surrender and exchange signed by Foyle and a signature t;hat was undoubtedly his own. The transaction was duly witnessed by Silas Marshall, magistrate. The old man stared at the papers, striving to catch the flying tags of mystery. Things seemed to clear a little, resulting, however, in deeper depres-

“Î did not sign it,” said he dazedly. “Here, hired man,” said Foyle, handing the papers to Ned. “Go right through ’em. You’ll find them agreements square as an eight-inch bent.”

NED looked. A close study of the documents astonished him. The signature ascribed to his father was clearly his. As to Silas Marshall’s there could be no mistake. He had seen it many a time. A seriousness spread over his face, mingling slowly with the amazement in it. t ^

“This seems all right,” said he, slowly perusing the papers. “But—but, of course, these papers are simply evidences of some

The date caught his eye. In a lightning play of thought he associated the mystery with the tragic trip to Pellawa. He straightened up and his chin rounded in a decisive firmness.

“Do you remember having anything to do with Cy Marshall, Dad?” was his quiet question.

“I do not,” was the unhesitating reply. “And yet there is something familiar about it all, even those papers. I feel positive I have seen them before.”

“Just possible!” commented Foyle insolently. “Probably caught a peep of ’em about the time you scrawled yer name.” “What agent put this through?” demanded Ned of Foyle.

“No kidding,” was the fierce response. “You know all right. Sykes is the gent—

Chesley Sykes—and a hum-dinger of an agent he is!”

Ned’s eyes flamed upon the man.

“It is what I feared,” said he, smiling the smile with which he faced McClure and his men in Sparrow’s pool-room. “Here, take this rubbish, Mr. Foyle. You are either a crook or a dupe. Reddy Sykes has put through a real Sykes’ deal. I want to warn you that it is the fraudulent plot of a clever swindler. This farm is my father’s. I am Fdward Pullar. There are two of us, and we are going to fight you. My father never signed away his homestead voluntarily. You ear: gain nothing by pressing the matter. For a stranger you have been grossly insulting. Take my advice tear up those papers and hit the trail for Athabasca Landing. You have about two minutes to pack up.”

With a savage laugh Foyle folded che papers and deposited them carefully in his pocket.

“Pullar and Son,” said he pugnaciously, “you’re a pair of dang poor bluffers. But I’ll call you. There ain’t a flaw in the deal. This farm’s mine. Come the time the grain’s in you’ll find Hank Foyle camping—”

HE DID’not finish, for there was a swift ¡motion on the part of Ned.

“Sorry, Hank!” said he with a grin. “But time’s precious. Open the door, Dad.” With a wild laugh Foyle swung for the smiling face. Ned ducked and Foyle missed and continued the swing, the force of his empty blow spinning him around. When he had half completed the circle he felt himself seized by the scruff of the neck and the seat of his trousers and lifted high by the powerful derricks of Ned’s arms. Through the door he was carried with arms windmilling and legs kicking and dropped ignominiously into the cold receptacle of a melting drift. As he scrambled to his feet he heard the door shut. For a moment he hesitated, savage with rage. But the memory of those steel arms was salutary, and he turned about and walked down the lane. For a mile or more there were mutterings filling the air about him such as would come fittingly from an Athabasca Lander on landing unexpectedly.

For a long time after Foyle’s exit there was silence in the room. The two men were thinking hard. The last hour had been one of revelation to them both. Ned looked up about to speak, but desisted, hushed by the sight that met his eyes. His father sat huddled in a rocking-chair, his face buried in his hands. A pang pierced Ned as he realized the pitiable state of his father’s mind.

Walking over, he laid his hand gently on the bowed head.

“Never mind, Dad,” said he cheerily. “Reddy Sykes is not going to steal the homestead so easily. Of the foul work we are positive. We have only to track it down. We have until June to ferret out the rogues. You made a good fight, Dad. You were drugged. I have known that ever since I found you on the hill.”

Raising his head he looked at Ned. Through the misery of grief there was a pathetic eagerness.

“Do—do you believe—I put up a fight, laddie?” was the trembling plea.

“I do, Dad,” was the swift response. More Ned could not say, but he enveloped his father in a strong, steady embrace, tenderly holding the gray head that sobbed upon his breast. His eyes were wet. What they wanted just then was Kitty Belaire.

