Track of Destiny
THE STORY: Having failed to borrow money in London for the building of a railroad from Montreal to the Pacific coast, Premier Sir John A. Macdonald persuades a group of Canadian business men to finance the road.
In Yale, B.C., to which point the railroad has been constructed from the West Coast, a gambler named Bulldog Kelly stages a card duel with another Kelly, better known as The Rake. The latter is accused of cheating, but manages to evade proof by eating a card in a sandwich.
Mary Moody, nurse at the Yale hospital, is assisted each day by a notorious local woman named Molly Kelly. When Big John, a handsome ne'er-do-well, is injured in a fracas, Mary arouses his latent spirit by telling him he's yellow, but it is Molly who pays his fine and offers him money to get away from Yale and undertake a real man’s work.
Hell’s Bells Rogers, the location engineer, finds a pass through the Selkirks through which the new railroad may proceed, and reports in Montreal to the board—William Van Horne, George Stephen and Donald Smith.
Jim Hill, the Canadian-born builder of railroads in the United States, enters. He wants the board to build only as far east as Winnipeg, at which point he proposes to lake over their traffic and route it through the United States to the Eastern seaboard. The board members insist that the roide must be Canadian, and Hill threatens that he will wreck the project.
On the Bow River in Alberta, Indians gather to make war on the railroad builders, but Father Lacombe persuades them to disperse.
Big John gets a job from Dan Mann, a construction boss, and makes good.
AT THE END of the week John Hickey put $40 in his pocket and tramped the tote road to Holt / \ City; and it was while he watched doomed steers
being driven out of box cars that had brought them up from Calgary that he caught a cool and remembered voice in conversation close by.
“Yes, sir, the store is clean out of staples.”
“Which don’t sound to me like Holt’s way of doing business,” said another man huskily.
“It’s a fact all the same. There’s no poker chipis, loaded dice or cards to be had in camp. Kind of shortsighted, I call it.”
John, turning with a laugh, put out his hand.
“Hullo, Kelly, what brought you here?”
Kelly, The Rake, looked round with mild surprise. He was dressed exactly as in Yale, with the same care, the same slightly sacerdotal effect, and he appieared as mournful as ever. Beside him stood a large man of sloping shoulders and nondescript attire.
“Hullo, John. By the great homed spioon, what brought you here? Steve—darned if I know your other name—meet Mr. Hickey, of Yale.”
“Howdy?” said the stranger in a strangled and pieculiar tone.
“Just to set you right pronto,” explained The Rake, “he’s called Whispiering Steve round here. Sort of lost his voice whacking bulls up hill.”
“Pleased to meet you,” replied John, nodding.
“How did you strike Holt City anyway?” enquired the gambler, already noting a slight difference in the manner of this former acquaintance. It was interesting, and today Hickey didn’t look like a man with his hand out for a loan.
“Is—that—so ! Well, you always got about kind of easy.”
“Not hankering for that kind of exercise, I went down to Sacramento, then Spiokane, then up the Kootenay to the Flats and down the Columbia in a scow. I made expienses on the way. How’s things on the Fraser?”
“I haven’t been there for nearly a year. When did you leave?”
“Three months ago. It was getting sort of quiet with Onderdonk’s pay office moved away up to Lytton. Yale isn’t what she was, not in any sense. I hadn’t noticed you round for quite a while but—well, you never can tell, so I didn’t ask questions. Working round here?”
“I’ve got a contract job as foreman on Big Hill.”
The Rake’s eyes rounded, he gave his sleek thigh a resounding slap.
“Well, well! I’m certainly glad to hear that You’ve a fine job?”
“It’s all right; 111 make good.”
THE RAKE, taking a large red silk handkerchief from his inside breast jxicket, brushed away a cloud of flies. “I’ve an idea we’ve both finished with Yale for a while.” “How was your business?” enquired John casually. “Fair, and hardly that. The place sort of lost spirit when the end of steel got well up river, then some quietlooking folks moved in to start farming, and when a fellow starts in with a plow, I don’t get any chance to spieak of. He simply ain’t attracted.”
“Any gravel washing going on?” John’s tone was a shade wistful.
“Not what you’d notice except for the Chinks, and I don’t play fan tan; it’s outside my line. John, there’s another friend of yours in Holt City.”
“Bulldog. He kind of limps a little, and the man butcher down at Yale told him he’d go on limping till he piassed in his checks. Mr. Hickey”—here he made a gesture of polite explanation—“had a little disagreement with Bulldog which ain’t precisely forgotten.”
“Is—that—so!” the voice was a deep throaty whisper of surprising penetration, the hollow echo of stentorian tones now lost for ever, and the speaker regarded John with closer attention. “There ain’t any scrapping you’d notice round here, and practically no shooting—that’s the police.”
“Mounties,” contributed The Rake. “Know anyone round here?”
“Have a drink?”
“Thanks,” said John flushing a little, “but I’ve quit on that.”
