JEFF CRANE late of the Royal Flying Corps, and presently outside boss of the Foxcroft Mining Company, sat on the upper verandah of the General Wolfe Hotel in Bramhope, chair tilted against the wall, feet elevated to the top of the guarding rail, eyes closed, hands clasped behind his short-cropped head. From the verandah, with open eyes, one might behold most of what was likely to be interesting in the public life of the town. To the left was the town main street, a kind of local Broadway and Fifth Avenue rolled into one; there were its trade emporiums, barber’s shop, movie picture palace, the rival hotel. To the right was the road that led to the lake, and golfers and fishermen and the swell bunch that had summer places on the shore, wherein they endured the torturing attentions of mosquito and black fly for the sake of being able to swagger about their “shore cottage,” had to come this way to reach the world of affairs. Opposite the hotel was the railway station. Already the promenaders had begun to appear, the girls radiant in their finest splendors, the men in the prideful discomfort of smart clothes. Jeff, however, was not interested in any of them. He did not care what was going on for he was busy with engrossing thoughts. He wished he was a millionaire. Hitherto he had cared little for money, and there had been times when he regretted that he had not been born with a tincture of tightwad blood in his veins. He had been “broke” in many places on the world’s surface, but it had rarely worried him. There are few places on the map where a man, with mind to work, cannot get a place to sleep in and sufficient nourishment to exist upon, and it had never been Jeff’s ill-luck to bump up against any of them. He wasn’t exactly worried today, but he thought it would be nice to be a millionaire—not a multi-millionaire, but just a respectable, modest, upright, millionaire. This yearning had not sprung from avariciousness, but from a practical source. He had spent the afternoon shopping in the delightful company of Ann Moore, the girl he was to marry in a short time. They had looked over Jeff’s little home on the Paradise Corners hillside, and while Jeff thought it the dandiest kind of a place for a single man, it did not fit in with his ideas now that he had come to regard it in the light of a married man, or one about to be married.
JEFF had suddenly become thunderingly critical. The stove had before been a corking good stove, nothing showy, but up to its business. True it had a crack across the top, one had to be expert to lift the lids, its linings resembled the interior of a hard whisky drinker, and there was a wound in the back of the oven through which daylight could be seen. Ann, who was an artist in pies and biscuit and cake, thought with Jeff there ought to be a new stove. So they had bought one—a peach, with polished steel trimmings and all sorts of handy contrivances about it. Then the sitting-room jarred Jeff’s lately refined sensibilities. There was a table in it that looked as if Adam had made it, and the chairs—four of them—were of four distinct periods in chair-making, and in no case did the four legs of any one of them match. There had to be a proper diningroom suite, and he had his way. They bought a magnificent table with an extension arrangement to it, so that it might begin with just Mr. and Mrs. Jeff, one at each end, and not too far away from each other, and expand as needed for the accommodation of visitors, or, as the facetious furniture man slyly hinted, as the family growth made necessary.
Jeff felt like breaking the chap’s block over the joke, but Ann took it with an air of frigid unconsciousness that made the jokesmith feel somewhat abashed. Then Jeff slept on a creaky old wooden bed, that used to belong to Noah, a corking good bed when you understood it, but whose slats had a way of dropping out with a bang on winter nights when the temperature was about 30 below. The packing case that served for a dressing table might be all right for a man, but it wasn’t the kind of thing for a lady to put her rings and hairpins on. And the looking glass was open to criticism. If you looked at yourself on the right side of it it made you appear to have a severe attack of mumps, while the left showed you haggard and attenuated as the late Dr. Tanner must have been after his six weeks’ fast. There had to be a superfine brass bed, a dressing-table and wash-stand, and they found just the right thing—oh, a dandy! white maple. When these last purchases had been made Ann said she thought that was about all, but Jeff had notions about a spare room. If they hadn’t a spare room they’d feel measly cheap when any of Ann’s friends came out on a Saturday afternoon, if they could not say:
“Oh, but we can’t hear of you going home tonight. Inconvenience? Not the least. There’s the spare room all ready.” And Ann would be able to show it off with pride.
ANN kicked quite a bit about this extravagance. Friends would understand that they could not furnish all the rooms they’d like right off, but on this one point Jeff was like flint and bought another bed, not so swell as the first, and a trim little suite to go with it. Ann said he was a spendthrift, and kissed him when the shopman’s back was turned.
After the Scarth affair, when Jeff chased the absconding assistant of the Foxcroft Mining Company in his plane, nailed him and brought him back in triumph with a hundred thousand dollars in cash and negotiable securities he was making away with, young Foxcroft had insisted on paying up something, as he called it, to pay for wear and tear of the airplane, the airman’s bus fee, and juice for the machine.
Jeff had kicked a bit when the thousand dollar cheque was slipped him, and young Foxcroft had delivered a lecture to him on personal finance, he being newly-married and therefore an expert.
“Don’t you be a dashed fool about money, Jeff, boy. Though you’re an airman you’ve got to come down to solid earth now you’re going to be married.” he had said. “Marriage means money among other things.”
“It’s all right to be without it when you don’t want it but its plumb hell to want it and be without. And you’ll be amazed to find out what a lot of things a woman wants. Grab off all you can in a square way, and the world’ll think you’re the deuce of a smart chap. It thinks nothing about what it gets for nothing, and rates you according to your price.”
