THE TIMBER PIRATE
CHARLES CHRISTOPHER JENKINS
The Night of the Tempest
THE sun went down that even-
ing on a weird northern world. The wind, which had been pressing out of the east all day, had dropped as at some elemental sunset signal; but the great lake, lashed to fury, raced by windrow upon windrow of long, curling “shanty" waves — the terrible seas for which Superior in its wrath is peculiar. Three “mock suns” stood in vertical alignment above the declining orb of day, and the air was filled with a ghostly, brassy light that tinted the wild hills, the forests and the raging sea with its exotic saffron glow.
Nannabijou camp, aglare in the unreal light, its windows flashing like blood-red jewels, stood out against the setting of the sombre mountain ranges like a fantastic painting on the canvas of some mad master.
Above the southeastern horizon hung a lowering blackness that presaged the hurricane to come, while up from a hundred lonely bays along the rocky North Shore the flailing waves sent up a thunderous, pounding
From a plateau on Nannabijou Mountain above the beaver dam
lake on Solomon Creek, a figure that seemed the genius loci of the fearsome night looked out upon these things. His was a face of evil cunning, dusky almost to blackness except where two red gashes stood out under the black eyes—eyes which alone of all his sinister visage seemed alive and human. He wore no covering on his long straight black hair save a band of purple which held in place a single eagle’s feather at the back of his head. Round his neck were hung many strings of glistening wolves’ teeth.
Behind the Indian magician were ranged four headmen of the Ojibways, as motionless as he, face to the setting
For moments they stood thus like statues of bronze until a lake gull, wheeling with a shrill scream inland, swooped close to their heads. The Medicine Man turned, his gaze sweeping Nannabijou Bay where the great booms of poles lay secure from the assaults of the seas, took in the waterfront where the patrols of police paced back and forward, and travelled to the blackness of the coming storm.
Suddenly, he raised his arms aloft and his lips gave utterance to a strange, guttural incantation in which his companions joined—a lugubrious sing-song in the Ojibway tongue. It ended with a leaping, whirling sort of dance.
The witch doctor flung out a hand and from it there flew a short cylindrical object that sang through the air like a spent bullet and dropped with a soft “plop” far out in the little lake.
In that cylinder was wrapped the Great Medicine of the North—a charm which once used, the pagan tribes believe, insures the success of any project no matter how beset with difficulties and dangers.
At a low grunting command from the Medicine Man the Indians turned and silently melted into the murk of the forest. And as they did so there swept up from the woods a long-drawn, fearful cry that carried far and wide above the surf roar from below.
It was not the call of a timber wolf nor of other beast of the wilderness. In its swiftly rising and falling cadences it was half laughter.
half wail; a curious and awesome blending of mockery and lamentations.
The rim of the setting sun flicked out in the gash of the western cloud-banks and starless night dropped over the troubled waters and the sighing woods.
'T'HE tempest broke over Nannabijou in shrieking fury between seven and eight o’clock out of a night of stygian blackness. It came, a great gust that screamed and skirled overhead like legions of the damned on a terrestrial rampage. Tents of the Mounties along the waterfront were overthrown by the first blast and pressed flat as before the smash of a giant’s hand. Great trees were bent and twisted until they turned over at the roots or broke at the base like matches.
Secure in a stout log cabin, Norman T. Gildersleeve and Artemus Duff sat by a roaring fire in a sheet-iron Queen heater. Duff, twisting his inevitable dead cigar
THE KAM CITY PULP & PAPER CO., of which Norman T.
Gildersleeve is the head, hold a lease of the Nannabijou limits. They are bound, however, to have a large mill in full operation by Oct. 23, failing which their lease goes to the North Star Towing and Construction Co., which, is directed by a mysterious J. C. X. This company is under contract to supply the Kam City Co. with the raw material ivhich will enable them to run the mill. Louis Hammond, an ex-newspaperman, meets Gildersleeve, ivho suspects treachery on the part of the North Star Company. He engages Hammond’s services and instructs him to secure a job with the North Star Company and to learn anything he can. Hammond applies to Acey Smith, the superintendent. of the North Star Co. at the limits, who gives him a position. Hammond discovers that a Miss Josephine Stone is staying at a summer cottage there, and recognizes her as a girl he had seen on the train when Gildersleeve engaged him. Hammond goes to the city and resigns his employment with Gildersleeve. On returning to the limits he hears Josephine has been forcibly removed to a house ov a mountain nearby which is impossible to approach except by a secret passage. He therefore dcrules: to try to rescue her by aeroplane.
from corner to corner of his mouth, was obviouslytrying to conceal the nervousness that was upon him. At each succeeding blast of the storm, which seemed toswoop down upon the cabin like a demon bent on pressing it into the face of the earth, and at the ihtermittent crash of falling timber he would half start from his chair, his fat cheeks blanching with terror and his chubby knees quaking. Gildersleeve, whose early life had inured him to thesavage moods of the North, sat silent, imperturbable, as thoughengrossed with some irrelevant problem.