The Rake, to do him justice, did not quiver an eyelid. “Well, I was never partial to it myself, it didn’t help business; but there’s a good line of sarsaparilla in Holt City and I sort of favor that. Come on, Steve, it’s my shout, and I’d like you to get better acquainted with Mr. Hickey.”
They strolled eastward over the newly graded embankment. Near by a siding was being built in earth, and scrapers were at work—great open steel scoops with sharp flat mouths, drawn by two horses. Behind projected long stout handles so the mouth could be tilted to bite into the soil, when, full to the muzzle, they were dragged up and tipped on the grade. It was cheap work, but very little of it was available in that rocky region, and the teamsters were largely Irish.
In rock work one saw Scandinavians, big flaxen-haired men with pale blue eyes and a golden down on their arms; and darker complexioned Finns, short, with black eyes and Mongolian cast of face. Close by swarmed Italians, recruited in Naples or drawn from the Northern Pacific Railroad, now about completed; these worked in droves under the management of their elected padrones, herding together to the exclusion of other nationalities. Everywhere one observed this racial selection, and caught from each group the chatter of its own particular tongue.
From east and west sounded the thud of blasting, while in tall spruce groves on cither side of the right-of-way there was a continuous flash of axes as timber came toppling for tics and trestle work. A little farther back but still close enough to be easily reached with a lantern after dark, liquor was being brewed from a minimum of essential oils and a
maximum of water. Coming along the embankment, a policeman in bright scarlet tunic on a glossy horse with creaking leather and jingle of steel, made a spot of color against the background of greenery, and John regarded him with interest.
“Sent up here from the prairie country,” explained The Rake, pleased to be cicerone to a newcomer, “but they haven’t much to do; can’t confiscate the liquor unless it’s sold over a bar, and who needs a bar? I’m kind of sorry for ’em. Nice fellows and sort of tony with those spurs and red jackets; they give Holt City some class.”
JOHN, contrasting this with the remembered figure of Jack Kirkup, nodded agreement, and was presently piloted into the Holt City Hotel, where with considerable formality he was introduced to the twin proprietors. These persons of distinction were exceedingly alike.
“John, shake with Coldwater Jimmy an’ Hotwater George; gents, Mr. Hickey, of Yale, just arrived.”
John grasped the extended hands, trying not to look mystified, whereat his guide gave a mournful smile.
“Might as well explain it’s on account of a difference of opinion how whisky should be drunk; it’s the best way to tell them apart. What’s yours, Steve?”
“I’m taking the usual,” croaked his friend.
“I’ll—I'll—sarsaparilla, I guess.”
“Same here, Jimmy.”
John, agate blue eyes roving, began to feel that he was sharing in a larger life. Those rails along the banks of the Bow River, a hundred feet from where he sat, had come across the prairies from England, but the ones he left on the Fraser were water-borne round the Horn. This gave him a vague conception of some outside force to which distance meant nothing, a force that thrust out long, powerful arms brandishing steel rails, attacking this formidable problem from two ends that were slowly and irresistibly approaching each other, so that if one remained in the junction spot, wherever that came, one would inevitably be caught between two steel snouts advancing from opposite sides of the continent.
“How long will your job last. John?”
“Maybe a month, maybe more.”
“I’m after a subcontract.”
The Rake signified his approval; and at this point Whispering Steve, perceiving no further hospitality in prospect, excused himself.
“Well, so long, gents; see you later.”
“Sort of hard on Steve, ain’t it?” confided his host. “With his vocabulary all busted, he ain’t got no more control over mules; them vocal cords of his just laid down and quit. Say, John, it ain’t my business, but Bulldog is sort of waiting for you.”
“I guess I can take care of myself, Kelly.”
“Maybe you can but, talking confidential, I’d keep your eye peeled. He’s a bad hombre, a tin-horn gambler.
I told him in Yale he hadn’t no right to skin a fellow like you that’s got no card sense in his system, let alone the fact that there were plenty of others ready and more suitable. But anyway a couple of his ribs as well as a shinbone got all splintered, and perhaps that’s hard to forget; he sort of leaks air when he takes a long breath. More sarsaparilla?”
“Thanks, I guess not.”
“Tastes something like a visit to the old folks at home, and you’ve got to get broke in to it, eh? At the same time, and getting back to Bulldog, we ain’t exactly cutting each other’s throats in Holt City. You knew us on the Coast, so maybe there’s no need to explain, but if you see us sitting in the same game as partners—well, business is business right here in the Rockies, and there’s no call to look surprised. I thought I’d better put you wise right away. Fact is,” he concluded affably, “me and him reckoned we might as well act friendly while there’s anything to be picked up, so we’re a sort of syndicate in private and none too thick in public, but that’s just business and I don’t fancy him any more for it. Understand?”
“Sure, Kelly, that’s all right.”
rT'HE RAKE sent him a shrewd, kindly glance. Just one big kid, he thought, but he liked John, and with characteristic generosity perceived in this young giant the making of a more valuable man than himself.
“Orphan both ways, aren’t you?” he asked thoughtfully.
John, faintly surprised, admitted this.
