THE UNCONSIDERED ELEMENT
CHARLES G. BOOTH
FOR SOME distance the grade had been hewn perilously out of the mountain side and the blizzard coming suddenly and furiously out of the northwest had precipitated upon it accumulations of débris and snow loosened by a series of storms. The transcontinental had miraculously escaped one slide, only to be stalled by another a mile or so farther on.
Inside the parlor car, sunning themselves in the fleeting luxury of transcontinental transportation, were eight or ten passengers. One of them, a large, expansive sort of person, radiating that third-rate magnetism which is unequalled for railway or steamship travel, was describing a hunting trip in the immediate vicinity of the stalled train. While his audience included everyone within hearing distance, most of his remarks were addressed to an attractive-looking girl with whom, by one of the accidents of travel, he had developed an intimacy at which several lady passengers of uncertain age were already nodding their heads mysteriously. He seemed unaware that the girl’s attention had wandered from his narrative to a rather disconsolate-looking young man sitting by himself on the opposite side of the car. Whether her interest was stimulated by sympathy for his very evident state of loneliness, or by a natural curiosity concerning an air of self-disparagement that seemed the distinctive feature of his somewhat negative personality, could not be detected.
Certainly the young man was not aware of her interest. Indeed, at that moment, he was trying to evolve in his mind some method whereby he could bring himself to her notice. He had been at this arduous task for three days now and with no noticeable success.
ONE might have said of Philip Laird that his manner suggested one who has rather undervalued his personal worth and, in consequence, in this respect at least, has found the world only too ready to agree with him. There was no distinctive defect in his face; taken individually his features were good. Yet, strangely enough, the air of self-disparagement persisted without apparent
reason for its being there, and in spite of a certain negative promise about him which hinted at the existence of character and ability necessary to meet an emergency, granting a stimulus behind these too-deeply ingrained qualities and an opportunity of developing them. He seemed a decent enough young man—one whom it might be pleasant to know, providing one could penetrate this unnatural repressive armor in which he had encased himself.
Suddenly there came an interruption. The conductor was at the door, an unusual gravity on his agreeable face.
“There’s a pretty bad case in one of the staterooms,” he announced. “Peritonitis, the doctor calls it.”
“Who is it?” demanded the large, expansive man.
“A girl, Mr. Galer. Lloyd is her name. She came on at Winnipeg—some of you may remember her. She was taken ill last night.”
Some of them did. A pretty, fair-haired girl she was, delicate, ethereal like a bit of imprisoned sunlight, and in pursuit of health with her mother. The passengers murmured their sympathy. Galer said something must be
“Yes. That’s why I’m here,” said the conductor. “Doctor Leeds is going through to the Coast and he’s undertaken the case. We hoped to get her to Vancouver but she’s taken a turn for the worse—due to the shock of the slide, I guess. Anyhow, we won’t move out of here before morning and there must be an operation within six hours. Doctor Leeds has his instruments, but there’s no chloroform.”
The conductor stopped and by reason of that magnetism which seems to be an attribute of personality, his eyes came to rest on Galer. The action was purely subconscious on the conductor’s part; his perceptive powers were not overly keen and he had accepted Galer at his own valuation.
“We’ve got to get chloroform,” he went on as though he were addressing Galer personally. “The train crew are working like fiends. I can’t spare one of them—unless there’s no one else. Does anyone here know this country? Just behind us there’s a spur running partly around the mountain-about two miles. At the end of it there’s a big logging outfit. They are sure to have a doctor and plenty of chloroform,” The conductor’s glance swept the car, returning to Galer.
“As much as a man’s life is worth to go out in that storm,” Galer remarked. Muoh of the warmth had left his voice.
“Oh, please yourselves, .of course,” said the conductor, disappointment in his face. “I thought there might be
The men passengers squirmed in their chairs and those with women-folk interrogated them with their eyes and found relief in their disapproval. Most of them were elderly men, solid and business-like, and quite unfitted to cope with an aggressive blizzard in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
“Is there much snow?”
