Fiction

THE Golden Pheasant

Affairs of the heart aren’t usually associated with young professors. Henry had no intention of stealing another man’s girl—or a million dollar mine. Not at first that is—

JAMES CARVER March 15 1950
Fiction

THE Golden Pheasant

Affairs of the heart aren’t usually associated with young professors. Henry had no intention of stealing another man’s girl—or a million dollar mine. Not at first that is—

JAMES CARVER March 15 1950

THE SOUND of the train whistle curved high in the piny air, then dropped shimmering like the heat along the rails and among the big rocks that flanked them. An Indian and his two small sons stirred where they sat in the shade of the station platform under the sign that read: HARDROCK.

In the waiting room restaurant the counterman lifted one of the glass bells and riffled a new deal of wrapped ham sandwiches on an almost empty plate. A slim blond girl said for the third time to the dark young man on the stool next to hers: “I’m not going out with you tonight—or any other night."

She felt a little sorry for him as she said it. Not much, just a little because he had accepted her refusal with slightly arrogant calm. The heavy brackets of his eyebrows raised only slightly, his small good-looking features were composed in patient understanding as he nodded.

“That’s all right, Julie. You’ve been away for a while. Wait until you’ve been back here for a couple of weeks. You’ll be glad to go out with me again.” He paused. “Besides, we used to be pretty fond of each other. Remember?”

Julie Cooper remembered. That had been last summer when she was a girl of nineteen. This year, a woman of twenty, she felt, differently. And it was hard to explain just, as it was hard to convince Bill Dakin.

“Here she comes,” said the counterman as the train’s whistle sounded a nearer, urgent summons.

Julie rose quickly and swept together a pair of dark glasses, a notebook and pencil and her shoulder bag. Bill rose with her, stayed behind at the counter. She went through the screen door to the platform alone.

SHE WAS suddenly grateful to her father for this job of reporting for the Enterprise. If it had done nothing else it had given her another excuse to get away from Bill Dakin.

Meeting the trains was her own idea. Often she caught an interview with a celebrity on the way through. And she had met former university classmates once or twice. They had been on their way through, too.

That was the only thing about Hardrock, aside from Bill Dakin, that she didn’t, like. Now that it was no longer a big busy mining town, everyone went through.

The locomotive thundered past, slamming its noise against the wall of the station and making a dusty dim cavern of the platform. By the time she reached the first sleeping car the porters had swung out the yellow portable steps and the first passengers were walking briskly down the platform. Most of them seemed to be schoolteachers or tourists, with the occasional mining man dressed in the rough livery of his profession giving evidence of his wealth only in the richness of his cigar smoke or the glitter of the rings on his fingers.

She walked to the end of the train and turned. Bill Dakin had apparently taken her rebuff, for he was nowhere to be seen. Nor was there anyone else in sight who looked as though he might be worth a paragraph for the Enterprise. Then Julie stopped. No one except the tall man in that brilliant tweed jacket who was just now getting off the train with his luggage. A jacket like that must surely have burgeoned in Hollywood. She walked quickly after the jacket.

As she passed the jacket she turned to look at its wearer. Over her shoulder her own blue-eyed gaze met a pair of friendly grey eyes behind heavy straight-barred glasses belonging to a tall young man with brown hair and a large assortment of luggage that included a khaki case slung by a strap over his shoulder. She saw all this in the instant before she stumbled. He reached out and steadied her.

Julie flushed.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have stared at you like that but I thought you might have been someone else.”

“And I’m not,” he said. He sounded sorry.

Julie shook her head. “At least I don’t think so.”

“Well, I’m Henry Fowler. Will that do?” he said. He took off his glasses and settled them again in place.

She shook her head.

“I’m afraid not. You see I thought... ” She paused and looked down at the canvas case. “A Geiger counter,” she said.

He hoisted it and they both looked at it. “That’s right,” he said. “How did you know?”

“Oh, I’ve seen a lot of them this year. People have been coming through here by the hundreds all looking for uranium mines. At the newspaper where I work we got a letter the other day from a man who wrote that he only had two weeks’ holiday and could we help him to locate an atom bomb mine because he didn’t have much time to waste.”

“Well, did you tell him?”