“My father was killed in the Cariboo when I was a kid, and I can’t remember my mother. She lit out for Mexico with a Dane.”
“Too darned bad,” murmured The Rake. “Now, you look here. It seems you’ve started something worth following, so I’d let the cards alone. Certainly it’s none of my business, but you’re one of the kind that’s bom to be skinned every time you sit in, so—” He broke off on an apologetic note and looked a little abashed. “You get me?”
John gave a laugh, but the other man was some fifteen years the older and a person of experience.
“That’s all right, Kelly, that’s all right, and I’ve been skinned enough; I’ve quit for good.”
“Well, stick tothatand some day you’ll be riding round in a private car like Holt. Working for Dan Mann, you said?” “Yes.”
“Stick to him and you’ll wear diamonds; he’s a driver, they tell me, but square, and he’ll see you through.” He paused and just then John heard a woman laugh in the next room—a rich laugh, deep-chested and full, a contagious laugh with color in it.
“That’s Nell Regan, Irish Nell. She kind of housekeeps and runs this joint for Jimmy and George. Sit right where you are.”
He went out, and presently the woman came in alone, smiling as though at something she had just heard, and at sight of her John felt a little thrill. She was about middle height, with dark blue-black Irish eyes, heavy lidded, a bright natural color in her cheeks, dark hair with the same blue-black tinge, and a round neck very strong and white. She looked full of urgent life. Her arms, quite bare, tapered from sturdy shoulders to small square wrists and well-shaped hands. She had a healthily freckled skin, tilted nose, and wore a tight-fitting bodice. She was perhaps thirty-five. Taking the chair beside John, she sent him one swift glance.
“Hullo,” she said, “you look lonely.”
John, realizing of a sudden that he was lonely, laughed at her.
“Maybe I am. Have a drink?”
“No, I’m off it now, but you can make me a cigarette.” He nodded, and she watched him closely, responding to the queer attraction he roused in so many of her sex, an instinct partly maternal but one that awakened the body as well. Women were prone to feel about him first that they would like to have a son in his mold, but since he was some other woman’s son—well ... He sat looking at her sideways, voiceless for a moment, hunting for something to say, still aware of the thrill and reacting to it.
“Stranger in Holt City, Kelly tells me?”
“Yes, I’m just here.”
“Come from the West, don’t you?”
“Did Kelly tell you that?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“How do you know?” He was wondering just what Kelly had said.
“Anyone could tell,” she answered hastily. “They’re different there. I’m from St. Paul.”
That sounded metropolitan, and John was impressed. “What are you doing here?” He knew, but rather than say it himself, he wanted her to say it.
“Helping Coldwater an’ Hotwater round the hotel. You need a woman for that.”
“Might be worse. Where are you working?”
“Foreman in a rock-cut ten miles west of here on Big Hill at a hundred and twenty-five a month,” said he.
SHE SEEMED unimpressed and kept watching him through a little cloud of smoke in a way he found puzzling, while between them spread an atmosphere that both silently recognized and accepted, though neither was quite ready to make the next move.
“They call me Irish Nell,” she jerked out, “and the rest don’t matter.”
‘Tm John Hickey.”
“You live on the job?”
“Yes, I’m supposed to.”
“Well, it’s better than Holt City when you’ve got a job. Much liquor up there?”
“There’s enough, but I don’t touch it.”
“Since when?” she asked frankly.
“About a year ago.”
She laughed at him.
“I’ve sworn off, too, but just for a while. Life’s too short
round here, and there’s not much else in a place like this. Your folks live in Yale?”
“I haven't any folks,” said he.
“Well, I guess I’m the same; that is I’ve got some in St. Paul, but don’t see them any more. I’m not kicking— it’s too late for that—but it’s queer about one’s folks; when you’re with them a while you get tired of ’em, but after you’ve cleared out for good they seem—well—different and not so bad after all, and that makes you kind of sorry and lonely. But what’s the use?”
John agreed that he, too, got lonely, and felt increasingly thankful for having discovered another human being who suffered from the same complaint. Thus he penetrated a little farther into the vague space that lay between them, while she advanced from the other side, so that presently they met and touched. It was good, he thought, to have made this mutual admission, and all the time he was aware of her nearness and darkly bright eyes that caught his own and held them for a moment, then were calmly diverted, not hastily but as though they liad collected something more to think about. So he made no movement at all but sat there with a perceptible lump in his throat, twisting his empty glass and wondering what to say next.
Now there was a commotion in the next room, and someone called: “Nell? Nell?”
T guess we might meet again.” said she, slowly.
“I guess we ought to. When?”
“The tote road is pretty bad, so you’d better wait till next Sunday—not tomorrow, next Sunday.”
Eight days ! It seemed a long way off ; too long.
“I don’t mind the road; any evening ’ll do for me.”
“I’m—I’m busy tomorrow; the pay car ’ll be along any time. No—that Sunday, you come then in the afternoon. I’ll be free till supper and—and maybe later.”
“Where’ll I find you?”
