CHARLES PHELPS CUSHING
FAR out on the sun-swept ledge of an office window, ten stories above the street, a set of blue prints was burning to a crisp. Nor was that the purpose for which they had been pushed forth a few minutes before by the man who now stood staring downward, his hands half-clenched, his eyes intense with a mixture of longing, sorrow and rebellion. A token, glimpsed with sudden clear perception, had set Jim Alison in revolt. After traveling many a year upon a beaten path, looking neither to the right nor the left because of the dim greyness which seemed to have enshrouded him after one glaring burst of brightness long ago, he had paused, this sunny spring morning, to glance aside. And in that glance he had found a rankling symbol of the tragedy of his existence.
It was a totem pole, nothing more; the shaft of barbarically-carved and gaudily-daubed cedar which anyone can see in Vancouver’s downtown district. To those who look upon it in the casual manner of the tourist, it is only a transplanted family tree from Northern British Columbia, whereon the pride and achievements of a tribe of the northland are carved in crude designs and embellished with garish colors. From this office window, which overlooked the sunlit bay and the harborside shipping and a little square, Jim Alison had gazed at that totem pole many times before; and dreamily watched the trolley cars and motors and ant-like humans scurrying around and around it. But to-day was the first time that it had seemed to have any personal meaning. Into his mind flashed now the realization that in his life there was no totem pole at all, no achievement—no hope.
And so it had been almost from the day of his birth. Someone had left him on a doorstep, a scrawny, ■wailing bit of humanity, to raise his baby hands in expressionless pleading, until at last they had clutched at the heart of a rich man. That gesture had made him the foster son and one of the heirs of John Alison, the mining engineer, a millionaire. But that had not won him a birthright. Something precious had been missing because of a lack of secrecy. At school other boys, rich men’s sons, had jeered at him as a foundling. In later days the girl to whom he bad sent a valentine had returned it. Her mother had proud notions about family and caste. In college
A ND there was where the real drabness of Jim Alison’s A. life had begun to oppress him. He had gone there a i t easily-embarrassed youth, haunted by a fixed idea h had worried him from childhood, the harassing X.ueht that he faced life with no credentials of parentage that in his rôle as John Alison’s son he was an interan;1 a person living forever under an assumed name with
an assumed personality. Money he had, that was true— and all the physical comforts that go with it. More wealth would be his in plenty at John Alison’s death. But there were other young men, in the same walks of life as he, who openly snubbed him. Sometimes he fancied that they reviled him, and that he always had been reviled; and there is an axiom concerning the constant dripping of water upon the stone.
And so Jim Alison had become more morose, more solitary, more prone to withdraw himself into a shell. Until, in college, he had met Edith Niven. Then—then the floodgates of a pent-up heart had been burst open. He had given her all that he had to give, a love that endured no bounds, a passion that looked only upon her loveliness and heeded not the circumstance that her conversations ran more often to his prospects of some day inheriting John Alison’s money than to anything in the nature of true sympathy. His was a love which could not comprehend her repeated allusions to a luxurious life in B. C., or long joumeyings to California and Florida, London and Paris. Nor could he divine the reason for the sudden coldness which had developed on the night of his departure for Vancouver at the eve of long vacation in his sophomore year at the School of Mines.
They stood under the poplars just down the street from her sorority house. He was telling her good-bye. That afternoon he had taken down the pictures and the pennants from the wall of his cell in the School of Mines and had packed all but one of his belongings into trunks. As a special mark of tenderness he had stowed the sofa pillow that Edith gave him for Christmas into his dress suit case. Then he had bought a one way ticket home, and solemnly said good-bye to all his classmates, for his intention then was firm to give up the profession of a mining engineer forever.
' I 'HAT was what Edith wanted him to do. Herheart, she said, was set on marrying a business man and living a futile life of luxury. Certainly, no one would ever catch her settling down in one of those dreadful lonesome camps where mining engineers are sent.
“Just a few months more,” she had said, in a voice which seemed soft with longing.
