The Road Never Dies
Finance meets romance in the Cariboo—The dramatic story of Erik the Red and Mary Forest
WHEN I woke up, with a head ringing like a gong, if was just getting light and Erik was still singing there at the wheel of the car like a big kid.
“Oh, Susanna, don’t you cry for me ...”
He bellowed it at the top of his voice—almost like the old, wild Erik. I guess he'd been singing all night, and after all that whoopee in Seattle he looked as fresh as if he’d just stepped out of a shower, except that his beard was beginning to sprout in little shiny red bristles. Now that we were on the road again, it would surge into a flaming jungle.
“ . . . for I’m off to Alabama with my banjo on my knee . . .”
He stopped singine and looked over at me, and threw his great head back and laughed. When Erik laughs his chin goes out and the corners of his mouth turn up sharp, and it sounds like the first puff of a hurricane.
“What’s so funny?” I said.
“You. for one thing, son.” Erik always called me son, though I’m pushing thirty-seven and could give him nearly eight years. “And I was just thinking what a monkey it’s going to make of you.”
“What’s going to make a monkey of me?”
“If we find any gold in that mine of yours, after all. You better be careful or we might. I’ve got a hunch about it already, and you know what a fool for luck I am.”
Dizzy as I was, I saw what was working in Erik’s head, and I sat on that notion quick, before it could develop.
“Now listen,” I said. “Don’t you get off on any crazy tangents like that. We’re not mining the Yankee Boy. The devil with the Yankee Boy. We’re mining the great North American public, the richest vein on earth.”
“Ah, my friend, could worthier life work be imagined?” Of course. I knew what he was thinking. This Yankee Boy deal wasn’t what you’d call exactly sweet-scented, but it was legal, and lord knows the suckers owed us something after the licking we’d taken in the last couple of years.
I stuck my head out the window of the car and the dry air tingled in my mouth, sharp with the clean, stinging smell of alkali dirt and sagebrush.
“Where are we?”
Erik looked at the speedometer.
“Precisely 313 miles and three tenths north of the boundary, and heading north by northeast.”
He lifted his huge red hands off the wheel and waved them right and left. “Ladies and gents, on your left the Fraser River, father of waters and muddy as mud. On your right the cold, grey dawn of the morning after. Ahead, the Cariboo Road. Here, my friend, marched the gold rush of ’62. Here came the forty-niners from California, those gallant Argonauts who. daring the unknown perils of the virgin wilderness . . . ”
I said: “I’d rather listen to you sing.”
“I knew you’d appreciate my soprano when you got to understand it, son.”
He started to bellow again, head and shoulders swaying.
“Oh, Susanna, don’t you cry for me, for I’m going up to Cariboo with the suckers by the tail . . . ”
*, I tell you, this fellow Erik Drake was only half-civilized, a barbarian in city clothes. His mother was a Norwegian, and when his beard grows long he looks huge and red and roughcast, like something out of a Norse saga. And that long, ragged white scar down his right cheek which he got from a flying hunk of drill steel, might have come from a battle-ax. Sometimes the scar turned a deep wine color. Then, if you knew Erik, you got out of his way.
THE ROAD climbed sharp away from the narrow brown gash of the river canyon and up through clay hills that looked folded and kneaded like dough. Pretty soon we topped a mountain and broke over the edge of a plateau that seemed to lie flat, like a round plate suspended there in the blue sky.
Ahead of us sprawled a huge clumsy log house among a litter of barns and corrals. A girl was walking across the yard, carrying two gleaming tin buckets. The sun seemed
to catch her dress and make a tiny patch of yellow against the chocolate mud of the barnyard.
Erik drove through the gate, and when we stopped beside the girl I opened my bleery eyes again. I opened them wide. Her dress was a flimsy cotton thing, but I’m telling you she could have filled the swellest evening gown in the Ritz.
Erik grinned at her.
“Good morning. Is there a hotel, bar or automat in this block?”