Julie laughed. “No one has ever found any of it around Hardrock. There has been a good claim staked at Porterville near here. This used to be a great mining town, though. The Golden Pheasant mine, before it ran out of gold, looked as though it would become one of the biggest producers in Northern Ontario, I guess in all Canada.”

They stopped walking as they reached the station and the parking lot. Henry put down his luggage.

“Well, as a matter of fact, I’m not looking for a mine. I’ll be happy to find a few chunks of ore, pitchblende. It doesn’t even have to be very rich, to help me with some experiments I’m doing."

“Experiments?” said Julie.

“When I’m not being an amateur prospector I’m a professor of physics. At least I will be next year.”

Julie looked over her shoulder to the Enterprise station wagon parked by the platform.

“Could I drive you to the hotel?”

“That’s nice of you.”

THE Hardrock House was a sprawling frame building on the main street. On its broad shady porch three old men tilted back on the hotel chairs.

“That’s what happens to old prospectors,” Julie said as she stopped the car. “They’ll spend the rest of their days in those chairs swapping stories about the big mines that got away. I’d stick with teaching if I were you.” 

“You sound as though you knew a lot about it,” said Henry.

“Sam told me. That’s my father. He knows everything,” she smiled. “And he tells me. You should meet him before you start tramping around looking for uranium among the black flies.” 

“You’ve been very kind, but will you do one more thing for me?”

“What’s that?” asked Julie.

“Have lunch with me here at the hotel. Perhaps you can tell me more about that mine. What was the name of it? It sounds like a good place for me to have a look for some samples.”

Julie hesitated. Then she swung around. “I’d love to have lunch with you.”

She waited in the lobby while Henry accepted a pen from Bill Dakin behind the desk and signed the register. While he went up with his luggage, Julie leaned back against the cool black leather of the worn lobby armchair and waited for Bill to come over and speak to her.

“Friend of yours?” he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders.

“What’s wrong? I like to know who I have to beat. I made up my mind when we were kids that we were going to get married some day, Julie. We will.”

Bill looked sharply away at a freshly combed Henry Fowler descending the stairs, then back at Julie. “What is this guy—a prospector? That was a Geiger counter he had with—”

She rose and swept past him without speaking and joined Henry at the swinging screen door to the dining room.

Shortly after she and Henry were seated, the Dakins, father and son, entered and took a table near the window across the dining room.

Dakin senior gave the impression of being deliberately small, as though through some fundamental parsimony in himself. Even the cigars he customarily smoked, short, wizened Indian rat-tail stogies, looked as though they had been specially designed to harmonize with this smallness. He laid one of these unpleasant-looking cigars on the saucer beside him, Julie saw his son lean across the table to whisper something to him.

She swung her chair around so she wouldn’t see them, even inadvertently, and shook her head as though she could break up the irritation that was building up in her.

“I’m sorry,” she said to Henry as she saw the mild question on his face.

“That’s all right.’’ He offered her a cigarette. “Tell me more about this mine.”

“Well, it’s just at the end of the street. You can walk there very easily. Only... ” She paused. “Only I wouldn’t talk about what you’re doing.” She straightened up and spoke louder. “In a small town everyone seems to make your business their own. Hardrock is no worse than most small towns. But it’s no better that way either.

Henry grinned. “I’ve got nothing to hide. I’m not going to make bombs with this stuff. I want it for a long dull experiment.”

“Just the same... " Julie began and then stopped. It was none of her business, after all, what he did and whom he talked with.

WHEN Henry walked to the car with her after lunch, Bill Dakin strolled in their wake, pausing well within earshot to lean against the veranda railing. Julie looked angrily at him. Well, she would give him something to listen to. She turned and faced Henry.

“I’ll call for you at six tonight. We’ll drive out to our place at the lake and have supper with my father and mother. Hardrock hasn’t any more gold but it’s a wonderful place for camping. The Enterprise office is right across the street. Anything I can do to help you... ”

“You are very kind,” said Henry showing no surprise. “I think I’ll see what I can find this afternoon. But, I’ll be back here at six waiting for you.” 

Looking in the rear-view mirror as she drove the short distance across the street and parked, Julie could see Bill Dakin slouch into the hotel after Henry.

HENRY was waiting for her on the hotel porch, talking to the two old-timers who had squatters’ rights along the rail on the right side. He walked to the car and held out his hands. They were nicked and scratched; his face was red from the afternoon in the sun. 

