Time and Chance: A Tale of the North
A. C. ALLENSON
the battle bread t lie f understandmg, nor yeti fa or to men of happend h tn IX.. H.
HE came up out of the wilderness like a victorious king from the field of battle. At the edge of the woods he stood, like Moses on Pisgah, and surveyed a land fairer than Canaan. The blazing autumnal glory of it no artist mind ever conceived. No canvas ever knew the brilliance of its bewildering riot of color, unimaginable shades of green, opulent, golden magnificence, blood-red crimsons, superbly massed in infinite variety of hue. The blue lake in the bosom of the hills mirrored the splendors of the setting sun. To Falconer it seemed that the world wore its most glorious apparel to give him welcome.
The man struck no discord in the vast harmony. Still in the twenties, tall, broad-shouldered, clean-hipped, longlimbed. Crisp, curling brown hair showed under the muntily pushed back Stetson. Bronzed, good-looking face with square chin and blue eyes. The amiable mouth gave the impression of an easy-going disposition that, despite the good chin, might prove weakness in a close moral pinch. It was the face of a man, good at need, against the world, who would find his most dangerous enemy to be himself. Thus he stood, in contemplation, then passed on to the village in the cleft of the hills. At the hotel he registered and secured a room. By the time he had finished supper the town knew that Dick Falconer was in from the hills.
He was not a native, but Silverton had been for many years his prospecting headquarters, and received no better-liked man. There had been a time when drink threatened his overthrow, but he had mastered it. A girl, Agnes Mantón, entered his life, and the periodic carouses ended. To-night he drank nothing, was unusually reticent, and when the room at the back of the bar settled down for a cheerful night, he disappeared. The disappointed company laughed, and heads were shaken. A man is young but once.
RDINARILY Mr. Mantón closed the W store at nine on Saturdays. To-night
the hour was ten, but he waited. He was a tall, lean-faced man in the late prime of life, with strong hooked nose and tight-drawn lips; a rather noticeable face of ascetic type, marred at times by a hawklike keenness of look. The drapery department was already in darkness and shrouded in dust cloths. A single light remained over the desk and in its shaded rays the powerful face would have been worthy the brush of a Rembrandt. He lived, a widower, with his daughter, above the shop.
Twice he went to the door to look up the street, returning to the desk and waiting. A patient man, long-viewed, deliberate, was Mantón. A natural money-maker, shrewd in winning, like a steel trap in holding. Men said he was worse since his wife died. His daughter had been away at school for some years, and loneliness had not improved him. Neighbors wondered at the money he spent on his daughter, he, a country grocer, sending her to an expensive city boarding-school. He would make her dissatisfied with her position.
But he viewed it otherwise. The store was not to be his last word in ambition. Other men in Silverton had made their hundreds of thousands, one or two their millions, from the ground. The country around was minerally rich, and strikes had been made by “lucky men” as they were called. Mantón did not so regard them. He read his Bible and be’ieved that “Time and Chance happeneth to all.” He he'd that neither luck, nor lack of materials, makes the failure, but lack in the man. One day chance would enter the store. So he waited and watched, as this night, for the golden hour of life to come.
There was a step outside, and he looked up as Falconer entered. Then he put down his pen.
“Glad to see you, Dick,” he said. “I heard you were in town.”
The rapacious look vanished in the smile. Falconer liked him, Mantón had always treated him well. Sometimes the Camp account ran up steeply, but the grocer never balked or nagged. He was a fine 'udge of men and backed his judgment. If it said a man was worthless, he could not get credit for a box of matches. Mantón could say “Yes” or “No” with equal facility. And such a man makes money.
“Came in this evening,” replied Dick. “I wanted to ask you to have the account made out. Guess it’s a long one. You’ve treated me mighty white, Mr. Mantón.”
“That’s how I treat white men,” replied the other. “You stand A.l here as you know. I’ll lock up, then we’ll go upstairs for a talk. I’m alone tonight. Agnes is in the city visiting for a few days.”
A cloud crossed the pleasant face of the young man.
THEY went upstairs, the big woodsman, unused to houses, treading the stairs gingerly. It was Agnes Manton’s home. He felt clumsy and noisy.
“You’ll have something to eat?” asked the host.