Suddenly the millionaire, like one awaking from a doze, straightened in his chair and lit a fresh cigar. “Gad what a night, Duff,” he mused. “What a hell of a night!” He glanced at his watch. “I wonder what in blazes has become of my man, Lynch!”’ “If he’s up there—in this—” Duff waved excitedly in the direction of the hills, "if he’s up there —he’s likely got his—by
“The confounded idiot!” stormed Gildersleeve with unfeeling heat. “He ought to have had sense enough to get out of the timber when he saw what was coming. Even a child would know enough to do that.” “Maybe when he saw it coming he decided to stay in some safe place until it was over.”
“No—not Lynch. He’s scared plain stiff of the bush at night. For a detective who’s done dirty, risky jobs all over the country, he’s the veriest coward in the woods after nightfall. He’d sneak into a king’s bed-chamber and steal his private papers for a ten-dollar bill, but he wouldn’t go into the big timber after sun-down for á million.”
“Then—what do you think—could have happened to him?” Duff was glad of any diversion, gruesome or otherwise, that might take his thoughts off the raging of the storm outside.
“It’s hard to say, Duff.” Gildersleeve got up and paced the floor. “He must have met with some accident; twisted an ankle in the windfalls, fallen over a cliff, or else—well, it’s hard to say—”
He stopped in his tracks as a scraping thud resounded at the cabin door.
Duff lurched to his feet as the door sprang open and the bedraggled figure of a man thrust itself across the threshold accompanied by a welter of flying rain that spattered across the floor to the wall beyond.
“Lynch!” gasped Gildersleeve.
“That’s me—least—what’s left—of me,” asserted the newcomer between panting gasps as he forced the door to.
He was a wiry-looking little man with a face like a rat; beady eyes back of an insignificant nose, high upper lip and receding chin. He immediately proceeded to divest himself of his reefer and boots and stood up a-drip and steaming by the sheet-iron stove.
“That’s right, Lynch,” approved Gildersleeve, “let your clothes dry on you, and you won’t catch cold. Here, have a bolt of Scotch.”
He poured out a stout bracer from a silver pocket-flask into a metal cup and handed it to Lynch who downed it neat at a gulp, his beady eyes glittering. “There,” said Gildersleeve, “that’ll make a new man of you, Lynch. How is it you didn’t strike out for camp before it got dark and the storm came up?”
“Got lost,” explained Lynch. “Didn’t notice it was getting late until it was near sun-down. Tried to make a short cut through the bush to the creek and lost my bearings in that rotten mese. Couldn’t see the sun or a blessed thing to guide me out. Struggled in all kinds of circles through windfalls breast-high and every time I’d stop for breath I’d hear sneaking sounds all round me like things watching for me to fall so they could jump me while I was down.
“Then—then—I heard a horrible yell. No, it wasn’t a yell either; it was like wailing and laughing all mixed up. It made my blood run cold. I can hear it yet.
“Ugh!” He shuddered. “I don’t know which was the worst—floundering round in the windfalls or coming down the trail in the hurricane with deadfalls smashing down in the wind everywhere. I nearly got mine with falling timber a dozen times, and every ten steps or so I’d go flying on my face in the muck. I wouldn’t go through it again for a hundred thousand.”
“DUT you’re safe—it’s all over now,” reminded Gilder^ sleeve, handing the detective a cigar. “The question is did you find out anything worth while?”
“I found out something that ought to be worth a whole lot.”
“Good!” urged Gildersleeve. “I told you there was a fifty-dollar bonus in it if you got a line on the North Star’s secret layout and their wireless plant up there.
That promise holds.”
“I don’t know what’s up in that devilish place,” remarked Lynch, “but I did find out how they get in and out of the Cup of Nannabijou.”
“What!” Both Gildersleeve and Duff were tense.
“It’s a creek-bed that dries up when you touch a button.”
His companions stared blankly as though he had suddenly gone crazy.
“S’help me,” insisted Lynch, “that’s just what it is. I found it out by pure accident. Was poking around in a sort of tunnel that opens out on the rapids of the creek when my foot caught in something and in trying to stop myself from falling,
I swung up a hand against a piece of rock jutting from the wall. In my business I keep my fingers as sensitive as a combination lock expert. I guess if it hadn’t been for that I wouldn’t have felt that little round hole in the rock. I got out my pocket-flash and examined it. It was only about the size of a nail, drilled into the rock about an inch and a half. I could see then that that knob of rock had been cleverly cemented into a hole in the wall. ‘Aha,’ thinks I, ‘this is a spring that opens some secret entrance through the rock.’ I wasn’t at all expecting what it really turned out to be. So I gets a match, inserts it in the hole and presses down on it just to see what would happen.
“There was a flash like lightning, and a queer, soft sound like a gong came from up above somewhere. Then in a minute it seemed to me the creek rapids just down the tunnel got awfully quiet.
