The Mystery of the Straits
THE crash and jar of striking timbers awoke Carlton Secord from deepest slumber to an awareness of possible disaster to his pleasure launch. As he sprang, pyjama-clad, from his bunk, the launch again struck forcibly with that ominous grinding sound of wood on rock. In the next second the boat pitched sharply to starboard, sending him hurtling across the narrow aisle against the bookcase filling a corner of the roomy cabin. But though his hands, instinctively clutching the framework of the bookcase, enabled him to remain upon his feet, so far did the boat now heel over before the onrushing wave that he still was swung to an almost horizontal position.
Washed ashore on a strange island, Carlton Secord immediately is plunged into a whirl oj adventure. Why did lovely Virginia Countryman live there? To keep what secret did she drug him? The solution to it all is in this issue.
To his ears there came a yell from the pilot house forward, where slept Simpson, his engineer, an experienced navigator of these British Columbia waters, so dangerous to a stranger.
Hardly had the engineer voiced his alarm when the launch began righting itself with the receding of the water. Letting go his grip of the bookcase, Secord took two hurried staggering steps aft toward the companionway giving access to the little after deck. Again the boat heeled to the battering of the following wave, and the volume of the inpoured water drenched him.
But this time he did not remain inactively clinging. Instead, he went scrambling forward on all fours, so that
his hands grasped the first step of the companionway before the launch again began partly righting with the surging back of the water from the face of a narrow, uneven ledge rising beyond and well above the stranded craft.
As Secord made the deck, a third and larger wave struck the launch, and a thin wall of chilling sea battered him in passing. Clinging to the hatchway while the stricken craft with louder grinding once more lurched over, Secord peered through the half-light of the September night, striving to gain some view to guide him.
As he took in his surroundings, he caught sight of Simpson on the small deck, forward of the pilot-house, clinging to the hand-rail along its roof; but the voice of the battering water denied exchange of words.
Though the south-east wind blows with mighty breath
when it storms along the rocky ramparts of the British Columbia coast and adjacent islands, it is seldom a cold wind; least so in September. Yet to Secord, in drenched blue-striped pyjamas, and newly soaked with every incoming wave, the wind seemed barbed with all the icy penetration and numbing bite of air straight from the Arctic pole. As he swayed there to and fro with the stagger of the wave-beleaguered hull, he scanned the rock slope of the ledge face before h;m, and in the half light gauged the width of the channel between it and the island looming beyond.
Good swimmer that he was, no great fear filled him for this portion of the apparent way to safety which now stretched before him, but the rocky sloping face beyond the first line of the ledge immediately before him kept him clinging questioningly to the launch. Though the waves were every minute growing larger under the drive of an increasing wind, only the smallest portion of their volume was carried over the ledge top; most of the water came guttering back and this receding water, hurled back from a twelve-foot sloping face of rock, was an elemental foeman Secord had doubts of overcoming.
Then a decision was forced upon him. A wave, huge beyond all the preceding ones, crashed its smother of water upon launch and ledge. But this time, though the launch careened at the blow, Secord felt in her shivering
also her lifting clear and slipping. The volume of the wave had been sufficient to free the bow, and in another moment the craft would be away into deep water, then swept back with a force it would not withstand as it had done while wedged upon the rock.
Awkwardly Secord threw himself clear. Into the upward surging water he went, a half fall, half dive, to strike the surface almost horizontally.
“Belly-flopper!” he mentally laughed; even in this hour with life at stake, his mind flitting back to boyhood days when he and other naked swimmers had jeered a similar striking of the water.
One strong swimming stroke only he had time to make in the middle of the wave, then was carried upward and flung heavily against the top of the ledge face, an irregular facade of jagged points and edges. Sick from the impact, yet still quick of action, he scrambled over the sharpedged reef top and went sliding down the still sharper slope of the other side into the quieter water of the channel almost made a lagoon by the shape of the fringing reefs. He struck out for the island. With steady overhand strokes he forged quickly through the choppy little waves of the passage. After being chilled by the wind as he clung soaking aboard the launch, the sea water now seemed warmer.
NOT until he landed did Secord realize how tired he was. He sat down for several moments on the pebbly beach.
But he was so cold that he soon rose. Stepping over the edge of the crevasse, at the water line a matter of two feet in height, he began ascending the gradual slope of moss-covered rock. His feet sank almost to his ankles in the moss, dry and brown from the long and almost rainless summer.
Crouching close to the roughbarked bole of a mighty fir,
Secord shiveringly awaited the day. Jt came soon. Up through a defile the sun came trooping, scattering a little line of misty clouds. Secord came out from the shelter of the fir trunk to stretch full length on the mossy carpet, soft and springy as a mattress. By turns lying face downwards, and on his back, he let the warm and ever-strengthening rays strike through his long-chilled frame. The wind had died. On the reefs the waves still broke with deep intoning. On the island shore the smaller wavelets went slap, slap, slap against the sheer rock, and gurgled queerly as they surged into the crevasses.
Presently Secord, face down upon the moss, lulled by the warmth, and by the weep of waves, fell asleep.
He awoke sweating, feeling that temporary lassitude which comes from hours of lying in hot sunshine. He sat up; in spite of the worry which now beset him, he felt the influence of the brooding sense of peace. There was no sign o the launch. For a moment he was vaguely sorry at the thought of Simpson’s death, for now he remembered that in one of the few conversations he had had with his engineer, Simpson had mentioned he could not swim. From thought of the engineer’s possible fate, Secord passed quickly to pondering the cause of the strange happening of the previous night. Late in the afternoon of the preceding day they had anchored in a sheltered little nook on the west side of Cortez Island. How was it, then, that in the early morning he had found himself in unfamiliar surroundings faced with so perilous a position?
Out of the knowledge born of three months of cruising, Secord strove to solve this problem. Finally he decided there were just two solutions: either the anchor chain had snapped, or the anchor when dropped had fallen on the sea floor near to where it dropped off quickly, and, dragging as the launch was played upon by the rising wind, this anchor had slid off into the deep water.
Whatever the cause of the disaster, he mused, immediate action of some sort was necessary.
After a few moments of studying the surroundings, Secord turned his gaze to his bare feet, and his cotton pyjamas, poor equipment with which to undertake a journey of discovery through apparently primitive forest.
The tide flat before him now suggested another way. The water had fallen considerably from the rocks, and was still ebbing. Most habitations in these regions were on or near the coast. Better to follow the sea than risk the broken country of the island.
Secord made his way down the crevasse to the tide flat and began his march.
THE upper surfaces of the rock were thick with moss, and kindly to his feet. But the grano-diorite rock to high tide mark in many places was thickly encrusted with barnacles. They pierced his soles. Little points of the brittle shell broke off and remained, causing a dull throbbing. Often the incline was steep and slimy with seaweed on which he slipped and fell, cutting his hands and knees cruelly on the jagged volcanic stone and shell. The sun beat fiercely upon him. He was faint with hunger; but was aided by one ally man is nearly always sure of on the British Columbia coast—cold spring water trickling from the rock face, or pouring in many a little creek.
The afternoon drew on, and still the interminable procession of rolling hills, of chasms, of ledges and cliffs paralleling the sea, met his gaze.
The afternoon waned. The sun touched the top of the island directly on his left, and still no sign of human habitation; no sign that man had ever touched these shores.
The sun slipped behind the low ridge of the island. The sea for a few moments lay molten, then rose-colored in the afterglow. The water, so short a time before lashing the shore with high waves, now lay placid as a forest pool, a quick change typical of these protected waters and with the going of the sun the air was impregnated by a strange perfume from the fir trees, the odor of heat-baked needles, something like the smell of oranges freshly peeled, but more pungent, sweeter, an airy draught that stirred one queerly.
But with the prospect of another night in the open looming as most probable, Secord did not react to this
cherished evening odor as on previous occasions when from the deck of his launch he, well fed and comfortably clad, had greeted it. He determined to keep traveling as long as the daylight permitted. The going was harder now and much slower over the top of the rocks. Crevasses opened so wide and deep he had to descend to the water’s edge to make a crossing.
The twilight deepened rapidly. A dun light, which blurred without quite blotting out the nearer objects, had settled over the island when Secord was halted be a thirty foot chasm, with perpendicular walls running back into the trees. So tired had he become that he stood some moments on the edge of this gap, pondering whether to stop here for the night or go on. He had just decided in favor of stopping, when ahead, close to the waterline, he caught sight of the glimmer of a light. For several seconds he kept the beam in view. It vanished. He watched, but it did not reappear. He started along the side of the ravine.
A quarter mile of walking over the rolling rock brought him to the flat top of the highest eminence he had climbed. As he topped it, a long beam of light shone upon him, well to his right, but very close, and nearby was the beginning of a carefully made path.
Lined with round stones of similar proportion, and with the walkway made of finely broken clam shell thickly strewn, it immediately drew Secord’s gaze. He went on along it toward where the light gleamed from a wide window of a house standing in the centre of a semi-circular opening among the giant firs, the building, however, like most residences and camps in the forest, standing sufficiently clear of the trees so that no wind-felled one could touch it.
CLOSER approach showed Secord a bungalow of surprisingly large dimensions, and of a finer architectural finish than he had previously met with during his tour of these many islands. A wide veranda ran the full length of the forty foot front of the shingled building.
Dripping a trail of water, Secord moved toward the front door. His bare feet carried him soundlessly up the two steps and across the veranda. Eager as he had been to reach shelter, a sudden timidity now came over him. He stood hesitating, painfully conscious of his bare feet, his blue-striped cotton pyjamas.
The window was so temptingly near, and with its outpouring light proclaiming undrawn shades, he decided to peek within.
He looked upon a rectangular room about twenty-five feet long by eighteen wide. A huge stone fireplace, circular of opening and built well into the room, stood in the centre of the rear wall. To one side of its five foot opening was a large armchair, covered with tapestry. The chair was placed at such an angle to the fire that Secord was able to get a good view of the young woman lounging far down in the roomy seat. She was smoking a cigarette, and gazing contemplatively into the fire. Beside the chair was a small square wooden table, with half a dozen books upon it. The woman’s face in profile beneath a mass of coal black hair stirred Secord by the classic purity of the lines. Close beside her were two shaggy Airedales, one lying couchant staring into the fire, the second sprawled upon its side fast asleep.
On either side of the fireplace, rising from the floor a distance of about three feet, a line of built-in cupboards of darkly polished Douglas fir filled the balance of the wall space. The top of the cupboards gave a narrow projecting ledge. Above this rose open built-in bookcases to a height of about six feet, leaving between the last shelf and the ceiling a long narrow strip about two feet wide of dark, plain brown-papered wall. Along this space hung a row of small square picture frames, all exactly the same size and exactly spaced so that an equal number adorned each side of the chimney. Along the shorter right wall of the room and standing near to the books was a more than usually large Chesterfield, at the moment turned at a sharp angle to the fireplace. Beyond it. almost
in the centre of the wall, was a baby grand piano.
Fully a minute Secord gazed in approving wonder at the woman and her surroundings. When he stepped back, his consciousness of his dress was all the keener. But Secord was very hungry, and so cold that only by an effort did he keep his teeth from chattering; and, too, he was thirty-three years old, with a head" full of romantic notions, and good-looking. Secord, though not vain, had his share of that male pride which comes from a knowledge of a good personal appearance.
Thus it was that, despite his costume, and that he came under cover of the night, he now raised his hand and knocked loudly, and stood awaiting with beating heart what would be his reception.
