TRACK OF DESTINY
In London, Sir John A. Macdonald, Premier of Canada, and Members of his Cabinet, are disappointed in their efforts to raise money for the building of a railroad from Eastern Canada to the Pacific. Mr. Stephen, a railroad contractor, is also present, and to him the Premier says:
“If you and Mr. Macintyre and Morton Rose and others of your friends will sign a contract to complete this all-red line, my Government will vote you $25,000,000 and 26,000,000 acres of fertile land in the West and such legislative protection as may be necessary.”
Mr. Stephen takes up the challenge.
In Yale, B.C., to which the railroad has been built from the West Coast, there are two gamblers named Kelly. One is known as The Rake and the other as Bulldog Kelly. They sit in a card game with a local character named Big Mouth and a Chinaman called Graveyard. The Rake is accused of cheating, but manages to evade proof of the charge by eating a card m a sandwich.
Andrew Onderdonk, the contractor who has built the road from the West Coast to Yale, and the local newspaper editor explore the reasons for predictions of failure for the new railroad, and decide that such attacks must be inspired by investors in an Eastern railroad, The Grand Trunk. They discuss Van Horne, who is building from the East across the prairie, and an engineer named Hell’s Bells Rogers who is seeking a pass through the Rocky Mountains.
Mary Moody is a charming young nurse at the Yale hospital. For three hours a day she is assisted by Molly Kelly, one of the town’s notorious characters.
A handsome young laborer known as Big John gets drunk and is thrown out of Molly Kelly’s place. He goes to the hospital and there he meets Mary Moody.
EARLY SPRING of ’82. From Water Street, Yale, a freighting outfit was just starting for the Cariboo, headed by an immense, heavy wagon drawn by ten yoke of grunting oxen all on the same drag chain, making a forest of widespread horns some sixty feet long. Other wagons, smaller and also canvas-covered, coupled in tandem pairs, were pulled by mixed teams of horses and mules, while the more mobile portion of the train consisted of short-bodied, long-haired Indian ponies with their bundling loads firmly secured by the diamond hitch. This was the BX outfit, run by Steve Tingley who knew the road like the palm of his hand.
Nearly a year ago the first locomotive had arrived in Yale amid gunfire from a cannon, the broaching of beer barrels and general jubilation, so that now the town was on the railway but only just on it. Northward and eastward between the lower river and the smooth upper reaches, Onderdonk was still blasting his way across the face of cliffs, boring slowly through tunnels, heaping his embankments where it seemed no embankment was meant to lie.
In the month of October Big John was in jail—a stoutly built, log-walled lock-up with iron bars over its small square windows and no other light. It stood for convenience as an extension to the courthouse, where three times a week Pearson sat behind a table on a small dais facing the jury box at the other end. There was a waiting room and a jury retiring room. This courthouse dated from the days of the Fraser gold rush in ’58, and a line of trees along the street provided unaccustomed shade to interested groups that were wont to congregate here when court was being held.
John squatted on the floor, his back against the wall, his pockets empty, a pain in his head. His blue eyes, like agates, were cloudy. He remembered quite distinctly a dispute with Bulldog Kelly in the Railroader’s Retreat, but could not recall the subsequent riot or what happened after that, except Jack Kirkup’s grip on his shoulder and the voice of authority in his ear. He had a vague belief that he had smashed Bulldog.
Now, quite at home in these surroundings, he breathed deeply, rubbed his flaxen head and, realizing that court
would not sit again for two days, gave himself up to indefinite thoughts. He had no sense of shame, no settled aspirations of any kind except that every now and then he would resolve to stop gambling and fighting and save money for a change. But just so often as the money reached three figures, it ran away from him. There would follow an interlude while he lived on his friends, a flush of contrition, a spasm of work, and the same thing over again.
James Hickey, John’s father, had come from San Francisco to Yale in ’62, shepherding a four-year-old boy, and made straightway for the Cariboo, at that time in the zenith of its fame. Three years before this, his wife—John could not remember her at all—had disappeared suddenly and not been heard of since, and the child was launched into the mêlée of mining camp life when he had hardly emerged from infancy. His father, a small, pockmarked man of no ability and aimless methods, loved the lad in his own fashion till in ’64 he was buried by a cave-in on one of the Cameron deep diggings; and from that hour John became dependent on the good nature of others.
A hard life, but physically he throve on it. In bone, fibre and muscle, he increased mightily. At ten, his big, clumsy joints, strong neck and barrel chest proclaimed the embryonic Hercules. By this time he could pan gold with the best, swing an axe to good purpose, drive mules and ride any bucking cayuse he found. It was the great hour of his life when Steve Tingley beckoned him up on the box of the fast Barkerville-Lilooet mail stage, handed him the reins and asked to see what he could do. Those were the halcyon days of youth, with all men as friends and before women had begun to trouble him. When he saw other boys with their mothers he would wonder about his own, but there was no one of whom to ask questions, and his father had always refused to talk about her except on one occasion when, pestered into speech, he had said she was “a good-looking flirt who ran away with a Dane.” She must, reflected John, be dead by now, and it seemed that she had left nothing of herself behind, not even a photograph, or if there ever was one, James Hickey must have destroyed it.