The conductor examined the speaker candidly and doubtfully. “Yes, a couple of feet out of the wind,” he replied, dismissal in his tone, his eyes returning to the more promising Galer.
It was Laird who had spoken. Some unaccountable impulse had driven the words out of him, forced him momentarily into the limelight. He saw the girl he was longing to know looking at him pleasantly. Warm sympathy leaped the dozen or so feet between them; a responsive glow generated within him. There was something wholesome, energizing, about her. The rôle of nonentity he had always assumed had become suddenly distasteful to him. His loneliness, his separatio» from his kind had become a preposterous thing.
T TNCONSCIOUSLY his fingers closed about a tiny L lace-edged handkerchief with the initial “M” in one corner, concealed in his pocket. A rosy flush suffused
Mis 'face. Never before had he done such a thing. He •ought to have returned it at once.
“Why, you know this country, Mr. Galer,” Laird heard one of the women exclaim suddenly. “You were telling us just now—”
“Oh, that was farther east,” explained Galer. “The time I got the two bears, one after the other.”
“No, no,” persisted the woman. “I mean when you got the cariboo in the blizzard and you were all alone. You said it was near the last station we passed. Didn’t he, Miss Deane?” She turned to the subject of Galer’s attentions, but the girl only smiled faintly and said nothing. She seemed more interested in what Galer was going to say than in what he had said before.
“But that was nothing like this, Mrs. Leeds. Why, this wind must be doing forty miles!” Galer peered at the opaque square of window nearest him as though he thought it possible to judge the velocity of the wind.
“Think of that poor girl!” Mrs. Leeds murmured indignantly.
The conductor pressed the point. “Unless we get the chloroform it’s all up with her. She can’t last. But don’t go, Mr. Galer, unless you feel sure you can get back safely. I’d sooner try one of the men.” Apparently the conductor had faith in his crew.
Galer looked uncomfortable and said nothing. If he was hoping the conductor would go he W'as disappointed. Instead he was looking at Galer hopefully, and the passengers, unconsciously playing the secondary rôle Galer had long since assigned them, were watching him breathlessly, awaiting the decision which would sustain the impression of his character Ga’er had fixed upon their minds. By no process cf reasoning was it Galer’s duty to volunteer, but an assumption of leadership in the commonplaces of life connotes certain obligations which are none the less compulsory because they are illogical. Galer had either to rise to the occasion or surrender the pedestal he had built himself. And Galer rose to the occasion magnificently.
He got to his feet, more expansive than ever.
“I’ll go,” he announced, conscious of the dramatic effect of his words. His big body dominated the group, for Galer was built in proportion to his conceit. “It’s a bit risky, but I don’t mind that if it’ll give the girl a chance,” he added.
Instantly he was the center of an admiring and congratulating group.
Tribute to his mettle showered upon him and he accepted it discreetly.
He had command of the situation again and once his admirers had subsided he spoke.
“I suppose there’s no one who wants to go along,” he remarked in a tone that suggested certainty, rather than mere supposition. “Though I think I can get along better, alone,” he added modestly.
“I’d go myself if I was ten years younger,” a smallish man in brown said in a tone that challenged contradiction.
“Yes,” said a voice, “I’ll go.”
A short silence ensued as the passengers turned upon the speaker.
A vacuum, might suddenly have descended into the car, so still was that moment of blank astonishment.
Laird, conscious of the sensation his words had created, moved uneasily, the blood mounting in waves to his neck and face.
“I’ll go with you,” he announced again, to assure himself it was he who had spoken. His voice was stronger, more positive; a resonant quality gave it tone.
