THE STORY: Patricia Wellington, spoiled daughter of the wealthy senior partner of a Chicago mining company, is engaged to marry Warren Lovett, the junior partner. She had been engaged to Craig Tarlton, who left her father's employ.
Patricia flies with Lovett to the Resurrection River mining area in Northwestern Canada and meets Tarlton there.
Lovett’s business is to buy claims cheaply. Patricia resents his efforts to fleece the miners, builds a lodge for them, and advises them not to sell out for next to nothing.
This generous action brings her into close contact with Tarlton, and she realizes that it is the latter whom she loves, not Lovett. The latter informs her that Tarlton is married, but Tarlton says his wife is getting a divorce.
Lupe Chiwaughimi, a halfbreed friend of Lovett’s, tries to curry favor with the latter by causing Tarlton to disappear, and in the gun battle which ensues a follower of Lupe's is killed by bullet which Tarlton fires through a door.
The prospectors, working with Tarlton, stake a group of rich gold claims. They are registered in the name of Kessler, a prospector, and the latter sells them out and escapes by airplane.
Some of the miners, discouraged, sell out to Warren, but Patricia and Tarlton urge the others to stand fast.
Warren tells Patricia that Tarlton s wife, Rosalie, is coming to the camp; and he urges her to get clear of the local entanglement by returning with him to Chicago. Patricia, however, prefers to remain.
Tarlton stakes a radium deposit, and is surprised when Warren offers him a quarter million dollars for it. He sells for that amount, and a little later is attacked in his cabin by Lupe Chiwaughimi and the latter’s gang, and loses consciousness.
Rosalie reaches the camp by airplane, but in trying to land her pilot crashes and Rosalie is killed.
Patricia and Corporal Northup search for Tarlton. His cabin is empty and they find blood on the floor.
CORPORAL NORTHUP made her sit down in Craig’s chair, and drew up another for himself. Patricia was white and shaky, but valiantly she held herself together and forced herself not to look at those sinister stains.
“Last night,” Northup said, speaking straight from the shoulder, “while Sam was down at the Den and Poleon was with you, those Chiwaughimis had their chance at Craig. They got into this cabin by jimmying that north window over there. Craig kept the door locked. They were inside when he came in. They must have got in while Craig was across the river signing those papers.
“In spite of these splotches, I’m convinced they didn’t kill Craig. Lovett hasn’t the nerve to go that far. Another reason, Craig saved ’Teeste Chiwaughimi’s life. With Lupe that wouldn’t count for much, but those other four would probably balk. But the best evidence of all—if those Chiwaughimis had killed Craig, they’d have disposed of him quickly and got back to camp at once. But they didn’t get back quick. They haven’t come back yet. They’re gone!
“I’ll tell you what did happen here last night. They overpowered Craig, after a fight—that’d explain those blood stains; for all we know, it may be Chiwaughimi blood—I say, they overpowered him and frisked him away from the Bay. They’ve got him somewhere, holding him a prisoner. That explains why they’ve disappeared, too.”
Patricia's black cloud of fear lifted a little. She believed Northup’s argument. He spoke as one who knew.
“As for Poleon and Sam,” Northup went on, “when they discovered last evening that Craig was missing, Poleon sized up the situation correctly—that Craig had been frisked away. Poleon is nobody’s fool in matters like this. He didn’t tell you, of course. He didn’t tell me, as he should have. He set out on his own hook, he and Sam, to follow the Chiwaughimis—”
“But that can’t be. He and Sam stayed here at camp till dawn.”
“Well, certainly. They couldn’t track the Chiwaughimis in the dark, could they? They had to wait till daybreak. Then they made a big circle around camp and picked up those tracks in this new snow. But I’m not counting much on those two. Lupe’s outfit had a four-hour start; and that strong wind this morning blew the trail shut before Sam and Poleon could have followed very far. They probably got an idea of Lupe’s general direction, and they’re following across country in hopes of running into him. They’ve got only an outside chance of doing that.”