THE sharp bark of the Airedales came in almost instant answer to Secord’s knocking. Then the hallway was flooded with light which streamed out through the triple row of tiny square-paned windows forming the top of the upper panel of the door. Through the lower of these windows, Secord glimpsed the woman’s face for a moment, andrealized he was being subjected to a preliminary scrutiny. He heard her voice a stern command to the dogs whose barking changed to a low growling.
The door swung open, and Secord and the woman faced each other.
Even the best trained Airedales are difficult to control under certain circumstances. And now the looking upon a strange man, dripping, and so oddly clad, looming there against the outer darkness was an arousing sight stronger than their training. They moved to pass their mistress. In another second would have sprung had she not swiftly bent over and laid a restraining hand on each of the shaggy necks.
“Bad Boy! Bad Joy!” she said sharply. Still they growled a protest, as though contending their judgment of the visitor was correct.
“Please come in,” she said, her voice low and deep. She retreated as she spoke, drawing the dogs with her. “Your dress is so unusual I don’t want to take any chances on my dog’s obedience. Just walk ahead of me into the living room.”
Secord entered the long hallway and passed through the open doorway at the left into the living room. She followed after a moment, having with stern command sent the animals into another room.
Closing the doorway, she once more stood before Secord. He looked into two scrutinizing brown eyes, and upon a high white forehead, a perfect oval face, faintly olive of complexion, a small mouth, the lips, though at the moment closed, still showing a little line of their striking redness. Her black hair, drawn straight back, was bound in a great knot at the nape of her neck, a coiffure only a handsome woman could successfully affect. Secord judged she might be twenty-five years of age.
was almost dry when the door opened and his hostess reappeared. Standing in the partly opened portal she said: “I have laid out some clothes. If you will come this way I will show you your room.”
Secord passed down the hallway to the bedroom. It was as tastefully furnished and luxurious as the living room. Everything was modern. laid out upon the white counterpane of the bed was a tailored tweed suit of dark brown and dark red stripe, brown shoes and socks, a khaki-colored shirt, and a light suit of summer underwear. With the exception of the woollen outing shirts, all the clothes were such as any well dressed man might wear to business. They looked promising of size, and as he put on the various garments, Secord was overjoyed to find that they were only a trifle large.
Turning out the electric light over the dresser, he made his way once more to the living room. The woman was seated in the tapestried armchair gazing into the fire. She rose as he entered and came toward him.
“The dining room is down the hall,” she said. “The Chinaman had gone to his room, so I lit the stove myself. There is some cold meat and pumpkin pie. I didn’t want to make the tea till you were ready.”
He followed her into the cosy square dining room.
“Sit down. I’ll go and make the tea.” She went through the swinging door at the room’s lower end, returning a minute later with a large blue teapot.
WITH Secord seated before the platter of carved roast beef, the plate of bread and the pumpkin pie. the woman dropped into a chair opposite him, poured a cup of tea and handed it to him.
SOMETHING in her whole expres^ sion, and even the attitude of her slim, lithe body, only an inch shorter than his own five feet eleven inches of well knit frame, expressed the same questioning he read in her large brown eyes. It was a questioning subtly different from that which he felt was natural to the situation. In it he sensed suspicion and a vague hostility.
As she remained with her eyes fixed upon him without speaking, he accepted this as a cue, and began a brief explanation.
“My launch was wrecked last night on a ledge a few miles from here. I swam ashore, and when daylight came, I began walking along the beach and over the rocks till I arrived opposite your house. I was so tired and my feet so sore, I balked at circling your bay, so swam across.
And here I am, for the first time in my life, calling upon a lady, barefooted and in pyjamas.”
Her lips parted in a faint smile, and he saw an even line of teeth white and small which added one more feature to a face of unusual beauty.
“You’ll be chilled right through. Go to the fireplace and get warm. There are some clothes here I think wiL' fit you.”
She turned abruptly away and went out through the hall door. Yet though she had smiled and so immediately offered assistance, Secord still felt conscious of a vague hostility, a suspicion of him for which he was at a loss to account.
He walked across the room to the fireplace, stood with his back to the warming blaze, and began gently to steam. The light material of the pyjamas dried quickly before the strong heat. Presently he turned and faced the fire. He
Secord emptied the cup at a draught, and handed it back with hand slightly shaky. “I just realize how nearly all in I am,” he said. “If you don’t mind I’ll have another drop before I eat.”
She filled the cup. “It’s much better than whiskey in your case.”
He nodded, drank part of the second cup and then began to eat, forcing himself to slowness out of respect for good manners and a too-long empty stomach. Really hungry men do not talk at table. Not until he pushed back his chair from the table and rose with her did he speak.
“It’s exceedingly good of you,” he said, looking across the table, “and I’ve been so busy dressing and eating, I neglected to give you my name. It’s Secord, Carlton Secord.”
“I am Virginia Countryman,” she replied. “We will go back and sit down in the living room if you wish. Perhaps you would like a smoke and a little wine before you go to bed.” As she spoke she moved to a built-in buffet, and opening one of the glass doors at the side of it brought out a box of cigars and a wine bottle and opener. “You carry these. I’ll bring the glasses.”
Seated on either side of the table before the fire they remained silent for several minutes while Secord took out a cigar and lighted it, noting that it was a Carolina perfecto. This evidence of taste in cigars, the bottle of Medoc and all the appointments of the place, filled Secord with wonder. Truly it was a bewildering bungalow to find here on the coast line of this tree-clothed rocky wilderness.
Warmed by the clothes and food and fire, Secord smoked silently for some time, lying back in his chair in that state of blissful comfort which comes only to a man after a difficult journey has been put behind.
He had consumed half his cigar when from beneath the Chesterfield a cat appeared. Having emerged from its cover, it stood still a moment carefully surveying the stranger, its nose working inquiringly.
“1 guess poor Jove was upset by your coming. I remember now he was asleep on the Chesterfield when you knocked. He’s probably been under cover since you first came.” Now the cat suddenly moved forward with apparent confidence. It came straight to Secord, jumped upon his knee, only as suddenly to leap to the floor again, where it remained a few feet away, half turned, studying him.
Secord’s eyes lighted with interest. “I’m very fond of cats. There was one named Napoleon which lived in the editorial rooms of a newspaper where I worked for two years. He used to like to get on someone’s knee and pound the typewriter keys. But what an odd appearing animal this is.”
“Yes,” Virginia replied humorously, “Jove is a zoological impossibility.”
Secord eyed her inquiringly. “Jove then is as interesting as he looks.” “Well,” she continued, “if I believe Louis Goudreau, the old fisherman at the Surge Narrows who gave Jove to me as a kitten, he is half mink. But if I believe the zoological expert to whom I wrote, he is not. But Louis is confirmed by Thoreau.”
“I’ve never read Thoreau,” Secord admitted. “Heard lots about him. But 1 guess I’m like a good many other newspaper reporters: Most
of the great names in literature remain only names. I was always so busy gathering and setting down the ephemeral happenings of the day that somehow the time slipped away without me ever finding the leisure to read the hundreds of books I was always intending to. The paper comes first, above all things. Reporters are the hardest working, most loyal people in the world. For the sake of the paper, reporters often work twice the ordinary hours, in all kinds of weather, facing all kinds of conditions, and for very moderate pay. But the game takes so much and gives so little! That’s why, when I had the opportunity, I got out of it. I guess it was a wide step. There was a vague questioning in his voice.
“Oh; you are not a newspaper man any longer.
rE LOOKED up to meet her eyes upon him. And
--again he was conscious of a suspicious appraisal—a
measuring, vaguely hostile. Yet it was so veiled tha a would have doubted the accuracy of this impression had he not in the earlier moments of their acquaintance sensed
Virginia rising. She walked over to the table.
“We’ve been so busy talking we forgot the wine; and, if I do say it, it’s awfully good.”
She inserted the corkscrew, turned it, and filled the wine glasses Raising hers, she faced him with it held out before her.
“Here’s to our acquaintance, and may you never be shipwrecked again.”
She was about to put the glass to her lips when he stayed her by adding:
“May I be shipwrecked often if it brings me such pleasant company as I am now enjoying.” qj
He set his half emptied glass upon the table, and resumed his seat. In her toast he had felt was a certain mocking raillery. But having no means of gauging the reason for it, he could only let it pass, and reply with a compliment he really felt, despite her underlying attitude which so sorely puzzled him.
He had finished his glass some moments when she rose. Moving to one side of the fireplace she pushed the sliding door of the nearest cupboard, revealing a low bin reaching a long way back. The bin was filled with firewood. She threw on a couple of fir chunks, cordwood length. A warm glow had spread over Secord’s entire body and mounted to his head. Through his eyes now the woman and all her surroundings seemed doubly wonderful. Overtired as he was, but kept going by the unusual situation, he was in a mental and physical condition when even one glass of wine affected him powerfully.
Virginia came back to her chair, but before sitting down refilled his glass, and her own partly emptied one.
Sitting back in the roomy restfulness of the spacious tapestried chair, Secord gave himself up fully to the glorious sense of well-being. He emptied his third glass in silence. Presently she refilled it.
“It will do you good after your hard trip.”
Through a haze ever growing rosier Secord gazed upon her. She suddenly became the most wonderful woman in the world, dwelling regally here alone in luxury in this wild place, calmly and as unafraid as though in the heart of a city. She had fed him and clothed him, an almost naked arrival, without any show of fear as most women in such solitary situation would have displayed.
Secord, in his weakened and wearied condition, was now far gone in the grip of the potent Medoc. Yet, for all the rosy haze surrounding him, his mind was clear and soaring. As he wc.tched her fill his fourth glass, his admiration for his preserver rose still higher, and he felt now an irresistible desire to talk; to confide in her all his recent good luck, to dwell upon the years of his past labors, and to let her know all his dreams, desires and aspirations, and his plans for the future, which plans had brought about his recent cruise among the island-dotted waters of the Inland Passage.
He raised his glass.
“What a glorious world it is!” he cried exultantly, leaning forward in the soft depths of his tapestried chair.
“Drink!” she cried, echoing his enthusiasm. Still standing on the opposite side of the table, a little bent toward him, she gazed upon him with eyes queerly lighting. The flames’ glow reflected upon her red lips, and the high forehead surmounted with its mass of unparted black hair. The fire seemed to enhance the slim, lithe splendor of her tall, strong form set off by clothes which for the first time since his arrival Secord took in with fully seeing eyes: alcohol at a certain stage sharpens the aesthetic faculty.
And now, with the fourth glass of wine half emptied, Secord’s desire to pour himself forth in talk to this so surprising woman overpowered him, nor had he any back-
ground of classic literature to remind him of the fatal cup of Circe which gave men into her keeping.
She did not urge him with any questioning words; no exclamation of interest; only sat with her dark brown eyes fixed upon him waiting.
“I’m lucky,” he said. In his voice was the exultation of one very poor suddenly granted that dream of financial independence craved by most humdrum workers of the world. “My being saved last night only goes the more to prove it. Here I am, thirty-three, with the whole world before me. I can go where I like, and, with reasonable care, this will be my condition always till I die.
“Six months ago I was an overworked reporter hustling news on a Winnipeg paper. Then one day I got a letter. I could hardly believe my eyes—I was suddenly worth a hundred thousand dollars. Me, little, unimportant thirty-five dollar a week reporter! I can’t explain how it affected me; how it still affects me at times. It was more difficult for me, because the big dose was so unexpected. A bachelor uncle of mine left half his fortune to me, and half to his widowed sister.
