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´╗┐Title: The Challenge of the North
Author: Hendryx, James B. (James Beardsley), 1880-1963
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Challenge of the North" ***

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THE CHALLENGE OF THE NORTH


BY

JAMES HENDRYX



GARDEN CITY --------- NEW YORK

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

1922



COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION
  INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN



PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES

AT

THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.


_First Edition_



The Challenge of the North

I

Oskar Hedin, head of the fur department of old John McNabb's big store,
looked up from his scrutiny of the Russian sable coat spread upon a
table before him, and encountered the twinkling eyes of old John
himself.

"It's a shame to keep this coat here--and that natural black fox piece,
too.  Who is there in Terrace City that's got thirty thousand dollars
to spend for a fur coat, or twenty thousand for a fox fur?"

Old John grinned.  "Mrs. Orcutt bought one, didn't she?"

"Yes, but she bought it down in New York----"

"An' paid thirty-five thousand for a coat that runs half a dozen shades
lighter, an' is topped an' pointed to bring it up to the best it's got.
Did I ever tell ye the story of Mrs. Orcutt's coat?"

"No."

"It goes back quite a ways--the left-handed love me an' Fred Orcutt has
for one another.  We speak neighborly on the street, an' for years
we've played on opposite sides of a ball-a-hole foursome at the Country
Club, but either of us would sooner lose a hundred dollars than pay the
other a golf ball.

"It come about in a business way, an' in a business way it's kept on.
Not a dollar of McNabb money passes through the hands of Orcutt's
Wolverine Bank--an' he could have had it all, an' he knows it.

"As ye know, I started out, a lad, with the Hudson's Bay Company, an'
I'd got to be a factor when an old uncle of my mother's in Scotlan'
died an' left me a matter of twenty thousand pounds sterling.  When I
got the money I quit the Company an' drifted around a bit until finally
I bought up a big tract of Michigan pine.  There wasn't any Terrace
City then.  I located a sawmill here at the mouth of the river an' it
was known as McNabb's Landin'.

"D'ye see those docks?  I built 'em, an' I've seen the time when they
was two steamers warped along each side of 'em, an' one acrost the end,
an' a half a dozen more anchored in the harbor waitin' to haul McNabb's
lumber.  The van stood on this spot in the sawmill days, an' when it
got too small I built a wooden store.  Folks began driftin' in.  They
changed the name from McNabb's Landin' to Terrace City, an' I turned a
many a good dollar for buildin' sites.

"The second summer brought Fred Orcutt, an' I practically give him the
best lot of the whole outfit to build his bank on.  The town outgrew
the wooden store an' I built this one, addin' the annex later, an' I
ripped out the old dam an' put in a concrete dam an' a power plant that
furnished light an' power for all Terrace City.  Money was comin' in
fast an' I invested it here an' there--Michigan, an' Minnesota, an'
Winconsin pine, an' the Lord knows what not.  Then come the panic, an'
I found out almost over night that I was land poor.  I needed cash, or
credit at the bank, or I had to take a big loss.  I went to see Fred
Orcutt--I banked with him, those days, an' he knew the fix I was in.
Yes, the bank would be glad to accommodate me all right; if you could
of been there an' heard Fred Orcutt lay down his terms you'd know just
how damn glad they'd of been to accommodate me.  It kind of stunned me
at first, an' then I saw red--the man I'd befriended in more ways than
one, just layin' back till he had me in his clutches!  Well, I lit out
an' told him just what I thought of him--an' he got it in log camp
English.  It never fazed him.  He just sat there leanin' back in his
chair, bringin' the points of his fingers together an' drawin' 'em
apart again, an' lookin' me square in the face with them pale blue
fishy eyes of his.  When I'd used up all the oaths an' epithets in
common use, an' some new ones, an' had to quit, he says, in the same
cold, even voice that he'd used in layin' down his terms, he says,
'You're a little excited now, John, and I'll not hold it against you.
Just drop in sometime to-morrow or next day and we'll fix up the
papers.'"

"I walked out of the bank with a wild scheme in my head of going to
Detroit or Chicago for the money.  But I knew it was no use--and so did
Orcutt.  He thought he had me right where he wanted me--an' so did I.
Meanwhile, an' about six months previous, a young fellow named Charlie
Bronson--president of the First National now--had opened up a little
seven-by-nine bank in a tin-covered wooden shack that I'd passed a
dozen times a day an' hadn't even looked into.  I'd met Bronson once or
twice, but hadn't paid no attention to him, an' as I was headin' back
for the store, he stood in his doorway.  'Good mornin' Mr. McNabb,' he
says.  I don't think I'd of took the trouble to answer him, but just
then his bank sign caught my eye.  It was painted in black letters an'
stuck out over the sidewalk.  I stopped an' looked past him through the
open door where his bookkeeper-payin'-an'-receivin'-teller-cashier, an'
general factotum was busy behind the cheap grill.  Then I looked at
Bronson an' the only thing I noticed was that his eyes was brown, an'
he was smilin'.  'Young man,' I says, 'have you got any money in that
sardine can?'

"'Quite a lot,' he answers with a grin.  'More than I wish I had.'

"'You got a hundred thousand?' I asks--it was more than I needed, but I
thought I'd make it big enough to scare him.

"'More than that,' he answers, without battin' an eye.  'But--what's
the matter with the Wolverine?'

"'The Wolverine?' I busted out.  'Young man, if I was to tell you what
I think of the Wolverine here on the street, I'd be arrested before I'd
got good an' started.'

"'Better come inside, then,' he grins, an' I followed him into a little
box of a private office.  'Of course,' I says later, when I'd told him
what I wanted, 'most of my collateral is pine timber, an' I suppose, as
Orcutt says, it's depreciated----'

"'Depreciated?' he asks.  'Why has it depreciated?  It's all standin'
on end, ain't it?' he says.  An' it ain't gettin' no smaller, is it?
An' they're layin' down the pine a damn sight faster than God Almighty
can grow it, ain't they?'  An' when I admitted that such was the facts,
he laughed.  'Well then, we'll just go over your reports an' estimates,
an' I don't think we'll have any trouble about doin' business.'

"An we never have had no trouble, an' we've been doin' business every
day since."

"But the coat?" reminded Hedin, after an interval of several minutes.

"I'm coming to that.  Orcutt ain't human, but his wife is.  When he
found out I'd slipped out of his clutches an' swung all my business
over to Bronson's bank he never by so much as a word or a look let on
that he even noticed it.  They still have an account at the store; they
can't help it, because no other store in Terrace City keeps the stock
we do.  But Mrs. Orcutt does all her real shoppin' in New York or
Chicago."



II

Oskar Hedin loved fur, and the romance of fur.  From his earliest
recollection he had loved it as he had curled up and listened to the
stories of his father, a great upstanding Viking of a sailor man, who
year after year had forced his little vessel into the far North where
he traded with the natives, and who had lost his life in the ice floes
of the frozen sea while sailing with Nordenskjold.

Furs were to Hedin an obsession; they spoke a language he knew.  He
hated the grosser furs, as he loved the finer.  He despised the trade
tricks and spurious trade names by which the flimsiest of furs are
foisted upon the gullible purchasers of "seal," "sable," "black fox,"
"ermine," and "beaver."  He prided himself that no misnamed fur had
ever passed over his counter, and in this he was backed up by his
employer.  The cheaper furs were there, but they sold under their true
names and upon their merits.

In the social democracy of the town of twenty thousand people Oskar
Hedin had earned a definite place.  After graduating from the local
high school he had entered the employ of McNabb, and within a very few
years had been promoted to head his department.  At the Country Club he
could be depended upon to qualify with the first flight in the annual
golf tournament, and the "dope" was all upset when he did not play in
the finals on the courts.  He lived at the city's only "family hotel,"
drove his own modest car, and religiously spent his Sundays on the
trout streams.

Hedin picked up the coat and reverently deposited it in the fur safe.
"It's a coat fit for a queen," he decided as he closed and locked the
door.  And Jean was the one woman in the world to wear it.  Jean with
the red blood coursing through her veins, her glow of health, and the
sparkle of her eyes--McNabb's own daughter.  "And, yet, I can't suggest
it because--" Hedin muttered aloud and scowled at the floor.  "I'd have
asked her before this," he went on, "if that Wentworth hadn't butted
in.  Who knows anything about him, anyway?  I'll ask her this
afternoon."  He stopped abruptly and smiled into the eyes of the girl
who was hurrying toward him down the aisle.

"Oh, Oskar, I've just got a minute.  I stopped in to remind you that
this is Saturday, and we're going tobogganing this afternoon, and I've
asked Mr. Wentworth and some of the crowd, and there'll be four or five
toboggans, and it will be no end jolly.  And this is my birthday, and
you're a dear to think of it and send me all those flowers, and I'm
going to wear 'em to-night.  Listen, Elsie Campbell is giving a dinner
for me this evening and of course you're not invited because it's just
too funny the way she has snubbed you lately, and there's a show in
town and after dinner we're going.  Of course it won't be any good, but
she's making a theatre party of it, and it sounds grand anyway.  And I
must hurry along now because I must remind Dad that he promised me a
fur coat the day I was twenty-one, and I'll be back after a while and
you can help me pick it out.  Good-by, see you later!"  And she was
gone, leaving Hedin gazing after her with a smile as he strove to
digest the jumble of uncorrelated information of which she had
unburdened herself.  "Wentworth, and some of the crowd!  Oh, it will be
jolly, all right--damn Wentworth!"

Old John McNabb looked up from his papers as his daughter burst into
his private office and, rushing to his side, planted a kiss squarely
upon the top of his bald head.  "I came in to tell you I'm twenty-one
to-day," she announced.

"Well, well, so ye are!  Ye come into the world on the first of March,
true to the old sayin', an' ye've be'n boisterous ever since.
Twenty-one years old, an' tell me now, what have ye ever accomplished?
When I was your age I'd be'n livin' in the bush north of 60 for two
years, an' could do my fifty miles on snowshoes an' carry a pack."

"Maybe I can't do fifty miles a day on snowshoes, and I'm sure it isn't
my fault I don't live north of 60.  But I'm in a hurry; I promised to
help Mr. Wentworth pick out a toboggan cap.  I stopped in to remind you
that you promised me a fur coat on my twenty-first birthday."

The old man regarded her thoughtfully.  "So I did, so I did," he
repeated absently.  "This Wentworth, now--he's been kickin' around an
uncommon lot, lately.  Tell me again, who is he?  What does he do for a
livin'?"

"Why, he's a civil engineer--hydraulic work is his specialty.  He has
been employed by some company that intended to put in a power plant of
some kind on Nettle River, and either the company broke up, or they
found the plan was not feasible, or something, and they abandoned it.
So Mr. Wentworth isn't doing anything, at present.  But he is a fine
fellow--so jolly, and so good looking, and he has a wonderful war
record.  He was with the engineers in Russia."

"U-m-m, where d'ye get hold of his war record?"

"Why--why--he--he has told us about the things they did--his company."

"Um--hum," Old John was stroking his nose.

"But, if he's civil engineer, an' out of a job, you might tell him to
stop in a minute--after he gets the right color of a toboggan cap
picked out."



III

When the door closed behind the girl old John readjusted his nose
glasses and leaned back in his chair.  "A clever engineer he is, beyond
a doubt," he mused.  "For I kept my eye on him while he was layin' out
Orcutt's Nettle River project.  If he'd made a botch of the job 'twould
have saved me offerin' my plant to the city.  But he has the look of a
man ye couldn't trust in the dark--an' 'twould be clever engineerin' to
marry a million.  I'll set him a job that'll show the stuff that's in
him.  If he's a crook, I'll give him the chance to prove it."  Reaching
into a pigeon-hole of his desk, McNabb withdrew a thick packet of
papers and removed the rubber band.

A few moments later Jean entered, the office followed by a rather well
set up young man, whose tiny mustache was chopped square, like a
miniature section of box hedge.  "This is Mr. Wentworth, Dad,"
introduced the girl.  "And now I'll leave you two men, because Oskar
has promised to help me pick out a coat, and it's after ten o'clock.
And, by the way, Dad, what kind of a coat shall I get?  I want a good
one."

"I'll warrant ye do!  Well, just you tell Oskar to let you pick out a
pony, or a crummer, or a baum marten, or a squirrel.  They're all good."

As the door closed behind his daughter, old John McNabb motioned the
younger man to a chair.  "My daughter tells me you're an engineer," he
began.

"Yes, sir, temporarily unemployed."

"Come up here on the Nettle River project, I hear.  What's the matter?
Couldn't you dam the river?"

"Oh, yes.  The Nettle River presents no serious engineering problem.  I
spent four months on the ground and reported it favorably, and then all
of a sudden, I was informed that the project had been abandoned, at
least for the present.  The trouble, I presume, was in the financing.
It certainly was not because of any physical obstacles."

"What was the idea in building the dam in the first place?"

"Why, for power purposes.  I believe it was their intention to induce
manufacturing enterprises to locate in Terrace City, and to furnish
them electric power at a low rate----"

"An' underbid me on the lightin' contract--an' then unload onto the
city at a big profit."

Wentworth smiled.  "I was not advised as to the financial end of it.  I
suppose, though, that that would have been the logical procedure."

Old John chuckled.  "You're right, it would, with Fred Orcutt mixed up
in it.  But they didn't catch me nappin', an' I slipped the word to the
city dads that I'd sell out to 'em, lock, stock, an' barrel, at a
figure that would have meant a loss to Orcutt's crowd to meet.  So I'm
the one that busted the Nettle River bubble, an' seein' I knocked ye
out of a job, it's no more than fair I should offer ye another."

"Why, thank you----"

"Don't thank me yet," interrupted McNabb.  "Ye may not care to tackle
it.  It's a man's size job, in a man's country.  Part of it's the same
kind of work you've been doin' here--locatin' a dam to furnish power to
run a pulp mill.  Then you'll have to check up the land covered by that
batch of options, an' explore a couple of rivers, an' locate more
pulpwood, an' get options on it.  An' lay out a road to the railway.
It's in Canada, in the Gods Lake Country, three hundred miles north of
the railhead."

"How soon would you expect me to start?"

"Monday wouldn't be none too soon; to-morrow would be better.  It's
this way.  I've got options on better than half a million acres of
pulpwood lyin' between Hayes River an' the Shamattawa.  Ten years ago I
cut the last of my pine, an' I got out my pencil an' begun to figure
how I could keep in the woods.  I pig-ironed a little--got out hardwood
for the wooden specialty factories to cut up into spools, an'
clothes-pins, an' oval dishes an' whatnot--an' then I turned my
attention to the pulpwood.  I figured it wouldn't be long before the
papermills would be hollerin' for raw materials the way they was
turnin' out the paper, so I nosed around a bit an' bought options on
pulpwood land here an' there.  An' now's the time to get busy, with the
big newspapers an' the magazines all howlin' for paper, an' all the
mills workin' overtime."

"Do you mean that you're going to manufacture paper yourself--way up
there?  How do you expect to get your product to market?"

"Easy enough.  Make the paper in the woods, an' float it a little
better than a hundred miles to Hudson Bay in barges, or scows.  You
see, the Shamattawa runs into Hayes River, an' Hayes River empties into
the Bay just across a spit of land from Port Nelson.  And the railway
from The Pas to Port Nelson is being pushed to completion.  With the
paper on the Bay, I can ship by rail or boat to the market."

"And you want to locate the mill on the Hayes River?"

"No; the Hayes runs too flat.  Either on the upper Shamattawa, or on
Gods River, which lies between the two, an' flows into the Shamattawa.
There's plenty of water in either one, an' I think both or 'em have got
fall enough.  I want the mill where it will be easy to get the wood to
it, an' at the same time, where we'll have a good head of water--an'
it's got to be done quick.  The options expire the first of August, an'
I've nosed around an' found out there's no chance to renew 'em on
decent terms.  When you get the mill located, then you've got to slip
down the river an' find out what kind of scows we'll need, an' lay out
a road to the new Hudson Bay Railway that's headed for Port Nelson.
We'll haul in the material an' save time.  An' when you've finished
that, you can make a survey of the pulpwood available outside our
present holdin's."

"Quite a job, take it all in all."

"Yes--an' takin' it all in all, it'll take quite a man to fill it,"
retorted McNabb brusquely.  "The man that puts this through won't never
need to hunt another job, because this is only the beginnin' of the
pulpwood game for me----"  The telephone on the desk rang, and after a
moment's conversation, McNabb arose and tossed the packet of papers
into Wentworth's lap.  "I've got to step out for a matter of ten or
fifteen minutes," he said.  "Here's the papers, an' a map of the
country.  Look 'em over, an' if you care to tackle it, let me know when
I come back."

Alone in the office, Wentworth studied the map fully five minutes; then
he read over the option contract.  Suddenly, he straightened in his
chair, and read the last clause of the contract carefully:

Be it further agreed that if the said John McNabb, or his authorized
representative, does not demand fulfillment of the terms of this
agreement, and accompany the said demand by tender of at least ten
percent of the purchase price named herein, on or before noon of the
first day of July, nineteen hundred and twenty-one, this agreement
shall automatically become null and void in its entirety.

Be it further agreed between the said John McNabb, and the said
Canadian Wild Lands Company, Ltd., that aforementioned demand and
tender of payment shall be made at and in the store of that trading
post of the Hudson's Bay Company, situated upon the north shore of Gods
Lake, and known as Gods Lake Post.

Swiftly Wentworth stepped to the desk and, lifting the receiver from
its hook, called a number.  "Hello!  Wolverine Bank?  I want to speak
with Mr. Orcutt.  Hello, Mr. Orcutt?  This is Wentworth--No, I don't
want any money.  Listen, I must see you at once.  I'm on the trail of
something big, and I need you to help swing it.  There's a million in
it--can't say more now.  What?  One o'clock at the bank?  Right, I'll
be there.  Good-by."

A few moments later McNabb entered the office.  "Well, did you look the
proposition over?  Ye see by the map how we can get the paper to the
Bay.  What d'ye say?  Take it, or leave it?"

"I'll take it," answered Wentworth.

"An' ye'll start to-morrow?"

"Why--it's pretty short notice--but--yes, I'll start to-morrow."

Old John McNabb drew a check which he handed to Wentworth.

"Expenses, an' a month's advance salary," grunted the older man.

"And when do you want a report on the mill site?"

"As soon after the ice goes out as you can make it."

"And you will be up during the summer?"

"Some time in July--I've got to be there on the first of August to
close that option.  Take those location papers with ye.  Ye'll need
them, an' the map--I have another copy in the vault at the bank.  I'll
bring 'em up when I come, so if somethin' comes up so you couldn't be
at the post on the first of August, it won't hold up the deal.  Run
along now, I must catch the 11:45 train for Grand Rapids--see you in
July."



IV

Upstairs in the fur department Oskar Hedin paused in the act of
returning some fox pieces to their place, and greeted the girl who had
halted before the tall pier glass to readjust her hat and push a
refractory strand of hair into place.  "Back again?" he smiled.  "And
now for the coat!"

"Now for the coat," she repeated.  "What kind of a coat do I want,
Oskar?  I want to try on lots of them.  I don't know a thing in the
world about furs.  All I know is that I've seen some I liked, and some
that I didn't care much for."

For half an hour Jean tried on coats, until her choice had narrowed
down to a handsome dark baum marten, and a shimmery gray squirrel.

"I think they're both lovely, and I can't quite make up my mind," she
said at last, in a tone of mock despair.  "It's worse than picking out
toboggan caps.  I just helped Mr. Wentworth select one--and, oh, by the
way, I believe dad is going to find a place for him."

"For who?" asked Hedin, and Jean noticed tiny wrinkles gather between
his eyes.

"Why, for Mr. Wentworth, of course.  You see, I told dad that he'd just
lost his position with that old Nettle River thing they were trying to
put through, and Dad said if he was a civil engineer, and out of a job,
to tell him to drop in and see him, so I took him in and introduced him
and I guess they're still talking."

"Humph," grunted Hedin.

"You don't need to be so grumpy about it.  Mr. Wentworth is awfully
nice, and all the girls are crazy about him."

"I don't think that gives you any call to rave much over him when it
was Fred Orcutt that brought him here, and he brought him for no other
purpose than to knife your father," replied Hedin dryly.