“I went down to investigate, and sure enough there was no water running down, and if it hadn’t been for the wet at the bottom and sides of the channel I wouldn’t have believed there ever had been. I slipped back and pressed the match against the concealed button again. The bell rang and almost right away the water came roaring down like it was before. Now I think that was pretty good scouting for one day.”
“You didn’t try going up the creek bottom to see where it led to,” Gildersleeve pressed him. ,
“Not much. I up and beat it. Something mighty queér about it all that sort of got my goat, and besides I was scared that bell ringing would bring someone round that might use me rough. I didn’t know it had got so late till I was out in the daylight again.”
“So that’s it,” mused Gildersleeve, “that’s how they get up into the Cup. Well, to-morrow we’ll—” He strode over and stood staring at the circular draft-vent of the little stove.
What he might have said was left unfinished, for there came a great crash above the howlings of the storm that made the earth shudder. It was followed by a continuous pounding thunder that grew louder and louder as though the tops had slid from the mountains and were crashing down to the lake. Nearer and more formidable it grew, setting the building a-quiver at each succeeding smash until it seemed to sweep into and through the very heart of the Camp.
The three men stood, speechless and aghast, staring into each other’s terror-smitten countenances.
Gildersleeve was the first to move. With an inarticulate cry he flung open the door and leaped into the night.
Outside all was pandemonium. With the advent of the new terror the storm had subsided considerably, though rain was still pouring down. Men awakened from their sleep were rushing everywhere through the wet and darkness. There were hysterical shouts and coarse, ugly curses. In another moment scores of lanterns gleamed blearily in the murk, and the search-lights of the police sent shafts of light playing up from the waterfront.
Twenty-five feet from the river Gildersleeve found the Mounties holding back the crowd with hoarse commands, their carbines held crosswise before them.
Conjecture ran rife. “Cloud-burst in the hills,” someone cried. And another; “Look, look, the Nannabijou River’s roaring full to the top of the banks!”
“The bridge is going!”
There came the wail of great timbers as they were twisted and torn from their places.
As Gildersleeve’s eyes became more adjusted to the dim, uncertain light, he saw that the torrent rode almost to the brim of the high banks of the Nannabijou, fully thirty feet above the stream’s normal level. In mad succession on its crest swirled logs, stumps, whole trees and other débris from the hills. It was a terrifying, majestic
sight, this great river moving out like an all-conquering, irresistible host and carrying captive the things that stood in the way of its might as it swept from the confining hills to the freedom of the lake.
From beyond the mouth of the river, above the din of the storm and the freshet in the hills came a sibilant hissing sound like that when waves break over jagged reefs, only this was intensified a hundred-fold.
Shafts of light from the search-lights were flung over the bay.
“The booms are going out!”
Gildersleeve stood fascinated, dumb before the inevitable. The gorged river flinging itself out into the bay swept over the field of pulpwood an ever-widening tidal wave; then the poles rose through the boiling flood, heaving flat for one instant and the next rolled forward in great jams that again held until the invading torrent, gathering head, swept them before it in tossing, grinding masses.
The unequal struggle lasted but a few brief seconds. Then when the connecting links of the boom timbers beyond gave way, the whole field of pulpwood sprang forward with a mighty, grinding roar and crowded out of the bay into the raging lake beyond where wind and wave carried it off in howling triumph.
IN LESS time that it takes to tell, the magnificent field, comprising many thousands of cords of wood ready for grinding, had vanished, all but an insignificant remnant the backwash had flung up on the shores of the bay.
The torrent in the river was gradually subsiding now, but still the crowd hung about in the drenching rain.
“What do you think caused it?” someone who had just come up asked of a little knot near Gildersleeve.
“Cloud-burst in the hills most, likely,” vouchsafed one of the group.
“Cloud-burst nothing,” derided another. “I could tell you just what happened: The beaver-dam in Solomon
Creek has busted and let that lake of water behind it
“Anyway, it will make more work for the workers,” piped a loose-tongued disciple of Lenine. “We'll be kept busy salvagin’ them poles up along the shore till the
freeze-up comes and all next spring. The North Star won’t let all that good timber go to waste.”
The word rang in the brain of Norman T. Gildersleeve like a clang of doom. It meant—it meant that those poles could now never be recovered in time to start the Kam City Mills on the date set by the government.
The crowd was thinning out, but Gildersleeve, soaked to the skin, stood as one in a daze until a police officer came up.
“Costly night’s damage for the North Star Company, sir,” he remarked gravely.
Norman T. Gildersleeve made a strange noise in his throat but no more coherent answer as he stood staring into the blackness over the lake.
“But then they say that timber can be salvaged in due time,” suggested the friendly officer.
“Salvaged—in due time,” echoed the financier vacantly. Then to the policeman’s amazement he let loose a torrent of bitter curses and flung his arms about like a madman.
Back at the cabin Duff and Lynch ceased their chatter about the disaster at sight of Gildersleeve's grim, ghastly face. In silence he made preparations to
Just before he blew out the light, Lynch approached Gildersleeve’s bunk. “Will we be going into the hills to look over that secret passageway in the morning?” he asked tactlessly.