MISS DEANE was watching him curiously, satisfaction at this miracle of awakening personality in her eyes. There was something in her quiet, dark-eyed regard of the suddenly conspicuous Laird that was more than mere passing interest. It resembled, rather, the friendly observation of one who has developed a theory and is suddenly afforded an unexpected opportunity of testing it. Laird saw it, a queer exultation bubbling within him. He felt as though he had forever cast behind him thé shabby drabness of former
It was not Galer, but the smallish man who recovered first.
“My dear sir!” be expostulated. “It’s out of the question. Why, why....” He had difficulty in explaining just why. “In that storm!” he went on lamely.1 “Why it—it requires a strong, capable man--such as Mr. Galer. You will pardon me, but my dear sir. . ” The smallish man subsided into himself, horribly conscious of the delicacy of the subject.
“You don’t think me sufficiently capable,” Laird went on calmly, but with an unprecedented determination in his voice. “Probably you are right, but I’m going.”
“You’d better not,” advised Galer, coining to himself. “I can manage alone.” A new note had crept into his voice. “The storm is pretty bad; it’s no use two of us running the risk.” The earnestness in Galer’s voice was real enough, whatever inspired it, but its effect was the opposite of that desired.
"That’s all right,” said Laird. “I don’t mind the risk.” He looked Galer squarely in the eyes; then his glance swept the observation car. Of all those there the girl alone seemed to understand. Something flamed wdthin him. The turmoil outside lost all its terrors. He felt himself armored impenetrably by this new conception of himself.
A curious expression lay in Galer’s eyes. “I don’t want you, Laird. You’d only be in the way. Besides, I’ll have my w'ork cut out to look after myself, as it
This candid statement brought a deeper flush to Laird’s face. “Nevertheless I’m going.” With this he sw'ung around and w'ent to his compartment.
“Bumptious little fool,” he heard someone say. “You can never tell about these quiet ones,” added another.
ONE of the crew lent Laird a pair of heavy boots W'hich, with a woolen sweater, an ulster, and a pair of thick woolen gloves, promised some resistance to the intense cold.
Much as he disliked the man, he and Galer would
have to start together, and Laird was about to join Galer at the other end of the car where he was the centre of an admiring group, when he heard his name spoken.
It was the girl.
“I wonder if you realize what you are doing, Mr. Laird?” she began. “It’s fine of you, but—She seemed suddenly lost in embarrassment.
“You don’t think I’m fit for the job, Miss Deane,” Laird said. For three days he had dreamed of speaking to her and now' his dream had come true he was surprisingly master of himself.
“No, no. it isn’t that.” A troubled expression grew’ into her eyes.
“Well,” he compromised, “I’m not as fit as Galer, you
“Have you ever been in the mountains, Mr. Laird?” she countered.
“I never saw' a mountain until this morning.”
She smiled. “That’s just it; Mr. Galer has. He’s had just that outdoor experience so essential to such a task as this. He’s hunted and fished through the Rockies ever so many times, while you know nothing of
“Did Mr. Galer ask you to tel! me this, Miss Deane?”
Her embarrassment increased and Laird w’ondered at Galer’s persistency.
“Now’ you are angry with me.” she cried. “But to be truthful, he did. though I was going to anyhow.”
Laird smiled. “I have a confession to make. When I told Galer I would go I felt afraid, horribly afraid. I’m a coward at heart, a rotten little coward.”
“Oh, but that can’t be, Mr. Laird,” she protested. “If you really think that, it’s because you have never been tested before. After all, one’s courage or cowardice is the result of one’s attitude towuird a danger that is foreseen and feared.”
“It’s true enough. Probably I’ll never be anything else. But I’m going through with (his, I’m going out with Galer and I'm coming bo«;, with
“That simply proves my argument,” she smiled triumphantly.
She gave him her hand and Laird thrilled to its touch. It was firm and a little tanned, and its warm grip inspired him with a fresh measure of confidence. An indescribable happiness possessed him; if any fear had remained in his heart it had vanished now. He remembered the journey he had been taking and what it had meant to him through the long, gray years he had been preparing for it. The thought of those empty years chilled him. He had told himself there was nothing in life that could equal the realization of his desire; he had bent his energies to its attainment and neglected that social contact which strengthens a man’s grip on himself; and here to his hand was a world he had never dreamed of.