From you or me a crack like that would sound fresh and feeble, but Erik has a clumsy, helpless way of saying such things, like a small boy getting into mischief, like a bear nuzzling you for peanuts, that makes you want to laugh. It covers up. but not very well, his real terror of women.
The girl stood holding the two pails of milk and studied Erik with cool steady eyes. She didn’t look like a country wench. I don’t mean she was slick like those sweet lollypops we’d played around with in New York and Seattle. A woman, this, not a magazine cover. Her face was lean and tanned deep brown, with sharp shadows under her cheekbones and mouth, and the corners of her eyes were wrinkled a little from the sun. The wind fluttered the shabby yellow dress about her body, showing the full clean lines of it.
She put one of the pails down and brushed a wisp of
brown hair out of her eyes. I saw that her hand was rough, and the nails worn short.
“Americans?” she said.
“But we speak a little English,” I said fatuously.
Erik said: “We’re trying to find the Yankee Boy. It’s a mine. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”
She looked at Erik with narrowed eyes. “You’re Erik Drake, aren’t you?”
“That’s right,” Erik said. “How did you guess?”
“That wasn’t hard. Everybody on the road from Lillooet to the Hundred and Fifty lias been looking for you this last month.”
“They have, eh? What for?”
“Well, the general idea seems to be that you’re going to start another gold rush and make us all rich again.”
She had a slow, quiet chuckle easy to listen to, and a way of raising one eyebrow a little when she smiled.
Erik looked quickly at me.
“Old Man Santa Claus,” I said.
My advance publicity on the Yankee Boy had evidently gone over all right. They even believed it up here in the Cariboo.
The girl invited us up to the lopsided house for breakfast, and led us into a vast kitchen where the log walls and ceiling were a dark, rich brown from years of smoke.
An old man was sitting with hands outstretched toward the stove.
“This is my grandfather, Mr. Forest,” the girl said. “Gran, here is, Mr. Drake, of the Yankee Boy, and his partner, Mr. Turner.”
THE OLD MAN got to his feet unsteadily, and the wasted figure came nearly up to Erik’s height. The skin of his face was drawn tight, almost transparent, like stretched rawhide, with a mane of white hair falling about it—the sharp, calm face of an eagle. It was a moment before I realized that his wide-open blue eyes were blind. Pie put out a bony hand and we both shook it.
“I’m mighty glad to know you.” Plis voice was still strong and clear. “We’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Drake, since you brought in the War Plawk. Well, well! We’ve been waiting a long time lor men like you to come in here and open up this country again. In my time we only scratched the surface.”
Pie smiled, staring past us with those vacant eyes. “You’re a mining man yourself, Mr. Forest?” Erik said lamely.
“Well. yes. I used to be.”
Still smiling, he walked over to the window, groping with outstretched hands. The sun caught his deep-grooved face, glinted on the white hair. It made you think of
some figure on the stained glass window of a church.
“You see that road there?” he said. “That’s the first Cariboo Road. There was no road when we came. We came up from California and over the Harrison River trail. That was the spring of ’61. My dad carried me a lot of the way on his back, and the day we got into Barkerville was my twelfth birthday.”
“I guess,” I said, for something to say, “that old road has seen some things in its time.”
He gazed up the road into the sun with unblinking eyes. “Yes, that road has seen some things all right—some things . . . There was a fellow who used to write pieces up here in the old days, bits of poetry—Colin Scott, his name was, from Boston—and he wrote something once about the road. I forget the rest of it—he recited it one night in Murdock’s Bar up in Quesnel—but the last of it went like this: ‘The road sleeps not and never dies.’ I guess that’s right. It never sleeps and it never dies.” '
He smiled at us again, a child’s smile.
Outside, a battered flivver went by the house, loaded down with bedrolls, tents and dunnage. Old Forest listened to it rattle over the dusty road.
“What’s that? More down-and-outs going up to Barkerville, eh? Sure, they still go up the road, but it’s a rich man’s game now—lode mining. You fellows with tools and capital—you’ll get the real gold of Cariboo. We just got the stray crumbs in the creeks.”
