When Don Proctor steered his weird tin chariot out of Richvale and headed for Banff, little did he think that it was to clatter him into Romance.
R. E. BREACH
DON PROCTOR stood at the door of his store and stared listlessly at the stark outlines of the three elevators, the gray cylinders of the gasoline storage tanks, the railway station, and the wooden buildings of Richvale sprawled over the rich land. The fields beyond were green as emerald with the growing crops. In the
still, bright air you could hear—if you were a true Westerner—the wheat growing. Yet Don Proctor, looking at all these good things about him, found something lacking.
What, then, was wrong? He did not know. Behind were the long aisles of his store, whose order and prosperity represented five years of hard work and business acumen since he had first come west, a commuted pension in his pocket, to make a place for himself. Now, with his feet on the way to success, he was weary of routine of petty detail, of small carefulnesses.
He felt a sudden urge to do something, just for once, that was not businesslike, reasonable or profitable.
A car loaded with camping equipment passed along the main street.
Its occupants waved gaily to him, and he looked after them enviously. They symbolized comradeship, freedom, the open road, the freshness of new scenes.
“I need a holiday,” he soliloquized.
“Oh, well, perhaps some day—”
He strolled to the rear of the store and looked out into the littered alley.
And there he found one sign of life in the town.
Hedley Morgan, scion of Richvale’s only colored family, was painting a contraption on wheels.
“What do you call that, Hed?”
“That’s a motor car, Mistuh Proctor. I aims to sell it for fifty dollahs.”
It was that kind of hand-made, tinroofing-covered body, nailed precariously over a discarded chassis and a rebuilt engine, with the lines of a fat cigar, commonly known as a bug.
“What make of car is it?”
“I wouldn’t like to say, but I guarantees the engine.”
The urge to do something rash came over Don again. His tongue spoke in spite of him.
“I’ll give you fifty dollars for the bug, Hedley.”
“Will you now? No foolin’? Jest wait till I finish paintin’ her. I’m giving you an honest fifty dollahs worth, suh, as far as locomotion goes, ”
and looks doan’ count, nohow.”
Without knowing why his feet moved, Don went to the till, took out fifty dollars and returned to the youth.
“Here you are, Hed. She’s mine! But what’n Sam Hill are you painting her with?”
“It’s a can of my mammy’s stove-pipe enamel, and what she’ll say when she misses it, Mistuh Proctor, will be worth these fifty dollahs. An’ I ain’t got quite enough to cover her—”
Don went to his hardware shelves and got a full can. “Finish your job, Hed., but hadn’t you better run her into the garage? It’s dusty out here, and that stuff’s as sticky as molasses.”
The warning came too late, and Hedley surveyed his work with a rueful face. The weather was dry, the dust thick and the wind beginning to rise with the heat of the day. Moreover, the Balm o’ Gilead trees were shedding their cotton, and the light and playful wind swept it all down the alley and sifted it like sugar over the thick sirupy paint on the bug. In five minutes she was covered inch deep with a matted layer of dust and cotton.
“A bug,” said Don, surveying his latest investment thoughtfully, “I should call her a Fuzzy Wuzzy caterpillar.”
WHEN next he came to himself he was in the attic sorting out his duck-shooting equipment—tent, blankets, sleeping-bag. He muttered “What on earth— ” and came sensibly down stairs and read the morning mail again, and an advertising pamphlet on rolled oats. No, it wouldn’t do—couldn’t get away—mustn’t neglect business. So he argued through the rest of the drowsy day, but it was the cool, clean enticing night—the inimitable Alberta night—that did it. Just before dawn he stole
down through the store with a bundle under his arm, the last of many trips, and laid a letter on the desk where his clerk would find it when he came to open the store in the morning. It was short and to the point:
“You run this dump for the next month. I’m going on a holiday.”
The bug awaited him in the garage, with her hairy gray hide, her two round, goggle-eyed lamps, the very personification of an insect. But she rolled easily out of the garage and down the alley.
Ben Myers, editor and proprietor of the Richvale Record, saw him go in the dim light of dawn as he set type for the belated weekly issue. He glanced at a vacant space in his column of news, local and personal, put two and two together and made it a good six. Then he fumbled through the dusty thatch of his hair until he found a pencil stub, and wrote:
“Mr. Donegal Proctor, our genial general merchant, purchased a classy roadster this week from Mr. Hedley Morgan, and to-day departed on an extended tour of the province, visiting Banff, Lake Louise, and other resorts en route.”
FUZZY WUZZY at dusk climbed over the Corkscrew and coasted down into Banff. She finally stopped, not from lack of motive power in her engine, but because a patient and persistent application of her brakes, or what was left of them, finally wore down her impetus. Don took off his hat and mopped his steaming face. It was a great little engine, all right, but Hed should have built it into something that would hold it down. At twenty-five miles an hour the bug began to jump, and with his brake-
bands worn thin, he couldn’t hold her. Well, here he was, and he would have the brakes relined.