XVIII

The Bird of the Coulee

'T'HEREjSis life on the road—a rush into A the April shine; muffled clatter of galloping hoofs; the rhythmic sway of a girlish form to the drum and flute of flying feet and carolling lips. Youth and beauty in the saddle of spring!

Mary McClure was enjoying the leisure of the open trailand halted Bobs on the floor of a coulee, a narrow, streamlike depression with abrupt banks. It was a pretty green dip zigzagging out of sight into east and west, and lined on either bank with rounded clumps of willow. There were gleams of a tiny creek. From the willows near her came the soft twitter of nesting birds. Restraining the impatient Bobs she strove to discern the sweet singers. The cries were familiar -—all but one. It was a strange little call with a plaintive, human-like wail and a ventriloquistic quality that led one to think it came from far away. She was positive it was the cry of some rare bird hidden in the leaves.

Swinging Bobs she trotted close to the trees. The birds, alarmed, took flight down the coulee. She followed cautiously and listened again, delighted at length to distinguish the voice of the feathered stranger. A sudden impulsive advance of Bobs, who essayed to crop a mouthful of leaves, put the birds to flight once more. They doubled back in a cloud of whirring wings. She was about to follow when the cry of the strange bird came again out of the tree before her. It alone had remained. She searched the tree, but no sign could she discover of the mysterious creature. Concluding at length that the sound carne from a more distant clump, she rode further into the east. The sound now seemed much nearer. Tree after tree

was passed, with the strangely recurring result of a growing clearness. She was deeply puzzled and intensely curious as to the enigma. Finally she reached the end of the bluff and still she could hear the call coming with an undoubted increase of volume. Pondering the circumstance she suddenly concluded that her bird was a weird illusion.

“Bobs!” she cried perplexedly, “our bird is not a bird. It is a disembodied

Then as the cry broke clearly from a distance, she said in alarm:

“It is a human voice, Bobs. Somebody is in distress far down the coulee. Let us listen carefully. No champing of that bit please.”

The voice came again. It was indeed a human cry, smothered in some inexplicable way. The tone was one of plaintive terror. Urging the horse ahead, she cantered along the creek. Rounding a bend, she realized that the sound came from some point very near. Rising in her stirrups, she searched the coulee. The only unusual object that met her eye was the carcass of a horse. It lay in a sharp curve of the north bank close in. ' The noise was emanating from the vicinity of the dead animal. Riding toward it, she was thrilled to catch sight of a bit of red clothing.

“Bobs, Bobs! What a terrible thing!” was her horrified cry as she leaped to the ground beside the horse.

CROWDED into a hole between the horse and the bank lay the figure of a little boy, scarcely five years of age. He was stretched upon the ground with his small body half twisted into the bank. His bare limbs, right arm and left leg, were clutched in the steel fangs of a brace of great wolf traps. The dead horse had been used as a bait by some trapper who had set his traps between the horse and bank, at head and feet, in order to catch his wolf as it sought the entrails. Instead they had caught the curious child. Both limbs were torn and bloody from the grip of the biting steel as the boy twisted under the torture. His cry for help had been muffled by the encroaching bank.

The little fellow moaned for release as he caught sight of the girl. Looking up with wild, dazed eyes he cried:

“Take me, Mummie! Take me away!” “You poor laddie!” comforted the girl. “I will help you, darling. You will be out in a minute. Do just what I say.” The sight of the small unfortunate made a powerful appeal to the sympathies. The little face was streaked with the pitiable wash of tears. The child could scarcely see. At a glance she saw that he was near collapse. She acted swiftly. Placing her foot upon the spring of the trap imprisoning the leg, she rested her whole weight upon it and it sank. With a quick motion of her deft fingers she opened the jaws and took out the limb. A moment later the arm, too, was free. Released, the little form rolled upon its back and lay helpless. Stooping she picked him up gently and carried him to the bank of the creek, laying him upon the grass.

“Lie here quiet, laddie,” she enjoined in a soothing voice, “and I’ll ride back to the village for a carriage. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

But the child clung to her crying fearfully:

“Take me! Take me! Brubbie afraid!” Kneeling beside him, she gathered the small bundle into her arms.

