Commencing a Sensational Canadian Novel of Financial and Political Intrigue
JAMES MICHAEL CORBIE
HIDDEN away in the wide northern expanse of the Province of Huron lies a certain group of little lakes which someone in long-ago days named Timber Chain. Nobody knows why now. A very lovely and a very lonely spot, yet it possesses a claim to distinction quite apart from its beauty and its solitude. For in Timber Chain lies little Burnt Island, and on Burnt Island is the wilderness lodge of John Rockingham.
There are few people in the province who do not know the name of Rockingham. Many there are who fear it. It is another name for vast possessions, for wealth, for power. A name to call up visions—visions of fortunes made, and of riches in the making: grey-boarded buildings topping barren ground, tawny silt patches that once were silver lakes. Men burrowing, antlike, a thousand feet below; clanging cages plunging up and down past levels where the antmen delve; the peachlike smell of cyanide rising from huge drums, and, over all, the hand of Rockingham—dripping gold.
A city spired with great anthills of brick and stone, whence nse, like the prelude to some grim drama of destiny, the shnek of factory whistles and the dull, tireless roar of machinery. A restless, changing stream of humanity,
milling in and out, out and in, all engaged in fashioning one man’s fortune. And, over all, the fingers of Rockingham, touching, Titan-like, every avenue of industry.
The lodge on Burnt Island was, in some measure, typical of its owner. It was a mansion hidden in the wilderness; it gave the impression of a massive something that had been there always. Yet it was concealed, cunningly enough, among the crowding trees of the island. A plane, passing over, would find trouble in distinguishing its green roof from the foliage that surrounded it.
The serene glamor of an August day had given way at dusk to the wild rioting of a summer storm. Blinding rain and screaming wind lashed the lakes into boiling, black waves, thundering against the rocks that enshored them. Vicious flashes stabbed the wet darkness, presaging the mighty thunder peals that seemed to rock both sky and earth alike. A night of tumultuous wrath, shrieking black curses from out the void.
Inside, in the lounge of the lodge, flaming logs in the wide fireplace blazed a daring defiance to the wild fury of the storm outside. Except at the window end, where shadow« moved darkly, the fire gave light enough to reveal the rich comfort of the room. Costly rugs of blended beauty covered but part of the dark, polished floor; rare paintings gave points of color to the panelled walls; deep-cushioned chairs spread their invitation to luxurious rest. In a comer, the
white keys of a grand piano gleamed in the fire glow. A strange room to find in the solitude of the Northern wilds.
The three men sat in silence, feet outstretched to the fire, content to watch the dancing flames. It was that peaceful half-hour after dinner, when the opportunity of perfect relaxation is a gift from heaven. Not for many minutes did anyone speak.
The paunchy, heavy-featured man in the middle chair was the first to move. He leaned forward to flick a cigar butt into the fire, and turned to his host.
“Twenty million dollars is a big sum of money.” He sjxjke with the slightly guttural accent that betrayed foreign forebears: there was a measured deliberation in the voice. "A very big sum,” he repeated slowly.
“Talk in pounds sterling," came a quiet, cynical voice from his left. "It won’t sound so much.”
IORD MOUNDELL swung round to glower at the speaker J “No need to be so flippant, Tarne.” he chided. “May as well get on with business. We’re not going to be here for a week.”
Sir Peter Tame chuckled quietly.
“Probably better for us if we were. It would do you a lot of good, Moundell, to spend a few days cut off from civilization. You need a rest.”
“I’ll take a rest when all our plans are perfected, and not
before.” Lord Moundell was emphatic. He turned to his host. “That's no reflection on your hospitality, my dear Rockingham,” he explained, smiling. "It's an ideal spot you’ve got here—for business purposes. It’s so impressively inaccessible.”
"I know you don’t care much about flying, and that’s why I appreciate your coming here. It is really the best place to meet. There’s no danger of some inquisitive reporter butting in, and letting all the world know what we’re talking about."
He bent forward to throw another log on the fire.
“Do you know," he resumed, speaking more directly to Moundell, “it has taken quite a time to arrange this meeting? In London, last fall, Sir Peter was suddenly called over to Berlin, and last spring, you remember, you were forced to leave for Cape Town. Even now, we only got together because you very kindly agreed to fly up from New York and call here on your way to Quebec.”
"Moundell hates the air more than he hates the water,” interrupted Sir Peter with another chuckle. “Do him a world of good to rest up here for a day, before he boards the Empress tomorrow.”
Lord Moundell waved a pudgy hand impatiently.
"Go on, Rockingham, let’s have the story; time’s getting on.” He looked at his watch and glared at Tarne significantly.
For a moment there was silence. Then Rockingham spoke, slowly and deliberately.
“I understand —or, shall I say, I hapfien to know that you two men have been busy for some time past on a plan for controlling the mineral wealth of the British Empire. I know just how far you have gone in Australia, and what you have already accomplished in South Africa. I venture, now. to congratulate you on your progress. Your handling of Hirtzman, for instance, was masterly.”