“I’m a prospector—see,” he said. 

“Find anything?” asked Julie as he climbed in.

“Nothing I can use.”

“That’s too bad. Maybe my father can help you. He knows the man who made the find at Porterville. Wrote a story about it for the Enterprise just last week.”

Out of the town and on the winding highway that had been slashed through the bush and the rock, Julie glanced at Henry.

“I want to thank you, Professor, for accepting my invitation at noon about coming out here like this and... ” 

“Oh, that’s all right,” said Henry. 

“Of course, you know you’re being used, don’t you?” said Julie.

“Like a pawn,” said Henry. 

“Exactly. It’s all very silly but I was angry and well—thanks again.”

They were silent for half a mile. Henry spoke again.

“Bill Dakin came out to see me at the mine this afternoon.”

The car swerved as Julie jerked her head round to him. Henry reached over and steadied the wheel with one hand. “Take it easy.”

“But the nerve! You didn’t tell him anything did you?”

Henry shrugged. “What was there to tell him? He came along when I was working over a pile of tailings near the old mill on the mine property. He was right beside me before I knew he was there. I was wearing the headset of the Geiger counter and I didn’t hear him come up. He pointed to the Geiger counter,” Henry explained, then went on to describe the meeting in more detail.

"YOU a prospector?” Bill had said to him.

Henry had eased the Geiger counter off his shoulder by the strap that supported it. “Fifteen pounds can get pretty heavy,” he said. “No, I’m no prospector. I’m a physicist looking for some samples of pitchblende to use in some experiments. Of course if I find a lot of the stuff I might suddenly become a prospector.”

Dakin’s gaze was riveted on the canvas box containing the Geiger counter.

“Like here, for instance,” he said. 

Henry blew a plume of smoke into the soft air and shook his head.

“Not here, I’m afraid. At least there’s no indication of it. I’ve just worked over this refuse. I haven’t been underground yet. But this would give you some action if there were a lot of stuff around,” he said.

“Mind if I listen on that thing?” asked Dakin.

“Go ahead,” said Henry. “Ever worked one?”

“A little,” said the other slinging the box over his shoulder. He turned on the counter and walked a few paces. He stopped and looked back at Henry.

“It sounds pretty busy to me,” he said.

“Oh that. Just granite with a high content of potassium. Makes the box jump like a bebop band but it doesn’t mean a thing. There’s no uranium in them hills, pardner.”

Dakin had walked on slowly and then had retraced his steps, looking at Henry as he approached.

“It’s really jumping.”

“Doesn’t mean a thing. Not a thing,” Henry had said.

AS HENRY finished telling Julie, the car came to the end of a rutted bush trail. They stopped behind a log cabin.

“He didn’t seem to believe me,” said Henry as he turned to Julie. “He also seemed a little put out that I was coming out here tonight.”

Julie opened the door of the car.

“Up to now I merely disliked Bill Dakin. Now, I loathe him,” she said firmly.

“That’s not a very nice thing to say, Julie,” said the big grey-haired man who had approached the car from the backdoor of the cabin.

“I don’t care whether it’s nice or not, Dad. I meant it,” said Julie. She introduced Henry. They went into the cabin through the kitchen, where they stopped to speak to Julie’s mother, then out to the broad screened-in veranda overlooking the small lake.

“I’ve got Mr. Fowler all mixed up in my running battle with unspeakable Bill Dakin,” Julie told her father. She told him about the meeting at the Golden Pheasant.

“He was just interested, that’s all,” said Henry.

“That isn’t all,” said Julie. “The Dakins stole the mine once and if they thought there was anything in it for them they’d steal it back.”

“Now Julie... ” said her father.

“Dad insists on finding good in everyone. Even Dakins,” said Julie. “You tell Mr. Fowler about the Golden Pheasant. I’m going to help in the kitchen.”

Sam looked across the lake for a moment before he began to speak. “It’s got quite a history. The property was prospected by an old fellow, a friend of mine, called Jimmy Wilson, a real old bush rat. It was his first real strike and when he didn’t have the money to develop it he got some help from Dakin—that’s T. J.”

“Bill’s father?”

“That’s him. They worked along together as partners for about ten years and they took a lot of money out of the ground. T. J. built the Hardrock House, invested in a lot of other properties and today I guess he’s worth plenty,” said Sam Cooper.

