The Peace River Outlet
An Albertan states the case for a new railroad from the Peace to the Pacific “by the shortest and most feasible route”
CHARLES W. FREDERICK
WITH the exception of new mining areas, and the fevered excitement usually attending their development, perhaps no part of Canada has attracted public attention so generally, and certainly none has kept that interest so well sustained over a period of years, as has the Peace River country.
Forty-two years ago it was traversed by a party of surveyors under William Pearce, of th.e Canadian Pacific Railway Company. After spending many months running lines over routes through the vicinity of Hudson’s Hope in the general direction of the Pacific, these surveyors returned with glowing accounts of the beautiful country in which they had spent the summer. But it was merely passing conversation, and no public interest attached to what they had to say, although the technical information they secured is still carefully filed in the offices of the great transportation company which sent them on that mission.
Then in 1893, when Canada won the world’s wheat championship at Chicago, and it was learned that the prize exhibit had been sent from the Peace River country, the interest of agriculturists began to be awakened. This interest was a little later augmented by reports from further survey parties who were sent to locate other projected lines for the northern railway route, and before long the scouts for what became a small army of land seekers made their way over the all but impassable trails to spy out the land.
Thus it was that by 1907 and 1908, following the arrival of the first hardy pioneer agriculturists, reports of the fertility of the Peace River country and of its remarkably fine climate began to drift back to civilization, encouraging still others to make the long trek. Interest grew apace, and an ever-increasing stream of land seekers flocked to this new-found mecca, and when the Great War in 1914 brought a sudden halt to the movement, it had attained the proportions of a mining rush, with the trails from both east and south black with the teams and caravans of the newcomers who
were fast developing the prairie areas of this wondrously beautiful and fertile Peace River district into prosperous farming communities.
The Original Steel
DY THIS time the J. D. McArthur Company, backed by the Province of Alberta, was pushing construction of the Edmonton, Dunvegan, and British Columbia railway into the Peace River country. By 1915 the rails had reached the town of Peace River, and during the winter of 1917 piers were laid for the first and only railway bridge across the river itself. This bridge was completed shortly after the signing of the Armistice in 1918.
Thus, during the last two years of the war the farmers of the Peace River country were enabled to add their quota to the Empire’s supply of foodstuffs, in wheat, cattle and hogs. To be sure, the contribution did not loom large in the total for Canada, but its mere production had demonstrated unmistakably that enormous
yields of grain were possible from the fertile fields of this new agricultural empire. It was also clear that the raising of cattle and hogs, while highly profitable, was secondary here to the sowing and reaping of wheat crops which yielded anything from thirty to as much as sixty bushels or more per acre.
The newly established farmers found themselves making almost incredible profits from their farming operations. The new railway was taking a terrific toll by chiiVging mountain tarilfs on all goods moving in, and all produce, including wheat, going out. But who cared? Were not the markets of the world clamoring for wheat, cattle and hogs at fabulous prices? So the farmers broke more land, sowed more wheat, and prepared to raise more cattle and more hogs.
The Post-War Panic
rT"'IIE war concluded, grain prices soon began to fall.
It was then that the Peace River farmer began to realize his actual position. It was all very fine so long as he was selling wheat at those fabulous prices. Freight rates did not appear to make a difference. But with prices rapidly returning to normal, the difference between prairie rates and the mountain rates being charged on the E. D. & B. C. actually meant the difference between profit and loss to Peace River farmers. The blow fell suddenly and heavily. And it fell in a year that had for the first time failed to produce the enormously heavy yields which the farmers had come to expect as a matter of course. Farmers who had taken no thought for the eventual return to normal conditions were caught in an economic trap. For the first time in the north they had reaped only a normal crop, and with the lower prices there was not sufficient return to pay the high freight rates and the expenses of harvesting.
The result was that by 1921 there was an entire absence of enthusiasm for agricultural prospects in the Peace River country, and by 1922 there was a general
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exodus of farmers from the selfsame district that a few» years before had loomed as the greatest farming country in existence. What mattered it if the land yielded a thousand bushels an acre, if the entire crop was necessary to pay freight? Land values dropped to practically nothing. Farmers sold their horses and cattle for any price they would bring, and left machinery which had been purchased on terms in the fields to be recovered by the machinery companies as best they could. Hundreds of farms were forfeited for taxes, and at the ensuing land sales fetched a paltry few dollars per quarter-section.