“You are both coming back,” she said gravely, after a small pause. For a moment their eyes met: then they joined the group surrounding
“You are determined to go?” demanded Galer, a harsh note in his voice.
A moment later they wen? outside.
'T'HE conductor took them to the *■ spur which branched off the main track just behind the stalled transcontinental.
"These might come in useful," he shouted at them, giving each a circular flashlight. “It’s up-grade all the way, but the wind will have cleared the track.” With an indistinct word of encouragement he left them.
In silence they struck out together, their mutual animosity a barrier to any attempt at combating with speech the tempest around them. The wind whipped them savagely, shrieking and whining a perpetual challenge, flinging clouds of stinging snow in their faces, and penetrating their garments as though they «ere
' *The wind swept down the track parallel with the rising grade, brushed it clear of whatever snow attempted to accumulate by the raiis, and left the ground between the ties COntinued on page 88
The Unconsidered Element
Continued from pane 25
frozen to a metallic hardness. Against whatever tree or rock obstruction that offered resistance to the fury of the storm immense white drifts had piled. Around these, puffs of snow rotated like whirlpools until, with a pause in the rush of the wind, they would augment the heaping drifts.
The power of the wind was incredible. Laird had never experienced anything like it. It lunged at his body in compact, unyielding gusts, invisible, yet possessed of an inescapable substantiality. Nevertheless, he drove his aching body against it and through it. The exaltation of the pilgrim was his; bodily distress had become trivial in comparison.
Laird appeared unconscious of Galer, who seemed to fare no better. Time and again the wind would fling their bodies together, then drag them apart as though the contact were as distasteful to the elements as to the men themselves.
They had gone perhaps half a mile, when on one side of the track there appeared suddenly out of the whiteness, a dark object which evolved into a tumbledown shanty, windowless, doorless, but still capable of withstanding the blizzard tugging at its four corners. Galer made for it, and Laird, not averse from a moment’s respite from the storm, followed him.
Inside, they dropped wearily on sections of logs intended for seats, which their flashlights had revealed to them. A battered, rickety table stood in the center of the shanty, and upon this they set their torches.
"Look here, Laird, we’ve gone far enough. If you want to lose your life, I don’t. It’s up-grade all the way and the higher we get the worse it will be.” There was a bullying, threatening note in Galer’s voice. His complacency, his sureness, had gone; his expansive geniality had dropped from his face like a discarded mask.
“Why did you come?” demanded Laird, a hard, level note in his voice, an inflexibility in his pose as he leaned toward Galer.
This new attitude on Laird’s part seemed to stagger Galer. Apparently it had not occurred to him that under stress of circumstances Laird might tire of his habitual passive rôle. He pulled himself together and leaned across the table, his mouth twitching a little and revealing a looseness not noticeable before.
“They forced me into it, Laird. They expected it of me.” Galer paused a moment as though this distasteful confession had sickened him. “And you had to butt in,” he went on. “Why did you do it, you idiot! What’s your game? You act like a wooden image for four days;then, you jump headfirst into this inferno.”
Laird’s mouth tightened. “Do you mean, Galer, that you had no intention of finishing what you started?” A note of incredulity had crept into Laird’s voice. “Just what were you going to do?” Laird was on his feet now, his eyes blazing. In the spread of light his smallish body bulked large, and seemed to have acquired an unprecedented dignity.
Galer’s head dropped. “We’ll stay here for a while; then we’ll go back. We’ll tell them we couldn’t get through. We’ll tell them, we’ll tell them......”
He seemed to wither before the scorn in Laird’s face.