“That’s right,” Jim had laughed, with all the new enthusiasm that had been springing lately in his heart, “then comes the fight. I’m going to work hard for you, Edith.
I want to be sure I have something to offer you. ’
“To offer me? Why, you have that already. There’s always your father, you know, and when he’s gone—”
“That’s why I want to work now. Because when he’s
gone, things will and must be different. I’ve been an interloper, Edith. It hasn’t been fair to Helen. She’s been good enough to call me her brother, just as dad has called me his son. Which is all very well as long as he’s alive. But after he is gone, I’ll have to work for myself. It wouldn’t be fair to take from Helen what really is hers.”'
“But John Alison will want you to,” she objected.“ Surely* in his will—”
“That can all be changed,” he broke in. Then suddenly he had seized her, an outburst of pent-up emotion on his. lips. “Can’t you understand, Edith? I’ve stood it all my life—always in a false light. I’m an orphan, a foundling. I know I have no right to the affection or to thewealth of the man who calls himself my father. And I— well, I just can’t take his money unless I’ve done something: to deserve it.”
There was silence after that, except for the kiss of goodbye, a slight, brushing touch of lips against her cheek. The light that he had believed to be love in her eyes was» gone, but he, in his blindness, had not seen. He remembered only her promise, given long before, that if he “made? good” when he got “out into the world” she would marry"
A fortnight later he had returned to his cell in the School* of Mines, tacked up the pennants and the pictures on the? walls again, and tenderly replaced Edith’s sofa pillow at. the head of his couch. His foster father had been nearly*, heart-broken, so Jim had promised to go back and see the? college course through. Now he steeled himself to stick to the finish.
Edith Niven had not welcomed him back. She had let loose her caustic tongue and told him that he had no nerve. She had berated him as a quitter and John Alison as a selfish, vain old man.
Jim Alison always shuddered a little when he recalled’ what followed. Always he felt again the numbness ofr heart that had been his as he left the sorority house that night, whipped and desperate, stumbling in a daze.
He must have walked right into that motor car that skimmed around the comer and bowled him over. Hedimly recalled a crowd of the curious around him and someone pouring burning liquid down his throat from a flask. He had got to his feet at last, told his rescuers that he was. all right and to leave him alone. Then he had staggered’ away, out of their sight.
THE next he could remember was when, after desperate?
efforts to get across the campus, he stumbled and fell on the stone steps of the college library. There he was lying, pain-racked and helpless, when a flood of: yellow -
light dazzled his eyes, as the library door swung open and a girl came out. He remembered her afterward only as the Co-ed Samaritan. She had helped him to his feet and guided him across the campus to the front hall of his dormitory. That was the night he had won the sobriquet of “Rowdy.” The man who gave him the nickname related: “Well, I opened the door and who do you suppose was there? Our old teetotaler friend, Jim Alison, soused to the gills and his arm around a big blonde. I vote we call him ‘Rowdy’ ever after.”
“Rowdy” Alison had been graduated, at last, quite without honors. Then for two desperate years he had drudged away in his foster father’s office in the skyscraper in Vancouver, pining and day-dreaming.
Once in a while he called on Edith Niven, now one of his neighbors on a high-terraced Vancouver hill. She and his sister Helen were close friends, but Jim felt even less hopeful of winning Edith now than back in college days. She was as lovely to view as ever, as well-poised—but even more aloof.
JOHN ALISON was justified on one point—“Rowdy” still had some fight left. Pacing the deck of a steamer bound for Alaska, Jim Alison gathered desperate determin-
THEN came this Spring day, with its flash of perception, and its rankling symbol of futility and the impulse to revolt. He had thrown open the office window to push the blue print frame out into the sunlight. A rush of cool air on his cheeks and the crisp fragrance of Spring in his nostrils had suddenly set his blood a-tingle. He had looked out at the bay, sparkling in the clear sunlight, at the ships tempting him to wanderlust, and then at the little square far down below, with the trolley cars and motors and ant-like humans scurrying around its totem pole; and that barbarically-carved shaft of cedar had stirred the depths of his spirit.