Jean laughed.  "You take Dad too seriously.  He really believes Mr.
Orcutt has it in for him, and he sees an ulterior motive in everything
he does in a business way.  But, really, the Orcutts are all right.
There was some business deal, years and years ago, in which Dad fancied
Mr. Orcutt tried to get the best of him, and he has never forgotten it.
You see, Dad is the dearest thing that ever lived, but he is sort of
crusty, and it isn't everybody that knows how to take him.  Why, Mr.
and Mrs. Orcutt are going to be at dinner this evening, and are going
to the theatre, too.  They know it is my birthday party, so that
doesn't look as though they were such fierce enemies of the McNabbs,
does it?

"Let's get back to the subject of coats.  This squirrel is beautiful,
but I believe I like the dark fur the better.  I think I'll try that
marten again."

Hedin was thinking rapidly.  He had known from the first that the
darker fur was the fur for her, yet he had refrained from making any
direct suggestion.

"Just a moment, please," he said.  "Won't you button that coat once
more, I want to get an artificial light effect."  As he spoke, he moved
toward the windows and drew the shades.  Returning in the gloom, he
reached swiftly into the fur safe and withdrew the Russian sable coat
which he deftly deposited on top of the marten coat that lay with
several others upon a nearby table.  As the girl turned from the glass,
he switched on the light.

"All right," he said, a moment later.  "If you care to try on the
marten again, we'll see how that shows up under the artificial."
Deftly he lifted the squirrel from her shoulders, and, picking up the
Russian sable, held it while she slipped her arms into the sleeves.  As
she buttoned it, he stepped back, and viewed the result through
critically puckered eyes.  With an effort he refrained from voicing his
enchantment with the living picture before him.  Old John was right--it
was a coat fit for a queen!

"I like this one best.  I'll take it."

Hedin agreed.  "I think you have chosen wisely," he answered, adding,
as she started to loosen the garment at the throat, "Just a minute--the
set of the collar in the back----"  He stepped behind her, raised the
collar a trifle with his fingers, smoothed it into place, and stepped
aside to note the effect.  "Just a trifle low," he said, "but it's too
late to have it altered to-day."

"Oh, bother!  I think the set is all right.  Who would ever notice it?
Let it go."

Hedin smiled.  "You can wear it to-night, all right, but you must
promise me to send it down the first thing Monday morning for the
alteration.

"I will bring it to the house this afternoon."

A sudden caprice seized her.  "Why, I think I'll wear it!" she
answered.  "Just help me on with it, Oskar.  And thank you so much for
helping me select it.  Here comes Mr. Wentworth, now.  I wonder whether
he will like it.  I'm crazy about it.  What kind of a marten did you
say it is?  Everybody will be asking me, and I want to be able to tell
them what my own coat is."

"Baum marten," answered Hedin stiffly, heartily wishing the coat safe
in its accustomed place.  In vain he regretted the wild impulse that
had led him to substitute the sable coat for the marten.  The impulse
had come when the girl told him that Mrs. Orcutt was to be one of the
theatre party.  The plan had flashed upon him with overwhelming
brilliance.  He knew that Jean would in all probability never notice
that the coat was not a marten.  And he knew that Mrs. Orcutt most
certainly would, for McNabb had once publicly compared it with her
coat, much to the New York coat's detriment and Mrs. Orcutt's
humiliation.  It was not altogether loyalty for his employer that led
him to plot the woman an uncomfortable evening, for he owed her a
grudge on his own account.  Ever since the coming of Wentworth, whom
she had taken under her special patronage, Hedin had been studiously
omitted from her scheme of social activities--and Jean McNabb had been
as studiously included.  He knew that McNabb was leaving town to be
gone until the following evening, and that the chance of his seeing the
garment was exceedingly small, and he had invented the fiction of the
low collar in order to get the coat back on Monday morning when he
would, of course, substitute the baum marten and return the sable to
its safe.  But now he felt vaguely uneasy.

Hedin saw that Wentworth was staring at the coat with a swiftly
appraising eye.  "It's a baum marten," Jean went on.  "It took me a
long time to choose between this and a squirrel.  There was one that
was a luscious gray, but I like this better--don't you?"

Wentworth nodded.  "I certainly do," he agreed.  "And I do not believe
it would have taken me long to decide between that and a squirrel."  He
turned to Hedin.  "What do you think, Mr.--ah--Haywood?  That the
choice was a wise one?  This is certainly a handsome--er--what did you
say it is?"

"Baum marten," snapped Hedin, with scarcely a glance at the questioner,
as he turned and began to replace the coats that lay upon the table.
Wentworth watched Hedin return the baum marten to its place, and Jean
stepped swiftly to Hedin's side.

As she spoke, he saw that her eyes were flashing angrily.

"If your surly mood doesn't change," she whispered, "you will not add
much to the enjoyment of our coasting party."

"I shall neither add to, nor detract from it," answered Hedin, meeting
her gaze squarely.  "Please don't wait for me.  I find that I shall not
be able to attend."



V

The United States Government formally entered the world war in April,
and the following month Ross Wentworth had been graduated from a
technical college, and through the auspices of an influential relative
was commissioned a captain of engineers, and assigned to duty in one of
the larger cantonments.  In due course of events he was sent overseas,
and was attached to the forces operating in northern Russia.  During
the sixteen months of his service in the land of the erstwhile Czar, he
acquired a fund of military terms, both official and slang.  Also he
built and maintained in a state of inutility, nine and one-half miles
of military swamp road, over which no gun nor detachment of troops ever
passed.  The abrupt termination of hostilities caught him with a
formidable and inexplicable discrepancy of company funds--which
discrepancy was promptly and liberally met by the aforementioned
relative.  Whereupon, Captain Wentworth was honorably discharged from
the service of his country.

For many months after his discharge he lived by his wits and looks, but
when this grew unproductive of ready cash, he decided to seek
employment in his accredited vocation.

This decision he arrived at while sojourning in the home of a wealthy
fruit-grower who was interested in the Nettle River project, and who
furnished him a letter of recommendation to Orcutt, who promptly
employed him.  Thereafter all went well until McNabb's ultimatum
brought the Nettle River project to as sudden a termination as the
armistice had brought the war.  Whereupon Wentworth found himself in
the uncomfortable predicament of having no available assets and many
pressing liabilities, incurred in the course of his endeavor to win the
good graces of the wealthy Jean McNabb.

While scarcely knowing Hedin, Wentworth recognized him as a possible
rival.  He, himself, was no connoisseur of fur, but at least he knew a
Russian sable when he saw one, and as he preceded Jean down the aisle,
his brain worked rapidly.

By the time he reached the street, a daring scheme was half-formed in
his brain--a scheme which, if successful, would work the utter ruin of
Hedin, and leave him a clear field with the girl.  At the first corner
he excused himself.

Hardly was the girl's back turned when Wentworth dodged around the
corner and entered McNabb's store by another door just in time to see
old John rush from the building, bag in hand, and hurry down the street
in the direction of the station.

McNabb's was the only big store in Terrace City, and being a department
store, it kept city hours, so while on Saturday evenings all the other
stores remained open for business until a late hour, McNabb's closed at
noon.  Passing unnoticed down the aisle, Wentworth's eyes darted here
and there in search of a place of concealment, until at length he took
up a position close beside McNabb's private office, the door of which,
he noted with satisfaction, stood slightly ajar.

Watching his opportunity, Wentworth slipped unnoticed into the private
office, closed the door softly behind him, and sank comfortably into
McNabb's desk chair.

A gong sounded, and was repeated, dimly, upon the floors above.
Wentworth could hear the tramp of feet in the aisles as the clerks
poured from the building through a door that gave on to a side street.
In a few minutes the rush was over, and then they came scatteringly,
singly, and by twos and threes.  He could hear the opening of the door,
and the click of the lock as it closed behind them.  The footsteps
ceased.  He drew his watch and waited.  Noises from the street reached
him, sounding far off and muffled, but the store was silent as a tomb.
Twelve minutes ticked away.  A footstep sounded.  Wentworth could trace
it descending the stairs, and walking the length of an aisle.  Followed
the sound of the opening door, and the click of the latch.  Some
belated department head, he thought.  Possibly Hedin, himself--and he
grinned at the thought.

In the silence of the great building Wentworth suddenly realized that
he was nervous.  It was all well enough to plan a thing, but the
carrying out of the plan was quite another matter.  He took a silent
turn or two the length of the office, his footsteps making no sound
upon the soft carpet.  He waited twenty minutes and, hearing no sound,
closed his watch and dabbed at his forehead with the handkerchief which
he drew from his sleeve.  Turning the knob, he stepped out upon the
uncarpeted floor.  The sound of his footsteps upon the hardwood seemed
to reverberate through the whole building.  He walked a few steps on
tiptoe, and then decided that in case anyone should see him, the
tiptoeing would look furtive.  So he walked to the foot of the
stairway, his footsteps sounding in his ears like the ring of a hammer
on an anvil.  As he ascended the stairs he called out, "Hey, isn't
there any one here?  I am locked in, and can't get out!  Hello!
Someone show me the way out!"

Swiftly he ascended to the third floor and crossed to the fur case.
Silently he slid back the door and lifted the baum marten coat from its
place, and stepping to a counter upon which was fixed a huge roll of
wrapping paper, he proceeded to make the coat into a package.  This
done, he hastened toward the stairway with the package under his arm.
Down the stairs he flew, taking them two and three at a time, down the
next flight, and across the floor, until he brought up panting at the
door with the spring lock by which the employees had left the building.

Thought of material gain had not until this point entered into the
scheme.  He had merely plotted the undoing of a rival, but at the
sudden realization of his status in the eyes of the world, a new
thought struck him.  "If I can get away with it--why not?  A Russian
sable!  Why, it's worth _thousands_!"

It took a concentrated effort to open the door a tiny crack and peer
through.  Swiftly opening the door, Wentworth stepped onto the
sidewalk, closed the door behind him, and clutching his package
tightly, hurried down the street.  He had entirely gained his composure
by the time he reached his hotel, and hastening to his room, placed the
package in his trunk and turned the key.  He glanced at his watch.  It
lacked three minutes of one, and remembering his appointment with
Orcutt, he hastened to the Wolverine Bank.



VI

Orcutt greeted his caller without enthusiasm.  For despite the
assurance over the telephone that Wentworth wanted no money, he felt
that he was in for a touch.

The younger man was quick to note the attitude, and hastened to dispel
it.  "In the first place, Mr. Orcutt, I am going to ask you to cash a
check for three thousand dollars, but----"

"Three thousand!" exclaimed Orcutt, his eyes narrowing.  "Whose check
is it?"

"John McNabb's."

"John McNabb's!"  A look of suspicion flashed into his eyes.

"Yes--isn't it good?"

"Good!  Hell--yes, of course it's good!  But what are you doing with
McNabb's check for three thousand?"

Reaching into his pocket, Wentworth drew out the packet of papers and
held it in his hand.  "Eight or ten years ago McNabb bought options on
a half million acres of pulp-wood lying between two certain rivers.  He
sent for me--said he heard I was out of a job, and that as he was the
one that was responsible for my losing out, it was only fair that he
should offer me another.  Then he went on to outline the whole
proposition, told me the options expired on August first; then he was
called out of the office for a minute and asked me to look over the
maps and papers and let him know if I wanted to tackle it or not.

"In going over the contract, I found that the options expire on July
first, instead of August first, as he said.  It was then I called you
up, for the whole scheme hit me like a flash.  Don't you see it?  If I
worked for him, I'd draw a salary, and a good one--and nothing more.
But if I should interest sufficient capital to step in on the first day
of July when those options expire, and buy up the whole tract, where
would McNabb be?"

Orcutt tapped thoughtfully upon his desk pad with the tip of his
pencil.  "I wonder," he muttered aloud, more to himself than to
Wentworth, "I wonder if John has made a slip at last?"

"That is just what he has done!  And he is so cocksure of his ground
that he didn't even glance at the papers to refresh his memory--I doubt
if he has looked at them since he made the deal."

The banker eyed the younger man shrewdly.  "And in case I should
interest myself in the proposition to the extent of organizing the
capital to swing the deal, what would you expect out of it?"

"A share in the business, and a salary of ten thousand a year."

"You don't want much!" exclaimed Orcutt.

"Not any more than you could well afford to give me.  You don't realize
what a big thing this is--it's going to take a lot of capital to swing
it."

"About how much?"

"You'll have to get your figures on the paper mill from someone that
knows more about it than I do.  The pulp-wood will cost, I imagine,
somewhere between six and ten dollars an acre.  McNabb's options call
for purchase at five dollars, and he told me he could not renew at that
figure.  But even at ten dollars, there is a mint in it.  You will have
to pay down ten percent of the purchase price in cash."

Orcutt whistled.  "Ten percent of the purchase price, at say, ten
dollars, would be half a million.  Besides the cost of the mill and the
interest on four million and a half!"

"It is a big proposition," agreed Wentworth.  "If it is too big for you
to handle, I can find someone who will.  I have a friend in Detroit
whose father will jump at the chance.  It isn't too big for McNabb."

"Who said anything about it being too big?" snapped Orcutt.  "If McNabb
could find the money, I can.  But, mind you, I'm not going to spend a
damned cent on the proposition until after McNabb's options have
expired and we've got our hands on the pulp-wood.  Mind you; you don't
draw any advance money."

"Not a cent," agreed Wentworth.  "But you'd better have the money right
on hand on the first day of July; those options expire at noon, and we
don't want any delay about getting hold of the property.  And, by the
way, I want a written contract--make my share a ten percent interest in
the business."

After some demurring on the part of Orcutt, he called a stenographer
and drew a contract, which he duly signed and handed to Wentworth, who
thrust it into his pocket with the packet of papers.

"Let's see those papers of McNabb's," said Orcutt.

Wentworth smiled.  "That is hardly necessary, do you think?  I will
vouch for the date--and the location need not concern you at present.
All you need to know is that at noon on the first day of July, you, or
your legal representative, must be at the Gods Lake post of the
Hudson's Bay Company, with a half million dollars in cash, or its
equivalent--and you'd better have all your arrangements made in
advance, and allow plenty of time to get there."



VII

On the whole the afternoon was a disappointing one for Jean McNabb.
She had been deeply hurt by Hedin's curt refusal to attend the coasting
party, and Wentworth had proved a very luke-warm cavalier.  She had
started out to be extremely vivacious so all might see that the absence
of Hedin was a matter of no concern, but Wentworth's preoccupied manner
soon dampened her ardor, until for her the coasting party became a
monotonous affair.

She breathed a sigh of relief when it was over, and after a walk,
during which neither ventured a word, she parted from Wentworth at the
gate and rushed to her room.  She was furious with Hedin, furious with
Wentworth, and furious with herself for being furious.

When he parted from Jean McNabb after the coasting party, Wentworth
proceeded to the railway station, where he purchased his ticket and
arranged with a truckman to call for his trunk at exactly eight
o'clock.  Hastening to the hotel, he dressed for dinner.

This accomplished, he carefully locked his door, removed the coat from
his trunk, concealed it within the folds of his own overcoat, and sat
down to smoke a cigarette as he went over, step by step, his hastily
conceived plan.  When the hands of his watch indicated that he would be
precisely fifteen minutes late, he left the hotel, carrying the
overcoat upon his arm.

The street into which he turned was deserted, and proceeding to a point
opposite the Campbell residence, he stepped behind a huge maple tree
and surveyed the brilliantly lighted house across the way.

"They're late getting started.  I hope they are not waiting on my
account," he grinned, and drew closer into the shadow of the trees as a
lone pedestrian passed along the opposite sidewalk.  Faintly to his
ears came the sound of laughter, and then there was a general exodus
toward the dining room.  With a sigh of relief, Wentworth crossed the
street, rang the doorbell, and was admitted.

"That you, Captain Wentworth?" called his hostess.  "We waited for you
until just this minute."

"Awfully sorry to be late--detestable thing to do--going away in the
morning--thousand-and-one things to attend to--be down in a moment to
offer humble apology."

Swiftly and silently Wentworth removed the coat from within his own,
crossed the hall, substituted the baum marten for the Russian sable,
and reentered the gentlemen's dressing room, where it was but the work
of a moment to conceal the garment within the folds of his coat.  Then
he descended the stairs, entered the dining room, and seated himself in
the vacant chair beside Jean McNabb.

The dinner went as dinners do and was brought to a rather abrupt
termination by someone's discovery that it lacked but five minutes to
eight.  As the guests rose from the table Wentworth gave a startled
exclamation.

"In my haste in dressing I forgot my pocketbook.  I distinctly
recollect removing it from my pocket and tossing it upon the bed, and
there I must have left it."  He turned to Elsie Campbell.  "I hope you
will pardon me if I hurry away but really, that pocketbook contains a
rather large sum--expense money you know--and, I am almost certain that
I neglected to lock my room.  I will join you at the door of the
theatre; I can easily reach there before you, if I hurry."

A moment later he rushed from the house with his overcoat upon his arm,
and hurried to the hotel where, lifting the tray of his trunk, he
deposited the sable coat, replaced the tray, locked and strapped the
trunk, and finished just in time to respond to the knock of the
truckman.  Five minutes later he was waiting at the theatre for the
others, who appeared just before the rise of the curtain on the first
act.



VIII

When Oskar Hedin left the store at the closing hour, he went directly
to his hotel, bolted a hasty luncheon, slipped into outdoor togs and a
half hour later was silently threading an old log-trail that bit deep
into the jack-pines.  Mile after mile he glided smoothly along that
silent winding white lane, his skis making no sound in the soft, deep
snow.

Just beyond a swamp, in the centre of a wide clearing, surrounded upon
three sides by the encroaching jack-pines and poplars, and upon the
fourth by a broad bend of the river, Hedin removed his skis and seated
himself upon a rotting log of a tumbled-down cabin, there to think.

So, that's why she wanted a new coat?  She was going out for the
evening with Wentworth.  And she invited Wentworth to go tobogganing,
on this particular afternoon of all others, when he had intended to
whisper in her ear, as the toboggan flew down the steep grade, the
thing that had been uppermost in his mind for a year.  And she had
asked her father to give him a job.  Of course, what could be simpler?
A man can manage to exist, somehow, without a job--but with two a job
is essential.

He laughed, a short, hard laugh that ended in a sneer.  Well, he had
been a fool--that's all.  He had served her purpose, had been the poor
dupe upon whom she had practised her wiles, a plaything, to be lightly
tossed aside for a new toy.  Some day, too late perhaps, she would see
her mistake, and then she would suffer, even as he was suffering
now--but, no, to suffer one must first love, and woman had not the
capacity to love.  "To hell with them!" he cried aloud.  "To hell with
my tame job!  And to hell with Terrace City, and with the civilization
that calls a man from the wild places and sets him to selling women
baubles to deck themselves out in."

The jack-pine shadows reached far into the clearing as Oskar fastened
on his skis and headed back along the tote-road.  It was not too
late--he was only twenty-five.  He, too, would live like a man, would
go into the North, and henceforth only the outlands should know him.
He would resign Monday morning.  The thought caused a pang of regret at
parting with McNabb.

Darkness found him still upon the tote-road.  He emerged from the
jack-pines and paused at the long smooth hill, as was his wont, to look
down upon the brilliant lights of Terrace City.  His momentum carried
him skimming across a flat meadow, and he slowed to a stand at the very
end of the main street where, in the white glare of an arc light he
removed his skis, and stepped onto the sidewalk.

Well, he would see her once more, arrayed in the coat of matched
sable--and he would carry the picture with him to far places where the
stars winked cold in the night sky.

Fully twenty minutes before time for the curtain Hedin was in his
place, tenth row on the middle aisle, eagerly scanning the patrons as
they were ushered to their seats.  The theatre boasted only two boxes,
set just above the stage level, and Elsie Campbell had engaged them
both.

As time for the curtain to rise drew near, Hedin found himself
fidgeting nervously.  Had the theatre party been called off?  The house
was already well filled; surely there was no block of vacant seats that
would accommodate a dinner party.  Then, as he had about given up hope,
he raised his eyes to a box just as Jean McNabb entered, followed
closely by Wentworth.  Hedin stared as if petrified, brushed his hand
across his eyes as though to clear his vision of distorting film, and
stared again.  For Wentworth was lifting a coat from Jean's shoulders,
but it was not a sable one.  Seizing his hat and coat, Hedin rushed
from the building, narrowly avoiding collision with an usher.

