The Manitoba Kid
Some people would have called the Kid a reprehensible character, but the girl refined his dross. This is the second in Rex Beacli s new series of adventure stories for MacLean s.
CONDITIONS were just right for snowballing. The weather had turned warm during the night and morning found the snow wet enough to pack well. By the time Jimmy Rowan arrived at the school grounds he was glowing, panting: he had “washed” the faces of several girls, to an accompaniment of shrill protests and panicky shrieks, and some of the older boys had run him down, cornered him and washed his face until his cheeks shone like a ripe tomato. His mittens were wet; there was snow down his neck and inside his stockings; his muscles ached, for he had launched a hundred missiles and dodged a thousand. Gee, it was fine!
A real battle was in progress in front of the school yard. On opposite sides of the street rival forces were drawn up: sallies and counter sallies, charges and flank attacks were going on amid a pandemonium of shouts and warwhoops. Into the fray Jimmy dashed. Delirium seized him.
The Rowan kid was a stocky youngster and he could throw a snowball with what seemed to him a destructive, nay a deadly force, but, alas he was wild! Every time he threw he grunted, and frequently he fell down—heavy guns have a terrible recoil—but thus far he had scored no hits.
Just as things were at their hottest there sounded the musical jingle of sleigh-bells and into School Street turned a team of high-stepping bays hitched to a cutter. It was the Morris rig, and Mr. Hiram Morris himself was driving. He wore his high, shiny silk hat and his beaver gauntlet driving gloves and the overcoat with the beaver collar. The Morris buffalo robe hung down over the swelling sides of the cutter. The clamor abated; hostilities were suspended to let him pass between the battle lines; for Mr. Hiram Morris was Portage’s leading citizen and when he appeared everything in town ceased, fell out of step. Portage stood in awe of Hiram Morris and it was proud of his turnout which represented the last word in style and luxury.
On came the equipage; snow flew from the horses’ hooves, their tails and their manes were streaming; Mr. Morris’s hands were wrapped in the taut lines, and his thin, angular face was set straight ahead.
Now the Rowan kid took his fighting seriously. Fighting, even in make-believe, was something that could be taken on at a moment’s notice but, once begun, it was a sort of sacred ritual that had to be carried out to the very end. He was like a snake’s tail in that he never quit until sundown, and what is more, certain of his normal faculties went into eclipse when he engaged in combat: caution fled; he became possessed of a superlative audacity. The frenzy of battle was on him now. He had “pegged” snowballs at perfect strangers on the way to school and perfect strangers had pegged them back at him. With the exception of that band of heroes at his back the whole world was in arms against him.
His eyes fixed themselves hypnotically upon the majestic spectacle sweeping toward him: mechanically he groped for a handful of snow. His fingers clutched something round and hard: joy of joys, it was spent ammunition of some earlier fray! A snowball turned to ice!
TIMMY let fly with all his might from the very outer edge of the sidewalk. He had no faintest expectation of hitting Mr. Hiram Morris; it was merely the high ambition to accomplish bigger and better things. But it was his luck that out of all the missiles he had hurled that morning this particular one should speed to its mark with the unerring accuracy of a rifle bullet.
Mr. Morris’s head was actually knocked out from under his “stovepipe” hat. He uttered a cry of mingled pain, profanity and astonishment, then loudly he shouted,
He jerked his horses back upon their haunches; his face was convulsed; blood was streaming from his cheek; for that frozen snowball had a stone in it.
Swiftly the great man stepped out of the cutter and strod toward his petrified and horror-stricken assailant. There was a scurrying of boys at Jimmy’s back. The heroes fled, leaving him alone. Awfully alone.
“Young man!” It was the first time in his eleven long years of life that the Rowan kid had ever been addressed by such a dreadful title. “What is your name?”
“James Rowan.” This information was voiced in a thin and feeble soprano. Jim had never realized what an enormous man Mr. Hiram Morris was. He was taller than a church steeple and that blood on his face rendered him incredibly horrid to look at.
“ ‘James Rowan,’ eh? Jim Rowan’s boy, I presume. Well, young man, come with me.” Mr. Morris inserted long, thin, icy fingers into Jimmy’s collar and strode toward the school building. Jimmy went with him, touching his toes to the sidewalk every few yards.
The school principal fell into a downright panic when Portage’s leading citizen entered his office with his face streaming blood, with one eye already swelled half shut and with the Rowan urchin dangling from his hand. Hiram Morris, of all men! Here was catastrophe.
Mr. Morris deposited his wretched burden, then in answer to the principal’s bleat of dismay, he snapped: “ ‘What’s happened?’ Don’t you see what has happened! This young demon tried to—to kill me. What have you got to say for yourself?” Mr. Morris shook Jimmy to drive his question home.
The young demon had very little to say and very little voice with which to say it. He was sorry; he hadn’t meant it; he could not explain the satanic impulse which had prompted the outrage, but—all the boys were snowballing. He never thought he could hit Mr. Morris; he never hit anybody he threw at. It was just fun. Jim had become very white and ill; his eyes were swimming in tears.
“My dear Mr. Morris. Oh, my dear Mr. Morris!” The principal wrung his hands, cracked his knuckles. “I’ll punish him and I’ll send him home—expel him, of course. Why, I tell people that we have only little ladies and gentlemen here. It’s a reflection upon the institution and upon me. The Board will be furious.” The speaker chattered along in this vein until Morris interrupted him to say in an altered voice:
“Don’t expel the boy.”
“Oh, but for the sake of discipline, Mr. Morris!”
“He says he didn’t mean to do it. I was furious for a moment, but I’ve been in snowball fights myself. There’s a kind of insanity that tackles kids. I’m not seriously
hurt”—the great man was trying to staunch the flow of blood from his cheek with an expensive handkerchief— “and he realizes it wasn’t a nice thing to do. Is that right, Jimmy?”