“You can go where you damned well please—to hell and back, if you like,” came the snarling retort. “Any place will suit me to-morrow—any place outside this cursed country.”
But while Gildersleeve cursed the north country, as others who have failed to conquer its moods and its tremendous difficulties have cursed it, he sensed in this last disaster the hand of an agency that was not the elements—an inscrutable, sinister agency that had thwarted, blocked and bankrupted his projects on the North Shore for tw o decades.
As he tossed sleepless between the grey blankets, his thoughts kept converging on something Lynch had given utterance to in the story of his flight down Nannabijou Mountain—something that faintly but insistently brought up black memories out of his early youth. He tried to think of other things, to laugh it away, a foolish bit of imagination. It was no use—the face of a youth rose before his tortured èyes, a dreamer’s face, handsome and boyish, but with a complexion of copper'hue. But it was the eyes in that face—those terrible black eyes where he saw mirrored in turn entreaty, despair—then black, black hate—that smote him.
Gildersleeve breathed it in wretched entreaty. His hands involuntarily went upwards as he felt a stinging smash first under the right eye, next under the left. The points where the two tiny scars were stung like fire.
Then he heard.... Great God, he heard out in the night, somewhere a cry that made his soul quake.
Gildersleeve sprang from his bunk. With hands that trembled he lit the lamp and shook Lynch into wakefulness.
“Lynch,” he demanded, “that cry you heard up in the, hills when you were coming down—just whatwasit like?’*'
The detective sat up blinking. "I’m not likely ever ta forget it, Mr. Gildersleeve,” he replied. “It was a howl that was half laughter, half wail—like the cry of a loon.”
Gildersleeve started back a-tremble. “And—and did you see anything, Lynch?”
“S’help me, the only living thing I saw I didn’t want ta tell you about before—you wouldn’t believe it. As, heaven is my judge, the thing that gave that terrible* cry was in the shape of a man.”
“That’s all I wanted to know, Lynch.”
Gildersleeve stumbled back to his bunk, leaving the* light burning. Between teeth that chattered he mumbled to himself:—
“The cry of a loon—from a man. At last—at last. I understand.”
CHAPTER XXII J. G. X.
JOSEPHINE STONE was seated in the library of tin* château up in the Cup of Nannabijou after tlie zenith, of the storm had passed that night.
Earlier in the evening she and Mrs. Johnson had, with considerable apprehension, watched the storm coming up; but it broke with much less violence there than it did down on the waterfront, the high cliffs of the (-up effectually diverting the fury of the tempest, whose roar they. Continued on page 51
The Timber Pirate
Continued from page 31
could hear in the upper air while the rain came down in torrents. Mrs. Johnson, who was invariably up before the sun, retired early, but Miss Stone did not feel that she could compose herself for sleep. Since childhood, high winds had always made her restless and nervous.
For about an hour, she had been sitting in her room reading a book she had brought up from the library, when, above the lash of the driving rain, she was certain she heard the rumble of voices outside; then the opening and closing of a door in the building adjacent where the wireless station was located. Some of the Indians who looked after the place slept there, but she was sure they could not be up and about unless something unusual had happened. They invariably went to their slumbers and were not seen or heard from after sundown.
Josephine Stone arose and going to the window, cautiously lifted a corner of the drawn blind. A light shone in the wireless building, but she could see nothing of what was going on inside. The nervousness that was upon her precluded sleep and it was becoming too chilly to sit up in her room. She thought of going down to the library and building a wood fire in the huge fireplace. That would possibly cheer her up, she felt.
But when the fire was leaping high and crackling loudly she still felt the need of something to occupy her mind.
Tiring of rummaging through the books, she turned her attention to the square, black mahogany piano across one corner of the room.
She ran her lithe fingers over the keys and struck up a popular air from memory. The music seemed to dissipate her oppression and lift the heavy melancholy of her surroundings.
The girl played on and on, until wearying of memory selections, she thought to look over a sheaf of music on the back of the instrument. During the pause, she was sure she heard a light tapping at the door off the hall to her left.
She listened, at first quite startled; but when the tapping was repeated, something human and deferential in the summons reassured her.
JOSEPHINE STONE switched on the hall light, opened the door leading to the porch and drew back with a startled exclamation.
But it was no longer fright that was upon her. Something was so daringly
appropriate in his appearance, so grotesque on the part of the picturesque master of Nannabijou camps that she had to smile in spite of herself.
She had never seen him thus garbed before; quite débonnaire and at ease in dark, tailored suit and the habiliments of a man of fashion—a handsome, compelling type, faultlessly groomed from his close-cropped, crisp black hair and cleanshaven face to the tips of his fine black
Even his flicker of a smile, which usually had something grim and sinister in it, now radiated good-will in its becoming elegance. Frank admiration shone in the lustre of his great black eyes. |r -
He was bowing graciously, hat in hand.' “I heard you playing,” he opened blandly, “and I could not resist the temptation of looking in for a moment.”