“But why did Warren have Craig kidnapped, Alan? What can he possibly gain from it?”
HEAVENS, a-plenty! Don’t you see that when Craig has been missing for several days, no word from him, none of that money available, all these May licenses expiring, these claims lapsing right and left—why, girl, those men are going to bust wide open ! Poor devils, they’re all keyed up, down there at the Den. They’re waiting on Craig to deliver. And they won’t wait long. If Lovett can keep Craig out of sight for one week, this whole field will be his. Don’t you see it?”
“Oh-oo!” Patricia breathed. The unerring ability of this experienced manhunter to see through a crime and its motives, when he had only wisps and tags to go by—it was uncanny.
“I think that you and I can trap Lovett. Here’s the trap. In a couple or three days—no, don’t object to the wait; we don’t dare hurry this—in a coupla days you ask Lovett over to your cabin. Some excuse; we’ll plan that. When he comes, I’ll be there, unseen. You start talking about Craig. Let Lovett see that you’re worried. Give him an opening to spring his bargain on you. He’ll be waiting for just that opening. He’ll finally tell you that he’ll free Craig if you do so and so.
“The minute he says that, the minute he admits he has any connection whatever with this kidnapping, I’ll step into the picture, and we’ll have him dead to rights. Well have the bargaining power then—a twenty-five or thirty-year prison term against him. He’ll sign on our line, don’t worry. He’s lawyer enough to know when his goose is cooked. Now, if you think my idea is all right and you’re willing to play your part, let’s get busy planning our moves.”
For more than two hours they sat at Craig’s table, talking in low tones, carefully working out the details of their trap.
Near midnight they left the cabin, went down the hollow. In the dark trees Northup stopped, told Patricia encouragingly that their plan was sure to work, warned her not to visit him or talk much with him in the meantime, and bade her good night.
IT WAS two evenings later that Warren came over to Patricia’s cabin, a little after dusk.
“DeCarie said you wished to see me.”
“Yes, I do, Warren. I—I’ve got to talk with you. Won’t you have a cup of tea with me?”
“I can’t stay long. I’ve got something else on for this evening, something important. However, I’ll stay a few minutes.”
Patricia wondered what this “something important” could be. There was an exultant note in his voice as he spoke those words. And she was surprised that he should deliberately cut short a visit with her. He had never done that before, nor had he ever been so abrupt and sharp as now.
She poured tea and sat down at the table with him, praying that she could keep her head in this fateful little scene. Over this cup of tea she was playing for Craig’s life, for this immensely rich field, for Craig’s vast programme. She forced herself to forget there was a third person in the room, for a single wrong glance or wrong inflection of her voice might make Warren suspicious.
“Did you have something particular in mind that you wanted to talk to me about?” Warren asked, stirring the sugar in his tea.
“Yes. It’s about Craig. I’m worried about him. Terribly worried.”
“Why, is he ill or something?” Warren blandly enquired.
“No, no. He’s—he’s gone. Three days ago he suddenly disappeared. He didn’t tell anybody—Poleon or Corporal Northup or me—that he intended going away.”
“Odd,” Warren remarked. “Quite odd. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen him around here for several days. Where d’you suppose he went?”
“I don’t know. I’ve asked everybody, and no one knows. You were the last person to talk with him. He disappeared right after he signed those papers to the radium lake. Did he drop you any hint, Warren, where he might be?”
Warren regarded her, poker-faced.
“Tarlton isn’t in the habit of confiding his personal business to me. I haven’t even a suggestion as to his whereabouts. But why are you so alarmed about a little three-day absence?”
“Be-because I know that something dreadful has happened to him,” Patricia quavered. She had little need to remember Northup’s final instruction, “Show Lovett you’re desperate; show him you’re willing to do anything he demands.” She was desperate; and there was no play-acting in her quavering entreaty. The past two days and nights had driven her distracted. No word from Craig, no word from Poleon or Sam, nothing but that great ominous silence into which Craig had vanished.