There were those, of course, who would not be driven out by the first reverse. These people began casting about to find the remedy. The result of their investigations showed two major necessities. The first was the removal of the unjust freight rates, and to this the Chamber of Commerce directed its attention. A hearing of the case was granted before the Railway Commission of Canada, which, after a week of evidence-taking at Grande Prairie, granted the petition and established prairie freight rates on the E. D. & B. C. and Central Canada Railways, thus reducing the cost of shipping out wheat from fifty-nine and one-half cents per 100 pounds to forty-six and one-half cents, a saving to the farmer of nearly ten cents per bushel. It was a great victory, the winning of which bolstered up confidence in the north country.
But there was more to come. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company, which at that time was operating the northern roads under a lease agreement from the provincial government, was anxious to win the good graces of the north, with a possible view to encouraging the province in making a sale of the railway property. Whatever the actual motive, a further voluntary reduction in rates was granted by the C. P. R., bringing the cost of wheat shipping down again from forty-six and one-half cents to thirty-nine cents.
The shower of rate blessings was not yet complete, and a few weeks later the finding of the railway commission in connection with the Crow’s Nest agreement and its application to all roads in the west again affected the northern roads, once more bringing down the cost ->f wheat shipping from thirty-nine cents '»enty-six and one-half cents, or less ' *he rate applicable only a short
time before, and as favorable a rate as is enjoyed by some points in Saskatchewan.
The Tide Flows Once More
nPHE net result was renewed confidence in the north country, and with these encouragements the farmers went back to the development of more land. Former neighbors came drifting back. New laurels were won, higher profit secured, and with them a nation-wide interest in the possibilities of this vast agricultural district was again kindled, bringing such a rush of new settlement into the north country as to tax the capacity of the land offices in accepting and recording the entries for homesteads. Patches of prairie, park lands, quarter-sections covered with heavy timber, or rolling lands formerly passed over as more suitable for grazing —all were grabbed up by the incoming horde. Thousands of acres of new land were brought into cultivation, and programmes laid out for further thousands and hundreds of thousands of acres in the next few years. Exports of grain jumped from three carloads to four million bushels, to seven millions, and to ten millions, with prospects of fifteen millions for the current year. And if the programme could continue at the present rate, no great ability in mathematics is required to foresee an export from the Peace River country of fifty, seventy-five or one hundred million bushels of wheat annually. Premier J. E. Brownlee of Alberta forecasts it at many times the largest amount here named.
But there stands a shadow that must be removed. The exodus of 1921-22 taught a lesson that has been« learned. Prosperity does not last for ever. Wheat prices cannot always remain at a high level. Before the war, the average price of wheat was considerably less than one dollar per bushel. No reasonable person will believe that those same low prices will never again prevail, despite the Wheat Pool and other agencies. And with their return, what of the Peace River farmer? It will be said, and quite truthfully, that he will be in no worse position than his cousin in Saskatchewan. He will be paying, perhaps, a cent or two per bushel more in freight charges, but he will have a higher average yield. T116 latter may or may not continue ,0 t»e true. Other famous districts h,ve their years of adversity, and ‘t 18 to° much to expect that the sa*e n°t happen in the Peace River .uuntry.
Still there is a remedy If yields are
reduced and price is reduced, then marketing expenses must be reduced also. The freight rate per mile having been brought as low as seems reasonably possible, then the one alternative remains of shipping a less number of miles. It is to this problem for which the people of Peace River are now demanding consideration, and suggesting a remedy by means of construction of a shorter railway route to the Pacific coast.
The Short Haul to Salt Water
CUCH an outlet is the final remedy that ^ must be provided, and in looking forward to it so many selections of routes have been advocated that the problem at first glance becomes bewildering. Losing sight of the main fact that an outlet by some route must be found, groups of people began clamoring for this or that route with the result that the governments and the railways had the sound excuse that no action could be taken for a people until those people knew what they really wanted. Makeshifts have been suggested by interested parties, for the benefits expected to accrue to privately owned lands or mineral properties, or to benefit some little townsite which had dreams of becoming a city through being on a main line railway. These spurious claims held attention for the time being, but were gradually laid aside, and today one hardly hears of the “Brule cut-off” or “The Obed route,” both of which were proved wholly impracticable.