The cry of his heart for change, for relief from this horrible and hopeless monotony of life, was too much to bear any longer in silence. His features twitching with emotion, he marched into John Alison’s office.
His foster father was standing at a window, and Jim’s first sight of him was a dejected profile, his hands clasped behind his back, his squarish grey head bent as he stared down into the little square whose centerpiece is a totem pole.
The old man turned when Jim entered and motioned him toward a chair. For a moment the foster son sat beside a big mahogany table, littered with engineering journals and papers, and fumbled among them, avoiding John Alison’s eyes.
Then slowly “Rowdy’s” head sank toward the table top and he buried his face in his outstretched
The old man hesitated. Then, faltering, he laid a kindly hand on Jim’s shoulder.
“Jim, my boy,” he choked, “tell
Jim looked up, weariness and determination struggling in the lines of his face.
“Dad,” he pleaded, “I want to make a fresh start. I’ve got some fight left. I want one more chance to show you!”
‘Til never admit you’ve failed,” John Alison answered. He hesitated a moment, then sat down at his desk, fumbled among his files. The papers in his hand shook as he pushed them before his foster son’s blurred eyes, and his voice was husky as he went on: “Listen, son. I’ll make you a proposition. I’m going to put up a new stamp mill, to grind the ore on our claim at Kitlope, in the Alaska panhandle. You're going to run it, all yourself. I’m going to sink a lot of money in that plant. If you lose it, you break yourself— and you break me. I believe in you, Jim. I think you can swing it. My boy, give it an honest try!”
Jim Alison looked up, saw the eager hope that shone in the old man’s eyes, and could not hesitate.
“I’ll try,” he vowed, “I’ll give it all I’ve got!”
He gripped the old man’s hands and stumbled out of the room.
ation, like a grim-faced soldier marching toward the trenches.
It was night when the ship nosed into the dock at Kitlope and Jim descended the gang plank. Even before his foot touched shore he caught an impression of startling modernity which quickly shattered all his imagined pictures of what the place would be like. A big electric sign flashed invitation to an up-to-date hotel. Newsboys were crying a daily paper. A swarm of hardy little motor cars scooted over the rumbling roadway of a well-lighted main street paved with heavy planking. Above this White Way, mounting the steep hillslopes, tier after tier of mills glowed like a miniature Pittsburgh, and the ground trembled with the vibration of ore-stamping machines.
Jim registered at the hotel, set his bags down in his room, and went out for a walk. He saw that all the stores and houses and the very streets themselves were in a battle against nature. They perched on stilts above the sticky muskeg, and not a foot of the ground was level anywhere, except for a little stretch of the main street.
In the moonlight, he toiled up a long flight of wooden stairs to the peak of the highest hill, his ears ringing with the thunders of the stamp mills and the roar of a mountain torrent dashing down the slopes in great cascades.
At the crest he halted, gasping for breath, and swept the moonlit horizon. Kitlope clung to the sides of a hilly island with high mountains walling its surrounding waters in all directions. A snow-capped barrier range on the mainland. A breakwater of mountainous islands out to sea.
Far down below him the main street of the town glowed at one end with steel blue arc lights and brightly-yellow windows, then dimmed off at the other end into a little forest of totem poles that marked the Indian quarter. “Totem poles again,” he thought. But here they were somehow not a rebuke—rather a stimulation. He caught
an odor of sawdust from the lumber mills and of fish from the canneries, and the smoke of the mine engines pungent in his nostrils. The big electric sign on the hotel flashed and darkened, flashed and darkened. But except for the glow of the town itself, not another light glimmered anywhere upon the whole horizon. Nothing but mountains water and wilderness, mile after endless mile, shimmering silvery in the moonlight.