“You are singularly well informed, Rockingham,” growled Moundell coldly.
“I make it my business to be so,” said Rockingham smoothly, “when my own interests are touched.”
Sir Peter Tarne leaned forward in his chair and gazed quietly into the fire.
“I understood your interests were confined to Canada.” It was a question rather than a statement.
“They are,” Rockingham agreed, "and that is why I wanted this meeting. Isn’t Canada next?”
Neither of his guests answered immediately, and Rockingham asked another question.
"What did Trunnion say to your offer?”
Lord Moundell sprang to his feet, his hands pawing the air. “Now, Gott in Himmel,” he shouted, “what is that to you? What do you know about it?” There was a savage menace in his thick voice, and even Sir Peter’s lean, patrician face grew strangely stern as he looked steadily at his host.
Rockingham sat very quietly, as if but curiously interested in the stir his words had caused. When he spoke, it was with measured coolness.
"Better sit down, my lord," he said. “I have a great deal to say, and we have much to discuss. More than twenty million dollars is at stake tonight. Sit down and listen to me."
Moundell slumped into his chair, his face still working with restrained emotion.
"I mentioned that sum as necessary to swing my proposition, merely to get you here. You came because you wondered whether this plan of mine would interfere with your schemes. But you didn’t consider me in your Canadian plans. I’ll tell you why.” He paused to light a cigarette. The others were watching him intently.
“You, my lord, already control a group of mines in this province. You thought, with that as a basis, you could swing your tremendous resources into action to acquire other key properties, and secure from the Crown, through Trunnion’s good offices, certain rights in territories chosen by your engineers. With Tame as your partner, you’ve already done as much in other parts of the world. But you cannot do it here!”
npHERE was an important snort from Lord Moundell.
He glared round at Rockingham.
“You seem to be very sure about it.” he snarled. “Why can’t we?”
"Because, so far. you have overlooked one factor—”
This time Tarne interrupted. “You mean John Rockingham?"
Moundell stirred savagely, but Sir Peter laid a quieting hand on his arm. There was a new light in the cold, blue eyes as he turned again to Rockingham.
"That needs some explaining, doesn’t it?" he suggested, quietly.
Rockingham nodded. “I am attempting to do so," he said, a note of rebuke in his voice. "For years I’ve been working toward ultimate control of the mineral resources of this province. I’ve built up a big organization. I already control more projîerties than even you know of. My influence in official quarters is greater than you imagine; great enough to checkmate any advances there that may threaten my interests. You’ve found that out already.
Every move you've made here, so far, I’ve known about in time to ”
"You are suggesting an affiliation of interests in Canada?” asked Tarne calmly.
"In a way, yes. But my proposals go farther than that.”
But Moundell could not restrain himself longer. He turned excitedly in his chair.
"Then what the devil do you propose?” he demanded bluntly.
Rockingham stared straight back at him, his eyes flashing.
“I propose to invite you two to share control here with me. On terms, of course. I recognize the power of your immense resources, far greater than I can command alone. You can fight me if you want to, and I don’t say that you won’t finally win out, but it will take you a long time and it will cost you more money than even you want to spend.
On the other hand, I may beat you.
There are other allies I could obtain for such a project. But, combined, we could dominate. I could guarantee you an ultimate control of mineral wealth in this country because I have my plans perfected now. And you couldn’t possibly accomplish it without me for ten times the money.”
He had spoken quietly, forcefully.
Even Lord Moundell was interested now.
“But you’d have to use the market?” he asked thickly. “Of course, you’d have to —”
“The market? The mining market?”
Rockingham’s voice registered scorn. “I make my own market when I want to.
A market to do as I wish for as long as I wish.”
“And then?” Tarne interrupted suggestively.
Rockingham shrugged his shoulders.
“It can go plumb to hell!”
For a moment the three sat silent.
“Old stuff.” growled Lord Moundell contemptuously.
Rockingham laughed aloud. “Of course,” he agreed, cheerfully. “Of course, if that were all.” He paused.
“Only it isn’t; it’s merely the prelude.”
He suddenly got to his feet and stood, back to the fire, looking down at the two of them. It was then that the urgent virility of the man became apparent.
Tall, wide-chested, he had the unmistakable build of the athlete, and in the changing light from the logs, the hard, handsome features looked youthful, even boyish. But there was dominating character in the gleam of the hard, blue eyes, and force in the very poise of the figure silhouetted against the flames.
And the two who sat watching him were mighty men. Unlike as possible in their appearance, they were alike in this: that each had great possessions, and their riches they had acquired by themselves for themselves. Partners in many projects, opponents in a few, they were now two of the richest men in the empire.
All the world knew how, between them, they controlled vast industries, great mines, famous banks, mighty fleets; and, incidentally, the lives and very destinies of the multitudes who served them in many lands.