“I will not leave you, darling,” she soothed, hushing his fears. “I will take you with me. Bobs will have to be a very gentle stretcher bearer. You must trust me, little one, and be careful to obey me.

Bobs will carry us back. But first I must cover these poor torn limbs.”

Producing clean bandages, with the resource of a former occasion, she wrapped the wounds securely from air and dirt. Then she placed the boy upon Bobs’ neck while the intelligent brute stood motionless, obedient to her low voiced commands. Climbing carefully into the saddle she took the child in her arms and guiding Bobs by voice and knee, rode back along the coulee. The child slept almost instantly, lulled by the gentle pace of the horse and endearing cooings of the girl.

\ WARE that the surgeon’s skill was xA. urgently needed, she made her way to the doctor’s office. He discovered her approach and running out to the curb relieved her of her burden. In a few words she informed him of her discovery of the boy and his misfortune.

“WTO you come in?” said he. “You can help me with this operation. There is no nurse in the village just now.”

“Gladly, if I can be of service,” was the quick reply.

“Rest assured you can. With your assistance I shall be able to avoid the anaesthetic, though these wounds are a ragged mess. The poor little kid must have lain in those traps for hours. Pierre Leduc set them out for wolves. These curious little busybodies fall into surprising adventures. Brubbie will not forget this day for the rest of his life.”

Swiftly the doctor performed his work, cleaning the frayed lacerations and stitching with nimble address, while Mary beguiled the boy from his pain by the magic of her caress and the soothing touch of her woman’s hand.

“There now, Brubbie!” said the doctor at length. “You are fit. Come, we’ll take you to your mother. Miss McClure had better come along and take charge of this most difficult phase of the operation. Will you, Miss McClure?”

“Still at your service, Doctor. But who is Brubbie, as you call him?”

“Brubbie? Why, Brubbie is the young scamp of Pellawa, general town favorite and Nick Ford's baby. Brubbie is an incorrigible little vagrant. I’ll warrant his mother hasn’t even missed him. This will be some shock to her.”

It was a very startled and white-faced woman who gathered the small form to her breast.

“Mummie! Mummie!” was the penitent cry. “Brubbie run away. He step on traps and dey bite him. Brubbie think he will die and cry, cry, cry. But the leddy come and take Brubbie out of the traps and bring him home on the nice horse. Oo, oo!”

He encircled the woman’s neck with a strangling hug.

Mary smiled, relieved that the explanation had heen made.

“Brubbie has given you all the facts, Mrs. Ford,” corroborated she. “I heard the cry of a strange bird in the coulee and followed it. The bird turned out to be Brubbie. Bobs carried him to the doctor here, who has fixed him up splendidly. He will soon be around again.” The mother was dumb. For some minutes she could only nestle the child to her breast. Suddenly, as she thought upon the circumstance, a shudder swept her. A gruesome possibility had occurred to her.

“What would have happened to my baby if you had not heard him crying, Miss McClure? Tonight the wolves would have come. God bless you for this.” The woman’s eyes filled with tears. Under the impulse of her natural gratitude she seized the girl’s hand and kissed it reverently.

“You saved Brubbie! You saved him! You saved him!” she cried again and again, in a quiet grateful voice. “Nick will thank you with all his heart. God bless you!”

As Mary passed through the coulee on her way home, she pulled Bobs again and listened to the birds afresh. This time the strange call was missing and a serious look crept into the girl’s eyes as she thought upon it.

“Little birds!” she whispered. “Happy little birds! Your sweet singing saved a dear little life to-day.”

The happiest musings attended her as she let Bobs follow the trail of his own sweet will. The mission of the birds was not yet ended.

THE night of the day upon which Mary McClure hunted the bird of the coulee, an interesting council was held in the realty office of Reddy Sykes. The councillors comprised McClure, Foyle and the agent himself. They sat about the flat-topped desk, three shadows in the blue fog of the dim lamplight. There were the usual convivial evidences, Foyle having been the first to arrive at that affable condition, obtaining in the mazy borderlands of sobriety and inebriety. ' , .

“Pards!” said he, smashing the desk with his open hand, “I’m taking yer lead and tickled to do it. Yer shore handing me the whole deck. I’ll see that Ford gets his little share all right and a bit over.”