WHEN HE WAS eleven, John walked back 400 miles to Yale, where he had remained in a town that was but the skeleton of its former self, with rows of empty houses for the taking. But one found more company, and life was easier than those distant solitudes of the Cariboo. Salmon swarmed up the Fraser, and when one had collected a few ounces of amalgam, New Westminster, only twenty miles away, satisfied a natural craving for a larger sphere of action, though such excursions were too expensive to last long. He hunted, fished and washed gravel for six months in the year, loafing for the rest of it. This life suited him exactly, and there was no one to care what he did. The coming of the railway had no special significance; he made money, flung it away, and repeated the process. All women liked him, as much on account of a certain attractive untamed simplicity as for his blue eyes and good looks, while, to his disadvantage, he liked all women.
Having again searched his pockets for tobacco, he returned to unprofitable thoughts. There was no one to bail him out, and he grew restive, glancing uncertainly at the window bars w'hich he could easily rip out, but that meant only further and certain trouble. From the south window he could nearly see the tail of Sawmill Bar where his own claim was staked. The falling river had exposed it. and the gravelly sand was populated by Chinamen working hard, these Orientals being admitted experts at catching fine gold on claims that more impatient and less skilful whites abandoned in contempt. Now that he could not get at it, the bar seemed inviting, so he sat again on the floor and,
putting his head between his hands, felt the slight scar that would always remain in his left cheek.
The touch of it made him think of the girl. The week after she patched him up, he had gone to the hospital—that was a year ago now—with an envelope addressed to her, and in the next issue of the Inland Sentinel the hospital acknowledged with grateful thanksaeontributionoften dollars from Mr. John Hickey—a paragraph that infuriated him and roused widespread mirth in Yale. The week after that he drove a pack train into the Cariboo country. When he returned to Yale, Mary had gone away for a rest and he did not see her for months. She came back in early winter, looking better and stronger. Then he made bold to speak to her.
He remembered that talk; how she looked at him with a faint smile that was not altogether happy, and hesitated, and without any warning begged him to stop gambling away his money and his life. She said, to his surprise, that he was meant for better things; there were now great opportunities that might never come again, and some day he would count the time back and be some He had had much the same advice from others, though put in a vastly different and more forcible way. The others cursed him. but she did not, nor talk down to him nor patronize, and all the while kept watching him with large hazel eyes in which moved something that baffled him entirely, so it seemed that actually she cared whether he made good or not, at which he was the more puzzled. Then she asked about himself, his childhood and parents and where he came from.
John told her about that childhood, but nothing of his parents except that his mother had run away; he could not remember her and he had no idea what she looked like. He told Mary about the Cariboo country, where as a boy he could choose what camp he fancied most on account of the cooking, and stay as long as he pleased ; and the sort of place Yale was before Onderdonk came and waked it up. and why cards had a sort of power over him and swallowed all the money he could lay hands on. But in this, his first real talk with anyone, he never said he was lonely, and he kept looking at her as though she was something different and not of his world at all. He had no love for her, nor could he imagine himself ever being anything like her, with the same kind of friends, the same quiet way of talking, and it wasn’t in her to rouse a man as did most of the other girls one knew in Yale. She was quite different in that respect and he was secretly glad of it.
There had been other talks, and he got into the way of trying to meet her. But this didn’t happen often, there being too many accidents, most of them from premature explosions of dynamite when it was being thawed out in the rock cuts beside a fire, so she had to work hard. He never went to the hospital, nor did she ask him there. At Christmas he sent her a nugget shaped like a tiny pear. He drilled a small hole in the top, hoping that she would put it on a chain and wear it, but she only thanked him very sweetly and he didn’t see it again. That made him sulky. Once, later, he broke loose, lost what money he had saved, and matters became worse when he smashed furniture in the Rat Trap as well as Bulldog Kelly's leg. Bulldog was in hospital now. Reviewing all this in the solitude of the jail, John felt restless and defeated.
FIRM FOOTSTEPS sounded outside, the rasping of a key, and Jack Kirkup entered, smiling.
“Get out of this; you’re a free man.”
“Go to the devil,” scowled John. “I want my dinner.”
“You’ll get no dinner here.
Out with you !”
His manner could not be mistaken, but what had happened?
The prisoner rose to his feet doubtfully.
“You mean that?”
“Sure I mean it—think I want to lose my job? Your fine is paid.”
“Who paid it?”
“Lady in Yale; you know her well.”
A wild idea flashed into the young giant’s brain, but it was too wild and he shook his head like a great dog.
“Come on, Jack, who is it?”
“Lady at the hospital,” said the constable, grinning. “Some ladies’ man you are. Get out, I want to lock up.”
“Miss Mary?” stammered John.
“No. Molly Kelly. What’s the matter with you?”
“Why not? She heard you were here—I guess she got it straight from Bulldog—and went right off to the judge. He wasn’t
for it at first, but I guess she talked him down, and he said she could pay the fifty to the clerk and save the Government two days board on you. What are you waiting for?” John walked out, his brain in turmoil. Curse Molly Kelly! Then he wondered was it possible that someone else had found the money and got her to do the rest. Whoever it was, he’d sooner stick in jail than be beholden to a woman, so he went straight to the hospital, where he came on Mary, not Molly, sitting outside, looking tired, hands folded in her lap. She looked up uncertainly and motioned him to sit beside her. but he would not do that and stood twisting his fingers, feeling like a fool.