“I’ll walk up the road about three o’clock. I’ll start from here at three.”
“It’s tough going for a woman,” said he.
“Depends on the woman, don’t it?”
She said this at the door with an odd backward glance that he could not read ; not the ordinary invitational glance but much deeper with something behind it as though there were in her mind things about him that for the present she meant to keep to herself. Then a quick nod that sent a rippling wave through her hair, and a smile.
“I guess you’re all right, John Hickey. So long.”
THERE SHE left him, and, knowing better than to follow, he sat brooding, furrowing a smooth brow, yielding to a sensation not new, yet different in a sense from any he had known before. Here, he decided, was the most natural woman he had ever met. She had a lot to give—it was strange that he could be so sure of this so quickly—but it seemed that she had not been too free with herself or become cheap, which in his present mood meant a lot.
Women, he now decided, might be put into three classes, with Mary Moody at the top, the kind that were Ux> far out of reach to worry about. In the middle, women like this one, a woman for a he-man, and the kind one would like for keeps. And at the bottom those like Molly Kelly who were cheap, and in that particular business for what they could get out of it.
Ile was turning this over, rather pleased with it, and
feeling that one must have travelled before reaching such a point of understanding, when he encountered in front of the hotel a dark, square-headed man with heavy chin, thickset shoulders and a slight limp. His heart missed a beat.
“Hullo, Kelly,” he said a shade uncertainly.
“Go to h—,” grunted Bulldog, his face clouding.
John laughed in his face and passed on. He had no fear of the man, and now felt for him a sort of contempt. Fingering the five-dollar bills in his pocket, he reflected that he had been to Holt City and not silent a cent, which gave him an added sense of satisfaction, and he made the resolve to save —save—till he had enough to take a gxxl contract without that $500 from Molly Kelly. He would never touch it.
Just then the Company’s pay car was heralded by an echoing bellow from farther down the Bow River, so he waited till it rolled in from Montreal, pulled by the biggest engine he had ever seen in his life. It must have weighed sixty tons and actually burned coal. With it also came two more carloads of cattle.
This arrival infused new life into Holt City, and John saw pay clerk after pay clerk from various camps, including his own, climb into the car, shut the dœr and come out with bags stuffed with money. Most of them at once rode away accompanied by another man with a rifle slung over his shoulder, and it gave him new impressions of new powers far out of sight who had only to decide to build a railway, and then somehow created the money to build it with. He had not dreamed that money could be so easily got.
He tramped back over the rocky tote road, his mind bulging with vague ambitions.
IN MONTREAL, George Stephen was also thinking about money while he walked in sober mood from the Bank of Montreal to the Canadian Pacific offices. One of the best known figures in the city, with broad sloping shoulders, high brow and handsome intelligent face, his passage along St. James Street was noted by many, and he nodded abstractedly to innumerable acquaintances. Disconcerting rumors were abroad.
His mind dwelt uncomfortably on a meeting held that morning at the bank, when for the first time open dissatisfaction was expressed at the increasing degree to which that institution had gradually become involved in the affairs of the Canadian Pacific Railway. There was ventilated a feeling, if not of actual distrust, at any rate of apprehension; and Stephen, a man of high principles and unassailable integrity, was now forced to ask himself whether as president of the bank, he had gone too far in using its resources to further the project that lay nearest to his heart. He knew that he was universally trusted, that the merchants of the first city of the Dominion had learned to rely on his judgment; he was a rich man with countless friends; but today, two and a half years after Van Home had broken ground just west of Winnipeg, the weight of a vast burden was pressing hard, and it needed something more than one’s first fine enthusiasm to carry on.
The all-red line was in financial trouble !
Of late he had felt this coming and had already discussed it with Donald Smith, but that indomitable Scot took the matter very calmly—too calmly, thought his cousin—and made no suggestion. Now, and for the first time, ugly rumors began to spread.
In the board room, Stephen found Van Home and Shaughnessy talking hard, Shaughnessy looking anxious. A moment later Smith came in. The air was biting that morning, with a touch of wind from the northwest, and his usually colorless cheeks had faint patches of pink. He rubbed his hands with a brisk air of physical well-being, took off his gloves and thick Melton overcoat, stood the gold-headed stick in the comer, deposited his beaver hat on the top of that and took a chair.
“Good morning, gentlemen. There is in the atmosphere today something that reminds me of the east coast of Labrador. It usually preceded a heavy frost.”
Van Home shot a sly glance at Stephen, and nodded. “Well, sir, it seems to agree with you.”
“It does, indeed it does.” Smith began to massage his bony white fingers. “Also I find that in such barometrical conditions the taking of moderate exercise is a distinct benefit to the circulation, especially at my age. It helps to counteract any tendency to corpulency.”
“I get you,” chuckled Van Horne, “but the Lord meant me to be corpulent, and I don’t question the intentions of the Almighty. Anyway I can do my work, belly and all.” “You can, Mr. Van Home, indeed you can, and none other as well as yourself.” At this he paused, then in exactly the same tone: “Also it is my earnest hope that that work will not be inconvenienced by any monetary stringency, however temporary. Such a contingency is, I take it, what we have met to discuss?”