Erik caught my eye and said quickly: “I suppose there aren’t many of you forty-niners left up here?”
“Not many, sir. No, not many.”
He turned with that curious, childlike smile toward the girl, who had started to fry some bacon and eggs at the stove.
“Yes, I always say that Mary there is the last of the forty-niners.”
npiIE YANKEE BOY was only about five miles from the Forest ranch—the usual pile of rocks, huddled shacks and two black holes in the side of the mountain, straight above the brown fat swirl of the Fraser, no wider from here than your hand. The two tunnels and some crosscutting, with a bit of diamond drilling, had traced a lowgrade vein, about thirty-six inches wide, around 1.000 feet, which didn’t mean anything. I’d got hold of the k property from a syndicate in
> 0? Spokane, but I was too broke
to finance it. Then in the winter I ran into Erik down in New York, and right away the whole idea hit me.
You see, it was like this— I’d backed Erik, when no one else would, on the War Hawk, down in the East Kootenays. Five different outfits had thrown the War Hawk up when Erik hit into the Windover vein—working in the tunnel, mind you, with three other fellows, and broke to the world. He climbed out of the deal with half a million in cash at twenty-seven, and the newspapers all over the West played him up as the Boy Millionaire, the Golden Ivid—all the usual ballyhoo.
By the time I came across him in New York again, he’d lost most of it, because he knew nothing but mines and they took him for a lovely ride in the big town. In his office on Pine Street he was like a red bear bursting his cage. Yes, and there was a girl named Norma who was going to marry him until she found out he was flat, and there were far too many highballs, and little puckers of flabby flesh about Erik’s gills.
I pulled him out of New York by the heels. Pie sold everything he had left and raised $65,000 odd—little enough for the Yankee Boy deal but, added to my brains and Erik's reputation, it would do. With his name and the story of the War Hawk hooked up to the Yankee Boy, we could go on with the tunnel, maybe sink a winze and start building a mill, and keep our mouths shut as if we had something too good to talk about, and it was a cinch to unload half a million shares on the penny markets of the Coast, crazy already over the Porcupine Mountain boom just to the south of us.
Erik didn’t like the deal much but, as I told him, these suckers would only lose their money on one of the Porcupine wildcats. Anyway, between shysters and liquor and Norma, they’d got Plrik so far down he didn’t care much about anything—only to get out in the air again.
By the time he’d hired a crew and started work on the Yankee Boy tunnel, he was like the Erik I knew in the War Hawk days. I went ahead and released our first block of stock through Ed Bullock, a broker I knew in Vancouver —50,000 shares at twenty cents. Continued on page 40
The Read Never Dies
Continued from page 11—Starts on page 10
We didn't see Mary Forest for a couple of weeks, until we went down to Lillooet to send some telegrams. Coming out of the sun of the dusty street into the pungent darkness of Bun Macklin’s store, we didn’t realize for a moment that it was Mary standing by the counter. She was wearing city clothes, a blue dress with a broadbrimmed hat.
Her eyes took in Erik’s bristling growth of red whisker, and a little smile of amusement fluttered around her mouth.
“Hello, there,” she said. “I see you couldn’t resist Lillooet’s bright lights.”
At this, half a dozen old fellows, lounging in the dingy store, cackled toothlessly.
Erik grinned back. ‘‘We thought,” he said, “we’d paint the city red. Maybe you can tell a stranger how to go about it?” “Well, this is train day. Mr. Macklin has some ice cream.”
“Then we can make a night of it!” Erik said. ‘‘Mr. Macklin, kindly set up the ice cream. Gentlemen, step up to the bar and name your poison—strawberry, chocolate or vanilla. The drinks are on me, gents !” He looked at Mary and laughed and then blushed crimson. The old men cackled again and shuffled up to the counter—wizened whites in ragged overalls, a flat-faced Indian in a torn ten-gallon hat, and a glistening old negro woman named Eugene, who used to run a place up at the Hundred and Fifty in the old days.