Jeff thought there might be a lot in the advice, so he pocketed the thousand, and swore an oath to grab off all he could as he went through life, and straightway lent twenty to a bum whom he knew would die rather than be guilty of repayment. Together with the thousand, Foxcroft had found a billet for him in the mines, a billet in which he would neither have to make up time-sheets nor pound a typewriter. Jeff was to be outside man acting under the direction of Glenn, the general manager, and here he was in his element. He had sound knowledge of the practical working of the pits, and, while no professional engineer, he knew more about mining and handling men than nine-tenths of the diploma’d chaps floating round. And with the glory of promotion came a very tidy salary, so much so that Jeff had felt the reasonableness of adding a room and doing some modernising to the interior of the home place. When he had started out on this expenditure rampage he had in his jeans something like fourteen hundred dollars. He now took from his pocket a wallet that looked as if it had been in severe training, and opened his eyes. He had just thirty-six dollars left, beside some loose metal stuff in his trousers pockets. Still, everything was paid for—house alterations, purchasing bills. Ann had talked to him very wisely about bills and debt, she wanted nothing they could not pay for, and what they couldn’t pay for she didn’t want.
Jeff put the money back into the wallet with the suspicion of a sigh—not because so much of the original wad had gone, but because there was not more to send after it. That’s why he wished he was a millionaire.
JEFF put his feet down, lit a cigarette, and looked up toward the hill-top reflectively. After the shopping Ann had gone to attend a meeting of some kind about a bazaar up at one of the Church rooms, hence his loneliness. She was in a state of high delight over what they had acquired, Jeff was not so satisfied. His appetite had been whetted, and he wanted more. What they had was all right, and that dining room, with the table and six chairs two Morris chairs, and that peach of a sideboard, with about an acre of bevelled looking-glass in it, would be some room, still—. Oh, darn it! what was home without a piano? When Ann’s friends or some of your own pals dropped in and wanted to sing hymns on Sunday night, or let go at “There’s a long, long trail a-winding” or something like that, and you hadn’t a piano! Wouldn’t you feel the poor skate? Of course you might get a gramophone and that would cost less, but a gramophone wasn’t the same thing.
It might be all right if the girl you had married couldn’t play a piano, but Ann was a bit of a star on the keys. After she had gone up to the Church Jeff had rambled into the piano shop, taking with him an expert friend, and they had set eyes on a piano, not a common, ordinary box of whistles, but the real goods. As the expert tried it, the music seemed heavenly to Jeff, and his heart fairly ached to possess it.
Five hundred dollars cash, with a shaving off in the discount way, five-fifty on the instalment plan, what Jeff liked down, and so much a week or month—just a trifle like odd cigarette money. The dealer would have it inside Jeff’s domicile within a few hours of the order.
It was a stiff temptation, but there could be nothing doing. Ann and he had made the compact about debt and instalment-plan stuff, and when it came to wisdom she had Solomon, that sap-headed bigamist, beaten to a limp frazzle. When Jeff had acceded to her fine principles it had seemed easy, but now when the application of them had to be made it wasn’t half the cinch he had thought it would be. Then, as he bade farewell to the piano, the dealer, and the expert, and loafed along the street toward the hotel, he got another hard jolt over the thin armor-plate of his wallet. Before a hardware store was a bunch of folks, and of course Jeff had to take a squint. In the big window was a machine of some kind, a machine worked by a motor. When the motor got fussing it operated machinery that ran a washing-machine. There it was doing things right before your eyes, motor, machinery, soapy water, dirty clothes, and some kind of an arrangement that was beating the dirt out of the clothes or drowning it out to beat Sam Hill. By the side of this marvellous machine was a young lady, seated on a chair, reading a novel, apparently taking as much notice of the machine as of the gaping bunch outside the window. She had on a satiny-looking skirt, a fancy shirt-waist, several sparkling rings, and looked as if she was all primped up for the minister’s call. Then, on the other side of the wonder machine, was a washtub of the old era, sitting on a couple of old chairs. It was filled with dirty water and dirty clothes, and a woman, perspiring, with hair tumbled about her face, her dingy clothes soap and water splashed, was rubbing away at the clothes on a rubbing board, every now and again stopping to get her breath, put her hand to her side, and straighten up her bent figure. She seemed to be in the last stages of exhaustion. There was a huge placard at the back of the exhibit,
“Husbands! Which do you wish your wife to be? Only $75!! OR Only a work-worn wife! This means you!!!!!”
THE finger of a persistent-looking man from the placard looked right at Jeff Crane, his index finger as if it had been the barrel of a pistol.
Jeff now saw his Ann, laboring in back-broken fashion over the wash-tub, her beautiful face flushed, her fine hair awry, her dress water and soap splashed. Would any man with a heart in his bosom suffer his wife to do that brutally slogging work for want of a measly seventy-five dollars? The man who would wasn’t a man. How could a fellow with any kind of proper feeling sleep at night when he thought his poor wife might have been wearing a peekaboo waist and satin skirt and slippers, reading a novel while the wash was being done by a machine, and he had allowed her to wash clothes with her own fair hands? Jeff was so indignant at the thought of the sufferings of women since clothes were first washed that he was inside the shop almost before he knew he was starting. Then thought of his finances and the agreement with Ann assailed him, and he fled out about as fast. Why wasn’t he a millionaire? But he would buy it later on. Of course there was a slew of expenses coming, and no thousand dollar cheques to help out. There were other things to buy, kitchen fittings and the like, then there would be the wedding and honeymoon, and a man couldn’t get after the last items in a picayune way. He’d got to earn money, and quite a wad of it, and quick too. With this decision arrived at he got to his feet, lit another cigarette and looked up and down the street in which the crowd was thickening, suggesting the coming of the evening mail train. Then his eyes were attracted to a man with a big paste pail in his hand, a long brush over his shoulder, and a wallet of placards by his side. He paused at the station wall and began to stick a bill up. It was not a very big bill, and the print of its detailed announcement was not decipherable, even to Jeff’s keen eyes, from across the street, but the headline was in large letters. The latter ran,
It took Jeff about three seconds to rush through the room at the back of the verandah, down the stairs, through the lobby, and across the street. The bill set forth that whereas some person or persons had broken into the premises of the Silver Domino Mining Company, of Bramhope, and had stolen therefrom four bars of silver, the said company would pay the sum of twenty-five hundred dollars to the person whose information should lead to the capture and conviction of the said thief or thieves. Jeff read the bill most carefully twice, then, returning to his verandah eyrie, began to reflect that while a man might not, by wishing, become a millionaire, he might, if he was smart and lucky and hustling in a detective way, become the possessor of a nice little round sum like twenty-five hundred bucks, which is a help on the longer way. Rockefeller says the way to become a millionaire is to copper the first thousand by saving. Still the main point is getting it, and Jeff thought he’d as much chance as the next man. The piano, to his optimistic thought came nearer; he fancied he could hear the motor of the washing machine purring in his back kitchen. Twenty-five hundred dollars! Where was the nefarious scoundrel who, nevertheless, appeared to Jeff in the shining light of a great opportunity? He might be in that bunch surging now along the street. Twenty-five hundred! Robbed from a suffering multi-millionaire corporation who’d been making money hand over fist these big silver days! Jeff didn’t care two cents for the company, its sorrows, its yearnings for the criminal, but that wad of money would be thunderingly useful. He called to a passing waiter-boy.