They listened tensely as their host spoke again.
“You know as well as I do,” he resumed conversationally, “that this province is probably the richest individual state in the empire. It has gold, silver, copper, nickel, iron—everything you can think of, in abundance, and it’s barely touched yet. The potentialities of wealth are colossal. All this is common knowledge. It’s a case of locating the unknown deposits more than acquiring the existing mines— though that is necessary, of course. It’s a case of controlling every prospector, every strike, every find, and still searching for new fields.”
He broke off suddenly, and stepped nearer to his guests.
"For instance,” he continued with dramatic emphasis in every word, “I know that somewhere in this province lies the greatest gold deposit in the world. I know that somewhere up around here lies the greatest deposit of radiumbearing ore the world will ever know. Never mind how I know they’re there. I know! I’ve got men in every section of the province looking for these two things alone. And that’s merely the beginning of what this Province of Huron will yield to us. And we, you and I, can hold it all in our own fists if you want to follow my plan.”
The enthusiasm behind his words gleamed alive in his eyes, his face. He seemed an inspired prophet, full of a new
gospel, and his hearers felt the spell of his intense earnestness. Even Moundell appeared thoughtful, watching him. Abruptly, Rockingham resumed.
“I suggest, therefore, gentlemen, that, so far as Canada is concerned, we make it a committee of control of three. I’ll carry out the operations because I’ve got the organization to do it. I’ll put up one-third the sum required, you’ll put up two-thirds. I will need a total sum of twenty million dollars.” "You can’t do it on that,” Moundell stated bluntly. “Why, man, we figured on—”
Rockingham held up his hand to stop him.
“It can be done on that,” he said with decision, “and I’ll explain how when we have reached our agreement to co-operate.”
Moundell looked up, but not belligerently.
"You mean, if we reach an agreement?”
He looked enquiringly at Tarne, by his side. Sir Peter smiled.
“As far as I am concerned,” he said almost gently, “I think we need Rockingham as much as he needs us.”
There was a strained silence in the room. Rockingham still stood, watching both men. Moundell sat, head on hand, regarding his partner thoughtfully.
“Maybe you are right,” he said at length reflectively. “After all, there’s room enough for the three of us.” His heavy-lidded eyes looked up at Rockingham searchingly, as if in deliberate and careful judgment of the man.
Tame spoke again.
“In this matter,” he said, “I rather fancy Rockingham as an ally.” His voice indicated even more than his words expressed, and Moundell nodded a slow assent. Then, unexpectedly, he chuckled aloud and scrambled to his feet.
“You win, Rockingham; the agreement is made,” he said, sudden decision in his voice. He stretched out his hand. “The deal is on.”
Sir Peter rose and stood with them, a smile of satisfaction on his face. He laid a hand on a shoulder of each man.
“I agree,” he said quietly. The cool, cultured voice might have been pronouncing a benediction.
The pact was made.
SUDDENLY a bell shrilled somewhere, once, twice.
Impatiently Rockingham swung across the room to the telephone. He came back almost immediately.
“A message from LeGresley, my manager,” he explained. “He’s flying up. Should be here soon. He started an hour ago from Queen’s Town.”
“Long-distance phone up here?” Moundell asked curiously.
“No, wireless equipment,” Rockingham answered smiling. “That’s just the house, phone to the receiving station over the hangars. LeGresley must have important news to make a trip up here by air, and at night, too. He hates flying more than you do, Moundell.”
“A good man?” Tame enquired casually.
“A very good man,” Rockingham replied. “Shrewd as the devil, and clever as they make them. He’s been with me a good many years. He’s the only man I trust fully.” Moundell slewed round in his chair.
“Does he know about this—this conference?” he asked.
He does, of course,” Rockingham retorted with some sharpness in his voice. “He’s my right-hand man; in fact, he is my right hand. And he’s safe.”
Moundell nodded his head as if reassured, and Tame smiled across at Rockingham.
We all have to have someone we can trust,” he said meaningly. “You’re lucky to have a man like that.”
„ Well, he should be here any time now,” Rockingham said with a laugh. “You can judge him for yourselves. Wonder what the weather is like now?”
He crossed to the big window and jerked back the heavycurtains. The others followed.
The violence of the gale liad spent itself. The trees which crowded the island moved their sodden branches in the tired wind. Just beyond the house, the lake seemed almost placid as its waters reflected the great searchlight which stabbed the drifting clouds and paled a struggling moon into obscurity. Formless shadows swayed weirdly around the fringe of light, to fuse into black mystery in the verge beyond.
It might have been the quiet beauty of the night that held them silent, or it might be that they pictured, each in his own way. some other lake in the farther wilds whose shores had stored for countless time a mighty vein ef yellow
gold which soon was to yield its secret to the tireless search of men. For the minutes passed and still the three men watched from the window, unmoving.