Today, opinion in the north has been crystallized into one harmonious demand for “a coast outlet by the shortest and most feasible route.” Th« is the demand made in a resolution of the Canadian Chamber of Commet, following a tour of inspection of the Peace River country last summer. It ^ the demand of cities on the Pacific coast, regardless of what the ultimate ¿ranting of the demand will mean to an/ particular city.
So far-^ selection of route is concerned, there -*» general agreement on one point, beyond which further suggestions are rot being made to any extent. Some route must be selected that will serve both the northern and southern sections of the Peace River country, for be it remembered that this small empire, containing 80,000 square miles, is divided into two main sections divided by the valley of the mighty Peace River with its 900-foot high banks. With one third of the area lying south of the Peace and the other two thirds to the north of it, whatever route is decided upon must be to the westward, and traffic from both southern and northern sections must converge on one main line near the headwaters of the Peace, where topographical conditions permit of a railway crossing.
Thus the beginning of any rail outlet to the Pacific can be pretty definitely ocated somewhere in the vicinity of ludson’s Hope. It may be some miles ast or west of that point, according to he choice of mountain pass to be selected, ut from some point in this vicinity will ne day be constructed the line that will lean the economic salvation of thejwhole eace River territory, when the lheviible return to former price levels in the gricultural field necessitates shorter and leaper transportation.
\7TTH this point established, the
remainder of the problem is one of igineering. Already four alternative •utes have been surveyed and their xsts estimated by railway engineers, wo of these are through the Pine Pass, iving a connection with the Canadian
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we very soon found out that that little bobbery was only a minor one; there was something brewing behind it, in the offing so to speak, that was going to be a much bigger thing than either Lenin’s crackbrained scheme of a proletariat Utopia, or any of the vaporings of the post-war cureit-alls.”
He seemed to consider for a moment, looking for his angle of attack. They had fallen quiet outside now—too quiet for i.ny kind of comfort. Andries got up and leaned over the window-ledge, peering into the dark.
“You see,” Trant went on, “you haven’t to be very long on this business before you come to recognize that there are forces and influences loose in the world that have a lot more weight, cut a lot more ice, than they’re given credit for. And others, that are supposed to be almighty powerful, but in the last analysis aren’t anything like so strong as they’re popularly painted. Money, for instance. To listen to the talk, you’d imagine that this was of all times the money age; when it could do anything, or stop anything being done. Put plainly, that’s the position of modern civilization; and equally plainly, it’s balderdash.”
“Oh, come!” I said. “You can’t do anything without it—we’ve learnt that at any rate.”
“As a matter of cold fact, Lorimer, you can’t do anything with it,” Trant replied. “Anything, that is, that isn’t purely ephemeral; anything that’ll last. It’s simply a habit we’ve got into, of reckoning everything in terms of what’s after all a perfectly artificial standard of value. The world’s running on rails that aren’t rails at all—don’t lead anywhere. And one day somebody’s going to wake up and shove it off those rails; and it’s just that little contingency the really smart people—our own Admiralty Intelligence, for instance, and their opposite numbers in the States—are looking ahead at.”
He stopped again, and we sat listening to the hush of the trees outside. There was silence but for that and our breathing, and I found myself wondering what might be going on in those eerie palm clumps across the clearing.