“We can’t go on, Laird,” he tried
“That was what you were going to do if I hadn’t come!” shouted Laird. “You were going to tell them that!”
“But we can’t get through. We’d never make it!” Galer was whimpering
“You may do as you please; I’m going!” And taking his flashlight Laird swung
Galer laid a detaining hand upon him. “Laird! Don’t go! Laird!”
“Get out of my way!” snapped Laird. And Galer obeyed.
WITH head down Laird drove into the storm again. The bare grade rose continuously in the teeth of the wind; and the higher he climbed the more unmercifully was he pounded. The wind caught him in its capacious arms, hugged him, struck him tremendous blows, shrieked its barbaric glee at his return, in his ears. Revelling in its omnipresence it dragged at him, whirled him around as though he were a top, impelled him forward suddenly and as suddenly brought him to a standstill. It was inescapable, unbeatable, it made sport of him, it lashed him unmercifully.
His limbs responded mechanically to the unconscious command of his brain and presently his body became dulled to the pain the wind and the cold inflicted upon it. He no longer faltered in his stride, but went on and on like some tireless machine well versed in the routine of its daily grind.
The task he had set himself ceased to wear the garb of realism. Even the despicable cowardice of Galer was almost forgotten. For the first time in his colorless, effortless life he was tasting adventure. Romance, that priceless bequest of the gods which so long had passed him by, was now his.
His mind went swinging back to a month or so ago. His chilled lips achieved a smile as remembrance of the routine of his past life, fluttered timidly into his mind.
PRESENTLY, he became conscious of lights, scores of lights that shone dimly through the swirling snow, and then of a scattering of buildings crouched against the unending whiteness. Soon he found himself before a door that opened to his touch. A glare of light struck across his eyes so that he had to close them sharply; then he found himself before a blazing fire with eager, questioning faces close to his.
HE TOLD them what he had come for, and a thin, wiry man, evidently the doctor, left in search of the anaesthetic. Laird’s garments were streaming, and his limbs, responding to the fierce heat from the sheet-iron stove, threatened to collapse beneath him so great was their weariness. His body endured only at the urge of his spirit, which, unleashed at last, was running riot within him. He felt himself within an atmosphere of unreality. The eager faces, the rough furnishings of the bunkhouse, had nothing to do with him. So intense was his sense of detachment that he barely heard the comments and questions raining upon
“You’ve lots of nerve, sonny, to tackle a job like this,” said one of the men, a burly logger.
As Laird made no response the logger went on. “You look half dead, man. Here, put this inside you,” and he thrust a cup of steaming tea into Laird’s chilled fingers and pressed him down onto a bench drawn up before the roaring stove.
“Thanks, thanks,” said Laird abruptly as though he resented this kindly interruption of his splendid train of thought. His voice seemed to surge up to his mind through immense space as though it came from a distant and distinctly separate part of his being.
He gulped the hot liquid scarcely feeling its burn. A wave of impatience swept him. Where was that doctor? It was time he was getting back. He must be getting back!
A door slammed, a blast of cold air struck him, and he perceived the doctor at his side.
“Here you are,” said the doctor. “Mind you don’t break it.” And he gave Laird a small, corked medicine bottle.
Laird took it into his hands, regarding it as though it were some precious gem dubiously entrusted to his care. He had two or three handkerchiefs in his pocket
and as a precaution he wrapped them around the bottle and thrust the bulk into an inner pocket. He stood up, ready to go.
“You’re not fit to go back.” The doctor looked at Laird keenly. “Your cheeks are frozen; you’re all in, man.”
“That’s right, Doc,” broke in the burly logger in a tremendous voice. “Put him to bed. I’ll go myself.” He laid a huge, detaining hand on Laird.
“No! No! I’m going myself!” Laird sprang back as though the other’s touch had stung him. The light in his eyes subdued them to unprotesting silence. For a moment they sensed the brilliance of the thing that had flamed within him.
“The man’s crazy,” a voice whispered after a tense pause.