“Ginger ale!” he demanded. “Two ginger ales and two glasses!” The lad brought the order, Jeff opened the two bottles, and handed a foaming glass to the grinning lad.
“Here’s to Crime! Drink hearty, son!” and they quaffed the peppercornplus beverage.
OF COURSE, grumbled Jeff a little later, it being Saturday evening, and all seemingly clear till Monday morning for Ann and himself, something had to happen. He had hardly downed his beverage before he saw Ann descending the church hill with more than her usual quick-footedness.
The darling knew he was waiting hungrily, and was hurrying. He leaped to meet her. Wasn’t she the perfect girl? He clasped her hands as if he had not seen, her for twelve months, all smiles like a reverse kind of Niobe.
“Oh, Jeff!” she exclaimed. “Aunt Catherine’s sick, and wants me to go out at once. She’s sent her Ford for me, and it’s waiting.”
“I’ve got nothing really harsh against your Aunt Catherine, honey,” he said in tones that belied his words. “But why will she persist in getting sick on Saturday evening, and clouding a whole universe? I never saw a less considerate aunt, she’s strong and hardy on work days and has to go and keel over on holidays. I’ve a great respect for her, but I’ll bet when she does go to Abraham’s bosom she’ll do it either on Christmas Day or Easter Sunday.”
“Jeff!” remonstrated Ann.
“How much did she bother about you when you were a little kid?” demanded Jeff. “You were a darn little nuisance that she was unlucky enough to be aunt to. Send her what love you can spare from me, and a box of pills. I need you a lot more than she does.”
“But I must go, Jeff,” said Ann. “But if she isn’t very bad I’ll come back tomorrow afternoon.”
“And periling your life in a jitney too. They put more folks into little six foot trenches then ever they got out of the big ones. If you go I come for you in the family bus to-morrow.”
So it was arranged. Jeff saw her into the car with an air of resigned discontent, and watched till at the turn of the road she wafted him a discreet kiss, and he returned to his perch. Bramhope was a rotten kind of hole anyway. What could he do between now and Sunday afternoon Then came up a couple of chaps and took chairs on each side of him. One was Pemberton, of the Island Camp, the other Graham, local manager of the Silver Domino Company, whose dough-box had been punched painfully by the mysterious burglar. Pemberton was a good kind of chap for a gloomy evening, and had an inexhaustible repertoire of tales. He was interested in mining generally, had bought a camp on an island in one of the upper lakes, entertained stag parties a good deal, fished and golfed, and in between times dabbled with chrome prospects what time chrome mining was a war-baby of much plumpness. It was he who now adverted to the placard on the opposite wall, and his remark drew a wail from Graham.
“It has been going on for the best part of two years,” he said. “Sometimes small bits nicked away, but always a steady leaking. The last grab is the biggest that’s been done. Of course we’ve had the police in, and detectives and spotters, who collected their fees with much regularity and did nothing else. It’s an inside job clearly, but who is the culprit, how the stuff is got away, and where it goes, we’ve as much idea as the Man in the Moon.”
At this time there was a commotion on the platform, and a few minutes later the train, long expected and much overdue, came shuffling up to the platform. The three men leaned forward to see who were alighting. Most of the arrivals were town’s folks, home for Saturday night. The only noticeable people among them were a couple of Chinamen, and it was Pemberton who drew the attention of his companions to them.
EVER noticed,” he remarked, “how you always see a bunch of Chinamen here, never more and rarely less, than half a dozen, and they are never the same. You’ll know half of them and the rest are strangers, then you’ll miss the old half and a new half-squad will take their places. The chap there in the laundryman rigout is one of the present older stand-bys, but the other is a new kind to me here.”
And the contrast between the two was noticeable, the one—the laundryman—was in the orthodox rig of his kind; he was as you might have seen him in the streets of his native Canton. The other was spickly dressed in western garb and he carried a large suitcase. The three observers watched them walk along with their short quick steps until they passed out of sight, and Pemberton, with them in mind, began to launch out into a reminiscence of Singapore and a Chinaman he had known there, who, according to the narrator, “for ways that are dark and tricks that are vain” had Bret Harte’s heathen beaten every way there was from the ace. Then Jeff told a picturesque incident of another Chinaman he had met, in the days when the pearling industry had drawn him to the South Seas. Graham was called away, and Pemberton and Jeff yarned away on the subject of Chinamen and nefariousness generally, smuggling Chinks into the States, opium smuggling, and the many ways in which the wily Oriental seeks to get the better of the laws of the western Tom Tiddler’s ground. So the time passed until Pemberton decided to go on to the movie show to see Charlie Chaplin paste and be pasted with particularly soft and oozy custard pies.