At the motor camp he halted before the warden’s office to register. Inside the rustic building the park officer was busily entering names and license numbers in his books. Suddenly he stiffed and let out an “awk!” He had caught sight of Fuzzy Wuzzy waiting at the door.
“’S all right, brother,” said Don, soothingly. “We don’t want anything but a place to rest the flat of our tires. She doesn’t take up much room.”
“But she sure fills the eye,” returned the warden, writing busily. “One dollar, please.” “You shouldn’t charge me anything,” said Don, as he snapped a dollar off his roll. “I’ll draw tourists to the camp.”
“The Zoo is uptown. Sign. Here’s your permit. And say, friend, where did I see you last?”
“In the clink at Folkestone, in ’17,” said Don, with a grin.
The warden held out his hand. “Well, well. That was some night. Come over after I get this flock of automobile babies to bed, and we’ll reminis.”
NEXT morning Don was awakened by loud guffaws outside his tent. “Somebody laughing at Fuzzy,” he thought, snuggling down into his warm, dusty blankets. “And at Richvale, old Thomas is sweeping out the store, and I’d be going over for the mail, and saying, ‘how goes it’ to the postmaster.”
“Well, he probably built it himself, and that’s more than you could do, Gussy.”
“Something to build, isn’t it?”
“It has come this far, hasn’t it?”
“J udrey! Your bacon’s burning, Audrey!”
In resporse to this hail, the defender of the bug fled to her domestic duties. Don raised the tent-flap and looked out. There was something generous, courageous and kind in the khaki shoulders and close-cropped dark head which was all he saw of Audrey. She disappeared among the clutter of women under the shelter.
Fuzzy’s critic touched her woolly hide with a supercilious finger, kicked both rear tires, and seizing her by the radiator caí', shook her severely. She teetered on her light axles, but offered no violence. Then her defamer spat carelessly at the tent and strolled off toward the bacon. Don saw his back also, thin and pinch-waisted, and hair polished close to a narrow skull.
“Cake-eater!” he growled, reaching for his clothes. But he diffidently approached the cook-shelter, a roof supported on peeled tree-trunks, covering a large cement stove with iron top and doors, and rustic tables and benches. Audrey was ladling spoonfuls of hotcake batter on to a smoking iron sheet, where they spread and took form like golden brown moons. Her family the youth who had manhandled Fuzzy and a large woman in breeches and a pink boudoir capwas seated at the table.
Don watched the girl admiringly. Her brown face was flushed, but he liked her cool gray eyes and her patience and forbearance with her querulous family. When he forked his bacon into his tin plate, he found therein a smoking heap of fluffy cakes.
“Thanks very much,” he said. “There’s nothing I lik better than pancakes.”
“Audrey! ain’t you saving anv of those cakes for Elaine?”
“Yes, Aunt Jen, there are plenty here for her."
“I’ll have another handful, Aud.,” said the pomatumed youth, extending his plate.
“There isn’t any more batter.”
“You’re some provider, I must say,” began the querulous Gus, but he was interrupted by a new arrival. “Well, here you are, baby.”
“Mother’s lamb," crooned the stout woman.
“Ain’t she the little beaut?” rhapsodized the tourists. Don looked, but said nothing. And yet the newcomer was inspiring, with her short yellow curls, blue eyes, and rose-leaf cheeks. Mother hastened to spread a fresh paper napkin under her plate, and the pomatumed youth made way for her almost respectfully.
“Audrey, hurry with Elaine’s breakfast,” urged the mother. “You know she shouldn’t be kept waiting, and her so delicate. Did you sleep well, darling?”
So fairy-like a being should have been fed on elves’ food. But no, Audrey and the mother laid before her substantial viands, which were daintily conveyed to those rosy lips, and vanished. Don sat where he was to watch the ritual. Only when the slender hands waved a gesture of dismissal did the two vassals cease tending their lady.
The older woman wandered off to compare notes with neighbors on the trials of the road, the elegant youth lit a cigarette and moved off in that direction farthest from the woodpile. Audrey heaved a sigh, salvaged a piece of toast and shook the coffee-pot. The drained grounds rattled hopelessly.
“Will you please share my coffee?” said Don. “I've more than I need.”
“Thanks—I’m just dying for some. There, Gus has gone away without cutting one stick of wood. What will these people think of us?”
“I’ll cut a few sticks after breakfast,” promised Don. “Please sit down and keep me company. Aren’t you going to have anything but toast?
"That’s all I want, and to get a chance to sit down and look at these trees.” Her smooth throat curved back as she looked up at the straight brown columns and the feathery green roof. “I cook so much stuff for the others that it takes away my appetite. My name’s Audrey Kent.”
“Is that your mother and your brother and your sister?”
“No, that’s my aunt, and the fair girl is her daughter. Gus Gus Panter—is Elaine’s cousin, too, but he and I are on opposite sides of the house, so we’re not related. We’re engaged to be married, Gus and I.”
Don looked at her in surprise. “When does the wedding take place?” he asked.
“There’s nothing settled about that yet. Aunt Jen thinks we are too young, but being engaged will steady Gus. He’s inclined to be flighty.”