She stood to one side holding the door for him. “Then you invited yourse'f over; I suppose I must let you come in.” She knew it was not the proper thing at this hour, but then Josephine Stone was an unusual girl who had a ready confidence in herself. What she meant to do was to demand of him why she was being held a prisoner here—why she had been forcibly carried off from Amethyst Island by his band of Indians.
He accompanied her to the library. There she turned upon him, her whole demeanor intensely frigid.
“Now then,” she demanded, “I want you to tell me what all this means! Why have I been brought to this place against my will by your gang of cut-throats?”
She had meant to be acid, but there was that in his bantering smile that disarmed her, made her impotent to find the words that would humiliate him.
“No—not to-night,” he declined. “It would take too long. To-morrow I will come to explain everything to you; then you may condemn me at your will. For these few rare moments to-night let us— just be friends.”
“You choose rather unconventional hours for your friendly calls, Mr. Smith.” He laughed outright at the scornful thrust, a ringing, boyish laugh, totally unlike the sterner man she had known. “Perhaps you are right,” he conceded, “but beggars can’t be choosers, you know. I came in the first place because of the storm. I thought you might be nervous.” "And you came to entertain.” Her glance travelled unconsciously to his clothing.
“I’m glad if I add to the gaiety of nations,” he offered whimsically, “but my
clothing became soaked in the downpour coming here and these city decorations were the only things I had by that were dry. Catering to a whim over the success of certain ventures, I put them on as a sort of celebration. Then I saw your light over here and heard you playing, and I thought I’d step over and see if everything was all right.”
‘‘All dressed up and you simply had to have some place to go,” flashed Josephine Stone, but in a better nature that he made contagious.
“Likely that was it. Even in the bush people are vain once in a while.”
“But since you came to entertain and not to explain, Mr. Smith, wouldn’t it have been really thoughtful to have brought along your Indian friend, Ogima Bush?”
“That might have proved quite difficult. Did you find Ogima entertaining?” “In a Satanic way, yes. He has at least one virtue.”
“Consistency. He has no fickle moods; he is always just what he is—a savage.”
THAT subtle thrust, she saw, went under the skin. “That’s because you don’t know Ogima,” he observed gravely. “He is faithful to his friends and he has the rare quality of being sincere. Yes, and he is consistent. With the exception of those artificial red gashes under his eyes, Ogima is one hundred per cent, what he appears to be.
“But come,” he urged with an apparent desire to change the subject, “aren’t you going to play for me?”
She shook her head. A spirit of contrariness prompted her to tantalize him, to make this audacious, dandified czar of the big timber feel ill at ease.
“I had taken it for granted I was to be entertained,” she insisted, smiling in spite of herself at the conceit of the tiny scintillating white diamond in his tie.
But in his present playful mood Acey Smith had his nimble wits with him. “To-morrow is your birthday,” he observed irrelevantly, his flashing black orbs resting on hers momentarily. “You will be twenty-one and have reached a woman’s state.”
It was she who was caught perplexed “How—how did you know that?” she
“The proverbial little bird must have been tattling to me. At any rate, it just now struck me that this being the eveof so important an anniversary your slightest whim should be gratified.”
“Meaning what?” She was trying hard to feign indifference.
“That I must entertain you as you have insisted.”
She watched him stride across the room She thought at first he was going to the piano; instead he leant over the back of the instrument and brought up a black case from which he extracted a violin and
“Now, what shall it be?” he asked with the bow poised.
“Oh, something light and lively—a popular air,” she replied indifferently.
The shade of a frown flickered at his brows. “What I know is rather ancient; but it shall be as you command, Milady Caprice.”
He struck up a bit from an old comic opera. Josephine Stone sank to a seat. There she lost sense of the bizarre nature of this scene. This man was no mean amateur airing a mechanical talent. He executed no flourishes; his form scarcely swayed as the bow rode the responding strings like a thing possessed of life.
The girl sat enraptured until he had concluded two rollicking melodies.
“Oh, you wonderful man!” It came from her spontaneously as she clapped her little hands in sheer delight. “Where did you learn to play so exquisitely?”
“An old man whooncelived here taught me the rudiments. The rest I picked up.” “But it must have taken years of practice.”
“It has been my one diversion. I often come here when the mood seizes me and play for a solid evening—but never before to a living audience.”
He was replacing bow and instrument in the case.
“Oh, don’t do that,” she entreated “Just one more selection anyway, please.” Without show of diffidence he prepared to comply. “More light stuff?” he
“No. Something serious—your own choice this time.”
It was “Unrequited Love,” from the opera Rigoletto, that he played, a rendition Josephine Stone was destined never to quite forget.
From the first tragic note the man before her seemed metamorphosed—seemed one with his exquisite violin; and the player ceased for her to be Acey Smith, the piratical, sinister timber boss. Once again, as on that memorable morning at the beach, the soul that looked out at her from those great, dark eyes was the soul of an untarnished boy—a soul brilliant and aspiring, unshackled by the clay of iniquity.