Jeff declined the invitation to accompany him, as he had no desire this night to see flying pies, he wanted to dream and think of the time when it would no longer be necessary for him to loaf round a hotel in his spare time, but when he should have a home of his own, a real kind of a home with a horse and a cow and some ducks and hens, and a lot of swell furniture, and little Ann, the wonder girl, flitting about it, making a specially heavenly paradise of their little bit of Paradise Corners. And back of all was the vision of a little slip of paper, with something on it about paying to the order of Jeffrey Crane the sum of two thousand and five hundred dollars and no cents. Furthermore there came, oddly enough, into the picture, the bland face of an ornately rigged up Chinaman. Matters were developing, and Jeff was inclined to inwardly resent the reappearance of Graham, who was not cheery company in his present mood. Still, reflected Jeff, he dwelt in proximity to a certain twenty-five hundred dollars that he, Jeff, wanted, so all might be for the best.
FLYING home to-night, Jeff?” inquired Graham, for Jeff came into town and went out in his smart two seater biplane, scorning the muddy or dusty earthy ways of earthy folk. After the best part of three years and a half seated in a pilot’s crib, hands on a joystick, feet on the rudder bar, sailing between the worlds, and looking down on the footstool, one develops a sort of contempt for the wormy ways of old-fashioned progression.
“No, I'm staying overnight,” Jeff replied. “Ann’s gone out into the country because her Aunt Catherine’s got a pain in her pinafore, or somewhere, and I’m going to fetch Ann in the bus to-morrow. I’m just going down to look it over now.”
“I’m going part of the way, heading for home,” said Graham. “So let’s have a smoke first, and then I’ll come part of the way with you.”
He handed Jeff his cigar case, and both men lit up. Old Graham looked grouchy as a bear with a sore head, and when he was grouchy it was no half grouch.
“That silver pinching’s got right down on the quickest part of my nerves, Jeff,” he said presently. “I’m in charge here, as you know, and with this going on for practically two years without check, it has put me in queer with my directors. You know, maybe, what directors are, if you don’t, thank the Lord for the ignorance. Sit in armchairs at a big mahogany table, ask questions and suggest things that it would take the Angel Gabriel all his time to answer or carry out. I was up with them yesterday, and if they didn’t give me the razz I know nothing about what razzing is. It was just a bally inquisition, with all the torture frills to it. I got mad at last and wanted to know if they thought I was pinching the stuff, but they can’t see why the pinching of hundred of pounds of metal can’t be located. And in a way that’s right. It would seem to be about as easy to lift bar silver and get away with it as the sentry-box Kipling’s soldiers nicked. Of course silver was never, in the history of the stuff, worth what it is to-day, and that don’t help any. Here’s the silver being swiped under my eyes and I can’t get on to the thief.”
Presently they rose and sauntered down the street until they came to the place where their roads diverged.
“Doing quite a lot of night flying these times, Jeff?” said Graham as they were about to part.
“Night flying!” replied Jeff, surprised. “I haven’t been in the air after dark since the chase I had after Scarth some time back. You know when that was.”
“You haven’t?” queried Graham. “That’s odd. I’ve heard and seen a machine in the air half a dozen times since then, and always at night. I thought, maybe, that as you were busy up at the Mines in the daytime, you were doing a bit of stunting after dark. I’m not mistaken. Twice I heard it at home, very late, and a couple more times when I was motoring back late from our branch mine over at Fordham.”
“Anyway it wasn’t my machine,” replied Jeff. “It must have been some other chap, fonder of the night hawk work than I am. I haven’t a monoply of planes or the air. You’ll see plenty of them round in a little while. It wasn’t long since an automobile was a curiosity, and flying’s come on faster these past three years or so than road motoring did. You’d better come out with me for a spin one of these days."
“Not much,” grinned Graham. “I like to ride in a conveyance from which a drop would be one of inches and not miles. But I wonder who the night hawk is."
LEFT alone Jeff walked down the side road to his shed, which was an old stock house standing in the middle of a long flat strip of common land that made a first-rate landing and jumping-off place. He unlocked the door of the shed, switched on the lights, and stood admiring the ship, that next to Ann, and the home, was the most treasured possession he owned. Then he began to think over what he had heard from Graham. It was news to him that there was in the vicinity another airman, though, after all, he might not belong to the neighborhood but might be a traveller from a distant town. Then there had been numbers of fictitious tales noised about, especially in wartime, of mysterious flyers flitting over the border and back. He had read them in local papers sent to him in France. Some countryman saw a fire-fly winking its light on a dark night, and the rest pure fancy.
Jeff was about to close the shed doors, to keep away the idly curious, then decided to leave them open. Few people came that way.
The only house near was the Chinaman’s shack—the last house inhabited in the town, and quite close to the shed. Jeff could see through a side window the Chink busy with his iron over some task, his head unlifted, Going over to the plane Jeff began to overhaul it in his thorough manner, preparatory to to-morrow’s spin. First he examined the engine. The terminals on sparking plugs and magnetos were tight, the wiring neatly clipped, nothing spare or loose lying about, the petrol unions were as they should be, tappets and rocker arms right and properly lubricated, no pins were missing, and those in their places were well fitted, inlet valves were O.K. and there was no suggestion of petrol or oil leaks. He went over the wires that might be slacking off in the tail, examined the ailerons for inclinations to bind, tested the controls, working the control lever and rudder-bar, saw that no nuts and bolts were missing, examined the shock absorbers and the rest of the under-carriage, filled the petrol and oil tanks. He bad about finished the overhaul when he heard the sound of steps at the door behind him, and, looking back, was greeted by the smile of the strange Chinaman. Jeff, a bit startled, hesitated whether to bid his visitor, politely, to return to his flat irons and shirts again. With the calm, suave ease of the Oriental of the better class the man came forward, and Jeff decided he was not of the regulation brand of laundrymen, and nodded greeting. Something might be got out of him, though Jeff had not much opinion of a Chink as a babbler. To his surprise the new arrival spoke excellent English.