A tiny point of red light gleamed suddenly, high up in the darkness toward the south. Like a ghostly giant’s finger, the great white beam swung leisurely round. It rested; and the plane, flylike in the distance, was in sight.
Abruptly the searchlight was cut off, and plane and sky and lake and trees melted for a moment into the night. But almost instantly the nearer surface of the lake gleamed mirrorlike as floodlights played upon its surface. The plane throbbed nearer, nearer, till, as the hum of its motors suddenly ceased, it circled round to graceful rest on the water beyond the wharf.
Five minutes later LeGresley stood, shivering, in front of the replenished fire. Rockingham thrust a tumbler of hot whisky and water into his hand.
“That’ll take the kinks out,” he said, smiling. “You must have had quite a trip.”
“That’s a mild way of putting it,” LeGresley protested,
setting down the emptied glass. “It was a terrible time.” “Well, get thawed out, man, and tell us your news.”
1EGRESLEY shivered. "It isn’t the cold that’s troubling * me.” he explained. "It’s the upside-down feeling I’ve got inside.”
They laughed, and Moundell nodded sympathetically.
"1 know how it feels." he said mournfully. “I’ve got to fly to Quebec in the morning.”
“Well,” laughed Rockingham. “Plant’s a gixxl pilot, and I’ll tell him to watch his step.” 1 íe turned to LeGresley. “What's up?” he asked quickly.
LeGresley hesitated, glancing at the others.
Sir Peter Tame leaned forward to offer him a cigarette.
“Our friend Rockingham has explained your veryintimate connection with him,” he suggested smoothly, “and we understand that you know of certain proposals he has made to us. I think you can speak freely, unless, of course, it is a personal matter.”
Rockingham nodded his quick assent.
“Certainly, and I think I^eGresley should know we have arrived at an agreement in the matter.” LeGresley grinned his pleasure at the news.
“So we can get ahead with our plans now?” he asked, pulling a bunch of papers from his pocket. “Well, that’s good, though I can’t say as much about this piece of news.” He Ux)k a sip from his replenished glass and looked down at Rockingham. “You know I sent a man up into the Black Lake district, following that hunch of mine. I’ve always felt that the geology of that district would bear investigation, and I’ve told you, more than once, that the big gold strike would be made somewhere round there.”
“Where is this particular spot?” asked Tarne with interest.
“It lies way up north. I’ll show you on the map afterward. It’s a pretty remote spot. There’s only one way to get there, and that’s by plane.”
“Have you heard from your man?” There was a note of anticipation in Tame’s question.
LeGresley nodded. “Yes, and that’s the reason I’m here tonight,” he said with emphasis. "He must have got back to railhead this morning; I got a wire from him this noon. I’ll read it:
‘Big strike made on Black I.ake stop was delayed on way here stop had to trek through bush from Wolfe Lake hence delay stop coding further message.’
“Naturally, I wired him to hurry further news, but I didn't hear anything till late this afternoon. Must have been some hold-up on the line; I know my man dix^sn’t linger on a job. Here’s what his second message says:
‘Discovery is on north side of lake stop structure runs from water edge in well-defined formation in northwesterly direction stop showings traced fully two miles stop mother lode carried along rocks at inclined angle stop apparently incredible richness stop other veins lesser widths stop believe possible greater values may open up below surface stop without doubt phenomenal field.’
“I guess the message must have been interrupted since there’s no signature. This may turn out to be a big thing. I 've always thought that the real strike would be made up there.”
There was a triumphant light in Rockingham’s eyes.
“Well, gentlemen, with this in our —”
“Wait a minute.” LeGresley interrupted sharply, “here’s the other part of the message.. It came through late tonight.” He shuffled the papers in his hands, and read slowly:
“Have staked claims on east side and at southwest corner stop original claims fully optioned stop Paulson got here first and secured all claims along entire ridge stop Paulson acting for Street and Richmond stop awaiting instructions.”
There was a moment of stark stillness in the room. Moundell scrambled suddenly to his feet, his face working. He snatched the message from LeGresley’s hands.
“And who the devil are Street and Richmond?” he shouted.
Rockingham sat forward in his chair, chin resting on clenched hands, cold eyes gleaming through narrowed lids. It was Sir Peter Tarne who pulled the angry Moundell back into his seat again.
“So you lose your El Dorado, Rockingham?” Almost casually, Tarne asked the question.
In a flash, Rockingham was on his feet.
“I think not!” His voice was curt and decisive. "We can deal with that outfit all right.”
“Who are they, Rockingham?” insisted Moundell, still angry.
“They’re a firm of mining brokers in Queen’s Town. Fairly large house. Keep a staff of field agents working through a subsidiary company. They have optioned plenty of properties, but I don’t think they ever found anything startling—”
"Till now,” murmured Sir Peter Tarne.
Rockingham snapped round to him.
