FICTION

Unfair Bargain

GEORGE HARMON COXE June 1 1935
FICTION

Unfair Bargain

GEORGE HARMON COXE June 1 1935

Unfair Bargain

GEORGE HARMON COXE

JOE GORDON knew she was the girl for him the first time he saw her. It was at the Van Horns’ party at the Sommersett, and he was standing there in the stag line with Tony Brickley looking over the crowd when she danced past.

“Who is she?” Joe said.

“Who?” Tony asked absently.

“The knockout in the white dress.”

“You can pick ’em,” Tony said. “But she’s expensive.” “What’s her name?”

“Mary Baldwin. Her old boy’s the copper-mine, silvermine, gold-mine impresario that—”

“Oh,” Joe Gordon said. “Pay-dirt Baldwin, huh?” The thought of the legendary figure who had come roaring out of the West after the war to swoop and settle upon St. James Street, who had collected his comfortable allotment of millions and gone roaring back to his mines, was formidable. It bothered Joe; but not for long.

The girl demanded his entire attention in her own right. He liked the way she carried herself, and the haughty curve of her tanned back rising out of the low-backed gown. He

liked that poised languor in the set of the shoulders; and the firm, well-modelled chin which, thrust back as she danced, seemed quite sure of itself, yet managed to take a democratic interest in each succeeding partner. Her hair was dark, and Joe thought her eyes might be hazel.

I íe said : “With all her money, she should be able to dance. Who around here knows her?”

For a stranger starting from scratch, Joe made excellent progress that evening. He found that they knew people, that her hair was auburn and that he had been right about her eyes. In fact, there was just one setback. Mary Baldwin was spending the summer in the Laurentians and Joe worked in the city.

Fortunately, his business was aviation, which made weekends possible; and he had three weeks vacation to spend at Mt. Desert. During that time the setbacks grew more and more infrequent, and his progress was tangible, acceptable and understood.

When Joe Gordon went back to work after his vacat ion he was a strangely light-headed young man. definitely and completely in love, thrilled at the thought, perhaps a trifle

smug inwardly at his luck. He was full of ambition, day dreams and plans for the future; and there was not a cloud on his horizon. Or so he thought, which was a mistake.

HE DID NOT know it until the next Saturday, but at about the lime he was congratulating himself on the local forecast, II. G.—Pay-dirt—Baldwin, contriving Joe’s major setback, sUxxl in the library of his Montreal apartment and surveyed the avenue outside with a troubled and humid stare.

A hot slab of late summer sunlight, slanting through the south windows, laid an oblong pattern at Baldwin s feet, filtered the blue spiralling gauze of smoke from his cigar. In one square-fingered hand were two business forms. 1 he information on Form 4-A was of the kind to cause most men excited comment, or at least an expression of satisfaction. It said, in brief, that Baldwin’s gold holdings in British Guiana were proving considerably more than satisfactory and that production work was progressing by leaps and bounds. So that it could not have been this that had put the frown on the lean face, the sour twist to the lips.

Form B-3 had for its heading: Confidential re Joseph Gordon.

Fifty-odd years had not put much extra weight on Baldwin’s thin frame. There was a wiry toughness about him, a manner of thrusting out his chin when he talked, that suggested the fighter. There was something of this in his attitude now as he swept )th rejxirts into an opened drawer of his massive flat-topped desk and faced the girl who nestled comfortably in the leather-upholstered chair opposite him, watching him with a hazel-eyed gaze that was both amused and speculative.

“I’ve been away two months,” Baldwin said, coming to the point at once. “You spent most of that time with this Gordon fellow.”

“I like him,” Mary Baldwin said.

“So I gathered. Four week-ends in a row; three weeks vacation and—”

“Oh,” Mary Baldwin interrupted and her voice was flat. “So Delaney and his detectives have been busy.”

“I want to know what’s going on. They tell me.” Baldwin took the cigar from his mouth, rolled it between his thumb and forefinger, scowled at it before he dropped it in an ashtray. "By this time,” he added, “I suppose you think you’re in love.”

"I’m quite sure of it.”