“Well, last June I arrived in Vancouver headed for the South Seas. But while I was there I ran across a chap who had spent a lot of time up this coast. He talked it up so much, I decided I’d leave the South Seas till later. Through this chap 1 also picked up a bargain in gas-driven boats. And then I picked up an engineer. I’m afraid he’s no more. He was a good engineer, a native of this coast.” He stopped abruptly, flushed and almost out of breath from the flow of so much language.
“You certainly have a most interesting story,” she said. Secord’s senses were just passing from the alcoholic stage of sharpness to beginning numbness.
Then the whole world whirled around him so strangely and so fast he forgot all he was about to say. An overwhelming weariness mixed with faint nausea set upon him. He reached out his right hand to the table. Steadying himself, he stood a moment while his normal personality fought for a momentary return of control. It won sufficiently for him to say in a fairly steady voice: “If you will permit me, I think I’ll go to bed.”
She nodded, rising as she did so.
For all his terrible day, and that his eyes were bleary
now with an intoxication super-induceà by exhaustion, he was a striking figure, his black haw faintly curly, swept back awry from his broad, square forehead. Looking upon his nearly six feet of well-proportioned body, the woman was fully conscious how unusually good-looking was her guest. She thought how strangely like he was to the tall young man in the background of Alma-Tadema’s picture “A Reading From Homer,” a copy of which adorned the wall of her bedroom.
“I’m sure you are tired,” she said, and her voice was suddenly very kind. “Good night.”
Musingly she watched his tall figure make way across the room with that elaborate carefulness of a drunken man conscious of his state and painfully eager to dissemble
The clock above the fireplace struck twelve musical notes as the door closed behind him.
SECORD got heavily into bed. For a few moments he lay dully awake while the room revolved with sickening gyrations. Presently his weariness conquered, and he fell asleep.
How long afterwards he awoke he did not know; but as he did so he suddenly became more alert at the sound of the steady, slow chugging of a gasboat, suggesting a craft coming to anchor. Presently the sound ceased. Soon he heard the footsteps of several people on the gravelled walk. Then silence. After an interval of some minutes he heard the footsteps again approach. It seemed to him there were three people, and with their tramping was another sound suggestive of a wheeled vehicle, though so very quiet, it was only the nearness of his window and the fact it was slightly raised that made the sound audible
A moment later he heard almost beneath him the sound of an opening door, then of something being unloaded, the scrape of wood and faint jarring as of crates and boxes coming to rest. Once more the mysterious nocturnal procession moved seaward, to return after an interval of perhaps fifteen minutes. A second time Secord heard the same noises below him.
When the sound of another return seaward had died away, Secord got cautiously out of bed, went to the window, slightly raised the blind, then, kneeling, waited with his eyes to the opening. Outside, the vague, half darkness of the British Columbia coastal night close to the sea showed the trees a dim blur. Then as he watched, a band of white light began growing larger. The outlines of the dark boles and foliage of the firs grew clearer. Virginia, carrying a gasoline lantern, the white glare from the mantles of which made the open space between the forest and house seem touched with the light of day, came to a momentary halt at the seaward side of his window. The two Airedales were at her heels, and for a moment the mink-cat came into view. Secord heard again the muffled sound, apparently of some small-wheeled vehicle, but could see nothing. 'Evidently the doorway leading into the basement was several feet beyond his window. Virginia after a minute passed out of sight.
Five times those outside came and went before Secord heard the door close beneath him. A middle-aged Chinaman passed his window going toward the rear of the house. Then he heard for the first time the sound of voices.
“I’m awfully sorry you can’t stay a few hours, Jim.” It was Virginia speaking.
“So am I,” a pleasant man’s voice answered, “but I’ve timed it, and if I leave now the tide will be right through the Narrows. Besides, you know I have to hustle if we are to make that date.”
“Yes; but I hate you to have such long runs. You must be dead for sleep. I was going to make this one with you and take the wheel back, only for last night’s unexpected happening. It was lucky wine affects him so easily. He’s safe till morning.”
The two began moving slowiy away. Secord. his ear to the narrow opening, listened tensely to catch their fading words.
“What do you think best to do with him?” the man asked.
“I haven't decided yet. He puzzles me ...”
Secord could catch no more.
Soon after he heard the gas-boat get under way. Shivering a little Secord got back into bed. and lay for some time trying to fathom the mystery surrounding this beautiful woman so strangely placed on this rugged coast apparently far from other habitation.
'T'HE sun wras shining brightly when he again awoke.
As he arose he noted how soundless was the house. As he looked around the bedroom a sense of almost unbelief he was in the wilderness came. The hot and cold water taps, the enamel wash bowl, were as perfect plumbing appointments as the best of city houses.
Finishing dressing he went a little diffidently out into the hall. Despite the appeal this unusual situation had for him, he still had the awkward feeling of an unwelcome
guest. He would have liked to have gone outside and walked around awhile, for his head was heavy. But the knowledge gained the previous night withheld him from going about the place; she looked upon him suspiciously enough as it was. So he went down the hall to the living room door. It was closed. He tapped upon it. Receiving no answer he entered.
The clock above the fireplace showed fifteen minutes past eleven. The black-mawed grate loomed coldly. The chairs were in the same position as on the previous night. The only difference in the room, the bottle and glasses had been removed. He went to the bookshelves, picked up “The Octopus” of Frank Norris, turned to a passage which always moved him deeply—Dyke’s escape on the engine—and became absorbed.
After a time he became subconsciously aware of being gazed upon. Turning sharply he found Virginia’s eyes upon him with frankly friendly light
“Is Norris a favorite with you, too?” she saidin her voice that happiness of a booklover discovering a fellow convert.
“You’re a true booklover,” she continued, smiling. “Able to be enthusiastic on an empty stomach, and after last night, too. I’m afraid you shouldn’t have drunk that wine after so hard a day. Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes. I slept in this morning. You see, it isn’t every day I entertain young men crawled up out of the sea.”
Secord saw Virginia in a new light. She wore a brown woollen shirt, man-like in cut, open at the throat; and a pair of brown khaki riding breeches, and calf length boots. There was something boyish in her athletic figure. Secord sensed the latent strength in her, which yet in no way detracted from her femininity.
They entered the dining room, warm with splashed noon sunshine. The potted young firs and cedars of various heights upon two low steps raised at the end of the room, gave off a vague perfume.
Ah Duck entered with two grape fruit
As Secord ate his, the fruit suggested just the right opening for what he wished to say. “It’s wonderful to get fresh fruit so far from the city. Have you a boat service?’
“Not a regular steamer one. But a friend of mine operates a fish carrier along the coast. He comes in here with his gas-boat about once a month and brings me mail and provisions. It’s very lucky for me. There’s only one drawback; he comes sometimes in the middle of the night. He came last night some time after you had gone to bed. He had quite a lot of freight for me. Ah Duck and I bring it up from the float on a light truck I designed with bicycle wheels.”
“And you let me sleep while you were doing all that hard work!” With such simulated protest he hid his knowledge of the night.
“Oh, it’s not hard work.”
Secord fixed his attention on the final spoonfuls of grape fruit. He thought a little disappointedly: “So this was the commonplace explanation of an incident he had surrounded with mystery and the hint of strange adventure.” In the next moment, however, the recalling of her words and those of the mysterious man:
“It was lucky wine affects him so easily. He’s safe till morning.”
“What do you think best to do with him?”
“I haven’t decided yet. He puzzles me . . .” reopened all the imagined avenues of mystery and adventure.
Following this train of thought Secord was suddenly struck with another angle of the situation.
“But I say,” he remarked protestingly, “you should have waked me. I could have gone back to the city on this fish carrier. Now—” he paused a moment before adding dramatically—“why I’ll have to stay here a month.”
In spite of what he had just said, she continued her bantering: “Oh, well, the futility of regret, you know. After all, in view of what you told me of yourself last night, time is of no great consequence. Of course, I know it’s pretty tough to have to spend a whole month on a desert island with only an unknown woman and a houseful of books for company.”
THE suspicion that he was virtually a prisoner now took strongest hold. He determined to try her guard. He said abruptly in joking voice: “By Jove, I know now why you let me miss that chance to town—after what I told you last night of my fortune, you’re holding me for ransom!”
“Why, what a perfectly splendid solution!” she answered gaily.
Secord was conscious his thrust had been met by a perfect foil.
While not concealing the effrontery of her action, nor admitting any reason for it, this wrapping of raTlery she gave to it, was at least pleasing. No one, Secord decided, could ask for more appealing prison.
Virginia was more than usually good to look upon that evening at dinner. From quiet coiffure to the narrow, pointed ornaments which set off her evening dress there was not one inharmonious line, nor color. Yet, despite the extreme plainness of costume and hair arrangement,
these still served to give to her a vague touch of the bizarre.
“Looking upon you, it would be quite impossible for me to see any other woman,” he said so naturally, she flushed slightly.
As they entered the dim'ng room, Secord was struck again with the sense of unreality which had first come to him when, in his pyjamas, wet, cold and weary, he had stood on the veranda and peered in upon the living room.
Ah Duck served silently. He placed before them a consomme of deer, the very rich brownness of which made one hungry just to look at.
Hardly had Secord begun when the music of a stringed orchestra filled the dining room. Secord barely saved himself from dropping a half-raised spoon. Turning his head sharply he gazed toward the potted firs and cedars from behind which came drifting the wave of mellow melody.
“What magic is this?” He gazed admiringly upon her for explanation.
She smiled, gratified at his mystification.
“Behind the evergreens there is a narrow space and a sunken floor. In the space thus created a radio set is completely concealed. There is a little entrance door off the hallway, arranged so that Ah Duck can manipulate it without appearing in the room. There is a supplementary set in the living room.”
“How wonderful it is,” Secord said when the piece was ended. “Here you can sit a hundred miles from anywhere, in the heart of this wilderness of rock and sea and firs, and have at your command the talent of the world.”
In silence they sat through the next number, and for several moments afterward Secord gazed with a far-away light in his eyes. The music continued; now a gay band piece, a pleasant jingle, lilting, filling one with the joy of life.
“That’s the Waldorf Astoria orchestra playing,” she told him. “The piece, I think, is called, ‘Thousands of Years Ago’ ”
Once more before the cheerful leaping fire in the living room, and seated as upon the previous night, Secord, as he smoked a cigar, hardly could realize that their acquaintance was but twenty-four hours old.
He had been immensely stimulated by their talk.
Already he was conscious that this woman possessed the power of stirring h'm intellectually.
He felt more alert. His mind to-night seemed to be reaching out for he knew not what, and words surged within him for utterance.
trail at the foot of a giant fir. From this point could be seen the bay and the widening waters of the Strait of Georgia beyond, and in the foreground the bungalow amid the tiny clearing, all bathed in sunshine. For several moments they stood gazing upon the vista spread before them, their hunting forgotten. Virginia was recalled to it suddenly by noting the dogs, both standing stiffly sniffing the air, every line of face and body bespeaking their eagerness to be off, the tension of a well-trained animal, where teaching has at last overcome instinctive action.
Virginia’s dogs were well trained. She now gave them the word of release. Silently they sprang down the slope and disappeared in the thicket directly below.
A minute passed, then, some sixty yards ahead of them in the valley below, a two-pronged buck came into view. Instinctively Secord’s gun went up. He fired, but his hands were shaky with the unwonted excitement. On went the buck, taking advantage of every bit of cover.
Virginia fired twice, the second time just as the buck showed broadside on as he crossed a clearing. Its body seemed momentarily to hump. Its tail went down, in unison with the flinching of the body. The next moment it moved on as before, its white tail banner flirting once more aloft with the following jump. But its movement was slower, the bounding leaps less elastic. •
“Come on; they’ve stopped him. I’m pretty sure from the way the deer acted I hit him through the body,” Virginia cried.