And up there alone on the peak of that hilltop. Jim Alison told himself that here was a place that would stir the fight in a man if anything would, and he vowed he would give the task ahead of him all the power he could muster, heart and head and hand. If the Alison stamp mill didn’t make a go of it, he would die struggling, drop in the trenches with his boots on. Nobody here knew he was a foundling, and no one would care. Nobody here knew about his failures. He would claim a fresh start in life the chance he had prayed for to prove himself worthy.
VX7TIAT had he wanted to do, after all, but to match v y his wits against some other fellow’s, as business men do? Well, there were his rivals, those other stamp mills shaking the earth with their thunders of defiance. And the spark of zest kindled at last, as he recalled his foster father’s pleadings:
“You’re going to run it, all yourself____If you lose,
you break yourself—and break me. Give it an honest try!’’’ And Jim repeated aloud, staring down at the totem poles with his fists clenched:
“I’ll try! I’ll give it all I’ve got!”
Jim was out in the open air now, all day long, watching over the construction of the mill. At night he checked up bills of lading and building specifications. And he liked it even the “paper work,” for now it all meant something that gripped him—something vital and dramatic, with a flavor of romance.
A four-room shack on stilts above the muskeg sheltered his living quarters, his tiny office and the laboratory of the plant’s chemist, a taciturn old bachelor named Burton.
Jim gathered that Burton had been a “grind” at college. The chemist’s conversation was often highly technical and not easy for Jim to understand, and there wasn’t a great deal of it at the best. But he represented as much of social life as Jim now had time for—that is, someone to talk to at meals and just before bedtime.
The little leisure that Jim could find in the evenings of those first busy days when the mill was nearing completion was mostly spent under an electric light bulb at a pine table in the shack, writing letters to John Alison and to Edith and reading books and magazines.
When the machinery was at last all installed and ready for operation, his foster father ran up to Kitlope for a few days to look the place over. Jim had a good visit with the old man, and they both felt themselves drawn more closely together than ever before. But John Alison made one point clear from the moment of his arrival; that he was not there to give orders.
“You’re running this plant all yourself, son,” he warned. “I’ll furnish advice if I’m asked for it, but that’s all.”
The old man stayed only long enough to hear the stamping machines of the Alison plant thunder their first day’s challenge to the rival mills of Kitlope. Then he boarded ship again.
A WEEK later Jim received a •f*package of new books from home, a crated phonograph, with an assortment of records and a note:
Thinking you'll soon have more time for recreation, I send some reading mutter and music. The big tug will come when you find some spantime on' your hands.
Jim played all the records over and decided that the one he liked best was by Lizst, the Second llun-
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garian Rhapsody. Edith used to play that for him in her sorority house, back in college days. It made him feel choky and sentimental the first evening he heard it, but after that he liked it because it somehow seemed to express the mood of his life in Alaska.
“You seem right stuck on that piece,” Burton observed. “It’s got sentimental associations, I suppose?”
Then Jim told him about Edith. _
Burton shook his head and smiled grimly.
“No girl for a mining engineer,” he declared. “That kind of woman wouldn’t last a month in a place like Kitlope.”
“The worst of it is,” Jim added helplessly, “she. .. .she has her heart set on living mostly in big cities, abroad.”
“Nothing remarkable about that,” the chemist answered in a sudden burst of bitterness. “Half the young women of Canada or the U.S. want to pull up stakes and head for New York or Paris. All the young ones hate their home towns. That’s one reason why I’ve never got married. Say ‘Kitlope’ to one of these pink tea girls and she shies away from you as if you had the plague.”
Jim looked up, troubled, questioning.
“Most of the new novels we get up here and about half the magazine stories help a lot to make them feel that way,” the chemist finished, subsiding abruptly. It was the longest speech he had made in three months, and Jim judged the matter was one that touched him deeply.
Jim nodded. He had noticed the same thing about those new novels and magazine stories. And he didn’t like it a little bit. All who wanted them could have their big cities, he said, but for his own part he preferred a new country, where a fellow had a chance to prove what was in him. And he said he never had felt more 'than half alive until the day he set foot in this little town in Alaska, and rolled up his sleeves to pitch into a man’s sized job.