Stephen nodded. “Before anything else,” he began, “I had an unexpected bit of news from New York this morning. Jim Hill has sold out his Canadian Pacific shares. What he got for them, I don’t know.”
This, given with the least lift in his voice, produced its effect. Donald Smith tightened his lips, Shaughnessy gave an exclamation, while Van Home let out an oath,
and instantly the minds of the three leaped
to the same conclusion. Hill had declared open, war on the all-red line ! It was a grave thought. There was a little silence till came the suave tones of Donald Smith.
“Really, Mr. Stephen, really! How very interesting! And yet, if one considers the point dispassionately, should we, after all, be surprised? I think I am correct in reminding you about one year ago that Mr. Hill represented in my view the weak joint in our armor, and its removal might not be altogether regrettable.”
“Yes, you did,” agreed his cousin. ‘T remember. Well, it’s removed all right, so we can assume he’s thicker than ever with the Grand Trunk. Also I’ve had a London cable saying that Tyler is trying to upset our purchase of the Ontario and Quebec road on the ground that it’s inimical to the established rights of his line. We’re anything but welcome in Ontario. Still less do they like our getting that road from Toronto to Owen Sound.”
“Which was nevertheless an excellent move, Mr. Stephen; we could not have our freshwater fleet at the mercy of an independent railway. And those Clyde-built ships of yours, Mr. Van Home, how are they going?” “Full to the muzzle every trip. One way and another, we’ll earn al*)ut five million gross this year.”
“The net figure, if available, would interest me more.”
Van Home, turned to Shaughnessy.
“Got something there, haven’t you, Tom?”
“Yes, but it’s impossible to say exactly. Construction and operation too mixed up as yet, but call it one million net. That’s nothing considering the present position. It’s cash we need, ready cash.”
“I have been considering the matter,” said Smith with a slow horizontal movement of the hand as though putting something aside, “and have come to the conclusion that there is a way out. Our capital is now one hundred million, and of this we have sold just exactly how much, Mr. Shaughnessy?”
“Sixty-five million, sir.”
“And this realized us in actual cash?” “Only thirty-one million.”
“And the market price today in London for our shares is—?”
“A shade under forty,” replied Shaughnessy lugubriously.
“Ás low as that? Well, well ! It is probable that Mr. Hill’s transactions have had the usual effect.”
“Yes, sir, obviously; and our present commitments will require all the cash we have in hand.”
“Between nine and ten million. When we meet those commitments, we’re broke.” Smith took this to himself, pondered for a moment, and nodded slowly.
“It is equally obvious that under existing conditions we cannot sell any more shares without knocking the market to pieces.”
“In addition to which,” put in Van Home through a jet of smoke, “we cannot go on paying those cursed dividends—of course we never earned any—on what we have sold. That’s killing us. Lord knows what it’s cost, and it hasn’t worked as we expected.”
“Ah! Dividends!” Smith uttered the word as though he loved it. “Yet I question whether we could have placed any shares at all without undertaking some secured return. That is an interesting point. I have, however, been doing a little exploring, and the likelihood presents itself, to me at any rate, that if a guarantee of those dividends —which the public now evidently suspects are beyond our power to continue to pay— could be procured from some, shall we say, higher authority, the market would regard our shares in a much more favorable light. In such a case, the issue of the remaining thirty-five million should meet with a good reception. I trust that I have made myself clear? The market does not approve our paying dividends out of capital.”
“Higher authority!” ejaculated Van Home. “What higher authority is going to guarantee that? Where’s our lever? We’re doing some business, but nothing to speak
of yet. We’ve carted fifty thousand settlers into the West, but can’t really tap the West except in summer till the north shore section is open. That’s another eighteen months. Meantime there’s no sense in hauling more wheat than we can carry in our own boats.
I don’t want to make traffic for Jim Hill. Dividends! I wish I saw some in sight.”
SMITH INDULGED in the faintest perceptible smile.
“With that aspiration, Mr. Van Home. I am in full accord; also I agree with the general implication of your remarks, but I had carefully considered the whole question before making my suggestion. My idea is that the Government should provide the guarantee.”
This proposal, announced in almost dulcet tones, produced an effect; it was bewildering. Stephen, frowning to himself, gave his head an energetic shake, Shaughnessy’s eyes grew round, while Van Home stalked up and down the room, gazing sideways at the bearded Scot and doubting his own ears.
“Did you say the Government?” he jerked out.
“That Mr. Van Home, is what I intended to convey. We have reached a stage where some decision is called for and, as Mr. Shaughnessy states, our commitments involve a very large sum. I propose, therefore, that we lodge with the Government a sufficient amount in cash together with securities on the lines we have acquired by purchase, to induce Mr. Macdonald’s Cabinet to guarantee dividends on our issued capital at three per cent a year for, say, ten years. This would in actuality convert them into Government securities, on which basis they should be worth par.”