“Well, what is it that might possibly detrack the world?” went on Trant. “Money’s on the way to being played out as a mainspring of action, if only because it’s getting so common as to lose its appeal. There’s only one other force in hi$tory that I’m aware of, strong enough tb'tear civilization up by the roots.” ¡’’Religion?” I said. “You don’t n . .
ant cautiously lit a cheroot. “Yes, I dtf.’’ he said, intent face lit up by the áftwh’s tiny glow. “And so do a lot of o&Her people—Intelligence, and our friends the way as well.”
sh!” I said. “Are you seriously to talk of a Holy War again? We 1 that business out in the war, with rabs, and a fine affair it ended up VQ,.with all the emirs playing politics for ^ ing that was in them, and the god finance coming out of the pund again as soon as the jehad d served its turn ...” rd Trant chuckle in the dark. *J0f joqrse,” he said. “I agree with most d# «hatflon general grounds. The Arab sfhiiiwjiVas rather a shoddy piece of business? But there are a few things I’d like tO'&ÿ about the whole thing. First, you lÉerélitealing with Arabs, and we’re not • vjFip.^nd the Arab isn’t very far off Nang à westerner. Second, it was only a sideshow. If you’d had united Islam in nflthyou or against you, which was just arit*td"vboth sides were in the unholy jwtnpèsabout, the case would have been ea^tirely different. But you hadn’t. And tfcaKÜyv ; Allenby’s turn-up with the Ifèjaz sras a scratch show, organized uprfr «miess on the spur of the moment, a#d Hot too well-cast at that ... I aaèarVt the religious end of it was never really brought into play. It couldn’t be,
since the whole thing was essentially j Moslem against Moslem.”
“But our case at the moment is quite a different concern. First, these people aren’t Arabs, but a far more dangerous, and incidentally a far cooller and more venomous lot: much more numerous, too. Then, this isn’t any snap show; they’ve ; been working on it for years, and while j I’m not going so far as to say they’ve got ' the East solid behind them, or anything like it as yet, they’ve got—what the Arabs hadn’t, since Omdurman at any rate—a rallying-point. Two, as a matter of fact. One, and far the most important, and central, and appealing, is a man— Tony found out a little about him before he died, and Tonia here thinks she’s seen him once. And the other,” he jerked his thumb over his shoulder, “is nothing more or less than that little green toy you hold in your hand ...”
A FAMILIAR crack into the wall interrupted him, and we subsided to cover again, with a very cautious peep now and then from the window. The clearing was dark, and empty, as it seemed—menacing, too, as empty spaces can sometimes be. It was like waiting for the curtain to go up on a tragedy; an uncomfortable thought. Antonia shivered a little, crouched against Trant’s knee.
By and by, with the growing of the tropic night, suspense deepened, and we all began to fidget about the house in the dark; all, that is, except Andries, who smoked on, immobile as an idol. The people outside let loose an occasional shot, more to remind us of their continued presence than anything else, I imagine; and now and then our straining ears seemed to catch movements close by.
At last Trant went to the back door.
“See here,” he said, “I can’t stand this. I’m going to try if this way isn’t open ...”
He thrust the door aside very cautiously; then he turned back, fumbling in a pocket.
“One of you look after this thing,” he ordered. He passed me an object which I recognized as that nuisance, the Green Dove itself. “Stick to that,” he said brusquely. And with that he went out.
I passed the toy to Tonia; somehow it seemed the obvious thing to do. At any rate, I didn’t want the thing.
Two minutes later there was a crack among the trees, and Trant returned hurriedly, swearing like a virtuoso, and with a bullet chip out of the lobe of his ear. It was nothing; but Tonia, for all her courage, wept unfeignedly, and I left Trant to attend to her peace of mind, while I went into the front room and found Andries.
“A pretty mess,” I remarked.
The old fellow took his pipe out of his mouth and grunted cheerfully.
“Ja,” he said, “und it aind’t improved by dot business yonder ...” He pointed with his pipestem at the back room. “Dot is an ingonvenience, not?”
He broke into a chuckle, and in a moment or so Trant and the girl came in.
“Now,” said our leader, “they’ll be on us in a while, and we’d better get to our posts. Lorimer, you and I’ll take the front room. Back into a corner, and let anyone have it that shows at the window; there’s enough light to see by. You Andries, watch the back . . and 1
needn’t tell any of you that this is serious . . . ”
We went to our stations, and for a long time nothing happened. Outside, the wind had fallen to a dead calm and one could have heard a mouse creep on the dusty ground before the house.
Then—it must have been well after midnight—they were upon us without warning. I heard Andries at the back door rip out something in Dutch, and immediately the roar of his big pistol; a flight of bullets came in through the front windows at the same time, heralding a dozen rushing shapes, dimly outlined against the moonle&s sky.