They ran in the direction of the sound. As they did so the barking ceased. It was all Secord could do to keep up with his companion, and he was puffing hard when they came to where the dogs had ended the chase, while she still was breathing easily.
The deer was down in the bed of a tiny creek. It was dead.
As Virginia stood over it a vague unhappiness was in
Continued on page 61
THE girl had suggested a hunting trip for the following day. and next morning the sun of a perfect autumn day was flooding the bay with rapidly warming rays when Virginia and Secord came out upon the veranda, guns in hand and the dogs at their heels. Virginia was dressed in a costume of riding breeches, calflength caulked boots, and a man’s brown wool shirt, while for Secord she had dug up an old pair of woollen trousers and a sweater. These articles, Secord judged, also were from the wardrobe of the unknown Jim. But the girl vouchsafed no explanation.
As they went along Virginia explained the topography of the surrounding country.
“The real deer country begins about a mile farther on,” she said. “Once we get where the ground opens up a little the traveling is better than this.”
Engaged in talk they had come to a halt on a little widening of the
Instinctively Secord's gun
The Mystery of the Straits
Continued from paye 17
her beautiful eyes, and her face was sad.
“I know it’s a wrong attitude,” she said, seeing his eyes fixed upon her, “but I always feel bad and hate the actual minutes of the kill. Let’s clean it now, and we’ll be home by five.”
ABOUT a quarter of a mile before the bungalow was reached, and iust before they began dropping down into the valley along the creek bed, a turn in the trail and an opening through the trees gave a clear view of the bay in front of the house and the widening expanse of the Straight of Georgia. But Secord, carrying the deer, would probably not have even raised his eyes at this spot on the trail, had not there sounded in his ears the exhaust of a gas-boat floating up to him distinct in the tranquil air.
Looking, he saw a cruiser built launch some forty-five feet in length heading from the bay out to sea. He noted the boat had a wealth of speed, and also the yellow gleam of her two tall poles, placed well fore and aft, equipped with the antenna of wireless. He had never seen a launch so equipped during his cruising, and concluded such craft were exceptional It came home to him how ridiculous to accept such a craft as this before him as a commercial fish carrier. That clean, swift boat putting out to sea before him, had other calling. Of that he felt certain, for all his experience with boats and things maritime was scanty. In the wake of this thought, and through an association of ideas, Secord now saw in chis deer hunt of the day a neatly contr;ved means of getting him away from the bungalow during the visit of the boat and until after its departure. Unfortunately for Virginia’s plan, her calculation of the time needed had evidently not qu-'te coincided with the coming and going of the launch.
Instinctively at hearing the sound of the motor, Secord had halted. Now from looking out to sea he turned his eyes to find Virginia beside him, just withdrawing her eyes from seaward gazing
“The fish carrier must have made an extra trip. He occasionally does drop ;n unexpectedly. There will be newspapers and mad. You’ll be glad of the newspapers.”
But, though she spoke with affected ease, a faint flush tmged her cheeks, and Secord sensed a chagrin or uneasiness, he was not sure which.
He made no remark. They plodded on in silence toward the bungalow now lying in shadow. As they went there seemed to Secord to arise once more between them that barrier of suspicion, as it had done before. And he was vaguely sorry they had not arrived later, and never seen the launch, for the day had been so full of glorious associations, he hated now to feel it marred.
Secord came in from the hunt extremely weary. A bath, a change of clothes, and being seated once more in the softly-lit dining room before a supper fit to charm the most exacting epicure, while soft music sounded, restored him almost to a feeling of the morning’s fitness.
Virginia, in the same strikingly plain evening dress was an almost unbelievable contrast to the blood-stained tired figure in hunting clothes who an hour and a half before had tramped in with him.
His visit, now to him become an accepted thing of unknown duration, Secord began thoroughly to enjoy himself in surroundings so fitted to his every mood
With the eager interest of a boy he insisted upon aiding her when she next day informed him she usually helped Ah Duck in the extra labor of canning deer.
So together Virginia and Secord cut up the rich red meat on a long wooden table kept in the woodshed for the purpose.
FOR two days it rained, as a sign October was now upon them. Then the weather cleared. Indian Summer began with all its glory of mellow days and still, starlit nights, touched ever so faintly with frost.
Together Secord and Virginia garnered the harvest of apples and pears and a few very late plums, the last from a peculiar gnarled old tree that bore fruit a month after all the rest were done.
Bareheaded, Secord worked in the sunshine. The light splashed down upon him with that soft warmth which makes the autumn so grateful a time to the outdoor laborer. He had never been so happy before. The hours flew. Each night brought a sense of peace, of infinite well being of a soul in repose.
Together of an evening they sat before the fire, each absorbed in a book, or engaged in long discussions on art and literature, or agreeable exchange of opinion on a hundred different subjects The water in the heating radiators sang a soft and soothing song as it circulated to and fro, while the fire burning brghtly in the grate gave an added cheerfulness.
On an evening ten days after the deer hunt, Secord as usual was seated in the living room deep in a book. Virginia was curled up on the Chesterfield also reading. Shortly after the clock struck ten she rose and left the room.
He was surprised to see her a few minutes later enter with a tray on which rested two filled glasses containing an amber liquor, and an uncorked quart bottle still about half full.
It was the first time since the night of his arrival that she had proffered any liquid refreshment.
Some such thought must have come to her as well as Secord, for, as she set the tray down, she said: “I’m afraid I’ve been lacking in my duty as a hostess. Did you think 1 was stingy, never offering you anything to drink since the night of your arrival?” Without pausing for an answer, she went on: “Well, to tell you the truth, that bottle of Medoc happened to be the last wine I had.
“This is some cider I put up last Fall. Taste it. If you don’t say it is a beverage for the gods, 1 refuse longer to accept your friendship.”
He drank slowly. At first the flavor did not impress him. He emptied the first glass a little disappointed.
“Don’t you like it?” she asked anxiously.
“Oh yes ” he replied politely.
She refilled his glass. “Perhaps the second will taste better. It’s like everything new to the palate, one has to acquire certain flavors ”
Secord accepted. To his surprise the second glass tasted much better. He sprawled down in the big, soft chair and sipped the cider luxuriously.
The glass finished he took up his book and continued reading. He had covered only a few paragraphs when he felt growing upon him an overpowering drowsmess. He fought against it, keeping his eyes fixed obstinately upon the print. But despite him his eyes went shut. Twice he blinked them open, still defiant. Then his head drooped against the restful headpiece. Sleep overpowered him.
SECORD awoke with a faint heaviness of head. For several moments he lay in the darkness before recollection came of his last remembered moments. He put out his hand exploringly to find himself covered with a blanket. He recognized its feel as that of the Jaeger upon his bed. His
further exploring hand brought conviction he was in his room, lying fully dressed upon his bed. To make sure he got up and turned on the light. The tiny clock ;n the mahogany frame upon his dresser pointed to the hour of five. The house was very still.
Secord sat down upon the bed and ran oyer the events of the evening with a mingled feeling of hurt and admiration. Virginia undoubtedly had administered him a sleeping potion of some sort. Probably while he slept the gas-boat had brought another of its mysterious cargoes to be placed in the basement.
Hurt though Secord felt that this had been done to him, after the days of such splendid'comradeship with Virginia, he at the same time now found himself justifying her action. The occurrence, too, brought again to him a thrill at the hint of adventure suggested. His only regret was her failure to take him into her confidence. Surely, he thought, she must know by now he was not an enemy.
Fully decided to have the matter out with Virginia in the morning, Secord undressed and got into bed. Hurt as he was at the treatment, he did not overlook the consideration tendered; his being brought to bed, a blanket placed carefully over him against catching cold so common to an uncovered sleeper.
It was some time before he fell asleep. Not until after nine did he awake. Following his usual custom after arising, he went to the living room to await Virginia to go to breakfast.
Presently Ah Duck entered. “Breakfast is ready,” he announced in his slow and carefully enunciated English. He had been in the country since boyhood.
Surprised at this departure from the usual, Secord followed him to the dining room. It was empty.
“Where is Miss Countryman’”
“She has gone to town.” Ah Duck’s manner was bland, as though such going was a commonplace.
At once Secord accommodated h'mself to this attitude.
“Did she say when she wouldbe back?” he queried carelessly.
As Secord dawdled over his breakfast he wondered what need had arisen to take her suddenly away. Then that chance heard conversation on his first night here repeated in his mind. On that occasion she had mentioned her intention of taking the wheel from her brother Jim. That the Jim of the boat was the brother she had twice mentioned seemed probable. Very likely this was what she had done. Fresh wonder and curiosity filled Secord as to i the why of these continual trips, evidently hurried ones which strained the man’s endeavors to the utmost.
What did the basement contain? Secord dwelt longer on this thought than ever before. Virginia’s absence gave rise to the thought of the possibility of exploring this mysterious region. But he in the next minute realized the difficulties: Ah Duck was seldom out of the house.
However, after breakfast. Secord strolled out. One of the kitchen windows looked out upon the same wall as the door i leading into the basement. Still the j chances of Ah Duck opening the window I and looking out were probably small. So Secord moved quietly along the path and to the basement door. He grasped the knob with a sudden hope. But the door was barred. Almost ashamed of the simplicity of his faith he walked back to the living room. The fact that the basement door bore no sign of lock or keyhole of any kind had helped to fire his hope upon approaching the door. Doubtless it was heavily barred from the inside. There must be another entrance, probably from the kitchen.
In the living room Secord fiddled aim lessly about for several minutes. The house seemed strange without her. Finally recalling some notes he had made two days previously, he took them from his pocket and sat down at the writing desk. With the outline for the first chapter of his book clear in his mind he began to write. Thus he occupied the morning.
SHORTLY after breakfast on the following morning he took up the book of translations from the Sanskrit and went to the beach.
He set up his canvas chair, with its long extension leg rest, and let himself down into it facing the sparkling sea. The utter stillness wrapped around him a soul-balm so delicious, he let the book Í remain unopened, and lay idly gazing
over the water and to the mountains beyond.
The afternoon was waning when Secord was aroused by the sound of oars. Looking up he saw a bareheaded man in a small dinghy almost at the float.
This was sufficiently unusual to cause him to put down his book, which had so held him that he had not heard the man until he was almost upon him.
A little regretfully he rose. He had become so accustomed to solitude as to suddenly find himself resentful of this stranger’s intrusion He walked toward the float. When he reached it the man had clambered upon it and drawn up his boat.
Secord looked upon a short, thick-set figure. The man had a long, solemn face oddly horse-like. His black hair was cut close. He might have been any age from thirty to forty. He was dressed in a tweed. suit, dark brown in color and very much worn. Somehow his hatlessness gave him an incongruous look; he was one of that sort of person who seem almost undressed without a hat of some sort.
Secord disliked him at sight. And quite without reason he viewed him at once with suspicion. He saw in him a danger to Virginia. This instantly come suspicion brought to Secord in this moment a better understanding of Virginia’s suspicion of himself, on that night of his arrival, than he had ever had before. And while her reasons for so doing were yet a mystery to him, he now vicariously became sponsor for this feeling of suspicion with which he felt sure she would view this newcomer.
Still he affected an offhand friendliness. Said: “How do you do,” in a tone that did not betray his inward attitude.
“I don’t do very well,” the man replied in a half humorous manner. Then, so that his facetiousness might not be misunderstood, he hastened to explain. “I’ve just lost my gas-boat. It burned up on me last night. I just had time to get into the dinghy and get away. Didn’t save a thing.