“Crazy!” ejaculated the big logger scornfully and softly. “Crazy yourself! The man’s running on pep—any fool can see that. Ain’t I right, Doc?”
“Yes; and he can’t keep it up. He’ll freeze. The man’s all grit, but he’s been through enough already.”
“No!” shouted Laird catching their words. “I must go myself. I must!” A horrible fear that he might be keptforcibly from completing what he had begun sent a tremor of panic into his voice for he could not explain to these kindly intentioned men that upon the events of this night and their outcome hinged the quality of his character, that he was dross or pure gold as the next hour must reveal. There was no logic to his reasoning, of course; or perhaps there was, as one looks at it.
“The boy’s started his game; let him finish it if he wants to.” It was the burly logger who spoke. “And what’s more he’s going to finish it and I’m going with him!”
“No! I’m going alone! You don’t understand—I can’t explain—but I must go alone!” Laird had started forward and grasped the man’s arm in his frenzy to prevent this ruination of the plan that had captured his fevered brain.
“No, son, it won’t do—”
“But I must, I tell you!” Something of Laird’s agony of mind crept into his words and the logger looked at him keenly.
“Better let me come along,” the man tried again, persuasively.
“This means everything to me. You can’t keep me here! And no one’s going with me! I came alone, and I’m going back alone!”
“All right, old timer.” There was a note of understanding in the other’s
“Put him to bed,” cried someone at the back. The logger swung round sharply
“The boy wants to go alone and he’s going alone.” He eyed the crowd belligerently. “And if there’s any man here says ‘no’, let him say it to me. It’s only right he should want to go back on his lonesome. But there’s no harm in him getting back quick. Let him take that dinky speeder out in the shed. It’ll run him back in no time.” He turned to Laird. “How about it, son? You can leave it at the end of the spur.”
The kindly interference of the big man had drawn Laird back into himself. “Thanks,” he cried. “I’ll take it. It’ll help wonderfully.”
IN A moment they had taken Laird to the hand car. He climbed onto the machine, unheedful of warnings to go slowly, and as he bent over the hickory bar the speeder shot out into the storm. The wind roared in his ears and Laird answered its clamor by exerting every ounce of his strength. His shoulders rose and fell like the piston of an engine. The machine plunged down the grade, swaying and jerking drunkenly, and at each curve nearly pitching” the breathless Laird from the car. The wind roared; the speeder trembled as though it were about to dismember; Laird closed his eyes to the cruel bite of the wind and thought not at all of the probability of death.
Instead he began to think of the girl who had roused him to these efforts. She came amazingly into his vision, her face intervening between his and the dark turmoil before him. In those speeding moments he dreamed splendid dreams, planned splendid plans. The machine throbbed beneath him as though imbued with exuberant life. It was a chariot he was in, a chariot fit for gods. His fancies soared, An intoxicating joy possessed him.
REMEMBERING Gaier, he pitied
him from the bottom of his heart. Poor Gaier! A pleasant glow of sympathy permeated him. He wondered if Gaier was still in the shanty. Probably he was waiting for him to return, or until he could be sure he would not return. He would be near the place presently. He tried to slow down and suddenly realized the terrific pace he was going. His heart leaped at the thought of the death be had escaped at every curve of that descending grade. Not until he had thrown his full weight on the bar did thespeed of the whirling wheels diminish. A glimmer of light flickered in the blackness and he had swept past it before he could stop the machine and dismount.
HE GROSSED the white patch of snow between the track and the shanty, scarcely conscious of the weakness of his limbs. Gaier was inside huddled miserably over the light from his torch.
“Still here?” Laird greeted him, leaning heavily against the rickety table. He could afford to be generous.
Gaier made no response. His pretentiousness had vanished; he appeared to have shrunk and Laird thought of shoddy stuff unstiffened by immersion.