Without pausing to put on his coat, he dashed for the store and letting
himself in, took the stairs three at a time.  Upon the second flight,
he met the night watchman who, recognizing him, allowed him to pass,
but noting his evident agitation and unaccountable haste, silently and
discreetly followed and took up a position where he could watch every
move of the excited department head.  Hastening to the fur safe, Hedin
unlocked and threw it open.  He switched on the light, and peered into
the interior.  The Russian sable coat was not in its accustomed place.
And a hurried search of the safe showed that it was in no other place.
Closing the door, he inspected the case that contained the less
valuable furs, and it was but the work of a moment to discover that the
baum marten coat was missing.  Dumbfounded, he stared at the empty
space where the coat should have been.  His brief inspection in the
theatre had told him this was the coat Jean McNabb was wearing--but
where was the sable?  He distinctly remembered replacing the marten
with his own hands, and of seeing the girl pass down the aisle wearing
the sable.

He sank into his chair and, leaning forward, buried his face in his
arms upon his desk.  He tried to think clearly, but found himself
entirely incapable of thought.  How did it happen?  Where was the sable?

Calling the watchman, Hedin questioned him for half an hour, but
learned nothing.  He even made a personal inspection of every door and
window in the store, and sent the watchman to the basement on a tour of
similar inspection.  When the man returned and reported nothing
disturbed, Hedin left the store and proceeded directly to his room,
where he spent a sleepless night in trying to solve the mystery.

After breakfast the following morning Jean McNabb sat before the little
dressing table in her room when the doorbell rang, and the maid
announced Mr. Hedin.

"Tell Mr. Hedin I can't see anyone this morning," she said, without
looking up.

Again the maid tapped at the door, and entering, handed the girl a
hastily scribbled leaf torn from a notebook.  Jean read it at a glance,
and her face flushed with swift anger.  No salutation, only a few
scrawled words: "Must see you at once.  Purely matter of business--very
important--about the coat."

Crossing to her desk the girl scribbled upon the reverse side of the
paper.  "Never talk business on Sunday.  Coat will be at store as per
agreement."



IX

On Monday morning old John McNabb entered his private office to find
Hedin awaiting him.  He glanced at the younger man inquiringly--"What
ails ye, lad?  Ye look like ye hadn't slept for a week."

"I haven't slept for two nights," answered Hedin.  "There is no use
beating around the bush.  As a matter of fact, the Russian sable coat
is missing, and I am to blame for it."

The old man stared incredulously.  "Missin'!" he exclaimed.  "An'
you're to blame!  What d'ye mean?"

Hastily, in as few words as possible, Hedin recited the facts as he
knew them, while an angry flush mounted to the old man's face.

McNabb reached for the telephone and called a number.  "Hello!  Is that
you, Jean?  Come to the store at once, and bring your new fur coat--to
my office. . . .  What?  No, that won't do, at all.  Bring it
yourself--I'm waitin'."

"I'll step outside while Jean--while Miss McNabb----"

"Ye'll stay where ye are!" snapped McNabb.

The older man turned to his desk, where for ten minutes he opened and
closed drawers and rustled papers viciously.  Then the door opened and
Jean herself stepped into the room with the fur coat over her arm.
"Well, Dad, here's the coat."  She paused abruptly, glanced inquiringly
at Hedin, nodded coolly, and continued, "Oskar said it needed a little
tailoring, and that I was to bring it down this morning, but I didn't
think there was any tearing hurry about it."

Her father took the garment, smoothed the fur with his hand, and asked
casually, "Is this the coat ye wore from the store?"

"Why, of course it is."

"An' the one ye wore to the show?"

"Yes, yes," answered the girl impatiently.  "I haven't so many fur
coats that I would be apt to get them mixed."

McNabb ignored the impatience.  "Ye've had no other coat in your
possession since you selected this one?"

"No, I haven't.  What's all this about?"

"Did Oskar tell you what kind of a coat you were gettin'?"

"Yes, a baum marten.  Why, isn't it a baum marten?"

McNabb nodded.  "Yes, it's a baum marten.  Run along now.  I just
wanted to see which coat ye'd got.  Here, take it along with ye.  The
tailor can wait."

With a puzzled glance at the two men, Jean took the coat, and with a
toss of the head left the office.

McNabb turned to Hedin.  "What have ye got to say now?  Did the girl
tell the truth?"

"Absolutely."

"Then that was the coat she wore from the store?"

"No--but she thinks it was.  She doesn't know the difference."

For a long time John McNabb spoke no word but sat staring at his desk,
pecking at the blotter with his pencil.  He prided himself upon his
ability to pick men.  He knew men, and in no small measure was this
knowledge responsible for his success in dealing with men.  He had been
certain that Jean and Hedin would eventually marry, and secretly he
longed for the day.  He had watched Hedin for years and now, despite
the improbability of the story, he believed it implicitly.  And it was
with a heavy heart that he had watched the studied coldness of each
toward the other.  McNabb was a man of snap decisions.  He would teach
these young fools a lesson, and at the same time find out which way the
wind blew.  With a clenching of his fists, he whirled abruptly upon
Hedin.

"What did ye do with the coat?" he roared.  "It'll go easier with ye if
ye tell me!"

"What do you mean?" cried Hedin, white to the lips, meeting McNabb's
gaze with a look of mingled surprise, pain, and anger.

"I mean just what I say.  Ye've got the coat--where is it?"

Hedin felt suddenly weak and sick.  He had expected McNabb's anger at
his foolish whim, and knew that he deserved it--but that McNabb should
accuse him of theft!  Sick at heart, he faltered his answer, and in his
own ears his voice sounded strange, and dull, and unconvincing.  "You
think I--I stole it?"

"What else am I to think?  What will the police think?  What will the
jury think when they hear your flimsy yarn--an' the straightforward
evidence of my daughter?  They'll think that the coat she wore to the
show, an' that she still has, is the coat she wore from the store, an'
that you've got the other.  An' when Kranz tells of your midnight visit
to the store, what'll they think then?"  McNabb finished and, reaching
for the telephone, called the police headquarters.  A few minutes later
the chief himself appeared, accompanied by the night watchman, Kranz,
whose story of the nervous and agitated appearance of Hedin on his
midnight visit to the store forged the strongest link in the chain of
circumstantial evidence.

After the watchman had been dismissed, Hedin was subjected to a
bullying at the hands of the burly officer that stopped just short of
personal violence, and through it all he stubbornly maintained his
innocence.

After another brief telephone conversation, the three visited the
private room of the judge where, waiving a preliminary hearing, the
prisoner was bound over to await the action of the grand jury, and his
bail fixed at ten thousand dollars.



X

At the mouth of the alley that led from a side street to the rear of
the jail, the policeman plucked at Hedin's sleeve, and turned in.
Mechanically Hedin fell in beside him.  Someone passed upon the street.
"See who that was?" asked the officer maliciously, for he knew all the
town gossip.  Hedin scarcely heard the question.  "It was McNabb's gal.
Her throwin' you over fer this here Wentworth didn't give you no
license to steal her old man's fur coat, all right--but maybe you ain't
so onlucky, at that.  Folks says she's all right--a little gay an' the
like of that--but runnin' the streets at midnight, like she was a
Saturday, with a guy that goes after 'em like Wentworth!  Call it gay
if they want to, but if it was anyone but old McNabb's daughter, they'd
be callin' it somethin' else."

Smash!  Hedin's fist drove with terrific force into the flappy jaw, and
the big officer reeled, and crashed into the snow between a row of ash
barrels, and a dilapidated board fence.  The young man stared in
surprise as he waited for the other to regain his feet.  The officer's
words had roused a sudden flash of fury, and with nerves already
strained to the breaking point, he had struck.  But the man,
grotesquely sprawled behind the barrels, made no move.

Hedin glanced up and down the alley.  It was empty.  He was free!
Swiftly he proceeded down the alley, passed the jail, and turned into
the street.  Here he slackened his pace, and walking leisurely to his
hotel, hastily made up a light pack.  Passing around to the rear, he
took his skis from their place, walking to the edge of town, fastened
them on, and was soon swallowed up in the jack-pines.  For an hour he
glided smoothly over the snow, and upon the edge of a balsam thicket
sat down on a log to rest.

There were two courses open.  Either he could return to Terrace City
and face the charge against him as best he could, or he could keep
going.  It was only a few miles across country to Pipe Lake, where he
could catch the P.M. for Detroit.

His thoughts turned abruptly from the problem of flight, and plunged
into the problem of the missing coat.  It was not conceivable that the
garment had been destroyed; therefore it was still in existence.  If in
existence, somebody had it.  Who?  One by one, Hedin considered the
personnel of the theatre party, and one by one he eliminated them until
only Wentworth was left.  Wentworth!  If he could only prove it!  He
remembered that someone had casually remarked that morning at breakfast
that Wentworth had gone North for old John McNabb.  He had heard McNabb
mention some pulp-wood lands in the North.  Gods Lake, wasn't it?  Why,
Gods Lake post was old Dugald Murchison's post!  Hedin remembered
Murchison well.  It was only last year he had spent a week as the guest
of his old friend McNabb, and nearly every evening at dinner Hedin had
sat at meat with them, and listened in fascination to the talk of the
far outlands.  He remembered the shrewd gray eyes of Murchison--eyes
that bespoke wisdom, and justice tempered with mercy.

He smote his leg with his mittened fist.  He would go North, straight
to old Dugald Murchison, and he would tell him the whole story.
Murchison would help him, and if Wentworth were innocent, then he,
Hedin would return to Terrace City and give himself up.  He would not
be a fugitive from justice, for justice owed him the chance to prove
his innocence.

Once his mind was made up, Hedin rose to his feet and slung the light
pack to his back.  Then he lowered the pack, and stood thinking.  He
would hit for Pipe Lake, but Hanson, the storekeeper at Pipe Lake,
would recognize him.  Tossing his pack aside, he scooped a hole in the
snow, built a tiny fire of balsam twigs, and melted some water in his
drinking cup.  Then, setting a small hand mirror upon the log, he
produced his razor and proceeded to shave off his mustache.  This done,
he grinned at himself in the mirror, as he reflected that Hanson had
never seen him except in conventional clothing, and that he would never
recognize him in mackinaw and larrigans, with his mustache gone.

Once more he stood up, kicked snow over his fire, swung the pack to his
back, and started to skirt the swamp.  Then suddenly he halted in his
tracks.  There was a mighty crackling of dry twigs close at hand, and a
voice commanded gruffly, "Hands up!"

Instinctively Hedin elevated his hands as he stared into the muzzle of
a revolver.  Beyond the revolver he saw the grinning face of Mike
Duffy, erstwhile lumberjack, then bootlegger, and now policeman; under
the Hicks regime.

"Shaved her off, eh?" taunted the man.  "Well, mebbe you'd 'a' fooled
most folks, but you hain't fooled me none, special' as I be'n layin' in
the brush watchin' you fer half an hour.  You'd of got away from the
rest of 'em too."



XI

Old John McNabb had not been long at his desk when the telephone bell
rang and he picked up the receiver.

"Hello--who?  Hicks?  He--what?  Where is he now?  Got away!  Well, you
get him!  Get him, or I'll get you!  If he ain't back in jail to-day,
off comes your buttons to-morrow--do you get that?"  Old John banged
the receiver onto the hook, and launched what would undoubtedly have
been a classic of denunciatory profanity, had it not been interrupted
in its inception by Jean, who had slipped into the office unnoticed at
the beginning of the telephone conversation.

"Why, Dad!" exclaimed the girl laughing, as the red-faced man whirled
upon her in surprise.  "What a beastly temper you are in this morning!
Who got away, and why are you so anxious to have him caught?"

"Oskar got away," he growled, apparently somewhat mollified by his
daughter's tone.  "Hicks started for jail with him an' Oskar knocked
him down in the alley an' got away."

"Oskar!  Jail!  What do you mean?"

"I mean just what I say," answered McNabb, meeting the girl's startled
gaze squarely.  "A thirty thousand dollar sable coat is missing from
the store, and no one except Oskar and I had access to the fur safe.
He made up a cock-an'-bull story about letting you wear it Saturday to
show up Mrs. Orcutt.  He claims he went to the theatre to enjoy the
effect on Mrs. Orcutt, when he discovered that you were wearing, not
the Russian sable that you had worn from the store, but a baum marten
coat.  He hurried to the store to find that both the sable and the
marten coats were gone----"

Old John noticed that as he talked the color receded slowly from the
girl's face, leaving it almost chalk white, and then suddenly the color
returned with a rush that flamed red to her hair roots.  But he was
totally unprepared for the sudden fury with which she faced him.

"And you had him arrested!  Oskar arrested like a common thief!  Are
you crazy?  You know as well as I do that he never stole a pin----"

"No, he never stole a pin, but there's some little difference in value
between a pin and a thirty thousand dollar coat.  They say every man's
got his price."

"It's a lie!" cried the girl, stamping her foot.  "But even if it were
true, his price would be so big that there isn't money enough in this
world to even tempt him!  You ought to be ashamed of yourself!  Think
what people will say!"

"I don't care what they say.  He's got that coat, an' I'm right here to
see that he gets just what's comin' to him."

"Well, what people will say won't hurt Oskar!" cried the girl.
"They'll all know he didn't steal your coat!  They'll say you're a
fool!  That's what they'll say--and they'll be right, too!  It won't
take him long to prove his innocence, and then what will people think
of you?"

"He ain't got a show to prove his innocence," retorted McNabb.  "Your
own testimony will convict him.  Didn't ye tell me right here in this
room within the hour that the coat ye brought in was the one ye wore
from the store, an' the one ye wore to the theatre?"

"And I thought it was," flared the girl.  "But if Oskar says it wasn't
then it wasn't.  And let me tell you this--if you're depending on my
testimony to convict him, you might as well have him turned loose right
this minute!  Because I won't say a word at their old trial.  They can
put me in jail, too, but they can't make me talk.  The whole thing is
an outrage, and I'm going right straight down to the jail and tell them
to let him out this minute----"

"He's out all right," retorted McNabb.  "He knocked Hicks down and
escaped on the way to jail."

"I'm glad of it!  I hope he broke that nasty old Hicks's head!  And if
they catch Oskar you had better see that they let him go at
once--unless you want to see your own daughter married to a jailbird!"



XII

It was nine o'clock that evening when, growling and grumbling, Hicks
himself moved heavily down the short corridor of the jail, and unlocked
the door of the cell that held Oskar Hedin.  "Come on out!" he
commanded.

Hedin stepped in the corridor, and looked inquiringly into the
officer's face.  "What's up?" he asked.

"Bailed out," growled Hicks.

"Bailed out!  Why, who----?"

"I don't know, an' don't give a damn.  Someone that's got more money
than brains.  I wouldn't trust you as far as I could throw a bull by
the tail, an' you needn't think I've forgot the poke in the jaw you
give me.  I'll git you yet."

Hedin paused upon the steps of the police station and glanced across
the street where a light burned in the office of Hiram P. Buckner,
attorney-at-law.  Buckner held the reputation of being by far the most
able lawyer in the vicinity, and Hedin's first impulse was to retain
him.  He crossed the sidewalk and paused abruptly as he remembered that
Buckner was McNabb's attorney.  Of course, the prosecution of his case
would be in the hands of the state, but--why jeopardize his own case by
employing a man who stood at the beck and call of the very man who was
pushing his prosecution?  He turned and proceeded slowly toward his
hotel, and as he passed down the street a man stepped from the office
of the attorney and followed.  He was a large man, muffled to the ears
in a fur coat.  He followed unnoticed, into the hotel and up the
stairs, and when Hedin entered his room and switched on the light the
man stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind him.  He
turned and faced Hedin, throwing back the collar of his coat.  Hedin
gasped in amazement.  The man was old John McNabb, and to his utter
bewilderment, Hedin caught a twinkle in the old Scot's eye.



XIII

"'Tis the truth, I'd never ha' know'd ye, an' ye hadn't told me who ye
was," welcomed old Dugald Murchison, as he gripped Hedin's hand in the
door of the little trading post on the shore of Gods Lake.  "Knock the
snow from your clothes an' come in to the stove.  You're just in time,
for by the signs, the storm that's on us will be a three days'
nor'easter straight off the Bay.  Ye'd of had a nasty camp of it if
ye'd of been a day later."

"The guide saw it coming, and we did double time yesterday, and to-day
we didn't stop to eat."

Murchison nodded.  "Ye come in up the chain of lakes from the south.
'Tis a man's job ye've done--this time o' year.  Ye come up from Lac
Seul, an' by the guide ye've got, I see the hand of John McNabb in your
visit.  For old Missinabbee won't go into the woods with everyone,
though he'd go through hell itself for John McNabb.  But come on in an'
get thawed out while the Injun 'tends to the dogs, an' then we'll eat."

"Has Wentworth arrived yet?" asked Hedin, as he followed the factor
toward the stove at the rear of the trading room.

Murchison shook his head.  "Ye're the first this winter.  But who's
Wentworth?  An' what'll he be doin' here?  An' what are ye doin' here
yourself?  I suppose it had to do with John's pulp-wood, but the
options don't expire till sometime in the summer.  Why didn't he come
himself?"

It was a long story Hedin unfolded as he and Murchison sat late over
their pipes beside the roaring stove in the long, low trading room.
The factor puffed in silence without once interrupting until the
younger man had finished.

"So John is really goin' to build a paper mill up here?  But why did
John hire this Wentworth if he figured he couldn't trust him, an' why
did he have ye under arrest an' bail ye out?  Unless----"

The old factor paused and puffed at his pipe the while his eyes were
fixed upon the deep shadows at the far corner.

"Unless what?" asked Hedin eagerly.  "I thought, at first, that he
believed me guilty of stealing the coat," he went on when Murchison
didn't answer.  "I know now that he didn't, but when I asked him the
reason for my arrest, he only laughed and said that it was all part of
the game."  Then the younger man's voice dropped, and Murchison noted
that the look of eagerness had faded from his face.  "As to the hiring
of Wentworth," continued Hedin, "that is another matter."

The factor rose slowly and, crossing to the door, opened it and hastily
closed it again as a swirl of fine snow-powder enveloped him.  Hedin
caught the muffled roar of the wind, and in the draught of cold air
that swept the room, the big swinging lamp flared smokily.  Murchison
returned to his chair and filled his pipe.  "How's John's daughter
comin' along?" he asked between puffs of blue smoke.

"Why, Miss McNabb is very well, I believe," answered Hedin, a bit
awkwardly.  "You were right about that storm," Hedin hastened to change
the subject.  "I'm mighty glad we made Gods Lake to-day, or we would
have been held up for the Lord knows how long."

Murchison suppressed a smile, and hunched his chair a bit nearer the
stove.  "When all's said an' done then, the case stands about like
this.  This engineer will be along in a few days to begin work locatin'
the power dam, an' lookin' up more pulpwood.  John believes that
Wentworth will let the options expire, an' then swing the stuff over to
this man Orcutt an' his crowd--an he's sent you up to block the game."

Hedin nodded.  "That's it."

"You're my clerk, an' your name's Sven Larson--that's a good
Scandinavian name--an' you don't know nothin' about pulp-wood, nor
options.  I guess it would be best if we could put him up right here.
We could be watchin' him all the while without seemin' to."

"I wonder when Wentworth will be here?" speculated Hedin.

"There's no tellin'.  It's accordin' to the outfit he packs an' the
guide he's got.  They'll have to camp for the storm, an' the snow will
slow them up one-half.  The storm will last three days or four, an'
after that, a day, mebbe a week.  Anyways, 'twill give ye time to learn
the duties of a factor's clerk, which is a thing the Company has never
furnished at Gods Lake, but if John McNabb foots the bill, they'll not
worry.  'Twould be better an' ye could play the dolt--not an eediot, or
an addlepate--but just a dull fellow, slow of wit, an' knowin' nought
except of fur."

Hedin laughed.  "That won't bother me in the least."

Murchison shook his head.  "'Twill not be so easy as ye think.  Askin'
foolish questions here an' there, forgettin' to do things ye're told to
do, ponderin' deep over simple matters, an' above all ye're to neither
laugh nor take offense when I berate ye for a dullard.  Ye get the
idea--your knowledge of fur is your only excuse for livin'?"