Macklin dug the ice cream out of the freezer, clucking and giggling to himself, his derby hat rammed down over a face like a sucked lemon. His fat wife stood beside him, with her shiny soap-bubble face agrin. They were all watching Erik. He was the whole show in the Cariboo now, the white hope, Santa Claus.
Erik handed the first dish of ice cream to Mary, and they stood there laughing at each other.
“Mighty glad to know you, Mr. Drake,” Macklin clucked as he dug into the freezer. “A few more fellas like you in this country and she’d boom again, better’n ever.”
He paused to lean confidentially across the counter, peering over his spectacles at Erik and dropping his voice.
“And I don’t mind telling you, Mr. Drake, I’ve bought up a few shares of Yankee Boy myself, when I heard you was in it. So have several others in this town.”
"pRIK’S FACE colored again and he looked sideways at Mary.
“A mine,” he said, “is always a gamble, Mr. Macklin.”
“Not with the name of Erik Drake tied up to it, it hain’t,” said Macklin with a wink which contorted his face.
The old men shipping ice cream all cackled and smacked their lips, and the gaunt negress slapped her lean hip and guffawed. I tell you. the whole scene in that dank store, with its smell of coal oil and crackers and old logs and buckskin, was unreal, like something out of a movie. The gold rush had gone down like an ebb tide and left these people like flotsam on the shore, clinging to their narrow road. Another world, this Cariboo, still living in the sixties.
A car drove up to the door in a cloud of grey alkali dust. A good-looking young fellow sat at the wheel, dressed in city clothes. He honked the horn twice and Mary put down her ice cream dish.
“Thanks for the binge, Mr. Drake. I’ll have to leave you to paint the town red alone. Maybe you and Mr. Turner would like to drop in for pot luck, Sunday night?” “ I hanks,” Erik said. “We would.”
“My grandfather,” she added quickly, “wants to talk mines to you.”
We watched her drive off with the young fellow.
“That’s Johnny Duncan,” Macklin said. “Lawyer here. Smart, too, Johnny is, and he’s hanging onto the dough his old man left. Looks like he’s goin’ to marry her after all.”
“After all?” I said.
“He’s bin tryin’ ever since she was a kid,” Macklin said.
“Any girl,” Macklin’s wife said, “would get tired of that ranch, all alone up there with poor old Dave, and him blind and goin’ a little wobbly in the head.”
“She was nursin’ in a hospital in Vancouver,” Macklin said, “but she come up here last fall to look after Dave, bein’ he’s the only folks she’s got left. Yes, sir, she was raised up there on the plateau. I remember the morning she was born. Midwinter it was and cold . .
Macklin rattled on and we had a hard job getting out of there.
When we got back to camp, we found news. The returns had come in the mail from the first ore assays that we’d sent down to the Coast. They’d been taken out of the new winze Erik was sinking and they showed gold .16 ounces up to .21, with a trace of silver and antimony. I don’t know much about mines—that’s Erik’s end of it—but I knew, of course, that this was marginal ore. If it showed any enrichment at depth, as they often do in the Cariboo country, and if there was enough of it, we’d have a mine. That was something I hadn’t foreseen and the last thing we wanted—an expensive gamble where our setup was a certainty.
Erik stood at the open door of our little office and looked through the dusk up to that hole in the side of the hill.
“You know, son, it would be funny...”
I saw what was going to happen, lie had the yen. Like on the War Hawk, he’d never be satisfied till he’d gone down that vein. I jumped on the idea with two feet.
“Listen, it would take all the dough we’ve got to explore it. Then it’d probably turn out a flop.”
“With a tunnel at river level ...” “Don’t be crazy,” I said. “You don’t get fool luck like you had on the War Hawk twice in one lifetime. Say, you’re not getting conscience-stricken on ¡account of those hicks in Lillooet, are you?”
“Don’t be silly. What’s worrying me is that you’re selling this stuff at two-bits.
It may be worth ten bucks.”
I saw him look across the deep, black trough of the river. A single light glowed on the plateau. That was the Forest house. “What’s worrying you, my boy,” I said,
“is the last of the forty-niners. And she properly engaged, too.”