“Your daughter said they ran out of gold,” said Henry.

Sam nodded. “That’s where Old Jimmy lost his shirt. T. J. sold out to him just before they lost the vein. Jimmy spent every cent he had trying to pick it up again. When he was broke, and still hadn’t found it, he pulled out. Toronto.”

“Dakin was lucky to get out when he did,” said Henry.

It was a long moment before Sam spoke. “That’s right. He was lucky.”

Julie was back standing in the doorway. “You left out the part about how Dakin withheld an engineer’s report which said the mine was just about finished. He sold out to your pal Jimmy before the report was disclosed.”

“That was never proved, Julie,” said Sam. He turned to Henry. “If you want some samples of pitchblende for your experiment, I can give you some. They gave me a sack of the stuff over at Porterville the other day. I wanted a picture of it. I also wanted to have a look at it. After all if this is going to be the atomic age I’d like to see what it’s made of.”

“Well, thanks Mr. Cooper,” said Henry. “It’s a little like stopping in at the meat market to get something for dinner on the way home from fishing though, isn’t it?”

“Speaking of dinner, gentlemen... ” said Julie.

JULIE drove Henry back to the hotel later that night. The headlights cut a path through the crouching shadows of the big rocks around which the road swung. For several minutes, after Julie had stopped the car before the hotel, they sat and talked.

“Now that I have my pitchblende,” said Henry nodding in the direction of the trunk. “I think I should take a holiday. I’m going to rent a car—I should have done it today so you wouldn’t have to drive me in—and have a look at some of the country. For instance, I want to go to Falcon Inn for dinner, tomorrow night and I want you to go with me, Julie.”

“You don’t have to feel... "Julie began.

Henry said, smiling, “You’ll have dinner with me tomorrow, won’t you?” Through the window of the brightly lit lobby, Julie could see Bill Dakin at the desk. She saw him rise and walk to the screen door. He stood there looking out toward the car. Her mind was made up.

“I’d love to. And if you like fishing Sam has shown me some of the best streams in the country.”

Henry flicked a glance at the screen door and Bill Dakin. His smile had become a grin now, thought Julie, He’s laughing at me.

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at the office,” said Henry. “I have an idea it’s going to take me some time to see all I want to—of Hardrock.”

He went to the back of the car and picked up the sack of ore and walked up the hotel steps. Julie saw Bill step forward and say something to him as he entered.

THE next night as they drove out to the lodge for dinner, Henry told Julie that Bill had asked him what was in the sack.

“What did you say?” asked Julie. Bill Dakin was jealous, he was angry. Knowing him as she did, she had no doubt that in this mood he would like to hurt.

“I told him, of course,” said Henry. “What else?” he looked at her. “Are you afraid of this fellow?”

Julie nodded.

“Well, I think I’d do a little hating myself if you were my girl and someone else was going out with you,” said Henry.

“He’ll try to hurt,” said Julie.

“I don’t see what he can do to me. Relax."

She relaxed but not completely. In the week that followed the fear that Bill was plotting against Henry plucked insistently at her consciousness. But there were other times during the week when it was easy to forget. There were times when she and Henry were fishing or dancing at one of the nearby lodges or just sitting on the porch of the Cooper cottage in the purple dusk, listening to Sam tell stories of the early days.

Henry planned to take the train Sunday noon. It was time to go back to university, he said. He had asked Julie to dine with him on the Saturday, and she was cleaning up some work at the office early that afternoon when he walked across the street from the hotel.

“Julie,” he said. “You were right. Something is happening. Take a look at this.” He held out a telegram.

Julie took it from his hand. It was addressed to “Henry Baker, Acme Mining Corporation, Hardrock House, Hardrock, Ont.”

“Henry,” she said. “Are you...?” 

“No, I’m not,” he said. “Read the rest of it.”

Julie read aloud: “On basis your excellent report Golden Pheasant pitchblende showing have decided to ask James Wilson for option. Unable to get his address here. Can you supply soonest—Palmer.”

She looked up.

“Henry, what does this mean? Is there uranium ore in the Golden Pheasant?”

“Of course not. I didn’t make any report. As far as I know the mine is no more radioactive than the number nine on an alarm clock. What do you suppose this means, Julie?”