"I get it," smiled Hedin.

Murchison studied the younger man intently.  "This Wentworth--how well
did ye know him?  Or, rather, how well did he know you?"

"You are wondering whether he will recognize me?"

The factor nodded.  "Yes, I would not have known ye, for as I remember
ye wore a mustache, an' were smooth of chin an' jaw, an' of course, ye
wore city clothes.  But one who had known ye well wouldn't be so easy
fooled."

"He won't recognize me.  We have met only a few times.  But even if he
had known me much better I wouldn't be afraid, because when I left
Terrace City dressed in these togs, and carrying a lumberjacks' turkey
on my back, I stopped into a cigar store and inquired the way to the
station.  The clerk who has seen me every day for years pointed out the
way without a flicker of recognition in his eyes--and I didn't have
this stubby beard then either."

Murchison seemed satisfied, and after showing his new clerk to his bed,
he returned to the stove and knocked the ash from his pipe.  "John is
canny," he grinned.  "As canny in the handlin' of women, as of men.
He'll have the son-in-law he wants, an' careful he'll be that he's the
man of the lass's own choosin'."



XIV

On the day after the big storm old Missinabbee returned to the
southward, and the following day Wentworth arrived at the post, cursing
his guide, and the storm, and the snow that lay deep in the forest.
The half-breed refused to stop over and rest, but accepted his pay and
turned his dogs on the back-trail.  And as Murchison accepted McNabb's
letter of introduction from Wentworth's hand in the door of the post
trading room, his eyes followed the retreating form of the guide.  For
he had caught a malevolent gleam of hate that flashed from the narrowed
black eyes as the man had accepted his pay.

"Ye have not seen the last of yon," he said, turning to Wentworth with
a nod of his head toward the breed.  "Alex Thumb is counted a bad man
in the North.  I would not rest so easy, an' he was camped on my trail."

Wentworth scowled.  "Worthless devil!  Kicked on my bringing my trunk.
Wanted me to transfer my stuff into duffle bags and carry a pack to
ease up on his dogs; and then to top it off with, he wasn't going to
let me ride on the sled.  But I showed him who was boss.  I hired the
outfit and believe me, I rode whenever I felt like it.  He may have you
fellows up here bluffed, but not me."

"Well, 'tis none of my business.  I was only givin' ye a friendly
warnin'.  Come on now till I get my glasses on, an' we'll see what
ye've got here."

Presently he folded and returned the brief note.  "An' now what can I
do for ye?  Will ye be makin' your headquarters here, or will ye have a
camp of your own down on the river?"

"I think I'll stay here if there's room.  When I'm exploring the river
I can take a light outfit along."

"There's plenty of room.  There's an empty cabin beside the storehouse,
an' I'll have a stove set up, an' your things moved in.  Ye'll take
your meals with me.  There's only a couple of Company Injuns, an' my
clerk."  Murchison paused.  "Sven!" he called.  "Sven Larson!  Where
are ye?  Come down out of that fur loft!  I've a job for ye."

Slow, heavy footsteps sounded upon the floor above, and a moment later
two feet appeared upon the ladder, and very deliberately the clerk
negotiated the descent.

"Sven Larson, this is Mr. Wentworth.  He's from the States, an' he's
goin' to live in the cabin.  Take Wawake an' Joe Irish an' set up a
stove in there, an' move the stuff in that lays outside."

Hedin acknowledged the introduction with a solemn bob of the head, and
as he stared straight into Wentworth's face he blinked owlishly.

"This stove?" he asked, indicating the huge cannon stove in which the
fire roared noisily.

"No!  No!  Ye numbskull!  One of them Yukon stoves.  An' be quick about
it."

"What stuff?"

"The stuff that lays outside the door--Wentworth's stuff, of course!'

"In the cabin?"

"Yes, in the cabin!" cried the factor impatiently.  "Ye didn't think ye
was to put it in the stove, did ye?"

Hedin moved slowly away in search of the Company Indians, and Wentworth
laughed.  "Hasn't got quite all his buttons, has he?" he inquired.  "I
should say the Company had treated you shabbily in the matter of a
clerk."

"Well, I don't know," replied Murchison.  "I could have had worse.
'Tis not to be gainsaid that he's slow an' heavy of wit in the matter
of most things, but the lad knows fur.  More than forty years I've
handled fur, an' yet to-day the striplin' knows more about fur, an' the
value of fur, than I ever will know.  An' then there's the
close-mouthedness of him.  Ye tell him a thing, an' caution him to say
naught about it, an' no bribe nor threat could drag a word of it from
his lips.  So, ye see, for the job he's got, I could scarce hope for
better."

"I presume he knows only raw furs," said Wentworth casually.  "He
could, of course, have no knowledge of the finished product."

"An' there ye're wrong.  Of his early life I know nothing except that
he's a foreigner, raised in the fur trade.  He can spot topped or
pointed furs as far as he can see them, an' as for appraisin' them, he
can tell almost to a dollar the value of any piece ye could show him.
But----"

The door opened and Murchison turned to greet a newcomer.  "Hello,
Downey!" he called.  "'Tis a long time since ye've favored Gods Lake
with a visit.  Come up to the stove, lad, an' meet Mr. Wentworth.

"Mr. Wentworth, this is Corporal Downey, of the Royal Northwest Mounted
Police."  At the word police Wentworth started ever so slightly, but
caught himself on the instant.  He searched the keen gray eyes of the
officer as he extended his hand, but if Downey noticed the momentary
trepidation he gave no sign.

"So you're Wentworth," he remarked casually, as he swung the light pack
from his shoulders.

"_Captain_ Wentworth."

"Oh," Downey accorded him a slanting glance, and entered into
conversation with Murchison.

"You knew my name, do you want to see me?"  Wentworth interrupted after
a wait of several minutes.

"No, not in particular.  Only if I was you I'd beware of a dark-haired
man, as the fortune-tellers say."

"What do you mean?"

"I met Alex Thumb a piece back on the trail."

"Well, what of it?  What has that got to do with me?"

"I don't know.  He mentioned your name, that's all.  An' I just kind of
surmised from the way he done it that you an' him didn't part the best
of friends."

"I hired him for a guide, and he undertook to give me my orders on the
trail.  But I soon showed him where he stood."

Downey nodded.  "He's counted bad medicine up here."

"I guess he won't bother me any; I'm here to stay."

"No, he won't be apt to _bother_ you any.  Probably kill you, though,
if you don't keep your eyes open.  But don't worry about that, because
if he does I'll get him."

"He can't bluff me.  I served with the engineers in Russia."

"You'll be servin' with the devils in hell, too, if you don't quit
makin' enemies of men like Alex Thumb."

"They didn't use up _all_ the brains, when they made the Mounted,
Captain."

"_Corporal_'ll do me," corrected the officer.  "I wasn't with the
engineers--in Russia.  I was only in the trenches--in France."

As Downey slung his pack to his shoulders the following morning he
stepped close to Murchison.  The trading room was deserted save for
those two, but the officer lowered his voice.  "Wentworth ain't the
only one around here that needs watchin'," he said warningly.

"What do ye mean?"

"I mean your clerk ain't the fool he lets on he is.  That room you put
me in was next to his.  The chinkin's fallen out in spots, an' his
light was lit late, so I just laid in my bunk an' glued my eye to the
crack.  He was readin'--an' enjoyin' what he read.  He'd lay down the
book now an' then an' light a good briar pipe.  I'd get a good look
into his face then, an' he's no more a fool than you or I.  He's damned
smart lookin'.  An' the books he had laid out on the table wasn't books
a fool would be readin'.  He was careful to hide 'em away when he
rolled in--an' he cleaned his fingernails with a white handled dingus,
an' brushed his teeth, an' put the tools back in a black leather case
that had silver trimmin's.  Believe me, there's somethin' comin' off
here between now an' summer, an' I'm goin' to ask for the detail!"

Murchison laughed.  "Come on back, Downey, and you'll see the fun.  An'
I ain't so sure you won't be needed in your official capacity.  But
don't bother your head over Sven Larson.  Remember this: it takes a
smart man to play the fool, an' play it right.  That's why John McNabb
sent him up here.  An' his name ain't Larson; it's Hedin.  He's John's
right-hand man--an' if I mistake not someday he'll be his son-in-law."

"Oh, I'll be back all right," grinned Downey.  "I've got a hunch that
maybe I'll be needed."

"Ye wouldn't be sorry to have to arrest Wentworth for some kind of
thievery, would ye, Downey?  I could see ye distrusted him from the
moment ye laid eyes on him."

"U-m-m-m," answered Downey.  "I was thinkin' more of, maybe, bringin'
in Alex Thumb--for murder."

A week later Murchison accompanied Wentworth upon a ten-day trip,
during the course of which they visited the proposed mill site, the
McNabb holdings, and a great part of the available pulp-wood territory
adjoining.  With Murchison's help, Wentworth sketched a map of the
district that showed with workable accuracy the location of lakes and
streams, together with the location of Government and Hudson's Bay
Company lands.  This done, he secured an Indian guide and proceeded to
lay out and blaze the route of the wagon road to the railway.

By the middle of May the snow had nearly disappeared, and the first of
June saw the rivers running free of ice.  It was then that Wentworth
"borrowed" Sven Larson from the factor and dropped down Gods River in a
canoe to its confluence with the Shamattawa.  Camp was made at the head
of the rapids.  Thereafter for five days Hedin worked under Wentworth's
direction, while the engineer ran his levels and established his
contour.  In the evenings as they sat by the campfire smoking, Hedin
preserved the same stolid silence that he had studiously observed since
the coming of Wentworth.

"Murchison says you know all about fur," Wentworth suggested one
evening.  "And the finished fur?  Do you know that, too--about, well,
for instance kolinsky, and nutria, and Russian sable?"

"Kolinsky and nutria are no good.  We do not have them here.  Russian
sable, and sea otter, and black fox, they are the best furs in the
world.  We do not have them here, either, except once in a while a
black, or a silver fox."

"A coat of Russian sable would be very valuable?"

"Yes.  Real Russian sable, dark, and well silvered, would be very
valuable."

"How much would one be worth?"

"Nobody can tell unless they can see it.  It is all in the matching."

For a full minute Wentworth studied the face across the little fire,
the face with the unkempt beard, and the far-off, pondering eyes.

"I have a Russian sable coat," ventured Wentworth.

The factor's clerk gazed at him with unwinking blue eyes, and the head
wagged slowly.  "No.  Russian sable is woman's fur.  They do not make
men's coats of Russian sable."

"But this is a woman's coat," explained Wentworth.  "I got it in Russia
when I was in the Army.  She was a Russian princess and I helped her
escape from the country at great risk to myself.  It was in the winter,
in the dead of night, and a terrible blizzard was raging.  When she
safely crossed the border she thanked me with tears in her eyes and
begged me to take her coat in payment, as she had no money.  I refused,
but she tossed it into my arms, and disappeared into the night."

"Maybe she died in the storm without her coat."

"Why, no--you see, she had--that is, I had arranged for a car--a
sleigh, I mean, to meet her there with plenty of robes.  But what I
want to get at, is this.  If I show you this coat will you promise not
to say a word to Murchison about it?  I do not want him to know I have
it.  He would want to buy it, and he is my friend and I do not want to
refuse him.  But I do not want to sell the coat, because sometime I am
going to return it to its original owner.  But first I should like you
to tell me what it is worth.  Can you tell me that?  And can you
remember never to tell Murchison that I have the coat?"

Hedin nodded.  "Yes, I can tell you how much the coat is worth when I
see it and feel it.  And I will not tell Murchison.  That is why I am
smart, and others are foolish.  Because they tell me what they know,
and I listen, and pretty soon I know that, too.  But I do not tell what
I know, and they cannot listen.  So I know what they know, and they do
not know what I know, and that is why I am wise and they don't know
hardly anything at all."

"Everything coming in, and nothing going out," laughed Wentworth.
"That's right, Sven; you've got the system.  We will finish here
to-morrow, and then we will return to the post, and you can come to my
cabin, and I'll show you the fur."



XV

Ever since the evening in camp when Wentworth had confided in him that
he had the coat, Hedin had been debating his course of procedure.  His
first impulse had been to denounce Wentworth to his face, to seize the
coat and obtain the engineer's arrest.  He knew that Downey expected to
return to the post--but there was Jean to consider.  Jean--the girl of
his fondest dreams, who had forsaken him and fallen under the spell of
the courtly manners of the suave soldier-engineer.  What would Jean
think?  If she loved the man she would never believe in his guilt.  She
would believe, with a woman's irrational loyalty, that he, Hedin, had
in some manner contrived to place the coat in Wentworth's possession,
and he knew that the engineer would never cease to proclaim that he had
been made the dupe of a scheming lover.  The case against the man must
be plain.  When Jean could be shown that Wentworth deliberately
endeavored to cheat her father, she would then believe that he stole
the coat.  She would be saved from throwing herself away, and
he--Hedin's lips moved, "I will hire out to the Company, and ask to be
sent to the northern-most post they've got."

Upon his arrival at the post, Wentworth made out two reports, one to
McNabb and the other to Orcutt, which he dispatched to the railway by a
Company Indian.  Late in the afternoon, as he was polishing his
instruments in the little cabin, the figure of Sven Larson appeared in
the doorway.  The engineer motioned him to enter and close the door
behind him.  "Where is Murchison?" he asked, glancing through the
window toward the post.

"He has gone in a boat with Wawake to set the fish nets."

Without a word Wentworth stepped across the room, unlocked his trunk,
and from its depths drew the sable coat that Hedin had last seen upon
the shoulders of Jean McNabb as she walked from the store upon that
memorable Saturday.  With a conscious effort he controlled himself, and
reaching out his hand took the coat and carried it to the window.  He
was conscious that the engineer's eyes were fastened intently upon him
as, inch by inch, he carefully examined the garment whose every
skin--every hair, almost--was familiar to him.  Still holding the coat,
he spoke more to himself than to Wentworth.  "A fine piece.  All good
dark Yakutsk skins.  And the matching is good.  Only one skin a shade
off----"

"What's it worth?" asked Wentworth abruptly.  "I don't care a damn
about the specifications.  They don't mean anything to me.  I knew it
was a fine garment the minute I spotted it, and I knew Hedin was lying
when he said it was a marten."

"Hedin?" queried the clerk.  "Was that the name of the princess?  She
must be a fool to say this is a marten."

"No, no!  Hedin is a man.  And he is a fool, all right.  Fool enough to
let a damn fool girl make a fool of him----"

Wentworth suddenly saw a blinding flash of light.  He felt himself
falling; then he lay very still as a shower of little star-like sparks
flowed upward from a black abyss.

The instant he struck, Hedin realized the folly of his act.  He would
have given all he possessed to have recalled the blow.  McNabb had
trusted him to carry out a carefully laid plan--and he had failed.  He
remembered how the old Scot had told him frankly that Jean had fallen
in love with Wentworth, and personally, while he believed him to be a
good engineer, he wouldn't trust him out of his sight.  And then he had
outlined the scheme he had laid for showing him up so that Jean would
be convinced of his crookedness.  And now he had spoiled it all.

The man on the floor stirred restlessly.  The thought flashed into
Hedin's brain that there might still be a chance.  If he played his
part well, it was possible.

The next thing Wentworth knew, Sven Larson was bending over him,
bathing his face with a large red handkerchief saturated with cold
water.  "What in hell happened?" muttered the man, as he brushed
clumsily at his fast discoloring eye with his hand.  With the help of
the factor's clerk he sat up.  "You hit me!  Damn you!  What did you
hit me for?"

"I am sorry I hit you," answered Hedin heavily.  "It is in here--the
thing that makes me strike."  He rubbed his forehead with his fingers.
"It is like many worms crawling inside my head, when one speaks ill of
women.  My eyes get hot, and the red streaks come, and then I strike.
It was such a thing that made me strike Pollak.  But I had a hammer in
my hand and I looked and saw that Pollak was dead, so I ran away from
there and climbed onto the ship.  I am glad I did not have a hammer in
my hand to-day."

Wentworth regained his feet and glanced at his fast closing eye in the
bit of mirror that hung above his wash bench.  "So am I," he seconded,
forcing a smile.  "Where did all this happen?  Who was Pollak, and
where did the ship take you?"

"It was in London in the place of Levinski, the furrier.  Pollak and I
worked for him in the sorting of skins.  The ship took me to Port
Nelson.  It was a Hudson's Bay Company ship, and I hired out to the
Company and they sent me here to Gods Lake.  I like it here."

"So that's it, is it?  Well, now you listen to me.  We'll just forget
the black eye and make a little trade.  You keep still about the sable
coat, and about hitting me, and I'll keep still about your killing
Pollak.  Mind you, if I should tell Murchison you had killed a man he
would send you back to London, and they would hang you."

"Yes, they would hang me because I killed Pollak.  But I do not tell
Murchison things that I know.  If you do not tell him I killed Pollak,
he will not send me back to get hung."



XVI

When John McNabb read Wentworth's report, he reached for his telephone
and called Detroit.  "That you, Beekman?" he asked, recognizing the
voice of the senior partner of one of the foremost engineering firms in
the country.  "How about you--all set for that Gods Lake job?  Just got
the preliminary report.  Everything O. K.  Plenty of water, plenty of
head, and we can get it without spreading the reservoir over the whole
country.  Hustle that road through as fast as you can.  Hundred miles
of it--only about eight or ten miles of swamp.  We can truck the
material in quicker than by shipping it clear around through the Bay
and track-lining it up the river.  Few small bridges, and one motor
ferry.  Make it good for heavy work.  Put on men enough to complete the
road in a month at the outside.  Most if it will only be clearing out
timber and stumps.  As soon as the road is done we'll begin to shoot in
the cement.  Get at it on the jump now, an' I'll see you in a day or
two."

The days following the return of Wentworth and Hedin from the survey of
the rapids were busy ones at the little post on Gods Lake.  For it was
the time of the spring trading, and from far and near came the men of
the outlands, bringing in their harvest of fur.

The post flag floated gaily at the staff head, and in the broad
clearing about its base were pitched the tepees of the fur bringers.

Each rising sun brought additional wilderness gleaners from afar, and
additional children, and many additional starving dogs.  For these days
were the gala days of the Northland; days of high feast and plenty, of
boastings, and recountings, and the chanting of weird chants.

The crudity, the primitive savagery of the scene gripped Hedin as
nothing had gripped him before.  He was astonished that the setting
held for him so little of surprise.  He fitted into the life naturally
and perfectly as though to the manner born.  But his own astonishment
was as nothing as compared to the astonishment of Murchison, who stood
close as Hedin broke open and sorted the packs of fur.  Time and again
his swift appraisal of a skin won a nod of approval from the factor,
who received the skins from his hands and paid for them in tokens of
made beaver.

"I do not understand it," said Murchison, between puffs of his pipe, as
at the end of a day he and Hedin sat in the doorway of the trading room
and watched the yellow flames from a hundred campfires stab the black
darkness of the night, and send wavering shadows playing in grotesque
patterns upon the walls of the tepees.  The harsh din of the encampment
all but drowned the factor's words, and Hedin smiled.

"Do not understand what?" he asked.

"'Tis yourself I do not understand.  Ye've never handled raw fur, yet
in the handling of thirty packs I have not changed the rating of a
skin.  By your own word, 'tis your first venture into the North, yet
since the day of your coming ye have behaved like a man of the North.
The Indians distrust a new-comer.  They are slow to place confidence in
any white man.  An' yet, they have accepted your judgment of fur
without question.  An' a good half of them ye call by name.  'Tis a
combination unheard of, an' to be believed only when one sees it."

"And yet it is very simple," explained Hedin.  "For years I have
studied fur--finished fur--and in the study I have read everything I
could find about fur, from the habits of the animals up through their
trapping, and the handling of the skins in every step of their
preparation.  And as for the Indians themselves, I have merely moved
about among them and got acquainted, as I would do in a city of white
men."

Murchison interrupted him with a snort.  "An' a thousand would try it,
an' one succeed!  'Tis no explanation ye've given at all.  Ye cannot
explain it.  'Tis a something ye have that's bred in the bone.  Ye're a
born man of the North--an' God pity ye for the job ye've got!  Cooped
up in a store all day with the fanfare of a city dingin' your ears from
dawn till midnight, an' beyond!  An' what's the good of it?  When ye
might be living up here in the land that still lays as God made it.
The Company can use men like you.  You could have a post of your own in
a year's time."