“He in love with you?”

Mary nodded and smiled.

“Asked you to marry him?”

"Not exactly.”

“How do you know then?”

"I can tell. But you and your money bother him.” "Humph,” Baldwin muttered. “That’s why I wanted to talk to you. According to schedule, lie’s about due to come in and ask my permission. Wanted to save his time and mine; it’s a nuisance—embarrassing.”

“But, dad,” Mary said, sitting up very straight in her chair and staring hard, “you don’t know anything about him and—”

“1 know all about him.” Baldwin said and planked his thin frame into the desk chair. “Family’s all right; graduated from college— I give him credit for that. Learned to fly. Worked for All-Eastern Airways. Went to Hollyw>d and made stunt pictures or something. He came back, got a job with the All-Eastern again. He’s traffic manager and he makes six thousand a year.” Baldwin grunted, tugged at his thin nose. “You could live on that, I suppose.”

“It’s been done.”

“Not by you.”

“He’s got another five from his grandmother’s estate. We could splurge on eleven.”

“Y’ou could, huh?” Baldwin’s lips dipped. “Well, anyway, that’s not the point. W’ouldn’t care if he didn’t have a dollar if he was the right sort.”

“Hooey,” Mary said. “Hooey. You’ve never met him. How can you—”

“Just another swivel-chair artist,” Baldwin grunted. “Traffic manager. A white collar-expert.”

“You wear one.”

“I didn’t when I was his age. I was trying to run a railroad through the Central American jungle. And if I hadn’t finished it, I wouldn’t have married your mother. Two years without hardly a letter to know how she was or what she was doing—to get my stake.”

H.G. BALDWIN’S tone softened. His eyes shifted to the gold-framed photograph on his desk, and their sharp alertness vanished, as they studied the tall, slender woman whose constant beauty—wistful, intelligent, understanding - was so unlike, yet strangely like, his daughter’s. His voice continued soft for a moment.

“We thought it was worth waiting for. We made our sacrifices and were glad. You know how right we were. That’s why I want you to be sure.”

“I know,” Mary Baldwin said. “But if you’d try to know Joe and—”

“What would it prove?” Baldwin’s voice thinned out again. “He might be one of those jxrsonality lads.” He leaned forward. “I’m not trying to stop you from getting married. You know it. You’re old enough and it would do you good. But look what you’ve had cluttering up the house. A bond salesman, an insurance salesman, an advertising salesman, a lawyer.”

He thumped the desk. "How about that car salesman? You wanted to marry him, didn’t you? How would that have been? I bought him off for $10,(XX).”

Mary Baldwin’s voice was resigned, weary. “I know. That time you were right.”

“Get yourself a man that does things, that can stand up on two legs and fight, that you can trust and be sure he can take care of you and meet things as they come.”

“Things are different now,” Mary said. “Only a few build railroads and mine gold.”

“But you can wait,” H. G. Baldwin said. “You can do that. You can wait and be a little surer. A year, say. That isn’t much.”

“It would be for Joe and me,” Mary said simply. “We’re not children.”

“I don’t ask for a promise,” Baldwin said, ignoring the comment. “I don’t figure you owe me anything. You’re old enough to get married when you please. And you’ve got enough money of your own. If I forbid it, you can run off. I don’t want to make you.

“But take it easy. Wait a year. Wait six months before you even think about getting married. Marriage is too easy nowadays. Grab and run. It’s worth more than that. Wait six months and—” Baldwin broke off, hesitated and the alert dark eyes narrowed, dropped to the desk top. When they again watched the girl they were shrewd, speculative.

“You’re going to Oyster Hartx>r for a month. You’ll be back in a week or so and then you’re going south with me. After that I’ve got to go to South America. I want to look around a bit, and I’m going to spend a little time on this new Guiana gold field. I think you’ll like it. You go with me. Then, when you come back”—he spread his hands, smiled,

but his eyes continued shrewd—“if you’ve got the real thing it can stand that much separation.”

JOE GORDON ran down the stairs in the Parker House, tossed his panama to the check girl and swung into the grill room. Spotting a familiar head in a booth, he waved aside the colored head-waiter, and sat down opposite the auburn-haired vision whose eyes were a shade lighter than the band on her trim white hat.

“Hello, Joe,” Mary Baldwin said. “You’re late.”

Joe Gordon, blonde and bronzed above the grey flannel suit, grinned and admitted his tardiness. His blue eyes had a directness that looked as if they might be hard sometimes, but they were smiling now, were eager, expectant.

“Do I see him tonight?”

“No,” Mary Baldwin said, and told him what her father had said earlier in the wreek. “I didn’t want to write you about it,” she added. “I couldn’t—I mean—”

“Yeah,” Joe said. “I see.”

They were silent then, while Joe ordered. With his eyes free again, he saw that she was as miserable about it as he. So he sat there opposite her and watched a bus boy heap a towering pile of dirty dishes on a tray and tried to get a grip on himself.

The latent anxiety, the bugbear that had tinged, consciously and unconsciously, his thought of Mary ever since he met her, stared him in the face. Pay-dirt Baldwin’s daughter. Millions. He had been flying high. Through successive months he had beaten down this mocking fetish of precedented form and custom. Poor boy marries heiress.

But he wasn’t poor, except by comparison. He had enough, because Mary, although brought up with millions, had not been trained by a father who bowed before the god of society. She remained natural, unaffected, charmingly real. And they loved each other. So—

“It’ll be a long time,” he said finally.

“I know,” Mary admitted regretfully. “But you can see his side, too. He and mother were happy together. It shouldn’t take more than four or five months—those trips. I thought I could promise that much. It can’t matter in the end, can it?”

“No,” Joe said glumly. “But you’ve got to get back.” He broke off a piece of roll, buttered it absently. “Because something’s come up. The first of March, the company is sending me around the world to study commercial flying. It’s a six or eight months trip. I thought it would make a nice honeymoon. I’d have to work—but I think we could have fun.”

“Oh, Joe.” Mary’s eyes danced and her troubles were apparently temporarily forgotten. “Why—why, it’s perfect.”

“Six months,” Joe said, refusing to smile. “To March first. If you’re not back we’ll have to wait another—” “But I will be.” She brazenly reached across the table and tucked her hand into his limp fingers. “And with that to look forward to, we can’t begrudge father his four months.

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And then he won't have any comeback.” "Don’t be too sure,” Joe said. “I’ve heard plenty. Pay-dirt Baldwin’s a tough

egg.”

Mary laughed.

A network of wrinkles laced the corners of Joe’s eyes and the reluctant grin won out.

“If I had a couple million and could pull an Admiral Byrd, we could get married in no time.”

“Who wants to get married in no time?” “I do.”

“Well,” Mary said, “it could be fun.”

“It’s going to be a long time,” Joe said, sultry-eyed again. “If I could only be with you some of the time.”

"But you can’t, can you?”

“I don’t know. I can try.”

TOE GORDON, tall and straight in his J crisp white drill suit and old grey felt, strode into the open-air of the Park Hotel in Georgetown one morning in December, and found Mary and H. G. Baldwin and a stocky man with a square, Irish face grouped around the desk. Baldwin was arguing with the manager, and Mary saw Joe first. She uttered a squeal of delight and astonishment, gasped, “Oh, Joe,” and, throwing her arms around his neck, kissed him before Baldwin knew what it was all about.

Joe kissed Mary and grinned and looked embarrassed and finally got his hat off. Baldwin’s lean face darkened and grew taut. His lips looked stiff. His eyes went wide, then narrowed and he jerked them from the scene of amorous reception to the thick-faced man who seemed suddenly worried.

Mary, oblivious to her father’s reaction, said:

“Dad, this is Joe Gordon.” To Joe: “How did you ever happen—”

Pay-dirt Baldwin said, “Hello,” and ignored Joe’s outstretched hand. His lips grew mobile. “What do you want?” “Nothing,” Joe said and deliberately looked down at his outstretched hand, turned it over, pulled it back. “I’m flying you out to the camp.”

“Oh,” Baldwin’s tone was disgusted. It was apparent that he did not know the answers, just as apparent that he did not intend to discuss matters with Joe Gordon. 1 le had long ago learned to accept teirqxtrary defeat for the effect of more permanent, if slightly delayed, victory.

He turned to the thick-faced man.

“Get the bags.”

“Only a couple,” Joe said.

“Why?” Baldwin wanted to know.

“Only a couple,” Joe said, “and Delaney’ll have to stay. I can bring him and the rest of your stuff tomorrow.”

Baldwin digressed. “So you’ve met Delaney?” he asked dryly.

“Sure. We’ve run across each other a couple times.”

Delaney looked at his feet and shifted his stance awkwardly.

“What’s the idea of two trips?” Baldwin said.

“No room. I’ve got the small job, and if I didn’t have plenty of space to take off I’d only carry one.”

“Why didn’t you bring the big plane?” “I’ll show you when we get there,” Joe said: and an hour and a half later when he shoved the nose of the little plane into a gentle glide, the answer became self-evident, even to a layman like Baldwin.

The landing field, hewn out of the tangled mass of jungle, looked about the size of a 200-yard section of roadway. Actually it was larger, but it did not seem so from the air. Joe turned in his bucket seat, spoke cheerfully.

“The only flat place they could find. It’s got rock ridges on the sides beneath those trees. But it’s big enough. Only I don’t carry passengers in the big job.”

Richards, the superintendent, and Howard, the mining expert, met them as the

plane rolled to a stop. Baldwin waited until Joe Gordon and Howard had piloted Mary toward the camp above the river a quarter of a mile away before he was ready to talk.

Richards, big-bodied and brawny-looking in khaki and heavy laced boots, smiled and iabbed thick thumbs inside his belt, said: “Well?”

“Well, nothing! Where’d you get that Gordon fellow?”

“Get him?” Richards said, scowling. “Why, he brought the big Speedair down. Flew it down himself from Atlantic Aircraft. McNeil, the guy we had, was a washout. The field got him, that and rum.”

“So you signed up Gordon?”

“And glad to get him. I le can fly, and he’s a mechanic, and he knows how to drink. He brought most of our dredge in, a piece at a time. Wait’ll you see him take that Speedair up and you’ll see why 1 hired him. He’s got what it takes.”

“How long’s he on for?”

“That’s the worst of it. Three months. He’s only got three weeks more; don’t know if he’ll stick or not.” Richards took Baldwin’s bag. “We’ve been expecting you for a month.”

“I’ve been looking around,” Baldwin said shortly. “Bogota— and they’re doing things back in from Paramaribo.”

THE CAMP was on a rise which overlooked the river and dominated the measureless forest that clothed and blanketed hills and valleys as terrifically abundant as the sky or the sea. Howard, the lean, bronzed, firm-jawed Englishman took it upon himself to show Mary Baldwin around, and they inspected the neat, stilted, tinroofed shacks, as regularly plotted as the rocky terrain would allow; the tumbling river, the pumps and sluiceways, the dredge. He explained what they were doing and how they got their gold.

It was all new and strange to Mary Baldwin. She had travelled—Europe, the Mediterranean, Hawaii. But this was different, and she was entranced and thrilled by each phase and detail of the life. She said as much to Joe Gordon before dinner as they stood above the river and watched green water roar and churn into white foam in the stretch of rapids below the camp.

“It’s okay,” Joe said. “For a while. How long will you stay? You’re late.”

“I know,” Mary said. Her voice was thoughtful, but she did not explain the delay. And in another moment the mood passed and her interest became Joe.

'“It’s grand your being here. Seeing you like that this morning. I couldn’t reach you when we came back from the South, but—” “I told you I’d try and do something about it,” Joe said. “I got a leave from AllEastern. I knew about the plane Richards ordered, and I’ve got a few friends. One of them is a big shot with the Atlantic Aircraft. It was a natural and, I thought”—he hesitated, his manner suddenly sheepish— “well, after what your father said about swivel-chair artists, 1 thought maybe it would help if he found out I could do other things.”

They stood there for a minute in the silence of understanding, while daylight faded behind a metallic curtain that was like sprayed blue dust, faded and was snuffed out as night closed in. Mary leaned close, shivered as her mood changed.

“It’s gone,” she said. “Is it always like this?”

“Yes,” Joe said, and knew what she meant. “It’s the trees; daylight dies violently here. Lots of things do.”

Those few minutes together were the last for some time. Joe realized this when Baldwin drew him out on the verandah of the main building that evening. Baldwin came directly to the point and spoke briefly.

“You had no business coming here,” he said. “Richards hired you in good faith and—”

"He gets a job done in good faith,” Joe said, sensing the trend of the conversation.

"—and,” Baldwin went on, ignoring the interruption, "so long as you do your work, you can stay. But get clear on one thing: I expect the same ethical conduct from you I do from any other employee where my daughter is concerned. You understand?” “Perfectly,” Joe Gordon said, and the callous abruptness of Baldwin’s method streaked irritation through his brain. “I suppose it’s all right to speak to her once in a while?”

"It won’t be necessary very often,” Baldwin said flatly. "You’ll be busy days; I’ll see to the evenings.”

PAY-DIRT BALDWIN’S prophecy was accurate. Joe Gordon’s days were well filled by his job. A round trip to Georgetown each day was the foundation of his schedule. Sometimes it was the big plane with a heavy load one way or the other; more often the trip was routine work with the small plane, a daily trip for ice, supplies, maiC if any. When he was not in the air, there were repairs to be made. The lone tractor which had originally cleared the scooped hollow of the landing field, was constantly at work, fighting to hold its gains, to drive back the relentless crowding pressure of the jungle’s storehouse of energy—always renewed, rank and unconquered.

Life was a monotone of heat. Because of the expanse of cleared area, there was sun, a furnace for ever opened in his face. There was little breeze, the surrounding jungle saw to that; when some stray breath of air crept through the green wall it became tormented with heat that boiled up out of the river, that spawned on the rocks and the tin roofs and canvas awnings.

At night, when things became tolerable, the darkness was seized at once by swarms of mosquitoes. Mary Baldwin was never alone. Often, George Howard was in attendance; when he was not about, there was always H. G. Baldwin, or Delaney, the detective. Joe Gordon talked with her, but never in private. He spoke for an audience and his speech was self-censored.

He noticed the change in her about the fourth day. From that time on, the change was marked, definite, as each succeeding day left its imprint on her face and in her eyes. Heat, sun, enforced idleness, sapped her interest and vitality. Joe Gordon saw all this helplessly, and waited, and kept his word to Mary’s father. At the end of the second week he went to Baldwin.

"My time is up next week,” Joe Gordon said. “Richards has another pilot lined up. I’ll be going back to my job. How long is Mary going to stay here?”

"Until you go, certainly,” Baldwin said. "How much longer?”

"That’s our affair.”

“It’s no place for a woman,” Joe said stubbornly. "You can tell that by looking at her.”

"I’ll be the judge of that,” Baldwin said coldly. “She’s made no complaint.”

“She wouldn’t,” Joe said. "She can’t quit—and the funny part of it is, she trusts you.”

"What do you mean?”

"Just a little idea of mine,” Joe said grimly. "When I get it developed, I’ll let you know.”

That afternoon Joe told Richards he wanted to go into Georgetown and stay overnight. On arriving, he went directly to the Park, descended to the basement bar and billiard room where Fred, the taciturn East Indian bartender, mixed him two quick i swizzles. Fortified by these and his dinner, he spent $8 in cable charges, at night message rates.

When he read the answer the next afternoon, he said “Hah !” softly and a tight little smile pulled his lips back against his teeth. He knew he had something to fight with now; but he forgot his intentions and his information as soon as he reached camp. He found Mary Baldwin in her shack, flat on her back, a cold compress on her right ankle.

She had slipped on a rock, Howard said. Baldwin, Richards and Delaney were group-

ed about her, sweating and looking worried and helpless.

Mary Baldwin smiled at Joe, reached up and squeezed his hand.

“It’s nothing much,” she said. “Only I can’t walk on it yet.”

Joe looked at the ankle. It was swollen slightly, but not discolored. Neither he nor Howard could tell if it was a sprain or just a strain, and Joe said:

“Well, I’ll take you for a ride.” He looked at Baldwin, grinned at him with his mouth while his eyes got bright and glaring. “This is about the only way you’d get a ride,” he added, as though still talking to Mary.

They carried her down to the landing field, strapped on the only parachute in camp, loaded her into the little cabin.

Baldwin said: “I’ll get a bag and go

along—”

"No,” Joe said. "Not this trip.”

Baldwin went slack-jawed, then got slightly apoplectic. Richards said: “Now. look, Joe—” Baldwin snapped: "You’re

not giving orders here and—”

“I do the flying,” Joe said. “Two of us and two of her bags. Here’s once I don’t overload.”

"You never worried about taking off in this ship before,” Richards said.

“I’m not worried this time either,” Joe said. "But I’m going to give the breaks a chance.”

“But—” Baldwin began angrily.

"Listen,” Joe said, and he took special pains with his words. “This is a hospital trip, not an elopement. I’ll be back in the morning for you and Delaney.”

They argued with him and Joe lit a cigarette and leaned against the fuselage and grinned at them. And when they finally admitted grudgingly that it might be just as well for him to fly as light as possible, he climbed in and revved the motor for an unusually long time.

It had been running sweetly all the way back from Georgetown, but he wanted to make sure. At that, the palms of his hands were damp and he wiped the sweat from his face before he opened the throttle.

THEY CLEARED the trees at the end of the field with plenty to spare and Joe climbed easily to 2,000 feet. He looked at Mary, saw that she was comfortable, wedged there behind him on her parachute.

Below, the jungle was an endless blanket of green, pock-marked where the sinking sun had cast the first of its shadows. To the left the thin line of the Essequibo stretched away toward the sea and to the right was the Demerara River, a red, muddy thread leading to Georgetown.

He was ten minutes in the air and a good eight or nine miles short of the Demerara when the motor began to sputter. He knew what it was, or thought he knew. Dirt. In the carbureter or gas line.

He began to lose altitude at once. The motor went dead, sputtered to life, seemed to hang endlessly between each feeble burst of sputtering. Chilled, strong fingers of fear gripped Joe then, held him relentlessly a moment while his breath caught in his throat and his heart pounded wildly. Then the chill spread out through his body and logical thought forced its acceptance on his brain.

His glide was gentle, stretched out as much as he dared. There was a spot a mile or so ahead that might do. He had noticed it before. Two towering hybrid palms; and between and beyond them a bushy expanse of mushroom-like trees which looked strategically placed to cushion a fall. At 1,000 feet he turned to Mary and grinned.

“The caterpillar club for you,” he said and motioned toward the door.

Mary looked at him, and doubt and uncomprehending fright were deep in those hazel eyes. She sat motionless and said: “No.”

“Yes,” Joe said.

“But—you,” she stammered. “How about you?”

“I’ll get down all right,” Joe said and made his voice brusque, confident.

“Then I’ll stay with you.” Mary said, and

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Joe Gordon saw the forced smile on her lips and was grateful for it.

He turned in his seat, leaned forward as though to pick her up, his face knotting in exasperation and forced anger.

“You’ll jump,” he snapped, “or get tossed out.”

Mary Baldwin went out at 600 feet.

Joe Gordon saw the parachute blossom, followed it with his eyes as long as he dared. The two gatelike trees loomed up before him, and at 200 feet he leaned forward to cut the switch. Then, suddenly and with contrary malice, the motor sputtered again, roared to lile with a full-throated blast.

Instinct made up Joe’s mind for him. He eased back the stick, coddled the motor, gained altitude. At 500 he circled easily. The motor sputtered again, droned on in a synchronous beat. Continuing to climb and circle, Joe fought it out with himself.

Daylight was waning. He could go back, get help. By morning a party might reach Mary, might not. There was no guarantee in the motor. Its sputtering uncertainty was treacherous. A forced landing meant isolation for two. Those in camp could know nothing of the disaster until a plane from Georgetown came in to find out why Joe’s trips had stopped. Even then there would be no clue to his whereabouts, to Mary’s.

Joe Gordon refused to gamble. With perfect luck in the balky motor, Mary would spend the night alone. Crippled, helpless, without water to drink or a fire to cheer her. He said, “I’ll take a chance,” softly, and shoved the nose of the ship into a glide.

This time he cut the ignition and pancaked down. The drive of momentum slapped his head against the crash pad and broke his nose as the two towering tree trunks sheered off the wings. The splintered fuselage lunged freely for a second or two, cushioned down on the trees below with a monstrous scratching, turned over.

MARY BALDWIN was sitting on the

piled parachute when Joe found her. Her dress was torn, there was a scratch across the bridge of her nose and a wistful, half-frightened smile on her face. Joe went to one knee beside her, kissed her quickly, gently and she clung to him a moment and said:

“I heard the crash. I thought—”

Joe said, “Naw,” and grinned.

Mary said: “Your nose—”

Joe wiped the blood from his lip and said : "Yeah, I forgot to duck,” and kept right on grinning.

“Do we get out?” Mary said, and her voice was less anxious, as though she had caught some of the grin’s infection.

“Sure,” Joe said. “Only we’d better wait till morning. I’ve learned a few things since I’ve been down in this hole. This country is too tough at night, and I’m no bush expert. But there’s a compass on the bus and I can navigate.”

Mary looked as though she believed him and Joe went back to the wreckage. When he returned he had a cutlass, a small thermos bottle of water, a tin of chocolate, and the heavy compass he had hacked from the instrument board.

“I’ve got foresight,” he grunted lightly. “Been carrying this stuff ever since I took the job.” He picked up Mary Baldwin, gently set her down again on a rotting log. "But I gotta step on it; it’ll be dark in a half hour.”

He set to work with the cutlass, cleared off a small square space, began to inspect the parachute, talking confidently as he worked.

“I can make a swell tent out of this,” he said. “Floor in it and everything. I got matches, and we can have a fire if I can get enough dry wood. There’ll be plenty of noise from the animal chorus. Maybe it’ll bother your sleep.”

Mary laughed hesitantly, then naturally. Joe went on: “Can you pass up dinner tonight?”

Mary said she guessed she could, and Joe said. "Good. Chocolate makes you thirsty. We’ll have it for breakfast, wash it down and save the rest of the water.”

He was as good as his word, Joe was. He made a tent. He built a fire in front of it and tended it successfully to the accompaniment of the continuous cries and screams and howls of the jungle night. Mary slept, or so she said.

When daylight came Joe made a sling from the parachute. The sling was wide and passed around his back, under his arms and around the back of his neck. Mary Baldwin sat in this sling like a paixx>se and held the compass. Joe shrugged her weight as high upon his shoulders as he could and, swinging the cutlass, started off through the damp green gloom where only an occasional ray ol sunlight slithered its way through the topmost arches of the vast cathedral of leaves.

JOE GORDON made the camp clearing in eleven hours. At four-thirty he staggered and went down outside the main building before Richards could get down the steps and reach him. He did not look quite human as they helped him into the shack, but an hour later, with a bath and the necessary stimulant, he was back on his feet.

He asked for Mary, learned she was sleeping. that she was apparently all right except for a slight fever which was natural enough under the circumstances. So Joe took out the cablegram he had received the day before, read its contents once more, and went in search of Pay-dirt Baldwin.

He found him in the little card room next to the dining hall and Baldwin stood up, said:

“What happened? Did you crash? Did—” Joe told his story and all the time he had to choke down his anger, to try' and speak reasonably. He finally finished and Baldwin stood up, said:

“Nobody could’ve done a better job. I want to—”

Joe cut him short.

“I want to speak to you alone,” he said and looked around at Howard and Richards and Delaney.

Baldwin said, “Why—” and scowled uncertainly, seemed about to protest. But something in the grim lines of Joe Gordon’s face must have changed his mind. He looked at the other men, nodded to them, and they withdrew quietly and with lingering backward glances.

Baldwin backed into a canvas chair, reached for a cigar and thrust it between his teeth without biting the end. Joe perched a thigh over the edge of the card table, spoke in a voice which was husky with anger that was only partially controlled.

“Mary and I want to get married,” he said. “We’ve known it ever since last August. But because she loved you and because we wanted things right, we played ball your way. Only you had ideas of your own, and you didn’t explain them.

“To get her away from me, you planned this trip. And Mary promised to come because you told her you wouldn’t be gone more than a couple months.”

“Now wait,” Baldwin began and pointed the cigar at Joe.

“You wait,” Joe snapped. “I didn’t want to be away from her for so long. I got the bright idea of bringing that big plane down, so I’d have a chance to see her.” 1 Joe’s lips curled and his short laugh was brittle.

“And I had another funny idea. I sold myself to Richards and took this job. Because I could see Mary, and because I thought maybe I could show you that I could handle other things besides swivelchair jobs. You wanted a son-in-law that could do things, Mary said. And I was childish enough to think that maybe I could show something.”

“You have,” Baldwin said. “But—”

Joe did not want to be placated. The

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pent-up and frustrated anger that had smoldered within him the past weeks demanded an outlet, and he concentrated on his objective.

“But it was just a gag to you, huh? Another business deal to be handled in the easiest way. And with Delaney and those other bloodhounds of yours, it wasn’t hard.

“I dodged Delaney for a week in order to get off with that plane without his knowing it. But I didn’t know that Delaney had checked up on me a couple months before. I didn’t know that my boss had told him about his plan to send me around the world, even before he told me. But you did, Baldwin. Delaney saw to that.”

JOE SLID off the table and stood spreadlegged, balled fists on hips, and glared down at Pay-dirt Baldwin.

“And that gave you your out. You knew I was leaving the first of March. You knew you couldn’t get a six months promise from Mary, but you could get her promise to make this trip. I had an idea about that before. I was pretty sure of it the other night when you told me you were going to stay. So I cabled and found out just when Delaney got his information—three days before you told Mary about the trip.”

Joe jerked the folded cablegram from his pocket and slapped it against his palm.

“You were a month late getting here. And you intended to stay here, or some place else until it was too late for Mary and me. And all the time you knew you had her because she promised to take the trip with you.”

Joe put the cable back in his pocket and straightened up.

“I wonder what she’ll think of her promise when she finds out what kind of a bargain you drove.”

Baldwin whipped out of the chair and anxiety filmed his dark eyes.

“Now take it easy,” he said and hesitated with his lower lip caught between his teeth. “I was wrong, but—”

“You said it.” Joe Gordon growled. “It’s your fault she’s here, it’s your fault she twisted her ankle, it’s your fault we had to crash. So now I’ll tell you a new layout. I’m taking Mary out of here the first thing in the morning,”

“In the big plane?” blurted Baldwin. “You never carried anybody before.”

“I’ll do it tomorrow,” Joe Gordon said grimly. “And there won’t be any risk. With that kind of a load, with Mary in with me, I could take off on a tennis court.”

“Well,” Baldwin said dubiously. “Maybe—”

“I’m taking her out,” Joe repeated, “and when her ankle is right I’ve got an idea we’re going to get married. And I’ll bet you any part of five thousand, even money, that this time you and Delaney and all the rest of your gang can’t stop us.”

That was what he wanted to say, and he had said it. And now that he’d got it all off his chest Joe Gordon stood there, tousleheaded, with a nose that was bluish and swollen, a grim little smile wrinkling the corners of his eyes and mouth, and waited for an acceptance of his challenge.

Pay-dirt Baldwin took out his cigar, surveyed the pulpy end. He stared at Joe Gordon, and one brow cocked and he finally put the cigar back in one corner of his mouth and jammed his fists deep in his trouser pockets. He coughed, made noises in his throat; then he swivelled the cigar to the opposite comer of his mouth, grinned and said:

“No bet. It’s not even money now; and I don’t like the odds.”