“We all make mistakes. Jimmy, I want you to promise to always play fair, after this. Give the other fellow a chance and never hit him when he isn’t looking. Will you promise?”
“He’s frightened nearly to death. I think he has been punished enough.” With his blood-stained handkerchief still pressed to his wound Mr. Hiram Morris left the principal’s room.
This charity of view the principal did not by any means share, and the Rowan kid got a licking that he always remembered. This may be a good place, by the way, to state that neither did he forget his promise to Hiram Morris. In the months and years immediately following, the memory of his atrocious act remained fresh; it became a sore spot in his mind which would not heal and whenever he recalled it he experienced the keenest shame. This had an effect, for it prevented him from getting well acquainted with Rose Morris, his victim’s daughter— something he desperately longed to do.
ROSE was at once the richest and the prettiest girl in Portage. She drove a sleek, fat little pony hitched to a marvelous wicker dog-cart, the envy of every child in town; and to the Rowan kid she represented all that was both desirable and unattainable. By the time he was fifteen he was hopelessly in love with her and he carved hearts and arrows on all the trees in his yard and initialed them with interlocking R’s and J’s. He wrote her passionate misspelled love notes and in words of fire he told her of his undying devotion. He never sent the nortes, of course, and his declarations were only whispered to the empty air; for he still remained “the Rowan kid,” his people were desperately poor and he was cursed with a sensitive pride. He was not only ashamed of his poverty but also he felt certain that she looked upon him as the would-be assassin of her father, hence in her presence he was stricken dumb.
Jim was surprised one day to hear that Mr. Hiram Morris had “gone out of business” and was leaving for the Coast. What that meant the boy did not know, but he understood that the Morris fortune was not what it had
been. Rose and her mother remained in Portage: they lived on much as usual and they referred vaguely to those large interests which kept Mr. Morris away from home, but the pony and dog-cart were gone and so were the high-stepping bays. It was while Jim was working his way through college that they quietly moved away. The Morris house sold for barely enough to pay the mortgage.
Some people endure poverty cheerfully, others with a grim stoicism: the majority of people who are born poor accept it with a fatalistic resignation and never look forward to anything else. Jim Rowan was unlike any of these: he loathed poverty: it was unendurable. It had kept him from knowing Rose Morris and now that she was a poor girl it prevented him from coming to her rescue. He swore he would make himself rich for her sake. In time this became a fixed idea with him and he quit college and went to work, savagely. It took him quite a while, however, to realize that riches are not come by in a hurry and that he was getting nowhere. He had lost track of the Morrises completely—there was no use of keeping in touch with them—but he still had his day dreams, he still thought of himself as Rose’s Prince who sooner or later would search her out and seat her upon a throne. Depression seized him occasionally when he saw how hopeless was the task he had set for himself: at such times he grew desperate and he told himself that no price was too great to pay for success: he longed for some opportunity of becoming suddenly rich and vowed that he would sell his soul for such a chance.
The chance came finally, or it seemed to come, with the news of the Klondike discovery. Jim joined the first rush to the Yukon and he arrived in Dawson City with the firm determination to make a fortune somehow, anyhow. Here again, however, he learned that money was not to be had for the asking.
F)LACER mining was a hazardous undertaking with the * odds a thousand to one against success: education counted little in a country where men were judged on a pick-and-shovel basis and paid for the actual work they did. Jim saw that here was not the place in which to earn a fortune: here was nothing but speculation, chance, a gamble either with men or with nature. In order to beat the game one had to risk all, then double his winnings and risk them again and again and again.1 To gamble here was not a sin, it was the daily practice of everybody. Men gambled with death when they hit the trail; they
gambled again when they staked their labor and their time against Nature’s bedrock secrets, only they took longer chances than when they heaped their chips on the roulette table or dropped their “pokes” on the high card. There was this difference, too; Nature seldom played fairly, whereas there were many square gambling houses in Dawson.
Jim Rowan fitted himself to his new surroundings and adapted himself to a new code of morals. He played as other men played, except in one respect; he never played for the excitement or for the fun of it, he played only to win. He played for Rose Morris. He tried speculating in claims but he was unlucky: his only winnings came from the manipulating of Dawson City real estate or at cards, and the time arrived when he found himself the owner of a huge Front Street saloon and gambling house, together with a nickname of the Alaskan flavor. Perhaps a score of people knew him as James Rowan but to the thousands that went in and out of his place he was “The Manitoba Kid.” That was the way he even signed his checks, for the name had brought him luck and superstitiously he clung to it.
Life flowed at a furious pace in those early days. Reputations were made in a night ; in six months they were hallowed; in a year they had become legendary. There were many celebrities in the Yukon country the mere mention of whom evoked tales of sensational exploits on the trail, at the mines or at the gambling tables: the one perhaps best known of all was “The Manitoba Kid.” He it was who best typified the composure, the steady nerve, the recklessness of his profession. A hundred stories were told about him and some were not pleasant, for it required a ruthless man to hold down the job that Jim had taken; but most of them had to do with his luck. That luck became a byword, finally: men blessed with some extraordinary and unexpected good fortune were apt to boast that they had “Manitoba’s Luck.” “ ‘Manitoba’s’ Luck” became an Alaskan phrase.
More than once Rowan took stock of his winnings and realized that he had nearly attained the goal he had set for himself, but invariably fate intervened to prevent him from quite reaching the quitting point. Time crept along. The cycle of life for placer camps is brief: Dawson grew, flourished, began to die; representatives of big companies appeared and bought up tracts of property; they talked of huge dredging and hydraulic projects.
Some of these newcomers were possessed of the
gambling fever and they tried their luck against the Manitoba Kid’s. Rumors spread of big games in the back rooms of the Kid’s place, games where the sky was the limit. One man in particular scoffed at “ ‘Manitoba’s’ Luck” and prophesied that he would “get” the Kid— send him out of the country broke. This was a Colonel Johnson, a great engineer and mining promoter who represented a London syndicate. He and Rowan met, finally, much as famous duellists meet, and behind locked doors they played for twenty hours. What the stakes were nobody knew, but they must have been enormous, and luck must have run the Kid’s way, as usual, for Colonel Johnson rose finally, stepped out into the hall and killed himself.