“You’ve tumbled, Foyle,” replied Sykes. “You have been mighty apt at getting the hang of things. You have nothing to do but sit tight. I give my cheerful and professional guarantee there isn’t a flaw in the deal. If Pullar is fool enough to hold you off we’ll turn on the screw and evict him. The law is the prettiest, most efficient automatic instrument invented by the genius of that good fellow, man. The law is behind us everywhere. Don’t you do any talking. Meanwhile, mosey around and make yourself generally useful. That bunch of scrub out of Athabasca Landing won’t need your tender offices any more. Leave it to Pullar and Son. They are mighty good farmers.”

“Ha! That’s the big noise!” agreed Foyle, with a chuckle. “I’ve taken to the climate hereabouts. Got to stay. Doctor’s orders. Ha, ha! You’ll find Hank Foyle sticking around any old time you want him.”

“You’re a good sort,” commended Sykes warmly. “I’ll want the help of a reliable man in a day or two. In fact I’ll want you bad, Hank.”

“Put it here,” cried Foyle, springing to his feet with extended hand. “I’m spoiling for exercise. Used to scrubbing, you know. Anything you want ^done kind of quiet-like just drop a wink.” “Hank, you’re a game sport,” was the hearty response. Then he added: “You’re a marked man. I’ll trail you when I want you. And now, this ends our confab for the present. Rob and I have a pile of work to go through before we get out of here to-night. You are overdue at the Dominion House. Bye,

Foyle laughed good-naturedly.

“I’ll scoot,” said he. “And don’t forget I’m handy when you want a leg

For a considerable time after he left there was silence between the partners. Then McClure fixed his eyes curiously on Sykes. There was something in his companion’s eyes he had never seen there before. He instantly realized that something momentous was being debated in the mind of the agent.

“Pulling a bluff on Hank just now?” was his quizz.

“Better have an eye-opener, Rob,” was the reply, as he pushed a glass and bottle to his companion’s elbow. “You are keen enough on some things and mighty dense on others. I have a surprise for you. In a few days I am pulling down my shingle.”

McClure knit his eyebrows in perplexity.

“This is one thing you’ve been hopelessly opaque on, Rob,” said he, as he casually filled his own glass. “Did you expect I had come to stay?"

“No-o,” was the slow reply. “I knew you had a card up your sleeve. I hold no hand in the game.”

Sykes smiled.

AC LEAR case of cobwebs,” observed the other to himself. “You are n this game very much and have been all along. There will be nothing obscure in your mind as to my intentions when I’m through with you to-night. Since the onus of revelation is upon me you will maintain a purely receptive attitude. This is coming to me.

“Now to begin. Here are some photographs. You have heard of John Sykes, millionaire broker? Here he is and there is the mater. This is our hang-out on the Crescent. John Sykes is a rather close relative of mine. Here is the prospectus of Sykes and Sykes, the new partnership replacing John Sykes. I hold a third of the stock, the old man the balance.”

Sykes paused while the other was examining the photographs. McClure -was visibly impressed. The faces looking at him were handsomely autocratic. John Sykes had a set to his jaw that was fam-

“They have some class,” said he, handing back the photographs. “This looks like the firm may have a pretty tidy turnover.”

He continued to make a careful perusal of the prospectus.

“Cold figures,” agreed Sykes. “We have the best connections, private wires, through to London, New York, etc. all of which means a big place in the financial world. Here are our ratings.”

McClure looked them over, his eyes evincing the most intense interest. Before he could speak Sykes thrust into his hand a paper.

“A little hit of Who’s Who? Read it over; it will acquaint you with public opinion. It speaks well of us.”

As McClure finished he looked up, his eye fascinated by some alluring mental object. Sykes was sitting back nonchalantly in his swivel chair, his partially emptied glass poised in his hand. He observed his companion with a smile.

“What do you make of it all?” was his question.

“It is a great surprise to me and yet— I long ago surmised something like this. I knew of John Sykes as a prominent financier, but had not the faintest idea there was any connection between you.”

“There may not be,” said Sykes, with a peculiar laugh. “I may be faking. It would be easy to frame up a setting like

lû McClure shook his head.

“You look too much like John Sykes. He is the only man I have ever seen with a jaw like yours.”

Sykes laughed silently at the personal allusion as he handed over another photograph.