"Don’t worry,” he cried. “1 can deal with that outfit. You can leave them to me.” There was a snarl in his voice as he continued. “Listen, I tell you, I’ll have those claims. Don’t think for one moment that crowd can stand in our way. You can be sure about that.” He glanced at LeGresley, as if for confirmation of a promise.
Sir Peter Tame’s lean face flexed into a thin smile. Revelation had descended suddenly upon him.
"I think I understand,” he said, and turned to Moundell. “He’ll squeeze them.”
But Rockingham intervened.
“Squeeze them?” he repeated savagely. “I'll crucify them.” He turned abruptly to LeGresley. “Tell them what our plans are,” he commanded. "They have a right to know, anyway.” He flung himself into a chair.
Moundell and Tarne, too, sat down. Only LeGresley stood, his back to the fire, facing them.
He waited a moment before speaking, as if marshalling his facts.
“Of course, this is the barest outline,” he explained finally. “You won’t be interested in the details; in fact, some minor points still have to be worked out, but--”
"We understand that," Sir Peter agreed, interrupting him. "Give us the general plan of campaign, that’s enough.”
LeGresley nodded his appreciation.
“What we are after is a stranglehold on the mining development of the province—”
"Just this province?” It was Moundell who asked the question.
"For the time being, yes.” LeGresley was very definite. “That’s a big enough job to tackle right now. Besides, the control of mineral resources in this province will give us a dominating position, then the rest will be easy. This is the big step.”
He paused, as if seeking their concurrence, and Moundell nodded.
“You may be right.” his thick voice admitted. “However, go on.”
I^eGreslcy continued: "Naturally, the first step is the acquisition of control in both present and prospective mines, and there couldn’t be a better time than now to plan it.
Obviously, this rocketing market can't last forever.”
D>rd Moundell grunted. "I give it three more months, at the outside,” he growled.
“A bit optimistic, aren’t you?” Rockingham suggested, turning to him.
But Sir Peter Tarne answered: "Think so?
I fancy you’ll find Moundell is about right, at that. However He motioned LeGresley to go on.
“That’s mighty interesting, what you have just said,” IveGresley remarked meditatively.
"1 figured it might last longer than that, but you two gentlemen ought to know. But whenever the break comes, my guess is that it will be a terrific crash; as big a panic—”
Sir Peter finished his sentence for him.
"--as our New York friends have ever experienced.”
The others grinned, and LeGresley bent forward eagerly.
"Exactly," he stated tersely, "but this mining market of ours would require a mighty kick to make it follow the big board alt the way down.”
Moundell and Tarne appeared surprised.
“In heaven's name, why?” Sir Peter demanded. “Surely a minor market like that should react to the limit. I don’t quite understand."
“I’ll tell you." LeGresley was in his stride now. "Our play comes on the second crash.”
IR PETER shook his head, although he smiled.
“Too deep for me," he mourned. “What do you mean, second crash?”
“Listen, gentlemen. The members of this mining exchange are carrying on margin many millions of shares of mining stock for their clients, and most of them, particularly the larger firms, have sold that stock short against their clients.” Moundell smiled, grimly.
“There’s a substantial short interest in most markets now,” he observed.
LeGresley agreed. “Yes, but it’s an external interest. In this mining market it's the brokers themselves who are short, and, believe me, they’re short plenty.”
“In other words.” interrupted Rockingham by way of explanation, “the mining brokers have, on hand or at call, only a small percentage of the stocks they are carrying on their books for their clients.”
“Is that—er —quite legal?” enquired Tarne languidly.
“Well, it’s a moot point,” LeGresley replied for Rockingham. “I don’t think it’s ever been tested in the law courts in this country. The authorities in this province, at all events, don’t seem to regard it as serious yet.” The unusual emphasis on the last word made the others look up questioningly. "Oh, yes, they will soon,” he continued, smiling at their interest. “When we’re ready—probably after the first crash—these brokers have got to be forced to buy in every share of stock they owe to their clients.”
Moundell turned sharply to Rockingham.
“Can you do that?” he demanded.
“That’s a simple matter,” Rockingham answered, grinning at LeGresley. “The powers that be will do just what I tell them.” And that trifling matter seemed definitely settled.
LeGresley resumed. “As soon as the New York market begins to break, prices on this market of ours will drop fast. Now, I figure that the brokers’ covering up will steady the market and halt the drop—at just the levels we decide on. At all events, we can keep the market firm at those prices. Next, we arrange it so that the banks will call their brokers’ loans, and we—”
“We?” It was Sir Peter who spoke.
“The Anglo-Cambrian Corporation. Our company.
Owned by John Rockingham and operated by me. We’ll offer to loan the brokers the money they want to carry their clients’ stock on a basis of fifty per cent of market value, and they’ll start loading up with us—”
“Why?” Again Lord Moundell demanded information. “Because they won’t be able to get money anywhere else. We’ll watch that. And then we sit back and watch the stock pile up in our vaults—”
It was Rockingham who interrupted this time.