That at least was the story which was made public and which the authorities accepted. Certain spiteful-minded persons whispered knowingly that this story was all a fabrication: that “Manitoba’s” luck had finally deserted him and that the shot had been fired inside, not outside, the room. Ugly rumors such as these flew through the streets but whether they reached the ears of the Kid nobody ever knew. Perhaps they did. Perhaps that was why he sold his place two weeks later and without so much as saying good-by to anybody caught the next down-river boat.
WHEN Jim Rowan closed the door of his steamer stateroom behind him, he closed it, as he thought, upon the Manitoba Kid and everything that had to do with that notorious character. Then when the first bend of the river had hidden Dawson City from view he drew from his pocket a wallet and from this he carefully extracted a blurry, time-yellowed picture of Rose Morris. It was a picture he had clipped from a Portage newspaper on the day Rose graduated from the local high school and it showed her as a girl in white with a floppy hat and a sash of ribbon about her waist. It was perhaps the one and only personal possession that he had never risked losing at some time or other. He gazed at it now for quite a while. He wondered if Rose were still alive. If so, she must have grown into a beautiful woman; yes, and a good woman—here the gambler was speaking. No doubt she was married. He pondered this thought deliberately and it awakened a feeling of regret too indefinite to be called a pang, for long ago he had realized that it was not the flesh-and-blood Rose Morris that he worshipped, but an idea and an ideal. Of course he proposed to find her—that was the one thing he had in mind—but what would happen when he had found her was another matter. If she were married and happy, and if she remembered the Rowan kid who used to carry milk and drive a dray and do odd jobs around Portage, he might even show her the faded picture and tell her how he had made of her a fetish, a star to guide him along the course of success. He could find a way to tell her that without offense: any good woman would be pleased to know that her girlish purity, her charm and her beauty had been a man’s inspiration. Of course he wouldn’t tell her just how he had made good: no need of spoiling a beautiful thing.
If, on the other hand, she were not married, and if she did not remember that poor, low-bred Rowan kid too distinctly— Well, there again was something to think about!
This latter possibility impelled him to rise and stare at himself in the stateroom mirror. What he saw made
him realize one price at least which he had paid for his money. He was still tdo young to have laid on fat, but his cheeks were soft and pallid. Gone, too, was the animation and the vivacity that light young faces. His face was a mask—a mask of putty—even the eyes were cold and emotionless. They were the eyes of a man three times his age. It was the Manitoba Kid who stared out from that glass, and Jim Rowan admitted that he did not like the looks of the fellow.
THERE were a few people on the river boat who knew him, but when he boarded the steamship at St. Michael he saw no familiar faces and inasmuch as his name meant nothing to his fellow passengers he felt a great relief. Already he had begun to realize, as he had not realized in Dawson, that whatever the Manitoba Kid may have stood for on the upper river, back home that name would stand for something altogether different. Back home! The words possess a peculiar significance for men who have not been “outside” in more than five years. Nobody but the homeward-bound Yukoner can in the least appreciate them.
At Nome the ship hove to for twenty-four hours, and Rowan went ashore to see what the place looked like. Here again he passed unnoticed and he was greatly cheered by that fact; if he could walk the streets of an Alaskan gold camp without being recognized it argued that he would have no difficulty whatever in the big world outside.
His attention was attracted by a poster which advertised an informal rally of all the citizens of Nome who hailed from Manitoba. The meeting was to be held that night for the purpose of general good fellowship and acquaintanceship and with the ultimate view of organizing a Society. Jim decided to go.
It turned out to be a pleasant gathering. A glad-hand committee was at the door to introduce strangers around; there was a program of entertainment, with refreshments promised afterward. Ice cream and cake! Jim Rowan grinned: here was old-home stuff. He wondered what these pleasant-faced men and women would think if they knew that he, the unobtrusive visitor, was the Manitoba Kid, the most notorious “sporting man” in all the North. They would probably ask him to leave, He heard h¡5 name mentioned during the evening—when a Judge from Winnipeg delivered a speech eulogizing the prairie province and referred to the Kid as “that -unsavory character of the Upper Yukon who has brought odium upon the fair name of our birthplace.” Again Jim grinned. Well, he had the money, anyhow. One has to pay something for success.
Nowhere did he hear a name or see a face that he knew, with perhaps one exception: the face of an old man who sat in a quiet corner. It was a bearded face and the man was poorly dressed; he wore rubber boots and overalls and a faded, threadbare mackinaw that hung loosely from his stooping shoulders; his hair was thin and gray and he coughed a good deal. He appeared to be quite as friendless as Rowan. Jim studied the old fellow’s profile and decided that he had probably seen the man across the gambling table or the bar—a river of derelicts like this one had flowed in and out of his place during these recent years. He had about put him out of his mind when the man rose to leave. Then Rowan started, leaned forward; his eyes fixed themselves upon the stranger’s bearded cheek. Just under the cheek bone and half hidden in the edge of the beard he saw a kcar and all at once the tall, slouching figure assumed lines and peculiarities he knew. There could be no mistake: it was Hiram Morris, Rose’s father.
JIM róse and followed the man out of the building.
Hiram Morris, here! In Alaska! It was incredible. More incredible still was it to recognize in this bent figure of discouragement the once mighty man of Manitoba, the colossus of Jim’s youth.
Mr. Morris shuffled along the street, shaking his head and muttering to himself. As he passed near the entrance to a bakery whence issued the savory odors of fresh bread, pies and spicy cakes he paused, lifted his face and breathed deeply. He halted again before a restaurant inside the show window of which were displayed raw steaks and chops and cold storage chickens upon a bed of cracked ice.