“You are Mr. Crane, flying man?” he said. “I, Fong—Ah Fong!” Jeff admitted the first, and acknowledged the second with a handshake. This introductory conversation over, the Chinaman drew nearer the plane, with a smile to Jeff as if asking permission to examine. From the way in which the man peered into the fuselage and looked about the various fittings Jeff knew that he was no stranger to the flying art. It was not the gaze of one to whom a flying machine is a superior kind of miracle, but the appraisal of one who knows what to look for, and where he will find it. He went over the plane from propeller to tail, missing nothing, and ceaselessly smiling, Jeff watching him closely but making no remark.
“Some bus!” said the Chink, when he had finished his examination, and the trade expression brought a grin to Jeff’s face.
“How fast she makes?” the visitor asked.
“Never let her out full rip yet,” said Jeff. “But she can walk a bit,” and he rubbed a speck on her paint with a rag.
“Thank you, Mr. Crane—good-night!” and the man was off.
Jeff locked up the place and returned to the hotel. He did not go to bed at once, but sat up meditating the trend of events, and especially the polite and up-to-date Chinaman. Talking with the landlord till that long-suffering man had to go to bed in self-defense, Jeff took a turn down the road just after half-past one. He wasn’t quite easy in his mind. That Chink knew a lot more than was strictly necessary for a Chinaman in Bramhope. If silver bars were pinched, Jeff saw no practical reason why an aviating son of the Flowery Land might not take a notion to borrow an air bus for a fly round. However, he found everything right about the shed, and the lights out in the Chinaman’s house. It was the first time Jeff had realised that the flat iron was ever idle or that a washee-washee ever slumbered. He was making discoveries every day. Everything being, apparently, as they should be, the suspicious young man, on the still hunt for twenty-five hundred dollars went to bed.
TO NO one, not even Ann when he brought her home in queenly fashion on the following afternoon, did he confide what had happened the previous night, or his waking and sleeping thoughts. The ensuing week sped by with nothing to cast a particularly blinding light on the Silver Domino situation, or to bring Jeffrey Crane and a cheque for two thousand and five hundred dollars into more intimate relations. Saturday came, as it does after the toughest week, and Jeff had to be once more parted from Ann—so tragic is this life of man.
He had to see a painter and paperhanger and do other stunts round the heaven in the making, so he went forth on the fearful eighteen hours, or thereabouts, separation. He interviewed the painting and papering man, did his stunts, and then, as the sun was declining, laid off un-union working and went fishing. He brought home a good basket of speckled trout, and packed the best of them in ice for the nourishment of his lady love, then went to the arbor in the corner of the garden to think lovely thoughts and smoke a well-earned pipe. It was a night for pleasant thoughts. A clear balmy wind sang through the trees, the stars hung like little silver lamps from heaven’s balconies, the lake was a broad salver of beaten silver. That’s how Jeff felt about Nature’s furnishings. For two pins he’d have written a poem. He sat on and on, and one pipe extended to three, and three doubled itself. Then he began to doze. He heard twelve chime from the Church of Ste. Adelaide, seven miles off. “Lovely bells!” he muttered ecstatically drowsy. Then one chimed—it seemed to him just about five minutes after the twelve announcement. Then peace lapt him about. He could not have said whether he had been really asleep minutes or hours, but he awoke with a start and a leap to his feet.
“Gothas coming!” was the first mutter on his lips.
He was wide awake, drowsiness gone, transported back into a past life, every nerve vibrating, every power in him at its acutest. Sometimes he had thought that if he lay in his grave with six feet of earth over him, and the throb and roar of the flying machine should sound in the sky, he would hear and the earth would fail to keep him down. His trained ear directed him to the spot, and he located a small dark body, dimly seen against the starry sky, coming through the heavens. It was heading south, over the hills on the farther side of the lake, then it passed behind the peak of the wooded Silver Mountain, emerged and headed for the end of the long ridge on which Jeff stood, its roar nearer and nearer, then remoter and fainter, as it swung south by east. Jeff raced from the garden to the small tableland at the top of the hill, and got there in time to see the plane vanishing. Now the roar had ceased, the pilot had shut off his engine and was coming down. Then the silence fell again. As well as he could, Jeff marked off what he thought to be the landing location, though where a landing could be made in that thickly wooded wilderness he had not the remotest notion. Had the man come down voluntarily, or had accident forced him down? All Jeff knew of the country to the south was that it was forest, dotted here and there by small lakes linked together by a good but most inaccessible trout stream. It was a country, however, that would bear exploring. He flung himself on a couch in the kitchen and slept an hour or two, then got out a fishing rod, borrowed a stout pony from his neighbor, and took the direct trail to the first lake, in which was the island Pemberton owned. It was close on five o’clock when he reached the shore, but he found he was not the first to be on hand. In a boat near the lake’s outlet were, of all persons in the world, the Chinaman of the shed visit, with a companion, whom Jeff recognized as an oddity among the local exhibit of Chinks, odd because he did not follow the ancient and honorable occupation of linen washing, but worked in one of the mines—Jeff did not know which. The laborer, Jeff thought, looked a bit fearful, as if he had been caught in some act of trespass, though he had as much right to fish there as Jeff himself, but his companion waved a greeting and presently pulled ashore, and with new volubility that showed him to be something of a sportsman at heart, pridefully showed a fine basket of fish.
“You come my friend’s house and eat fish cooked China way,” he said hospitably, after Jeff had agreeably declined the pick of the basket. “And you fly to-day?” he added.