“What makes you think he’s had some—uh—accident?” Warren asked, cruelly indifferent to her misery over Craig. As he eyed her, Patricia saw the faint flicker of a smile on his lips. Plainer than words, that smile told her that he knew where Craig was, and that he was enjoying his mastery now over Craig and her.
“I think so because those Chiwaughimis are gone too, Warren. They disappeared at the same time he did. That wasn’t any coincidence. Lupe hates Craig. Lupe has been trying half the winter to kill him. Where are those métis now?”
“My dear, I haven’t the faintest idea.”
“But they’re your men. You must know.”
“I don’t know,” he insisted, warily refusing to commit himself. “They often go away on little trips without consulting me. I presume that they’ve—uh—gone fishing somewhere or other.” He finished his tea, set the cup down. “No, no more, thank you. I have to go now.”
“Warren, don’t! Listen to me,” she pleaded. His stoniness drove her frantic. “You’ve got to help me, Warren! It’s a question of saving Craig’s life. Those Chiwaughimis are holding him prisoner somewhere. Lupe will kill him, unless you intervene. I—I’m the cause—Lupe hates him because of me. I brought all this on Craig, and now I’ve got to save him. Before I’ll let him get killed, I’ll do anything. I’ll go away, I’ll go back to Chicago, I’ll promise not to see Craig any more. Every time that I’ve depended on you, Warren, you’ve let me down. Don’t let me down this time!”
WARREN toyed with a spoon, cautiously choosing every word of his reply.
“You may be right, dear, in thinking that the Chiwaughimis abducted Tarlton and are holding him a prisoner somewhere. I don’t know. You are surely right in thinking that Lupe hates him because of you. Therefore I should say that the thing for you to do, if you really want to save Tarlton’s life, is to convince Lupe absolutely that you’ve given Tarlton up for good and all.”
“How can I convince him? Tell me.”
“I believe,” he said with a wariness that was maddening to her, “that Lupe would not be convinced by any mere promises, especially now that Rosalie is dead and Tarlton is free to marry you. I believe he would demand some absolute guarantee of your sincerity. Your willingness to return to Chicago is all right, as far as it goes, but in this situation it hardly goes far enough. In my opinion”—he dropped his cigarette into his tea dregs—“there is only one earthly way for you to convince Lupe. It’s drastic, but then—”
“What is it? I’ll do it!”
Warren said slowly:
“Your friend Northup is a magistrate. He can issue a marriage license and perform the ceremony. If you and I should be married, here at the Bay, at once, and then you should go back to Chicago announcedly as Patricia Lovett, I rather believe that Lupe would be entirely satisfied. Nothing short of that would do. Any hedging or halfway measures on your part might possibly go very hard on Tarlton.” Patricia drew back, shocked and incredulous. She had never thought Warren would drive so merciless a bargain. Or so preposterous a bargain. Didn’t he realize that she would not live with him? That she would divorce him the instant she could?
But then she looked deeper into his ultimatum and saw that his bargain was not preposterous. It was a shrewd, farseeing play. His marriage to her, however nominal it might be, would give him a heavy advantage in his battle against Russell Parkes. After that—when he had her in Chicago, had the firm in his grasp again, had control of the Wellington interests and her family’s fortunes—he would have more power than ever over her.
Warren saw how she recoiled from the very thought of marrying him.
“You don’t seem to like my advice,” he snapped. Formerly he would have argued patiently, but now he was sharp and hard. “All right, don’t take it !” He got up to go. Patricia caught his arm. She was panicky with defeat. “Warren, please—I haven’t refused—I will take it! I promise, here, now—if you’ll only send word to Lupe. Won’t you do that? Promise me—?”
“I don’t promise you anything !” He shook her hand from his arm and started for the door. “If and when you’ve followed my advice, I might help you. Not before. I’ll give you till morning to make up your mind.”
Moments afterward, Alan Northup stepped out from the curtained-off comer where Patricia hung her clothes.