“Where’s Molly?” he asked bluntly.
“She went home an hour ago.”
He paused, irresolute. She looked so cool in her white cap and big white apron, so calm. too. with nothing to trouble her. and suddenly he felt envious of that calm. On the other hand, he reflected, any woman who lived as she did must miss a lot.
“Thanks. I’ll find her.” He turned away.
“I want to talk to you. Please sit down —that’s better. I know why you want to see Molly, but I wouldn’t. Just leave it.”
“She’s bailed me out,” said he, flushing. “I had a mixup with Bulldog and broke something, and—”
“I know that. too. but please let it stand as it is. Molly did it because she wanted to. She does lots of things like that: she’s doing them all the time, but they’re not often discovered.”
“She isn’t fit for you to touch,” he blurted, and was immediately astonished at his own protest.
The girl gave him a strange glance, shaking her head slowly, gently.
“Never say that of anyone again.”
“She’s no use for me and never had, and why in—? I want to know why she’s done this.”
“No, she has no use for you in one way,” said Mary under her breath, “but don’t go to her now, please. Don’t even thank her—she doesn’t want thanks. John, can’t you see? We both think the same about you. We want you to do better. You’re missing so much, with such big things going on all round you and you no part of them. That’s what’s the matter.”
“Who cares?” said he dully. “As for Molly, I’ve no use for her. I didn’t take her money.”
“Nor she yours, John—ever—and she can do what she likes with her own. Why don’t you go away?”
“Yes, from Yale.”
“You mean clear out for good?”
“For better and best.” she said earnestly. “It’s your only chance. Not the Cariboo, but follow the steel like other men. I hear so much about the chances from Mr. Onderdonk and Dr. Harrington; they say it won’t be the same again.”
JOHN considered that. Sometimes he had pictured himself foreman of a rock cut, or trestle building, but it would mean taking orders from others. He didn’t like orders, and now said so.
“You’ll never give them if you can’t take them,” she objected firmly.
This for some reason got under his skin, perhaps because it was just the stark truth but more probably since it came from a wisp of a girl in a white apron.
“I’m taking orders all the time,” she added wistfully, “and it’s the same all the way up the ladder. Why can’t you? Are you afraid?”
“You’re big and strong,” she went on, pressing her point, “and not afraid of any other man, which is natural enough, but you are afraid of things. I've wanted to say this for a long time. Afraid of things; afraid of having to do something you don’t like. Isn’t that cowardly; isn’t that yellow?” She jerked out. the last word with a swiftly rising color that presently left her cheeks pale. “Isn’t it, John?”
“You said—yellow,” he stammered.
She nodded, biting her lips, white fingers interlocking stiffly.
“It’s what I meant—and when you’ve decided what to do about it, come and tell me. There’s something in you that wants to get out and assert itself, but you won’t give it a chance. A little more and you’ll kill it.”
“I never thought of it that way,” he frowned. “How do you know there’s anything?”
She sent him a glance proud yet shy, candid yet pleading, such as he had received from no other human being.
“I can’t tell you that.” she said gently, “but if you look you’ll find it. Then come back and tell me.”
The river had fallen a little farther, and near the tail of Sawmill Bar, John was washing gold, first shovelling the gravel into a rocker. This contrivance, shaped something like a baby’s cradle, was some four feet long, actually on rockers, and had a perforated bottom with small holes which, when the affair was operated and water poured in, allowed only the finer portion to pass through to a pan beneath, while coarser stuff worked on and out. Periodically these screenings were washed by oscillation in a large sheet-iron flat dish in which a small quantity of quicksilver had been placed, thus forming an amalgam in whatever gold was present. The day of bonanzas had far sped, ten cents to the full pan now being considered good, though small nuggets the size of a bean were occasionally recovered, and what gold remained was in the form of thin flakes much waterworn. which on account of their lightness might only be caught by painstaking skill.
His claim was twenty-five feet square, and around him in other allotments toiled some fifty Chinamen wearing only cotton pants and straw hats. They maintained a continuous jabber, were artists at the process, and content to win four dollars a day.
On the next bar the owners had rights in a wooden flume that carried water overhead from a creek tributary to the Fraser, which running supply saved them an infinity of toil and trebled their output. These larger operators used a sluice—a long wooden, gently sloping trough, a foot square, with narrow slats nailed across its bottom. Quicksilver lay in the comers above these slats, and here amalgamation automatically took place—a simple process, handling much more material than any rocker, the only labor being that of shovelling gravel into the head of the sluice. A clean-up was going on after a week’s run, and the amalgam, squeezed through a chamois skin, left a small stiff ball, silver grey in color that was three parts gold and creaked when pinched. John, bending over his rocker, eyed these men enviously. He had no water rights.
HE WORKED stolidly. A construction train coughed eastward toward Boston Bar up river, which point the steel had nearly reached. Yale, though still Onderdonk’s headquarters, was not the place of a year previous. Its population had diminished, spreading out up the Fraser; the town had passed its prime, and this western end of the all-red line, having blasted its way through cliff and canyon, was now advancing at a faster rate. But Yale remained the social centre of the Lower Fraser country ; to its saloons and other places of dalliance, still from the upper line, repaired at the end of every week a multitude of eager men in whose pockets money could not lie without burning. They came to the Stiff s Rest, the Rat Trap, the Railroader’s Retreat; came to be doctored by Harrington, bandaged by Mary Moody and sentenced by Pearson. Yale, however, did not hold them, for long.