Followed confusion. Trant and I were backed into the far corners of the room, firing steadily at the windows; the girl still crouched at his feet—I believe handing him up shells. The room was filled with the reek of cordite fumes, and intermittently lit through the swirl by the flash of the rifles; it was an abominably hot five minutes.
Then it suddenly ceased as it had begun. The silence struck on our eardrums almost painfully. I sucked my fingers, scorched by the barrel of my Winchester.
“Anyone hurt?” Trant called.
Andries answered from the back room, and I went over to Trant. I found him groping anxiously about his feet.
“Where’s Tonia?” he asked quickly. “Don’t tell me . . . ”
Regardless of risk, he struck a match, and peered round the smoky room. The girl was gone.
rT'RANT never said a word to me or Andries. He simply put a hand on the window sill, vaulted over it, and was gone into the night.
Andries and I stood staring at one another. The whole business had grown fantastic, impossible, a nightmare; and the next move, if we were to stick by our friends, was going surely to lead us into still more lurid impossibilities. I don’t think either of us was in the least keen about that darkness outside, filled with who knew what weird figures, lurking probably to snap us up as we ran. At least that’s how I felt about it; for Andries neither I nor anyone else can ever speak with certainty. That imperturbable Hollander wears no heart on his sleeve.
He thrust his pistol into his pocket, and grinned at me. “Allmächtig!" he
observed, “I told you, yes, this Englisher was crazy!”
And with that he waddled to the window and coolly clambered over the sill, over a couple of groaning men as well, by the way. I followed him out into the dark, and the hair began to prickle and rise on the back of my neck.
The night had fallen perfectly still once more; there was no sound, save for the wounded gasping and gurgling behind us, and the rustle of the trees in the wind. Standing in the open glade in front of the house, we held our breaths, listening.
Suddenly, out in the gloom before us, faint with distance, but clear enough, came a scream; the kind of muffled cry a woman might utter if a choking hand had suddenly slipped from her mouth. It was followed at once by a shout—Trant— and a couple of shots in quick succession. I caught the orange flash of a rifle, stabbing the dark in a pin-point of flame.
“Come on, Andries!” I yelled, and we ran stumbling toward it.
What followed for the next twenty minutes or so—they seemed like hours— is the merest haze. A trip-and-stumble over roots and tussocks of grass; encounters with palm-clumps so solid as to look like blocks of buildings under the moon; halts to listen for and pick up, in imagination at least, the faint creaks and crackles of a retreat in front of us; speculations on an ambush, and the chasing of shadows. It was the wildest of wild-goose chases; and yet, as is the way with silly human nature, the rank idiocy of the proceeding began to fade from my mind. I believe even the stolid Andries began to feel his blood stirred by this blind pursuit through the darkness.
At last we halted, blown and at a loss. Andries puffed like a grampus, for crosscountry runs at midnight are no part of a Dutch skipper’s normal routine.
“Now what?” I panted.
“God, he knows,” Andries strained his eyes at the gloom. “We run into Borneo, maybe—or Luzon, ja!"
He chuckled hoarsely. It would take more than a rough-and-tumble with sliteyed brigands to upset his nerve.
Still, we were nonplussed. And where was Trant? The two of us stood there, peering doubtfully this way and that in the illusory half-light.
'“THEN, so close to us that we whipped
round instinctively cs if to jump at it, a soft chuckle sounded out of the gloom; and almost at the same instant a couple of nooses of thin rope descended over our arms and shoulders, and we were roughly jerked to the ground. To make matters entirely certain, three or four muscular and evil-smelling ruffians sprang out on us from cover, and proceeded to strap us up expertly. So much for our attempt at rescuing our friends and recovering the Green Dove.
We both fought for all that was in us, of course: the notion of being prisoners to this lot didn’t appeal to me, anyhow, in the least, and I’m pretty sure no one ha'd ever laid a finger on the old Dutchman before. He struggled and cursed desperately, laying about him with his heavy seaman’s boots; but our captors knew their job far too well, and in less than no time at all, the two of us were expeditiously trussed like fowls for market, and being borne at the rate of knots through the trees. In a moment there came a lightening overhead, and we were out on the sea beach.