Unconscious she was that he drew nearer and nearer, a new light in his black, masterful eyes that was devouring, mesmeric. Unconscious she was in the spell of it that she had fluttered back on the divan —inert, a helpless thipg, hopelessly enmeshed in the web of his romantic magnetism.
Bow and violin dropped heedlessly to the floor. He drew her hungrily to his arms, swept her from the divan, from her feet and up to him until her panting form was folded to his own.
“Josephine, Josephine Josephine!”
His voice was low and hoarse with passion, his face close to hers.
Then: “Great God. what a cad I am!”
THE spell upon her was broken. But before shecould cry outhehad released her, his form a-tremb’e and his hands cupping piteously to his mouth in that weird gesture she had once before witnessed.
She staggered back, white to the lips, her hands clenched at her breast. “You —you—!”
Her accusing tones fell on him like blows as he stood with bowed head. “It is true,” he acknowledged contritely. “I had forgotten a sacred trust—a trust I was unworthy of. But—but it shall not happen again.”
She was steadying her trembling limbs. “I—I shall always be afraid of you now.” “Please do not say that,” he implored. “You will not have much longer to endure my company.”
At heart she was sorry for him already. Perhaps it was this physical trouble which seized him like the ague in moments of acute emotion that drew her woman’s sympathy; perhaps she conceded it was the situation, the tenseness brought about by acute artistic emotion that was largely to blame—though he had the bigness to offer no such excuses.
At any rate, she could not find it in her heart to condemn this proud, handsome man, who, though he held her here utterly in his power, was abjectly humbled before the flash of her scorn.
Still she said: “There is only one explanation that might restore my confidence, and that is a genuine one as to why you had me brought here, why you insist on detaining me here.”
He brightened. “To-morrow you shall have that explanation in full as I have promised—after you have met J. C. X.” “J. C. X.?” She smiled incredulously. “Yes. Circumstances made it necessary for you to move from Amethyst Island until such time as I was at liberty to carry out that promise. You demurred about leaving, while I feared disastrous intervention during my enforced absence in the east; that is why you were brought here in haste without your consent—that and my inherent weakness for the dramatic.”
“Oh—at last a candid confession! Then let us get down to earth as quickly as possible. I am weary of playing Alice in Wonderland awaiting the production of your fabled monster. Mr. Smith, let me reciprocate your candor. I have observed sufficient since I came to the Nannabijou Limits to convince me that there is only one head to the North Star Company, one man who rules and dictates here—and that man is yourself.”
“True, but I do so under a trusteeship for J. C. X.”
“You seem at least to have convinced yourself of his existence.”
“You think it all a fraud—a hoax?” “I’m afraid so. Others you may have succeeded in deluding as to the existence of this imaginary creature behind whose personality you carry on your affairs, but I will not believe until I see. Furthermore, I don’t believe you can produce
“Then you shall see J. C. X.—to-night!”
HE TOOK her arm and led her across the room to a point near theentrance to the hall. There he gently swung her so that she faced the wall and he stood directly behind her.
“Look,” he indicated. “There you may ‘see the J. C. X. for whom until to-night : I have anonymously guided the affairs of the North Star.”
j Josephine Stone drew back with a (startled cry. She was staring into a wall mirror at the reflection of herself. j “To-morrow,” she heard his voice as ¡from afar off, “to-morrow, she who unt til now has been known as J. C. X. takes ¡living control of the affairs of the North ¡Star. To-morrow, on her twenty-first (birthday, she must, as the lawful heir to ¡this property, bear with me while I give Í an account of my stewardship.” i She heard, as in a dream, the hall door I beyond closing softly. When she turned ¡Acey Smith was gone. But out in the I night somwhere there arose a tortured cry I —a smothered cry that died out in the en; compassing sweep of the storm.
; Mad, she conjectured.... Yes, Acey i Smith was a madman. Yet, her intuition told her, his was the madness of abnormal genius with a fixed purpose—always mis1 understood—a desperate visionary with the resource and power of will to make his mad dreams come true.
She—she “the lawful heir to this property!” Her grandfather had been previously referred to by Acey Smith. Could it be—?
But in her perplexed, unnerved state Josephine Stone did the womanly thing. She went to her room and had a hearty cry.
CHAPTER XXIII In Which A Fool Experiments
SETTING out on his aerial trip over the Cup of Nannabijou did not prove so simple a matter as Hammond had at first conceived it would be. In the first place, he had to get permission from the department at Ottawa before the authorities at the Kam City armories would even allow him to try out the plane. Though he despatched Inspector Little’s wire immediately after his arrival, it was Monday afternoon before a reply was forthcoming.
The next delay was in getting the machine in shape for the trip. For want of expert attention, the motors and accessories were woefully out of tune, and before he felt satisfied that they were in anything like efficient shape it was too late to make the trip Monday. On the short trial flights he made the engines still showed a disposition to sulk, but by careful handling he managed to keep them alive while in the air.