For many minutes Hedin puffed at his pipe.  "I am glad to hear that,"
he said at length, "for I am not going back."

"Not going back!" cried Murchison.  "D'ye mean it?  An' what about that
lass of John McNabb's?"

"That lass of John McNabb's has chosen another," answered Hedin in a
dull tone.

It was the seventh of June when Wentworth had dispatched the Indian
with the reports to McNabb and to Orcutt, and thereafter he settled
himself for three weeks of waiting.  The activity at the post bored and
annoyed him.  He complained of the noisy yapping of the night-prowling
dogs, cursed the children that ran against his legs in their play, and
when necessity compelled him to cross the encampment, he passed among
the tepees, obviously avoiding and despising their occupants.

Upon the fifth or sixth day, to rid himself of annoyance, Wentworth
essayed a journey to the rapids, and because no one could be spared
from the post, he ventured forth alone.  When not more than ten miles
from the post, he turned his head, as he topped a rock-ribbed ridge for
a casual survey of the broad _brule_ he had just crossed.  The next
instant he brought up rigidly erect as his eye caught a swift blur of
motion far back on his trail at the opposite edge of the _brule_.  He
looked again but could make out only an army of blackened stumps.
Entering the scrub with a vague sense of uneasiness, he circled among
the stunted trees and took up a position under cover of a granite
outcropping that gave him a view of his back trail.  He had hardly
settled himself before a man stepped from behind a stump and struck out
rapidly upon his trail.  The man was traveling light, apparently
studying the ground as he walked.  Wentworth glanced about him and
noted that the rocky ridge would give the man scant opportunity for
trailing him to his position.  The figure was coming up the ridge now.
As it passed a twisted pine, Wentworth got a good look into his face,
and the sight of it sent cold shivers up his spine that prickled
uncomfortably at the roots of his hair.  For the face was that of Alex
Thumb, and at close range Wentworth could see that the black eyes
glittered evilly.  Icy fingers gripped the engineer's heart.  He felt
suddenly weak and cold.

Raising a shaking hand to his forehead, Wentworth withdrew it wet and
glistening with sweat.  His brain conjured fantastic stories of the
powers of the Indian tracker, and fearfully he scanned the rocks over
which he had come.  Suddenly it occurred to him that if the man were
still upon his trail, he would have come up with him before this.
Evidently the tracker was wasting no time on the broad rocky ridge, but
taking it for granted that his quarry would proceed on his way, figured
on picking up the trail again in the softer ground of the next valley;
in which case he would soon discover his error and circle to correct
it.  Discarding his pack, the terrified man swiftly descended the ridge
and crossed the _brule_ at a run.  Gaining the shelter of the forest he
paused and looked back.  The wide clearing was tenantless, and
regaining his breath, he resumed his flight, crashing through patches
of underbrush, and splashing through streams until, just at dusk, the
lights of the Gods Lake campfires came into view.

Completely done up, he staggered into his cabin and, closing the door,
fell sprawling upon his bunk, where for an hour he lay while his
overtaxed muscles slowly regained their strength.  Then he stood up,
lighted his candle, and proceeded to remove the record of his mad
flight from his scratched skin and torn clothing.

That evening at supper he was surprised to find that Downey had
returned to the post.  And he wondered if he only fancied that the
officer eyed him meaningly.

He said nothing of his experience, but thereafter he was content to
remain at the post, never venturing alone beyond the boundaries of the
clearing.  He became more and more nervous with the passing of the
days.  One by one, he checked them off, and during the latter days of
June he spent hours pacing restlessly up and down, or making the round
of the clearing, shunned by Indian dogs and Indian children, and
ignored by their elders.  And always three questions were uppermost in
his mind: Would Orcutt come?  Would McNabb come?  Would they both come?
And finding no answer, he would continue his restless pacing, or raise
the imaginary stakes in his game of solitaire to stupendous proportions.

He became more and more irritable as the tension increased.  The
breaking of a shoe lace called forth a flow of profanity, and when the
mainspring of his watch snapped, he hurled the instrument against the
log wall in his senseless rage.



XVII

The morning of June 29th brought Cameron, armed with credentials which
empowered him to transact any and all business connected with the
pulp-wood holdings of the Canadian Wild Lands Company, Ltd.  Murchison
introduced him to Wentworth, who insisted that the man share his cabin.

"So you are McNabb's man?" queried Cameron with a smile, as he swung
his pack to the floor and seated himself upon the edge of a bunk.  "Do
you know, we rather hoped I would not find you here."

"Why?" asked Wentworth, returning the smile.

"Pulp-wood has gone up since that contract was made.  If the stuff were
to revert to us we could do much better with it."

"How much better?"

Cameron shot a keen glance at his questioner.  "Well, considerably," he
answered non-committally.

"A dollar an acre?"

"Two of them."

A brief silence ensued, during which Wentworth was conscious that the
eyes of the other were upon him.  "Seven dollars an acre," he said.
"Pretty high, isn't it, when you consider the inaccessibility to your
markets?"

Cameron laughed.  "Inaccessibility to markets don't seem to be worrying
McNabb any.  Bringing his paper mills into the woods seems to have
solved that problem.  I was talking to the engineer in charge of his
road construction day before yesterday----"

"Engineer in charge of road construction!" exclaimed Wentworth.  "What
road construction--where?"

"Why, north of here.  You knew he was building a tote-road, didn't you?
I followed the blazed trail clear down to the rapids of the Shamattawa.
And he's pushing it, too--got twenty-five or thirty miles of it ready
for traffic."

"No--I didn't know he had begun construction," admitted Wentworth.  "I
knew there was to be a road--laid it out myself.  But I did not know
that the work had started."

"Well, it has, and we may as well conclude out business."

"But the options do not expire until noon of July first."

"No, but what is to be gained by waiting here until the last minute?
He intends to close the deal, so why not get at it?  I suppose you were
provided with the necessary funds to make the initial payment?"

Wentworth shook his head.  "No," he answered.  "In fact I have nothing
whatever to do with the transaction.  I am an engineer sent up here to
locate the mill site, lay out the tote-road, and incidentally, to make
a survey of additional pulp-wood holdings.  I am surprised to hear that
McNabb has begun construction of the road."

Cameron stared at the man in astonishment.  "What do you mean?" he
asked, "that McNabb has added the expense of road construction to the
money he put into the options, without making provision for acquiring
title to the property?  That does not sound like McNabb--what I've
heard of him."

"He has until noon of the first," reminded Wentworth.

"Yes, but where is he?  He knows the North, and the hundred-an'-one
things that can happen to upset a schedule.  If I had as much invested
in this thing as he has, you may believe I would have been here with
plenty of time to spare."

Wentworth nodded.  "So would I.  But in case he does not show up, what
then?  The first man that offers seven dollars an acre, and is prepared
to make a substantial payment takes the property?"

"Just so.  If McNabb, or his representative, is not here on the stroke
of twelve, the day after to-morrow, with tender of a cash payment of
ten percent. of the purchase price as stipulated in his contract, then
he is out of the reckoning altogether.  But why do you ask?  You speak
as though there were some doubt in your mind as to McNabb's appearance?"

"You can never tell," answered Wentworth.  "He told me he would be here
himself to close the deal at the proper time.  If he does not come, it
is no affair of mine, except that I should be out of a job.  I need the
job, so I tipped off his chief rival capitalist as to the date of
expiration, and told him that in case for any reason McNabb fell down
on the proposition, he had better show up here at the post on the first
day of July with a big bunch of coin."  He paused and grinned at
Cameron.  "I was merely playing safe.  If McNabb shows up, well and
good.  If he don't, well and good again--I still have a job, and you
get seven dollars an acre, instead of five."

"But will the other be here?"

Wentworth shrugged.  "That is what I have been asking myself for a
week.  Will McNabb come?  Will Orcutt come?  Or will they both come?
In the latter case I may have let myself in for some unpleasant
complications.  But I had to take a chance--to avoid taking a chance."

Cameron laughed.  "Let us hope for your sake that only one of the
parties arrives, and for my sake, that it is the rival, for the
additional two dollars an acre will mean an additional million for my
company."



XVIII

Along toward the middle of the following afternoon Orcutt appeared at
the post, accompanied by two guides and two operatives of a detective
agency, who were ostensibly merely members of a party of three, but who
in reality were the guardians of a certain thick packet of large bills
that reposed in the very bottom of a waterproof rucksack.

Into the trading room he stamped, cursing the black flies and
mosquitoes whose combined and persistent attack had left his face and
neck red and swollen.  Hedin was behind the counter, and without a hint
of recognition Orcutt inquired the whereabouts of Wentworth.  Upon
being informed that he was probably in his cabin, he turned on his heel
and stamped from the room.

"This is a hell of a country!" he said in greeting, as Wentworth opened
his door to admit him.  "The damned flies and mosquitoes just naturally
eat a man alive!"

"It isn't so bad when you get used to it," laughed Wentworth, and
turned toward the man who had risen from his chair.  "Mr. Orcutt, this
is Mr. Cameron, representative of the Canadian Wild Lands Company."

"Wild lands is right," grinned Orcutt as he acknowledged the other's
greeting.  "I never saw so much timber or so many insects in my life.
And now," he continued, meeting Cameron's eyes, "I'm a busy man, and
the sooner I get out of this God-forsaken country, the better I'll like
it.  Why can't we go ahead and get the business over with?"

"You forget, Mr. Orcutt, that the McNabb options do not expire until
noon to-morrow," Cameron answered.

Orcutt nodded impatiently.  "Yes, yes, I suppose we've got to wait.
But as far as that goes, I don't think we've got to worry any.  I
always make it my business to keep an eye on the other fellow, and I
know to certainty that John McNabb will not be here.  As a matter of
fact, he has mistaken the day his options expire.  He believes he has
until the first of August."

Cameron whistled.  "Are you sure?" he asked incredulously.  "I don't
know him personally, but his reputation for shrewdness----"

"And ninety-nine times out of a hundred he's as shrewd as his
reputation calls for," interrupted Orcutt, "but this is the hundredth
time!  He is so dead sure he is right that I don't suppose he has
examined his papers in years.  John McNabb makes damned few
mistakes--I've been more than twenty years waiting for him to make this
one.  And now, by God, I've got him!  What do you hold the timber at?"

"Seven dollars an acre."

"Make it six, and I'll take it.  It ought to be worth something not to
have to hunt up a buyer."

"It is," answered Cameron.  "But seven dollars is the price.  In a
month--two months it will be eight."

"About two percent down?"

"Ten."

"Ten percent!" raved Orcutt.  "Three hundred and fifty thousand
dollars!  Do you think a man takes a jaunt into the woods with any such
amount of money as that in his possession?"

"I think you did.  If not, then as you people say in the States, you
are out of luck."

"I'll buy an option on it."

Cameron shook his head.  "No, the time has come for a sale.  We can't
afford to hold timber ourselves, and as to finding purchasers, I know a
dozen men who would snap it up at seven dollars."

"All right," growled Orcutt.  "Make out your papers and I'll sign 'em.
At least, we can get the routine business all finished to-day so all
there will be left to do to-morrow noon will be to sign up and pay over
the money."

"No harm in that," agreed Cameron.  "I shall proceed at once to draw up
a contract of sale.  Just a question or two will give me all the
information I need.  In the first place, is the prospective purchaser
an individual or a corporation?"

"Corporation.  The Eureka Paper Company."

"And their home office?"

"Orcutt, Canada."

"Orcutt?  Where is Orcutt?"

Orcutt smiled.  "There isn't any--now.  But there will be one as soon
as we start construction of the mill.  The enterprise will be of
sufficient magnitude to necessitate a town at the mill site, and the
name of that town will be Orcutt."

"Very good.  I think that is all I need to know."

"About the subsequent payments----" began Orcutt, but Cameron
interrupted him:

"Let us not discuss that now.  The better way will be for you to allow
me to draw up the contract, and then to-morrow morning we can go over
it, clause by clause."

"Good idea," agreed Orcutt.  "Come on, Wentworth," and leading the way
from the cabin, he spent half an hour strolling about among the tepees
viewing their owners, their _lares_, _penates_ and offspring as he
would have inspected an exhibit at a fair.  Tiring of this, he led the
way to a fallen log at the edge of the clearing, and produced his cigar
case.

"How is everything in Terrace City?" asked Wentworth, as he lighted his
cigar.

"Oh, about as usual, I guess.  Been so damned busy getting this paper
deal in shape for the last two months that I haven't had much time to
keep track of things.  By the way, you remember Hedin--that clerk in
old John McNabb's fur department?"

"Yes, I believe I do."

"Well, old John trusted him to the limit--made a kind of a pet of
him--and what does the fellow do but slip up to the store one night and
steal a Russian sable coat, worth somewhere around thirty thousand.
Then the damned fool, instead of getting out of the country, stayed
right on the job.  Of course old John missed the coat next day, and the
night watchman told of Hedin's visit to the store."

"Did he confess?" asked Wentworth a shade too eagerly.

"Confess nothing!  He swears he's innocent.  But there's nothing to it.
They've got the goods on him--everything but the coat.  They can't find
that, and they never will.  I got the story from Hicks, the police
chief.  Old John had him arrested and he knocked Hicks down and got
away.  They caught him again, and Judge Emerson fixed his bail at ten
thousand.  Someone furnished the bail that same night, and Hedin has
skipped out, slick and clean.  They sure put one over on McNabb--ten
thousand for bail, twenty thousand to divide between them, and McNabb
is holding the bag."

"And we'll leave him holding the bag again," grinned Wentworth.

"That's what we will.  He's been a hard man to down.  I don't mind
saying it to you, I've laid for him ever since I've been in Terrace
City, and I've never been able to get him.  Several times I've thought
I had him, but he always managed to wriggle out someway.  But now he
seems to have let down all of a sudden.  Either his luck has deserted
him, or he has begun to break."

"You are pretty sure he will not be here to-morrow?"

Orcutt nodded.  "Dead sure.  You were right about his believing that he
has till the first of August on those options.  I overheard him telling
Bronson on the golf links that he had to be in Canada on August first,
and that he would leave about the middle of July."



XIX

After breakfast on the morning of the first of July, Orcutt and Cameron
repaired to the cabin where, with the rough pine table littered with
maps, they discussed the terms and conditions of the contract of sale.
While Wentworth, palpably nervous, paced the clearing; his eyes were
upon the trails that led into the forest, and out upon the lake, for a
sign of a canoe from the southward.

When at last the pros and cons had all been threshed over, clauses
inserted, and clauses struck out, Orcutt drew from his pocket a heavy
gold watch, and snapping it open, detached it from its chain and laid
it upon the table between them.  "Half past eleven," he announced.  "I
suppose you insist upon waiting until the uttermost minute ticks to its
close."

"Yes," answered Cameron.  "McNabb's options hold good until twelve
o'clock."

"I am anxious to get back," said Orcutt, offering his cigar case, "but
I don't want to return without having a look at the mill site.  How far
is it from here?"

"About forty miles.  If you leave here right after noon you will make
it before noon to-morrow."

"I'll do it, and return the following day."

The two men smoked with their eyes upon the minute hand that slowly
crept toward twelve.  Now and then Cameron's glance strayed through the
window toward the trading post, as though he half expected to see John
McNabb step to its door.

"Twelve o'clock!" announced Orcutt, in a voice that held a ring of
triumph.  "And I don't mind telling you that, sure as I was that McNabb
would not be here, I am breathing easier now than I was two minutes
ago."

Leaning forward, Cameron verified the announcement, and dipping the pen
in ink, he signed the contract and passed the instrument across to
Orcutt, who hastily affixed his signature.  Then from the fat bundle
upon which his elbow had rested, the banker removed the wrapping and
counted out three hundred and fifty thousand dollars in gold
certificates of five- and ten-thousand dollar denominations.  Cameron
recounted, and receipted for the money, and after depositing it in his
pocket he extended his hand.  "I congratulate you, Mr. Orcutt, upon
your purchase, and trust that you have launched upon an enterprise that
will prove immensely profitable to yourself and your associates.  But
for the life of me, I cannot understand McNabb's failure to put in an
appearance."

Orcutt's eyes flashed.  "Nor can I, except on the theory that he is
breaking--losing his grip on affairs.  For years we have been business
rivals, and for years I have tried to get the upper hand of him, but
until this moment I have always failed.  It will be a different story
from now on," he added vindictively.  "Never again will he have the old
confidence, the nerve and sureness that has been his chief asset.  John
McNabb is done.  But I'm wasting time.  I should right now be on my way
to the mill site."

"You will wait for dinner?"

"No.  We can eat as we travel," he answered impatiently.  "Good-by!"
And stepping to the door, he called to Wentworth and the guides and
plainclothes-men who waited beside the door.

"Come on!  We strike out at once for the mill site.  The deal is
closed, and we're wasting time.  We've got a forty mile hike ahead of
us!  We'll snatch a lunch later.  By the way, Cameron, you may not be
here when I return, so I will inform you now that until further notice
Mr. Wentworth will be our accredited representative in the field.  If
anything should come up that needs my attention, take it up with him."

"Just put it on paper, Mr. Orcutt," advised the canny Scot, and with a
show of impatience Orcutt scribbled the memorandum.

"Where are we going?" asked Wentworth.

"To the mill site.  I want to look it over and return here by the day
after to-morrow.  All ready?"

The guides swung their packs to their backs and struck into the timber,
followed closely by the others of the party.

The following day, Orcutt and Wentworth stood at the head of the rapids
and Orcutt listened as the engineer, with the aid of his field notes
and maps, explained the construction of the dam, and roughly indicated
the contour of the reservoir.  "But what's this line--the dotted one,
that crosses the river just above us?"

"That is our western property line.  It crosses about a mile above
here, and we are standing about the same distance above the mill site."

"Do you mean that we own only a mile of timber on the big river above
this point?"

"Just about a mile.  Our property runs a long way up Gods River, and
both sides of the Shamattawa below the dotted line."

Orcutt studied the map for a moment.  "Who owns the land above here?"
he asked sharply.

"The Hudson's Bay Company on the north side, and the Government on the
south."

"Well, what in hell is to prevent someone--McNabb, for instance--from
buying up that land and starting operations above us?  Even if they
didn't put in a dam they could raise the devil with us by driving their
stuff through.  John McNabb knows every trick of the logging game, and
when he finds out what has happened he'll go the limit to buck us."

Wentworth considered.  "I guess he could do that, all right.  We would
have to let his stuff through--"

"I'll fix him!" cried Orcutt.  "I'll beat him to it!  Where do we do
business with the Government and the Hudson's Bay Company?"

"With the Government in Ottawa, and the Company in Winnipeg."

"Hell's bells!" cried Orcutt.  "That means we'll be gallivanting all
over Canada for the next week or ten days.  Well, it can't be helped.
I know John McNabb well enough not to leave any loop-hole for him to
take advantage of."  He called to the guides.  "Hey, you Injuns!
What's the quickest way to the railroad?"

The guides pointed due north.  "Mebbe-so wan hondre mile," announced
one.

"But," cried Wentworth, "we're going back by way of the post, aren't
we?"

"We're going to hit for the railway the quickest way God will let us!"

"But, I--I left something--that is, I have nothing to travel in but
these field clothes, and they're shockingly soiled and tattered."

"Soiled and tattered--hell!  What's that got to do with saving years of
trouble at the mill?  Maybe you ain't as pretty as you'd like to
be--but, you've got enough on so they can't arrest you----"

Wentworth felt a decidedly uncomfortable thrill at the word "arrest."
He was thinking of a certain Russian sable coat that lay in his trunk
at the cabin, and guarded from prying eyes by only a flimsy trunk lock.
He thought, also, of Downey--and wondered.  He would have given much to
have returned to that cabin, but a single glance into Orcutt's face
stilled any thought of further objection, and he reluctantly acquiesced.

"We can follow the line of the tote-road," he said.  "I blazed it to
the railway, and by the way, Cameron said that McNabb had already
started construction--had twenty or thirty miles of it completed
several days ago."

"Started construction?" cried Orcutt.  "Construction of what?"