“Then, at the proper time, we’ll pull the string hard, and, bang! again the bottom goes out of that market.” He chuckled to himself. “A shooting star won’t fall any faster than prices will when we start them again on that toboggan.” A murmur of amusement came from the others. Even the suave LeGresley was smiling broadly.
“And we call the brokers for margin,” he added. “Not a moment’s grace to any of them.”
Sir Peter Tame rose from his chair.
“Wait a minute.” His voice was plaintive, but his eves
were twinkling. “Don’t say any more; I follow you. By the time you’re through with things, the brokers will be driven to the devil, and the stock and the market will be yours—”
“To do with as we will,” completed Rockingham.
A smile broke on Lord Moundell’s face as he looked at Sir Peter.
“Tame,” he said impressively, as he rose heavily to his feet, “I think I’ll go to bed. These men know their business. I’m satisfied.”
LeGresley smiled enigmatically at Rockingham and took another drink.
RICHARD ARMSTRONG was thoroughly enjoying
himself. Five thousand feet up, his sturdy two-seater, pontoon-fitted Moth hummed sweetly along. It was a wonderful morning; warm, sunny and cloudless. Below, the Northern country lay, picture-like, in masses of green and brown, flecked with its myriad lakes, sparkling like scattered jewels in the sunshine.
He had flown up from Queen’s Town, where he was a broker, the previous morning to meet Paulson at Black Lake, and was now on his way back with ore samples from the new strike, which Paulson claimed was the “knockout of all time.” It had been quite exciting, hearing Paulson’s fervent report and examining his samples, because it meant a lot to everybody concerned—his firm, his principals. Paulson, himself. After all, he was a junior partner, and if the half of Paulson’s story were true, he would be a rich man; might even become a very rich man. Seemed almost too good to be true.
Word had suddenly come through from Paulson three days ago, and “Matt” Street, the senior partner, had asked him to fly up and get a full report from him—a definitely confidential job. A good thing he was a pilot. One never knew when airmanship would come in useful. He had expected to bring Paulson back with him to report in person, but the tough old fieldman had insisted on staying to do a little more surveying and sampling on the location of the strike. Well, Armstrong was hurrying back all right, and he could imagine how “Matt” Street would grin when he dumped these samples on his desk. Why, Paulson had claimed they would assay up to a thousand dollars to the ton, and he ought to know. Taken all in all, life seemed pretty good this beautiful morning.
He looked around, contentedly, singingsave the mark, thought he—from sheer force of habit.
“For I love sweet Rosie O’Grady,
And Rosie O’Grady loves me . .
That was about all he remembered of it. Silly words, of course, but not a bad melody.
His voice died away suddenly. Surely that wasn’t his engine coughing? His motor had missed, then. He gave it the gun, and waited anxiously. It started again, missed, caught again, coughed, spluttered—and ceased functioning with a final and derisive kick. He tried again; nothing doing. Now, what the heck was wrong? Couldn’t be want of gas; he had filled up to capacity at Heron’s Landing, twenty minutes back. Feed line choked most likely, or maybe the ignition on the blink again. Well, he’d have to drop and find out what the trouble was. He glanced downward as he circled. Lots of water below; no danger if he were careful. He came down slowly in a long glide, watching for the best place to alight.
Gosh, was that a house there by the side of the lake, way up in this wilderness? What a stroke of luck! Looked something like a hangar, too, there by the water’s edge. He circled again and brought the plane down on the lake, well out from shore. His pontoons rippled through the water, and the plane came slowly to a stop a hundred yards or so from a real hangar, with doors wide open as if bidding him welcome. Lying a little way back from the water’s edge, he saw the house—a big house, no mere hunting lodge. And that must be a wireless aerial above the roof. Some place, this.
Before he had made up his mind what to do about it, a man appeared on the wharf by the hangar, jumped into a little outboard motor boat, and came putt-putting out to him.
“Didn’t expect you so soon,” cried the man cheerfully, as his boat swung round the wing of the plane. Armstrong, however, beckoned him to shut off his motor and come alongside.
“Say, whose place is this, anyway?” he asked, and the man seemed quite surprised at his question. He answered civilly enough.
“This is Burnt Island. Mr. Rockingham’s place, sir.” He
Continued on page 34
Continued from page 10
paused uncertainly. “I thought you were for the house, sir.”
ARMSTRONG smiled. There was something decidedly quaint in the idea of one Richard Armstrong dropping in casually from the clouds to call on John Rockingham. It suggested the cat who called on the king or something of that sort. Dick’s smile broadened to a grin as he explained the real situation.
“All right, sir,” the man said as soon as he understood what the trouble was, “I’ll towyou in, and we’ll soon find out what’s wrong. Glad to be of assistance, sir.”
Ten minutes later they were deep into what Dick called “the entrails of the engine.” Andrews, apparently, knew airplane motors, for he went about the job like an expert. It was not long before Dick was content to act merely in an advisory capacity, as it were, and listen to the chatter of his new i found friend.
