Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Bail Jumper
Author: Stead, Robert J. C., 1880-1959
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 Bail Jumper" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE BAIL JUMPER

BY

ROBERT J. C. STEAD



LONDON
T. FISHER UNWIN
ADELPHI—TERRACE



_First published in_ 1914.

[_All rights reserved._]



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER I—A FRIEND AND AN ENEMY
  CHAPTER II—SECRETS OF SUCCESS
  CHAPTER III—TWO ON THE TRAIL
  CHAPTER IV—CROTTON’S CROSSING
  CHAPTER V—UNDER SUSPICION
  CHAPTER VI—THE ARM OF THE LAW
  CHAPTER VII—ONLY A BARNARDO BOY
  CHAPTER VIII—A MYSTERIOUS ACQUAINTANCE
  CHAPTER IX—A FUGITIVE
  CHAPTER X—PLAYING THE GAME
  CHAPTER XI—A FRIEND IN NEED
  CHAPTER XII—LOVE—OR LAW?
  CHAPTER XIII—GROPING
  CHAPTER XIV—THE SACRIFICE OF SILENCE
  CHAPTER XV—STILL PLAYING THE GAME
  CHAPTER XVI—KIT MCKAY
  CHAPTER XVII—THE HOMESTEAD LINE
  CHAPTER XVIII—RIGHT ABOUT FACE!
  CHAPTER XIX—THE LIGHT AT LAST



THE BAIL JUMPER



CHAPTER I—A FRIEND AND AN ENEMY


    “We have felt the cold of winter—cursed by those who know it not—
    We have braved the blizzard’s vengeance, dared its most deceptive
       plot;
    We have learned that hardy races grow from hardy circumstance,
    And we face a dozen dangers to attend a country dance;
    Though our means are nothing lavish we have always time for play,
    And our social life commences at the closing of the day;
    We have time for thought and culture, time for friendliness and
       friend,
    And we catch a broader vision as our aspirations blend.”

                                                     _Prairie Born._

The short winter day was at an end. The gloom of five-o’clock twilight
gathered about the frost-shrouded team and the farm sleigh which
crunched complainingly behind. For twenty miles the team had plodded,
steadily, laboriously—their great heads undulating with their gait,
through the snow-blocked roads. The two fur-clad men had long ago
dropped all attempt at conversation, and an occasional swing of their
arms, in an effort to revive the chilled circulation, was the only
evidence that the vital spark still burned in their deep-bosomed bodies.

Suddenly a shape loomed through the grey mist of the night. The horses
lurched back upon the double trees, their trace-chains clattering with
the slack. The shape took form; a frightened team were seen plunging in
the deep snow by the roadside; the vehicles interlocked.

“What d’ye mean by crowdin’ me off the road like that?” cried an angry
voice, as a man’s form rose in the opposing cutter.

“I didn’t crowd you off,” returned the driver of the sleigh. “It was
your own reckless speed that got you into trouble. See, man, your nigh
horse is down; I’m thinkin’ he needs your attention more than me.”

“But it’s you will have it first,” came the savage reply, as the speaker
sprang from the cutter on to the side of the sleigh. But almost before
he landed a great bear-like arm shot out, and the assailant would have
fallen in a crumpled mass beside his struggling horses, had not the same
arm jerked him forward into the sleigh.

In the deep gloom the two men thrust their faces close, then drew
suddenly back.

“And what way is this to greet a neighbour on the public road, Hiram
Riles?” demanded the driver of the sleigh. “Ye’ll have strange tales for
the wife to-night, I’m thinkin’, by the breath o’ you. Away home with
ye, and mind the road. It’s no fit night for a man in your shape,
Hiram.”

The other murmured thickly, “I’m all right,” but showed no further
belligerent tendencies; and when the team had been extricated from their
entanglement and set upon the road again, the two old-timers parted in
their opposite directions.

“It’s a sore temptin’ o’ Providence for a man to venture on the country
roads a winter’s night without all his senses, Raymond,” said the elder
man, as they drove on. “See ye’re no guilty of it. There’s many a
tragedy blamed to the climate that’s begun in the gin-shop.”

Already the town lights were peering mistily through the haze, and in a
few minutes the sleigh drew up at the door of Gardiner’s general store.
The two men got out and lifted a trunk to the sidewalk, when the elder
resumed his seat in the sleigh.

“Hadn’t you better put in the team and stay all night, father? The
horses are dog-tired, and it’ll be better driving in the morning.”

“No, Raymond. I’ll push back as far as Mathesons’, and spend the night
there. I’m no hand for stayin’ in town. I’ll be leavin’ now, and mind,
boy, we’re expectin’ you to make good.”

The two men grasped hands in a moment’s clasp; the next, sleigh and
driver had disappeared in the night.

The young man stood on the sidewalk, in the momentary irresolution of
the stranger. He had been in Plainville before, and knew Mr. Gardiner by
sight; but then, he met him as a customer, and now it was to be as
employee. Overcoming his bashfulness, he pushed open the store door and
entered. The white glare of the gasoline lights revealed a boy of
twenty-one, sturdy and well set up, although of somewhat smaller stature
than the average in the country; with clean, weather-beaten face and
eyes accustomed to look squarely before them. The nose rose strong and
resolute from the cheeks, but in the quiet mouth there was a lurking
sadness suggestive of melancholy.

Raymond Burton unbuttoned his coat and threw back the collar, when a
cheery voice said, “Hello, Burton, you got in? Hardly expected you
to-night, the roads are so full. Throw off your coat and warm yourself,
and then go up to Mrs. Goode’s boarding-house and make yourself at home.
I have arranged accommodation for you there. She is one of our best
customers, and she runs a good house.”

There was nothing stand-offish about Gardiner. He met his employees on a
basis of friendship and equality, and had a ready way with him that was
continually swelling his list of customers, notwithstanding the
competition of the Sempter Trading Co., the oldest and strongest
mercantile firm in the town. Indeed, Gardiner was little more than a boy
himself, who, a few years before, had come up from one of the Eastern
Provinces to engage in business in the West.

Gardiner walked around to the boarding-house with Burton, after giving a
boy a quarter to deliver the trunk. Mrs. Goode, herself, answered the
bell. She was a sprightly, motherly woman, with a quick step, a ready
tongue, and a hearty laugh; hair that hinted of fifty, but a smile that
said she was twenty-five; and, withal, not entirely blind to her own
accomplishments.

“This is my new clerk, Mr. Burton, Mrs. Goode,” said Gardiner. “I
brought him here because I knew the house you run. He has driven most of
the day, and just needs one of your hot suppers to make him feel the
luck he has in being one of Mrs. Goode’s boarders.”

“Well, I do give a good supper, if I say it myself,” said Mrs. Goode.
“No hungry people in my house, if I know it. But you want to go to your
room. Alice, show Mr. Butler to room sixteen. Sweet sixteen, I call it,
and I always save it for the young men,” she added, with a coquettish
glance at her new customer.

Alice Goode, aged eighteen, emerged from the dining-room, and Burton
having been introduced, as “Mr. Garden’s new clerk,” she demurely led
the young man upstairs. “I hope you will like your room,” she said, and,
the business obligations of the situation discharged, continued, “Do you
dance?”

“Why, a little,” Burton admitted. “But I never learned, properly. Just
country dances, you know.”

“Gee, that’s all is any good, anyway. None of your city camel-strides
for me, but a good turkey-in-the-straw alamen-lefter an’ you can count
me in every trip. There’s a hop on at Grant’s to-night. Going?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t an invitation, and I don’t even know the people.”

“That don’t matter. There’ll be some loads goin’ out from town, an’ you
better just roll into one of them. It’s about five miles, an’ the ride
will be dandy. Besides, Grant’s are the best there is, an’ you’ll be as
welcome as a rich sinner in church. The hoe-down is in honour of their
niece, who has come out from the East, an’s goin’ to live with them.
They say she’s pretty an’ a swell singer. It’ll be quite a show-ring
affair, I expect, but all to the good.”

“Al-i-c-e!” cried her mother. “Set them good silver knives an’ forks,
cause Mr. Burtle’s here, an’ get a two-step on yuh now or never a foot
will yuh go to the dance to-night.”

Alice disappeared, and Burton was left to examine his quarters. They
were small and cheaply furnished, but comfortable enough. “At any rate,”
he soliloquised, “I shall not be very lonely, if Miss Alice is a sample
of Plainville society.”

The smell from Mrs. Goode’s supper table justified that lady’s high
opinion of it. When Burton came in he was introduced to each boarder in
turn. There were two lady school-teachers, two bank clerks, a couple of
store employees, a young lawyer, and several who might be termed “not
classified.” A spirit of good fellowship prevailed, and Burton was
surprised at the point to which banter was carried. Alice waited on the
table, while Mrs. Goode presided in the kitchen. Mr. Goode, a tall,
cadaverous man, moved shyly about the house, in which he occupied a
minor position. It was understood that Mrs. Goode held him in much
disfavour on account of his emaciated appearance, which she felt to be a
reflection upon her boarding-house.

“How can I expect to prosper when I have a walkin’ sign-post like that?”
she lamented to her neighbour, Mrs. O’Brien.

“Fade him on breakfast food with a little ‘barm’ in til’t,” was that
honest woman’s advice.

After supper Burton was reading in his room, when a knock came at the
door, and Gardiner burst in.

“Say, Burton, come with me to the dance at Grant’s to-night,” said the
visitor. “I’m driving out in my cutter, and I want company. They’re O.K.
people, and there’s a new-comer out there we all want to see. As for an
invitation—well, I have instructions to see that all the desirables are
asked, and I figure you in that bunch. Come along. The sooner you get
acquainted here the better, both for yourself and from a business point
of view.”

Burton surmised that the “business point of view” had a good deal to do
with most of Gardiner’s attitudes, but he was glad enough to accept the
invitation. The drive, in a top cutter, behind a spirited team, was so
different from the dreary monotony of the afternoon that Raymond could
scarce believe it was the same country. There were many rigs on the
road, but the trail was banked so high (for in prairie countries the
winter roads rise high above the surrounding snow) that it was
impossible to pass, and before reaching Grant’s the scattered rigs had
gathered into a long procession.

The Grant boys, George and Harry, were at the stable with lanterns, and
hurried about, exchanging greetings while they wrestled with frozen
tugs, and directed drivers blinking in the light. The young ladies
became the charge of Susy Grant, who bundled them in at the front door
of the house, while her brothers herded the swains into the kitchen, for
be it known, that while women may be ushered into parlour or bedroom,
the kitchen is the proper reception place for men. There they sit on
stools and wood-boxes, or crowd into corners, exchanging anecdotes or
revelling in amusement furnished by the wits of the countryside. Burton
was introduced by his employer to a few of the men and boys nearest by,
but none Waited for an introduction when there was occasion to speak.
They were a mixed company, some from the town, and others from the
country district in which the Grant homestead lay, but all were
acquainted and most were friends. Presently the door opened and a
new-comer ambled in; a strange human contrivance, half man, half boy,
who tripped over his long coat on the doorstep and projected himself in
a heap in the midst of the laughing crowd.

“Hello, London, what flew up an’ hit you?” said one, as the boy
scrambled clumsily to his feet. “Been to town on your way over?”

“Hit’s my bloomin’ coat,” explained London. “Hi fall w’en hever Hi try
to stand hup.”

“Take it ’hoff,’” shouted the crowd, as London proceeded to remove his
outer garments. This operation revealed the fact that London, as the
Barnardo lad was popularly called, although a boy in stature, aspired to
the wearing of man’s clothes, with the result that his trousers were
turned up almost to his knees and his coat hung down below them, the two
extremes meeting, as it were, about a foot from the floor. His
commodious boots had been recently blacked, and a heavy brass chain
stretched from pocket to pocket of his vest; but, most glorious of all,
was the bright red tie speared with a pin in the form of a horseshoe and
intended, doubtless, to indicate that its wearer was a sport of the
first blood.

“How did you get away to-night, London? Couldn’t Riles find anything for
you to do?”

“’E could. ’E’ll find work for them as comes to ’is funeral. But ’e’s
comin’ ’imself, an’ has Hi was specially named in Missus Grant’s
hinvitation”—this with an air of profound importance—“’e could ’ardly
’elp letting me come, ’specially has Hi said Hi would burn down the
’ouse hif they came with-hout me.”

“Good boy, London,” was the comment. “That’s the way to bring him to
time.”

“Hi drownded a pig hin the well one day ’e went to town an’ wouldn’t
take me,” said London, proudly. “Hand another time——”

What happened another time was never made public, for at that moment Big
Jack McTavish, official caller-off and master of ceremonies at every
dance in the Plainville district for a dozen years, strode into the
dining-room and shouted, “Partners for the Circashyun Circle.”

The men from the kitchen swarmed into the dining-room and parlour, which
had been cleared of carpets and furniture. The piano stood in the hall,
where it was presided over by Miss Green, the school-teacher; on a chair
alongside sat old Dave Cottrell, the fiddler, who had spent the
sixty-odd years of his life in struggle to draw the maddening music from
his violin, and had succeeded in that, and in nothing else; along the
stairs, and in the bedrooms above, were crowded the girls and young
women. This was partners’ dance, and in a few moments the floor was
crowded. Then the music struck up and the feet kept time, and the dance
had started. In the intricacies of the Circassian Circle every couple is
made to dance with every other couple, so that all have a chance to
exchange greetings before the first set is over, and it affords as
appropriate an opening selection as Old Hundred at morning service.
Before Big Jack’s ample hands came together as a signal that the first
dance was ended the last atom of reserve had been swept away, and
everybody was in tune to make a night of it. Gardiner danced with every
lady in the room, from Alice Goode to little Miss Green, who was
persuaded to leave the piano for just one set, and even London found
young women who did not scorn his clumsy advances. The dances were
quadrilles, lancers, schottisches and reels, with an occasional waltz or
two-step just to indicate that if they did not give city dances the
place of prominence it was through choice, not ignorance.