“That man is a shrewd devil,” he said glumly. “He actually delivered his ultimatum to you without incriminating himself by one single word. I guess we’ll have to try him again.”
Patricia did not answer. She had slumped down on the cot and was sobbing bitterly at her abject and miserable failure to save Craig.
A LITTLE LATER, oppressed by a deep sense of failure, Patricia roused herself and went over to the community house. In the entrance-way she stopped and looked across the main room. A strange scene confronted her. At the far side of the Den, over next the kitchen, Warren was standing on an up-ended drum of kerosene, talking to the prospectors. They had crowded up close to him and were listening intently. In his hand he held a sheaf of papers— documents of some kind
He had evidently been talking to the group for a considerable time, preparing them adroitly for his bombshell, for he was lifting his speech to its crashing end when she came in.
Over the heads of the miners Patricia could hear his sharp words distinctly. He spoke in a curt, passionless way that was more devastating than any bombast or ranting.
“For almost a year,” he said, “Tarlton has kept you men here, without money or clothes or anything except empty promises. He persuaded you, if not indeed browbeat you, into not selling me your claims. Now what has he himself done? You’ve heard that he discovered a pitchblende lake. That is true. He did. You've heard that he sold it for a good-sized fortune. That also is true. He did sell it. But to whom? Why, to me! He sold that radium deposit to Wellington, Parkes & Lovett, whom he supposedly has been fighting all along . . . What’s that? You want proof? I have the proof here. Here are the claim papers. Look at them for yourself. And then go up to the Government Land Office and examine the official transfer record. He kept you men from selling your claims to me, but when his chance comes he turns around and sneaks across the river and secretly sells me his!”
The huge red-headed miner seized the claim papers and thumbed them hastily.
"These are Tarlton’s papers to that lake!” he bawled out, to the others. “Lovett’s telling us the truth. Tarlton did sell to the Company, like Lovett says.”
THERE WAS a moment of hushed, stricken silence. Warren reached down and retrieved the valuable documents.
The ugly rumble started up again, the sullen angry growl of 300 leaderless, bewildered men. Warren raised his hand and stopped the clamor. He had power over the crowd. He was playing expertly on them. In his strong hands they were clay, and he was molding their emotions as he liked. Hanging upon his words, they listened breathlessly to his explanation of the last few hectic days.
“Did Tarlton tell you,” he asked, “that he sold the lake to me?”
“No!” came a confused shouting. “Not a word ’bout dealing with you.”
“Why didn’t he?” Warren demanded.
No one answered that. The men looked around at one another, open-mouthed, blank of face. They were stunned. Tarlton had sold to the Company and had told them nothing about the deal ! It was unbelievable of Tarlton. But they had to believe it. There were the incriminating papers, the proof positive.
“D’you know how much I paid him for that lake?” Warren queried. “Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars! A quarter of a million ! The money was placed on deposit for him at a Winnipeg bank. A quarter-million is a big pile, isn’t it? A nice-sized fortune. A fellow might be excused, I guess, for wanting to hang on to it himself.
“Now, I’m not denying that Tarlton has done you men some good turns and that he’s had some big schemes in his head about welding you all together into a prospectors’ syndicate. But when it comes to handing across a quarter of a million of his own money, his fancy ideas couldn’t quite stand the strain. Let me ask you something else —Where is he now?”
Again that blank, open-mouthed silence.
“Well,” Warren answered his own question, “I suppose I’ll have to tell you. where he is. It’s high time that somebody told you the truth. You fellows are hanging around here, waiting on him, expecting him to make good his promises. You’ll wait a long time! As I said, when Tarlton had a quarter-million in his pocket, he forgot his fancy ideas about welding you men together and conducting your own affairs for you. He decided to look out for himself. Like Kessler.
“Three evenings ago he came over to my cabin and we signed these papers. Fifteen minutes later he dropped out of sight. No one, not even Miss Patricia, has heard of him since. He skipped! Exactly as Kessler did. That quarter-million went to his head. He took his money and skipped, and left you men here holding the bag. That’s why you haven’t seen anything of him since, and never will!”