Erik laughed, but he kept his face turned from me.
“Okay, son. Have it your own way. We’ll leave the ore alone and mine the good old public pocketbook.”
He kept looking up at the sheer side of the mountain, and I knew he had that old yen to dig into the guts of it.
'Y\7'E HAD DINNER at the Forest VV place on Sunday and afterward we sat on the porch, watching the sun slide down behind the plateau into the river gorge. Mary sat on the porch rail, leaning against a log post, and the fine line of her head, her throat and breast, was sharp and clear against the dying pink of the sky. Erik sprawled his great body on the steps, leaning on his elbow and slowly puffing his pipe. The sun glinted on his hair and beard as on shiny copper, and he was lean and hard now, all the fat and liquor wrung out of him. Johnny Duncan, the young fellow who was supposed to be engaged to Mary, watched Erik from his chair with shrewd grey eyes, saying nothing.
Old Forest stared with sightless, unblinking eyes into the sunset and talked about the old days on the road. The road still wound lazily across the brown plateau, and beyond the plateau’s southern edge it wriggled far down through the canyon of French Creek, beside a string of little lakes that hung in the evening shadow like three diamonds on a piece of purple velvet.
It was queer. As the old man talked you could almost see them toiling up the dusty road—the bull teams of swaying oxen and covered wagons, the shuffling pack trains, the shiny B.X. coaches with their six horses, the two-man Cariboo wheelbarrows, the miners with their gaunt faces and black beards, the gamblers and plump German hurdy-gurdy girls on their way to the dance halls in Barkerville.
The long twilight came and cool puffs of air blew up from the hayfields below us, loaded with the heavy, sweet smell of alfalfa bloom. A couple of Indian cowboys tossed horseshoes in the stable yard with a metallic clink like a bell. Sitting on the tumble-down porch of that ruined log house, beside the road where the gold rush had passed, you felt a long way from Granville Street and Broadway.
Old Forest rambled on—about Cariboo Cameron who took a million out of Williams Creek, about Begbie, the hanging judge, and Ned McGowan’s American mutiny at Fort Yale, and the day Lady Dufferin, the Governor’s lady, came up the road in a coach specially built for her in ’Frisco. As he talked, his voice began to rise and a queer eager look came over his ravaged face. I could see his mind was beginning to wander. He stood up unsteadily, groping with his hands and, finding a log post, stood there gripping it and pointing up the road.
“There’s plenty more gold left up there. We only took a little. Yes, yes, you men will get what we left, the mother lode of it all. On Lightning Creek we never did get down to bedrock. There’s gold there. This way, Past Murder Bar, we took three dollars to the pan—this way, this way—it’s only a mile from here around the next bend ...”
He shuffled forward, both hands groping before him, and Mary took him quietly by the arm and led him up the porch to the
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door. In a little while she came back and sat down on the railing again.
“When he gets talking about the old days,” she said, “he begins to think he’s on the road again. He’s always wanting to go up there, back up the road.”
Erik pointed north with the stem of his pipe.
“Have you ever been up there?”
“Once, when I was eight,” Mary laughed. “I started out, but they caught me at the Twenty-nine Mile and brought me back. After that I was sent down to the Coast to school. But I’ve always promised myself I’d go again some day.”
“Where?” Erik said.
“Oh, just up the road. That’s always been enough for us in this country. Just up the road.”
“And a damnably dusty, crooked road, full of potholes,” Johnny, said, speaking for the first time.
“But it’s all we have,” Mary said, “and we cling to it, like scared kids to their mother’s skirt.”
“Yes, hoping for another gold rush,” Johnny said. “That’s all the people in this country do—wait for someone to find a pot of gold at the end of the road.”
Mary looked over at Erik and smiled.
“Maybe the Yankee Boy is going to be our pot of gold.”
Erik opened his mouth to say something, stopped and bit his pipestem hard.
When I got up next morning I found him down at river level with a gang of men and a compressor outfit. Ele was starting a tunnel there to hit the vein at depth, if it went down, and see what it amounted to. He looked up and grinned at me and I grinned back. I knew him too well to try arguing with him in that humor.