Among the ladies was one whom Burton knew to be the guest of honour,
even before he was told; a young woman his own age, or older, dressed in
a creamy white, with a single real rose in her hair. Her dark, full
eye-lashes, the finely shaped nose and ears, the firm but sympathetic
mouth, electrically responsive to every wave of emotion of her alert
brain, were not lost upon the country youth. There were many graceful
dancers, many radiant, happy-faced girls, but hers was a grace distinct
from theirs and a happiness more subtle, more delightful, more
pervading. The little tricks of speech which distinguish between the
intelligent and the well-educated; the little delicate courtesies which
distinguish between the well-meaning and the well-bred; the inborn and
self-effacing refinement which is the touchstone of true culture—these
were evidenced in every word, every motion, every gesture. Burton forgot
about dancing, forgot that he was expected to dance, as he drank in a
music unheard by the less discerning ears about him, and revelled in an
intoxication not of wine. It was not until Gardiner came to his corner
and, with a friendly slap, said, “Burton, old man, get up and dance.
What are you moping for?” that he was recalled to his surroundings.

“I’m not moping; just dreaming,” he said, springing to his feet.

“Never dream while you are awake; it doesn’t pay. There’s Alice Goode;
she has glanced your way a dozen times—and there’s worse girls than
Alice.”

Burton took the hint, and in a few moments was threading his way through
the meshes of a quadrille amid the pepsin aroma of the sweet Alice. He
discharged his obligation with credit, thanked his partner courteously,
and retired into his corner until supper was called at midnight.

Mrs. Grant supervised the work in the kitchen, while willing, although
not always skilful, hands assisted in the distribution of the
refreshments. This was the stage of the evening’s entertainment at which
the social spirit flowed highest; men and women, boys and girls, sat or
stood about in disorganised groups, eating sandwiches, cake and pie, and
consuming great cups of hot coffee, the while sharpening their wits at
each other’s expense and joining as heartily in the laugh when it
happened to be at their own.

A middle-aged gentleman whose appearance stirred some old memory in
Burton, seeing the young man seated a little by himself, came over and
engaged in conversation.

“If my old eyes do not deceive me, you are a son of John Burton’s,” said
he.

“I am Raymond Burton. And you—surely I should remember you?”

“Man, man, I know your father like my own brother. Sure you’ve heard him
speak of Dick Matheson? We shantied together on the Muddywaski, and a
better man than John Burton never rode a log in the Ottaway country,
which is sayin’ a good deal. I do not see you dancin’ much. I’m thinkin’
you will have your father’s quiet way; like a sleepy kitty, he was, when
left alone, but a roarin’ lion when put to the bit. But times are
changed, and men win more now with soft speech than we did with hard
knuckles. And whichever the game, a Burton should be to the fore.
Grant,” he said, addressing the head of the house, as he was about to
pass, “this is Raymond Burton. I knew his father on the Muddywaski.” To
honest Dick Matheson no further credentials seemed necessary.

“Glad to meet you,” said Mr. Grant, cordially. “Have you been introduced
to my niece? Dear me, I’m afraid the reception committee are too busy
with the sandwiches. Myrtle, just a moment,” as the young lady emerged
from an eddy of humanity, “let me present Mr. Burton. Mr. Burton—Miss
Vane,” and the two elder gentlemen allowed themselves to be swept into
the vortex of the crowd.

Miss Vane took Burton’s hand in a friendly grip—a grip that was not
afraid to speak of the soul behind it. “I am a stranger here, and I meet
so many people, but I shall remember you,” she said in quiet, musical
tones, in such striking contrast, Burton thought, to the strident
country voices about him.

“I am a stranger too,” the young man answered for want of a better thing
to say.

“Then we at least have something in common,” said Miss Vane, and it
occurred to Raymond that he had said the best thing possible.

In a moment the young lady was claimed by other guests. But Burton was
satisfied.

When supper was over and the conversation began to lag, some one
suggested that Miss Vane should sing. The proposal was received with
applause.

“If it will give you any pleasure,” said the young lady. Miss Green
resumed her seat at the piano, and in a few moments human tones such as
never before had been heard in Plainville district filled the sturdy
house from kitchen to attic. Deep, melting, melodious tones—the cultured
expression of the greatest musical instrument God Himself could
devise—the human voice! To what degrading uses it is so often put! She
sang, not the popular airs of the day, nor classical selections beyond
the ken of her audience, however dear to herself, but the old Scotch
songs which are strong enough to force a way to the roughest intellect,
yet fine enough to stir the slightest chord in the galaxy of human
accomplishment; deep enough to send men raging to battle and gentle
enough to croon little children to sleep. As she wandered on and on,
through the heroic, the pathetic, the tenderly sentimental, the dancers
sat in the rapture of a spell as new to them as the angel chorus to the
shepherds of Palestine, and when at last the low voice poured forth the
sanctified lament of “The Land o’ the Leal,” Big Jack’s wife went
sobbing to the kitchen, and Mrs. Grant slipped a motherly arm around
little Mrs. Dale, whose misty eyes were seeing a year-old mound and a
little white slab that stared stolidly through the snow:

    “Our bonnie bairn’s there, Jean,
    She was baith gude and fair, Jean,
    And oh, we grudged her sair,
      Tae the Land o’ the Leal.”

Even London forgot to dangle his watch-chain, and his employer, Riles,
who had sold his soul to Mammon twenty years ago, laughed quietly at the
tear on the boy’s cheek.

When the singer had finished, and the spell was broken by the
commonplace talk which someone always finds necessary to introduce on
such occasions, Dick Matheson got up and said, “We have all listened to
Miss Vane with great delight, and feel that she is no longer a stranger
among us. But we have another stranger here to-night, and it is but fair
that we should hear him too. Burton, let’s hear from you. Your father
could sing ‘The Death of Jimmie Whalen’ with any man in the shanties. I
knew his father on the Muddywaski,” he explained.

Burton blushed and made excuses, but a popular suggestion in such a
company is tantamount to a command. Surrendering to the inevitable, he
arose, saying, “I do not sing at all, but I will repeat some verses, if
you insist.”

“We insist,” came the chorus, and, when silence was secured, he began in
a strong, human voice, lacking the finish of culture, but vibrant with
sympathy with the spirit of the poem:

    “This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
      Sails the unshadowed main—
      The venturous bark that flings
    On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
    In gulfs enchanted, where the siren sings——”

He had not repeated four lines until he discovered that he had made a
mistake. The soul may respond to music it cannot comprehend, as a rusty
wire may thrill with vibrations from the throat of a Melba, but the mind
of man makes no answer to poetry beyond its grasp. Burton was forcing
himself against an immovable resistance; projecting a thought, live,
warm, charged with the germs of a million inspirations, against a stone
wall of mental vacuity. And yet he was sustained, as in an electric coil
a single wire thinner than a human hair may support the current that
flashes on two oceans at once, and he proceeded. In the second stanza
his eyes met Miss Vane’s, and heaven was opened before him. She
understood! Her mind was pacing the “caves of thought” with his; her
mentality was producing the current that he transformed into speech. He
remembered the advice of a great orator—“Speak to one soul in your
audience, and forget all others,” and he obeyed. Not again did he look
at Miss Vane; he dared not double-circuit the delicate current that
carried him on, but he poured forth the solemn cadences of Holmes’ great
poem with a fire and enthusiasm that commanded the attention of the
company until, focusing his energy in the last stanza, the walls
trembled with the vibrations of his intensity:

    “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
      As the swift seasons roll;
      Leave thy low-vaulted past!
    Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
    Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
      Till thou at length art free,
    Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea.”

There was a clapping of hands, which Burton knew to be a courtesy rather
than a compliment, and Susy Grant went so far as to say that it was a
very nice piece. Matheson justified all by repeating that he “knew his
father on the Muddywaski,” but the young man cared not what they said or
thought. For a dozen years he had spent the long winter evenings on the
farm in reading and self-culture, thereby opening to himself a door
through which none of these could follow. None—save one. And she had
followed. She understood!

The dancing was then revived, more vigorously, if possible, than in the
earlier part of the evening. Burton noticed that Gardiner twice engaged
Miss Vane as his partner, but himself did not dare claim so great a
boon. He was but a country boy, and Gardiner was a town man, a business
man, and—his employer.

Before the dance broke up a laugh was caused by the discovery of London
in the kitchen, deep amid the sandwiches and pie.

“You must be hungry, London,” said one of the young men, as a group
gathered round him.

“You bet Hi ham,” answered the lad, unabashed. “Hi ’aven’t ’ad wot you’d
call a decent meal hin a month.”

“Fill your pockets, then; there’s lots there,” was the good advice
given, which London proceeded to take.

At the back of the group was a coarse, animal-looking man, with heavy,
scowling features and an eye whose natural repulsiveness was heightened
by a deep scar along the brow, which caused the livid eye-lids to loop
outward as they approached the nose. He noted the incident, and as he
heard the conversation a look of malignant hate deepened in the glaring
eyes, and the mouth twitched in a brutal lust for revenge. It was Riles.

At last it was time to go home, and the gathering broke up. Gardiner
lingered a moment with Miss Vane, and Burton proceeded to the stable. On
the way he passed near by the Grant summer-house, now little more than a
great mound of snow. Through his fur covering he fancied he heard a
strange noise; he turned down the collar, and listened. Unmistakable
sounds of violence, of muffled cursing, of hard, short breathing, came
from beyond the summer-house. Burton ran in that direction, and the
gibbous moon which now shone dimly through the scattering clouds
revealed a form in the snow and another above kicking viciously,
endeavouring to sink the heavy boots in the face of the fallen man. As
the victim threw up his arms to protect his face he received the blows
in the chest, driving the breath from his lungs in great gasps. Burton,
seeing how desperate was the situation, rushed upon the assailant, and,
crossing his arms about the other’s neck, gripped his throat in a
strangle-hold that sent him to his knees in a moment. Every effort to
break loose was vain; the vital supply of air was shut off, and in a few
seconds the big frame rolled helplessly in Burton’s arms. The muscles
relaxed, the head fell back, the face turned up to the pale light of the
moon, and the eyes, glaring and misshapen, glared into his. It was
Riles.

London, seeing help at hand, sent up a lusty shriek, and in a few
minutes a big crowd had gathered about the combatants. Gardiner hurried
to Burton’s side and whispered, “Let him go, that’s not what I hired you
for.” Burton released his grip and Riles fell in the snow, London
sending up a fresh series of shrieks when he saw his oppressor again at
liberty. The big man soon recovered himself and scrambled to his feet,
and the crowd rapidly dispersed. But before Riles went he found occasion
to hiss in Burton’s ear, “You got the drop on me that time, young
meddler, but I’ll square it with ye yet, if I do murder for it.”

Burton laughed, but the words left an unpleasant taste.



CHAPTER II—SECRETS OF SUCCESS


    “I envy no man what he fairly wins;
      In life’s hard battle each must fight his fight;
    But some, methinks, are honoured for their sins,
      And some ignored because they do the right;
    Some seem to find their fortune ready-made,
      And others miss it, howsoe’er desired—
    The man’s a fool who thinks that he can grade
      Society by what it has acquired:
    The noblest souls are often least renowned;
      In humble homes God’s greatest men are found.”

                                                     _Prairie Born._

A month’s experience in the general store business brought much new
light to Burton. He had imagined that a man who stood behind the
counter, wearing good clothes, talking pleasantly to ladies and joking
with men, commencing work at eight in the morning and quitting, well, he
didn’t just know when—such a man surely was a favoured individual. He
had contrasted a business career with life on the farm: Up at five;
breakfast by lamplight; cows and horses to care for in evil-smelling
stables; innumerable chores before the day’s work was properly begun;
then the long, heavy labour, in crackling frosts, in suns that burned
the flesh like a searing iron, in miserable, damp, murkiness; in dust
laden winds that filled the eyes and choked the lungs, in all the
numberless vagaries of climate; the coarse clothing demanded by such a
vocation; the plain fare and simple home comforts; and then, tired to
the point of exhaustion, bed, which was alike the end of one day’s
labours and the starting point of another round of continuous toil,
irksome and often ill-requited. Such comparisons had, to some extent,
influenced his decision to seek his future in a life of commercial
activity; and, while he had not admitted any regret, there now were
nights when he felt that a good day’s labour in the harvest field or on
the plough would be a welcome and refreshing diversion. He had not
guessed that a business career demanded so much physical energy; it was
a new discovery to him that the closing of a difficult sale was more
exhausting than forking to the top of a stack. Nevertheless, he had set
his hand to the plough, and he was determined to finish the furrow, and
the very knowledge that physical energy played so great a part in the
commercial battle of the age came to him as an encouragement and a fresh
hope. But where bodily strength and a fair degree of intelligence might,
unaided, win success in agricultural pursuits, he had discovered that
another element was absolutely essential in the business world. It was
tact. No energy was sufficiently indomitable, no brain sufficiently
farseeing and alert, to win success in the surroundings in which he now
found himself without the magic touchstone of tact. Energy,
intelligence, and tact; these three, but the greatest of these is tact.

It was in the middle of winter, the dull season after the Christmas
trade, and before the spring activity begins, and Gardiner had allowed a
higher priced clerk to go, believing that he could handle all the
business with the assistance of Burton. This, although it entailed more
work, was to the young man’s advantage, as it brought him into close and
almost constant contact with his employer, and forced him to attempt
many things that he would otherwise have left to more experienced hands.
Already he found it unnecessary to summon Gardiner when a lady asked for
three-quarters of a yard of velvet, cut on the bias; could discuss the
merits of Dongola and calf with the assurance of an expert, and tell at
a glance whether goods would “wash.” But there were other things he
found more difficult to learn.