“Here,” said he, “is a picture the mater insisted on having.”

It was a likeness of himself and his mother.

NEXT came a set of athletic photographs splendid pictures of an eight-oared crew.* In the first a superb figure stood before him holding a long scull. In the second the athlete was seated in a single shell, his sculls poised for the long sweep. There were others of the “Eight” in various poses of rest and action, several with the setting of foreign regattas. One caught the crew sweeping along the Thames. The athlete was Sykes.

“McClure!” said he seriously. “I had a fairly free fling in the younger days. But I kept the going under hand. Do you think the type of physical man you see there would go very far wrong?” McClure laughed in some embarrass-

“No use putting such a decision up to me,” said he.. “But you shape up prime in your racing stumps.”

“That will do,” commented Sykes with a grin. “The art display is over. You may think this irrelevant to the business in hand. Perhaps it is. At any rate keep everything you have learned in the back of your head while I spiel

“You are right in your guess. I am not in Pellawa to push petty finance. I am here hunting the biggest game that runs. We have been associated in some rustic ventures and they have not all come through. Forget it. These have been trivia] undertakings. Study that Who’s Who? and you’ll find that I get every big thing I go after. I am after the biggest thing right now I have ever set out to lift. You probably can tell me what

McClure shook his head.

“I am not guessing to-night,” said he, holding Sykes’ glance.

“Then prepare for a sweeping away of all cobwebs. My sole object in this visit to Pellawa, Rob, is your daughter, Miss Mary McClure. I have been playing the game for that stake right through. The time has come for a show-down. It is up to us to deal a new hand. I have approached your girl from every conceivable angle. She is obdurate. There is a mighty good reason. She is the victim of a silly infatuation. She has a local rube.” McClure sprang to his feet.

“It’s a lie!” was the swift retort. Sykes smiled darkly, shaking his head. “No, Rob, this is not hearsay. This is

personal knowledge. I hold the facts and I will lay them before you—later. There is this infatuation. These youthful attachments seldom result in happy matrimonial alliances. This amour is no more promising than any other. It is not disturbing and need have no undesirable results, if we act quickly. I am willing to accept Mary on any terms and by means of any expedient. I offer her everything a woman could desire. Give me your complete cooperation in my plan to gain my purpose and I promise you unheard-of compensation. A moment!”

HE LIFTED his hand silertcingMcClure who was about to speak.

“I have told you to listen while I spiel. That is the only thing for you to do yet. I want you to be confident of this. With Mary as my wife, she will gain everything and lose nothing. For yourself it means a chance that does not come to one man in a million.

“I have watched you, Rob McClure, as you went to it in this world of small farmers. You are too big a man for Pellawa. Don’t misunderstand me. I do not propose to flatter you. What I am about to propose is frankly my own project to gain my personal purposes. Were it not for this I certainly would not dream of handing out the deal I am going to offer you. But the fact remains. You have the gray matter to come through if you decide to avail yourself of this opportunity. You will be at home in the big financial world. Take a look at that rating.”

He handed his companion a certified document.

“A third of that is mine. That gets me into seven figures. What is your own rating, land and all?”

McClure calculated swiftly.

“Roughly, seventy-five thousand.” “Rather a difference! However, it is not your fault. It is your fate. You have done wonderfully well. But you have been playing a small game. I had the luck to be rearfed in a bigger world. The pater assures me that I have added a million to the total during my university years when I had been supposedly engaged in the serious task of reading law. You may think this egotism or even bluff. Perhaps it is.”

McClure read the fellow’s face. He was instantly convinced of the truth of his words. He was silent.

“Now, Rob!” said Sykes, levelling at the other a glance at once piercing and calculating. “Take in what I am about to say. It means tremendous things for you. At the same time what may seem remarkable to you is as nothing to me compared with the big thing I am out after. Help me to get this thing and— But wait a minute. My rating upsets yours thirty to one. How would a ratio of fifty-fifty place you? Think in the totals. A million and a quarter! You will never reach that in this little world of Pellawa. Never. Yet that would be commensurate with your sheer ability. Are you ready to take in that dream. Listen, Rob McClure! It is yours now, to-day. I have an immense melon. I will cut that melon exactly in half and give you one half for the hand of Mary McCiure. I offer you a partnership on the basis of fifty-fifty. To show that I mean business, I will give half the legal grip even before Mary becomes my Wife. The balance after. There shall be this one stipulation only. The partnership is conditioned on the fact that Mary joins hands with me in a legal marriage.” Sykes ceased to talk.