“Just had supper. Thanks all the same,” replied Falconer.
“Light up then.” And he passed the cigars. “How are things?”
“Looking pretty good,” said Dick, taking a cigar. “I’m glad of it,” said the other heartily. “You’ve worked for it these many
“Seven,” nodded the visitor. “I’ve been tempted to quit often, but I felt I was on the right track. You know how it is. When snow begins to fly and you’ve nothing to show, you feel l.ke giving up, but when spring rounds again the old call comes and you’re bound to go back.”
“And one of these days you’ll land it,” said Mantón with conviction. “Work like yours wins in the end.”
The cordial sympathy was not without its effect on the young man. He had lived a lonely life and in some ways knew little of men. In camp they were good or bad, black or white. He was not accustomed to the subtle, neutral tints of civilization. He wanted to talk to this friendly, solid man, so different from the ordinary acquaintance. The temptation was irresistible.
“I guess I have landed it this time,” he said.
“I’m gladder than you can think,” said Mantón, stretching out his hand.
Dick was proud. For this man was the father of Agnes.
“You’ve earned it, whatever you’ve won. Agnes will be glad, too.” The youngster’s face flushed, his eyes sparkled with pleasure.
At the moment a footfall was heard in the street.
“Someone at the door,” said Mantón. “I’ll run down. Have a-look at the paper till I get back.”
T T E went downstairs, switched on the A A light, opened the door, then shut it noisily, and stood in the middle of the floor with head bent, deep in thought. Outwardly calm, his face set as marble, he fought the sudden battle with great temptation. The man above had news, great news, he believed. Mantón could read him like a book, and there had been rumors from the hill country for some time. He knew Falconer’s mighty weakness, drink. Back and forth raged the battle. That which was finer in the man spoke, but the clamoring, insistent voice shouted it down. The man above was a weakling, he had won small successes before to fritter them away. To himself this might be the long-sought avenue of escape from the bondage of the narrow life. Competition is war, and the rules of war rest on expediency. He switched off the light and went upstairs.
“No one there,” he said. “We’ll make ourselves comfortable.”
He brought whiskey and gin from the cupboard.
“We’ll drink to prosperity,” he said, handing the bumper glass to Dick, and raising his own.
“To prosperity,” echoed the young man. draining the glass neat. The fire ran
through his veins, scorching, glowing, genial. The walls of resolution were down. What did it matter with Agnes’ father? For hours he drank and talked, the potent spirit stilling the last whispers of prudence.
It was dawn of Sunday morning when the head at last sank on the drunken man's breast, and he slept. Mantón knew every detail of his secret, but as he looked on the young man, he felt like one who has murdered, and robbed the slain. He despised himself, and in the rose dawn of the holy day, swore he would not profit by this unholy thing. Then a great wave of exultation swept over him, drowning the voice of conscience. The race is to the swift, and the battle to the strong, Scripture notwithstanding.
"l^THEN Falconer recovered from the ’ ' week’s bout, and learned what had happened, he went straight from his interview with the former owners of the property he had worked upon, to Manton’s store. The drink he had taken had stimulated the fury of his wrath. Straight from the train he went, with no plan in mind other than the determination to avenge himself on the crafty thief. He peered through the lighted window, crept into the dark yard at the back, but did not find the man he sought. There were lights upstairs; there he would find him, where the wrong had been done. He walked to the side door, knocked, and waited for the heavy, deliberate tread. Then he started back. A light foot ran swiftly down the stairs, the door opened and in the lamp’s radiance stood Agnes Mantón.
One cannot live in a village without hearing the gossip that drips and passes for news. The vague story of some new luck of Falconer’s and the drinking carouse with which he was celebrating it had reached her when she came home a few days before. There had been a time not very far distant when the big, good looking miner had been one of her friends and heroes. His cheery acceptance of Fortune’s rebuffs, his sturdy, fighting optimism, and resolute return to attack, seemed worthy of his outer man’s promise. He had a bright comradely frankness that is to women one of the most attractive forms of flattery. Something of his earlier habits she had known, and esteemed him the more for victory wherein so many fail. Latterly, owing to her absence from home, she had seen him rarely.