“It probably means the Dakins are in it somewhere. And here’s the answer crossing the street now,” said Julie.

Bill Dakin’s air was jaunty as he walked into the office. He nodded to Henry.

“Want a scoop, Julie? The Dakins are back in the mining business. We’ve bought the Golden Pheasant back from Wilson. Closed the deal just a few minutes ago by wire. I hurried over to let you know,” he said grinning.

Julie looked at Henry without speaking. He took off his glasses and looked at Bill and then replaced them and peered closer.

“What did you pay for it?” he asked. “That’s if you don’t mind if I ask a few rude questions for a change.”

Dakin’s grin was immense. “Just what we sold it to him for. Why, would Acme have paid more, Mr. Baker?”

“So you figured it all out by yourself,” said Henry. He looked at the wire in Julie’s hand. “You must have seen this wire.”

“Sure. You had to be Baker. Who else. You almost had me fooled, with your talk about university experiments. I almost believed you when you said there was nothing in the old Golden Pheasant. Shouldn’t leave samples lying around your room, Baker. I had some of that stuff assayed yesterday and the Golden Pheasant is as hot as a pistol. That ore will run $30 to the ton. This is the biggest thing since the Eldorado mine was discovered.”

“But that ore didn’t come from the mine, Dakin,” said Henry patiently.

“I almost believed that one, too. That is until your firm sent you that wire yesterday. What if I did take a peek at it. You’ve got to be fast on your feet in this business, Baker. A little faster and a little smarter than you’ve been. The whole deal is sewed up, Mac. You can tell them back in Toronto that you missed by a mile. Perhaps if you had attended to business a little closer and hadn’t spent so much time stealing other men’s girls you would have done better,” said Bill. The look of triumph in his dark face was clouded over with anger now.

Henry took off his glasses and folded them carefully and put them on the counter.

“We don’t like guys who steal mines and girls up here, Baker,” Bill added.

“Dakin,” said Henry, “I am baffled by all this. However, one thing is clear. I am extremely fond of Julie and I must register my disapproval of that last remark.”

Julie gasped as Henry registered his disapproval—a fine short right disapproval that ended on Bill Dakin’s chin. Dakin sagged into a loose V and would have gone through the plate-glass door if Sam Cooper hadn’t opened it at that moment. Dakin landed on the sidewalk and roughly on the point of the V.

“Henry,” gasped Julie. “Are you all right?”

“I’d say he was just about perfect. That was a nice punch for a physicist,” said Sam.

Henry replaced his glasses. “I’m not sure whether or not the remark justified such drastic action but it was something I have been wanting to do ever since I came to Hardrock.”

“Here comes T. J.,” said Julie. The elder Dakin was scampering across the street to his son.

“Maybe he’s found out,” said Sam.

“Found out what?” asked Henry.

“Well, you see,” said Sam. “The Dakins have been taken for a ride.”

“With the help of a guy called Baker and the Dakins themselves,” said Henry.

“That’s right. Except there isn’t anyone called Baker. Jimmy—that’s Jimmy Wilson—was gambling on the Dakins being slightly crooked—”

“Sam,” said Julie. “How much did you have to do with this?”

“All I did was tell Jimmy that Henry was going to look for uranium in the mine. I telephoned him the other night and he said sure he could do anything he wanted to the mine, it wasn’t any good anyway. Then he said he had an idea. I told him I didn’t want to hear it,” said Sam.

“Jimmy rigged this whole thing to get his money back from the Dakins, then,” said Henry. “He let them think that I was a mining man. He even sent that wire to an imaginary Baker hoping they would think I was here under an assumed name.” He turned to Julie. “That makes me... What does that make me?”

Julie laughed.

“I’ve been used,” said Henry.

“Like a pawn,” said Julie.

“Like a pawn,” said Henry.

Sam coughed. “I’m going up the street to the barber shop,” he said. “Why don’t you close the office, Julie? And well, why don’t you just close the office.”

When he was gone Henry closed the door and pulled down the blinds. First the little one on the door which read “Closed” to anyone on the street and then the big one over the window which said in big gold letters what a fine newspaper the Enterprise was.

Then Henry picked up his glasses and adjusted them deliberately before he walked around the counter to where Julie was waiting and wondering when he was going to stop fiddling with the blinds and those glasses.