“And you know how fast a gas-boat burns—whiff, crackle, bang—she’s gone. Yes, sir, I just had time to get into the dinghy and get clear. That was at supper time last night. I drifted all night. Daylight showed me the shoreline of this island about two miles off So I came in close and followed the coast looking for a house until 1 sighted yours ”
“I’m only a visitor here myself,” Secord took this opportunity of informing him. “Miss Countryman, the owner of this place, is on a visit to the city.” In the light of the stranger’s story, something withheld Secord from adding how he had come.
But as he thought over the man’s explanation of his presence, the more his suspicion grew. Yet there was nothing he could do but offer hospitality, and mark time until Virginia’s return.
So he said: “Come up to the house.I will ask the Chinaman to get you something to eat, as it is nearly three hours till we have dinner.”
“I forgot to say, my name is Boyle, Hugh Boyle. I fish a little, trap and prospect. Got a cabin up Knight’s Inlet I make headquarters.”
Secord returned the introduction. Leaving the man in the living room he started for the kitchen.
Ah Duck was seated on a stool, milking a goat.
Without moving, he fastened his eyes upon the intruder. Impassively he heard Secord out.
“Too many gas-boats go down this coast,” he said in his slow, carefully spoken English.
Secord wondered if there was a cryptic meaning in this so quietly voiced remark. Ah Duck showed no annoyance at the request for the extra meal.
OECORD had left the living room door GJ open. He came along the hall so quietly the guest did not hear him enter, and Secord found him standing?before the radio set. Evidently he had been studying it intently. Secord closed the door, and this faint sound caused Boyle to turn. A little too quickly as though moved by uneasy feeling, Secord thought. However, Boyle said quite naturally: “Fine outfit, that.” He had a certain bluff air of heartiness, the air of a simple man of the outdoors, that carried conviction he was merely what he represented himself to be. Secord began to wonder if he was unduly hypersensitive. Virginia had said the region made one so. He had a passionate desire to maintain an attitude of fairness to every man. After all, he reasoned with himself, Boyle’s story was quite plausible.
“I guess it is ” he replied. “Personally I know nothing of things mechanical.”
“I had been thinking of putting in a set in my cabin up Knight’s Inlet. My gasboat engine could have been rigged up to work it. It would be mighty nice in the long winter evenings way up there in as wild a piece of country as is on God’s earth to sit and listen to the world outside. One would sort of feel the wilderness had passed away.”
Secord nodded. He remembered Virginia had said something of the sort. Truly the wilderness was passing, when even a trapper talked of having radio in his cabin.
Later, when the evening meal wasended, Boyle helped him lay a fire in the grate, and, as they sat smoking the excellent Carolina cigars Ah Duck had provided, they fell to talking. Secord, in spite of his suspicion, and the vague dislike it gave rise to, quickly found the man very interesting. He had evidently traveled much, and done most everything. He spoke with familiarity of the Orient, of the Yukon and Alaska and Europe.
“I went through the late unpleasantness people speak of as the great war,” he explained when the talk had turned on Europe. “Instead of blowing my money as it came as most of the fellows did, I saved it, and had quite a little stake. I got my discharge in England, and then proceeded to Italy. 1 took in the Scandinavian countries and some parts of France that interested me.”
When the clock struck eleven, Secord had lost much of his first feeling of antipathy. He now realized that only for his suspicions he would have found the man actually likeable. Even his features, which Secord had at first invested with unpleasant attributes, now had lost them. He saw him as a really kindly-faced fellow, the features a little solemn, the eyes perhaps a trifle too small, but with a humorous twinkle and tolerance that made them likeable.
“I guess you will be quite ready for bed. I will show you your room.”
Secord led the way down the hall to a doorway across from his own, which Ah Duck had assigned to the newcomer.
SECORD had fully intended to retire But on entering his room he suddenly felt restless. He decided to go for a walk along the beach. He went quietly.
It was a clear night, faintly frosty. The moon, iust turned from fullness, moved across a cloudless sky. Slowly Secord went along the beach. He walked along as far as the creek and for a quarter of an hour sat on a log gazing out to sea at the widening V-shaped ribbon of the moon path, and the molten silver effect created by it on the water. At last, conscious that he was growing chilled, he was about to rise when he was halted by the sight of a moving figure on the pathway leading from the bungalow to the boat house. Fixing his gaze, he at once recognized Ah Duck. At the same moment he noted the light shining from behind the down drawn blind of his own window. He had forgotten to switch off the electric current on leaving. Remaining motionless, Secord watched Ah Duck move out to the end of the float. For some moments the Chinaman stood unmoving, seeming to listen intently.
Presently, Ah Duck went back to the house. Secord decided not to retire, but to await, outside, the possible return of the launch.
Behind the boathouse the rock rose in broken, uneven masses, the highest about thirty feet. A few small bull pines formed in little clumps here and there. Hidden among one of these clumps Secord made himself fairly comfortable upon the moss, placing himself so the boathouse lay directly below him a matter of not more than thirty-five feet.
Thus seated, he waited. Soon the sdence created in his ears that strange intangible drumming. It was actually a relief to him when presently a little owl in a near fir voiced its querulous, creepy call. The time dragged slowly The moon neared the top of the island’s highest ridge, and Secord grew cold and stiff. He rose, and keeping the trees between himself and the house, he marked time briskly, and swung his arms about.
He had waited, he judged, two hours, when the sound of a traveling gas boat reached him. The sound rapidly grew nearer, and then in the bright moonlight he saw round the point of the bay a quarter mile distant the craft with the tall wireless poles, the same he had looked Í
upon the day of the deer hunt. To Secord’s surprise, in another moment the engine was shut off. Presently he saw the launch’s dinghy dropped overside, two people get in, and begin pulling ahead. Though rowing hard they moved slowly. He saw they were towing the launch in to the float.
When they had reached it and tied up, Secord looked upon Virginia once more, dressed in her outing suit, and upon a tall, slim, bareheaded young man, very nearly his own height. He wore a combination of smock and trousers popular with mechanics.
“Funny, Ah Duck is not here,” he said as they stood for a minute on the float. “I don’t suppose anything could have happened?” There was a faint suggestion of anxiety in his voice.
“Very likely he fell asleep waiting,” Virginia answered. “He gets up so early,” she added in an indulgent tone. “It does not matter. We can unload without him. After taking so much trouble to come in quietly, I don’t want to risk going up to the house for him.”
The tall man whom Secord now, by inference, called Jim, replied: “All right.”
Secord from his vantage point could plainly see every move. A little iron gate I was lifted from its hinges in the iron railing surrounding the launch’s roomy back deck, and a long, narrow gang plank put out. The end of this came to the door of the boat house. Up the companionway Jim began handing box after box, and Virginia sent them sliding down the gangplank, which Secord noted was greased.
The boxes were of varous sizes, though the majority were oblong, about four feet long and about half as wide. There were also a number of smaller, square boxes. When the gangplank' filled with boxes. Virginia sprang to the float and carried away ¿hose at the bottom causing the jam. That all the boxes were of considerable weight, Secord felt certain from watching her at work.
The minutes lengthened, and still the stream continued. When at last the final box was stored away, Secord realized that almost every available inch of the space on the launch must have been occupied with this mysterious freight.
“I do hope everything is all right,” Jim said glancing in the direction of the silent bungalow.
“I feel quite sure of it,” she answered. “I’m glad this last lot doesn’t have to be packed up to the house. I sure am tired to-night.”
“You’re a great help, old girl,” he said a vast admiration in his voice. “Well, I guess I’d better be going.”
Jim gave the launch a push ahead, jumped into the dinghy and began his heavy tow to beyond the nearby point.
“Well, goodbye, old girl. I’ll wait for your call.”
“Yes; I’ll call you in about an hour ” She looked at her watch. “At three o’clock. But I’m quite sure everything is all right.”
To Secord’s great relief, Virginia, after closing and padlocking the boathouse door turned at once and went briskly toward the house. He allowed her plenty of time, then went toward the front door. As he came along the walk he saw a gleam of light from Ah Duck’s room. Probably Virginia had awakened him, and was learning of Boyle’s arrival. Taking advantage of the moment Secord slipped in the door and entered his own room once more.
WHEN he arose next morning he felt it was late. Going out upon the veranda he caught sight of Boyle walking along the beach in the distance just beyond the mouth of the creek. The ecstatic voices of the dogs in the next instant came to his ears It was a familiar sound: Virginia was turning them loose from the kennel. Here was an opportunity to be alone with her not to be missed. He hurried around the bungalow, came face to face with her in the centre of the roomy woodshed.
“Hello,” she said brightly.
“Good morning.” Secord spoke gravely. For now. with her once more before him. the feeling of hurt born of her action toward him on leaving, returned. That she was conscious of this became evident in the next moment. A silence followed. With something of the air of a schoolmaster awaiting the explanation of a truant, Secord stood looking at her. She dropped her eyes, and a faint flush mantled her cheek.
Her whole attitude was so different from the old effrontery with which she
had previously carried off the situation, that Secord was encouraged. Made bolder by this sign of weakening, he said: “I’ve come to call for a show down. Twice you have drugged me. You have kept me here when several times it was possible to send me back to Vancouver. And yet, you’ve been so kind; your books, your home, yourself, have made the past few weeks among the most pleasant in all my life, that I only find myself making excuses for you. I don’t know what you’re doing which makes you suspect me of I know not what; after our days of comradeship I cannot comprehend how it is even possible for you now to still distrust me. For some time I’ve been resolving to have this out with you. I know now you are worried about something. This knowledge and the arrival of this man Boyle yesterday, finally decided me to end this miserable situation.”
Beginning in a tone aggrieved and reproachful, he wound up suddenly with a queer mingling of harshness and entreaty: “So, either tell me nothing and arrange so I can go, or tell me what’s all this mystery about. Trust me; let me help you. Even supposing I came here an enemy—which I did not, despite all you suspicion—I don’t think any one could be so low as to repay such kindness as yours to me with treachery. And yet,” he paused, as though hating to admit it. Then regretfully: “And yet you seem still to suspect me.”
Her face sobered.
“I’m truly sorry now. 1 hated to do it. Indeed, I did. In fact. I had another plan. I was inclined to trust you, but when I wirelessed Jim. be said no. Jim has a fixed motto: ‘Trust every man, but cut the cards ’ ”
“And in my case ‘cutting the cards’ meant a sleeping potion.” Secord smiled ruefully. “Still. I can’t blame you,” he went on, remembering how he had felt on Boyle’s arrival. “Now I don’t as yet know what it’s all about, but still when Boyle came I was suddenly filled with suspicion of him. So :t helps me to comprehend your attitude toward me, and makes it easier for me to forgive you. I didn’t tell Boyle my story,” he added, by way of an afterthought.
“Then I am quite forgiven?” There was a mingling of raillery and seriousness in her question.
“Well, not quite. You will be when I’ve been taken fully into your confidence.”
Her face clouded. “1 will tell you everything But it must be later—after I’ve advised Jim of my intention. If I say I’m now absolutely sure of you he will accept. But if I told you now, without consulting him, even though he agree, he would be hurt. So out of deference to him, out of deference to the male vanity, you won’t mind waiting a day or two. He will be back shortly. You know. I’ve wanted to believe in you for some time, but—so much :s at stake—every time I thought of telling you the truth, I just couldn’t do it. I realized if my judgment of you was wrong, my trust might wreck everything. And, well, until now, nobody has got anything on us. And there is so much at stake. You can understand my position, can’t you?”
Secord had been carried away by this so sudden change of front. Tremendously relieved he saw that her comradeship of the past had been sincere.