Jim recognized the expression in that thin, eager face and he experienced a shock. Good Heavens, the man was hungry! Hungry in Alaska! Nobody had ever gone hungry on the Yukon: what kind of camp was this? Jim uttered a whispered oath. He’d damned soon fix this.
Holding his voice to a casual tone he said: “Excuse me, but I’m looking for a clean cafe. Can you tell me where the gamblers eat?”
“Right here, I believe. It is the most expensive place in town.” The speaker’s gaze remained fixed upon the window.
“I’m a stranger here and I don’t know a soul. Won’t you join me?”
Mr. Morris looked up now, swiftly: in his eyes was a glitter that Rowan had seen in the eyes of famished
trail dogs. “Why, you don’t know me! Besides—I’m
not dressed for a place like this. I thank you, but--
“Come on. You’ll be doing me a favor.” Jim held the door open and waited for the ragged figure to precede him, then he selected a table in one of the booths and ordered a meal for two which caused his guest to say: “My dear sir, you can’t be familiar with Nome prices. A T-bone steak is seven dollars and—those fresh vegetables! Why, you’ve ordered a millionaire’s banquet.” “Well, it is a sort of banquet with me. It celebrates an occasion.”
“I met an old friend to-night: a man from my home town. He did a lot for me when I was a kid and this is such a real event that I’d celebrate it if it took my last dollar. Now, then, tell me something about this camp.” Mr. Morris was ready and willing to talk about Nome: he had failed greatly and he was at a garrulous age, but about himself he had little to say and it was some time before Jim managed to discover that he had been here for two years, mining, but without success.
“You know how it is,” he explained with a tremulous smile; “it takes time to develop a placer property when you have no capital. But I have a splendid claim and one of these days I’ll land in the pay.”
'T'HE two men chatted on until their food was served and inasmuch as the host had not seen fit to introduce himself, the guest did not make himself known. It was not until the latter had eaten ravenously, to his complete satisfaction, and had lighted an expensive cigar of Jim’s selection that the younger man said:
“Perhaps you’d like to hear about that old friend I met. He was a big man in our town and I was a poor kid but he gave me some advice that I’ve tried to live up to. It came about like this: one morning we were having a snowball fight in front of the schoolhouse when he drove past in his cutter.” Mr. Morris peered curiously at the speaker. “I don’t know what possessed me, but I threw a ball at him. It was ice. It hit him, hurt him like the devil. I’d have been fired from school only for him. He—■—”
“Where was this?”
“It was in Portage. You took me to the principal
“Why! This is extraordinary! Then yotii* name iá-= Rowan. You’re Jim Rowan’s boy. And you recognized me, after all these years!” Mr. Morris was deeply moved; his weary face was shining; his eyes had grown bright.
“I couldn’t fail to recognize that scar on your cheek, sir, inasmuch as I put it there.”
“My dear boy!” The old man took Jim’s hand in both of his. “How strange that we should meet like this! And how you fooled me! You had your little joke, didn’t you?”
“Merely because I wasn’t sure you’d accept my invitation to dine if you knew who I was.”
Mr. Morris confessed reluctantly: “I—I’m not sure that I would have accepted, Jim. You see times have changed; things haven’t gone well with me and it hurts a man’s pride to acknowledge failure to his friends. I have some pride left. That’s why I’m not going back until I land in the pay. Now that you know everything I’m going to make a confession: I was—actually hungry when you invited me in!”
“Hell of a camp, to let a man go hungry!” Rowan exclaimed harshly.
“You see I’m pretty old and I’m not very strong. It’s hard for me to get work. However, a little poverty, a little hardship doesn’t hurt anybody. It makes one enjoy good fortune when it comes. But, Jim, my boy, tell me about yourself. How did I ever help you? You must have struck it rich to be able to afford an extravagance like this—this banquet?”
Rowan shrugged. “I’ve made a little and I've spent a little. You made me promise to fight fair and never hit a fellow when he wasn’t looking. I could have made
more if I hadn’t lived up to that promise but--”
“Never mind. Crooked money isn’t worth having and money of any sort isn’t worth too high a price. This is a cruel country and it’s hard to get ahead. But you’re young and you’ve taken good care of yourself.” Mr. Morris’s failing eyes did not see that Jim’s flesh was flabby and that the bleach in his cheeks came from lack of sunlight. “That’s your early training. I’ve no sympathy for these wasters who squander their money over bars and gambling tables.”
Rowan nodded gravely: he spoke the literal truth when he said: “Neither have I.”
“I’m out of date, perhaps, but I still retain my oldfashioned ideas. I daresay I don’t belong here.” “Why don’t you leave?”
“How can I?” The question was accompanied by a crooked smile and a regretful shake of the gray head.
“But your family--?” With a gambler’s caution
Jim was leading up to the question that had trembled upon his lips from the moment he had first recognized Rose’s father.
“Mrs. Morris died several years ago.”
“I’m sorry. I haven’t heard from home in ages.” There was a moment of silence, then with averted eyes and in a tone of indifference the younger man said: “Your daughter Rose must be a woman now.”
Hiram Morris looked up eagerly. “Yes. Yes, indeed! A lovely, sweet girl.”
“Married, no doubt?”
“No. But some day I hope her Prince Charming will come along. Poor Rose, she deserves a Prince! She’d love to see you, I know, but—I’m afraid her pride is stiffer than mine. You understand. She feels our situation keenly.”
“You don’t mean she’s—here?”
“Why, yes. Where else would she be? She's all I have.”
T> OWAN felt himself grow dizzy, ill. Rose here!
Dependent upon this poor, feeble old man whom he had surprised staring at a cafe window like a famished wolf! It was a moment before he could trust himself to inquire: “Where is she? What is she doing?”