“I’ve got a hand car outside. It’ll carry both of us back,” he announced. “Hurry
“Did you get the stuff?” Gaier muttered, a beaten, whining note in his voice.
“Of course I got it. Aren’t you coming back?”
Gaier raised his eyes. He was still leaning inertly over the rickety table. “What are you going to tell them?”
“Tell them?” Laird repeated. “Tell them? Why, the truth!” he exploded. “Get up. Don’t sit there snivelling. You didn’t care to go through with it—that’s all there is to it. Come on out of this.” “No! I can’t!” Gaier swung round in the light. His eyes were light blue and they bulged like a strangled rabbit’s. “You go alone. I’ll wait. I’ll take the next train.”
“Don’t be a fool! They’ll come back for you. You were under no obligation.” The sympathy in Laird’s heart extended to his voice, shuttering down the contempt therein. “Come on; brace up. We’re not all made alike.” Laird was one of those generous souls who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Your mendicant picks them every time.
Gaier brightened. A gleam of cunning hardened his eyes and he lowered his eyelids. “If you could keep it quiet, Laird—” His voice broke like a pleading child’s. He appeared adept in the art of supplication.
“Keep it quiet,” muttered Laird. It was like a sudden dash of cold water in his face. He had conquered alone and this cur wanted to share his victory!
“It’s the girl,” Gaier went on tremulously.
“The girl! What girl?”
“You—her! What do you mean?” Laird’s heart gave a great leap.
Gaier paused. His hands trembled and Laird thought it was the man’s breaking heart, breaking like his own.
“We were to be married,” said Gaier in a discreet voice.
“Married! You—and her!”
Gaier spread his hands. “It lies with you, Laird.”
Laird felt his legs grow suddenly weak. His vision blurred, his dreams were blinding him with their last brilliance.
“You are to be married. I—I did not think of that.” His eyes sought Galer’s well-kept face piteously. Drunk with his new-born egoism such a contingency had been unthinkable. His voice was flat and dead. Even the last note of incredulity had gone.
“It lies with you, Laird.” Renewed hope oozed from Galer’s voice.
“You are sure, Gaier! You are quite
“I thought you knew, Laird. You won’t stop things, will you, old man?” “No, I won’t stop it.” Laird’s dreams burned scarlet, then burned out. He felt himself falling,, and Gaier, leaping to his feet, his exultation smearing his face, caught Laird in his arms.
To his own person Gaier transferred the chloroform—now less potent in its anesthetic qualities than as the symbol of Laird’s achievement. He carried Laird out of the shanty, draped him awkwardly across the speeder, and trundled the machine down the track.
The moon peered timidly between l scurrying cloudbanks for the fury of the ¡ storm was spent
ROM the semi-conscious state into which he had fallen Laird struggled j feebly with the wreckage of his dreams.
He had been a fool to think the girl ¡ could be anything to him. His wild delirj ium had merely come against the hard j wall of reality. But that Gaier should be ] the one! The thought was intolerable! And that through his silence and Galer’s planned deception their happiness should be achieved. Revolt stirred in his brain but he put it down. If the girl’s happiness depended on his silence then he would remain silent.
Upon his abnegation his mind dwelt continually and to the exclusion of everything else until the noise of distant voices penetrated to his brain. He could make no response but he registered mentally the tribute in their tone and his heart swelled a little with a natural pride. Though Gaier had whipped the cup from his^lips at least a taste of its nectar would
Soon he became dimly conscious of waving lights, then of a huge volume of sound that he decided were cheers. They were cheering him—and Gaier. The bitterness in his heart became a little less intense.
People were surging about them. They lifted him tenderly. He could hear their eager voices showering Gaier with a multitude of questions that gradually attained coherence.
“Did you get it?” someone asked.
“Of course I did.” Galer’s voice was saturated with its old self-complacency.
A coldness seized Laird. Gaier had said “I”. Of course he had meant “we”. He must have meant “we”.