McClure was mute, the great eyes darting flames. Sykes knew that' the crucial moment had arrived. For months he had fostered this friendship, spun his web. Would the victim break through the mesh and go free? The farmer looked at him, his face convulsed in conflict. At one instant the eagerness of an overmastering ambition looked out craftily; the next it was swept with a mighty anger. While the fierce debate raged, Sykes addressed him in a low, steadying voice.

“Rob,” said he considerately, “this is a fairly sizable proposition. Don’t make a snap decision and regret—anything. Keep the lid on a little longer. You have not yet heard all. You have not learned who is the rube that has fascinated Mary. Perhaps you already know or can guess?” “I will not guess,” he flung out fiercely. “There is nothing in it. If there had been, Mary would have let me know

long ago. She has never hinted such an attachment.”

“You are logical, Rob. But you are wrong. You have hit the wrong premise. Sometimes a good girl is induced into a clandestine amour. It has often happened. It has happened now. Unsympathetic parents are not auspicious persons in which to confide the tender sentiments. The parent might have a positive hostility to the dear object of one’s regard. This is pointedly true in your own case. I know there is no love lost between you. And now you know the party.”

McClure leaned forward, a sudden intelligence flashing a wild light in his eye,

“You don’t mean--”?

McClure read Sykes’ cold, bright eyes. He understood.

“It is Ned Pullar?”

“Pullar’s the man, Ned Pullar,” was the deliberate agreement.

C LOWLY the indecision vanished from ^ McClure’s face and in its place appeared a black resolution. A malignant light darted from his eyes. Seizing the neck of the black bottle before him, he clutched it menacingly, as if about to hurl it at his companion.

“Rather be excused,” said Sykes, lifting a defensive hand. “Remember I am not Pullar.”

• Banging the bottle on the desk, McClure whirled about and began pacing about the room, muttering vengeful execration, oblivious apparently of the other’s presence.

WAt this moment of his fell triumph, the real Sykes looked forth once more. A repulsive delight played in his eyes and they shut to, in a sort of gloating muse. While the evil light glittered through the lashes, an unsightly grin contorted his face, drawing slowly to a wolfish snarl about the mouth and nose. The face was grotesque and hideous to look upon. Could he have trained one rational, though fleeting glance upon that unspeakable face, McClure would surely have been fore-warned. But he was blind with rage. Out of the fury of that fatal moment

flew the foul bird of a pitiless resolution. He chuckled balefully. At the sound Sykps laughed softly. Ripping out an oath McClure whirled about. Thrusting his head forward he searched Sykes’ face with blazing eyes. He was too slow, however. The malign thing had hidden itself with swift adroitness. What he saw was the open, sympathetic countenance of a gentleman.

“I want the facts,” challenged McClure. “What do you know?”

Dissembling his intensity of interest Sykes divulged what information he deemed expedient to his purpose. The effect on McClure was powerfully cumulative.

“Look here,” said the agent finally, picking up a photograph of the eightoared crew. “You did not detect this party.”

McClure looked surprised to recognize the face of Ned Pullar.

“Our coach selected Pullar for number seven to hold my oar,” explained Sykes. “Until Pullar caught the place we had trouble holding balance. With his arrival the kink smoothed out magically and we went overseas a wonder crew. He held my stroke. Pullar is the only man who ever did. You have not yet realized what this man Pullar is capable of. He takes the inside every time and sets a killing pace. He’ll beat you out now like he faded you in the threshing game unless you take my way to kill him. I’ll come across with the specific code any time you want it. You must act swiftly and stick it. The stake is big. For me it means one thing only— Mary McClure. For Mary, it means a brilliant chance. For you it means a flying start in the big world where big men hold the throttle. For both you and me it means the smashing of Pullar.”

He paused. The two men eyed each other, McClure with flaming, searching glance, Sykes with steady, persistent gaze and eyes that poured upon the other the mesmeric power of will.

“I have had my say,” said Sykes quietly, holding that, compelling glance. “I have been straight. It is up to you.” To be continued