Right before us, close enough to touch almost, Stekhine was standing on the rough shore, as if deep in thought, looking out across the water at a big lump of a vessel at anchor, perhaps half a mile away. The beach was full of men, piling hastily, but without undue noise— in fact I never saw Asiatics in a hurry so quiet—into a line of clumsy boats at the water’s edge. Of Trant or Tonia there was no sign.
Our bearers flung us down on the sand, and Stekhine turned round.
“Ah,” he remarked. “Once again, gentlemen? And where, may I enquire, is our excellent friend, Mr. Trant?”
That proved one thing, anyhow. They hadn’t got him. It didn’t seem likely, somehow, that that cool and efficient person would walk headfirst into a trap as we had. Neither of us said anything; which seemed to nettle Stekhine.
“A pair of dumb dogs, eh?” he asked gently. “Well, maybe we can find means of making you talk. Meanwhile,” he showed his teeth in his unpleasant fashion, “if I were you, gentlemen, I think I should be inclined to meditate very seriously on the possibilities tijg immediate future holds for you!”
He stood looking down at us foLa, moment, during which I addressed hini^n such terms as occurred to me; thert'he. turned away, and as he did so Fpng came down the beach, with Tonia iqjflia arms. He walked straight over to us'
“You see,” he said in his cliffpecf English, “it is not so wise to be obstinate after all.” He put a finger undei*%i«f girl’s chin and turned her face td$mP us. “Look at your friends, girlp Tiis? commanded. “In a while you shalT'see* them squirm . . . they and your white' luan as well ...”
I had not visualized the possibilities fti that little mixed-blood. She suddenly set' her teeth into the Chinaman’s yellow hand and bit with all her strengths Fon^ gave a startled yelp and nearly dropped her. Then he set off for the boats atrifuft speed, spitting Chinese to himself, wbH« Andries and I laughed ourselves, fain«.’ Even Stekhine, looking on, permitted himself a chuckle at his lieutenant’s dis.comfiture.
“Very amusing, no doubt, gentlemen^ he said. “I fancy friend Fong has i* handful there. Neve.theless, I beliove-ydfa will shortly be not so incliaedívl». laugh ...”
“Oh, go to biazas!” I told him fér-vently. He shrugged and gave an orditr. We were picked up bodily, carried-aaress the beach, and dropped into the bottom of one of the boats. In ten minutes were at the ship’s side.
Closer acquaintance proved her to be a towering junk, with the square bow, undercut stern and heavy slatted sails of the type. You still see them staggering about the China Seas, even in these days of steam, although in the Indies these big fellows are not so very common. There were lights on her decks, and a crowd of miscellaneous riff-raff at her gangway. Stekhine went up the side from the boat immediately preceding ours, and a babble of excited talk rose as he set foot on deck. Apparently the ship’s company were expecting the Green Dove’s return with the same anxiety as the shore party had shown in acquiring it.
I began to realize that if I remembered any prayers, now was the time for them.
'T'HAT junk was surely the most pesL tilential craft to sail the seas since the doings of Noah. I don’t know how old she was, or what her more recent freight had been; but from the appalling power and viscosity of the stench that saluted us as we were lowered into her ’tweendecks, I should judge that she must have been used as a transport for most of the more ill-flavored animals in the Eastern hemisphere.
They dropped us, by our ropes, bodily down a noisome pit somewhere forward of the mast, thrust us into a dark hole full of impressive cockroaches, and left us. It took twenty minutes of frenzied and blasphemous struggling with the bonds at our wrists and ankles to demonstrate that Stekhine’s people knew their job when it came to tying knots; and at the end of it the two of us sat panting with exertion and fury, glowering into the darkness, and discussing our probable fate in whispers.
Things didn’t look too cheery. In the first place, we had, it seemed, lost Trant. Stekhine’s question to us put out of court any possibility of his being a fellow captive with us, and—unless, the cheerful thought occurred, he had been quietly abolished by one or other of the Green Doves as he rushed after Tonia through the palms—he was probably now on the beach, watching the junk’s great lugsails climb the mast, and seeing her begin to wallow over the gentle swell. I could imagine some of his thoughts.