“She’s out on the creek. I came in to look for a man, a helper, but—I can’t pay wages and nobody cares to prospect a claim for an interest in it when there are so many claims to be had for the staking, or to be jumped. We’ve about reached the end of our rope. I saw the notice of that Manitoba meeting and I thought I might find somebody there.”
“You did,” said Rowan. When Morris looked at him uncomprehendingly, he explained, “You found me.”
“Oh, my boy! You don’t understand--”
“I understand perfectly. You want a working partner and you’ll give him an interest. All right, how much of an interest do I get?”
“Why, I was going to offer a half--”
“That’s too much, just for a pick and shovel stuff. I’ll put up the grub and outfit for all hands.”
“Nonsense. You’ve done well--”
“Not well enough so that I can afford to turn down a good offer like this. You’ve been here two years and you haven’t struck pay: I spent five years on the Yukon and never made a dollar out of mining. I left to look for something. Well, I’ve found it,”
/T'HE next morning Jim Rowan put a pack on his back and hit the trail. It was the first time in nearly five years that he had felt pack straps, for the Manitoba Kid had taken his exercise by proxy, and he was dismayed to discover how soft and how short of breath he had become. He felt a pang when he heard the siren of his steamer giving the signal to weigh anchor; for he was heartily sick of the Northland and hungry for the world outside. He had worked long for this hour: he felt now as if someone had offered him a drink then snatched it away. And the worst of it all was that he had no doubt made a fool of himself! Rose would not —could not be the girl he had known: nor could the faint spark of a boyhood infatuation be fanned into the flame of a real man’s love, for men’s tastes change without their knowing it. Even if he should learn to care for her and to want her, what then? He knew without asking that Rose shared all of her father’s scruples and prejudices. Lucky for him that he had buried the Manitoba Kid: he must see to it that grass grew on the grave.
Rose had bloomed into exactly the sort of woman that Jim had expected, thereby disproving the cynical statement that our realizations never equal our anticipations. She was a little more fragile than he had pictured her, but the reason for that was evident and it wrung his heart. Ten minutes after he saw her, heard her voice, looked into her eyes, he had ceased all regrets about that departed steamship.
SHE was delighted to see the boy she had known and with her own hands she prepared the simple supper for three. Later she sought out Jim as he was strolling about the claim inspecting the traces of old Hiram’s desultory and inefficient labors.
“Father tells me that you have bought a complete outfit of supplies, and lumber for another cabin.”
“Yes. They’ll be out to-morrow.”
The girl lowered her eyes and said with some difficulty: “Of course you realize that they came just in time. It's almost easier to take charity from strangers than from old friends. I’m sorry you made the sacrifice.”
“ ‘Charity?’ ‘Sacrifice?’ What sacrifice?”
“Father says you were on your way ‘outside’—after five years. I know what that means. Then you met him, heard how badly we were doing and came to our rescue. It was a generous impulse, Jim. For all I know it. may have taken your last dollar——”
Rowan opened his lips to speak, then closed them.
“You see?” The girl laid her hand upon his arm.
“Poor Don Quixote! Won’t you think better of it and
go out to God’s country? You’ve earned it, Jim. and
you’ll find your opportunity there. F'ather is enthusi-
Continued on paye 47
The Manitoba Kid
Continued from page 28
astic, he really believes in this claim; but I know it’s no good and besides, we’re unlucky. Everything has gone badly since we lost our money back there in Portage. He’s a feeble old man and disappointment has made him almost childish. All he has left is that conviction that some day he’ll ‘land in the pay.’ There are hundreds like him.”
“And what would you do?” Rowan inquired.
Wearily Rose shrugged. “What I have always done—remain at his side. I love him. He gave me everything when he had it to give. I’m the staff he leans upon and without me he’d fall. We can get along, Jim.”
“I was offered a job waiting on table at the Bonanza——”
The man uttered an exclamation; roughly he said, “I’d sooner see you in a dance hall.”
“I could even get married——” Rose smiled faintly.
Jim’s hands twitched, but his face was impassive as he said: “No. I’m going to stick. I made a few dollars in Dawson and I left there looking for one more chance: one big chance to win or lose, make or break. I play hunches and when your father offered to go fifty-fifty with me I had a hunch that my number was due. Have you ever heard of Manitoba’s Luck?”
“Yes, of course. Aladdin’s Lamp, too, but I never expect to have either.”
“Who knows? I have a feeling that your troubles are over and that your father is really going to land in the pay. Let’s hope so, anyhow. I believe in hoping for things until you get them.”
It was in this manner that Jim Rowan became a miner, a pick-and-shovel man. He put up a cabin for himself and he did his own cooking—a thing any man abhors. Rose protested that it was quite as easy to cook for three as for two but Jim could not bear to increase her labors. Although he and Hiram began to prospect the claim, it was he who did most of the actual work. His flabby muscles rebelled, at first; blisters grew upon his white palms; they burst, then turned into calluses: slowly, painfully he hardened himself. It was an ordeal but as his body grew strong so did his determination to win the love of Rose Morris. He smiled now at those early doubts of his: it was not alone an ideal that he had worshipped, it was the flesh-and-blood girl, the woman who had become all and more than he had imagined possible.
Every day he had to fight the desire to voice his love, but the better he came to know Rose, the more fearful he became that somehow the grave of the Manitoba Kid would be disturbed and that she would behold the skeleton it concealed —grass was slow in growing over it— hence he showed his devotion only in the things he did. He began by building another room upon their cabin, a room for her, and when she protested against the expense he told her that he was keeping books and that Mr. Morris could pay him back when he “landed in the pay.” Thereafter he managed somehow to keep the old man and his daughter in comfort, quite an effort at restraint on his part inasmuch as he would have welcomed the privilege of supplying them with luxuries and extravagances. Every dollar he spent Rose believed to be his last.