Instead, I phoned Ed Bullock, our broker at the Coast, and told him what had happened, and I told him to unload all the stock the market would take, down to twenty cents, while we had the chance. If we finished that tunnel and didn’t hit the vein at depth, then everybody would know and the jig would be up.
After that we went to the Forest place every Sunday night for dinner. Johnny Duncan had gone down to the Coast on business, so Mary and Erik would usually ride out on the range while I talked to old Forest on the porch. He’d talk by the hour about the old days and stop to listen to every car going up the road—freight trucks mostly, and flivvers carrying deadbeats up to the new mines at Barkerville.
With three shifts, Erik was making about twenty feet a day on his lower tunnel, and it was costing us about $500 a day to run the whole camp. If the vein did go down to depth, we should hit it within fifty days. But this crazy gamble had soured Ed Bullock and his friends on the whole deal, and Ed had started to unload his own block of stock, 50,000 shares, as well as ours. Yankee Boy sagged to fifteen cents, then twelve, then ten.
The rest happened pretty fast.
ONE NIGHT in August I went down to the corral to meet Erik and Mary coming hack from their ride. I found her in his arms. They didn’t notice me.
But on the way home I said to Erik: “They tell me that the quaint custom of this country is that if you kiss a girl, you marry her.”
“Not such a bad custom,” Erik said. “Then I suppose you’ve babbled everything to her—-Yankee Boy deal and all?” “That’s it,” Erik said slowly. “I haven’t.”
“Then don’t. You’re trying to make a mine out of it, aren’t you? It’s as crazy as hell, and it’ll probably bust us, but it’s an honest attempt, isn’t it?”
“You forget one small detail, son. We’ve already floated something like 200,000 shares, on my say-so.”
“Then you’re going to tell her and let the good news out and wreck everything?” “I thought—well, I thought I’d wait a bit. We might hit that vein.”
He didn’t get a chance to wait.
Two days after that some Indians found
old Forest dead, sprawled on the range a couple of miles north of the ranch house. He’d wandered off when nobody was looking, and gone up the road at last.
They put his coffin on a farm wagon, and we followed it on foot in a cloud of dust to a bare, round hill overlooking the ranch. All the Forests were buried on that hill.
After four men had covered the grave. Mary stood alone on the hilltop, hatless in a black dress, her hair fluttering in the wind. The sky behind her was as hard and blue as steel. The crowd stood in a circle around the hill—bent old men in clumsy store clothes, lean women with bony hands, Indians and their squaws with scarlet handkerchiefs on their heads, shuffling, stolid-faced; at the other edge, old Eugene, the negress, in a yellow dress, sniffling into a green handkerchief.
Erik and I stood a little apart. We both felt it, I guess—that these were Dave Forest’s friends, Cariboo people from his road, and we didn’t belong, had no right there among them. The crowd eyed Erik curiously, with wooden faces. By now everybody on the Cariboo Road knew about Erik Drake and the Yankee Boy.
As Mary came down the hill Erik took her arm. We left Dave Forest beside his road. I remembered then what he had said that first day—the road never dies.
Everybody filed past Mary on the front steps of the house and shook her hand, and soon only Erik and Johnny Duncan and I were left. Johnny had come up from the Coast for the funeral, and I judged by his face that he knew all about Erik and Mary. He stood up to go.
“Well, good-by, Mary. I see you are heilig well looked after. Mr. Drake looks after everyone so well, doesn’t he? Including the shareholders of the Yankee Boy.”
Mary was sitting as usual on the porch rail, and she looked quickly at Erik, on the steps. Erik glanced up slowly at Duncan. He spoke quietly, but that scar of his was dark crimson.
“Just what do you mean by that. Duncan?”
Johnny’s shrewd little eyes moved from Erik to Mary and hack again and he smiled.
“I’ll leave you to tell Mary what I mean. You’ll do it so much better. So long, Mr. Drake.”
He got into his car and drove off.