Secondly, there was Tonia. It didn’t need much imagination to read her future, poor child. There seemed so pitifully little we could do, sitting there in the dark.
Indeed, our own case looked black enough. The bearded Russian, I was quite sure, had not shown us even the edge of his hand; but he had been quite emphatic enough, and Trant had told us enough back there in the house, to place him as a fanatic, clearly unlikely to stop at anything to gain his ends. Just why we had been taken prisoners, rather than quietly dispatched back in the wood, was doubtful; but I don’t think either Andries or I got any very lively hope out of it. Our number looked like being up, and that low-pitched conversation among the cockroaches did nothing to cheer us.
Hours passed thus. We had no manner of getting at the time, although Andries had an old turnip of a watch. No one came near us, although we could hear the soft pad-pad of feet on the deck over our jieads, and now and then the creak and grind of spars as the great sail was trimmed to the wind. It must have been about ten at night, and we were getting desperately hungry, when footsteps sounded in the passageway outside our door; it was slid open, and the yellow flare of a lantern showed half-a-dozen gjrim-looking fellows outside. Fong spemed to be in charge of them.
1 He took no notice of us, but said something in his throaty Chinese, and a cbuple of the yellow men—who looked suggestively like executioners—picked us up, and bundled us out into the alleyway. Andries once more surpassed himself, and I couldn’t help wondering, with faint— very faint—amusement whether this
wasn’t after all his swan song in profanity. They dragged us along, in an indescribable atmosphere of assorted smells, and finally thrust us through a half-open door, and we stood blinking at the light.
rT"'HERE was a heavy table in the cabin, and behind it sat Stekhine. On the table, leering at us with its red-currantjelly eyes, was the Green Dove, and—at this Andries broke into a further torrent of appalling Dutch—in the corner of the room, still strapped up, and looking at us with the eyes of a trapped hare, was Tonia.
For a moment Stekhine sat motionless in the light of a big-bellied lantern that swayed in the night breeze at a square porthole—it was more like a window— at the back of the Russian’s head. Then his thick lips parted in his disconcerting smile, and he addressed us.
“Yours is a curious situation, gentlemen,” he began, with a kind of deadly suavity. “A few hours ago you were, I make no doubt, very peaceably cruising these seas on the good captain’s vessel, and thinking of nothing less than of the Green Dove, and that so excellent Mr. Trant.” He leant back, his thick body swinging easily in his chair to the send of the sea. “Now I am afraid—I am very much afraid—that your peaceable lives are due to come to an abrupt and none too pleasant conclusion. All of which illustrates the extreme folly of meddling. It is a pity!”
“Flummery!” I said. I didn’t in the least see myself truckling to this Mongolized adventurer, whoever he was. “Stop ranting and come down to earth. You daren’t do a thing to us. You’d have three governments on your trail in a week, and you know it!”
He laughed outright. “So, my little friend ! I gave you credit for more intelligence. When you are screaming for death within the next few hours, I shall be able to remind you that big words are no medicine for a desperate case , . . ”
He turned heavily, as if to speak to Fong, who stood erect and forbidding at his elbow; and in that instant the big lantern fell to the floor, flared a second, and we were in choking darkness.
YYTHAT happened after that isn’t much more than a whirling memory. For maybe a minute the cabin was filled with shouts and struggles in the dark, with vociferations in half a dozen dialects, and the rush and stumble of flying bodies. Andries and I, helpless still in our bonds, were tossed aside, and lay cowering on the floor, waiting—I speak for myself—with a kind of passive resignation for what might come next. I could hear Stekhine muttering to himself in Russian.
Then the door was flung open, and men ran in, bearing torches. The tumult quieted with the light, and I looked about me dazedly.
Stekhine was on his feet behind the table, his eyes popping out of his head. He was gaping in astonishment straight before him, and well he might, for the cause of all the rumpus, the thing that the lot of us had been chasing, was no longer in its place. The Green Dove had gone— vanished; and as I stared in bewilderment equal to Stekhine’s I heard Andries catch his breath at my side, and Fong let out a thoroughly undignified howl. Tonia was no longer in her corner, either To be Continued
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