He determined to fly over the Nannabijou Limits as early as possible Monday 1 morning. Monday night the storm came up, one of the worst experienced in Kam City in years, and the shed out on the exhibition grounds in which he had temporarily housed the machine, was unroofed by the gale and minor damages done to the wings of the plane that it took a couple of hours to repair.
The morning, however, broke crisp and clear, an ideal day for flying and making observations.
But again he had trouble in making a start. Three times he went up and had to come down again to make fresh adjustments. It was eleven o’clock before he was definitely on his way across to the arm of the lake with the craterlike top of Nannabijou Mountain as his objective.
Though the wind had dropped, the lake ■was still creased with angry waves. He crossed Superior’s upper arm without mishap. As he neared the limits, his first unusual discovery was the immense amount of pulpwood thrown up along the North Shore and on the islands that dotted it as far as the eye could see. There was only one place all those poles could come from, the airman conjectured as his machine roared onward through the bright, sunlit upper air.
Significant as all this was, Hammond’s main interest was soon centered on the Cup of Nannabijou and its environs, as he glided over the draw in the cliffs, flying perilously low along the creek trail to where it seemingly ended in the tunnel opening out over the rapids in the gorge.
It was not all clear to him yet he understood something of the significance of the water-gate guarding the only entrance from the land side through the cliffs of the Cup.
As he swept into the Cup, Hammond’s discovery of the beautiful little mountain lake and the buildings above it, set off by their well-kept parklike surroundings was even more of a revelation. From the plane it proved a wonderful picture so wonderful that Hammond forgot he was in an area of danger until it recurred to him that there somewhere Josephine Stone was held captive.
But when he circled over the chateau and the wireless plant, he could discover no signs of life. He was certain if there were people about their attention would have long since been attracted by the roar of his engines. He decided to land and make an investigation in spite of the caution of Inspector Little that he should return to the camps after making observations from the air.
He slid down at a point in front of the bungalow.
THE place seemed utterly deserted. He walked up on the verandah and rapped thrice on the château door. Receiving no answer, he tried the door. It was not locked, so he opened it and boldly entered. He was now determined to explore the building from bottom to top. The quaint unusual appointments of the château at another time would have deeply interested him, but he felt he must work fast and be on the alert for surprise.
The rooms all bore the appearance of recent occupancy, but there were evidences that the house had been set in order before the departure of its people.
The sleeping chambers he examined last. All of these rooms had been swept, dusted and the beds made; but in one of them he picked up a fancy celluloid haircomb. There was only one person on Nannabijou Limits to whom that could belong, and that was Josephine Stone.
The conviction brought home to Hammond from every quarter was that he had arrived too late. Josephine Stone’s captors must have carried her off to some other fastness. He thought of the building adjacent, but on going there he found the doors and windows securely locked. The blinds, however, were up, and he could get a clear view of all the rooms and the wireless plant inside. There was nothing else there beyond a number of empty bunks, a table and a few chairs.
It struck him that there was possibly another retreat hidden away in some other part of the Cup—perhaps up in the woods. He returned to the plane intending to make a thorough search cf the area in the Cup from the air. But his engine was in a decidedly balky mood. He had a feeling it was due to go back on him altogether, and, on an impulse of better judgment, he swung up and over the cliffs.
He had barely reached the confluence of Solomon Creek with Nannabijou River when the motor went dead.
_ Fortunately, by skilful manipulation of his plane, he was enabled to glide safely down over the timbered sides of the mountain to the cleared area just above Nannabijou camps.
His plane was soon surrounded by wondering groups of camp workers from among whom there strode a member of the mounted force. He leaned close as Hammond was getting out of the mach-
“Inspeetor Little would like you to go down to his quarters at once, Mr. Hammond,” he said. “I will look after your machine.”
'“PHE inspector’s genial smile and hearty handshake did much to revive Hammond’s drooping spirits over his non-success in finding trace of Miss Stone. “Mighty glad to see you back safe and sound, old man,” he offered. “Find any clues up there as to the whereabouts of the young lady?”
Briefly Hammond gave a verbal report of his discoveries, adding that he was convinced Josephine Stone was still held prisoner somewhere up in the Cup.
The inspector sat for a few moments in a brown study. “H’mph, that’s interesting at any rate,” he finally spoke up. “Your findings seem to bear out what I have ^ already learned from other quar-
“I’d like to return and finish the investigation as soon as I can get the old bus in working order,” suggested Hammond.
“No, I couldn’t approve of that,” decided the inspector. “With that balky machine it would be too risky, and be-
sides, it might give warning to the gang we’re after, if they did not succeed in capturing you or doing you actual bodily
“Then what do you propose to do?” “To go up on foot with a half dozen picked members of the force just as soon as you’ve had a bite to eat and changed your flying togs. A private detective of Gildersleeve’s, Lynch by name, has discovered how that water-gate up there is operated, and we’re taking him along to show us how to get in.”
“Is Gildersleeve here?”
“He was, but he left for town on the early tug this morning, though I have a hunch I should have put him in custody until this whole thing is cleared up.”