“Not to-day,” Jeff replied.
PRESENTLY the two walked away, and Jeff took their boat and fished awhile rather resuitlessly until he was roused from his indifferent sport by a hail from the island on which was Pemberton’s Camp.
“Breakfast!” came a second bellow that echoed round the shores. Jeff needed no further bidding. Hasting to the mainland beach, he poured a measure of oats into a nosebag, and set the pony to work, then left him with his blessing.
“The man who follows a Chink’s reaping has precious poor gleaning,” said Pemberton as he looked into Jeff’s basket, which contained but a couple of trout. “If those chaps keep to it they’ll not leave a fish in the lake. Every blessed morning this week the sun, getting up, finds them here, and they seem to take them by magic. I’m rather taken by that new-comer of theirs. Outside the ordinary herd. Rather remarkable he chums up with the others, but you never can reckon them up, and when you think you have them, it’s surest they’ve slipped you.”
Then Jeff, from what impulse he hardly knew, related the coming of the man to his hangar, and his apparent familiarity with the mechanism and handling of aircraft. Pemberton made no reply, but seemed to reflect on what Jeff had told him. The fish however had been cleaned and were on the fire, and the host gave up his attention to them. Presently they were cooked to a turn, and set on the table, flanked and overlaid by strips of bacon. If you know a woodsman’s hunger after four or five hours in the sharp morning air of the north-land, you have some idea of the appeal made to the physical man by the sight and fragrance of a well-fried trout. Then came chops and eggs and marmalade with hot biscuit of Pemberton’s own baking, and coffee to wash it all down. It was a feast for a king, and the pipe following, when dish-washing done, the crowning of the feast.
“Talking about your Chinaman and your plane,” said Pemberton, rather abruptly, as they dropped into chairs on the verandah, after work was done, “have you heard another plane than yours out lately?”
“Yes,” replied Jeff, “I heard it last night, or to be more exact, this morning, somewhere in the wee hours. It woke me up.”
“I heard and saw it,” said Pemberton. “I didn’t think it would be yours out at that time, and was sure it was not when I saw it carried no lights, though one was flashed on as it neared the ground.
“I thought it was coming down in the lake here, as the engine was cut off, but it started up again, the thing zoomed up and was away in no time.”
IT SEEMED to me to drop somewhere in the bush,” said Jeff. “Of course from where I was I couldn’t tell, in that dim light, where it landed to half a dozen miles. Anyway, you saw it get up again.”
“Oh, yes! there was no doubt about that,” replied Pemberton. “May have been some town chap out for a joy-ride, and losing himself for a little while, then dropping to make out the best night landmarks, which I take lakes and rivers to be. But, you know, an incident like that starts one thinking, and the plane mystery and these rather mysterious Chinks coming round together set up a train of thought in my mind as to whether the two might not have some connection.”
“How?” inquired Jeff, though the thought followed his own late reflections closely.
“Well, about the Chinamen,” replied Pemberton. “You recollect our talk on the hotel verandah a Saturday or two ago. It was remarked how the little Chinese colony changes. You see half a dozen, then two or three disappear, then two or three new ones arrive, then their predecessors vanish, and so on. They are always about the same in number, but never the same in identity, and there seems to be some method in the order of their going—first come first served, something of that kind. What could they have in mind? Well, opium smuggling is one of a Chink’s lays, but that’s out of it in this case. What about Chink smuggling? There’s big head money for those who can smuggle one over the line, the trouble is to get-him over, as the trains are impossible and the frontier closely watched. What about a plane? Then if this be the plan, what more clever and brainy than to locate their plane somewhere in the vicinity of another airman? If people hear a roaring up in the sky hereabouts what do they say? ‘There’s Jeff Crane buzzing round?’ And no further curiosity is aroused. Wouldn’t that be just the kind of thing to suggest itself to the Chinese mind, as you and I know it? You can see, too, how feasible the thing might be. Why, if you were on a job like that you could run one through in your bus three or four times a night.
“All you’d need would be a headquarters here, somewhere in the bush, and a landing place in a similarly situated place on the other side, with the confederate there. And if you could carry Chinks you could carry other things. Think of the opening, for instance, for booze smuggling when the States run dry and the folks are paying any price asked for booze! A well-thought out plan could work the thing as easily as breathing. A hangar and plane in the bush anywhere within twenty miles of here, the Chinamen underground-passaged by their string of laundries, taken aboard and whisked over. Maybe there’s more back of this night and early morning fishing that’s going on than appears on the surface. Whoever heard of a sporting Chink, and as for profit, the flatiron’s better.”
When Jeff went home later in the morning he had more in his mind than Pemberton had suggested. He planned to scour the bush on the first convenient opportunity, in the daytime, and the more private the scrutiny the better he’d like it. Pemberton went off to town on one of his periodic visits during the early part of the week, and would be away for several days. Jeff liked the idea of having the field to himself. He wanted that twenty-five hundred, and preferred hunting alone. Whether he was on the right trail or not was a question, but it seemed the most probable and was worth following up. He got a couple of days off from the mines, went home, took the air from there, travelling West, and, when he was well away from observation, circled widely and made for Pemberton’s lake as a starting point. There was not a vestige of life about either shore or island as he drifted over the lake. He climbed upward and travelled up and down the expanse of wild bush, combing the ground beneath with utmost care, the care of a trained observer accustomed to take in every landmark of the least significance. Over and around he circled, up and down he went a dozen times without discerning a possible landing spot. Then when he had almost abandoned hope and had reached a place near the edge of the forest, he saw a clearing, with buildings on it. What a blithering ass he had been not to think of it! It was an old chrome working, abandoned a dozen years before, owned by business people in the States who had left it derelict with the incoming of foreign mined chrome ore.