John kept his rocker in motion, but a weight lay on his brain rather than his arms. Yellow; a woman had called him yellow ! The word slept with him, was there when he awoke and stuck like a plaster. She had blenched a little when she said it, her face seemed to flatten as she got it out, as a man’s face flattens when he fights hard, and in the large eyes that looked straight into his own he had caught a queer light not seen before. She had called him yellow, yet didn’t seem to despise him for it ! Also she wanted to know what he proposed to do about it. Naturally he would have to do something, and to begin with lie must leave Yale: No man could stay there after a girl had called him yellow. So now he gazed eastward at the tumbled mountains, and for the first time they looked inviting, mysterious, secretive, as though hidden in their gigantic recesses was something that mocked him.^ Big as you are,” the mountains seemed to signal, “you re not big enough to tackle us.”
At this he began to nod slowly, decisively, arguing that after all he was sick of Yale, of its saloons, tired of borrowing money or earning money only to waste it. Now it seemed he had been tired for some time, but didn’t know it until he was called yellow; therefore, since any move was likely to be for the better, perhaps he ought to be grateful. Against all these favorable points was the other one: he was ashamed to clear out, owing a woman fifty dollars.
Considering this angle of it, fuming because he had reached the stage where it was impossible to borrow money. Kelly the Rake being no longer responsive, he saw Molly on the bank a hundred yards away, waving to him.
She had on her best—a blue alpaca dress cut very tight over breast and waist, showing the rich lines of her figure, and with a small bustle that to him resembled a portable seat from which she had just slid before standing up. Her jaunty felt hat had a rolled brim, and on the left side of it perched a flaming yellow bird with glass eyes, wings, claws, and a green berry in its beak. She wore black silk stockings, American button boots of shiny kid, black kid gloves, and carried a blue parasol with a deep fringe. In this bright plumage glowing exotically against the stark structures on Water Street and the rockstrewn slopes ot the Jew’s Nose, she suggested something luxuriantly tropical, some gaily feathered wanderer from distant jungles alighting here for an instant to rest its brilliant pinions. The entire outfit had arrived from San Francisco a week ago, and she was highly pleased with it
John, hostile and unimpressed, applied himself to his rocker. “To blazes with her,” he grunted, wishing he had fifty dollars to push in the gloved hand, “if she doesn t
want to be thanked, what’s she doing here?” Now she waved again, and this time he made a gesture that needed no words.
She caught it, and without a moment’s hesitation plunged down the steep clay bank, digging her high heels into the slope and landing forty feet below with a slide of loosened earth. Between them lay a stretch of bar just clear of the river—flat, scattered with shallow pools inches deep—and straight through these she came splashing, lifting her skirts, showing her full calves, regardless of the staring Chinamen.
Panting a little, she perched on the rocker and gave him a cheerful nod.
“Hullo, John; I wanted to see you.”
“Why did you do it?” he growled.
“Who cares about getting wet.”
“I didn’t mean that. I mean, bail me out.”
V\ TITH NO attention to soaked feet and dripping skirts, VV she began to trace an aimless pattern in the moist sand, crumpling her strong dark brows, glancing up at him with so odd an expression as to leave him confused. She had never looked like this before. There was about her at that moment something strange and novel, so that for once he d'd not associate her with what went on in the redcurtained, two-story house just off Water Street. She appeared to have divested herself of Ü1 that just as when 'working in the hospital, and now to present a softer, less blatant and much more respectable personage.
“Well,” she said after an uncertain pause, “I suppose I can do what I like with my own money. What’s fifty dollars anyway?”
John, admitting this, argued with rising resentment that his affairs had nothing to do with her, and she could keep her money to herself.
“You didn’t get it,” she objected. “The Government did. What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing you don’t know of already.”
She seemed not to hear and balanced on the edge of the rocker, a spot of bright color in this primitive setting, swinging her legs, while her gaze went roving among the Chinamen. Then she gave him a straight stare in which moved the crude sagacity of a woman who knows most that there is to be known about men. All except one or two of her friends were men. She recognized herself as an outcast from decent women, but this did not abate her spirit, and in her breast flowed a deep tide of humanity that made her strong. Nothing in the world she feared except old age, and she was, though she had never thought of it in that way, an essential factor in this Western drama of human effort and danger, since from the beginning of things her sisterhood had followed the pioneers to the ends of the earth to share in their perils and high adventure.
“If you’re looking for more trouble,” said she quietly, “there isn’t going to be any. That’s not what I came for—or the fifty dollars either. I just want to talk. Miss Mary told me what she told you. Well, I feel the same.”
“You’re not called on to feel anything that I know of. Better do the talking yourself: you’ll get the fifty as soon as I have it.”
“But I do, John, I do. I can’t help feeling something. You can take that, it’s straight; forget the fifty.”
He shook his head.
“It’s too sudden to sound straight; why would you never have me in your place?”