She was a tall, winsome girl of twentyone, a true daughter of the Northland. One saw in her the sparkle and glow of the Northern sunlight, the strength and beauty of its hills, the fresh vigor of its airs. There was nothing of the exotic beauty, destined to be man’s idol, plaything, or servant, in Agnes Mantón. Nature meant her to be the matched mate of manhood’s best. In the grace of her lithe form, the frank honest eyes, the bright imperiousness of her smile, one discerned the reflection of a strong, fine soul.
The girl was proud of her father, his mental grip, far-visioned ambition, success. His meaner side she had not seen. In comparison with his strong virtues and self-mastery the young woodsman now appeared to greatest disadvantage. She had meant to be severe with him, but, when she saw him, a feeling of tenderness came over her. He had few friends and no home. She began to frame excuses for him, the lone wilderness, hard work, and then the village with its circle to whom every event of life is excuse for drinking.
“Why, Dick, I am glad you’ve come,” she said, extending her hand. “Father is away, but won’t you come in?”
He looked up at her as he took her hand. Of course she didn’t know.
“Sorry I can’t, Agnes,” he replied. “I’m pulling out to-night, but I’m glad I didn’t miss you. It’s good to see you again.” She laughed and flushed a little under his frank eyes.
“Next time you come down, please remember you have friends here,” she said. “You seem to have forgotten us. Father will be sorry to have missed you.”
“I saw him the night I came down,” he replied. “You were away.”
“I did not know,” she answered. “They tell me you had luck in the woods. No one is better pleased than we are, Dick.”
“Oh ! people talk,” he smiled quietly. “I seem to get near it, and just miss it. Remember the sick man in Scripture and the troubled pool? Somebody always stepped in before him, or shoved him
“I never thought of you, Dick, as one to be shoved aside easily,” she said. “I am very sorry, though. I hoped you had struck it. But won’t you come in?”
“No, I must be going. Good-night, Agnes,” he said. “And—Agnes.”
“Yes,” she responded.
“Tell your father I called, and—well, never mind that,” he added absently. “Would you mind giving me that ribbon from your hair, Agnes, just for remembrance, and better luck, and old times?” The color deepened in her face. Then she laughed in her bright, musical way, as she unfastened the ribbon and gave it to him.
“Goodbye, Agnes,” he said, lingering a moment over her hand.
“Goodbye, Dick, and the best of good luck,” she replied.
He went off along the street. From an upper window she watched him, and hated the hotel and its crowd, and the drink, the everlasting drink, that breaks some of the finest among men, and yet retains its lying glamor of manliness. That night, though, Falconer touched no liquor.
TV/TANTON was no coward, but he hoped the disappearance of Falconer was final. As his daughter told of the miner’s visit, he was able to fathom its purpose, and the unconscious counterbalancing influence of Agnes.
“I understood that Dick had made a strike, father,” she said.
“So it was reported,” he replied. “Miner’s optimism, my dear, one of the most wonderful things in life.”
“He said he called here the night he came down,” she continued.
“Yes. I kept him here all night.” There was meaning in his words that she understood ; and she thought less gently of Dick for some time.
Falconer, however, did not stay away. He came back to be the living ghost of a slain man, to haunt Manton’s life. They often met, but never, drunk or sober, did the miner speak of the work of that evil night. Sometimes Mantón wished he would, that he might ease his conscience by the balm of his own advocacy. At first Agnes was puzzled by the fact that Dick never came to the house; and then she learned the manner of his life, and understood.
r I 'HE woods in which so large a portion of Falconer’s later life had been spent were now shorn away, and the work on the pits began. Presently Manton’s store was sold, and a house built on the hillside, near the mines, overlooking the wooded vale and lake. Dick often rambled through the woods, that, unobserved, he might see the place. There were now no more prospecting trips. Spring came, lake and river burst into song, the birds came back, the arbutus flowered in the vale, but the call fell unheeded on the dull ears of Falconer. Nowhere is the descensus Avemi swifter than in the small mining town. A bookless place, where are few outer resources for the man who lacks the inner ones. The one place of amusement, light, warmth, social life, is the bar-room—a steep, polished slide for the slipping man.