“Your aunt think a great deal of Gus, doesn’t she?” “He is her only sister’s only child. I’m her husband’s niece. I don’t know why,” she added apologetically, “but I always want people to know just how I am related to the Muggses.”
AUDREY had collected his dishes among her own, ^so he remained to dry them for her. Then he aided
digestion with a vigorous half-hour on the woodpile. When he came back to the shelter, he observed Mr. Panter sitting on the runningboard of the Muggses’ sedan, smoking cigarettes and looking at war
with the world.
Audrey was writing a list of supplies.
“Have I got to carry all that truck?” complained Mr. Panter. “Elaine and I were going to the Cave and Basin with a couple of girls and fellahs, and we can’t ask them to ride with half a carcass of beef and a sackful of parcels.”
“But you’ll howl if you don’t have a good dinner.”
“Isn’t there a little grocery near where you could walk up and get a few things, Audrey?” suggested Mrs.
“I can’t carry all our supplies in my arms, Aunt Jen.”
Here the beauty emerged from her tent and moved languidly toward the sedan. Gus followed.
“Elaine, where's your bathing suit?
Aunt, where are the bathing suits?”
“Audrey,” the command came down the firing line, “get the bathing suits. Gus and Elaine are waiting.”
Here Don had another of those unpremeditated impulses to which he was becoming subject. He caught the hem of Audrey’s blouse firmly and whispered in her ear:
“Baby lamb—let ’em wait.”
Aunt Jen bleated a few ineffectual “Audrey’s,” Mr. Panter snorted. But Don’s hold was determined and lasting. At last Mrs. Muggs found the missing articles and bore them to the car, where Gus slammed the door and drove off with sublime disregard for tents, children or stumps.
“Oh, dear,” sighed Audrey, “Gus has gone off without my list. Now I shall have to trudge uptown and get what I can carry back.”
“Why not let them go without?”suggested Don. “Then they may remember next time.”
“I couldn’t do that. Elaine is not strong. She must have proper food.”
“Well, I’m going uptown, and if you don’t mind riding in my car I’d be pleased to take you.”
Audrey accepted gratefully, without looking at the car, and Don gathered up his dishes and stowed them in his tent, and began to groom Fuzzy for the day’s run. Audrey was ready before he finished. She was pretty when she was out of that drab khaki, tall and straight, with smooth dark hair, and black-lashed gray eyes.
“Well, if here isn’t Gus back again!”
“Maybe he has had a change of heart,” suggested Don, from under Fuzzy.
But Gus did not notice Audrey. He sprang out and sought his aunt and gave her a large envelope. The stout woman opened it, stared wildly about, and then hurried into the tent with her hopeful nephew.
“Poor Aunt Jen!” sighed Audrey. ‘ Uncle Ben has been dead only six months. I suppose that letter was from her lawyers about the will. Her affairs aren’t quite settled yet.”
“There was a will, eh?” said Don, twisting mightily on a recalcitrant nut.
“Yes. My father and Uncle Ben were in business together. Father died five years ago. I have always lived with Aunt Jen.”
“And did you succeed to your father’s partnership?” he mumbled through a mouthful of oily cotterpins.
“Partnership? Dear me, no. What would I know about business? But Aunt Jen said I would be useful to her in the house.”
Don emerged at last from under Fuzzy, and stared at her thoughtfully as she dabbed at her eyes with a little white handkerchief.
Fuzzy ran as lightly as a bird, knowing, like any thoroughbred, that she carried a lady. They passed down the broad camp drive between cars from Ontario and British Columbia, from Maine and California, and crossed the bridge over the Spray with the roar of Bow Falls in their ears. Fuzzy getting a clear road and a good run at the hill, buzzed triumphantly past one of Mr. Brewster’s look-out wagons, panting uphill in second gear with a load of fifty sight-seers.
“We’ll take the low road to town,” said Don, and the girl settled back with a sigh of delight to face that cloistered prospect of dark pine and high-arched heaven. They came out at the river’s edge, swept under the Bow bridge, around and up on it, joining the gay procession of car and pony, guide and Indian, and more or less sophisticated tourist that crosses it endlessly.
Audrey bought her supplies, and Don stowed them in the back of the bug. If the Muggses had to do the cooking themselves, he thought, they’d soon be eating out of cans like the rest of them.
“How long have you been here, Miss Kent?” he asked. “A week.”
“Been about much yet?”
“N—no. You see, Elaine and Gus know so many young people here and they have to entertain them. And Aunt Jen needs me in camp.”
“Doesn’t Aunt Jen like to look at the scenery?”
“No, she’d rather sit in the cook-shelters and crochet and talk to the other women.”
“See here, Miss Audrey. I haven’t seen any of the sights either, and it’s lonesome looking at them alone. How about our making it a day?”
“I’d love to—what fun! But no, I couldn’t possibly go. What would Aunt Jen do? And we must take these parcels back to camp.”
“Do you really want to go?”
“Hi—Mac!” Don shouted to a man who was backing out of the line. “Will you take some parcels back to camp for us?”