Mrs. Mandle was in search of cotton—good, strong cotton, not too dear.
Burton showed her an eight-cent web which he thought conformed to her
specifications. After a lengthy examination, the good lady admitted that
it satisfied her in some ways, but not in others. “The price is about
what I wanted,” she said, “but the quality is very poor.”

“Indeed, we have sold a great deal of that cotton, and it seems to give
good satisfaction.”

“Oh, so it might, for some work, but it hardly suits me. I guess I will
just step around to the Sempter Trading Company and see what they can
let me have.”

“Well, look at this,” said Burton, producing another web.

“Yes, that’s about what I wanted. And what will the price on that be?”

“Ten cents.”

“Ten cents! What a dreadful price for a piece of cotton. My, everything
is getting so dear, I can’t see what we farmers are comin’ to. Mrs.
Winters sent to Winnipeg for hers, and you ought to see it—the very
loveliest cotton, and only six and a half cents, and a box of slate
pencils thrown in for the children. No, dear me, I couldn’t pay such a
price as that. I might, yes, I would be willing to pay eight cents for
it, the same as the other, now, an’ you’re makin’ a good profit on it at
that.”

“I am sorry, Madam,” said Burton, trying not to be annoyed at her
attempt to take charge of the firm’s business, “but our prices are as
close as we find it possible to handle the goods, especially on staples
like cotton. That is a really good article; may I cut off the amount you
require?”

“Yes, at eight cents——”

Burton returned his scissors to his pocket, and the lady started for the
door, when Gardiner, who had finished with his customer and stood
listening to the dialogue, called her back.

“Don’t be in a hurry, Mrs. Mandle,” he said, in a winning voice that
appealed to the lady’s instinct for flattery, “there is a web here that
Mr. Burton didn’t know about, and perhaps it will suit you.”

Gardiner went behind the counter and pulled out the very eight-cent
piece that had been already shown.

“Now here is a ten-cent line that I can recommend to you,” he said,
leaning well across the counter and speaking in a confidential voice.
Burton was about to point out his mistake, when something in the eye of
his employer warned him that the transaction had been taken out of his
hands. “This is a regular ten-cent line, and extra value at that, but I
got something a little special on it by taking an unusual quantity from
the factory at one time. Of course, we generally figure when we get a
snap on a purchase that at least part of the bargain should be ours, but
with an old and valued customer like you hard and fast rules don’t
always apply. It’s something I really should not do, but under the
circumstances I will let you have anything up to twenty yards off this
web for eight cents.”

Mrs. Mandle beamed with pleasure. “That’s like you, Mr. Gardiner, I
always find that I can deal with you. Not that I have anything against
this young man——” she continued, as though anxious not to place Burton
in an unfavourable light.

“Oh, that’s all right,” laughed Gardiner. “Mr. Burton has general
instructions applying to our regular customers, but when he knows you
better he will meet your requirements as well as I do, I am sure. Now
shall it be twenty yards?”

“I only wanted twelve,” Mrs. Mandle confessed, “but since it is what you
might call a bit of a bargain, I believe I will just take the twenty.”

Gardiner smiled genially and measured off the cloth, but Burton observed
that as he did so he had a crook in each thumb, which allowed about a
half an inch of over-lap on each yard measured. Mrs. Mandle paid for her
purchase, and left with a smile to Gardiner and a friendly nod to
Burton, and said she would probably be in in a few days with a case of
eggs and some other produce.

“Bring them right in here, Mrs. Mandle,” said Gardiner, as he closed the
door after her. Coming back to the counter, he said to Burton,
half-apologetically, “I forgot to tell you, Burton, to put up all prices
on Mrs. Mandle. She is one of those dear souls who, as a matter of
principle, will never buy unless they think they are getting some
concession in price. It’s a simple matter to raise the price and drop it
again, and it pleases them.”

Burton flushed a little. He had been brought up to believe that strict
honesty was the best policy, and it seemed to him that the very
foundations of his conception of business success were being swept away.
These great merchant princes, who were lauded in the papers and welcomed
in the most distinguished circles, were they men of high standards and
noble principles, or were they consummate liars and cheats?

“I do not mean to question your methods,” he said, at length, “but—is
it, such a transaction as that, I mean, exactly honest?”

If he expected Gardiner to be angry at his frankness his fear was soon
dispelled.

“Why not?” laughed his employer. “The cotton is ours; we can sell it for
what we like, can’t we? If we ask fifty cents for it that’s our
business, or if we choose to give it away, that’s our business. These
people who are always trying to beat us down really don’t mean any harm,
and we don’t do them any harm. We just make them happy. Take Mrs.
Mandle, for instance. She thinks she saved forty cents, and that thought
will lighten her troubles for a week. As a matter of fact, she bought
eight yards more than she needed, but no doubt it will come handy
sometime.”

“I think I would give a real cut, if I pretended to,” persisted Burton.

“You can’t afford to. See, that ten-cent cotton costs me six and
three-quarter cents. You may think I could sell at eight and get out on
it. I can’t. Let me explain my position, so you will understand it
better. Last year I sold thirty-seven thousand dollars worth of goods.
My net profits were four thousand five hundred dollars, or just about
thirteen per cent. Now, no matter what an article may cost me, if I give
fifteen per cent. off the established selling price, I am losing money.
Isn’t that clear? And as some people have the bargain mania, we have to
give them fictitious bargains, just as the doctor prescribes fictitious
drugs for patients who think they can’t get well unless they take
something.”

Burton said no more, but he was not convinced.

A few days later a customer asked for a pound of fifty-cent black bulk
tea. Burton found the fifty-cent bin empty. “I’m sorry,” said he, “but
we appear to be out of the fifty-cent line. How would this suit?” and he
was about to offer another brand when Gardiner, who had overheard the
remark, called across the store, “That’s fifty-cent tea in the left-hand
bin.”

Now the left-hand bin contained thirty-five cent tea, and Burton knew
it.

To refuse to fill the order from the bin indicated would amount to
resigning his position, yet he was determined not to take advantage of
any customer. For a moment he hesitated. Then he weighed the tea out of
the thirty-five cent bin, but he gave the customer a pound and seven
ounces.

Under the grocery counter were a number of swinging standards on which
sugar and salt barrels were swung in and out as desired. The reserve
supply was kept in a warehouse at the back, and on a quiet day it
occurred to Burton to bring in a number of barrels and fill all the
standards. Gardiner observed him and suggested that the barrels should
be left outside until needed. Burton answered that he thought it would
be an advantage to have them in; besides, it was damp in the shed, and
the sugar showed some disposition to cake, while the salt became very
hard.

“Yes,” admitted Gardiner, “but it will weigh two per cent. more as it is
than after it stands in here for a week, and we handle sugar on less
than five per cent.”

In selling a gallon of coal oil Burton discovered that the oil pump
brought rather less than a gallon at a stroke. He reported the matter,
thinking the pump needed repairing.

“How much do you estimate it is running short?” asked his employer.

“About five per cent.”

“That’s too bad. It should be ten.”

“But surely you don’t mean to short-measure our customers? When we sell
a gallon, we sell a gallon, do we not?”

“Theoretically, yes. But some things do not work out in practice quite
the same as in theory. Look here, Burton,” and Gardiner’s voice took on
a serious tone, “I have sold coal oil for ten years, for myself and
others, and in all that time I have never opened a barrel that gave the
merchant full measure. If he gets off with a ten per cent. loss he can
consider himself lucky. I have seen barrels that were quite empty, yet
we had to pay for full measurement. It’s all very well to have
principles and theories, but what are you to do when you are face to
face with such conditions?”

“Raise the price until it will show a profit, but give full
measurement.”

Gardiner laughed. “You wouldn’t sell a barrel in a year,” he said. “The
public would refuse to pay your price. They would rather be cheated, and
not know it, than pay an honest price, and know it. The public bring
these things upon themselves. They place a premium upon dishonesty. They
will actually coax a man to lie to them. Tell a man, or better still, a
woman, that you are selling a two dollar article for a dollar, and she
will fight her way to the counter; but tell her the truth, that you are
selling an article worth a dollar for a dollar, and she will pass your
store in search of a merchant who has fictions more to her liking. If
the public want us to play fair, why do they refuse to set the example,
or at least show some appreciation of fair treatment? They are never
tired of telling of the dishonesty of their merchants; I could relate
deeds of trickery resorted to by customers which make the devices we
practise look like the harmless sport of little children. But, to return
to the subject, we could adulterate the coal oil and give them full
measurement, if that would please you better.”

“But isn’t adulteration against the law?”

“So are turkey raffles.”

Burton winced. He had attended one of these country gatherings the
previous evening, and come home considerably lighter in pocket although
without any feathered trophies.

“I do not mean to be personal,” Gardiner said, kindly enough. “I merely
want to show that, after all, the law takes very little notice of the
man who steals in a gentlemanly way. Robbery is an art, and it is the
crude thief that gets into trouble.”

“Speaking of adulteration reminds me of one of my employers, who was a
druggist as well as a general store keeper. He was an honest,
well-intended fellow, but he didn’t propose to let any one get very much
the better of him. Now it happened that the rural municipality required
a thousand ounces of strychnine, put up in half-ounce bottles, for
gopher poison. The drug at that time was worth fifty-eight cents an
ounce wholesale, and when the council came to the boss for his price he
quoted seventy-five cents, which was not unreasonable, seeing that he
had to furnish the bottles and labels and do the bottling—not a job to
be desired. But these councillors, being anxious to safeguard the
interests of their good friends the ratepayers, and incidentally give a
lesson in good bargaining, sent to the city for prices. When they came
back and told the boss they could get their supply for sixty cents I
expected he would tell them to go and get it, and to make certain other
calls while they were about it, but he just laughed and said if the city
firm could do it for that he guessed he could, and he took the order.
And he cleared three hundred dollars on that transaction.”

“How could that be possible, if the strychnine cost him fifty-eight
cents, and he sold for sixty?” queried Burton.

“Because Epsom salts cost him four cents a pound and the gophers never
knew the difference.”

Both men laughed, and at that moment the store door opened, and a
farmer, furred and frost covered, struggled in with a case of eggs.

“Where will you have the eggs, Mr. Gardiner?” he called, kicking the
door shut with his heel.

“Just set the case down, Mr. Mandle, we will attend to them,” but the
obliging Mr. Mandle insisted on carrying it to the rear of the store.

“The missus will be in in a minute, an’ fight it out with ye,” announced
Mr. Mandle. “She got off at the post-office. She’s wantin’ a bit coat,
an’ she’s been writin’ to the city for prices, an’ I’m thinkin’ she’s
expectin’ an answer to-day. But just let me have half a pound of
MacDonald chewin’ an’ she can do as she likes with the rest.”

In a few minutes Mrs. Mandle appeared, and was promptly taken in hand by
Gardiner. The selling of the coat was, as he expected, a difficult
matter, but she was finally persuaded that a regular $24.50 coat at $20
was good buying. The price-tag, which Gardiner had deftly slipped off
the coat before showing it, was marked $18.

“I suppose it isn’t necessary to ask you,” said the merchant, after the
purchases had been wrapped up, “but, just to assure ourselves, those
eggs are all quite fresh, aren’t they?”

“Fresh? My goodness, there isn’t one of them ten days old. Our hens are
laying wonderful for this time of the year.”

“That’s what comes of understanding poultry,” remarked Gardiner. But as
soon as his customer was gone he told Burton to take the eggs down to
the cellar and candle them.

“She sold me a six-pound block of ice in a tub of butter once, and I’ve
watched her ever since,” he explained.

When Burton had finished his task he reported.

“Two dozen and a half bad, and six dozen short. There were two layers
without any eggs in them.”

Gardiner made a rapid calculation. “Eight-and-a-half times thirty—is
two-fifty-five. And I did her two dollars on the coat. There’s
fifty-five cents coming to me yet.”

“What shall I do with the bad eggs, Mr. Gardiner?” asked the clerk.

“Put them under the counter and sell them to the restaurants,” were the
instructions.

“That last barrel of vinegar seems to be very strong,” remarked Gardiner
one day.

“I should say it is,” Burton agreed. “I took down a quart for Mrs. Goode
yesterday, and she said it was the strongest she had ever bought since
she came West.”

No more was said on the subject, but in the afternoon Burton, who was
standing at the front of the store dreamily surveying the wintry
landscape, saw his employer tip the vinegar barrel on end, knock out the
faucet, substitute a funnel, and pour in two pails of water. At that
moment the merry sound of sleigh bells was heard, and a cutter and
dashing team swung down the street. Burton caught a hurried glimpse as
they passed. It was Mr. Grant and Miss Vane.

And then, by some strange law of telepathy or suggestion, the words went
throbbing through his brain:

    “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
        As the swift seasons roll——”

The door opened, and with a smothered execration the young man turned to
wait on a lady who was quite sure that in the city three spools were
sold for ten cents.



CHAPTER III—TWO ON THE TRAIL


    “We have felt the April breezes warm along the plashy plains;
    We have mind-marked to the cadence of the falling April rains;
    We have heard the crash of water where the snow-fed rivers run,
    Seen a thousand silver lakelets lying shining in the sun;
    We have known the resurrection of the Springtime in the land,
    Heard the voice of Nature calling and the words of her command,
    Felt the thrill of Springtime twilight and the vague, unfashioned
       thought
    That the season’s birthday musters from the hopes we had forgot.”

                                                     _Prairie Born._

“Plainville has a sure-enough singer at last,” declared Alice Goode to
her mother the morning after the Grant party.

“That’ll be the new-comer at Grand’s,” said Mrs. Goode, who had a
talent, amounting almost to genius, for mispronouncing proper names.

“You’re on,” Alice agreed. “I don’t claim to be much of a judge of
warbles, but I like her samples.”

“You’ll be gettin’ her into the choir, for the Grands are Presbyterians.
You want to speak to the minister about her, Alice.”