Dick was too valuable a man to be overlooked in a mining settlement. He was reputed to know underground within a radius of twenty miles better than some men know the landscape. He became pit boss for the biggest mine operating in the vicinity. He had never been to college or mining school, but he had the knack of things and, when a tough, practical problem had to be tackled, Falconer was fetched. He could get twice as much work out of a gang as any other boss, and that without the roaring, cursing methods of the typical gang-driver. He understood all men except himself, and could manage all others. The men most difficult to handle, the Slav, Hungarian, Italian, with their racial jealousies, idolized him. His weaknesses made him seem more human. He remembered they were men and not beasts; and there was no calculation or self interest in his kindness. When faction fights broke out, and police and priest were alike powerless to still the storm, the cry for Dick went up, and he could still the fiercest raging in his fearless fashion, that was afraid of neither knife nor bullet. In the pits he was lord. Outside, his wages went in drink. Men liked and pitied him. There were good women who sorrowed over him.
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SHE came along the road through the woods. The hot August sun beat fiercely on the hillside. The lake lay at her feet, a mirror of beaten silver. Falconer lay outstretched in the grass at the edge of the wood. His flushed face and heavy breathing told her he was sleeping off a drinking bout. The noonday sun beat on his unshaded face. The terrier at his side looked up at her, pathetic appeal in his eyes, as if he knew the shame of his master, but loved him in his degradation. The scene shocked and disgusted every fine, clean instinct of the girl’s nature. She was about to pass but she must 9top to shade his face.
“Dick!” she called.
His eyes opened. He sprang to his feet, sobered, shamed, and stood before her. Great resentment and greater pity stirred her breast.
“Believe I fell asleep. I was tired and hot,” he began weakly.
“We never see you now, Dick. Have you forgotten old friends?” she asked. The man’s shamedness dispelled her anger.
“Friends!” he repeated. “We travel opposite ways. You on the upward path; I’m going the other way. You know it well enough, Agnes.”
“Once, Dick, I never thought of you but as a man, strong, great-hearted, always facing the uphill trail,” she replied. “I remember when you laughed at failure. All you talked about was the next fight.” “That was in the old life,” he said. “That’s dead and gone. The best get the knock-out sooner or later, and what’s the use of this fighting and working to be a bit finer and more powerful than the average? I envy no one. I don’t think I hate anyone now. What I wanted I failed to get, like lots more. There’s got to be a big number of blanks and few prizes in the lottery. It’s no use looking scornful, Agnes.” And he laughed a little after his old fashion.
“I wanted, money and success,” he continued, “because I wanted you, and they would be a stepping stone to you. What did I care for money to hoard and save? I’d as soon hoard rocks. But I wanted to win you.”
“And you thought money would buy me?” she asked.
“You know my thought of you better than that,” he said. “A man can’t ask a woman to share a prospector’s tent. He wants to win for her, whether she wants it or not. Agnes, I went to your house that first night after I 9truck it—I mean after I thought I struck it, to put it into your hands and ask if you’d take it, and not mind me thrown in. You were away. Guess if you’d been home that night I wouldn’t have been like this, but, do you know I was drunk in your house? Think of it, drunk in your house. I remember your father talking to me, then he went
downstairs, and afterwards I took a lot to drink, and that was the start of the finish. You see how the luck goes. The day before you’d gone away, a day or two after you came back, and just that bit of chance made all the difference between my being a man, and a winner maybe, and what I am now.” And be spread his hands with a gesture of helplessness that stabbed her to the heart.
“I’m not saying this to stir your pity, or ask you to tackle the job of reforming me,” he continued. “If you’d say ‘Yes’ now to the question I meant to ask that night I wouldn’t put it. I’m still man enough for that.The man that wins you has got to come clean. I’ve no use for the woman who thinks she can take a man tied to a whiskey bottle and reform him, and I’ve less use for the coward who’ll let her try. Doesn’t it seem strange, Agnes, I want ydu so much that every little nerve and fibre of me tingles and cries out for you, and yet I’d kill myself, I believe, before I’d wrong you by asking you to take me, just as I’d kill any other man who’d wronged you?”
'T'HE heart of the girl thrilled, not so much with the love that throbbed through the speech, and the quiet intensity of it, but because of the realization that the man was far from beaten yet.