“1 know I have been terribly inconsistent throughout.” she continued, “but everything tended to make me so. That night you came I thought perhaps your story was true, but that you were still a spy. Gas boats do not come around this way much, i decided to drug you that first night, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. As it turned out, it was unnecessary. The wine did ;t, and I felt satisfied you would sleep until morning.”
“But I didn’t,” he answered triumphantly. “I heard you unloading in the basement, and you and Jim talking.” He related the scraps of conversation he had overheard.
“So you heard only enough to tantalize you. Jim and I discussed you from every angle before he left, and finally decided to keep you.” She reddened a bit. “And, between you and Boyle I feel that I must trust you."
“Virginia!” he cried, queerly moved, and in that one word vo’cing something from within of which he had not been aware until this moment.
THE morning had broken fine, but as the three arose from breakfast a spattering rain began to fall. There is
something about the gathering around a glowing fireplace during the first of the rainy days of Autumn more appealing even than later in the season. In these times perhaps the contact with the just past summer is more vivid, and the flaming hearth has not yet become the accustomed attendant of wintry days.
This vague sentiment laid its mantle upon Virginia and her guests as they filed into the cheery living room from breakfast. Time pushed them with no threatening sword-point of necessity. They lounged and smoked, and watched the blaze.
Virginia, like Secord, even with only the briefest contact with her new guest, found him likeable. Even if he were an enemy, and of this there now seemed little doubt, she still looked upon him without animosity. Her suspicion of him, as of Secord in the first days of their acquaintance, while giving rise to wariness, could contain nothing of personal hatred. For, with her so philosophical mind, she realized clearly the man was merely playing a part in the jungle of life: his actions from his point of view were perfectly justified. Even a conviction of righteousness in his present work might be his. It was, she saw, merely a matter of point of view: varying point of view—how countless many individual and national crises came from this!
So as the rain came down, now in straight-falling, steady lines, like an endless chain of dully glinting cylindrical glass beads, Virginia joined in the talk without any feeling of constraint.
For a short time they talked desultorily, but presently the conversation turned to life upon the Pacific Coast in the five hundred odd miles of British Columbia. Though Secord and Boyle did not sense it, Virginia had deftly aimed to bring this about by way of an attempt at testing Boyle’s claim of being a dweller for some time in the region, though she was fully aware that the establishing to her satisfaction of this would in no way help to allay her suspicions.
After supper Secord and Boyle took a turn up and down the long, wide veranda, the roof of which sharply pitched and overhanging to turn as much as possible the rain driven by the prevailing southeast w;nds of winter.
With the passing of the afternoon the wind had come, growing rapidly in velocity after the manner of this type of storm.
“I knew this morning we were in for a South-easter,” Boyle said, with the weather wisdom of the wilderness dweller.
They halted to listen to the tumult of the elements and the forest.
Full down the Strait of Georgia the south-east wind came thrumming. Its long wailing, mingling with the threshing of the trees, created a sound so kin to that of the breaking waves, they seemed almost one in their voicing.
Even the water in the little bay, protected though it was by the point that jutted out a few hundred yards beyond the boathouse, was whipped into ugly little waves that, white-edged, leaped far up the sloping rocks.
“She’s going to be a bad night,” Boyle said.
They re-entered the living room. As they sat down, Secord found himself vaguely regretting Boyle was one of the people dangerous to Virginia’s as yet unknown cause. For as they had talked that afternoon, he had found himself drawn by Boyle’s personality.
In the past weeks, Secord had read so much that to-night he was glad of a change. With Virginia’s entrance, the three fell again to talking, drifting from subject to subject, arguing good naturedly, sometimes Virginia and Secord in agreement against Boyle, sometimes the two men aiding against the woman, and, again Virginia and Boyle allied
“His story sounds all right,” Virginia said later in the evening as she and Secord stood together in the billiard room where Ah Duck had made a bed upon the table for Secord. It was nearing midnight. Boyle had retired to his room early.
“We are placed in the same way of thinking about him as I was about you,” Virginia said. “There’s nothing to do but mark time. A few days of good weather, and we are safe for a time. Jim should have been here to-night, but for the southeaster’. From now until March is hard navigating in these waters. Anyway, to be safeguarded against whatever may happen, I’ve brought you this.”
She took from the pocket of her house
dress, and passed to him, an automatic pistol. It fitted snugly in his hand, cold and assuring.
“If you ever have to use it, shoot below the knee. It’s nearly as effective as aiming higher, and the law deals more lightly with you if you fall into its clutches, though here is hoping you won’t.”
A FTER the door had closed behind her, T Secord stood for some time beside the billiard table, the automatic still in his hand. He was jubilant: at last adventure had come to him, far more mysterious, romantic and exciting than he had ever dared to hope for when, in the early summer, with pockets full of money, he had started out upon the first freedom of his life.
For some time he had feared Virginia’s cause might be a questionable one. Now a warning voice, again and with greater insistence, cried from within him that he might be partner in some great wrongdoing with an unscrupulous woman. Yet, despite such thoughts came whispering, he put them away, for he, in addition to having satisfied his craving for the unusual and exciting, was now a prey to that emotion which, above all others, makes men uncritical, and to blindly serve, greatly, and unquestioningly.
For three days the storm blew, then gave way to sudden sunshine and mellow warmth, after the manner of this land of quickly changing weather. With the abatement of the storm Boyle broached to Virginia the question of leaving.
“I kind of lost my bearings drifting about the other night after my gas-boat burned. Can I row from here to a steamer landing9”
Virginia heard him in dismay. Everything was so baffling. But she answered truthfully.
“I don’t think it would be safe now the season of south-easter’ storms are here to start out in a row boat.”
He smiled indulgently. “I can hug the shoreline. If it comes on stormy it won’t be anything for me to camp.”
Virginia laughed. She realized that to this man her objections were baseless. Then, with the knowledge that in a few days her danger would be over for the time being, she decided on a course of action.
“I think you had better wait. There will be a gas-boat in here from town in a few days with my mail, and it will take you there.”
Shortly before supper on the evening of the second day following the abating of the storm, Virginia came out to Secord as he stood upon the veranda gazing at the wide sweep of mountans where new snow lay upon the peaks.
Virginia’s face was troubled, and a haggard look had come in the past few days.
“I can’t get any word from Jim,” she remarked, abruptly. “We have certain hours daily at which we arranged to call or listen-in for each other. We usually talk to each other in Chinook. It’s a trade jargon once widely used on this coast, but now known only to a few. Using it cuts down what little chance there is of anyone learning anything by picking up our messages. Jim should have been here two days ago. Of course the storm made that impossible. But there’s nothing can explain the silence of the radio. It’s the last load, too. and the ship, I expect, will be here to-morrow, probably early in the forenoon. I expect a message this evening.”
“The ship! What ship?”
“A deep-sea freighter which will take away all I have stored here. With it once come and gone we are safe. That’s what I came to speak to you about.”
He looked questioningly in the direction of the interior.
“Boyle is in his room,” she explained. “The main thing is to keep him out of the way.” She went on to relate how she had met Boyle’s suggestion of departure. Then proceeded: “It’s so terrible this not knowing just what to anticipate from anybody. Boyle may be alone. Again he may have companions and a powerful gas-boat hidden anywhere in one of the dozen bays nearby. He could smoke signal them easily after the ship got here, and they could get into action and seize it. Granting there is such a boat watching, they still might not be able from where they are to see the steamer coming in here. The mere fact of seeing a steamer in the distance would not cause the men to take action without receiving a message from Boyle. Of course, you could stick to Boyle and draw your gun on him if he showed sign
of attempting anything like this; but if possible. I would like to avoid any sign of lawlessness. Not let anybody get anything on us. So I’ve thought out a better way. While we are at supper to-night, I’ll suggest you people go deer hunting. We do need fresh meat. The suggestion is such a natural one, that Boyle may accept without question. Even if he doesn’t like it, I don’t see any way he can possibly refuse.”
They turned at the sound of the opening door. It was Ah Duck to announce supper.
TO VIRGINIA’S offhand suggestion regarding a deer hunt upon the following morning, made at the table a few minutes later, Boyle at once enthusiastically acquiesced
The next morning the hunters made an early start. Secord had thought to take the dogs, but, though Virginia consented to his trying, the animals showed the true Airedale breeding. With Virginia standing upon the float, they consented to get into the boat, but when Boyle pulled away, and they realized their mistress was not coming, both dogs leaped overboard and swam ashore.
By nine o’clock Boyle and Secord were founding the point beyond the boathouse in Virginia’s twelve-foot boat.
Beyond the point, which protected the little bay before the bungalow, was another bay, very wide, but only slightly indenting the shore line. Beyond its farthest point began the deep open bay which was their destination. About midway in this bay Secord and Boyle made a landing on the sandy beach.
As the two men walked inland, the perfume of the thistles came to their nostrils continually. It hung heavy in the quiet air.
They were disappointed in their hope of sighting deer close to the beach. Not until they had walked inland for nearly three quarters of an hour did one suddenly spring up. Half a dozen bullets went hurtling before the animal topped the ridge and was lost to sight as it plunged into the ravine.
“I think it’s hit,” Boyle cried.
For two hours they followed the zigzagging flight over the rough country till at last they came to where the beast had succumbed. It was a four-pronged buck, a large animal for the region.
Boyle cleaned it and prepared it for packing with the deftness of long experience, then shouldered it and they set out for the beach. They covered half the distance when Secord, moving a few yards ahead of him topped the second last rise from the beach. Suddenly, in the centre of a patch of the heaviest growth of the bracken, the earth gave way. Falling forward, Secord went down into a pit, hands instinctively outstretched to grasp the passing walls. His right arm broke the force of his sideways fall, then something gave way with a crack, attended with excruciating pain in his arm. His face grazed the wall and the rocks scratched his skin before he lay still at the bottom. Yet consciousness remained. A little dazed he started to move his right arm to aid his rising, bringing full realization of its helplessness. Carefully turning over, and at considerable pain, he sat up.
Boyle’s face was iust showing above the opening.
“Any serious damage?” he queried, relieved a little at what met his eyes.
“Broken right arm, I guess, judgingfrom the hurt,” Secord replied with an effort.
WITH that promptness in meeting an emergency inherent in his wilderness-trained mind, Boyle solved the problem before him.
“You’ll just have to wait a bit down there till I walk to the boat and get that long line off it. It’s lucky we have it so near.”
It seemed a very long time to Secord waiting at the bottom of the pit, and his return to the surface was Secord’s outstanding experience in pain. With a loop in the rope to fit around Secord’s body Boyle began hauling, and the injured man, try as he would to help by bracing his legs against the sides of the narrow hole was so sick from pain that the brunt of the work fell upon the mightily straining man above. It was truly a test of strength beyond the power of an ordinary man, but Boyle was an exception. His thick-set frame was a mass of tough, trained muscle, from long years of hard toil. At length, however, he drew his burden clear.
Sweating from the torture of the brief ascent, which yet had seemed so long, Secord lay and rested in the declining Autumn sunlight.
The walk to the beach was a time of only slightly lessened agony, each step upon the so rough ground wringing fresh twinges Yet Boyle kept urging him to hurry, deeming it better to make haste to the bungalow and there attend the arm, than take time here with placing even a rough bandage. So, with dangling arm, Secord went as fast as his shaky limbs would carry, while all the landscape seemd unsteady about him.
The sun had set when they reached the beach. A two-and-a-half mile pull lay before Boyle against the incoming tide. But the boat was light, and rowing to him was second nature.