“Sure I do, but it means war with Mrs. Fairley. She’s led the choir so
long and so far she’s sure to flare up at the prospect of a real singer
breakin’ in. But I don’t care. She only keeps me because she knows I
can’t sing either. Here’s where the fat goes into the fire.”

Alice went to the telephone and called up the Rev. Andrew Guthrie.

“Hello—that you, Mr. Guthrie?—hello—Alice Goode speaking—yes—say, you
ought to been at Grant’s dance last night—what’s that?—Oh, that don’t
matter—Me?—well, I just went on church business, rustlin’ new chickens
for your flock, an’ I caught one, a lulu—Mr. Grant’s niece, an’ she can
sing some. Say, Mr. Guthrie, you get after her to join the choir, before
the Methodists get busy.... No, don’t leave it to Mrs. Fairley, she’s
too jealous. Just get her to sing with us once, an’ Mrs. Fairley can
come in or stay out, as the weather suits her.... Perhaps, but she’s an
old crank, anyway. She spoils the effect of the sermons, an’ that ain’t
fair to you, Mr. Guthrie. That’s why I go to dances instead of
prayer-meeting.... That’s right, drive out and see her. She’ll change
the look of those empty pews, or I’m no guesser.”

Whether it was due to the doubtful compliments of this conversation or
the unquestionable sincerity which prompted Alice Goode’s suggestion may
never be known, but the fact is that the Reverend Mr. Guthrie called
that afternoon on Mrs. Fairley, and deftly announced that a friend of
the Grants’ was staying with them, and, he understood, would be willing
to take advantage of the facilities afforded by the choir. Now, Mrs.
Fairley, good woman, never attended anything so worldly as a dance, and
supposed that the recruit was some country girl anxious for a chance to
be seen by the congregation. She had no objection to an additional
worshipper in the choir—the meanest service of the Lord must not be
despised, Mr. Guthrie—so long as she proved bidable, Mr. Guthrie, and
did not spoil the effect of those who could sing. Armed with this
authority from the autocrat of the choir, Mr. Guthrie hitched up horse
and cutter and drove to the Grant homestead. It was a place where he
always found a warm welcome, and he would gladly have called oftener,
had it not been for the jealousy of some of his parishioners who
objected when he failed to visit them, and gave him little courtesy when
he did. He remained to tea, and, indeed, long after, and when at last he
drove home it was with feelings of mingled gratification and mistrust.

“Well, Mary,” he announced, as his wife helped to remove his great-coat,
“I have found an addition for our choir. But I rather suspect that she
will soon be the choir, and the present members will constitute the
addition. Mrs. Fairley made two conditions; that the new-comer should
not spoil the music, and should be amenable to those in authority,
meaning herself. Both these conditions I will guarantee, but there are
cases when authority forsakes officials and returns to its original
source—the people. And when the congregation have heard Miss Vane sing,
they will insist on a change in the leadership of the choir.”

“Oh, it may not be so bad as that,” said his wife, always eager to
smooth the difficulties from the path of her over-worked and under-paid
husband.

“So good as that, you mean,” exclaimed Andrew Guthrie, exultantly.

The next Sunday saw a new face in the choir, and the expectant glances
of the congregation indicated that a large percentage of Mr. Guthrie’s
flock had not attained to the godliness of Mrs. Fairley, who eschewed
dances.

The opening hymn was announced, and before three bars were sung a buzz
of excitement was electrifying the congregation. At the end of the first
line Mrs. Fairley stopped and looked straight at Miss Vane. For ten
years, whenever Mrs. Fairley stopped singing, the music stopped, and so
accustomed had the organist become to this understanding, that she
expected always to double back when the familiar voice was no longer
heard. But this morning a new precedent was established. Mrs. Fairley
stopped, but the music went on. The new singer sang on, quite
unconscious of the epoch-making nature of her hardihood. For one full
line Mrs. Fairley remained silent, and in that brief space of time she
surrendered for ever the leadership of the choir of Plainville
Presbyterian church.

After the service Mrs. Fairley went to the minister. Her chagrin was
apparent, and it was evident that she blamed him for no small share of
her undoing.

“I think it was quite unnecessary to bring that young woman into the
choir,” she said. “We were getting along very well, and the music was
all that Plainville desired.”

“No one, surely, will complain of the music,” said Mr. Guthrie, very
mildly, “but if this young woman wishes to take part in the singing, how
shall we despise even the meanest service of the Lord? And how shall we
avoid accepting that service? We must not ask her to remain away, and we
cannot ask her not to sing when we rise to worship Him with psalms and
hymns. It is, therefore, merely a question of whether she shall sing in
the choir or in the congregation.”

This view of the situation was a bomb-shell to Mrs. Fairley. If Miss
Vane’s presence in the choir was aggravating, in the congregation it
would become demoralising. As argument failed her she answered, hotly:

“Well, if the people don’t want my singing, they won’t have to listen to
it.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” said Mr. Guthrie. “We must all give what
service we can——”

But Mrs. Fairley had flounced down the aisle and out of the church.

So it came about that Miss Vane was officially declared leader of the
choir. Her position necessitated her coming to town twice on Sundays and
once during the week, and although her cousins were always glad enough
to drive her in, it was observed that Mr. Gardiner frequently relieved
them of the duty.

Burton, also, was afforded the opportunity of meeting Miss Vane at
church, and occasionally waiting on her in the store, but their
acquaintance developed slowly. He found himself while in her presence
hampered by a self-consciousness amounting to bashfulness. Thus, while
they frequently met at the rink, he had never asked her to skate. He
wondered whether she thought of him at all.

And so the winter wore on, and at length the spring was in the land. For
five months the wind had studiously avoided the south-west, but now it
fell into that favoured quarter, and the snow shrank before its balmy
breath. The sun beat down with June brilliancy; the creeks and ponds
filled with blue snow-water; the life that had lain dormant since
November stirred itself in sod, and flower, and leaf. In the town the
period of depression was followed by one of great activity; every
merchant, implement dealer, and tradesman was working under high
pressure to keep up with the demands of his customers. Gardiner’s store
shared in the general prosperity; in fact, as the proprietor thought,
they were receiving rather more than their share. This meant busy days
for Burton and his employer, but both were eager for work, and from week
to week Gardiner postponed his intention of engaging another clerk. He
was well satisfied with Burton, and had freely congratulated himself
upon securing for a moderate wage a young man of so much value to his
store. But circumstances were already in the mould which were destined
to alter his opinion.

On an evening late in May, Gardiner left the store early, saying his
horse needed exercise, and as the day’s work was practically over he
would go out for a drive. Burton remained to tidy the store and lock up,
but he noticed that Gardiner’s horse took the well-known road to
Grants’.

As he was sweeping behind the counter a young woman entered the store,
and Burton, looking up, was surprised to see Miss Vane.

“I hope I am not too late, Mr. Burton. I have had a number of errands to
do for Aunty, and it always takes longer than one expects. I wonder if
you will let me have this small bill of groceries?”

“You are not too late; you are just in time,” assured Burton, who felt
that the moment was the most opportune of the whole day.

He quickly filled the order, and said, “If you will tell me where your
buggy is, Miss Vane, I will take your packages around and put them in
it.”

“Oh, I have no buggy this time, I’m walking.”

“Walking! You surely do not intend to walk home with all these parcels?”

“They are not heavy, and besides, I am to walk only as far as Mrs.
Delt’s. Harry will meet me there later in the evening. They are very
busy on the farm at present, and I told them it was quite unnecessary to
drive me to town.”

Burton wrestled with his thoughts. Here, surely, was an opportunity to
offer a service which could be construed only as a business courtesy.

“If you can wait until I close the store—it will be only a minute—I
should be very glad to carry your parcels.”

“Oh, that is too much—I could not expect you to do that.”

“It is not too much—unless you say it is.”

Miss Vane laughed. Hers was a quiet, mirthful laugh, like a vocal smile.

“If your offer is made as a kindness to me, I cannot accept it; if it is
your own desire, I cannot refuse.”

“It is my desire,” said Burton. There was no other answer, although he
felt that the reply shattered his theory about a business courtesy.

Soon they were walking gaily along the road leading out of the village.
This ran by the amusement grounds, where the young men of the town were
gathering for an evening’s baseball practice. Burton and his companion
were not unnoticed.

The talk was of the commonplace: the weather, the seeding, the life of
town and country; Burton careful, discriminating in his speech; Miss
Vane frank, impetuous, but correct. They had almost reached Delt’s when
the young woman, placing her fingers to her throat, uttered a cry of
dismay.

“I believe I’ve lost my brooch,” she explained, in answer to Burton’s
anxious inquiry. “It was a gift from Brother Harry, and——”

She found no words to express her emotion, which Burton knew to be
greater than she cared to admit.

“I don’t think you need worry,” the young man said. “The sun is just
setting, and we still have an hour of fair light. I noticed the brooch
when we left the store, so it must be on the road. I will hurry back and
find it.”

“We will,” she corrected.

Burton set the packages down a little way from the road, and the two
hurried back through the gathering twilight, keeping a keen look-out as
they walked. It was not until they were almost at the recreation grounds
that a faint glint in the dust attracted Burton’s eye. He lifted the
precious trifle and restored it to the delighted owner, whose profuse
thanks called forth blushes that might be seen even in the dusk which
was now silently enwrapping all the familiar objects of the prairie and
roadside. Retracing their steps they walked more slowly; it became quite
dark, but a mild wind blew from the south-west, and there was just
enough eeriness in the situation to suggest the necessity of a man’s
protection. Finally they arrived at Delt’s gate, where Harry Grant and
young Mrs. Delt were awaiting Miss Vane with growing anxiety.

A horse and buggy swung past them as they left the main road, and Harry
Grant called out:

“Ah, here you are at last! And who is this? Why, I declare, if it isn’t
our friend Burton. That accounts for the delay. ‘In the spring a young
man’s fancy,’ you know.”

Gardiner, returning from his fruitless drive to the Grants’ home, heard
the words and recognized the voice.

And they troubled his sleep that night, and for many nights to come.



CHAPTER IV—CROTTON’S CROSSING


    “We have heard the cattle lowing in the silent summer nights;
    We have smelt the smudge-fire fragrance—we have seen the
       smudge-fire lights—
    We have heard the wild duck grumbling to his mate along the bank;
    Heard the thirsty horses snorting in the stream from which they
       drank;
    Heard the voice of Youth and Laughter in the long slow-gloaming
       night;
    Seen the arched electric splendour of the Great North’s livid
       light;
    Read the reason of existence—felt the touch that was divine—
    And in eyes that glowed responsive saw the end of God’s design.”

                                                     _Prairie Born._

“Why don’t you come out and see us sometime, Burton?”

It was Harry Grant speaking at the door of the store one evening early
in June.

“I should like to very much,” was the reply, “but you see I am busy all
day.”

“But not all night, surely. Come, you are ready to close up now, and I
am just going home. I guess I’ll have to come back later in the night
for the vet.; he’s out of town at present. Hustle round now, and lock
’er up, and I’ll be here in a few minutes with the team.”

“But I need a shave, and I’m just in my working garb.”

“Nonsense; we’re farmers at our house.”

“Not all of you,” said Burton, and was suddenly astonished at his own
temerity.

“Oh, that’s how the land lies,” said Harry, looking quizzically at the
other. “Well, if I had any ambitions in which a young lady figured,
which, by the way, doesn’t seem to be in my line, I’d rather let her see
me in my working clothes than not at all. Besides, you are taking her at
the same disadvantage. Now, hustle; I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

As they drove out along the country road Harry remarked, as though the
thought had just occurred to him—

“Ever been out to Crotton’s Crossing?”

“No, I haven’t, though a quiet day there is one of the treats I promise
myself. Let’s see; it’s about ten miles from here, isn’t it?”

“Twelve, and as fine a drive on a June Sunday as you could think about.
Myrtle has been coaxing me for a month to take her out, but when a
fellow pegs along all week on the farm he likes to lay up on Sundays.”

This was rather unlike Harry, for it was well known that twelve hours a
day on the land were not enough to keep him off the baseball diamond in
the evening.

Burton made some remark about his old opinions of farm-work, and how
life in a store had led him to revise them, and was about to dismiss the
subject from his mind when Harry, avoiding his eye with a bashfulness
usually foreign to his nature, said:

“Well, haven’t you got a thought?”

“Nothing to speak of,” his friend admitted. “What would you like me to
think?”

“See here,” said the other, “must I force an idea into your head with
these horny hands? You’re bright enough on some subjects but denser than
hotel coffee on others. In brief: You want to spend a day at the
crossing; so does my cousin. Now do you see light?”

“Do you mean that I should ask her to go with me?” said Burton, almost
overwhelmed with the possibility.

“Oh no, not that you should. There’s nothing compulsory about it, and if
you don’t take her, no doubt some one else will. It’s my guess that
Gardiner wouldn’t need a second hint. But it’s your privilege to invite
her. The worst she can do is refuse. And she won’t do the worst,
either.”

“But the choir?”

“Oh, fight that out with her; I’m not her guardian.”

They drove in silence for some distance, their thoughts accompanied by
the rhythmic cadence of the jangling trace-chains. The sun was an hour
from the setting, and the golden glow of its oblique rays across the
prairies and over the fast-greening wheatfields shed an amber radiance
that danced along the trail. The shouts of men at their evening’s
amusement, the lowing of cattle, the occasional bark of a dog, the far
off drumming of prairie chicken, came through the quiet stillness of the
air. When at last Burton spoke it was in a confidential note he had
never used since he had helped lay his mother in the hillside.