THERE were half a dozen pits, all water-filled, huts and sheds, mill and engine house, all tumbling in ruinous decay. As Jeff flew low over the clearing there seemed to him but one possible place for a hangar, and this was a stable that seemed to be less dilapidated than the other buildings; and in front of it was a long stretch of grassy ground on which the growth had been cropped. Jeff first thought of making a landing, then changed his mind, rose in the air as he pulled back his joystick, and sailed off homewards. He was taking no chance of a bad landing, or of starting-off difficulties, unaided as he was. What was to be looked into could be done as well afoot, travelling through the bush. The next morning he started out on his twelve-mile tramp through the wilds. He had done some tough legging before, but this was the hardest of all he had known, and he was a good woodsman. It was thick forest with undergrowth wild as that of the primal world, lush grasses waist high and taller, bog and hidden stream, rotten deadfall, with hollows in the ground deep enough to bury a man in upright, the homes doubtless of the black bear that roam the woods. Vines knitted together, making defence strong as that of any barb wire ever ingeniously twisted, tripped and threw him; jungle that nearly overwhelmed him, as would the tall waves of ocean, beset him. It was well on in the afternoon when he made his destination, and he was about spent. After a short rest he made his examination. Indications that he was on the right track were presented at once in the wheel marks on the low runway leading to the stable. The door of the latter place was securely locked, the windows stoutly shuttered. Going round to the back, Jeff found a small sliding door through which in the old time refuse from the stable had been thrown. It was nailed up, but he succeeded in getting it open, and clambered through. There was the plane, a replica of his own in every respect, style, shape, make, equipment, shade of the grey paint on its body. A long and close further search revealed nothing of moment under the rays of his powerful flashlight. There was nothing to suggest either the smuggling of Chinaman or the spiriting away of bar silver. Then, clambering out, and securing the place after him, Jeff started out home again, this time taking a longer and easier route.
He got home at two in the morning and slept through the whole of the next day.
He met Graham when he went into town the following morning.
“Remember that Chink, Jeff, we saw come into town ten days or so ago? He’s a student lad from one of the scientific schools in the States, and wants to get into our laboratory work for experience, before he hikes out for China. I’ve taken him in. We’ve another of his kind working for us, and they’re smart as whips about things.”
“I guess they are,” replied Jeff. If there had been any doubt of the bona fides of this scientific Chink in his mind, he did not feel called upon to speak evil of his Oriental brother on mere suspicion; besides he was not blowing his chances in respect of the reward if he knew it. He would wait and see what might be seen. There were developments presently.
The following Monday morning Graham broke into the bosses’ lunching party with a howl that was near a yell, so badly had he been bitten. More silver was gone, just vanished into the mysterious beyond.
“And I’ve got the so and so police working, and the blankety blank detectives, and the what’s-their-names trailers and spotters, and all as blind as Flaherty’s pig that was born so. We’re watching every suspicious duck and some that aren’t, we’re plugging up what we think are holes, here, there, and everywhere, and the blasted place leaks like an adjectived sieve with foot-size mesh holes in it,” he bellowed. “Just going up and out of sight like Elijah’s chariot.”
JEFF shivered at the allusion, but sympathetic friends soothed old Graham with a couple of stiff drinks, and the topic simmered down after a while. Jeff didn’t want these references to the old Israelitish airman to start the bunch thinking of his own patented and copyrighted notional ideas, and that night he went home, taking another day off, as a young man about to be married might reasonably do. He went over the plane again with almost worshipful care, tested it, saw to every bit of its equipment, fed its tanks up to the fullest capacity. Then he left it outside, all chocked up and tarpaulin covered. Something might happen at any time, and it was like old days to be on the qui vive, all ready, lamps trimmed and burning, for what might be required. The night was dull, a sliver of moon in the heavens, but hidden by heavily banked clouds that threatened rain. Taking all things into consideration the airman guessed that it might be the kind of night an expert hawk flyer would prefer for a job that had some risk to it. As the night, wore on it became misty, with a drizzling rain making things unpleasant. Fairleigh and one of his men, knowing that Jeff had some kind of experimental run on his mind, bore him company. The ways of these airchaps were a bit misty, but then there was a certain amount of glory in acting as mechanics to a real fighting flyer. Jeff had trained the master to look after the propeller end of the starting business, and the man had the chocks as his department, and mighty proud were they to bark out the signal words. The bells of Ste. Adelaide tinkled out the midnight hour. Jeff rose and went to the door, as he had done a score of times during the last hour. He listened intently, lingered, listened—came back to the door, listened again. Then his ear caught the unmistakable sound, the low distant throbbing that grew louder and louder. With a roar of delight he called his men, jumped into coat and cap, drew on his gloves. Away to the south they could hear the roar of a coming plane. Jeff swung himself into the fuselage, Fairleigh got to the propeller.
“Suck in!” he shouted.
“Switch off!” roared Jeff.
“Contact!” came the barked reply.
FAIRLEIGH bumped the propeller " over compression and the engine started. The chocks were withdrawn at the shouted order, and away went the plane skimming the level ground, and taking the air like a bird.
The quarry was by this time rounding Silver Mountain and heading for the line. Jeff cut across, letting the other head him, and got on to its tail well back in the rear. The rain by this time had stopped and the clouds had cleared. The night was dimly lit by the bit of moon, and on through it all roared the two planes. Jeff had a sort of plan in his mind to follow his man wherever he might lead. The machines were of the same power, but Jeff would have gambled on the advantage his loving care for those in his bus would have. Their tanks were of the same capacity, with the advantage—in an exhaustion race—in Jeff’s favor as the other plane had travelled many miles further. He meant to make it a finish fight—if fight it was at all. Not until he had travelled some twenty miles did Jeff imagine that the other knew he was being trailed. Thereafter the latter manoeuvred as if seeking to get away, speeding at the limit of his engines till he found that the pursuer had equal pace, seeking to lose the other by zooming up into a heavy bank of drifting cloud and doubling on the line he had been taking. Bui he was up against an old hand who knew most of the tricks of the trade, and had been trained in a stiffer school. Jeff did not know the country under him, but had a shrewd guess that they were over the heavily wooded regions of Maine. Then suddenly the plane ahead slowed, began to circle widely, dropping nearer the earth. A light showed from it brilliantly, was dowsed, and appeared again twice.