A roar broke loose that shook the room. A few men—only three or four—shouted, “No! Craig wouldn't ever sell us out !” But their protest was drowned and lost in the thundering clamor of the others. Skilfully Warren had prepared the crowd, point by point, for his bombshell ; and it jolted them out of their shoes.
Across at the entrance-way a girl’s voice rang out :
“Liar! Kidnapper! Doublecrosser! You kidnapped Craig. You’re holding him prisoner. You framed him and now you’re framing these men!”
THE PROSPECTORS whirled around and stared spellbound at the girl who was screaming the lie at Warren Lovett.
As Patricia left the entrance-way and came flying across the room, like an embodiment of passionate fury, Warren called sharply :
“Men! Pay no attention to her wild charges. Tarlton has taken her in, too, even worse than he took you. She actually still believes in the fellow. You mustn't blame her for anything she says or does. Poor girl, she’s beside herself.”
Patricia cut her way through the crowd, leaped upon a chair near where Warren stood, and faced the men, her eyes flashing fire.
“Lies! Lies! Lies! Every word he’s told you is a lie ! I tell you he kidnapped Craig. Those Chiwaughimis have got Craig somewhere. They’ll kill Craig if you don’t do something about it. Get that man there” —she levelled her arm at Warren—“and make him tell where Craig is. Beat him till he does tell !”
“Miss Pat,” the huge redhead spoke up, “we ain’t blaming you for a thing. You’ve been awful durned good to us rock hogs. It’s Tarlton that’s the guilty devil. He sold out and skipped.”
“No!” Patricia flashed back. But in the next breath she was pleading; “Don’t let Craig be murdered. You can make Warren tell where he is. We can send out a party—”
Someone laughed derisively. The rest took up the laugh. They jeered at the notion of “helping” or “saving” a man who had sold them out and skipped with a quarter-million in his pocket.
Wisely knowing that he had said enough, Warren stepped down from the drum and moved out through the crowd.
The hoots and catcalls exploded Patricia. Craig’s life was at stake, and the men for whom he had fought were hooting his name. He had doctored them, helped them, battled for them; he had flung away his third fortune for their sake; and now they were all deserting him—because of a lie. They were turning their faces from her to Warren, eager to follow Warren across the river and sell out to him.
She suddenly hated all of them, with a flaming hatred. She forgot Craig’s large-visioned words to her, last winter, “Don’t blame the poor devils, Treeshia; they’re not to blame if they give in.” They were suddenly not her friends but ingrates and enemies.
“Then get out of here!” she stormed at them. “Get out of this house ! It’s my house. Get your packs and move out. Get back to your lousy tents and the mud and wet and cold that I lifted you out of!”
THEY PAID no attention to her. A dozen or more were crowding around Warren, trying to talk sell-out terms with him. Another dozen were making for the main door, to be the first across the river and in the line to sell.
One man did growl sullenly:
“I’ll live here as long as I please. Try’n make me move out.”
Patricia jumped down from the chair, blind with rage. They thought she was helpless, did they? Thought they’d stay there in her house, after they’d let her down, refused to save Craig’s life. She’d show ’em ! She’d get ’em out of there! Of what use, anyway, was this house now? In a few days it would be empty, tenantless—a mockery of Craig’s and her unselfish battle.
Her knees wobbled as she ran over to a comer of the Den and grabbed an axe and ran back to the drum of kerosene. She smashed at the drum—furied, vengeful blows. The liquid gushed out upon the pine-slab flooring.
“Hey !” a man yelled. “She’s crazy ! She’s going to set this place on fire !”
Before they could stop her, Patricia whirled to the nearest table, seized a lamp, flung it at the pool of kerosene.
There was a puff of blackish smoke, a scorching sheet of flame. The half-emptied barrel caught and exploded, flinging its blazing contents all over the wall and floor, and wrapping the whole north end of the building in flames.