As the boat passed the point of the big bay, the longest lap of the way behind them, there came to their ears the sound of the exhaust of a launch approaching. When the row boat had passed the last point of the shallow bay. and the haven of the bungalow was distant only a matter of ten minutes’ rowing, the launch came plainly into view, a fifty-foot, longcabined craft, with raised pilot house forward, and very fast. It was moving evidently at full speed.
On first hearing the sound, Secord was made suddenly glad at the thought it was Jim returning. But this was not Jim. The launch was larger and carried no radiopoles.
Straight for the bay it headed.
As Boyle, still rowing hard, turned the last point the launch checked to half speed, but as yet no one showed upon her decks.
Fear gripped Secord for Virginia. And this presage of danger was made the greater and more bitter by his own incapacity: in the very moment when perhaps she would need him most, he was least able to help her. He suddenly recollected that that very morning he had even left upon his dresser the pistol she had given him.
Then the remembrance of her assurance that all danger to her would be past once the freighting steamer had come and gone, lessened his anxiety aroused by thisstrange launch passing before him. Yet quick upon this thought returned to him a questioning: But had the steamer come?
He looked at Boyle strenuously rowing, and evidently a little tired by his long stretch of intense exertion. Could it be possible that he was connected with this fast power boat?
Secord returned his eyes to it. The launch was now well to the farther side of the bay. In the thickening dusk he saw the dinghy dropped simultaneously with the anchor, and three men leap in. Their veryevidence of hurry heightened Secord’s fears.
FOLLOWING with his eyes their shoreward progress, he was further astonished to catch sight of Virginia crossing the log over the creek. The sound of the launch had evidently brought her hurrying from a distance. The creek crossed she ran toward the house, the two dogs at her heels. She had still half the distance to cover when the three men leaped ashore and, breaking into a run, moved to cut her off.
Secord’s agonized watching was halted by the bumping of the boat as it slid broadside along the edge of the float. Boyle, though rowing with his back to the scene, had constantly turned his head. Now, without paying the slightest attention to Secord. he leaped to the float, rifle in hand, and ran toward where the swiftest of the three men had come up to Virginia.
The impetus of the landing started the rowboat away from the float. Just in time Secord’s left hand caught a plank end. Forgetting his pain, his dizziness all banished, he stepped upon the float, as he did so, noting in the bottom of the boatthe stout, three-foot long club Virginia used for killing salmon and cod. He leaned and caught it up, and lea-zing the dinghy, turned and ran.
As he moved he saw the first of the intruders leap at Virginia with outstretched arms. Simultaneously with this action there sounded short, fierce snarling. Secord saw two grey-brown hairy bodies hurl themselves high, their white fangs seeking the man’s throat and shoulder; and the man, from startled straining back and the impetus of the dogs’ attack, go down shrieking.
There came a spatting sound, then a canine shriek appalling in its agony.
“Oh! Darn you!” It was Virginia’s voice, but so terrible with pain and hate, that Secord for a star-falling flash of time did not recognize it. He saw her close one gripping hand upon the wrist of the second intruder, and their locking in savage struggling embrace.
At the same minute the third man turned at the sound of Boyle’s arrival, his hand moving to draw a pistol, but far too slowly, for Boyle, his both hands taking grip upon the rifle barrel as he ran, now, with a swing swift and neat, brought the stock against the third man’s head, dropping him with a ludicrous movement like a struck nine-pin.
As the man fell, Secord, nearly winded, came up to where, half a dozen steps distant from Boyle, the second man, with Virginia half downed, was vainly struggling to break her hold upon his neck.
With an effort Secord steadied his wavering senses, concentrating all his dancing vision upon the head before him, then, queerly exulting, brought the fishclub down upon the capped head
Then all the world became to him as black as that of the man he just had stricken.
HE OPENED his eyes to find Boyle and Ah Duck busy tying up the two prostrate men, while Virginia, kneeling, clutching the neck of the Airedale, Boy, was facing the first attacker, from whom the dog had evidently just been made to let go.
“It’s all right, Boy, good dog, good dog, quiet now, quiet.”
Over and over she soothed the quivering frame still so eager to attack, but between this voicing she shot out a command to the prisoner not to move.
It was only now in this moment of quiet that Secord saw what he had not previously noted in the heavy dusk, when dizzy, excited and panting, he had swung his club upon the back of the man’s capped head: The three prisoners were Chinese. They were unusually tall fellows, dressed in Occidental style.
Boyle finished his work almost as Secord opened his eyes. With a piece of rope still left in his hand, he moved toward the third man.
“Their boat painter is just going to be long enough to tie the three of them,” Boyle said in high good humor. As he began fastening the Chinaman’s arms, he continued jocularly: “Mighty obliging of you, John, to bring your own rope. I’m sorry I had to cut it, otherwise I could use it to hang you with.”
As Secord arose, Virginia, freeing the now quieted dog, came toward him, her eyes taking in his limp arm, his dead white pallor and burning eyes.
“His arm is broken,” Boyle called out in explanation before she could voice a word. “You go on up to the house with him and cut away his shirt sleeve and underclothes, while Ah Duck and I put these fellows safely away. I will be with you in a few minutes and do the best I can with his arm.”
As Secord sat upon the Chesterfield in the living room while Virginia obeyed Boyle’s instructions he told her of the accident. Then, as they awaited Boyle’s coming Secord eagerly questioned her. His head was now strangely clear, despite the pain in his arm had increased.
She explained the steamer had not come. She had, however, received a wireless message felling of delay in clearing from Vancouver. The steamer was now due to arrive some time in the following forenoon. But no word had come of Jim. Again she voiced her anxiety about him. Taking every advantage of this brief time they had alone, Virginia continued to express her fears.
“It seems a rotten thing to be suspicious of a man who has done so much for me, but still I am afraid of Boyle. Did he save me from this attack perhaps in his own interest, in order to claim the honor of my capture? Oh, if the steamer had only come this morning! Then no one could hurt me!”
“Still, I don’t think you need to worry,” Secord reassured. “Now that there is no way of getting Boyle away from the house while the steamer’s here, I’ll keep close to him. I can handle the automatic with my left hand, and hold him up if he attempts any action such as communicating with friends nearby, if such he has.”
His curiosity returning to the events of the past few hours, Secord asked for further particulars.
Virginia went on to relate that upon
receiving the wireless from the steamer it would not arrive until the next day, she had, late in the afternoon, gone up the creek to the intake. After clearing away the debris at the intake she was returning when she heard the sound of a gas-boat, the exhaust of which warned her it was not Jim’s.
“And the Chinamen?” Secord queried.
“They are one danger I never dreamed of: I haven’t yet figured them out. But I’ll tell you everything. I should have done it before, and would have had I not expected Jim long ago. But I must tell you now. It isn’t fair to you that you should not understand the situation.”
They heard Boyle’s step in the hallway.
“To-night perhaps we can be alone. We can come back to the living room after Boyle has gone to bed,” she concluded hurriedly.
“T LEFT the prisoners in the kitchen in 1 charge of Ah Duck,” Boyle explained on entering. “I wanted to help him take them down the basement, but he said he could attend to it all right, so I left it to him as this gentleman certainly needs attention.”
It took Boyle only a minute now to realize that the break in Secord’s arm was of too complicated a nature for his rude knowledge. “I’ll do it up roughly for the time being, but you’ve got to go to a doctor,” his face shadowed at the seriousness of the injury. Then he smiled broadly at the thought just come.
“Why, these Chinamen did us an actual favor in coming when they did. We will take their boat It’s a darn fast one. Where’s the nearest doctor?”
“Campbell River,” \irginia replied. “You can get a rig there, or perhaps a motor car to take you to Quathiaski Cove. From the Cove it is only a mile across the narrows to Campbell River on Vancouver Island, and there is always a gas-boat on hand to do ferrying jobs. By doing this you save making the long trip around Cape Mudge, and cut your mileage in half.”
“Good. Get Ah Duck to fix up some supper. While he is doing it, I’ll take a run out and look over the launch I’m pretty experienced with gas-boats. And a crack one like this will not likely be difficult to handle.”
THE full moon was near the zenith of a cloudless sky when a little after nine that evening, Boyle turned the big launch seaward.
Virginia, turning from the beach after watching them go, went slowly toward the scene of the fight a few yards distant, where stiff and cold in the moonlight stretched the form of the female Airedale, more dear in life to Virginia than all save two human beings in the whole wide world.
It was not until nearly evening three days later that Boyle once more headed the big, nameless launch of the Chinee into the sheltered water of the little bay in front of the bungalow.
Secord had suffered a bad compound fracture. The doctor had recommended at least a week in hospital. But at the end of the second day, Secord had insisted on leaving, promising to return and have the arm inspected within a few days.
As Secord stepped into the dinghy, he felt a thrill of gladness. This return had something of the glorious savor of homecoming, something not felt as deeply since that long ago day upon which he had returned to his father’s house for his first visit after going out into the world.
Virginia came running to meet them. Though her eyes were tired, and her face showed signs of the sorrow and anxiety of the past few days, Secord sensed in her looks and manner a something which bespoke relief.
That evening these three so strangely gathered household spent talking before the fire. To Secord the time seemed endless before Boyle retired about half past ten.
But at last he and Virginia were alone „ together.
“Yes, the steamer came and took her load. I’m safe now for the time being. But thank heaven it’s over. Having in your house men from whom you don’t know what to expect, is worse than fighting openly. As for Boyle, if it wasn’t for the future, I could now tell him the whole story with safety, no matter what one of my enemies he represents, for, with the ship gone, it would only be his word against mine. And you can bet representatives of the law don’t take action on grounds like that.”
“Well, we both owe him a pretty heavy debt, enemy or not,” Secord ventured defensively. “He certainly is a grand man to meet emergencies And I can’t help admiring his tact He never asked me a question about this place, though what has happened is enough to make permissible any man voicing some query. He has never even passed a remark. Fighting and capturing Chinamen might be an everyday event, for all the notice he has taken of it. But what about Jim—any word?” he broke off abruptly at recollecting the worry which had laid heavily upon her when he left.
“Not a thing,” she replied, with shadowed face. “I’ve been trying to connect up his disappearance with the coming of these Chinamen. But I am nowhere. I have questioned them. But they won’t talk. Ah Duck has tried to overhear them, but learned nothing.” “Suppose you tell me the story,” he suggested, “then perhaps 1 can help you decide what’s best to do.”
She smiled shyly. He sensed she was a little embarrassed. But after a moment she began.
MY FATHER was born on this coast. He went through for law. He was a great dreamer of constructive projects, and, not caring much for law, he took to promoting. He was different from most promoters in that his schemes when put into execution usually made money for their backers. But he was too trustful. My mother died when Jim and I were little. Afterwards father took us everywhere he went. He had Ah Duck, then a young man not long out from China, who helped look after us. On one of his upcoast trips father discovered this little bay. He built this house, putting in every modern convenience except the radio. Jim installed that.
“Then, when I was eighteen, he lost a lot of money, nearly all he had.
“Jim is three years older than I. When the crash came, Jim was practically through his course in electrical engineering. He took hold of things; told father to sit tight here, have a good rest and not worry, he would manage enough for everybody. But though it cost us almost nothing to live here, I guess father continued to worry. One morning after we had been here about eighteen months, Ah Duck found father dead in bed Our family doctor in Victoria told us afterwards, father had suffered for years from heart trouble. But he had, of course, kept it from us,
“Living out here, we naturally kept a gas-boat. I used to run into Vancouver occasionally. Jim worked there. He was always interested in Oriental people. Ah Duck taught him Chinese—the Cantonese dialect. In Vancouver there is a large Chinese quarter, and he mixed up more and more with them. Then one day he saw an opportunity to make big money, and in the service of a cause with which he was in sympathy. He came out and talked it over with me, and, of course, I was strong for it at once. You don’t know anything about Chinese politics, so I won’t go into all the complicated history of the warring factions whose struggles in the last few years have upset the country. Anyway, we joined forces with the Internationalists, for gain, for adventure, and out of sympathy with their cause. You notice. 1 put sympathy last, for if a man’s sympathies are sufficiently strong, he’ll work for nothing. In our case sympathy was the least impelling factor. I don’t want to sail under false colors.