“Thought at first you were due at the j house, sir,” Andrews explained, peering into ; the interior of the engine. “Mr. Rockingham told me to look out for a Moth this morning.” “Is Mr. Rockingham here now?” Dick j asked in some alarm.
I “No, sir.” Andrews grinned at the concern in Dick's voice. “He left this morning in the big Buhl.”
“It’s just as well,” and Dick’s sigh of relief was undisguised. “I don't exactly hanker to barge in on him personally like this.”
The two men straightened up together. The voice came clearly, imperiously, from the wharf. Armstrong looked across at a girl standing there - a girl who seemed to be regarding them with some amusement and curiosity. He had a fleeting impression of a blue dress, golden-red hair gleaming in the sun, steady eyes, red lips parted in a friendly ; smile; and then he became instantly conscious of the black smudges on his face and the filthy appearance of his oily, black hands.
“Yes, Miss Weldon.” It was Andrews Í answering, but Dick seemed to hear him as : from a long way off. This would have to happen just when he looked like a greaser j on an oil-burning liner or worse. The girl was beautiful, too. What a break! Who was she? Andrews seemed mighty respectful ; as he answered her.
She came round to the hangar where Andrews was waiting, wiping his hands carefully on a big wad of waste.
“Is this the plane for me?” she asked j him. and Armstrong, for the first time in his life, fell in love with a voice. He heard j Andrews explaining, and started violently : as she called across to him.
“I am glad you landed safely,” she said with a smile. “Andrews, here, will soon fix that engine for you. He’s a wonder with a motor.”
Dick could see Andrews blushing. He clambered up on the runway and stammered his thanks.
“I hope Mr. Rockingham won’t mind my using his place like this,” he said, trying to be as dignified as a junior partner should be. “I didn’t know this was his house till Andrews told me.” Idiotic thing to say, that.
She laughed merrily. “Why, no. We’re glad to be of service. I can assure you of that.” She paused and added, somewhat inconsequentially. “He’s my uncle, you know, so I can speak for him.”
SO THIS was John Rockingham’s niece.
Vaguely, Armstrong had heard of her. They said she was Rockingham’s confidential aide as well as his heiress. In on all his deals, and all that sort of thing. A real business woman, in training for a big responsibility when she came into the Rockingham money. How ridiculous, he thought, looking at her! Just a girl—but a mighty good. looking one, at that. Self-possessed, too. Obviously used to getting her own way. Bah! Probably spoiled; a petted favorite of fortune. He’d better watch his step.
Her grey eyes were watching him, and he felt their steady scrutiny. The smudge on his nose grew till it covered his whole face, or so it seemed. What an object he must look. Well, he’d better say something instead of standing there like a fool.
‘‘Thank you. Miss Rockingham,” he began formally, but she interrupted, laughing.
“The name is Weldon, Alyce Weldon,” she explained, and Dick felt that a tidal wave was about to engulf him. Of course, that was what Andrews had called her. He was scarlet underneath the smudges, he knew. He tried again.
“Thank you, Miss—Miss Weldon.” It was going better now. “My name is Armstrong, Richard Armstrong. I’m—I’m a
broker in Queen’s Town.” Now-, why did he have to say that?
“A broker?” She was frankly surprised. “I thought you were a pilot.” She regarded him carefully, and sighed. “Perhaps you are too good-looking to be a pilot.”
That held Armstrong for a moment. Matters were becoming somewhat personal, he thought.
“You see,” she added wickedly, “pilots are all such strong, rugged-looking, he-men kind of folk.”
Dick choked, and to his own surprise found himself speechless. The impudent creature was making fun of him. confound
her. This was too much; he had better be on his way.
But she must have read his thoughts. With the friendliest gesture, she laid a hand on his arm.
“What you need. Mr. Armstrong.” she said, “is some lunch and a good wash. Maybe you’d better have the wash first.” She turned to call across to Andrews, still busy on the engine. “How long do you think you’ll be, Andrews?”
“Not long now, miss, perhaps half an hour or so.”
“All right,” she said, “I’m taking Mr. Armstrong up to the house for some lunch.” They strolled together up the leafy path that led from the hangar. Dick had discarded his flying clothes and felt a little more at ease. A good wash, and he’d feel himself again.
“My uncle had some friends up here yesterday,” she was telling him as they lunched, “and the Buhl couldn’t take us all back. So I stayed to wait for one of our planes from Eagle Lake to pick me up.” “Are you going back to Queen's Town?” he asked her.
“Yes.” she replied, “and you—are you going or coming?”
“Going,” he told her, “I’m on my way back from Black Lake.”
Her glance wandered idly to the window. “Where’s that?” she asked indifferently. “Buried away in the wilds to the north of us,” he explained. “I had the darndest time even finding it.”
She turned and watched him for a moment, and he had the impression that she was appraising him carefully.