“Because”—here she faltered an instant—“because I guess I didn’t want you there; there was enough without you, and that’s all I’m saying. And I didn’t come here to talk about that either—there’s something else.”
“You’ve heard already, so don’t be a fool any longer. Get up and get out !”
“Run out of Yale by two women?” said he sardonically. “Can’t you see me going?”
“John, you don’t mean a thing to anyone but just us two.”
SINCERITY was in her voice, and he felt disturbed; nor did he understand the way in which she continued to watch him with no boldness in her face, not frowning but very earnest and almost pleading. But she had never been known to plead with anyone—it wasn’t her method, she generally went straight for the thing she wanted and got it —so it was difficult to imagine what was at the bottom of all this fuss. It made him suspicious.
“You don’t mean anything to anyone else,” she repeated firmly, “and that’s a fact. There’s just us two. I know I don’t count for much—you needn’t tell me that—but once in a while I like to do a—a man a good tum if I can, and you’re next on the list. As for the other woman, I guess she does care a little, but she’d hate me for telling you.”
“I’m nothing to her,” said he, glowering.
“She never said so to me, John.”
“She called me yellow.”
“Maybe if she hadn’t been interested she wouldn’t have bothered to do that much.”
“Aw, go on!”
Molly, regarding the black gloves, began stripping one from her plump white hand, finishing with a nervous wrench that tore it across. She examined it deliberately, squeezing her lips, her expression proclaimed that her thoughts were elsewhere. Suddenly crumpling it in a ball, she threw it away.
“John, will you clear out of Yale right now and take a contract?”
“I haven’t any money,” he parried.
“Will you go if I stake you?”
“You’re anxious to see the last of me, aren’t you?”
“I’m wanting to see the best of you,” she said very softly. “I’ll stake you, John.”
She was leaning forward now, breathing faster, lips parted, again presenting, it seemed to him, that other type of woman, more gentle and, strangely enough, somehow far more attractive. If she had been like this before he would have talked to her about a lot of things, because in this mood she suggested the idea of some family to which she might have belonged; and it would be nice to pretend that one was a member of a family and not just a knockabout of no more importance than one of the battered logs that came down the Fraser with the spring floods.
“This is your claim?”
“How much do you want for it?”
DROM the way in which she shot this out he knew her to be in earnest, and his surprise was tinged with a sort of regret; she was a decent kind after all, and he had been too rough. Perhaps he didn’t understand her, which might explain why even in his most unbridled moods he had never wanted her as a man wants a woman. Now that idea seemed even
more foreign. He yielded to an impulse to be decent himself, and wished that in the past he had treated her in a different fashion. He seemed to have missed something here.
“This claim ain’t worth anything, Molly,” said he frankly. “Not a dam cent; the next man can have it for nothing. You don’t want it either; there’s wages for a Chink, but no one else. Say, what’s behind all this?”
“I am. Got your papers and license?”
“Then look here: You go up the line and get a contract in rock or earth—rock would suit you better—and I ’ll give you five hundred for the claim. You’ll need that much to
start with. I want you out of Yale, John; clear of all those hell houses where they take your money, clear of Sadie and—and me. It hasn’t done you any good to smash Bulldog, so don’t come back here—don’t ever come back here. Understand?”
He gaped at her. How queer women were, especially this one; you could never tell what women would be up to next.
“Well,” he admitted slowly, “I might do that.” “Then get busy and do it,” she flamed with sudden passion. “You come up to Graveyard’s with your papers. I won’t give you the money here in Yale or you’d lose it—Sadie would get it—but you just let Graveyard know when you nail down the contract, and he’ll send it; I’ll fix that. And, John, I never gave a promise I didn’t make good except one, and that was a long time ago.” Faltering a little, she stared round at the swarming river bed. “Sick of all this, aren’t you?”
“You’re right, Molly.”
“I reckoned you were. Now you get up the line and make good. Don’t bite off moren you can chew to start with, then something bigger. If you figure too low and get stuck, let me know. And maybe,” she added wistfully, “in a couple of years if you keep off cards, you’ll be bossing a big rock cut with a pile of men working for you like Donk has. I’d feel kind of—of pleased about that, John.”
It was just a fairy story, but had something infectious about it, and the young man began to smile.
“I’d never get so far, Molly; it ain’t in me.”
“You never looked to see what’s in you. Now get busy. Meet me at Graveyard’s in an hour?”
“Shake on that, John.”
He put out a great fist, then after a smothered exclamation she turned away and made for the bank, splashing blindly through the shallow pools with the tears raining down her face.
SOMETHING more than 150 miles east of Yale, old Chief Louis of the Shuswap tribe sat in the warmth of a spring sun at his cabin door, talking earnestly to a sparelybuilt white man of about fifty years, whose wide flowing whiskers, which had the shape of a pigeon’s wing, spread out, revealing a square and jutting chin. This man had also very steady eyes set far apart, a wide mouth slightly downturned at the corners, and an expression of satirical confidence. He was chewing tobacco, spitting with accurately flat trajectory, and his appearance of restrained energy suggested a sort of human projectile.