Shaughnessy made a queer noise in his throat, seized a pencil and figured rapidly. Then he looked dazed.
‘Those dividends would require nineteen million dollars; where is it coming from?” “One halt from our treasury,” said Smith placidly.
“Good heavens, sir, you’d empty our pockets.”
“I am aware of that, but for the time being only. This company’s guarantee is not good enough for the public; our credit has been undermined by our opponents who aim at nothing short of our min; we cannot offer further shares without flooding a market already hostile, and if we made any such attempt the present price would shortly be thirty or less. But if we use what cash we have to secure Government support the price should rise quickly, our next issue meet with a satisfactory reception, and the position of our shareholders be much improved. I trust, gentlemen, that I make myself clear?”
HE HAD, shining clear, and they regarded him with a sort of stupefaction, trying to read behind that marble face, and realizing that now in the calmest and coolest of voices he advocated a bigger gamble than any yet dreamed of; that he was bent on betting—they could call it nothing else— that by risking the total cash resources of the company to secure bait from Macdonald, his political enemy, he could sell three times that amount in shares to those who were today unwilling to buy. The thing sounded wild, far-fetched and mad. Shaughnessy was scowling at the thought of an empty treasury, visualizing battalions of hungry creditors whom to pacify it would be his invidious duty; Van Horne could see 10,000 hairy-breasted men scattered over the West without pay, a vast human engine of reprisal and destruction; while Stephen, who knew this old man better than any of them, fell to wondering if his shrewd, long-sighted instinct had, under the strain, at last deserted him. But there was no sign of tension in that granite countenance, and Mr. Smith was polishing his nails. Now the silence of the room had a stinging quality.
“Well, gentlemen, it is obvious that something must be done'before the storm breaks, and I have no doubt that Mr. Hill is at this moment studying the financial sky with close attention; so if you have any altema-
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tive to suggest, I will be very glad to hear it.”
It seemed there was none. The Bank of Montreal, as Stephen and Smith very well knew, could not with safety be any further used, and since the desperate measure now put forward was Smith’s programme on him also would lie the major burden if it failed. He must know that himself—he did know it—but it caused not the deepening of a single wrinkle on that strongly sculptured face; and he sat there, hard grey eyes roving to the big blueprint, in a reflective mood that conveyed no hint of nervousness or doubt.
Of the three, Van Home felt the most moved. He was a fighter; he loved a contest; he loved poker; he admired a good bluff on a lean hand. Action! action! action! That was his rule of life and, staring at the grizzling High Commissionerof theHudson’s Bay Company, he admitted that never yet had he discovered a man who more completely lived up to his own motto. Next he decided that he would like to teach Donald Smith to play poker, but instinct warned him that this would prove expensive; so he plunged down again on his chair, weighting its back till it creaked under his big strong body, and his eyes began to twinkle. What a partner, he thought, what a partner! Finally he glanced at Stephen and caught a slight nod.
“Well, sir, assuming that’s our line, what’s the next move?”
“I think I can read what’s in your minds,” replied Smith, reaching for his coat, “and it appears that, like our friend Major Rogers, we must take a diabolical chance. I propose that as soon as Mr. Stephen has discussed the matter with our solicitors, he shall go to Ottawa, interview the Government and report to us here as soon as possible. It is not advisable that I should accompany him. As to the Grand Trunk, we have long since learned what we must expect from that quarter, and their opposition is, of course, sharpened by our operations in Ontario and on the Great Lakes. With regard to Sir John’s attitude toward our proposal, I am inclined to think that we are displaying a spice of originality which will appeal to his undoubted sense of humor, and we must remember that he is committed to our project no less than ourselves. Any serious interruption would affect him politically. Furthermore, those 50,000 settlers in the West who cannot be abandoned, suggest a factor to which, if I understand him at all, he will not prove indifferent. I do not therefore anticipate that Mr. Stephen will fail. Good morning, gentlemen.”
With this he got into his coat, declining assistance, picked up his tall beaver, took his cane in a firm bony clutch, and, holding himself very straight, left the board room.
“Whew !” ejaculated Van Home. “There’s a bom scrapper! What do you make of it, Steve?”
“It might work,” he said cautiously. “There are points about it that didn’t occur at first. It must have been in his Vead for
some time. No ot'ner man 1 know would have had nerve enough to advise it, also I think he’s got Macdonald’s measure, just as Mac has his. Those two are in some ways very much alike; they can’t stay divided much longer, and what appeals to the one may very well reach the other. Smith wouldn’t have said what he did unless he was certain it would go through, but it’s a pity that Charles Tupper won’t be here to back us up.” “Where’s he going?”
“To be High Commissioner in London.” Van Horne frowned at this, for Tupper from the very first had been a mainstay of the all-red line in Ottawa. As Minister of Railways, he took pride in fathering the magnificent conception that was so largely his own, and politically he held the Maritime Provinces. Soon after Onderdonk broke ground on the Fraser River, Tupper went out through the United States to satisfy himself that all was well, and since then had never faltered. He was valuable to the all-red line because he was stable.