“And how did the little fellow make out?” another demanded.
Laird held his breath. Now Gaier would make things right—as right as they could be made.
Gaier turned toward Laird. “He did his best, poor chap.” Gaier shook his head slowly as though the subject pained him.
“You mean he was in the way?” one of Laird’s bearers asked. It was the smallish man who had attempted to discourage
Laird’s heart stood still. He tried to utter compelling words that would shatter the lie Gaier was building. Unless he spoke now the lie would stand forever. And he could not speak.
“I had to leave him in a shanty up the line while I went on to the camp.” explained Gaier in sympathetic tones. “It was too bad. He’s a gritty chap.”
Unending blackness spread over and | about the soul of Laird, and he gave himj self to it gratefully. It seemed the only compassionate thing in all the world.
WHEN Laird rose again from the depths that had numbed not only the misery in his heart but the pain that accompanies re-circulation after severe frost-bite, the throbbing of the train’s passage told him the transcontinental had resumed its journey.
Opening his eyes he saw he was in a I stateroom through the window of which j streamed golden sunshine that made a golden pool on his bed. Through it he saw j the wonder of the changing landscape. | the majesty of its height and breadth ! draped in a curtain of white already graying in patches here and there as the warm chinook and the brilliant sun did their !
THE stateroom door opened and Laird saw the girl of his dreams, smiling at ; him. She wore the uniform of a nurse and her dark beauty flamed before him in its | white setting of mercy. He wondered at ; this, then he knew that she had been attending him. A rush of shame overwhelmed him and he turned his head
“You are feeling better now?” she asked
lie did not answer and exercising the prerogative of her craft she turned his face toward her.
“Now you will tell me you are better.” i He tried to evade her eyes and could I not. “Leave me alone,” he muttered.
“But there is so much you have to tell,” 1 she continued.
“You must know what happened,” he said, amazed at her persistency.
“Yes, I do—more than you think,” she
laughed, teasing him. “It’s you who do not know.”
“Know what?” he gasped.
"What happened since they brought you in, of course, and what a hero you are. Why, everybody is waiting to come in.” Laird was too astounded to reply. Tie could only stare at the girl who had come to mean so much to him.
“You see, I'm a nurse and the doctor would have me look after that poor girl whose life you saved. And then you “Is she all right?” stammered Laird, catching eagerly at this substantiality.
Doing splendidly— and so are you.” But Laird seemed undecided on this
“But Galer—Galer said—”
She frowned at this. “Oh, Galer! That big logger who came down from the camp to see if you had got back safely, soon upset Mr. Galer’s story.”
Laird sat up in bed suddenly. “But Galer said—he said—you and he—”
She seemed to grasp his meaning for her face flushed swiftly. “Whatever he told you was untrue. He suffers from too much Imagination. But he has left the train; hadn't we better forget him?”
Laird’s face had become a study in incredulity. His brain was spinning madly
in its effort to assimilate this astounding presentation of fact. “And that big logger came down?” he said in unbelieving tones.
“Yes,” said Margaret Deane after a small pause. “But I knew at once. You see—,” Her voice trembled, a hidden unsuspected quality enriched its tone— “when Galer gave me the bottle he forgot to remove the handkerchiefs wrapped around it. One of them had your initial on it; the other—was one of mine.”
“I didn’t know,” stammered Laird. “I forgot. You—you don’t mind?”
“No,” she said, an expression on her face that set Laird’s heart throbbing. “I knew you had it. I saw you pick it up. You see, I had been watching you, wondering why you were so muchjalone. I felt sure there was something about you the others hadn’t noticed, something that would come out if only it had the opportunity. And you see, I was right.” She laughed, flushed with the pride of discovery; then her eyes fell before Laird’s questioning look.
Laird sank back onto his pillow, a surge of happiness choking back what he had meant to say.
It did not matter for he knew beyond all doubt that he had a lifetime to say it.