“I’ve got work here,” he boasted, “that’s got the real spark of romance to it. This is living!”
Burton let him run on to the end, then smiled sourly. »
“Tell that to your girl in Vancouver,” he advised. “She’ll bring you back to earth with a flop... .Listen, my young friend. This job is new to you now. You’re happy because it keeps you too busy to think. But wait another year. By that time things will be coasting along on their own momentum. You won’t be so all-fired essential around the plant then. You’ll find a lot of spare time hanging heavy on your hands. Then you’ll get lonesome, like me. Then you’ll want to get married. Then the pink tea girls will give you the cold shoulder. And then you’ll change your tune.”
Jim laughed and called him an old killjoy. But he got to thinking about it afterward and remembered that John Alison had sounded the same warning. He wrote to Edith about it, and her answer was a cold reminder that her heart was still set on marrying a business man and living most of the time abroad—certainly not in the wilds.
Jim was troubled, but he was too busy at the time to let it depress him. He would cross that bridge when he got to it. His task right now was to make a success of the Alison stamp mill—and it was a man’s sized job.
BUT the crisis in Jim Alison’s life came suddenly and long before the wiseacres had predicted. “Crosses and troubles amany had vexed him”—delayed shipments of material, engine breakdowns, labor shortage—and then, on top of all, descended an epidemic of influenza. Half of the mill hands of Kitlope were stricken with it; and the strain of Jim’s work was doubled. Burton caught the malady and had to lay off for two weeks, but recovered rather quickly. Jim caught it next, and fared much worse, overwork and exposure and lack of sleep had so weakened his powers of resistance.
Burton telegraphed to John Alison that Jim needed professional care, and on the next boat from Seattle, arrived a trained nurse. She was just the kind of young woman that John Alison would he expected to select, capable, strong, and knowing almost as much about medicine as a doctor —the best professional nurse that money could secure. She arrived not a minute too soon, nor with a fraction less of skill
and Spartan endurance than was needful to save Jim’s life. He hovered so close to the mouth of the dark valley that his outstretched arms felt the chill of its shadows.
In the last hours of his delirium he found himself stumbling again on the steps of the college library. That flood of yellow light again, and the Samaritan co-ed, her arm around his shoulders, was helping him struggle to his feet....
And now, once more, a flood of light. Again he stared and waited in trembling dread.
But this time he saw lonly the rough board ceiling of his shack in Kitlope, lighted by a table lamp near his bedside. A young woman sat near the lamp, with head bent as she scribbled on a little tablet. She wore a white cap and a white dress, and the light shimmered golden on her hair. Then Jim understood what had happened to him.
“How—how do you do?” he said, feebly.
The nurse looked up quickly,then smiled. It was a good smile with gladness in it, one that Jim never forgot, and the lines of weariness in the face heightened by contrast the relief it expressed. She was wholesome, good to look at, with a beauty that lay deeper than the lines of fatigue could hide.
“I must have been a lot of trouble to you?” Jim quavered.
“We were dreadfully worried for a while,” she confessed. “But now things are going to be brighter. You mustn’t talk any more to-night. Close your eyes now'and try to'sleep... .sleep.”
He awoke next morning remembering how her hand had soothed his forehead and how the chant of the world “sleep” had lulled him to rest. When he opened his eyes, Burton was sitting beside him. Jim smiled a welcome and extendéd a feeble hand. The chemist gripped it heartily, •grinning like a boy. He was bursting to tell the news of the plant. Propped up in pillows, Jim listened eagerly.
Everything rolling along smoothly. This had been next to the best month of record. System was the thing, and the Alison plant sure had it. John Alison had sent along a warm letter of appreciation, thanking everybody concerned for their loyalty. Burton drew it out of his coat pocket and read it. The words warmed Jim’s heart.
“Above all, don’t forget to extend my congratulations to Miss Brown, the nurse,” the letter concluded. “From what you say she must be a regular marvel. Tell Jim she was recommended by Miss Edith Niven as the best in Seattle.”