“Sure. Glad to oblige.”
“Give these to Mrs. Muggs, at our stove,” directed Don, as he cascaded an armful of parcels into the obliging tourist’s car. “You know her—fat lady, pink cap, beauteous daughter and superfluous nephew— and tell her that Miss Kent is going driving with me.”
The girl leaned back in the low, comfortable seat to watch the passing crowd. She was going to have a glorious day. But what would Aunt Jen say? She hardened her heart. “Just one day—just one good time,” she thought. “I’m sure I’ve earned it.”
Don was back. He put mysterious parcels into the back of the car, a gaily wrapped box that spelled chocolates into her lap.
“Lunch,” he said, laconically.
“Lunch! I should have prepared something.”
“No chance of it. You’ll enjoy a meal you haven’t prepared yourself. We’re going to be as hungry as wolves. Now just a minute until I fill up this gas - eater — here’s a filling-station — and cast your eye over this while you’re waiting. It’s a booklet about Banff and tells you where to go and what to see. Choose what you like best and we’ll do it.”
looked good to them, and they did them all. You might have seen the sun shimmering on Fuzzy’s spinning wheels high up on Tunnel Mountain, or caught a glimpse of her hairy hide through the trees on the winding trail to the Upper Hot Springs. She ambled through the town and took the road toward Lake Louise, but stopped at Johnson’s Canyon, which her passengers explored, and then lunched on the amazing contents of Don’s boxes in the Canyon camp-ground, where a bear-cub joined them in hope of cakes. The run to Lake Minnewanka filled the afternoon, and returning, they swam at the Cave and Basin for a long cool hour, made a supper of the remains of their lunch at Sundance Canyon, and ended the round at sunset at the Dump, beyond the golf-links, holding their noses, and scanning the hill-sides for bears.
They returned to camp through the pine scented dusk. Audrey wanted to thank this new friend for one perfect day, but how could she? Under the shelter her reproachful family gazed at her timid approach. Don followed her, ready to make war at the first word. But he did not know his enemy. Sorrowfully but silently, they looked at her across the half-emptied tin of beans.
“Did you have a good day, child?” asked her aunt, plaintively, and held her head. She had a bad headache—the day had been hot and tiresome. Audrey flew to minister to her helpless flock. An hour later, as he turned in for the night, Don saw her washing dishes, while the family, complacent as full-fed cats, retired from a wordless victory.
But after that one glorious outing, Audrey would not desert her post. He might take her uptown for supplies, or sit by her while she worked at her endless tasks for the family. But they exchanged experiences, after the fashion of youngsters making acquaintance, and the more Don learned of the girl’s past years, the more he was convinced that in some way she was being exploited by her relatives.
If her father had been partner with her uncle, surely she would have inherited something more than a menial position in her uncle’s family. He would write to Saskatoon—he knew a lawyer there, a chap who had been in his battalion—and he would see that she was not being cheated of her inheritance.
Within a week his lawyer friend replied that he knew the family and had got the particulars in his own way. Trust Ikey Epstein for that! The girl, Audrey Kent, was entitled to a half-share in the business, a small hardware store on the outskirts of Saskatoon. She was to come into full possession and authority of her share at the age of twenty-one. The uncle had carefully handled his niece’s property, but since his death the business was declining rapidly through mismanagement and extravagance. If someone did not look out for her, Miss Kent would find little of her inheritance remaining.
Don had gone uptown one evening and returned through the dusk feeling very woebegone, because Audrey had refused to go with him.
When he reached camp, the family had gathered before their tents. Several tourists had joined the gathering, exhibiting a lively interest.
“What’s up now?” thought Don suspiciously, and he made for the centre of the little drama.
“Oh, Mr. Proctor,” cried the stout lady, “we are celebrating to-night. This is Audrey’s twenty-first birthday.”
“Rather late in the day to start celebrating, isn’t it, Mrs. Muggs?”
“How time flies!” cried the sentimental lady. “It seems scarcely a day since she was a little toddler at my knee. And now, my dear Mr. Proctor, she is to be received into full partnership with me in the business of my late husband.”
“Ikey has been getting busy,” was • Don’s triumphant thought, as he congratulated the bewildered girl.
“And better than all these sordid business affairs,” continued Mrs. Muggs to Don, who began to think that this little play was being staged for his benefit, “my niece has consented to marry my nephew at once.”
It was the rashest of all his rash acts, and yet it was the thing he had wanted to do most in his life. And he did it now.
“You have made a mistake,” he said. “Miss Kent is going to marry me.”
TN THE silence that followed this 1 bomb, the onlooking tourists stole away to their respective tents. A family crisis was no place for outsiders. Rut j they might as well have remained. Mrs. Muggs’ voice was piercing and carried far.