“Harry,” he said, “men don’t often talk of these things, but you’ve
guessed my great desire. I know I am foolish; it’s unreasonable of me to
entertain such ambitions, but our great hopes, like our great sorrows,
come to us unbidden. I cannot help what I feel, but I hope I can help
what I do. I appreciate beyond expression the words you have said to me,
with all that they imply, but would it be fair, if, indeed, it were not
presumptuous, for one like me—I mean a boy, for I am nothing more, on a
small wage, and with no other means of support—would it be fair that I
should meddle in what every one will say are much more appropriate
arrangements?”

“You are referring to Gardiner,” said Harry. “And in the first place, I
want you to know that every one will not say that that would be a more
appropriate arrangement. It may be true that you are young, that you
have your own way to make in the world, but all that is in your favour.
You are well educated; better than most town boys, for you have learned
to spend your idle hours to advantage, which they, as a rule, do not;
you have a good constitution and a clear conscience, and the girl who
isn’t willing to face the battle of life with a companion so equipped
isn’t worthy to be his wife. In this country women do not marry men who
have achieved distinction; in almost every case where wealth or honour
come, they come after marriage. If you think my cousin isn’t wise enough
to know that in the battle of life as it must be waged in this great new
country a man’s mental and physical equipment count for more than any
cash capital, you do her intelligence a grave injustice. But I want to
warn you that I am not speaking for her; I have not been given, and I
have not asked, her confidence in these matters. But I know Gardiner
well, and I know you a little, and I have my cousin’s happiness
sufficiently at heart to say what I have said.”

This was a remarkable speech for the young farmer, who usually disposed
of a subject in a sentence, and Burton felt that it was, indeed, a great
compliment to him. He knew that Harry had spoken in all sincerity; had
opened a corner of his heart to one who was little more than a stranger,
and he resolved to follow the cue he had been given.

Mrs. Grant, Susy Grant, and Miss Vane were in the garden as the young
men drove up. They greeted Burton cordially, and as Harry went to look
after his team entertained their visitor with a walk through the garden
and a discussion of the various flowers in which Mrs. Grant so much
delighted. Presently, however, the elder lady felt the night air
becoming chill, and, reminding Susy that the separator would be ready to
wash, entered the house, accompanied by her daughter.

“Oh, you haven’t seen my pony, have you, Mr. Burton?” said Miss Vane.
“He’s the dearest little fellow. Uncle gave him to me because he said he
couldn’t have me walking to town and getting home at midnight, although
when he knew I had your protection he admitted that altered the
circumstances. I keep him in the pasture—the pony, you know. Shall we
walk over and see him? Then you can lead him home, and I will ride.”

Nothing pleased the young man better, and in a few minutes they were
tripping along the well-beaten cowpath that led into the pasture. Night
was setting in, and when they reached the stream, girded with dense
willows, it was quite dark. The pony was not easily found, and several
times they approached cattle in mistake; but at length Miss Vane’s call
brought his answering whinny, as he came running to her, through the
bushes.

“Now sir, I shall ride you home,” she said, rubbing her pet’s nose, “and
Mr. Burton will lead you. This is Mr. Burton, Frisky.”

“But you have no saddle,” said Burton.

“Surely I am westernised enough to ride without a saddle by this time,”
said the young woman, “especially as the gait is not to exceed a walk.
But I am afraid I shall have to have some assistance before we can
start.”

She stood with her right arm over the pony’s back. In the darkness he
seemed unusually tall.

For a lady in an ordinary habit to mount a horse, especially without the
assistance of a saddle, is a feat of some difficulty, as Burton
discovered before it was accomplished. As they journeyed slowly back to
the farmhouse the young man inquired if Miss Vane had ever been to
Crotton’s Crossing.

“No, indeed, and they say it is one of the most delightful drives. I
have been at Harry a dozen times to take me, but he always has some
excuse, and George—well, I must admit that George seems to be more
interested in our friend Miss Green than in his little orphan cousin.”

“I was wondering,” said Burton, mustering all his resolution for the
task, “if you would accept an invitation to drive there with me next
Sunday?”

“One can never tell,” said the young woman demurely.

“Tell what?” asked Burton, a little piqued at the irrelevance of the
remark.

“What one will do under certain circumstances, until the circumstances
occur.”

“By which you mean?”

“Well, if I must be blunt, Mr. Burton, I cannot tell you whether I would
accept such an invitation until I receive it.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Raymond, and both laughed. “Miss Vane,
will you honour me with your company to Crotton’s Crossing on Sunday?”

“Rather formal, but strictly correct,” commented Miss Vane. “But there
is the choir——”

“Ah, yes, I had thought of that.”

“And what solution had you discovered?”

“Not any, I fear.”

“Under those circumstances it seems I will not be able——”

“Of course,” Burton admitted, “they can’t get along without you in the
choir.”

“Do you think so? Well, that is too bad, because next Sunday—they’ll
have to.”

Sunday dawned, cloudless and warm. The rainy season had not set in in
earnest, and, although farmers complained, the liverymen were well
pleased that the roads were conducive to pleasure drives. A light wind
blew from the south-east, just fresh enough to keep the air in motion,
as at 9 a.m. Burton drove out of town with as good an equipage as the
place afforded. The fields wore a heavy coat of dark green grain, waving
in the breeze like ripples on a pond; the mirthsome gophers frolicked on
the road, and clear-voiced barnyard fowl rent the air with their morning
dissertations. As Burton drove up to the Grant farmhouse he was met by
Harry and George; the former in his working clothes, but his brother
dressed in his Sunday best.

“Wish I could get the fever too,” lamented Harry. “Here’s George with a
special engagement at church, and Susy tidying up for a caller, and
pretty cousin Myrtle putting the final tiffics on her fascination, while
I come down to the prosaic business of running milk through the
separator. But mind you, Burton, a word of warning. They say the road to
a popular resort is paved with good intentions. There’s many in this
district will aver the road to Crotton’s Crossing is paved with broken
hearts.”

“Don’t pay any attention to him, Ray,” called Susy Grant from the
verandah. Susy never troubled to “mister” her male acquaintances after
the second meeting. “Harry’d be only too glad to take your drive himself
if Myrtle was somebody else’s cousin.”

“And he’d be no man if he wouldn’t,” declared George. “Hang it, I’m kind
o’ sorry I’m barred, myself.”

“Don’t say that,” said Harry. “Many a good wife has graduated from
pedagogy.”

This allusion to Miss Green had the effect of silencing the younger
brother, and in a moment Miss Vane appeared. She wore a dress of creamy
white, such as on the night Raymond had first seen her. From the toes of
her little kid shoes to the tip of her modest hat she was white,
absolutely white, save where one large red rose nestled in the hat’s
protecting shelter, and an historic brooch gleamed at her half-exposed
throat. Her dark, waving hair, the wonderfully deep, lustrous eyes, the
electrically sensitive mouth, the superb lines of her chin and neck, the
whole supported by a figure chaste, symmetrical and beautiful, asked no
grander setting than the emblem of purity she wore. Burton had thought
her beautiful on the night he first met her, but he told himself it was
her mentality that had so irresistibly attracted his, and as their
acquaintance had ripened his delight had been in her alert intellect,
her glorious voice, her easy grace of manner, gesture, and speech; but
this morning he saw in her a ravishment of personal, physical beauty
such as he thought had never before been vested in woman. The joy he
felt in her mere presence, which had been to him a delightful and
inexplicable mystery, was revealed in an instant as though a great cloud
had been swept away. He recognised the magnet and the steel, wedded in
an affinity defying every analysis of man, but everlasting and
indissoluble as the eternal hills. In one brief glance the great light
and the great responsibility had burst upon him, and his heart swelled
and throbbed in a panic of prayer that he might be able to keep his
secret.

“I bet you have forgotten something,” cried Mrs. Grant, to her niece, as
Burton tightened the reins.

“I never bet,” laughed Miss Vane, “but Mr. Burton will defend my
memory.”

“In that case, I bet she didn’t,” declared Burton, gallantly.

“Well, here is the proof,” said Mrs. Grant, advancing with a well laden
basket.

“It isn’t mine,” said Miss Vane. “I don’t know anything about it.”

“But it’s yours, just the same. It’s well you have an aunty to think
about you, dearie. You are so excited over your drive with Mr. Burton
that you would let the poor boy starve for his trouble.”

For a moment the young woman looked aghast. “Oh, Aunty, you darling,”
she cried, as the basket was tucked in the back of the buggy, “and you
with so much other work. You should have told me to do it.”

“Hush, hush, child. You may please the young gentleman’s eyes best, but
I’m thinkin’ your old aunty still knows the short cut to a man’s heart.”

In the pioneer days the Poplar river had presented a serious obstacle to
traffic in the spring and early summer freshets, until old Simon Crotton
had squatted on the bank and constructed a passable ford. Simon had a
team of shaganappies whose only virtue seemed to be that they were proof
against every form of abuse, and when the settler, with his wagonload of
rude implements or household effects, became entangled in the river, old
Simon, if not too thoroughly intoxicated, could be depended upon to lend
the assistance of himself and team, receiving therefore such dole as the
settler could afford or his generosity prompted. A fine steel bridge now
spanned the river at the spot, and Simon Crotton had long ago been
gathered to his fathers, but the place retained the name of Crotton’s
Crossing and will probably so be known until the end of time. In such
humble ways do common men leave their indelible impress upon a new
country.

The road from Grant’s to the crossing lay through a well-settled farming
district where almost every acre except the road allowances had come
under the plough. At one time the country had been partly covered with
shrub, and willows and poplars still grew along the road, affording
cover for prairie chickens and resting roosts for their relentless
enemy, the hawk. The air was laden with the smell of wild flowers, of
bursting buds, of fragrant red willows and balm-of-Gileads. For a mile
or two there was little conversation; Burton knew not what to say, and
Miss Vane was so enwrapped in the beauty of the country, so thrilled
with its glorious air, so inspired with its immensity, that she seemed
to have almost forgotten her companion’s presence. At last, as they
crested a hill, and a vista of long, narrow road, of neat, quadrangular
farms, of comfortable homes, of pastures fencing sleek, drowsy cattle
and horses turned out for their Sunday holiday, with a white church and
school-house by the road, opened before them, she turned to Burton with
a strange mildness in her eyes, and exclaimed, “And still people with
means at their command, who are in a measure the masters of their
destiny, live in the cities!”

“Then you prefer the country?”

“Prefer! How is any other choice possible? What great thing has ever
been that could not be traced to the land?”

“Yet our great men go to the cities, and these men you see about you,
these farmers, every one of them laments his lot. They feel that the
hands of all mankind are against them.”

“The same spirit prevails in the city, especially among the labouring
classes. They think how fortunate they would be if they were wringing
their living from the soil, instead of in the service of what they call
capital.”

“But the intellectual advantages of the city?”

“Ah, there you have it. And yet, although you have had no college
education, no free lectures, no public night schools, no young men’s
clubs, I venture to think you are better prepared for the battle of life
than many of those whom, you imagine, are more fortunately situated.”

The words recalled Harry Grant’s statement, and Burton did not pursue
the subject.

It was mid-day when they wound down the steep banks of the Poplar river
to the broad, elm-studded parkland below. Burton swung the team to the
left, and they plunged into the recesses of the forest along an old and
little used trail, which presently brought them to the edge of the
water. Here they unhitched and Burton tied the horses where they could
find a little grass, while Miss Vane spread the contents of the lunch
basket on a rug beside the water. The long drive in the bright morning
sunshine had whetted their appetites, but no sauce of hunger was
necessary to give flavour to Mrs. Grant’s chicken sandwiches and currant
jelly, with a thermos bottle of hot coffee. After the luncheon they
gathered up the fragments, and climbing gingerly down to the stones
which studded the shallow water, washed their hands in the stream that
rippled by their feet. Then they picked their way across the river on
the stones, for the water was low, and found a path leading through
enchanted corridors fenced with great elms, and so they delved into the
fastness of the wood. Finally, tired with their explorations, they
recrossed the stream, startling a lazy fish that lay, head against the
current, in the shelter of a stone, and found a great flat rock that
overlooked the water. Here they sat, gazing down into its silvery
depths, while the ripple of the running water caricatured their
reflections. The faces below them were one moment long and sober, the
next broad and merry, and then, by a little freak of the current,
suddenly blended into one.

Both laughed. “The water is teasing,” said Miss Vane.

Burton sat in a great happiness of body and soul.

Aloud he repeated in a gentle undertone,

    “And here and there a foamy flake,
      Upon me as I travel;
    With many a silvery waterbreak,
      Above the golden gravel.

    “I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
      I slide by hazel covers;
    I move the sweet forget-me-nots
      That grow for happy lovers.”

He stopped short, half ashamed; the poet had tricked him into a word he
had not meant to use.

The hours fled faster than they knew, and it was not until the setting
sun burst in great golden bars between the trunks of the stately elms
that they realized it was growing late.

“We must go,” said Miss Vane. “’Twill be dark before we can reach home.
And yet I am loath to leave a scene of so much happiness.”

“The day will be a mile-post in my memory,” said Raymond. “It has been
to me a season of delight. But how could it be otherwise with such
companionship?”

It was his first attempt at a compliment.

“Please do not speak to me in that way,” said Miss Vane, and there was a
ring, not so much of anger as of pain, in her voice.

Burton was crushed. He had understood that compliments were always
acceptable to a woman.

“Listen,” she continued, with a sudden deep kindliness in her voice, “I
would not have you misunderstand me. My environment has, all my life,
been very different from yours. I was brought up in the city, in an
atmosphere of refinement and, if not luxury, at least moderate wealth.
My associations were among what were called the best circles in the
city. I met many men, handsome, wealthy, clever men, and I will not
pretend that I did not know their attitude toward me. But I found that
these men, although they could discuss affairs of government, of
finance, of literature and art, in the frankest manner among themselves,
could not address to me the commonest remark without wrapping it in a
compliment. To a man they would speak as an equal, a rational being, but
a woman must be flattered and cajoled. They say the way to a man’s heart
is through his stomach, which I do not believe; but still more foolish
is the idea, held by most men, that the way to a woman’s heart is
through her vanity. Whoever adopts such an attitude toward a woman,
every compliment from his lips is an insult. We women may be frail, and
foolish, and unreasonable, but surely, surely we deserve the truth. And
this morning, when I said I loved the country, it was, most of all, for
its sincerity. I have sometimes thought I could, perhaps, love a man, if
I found one who was not a liar.”