“And she is a marvel,” the chemist added, with a sober earnestness and a glow in his eyes that struck Jim as rather remarkable for so embittered a bachelor.
Jim couldn’t help a faint smile.
“You needn’t laugh,” Burton countered, bluntly. “She saved your life. Don’t ever forget that!” Then, flushing, he hurried on: “And I don’t mind adding
that she’s done something remarkable to this lonesome old shack. I don’t know justhow, but she'smade things a lot more cheerful. Makes me feel glad I’m alive. You’re laughing?”
“I’m not laughing.”
“She takes to this place, too, just as you did. Seems to love it. There’s a real woman, I can tell you! No pink tea stuff about her!”
SHE came into the room as Burton was ending. Jim looked at her; then looked at Burton and noted a strange glow in the chemist’s eyes. Burton blushed and hurried out. “Big day ahead, and he must get back on the job early.”
The nurse nodded to Burton and sat down by Jim’s cot. She had given the chemist only a glance. She was soothing Jim’s forehead now and he had a good look at her eyes. Odd—there was the same kind of light in them that had shone in the chemist’s only a moment before. Jim was puzzled, but too tired to try to study the matter out. With the nurse soothing his forehead, he dropped to sleep again.
A convalescent, too feeble to do more than lie on his cot and watch life like a spectator at a play, Jim was at first more amused than sympathetic at the awkward attempts of the chemist to win his way into Nora Brown’s affections.
But soon he began to feel rather sorry for old Burton. And later, when he heard
that the chemist had mustered up the courage at last to propose to her and had been tactfully but firmly rejected, the affair took on an aspect somehow tragic. For Burton needed such a girl so woefully, and he was withal such a deserving, capable sort, so loyal and untiring—it really seemed a pity.
But in a way, though he didn’t like to confess it to himself, Jim was glad. He was learning to care a lot for her himself, and it wouldn’t be pleasant 'to 'lie there helpless and watch another fellow carry her off. He couldn’t bear the thought, either, that Nora Brown was not to dwell there in Alaska forever, and that every day of his convalescence brought her departure nearer. Burton was right—she made that lonesome shack seem cheerful. And she was the ideal sort of girl for a fellow whose lot was cast in the hills of Kitlope.
The upshot of it was that he dictated a letter to Edith Niven asking her if she still felt the same way about wanting to live abroad. The nurse wrote it for him, and when she passed it over to him to'sign she had that strange intensity in her eyes that he had noticed there often before when she looked at him—a glowing wistfulness that made him want to grip her hand—a look he had often dreamed of seeing in Edith Niven’s eyes, but which had never shone there. A look for which his heart was hungry.
Edith Niven was prompt in her reply and emphatic. Was her heart still set on living principally abroad? It was!
When Jim read that curt message his resentment flared. He crumpled the letter in his hand and flung it on the floor. He had labored desperately hard at Kitlope and he had made good there, manfully shouldering big responsibility. But what did Edith care? What about her promise to him that if he made good when he “got out into the world” she would marry him? Had he failed? With a start be recalled Burton’s bitter judgment on the “pink tea girls.” Yes. the old cynic was right.
Jim sent another letter to Edith Niven. He wrote it himself this time. It was a missive strictly personal and not too good-humored. It hit out from the shoulder and hit hard.
JIM was up and about now. rapidly gaining strength. More and more poignantly he was thinking about Nora Brown. In a few more weeks at most she would be bidding him good bye, and the very thought of it frightened him. How he would miss her! How lonesome the shack would be when she was gone! She had come to mean more to him than he dared say.
He was thinking this one sunshiny spring afternoon, as he sat wrapped in a steamer rug on the little front porch of the shack, and Nora, who had just returned from the village with the mail, came out of the house, radiant, waving a letter.
"Good news,” she announced.
She made him try to guess it, but he failed on all attempts.
“It’s about a girl named Edith Niven.” Jim wondered at himself that he could be so unmoved at the mention of that name, but it was with almost a smile that he answered.
“I’d almost forgotten her.”