“She is, eh? Do you think I am going to allow my niece to marry a no-account tramp that interferes in my affairs and sets shyster lawyers on me? Setting my own niece against me and telling her she is being cheated by her own flesh and blood! Marry her! Yes, I guess you would like to marry her, and get your hands on that nice little lump of money that’s coming to her, and then leave her a deserted wife, or worse than that, for who knows whether there isn’t a deserted wife in your life already, and Gawd knows how many helpless children—”
“Mother! For heaven’s sake, shut up! You’ll have the whole camp listening in!”
“Let ’em listen in—let all Banff listen in! They’re going to hear something before I get through with this adventurer, preying on innocent girls—”
“That will be enough,” said Don, shortly. “I have never set Miss Kent against you, or told her that you were cheating her. But I told a lawyer to look into her affairs and see that she got her rights, and I make no excuse for that. You can’t deny that you have kept her in ignorance of facts she should have known. It was the duty of every decent man to see that you and your nephew did not take advantage of her innocence and confidence in you. Now that I have forced you to come into the open, I shan’t interfere any more. The rest will depend upon you, Audrey—”
“You will please not address my fiancee,” began Mr. Panter, slicking back his hair and shooting his cuffs by way of emphasis.
“Huh?” grunted Don, thrusting out his chin at him. Mr. Panter retreated at once.
“Mr. Proctor,” said Audrey, seizing the first chance to speak, “my aunt has shown me a letter from a lawyer who says that he is acting in my interest Did you employ him?”
“I am afraid that Mr. Epstein has exceeded his instructions. I have nothing more to say on the subject, except that I wish you well, and hope you will be happy.”
“There—I knew he'd back down! Wanting to marry you one minute, and slipping you the mitten the next. I’m surprised at you, Audrey Kent, a girl that’s had the same up-bringing as my Elaine, to encourage an adventurer!”
She stalked away moving through the trees like an offended elephant, withsnortings and trumpetings of wrath.
“Come, Audrey,” said the triumphant Elaine. “Come with me, dear. We don’t want anything from you. We couldn’t get along without you.”
“I’ll say you couldn’t,” said Don, still standing his ground where Audrey must pass him, in spite of low mutterings from the shadows where Mr. Panter lurked. The girl stopped and held out her hand.
“You’ve been very kind to me, Mr. Proctor, and I’ve enjoyed knowing you.” Then she shook off her cousin’s arm, and passed on alone.
“She’s got pluck,” thought Don, and comforted by that last word, returned to his car.
DON moved his camp to Johnson’s Canyon, where he had plenty of time to think about Audrey, and to curse Ikey Epstein for his too-energetic prosecution of the inquiry he had been commissioned with. But he determined that Audrey must decide for herself who was the disinterested party. If she was the girl he thought her, she would be fair to all concerned. He asked nothing better.
Audrey spent one quiet night in her tent, thinking the matter over. In the morning she rose and went about her usual duties with a thoughtful face. She spoke to a woman who was getting an early breakfast.
“What do you serve for breakfast, Mrs. Smith?”
“Anything that’s easily prepared. It’s no holiday for a woman if she has to stand over the cookstove all day. Plain fare and fresh air for us.”
“That’s right,” said Audrey, and went on with her work.
Mrs. Muggs was the first arrival.
“I’m feeling so badly this morning, Audrey. Such a sleepless night. If you would stir me up a light omelet I believe I could relish it. And is there any ham?” “Yes, Aunt Jen,” replied Audrey, cheerfully. “The eggs are in that paper
bag, and the little skillet isn’t in use. There, Elaine’s calling.”
She poked her dark head into the tent. “What is it, Elaine, honey?”
“Oh, Audrey, I’ve such a headache!” “I’ll bring you a cup of tea in a minute.”
“I don’t want tea. Coffee, Audrey. And wasn’t mamma saying something about an omelet?”
Audrey reappeared in the promised minute with a tray.
“Little girls with headaches need nothing but tea and toast, then jump up and take a brisk walk. I knew that second chocolate eclair would make you ill.” Elaine turned her stricken face to the tent wall. Audrey set her tray down and went out. She shook Gus’ tent vigorously.
“Breakfast’s ready, Gus. Come and get it.”
A feeble groan answered her, so she shook the tent again, and came away. She sat down before the expectant Mrs. Muggs and began her breakfast. Her aunt assumed the martyred expression that had always subdued her tenderhearted relative, but Audrey did not notice it. She was forced to get up and set about the task herself.
“I’m going over to the next stove for a few minutes, Aunt Jen. Besides, it’s Elaine’s turn to wash the dishes,” said Audrey!”
Gus, yawning and bored, made his way to the table. No coffee, cold toast and a package of Shrivelled Wheat awaited his delicate palate. He met his aunt’s suffering eyes over the cold coffee-pot.
“Whatever has happened to Audrey?” “I don’t know, Gus. She doesn’t act like herself this morning.”
“Things have gone to her head, I guess.”
“How can I help it? That lawyer threatened to demand an accounting from us. Though I’m sure we have tried to do our best for her.”
“I’ll knock that fellow Proctor into a cocked hat.”