The hard word came out with a crash; the wonderful, electric mouth
closed in a firmness that might have led men to battle, the deep eyes
lit up with a blaze that was not from the setting sun.

Burton mumbled an apology. “But I meant what I said, Miss Vane!”

She looked fairly in his eyes.

“I believe you,” she said, simply.

                   *       *       *       *       *

It was late when Burton reached town. It was Sunday night, and the
business section was in darkness. Miss Vane had given him some letters
to post and, as he passed the store, it occurred to him to go in and get
the necessary stamps, which would save him a special trip to the
post-office in the morning. The firm’s supply of stamps was kept in the
cash drawer in the safe, and Burton, having his keys with him, entered.
Striking a match he groped his way to the little office at the back of
the store where, by the light of more matches, he opened the
combination, known to only himself and Gardiner, and took out the
necessary stamps, which he would replace from his own in the morning.
Then he locked the safe and, seeing an unfinished book lying above it,
slipped it under his arm and left the store. The door fastened with a
spring lock, although a key was necessary to open it; he drew it to, and
as he did so he fancied he heard a footstep. The thought gave him no
uneasiness and he started blithely down the street, still revelling in
the delights of the happiest day his life had known. The little lecture
he had received from Miss Vane had only the effect of deepening his
attachment for her, and he was beginning to think, or at least to hope,
that she returned some measure of his regard. He properly concluded that
she would not have spoken so frankly to one in whom she felt no
interest.

Suddenly a dark object flew by his face, and a moment later a beer
bottle crashed in a thousand pieces on the brick wall at his side.

Burton turned quickly, but the streets were in darkness; he could see
nothing. He ran in the direction from which the missile appeared to have
been thrown, but his search was fruitless. As he continued his walk home
he turned the strange occurrence over in his mind; it seemed unreal,
like a bad dream. He began to doubt whether it had actually occurred, or
was it some insane freak of imagination? He resolved to say nothing of
the incident; it might have been accidental, which seemed incredible, or
the attack might have been meant for someone else, which was much more
likely. But if it were possible that he had secret enemies, he would
prepare himself to deal with future emergencies. If his assailant were a
man he would meet him as a man, with the weapons his Creator gave him;
but if a sneak and an assassin he must take other measures. He would buy
a revolver in the morning.



CHAPTER V—UNDER SUSPICION


    “‘Thou shalt not steal,’ the Law declares, and the sinner must pay
       the price,
    For the world abhors the petty thief who falls to the common vice,
    But the rich and the good and the powerful may steal—if they do it
       well—
    And the world sends them to heaven, but it sends the poor—to hell!”

                                              _The Empire Builders._

The absence of Miss Vane from church on the Sunday reported in our last
chapter was noted by every member of the congregation. None of the
Grants were in, which deepened the mystery, and although he might have
telephoned the Grant homestead and learned the cause of her absence, it
occurred to Gardiner that his horse needed exercise, and he drove out
early in the afternoon to investigate the situation for himself. He
trusted that Miss Vane was not ill, and he anticipated with some
pleasure an invitation to remain to tea. As a matter of fact the
invitation was given, but Gardiner did not remain. The discovery that
Miss Vane had gone to spend the day, the whole day, with Burton in the
woods, and alone; that she had ignored her official position in the
choir to do so, and, most of all, that she had given him no hint or
inkling of her intention, was, to say the least, disconcerting. He had
been surprised to find her walking with his clerk on the country road,
and after dark, but the explanation he had afterwards learned had
quieted his mind on that score, and he felt that his suit, although as
yet he had not announced it as such, was progressing favourably. It
seemed preposterous that he and his clerk should be rivals for the
affection of the same woman, but still more amazing that the clerk’s
rivalry should be encouraged. Burton was but a boy, only twenty-one,
with no experience of life save what he had learned on his father’s
farm, and without means of support except the twelve dollars a week he
drew from his employer. It was true that Burton was one of those quiet,
thoughtful fellows who are seldom sought by ladies for flirtations, but
are always in demand as husbands; it was true that Burton’s book
learning far exceeded his own, that the young man read poetry while he
might be playing pool, and could quote the masters by the page, but that
was a sign of weakness rather than strength. But as for Gardiner, he
reflected with some satisfaction that he too was still a young man, just
thirty-two, and therefore a much more desirable age for the
consideration of Miss Vane, who could not be less than twenty-three; he
had an established business and an ample income, judged by the standards
of a country town; he was in appearance not the inferior of Burton, and
he fancied that his popularity among his acquaintances was at least as
great. After all, Burton was nothing but what he had made him; he had
opened up this life before the young man, and he could also close it; on
a week’s notice even the slender support of twelve dollars could be
withdrawn. The thought afforded a ray of pleasure, but it was for the
moment only; his own good sense told him that from a business point of
view he could not afford to do without his clerk, whom he considered
better than many much higher-paid salesmen; moreover, he had little
doubt that a rival firm would be very glad to find a position for
Burton, probably at an advance of salary.

Taking the question in all its aspects it was one that demanded deep
consideration, and Gardiner spent the afternoon by himself.

In addition to the duties of the general store, Gardiner had the
business and responsibilities of cashing wheat tickets for one of the
grain companies operating elevators in Plainville. This is a branch of
trade usually left with the banks, but as these institutions at
Plainville had seen fit to impose a small charge for their services, the
grain firms, in their anxiety to avoid bankruptcy, had arranged with
different merchants to do the work gratis. Although Gardiner received no
pay directly for his work in this connection, it was considered some
advantage to do the business. The company at Winnipeg was notified by
wire or mail as money was needed, and the desired currency came promptly
by express. When the wheat season was at its height the amount sent was
often as high as five thousand dollars at a time, and this comfortable
sum frequently happened, about the fourth of the month, to be a godsend
to the merchant who did not have to account for it until the end of the
week. Moreover, as farmers had to come into the store to cash their
tickets, the merchants knew when they had a considerable sum of money in
their possession, and could force sales accordingly; or, if the customer
was slow to pay, and already in debt, an excellent opportunity was
afforded for collecting the account. Taking these things into
consideration Gardiner felt that the benefits derived from cashing wheat
tickets were sufficient to justify him in undertaking the responsibility
and labour the service entailed.

During the summer deliveries of wheat are usually slow, but farmers
frequently over-estimate the amount they will require for seed, and the
wealthier ones also make a point of carrying some of their wheat in
their granaries until summer to take advantage of the artificial prices
which are invariably effected by speculative manipulating after the
cereal is supposed to have passed out of the hands of the producers. As
seeding was now finished deliveries were freshening, and a package of
“wheat money” containing two thousand dollars in ten dollar bank bills
had been received on Saturday evening by express and, the banks being
closed, was left in Gardiner’s safe over Sunday.

Monday morning, although the unpleasant event of the previous night
seemed to Burton more than ever to be an unreal remembrance, he resolved
to carry out his intention. He knew that the action was one his father
would hardly commend; his father had old-fashioned Ontario ideas about
carrying revolvers; but the situation was unusual, and he felt justified
in taking such measures as he could for his own protection. Accordingly,
on his way to the store he stopped at a hardware, and spent some time
selecting a modest weapon which he felt could be depended upon in case
of emergency. He pretended to the clerk that he wanted to try his
marksmanship on the gophers; secured a box of cartridges, and put the
loaded weapon in his pocket.

As he neared Gardiner’s store he felt in his pockets for his keys. They
were gone! He hesitated a moment, and recalled having used them the
night before; then, seeing the door was opened, he entered.

Gardiner was in the office at the back of the store.

“Burton, come here, please,” he called. His voice seemed strained and
hollow, and as Burton’s eyes accustomed themselves to the store’s
comparative darkness after the bright light outside, he saw that his
employer’s face was as colourless as death.

“Why, what is the matter? Are you unwell?” cried Burton in alarm.

Gardiner steadied himself against a chair, and after one or two attempts
to speak whispered hoarsely, “The package is gone.”

“Gone!” cried Burton, and would have walked to the safe, but Gardiner
stopped him.

“Just a minute,” he said, having somewhat recovered his composure; “I
want to ask you a question or two.”

Burton stopped and faced his employer unflinchingly.

“Have you missed anything this morning?”

“Why, no.”

“Think again.”

Burton hesitated. “Oh, yes,” he said at length, “I did. When I came to
the door I couldn’t find my keys.”

“Do you identify those?” asked Gardiner, holding up a ring having
several keys attached.

“They are mine. Where did you get them?”

“_In the safe!_”

“Impossible!”

“Unfortunately not. They hung in the lock of the cash compartment.
Burton, whoever took that money used those keys!”

The young man looked at his employer as though his eyes would pierce him
through. “Gardiner,” he said, in a hard, cold voice that seemed to be
coming from the depths of some terrible emotion, “do you accuse me of
this?”

It was the first time he had ever omitted the mister in addressing his
employer. He was speaking now as man to man.

“No,” said Gardiner. “I accuse you of nothing. Even if I had the
positive evidence before my eyes I could not believe you guilty. But the
situation is baffling, and I am afraid—I am afraid suspicion will be
directed toward you. Let me give you the facts as I have found them and
as I, of course, will be obliged to report them to the police. When I
came down to the store this morning my first thought was for that
package. I came at once to the safe. Before it were lying a number of
half-burnt matches. This aroused my fears, and I tried the door. It was
locked. I operated the combination, and it opened. Inside, this bunch of
keys hung in the lock, but the cash drawer was locked. I turned the key
and opened it. The package was gone. Nothing else was disturbed, but
another burnt match lay in the cash box. Whoever opened that safe knew
the combination. Whoever opened that safe had the key of the cash
drawer. Burton, you and I are the only men in God’s world who know that
combination and have the keys.”

Burton listened to this recital with growing dismay. If he had
deliberately set about to put his feet in a trap he did not see how he
could have done it more effectively. He realised the great weight of
circumstantial evidence that was piling up against him, and in his heart
he felt that Gardiner was not to be blamed for his suspicions. The
incident of the smashing beer bottle again flew through his memory,
recalling also his fancy that he heard a stealthy step, but what would
such trifling and unsupported tales as these avail?

“At least I can explain about the keys,” he said at last. “I came into
the store as I was going home last night about midnight, and I opened
the safe——”

“You admit you were in the safe last night!” shouted Gardiner, in a
passion of excitement.

“No, I do not admit it; I declare it. If you are determined to condemn
me unheard, on the strength of evidence which is at best only
circumstantial, I have nothing more to say. I suppose it is unnecessary
for me to go through the formality of tendering my resignation?”

“Do not take that view of it. The shock has unnerved me and excited you;
we must not do anything hastily. Notwithstanding the evidence, I believe
in your innocence. To prove that I mean what I say, I will add that your
resignation is not demanded, and, if tendered, will not be accepted. I
shall, as you know, be obliged to report the facts as I have found them,
but something new may develop, and in the meantime I ask you to go on
with your work in the store as if nothing had happened. Furthermore, I
apologise to you for my momentary distrust. I—I was rather upset, you
know.”

Burton stood for a few moments undecided. A great darkness had arisen
out of his cloudless sky of yesterday. For the present, at least, there
seemed no course but to continue his service in the store, and trust
that time would reveal the true solution of the robbery.

“It is very decent of you, Mr. Gardiner, to speak as you have. And as,
if I were to leave your employ under the present circumstances, it might
be construed unjustly toward both of us, I shall remain.”

The news of the theft from Gardiner’s safe quickly spread through the
little town of Plainville. The first impulse of the citizens was to
attribute the crime to bad men from “the other side,” who had chosen
Saturday night for the theft, trusting to their thirty-six hours’ start
to place them at a safe distance from the scene of their operations. But
as it became known that no violence had been used, that the safe had
been opened and re-locked, and that the contents and location of the
package were secrets known to only Gardiner and Burton, the wise ones
shook their heads and murmured something about the folly of placing
young men in positions of great temptation. And when it leaked out that
Burton’s keys had been found in the safe the street-corner clubs located
the criminal without further difficulty.

The Attorney-General’s department was at once communicated with, and the
local constable, Bill Hagan, was instructed to take preliminary steps
pending the arrival of an officer from the city. Hagan was a harmless
but inefficient individual, whose chief qualifications for his position
lay in his ability to avoid trouble and vote right at election time. He
made a minute examination of the safe, and announced that he had
discovered a clue. Great excitement prevailed as to the nature of the
discovery, but Bill’s lips were sealed. Previous attacks of this nature
had been relieved by means of liberal applications of stimulants, and
presently the constable found himself the centre of a circle of
depositors who instituted a run on their favourite bank—the hotel bar.
This unsealed Bill’s lips, but only for entrance; so far from revealing
his discovery he presently forgot all about it, and his convivial
friends were left with a haunting suspicion that the clue had been a
ruse which had accomplished its purpose.

The following day, however, the officer from the city appeared on the
scene. He was a man of large stature and swarthy appearance, but with an
excessive colouring of his facial eminence which indicated that he too
was a regular patron of the financial institution which absorbed most of
Bill Hagan’s income. Officer Elton, after a conference with his
subordinate, visited Gardiner’s store, and heard from the lips of the
merchant a detailed account of such facts as had come to light
concerning the crime.

Burton was waiting on a lady customer while his employer and the two
policemen discussed the affair in the office; presently they came out,
and Elton, indicating Burton, said in a voice that could be heard
through the store—

“So this is the young man you speak of, who alone beside yourself knows
the combination of the safe? Well, my young friend, you’ve got yourself
into a fine mess this time.”