“You still suspect him of underhand work?”
“Just now I hardly know what to suspect. There seems to be some unholy mystery here that’s mighty difficult to get to the bottom of. Gildersleeve may be innocent of having anything to do with the abduction of Miss Stone, but 1 am becoming more and more certain that there is some part he played out here he’s anxious to conceal. I expect you noticed that the beaver-dam in Solomon Creek was gone and the head of water that came down last night forced out the booms of pulpwood in the bay?”
“Yes. I imagine Gildersleeve would be wild over that.”
“Wild is no name for it. Before he left this morning he spent most of the time cursing everything and everybody. I think the man was drunk. Anyway, he insists that the North Star people blew up the dam with dynamite while the storm was on. But we can’t take any action on mere conjectures. Even if the dam were blown up the freshet left no clues behind. Our men made a thorough investigation this morning and could find no proof that the dam did not give way through natural causes. Now Gildersleeve swears he’s going after the Dominion Government for damages because we did not have a patrol watching the dam. I suppose we might have taken that precaution, but no one thought of danger in that direction.” “Without proof that the disaster occurred through preventable causes I don’t see how he can produce grounds for damages,” asserted Hammond.
“Nor I,” returned the inspector. “Furthermore, Gildersleeve has not from the first dealt on the square with us or taken us into his confidence. Off-hand I’d say he appeals to me like a man who’s been beaten at a game of double-cross where he was as deep-dyed as the other fellow, and now he’s aching to take his spleen out on a third party.
“But come, Hammond,” urged the inspector, “run along to the dining camp and have a snack of lunch, and as soon as you get your clothes changed we’ll make a
SANDY MACDOUGAL was glad to see Hammond again, but he appeared to be particularly out of sorts and uncommunicative this morning. It was only when Hammond was leaving the dining camp that he had anything in particular to say.
“It ain’t none of my business,” he told Hammond, “but if I was asked for any advice, I’d say keep away from that Cup. There ain’t anybody white ever went up there monkeyin’ around that something didn’t happen they were sorry for.”
The little expedition which set out for the mountain was composed of Inspector Little, five of his most experienced men, Lynch the private detective and Louis Hammond. Before they struck out Inspector Little insisted there was no neces-
sity for the civilians in the party carrying firearms and used this as an excuse for relieving Lynch of a murderous-looking revolver.
Lynch was loud in his protests that as a detective he should be allowed to carry the weapon, but it did not go with the inspector. “I am not carrying a gun myself,” he pointed out. “My men are armed and that is all that is necessary, for they are not liable to shoot unless it is a case of protecting our lives and their own.”
It was not only that he sought to guard against unnecessary bloodshed, but Inspector Little was not any too sure of his ground in entering the Cup of Nannabijou by means of force. The police held no warrant for the arrest of anyone except Nathan Stubbs, the pseudo camp preacher, and the doughty inspector was far from convinced that Stubbs was up in the Cup. The only pretext on which he felt he could legally demand the privilege of entering the Cup with an armed force, in case resistance were offered, was the right to search for the missing girl, Josephine Stone.
On the other hand, his distrust of Gildersleeve was growing along with a conviction that the mysterious happenings on Nannabijou Limits were far from being what they appeared to be on the surface. In this latter regard, he was determined not to be made the eatspaw of Gildersleeve through any trickery on the part of his detective.
The journey up the mountain and along Solomon Creek trail was made in comparative silence, except for the volubility of Lynch who bored the patient inspector with wild theories as to what existed beyond the Cliffs of Nannabijou.
When they reached the tunnel that opened out over the rapids of the creek, Lynch was all impatience to demonstrate his prowess in showing how the water-gate was operated. He reached up to the jutting bit of rock and fumbled for the tiny hole and inserted a match which he pressed.
There came instantly the mellow alarum of the bell above.
“Cripes, that’s sudden action for you,” he exclaimed. “I hardly pressed my finger on the match when the bell rang. It must be set on some sort of hair-trigger.”
Almost immediately the water in the channel dwindled and ceased to flow.
“That’s certainly a novel device,” declared the inspector as he stood with the others of the party staring at the streambed where the last trickle of water had vanished.
“Watch while I let it loose again,” cried Lynch. “Keep back, everybody, for she certainly comes down hell-bent when she’s opened.”
Inspector Little and Louis Hammond certain they caught the sound of voices somewhere above yelled it in unison.
But there was no stopping the irrepressible Lynch. The gong sounded again followed by the roar of the released torrent.
From up the channel there came a man’s hoarse shout and the piercing scream of a woman.
“Shut off the water, you damned idiot!” shouted Inspector Little.
But Lynch, in the excitement, had completely lost his wits. He didn’t seem able to locate the button again.
The inspector sprang back and shoved the detective out of the way while he reached for the projecting match in the hole himself.
Louis Hammond, at the edge of the raging torrent, stood transfixed, terrified at what he saw being flung down toward him on the crest of the maddened tide.
To be Concluded