“Well, you had a good chance to do it last night,” snapped his aunt. “Here’s Audrey now. Audrey, Gus is waiting, and Elaine says she has had no breakfast yet.” “I called Gus half-an-hour ago. And I gave Elaine her breakfast in the tent.” “Now, Audrey, you’re not being good to us.”
“Yes, I am, Aunt Jen. I’m doing my full share of the work, and more.”
“Oh, dear me, that isn’t fair—to talk to me like that. Think of all we have done for you.”
“I am thinking of it. And I’m going to be perfectly fair and just to everybody, including myself. I’ve started in being fair and just the first thing this morning.” “Then just stop this nonsense, and do your duty to your family,” cried Mr. Panter, from the depth of an empty stomach. “I’m your fiance, and that’s next to a husband, and I’ll decide what’s fair and just for you. Do you get me?” “Yes, I think I have always got you, Gus. And please take notice, Mr. Panter, that I’m not married to you yet, and won’t be until I get this matter clear in my own mind. Ta-ta, everybody. Oh, Mr. Smith, are you going to cut wood? Here’s Gus. He’s just dying to work on the woodpile for an hour or two.”
And so she continued applying the acid test all through the day.
DON kept his vigil at Johnson’s Canyon for three days, but he was restless. Doubt, the torment of lovers, entered his mind. Perhaps Audrey would decide that he had been officious and mercenary. The years of her subjection to her aunt might have more influence with her than those few golden hours she had spent with him.
But that morning, in the parking space, he came upon an angry man hammering a bent fender. A fast driven car had crowded him against the bank where the road was cut into the hillside. Later he had come upon the same car, with a blown-out tire, and had stopped to expostulate with the reckless driver, but received only impudent profanity in reply.
Don didn’t pay much attention to the tale until the irate tourist mentioned the make of the car, and that the foolhardy driver had three passengers—an old woman and a couple of girls.
“Here he comes now.”
A long car shot out of the woods, over the bridge and up the hill beyond. People were walking across the road, cars were backing, it was a place for careful and considerate driving, but Gus went by like the wind. Don caught a glimpse of his sulky face, and of Audrey’s startled and pale. He cranked the little car and turned into the road after them.
If he only knew where they were going—if toward Windermere, Gus must slow down for the long grade on Storm Mountain, but if toward Louise, there were level stretches where he would hopelessly outdistance him. But the bug did her best, and so well did she do that Don was in time to see the car ahead pass the Windermere turn and dash at the first rise along Castle Mountain.
Had the swift car ahead been well driven, he would never have caught sight of her. But she was badly handled, choked with gas, slung from one gear to another, and she hung back sluggishly on the grades. But the little car rose with steadily increasing speed at each hill, and topped it like a bird, only to lose ground on the slopes where Gus might run with his throttle open, and Don had to hold back his light car, for fear of leaving the road.
His anxiety increased as the miles flew by. He looked with dread at every curve, expecting to find them ditched. Once he passed a car off the road, with a flustered and crimson-faced family trying to urge it on again. He recognized Gus’ work, but he dared not stop to help. He bent all his efforts to keeping the little engine running steadily. And at last, with a breath of relief, he saw the car ahead slow for the turn at Lake Louise station.
“I have him now,” he thought, and urged Fuzzy to her utmost. His hope was the steep, three-mile grade up which the heavier car must climb, mostly in second gear. Never had the little car’s metal been tested so severely. Yet her engine pulled with smooth power, scarcely slowing for the ascent. If he could keep her going, did not have to stop for obstructions—but luck was against him. Meeting a descending car on a curve, he was forced to turn towards the high bank on his right and here the rain had washed out deep ruts and rolled down loose stones. Among these Fuzzy’s light wheels floundered, and Don had to go into low to get her back on the firmer road again. After that he could not regain his speed, and the laboring engine heated. Half-way up he was forced to stop.
GUS had hardly spoken to Audrey since she had condemned him to hard labor on the camp wood-pile. And that had been only the beginning of hardships and humiliations. So cunning were her traps that he found it impossible to shirk. But Audrey was now no longer the willing slave of the Muggses. She simply went to the limit of her share, and then cheerfully, quietly stopped. They might go on from where she left off, or go without.
And the orders she gave. It was she who now directed the daily drives and walks. Gus might mutter refusals, to all of which she had the unanswerable alternative: “All right, then, we’ll stay in camp and go over those papers together.” After that, urged by his aunt’s frantic whisper not to start anything now, he always gave in.
But this morning she had ordained a visit to Lake Louise, and to Gus had come a wild plan of revenge. She wanted to go driving—well he’d show her. She’d get all the driving she wanted.
She had—within the first ten miles. Gus was driving recklessly with the fatuous daring that prompts the fool to rock the boat just for fun and to hear the girls squeal. The car skidded around curves, shot down into deep glades where the forest hid what might be beyond, hurled itself across the levels and up the heights where she saw, far below them, the white streak of the river and the spearpoints of trees. They grazed past cars, crowding them into the loose gravel at the edge of the road, chasing them up steep banks like scared rabbits.