Louis regarded him with interest as the means of possible profit. Several strange white men had passed through the Kamloops of late—a settlement on the Thompson River at its junction with the North Thompson, where the Jesuits had long since maintained a mission—and there was now a demand for able-bodied Indians good in the bush, sturdy with a tumpline; and today this stranger desired no fewer than a dozen young tribesmen for an expedition eastward into the mountains across the Columbia River.
Hell’s Bells Rogers grew impatient, the talk having lasted full a week; but, knowing the type of man he dealt with, the engineer was wise enough to bide his time. They had discussed many things—the sort of country that lay beyond the Columbia, the distance a good Indian could travel through it between dawn and sunset with a hundred pounds on his back, what kind of food he would need and what amount of game might be picked up. Finally an agreement was reached, the Church called in, and a Jesuit Father drew up the contract for the services of ten sound-bodied Shuswaps.
Three weeks later, having traversed Shuswap Lake and crossed the Gold Range by way of Eagle Pass, Rogers caught the glint of running water, and, pushing his way through the underbrush, stood frowning at the Columbia. That great stream, greatest of all the Northwestern rivers, was in flood, its vast volume plunging between heavily wooded banks from which it had ripped trees, logs and stumps that now whirled southward toward the Arrowhead
Lakes. Continued on page 48
Continued from page 22—Starts on page 19
“Hell’s bells, Albert, look at that cursed river.”
The other white man—his nephew, young, slim, straight—mopped a blistered face. The river was a full quarter mile across, of immense depth, and they had no boat.
“Well,” he said dubiously, “how about it?”
“We’ll raft it down to the mouth of the Illecillewaet.” Rogers turned to his Indians. “Get busy, you fellows.”
In two hours the crazy craft was fashioned of cedar logs that floated high when light, but now settled down under a quarter ton of flour, half as much bacon, salt, baking powder, rifles, a length of rope, two small tents, blankets and axes. When all this was loaded in a heap and the two white men stepped gingerly on board, there was a pause. The raft could obviously carry no more, and the Shuswaps hung back.
“Swim and keep hold!” barked Rogers.
NOW THE contract made in Kamloops, while it secured good wages, provided also that if orders were disobeyed there should be no pay at all; so. pushing off the raft, the Indians waded in neck deep, one hand clutching the timber, swimming with the other, thus forming a kind of floating pyramid with the circle of brown, black heads and cedar logs for a base, above it the piled sacks, and for an apex Hell’s Bells Rogers with the wind in his bifurcated whiskers.
This primitive fragment was received by the Columbia on her wide brown bosom, rotating in the grip of undercurrents that stencilled the surface into greasy eddies, while ten sinewy arms constantly edged it nearer the opposite shore. Here the river was flowing from the north, but the whiskered man knew that on the farther side of the snowcapped Selkirks and nearer its source it had come from the south, thus describing a gigantic bottleshaped bend of 180 miles, the body of the bottle lying in the heart of great mountains now7 out of sight behind. To cut across the neck of the bottle, to save 100 miles of track building, Rogers must establish a feasible route for the iron road through roaring ranges not yet trodden by the foot of man.
Balanced on a hundredweight of flour, he considered this point; and, better than most men, he could imagine what lay ahead of him, for he was mountain trained. Glancing at his nephew7, he smiled inwardly. He was expected to locate a line, or a possible route for a line, across and not around the Selkirks; also he knew that his report was anxiously awaited in Montreal, and on it great things might turn. The Canadian Government wanted the line near the American boundary to forestall incursions by one James J. Hill with rival roads from the south. The Government insisted on this, the Government would view with displeasure anything else, and unless the route were located, the Government might withhold its most essential support. Rogers, weighing these matters, spat in the Columbia and bit off another chew.
Slapping at mosquitoes that now approached in clouds to welcome him ashore, he w7ent on thinking. Môberly, one of the best engineers who ever looked through an instrument, had inspected the Selkirks from the other and eastern side and considered the thing feasible, but that was only a bit of scientific guessing. Rogers, however, had a good deal of respect for Moberly, for had he not discovered Eagle Pass across the Gold Range by following the flight of a whiteheaded eagle which winged to his eyrie in that remote fastness with a great wriggling fish in his talons? So there was something to be said for scientific guessing.
Further, old Louis, squatting in the sun at Kamloops, remembered that once there had been an Indian trail across the Selkirks from the Columbia to the Columbia, used intermittently in former days of savage warfare. It w7as said to have been very rough, with much climbing, so that now, if it had not been obliterated by snow slides, rock slides, fire and flood, the man with whiskers might possibly come across it—or bits of it. Louis, however, did not know anyone who had
passed that way, nor did he think that it had ever been blazed. Indians, he explained, did not trouble to blaze trees.
Perched a few inches above the Columbia, for the raft, becoming waterlogged, was settling deeper, oblivious of the splashing and wearied Shuswaps, and conscious that this was the only real rest he would have for some time to come, Rogers continued to probe his own thoughts while his grey eyes photographed peak after peak of the surrounding ranges.