"The tote-road.  He figured it would be quicker and cheaper to haul his
material for the mill in from the new railway than to ship by boat
around through the Bay to Port Nelson, and then drag it up the river by
scow."

"And you mean to say he's started the work?  Laid out good money on top
of what his options cost him--and forgot to take up the options?"

"That's just what he's done, according to Cameron."

Orcutt burst out laughing.  "We'll let him go ahead and build the
road," he cried.  "Every dollar he puts in will be ninety cents saved
for us.  It may be two or three weeks before he finds out that he has
lost the timber, and possibly the road will be completed by that time.
Then I'll buy it in for almost nothing.  McNabb has certainly gone
fluie!  And in the meantime we will use his road to haul in our own
material.  I'll wire Strang to begin hustling the stuff through."



XX

After watching Orcutt depart, Cameron folded his maps and his papers
and walked around to the trading room where Murchison and his clerk
were comparing the skins of a silver gray and a black cross fox.

The clerk greeted him with a smile.  "Just the man I wanted to see, Mr.
Cameron.  In fact I was about to go in search of you."

Cameron stared at him in surprise.  During the day or two he had spent
at the post, he had come to regard the clerk as a stupid, morose
individual, whose only excuse for existence, as Murchison had said, was
his knowledge of fur.  But here was this unkempt clerk actually
smiling, and addressing him as a man of affairs.  He glanced
inquiringly at Murchison before replying.  "And why should you go in
search of me?"

"As accredited representative of the Canadian Wild Lands Company, I
have business to transact with you."  Hedin stepped forward and
extended a paper.  "I represent John McNabb."

"John McNabb!" cried Cameron, staring at him as though he had taken
leave of his senses.  "You mean----"

Hedin interrupted him, speaking crisply.  "I mean that this paper, as
you will note, is a power of attorney which gives me authority to
transact any and all business for Mr. McNabb, concerning the purchase
of certain pulp-wood lands."

"Dut, man!" cried Cameron excitedly.

Ignoring the interruption, Hedin continued.  "And I hereby, in the
presence of Mr. Murchison, tender payment of ten percent, of the
purchase price, as provided in the terms of the option contract."

"But you're too late!" roared Cameron.  "McNabb's options expired at
noon!  The land has been sold and payment accepted!  Good Lord, man!
Do you mean that McNabb sent you up here to close the deal, and you
deliberately neglected to attend to it until the options had expired?"

"Too late?" smiled Hedin.  "What do you mean, too late?  The options do
not expire until noon," he paused and glanced up at the clock that
ticked upon the wall, "and it still lacks twenty-five minutes of
twelve."

Cameron stared at the clock.  "It is a trick!" he cried.  "You turned
the clock back!  What time have you, Murchison?"

The factor meticulously consulted his watch.  "Twenty-four minutes to
twelve," he announced.

"You are into it, too!"

Murchison smiled.  "Look at your own watch," he suggested.  "What time
have you got?"

Cameron drew out his timepiece and stared at it blankly.  "He laid his
watch on the table between us," he said in a bewildered tone, "and not
until the hands reached twelve were the papers signed and the money
paid."

"What do you mean?" asked Hedin.  "The papers signed, and the money
paid?"

"Why Orcutt, president of the Eureka Paper Company, bought the land
after McNabb's options expired.  Wentworth is his representative."

"But McNabb's options have not expired," insisted Hedin.  "His payment
has been tendered in the presence of a witness before the time of their
expiration.  Any sale or contract entered into with Orcutt or anyone
else concerning title to these lands is, of course, void."

Cameron continued to stare at his watch.  "I do not understand it," he
muttered.

"I think I do," offered Hedin.  "Was it Orcutt's watch you consulted?"

"Yes, he laid it on the table, and we watched the hands mark off the
time."

"And you were an hour fast!  Orcutt carried Terrace City time, which is
an hour faster than standard.  It is the so called daylight saving plan
adopted by many cities and villages in the United States by act of
council.  All that, of course, has no bearing on McNabb's options, so
there is nothing for you to do but accept payment and return Orcutt his
money."

"But you were here all the time!" cried Cameron.  "And you must have
known what was going on.  Why didn't you make yourself known?  Why did
you let me go ahead with Orcutt?  We could have had the business over
and done with two days ago--and no complications."

Hedin laughed.  "You will have to take that up with Mr. McNabb.  I was
following out instructions to the letter.  And those instructions were
very specific about not closing the deal within half an hour of the
expiration of the options."

"But what was his idea?"

"As I said before, you will have to ask him.  He had a reason, you may
be sure.  I have noticed in my association with John McNabb that there
is generally a reason for the things that he does--though in many
instances the reason is beyond me."

Cameron's exasperation at the sudden turn of events subsided.  He even
managed a smile.  "He was within his rights," he admitted, "and as you
say, he must have had a reason.  But I don't understand it.  Wentworth
was McNabb's man too--until he swung over to Orcutt.  Yet he never
suspected you were anything but Murchison's clerk."

Hedin laughed.  "The reputation of being a fool doesn't hurt anyone.
It is rather an advantage at times."

"You have played your part well," admitted Cameron.  "And McNabb has
played his part well--whatever that part is.  Orcutt said he was losing
his grip, was in his dotage.  Well, he will not be the first man that
has had to change his mind.  He has gone to inspect the mill site and
will return day after to-morrow.  Wentworth accompanied him.  I imagine
we will have an interesting half-hour when they find out that the deal
is off."

The formalities of payment were soon over with, and the moment they
were completed, Hedin despatched a messenger with a telegram to his
employer.

When John McNabb received the message he grinned broadly, and for
several minutes sat at his desk and stabbed at his blotter with his
pencil point.  "So, Orcutt, Wentworth & Company set out to down poor
old John McNabb," he muttered.  "I kind of figured rope was all
Wentworth wanted to hang himself with--an' rope's cheap.  But Orcutt
an' his Eureka Paper Company--now he must have gone to quite a little
bother, first an' last, an' some expense.  Too bad!  But I won't worry
about that--he ought to 'tend to his bankin'.  Guess I'll be startin'
North in about ten days."

A week later McNabb got another wire from the engineer in charge of his
road construction.  As he read and reread it, a slow smile trembled
upon his lips and widened into a broad grin.

"Sixty-five miles of road completed.  Eureka Paper Company cement and
material piling up at road head.  Have their own trucks.  Shall we let
them use road?"

The grin became an audible chuckle.  "I don't understand it.  Orcutt
must have cleared out so quick he don't know the deal is off."  Then he
called a messenger and sent two telegrams.  The first in answer to the
one just received.

"Double your force and hurry road to completion in shortest possible
time.  Allow all Eureka Paper Company goods to be delivered as fast as
received.  Facilitate delivery same to mill site in every way possible."

The other telegram was to the home office of the engineering firm and
read:

"Hold off on purchase of material for mill until further notice.
Writing full particulars."

Then he closed his desk and went home where, a few minutes later, his
daughter found him packing his outfit in a well worn duffle bag.



XXI

Ever since Jean's outburst of passion upon the day of Hedin's arrest, a
certain constraint had settled upon father and daughter that amounted,
at times, to an actual coldness.  Neither had mentioned the name of
Hedin in the other's hearing, but each evening at dinner, which was the
only meal at which they met, the studied silence with which the girl
devoted herself to her food bespoke plainer than words that the thought
of him was never out of her head.

So it was with some measure of surprise that Old John looked up from
his packing at the girl's question: "Where are you going, Dad?"

"North, into Canada.  I've business there that needs my attention."

"Will you take me with you?"

"Take ye with me!" he cried in astonishment.  "An' what would ye be
doin' in the wild country, with the black flies an' mosquitoes in the
height of their glory.  They'd eat ye alive!  An' the trailin'--why,
ye've never been outside a town in ye're life!"

"And that is just why I want to go outside one!" answered the girl.
"Please, Dad, take me with you.  I can keep up on the trail, really I
can.  Don't I play golf, and tennis, and paddle a canoe, and do
everything that anyone can do to keep themselves in shape?  I bet right
now I can walk as far as you can in the woods or out of the woods.  And
as for flies and mosquitoes, they won't eat me any worse than they will
you, and if worse comes to worst, I can plaster myself with that smelly
old dope you carry in that bottle--but I'd almost rather be eaten."

Old John grinned.  "Well, I don't know.  Maybe the trip would do ye
good.  An' when ye get there ye may not find it so dull.  Wentworth is
there an' he'll prob'ly show ye around."

"I don't need Captain Wentworth to show me around," she replied, and
McNabb was not slow to note her tone.  "Of all people I ever met, I
think he's the biggest bore!  I don't see what you hired him for."

Old John stared at her in amazement.  "Why, it was on your own
recommendation--that, an' the fact that I found out he done some really
good work on the Nettle River project.  But you asked me in so many
words to give him a job!"

"Well, if I did, I was an idiot," she replied.  "And I guess you'll
wish you never hired him.  You'll find you've made a grand mess of
things!"  A high-pitched, nervous quality had crept into the girl's
voice, and McNabb saw that she was very near to tears.  "Do you know
what they're saying?" she cried.  "They're saying that Oskar has jumped
ten-thousand-dollar bail that some friend put up for him!  They're
liars, and I hate them!  Wherever he is, he'll come back at the proper
time.  He'll show them--and he'll show you, too!"  With an effort, the
girl steadied her trembling voice.  "And when he does come back, he'll
find he's got one friend--and I'll--I'll make up for the rest.  I'm
going to get ready now.  I want to get away from it all.  When do we
start?"

"To-night," answered old John, "on the late train."  And when the door
closed behind his daughter, he grinned and winked at himself in the
mirror.

When old John McNabb and his daughter stepped off the sagging
combination coach at the siding which was the northern end of the new
tote-road, the first man they saw was Orcutt, resplendent in striped
mackinaw, Stetson hat, and high-laced boots.  As the banker came toward
them, McNabb stared about him in evident perplexity, his glance
shifting from the piles of tarpaulin-covered material, to the loaded
trucks that with a clash and grind of gears were just pulling out upon
the new tote-road that stretched away between the tall balsam spires to
the southward.

"Hello, John," Orcutt greeted, lifting his Stetson in acknowledgment of
the presence of Jean.  "Well, what do you think of it?"

McNabb continued to stare about him.  "I don't seem to quite get the
straight of it," he said slowly.  "Eureka Paper Company," he read the
legend emblazoned upon the trucks and tarpaulins scattered all over the
foreground.  "What does it mean, Orcutt?  An' what in the devil are you
doin' here?  An' what business have those trucks got on my tote-road?"

Orcutt laughed, a nasty, gloating laugh, as he rubbed his hands
together after the manner of one performing an ablution.  "It means,
John," he answered, in a voice of oily softness, "that at last I have
caught you napping.  The Eureka Paper Company is my company, and the
pulp-wood that you held options on is my pulp-wood.  I've been waiting
a long time for this day--more than twenty years.  It's only fair to
give the devil his due, John--you've been shrewd.  Time and again I
almost had you, but you always managed somehow to elude me.  There have
been times when I could have murdered you, gladly.  It wouldn't have
been so bad if you had gloated openly when you put one over on me, but
your devilish way of apparently ignoring the fact--of acting as though
outwitting me were too trifling an occurrence to even notice, at times
has nearly driven me crazy--that, and that damned secret laughter I see
in your eyes when we meet.  Oh, I've waited a long time for my day--but
now my day has come!  And to think how nearly I missed it!  I go back
in an hour on the same train that brought you in."

McNabb had listened in silence to the tirade.  "But I--I don't
understand it.  My options----"

"Your options," interrupted Orcutt, and his voice rasped harsh,
"expired at noon on the first day of July.  At one minute past twelve
on that day, the property passed into the hands of the Eureka Paper
Company of which I am president.  I signed the contract and paid over
the money myself at Gods Lake Post."

"Was it July?" mumbled McNabb, apparently dazed.  "But--there was
Wentworth.  He had the papers.  Surely he must have known."

Orcutt laughed.  "Yes.  Wentworth knew.  He knew the day you hired him.
And he knew that you thought you had until the first of August.  It was
Wentworth that tipped the deal off to me."

"But--why should he have double-crossed me?"

"Mere matter of business," replied Orcutt.  "Figure it out for
yourself.  If he stayed with you the best he could expect would be a
fair salary.  With us he was in position to dictate his own terms.
They were stiff terms, too, for Wentworth is shrewd.  But he has been
worth all he cost.  He is now secretary of the Eureka, and a very
considerable stockholder."

McNabb was silent for what seemed a long time.  When at length he
spoke, it was in a voice that sounded dull and tired.  "But, Orcutt,
the tote-road is mine.  I built it.  It cost me a hundred thousand
dollars--that road did.  If you hold the property the road is no good
to me, and it is valuable to you.  Will you buy it?"

"Sure, I'll buy it.  I'll buy it for just what I figure it is worth to
me.  It cost you a thousand dollars a mile.  It's worth a hundred to
me.  Ten thousand dollars is my limit.  Take it or leave it.  Ten cents
on the dollar, John; you may as well save what you can out of the
wreck."

"Is that the best you can do by me?  Man, it's robbery!  I can't afford
to lose ninety thousand.  It'll cripple me.  An' I stood to make a
million!"

"Cripple you, eh?  Well, it won't hurt my feelings to see you limping.
That's the very best we can do.  You better take it, and go back to
selling your thread.  You're getting too old for real business,
John--you're done!"

McNabb nodded slowly.  "Aye, maybe ye're right, maybe ye're right."
The voice sounded old, tired.  "I'll let ye know in a few days, Orcutt.
Now that I'm up here I think I'll slip down for a visit with my old
friend Murchison.  He's the factor at Gods Lake.  We were boys
together, an' together we worked for the Company.  He's a friend a man
can trust.  An' I feel the need of a friend.  Ye'll not begrudge us a
ride down on one of ye're trucks, will ye, Orcutt?"

Before Orcutt could reply Jean, who had been a silent listener to all
that had passed, leaped forward and faced Orcutt with blazing eyes.
"You sneak!" she cried.  "And all the time I thought you and Mrs.
Orcutt were my friends!  And all the time you were lying in wait to
ruin an old man!  You couldn't fight him in the open!  You were afraid!
But my father is used to fighting men--not cowardly thieves!  And as
for riding in one of your trucks, I would die first!"  She turned to
McNabb.  "Come on, Dad, we'll walk!"

"But, daughter, it's a hundred miles!"

"I don't care if it is five hundred miles!  I'll walk, or crawl if I
have to, rather than accept anything from that--that rattlesnake!  See,
there is a little store.  We can lay in some provisions for the trip
and it will be loads of fun.  It will remind you of your old days in
the North."

The girl took his arm, and the two turned abruptly away, leaving Orcutt
standing in his tracks watching their departure with somewhat of a grin.

As they came out of the store with bulging pack sacks, they saw him
step into the stuffy coach, and a moment later they watched the wheezy
little engine puff importantly down the track.  Then, side by side they
stepped onto the tote-road and were swallowed up between the two walls
of towering balsams and spruces.

A mile farther on, a Eureka truck passed them, and the girl, scorning
the driver's offer of a lift, brushed its dust from her clothing as
though it were the touch of some loathsome thing.

That night they camped on a little hardwood knoll beside a stream, well
back from the road.  Old John seemed to have regained his usual
spirits, and to her utter astonishment the girl surprised a grin upon
his face as he put up the shelter.  He built a fire, and producing hook
and line from his pocket, jerked half a dozen trout from the water,
which were soon sizzling in the pan from which rose the odor of frying
bacon.

"Do you know, Dad," began the girl, after the dishes had been washed
and the man had thrown an armful of green bracken upon the fire to
smudge away the mosquitoes.  "Do you know I think you are simply
wonderful?"  She was leaning against his knee, and her eyes looked into
his.

"Tush, girl, what ails ye?" said the man, removing his pipe to send a
cloud of blue smoke to mingle with the gray of the smudge.

"I mean it, Daddy, dear.  You are just wonderful.  Oh, I know how
disappointed you are.  I know just how it hurts to have a man like
Orcutt get the best of you.  I saw it in your face."

"Did Orcutt see it, d'ye think?"

"Of course he did--and he just gloated."

"U-m-m," said McNabb, and his lips twitched at the corners.

"And on top of all that you can smile!"

"Yup, isn't it funny?  I can even grin."

"But, Dad, will it--ruin you?  Not that I care a bit, about the money.
We can be just as happy, maybe happier, without it.  I'm not the little
fool you think I am.  I have always spent a lot of money because I had
it to spend, but if we didn't have it, I could be just as happy making
what little I did have go as far as it could.  Maybe we'll have to come
up here and live in a cabin.  I love the North already, and I've hardly
seen it.  We could have a cabin in the woods, and get some furniture
when we could afford it, and then we could arrange it so cozily.
Really, I would be crazy about it.  And we could have trout every day,
and wild ducks, and venison.  If we could afford a screened porch we
could eat and sleep on it, and in the living room we could have a
table----"

"Good Lord, girl, arrangin' furniture again!" cried old John.  "An I'd
come home some night an' break my neck before I could find the
matchbox.  If we was to live in a cabin I'd spike the stuff to the
floor!  But--maybe it won't be so bad as all that."

"I've been hateful to you of late, Dad, because of--of Oskar.  But
really, you made an awful mistake.  I should think you would know that
he couldn't have taken that coat.  It isn't in him!"

"I never said he ate it," grinned the man.

"Oh, don't joke about it!  Dad, I love Oskar.  He's--oh, he's
everything a man should be, and it hurts me so to have them saying he
is a thief.  He isn't a thief!  And the time will come when he will
prove it.  Promise me, Dad, that when he does prove it, you will make
every effort in your power to right the wrong you have done him."

Old John's hand rested for a moment upon the girl's head.  "I promise
all that, girl.  Surely ye know I can be just.  If it is as ye say,
I'll more than make it up to him.  I promise ye, his name shall not
suffer."

"I love you, Dad.  I know you are just--but you're a hard-hearted old
Scot, just the same.  You don't make many mistakes, but you have made
two--about Oskar, and about hiring that Wentworth.  I told you you'd be
sorry."

"Well, maybe ye're right," and John McNabb never blinked an eye.

"See, didn't I just say you were hard-headed?  You won't admit you made
a mistake even after what Orcutt told you to-day.  But tell me
honestly, Dad, are you ruined?"

"Well, we won't worry about that, lass.  D'ye hear the hoot-owl?  I
like to hear them of nights.  I found one's nest once an' I took the
three eggs out an' slipped them under a hen that Mother McFarlane had
settin'.  It was at Long Lake post, Mother McFarlane was the factor's
wife, an' I was his clerk.  The eggs had been sat on a long time an'
they hatched out before the hen eggs.  Ye should have seen Mother
McFarlane's face when she caught sight of them chickens!  It was one of
the best jokes I ever made."

"And here you ought to be as solemn as an owl yourself, and you are
talking of jokes.  I don't understand you at all."

"Maybe I should be an owl.  D'ye notice in the stories, they make the
Scots say, 'hoot'?  But about Wentworth, now.  If we should meet up
with him, don't let on ye know anything about my deal with Orcutt.
Treat him nice an' pleasant----"

"After what he has done to you?" cried the girl, her eyes flashing.

"Just so.  Be nice an' friendly to him--d'ye know what a poker face is?"

"Why, of course!  Everybody plays poker in Terrace City."

"Mind ye, ye're settin' in a big game right now----"

"You mean," cried the girl, "that there's a chance?  A chance to beat
Orcutt yet?  Oh, if you only could!"

"Well, we're still settin' in the game--me an' you, daughter.  An'
let's don't neither one of us throw down our hand till after the draw."



XXII

Toward evening of the fourth day after leaving the railway, the two
stepped into the broad clearing that surrounded the Gods Lake post.

"Oh, real Indians!" cried Jean, as she caught sight of the dozen or
more tepees that were pitched between the lake and the low log trading
post.

"Aye, real Injuns, lass--an' good it is to see them again.  It will be
the remnant of the spring tradin'.  'Tis about over now, but always
there's some of the Injuns will hang around the post all summer."

"They're cooking over open fires, and look, there comes one from the
lake with some fish!  Oh, don't you just love it?"