“I used to believe you a man who couldn’t be beaten, Dick,” she answered. “It isn’t the defeat, the disappointment that matters. It is the being content to be beaten. Oh, Dick, I’ve watched it all, and I’d give everything I have to see you stand where you once stood, beaten or winner. I hate to see you a broken, cowed man. If you had just gone down in the fight that would matter little, but to see you afraid, a quitter! It hurts, Dick.”
He stared at her in frowning amazement. That view had never occurred to
“I hate this whimpering about the downward path!” she cried, with a stamp of her foot, scorn in her eyes. “I hate to see you afraid to meet your friends. I hate to think the drink is more powerful than we are. Dick, I’m jealous of the drink, that means more to you than I am. But I don’t believe, I won’t believe, the man I used to know has turned coward and shirker.”
She had not meant to say so much, but her feeling had mastered her She turned abruptly and walked away. For some moments he stood and watched her. Then he took a long, deep breath. Something stirred within his breast, an echo from the old life sounded in his ears. His strong figure whipped upright, shoulders squared. He turned from the path and plunged into the woods, away from Silverton. None knew how or where he had gone. A card came later to his employers from a distant town saying he had quit. There was sorrow in many a laborer’s cottage for the loss of the big white boss, but in one home great gladness and hope. Agnes knew that the man’s face was set again to the uphill trail.
IT came to Agnes Mantón as a grievous shock to find her estimate of her father not that of many in their new world. She was observant, and in her growing intimacy with his business affairs, she came across many things that did not accord with her own ideas of strict right and wrong. That he had always been strict in business matters she had known, but she found him unscrupulous in the use of his new power. He paid the lowest wages, drove bargains she considered unrighteous with men’s necessities, was relentless in his demands, and ruthless in enforcing them. This came home to her one day with especial force. There was a small farmer named Danford whose land bordered the Mantón holdings. Her father wished to buy him out, but the owner did not want to sell, hoping that presently he would be able to follow the example of his neighbors and build fortune on the land that was believed to be rich. The man was land poor, and the property mortgaged. Mantón bought the mortgage, demanded payment, and shortly afterwards began foreclosure proceedings. The evening the papers were served. Danford came to the big house in furious wrath. The two men were closeted for some time in Manton’s home office. The farmer was a blunt, loud-voiced man, and Agnes could hear him plainly.
“Guess you think you can handle me like you did Dick Falconer,” he shouted. Agnes lifted her head and listened now. She could hear her father trying to calm the angry man.
“You are making yourself rich on the toil and sweat of other men, trampling under your feet the weak and crippled,” the visitor said. “These mines you are working were located by Falconer. Year after year he labored in heat and cold, and he found the stuff, and you robbed him. Ho came to your house as a friend, and you made him drunk, forced the whiskey on him. knowing his weakness. He thought the sun rose and set by you. He wouldn’t take a drop at the hotel, but he believed he was safe with you. He thought your daughter the grandest thing the world held. I’m saying nothing against her, for she’s not like you. That Saturday night and Sunday morning you made the boy whiskey crazy and pumped his secret out of him. He was working on an expired option which he had neglected to renew. He showed you his papers, and you went and bought the property over his head, and ruined him, body and soul. You robbed him of what he’d won by work, stole his self-respect, and manhood, and broke him. Damn you! You killed the soul of as fine and square a boy as this country ever knew. And you think you can do the same with me and mine. Remember, Mantón, I’m not Falconer. I’ll fight you back not only with law, which is a poor thing in a case like this, but without law. Watch yourself, George Man-
“You mean to threaten me?” asked the
“You bet I do,” replied Danford. “I’ve got a houseful of children at home, and a wife I’d like to see in silks and a fine place
like this. Just you get in the way of that dream of mine and I’ll be my own law. I know I owe you money legally. I’ll pay my interest, and every cent of that mortgage, but don’t try to crowd me, that’s all.”
A GNES sat white, and in anguish, as she listened to the disclosure . She heard the angry man stamp away, banging the door as final defiance. Then she hastened to her room. She could not look upon her father this night.
The next morning at breakfast he mentioned Danford’s visit. He was anxious to ascertain whether she had heard him.
“Yes, I think I heard every word. Did he speak the truth, father?” she asked.