Nora Brown faltered a moment, and there was a look in her eyes that Jim loved to see there, and that he felt he could not mistake. Then, soberly and quietly, she warned him:
“You’ll have a chance, soon enough, to recall her. She’s coming up here next Monday night, with your sister Helen. Your sister wrote a week ago to ask if you were well enough to receive visitors. I answered that you were. Here’s her reply. They plan to spend a month.”
Jim read the letter over and groaned.
ACHILL Scotch mist swept the muskegcovered hills that night, as Jim, in a flivver, motored down the slippery black planks of Kit.lope’s streets to meet his sister and Edith Niven at the pier.
Jim sat beside Edith in the back seat of the car on the way home and studied her face. He felt somehow as if he never before had seen her at close range and clearly. For if he had, how could he have failed to notice more than her mere outward beauty? How could the discontent in her eyes have escaped him, the querulousness in her voice, her arrogant vanity?
Jim didn’t need to tell himself that he never could hope to make these two superior creatures from the city catch the thrill of life that he himself had felt in Kitlope. He knew they never could under-
stand. All they would see was that the streets'were planks, the houses frame and none too beautiful, and that the whole place smelt of fish and smoke and sawdust and trembled with vibrations from 'the stamp mills. They had announced that they were going to stay here a month. Plow would he stand it?
But by dinner the next evening Edith had changed her mind. She told him that they had decided to shorten their visit from a month to a week. He would understand, she said. There really wasn’t much to do in Kitlope,—accommodations at the hotel were not at all what they had been accustomed to—“so dreadfully primitive.” They couldn’t even sit up late and read, for the lights of the city power plant were rudely shut off at eleven,
Jim nodded, saying nothing. He understood, all right.
In slow minutes of torture, five more days dragged by. Jim realized keenly enough that some sort of understanding must be reached with Edith. He had postponed the inevitable “show-down” as long as he could. Now he must have it over. After supper that evening, he mustered up all his resolution and said to her, bluntly:
“I want to talk to you alone.”
“If you like, we’ll take a motor boat'ride down the bay.”
“Whatever you choose.”
Jim secretly cherished a hope that Edith might like that ride, for it was one he had come to love, a sea voyage among mountains. He often had told Burton that there wasn’t a'seene in all the world more lovely than that mountain-walled passage at sunset, with its opal waters mirroring the snow-capped peaks. And it never had been lovelier to view than it was this very evening.
Edith seemed little impressed, however. She remarked upon its beauty in her calm, aloof way, just as she might have criticized a water color landscape in the window of an art store.
A flush of resentment mounted to Jim’s cheeks. But, after all, maybe she was right. They hadn’t come here to talk about scenery, but rather about themselves. So Jim plunged headlong'into the thing he felt he must say—that he had “made good” at Kitlope.
“Wait, Jim,” she begged. Her tone was not so cold now, and he felt the touch of her hand on his arm. “Let’s not make this ordeal any more painful than it has to be,” she hurried on. “Jim, dear, I’m glad for your sake, and for John Alison’s, that you’ve done so well here. We’re all rather proud of you, really.”
“And I suppose you’d have a perfect right to hold me to my promise if you liked. But, please, Jim, I’d rather you wouldn’t insist. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but surely you can see that I never could bring myself to live in such a place as Kitlope?^ It would kill me.”
“Yes, I can see.”
She studied his face a moment, then quickly withdrew her hand. A moment later a smile was hovering about the corners of her mouth.
“And besides, Jimmy,” she added, “I’m beginning to suspect that you’re already in love with another.”
“Don’t try to deny it. I don’t blame you. Don’t you think I know, too, that all convalescents lose their hearts to their nurses?”
“Please,” he pleaded, “don’t laugh.” “I’m serious, Jim. Really. Nora Brown is a good match for you. A splendid girl. Don’t forget I recommended her.”
Jim winced and kept silent. Deep in his own thoughts, he wheeled the motor boat around in a big arc and headed the prow toward the docks of Kitlope.