They were crossing the clearing, and old John glanced at his daughter
with approval.  "Aye, I love it.  An' proud I am that you love it, too.
Ye've taken to the North like a duck takes to water.  Ye've trailed
like a real sourdough, an' never a word of the hard work an' the
discomfort.  'Tis born in ye, lass--the love of the bush--an' I'm glad.
I've come to know ye better the last four days than I have in
twenty-one years of school, an' dancing an' all the flibberty-jibbitin'
nonsense ye carry on."

They had reached the door of the trading room, and the man interrupted
her laughing reply.  "Wait ye here a minute while I see if Dugald is
inside."

Oskar Hedin paused in the act of putting the finishing touches on the
edge of his belt ax, and as John McNabb entered the room, he rose
hastily to meet him.

"Where's Murchison?" asked the newcomer, and Hedin noted that no
slightest hint of recognition flickered in his employer's eyes.

Repressing the desire to laugh, he answered in the slow, dull-witted
manner of Sven Larsen.  "He is in there," pointing to the door of the
factor's room.

"Tell him to come out here," commanded McNabb brusquely.

"Do you want to see him?"

"What in the devil d'ye think I'm waitin' here for?  Hurry, now, an'
don't be standin' there gawpin'."

Hedin grinned broadly as he entered Murchison's door, and a moment
later McNabb's hands were gripped by the two hands of the factor.
"It's glad I am to see ye, John.  An' how does it feel to get home once
more?"

"Ye'll be knowin' yourself how it feels to a man that's been thirty
years out of the bush.  But where's Hedin?"

"He'll be here directly," answered Murchison.  "John, I want ye to meet
my clerk, Sven Larsen.  He's the best clerk I ever had."

McNabb glanced into the bearded face that blinked stupidly at him.  "Ye
haven't be'n over favored with clerks, I'd say, Dugald.  But how are ye
fixed for quarters?"

Murchison laughed.  "I guess we can rig up a bunk for ye, John."

"It ain't myself I was thinkin' about.  It's the lass.  She's had four
pretty hard days on the trail, an' she'd be the better for a
comfortable bunk."

"The lass!" exclaimed Murchison.

"Jean!  Here!"  Strong fingers gripped McNabb's arm, and he stared in
astonishment into the face of Sven Larsen.  The loose-lipped, vapid
expression was gone, and the blue-gray eyes stared into his own with
burning intensity.

"You don't mean----?  Why, Oskar lad!"

"Sh--sh.  But she mustn't know!  Promise me--both of you!  She will be
going to bed early, and after supper I'll see you at the landing."

McNabb studied the face quizzically.  "Ye fooled me, all right, but I'm
doubtin' ye can fool Jean."

"At least, I can try," answered the clerk.  "I'll see you at supper,"
and without waiting for a reply, he ascended the ladder that led to the
fur loft.

"Where is the lass?  Fetch her in, John."  Murchison's eyes twinkled as
he stepped closer.  "He thinks he's lost her," he whispered.  "But tell
me, John, d'ye think the lass cares for this damned Wentworth?"

"Who can say?" grinned McNabb.  "'Twill not be long now till we can see
for ourselves," and stepping to the door he called Jean, who was trying
to make friends with a group of Indian children.

"She'll have my room," said Murchison, as he followed McNabb to the
door.  "An' no bunk, either, but a brass bed that I bought in Winnipeg
out of respect for my old bones an' the weakening flesh that covers
'em.  You an' me will pitch a tent, an' 'twill be the first time in
many years, John, we've slept under canvas together."

The next moment he was welcoming the girl with a deference he would
have scarce accorded to royalty.



XXIII

Supper over, McNabb left Jean to be entertained by Murchison, and
strolled down to the landing to join Hedin.  "Well, how's everything
comin'?" he asked, as he seated himself beside the clerk upon a damaged
York boat.

"I wired you that the deal was closed, and the pulp-wood is safe.  But
there have been complications that you could never suspect."

"So?"

"Yes.  In the first, you were dead right about Wentworth--about not
trusting him.  And you knew who he expected to let in on the deal?"

"Why, Orcutt, of course," replied McNabb.  "I know all about that.
That's why I told ye to hold off till the last minute about closing."

"But you couldn't have foreseen that Orcutt wouldn't bother to set his
watch back, or that they would use his watch in concluding their deal."

McNabb shook his head.  "No, an' I don't know yet what ye're talkin'
about.  All I know is, that Orcutt thinks he has got title to the
pulp-wood.  We met him back at the railway, an' he took pains to tell
me about it.  What puzzles me is, how did ye work it so that after two
weeks have gone by he still thinks he owns the timber?"

"I didn't work it.  He came up here on the twenty-ninth and waited
around until the first of July.  Then he and Cameron went over to the
shack and concluded the deal, using Orcutt's watch, which was Terrace
City time--an hour fast.  Then Orcutt and Wentworth hit straight for
the mill site, saying they were coming back in two days.  Half an hour
later I called Cameron's attention to the error in time and took up the
options for you.  After the papers were signed he decided to wait for
the return of Orcutt and Wentworth.  But they didn't return.  He waited
for a week, and then went to look for them.  They haven't shown up yet."

Old John was chuckling aloud.  "An' the Eureka Paper Company's stuff is
rollin' down my tote-road as fast as they can unload it."

"Do you mean they've started to haul the material for their mill?"

"Aye, not only material but machinery."

"But what's become of Cameron?"

"Losh, lad, I don't even know the man.  We won't worry about him."

"But why did you want to put off the closing till the last minute?"

McNabb grinned.  "Why did you let Jean wear the sable coat?" he asked
in return.  "'Twas only to string Orcutt along, thinkin' he had me
bested till the last minute--then bring him up with a jolt.  I didn't
know it would work out so lucky for me."

"How do you mean--lucky?"

"You wait an' see," grinned McNabb.  "D'ye know, Orcutt offered me ten
thousand dollars for my tote-road?  An' it cost me a hundred thousand!"

A long silence followed McNabb's words, during which Hedin cleared his
throat several times.  The older man smoked his pipe, and cast covert
glances out of the tail of his eye.  Finally he spoke.  "What's on
ye're mind, lad?  Speak out."

Hedin hesitated a moment and plunged into the thing he had dreaded to
say.  "Mr. McNabb, I've been up here several months now--" he
hesitated, and as the other made no comment, proceeded.  "I have come
to like the country.  It--I don't think--that is, I don't want to go
back to Terrace City.  You can understand, can't you?  You have lived
in the North.  I wasn't born to be a clerk.  I hate it!  My father was
a real man.  He lived, and he died like a man.  This is a man's
country.  I am going to stay."  Hedin had expected an outburst of
temper, and had steeled himself to withstand it.  Instead, Old John
McNabb nodded slowly as he continued to puff at his pipe.

"So ye're tired of workin' for me.  Ye want to quit----"

"It isn't that.  I would rather work for you than any man I ever knew.
You have been like a father to me.  You will never know how I have
appreciated that.  I know it seems ungrateful.  But the North has got
me.  I never again could do your work justice.  My heart wouldn't be in
my work.  It would be here."

"An' will ye keep on workin' for Murchison?  What will he pay ye?"

"It isn't the pay.  I don't care about that.  I have no one but myself
to think of.  And Murchison said that with my knowledge of fur the
Company would soon give me a post of my own."

"But--what of the future, lad?"

Hedin shrugged.  "All I ask of the future," he answered, and McNabb
noted just a touch of bitterness in the tone, "is that I may live it in
the North."

"H-m-m," said McNabb, knocking the ashes from his pipe, "I guess the
North has got ye, lad.  An' I'm afraid it's got Jean.  The lass has
been rantin' about it ever since we left the railway.  But--who is
that?  Yonder, just goin' into the post?  My old eyes ain't so good in
the twilight."

"Wentworth!" exclaimed Hedin, leaping to his feet.  "Come on!  The time
has come for a showdown!"

Hedin's voice rasped harsh, and McNabb noticed that the younger man's
fists were clenched as he laid a restraining hand upon his arm.  "Take
it easy lad," he said.  "Maybe it's better we should play a waitin'
game."

"Waiting game!" cried Hedin.  "I've been playing a waiting game for
months--and I'm through.  Good God, man!  Do you think my nerves are of
iron?  I love Jean--love her as it is possible for a man to love one
woman.  I have loved her for years, and I will always love her.  And
I've lost her.  That damned cad with his airs and his graces has won
her completely away.  But, by God, he'll never have her!  I'll show him
up in his true colors----"

"An' with him out of the way, lad, ye'll then----"

"With him out of the way she'll despise me!" interrupted Hedin.  "She
will never marry him out of loyalty to you, when she finds out he has
tried to knife you.  I haven't told you all I know--when he falls,
he'll fall hard!  But I know what women think, and I know she'll
despise me for disguising myself and spying on him."

"If ye know what women think, lad, ye're the wisest man God has yet
made, an' as such I'm proud to know ye."

"It is no time to joke," answered Hedin bitterly.  "That's a thing I've
never been able to fathom, why you always joke in the face of a serious
situation, and then turn around and raise hell over some trivial matter
that don't amount to a hill of beans."

McNabb grinned.  "Do I?" he asked.  "Well, maybe ye're right.  But
listen, lad, I know ye've regard for me, an' I'm askin' as a personal
favor that ye hold off a bit with your denouncement of yon Wentworth.
Just play the game as ye've been playin' it.  Keep on bein' Sven
Larsen, the factor's clerk, heavy of wit, an' able with fool questions.
Ye've a fine faculty for actin'; for all durin' supper the lass never
suspected ye.  Keep it up for a while; it won't be for long."

"But what's the good of it?  We know as much as we'll ever know.  Man,
do you know what you're asking?  Loving Jean as I love her, I must
stand about and play the fool, while that damned thief basks in her
favor under my very eyes!  If there were a good reason, it would be
different.  But Wentworth and Orcutt can go no farther; they're
done----"

"Aye, but they're not done," interrupted McNabb.  "Ye'll be knowin' me
well enough to know I always have a reason for the things that I do.
It's a hard thing I'm askin' of ye, an' in this case I'll show ye the
reason, though 'tis not my habit.  D'ye mind I told ye that the Eureka
material was rollin' down the tote-road by the truck load?  Thousands
of dollars worth of it every day is bein' delivered at the mill site.
Why?  Because for some reason Orcutt has not yet found out that he does
not own the timber.  The minute he does find out, not another pound
will be delivered."

"You mean----?"

"I mean that portland cement, an' the reinforcin' steel, an' plate an'
whatever else goes into the construction of a paper mill is bein' set
down on the Shamattawa, one hundred miles from a railway at Orcutt's
expense.  And that every ton of it is stuff that won't pay its way out
of the woods.  The freight an' the haulin' one way doubles the cost.
An' even if he tried to take it out, he'd have a hundred miles of
tote-road to build.  Eureka freight travels only one way on McNabb's
tote-road--an' that way is in!"

Hedin stared at the man in astonishment.  "And you can buy it at your
own figure!" he cried.  "Why, you can prevent even his empty trucks
from going back.  God, man, it will ruin Orcutt!"

"'Tis his own doin's," answered the man.  "'Twill serve him right.  He
should have 'tended to his bankin' instead of pickin' on poor old John
McNabb, that should be back of his counter sellin' thread, as he told
me himself.  Ten cents on the dollar he offered for my tote-road."

"I'll do it!" exclaimed Hedin.  "It will be hard, but it will be worth
it, to see that crook get what's coming to him.  And then I'm going
away.  Murchison will give me a letter, and I'll strike the Company for
a job."

McNabb nodded.  "I guess ye're right, about not goin' back to the
store," he said slowly.  "Your heart is in the North."

There was a strange lump in Hedin's throat.  He glanced into the face
of his employer, and was surprised at a certain softness in the shrewd
gray eyes that gazed far out over the lake.  After a time the old man
spoke, more to himself than to him.  "Ye could both run down for a
month or two in the winter!"

"What?" asked Hedin, regarding the speaker with a puzzled expression.
"Both of who?  A factor only gets away in the summer."

"So they do--so they do," answered McNabb, absently.  "Well, we'll be
goin' back now.  My engineer, maybe, will be wantin' a conference."



XXIV

A rather strained silence greeted the entrance of McNabb into the
trading room.  Jean and Murchison occupied the only two chairs the room
boasted, and Wentworth leaned against the counter, a half-sneering
smile on his lips.  McNabb advanced to the group beneath the huge
swinging lamp, and Sven Larsen lingered in the shadows near the door.
The half-sneer changed to a look of open defiance, as Wentworth faced
McNabb.  "It seems," he said truculently, "that I am guilty of a
serious _faux pas_ in mentioning a bit of Terrace City scandal that
reached my ears concerning the elopement of your estimable fur clerk,
Hedin, and a Russian sable coat.  The idiot didn't have the brains to
get away with it.  If you'd have been wiser you would have waited until
you could have laid hands on the coat, and then locked up your fur
clerk."

"H-m-m, maybe ye're right," answered McNabb.

"And," continued Wentworth, emboldened by the placidity of the other's
tone, "if you had been wiser, you wouldn't have lost your pulp-wood
holdings.  Oh, there's no use beating about the bush--I knew the minute
Jean told me you had come in by the tote-road, that you had seen the
Eureka trucks hauling in Eureka material.  We put one over on you,
McNabb, and you might as well be a sport and make the best of it."

The old Scot nodded thoughtfully.  "Maybe ye're right," he admitted.
"But wasn't it a bit scurvy trick ye played me, acceptin' my money an'
usin' it to double-cross me?"

"Business, my dear man!  Merely business!   I saw my chance, and I took
it, that's all.  Ten thousand a year, and a ten percent interest in a
paper mill isn't so poor--and I'm not yet thirty.  It takes brains to
make money, and you can bet I'll make my money before my brain begins
to slip cogs.  It's expensive--this slipping of cogs."

"Maybe ye're right," repeated McNabb.

"I'll tell the world I'm right!  It won't be but a few years till I'll
be the big noise around this part of Canada!  Brains to figure out a
proposition, and nerve to carry it through--that's all it takes to make
this old world pay up what it owes you."

"How he hates himself!" exclaimed Jean, and from his position in the
shadows, Hedin saw that her eyes flashed.

His heart gave a great bound, and it was with an effort that he
restrained himself from pushing into the group.  Was it possible--?  A
step sounded outside, and the next moment the screen door swung open to
admit the figure of a man who strode into the lamp-light and glanced
about the faces of the assembly.

The man was Cameron.

"A fine two days' stay you made of your trip to the mill site," he
grumbled, addressing Wentworth.  "I waited here for a week for you or
Orcutt to show up, and then I decided to hunt you.  I followed you to
Winnipeg, and from there to Ottawa, and back again to the head of the
tote-road.  Orcutt had left for the States the day before I got there,
but they said you were down at the mill site.  I rode down on a truck
only to find that you had come over here for your outfit."

"Well, now you've found me, what's on your mind?" grinned Wentworth.

"I have a memorandum here in my pocket signed by Orcutt in which he
authorized you to transact any and all business regarding the pulp-wood
lands."

"That's correct," admitted Wentworth.  "I am a stockholder, an officer
in the company, and its sole representative in the field.  Fire away.
What's this business that's so all-fired important as to send you
chasing all over Canada to reach me?"

"My business," replied Cameron gravely, "is to return to you as
representative of the Eureka Paper Company, three hundred and fifty
thousand dollars, which amount was paid over to me by Mr. Orcutt, and
which represents the initial payment of ten percent of the purchase
price of certain pulp-wood lands described in the accompanying contract
of sale."

"Return the money!" cried Wentworth.  "What do you mean?"

"Simply, that the deal is off.  Or, rather, no valid transaction was
ever consummated."

Every particle of color faded from the engineer's face at the words.
As he glanced wildly about him his eye caught a twinkle in the eyes of
McNabb.  The color flooded his face in a surge of red, and his eyes
seemed to bulge with rage as he groped for words.  "It's a damned lie!"
he cried.  "A trick of McNabb's!"  He turned upon the older man: "I
thought you took your defeat too easy, but you'll find you can't put
anything over on me!  The deal stands--and we'll fight you to the last
court!  If you've found some petty technicality in the contract, you
better forget it.  We've gone ahead in good faith and spent a million.
We can employ as good lawyers as you can, and the courts won't stand
for any quibbling!  It's a case for the equity courts."

Cameron smiled grimly.  "I am a lawyer, and as such you will permit the
smile at your mention of the equity court.  You would not be allowed to
enter its doors.  For its first precept is: He who comes into equity
must come with clean hands.  Are your hands clean?  I think
not--neither your hands nor Orcutt's.  But, the matter will never reach
the courts.  There is no question of a technical error in the contract,
because there is no contract.  The instrument I drew, and which was
signed by Orcutt and myself, has no legal existence.  No valid contract
could have been drawn relative to the disposal of those lands until the
options held by Mr. McNabb had expired----"

"But they had expired!" cried Wentworth.  "They expired at twelve
o'clock, noon, of July first, and the contract was not signed until two
or three minutes after twelve."

"By Orcutt's watch," retorted Cameron.  "And Orcutt's watch was an hour
faster than official time.  I had no reason to suppose his watch was
wrong, and believed the time had expired, until I was confronted, after
your departure, by the accredited representative of McNabb.  I was
dumbfounded until I established the fact that he was within his rights
in tendering payment and closing the transaction for his principal.
Then there was no course open to me but to accept McNabb's money and
conclude the transfer to him.  Murchison, here, is a witness, that the
facts are as I have stated them."

Wentworth's eyes flew to the face of the factor, who nodded
emphatically.  Again the color left his face.  "It's a damned trick!"
he muttered.  "Why didn't you notify us at once, instead of waiting
nearly three weeks and allowing us to spend more than a million
dollars?"

"Orcutt told me he would return to the post in two days.  I waited, and
when a week went by I used every means in my power to reach him.  I
followed him by train.  I learned his address and wired the facts to
his bank.  The fault is his own.  I am sorry you have lost so
heavily----"

"It isn't my money," Wentworth cried savagely.  Then he suddenly
paused, and for upwards of thirty seconds the room was in dead silence.
When he spoke again, it was in a voice palpably held in control.

"I guess you have got us," he said.  "There seems to be nothing for me
to do but accept the money."  He held out his hand as Cameron slowly
counted out the big bills.  Then without recounting, Wentworth thrust
them into his pocket, and with quick, nervous strokes of his pen signed
the receipt which Cameron placed before him.  Then in a voice trembling
with suppressed rage he faced McNabb.  "Damn you!" he cried.  "I
thought--Orcutt said you were beginning to slip!"

"Well, maybe he's right," admitted McNabb, and the engineer saw that
his lips twitched at the corners.

"Who was your representative?" he demanded abruptly.  "And, how did it
come that he arrived just in the nick of time?"

"Why, his name is Sven Larsen.  He's Murchison's clerk," answered the
Scot.  "And he was here all the time."

"Sven Larsen!" yelled Wentworth.  "That half-wit!  Why, he hasn't got
sense enough to come in out of the rain!"

"Maybe ye're right," admitted McNabb, "but that isn't what I hired him
to do."

With an oath, Wentworth pushed past Cameron and started for the door to
find himself suddenly face to face with Sven Larsen.  "Get out of my
way, damn you!" he cried.  "Go up in the loft and wallow in your
stinking furs!"

"Furs!" repeated the clerk dully, but without giving an inch.  "Oh,
yes, furs."  He was looking Wentworth squarely in the eyes with a heavy
stare.  "Some fur is good, and some is bad.  A Russian sable is better
than a baum marten."  At the words, Jean McNabb, who had been a silent
but fascinated listener to all that transpired, leaned swiftly forward,
her eyes staring into the uncouth face of the speaker, who continued,
"And when the coat is dark, and of matched skins, it is very much
better than any baum marten.  And when one receives the sable coat on a
winter's night from the hands of a beautiful Russian princess whom one
is helping to escape through a roaring blizzard in a motor car--or was
it a sleigh?"

"Stop, damn you!"  In the lamp-light the on-lookers saw that the face
of the engineer had gone livid.  His words came thickly.  "You fool!
Are you crazy?  Have you forgotten Pollak, and what happened in the
shop of Levinski, the furrier?  Where is Pollak?"