“And that’s the explanation of all those boxes which Jim has been bringing at different times for months back, and which a steamer calls for every so often—the boxes which have so stirred your imagination and curiosity since the very first night you came two months ago.”
She smiled at him teasingly.
“Haven’t you prolonged the agony quite enough9” he asked. “The boxes! the boxes!—but what’s in the boxes?” Without directly replying she said, with a mock assumpt’on of wickedness: “At this very moment you are looking upon probably the greatest violator of international neutrality Canada has ever had as a citizen—that’s me!”
“Guns!” he cried explosively, a vast admiration in his words and looks. “By Jove, Virginia, you are a game one!”
“Yes; guns.” she answered proudly, “guns and ammunition—thousands of rifles and revolvers and tons of ammunition. We’ve been working for two years now. The Mounted Police secret service
department, and the operatives of the Federal Government and the Customs men have known for some time that Canadian neutrality was being violated on a large scale. I understand the Chinese Government also have had men at work on this coast. Whether the three Chinamen down in the cellar are Government agents, I don’t know. But I am strongly inclined to think not. I believe they are some traitors to their own party, the Internationalists, who had inside knowledge of the workings of how the guns and ammunition were handled.
“IT’S this way: there are two oceanA going freighters in the deal. When they clear from Vancouver for China they come up here. It’s not far out of their way. There is no one to see them, and, besides, steamers are not so uncommon in these waters for their passing to cause any comment. On board each of the steamers is an Internationalist agent. The steamers come in here at certain pre-arranged times, load up what we have ready. I receive a cash payment at so much per box from the agent. There is no need to check what we get and what we put on board, for the price we receive for handling is more than we could sell the contents for, even if we wished to dishonor our carrying contract. They pay us royally, I can tell you.
“You see, it was Jim worked out the whole scheme for them, and they were mighty grateful, because previous to that everything they tried was unsuccessful. The guns and ammunition are gathered in small lots throughout Canada by Internationalist agents. A few here, a few there, so as not to excite attention. Then they are shipped to various addresses in Vancouver. Coming from one part of a country to another they are not subject to Customs inspection. After that they are taken to places where Jim picks them up in his gas-boat.' Never twice in the same place. Sometimes he loads at New Westminster, sometimes at Point Grey, and then again on the North shore. He brings the stuff here, and when we have enough to make it worth while a steamer calling, we advise the agent of the company. The steamers, after leaving here, are met off the China coast by an Internationalist boat, and the stuff again transferred.
“So regarding these three Chinamen in the basement, this is what I think: they were inside the party. They kept tab of things recently, and then, just before the steamer was due, decided to rush this place, stow away whoever was in charge here, and deliver the stuff themselves. The agent has no instructions to pay the money to any particular person; just who delivers the stuff. So they could have collected our money, slipped away, and remained still in the service of the party, and Jim and I would have been out sixteen thousand dollars.”
“What are you going to do with them?”
“Turn them loose, I guess. They are a bother to look after; and, now the stuff is gone, there is no more need to hold them.”
“Better hold them a few days more. We need the use of their gas-boat. I have got to go back to the doctor, and, with a boat at our d’sposal, we can take Miller and Boyle to a steamer landing.”
“I’m terribly worried about Jim. And now that you know all the circumstances, I know you will agree my anxiety is well founded. There is absolutely nothing that should have caused this long silence on his part. If the Mounted Police, or Customs men, or the Federal operatives had captured him, some of his Chinese friends would certainly have sent word to me.”
Secord replied promptly: “Then the thing for us to do is to go at once to Vancouver and tale up the search. You know the people he is connected with among the Internationalists. They will help us. We can also if necessary hire a good detective agency.”
“We will start in the morning,” she answered. “I had decided to go before I told you my story. You see,” she halted, embarrassed. Then, with determination to be frank, “I wasn’t just sure how you would feel towards me when you knew the whole truth. 1 thought that perhaps you wouldn’t approve of me any more.”
“Approve!” He gazed at her with mock sternness at thus daring such a suggestion. “Sure, I approve.” Then in a different tone. “I’m afraid that now after the time I’ve known you. I would approve of almost anything you do.”
“I was thinking.” Virginia said, “we
could put the three Chinamen aboard and keep them tied, and once in the harbor all we need to do is turn them loose just before we go ashore. Nothing matters now but finding Jim. If anything has happened to him, I’m through with this business forever ”
“Very well, then, we will start in the morning.”
She rose from the chair before the fire. “Good night.”
After she had gone, Secord sat staring for a long time into the fire thinking of some words he had wished to utter before Virginia departed, but had remained silent, deeming this was not the time.
THEY decided to wait until after midnight before setting out for Vancouver, which would bring them in early in the day, and permit setting out on the search for Jim shortly after their arrival. On being advised of their going to Vancouver, Boyle had expressed a wish to be taken to the city. “I bank there,” he explained. “I have to get some money and buy a new outfit, for I figure on wintering in the mountains.”
So shortly after midnight, with the three Chinamen in the cabin amidships, always under the watchful eye of one of them, the party set off leaving Ah Duck to solitude and rest after the extra labors of feeding so many unexpected visitors.
Once aboard the gas-boat Boyle and Virginia instantly found they had a mutual interest in the subject of motor engines and gas-driven craft in general. They discussed the engine before them in detail and, listening, Secord was amazed at the scope of her engineering knowledge.
By and by, with Boyle at the wheel, Virginia came out of the pilot-house into the cabin, closing the door behind her. Knowing the three Chinamen spoke English, she motioned Secord to the afterdeck. As they stood just above the open sliding hatch cover so they could keep an eye on the men below, she said: “We both owe Boyle a big debt of gratitude. Because of it I would hate to feel we have been wrong in our estimate of him. In fact, even if he is a secret service man connected with the Federal Government, or the Customs or the Mounted Police, that is hardly to be looked upon as anything against him. Still, I want to know whether he is or not. And while he and I were talking engines, an idea came to me. Wh’le we were looking over the engine in this boat he said that to own a boat like this was the dream of his life. Provided he is what he claims to be he could not afford a craft like this. Now here’s my idea. We may be able to buy it from the Chinamen cheap. We can use a threat of jail to drive a good bargain. Then if Boyle expresses a desire to buy it it is pretty good evidence that he intends to return and fish and trap up Knight Inlet. If he is all right but hasn’t money enough to pay for it let you and me chip in some and help him. We can afford it. If Boyle refuses to buy then we will feel pretty certain he is a secret service man of some sort.”
Secord enthusiastically agreed.
So while the launch moved toward Vancouver with Boyle still at the wheel, Secord and Virginia in the cabin amidships matched wits with their sullen prisoners. They triumphed beyond their expectations. To Virginia and Secord’s offer of eighteen hundred dollars, coupled with a promise to let them go upon arrival at Vancouver, they eagerly agreed.
A few minutes later they told Boyle in the pilot-house what the boat could be had for.
“By Jove, the engine’s worth more than that. I sure would like to have it, but it’s far more than I can afford.”
Yet though Virginia very tactfully voiced the offer of herself and Secord. Boyle’s sturdy independent nature at first would not permit him to consider it.
For some hours the subject was dropped but with Point Atkinson turned and the city of Vancouver looking up before them, Boyle’s desire for possession of this trim launch won the day. He agreed to accept five hundred dollars from each of them at five per cent, interes*, the ownership of the launch to he jointly with all three until he had paid the money off.
Then very briefly Virginia told Boyle her secret.
“Of course, I was curious ” he admitted. “I figured you were into something. I thought maybe running whiskey to the States. But running guns for Chinks! That is a good one!”
THERE are two regular anchorages for small craft in Vancouver, Coal Harbor and False Creek. In the former, Jim had a regular mooring at the Yacht Club. Brockton Point once passed Virginia took the wheel. With hundreds of sail, and gas-boats around them, they dropped anchor just off the long line of floats which marks the Yacht Club’s premises. As they did so, Virginia pointed eagerly.
“There’s the Simoon all right,” she cried, pointing to where Jim’s boat lay at her berth, lifting slowly to the slight swell
From her roll of cash, Virginia paid the Chinamen off. On the Yacht Club float Virginia, Secord and Boyle walked to the Simoon, finding the cabin locked.
“I think the best thing to do first is for me to see the caretaker. I know him, and he knew Jim well, seeing more of him than lots of the other members.”
Standing by the Simoon. Secord and Boyle awaited her return.
She was gone a long time. When she returned, her step was slow, her eyes red from weeping. Yet she had won control of her sorrow.
“He’s dead,” she said quietly. “I’ll tell you all about it after a while. i’ve ordered a taxi. We will go to the Hotel Vancouver.”
Later that evening, sitting in a quiet corner of the big rotunda, she related to Secord what had happened.
Boyle had previously slipped away, instinctively feeling an intruder.
“They found Jim’s body floating in the harbor two days ago, about a mile from here, and the Simoon's dinghy several days before that, floating around in the harbor some distance from where the body was afterwards found. Jim’s head was battered in. The dinghy bore the Simoon's name, so of course the caretaker advised the police. When the body was found he at once identified it. The caretaker has seen me often when I used to run in, but he didn’t know where to find me. The police are ouite mystified. I am not sure my idea is correct, but I think those three Chinamen we let go, or some others in with them had a hand in it. Undoubtedly, Jim had rowed somewhere along the inlet to pick up some cases of guns. As these fellows were planning to hold me up, they didn’t want Jim around. It’s „he only explanation, or rather the one which seems most plausible to me. But what do explanations matter?” she said wearily. “It won’t bring him back, and to prove anything on those Chinamen is now impossible. Besides vengeance to me seems an empty thing in a matter such as this.” They sat for a while silently amid the sights and sounds of the great hostelry; but hstening to the lilt of light music from the orchestra seemed a mockery, and presently Virginia rose and went to her room.
VIRGINIA and Secord sat one evening in therotunda of the Hotel Vancouver, some three weeks after their arrival Tactfully, in the preceding days, Secord had striven to make her forget as much as poss;ble her sorrow. He had her youth to aid him, and her philosophic mind—and another ally of which he was not as yet aware. So he had taken her about, giving her but little time for brooding. But to-night, with the music of the orchestra drifting to them from a huge oval room off the rotunda, Virginiavoicedherweanness.
“I’m tired of buildings and building dwellers,” she said. “I’ve been feeling oppressed for days—and I want to go home. And yet, for the first time, I dread the long winter evenings alone.” She paused for a moment, then proceeded resolutely. “I was wonderi g if you would care to come back for a little while —say, until spring! You are the only person whom I know from experience to be congenial.”
“No.” Secord replied shortly. “I would not care to return on those terms.”
Then, as she raised hurt, surprised eyes at his tone and words, he went on softly.
“I’ll come back only on one condition, Virginia—dear.”
A warm light flooded her eyes. After a moment she said, with a touch of joyous malice: “We have sat around the house so much together that we’re like old happily married folks already—so I suppose I might as well say ‘yes’. ”
And although the rotunda was full of people, Secord leaned suddenly over and kissed her.
4—1* 4*44-4* 4*4*