AUTUMN came and Jim put into effect a plan he had worked out. He “salted” the pannings from their ground just enough to make a showing, this being necessary to his scheme, then he interested a purchaser in buying the claim. He instructed the man to offer twenty thousand dollars for it, supposing of course that Mr. Morris would leap at the chance to sell. But this was the first gold the old man had ever found and those few yellow flakes strengthened his senile conviction that the property was rich. He refused the offer. He refused,
again and again, even when Jim’s man raised the bid to forty thousand dollars. He did more than refuse; he boasted about the offer in town and said he had struck regular “Manitoba’s Luck.” This caused quite a flurry of excitement, and reluctantly Jim was forced to call off his bidder.
His effort had an effect other than he had expected: a forty thousand dollar offer for a wildcat claim on Friday Creek centred interest there and promptly the Bonanza crowd sent an outfit over and began work on some property they owned below old Hiram’s.
This outfit was in charge of a young fellow by the name of Hayward and once he had become acquainted with Rose he took such an interest in Friday Creek that he spent all of his time there. This Hayward was a fine looking, upstanding youth and he undoubtedly had a way with him. But his way with women was more agreeable than his way with men; towards Jim Rowan, for instance, he displayed the same air of contemptuous superiority that he reserved for his employees. Rose liked him, however— perhaps that was the real reason why Jim did not. In any event, the two men were so different in character that a clash was inevitable.
Jim had made it a practice never to go into town for fear of recognition, hence it was Hiram who made the weekly trips for mail and for the necessary purchases. One day while he was in town it began to snow and during the afternoon this snow turned to rain and sleet. The old man returned about dark, quite wet and chilly. He was a long while getting warmed through and later in the evening he complained of feeling bad and went to bed.
JIM was awakened during the night by a knock on his door. It was Rose: in a tone that instantly brought him to his feet she told him that her father was ill and that she was frightened. Throwing on his clothes, he hurried to the larger cabin. Hiram was burning up with fever; he coughed almost continuously; he was in pain. Jim announced at once that he would go for a doctor.
“I’ll send somebody up from the Bonanza camp,” he told the girl, “because I won’t be able to get back before morning.”
Rose turned eyes dark with apprehension upon him. “He’s very ill, isn’t he? He woke me up muttering. Hear him—? It’s all about ‘landing in the pay.’ ”
“I’m afraid he’s a pretty sick man. There’s a medicine case somewhere among my things. Look until you find it. And don’t allow yourself to become panicky. Be a brave girl. Rose.” He laid a hand upon Rose’s shoulder—it was the first time he had ever touched her except by inadvertence—and there was such sympathy, such comfort in his gesture that tears wet her lashes.
“Oh, Jim!” she cried. “You’re a dear. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Young Hayward was in Nome, but Jim got one of the Bonanza men to go to Rose’s assistance and also he borrowed a horse for himself. It was not many miles to town but it was a wretched night and he was glad when the animal wallowed out of the icy mud and he felt the plank pavements under its feet. The first doctor he found was ill; another had been called to Fort Davis; the third was engaged on a confinement case but promised to accompany Jim in perhaps two hours. There was nothing to do but wait.
Jim was wet and cold. He stabled his horse, returned to the main street and entered the first saloon he came to. It was late; there was nobody at the bar, but some of the games were still running and there were a few figures at the lunch counter in the rear. Thither Jim made his way in search of a cup of coffee.
There was a stage at the end of the place where, in the earlier hours of the night, a vaudeville show was given, and at the piano were gathered several weary
women of the dance-hall type. One of them saw Jim and spoke to her companions, whereupon they turned and stared curiously at his back.
Young Hayward rose from the faro table and approached the lunch counter. He had been drinking some and losing considerably: there was an unpleasant curl to his lips.
Jim had hitched himself upon one of the high stools; he had raised his mug to drink when Hayward pushed it away from his lips and called to the whiteaproned waiter, saying:
“Here! Give this fellow a square meal.” At the same time he crashed a twentydollar gold piece upon the counter. “Thanks,” said Jim. “I’m not hungry.” “Ham and eggs, for a friend of mine,” Hayward cried. “And give him the change.”
JIM eyed the speaker coldly, as if from behind a mask, but he appeared to take no notice of the tone Hayward had used. Still in an even voice he said: “Nice of you. I’ve seen the time I’d take it.” He lifted his cup for a second time: again Hayward took his wrist.
“Look here, Rowan. I’ve been wanting to ask you something. It’s about that offer for Old Man Morris’s claim. D’you know what I think?”
“I don’t believe you’re capable of thinking, right now. If I were you, Hayward, I’d go home and go to bed.” “Is that so?” Hayward’s disagreeable smile became more pronounced. “I’ll tell you what I think: I think it was phony. I think you tried to put something over; tried to grab something.” “Well? You can’t arrest a man for trying.”
“I’ll tell you something else: Old Man Morris is honest but I think he’s in partners with a damned crook.”
The men eyed each other: very quietly Jim said: “So! You’re just spoiling for trouble, aren’t you?”
“With you, yes.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t oblige you tonight.”
“Ha! Nor any other night. I’ve discovered something else about you, Rowan. You haven’t got the guts of a guinea-pig.” Hayward had not lowered his voice during this colloquy: those people in the rear of the room had heard most of what he said and they were looking on now in mingled curiosity and apprehension. The dance-hall girl who had pointed out Jim whispered excitedly to her companions.
“Funny what a fool a man can make of himself,” Jim told the young foreman. “Some day you’ll realize how badly up against it a fellow can get without knowing it.”
“Bah! You rat! There’s only one way to treat a——” Hayward raised his open hand to slap this object of contempt, but the blow did not descend; he did not finish his sentence, for suddenly his face was deluged by the blinding, scalding contents of Jim’s coffee cup. With an exclamation he reeled backward, almost into the arms of the women at the piano. He dashed the liquid from his face; with his sleeve he wiped his eyes, cleared them: he gathered himself to rush upon the figure still sitting motionless upon the high stool. But one of the girls flung herself upon him, twined her arms about him and in a voice high-pitched, vibrant with warning, she cried:
“Don’t touch him, Hayward! He’ll kill you!