Jim Hill? Why had Hill, who was up to his neck in American railways, sent him to Canada to work for a road that, if successful, w7as bound to be a serious competitor? That wasn’t like Hill unless—yes—unless later on he reckoned to get whatever had been built of this all-red line into his own hands. It was imaginable, because Hill was a wrecker as well as builder of railways; but it didn’t quite explain Van Home—another American —who had also been sent over and was now raising the dust in Fort Garry, firing the old crowd right and left, making as many enemies as friends. Rogers would have liked the opportunity to discuss the whole matter with Van, whom he had not seen since two years ago when they were both working for Hill. The situation puzzled him, but he did not dwell on it now. He was not interested in politics or finance or freight rates, nor did he much care for whom he worked provided he was turned loose to locate a railway.
“Know what strikes me, AÍ?”
“This raft is sinking.”
“You’re right, but she’ll float long enough. It’s that it takes us Yanks to build a Canadian road. I’m here, Van is in Fort Garry, and Donk out on the coast. At the same time Jim Hill is cutting his own throat— that’s what gets me.”
ALBERT cared nothing for Hill’s throat, ■ and said so. They were now close to land; the Shuswaps could feel the mud under their feet, and presently the raft grounded. At once unloaded, it was pushed off and went gyrating downstream on its way to the Arrowhead country and the United States. Rogers ran his brown fingers through his whiskers, combing out the mosquitoes, felt in his pocket, began to masticate dry raisins, his favorite food, and gave the Indians a masterful look.
“You boys have got to tote a hundredweight each to start with. Understand?” They exchanged glances and grunted. Already, packing across Eagle Pass, they had discovered what kind of man this was. They were now too far into the wilderness to rebel with any hope of success, so presently with him in the lead they moved off, leaning forward against the tug of taut tumplines, and came before long to the mouth of the Illecillewaet.
This glacier-fed torrent, whose milky waters were impregnated with the fine sludge ground by moving icefields from the surface of underlying rock, came down in turbulence from uncharted ranges to the east, and Rogers knew that its birthplace must be near the summit. To that summit he reckoned would be perhaps forty miles in a straight line, but in a railway hardly a mile of it could be straight. Where he now stood the aneroid gave him 1,500 feet above sea level. He checked this by boiling water in a pan, noting the temperature at which it boiled.
Next morning the party was put on strict rations. Travel at once became exceedingly difficult, and of Louis’s reputed trail there was no sign. Following the river, traversing snow bridges 150 feet above its bed—these the giant reminders of avalanches through
which the prisoned stream had burrowed— struggling over fallen moss-covered timber six feet in diameter, pushing through clumps of villainous devil’s club, a spiky growth which to touch was torture—such was the test; and on the fifth day, when Rogers estimated they had made but five miles toward the Divide, the stream forked.
That night camp was pitched close to the water under a great cedar, and the engineer sat by the fire, rather silent, his jaws working fast. Life, it seemed, just called for one decision after another; and here was an instance, since one leg of the fork came from southeast, the other from northeast, and which would he follow? It was a grave question with nothing to guide them, and the volume of the streams about equal. He decided to go southeast.
“Al,” he asked parenthetically, “what’s a railway location engineer?”
“Haven’t you found out yet?”
“A fellow who don’t know any better. Good night.”
T'WO DAYS later he was sure of this.
Drenched, weary, bitten and scarred, they reached the mouth of a box canyon or gorge walled in by vertical cliffs in places not thirty feet apart, between which the constricted Illecillewaet tore itself to spume. This deft, this gash in the solid frame of earth, was not passable, and, toiling to its summit, they found the snow deep and the going heavy. Above the gorge the river reappeared, but the ground was so broken that for the next few miles progress was by wading up the stream bed till, on the fourteenth day, it forked again. Here for the second time they held to the eastern branch.
It was cold at night, freezing hard in these altitudes, and the human body, exhausted by toil, chilled with wading through snow and ice water, began to protest. Rogers, whose sinew7y frame possessed extraordinary resilience, w7as unmoved, but he knew that the others were approaching their limit, and that night after staring at lonely peaks gleaming under the stars, he came to another decision.
“AÍ, carrying all this stuff we’ll never get there and back at the rate we’re going.”
“I guess not.”
“At the same time I’m scared to push on with you and leave these Shuswaps. Pay or no pay, they’re ready to jump the job.” “That’s what I think.”
“And it’s no use one of us going on alone; something might happen.”
“That’s right, too.”
“So we’re all going, every one of us. We’ll cache all this grub except two days rations, and each man will carry his own. That means we’ve got to get there and back here in two days or, say, three. We’re starting as soon as there’s light enough, before the snow softens.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“I told you we were going to have a devil of a trip, didn’t I?”
The young man, half numbed under the blanket now pulled up to his ears, grinned agreement. Grub was low, the Indians restless, an arduous passage remained to be forced back to the Columbia, his bones were aching, his skin torn and blistered, but nevertheless something made it all worth while. In company with Rogers, one felt association with the simple dynamics of human life. His fashion of doing things answered the question before it was asked; the man was incapable of indecision, and possessed a congenital faith in himself that in some mysterious fashion communicated itself to others. One’s instinct was to follow, one could not imagine him defeated, and the pictorial blasphemy of his humor seemed but a decorative adjunct to his unfailing courage.
With the spreading of that grey half-light that ushers dawn into the big timber, in the hour when monstrosities spawned in darkness resume formal outlines of actuality, they broke camp and, clearing the thick bush, saw suddenly as though a curtain had been lifted the prodigious backbone of the Selkirks, with one great triple-fanged mountain dominating the eastern sky. Now it was apparent that they approached the
Height, of Land, and they came on the next morning to a large level opening. Pushing on into this, Rogers halted on a patch of ground where a spring gurgled into a small and crystal pool. He stared at it fixedly. “That water is running both ways!”