“I only heard about Tupper privately,” continued Stephen, “and he’s going to London for the same reason that Sand ford Fleming resigned as’Chief Engineer for the Government. The old Pictou railway affair again. Fleming was dissatisfied with the contractor’s work in Pictou, the contractor threw up the job, and Fleming, who was in charge for the Department, offered to complete it to specifications at the same price. Tupper, as Minister of Railways, agreed; he wanted to see the thing done, so Fleming went ahead, and made money. Then the story got afloat that Tupper on the quiet was in with him and shared the profits. It’s a well-crusted affair by this time, but the Opposition will try to use it. I don’t believe it because Tupper is a straight man. Anyway, Macdonald having the Pacific scandal in the back of his head, is feeling uneasy. That’s why Schreiber is in Ottawa today in place of Fleming, and Tupper Ts booked for England, though I think he’ll retain the post of Minister of Railways and put John Henry Pope in as deputy, which would be all right for us. But we’ll miss Tupper.” He paused, turning to Shaughnessy.
“How do you feel about this guarantee idea?”
Shaughnessy was noncommittal, but if the flow of those monthly millions through his own capable hands ceased, the springs of action would die at their source. Money —money—money ! There was the life blood.
“It’s off my ground,” he answered cautiously, “but I can’t pay accounts with blank cheques. I’m not responsible for anything but my own work; that’s understood.”
“Sink or swim together, Tom,” said Van Home cheerfully, slapping him on the back. “We’re all in the same boat.”
“Well”—Stephen took a long breath— “I’m off to talk to Abbott. Tom, you’d better come, too.”
THEY WENT out, leaving Van Home in a strange mood. The line! The line! He had just returned from one of his swift westward rushes, brown, buoyant, bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Now he fumed at the thought of any interruption to the triumphal march of those twin steel ribbons.
Late that year his private car had rolled up to the gateway of the Rockies. Passing through Calgary, he had talked to Père Lacombe and heard the Oblate’s smiling account of the affair at Blackfoot Crossing. He crossed the Great Lakes in a new 2,000ton Clyde-built steel steamer with the Line’s red ensign at the peak. He had tramped the granite wilderness of the north shore of Lake Superior, inspecting vast timber trestles leaping from hill to hill, thereby saving prodigious embankments which could only be raised with solid rock blasted from quarries at unthinkable expense. He saw his own dynamite factories along the line, and freight steamers discharging material at the very foot of the forbidding palisade against which the road clung in mid-air between the cold green water and the summit of overhanging cliffs. Two hundred miles of engineering impossibilities that
section had been called, but the line was ! plowing through, here a foot, there a yard, ! with thousands of men sweating for half the year in slimy swamps, exposed for the other half to Arctic winds that breathed down from Lake Nipigon and the Hudson’s Bay.
Next year he meant to settle that terminal matter on the Pacific, come east over Onderdonk’s work, walk across Rogers Pass to see how things went there, and meet the westward driving wedge of steel wherever that might be. The gap was closing, closing steadily, but how many millions more would be needed before the rails that had travelled round the Horn touched those that were carried up the St. Lawrence? He could not answer that.
A month passed. Now winter came down from the North with the first frosts, and with them Stephen and Abbott, the Company’s solicitor. They disembarked, smiling, from a Grand Trunk train at Lagauchetiere Street station.
ANGUS, general manager of the Bank ¿Xand vice-president of the Company, came to the board room to hear the story at first hand ; also Macintyre, another director and member of the original syndicate. With them arrived Donald Smith. It was a cheerful group. Van Home sent round his cigars, the aroma of Havana diffused a sense of peace and security. A fine morning, and all well with the all-red line. Smith sat nodding to himself but not smoking. He never smoked. For a young man counting muskrat skins at Lachine it had been too expensive, since which time he had avoided tobacco. But he enjoyed the fumes.
They all looked at Stephen.
“Well,” said he, “it proved easier than we expected: Sir John was rather amused, and seemed to fancy the boldness of the thing. Mr. Smith, I told him it was your idea, and he said that he had assumed as much. Also Pope told me that Sir John had just had a letter from Lord Lome in England saying that he hoped the Government would continue to support us, and that helped.”
“The exact terms?” enquired his cousin, blandly.
“Just under nine million in cash—Angus transferred it the other day—and the balance in bonds of our purchased lines. Sorry we had to raid the treasury, Tom,” he added, turning to Shaughnessy, “but there was nothing else for it.”
Angus nodded—he was feeling much easier about the Bank, but Macintyre of a sudden was secretly depressed. He had a large holding in this company with the empty vaults, and now began to question the prospect of quick replenishment. In his view the market was too jumpy.
“Well,” interjected Van Home, “hadn’t we better get busy and unload some stock?”
“That,” said Mr. Smith, “is the programme. I think we will now find the public quite friendly.”