I SAW right away what had happened.
Johnny had heard something in the brokerage' offices on the Coast. After he’d unloaded his own stock, Ed Bullock must have talked.
Erik got slowly to his feet and knocked the ashes from his pipe on the porch rail.
“I think maybe Mary and I would like to be alone for a bit.”
I walked off and got into our car, out of earshot, and after a while Erik got in beside me and started the engine, without a word. I looked hack as we went down the road and Mary was still standing on the porch, leaning against one of the big log posts. She looked strangely small and alone in that vast and ruined log house. I remembered what her grandfather had called her that first morning—the last of the forty-niners.
After I’d looked at Erik’s face. I kept my mouth shut until we got back to camp. Then I said: “So it’s all washed up between you two, eh?”
“Looks like it,” he grunted.
He filled the open doorway of our office shack, and he was looking across the solid black gash of the river to the plateau, a thin line against the fading sky. One light gleamed there in the dusk.
I said: “So you let a slick little country lawyer chuck you out.”
“No. I chucked myself out.”
“Eh? Say, what kind of a story did you tell her anyway?”
“I forget, but it was plenty. I dare say she wasn’t sorry to see me go.”
I stood up and put my arm on his shoulder.
“Want to tell me why you’ve gone crazy?”
( It was a moment before he answered, then the words tumbled out.
Dave Forest—those other old boys up there on the hill—they walked up the road on foot, see? The Indians rolled rocks down on them and shot them in the back, but they kept on, and they dug the gold out of the gravel with their hands, up to their neck in slum. And they died broke. When I saw those people up on the hill today I quit kidding myself and admitted something I’d known for quite a while—since that first day, maybe. We don’t belong, son, that’s all. They’re a different breed. Mary belongs to that breed.”
“And you belong to that breed,” I said, “if anybody does.”
I heard a harsh little laugh.
“Oh, sure. When we’re digging into the pocketbooks of a lot of clerks and shop girls down on the Coast. Yeah, that’s what I told her just now. She didn’t like it much.”
I sat down and thought hard for a while. “I think you’re screwy,” I said at last, “but that’s none of my business. My business is to save something out of the wreck, if I can. Now that you’ve obligingly told the world that the Yankee Boy is no good, the stock won’t be worth anything. I can’t sell any more, and we’ve spent about all we’ve taken in, except for about fifty thousand. So unless you hit the vein, we’re bust. When will you know?”
“Oh, a week, two weeks, three maybe. But what does it matter?”
“It matters this much—if you do hit it, we’ve got a mine—right? The stock might be worth a dollar—two—three, ten maybe, as good as the War Hawk. Right?” “Uh huh.”
“So I’m going down to the Coast right now, tonight. If you hit it, and it’s rich at depth, give me forty-eight hours advance notice before the news gets out. I could buy up enough with the money we have to make a killing. They’ll just about give the stock away now.”
Erik grunted again and sat down in the doorway and filled his pipe. The light on the thin line of the plateau was dearer now in the darkness.
T DROVE down to Vancouver the next day and hid myself in a cheap hotel on Hastings East. Yankee Boy had slid to eight cents, but no one was buying. I waited two weeks, three. Then Erik got me out of bed at six o’clock one morning. “That you, son? It’s okay. Go ahead.” “Okay,” I said. You couldn’t ask questions on that wire to the mine. Half the Cariboo listened in on it.
I bought. I kept away from Ed Bullock and I bought through three little houses that didn’t know me. The stock began to harden a little—nine, ten, twelve, fifteen, twenty. By Thursday noon it was sixty cents. Bullock began to buy back his lot too, and more besides, and the thing was a sensation on the Coast markets.
At the week-end, when it dosed at a dollar, I had corralled about all the loose stock except the block Bullock held. I had around 200,000 shares, counting the unsold stuff, and there was hardly a little man left in. And I had less than a thousand in cash to my name.