Then came an answering signal from below, three flashes of dimly-seen crimson. It was evidently a warning to the pilot bidding him keep away, and, in response, he swept about, rose steeply toward the clouds that were massing again and sped in the direction in which they had come. From now it was a race in which each battled with all the jockeying wits he had in him, with the likelihood, unless the whole thing was a fizzle, of a fight at the finish, with the odds in position, perhaps, being against Jeff, if he landed last, and had to get out of his craft while the other was prepared for him. Everything his engine had the pursued pulled out of it. It was, evidently, his hope to reach his landing place and make his getaway before the pursuer could catch up with him. The further they went the less doubt had Jeff of the grim seriousness of the matter. He found it in his heart, at some daring manoeuvre, to compliment the adversary, whom he was sure was the smiling Chink. Once he flew close enough to make sure that one man, and not two, was in the plane. The Chink smuggling notion was exploded, and with it vanished Jeff’s last bit of gloomy doubt about the outcome of the affair. He might be wrong, but he would have staked all the loose cash he had, which wasn’t much, that in that bus was silver that by rights ought not to be there, but which Jeff fervently hoped was. On they roared through the silent skies, through bursting rain-cloud, clear spaces, skimming hilltops, soaring over the white faces of the lakes. The country was growing more familiar to Jeff, and he was able the better to locate his position as the light began to streak into the sky. Now they were crossing the levels below Bramhope, a few minutes later they roared over the familiar town. Jeff kept closer as the daylight grew, thinking that there might be an attempt made to jettison any-incriminating cargo. Out they flew, like pigeon and hawk, across the Bramhope lake. The quarry was heading for his little aerodrome, but he did not go far on this way. It was as if the pilot suddenly realised that for some reason or other he could not make his objective, and wheeling sharply, banking at a steep angle, he made for Bramhope again. As they flitted over the lake Jeff saw something fall from the plane before him, and drop into the shallows at the edge of the lake with a splash.
“Rotten bombing!” commented the tail man.
WHEN the other machine began to falter, Jeff needed no guessing to make sure he long chase was nearly ended. Something was wrong with the man ahead, or the fellow was running out of juice. They were now over the houses on the outskirts of Bramhope. At the sound of the two planes the people had come out of their houses and were watching the chase. Making for the only feasible landing place—Jeff’s own town hangar, the front plane shut off its engines and glided down steeply. He landed with a bump that wrecked the underbody and toppled the machine over. Jeff took it more easily, made the landing smoothly and taxied to a standstill. He swung himself out, leaving willing hands to tend his machine for the moment and ran over to the broken plane.
There was his prey, with his head bent down on his chest. Then it was raised and Jeff saw, not the sallow face and slant eyes of the smiling Chink, but the visage of Pemberton.
“Pem—!” he began, and then he saw something in the other’s eyes. Graham came forward, looking as if a great light had dawned on him. He began rummaging in the shattered plane, and with a shout of triumph brought out something that seemed very heavy. And Jeff knew that Pemberton was the silver thief. He walked off, hardly knowing whether to feel sorry or glad. But, he reflected, it had been a rotten deal of Pemberton’s. Graham was a close friend, he had let the other have the run of his place, coming in and going out as a friend, practically unchallenged, and Pemberton had been at it for a couple of years, virtually ever since he had been in the place. Still, when you have eaten fried trout with a man, devoured his chops and eggs and biscuit and coffee, you’d rather another man ran him down. Then, this putting it on the Chink. Jeff had no extra warm leaning towards his yellow brother, but after all square’s square, and it was pretty bad if a Chink who could run a bus, was a scientific chap, could catch trout like a past master, should have it put on him that he was a thieving smuggler.
Anyway Bramhope would be better off without Pemberton, honest men would no longer dwell under suspicion, be they white or yellow, or in-between, and good old Graham need no longer be bawled out by question asking and censure-spattering boards of directors.
“JEFF!” there was a soft voice at his elbow, and a soft hand laid in his. Why, it shocked him to realise that he’d almost, for the busy moment, forgotten Ann.
“Ann, honey!” he said. “Just been having a little fly round.”
“Jeff, you must never—never, do it again,” she replied, her lips tremulous, and the nervous tears near her eyes.
“Never fly! Just walk, and crawl in motor cars!” he gasped.
“I didn’t mean that,” she said. “But let Mr. Glenn catch his own Scarths, and Mr. Graham chase his own Pembertons. You belong to me. Why, Jeff, you might have broken your neck—been killed.”
“Touching wood, meantime—it can’t be done, honey,” he grinned. “That is when a chap’s on the kind of mission I was on. There’s twenty-five hundred iron men coming to me. Come on, honey, let’s see if the piano chap’s round, and then we’ll have a private demonstration of the way that patent washer works. Wait a minute, hon. Hello, there, Graham! There’s what I think is a perfectly good bar of silver in the shallows of the lake just by the diving platform. Pemberton chucked it out as he came over the last time.”
“And there are twenty-five hundred plunks for you just as soon as the bank opens. Pemberton owned up to the lot,” replied Graham. “Come up as soon as you can. What about breakfast?”
“Ann and I are just going to have it,” grinned Jeff. “That is, after we’ve looked at a piano and a patent washer. We aren’t rude but we hate company.”