But hope revived when she saw the little car at the Canyon. Had Don seen them? Even if he had, how could Fuzzy overtake this flying Juggernaut? She watched in fascinated horror the arrow of the speedometer, forty, fifty, back to thirty on the grades, up to fifty on the level.
When they slowed to the bridge at Lake Louise station, she felt as if a hundred years had passed over her. Her body ached, her eyes were blinded from the strain. Thank heaven, he could not
race up this hill. And at the Lake she would get out, and refuse to return with him, unless he allow her to drive.
The ascent was an increasing nightmare of winding, steep road, of little rumbling bridges, of sudden sights of misty valley far below, until at last the gray walls of the Chateau rose before her, and the blue polished mirror that is Lake Louise reflecting the white gleam of its overhanging glaciers. She heard her aunt’s gasp of relief, and Elaine’s cold: “Well, thank goodness, we’re here alive!”
Gus turned the car in a wide arc about the parking ground, and waved a gracious hand toward the lake.
“There’s Lake Louise, Audrey, take a good look at it,” and shot down the road again.
Should she try to take control of the car? She hesitated, knowing well that the worst single driver is better than two drivers. She prayed that they might meet no one coming up, then, with a sudden thankfulness, took back her prayer. A small grotesque car was climbing slowly up toward them.
Which would hold the right of way? The little car hesitated, then swung close in to the side of the road. She waved her hand frantically, and called, though she knew Don could not hear her. But he understood her need. He left his car, tossed aside his hat, and came into the middle of the road. He was going to jump on the running-board.
But Gus was equal to him. The Lake Moraine road entrance lay just a few rods above where Don waited. With a triumphant grin, Gus threw on his brakes, and flung the car around the turn. The skidding hind wheels scraped the rails on the bridge, but the car righted, and took the first rise with a roar of grinding gears.
Now the Lake Moraine road is, for a mountain road, as safe as any, but like all mountain roads, it is no place for a reckless driver. Yet its first miles, along a thickly wooded height where the depth of the valley below is hidden from view, were reassuring. And twice lumbering sightseeing buses forced them to slacken speed. Not even Gus would dare charge those leviathans. But they left the forested road suddenly, and saw before them a narrow white line high on the precipitous slope of a bare mountain. Gus must be mad. Audrey looked at him, and his face frightened her more than the misty valley below. He was livid with fear.
He was numb and helpless with it. His recklessness might have carried them safely, but he was now incapable. She shouted to him to shut off the ignition, to put on the brakes. He did not hear her, and their speed increased as the car felt the impetus of the first slope.
THERE was one chance, and she took it. She switched off the ignition and caught desperately at the emergency brake. The whole fabric shuddered to a stop, coming to rest sideways on the road, the front wheels towards the high inner bank and the rear tires deep in the loosened shale at the outer edge. She set the emergency with a sigh of relief. And at that moment there came a slow dreadful falling of the rear of the car.
“Get out, everybody. We’re sliding over!” she cried, frantically twisting at the handles of the door. The car was twodoor, and these were jammed with the wrenching of the light framework as the wheels sank out of alignment. She tried to lower the windows, but the glass was caught in a vise. They were in a death trap. Gus lolled against her helplessly, her aunt shrieked dismally, and Elaine did the first genuine and thorough act of her life; she fainted completely.
Audrey looked for a weapon to break the windows, but there was nothing. She wrapped her sweater about her arm and began to beat at the glass. Even as she did so, she remembered that her aunt, poor stout soul, could never squeeze through the aperture.
Scarce a minute since they had left the safety of the tree-walled road and dashed onto this narrow ledge where they now hung over death. And into that minute, wherein she now at last saw these kinsfolk of hers clearly, and pitied them instead of hating them, there came a quick beating sound, like the patter of running feet. She stopped her desperate fight against the glass, and waited in hope.
The slow sliding of the car ceased. Don had blocked the wheels. He appeared at the window with a piece of rock in his hand.
“Come to this side of the car. Keep your weight on the uphill side. Look out for glass.”
He struck lightly, and suddenly the way was clear.
He dragged the unconscious Elaine through the window with Audrey’s help, and placed a willing hand on Gus’ collar. For the life of him he could not resist shaking the reckless motorist. He rocked the supine Gus to and fro until Audrey’s gently persuasive hand fell on his arm. “Let him go. We must get aunt out.” “It’s all right, Mrs. Muggs,” said Don, pitying her terror. “Stand right where you are. She won’t tip over now. Here comes help.”
In a few minutes there were a dozen men about as cars drew up from either direction. A man came with a rope and offered a tow.
“Better not,” advised Don. “If she goes over, she’ll pull you with her. Has anybody got a jack? We must bring her up level until the door opens and this woman gets out.”
Half a dozen jacks were produced, and Don and another man, balancing delicately on the edge, raised the outer wheel gently until the door could be wrenched open. Mrs. Muggs fell out into the arms of a crowd of breeched women who bore her away to the rear.
“Now we’ll build up a good foundation under those hind wheels with this shale,” said Don, “and I’ll start her up. There are enough men around to give her a good start.”