“Heavens, man, that’s the Manitoba Kid!”
Hayward’s struggle died suddenly. It came still-born. Into his purple face crept a look of astonishment, then incredulity.
“What? I don’t believe it!” Manifestly he was still shaken by the urge to destroy, but indecision paralyzed him.
By this time other hands seized him: he heard the voice of the faro dealer saying: “It’s him, all right. Close your trap and beat it.”
For a moment the Kid stared silently at the tableau, then he revolved upon his stool until he faced the spellbound waiter across the counter.
“Ham and eggs and a cup of coffee for a friend of Mr. Hayward’s!” he said. “Take it out of that twenty and keep the change.”
Hayward was propelled toward the front of the house and although he cursed and glared over his shoulder and mouthed threats as he went, it required no great exercise of strength to speed his going.
HIRAM MORRIS was too sick to be moved. The doctor pronounced it pneumonia and for Rose and Jim there commenced a period of sleepless anxiety. He moved her into his cabin and tried to force her to some rest, but as for him he did not remove his clothes and scarcely closed his eyes for nearly a week. Then Mr. Morris died. He had muttered almost constantly: the last words they heard him whisper were those of his favorite prophecy: “Some day I’ll land in the pay.”
That experience forever remained in Jim Rowan’s memory as a black, depressing nightmare. To Rose, of course, it was something infinitely worse, vastly more terrifying. During the long hours of uncertainty she had leaned upon him, and in her final grief she put her head upon his shoulder and wept. It gave him the keenest pang of all to be unable to take her in his arms and comfort her.
There followed the customary melancholy preparations and formalities. There were still a few women left on the creeks nearby and these did what they could for Rose: Jim tried to induce her to go home with one of them, but this she would not consent to do. She insisted upon remaining until her father had been laid to rest, then willingly enough she promised to leave this place which had been the scene of such pain, such poverty and such sorrow. It was she who selected a burial place, upon the north “rim” of the creek ■—a high bench that paralleled the bottom and that looked out across the tundra toward the open sea. It was a spot that in winter was sheltered from the icy blasts: in summer it was brilliant with wild flowers, lush with tender grasses and fragrant with blooms—a pleasant place for a gentle, broken old man to sleep. Other hands were ready to dig the grave, but this was a labor that Jim Rowan reserved for his own.
In due time he began it. Fortunately, the rim was well drained and, once he had picked through the thin crust of autumn frost, the gravel was dry and he made good progress. He had finished his melancholy task and was about to climb out of the pit when he noticed a peculiar reddish tinge to the gravel beneath his feet. He took a heaping shovelful of it and descending to the creek he stamped a hole through the ice and idly “panned” it on the shovel blade.
He was engaged thus when young Hayward and two of his men approached. Jim rose and leaned upon his shovel handle. He supposed these were the first arrivals for the funeral, but Hayward explained:
“I came up early to have a word with you, Rowan.”
“I thought you said about everything, the other night,” Jim told him. “I’m not in any humor to—-—”
“Oh, I was drunk! I made a fool of myself. Now that I know who you are I’ve come prepared.”
Jim stared incredulously at the speaker; harshly he inquired: “You don’t mean to say you intend to start something to-day?” “Certainly not. I came up to serve notice on you. I’ve learned how you met Mr. Morris and came out here and I understand why you came. But Rose doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know you’re the Manitoba Kid: she thinks you’re just the old friend of the family, her little playmate from the home town. She doesn’t know it was you that offered forty thousand dollars for this claim.”
“Right. She doesn’t know any of those things. I suppose you intend to tell her.” “I do. Unless you have enough decency left to behave like a man.”
“How do you figure a man would behave?” Jim asked. “Of course it’s all hearsay with you, but I’m curious to know.”
Hayward flushed. “Never mind that line of talk. I came to give you a quiet word of warning but if you want to get nasty why, just write your own ticket. I’m ready to take you on now, or later.”
“I see. That’s why you brought help.” The speaker’s color deepened. “Listen, Rowan! I know what happened to that Englishman Thompson. He didn’t have any friends with him: the witnesses were all your friends. I’ve heard about a lot of your other fights, too—if you can call ’em that—and I’ve had a dozen warnings to lay off of you, so I provided my own witnesses. Now here’s what I’ve got to say: after the ceremony, you duck!”
“And what will happen to Rose?”
“I’ll attend to that. She has friends enough to see her through.”
“If I don’t duck, I suppose you’ll tell her I’m a gambler and that I offered to buy her father’s claim for ten times what it’s worth. That’ll certainly shock her.” “Oh, you had a reason for that offer— more of your ‘Manitoba’s’ Luck probably. I understand you did most of the panning. Funny about that luck of yours, isn’t it? Funny how everybody loses when they play you. You were crooked in Dawson and you couldn’t even play straight with Rose and her father. It’s perfectly obvious why you came out here in the first place. Hell! Men like you ought to be shot for looking at a girl like her!” “Well, Hayward. I’m not going until I get ready.”
“Have it your own way. But take it from me, your luck has run out.” The Bonanza foreman turned and walked down the creek, followed by his two watchful companions.
IT WAS a dismal travesty of a funeral that occurred late that afternoon. A clergyman and a half-dozen of Mr. Morris’s acquaintances had driven out from town, but even including them there were not twenty people who followed the pine box as it was carried across the thin autumn snow and up to its resting place.
Rose was a brave but a pitiful figure: during the final depressing rites Jim Rowan’s heart bled for her. He it was who let fall the first shovelful of earth. When the grave had been filled in he saw that Hayward and the clergyman had taken her back down to the cabin.
Jim had secured a team with which to drive the girl in to town and while the visitors were bidding her good-by he went to his own shack and began putting his few belongings together.