A slow grin overspread the face of Sven Larsen.  "I invented Pollak to
cover a mistake I made.  There never was any Pollak, Wentworth, but
there is a Russian sable coat.  The coat is in your trunk in the cabin.
It is the coat you stole from Miss McNabb on the night of the Campbell
dinner."

"Oskar!" cried Jean, leaping from her chair at the moment that
Wentworth hurled himself upon Hedin.  Her cry was drowned in the swift
impact of bodies and the sound of blows, and grunts, and heavy
breathing.  McNabb and Cameron drew back and the bodies, locked in a
clench, toppled to the floor, overturning a chair.

"Oh, stop them!  Stop them!" shrieked the girl.  "He'll kill him!"

"Who'll kill who?" grinned McNabb, holding her back with one hand,
without taking his eyes from the struggling, fighting figures that
writhed almost at his feet, overturning boxes and bales in their
struggles.

"He'll kill Oskar!  He's bigger----"

"Not by a damn sight, he won't!" roared McNabb.  "Look at um!  Look at
um!  Oskar's on top!  Give him hell, lad!"

Jean had ceased her protest, and to her own intense surprise she found
herself leaning forward, watching every move.  She cried out with pain
when Wentworth's fist brought the blood from Oskar's nose, and she
applauded when Hedin's last three blows landed with vicious thuds
against the engineer's upturned chin.

Hedin rose to his feet and held the handkerchief to his bleeding nose.
McNabb's hand gripped his shoulder.  "Ye done fine, lad!  Ye done
fine!" he exclaimed.

Dropping to his knees, Hedin slipped his hand into the unconscious
man's pocket and withdrew a key which he tossed to one of the Company
Indians who had come running in at the sound of battle.  "Here, Joe
Irish," he said, "go to the cabin and unlock the trunk that is there
and bring back the coat of fur."

A few moments later Hedin handed the garment to McNabb.  "Here is your
missing coat," he said, as Jean threw her arm about his shoulder.

"Oskar, dear--" she whispered, and the next moment Hedin's arms were
about her and she could feel the wild pounding of his heart against her
breast.

There was a movement on the floor near their feet, and releasing the
girl Hedin reached swiftly down.  McNabb's hand stayed him before he
could seize hold of Wentworth, who was crawling toward the door.

"Let him go, lad," advised the old man.  "We've got the coat.
An'--an'--we're all happy!"

"But the money?  He's got the three hundred and fifty thousand!" cried
Hedin.

McNabb grinned.  "Suppose we just let Orcutt worry about that," he said.

"I told you Oskar was innocent!" cried Jean triumphantly, as the door
closed behind the slinking form of Wentworth.  "I told you so from the
first!  I just knew he never took that coat!"

McNabb's eyes were twinkling.  "I knew it, too, lass," he answered.
"That's why I bailed him out an' sent him up here with two hundred an'
fifty thousand dollars in negotiable paper in his pocket to close this
deal for me."

"And you knew all the time," cried the girl, staring at her father in
amazement, "when Orcutt was gloating over you back there, that you, and
not he, owned the timber?  And you let him go on and humiliate you to
your face!"

"Sure I did," grinned McNabb.  "He was havin' the time of his life, an'
I hated to spoil it.  An' besides, while he was talkin', truck after
truck was rollin' off down the tote-road haulin' material to my mill
site that I'll buy in at ten cents on the dollar.  Orcutt'll pay for
his fun!"

"But--your face--when he told you that you had lost the timber!  It
positively went gray!"

"Poker face," laughed McNabb.  "But run along now--the two of ye.  It's
many a long day since Dugald an' I have had a powwow with our feet
cocked up on bales of Injun goods."  As the two walked arm in arm
toward the door, McNabb called to the girl, "Here, lass, take your
coat!"  He tossed the Russian sable which the girl caught with a glad
cry.  "Ye'll be needin' it up here agin winter comes."

"Winter!  Up here!  What do you mean?"

"Oskar says he isn't goin' back to Terrace City," he explained.
"Except maybe for the weddin'.  The North has got into his blood, an'
the McNabb Paper Company needs a competent manager."



XXV

When Wentworth left the trading room he went straight to his cabin, and
disregarding his open trunk, he lifted a pack-sack from the floor and
swung it to his shoulders.  It was the pack he had deposited there
scarcely an hour before when he had trailed in from the mill site, and
he knew that it contained three or four days' supply of rations.

On the Shamattawa he had heard from a truck driver that an old man and
a girl had started for Gods Lake post, and he instantly recognized
McNabb and Jean from the man's description.  Thereupon he made up a
pack and headed for the post for the sole purpose of baiting the two,
and of flaunting his prowess as a financier in their faces.

An angry flush flooded his face as he realized how completely the
tables had turned.  Then the flush gave place to a crafty smile, as he
remembered the bills in his pocket.  "McNabb's money, or Orcutt's," he
muttered under his breath, "it's all the same to me.  Three hundred and
fifty thousand is more money than I ever expected to handle.  And now
for the get-away."

Closing the door behind him he struck across the clearing toward the
northeast.  At the end of the bush he paused.  "Hell!" he growled.  "I
can't hit for the railway.  Cameron said he had wired Orcutt at the
bank, and I might meet him coming in."  For some time he stood
irresolute.  "There's a way out straight south," he speculated, "about
three hundred miles, and a good share of it water trail.  I'll be all
right if I can pick up a canoe, and I can get grub of the Indians."
Skirting the clearing, he entered the bush and came out on the shore of
the lake at some distance below the landing, where several canoes had
been beached for the night.  Stooping, he righted one, and as he
straightened up he found himself face to face with Corporal Downey of
the Mounted.  For a moment the two stood regarding each other in
silence, while through Wentworth's brain flashed a mighty fear.  Had
McNabb changed his mind and sent Downey to arrest him for the theft of
the coat?  He thought of Orcutt's big bills in his pocket, and his
blood seemed to turn to water within him.  Then suddenly he remembered
that for the present, at least, he held those bills under color of
authority.  In the deep twilight that is the summer midnight of the
North he searched the officer's face.  Damn the man!  Why didn't he say
something?  Why did he always force another to open a conversation?
Wentworth cleared his throat.

"Hello, _Corporal_," he said sourly.  "Aren't you out pretty late?"

"Not any later than you are, _Captain_.  An' I'm headed in.  Put over
any more big deals lately?"

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, I run onto Cameron about a week back.  He was huntin' you or
Orcutt.  He told me how you beat old John McNabb out of his
pulp-wood--almost.  You ought to be ashamed--a couple of up-to-date
financiers like you two, pickin' on an' old man that's just dodderin'
around in his second childhood."

Wentworth flushed hot at the grin that accompanied the words.

"To hell with McNabb--and you, too!" he cried angrily, and carrying the
canoe into the water, he placed his pack in it.  When he returned for a
paddle, Downey was gone, and stepping into the canoe, he pushed it out
into the lake.  "Of course, he'd have to show up, damn him!" he
muttered as he propelled the light craft southward with swift strokes
of the paddle.  "And now if Orcutt should show up within the next day
or two, Downey will know just where to follow, and even with a two
days' start, I doubt if I could keep ahead of him.  They say he's a
devil on the trail.  But I'll fool him.  I'll leave the canoe at the
end of the lake, and instead of striking on down the river I'll hit out
overland.  Once I get to the railway, they can all go to hell!"

The mistake Wentworth made on the trail when he first came into the
North was not so much the insisting upon bringing in his trunk, nor his
refusal to carry a pack; it was in striking Alex Thumb with the
dog-whip when he refused to pull the outfit in the face of a blizzard.
Thumb's reputation as a "bad Injun" was well founded.  The son of a
hot-tempered French trader and a Cree mother, his early life had been a
succession of merciless beatings.  At the age of fourteen he killed his
father with a blow from an ice chisel, and thereafter served ten years
of an indeterminate sentence, during the course of which the unmerciful
beatings were administered for each infraction of reformatory rules,
until in his heart was born a sullen hatred of all white men and an
abysmal hatred of the lash.  When Wentworth struck, his doom was
sealed, but as Murchison said, Alex Thumb was canny.  He had no mind to
serve another term in prison.

All through the spring and summer he trailed the engineer, waiting with
the patience that is the heritage of the wilderness dweller for the
time and the place to strike and avoid suspicion.  And as time drew on
the half-breed's hatred against all white men seemed to concentrate
into a mighty rage against this one white man.  There had been times
when he could have killed him from afar.  More than once on the trail
Wentworth unconsciously stood with the sights of Alex Thumb's rifle
trained upon his head, or his heart.  But such was his hatred that
Thumb always stayed the finger that crooked upon the trigger--and bided
his time.

Thus it was that half an hour after Wentworth pushed out into the lake
another canoe shot out from the shore and fell in behind, its lone
occupant, paddling noiselessly, easily kept just within sight of the
fleeing man.  When daylight broadened Wentworth landed upon a sandy
point and ate breakfast.  Upon another point, a mile to the rear, Alex
Thumb lay on his belly and chewed jerked meat as his smouldering black
eyes regarded gloatingly the man in the distance.

Gods Lake is nearly fifty miles in its north and south reach, and all
day Wentworth paddled southward, holding well to the western shore.

At noon he rested for an hour and ate luncheon, his eyes now and then
scanning the back reach of the lake.  But he saw nothing, and from an
aspen thicket scarce half a mile away Alex Thumb watched in silence.

As the afternoon wore to a closer the half-breed drew nearer.  The
shadows of the bordering balsams were long on the water when Wentworth
first caught sight of the pursuing canoe.  His first thought was that
Orcutt had arrived at the post and that Downey had taken the trail.  He
ceased paddling for a moment and his light canoe swung into the trough
of the waves and rocked crankily.

The other canoe was only a half mile behind, and Wentworth saw with
relief that its occupant was not Downey.  Some Indian fishing, he
thought, and resumed his paddling.  The south shore was only an hour
away now, and tired as he was, he redoubled his efforts.

Farther on he looked back again.  The canoe still followed.  Surely no
Indian would set his nets so far from his camp.  Yet the man was an
Indian.  He had drawn closer and Wentworth could distinguish the short,
jabbing strokes of the paddle.

Another quarter of an hour and Wentworth looked again--and as he
looked, the blood seemed to freeze in his veins.  The pursuing canoe
was close now, and he was staring straight into the eyes of Alex Thumb.
The half-breed was smiling--a curious, twisted smile that was the very
embodiment of savage hate.  Wentworth's muscles felt weak, and it was
with difficulty that he drove them to the task of forcing the canoe out
of the trough of the waves.  Mechanically he paddled with his eyes
fixed on the ever nearing south shore.  He was very tired.  He would
soon make land now.  But when he did make land--what then?  He cursed
himself for going unarmed.  He could hear the slop of the waves on
Thumb's canoe.  He turned his head and saw that the man was only two
lengths behind him.  What would he do?  With the mechanical swing of
his arms the words of Murchison and Downey repeated themselves in his
brain.  "Serving with the devils in hell; serving with the devils in
hell," with a certain monotonous rhythm the words kept repeating
themselves through his brain.  Why had he ever come North?  Why hadn't
he told McNabb that he would have nothing to do with his pulp-wood?
The half-breed's canoe was alongside, but its occupant did not speak.
He merely jabbed at the waves with his paddle and looked with that
devilish twisted smile.

Wentworth hardly knew when his canoe grated upon the gravel.  Stiffly
he half walked, half crawled to the bow and lifted out his pack.  Alex
Thumb stood upon the gravel and smiled.

"What do you want?" faltered Wentworth, his voice breaking nervously.

The half-breed shrugged.  "You no lak no pardner on de trail?" he asked.

"Where are you going?"

Thumb pointed vaguely toward the south.  "Me--I'm lak de pardner on de
trail."

"Look here," cried Wentworth suddenly.  "Do you want money?  More money
than you ever saw before?"

The breed shook his head.  "No.  De money can't buy w'at I wan'."

"What do you want?"

Again came the twisted smile.  "Mebbe-so we eat de suppaire firs'.  I
got som' feesh.  We buil' de fire an' cook 'um."

The meal was eaten in silence, and during its progress Wentworth in a
measure recovered his nerve.

"You haven't told me yet what you want," he suggested when they had
lighted their pipes and thrown on an armful of greens for a smudge.

Between the narrowed lids the black eyes seemed to smoulder as they
fixed upon the face of the white man.  "I wan' you heart," he said,
casually.  "Red in my han's I wan' it, an' squeeze de blood out, an'
watch it splash on de rocks.  Mebbe-so I'm eat a piece dat heart, an'
feed de res' to my dog."

Wentworth's pipe dropped to the gravel and lay there.  He uttered no
sound.  The wind had died down and save for the droning hum of a
billion mosquitoes the silence was absolute.  A thin column of smoke
streamed from the bowl of the neglected pipe.  In profound fascination
Wentworth watched it flow smoothly upward.  An imperceptible air
current set the column swaying and wavering, and a light puff of breeze
dispersed it in a swirl of heavy yellow smoke from the smudge.  Dully,
impersonally, he sensed that the half-breed had just told him that he
would squeeze the red blood from his heart and watch it splash upon the
rocks.  His eyes rested upon the rocks rimmed up by the ice above the
gravelly beach.  The blood would splash there, and there, and those
other rocks would be spattered with tiny drops of it--his blood, the
blood from his own heart which Alex Thumb would squeeze dry, as one
would wring water from a sponge.  He wondered that he felt no sense of
fear.  He believed that Alex Thumb would do that, yet it was a matter
that seemed not of any importance.  He raised his eyes and encountered
the malevolent glare of the breed.  The black eyes seemed to glow with
an inner lustre, like the smoulder of banked fires.

With a start he seemed to have returned from some far place.  The words
of Corporal Downey flittered through his brain: "You'll be servin' with
the devils in hell if you don't quit makin' enemies of men like Alex
Thumb."  And there was Alex Thumb regarding him through narrowed
smouldering eyes across the little fire.  Alex Thumb would kill him!
Would kill _him_--Ross Wentworth!  The whole thing was preposterous.
If the man had really meant to kill him he would have done it before
this.  He wouldn't dare; there were the Mounted.  Other words of Downey
came to him, "If he does kill you, I'll get him."  So there was a
possibility that the man would kill him.  Why not?  Who would ever
know?  They would think he disappeared with Orcutt's money--would even
institute a world-wide search from him--but not in the bush.  Thought
of the money nerved him to speak.

"How much will you take to get into your canoe and paddle back the way
you came?" he asked.

The breed laughed.  "Wen I'm keel you I'm got you money, anyway.  But
I'm ain' wan' so mooch de money.  I'm wan' you heart."  A dangerous
glitter supplanted the smouldering glow of the black eyes.  "Me--I'm
stay ten year in de prison, for 'cause I'm keel my own fadder, an' dat
dam' good t'ing.  For why I'm keel heem?  'Cause he whip me wit' de
dog-whip.  In de prison de guards whip me mor' as wan t'ousan' tam.  In
de night w'en I ain' can sleep 'cause my back hurt so bad from de whip,
I'm lay in de dark an' keel dem all.  Every wan I ha' keel wan hondre
tam dere in de dark w'en I lay an' t'ink 'bout it.  An' I know how I'm
goin' do dat.  Den you hit me wit de whip on de trail.  All right.  I'm
ain' kin keel de guards.  I keel you here in de bush; I shoot you in de
head, an' I'm cut de heart out before he quit jumpin'."

Wentworth moistened his lips with his tongue.  "Downey will take you
in, if you do.  And they'll hang you--choke you to death with a rope."

"No.  Downey ain' kin fin'.  I'm bur' you in de bush--all but de heart.
I'm keep de heart all tam."

"Good God, man, you couldn't kill me like that--in cold blood!"  Beyond
the fire the half-breed laughed, a dry evil laugh that held nothing of
mirth.  With a scream of terror Wentworth leaped to his feet and
crashed into the bush.

Beside the fire Alex Thumb laughed--and spread his blankets for the
night.

Four hours later the breed wriggled from his blanket and lighted the
fire.  While the water heated for his tea, he carried the two canoes
back into the scrub and cached them, together with the two packs.  He
swallowed his breakfast and picking up his rifle walked slowly into the
bush, his eyes on the ground.  A mile away the lips twisted into their
sardonic grin as he noted where the fleeing man had floundered through
a muskeg, the flattened grass telling of his frequent falls.  In a
balsam thicket he lifted a scrap of cloth from a protruding limb, and
again he smiled.  Where Wentworth forded a waist-deep stream he had
lain down to rest on the sand of the opposite bank.  The trail started
toward the south.  By midforenoon Thumb noted with a grin that he was
traveling due east.

At noon he overtook Wentworth, mired to the middle in a marl bed,
supporting himself on a half sunken spruce.

Laying aside his rifle, the breed cut a pole with his belt ax and after
some difficulty succeeded in dragging the engineer to solid ground.
Wentworth was muttering and mumbling about a Russian sable coat, and
Thumb had to support him as he bound him to a spruce tree.


On the edge of the lake Corporal Downey picked up the trail.  He
located the cached canoes, and returning to the fire, he reached down
and picked Wentworth's pipe from the gravel.  "It's Thumb, all right,"
he said, as he stood holding the pipe.  "I know his canoe.  They were
both here at the same time.  I don't savvy that, because Wentworth left
first.  Thumb's trail is only three hours old.  Maybe--if I hurry----"

From far to the southeastward came the sound of a shot.  Downey
straightened, and for the space of minutes stood tense as a pointer.
The sound was not repeated--and swiftly the officer of the Mounted sped
through the bush.



AN EPILOGUE

Two days later, into the trading room of the Hudson's Bay Company's
post on God's Lake, burst Orcutt, white of face, shaken of nerves, and
with his disheveled garments bespeaking a frenzied dash through the
timber.

"What's the meaning of this?" he cried, holding out a telegram.

McNabb reached for the message and read it.  "It means just what it
says," he answered.  "Cameron has stated it plain."

"But where is Cameron?  Where is the three hundred and fifty thousand I
paid him?  Where is Wentworth?"

"Cameron is not here.  He left after turning over your money to
Wentworth.  He said he held a paper that constituted Wentworth your
legal representative."

"But--where is Wentworth?" gasped Orcutt.

"He left the night he got the money--a week ago to-night, wasn't it,
Dugald?"

"Good God!"  The words were a groan.  "I'm ruined.  Ruined, I tell you!
There's just one chance.  John, the material that's on your mill site.
Will you take it over?"

"Sure, I'll take it," answered McNabb.  "On the same terms you offered
for my tote-road.  Ten cents on the dollar, wasn't it, Orcutt?"

"But, man, you don't understand!"

"I understand that the shoe is on the other foot," answered McNabb,
coldly.  "Listen to me, Orcutt; by your own admission you've been
trying for more than twenty years to ruin me.  I've let you go, never
turning out of my way to injure you.  I'm not turning out of my way
now.  If you're squeezed it is because of your own deeds--not mine."

"Squeezed!" sobbed the banker hysterically.  "I'm ruined!  It means the
bank--my home--everything!  It means--more.  I was so sure--I--I'm into
the bank's money for thousands!  It means--the penitentiary!"

McNabb looked at the cringing man, whose knees seemed to sag beneath
the weight of his woe.  Coldly his eyes traveled the length of him:
"Maybe ye're right," he said, and his words cut icy cold.  Then,
deliberately he turned his back upon the man and strode through the
door.

Upon that same day, also came Corporal Downey, of the Royal North West
Mounted Police, and in his custody he held a man.  The man was the
half-breed Alex Thumb.

"We've got the goods on him this time," Downey told the factor.  "And a
damned peculiar case.  I picked him up a few miles south of the lake.
I heard a shot, and an hour later I located him and crept up through
the brush.  He had just finished burying Wentworth's body all but the
heart--that was dryin' on a little stick beside the fire.  There was an
empty shell in his rifle.  But--what I can't make out is this."  He
paused and withdrew from his pocket a small tin box, and opening it,
disclosed a handful of ashes and the half of a United States gold
certificate for ten thousand dollars.  "He was holdin' it over a little
fire," explained the officer.  "I located him by the smoke smell.  I
covered him, and he dropped this last fragment to throw up his hands.
It's money.  I didn't know they made 'em so big.  But why in hell
should he burn it?"

Murchison examined the fragment with its burned edge.  "Alex Thumb was
canny," he muttered.  "The bills was too big.  He didn't dare to spend
'em."



THE END





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