Burton flushed. His father’s shanty-man blood surged in his veins.

“If you are here to solve this mystery, go ahead and unearth the facts,
and no one will welcome the truth more than I; but if you are come to
throw insults at innocent people, I would enjoy your company for about
two minutes on the street.”

“Not so fast, not so fast, my young blood,” said Elton. “It would be
more to the point if you made a clear breast of this matter. Just hand
over that money intact and I have no doubt your employer will be
disposed to take a lenient view of the case, and it need not come before
the courts at all. I think I can promise you that much. I have some
influence with the department,” he added, pompously, looking about on
the crowd of curiosity seekers who had gathered in the store.

“I have nothing to confess,” said Burton, hotly. “I know nothing,
absolutely nothing, of what became of that package.”

“You’ll have a job making a jury believe that, and if you turn down the
fair offer I made you, I will just place you under arrest.”

“By whose authority?”

“By whose authority? By MY authority!”

“Your authority carries no weight with me,” said Burton. “It may be as
fictitious as the courtesy of the police.”

“Well then, look at that,” said Elton, leaning forward and exposing a
police button.

“That proves nothing. You may have stolen it. Produce your papers.”

Burton’s anger had risen to a pitch where, although he appeared
outwardly calm, every fibre of his being was charged with wild, rioting
emotion. The disgrace of suspicion was keen enough, but the crude,
brutal manner of the arrest, and Elton’s apparent delight in the
humiliation he was inflicting, were unbearable. He rightly guessed that
the officer had no warrant, but was trying to carry matters with a high
hand to impress his personal importance on the simple country folk about
him, and he determined that the glory should not be all on one side.

“You say I stole it!” cried Elton, white with rage. “I’ll put you in
irons for this.”

Burton stood behind the grocery counter, a short counter, about ten feet
long. The store was now filled with excited onlookers, who, however,
kept a little distance from the storm centre.

“Come out from behind that counter!” thundered Elton.

“Come in and bring me out,” challenged Burton. “The people want to see
you do it.”

This direct appeal to Elton’s weakness for self-aggrandisement decided
the officer.

“Hagan, go in at that end,” he commanded, with the air of a general
mustering his legions. “We’ll show this young blackleg where he gets
off.”

Hagan, with some trepidation, entered the passage behind the counter and
the grocery shelves at one end; Elton forced his way in at the other.
Taking in the situation at a glance, Burton caught up a weight off the
scales and threw it at the head of the hesitating Hagan; that gentleman,
in his eagerness to avoid the missile, slipped on the oily floor and
sprawled behind the counter. Burton turned his attention to Elton, who
was now upon him; he feinted a blow at the officer’s face, which caused
him to throw up his guard, but instead of striking he seized his
adversary by the collar and administered a quick jerk forward which
landed the policeman full-length flat on the hapless Hagan. A roar of
delight greeted Burton’s achievement, for, despite the weight of
circumstantial evidence, many of the townspeople, and especially the
young men, believed him innocent; and all were delighted to see this
indignity heaped upon a bombastic bully who on several previous
occasions had rendered himself obnoxious to the people of Plainville by
his brutal arrogance. The weight of the law lay heavily upon Hagan, but
the onlookers showed no disposition to lighten the burden, and the two
men were left to extricate themselves from their narrow quarters as best
they could. Elton, being on top, was first to get free, and as he
emerged from behind the counter a great cheer broke from the lips of the
now thoroughly delighted spectators. But if Elton was angry before, the
jeers and laughter, with the knowledge that his dignity had suffered an
irreparable collapse, filled him with maniacal fury. Seeing Burton
standing in the middle of the floor he rushed toward him with a roar of
imprecations, and the crowd quickly shifted to allow room for action.
But in his rage Elton failed to benefit from the lesson he had so
recently experienced; he guarded his face from the threatened blow, only
to be again seized by the collar and flung headlong on the floor with a
violence that left him momentarily stunned. He rose slowly, but the
shock had sobered him; he waited until his half-dazed eyes had properly
located Burton; then, with the quickness of a cat he threw his hand to
his hip and covered the lad with a revolver. Then, for the first time,
came to Burton the realization that he too was armed; but while he
feared no man with Nature’s weapons he was no expert with pistols, and
he had sense enough to realise that a fight under such conditions would
be suicide. Elton advanced slowly, gloating over the revenge that was
now within his grasp, but suddenly his feet shot from under him and he
again collapsed on the floor, the revolver flying from his grasp as he
fell. Two great hands closed about his throat; his nerveless jaw fell
against the puffy wrinkles of his neck, and when he looked up it was
into the face of old Dick Matheson, who had wandered in to see the cause
of the excitement. Few who knew the mild-mannered farmer deemed him
capable of such anger, nor of the vivid flow of sulphuric adjectives
which he poured upon the now thoroughly cowed officer.

“Start a rough-house in Plainville, would you? Pull a revolver on this
boy? Show these people how much of a fool can sometimes buy himself into
a government salary? You, an officer of the law, attempting an unlawful
act, and thoroughly trounced by a boy for doing it.” He emphasized every
sentence with a vicious shake of the helpless head. “Burton would have
submitted in a minute to a properly qualified officer. But for you—bah!
You are an insult to every honest officer, a stench in the nostrils of
Plainville, and if you are within the boundaries of this town in thirty
minutes the vigilance committee will call on you.” So saying he started
to drag his prisoner to the door; willing hands crowded around with
assistance, and this victim of a little brief authority was dumped
unceremoniously into the street.

Elton gathered himself up and without a word started to walk to the
railway station. “Now, get!” was Old Dick’s last advice to him. Then
turning to the crowd the farmer explained it all, half-apologetically,
with the remark, “You see, I knew his father on the Muddywaski.”



CHAPTER VI—THE ARM OF THE LAW


    “All things are in the Beginning,
      All things are to the End,
    Though few may know the secret,
      And none may comprehend;
    And some must paint in error.
      And some must paint aright;
    For some paint in the shadow,
      And some paint in the light.”

                                              _The Empire Builders._

If there was one thing upon which the people of Plainville prided
themselves it was their law-abiding disposition. This is an attribute of
Canadians generally, and, it may be said, particularly of the Canadians
of the prairie provinces. That the dweller in the land of the maple
should possess a reverence for law which does not distinguish any other
nationality of the Western Hemisphere is not so much a matter of
constitutional difference, or of the law itself; the secret lies in the
manner in which the law has been administered and enforced, and in the
fortunate circumstance that Canada has, as a rule, been able to secure
the services of intelligent and incorruptible officers. The tact,
consideration and efficiency of the police have won for them the
appreciation and support of the masses, and the remarkable security of
life and property prevailing throughout the vast and sparsely settled
country is due more to the incorruptible service, gentlemanly bearing
and unquestioned personal bravery of her police than to all the rifles
in her armouries.

But of recent years the police had fallen, comparatively, into
disrepute. The mounted police had been withdrawn, and the local officers
were selected more with a view to rewarding past political services, and
furnishing a retainer for services yet to be performed, than from any
consideration of mental or physical efficiency. This fact was
undermining the public loyalty to the police, and the crowd who
discussed Burton’s attempted arrest as they waited at the post office
for their mail were obviously in sympathy with the young man.

“I’m in favour of the law, an’ of the law bein’ carried out,” said Big
Jack McTavish, “but when my hired man thinks he’s more important about
the farm than I am, I gen’rally manage pretty soon to make a change. An’
that seems to be about the attitood of these here policemen like we have
now-a-days. We hire ’em, an’ give ’em a job an’ a clean soot, an’ they
ain’t got the crease outa their pants before they get the idea we was
just created for their convenyunce.”

“Taint just the police,” said Tim O’Brien; “it’s the whole joodishary.
Where do they get the judges, will you tell me that? Lawyers, bedad, an’
no recoord uv their conversion, nayther.”

“Wheest, man,” said Big Jack. “Don’t ye know that’s contempt of coort?
You can criticise ev’ry public official from the pound-keeper to the
king, but your thoughts about the joodishary must be kept to yourself.
That’s because this is a free country. All the same, Tim, I don’t know
that the contempt gets any less by bein’ bottled up.”

Tim removed his pipe preparatory to a more lengthy speech.

“Oi mind when Ould Dave Cottrell was up before the beak, which in them
days was Noah Chapman, fer shootin’ a dog o’ Mrs. Mandle’s. The dog had
worried Ould Dave’s sheep, and one day, d’ye moind, the ould fellow up
an’ shot him. Av coorse, the decision was against Dave, an’ as he pays
his fine he up an’ says, ‘That’s what comes uv bein’ tried by a relative
uv the deceased,’ says he.

“‘Oi fine ye foive dollars for contimpt uv coort,’ says ould Chapman,
just loike the Czar sintencing a gineral to be shot, he says, ‘an’
what’s more, ye’ll pay it afore ye go out.’

“Ould Dave looked at him a minute, and thin he pulled out tin dollars
an’ handed it to him, solemn as if he was gettin’ married.

“‘Kape the change,’ says ould Dave.”

There was a general laugh at this recountal of old Dave’s wit, when one
of the crowd mentioned that a “policeman-lookin’” fellow had got off the
train and gone up to Gardiner’s.

“That’ll be another come out to round up young Burton,” said Big Jack.
“It’s a pity they wouldn’t send the whole force an’ be done with it.”

“There’ll be no need of any more,” said another. “Burton will come round
quiet enough this time. That fellow yesterday just rubbed on a raw spot
on his nerves, and he got what was comin’ to him.”

It proved to be as the last speaker had predicted. Upon the failure of
Elton to land his man it dawned upon those in authority that it might be
as well to send someone a little more familiar with the game, and
Officer Macdonald was placed on the case. Upon his arrival at the store
he had a long talk with Gardiner, and finally Burton was called into the
private office. He recounted briefly the facts of the case as far as he
knew them.

“The situation is most unfortunate, Burton,” said Macdonald. “It is not
for me to judge you, nor even to imply that you have guilty knowledge of
this matter. However, as you understand, I am sent here to unravel this
case if possible, and I must act on the evidence at hand. Further
evidence may develop at a later date and entirely change the aspect of
the affair, but at present I must act upon the information available,
and I feel that that information demands that a warrant for your arrest
be issued and you placed in custody.”

“The warrant is unnecessary,” said Burton, “except as a matter of
formality. I am ready to go with you.”

“Hang it, Gardiner, I hate to do this thing,” said Macdonald. “I’ve been
hunting criminals for twenty years, and my judgment fails me if we have
the right one this time.”

“It is certainly very baffling,” Gardiner replied. “As I have told him
different times, I am convinced that Burton is innocent, but, as you
say, the evidence just now points rather strongly against him. It is a
difficult situation all round.”

“Burton,” said the officer, “there is no use of you and me walking down
the street together. People in these little towns are so fond of a
scene, and I like to disappoint them. Mr. Sempter, I believe, is a
magistrate; you might go down to his office and await me there. I will
be responsible for you until after your preliminary trial, and then no
doubt you can arrange bail.”

“I will be pleased to go bail for you,” interrupted Gardiner. “Telephone
me when you reach that stage and I will fix it up for Mr. Sempter.”

The consideration, and the contrast in treatment, brought the tears to
the boy’s eyes. “It is very good of you—both of you,” he stammered. “I
only hope that in the end you may know your confidence was not
misplaced.”

The preliminary hearing before a magistrate was held the following day,
and the little courtroom was crowded to the doors. No new evidence, at
first, was adduced. Gardiner told about leaving the package in the safe,
and finding it gone on Monday morning. The finding of Burton’s keys in
the lock of the cash drawer seemed the most damaging evidence offered by
the prosecution. No witnesses were called for the defence, but Burton on
his own behalf explained that he had gone to the cash drawer late Sunday
night for stamps to mail some letters, and knew nothing more of the
matter. The magistrate was about concluding that there was not
sufficient evidence to warrant holding the accused, when a new and
rather unwilling witness was introduced. It was Billy Haynes, hardware
clerk.

“What do you know of this case, Mr. Haynes?” asked the magistrate.

“Nothing,” answered the young man.

“Nothing!” exclaimed the magistrate. “Then why are you here?”

“Indeed, and it’s not my wish that brings me here, sir, and I really
know nothing about the case, but I was foolish enough to say down town
that Burton had bought a revolver from me Monday morning. He said he
thought he would shoot gophers with it.”

“What have you to say about this?” said Mr. Sempter, addressing Burton.
“The purchase of a revolver is not in itself an offence, but, in
conjunction with the evidence we already have, it does not improve the
appearance of your case. Can you state any logical reason why you should
go to a hardware store the first thing Monday morning—the first thing
after this robbery appears to have been committed—and buy a revolver?”

“I fear my reason will hardly seem logical,” said Burton, “but after I
left the store Sunday night a bottle flew by my head and smashed against
the wall. I tried to find my assailant, but it was very dark, and I
could see no one. I felt that I was likely to be the object of attack
from unknown sources, and I made up my mind to buy a revolver.”

The magistrate looked the young man over for a full minute. “I am sorry
for your sake that this last evidence came in,” he said at length. “Of
course, your explanation of the purchase of the revolver may be quite
correct, but it is a little hard to believe that a young man like you,
who appears to be quite popular in the town”—there was a murmur of
approval and a nodding of heads among the young men in the crowd—“I say
it is a little hard to believe that anyone is lying in wait for you with
murderous intent. In view of this new development and the mystery of the
whole matter, I feel that I must let this case go before a judge. You
will be required to appear at the fall assizes to answer to the charge
of stealing a package said to contain two thousand dollars from the safe
of Alfred Gardiner. You should have little difficulty in obtaining bail,
and I will be glad to give you what assistance I can in that
connection.”

Burton heard the words as though he were already under sentence, but he
recognised the spirit of fairness that prompted Mr. Sempter, and he
could only say, “Thank you, sir.”