Through the panicky crowd of men, grabbing at their belongings and jamming toward the door, Warren fought his way to Patricia and seized her. She was limp and nerveless—on the point of sinking down upon the floor. He beat out a spot of fire on her dress, picked her up, ran with her to the nearest window, and got her out of the doomed building.
Over near her cabin he stopped, and set her on her feet and steadied her.
Patricia turned and glanced back—at her community house, her child, the symbol of all her work and sacrifice and hope. It was already gutted with fire. The flames had eaten through the roof, and were leaping above the pines; the whole inside was a mass of flames; the rafters and walls were tumbling to black ruin.
IN THE little shack where Craig lay prisoner, Lupe squatted down beside the low bunk. His voice was kind enough, but his eyes glinted evilly in the candlelight.
“You wan’ anyt'ing to eat or drink, mebbe?” he enquired.
Craig shook his head.
“You wan’ me to hold a cigarette, mebbe, w’ile you smoke heem?”
“You aw-right comfortable for de night, den?”
“Trot along to your sleep,” Craig bade curtly. He hated this insistent kindness from Lupe. It was the inhuman kindness of an executioner. For he knew that Lupe intended to put him to death. Whatever orders Warren might send, however much the other four Chiwaughimis might hang back, Lupe proposed to kill him. A pinch of wolf poison, slipped into his food—it would be a swift, easy murder, and so clueless that even those other four would not know how he had died.
Lupe got up and went out of the shack, leaving César Chiwaughimi there as guard during the brief night.
Staring up at the lodgepole rafters, as he had stared for so many pain-shot hours, Craig wearily listened to the macabre hooting of an owl and forced his aching thoughts away from his lost battle and Patricia and the death hanging over him. His arms and legs were paralyzed, after his forty-eight hours of being trussed up; and the tight babische thongs binding his wrists and ankles had bitten deep into the flesh. His head still throbbed excruciatingly from that brutal clubbing in his cabin. Every thump of his heart was like a trip hammer in his brain.
He had no idea where the Chiwaughimis had taken him, except that they had made about a twenty-hour journey from the Bay, pulling him on a light komatik.
From the sounds outside—the hooting of owls at night, the twittering of redpolls and buntings by day, the occasional tattoo of an Arctic woodpecker— he knew that the camp was located in a deep woods.
He reasoned also that there must be a second shack close by, where the other Chiwaughimis slept and where the cooking was done, for his food was brought in to him already prepared.
During the sled journey he had clung to the hope that Poleon might be trailing the Chiwaughimis, with a rescue party. But that hope had died iir him now. Too much time had elapsed. If a party had followed, it would have closed in last night and attacked.
Escape by his own hand, by any physical means, was flatly impossible. His wrists were bound with the green rawhide thongs till he could not move a finger; he was securely roped to the bunk; and always, close enough to touch him, sat an alert Chiwaughimi guard with a rifle in his lap.
In his helplessness he had turned to Teeste Chiwaughimi that afternoon and reminded the half-breed of the life debt between them; but ’Teeste had stonily refused to help him. The ’breed’s gratitude had distinctly waned. Full of health and strength again, he chose to forget the night when he had lain at the point of death.
Out in the woods, 400 yards away, the owl kept up its weird hooting—Whoo-cooooks Whoo-whoo-cooooks — Whoo-whoo-coooks-foryouuu—aaalllll. The bird was staying in one spot an unusual while, Craig thought. He had seldom known a horned owl to hoot more than twice from the same place. The call brought him a poignant memory of a summer twilight at the Bay when fun-loving Poleon hid himself in some brush, sounded the ventriloquial Whoo-whoo, and had all the prospectors craning their necks around at the trees.
THE HOOTING stopped. Ten minutes later it started up again, from a different direction, nearer and more distinct. Craig thought that he detected a false quaver in the last two notes. Listening closely, he compared the call with several others here and there in the woods. This call was not exactly like those others.
To be Concluded