“Better leave that door open, brother,” advised a man at the rear, “if she starts to slip back, you’ll want a clear way to jump.”
‘All right,” said Don, throwing the door open. “Now altogether when I give her the gas. Let ’er go!”
The engine roared, the tourists heaved, shale and gravel flew from under the wheels. But the stone held its place under the push of her tires long enough to lift her on to the firm road again. The tourists wiped their brows and exchanged smokes. Then they departed, after the older men had administered severe and gratuitous advice to the still-paralyzed Gus.
“Now then,” said Don, “in you get, and if you go over twenty miles an hour, I’ll drop you over the edge.”
“I wouldn’t drive another yard with him,” cried Mrs. Muggs, “the mean, useless, good-for-nothing! He was doin’ it to frighten Audrey. Oh, Mr. Proctor, would you be so good as to drive us back to Banff? I’ll never trust Gus behind the wheel again.”
“I will, Mrs. Muggs, if you still don’t think that I have any evil designs against Miss Kent,” replied Don, who saw that Gus was incapable of handling the car.
“I’m sure I’m very sorry for any little thing that may have been said in the heat of the moment,” said the repentant lady. “We are very grateful to you for your help. Will you turn us round and drive back? I’ll never go another foot on this dreadful road.”
“I can’t turn round here, but I’ll drive you on to Lake Moraine, and then we can start back for Banff.”
“We’re going home to-morrow, and how we’ll ever get out of these awful mountains, I don’t know.”
“I’m going back to-morrow, too, and if you wish, I can drive you as far as Cochrane. After that even Gus should be able to stay on the road. But I am sure that Miss Kent would get you home safely.” “I wouldn’t trust anyone but you,” cried Mrs. Muggs.
“Very well, then, I’ll just run my car out of the way. I can come back for it.” “If you’ll let me,” said Audrey, “I’ll drive your car.”
“I do wish you would, Miss Kent. I'll
show you how she goes. She has a few eccentricities that one needs to know.” He installed the girl in Fuzzy and returned to the big car.
THE two cars, the big sedan and the insignificant bug, climbed Cochrane Hill in a haze of level light from the setting sun. At the top, Don stopped and waited for Audrey. He saw the girl’s dark head outlined against the yellow glow, where she sat bare-headed amid the paraphernalia of his camping outfit.
“Gus will drive now,” he told her. “It’s safe enough.”
Audrey went over to the sedan. Don watched her wearily. It was all over now. She would go on with them, and he and Fuzzy would wend their way back to Richvale, to the sugar and gingham, to loneliness and boredom.
“Are you coming with us, Audrey?” asked her aunt.
Audrey did not answer at once, but turned and looked back along the valley out of which they had climbed. Don knew that she was making her decision. Even her dull relatives knew, and Gus turned his face away sulkily, and her aunt watched her with some stirring of the heart. Perhaps, after all, they had not been quite fair to Audrey.
“If you don’t mind, Aunt Jen, I’ll ride on to Calgary with Mr. Proctor. I hate to leave Fuzzy Wuzzy. I’ve become quite attached to her.”
The big car rolled away. Audrey and Don sat down at the edge of the road to give the bug a chance to catch her breath. They sat silently while the gurgling in the radiator died away, and looked at the valley—at the giant steps of its benchlands, at the square blotches of the town’s roofs below, at the river, crystal clear from its mountain birth, as yet unsullied by the clay of the prairies. The whitepeaked mountains rose behind the PuIP'e foothills against a rose and opal sky. The depth below was full of yellow light.
Don was saying: “I don’t want you to go out of my life,” and she ^replied: I
shall never go back to them.”
“But what will you do?” (
“I want to provide for myself. That s why I waited to talk to you. I thought you might know of something that I could do.”
So that was why she had waited, not because of him.
“And what about Gus?”
She made a slight impatient gesture, as one brushes away a fly.
“I know of a job you could have, said Don, after a short silence. “But I don t know whether you will want it. It’s with me.”
“Do you need a girl in your store. 1 used to help uncle, even with his books.
“No,” said Don, looking out over the valley, “I don’t need a girl in my store. But I do need a girl, one girl, in my house, in the home I am going to build. . There is a job for you, Audrey.^ Do you think you would care to take it?”
“Why, of course, I would. Isn t that why I waited here with you?”
“But you said you wanted to ask me where you could find a job.”
“I was hoping all the time that you would give me one with you.” _
Ben Myers, editor and proprietor of the Richvale Record, saw them return as he set type for the belated weekly issue. He glanced at a vacant space in his column of news, Local and Personal, and reached for the telephone. After a moment s conversation with Proctor’s General Store, he hung up, and fumbling through the dusty thatch of his hair until he found a pencil stub, wrote, under the heading of Wedding Bells:
“In Calgary, July 28th, Mr. Donegal Proctor, of Richvale, to ..Miss Audrey Mary Kent, of Saskatoon.
“The Record joins with a host of friends in wishing long life and happiness to Mr. and Mrs. Proctor, who have to-day arrived to take up residence in our midst.”