Gardiner had pressed up to the magistrate’s desk. “Let me go bail,” he
said. “I will answer for Burton’s appearance at the proper time.”

“It can no doubt be arranged,” answered Mr. Sempter. “In fact, I am so
confident that your bail will be accepted that I will take it upon
myself to place the young man at liberty at once, on his parole to
appear again when required. You promise that, Burton?”

“I do,” the lad answered, and was immediately released from custody.

The first who spoke to him as he was about to leave the building was
Billy Haynes, the hardware clerk.

“Gee, Burt, old man, I’m sorry I got you into that mess. That’s what
comes of blatting things in a two-by-four burg like this. If I’d kept my
trap shut this whole thing would have fallen through. Old man Sempter
was just ready to turn you loose with a clean sheet. Of course you know
I don’t believe a word of it—that is, that you had anything to do with
this affair. Whoever threw that beer bottle knows more about it than any
of us. You ain’t sore at me, Burt, are you?”

“No, I’m not sore. On the whole, it seems better that the matter should
go before a judge and be settled for ever. If Mr. Sempter had turned me
loose, as you say, the robbery would have remained as much a mystery as
before, and some people would always have thought me guilty. I can’t see
how it is to be accomplished, but I hope and trust that the real facts
will come to light before fall.”

“Sure they will,” said Billy. “Everybody believes in you. Look at
Gardiner there, stepping right up to go your bail. There’s a score of
others would do the same, but it was mighty white of him.” In fact,
Gardiner’s magnanimity was the principal topic of discussion by the
crowd which now stood in groups about the courtroom floor.

At the door Burton was met by Harry Grant, who shook his arm as though
he intended to acquire that member.

“Easy, Harry,” Raymond cried. “Goodness, spare the arm. They may give me
hard labour, and then I’ll need it. One would think I had just been
acquitted, instead of sent down for trial.”

“So you are acquitted—acquitted with honour,” exclaimed his friend.
“When a magistrate accepts parole on his own responsibility, and the
aggrieved party offers bail for the accused, a man’s innocence is as
good as established. But say, Burton, why didn’t you tell about that
bottle incident before? That’s the only clue to the whole affair. The
finding of the keys was nothing. I know about the letters and I know
some one who would have got up in court and sworn to your errand, if you
had given her a chance. Why didn’t you?”

“Harry, your cousin’s name must not be connected with this affair. It is
good of you—and her—to suggest it, but she really must have nothing to
do with it.”

“When you know my cousin better you’ll handle that word ‘must’ with more
care, young man. She’s not one of those girls who can be ‘musted’ into
silence when a friend’s reputation is at stake. Before the trial comes
off she’ll cut a big figure in this case, or I’m not Harry Grant. By the
way, when are you coming out to see us again?”

“Not until this thing is cleared up, and I am either proved innocent
or—pshaw, can’t you see that it is out of the question at present?”

“No, I can’t, and if you don’t come willingly I’ll bring in one of the
plough teams and ‘snake’ you out,” laughed Harry, as they parted at the
corner. “So long. I’ll see you at the store one of these days.”

Burton went back to his work in the store with a heart lighter than he
could have thought possible. He was under the shadow of a crime, but in
the hour of adversity he was beginning to discover the worth of a few
true friends. Gardiner’s action in guaranteeing his bail had gone far
toward removing the sting of the suspicion with which he felt his
employer had regarded him the morning after the robbery. Harry Grant’s
old time friendliness seemed intensified by the circumstances, and Billy
Haynes’ sincere regret for his share in the affair also helped to
lighten the load. But most of all, and most significant of all, was the
fact that Miss Vane was prepared to stand by him; nay, that she would
_insist_ on standing by him, even to the length of testifying, if
necessary, in his defence. A great pride filled his heart as he thought
of it, and with the pride came the determination that come what would he
would fight the fight through to a finish. He was convinced that there
was not sufficient evidence to convict him, but he would be satisfied
with no negative results. He must be exonerated; his reputation must
emerge without a stain. And then, perhaps—

That night on his way to supper he passed Riles, who came reeling out of
a bar-room, and the leer on the farmer’s face was not a good thing to
see. “And so, young meddler,” he hissed, “you are buying revolvers now,
but I guess you’ll soon be where you won’t meddle in decent folks’
affairs again for awhile, eh?”



CHAPTER VII—ONLY A BARNARDO BOY


    “They’ll abuse him as a youngster, they will mock him as a man,
    They’ll make his life a thorny path in every way they can,
    Till he curses his existence and the day that it began,
    And he wishes he was rotting in the sod.”

                                              _The Empire Builders._

Hiram Riles and his wife lived on a farm about two miles from the Grant
homestead. They had come out from the East in the early days, when Riles
was a strong, sinewy fellow to whom money-getting had not yet become a
mania, and his wife still retained some of the roses and some of the
sentiment of youth. But it’s a hardy rose that survives twenty years of
pioneer life, and it’s a deep-rooted sentiment that can weather
prosperity unelevated by culture and unsweetened by self-sacrifice. And
in the Riles’ home culture had come to be a thing misunderstood, and
self-sacrifice a thing unknown. There was only one end in life—to make
money; and there was only one way this could be done—by labour which
amounted to slavery, and stinginess which amounted to theft. Nothing
which could not be expressed in dollars and cents had any value to
Riles; no doctrine but mammon-worship had any part in his creed.

The years had dragged on and he had prospered after the standard of the
world, gaining money and losing everything that money cannot buy.
Quarter section had been added to quarter section, bought when land was
cheap and paid for by dint of untiring labour and at the sacrifice of
physical comforts and mental advantages which Riles considered of no
moment. But as, labouring from dawn to dusk, he added quarter to
quarter, the time came when even his dauntless energy could not keep up
with the growth of the farm. True, his wife helped him to the limit of
her strength, driving the plough and the binder, stooking in the fields,
or, drenched to the waist, working in the garden on days when the rain
prevented harvesting, and milking her dozen cows after the neighbours
were in bed. She was a model wife, as Riles admitted, but even in the
admission he took rather more credit to himself for selecting and
“breaking her in” than he allowed to her for her strength and industry.
But when their combined efforts could no longer furnish the labour
needed on the farm, Riles found it necessary to get a hired man. It took
him months to make up his mind that the expenditure was unavoidable, but
at length he drove to town and announced to a group of idle men that he
was looking for a good strong man, not afraid of work, and would pay
twenty dollars a month, board and keep.

Riles honestly believed that as soon as he made this offer all the idle
men in the town would crowd around him competing for the position, and
he was not prepared for the indifference with which they regarded it.

“Well, who wants it?” he demanded. “Speak up quick, I got no time to
lose. I’ve a field of oats there waitin’ stookin’, and if you fellows
don’t want the job there’s lots that does. Who’s comin’?”

Nobody moved, and at last one of the men said, “I guess you better try
somewhere else, Mr. Riles. Everybody here seems to know you.”

“They do, hey? And what of it? Ain’t I good? Don’t I pay my bills? Just
yuh walk down to the bank and ask ’em if Hiram Riles ever turned down a
bill he owed, and I guess you’ll find——”

“I wasn’t thinking about the bills,” the man replied. “You pay them
because you have to. You’re worth it, and you can’t get out of it. But
you’re as much a slave-driver as ever cracked a whip over a nigger in a
cotton field. Nobody ’at knows you’ll work for you. You better get a
green Englishman—some poor fool that doesn’t know any more than be a
victim for a blood-sucker of your class.”

With an oath Riles jumped from his buckboard and struck a savage blow at
the frank labourer, but years of hardship in the fields had taken
greater toll than he guessed. The fist he aimed at the face of his
critic cut a circle in thin air as a sledge-hammer blow caught Riles
under the jaw and he fell with tremendous force against a hub of the
buckboard. When he staggered to his feet the flesh of his forehead was
cut in two and the eyes lobed forward as though they would fall out.

Riles had the wound dressed by a doctor and met the evening train, where
he engaged a harvester just out from Ontario. They drove home through
the darkness, the hired man so tired with three days and nights of
bumping in a slat-seated colonist car that he would have fallen out of
the buckboard had Riles not held him in. When the horses were stabled
the new comer was shown to his bedroom, which was reached by climbing up
steps nailed to the studs of the shanty where Riles and his wife lived.
In the loft was a little window looking out of a gable, a straw mattress
covered with two discarded horse-blankets lay in a corner, and a kitchen
chair, from which the back had been broken, completed the furniture of
the little room. It was, however, also used as a store-house for old
clothes and for drying vegetables, and the mice scampered in great
excitement at the approach of the lantern.

Long before daylight Riles wakened the hired man by thumping the wall
with a stick of firewood. “Come, yuh barnyard savage,” he said, in his
playful humour, “roll out. Do yuh think I’m goin’ to pay yuh twenty
dollars a month to _sleep_? Get down here an’ get at those oats, an’ be
quick about it, or I’ll fire yuh before noon.”

The sleepy harvester crawled out of the musty blankets, drew on his
clothes, and opened his suit-case. From a jumble of socks and underwear
he drew a revolver and a murderous-looking knife. Slinging the suit-case
by a strap over his shoulder, with the knife between his teeth, the
revolver in one hand and the lantern in the other, he made the
precipitous descent into the kitchen.

“What in thunder does this mean?” demanded the astonished Riles, as he
caught sight of the animated arsenal.

“I’m going after those oats,” the man replied, in a hoarse whisper.
“They’re wild oats, ain’t they?”

“No, they’re not wild oats, my smart young fellow. They’re tame oats, if
yuh know the difference.”

“Then if they’re tame oats,” said the other, in a wheedling tone, “if
they’re tame oats, don’t you think, Mr. Riles, if we were careful, we
might manage to sneak up on them in daylight?” And before the astonished
Riles could find an answer the hired man continued, “Ta, ta, Mr. Riles.
Much obliged for the night’s lodging. Hope you catch the oats,” and had
swung out into the darkness to find his way back to town.

His first experience with hired men was rather disconcerting, but out of
it dawned an important light. The illumination came upon Riles as he
stooked the oats himself that forenoon. After dinner he drove back to
town and called casually upon Bill Perkins, the lawyer. It was no part
of Riles’ policy to encourage any such useless class as lawyers or
doctors by paying a fee, but he usually succeeded in getting the desired
information in process of conversation, and without appearing to have
sought it. He had already benefited several times by advice given by
Perkins in this way, and the lawyer had determined to be even with him.

Perkins was busy with a transfer of land when Riles dropped in, and for
a few minutes the conversation was of crops and harvest and the weather.
Skilfully enough the farmer introduced the subject of hired help,
lamenting how difficult it was to get good men and how the hired men
now-a-days took all the profit from the farm and left the owner with the
expense, in all of which Perkins concurred. As he was about to leave the
office Riles remarked—

“Oh, by the way, I guess there’ll be a job fer one o’ yuh fellows one o’
these days. I heard this mornin’ of a hired man quittin’ work before the
month was up, and the farmer wouldn’t pay him, an he’s goin’ to have the
law on him. How’ll a case o’ that kind come out, do yuh think?”

“If the servant left without due provocation before the period of his
employment had expired, he will have difficulty in collecting his
wages.”

“I was thinkin’ so, Mr. Perkins. Well, it’s a fine afternoon, an’ I must
be gettin’ back.”

“Just a minute, Mr. Riles,” the lawyer called, as his client was
stepping out of the office. “There is a small fee for the information
just given you. Five dollars, please.”

“Five devils!” shouted Mr. Riles. “You go to ——. I beg yer pardon, Mr.
Perkins. I didn’t mean to be so out-spoken, but yer little joke kinda
took me by surprise. Ha! ha! a very good one, too. There’s no bein’ even
with a lawyer.”

“It’s no joke, Mr. Riles. You’ve been sponging your legal advice around
this office long enough. To-day you will pay for it or I will collect it
at court.”

“I’ll pay it, will I? I’ll see yuh in hell first,” said the farmer, now
thoroughly beside himself.

“Very well,” said Perkins. “There’ll be no trouble here. But if it isn’t
paid by Saturday night you know what will happen.”

Riles started down town in a rage, and Perkins reached for his
telephone.

“Mr. Bradshaw? Hello, Bradshaw, this is Perkins speaking. Just had a
visit from Riles—sponging advice as usual. Socked him a fiver and
threatened if he didn’t come through by Saturday night I’d have him up.
He’s mad enough to eat the town, but he’ll likely be round to you. Fix
him plenty.... That’s right, George, go to it.” Mr. Perkins set down his
telephone, sat back in his chair, and indulged in one of the few hearty
smiles to which he found occasion to treat himself.

Meanwhile Riles, stampeding down town, reached the door of Bradshaw’s
office. Bradshaw stood on the step drinking in the afternoon autumn
sunshine. The warm rays rested graciously on his slightly bald cranium.

“Good-day, Mr. Riles. How is it you’re not cutting to-day?”

Riles collected himself, and forced a smile. “A little business in town,
Mr. Bradshaw. I’ve just been in talkin’ with that measly opposition o’
yours, and what d’ye s’pose the cur did?”

“Who, Perkins? Oh, you can never tell what he’ll do. I gave it up long
ago.”

“Well, sir, we was just talkin’ about things in general an’ I told him
likely there’d be a case one of these days about a man quittin’ before
his time was up, an’ I asked him how’d it likely come out. He said the
quitter would lose, an’ yuh can eat me, Bradshaw, if he didn’t try to
charge me five dollars fer it, and threatened soot if I didn’t pay by
Saturday night.”

Bradshaw laughed. “You can never be up to Perkins,” he said. “But I must
say it serves you right for going to him at all. Why didn’t you come to
me in the first place?”

“That’s what I will do next time, you may be sure. But he can’t collect
that five, can he, George?”

“I’m afraid he can, Hiram. Yes, I rather think you’d better settle with
him.”

“Well, it’s a strange law. