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 gel 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 take over their traffic and route it through the United States to the Eastern seaboard. The board members insist that the route 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 Hickey makes good on a railroad job and at Holt City meets Irish Nell Regan, an attractive woman of questionable character, who causes him temporarily to forget Mary Moody.
Financial difficulties beset the new railroad, until at 'ast the board decides it can ride out the storm only by selling land certificates.
Premier Macdonald lends another thirty million dollars and the work proceeds. Bulldog Kelly plays cards with one, George Baird, and trouble is narrowly averted. William Van Horne meets John Hickey and tells him to stick to the road and the road will stick to him.
John finishes his first contract and takes a bigger one, and visits Nell Regan. While walking together, they meet Mary Moody and John is shocked when the latter spurns him. To make matters worse, he finds that his money is missing and thinks that Nell robbed him.
NOW JOHN HICKEY feared for the new contract, whether he had money enough to start, having wrecked himself for a bottle of whisky and a woman who picked his pockets.
He walked on, glowering, with no desire to turn back toward his own camp, and presently saw at the edge of the right-of-way a fire, beside which squatted a man boiling coffee and frying bacon. He looked up.
“Hullo, you big fellow, come on over.”
The bacon smelled good and coffee would be about the right thing: also John knew the man, having met him soon after arriving on Big Hill. He was Tom Wilson, a famous guide and Rocky Mountain sourdough, a friend of Rogers and favorably known to all. He had pitched a two-man shed tent.
“Hullo, Tom. All alone?”
“For tonight, yes. What’s your hurry? Sit right down.” The fire was a neat affair, just a strip of glowing coals between two small green logs on which sat pan, pot and a dish of hot water. Wilson turned the sizzling bacon with a dry forked stick, sniffed at the pot, cut slices from a slab of bannock, and produced a tin of butter packed in Nova Scotia. These actions were quietly deliberate with no lost motion. I Iis face was finely modelled and highly intelligent, the lips betraying more than a touch of humor; his lightly built body spoke of endurance and physical strength.
“Sit right in, John; how’s things?”
“Pretty good, Tom, pretty good. Dan Mann got me a contract near Rogers Pass; I guess it’s up on the Beaver.” “Reckon you’ll be a rich man some day?”
“Maybe. No, I guess not. I kind of want to stay round here.”
“Well, for me that’s as good as being rich, maybe better. You sleep better anyway.”
“What’s your job now, Tom?”
“I’ve got to herd a party of Easterners in to see the Lake of Little Fishes.”
“Where is that?”
“A bit north of the line, but it’s tough going. She’s a beauty, John, and I found her myself—the prettiest lake I ever saw and I’ve seen a lot.”
“You found her?”
“August, two years ago. I was camped near some Stonies over Pipestone way—that’s just east of here beyond the Divide—when we heard the darndest avalanche come down not so far off, it was one terrible slide, and the Stonies said it came from Big Snow Mountain above the Lake of Little Fishes. "Fishes!” says I, and started thinking, because we were dead tired of living on sowbelly. Next day I went in and found that lake. I guess I’m the first white man that ever set eyes on it. Now those Easterners have heard of it. There’s Jim Ross and Brothers and some more that want to see it, too. I told ’em it was tough going, but they say they don’t mind. I want a couple of axemen so you’d better come along; I’ve seen you at one end of an axe.”
John, drinking his coffee, considered this. Why not? He’d have another look at Ross, perhaps another talk with him; also he liked Wilson. Further, it would take him clean away for a day or two and get the bad taste out of his mouth. “Well,” he agreed, “I might do that.”
“Glad to have you, and there’s a-plenty of blankets. I’ve started a couple of packers in to make camp. You can’t ride; it’s too rough, but there’s no devil’s club like on the Illecillewaet.”
“I came up the Illecillewaet,” said John reminiscently. “I walked from Yale.”
“Made out pretty well here, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I guess so; but, say, Tom, I’ve been a fool.”
“Which kind of one?” Wilson was now boiling water in the pan, scrubbing it with moss. “I guess you didn’t hit anything new—more coffee?”
“Thanks, no. I just got drunk and lost five hundred dollars.”
“Sure, lifted. I never thought she was that—”
“It’s my observation,” interrupted his host placidly, * that a man makes a mistake when he starts discussing women. The right kind don’t need it, while the others don’t feel it. What’s the use? You take ’em as you find ’em, or else leave ’em alone.”
“I guess you’re right, Tom.”
Tom poured dishwater on the fire, hung the pots in a sack from a tree, laid a little dry wood under cover for the morning, rolled up coats and pants for a pillow, and instantly fell asleep.
OHE WORE long, leather, laced boots, a short skirt, ^ flannel blouse and wide-brimmed felt hat, but John knew her a hundred yards away where he waited with Wilson and the other axemen at noon on the next day. As the group came up he saw that Ross, whom he had hoped to meet, was not among the three men he did not know, and there were two women of whom Mary Moody was one. With a growing sense of discomfort, he learned that the men were from Montreal and interested in the road, and the other woman was Mrs. Ross. Then he got a cool little nod from the girl. She had hardly smiled.
“Introducing Mr. John Hickey,” said Tom gallantly. “He’s a contractor just taking a day off and an artist with the axe. Well, we’ve a hard trip in front of us; better get moving.”
At once they plunged into thick bush, Tom behind the leading axeman who immediately became very busy, then the three men, Mrs. Ross and lastly Mary followed by John. On his shoulders was a bulging pack containing the day’s needs and a canvas shelter in case of rain.
Now the last sound from the right-of-way dwindled to nothing and they walked through an abyss of silence. The line lengthened, spacing out as the ground became steeper. They wound through a great talus of loose rock tumbled from the heights. There were no birds and little game, but at times one could hear a startled elk dashing off with coughing grunts and clatter of flying hoofs. Every half hour Tom insisted on ten minutes rest, when there was little talk; and later the ground became so rough, the trail so crooked, that John found himself alone with Mary. Neither spoke, and she held on grimly. They had dropped well behind when she tripped, fell and gave a little cry of pain. She sat up, clasping her knee.
“Not much; I’ll be all right in a minute; that knee isn’t very good anyway.”
She got up, stumbled again, and collapsed, frowning. John, not a little frightened, put his hands to his mouth and gave a long “Coo-eee” that echoed far. It brought Tom back on the trot, but Mary laughed at him.
“Please don’t wait. Goon. I’ll catch up presently.”
“Well, if you’re sure. Matter of fact, we’ll have to push on to get there before dark; Mrs. Ross is keeping me busy right now.”
“You go on,” said John abruptly, “I’ll get her there.” What emboldened him to say it, he did not know, but Tom nodded and went off at once. Then from far ahead a faint call and silence deeper than belore. John didn’t know it could be so deathly quiet in the woods; he waited till Mary made another attempt and shook her head.
“I’ll have to go back.”
“I’ll carry you,” he blurted, looking at her sideways.
“That’s nothing.” He tightened the straps a little so that the pack came level with his shoulders, then picked her up as he would a child, set her on a stone and stood behind her, axe in hand. “Now you sit right down. Come on, you can’t fall.”
She sat, marvelling, on his left shoulder, finding herself perched securely and surprisingly comfortable when he tucked her feet under his left arm.
“Mind your eyes for branches. I’ll clear all I can. Grab my collar—that’s right.”
He moved on, oblivious of her weight, stepping firmly, now and then swinging the axe at a branch stretching low across the trail so that its edge flashed past her head and she seemed compassed by shining steel. There was no effort in this. Beneath her he felt like a great two-legged machine, intelligently human; he neither hastened nor lagged, nor could she hear him breathing. His knotted biceps pressed against her legs.
“I don’t notice it; you’re no weight.”
She gripped his collar more tightly. They could distinguish voices in front that came no nearer, and she knew he was keeping just out of sight.
“Why did you come on this trip?”
“I wouldn’t if I’d known. Tom didn’t tell me you’d be here.”
He forged on, wondering if he’d been rude; it sounded rude, but was meant for an apology. Queer, he thought, to be walking through the woods like this and on his shoulder a girl who had turned up from Yale and knew all about him.
The Rake and Bulldog knew, but that was different and he could not forget yesterday.
“John, did you mean that?”
“I did, but not the way you took it—any man would feel the same—but it was the first drink I’d had for a year, then you came along.”
“I’m glad—and sorry,” said she.
“I don’t quite get you, miss. It don’t matter.”
“Glad it was the first, and sorry I came along just then. You see,” she went on a little hurriedly, “I only reached Holt City a week ago, and haven’t been in Yale for a year past.”
“I wasn’t very well, and went east. Dr. Hanington shipiied me off. The end of steel was away up on the Thompson and very little doing in Yale, so I went back to my people for a long rest. Then I missed the mountains so much that I had to come back for a while anyway. I’ve often wondered about you; you’ve never written as I asked and you’ve changed.”
“Yes, I guess I have; I’m a contractor now.”
He could hardly believe it: she didn’t seem to care about yesterday; she’d often thought about him. It was on his tongue to explain about Nell and the $500, but he remembered Tom’s counsel.
“I’m kind of glad you’re pleased, miss.”
“We’re camping tonight at the lake, aren’t we?”
“Then you’ll tell me all about it. I want to know.”
At this she felt him take a long breath, but he did not answer. Came a whiff of wood smoke, and at the next turn of the trail she saw the others round a fire. John put her down lightly, and Mrs. Ross gave a laugh.
“Well, Mary, you’ve certainly solved the problem of transportation. I feel like changing places. How are you?” “All right now, thanks to Mr. Hickey.”
Mrs. Ross surveyed the young giant with admiration. “I’m going to tell my husband about you, Goliath.”
“He knows me already, ma’am,” stammered John. “I got a contract last week, thanks to him.”
“Probably he was afraid to refuse. Well, when you’re ready for another, let me know and I’ll pick a nice one.” “That’ll suit me, ma’am.” John turned crimson, whereat she liked him the more.
nPHREE HOURS later, emerging from a tunnel of green, they found camp already pitched on a bay of the Lake of Little Fishes, and even John was impressed. Many lakes he had seen before, but none quite like this; none so like a sapphire in the secret heart of the mountains. On either side at a steep angle rose vertiginous slopes whose flanks presented an innumerable assembly of tall trees standing in a breathless pause. Above them slept wind-whipped heights of naked rock. Opposite, southward across the lake—it might have been four miles—lifted a vast rampart capped with an icefield of immeasurable expanse that, under a hot sun, swept into the lake. Its frosty depth of 1,000 feet floated imponderably in mid-air, a sort of vacant, moonlike region, untraversed by the eagle, unsealed by the mountain sheep. These empty heights, glacier and tree-clad slopes, cast themselves into the lake’s mirror, painting an inverted world that dissolved with every ripple, mysteriously coalescing again when the ripple died.
Tom Wilson said very little, but was pleased that his lake surpassed all expectations. Sometimes it occurred that it might be named after him, but already there were Lake Wilsons scattered over Canada and the sound was not very euphonious, so he nodded contentedly when Mrs. Ross suggested that it be called Lake Louise, after the Marchioness of Lome. After supper he sat for some time with John, talking about these ranges which he greatly loved and about Rogers, and Hector, the engineer, who had had a near thing of it not far away.
“Yes, sir, he was kicked by a horse in the belly, and laid unconscious for hours, and was about to be buried by his Indians when he let out a grunt just in time. They had the hole all ready for him, and were letting him down when he gave that grunt.
That’s why it’s called the
Kicking Horse Pass today. Well, I’m for hitting the brush heap. So long.”
He went off, leaving John staring at the great glacier now glinting like silver. It was as big as the big one he saw coming over Rogers Pass. A loon began to laugh out in the lake, waking the echoes to a wild mocking clamor. It made him feel lonely. He had wanted to carry Mary again in the afternoon, but she wouldn’t have that, and had hardly spoken to him since. He wished she would ; she had said she would, but evidently wasn’t really interested. Just then he heard a light step.
“Well, John?” She was beside him with a hood over her head, and he got up. “No, sit down, go on smoking. I wanted to talk with you, but Mrs. Ross has been talking to me. I think she’s ready to be a good friend of yours, which is very worth while out here. Now tell me about everything since—since nearly two years ago.”
“There isn’t much,” said he. “I just walked over here from Yale and got a job.”
“You walked !”
“Certainly I walked.”
“How far is it?”
“I don’t rightly know, miss; maybe four hundred miles.” “Is that all! Well, goon.”
“Of course I took jobs on the way to help along.”
“I see. Was there any road?”
“Not what you’d notice, miss. I guess that’s all there is to tell you. You haven’t any news from Y'ale?”
“I wasn’t there very long after you left.”
“I wasn’t any good in Yale,” he volunteered reflectively. “Then why talk about it now?”
“Your being here sort of brought it up,” he floundered. “I thought of Yale the minute I saw you—last night.” “John”—she put a small hand on his arm—“I’ve forgotten last night. You’re not married, are you?”
“Gosh, no! And that—that woman,” he persisted, “is the only one I’ve talked to in a year except you and Mrs. Ross.” At this she sent him a swift sidelong look, and began picking up pebbles, tossing them into the lake.
“Never mind about her; go on.”
“Well, miss, I’m sort of pumped dry; there isn’t anything more to tell you. I’ve just been working; nothing’s happened except that contract; there wasn’t anything else that could happen. I suppose I thought a lot, I guess without knowing it, and what little I did know turned out useful. I want to stay with the road after it’s finished, and have something to do with what comes next. That’s not interesting to a woman.”
“Perhaps not to some, but to others, yes. We’re not all the same, John.”
“It’s no life for a woman that I can see.”
“You don’t know much about them, do you?”
“No, I guess not,” he admitted, greatly startled at this confirmation of an opinion from a very different source, “not the right kind. I never had much of a chance.”
“But the chance might come. You see,” she went on hurriedly, “I’ve had a bit of this Western life, too, and don’t feel like judging anyone. We never can know it all, can we?”
JOHN, VERY much wanting to illuminate her about Nell, shook his head and said nothing. Also he thought of Molly Kelly—kind enough in a way and not stinting a few dollars here and there, but certainly not the right kind. Against these two he put this girl, younger than either, yet undoubtedly wiser with a sort of wisdom that he could appreciate though not quite understand. But one could bank on her being right every time. Also she didn’t condescend, but in an odd way picked him up to herself and talked on the level. “I wish I’d gone to school,” he thought to himself; then:
“I guess you’re right, miss. I’ll freeze on to that and every chance that comes along.”
“Do I talk too like a school teacher?”
“Well, miss, you’ve certainly got the goods.” She laughed and sat watching him slyly, aware of the quiet, agate blue eyes and mop of flaxen hair, wondering what was going on under that yellow thatch. She found strength in his face now. Its former indecision appeared to have been worn away by exposure, and it occurred to her that the outlines chiselled in nature by wind and weather are always calm and strong. I íe had that look. As to Nell—for already she knew about her—that matter had ceased to disturb, and left her with a deep desire to help. It was not yet love, but deliberately she associated herself with this man, and pondered what the result might be. Carried hour after hour on his shoulder through that long green tunnel was a strange experience, and she loved that. Like most small women, she was attracted to big men. They seemed to restore a cosmic balance; they were so immune from fatigue or fear, and this one was linked by destiny with the high ranges where his work lay. It pleased her to think of that.
“I’m glad you’re living in the West, John. Don’t move east; you’d never like it.”
“No, 1 guess not. One can’t see far enough.” “Stay here and conquer the mountains; that’s what you’re made for.”
John shook his fair head.
“As I see it, miss, that ain’t just right. To my mind you don’t conquer any mountains; they ain’t built like that. When I came along and saw where old Hell’s Bells—that’s Major Rogers— located the track, it struck me he knew his job and sort of edged his way through, hoping the mountains wouldn’t notice too much and not object. I guess that’s a fool way to put it, but you can’t do more with mountains than make friends with ’em and learn their little tricks and not get too fresh or they’ll drop something on you.”
“Go on, John; I’m learning a lot.”
“Well, that’s what I aim to do. I ain’t meant for a boiled shirt country; I’d choke to death. I’m finished with Yale; never want to see it again or anyone in it. Molly Kelly and that lot are all wiped out. Never heard from her after you left, did you, miss?” “No, but she still worked at the hospital every afternoon; I know that much.”
“Did she ever tell you she’d offered me five hundred dollars for my claim if I cleared out?”
“Well, she did. but I’ve never seen the money; I guess it was a bluff to get rid of me.” He shook his head, lrowning. “She said I'd have to get a contract first. Pretty slick, wasn’t it?”
Mary worried over this for a moment, then :
“I’d be very slow to believe that. She’s honest, she wouldn’t trick you. Did you write for the money?”
“No, I saw through it. She never really liked me and I never knew why, though sometimes she pretended she did. One of the Kellys told me the claim gave coarse gold the next year, so I guess she had a hunch.”
“It wasn’t being worked when I left. There’s something wrong somewhere, John. She used to talk to me about you and wonder where you were.”
“Well, it don’t matter now,” said he with a sudden recollection of how queer Molly looked as she went splashing through the shallow pools across the bar. “I’m going to make good without her money.”
She sent him a quick wistful glance, then fixed her eyes on the great glacier whose alabaster surface lay in high seclusion under a scimitar moon, and there reached her a breath of that austere loneliness expressed by nature ere man, the sentient molecule, invades her privacy. This imposed a sense of futility and unimportance.
“John, I must go now, but promise me something.” “Sure, miss.”
“I won’t be in Holt City for long—I’m offered a good job in a big Montreal hospital—so will you write to me sometimes and tell me how the work goes?”
“Why certainly, but my writing isn’t what it might be. I haven’t written three letters in my life.”
“It’ll be good enough,” she smiled, “and I’ll tell you about my job, which won’t be half as interesting. I’m terribly grateful for the way you got me here, and—and I hope you won’t make a practice of carrying young women about on your shoulder for—for exercise. Good night, Christopher.”
She had gone before he knew it. And who was Christopher?
VWTIEN THEY said good-by after * V returning to the riglit-of-way next day, John felt hurt. There were a lot of things he had wanted to talk about. She seemed to have loosened something inside him that up till now had been locked up. He was conquering the feeling that between them was a gulf of difference that could not be bridged, and this made him ambitious, with a new kind of confidence. But it appeared that either she was tired or didn’t want to say anything more. She walked close behind Mrs. Ross, so there was no opportunity; and even when she put her hand in his and thanked him again, there was nothing but her thanks and a strained smile that might have meant anything or nothing. Its effect was to set him back where he was before, so he set off to his own camp feeling that his imagination had run away with him and he had better forget these two days and apply himself to realities in which Mary Moody had no part.
A week later he tramped over to Holt City to arrange lor supplies on the new contract and found the place buzzing. A group of men had gathered outside Coldwater’s hotel, but John, wary of meeting Nell, went on till he encountered Whispering Steve, who was talking with husky animation, the centre of a fascinated audience. At sight ol John he waved a long skinny arm. "Say, you knew him in Yale, didn’t you?” “Knew who, Steve?”
“I kind of knew him; what about it?” “Then I guess you’ll be wanted for a witness. The Rake has lit out.”
“What in Sam Hill are you talking about?”
“Murder! Bulldog’s killed Jim Baird.”
“They found Baird’s body a while ago just past Hog Ranch—that’s Ed Johnson’s stopping place near Golden. Darned if Kelly didn’t try and kill Jim’s packer, too. Packer’s with the police now and they won’t let him talk, but I got it straight.”
“Why did Bulldog kill him?”
“Why did he kill him! Well, sir, I’ll tell you how it started, and you’d oughter have been there. Gosh! The four of us were having a game up in Coldwater’s place, and it seems Jim knew that pair from the start and just lay low while his wad got thicker an’ thicker. Then he quits, looks at ’em both like as they’d make a bad smell, and says he was on to ’em two years previous in Yale. Bulldog—I guess he’d drunk too much of Jim’s whisky—seems kind of hurt, but The Rake—he hadn’t had anything but sarsaparilla—is just as polite as one of them starched-collar pilgrims from the East. Now Bulldog reaches for his gun, but he ain’t quick enough—Jim has his irons out first— and he puts his wad so’s he can feel it when he sits down, and says something to The Rake about chewing up the ace of spades.
“Well, sir, you ought to have seen Kelly’s lace. He didn’t say a word but just sat there kind of green, so I guess it did happen somewhere, maybe in Yale. Then Jim goes out, calm as a chunk of ice, and Bulldog begins to talk. Well, sir, it was a treat. I’ve had a vocabulary myselt but I ain’t in his class, and I sure never could talk to a mule as he did about Jim Baird; no mule would stand for it. I guess The Rake smelled murder before long and just sat there shaking his head. Then they both looked at me. and I took the air with ninety dollars of their money.”
“Well, go on. How long ago was that?” “Maybe three months. I was figuring that Jim was liable to be held up. but he got out to Helena all right, and came back and collected another roll—it seems he was running grain alcohol down the Columbia— and started back once more with his «packer
and Manual Dainard. But this time Bulldog was ready for him. Those three were riding up toward the Flats, Jim in the lead, packer on the drive, when someone pokes out a rifle behind a stump and shoots Jim through the heart. The others flew, and a second shot goes through the cantle of the packer’s saddle and cuts his thigh but not so bad that he can’t get back to Ed Johnson’s. He takes to the bush on the way. Now Jim’s money is in the pad of a packsaddle, and when they got back it was cut clean open and the money gone.”
“But who saw Bulldog do the shooting? Maybe it wasn’t him at all.”
“When I aim to tell a story, I aim to tell it in my own way,” said Steve with dignity. “If you don’t like it, go an’ chase yourself.”
“Aw, say, I wasn’t meaning anything like that. Have a cigar?”
“Sure; that’s all right; thanks. Well, sir, it works out this way: A couple of days
later, Bulldog is seen to ford the Kicking Horse at Golden. He moves down to Donald to a camp where some of his friends hang out wrest of that; and about that time a rifle—a Winchester 45-75—is picked out of the ford. Kind of queer, ain’t it? Now right here comes in Jim Taynton. Jim was camped near the second crossing of the Columbia, when who turns up but Bulldog. He rode up on a mule, and allowed he’d trade it for a canoe, any canoe that’d float; likewise he tried to buy an ivory-handled six-shooter off Jim. Well, he fell down on both trades and takes the mule and starts off for Red Duggan’s—that’s Jack Duggan—and Jack gathers in the mule and starts down river with Bulldog, who says he has business in Spokane. Well, sir, as soon as they’d crossed the line, one night in camp when it was raining, darned if Bulldog didn’t fetch out a pile of cut bills—tens, twenties an’ fifties— and start sticking ’em together with paste an’ stamps. ‘Where did you get all them cut bills?’ asks Red, and Bulldog says he’s a citizen of the U.S.A. an’ the rest is none of Red’s business. Then Red comes back an’ tells the police, and that’s as far as she goes up to the present.”
“They’ll get him yet,” said John with conviction.
“Someone’ll get him,” agreed Steve, now feeling the strain on his vocal cords; “he’s heading right for it, though I guess he don’t know it. There’s only one end to them tinhorns. Well, I guess I’ll liquidate.”
HE MOVED off, assured of a new audience when his voice recovered, leaving John in thoughtful mood. The news was interesting though not altogether surprising, and he wondered if this was Bulldog’s first killing. Probably not. Also he felt quite sure that The Rake would highly disapprove, if indeed he knew anything about it. But one was finished with them both now; finished with the old days at Yale and headed for something better.
He was nearing Ross’s office to put in a requisition for supplies—Ross being ready to furnish all he needed, and deduct the amount from progress estimates—when at a turn he encountered Nell Regan.
“Hullo, Christopher, I’ve been looking for you.”
He got very red, but understood at once that the packer must have overheard something.
“Well,” he said roughly, “keep on looking, I’m busy.”
She laughed in his face. “There’s no shame in her,” he thought.
“I’ve been expecting you back this week past.”
“Not back to you?”
“Sure, John. I don’t want your money— or maybe you’ve enough without it?” She took a roll of bills from her pocket. “I don’t know how much there is, but it’s here anyway. What’s the matter with you now?” “Nothing!” he floundered, flushing hotly. “Thanks.”
At this she lifted her head, eyes suddenly hard and metallic, staring at him, staring through him, till slowly her expression changed, her body seemed to droop and two large bright tears rolled down her cheeks.
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“You—you thought I’d stolen it!” she said in a husky voice.
“Aw, no,” he protested, “no, Nell, I never did. I never thought that of you. I just missed it; couldn’t remember what I’d done with it. Cut that out.”
She pressed her hand to her mouth, gripping a clenched finger with strong white teeth, looking up at him, primitive, passionate and cut to the heart.
“All right. We’ll let it go at that, but you’re a pretty poor liar: better count it right now.”
“Honest, Nell, I didn’t mean it. I got drunk and—”
“Sure you did. You loved me, and I made you drunk, but took your money so as someone else wouldn’t lift it, and you made a wrong guess about that, and now it’s over and you’ve got your wad, so there’s nothing more to it. That’s what you figure?”
“Yes,” he conceded unwillingly.
“Then you might have said so right away. Well, there’s something else now. It has to do with another woman—one something like me—and I’ll bet you thought she was crooked, too.”
“You knew Molly Kelly in Yale.”
“Yes, but she isn’t in your class. I don’t want to talk about her, and”—he broke off bewildered—-“how in—?”
“Wait; I haven’t started yet. Molly made a deal with you on some claim, didn’t she?” John gaped at her.
“I reckoned you’d take it that way. She said she’d give you five hundred when you wrote for it, and you never wrote. Why was that?”
“I didn’t want it, and didn’t have to. I’d done with her.”
“Well,” said the girl gently, “Molly was a friend of mine.”
“You’ve got me locoed,” said he, completely confused. “You’ve never been in Yale—told me so yourself.”
“There’s other places besides Yale.”
He stood frowning, shaking his head. “Why can’t you give me the rest of it? She didn’t mean anything to me.”
“Is—that—so! Well, here’s some of it.” She felt in her blouse and brought out a small folded paper. “There’s your five hundred. It’s marked good by the bank, so you can cash it right here. Does that make you feel any different?”
He took it stupidly, gazing first at her, then at the cheque with an extraordinary feeling of having been shadowed since the day he left Yale. He lelt choked.
“John?” said she.
“Put that in your pocket and come on over to the hotel for a minute. You needn’t be scared this time. There’s something else, and this isn’t just the right place.”
He followed, wordless, and she took him to the room where he had been before. Now she was different, softer, gentler; and he, too. His mind was in a daze; he felt on the edge of things, queer things, and was nervous of he knew not what. She continued to glance at him as though wanting to speak but not quite sure of herself, till finally it came in tones strained and unnatural.
“Where and when I met Molly doesn’t matter; anyway we liked each other from the start. She went to Yale and I struck Calgary, then came west with Coldwater because I knew how to run a hotel. Molly and I kept on writing to each other, and about five months ago there was a letter saying that if you came along I was to—well, keep an eye on you and not mention her. I wrote back and said you’d just showed up on Big Hill. Then she sent me that cheque and said you were to have it when you got a good contract of your own, and not before. Well, John, I kept an eye on you all right, maybe too much of an eye, and I fell for you. There were others, but you came first. I never wanted to spoil your chances, and the other day I guess my foot slipped because you
were pushing off up the line and I hated to see you go. I know enough to know better. I but every now and then a woman is just a 1 woman and nothing else. That explains the j cheque part of it.”
“Go on,” he creaked.
“Yesterday I got another letter from Yale. One of Molly’s girls wrote it. saying she was dead. It's kind of queer you never I guessed it, John, but she was your mother." I
"CROM THE Eastern Gateway to Rogers
Pass one looks down 2,000 feet into a vast tree-lined abyss through which a glacier-fed river curvets a sinuous course between banks and bars of shining gravel toward the Columbia. Up the slopes of this depression the line location sidled ever higher to gain entry to the Pass, where, as though protesting its passage in lonely and crystalline rebellion, rose the triple peaks that Rogers had spied as he toiled eastward through devil’s club and fallen timber in the gorge of the Illecillewaet.
The proportions of this wild setting suited the color of mind in which John Hickey now found himself. He had shaken off Holt City with all that pertained thereto. He felt j drugged and clubbed; he had no ambition j left except for work; it seemed proved that work was the sole purpose for which nature designed him, and he attacked his contract with savage, silent energy.
A sense of unreality followed him. For a short time he had been fool enough to imagine that some day the girl he now wanted might be within reach, that he would rise in service of the company, they would marry and live among these companionable mountains. He had dreamed dreams of learning from her much that he wanted to know so that he might move among her sort ! when occasion required with the same j confidence that he had with his own kind. Van Horne had intimated that if he stuck to the road, the road would stick to him. He had no social ambition, but those few moments with the boss of the all-red line infused him with the desire for self-development. He was conscious now of the passage of time, and aimed at lifting himself clear of rock cuts, explosives and station work. Surrounded by those who were content with this rude horizon, he himself had become uncontent, and that night by the shore of the Lake of Little Fishes only sharpened his restlessness. He wanted much, but not all for himself.
It was suddenly over, blasted by four words from Irish Nell; and the memory of the man, stirring, bubbling, brought to the surface much that time and distance had begun to blur, so that on the shelves of his mind there now presented themselves a host of small happenings that had merely vexed or puzzled him at the time, and for which the sudden blasting truth was the only explanation. They set him firmly back where he belonged.
He did not argue with himself either at the moment or later, and characteristically asked no questions. He only looked strangely at Nell, made a queer noise in his throat and walked off. Molly was his mother, and— well—he didn’t want to talle about it. There was roused in him no regret on her account, though he conceded a grave appreciation that she had kept the truth to herself: he could not grasp what her self-immolation had involved, and in his own direct fashion merely assumed that she had been too ashamed to tell him. It was natural for her to bail him out of jail, want him to make good, and send him the $500.
He did not feel tainted and was no child of sin, but he could not now marry any woman without first telling her who he was; and this, it seemed, ruled out Mary Moody, who had talked about Molly, gently, generously, but would never give herself to Molly’s son. That was obvious, and with a blind instinct that approached bigotry he accepted the stigma. She was, he argued,
too different. Part of him, the secret part, loved her, but he did not understand love; all he had so far experienced was desire and passion, much as a healthy animal feels hunger. The soul of the man still slept.
j TOURING THAT autumn of ’84 the end of steel moved on over the first crossing ¡ of the Columbia to winter headquarters on j the Beaver River; and here collected another cosmogony, the last of those transitory axehewn towns hacked out of solid bush to house the builders of the line. It was divided j by a bridge over the glacial stream. On one side were the office and storehouses of Ross, the barracks of Steele, who commanded a small detachment of Mounties, a log-walled jail with capacity for thirty prisoners, separate accommodation for females, a court room and stables. Across the bridge swarmed another element of gamblers, liquor dealers and roving women whose numbers were recruited from over the border —human scourings drifting north to the Selkirks where they resumed a lawless activity.
Steele was perfectly at home in these hard-fisted surroundings. Intimate experience with malefactors on the plains, forceful dealings with predatory Indians, a powerful body inured to fatigue, a mind quick to decide and act, a courage that never faltered —these at once established him as the arm of law in the valley of the Beaver; but much as he might desire there were things he could not do. The Selkirks were British Columbia territory, and a local sheriff administered the pliable regulations of the province; he issued licenses for the sale of liquor under Steele’s nose, imposed such moderate fines as his fancy might suggest, shutting his eyes to much that was illicit, so that when Steele felt prone to intervene his hand was too often stayed for lack of authority. Here one found disorderly houses, here drunken men were “rolled” and robbed, but so often as he might it was Steele’s merciful custom to land the drunkard safely in jail before the robbing could take place. Ross did not permit these establishments to bring in supplies by his construction trains, which occasioned much burglary, but there was always the Columbia to carry loaded scows from Canal Flats and round the Big Bend.
From John’s new camp higher up, this huddle of buildings was about fifteen miles, but he never went there except for payroll money, and then rode fully armed with his foreman leading by a hundred yards and another man behind. It was on one of these days in November when a letter came from Mary Moody asking why he had not written, and telling of her own work in a Montreal hospital. She hoped he had not forgotten the Lake of Little Fishes. Again why had he not written? And she sent him a book she thought he’d like.
John read the letter in the log shack he had knocked together for himself. It was twelve feet square and had a pork-barrel chair like the one in Dan Mann’s office. There was a tableflap that folded against the wall, the logs were chinked with mud and moss, the root of split cedar scoops very warm, watertight against the heaviest rain and strong enough to carry a weight of snow. Sometimes twenty feet of it fell in the Pass. Outside was a pile of wood cut and split for the sheet tubular stove; one could stuff it at night, shut off the draught and find red coals at daybreak. In a comer he had fashioned a sort of locker desk for the daily record of work done, which Dan Mann had told him he must certainly keep if he wanted to know where he stood. This he considered the only real home he had ever had—very different from a shanty on the slopes of the Jew’s Nose—and in a grim, silent, self-contained way felt as happy as he ever would be.
Things had gone well with him during these last few months. Earthwork was over for the season on account of frost, but from rock-cuts still came the clink of steel and boom of blasting. Dan, acting as right hand of Ross, dropped in frequently, when the two giants, dark and fair, would talk and smoke round the tubular stove. Mofe than once Dan hinted that Ross, for some reason or other, had his eye on young Hickey and
if all went well, still better things were in store.
A GREY DAY and flurry of snow when •4A. Mary’s letter came. In the evening he read it again, carefully. “Always your sincere friend.” It being one of the first letters he had ever received, he assumed this to be the customary signature, more of a society phrase than “yours truly.” It was kind of her to write ; she sounded busy and said that her work was in the surgical ward. And she would be anxious to know what he thought of the book.
John had never read anything but The Inland Sentinel and some paper-covered trash he picked up in Yale, so he opened the parcel with no particular interest. “Mr. John Hickey. Contractor, Care of Mr. James Ross, Superintendent of Construction. Rogers Pass, Canadian Pacific Railway, British Columbia.” Written in small block letters, this was very clear and painstaking. He liked the “contractor” part of it. Lorna Doone—queer name for a book. Inside was, “John Hickey from his friend Mary Moody, Montreal, October 29, 1884.” Now he trimmed the lamp and began to read.
He read on and on. Rogers Pass was blotted out, the northwest wind began to whistle across from the Illecillewaet, but, settling the more solidly in the pork-barrel chair, he heard it not. By gosh! After the first few pages he knew how John Ridd felt. Chin on chest and with a curious breathlessness, he burrowed into the immortal tale, absorbing every word with a deliberate tenacity till the pages grew dim and he became aware of a smoky smell as the lamp burned down.
It was three in the morning when, in a sort of dream, he looked out. At the triple peaks streamed thin wreaths of flying snow whipped from their summits like meteor trails. The roofs of camp buildings were white with it; snow was covering the floors of the rock cuts, plastering against derrick masts and ginpoles, blanching the northwest sides of the tall, green spruce, outlining window frames, piling in curving little mounds in the lee of storehouse and magazine. Winter had come to Rogers Pass.
John, rubbing his tired eyes, did not care. He had discovered another world.
A HARD season in Rogers Pass, thickening the upper icefields, plastering millions of tons of weight on overhanging cornices where avalanches would later be bom and come roaring down when the Chinook breathed eastward from the Pacific; while below the timber line the woods were muffled in a blanket that on the south branch of the Illecillewaet lay twenty feet deep. But though work was perforce spasmodic on the grade leading up to the Pass, nevertheless it persisted where a thousand men toiled amid bitter wind and flying snow on these dismembered sections of the snake that could never die.
Cuts gaped; the right-of-way was cleared between the first and second crossing of the Columbia. One could now trace location looping tortuously around hanging valleys, squirming through ravines and at times plunging into the black mouth of a halfdriven tunnel. Everywhere it climbed, using, it might be, two miles of future track to gain easting or westing of half that distance. Thus approached the consummation of the vision that came to Rogers before an axe was laid to a tree.
John glowed in this struggle on what looked like the roof of the world, and kept his reading till Sundays, when for an hour or two he shut himself up and lived among the crags and farms of Devon. There were no Doones in the Selkirks, but by now he pictured himself as another John Ridd in love with another Lorna, another humble giant whose soul was beginning to worship something beyond itself. The Selkirks had no castles to storm except those bleak heights where the line was thrusting its indomitable front, no Carver Doones to master, only the demons of frost and storm ; but by degrees it began to seem possible that if he followed the steel, if by this work that lay to his hand
he could rise and rise, if he could save money, if he could make friends of those in power and become a living part of the completed line, the son of Molly Kelly might be considered more worthy than he now deemed himself. Such was the gate he saw opening before him the one salvation that appeared possible. It suited the virile body and simple unquestioning spirit of the man, and he set himself to it with all the force he possessed. To begin with, he reckoned that he should make $5,000 out of his present contract. A fortune !
At the end of January, his progress estimate, representing eighty per cent ot the month’s work, was $4,000, of which he needed one half to pay wages; and as the snow was too deep for riding, he put a revolver in his pocket and started for Beavermouth the day before the pay car was due. From his camp it was a nice walk, so, wanting to be alone with his thoughts, he left the right-oi-way and travelled through thick timber, happy in his own strength and the feel of springing wide-webbed shoes under his teet.
The woods were quiet as death. No wind could penetrate here, every stump was crowned with a convoluted minaret of snow, and when he touched a laden branch it divested itself soundlessly of a fleecy burden and swayed softly back ready to accumulate another. Here he crossed the rutted trail of wide-homed elk, and spruce partridge rose from patches of ground hemlock with a flurry of russet wings, but save for this no game was moving. The waterfalls were mounds of ice, shrunken mountain creeks chuckled invisibly, deep beneath the snow, and far below him the Beaver meandered like a ribbon of black tossed on a white tablecloth. These solitudes through which his warm strong body moved with swift certitude filled him with their message of hope and confidence. Nothing was impossible; the son of Molly Kelly was making good.
In early afternoon trom the hillside he looked down at Beavermouth 300 feet below, at the white roofs each with a projecting' stack from which grey smoke mounted in a vertical spiral thread. The bridge was an eighty-foot timber span, on its farther side a cluster of saloons, dancehalls and bothies. He could see the temporary engine shed and the grade rounding a curve, but the track had not yet reached Beavermouth though wire ran tlirough from the Selkirks to Montreal
JOHN MADE for the office of Ross, and, as he expected, found Dan Mann.
“Hullo, Hickey, how’s all up your way?” “A bit slow with all this snow, but not so bad. Didn’t move any earth to speak of last month.”
“No, you wouldn’t. Got your estimate?” John took it out with no little pride, flattening the sheet on the table, but the other man after a casual glance, only shrugged.
“Not so bad, but you won’t need it for a while.”
“I’ll need the money tomorrow.” “Figuring on the pay car, aren’t you?” “Well,” said John puzzled, “she’s due at the end of steel, isn’t she?”
“She’s due all right, but she isn’t coming.” John gave his head a shake and blinked. Mann was looking at him with a sort of gravity.
“She’s not coming, Hickey, and that’s all there is to it.”
“I don’t understand. Had a smash?” “Not that kind, nor has she left Montreal either. Look here.” He leaned forward, hunching his huge shoulders. “First thing you’d better do is get into your head that there’s more to building a railway than bull meat and blasting. The company is up against it. I don’t believe the trouble will last, but out here we’ve got to see it through. It’s the same all round, with the crowd in Montreal taking the biggest chance.”
“But suppose the money doesn’t ever come?” said John in a stiff tone.
“Take your mind off that and keep it off. Here’s Steele; he’s likely to have a worse job than yours.”
Steele came in as he spoke, pausing at the door to kick the snow from his boots, and John, who had already met him, felt a grip that matched his own. Steele sent him a quick, faintly amused look, and sat down. Three big men they were, strong men, whose motions had the same quiet deliberateness; they represented a cross-section of humanity in the Selkirks; and John, in this company, felt not quite so much alone under this sudden blow. He waited, silent and increasingly depressed.
“Major, you look as though you were expecting trouble,’’ grunted Mann.
“This time I supixise so, I’ve seldom been disappointed.” The voice was full and round but with an underlying suggestion of metal. “How late is that pay car going to be?”
“Heaven knows. Ask me something else. I’ve a wire from Ross. He’s just been to Montreal, and says there’s no cash in sight anywhere. That’s all I can tell you except that Stephen seems to be living in Ottawa nowadays but making no impression. Van Home’s orders to Ross are to keep the men here at work and not let ’em out. It’s a case of freeze-up all round.”
“Easier said than done. I can’t arrest them if they start for the East.”
“No, but Ross won’t let ’em set foot on a train, and walking’s none too good. He’s promised to get in all the grub that’s needed, and if these fellows begin to trickle out, what they’ll have to say won’t do the company any credit. That’s the point. I’m glad you’re here; you know this crowd. It’s up to the contractors, too; if they weaken there’ll be the devil to pay.” He wheeled suddenly. "Get that, Hickey; you’re one of ’em.”
John, who thought they had forgotten his presence, gave a nod, visioning his own arrival in camp with an empty satchel. The stream of money that for all these years had run without a ripple in its unbroken current had resembled some seasonal process of nature; it was like a riverflow but reversed because its fountain head was like an irrigating ditch, one deep current that, subdividing gradually spread out into other channels, increasing in number, becoming smaller and smaller till the final trickles landed in thousands of individual pockets. Now it appeared that the current had been dammed at its source and all the channels were running dry.
Fumbling over this, it came to him that perhaps the men like Van Horne and Ross who travelled in private cars had troubles of their own, but, he argued, it was not for them to deal with hardbitten rock gangs, their palms callous from hammer handle and drill steel, or hot-blooded Italians who put in fourteen hours a day on station work. Presently and in no uncertain fashion these men would be demanding what they had justly earned.
The only strike he had ever seen was out in Yale when a thousand Chinamen swarmed round Donk’s house demanding higher wages; but that affair had been simple, and a Chinaman from the Yangtse a very different person from a sullen Cousin Joe from Cornwall.
THE young man involuntarily glanced at Steele, who seemed more thoughtful than anxious.
“I’ve an idea that trouble won’t be confined to the Selkirks, not by any means,” said the police officer. “Things haven’t looked well on the prairie round Prince Albert for months past. Louis Riel’s back there again at his old tricks, stirring up the Metis. Last fall they sent a deputation to Montana to fetch him seven hundred miles, and it walked most of the way. They’ve had meetings at St. Laurent and Batoche; they’ve given Louis a house and a purse.” “Is that known in Ottawa?” put in Mann. “Of course, but they’re all asleep.”
“Or too busy catching votes.”
Steele gave a shrug. “It’s fifteen years since I was on the Red River Expedition with Wolseley, and Louis had run away by the time we reached Fort Garry. We certainly gave him time enough. That’s a good while ago, and probably Ottawa thinks he’s no more dangerous now than he was
then. But they’re wrong, and Prince Albert is too far away to sound important. Macdonald’s never been west in his life and wouldn’t know a Metis if he saw one. Lacombe’s softsoaping the Blackfeet; he’s warned the archbishop, and he and Grandin have been bombarding the Department— but nothing happens.”
“What’s at the bottom of it anyway?” “Farm surveys, Dan, and nothing more. The Metis want their hundred and sixty acres laid out in long strips fronting the Saskatchewan like their fathers’ farms on the St. Lawrence, but the fools in the Survey Department lay them out in squares, mostly away from the water. If there’s a second Riel rebellion, that’ll be the bottom of it—which in one way has nothing to do with the Selkirks.”
“How many of those toughs are there across the bridge, Sam?”
“Between two and three hundred, not counting women. Most of ’em are wanted across the line, and daren’t go back.” “What’s your force now?”
“Eight, under Sergeant Fury. It ought to be enough.”
Mann gave a grunt. “Well, Hickey, you know more now than you did yesterday. How many in your camp?”
“Can you hold ’em—I mean without help from here? You’ve got to hold ’em.”
John thought he could ; he would try. “The important thing,” put in Steele, “is to keep them out of Beavermouth where we’ve all we can handle; also the whole thing may come to nothing but a growl.”
“There’s a thousand dollars I left with the company last month,” said John. “It’s my money; couldn’t I get that?”
Mann shook his head. “It’s hard for you to understand, but the company at this moment hasn’t got your money or any of their own either. Right now they’re just plain broke, which is the result of biting off more than they can chew. No one in the East is drawing a cent of salary. Your money—well, you’ll have it some time, sure, but today if you walked to Montreal they wouldn’t let you into the office. Too many others trying that. It’s tough, son, but if you’ll stick to your job we’ll keep you going with all you want except cash. Tell your men they’ll be paid next month—tell ’em anything you like—but for heaven’s sake keep ’em where they are. I may be up your way tomorrow.”
This sounded like dismissal, and John having nothing more to say, got up.
“I’ll do my best, gents.”
“Sure you will. And look here, Hickey, this road is just started; it’s too big to bust wide open for good—don’t you forget that.”
JOHN, NODDING, went out and picked J up his snowshoes. At the post-office he was handed a letter and thrust it in his pocket without interest. He had meant to spend the night in Beavermouth, but there being nothing to stay for now, he put on his shoes and struck westward uphill, wanting still more to be by himself and think this thing over. It swept the ground lrom under his feet.
Following his own trail back, his courage flagged. It seemed that he had been blindly laboring for nothing. A few hours ago he indulged in thoughts that now were knocked out of his head. He was never meant to be a contractor and only fooled himself with vain ambitions. He entertained no hostility for those in the East who were responsible for this business, since even Van Horne was working without pay. Van Home! Even Van Horne! At first this fact seemed unimportant, but in a curious way it persistently presented itself till he could almost see Van Home, who had been to him a sort of demigod since the day they met on Big Hill. And then slowly it began to appear that if men like Van Home and Ross were ready to work for nothing, and perhaps others like Dan and old Hell’s BellsJiimself, there must be something behind this line that determined them to stay with it whatever happened. And there would be others he had never even heard of.
Forging through the bush in growing dusk,
hearing only the creak of springing shoes, John Hickey, waif of the Caribou, wastrel of Yale, did something he had never really attempted before. He began to shape a sort of theory, and the first step was to realize that the wisest move for such as he was to look about and attach himself firmly to the biggest, strongest thing he could find, to stick like a leech, work like a slave and trust like a child. There might be some reward, but if not it would still be better than the days in Yale.
It was darker now in the woods, too dark for travelling in comfort so he struck downhill to the tote road, took off his webbed shoes and did the last five miles on the twisting highway. Reaching his shack, he lit a fire, stretched his big body and suddenly remembered the letter.
The postmark was Yale, which made him finger it dubiously, rather averse from reading anything that had to do with Molly —it was not possible for him to think of her in any other way—till he decided that it was in a man’s hand and, turning the envelope, saw printed on the back, Inland Sentinel. That piqued him; he tore it open.
“Mr. John Hickey,
Late of Yale, B.C.
It should interest you to know that by the will of Mrs. Molly Kelly who died here a few months ago, you are named as sole inheritor of her property in Yale. Her effects were sold here by auction soon after her death and realized the sum of $1,500 after paying funeral expenses. This sum was paid into court till claimed by rightful heir. The Inland Sentinel only heard recently that you were working on the line near Big Hill, and this letter is written in the hope that it may reach and inform you of your good luck. Mrs. Kelly is not known to have had any living relations, and no one has put in any claim. The Sentinel will be glad to publish any reminiscences you may send us about Mrs. Kelly, who, as you are aware, was a well-known and charitable member of this community. With our congratulations, Yours cordially,
M. Hagan, Editor.”
John read this in a daze, then reached for the cigar-box in which he kept paper and envelopes. Taking out Molly's cheque, he stared at her signature—bold, flowing, with round loose letters and a long sweeping dash beneath; he could almost see her tilt her head as she made it, and it struck him somehow as like herself. Dated a year ago, accepted by the Bank of British Columbia in Victoria, creased with folding, it gave him a strange sensation, a sense of loss that was quite new. He could not be sure what was lost since he had never possessed it, but something persuaded him that he was i>oorer now, and this voiceless gesture from the dead touched him far more deeply than could any demonstration by the living woman. It produced in him a revulsion; it endowed with fertility a soil that the hardness of life had kept arid, sowing in it invisible seeds of affection, and with unexpected poignancy he recalled again that last meeting, when Molly in soaking skirts and the yellow bird in her hat, balanced herself on the rocker and with urgent eyes begged him to get out of Yale and be a man.
THESE NEW thoughts came at an opi>ortune time when his mind needed some background against which to lean; they made him feel less lonely, less anxious. Someone had really cared enough to take punishment for his sake and keep it secret. The knowledge of that would always be with him, and now since he felt differently about Molly it helped him to understand another woman better, and Mary did not seem quite so far out of reach.
Meantime—and he turned to it in a more confident if more chastened spirit—there was the matter of the payroll. He had, or could secure, $2,000, about the sum required, and with a rising tide of loyalty for the company he considered this for payroll purposes. The company would then owe
Continued on page 48
him $5,000, which ought to make his later advancement certain. He found something attractive in that picture—in being a creditor of a concern represented by men like Van Home and Hell’s Bells, and could hear himself saying later on, “In the winter of ’8-4 the company owed me five thousand, but Van Horne and I were friends so I didn’t worry them.”
He had decided on this free-handed action when there arose in his mind a sharp discomforting doubt. What if the pay car did i not arrive next month and his men looked to him again? What if it never arrived?
He sat biting his lips, setting cheque and letter on edge and staring at them. They were very potent; more money there than he had ever seen; he could do a lot elsewhere with $2,000 cash in case the line did go smash. Visioning that possibility, he was I appalled; he saw the clean-cut right of way I overcome by crowding bush till it was only a : faint furrow through the mountains, saw abandoned tunnels caving in, embankments overgrown, bridges carried away by rockslide and avalanche. He pictured the death of the line and buried somewhere in the general wreckage $5,000 of his own money.
His large intentions were thus brought up with a jerk, but the impulse still persisted, so he decided to leave the matter till after another talk with Dan Mann, who would doubtless be a little surprised but would thank him and wish there were more contractors in Rogers Pass with the same point of view and ability to carry it out. So next morning he remarked casually to some of his men that, though the pay car might be late this month, they had nothing to worry about. A few of them cursed but only a few, none took alarm, and the sensible ones reckoned that their money was better with the company than across the bridge at Beavermouth.
That afternoon Mann came up on the work—large, confident, even jovial. On : the work with John he approved all he saw in a deep rumbling voice, picked out the location for a section house under ten feet of snow, and announced that the company had undertaken that trains would be running through Rogers Pass before the year ended. Finally John caught his eye and they went back to the shack.
“Look here,” said the young man in an abrupt fashion, “I want your advice. It’s about that two thousand I expected.”
Dan looked vexed and disappointed. “What’s up with you now? I’ve told you all I know.”
“I don’t mean it that way; fact is I’ve got two thousand dollars of my own, and—”
“I hadn’t when I saw you yesterday. I got a letter afterward, and my—my mother’s left me fifteen hundred. I had five hundred before that.”
“Yes, in Yale.”
“Too bad, son, too bad. Sick long?”
“I don’t know; ’twas a while ago; I knew
she was dead, but nothing about this money,” explained John, feeling how queer it was to tell this much, yet withold the greater truth. “It’s about that I wanted to ask you; ’twould just meet my payroll.”
TAAN SENT him a strange look, almost compassionate and more than friendly, such a look as a man might bestow on his son; he seemed amused, touched, surprised.
“Were you figuring to pay your men yourself?”
“Why not, if it would help all round?”
“Forget it, Hickey. It’s white of you, but forget it. You don't owe the money.”
“Would it help the company?”
“As nearly as I can get to it, the company owes six million dollars,” said Dan heavily.
“I said six million, but that’s between ourselves; maybe it’s more and it’s certainly becoming more every day. They wouldn’t feel your two thousand; it’s a fleabite that wouldn’t mean anything in Montreal. At the same time I’ll tell Ross what you said, and he’ll be glad to know you thought ol doing it. Hickey, it wouldn’t work the way you reckon, but just the opposite. There are a lot of reasons. We couldn’t pay or let anyone else pay sixty men without paying the other ten thousand. Another thing: Supposing the pay car doesn’t come along next month, you’d be expected to do it again—you’d be cleaned out and no thanks for it. One of our troubles is going to be that Onderdonk at his end has a Government contract and is paid by the Government, so he’s all right whatever happens, his estimates are sale. But the fellows working for us won’t understand the difference between that and working for a company that has to raise money by selling shares when nobody wants to buy ’em. You follow me?”
It was too plain to miss, and John had his eyes opened.
“I see now,” said he dubiously. “It was just an idea that came into my head. I guess you’re right.”
“I know I’m right, and Ross will back me up, so would the directors. You hang on to what you’ve got, and thanks just the same. The Montreal crowd are having a bad time of it right now. It’s going to be tough enough here, but I don’t know that I want to change places even if a private car goes with their job. You plug along, Hickey; we’ll see you through somehow. Well, I’m due on the Illecillewaet by sundown. More snow coming, eh?”
He struck off over the tote road, his huge frame magnified in its heavy clothing, thinking with a sort of masculine affection about the young man who stood watching him out of sight. Charged with the peculiar type of strength and fortitude that imparts its own quality to others, he was grimly content with the battle that lay before him, and contemplated its issue with Olympian calm.
To be Continued