“Do you know my uncle, Mr. Armstrong?” she asked suddenly. “I expect, as a broker, you have met him in Queen’s Town.”
Armstrong shook his head. “I have never had the pleasure of meeting him personally,” he explained. “You see, I’m just a junior partner.”
"In what firm?” The question was asked rather abruptly.
“I’m with Street and Richmond,” Armstrong replied. “Do you know of them?”
“I know my uncle has quite a good opinion of them, Mr. Armstrong,” and Dick felt as though he were being personally complimented. “You must visit us one evening in town and meet my uncle. He will be glad to know you.”
TMCK wasn’t so sure about that, but he let it pass. Rockingham had bigger fish to fry than impecunious young brokers. He murmured his appreciation of the invitation and watched her across the table. Her eyes were grey, he decided, a wonderful grey that reminded him of immeasurable distances, of deep oceans. They were regarding him with evident interest.
“Were you up at Black Lake for a vacation?” she asked casually.
Dick felt slightly disturbed at the question.
“No,” he answered, “I went up to meet a friend there.” He said to himself, “And that’s no lie.”
But the girl didn’t seem satisfied.
“Were you up there long?”
Why did she want to know?
“Went up yesterday morning, Miss Weldon,” he told her. “Just a quick trip, you know.” He tried to change the subject. “Did you have a big storm around here last night?”
She paused before answering, grey eyes still looking into his.
“We had quite a storm,” she said. “I suppose you got it, too, up at Black Lake?” “Well, we were more on the fringe of it than in it,” he answered. “It—”
She interrupted him. “Tell me, Mr. Armstrong, is your friend’s name—”
“My friend’s name?” Dick looked at her stupidly.
“Your friend at Black Lake,” she explained, smiling at the blank expression on his face.
“Oh! No, his name is Paulson,” he answered, and wondered why she had asked. “I know a man up in that district,” she
said as if in explanation. "He’s prospecting for gold.”
“I hope he finds it." Dick said politely. “It’s a likely district, according to Paulson.” “Is he a prospector, too?"
“A geologist. Miss Weldon, and a mighty good one.”
"Then he is looking for gold, too?”
“Well, he's not exactly looking for it now.”
She clapped her hands delightedly.
“You mean, he’s found it? How thrilling. And you are his partner, I suppose? Are you going to be very rich?”
Dick was confused. This was getting too close to the truth. What was the girl after? Could she possibly be seeking information? He compromised, and set his face into what he hoped was an expression of perfect frankness.
“You see, Miss Weldon, the truth is that he has made something of a find up there, though it may turn out to be--”
“A real gold mine.” She seemed quite excited about it.
“Or merely another ghost mine,” he retorted, smiling at her.
“No, no.” She shook her head vigorously. “I know it is going to turn out wonderfully —for you.”
“For me?” He was curious about the distinction.
“Yes, for you.” She looked at him very earnestly, her eyes glowing. “It is a strange feeling. I have a ‘hunch’ about you, Mr. Armstrong.”
"Tell me.” he urged, feeling the magnetism of her strange mood.
The glow in her eyes died and she watched him almost sombrely.
“I cannot tell you, now,” she said slowly. “Some day—but not yet.”
In spite of himself, Dick thrilled to the promise in her voice. But instantly her mood changed, and she jumped up from the table.
“Come on,” she cried gaily, “let’s go. Take me to Queen’s Town with you.”
“In my plane?” he stammered. “What about your own?”
She came nearer, and suddenly he was conscious of grey eyes smiling up at him.
“Don’t you want to take me?” she asked demurely.
He had an instant and insane desire to grip her, to hold her close, to bury his face in that wonderful hair, to kiss—then the madness passed. He moistened his dry lips.
“I’ll be delighted to take you, of course,” he told her, speaking very carefully, “if you care to trust yourself to me.”
She lifted her head and looked very steadily at him for a moment. Then she moved away.
Fifteen minutes later he was helping her into the plane. As he climbed to his seat, she turned to him.
“Do you know, I think we are going to be friends,” she said softly.
He looked at her with swift interest.
“Is that another ‘hunch’?” he questioned, smiling.
“Perhaps it is more than a ‘hunch;’ it might even be a hope.” She turned her face away quickly as she ended, and Arm-1 strong caught his breath. What did she mean by that?
He was singing as they took off. and as they headed southward:
“For I love sweet Rosie’O’Grady,
And Rosie O’Grady loves me.”
After they had arrived at Queen’s Town and Alyce Weldon had said good-by to him. , Armstrong was alarmed to find that his bag of ore samples from Black Lake was missing. i Then he remembered. He had lifted the ! bag from the plane to the hangar runway ! when they had started to repair the engine. ; He smiled sheepishly at the thought of a girl making him forget his precious samples, the very reason for his journey. Both his senior partners would chaff him mercilessly.
He threw his shoulders back defiantly. Well, let them. One didn’t meet a girl like Alyce Weldon every day.
To be Continued,