HIS NEPHEW, panting, was struck to silence. It was quite true, and this limpid trickle, escaping by two tiny runnels, one to the east one west, was eloquent. I lere lay the birthplace of the Illecillewaet, and they stood on the crupper of the Selkirks.
“I guess it does, major,” he breathed with a touch of awe.
“Get out that aneroid, AÍ. You owe me five dollars.”
1 Iell’s Bells went about the rest of it very swiftly, checking his readings, and presently looked up with the enigmatical expression he so often assumed. I le examined the ground to the east, but heavy timber shut off all view in that direction.
“AÍ, if this isn’t the pass we’re after, I guess God Almighty forgot to make one. We’re about 2.800 feet above the Columbia where we crossed it, and I’d say forty miles to make the climb—that’s a seventy-foot grade to the mile. Hell’s bells, it’s easy !” “What about getting down the other side?” questioned his nephew, not yet converted.
The answer was a queer look which did not invite discussion, and Rogers, filling his mouth with raisins, gazed at the tripie crowned mountain.
“Ilow are your legs?”
“Then come on; we’ve got to see farther than we can from here.”
At sunset they had climbed 2,000 feel to far above the timber line, with the wild country expanding magnificently beneath. Over windshapen cornices of snow, kicking toeholds in the crust, across the course of tumbled avalanches, swarming up crevices and clinging spiderlike to rifts in the solid rock, they came at nightfall to a narrow ledge, and here spent the shivering hours of darkness.
A hard night, and Rogers always thought it the hardest he had ever spent. Nibbling bannock and dry meat, stamping in the snow to prevent frostbitten feet, there being no wood for a fire, whipping each other with tumplines to stimulate circulation, the hours dragged out till came an ineffable dawn, when a panorama unrolled that took their breath. Far as the eye could carry rose a succession of peaks each crowned with a whirling eddy of snow. Down below lay a timbered valley that formed the pass, and they could discern at its eastern end a great rift where must collect the head waters of the Beaver River. Beyond it a blue belt that could only be the upper Columbia valley; farther still, and east of the Kicking I lorse Gorge, the ftaunt. precipitous framework of the Rockies. All this upper world lay white, bare and desolate as regions of the moon, the home of eagles, grizzlies and mountain sheep, while beneath one could follow the timber line, where league after lonely league the spruce and jack pine died against the stony slopes.
“Aylmer’s somewhere over there working toward us down the Kicking Horse; that is. if he has obeyed orders and not broken his neck,” said Rogers in a subdued tone.
“Maybe lie’s looking at this jjeak now. Seen enough?”
“Yes, and we’d better get down before it thaws.”
RISKING their lives at every step, they • descended. One of the Shuswaps dropped out of sight between walls of blue ice, and was hauled up out of the glacier with spliced tumplines. At the edge of the timber they killed an elk and filled their bellies; then down the Illecillewaet and back to the Columbia, lean as greyhounds.
Since they left that point three weeks previously, the river had risen thirty feet, and now Rogers, who had hardly spoken on the return trip, came to another decision.
“AÍ,” said he. “we’ve found just half that pass, the west half.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking.”
“But water runs down hill, don’t it?”
"I guess so in this country.”
“So the Columbia on the other sidi' would be considerably more above sea level than it is here.”
“That suggest anything to you?”
Albert, realizing that no answer was desired, said nothing.
“Well, getting at it another way. it's about 180 miles round the Big Bend, and in that distance the Columbia will fall, say. eight feet to the mile—which is a drop of about 1.400 feet all told. In other words, it's about 1,400 feet nearer God’s footstool where we’d have struck it if we’d gone right ; across, than it is here. Get that?”
“I can’t very well miss it.”
Rogers unavailingly searched his pocket j for a raisin, then took out his last plug of tobacco, gnawing off a carefully measured comer.
“From the east crossing there's 1.400 feet less climb to the pass than from the west, or half as much.”
“And all the distance we want to make it in. AÍ. I’m going to take a chance.”
“Just for a change, eh?”
“Look here.” chuckled Rogers, “between ourselves, very strictly between ourselves. , I’m going to do some scientific guessing in , the form of a report to Van Home, telling him I have found a feasible route across the Selkirks.”
“But,” exploded his nephew, “how can you? We haven’t been down the other side yet.” !
“That’s got to wait. What makes a good engineer, AÍ? It isn t being a mathematician —I’m an almighty fool at ligures myself—or a good draughtsman—I can t draw worth a cent—or even a good instrument man. It's I just having a sort of instinct for sidestepping the natural depravity of inanimate objects. , That’s what counts most; and if the world don’t come to an end right now. the other side of this pass will bí' the easier of the two. I’ll put my name to that. Where’s the nearest telegraph office?”
“Spokane, isn’t it?”
“About how far?”
“About 250 miles. You know better than I do.”
“Well, Van needs that rejxjrt. needs it badly and he’s going to get it pronto. Build me another raft AÍ; I’m starting for the United States.”
To be Continued