“I’m wondering what the Great Northern crowd will make of it,” hazarded Stephen. “The last move in the world Jim Hill ever expected. What do you reckon those shares should bring? I’d say anywhere between eighty and eighty-five with the Government —” A telephone on top of a wooden box at his elbow rang sharply, and he picked up the receiver; it had a bell-shaped mouth that covered his ear. “Yes, this is Mr. Stephen—yes—what’s that !—how long ago?
•—thanks.” He turned to the others, frowning. “A wire in from New York to the Bank saying the market is nervous and our stuff hangs about sixty.”
Mr. Smith elevated his brows.
“Sixty! That is very peculiar. I had fully expected that the Ottawa news—it was made public yesterday, was it not?—would have meant much more. You have no other information?”
“There will be some shortly; we had better wait.”
Van Home, rolling his cigar between his lips, felt vaguely uncomfortable, and a sense of disturbance invaded the room. It seemed that invisible forces were at work, forces they had underestimated or perhaps knew not of, and a small cloud drifted over
the face of the sun. Thirty-five million shares to be disposed of in a nervous market ! That consciousness now weighed on them, and was Macdonald’s guarantee good enough? Macintyre, catching the eye of Angus, made a grimace, turning down the comers of his mouth; while Angus, that day a greatly divided man, pitched his thoughts on the Bank over whose counters millions had been loaned on Canadian Pacific shares. Smith’s expression betrayed nothing, though he reflected that he possessed more Hudson’s Bay shares than any other holder, and if that Company, plus the Grand Trunk plus Hill, did wreck the C.P.R. he would not be a loser both ways. But with a congenital distaste for any kind of a loss, he put that contingency aside.
Now a young man entered and laid a yellow slip in front of his chief.
“Just in from New York, sir.”
Van Horne looked at it, flushed deeply, and looked again. Then in a voice that sounded oddly distant, he read:
“Northern Pacific declared bankrupt and in hands of receiver. Market in panic. Will wire later.”
THE BURSTING of this bomb produced a silence that could be felt. They were big men round the table, great merchants, traders, bankers, with their fingers on the pulse of the financial world, but this cataclysm had come too swiftly to be predetermined. Gazing voiceless at each other, their thoughts sped in a hundred directions where the reverberations of such a crash must find an echo. Failures, collapses, other receiverships—they visualized these and bent lower under the burden of a huge undertaking with an empty treasury, a gigantic enterprise whose full weight and impetus now, for perhaps the very first time, they fully realized. Their minds turned to those millions so lately laid in the hands of the Government at Ottawa, and there slowly began a low round of subdued talk in which each addressed his neighbor hoping for some illumination. But there was none.
A few moments later, another New York wire. The market crumbling, panic spreading fast, and all round the world men were flinging on the market shares of Canadian and American railways, whether or not a Government guarantee went with the scrip. With the rest suffered the Grand Trunk. Hill’s pyramid had collapsed, burying him and others in its ruins. He had gone too fast, too hard, and became vulnerable. The landslide continued.
Presently Van Horne folded the telegrams, glancing about, turning his big domed head like a wounded lion till his eyes met those of
Maclean’s Magazine, May 15, 1935
the Speyside Scot, where for some strange reason they halted, till Smith, emerging from under the penthouse of his shaggy brows, gave a little preliminary cough. Four of his countrymen on the board, he reflected, and this great bull of an American Dutchman. That ought to take some beating!
“This is most unfortunate, gentlemen, extremely so, and, of course, our plans must be modified. Sir John will certainly not contemplate returning our deposit. We have parted with our cash and available securities. What then have we left?”
“Nothing that’s any good now,” said Macintyre hotly. “In my view, the only thing is to try and carry on under a voluntary receivership. We can’t—”
“No” roared Van Home. “We’d have riots in the West. We’d never get over it—five thousand men today on the north shore and as many in the Rockies. They’d raise hell.”
“I also disagree with that proposal,” said Smith calmly, “No company with twentyfive million acres of excellent land can be considered bankrupt.”
Everyone but himself had forgotten about the land, and this, enunciated with perfect composure, had a welcome and calming effect, while the speaker, contemplating his ivory fingernails, wailed placidly. Land! It was conceivable that the public might be persuaded to buy land certificates though it jibbed at railways. The land could not run away, and already it had been proved that there grew the finest hard wheat in the world. At even a dollar an acre, it represented, they believed, enough to finish the all-red line; and so gradually over the troubled waters spread the film of Scots oil till finally the thing was threshed out and decided. There would be an issue of landgrant bonds.
On the way back to the Bank, Stephen hooked his arm into that of Angus.
“It’s a blue lookout, R.B.,” said he. “I’ve had the scare of my life this morning.” “So have I.”
“Speaking for the Bank, we’ll have to draw in our horns. But with things pulling both ways, it’s a hard course to steer.” “The Bank must come first,” said Angus briefly.
“I know that, but it would be hard to disentangle the two now. Three years ago we couldn’t anticipate that the three biggest things in the country would be so interlocked that they’d stand or fall as one.” “What makes three?”
“Our road, Macdonald’s Government and the Bank! Put ’em all together and they spell Canada.”
To be Continued