“Truth and its deductions are different things,” he replied. “If you mean, have I bought the mortgage on his place, I may say I have. It was an excellent investment, but I do not intend to proceed with foreclosure. It was a move to see if he could be brought to the selling point.” “And the terrible things about Dick Falconer?” she asked. “Were they true, father?”
“You don’t understand these things, Agnes,” he said. “There are tactics in business that might not pass the scrutiny of the moralist. What may seem wrong to the college professor or clergyman may be expedient in everyday business. Falconer undoubtedly made some discoveries on this property, but you know what he is. Had I not profited by the knowledge he would probably have told it to the gang at the hotel.”
“But he said you made Dick drunk, father,” she cried “Set the trap for his feet, spread the net for him. What have you done to the man I loved?” She rose and faced her father.
“You are exciting yourself unnecessarily, Agnes. And please do not join your name to that of the former town drunkard,” he answered.
“If I knew where I could find him, and if he would have me, your daughter, I muid marry him to-day!” she cried. “Are you not going to make restitution?”
“I am afraid they taught you duty to parents very badly at college. I do not propose to discuss the matter further.” And he rose and left the house.
A FTER Agnes left her father’s home and began her hospital training, the luck of the mine seemed to change. Early promise, to a great extent, failed. Beginning with a rush of prosperity, there came a gradual slowing up. Men were saying that Falconer’s Find, as it was called, was a flash in the pan, a pocket discovery. Others shook their heads ominously, for there is a strong Celtic strain in the hills, that studies signs, omens, portents, and believes in good and bad luck. “It came ill and will go ill,” they said.
Mantón was not the man to put faith in omens or maxims. He spent much money in exploring the property, but without success. The absence of Agnes he felt at first keenly, but she had absolutely refused to remain and enjoy what she considered ill-gotten gains. Now and
again she visited him, but preferred to earn her own living.
There had been times when he almost decided to push Danford to the wall, but at the decisive moment the lawlessness of the man’s defiance made him stop. There are risks the bravest do not take lightly. It was in the midst of these debates with himself that he received a visit from the farmer.
“I called to say that I’d be obliged if you’ll step into the notary’s office in the morning at ten,” he said. “I want to clear up that mortgage.”
“I’ll be there,” answered Mantón, but with a feeling of irreparable loss that he could not explain to himself. “You’ve been able to get round to it quicker than you expected.”
“Ye9, farming’s pretty good these days,” said Danford amiably.
Next morning they finished their business quickly, and stopped to chat a moment.
“They tell me Dick Falconer’s back,” said the notary, the genial village gossipvendor. “Dropped off the mail this morning, looking fit as a fiddle. Finished the booze fight, they say. Hasn’t touched a drop these four years.
“Are you ready yet to consider an offer for your place?” asked Mr. Mantón of the farmer.
“It would have to be a mighty big one. and I’d have to talk it over with Dick,” the other replied.
“Dick?” echoed Mantón. The other nodded.
“He’s been with me these last few months prospecting on my land,” explained Danford.
SHE came down the trail through the woods again. After the long hospital year the world seemed fairyland, the air sweet and clear, the woods deliciously fragrant. She seemed taller, and slighter, her face paler than formerly. For four years she had heard nothing of Dick. Other men had sought her, but she was wedded to work and memories. She rambled down the path to the spot where she had last seen him. There was a rustle in the grass, and she looked up startled. The man of her dreams stood before her, big, handsome, clear-eyed, with a new fineness and power in his face.
“I knew you’d come,” he said. “I sent out a wireless half an hour back. God!” he went on reverently, “what a wonderful girl you are! I didn’t know you were so beautiful. Remember the time we stood here, when I was down, and too big a coward to get up?”
She nodded, her face radiant, and spring-time in her heart.
“They say they never come back. Agnes, but they do,” he went on. “I’m a winner, honey, so far. I’ve beaten the mine luck, I’ve beaten the whiskey. I’m a man again, and I wonder if I’m to be a winner in the big things, Agnes?”
Precisely what she said matters not to the rest of the world. Enough that they went up the trail, his arm about her, in the white noonday sunshine, into the new world that lies iust where the blue of Heaven touches the hills of earth.