Sunday morning I phoned Erik I was coming, and I drove back up the road, feeling pretty good. The fellow at the gas station in Lillooet gave me the first news of what had happened. He said Erik had come into Lillooet the week before and bought up all the Yankee Boy stock he could find in the town. For some he’d paid as high as a dollar.
That made sense, but the rest didn’t. The Yankee Boy had been closed down and the crew paid off on Saturday night.
I drove on, without waiting for the change.
When I raced up the switchback road to the mine there wasn’t a light anywhere, but on the porch of the office shack Erik was waiting for me, a dunnage bag in his
hand. I jumped out of the car and ran up the steps.
“If I’m not too inquisitive,” I said, “what, in a general way, is the idea?” “The idea of what?”
“Of closing the mine, of course.”
“The mine? Oh, that. That was a detail I forgot to mention to you. You see, son, we didn’t hit the vein after all. You were right—it pinches out shallow the way you said it would. So there was no use keeping on, was there?”
“Wait a minute. You told me on the phone—”
“Yeah. That was my mistake. I was a little too quick on the trigger.”
“Sure, just a minor detail that leaves us with a sackful of worthless stock certificates and about a thousand bucks in the world.”
Erik threw back his head and laughed. “Why, that’s great, son. I thought we were broke.”
Pie stood there looking across the glistening streak of the river, white and sleek under the moon like boiling metal. On the other side, against the dim blur of the plateau, a single light glowed. As soon as I saw it, I saw through everything, just like that.
“I get it,” I said, “at last. I might have figured it out from the start, knowing you. You knew you hadn’t hit the vein when you told me to buy. You even bought the stock those hicks had. You saved all the suckers except the biggest sucker of all. Yeah, because you met a gal, a fortyniner.”
“It’s a nice night,” Erik said, “but frosty. You’ve got to expect frost up here in October.”
“Well, there’s the light in the window for the wandering boy,” I said. “After this grand reformation you’ll be welcome at the old family homestead. What are you waiting for?”
“It happens I’m going in the opposite direction.”
“Up the road. Just up the road. I thought you might like to string along.” He put his arm on my shoulder.
“Look, son, I'm sorry things broke this way. My fault, all of it. But up there in Barkerville they’re opening up a real camp, big mines. We can get in on the ground floor—maybe another War Hawk.
A job anyway. We’ve been broke before. What do you say?”
“She’s not in this. That guy Johnny Duncan, he’s regular, see? He’s got dough, too. Respectable family lawyer, good husband, all that. Women and us, we don’t seem to mix, do we?”
He got into the car and started to turn it around. I stood on the steps of the shack, thinking fast.
“If I’m coming up the road,” I said, “I’ve got to put in a call to a couple of fellows at the Coast who owe me some money. I’ll only be a minute.”
I went back into the shack and closed the door behind me and rang the operator at Lillooet and told her to give me the Forest place. After a few minutes Mary answered.
“Listen, Mary,” I said and told her the whole thing from the beginning and I didn’t care who was listening in on the wire.
“I guess this sounds pretty screwy,” I finished limply, “but you’re alone now Continued on page 45
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The Road Never Pies
-Continued from page 42—Starts on page 10 -
and you said you always wanted to go up the road and—well, we’ll be passing your place in about half an hour. I thought maybe you’d like a lift.”
YOU TOOK long enough,” Erik grunted as I got into the car.
“The wire to the Coast was busy,” I said.
Erik drove fast. When we came to the fork by the ranch we saw someone standing in the middle of the road, holding a grip in each hand.
“Some hitch hiker,” Erik said and slowed down. Then he saw who it was and stopped the car.
“What’s this?” he growled at me. “You know something about this.”
“Ask the hitch hiker,” I said.
He got slowly out of the car and walked on ahead and they stood there together for a minute. I couldn’t, hear what they said, but I saw Erik take her in his arms and lift her off her feet, and in the glare of the headlights it looked like a fade-out in a movie—the two of them kissing each other there in the middle of the dusty Cariboo Road, where the ox teams and the stage coaches and the forty-niners had toiled up to the gold fields in the old days.
Again I remembered what old Dave Forest liad said—the road never dies.