He was mystified when he could not lay his hand upon the little leather case with the old newspaper portrait of Rose, for that was about all that he really cared to take with him. He looked everywhere for it before he finally gave up the search. He had refused Hayward’s warning to leave, not because he expected Rose to reconcile herself to his past, not because he now retained the faintest hope of ever realizing his dream, but because there was something yet to be done and moreover because it was not his nature to come or go at any man’s bidding. Hayward, without doubt, would tell her the truth, sooner or later—for that matter, she would learn it anyhow once she got to town—and it might as well come from his lips as from another’s. Under the circumstances, therefore, it seemed as if “Manitoba’s” Luck had indeed about run its course. Whatever came to pass, however, Rose’s future could not be left to chance.
He was interrupted in his task by the girl herself. She came to his door and with her she brought Hayward.
“Jim,” she began, “Mr. Hayward has
been trying to tell me something--”
“What? Already?” Aflame leaped into Rowan’s eyes as he turned them upon the Bonanza foreman.
“Yes, already! It’s best to have it out and over with,” the latter declared doggedly.
“I asked him to say it before you, Jim, if—if he insists upon saying it at all.”
“I merely started to tell her why she couldn’t afford to have anything further to do with you,” the visitor announced. “I tried to tell her that I love her and want to marry her; that I’ll give her a
home and end all of her troubles-;--”
“What was it you said about Jim?” the girl insisted quietly.
Hayward told her: frankly, brutally he repeated what he had previously said. Jim listened in silence.
“Is it true?” Rose turned a strained, white face upon the Manitoba Kid.
“Most of it is. Not that about the killing of Thompson, of course. He shot himself, because he had lost Company money. He came to break me, but the game was square—all my games were square, and he knew it. I just had my usual luck.”
“Rose, will you let me take you to town?” Hayward asked earnestly.
Slowly the girl shook her head. “Jim has arranged to drive me in. I’m sorry
you didn’t wait a while before--I’ve
had a good deal to bear.” When the young man scowled at Rowan and opened his lips to protest she smiled faintly. “I’ll be perfectly safe with him. The Manitoba Kid hasn’t been accused of killing women, has he?”
“Very well. I’m sorry, too, that it had
to come at a time like this. But I thought it best. I’ll see you to-morrow, Rose. Forgive me if I’ve been rough. It’s only
because--” The speaker stammered,
choked, then he turned and went out into the chill twilight.
When the crunch of his footsteps had died out Rose inquired simply, “Why did you do it, Jim?”
Rowan answered carelessly: “Oh, I’m just naturally a bad sort, I guess! No great amount of character. I wanted money and gambling was the easiest way to get it. I always hated work. Of course I had to be tough to get by: they kept me in hot
water so long I got hard-boiled--”
“I don’t mean that. Why did you come out here with Father, the way you did?” “Well now, I’m not sure that I can explain unless it was because of that hunch I told you about.” Jim managed a splendid assumption of sincerity. “We gamblers play hunches, you know. And, say, it just proves there’s something in them—a mighty queer thing happened to-day, Rose. I didn’t mean to tell you yet, but your father was right. There’s pay on this claim!”
“Please don’t let’s talk about that.” _ “But, Rose, listen! While I was digging up there on the rim the gravel looked good. I took some of it down to the creek and tested it. I can’t begin to guess what was in it, but it was rich. You’re a rich woman. There’s no mistake: it wasn’t a ‘prospect,’ it was big pay; coarse gold!”
L'OR a while the girl sat silent, then Iabruptly she hid her face in her hands.
“Oh! The pity of it!” she cried. “After he had worked so long and endured so much. Poor father! So patient, so gentle, so old—-—!”
Tears stole through her fingers. _
Jim dared not try to comfort this grief: he could not even trust himself to show the sympathy he felt. In a cheerful, matter-of-fact voice, he said:
“He told us he would land in the pay and we wouldn’t believe him. But I know he’s glad, for it was you he wanted it for, not himself, and everything has come out just the way he would have had it. I—I’ll bet he’s happy at last.”
“ ‘Manitoba’s’ Luck still holds good, doesn’t it? Half the claim is yours, Jim.” “Pshaw! That partnership arrangement was a joke. I’ve got money, lots of it. I could have made things a good deal easier for him and for you, but I didn’t dare. No, Rose, it’s all yours and you have nothing to worry about any more. You needn’t pay any attention to what Hayward said, unless you want to. I know you like him and—he’s a mighty nice boy. He has courage and he loves you. He’s a good, clean fellow--”
“But, Jim, I don’t love him. I don’t even like him, any more.”
“Then that’s that!” Rowan declared heartily.
“I love somebody else.” The girl lifted her tear-stained face. “I’m in love with a boy from our old town. I think I must have cared for him ever since I was a little girl. And I’ve been in his thoughts, too. He has carried my picture constantly—-— “Well, well! That’s certainly nice.” Jim could think of nothing else to say. It required some effort to say that much, and mean it.
“He’s an unselfish boy. He did a great deal for Father. I think he’d give his life for me. And yet he has never said that he loves me: I had to find it out by chance.” “ Rose!” All the reserve, all the counterfeit cheerfulness of the Manitoba Kid fell away: it was Jim Rowan, the Portage boy, who stared at her with working face and exclaimed in a voice suddenly grown hoarse: “You —found that picture!”
“Yes. That night when I was looking for medicine. How long have you had it, Jim?”
“Ever since the day you graduated. I’ve always loved you, ever since I was a ragged kid and you drove by in your wicker pony-cart. Rose, dear, it was because of you that I gambled. I wanted money. I think I’d have killed to get it— almost. I went through hell. Then when I had my money and had found you I went through hell again because—well, because of the hell I’d been through. I—I’m not much of a man. I’m afraid you’ve made a mistake--”
Jim did not finish, for the girl held up her arms to him and said quaveringly, like a weary child :
“Take me, Jim. Please! I’m—so tired!” So it was that the Manitoba Kid’s luck held through to the finish.