ROWDY” Alison sat alone in his little bedroom in the shack the next evening, drumming his fingers on a table under the glow of a solitary electric light bülb and mournfully pondering.
Somehow, life seemed to have doubled back upon him to the starting point. The room reminded him poignantly of his old cell in the dormitory of the School of Mines. There was Edith Niven’s sofa pillow at the head of his couch. There were a few of the old pictures and pennants of college days, tacked up on the rough board walls. It was all just as it used to be, but even bleaker.
Never in his life had he felt quite so lonesome. His sister and Edith Niven had bade him good bye that afternoon and taken the boat for Vancouver. Burton was out, visiting'somewhere in the village. He had seen nothing of Nora since dinner time—in itself a reminder that soon she would be gone from him forever.
What was the use of it all anyway? The stamp mill was running now almost by its own momentum. Unless he chose to expand the plant and pledge himself to bear a further weight of responsibility, he might say at last to John Alison:
“My house is all in order. Another engineer can step in tc-morrowmorning and take my place.”
Ahead of him now loomed only year after year of routine, while loneliness settled down upon him, embittering his life just as it had embittered the old chemist’s.
He got up and paced the length of the room and back, but he felt too weary to find relief in walking. He plumped down in a chair, and sat a long while staring at. vacancy and drumming on the table top with his fingers.
The electric light bulb above his head slowly dimmed, then went out. It must be eleven o’clock—‘the power plant was shutting down for the night.
In the dark he sat there motionless, musing a few minutes longer, wavering in his mind between despair and anger. At last, a sudden revolt at his vacillation seized him. He would see the thing through to the dismal end, if only as a sacred duty, as a'tribute of desperate loyalty to the man who had given him his one big chance! He jumped to his feet and clenched his fists. The chair tumbled over and bumped heavily on the floor.
He heard footsteps in the next room. The door was suddenly flung open. A flood of yellow light, and Nora entered. The lamp in her hand, held high as she peered at him anxiously, glowed golden on her hair, and in a start of bitter recollection Jim told himself that this was the last touch to make the picture of his old desperation of college days complete. The old cycle all recreated—she might pass as the Samaritan co-ed, grown older.
Troubled, she asked him what had caused the clatter.
“It’s nothing,” he assured her. “I was having a little struggle with temptation. It’s all over now, I think.” He smiled. “And it seems to be a victory.”
“I’m so glad!” she said, simply.
Jim was studying her features, searchingly, wistfully.
“When I saw your face just now in the lamplight,” he confided, “I had a strange fancy. I thought I had known you for years. Ever since I was a sophomore in college.”
Her cheeks flushed.
. “Perhaps,” she faltered, “—that isn’t a fancy.”
Jim was on his feet. Eagerly, he clutched her arms. ► f
“Then you—you were that Samaritan co-ed? ItwasÿOM.”
SOBERLY, she nodded, blushing, avoiding his gaze. Then she looked up and Jim saw again that old wistful glow in her eyes, the look of love his heart hungered for and which he felt sure he couldn’t mis-
“You do love me!” he cried, joyfully. “You do! Why won’t you say yes, Nora? Don’t you see how I long for you? How woefully I need you?”
She tried to smile, while tears glistened in her eyes. She wavered.
“That’s broken off.”
Before she could whisper her answer, Jim’s exulting arms had clasped her tight.
“I’ve loved you, Jim,” she confessed, “all these years—ever since that night in college days. I felt so sorry for you then. Later, so proud of what you’ve made of yourself.”
They had stepped out on to the little front porch of the shack, in the starlight, when they heard Burton’s footsteps toiling up the long flight of wooden stairs that, mounted the muskeg-covered hillside. When he came within hailing distance, Jim called out to him:
“Oh, Burt! Got a surprise for you.” For a moment the chemist stood stock still and silent. Then they saw him slowly nod his head.
"Some fellows have all the luck,” he mused. “Well, congratulations! I’ll hike back to town now and wire John Alison. We need a totem pole.”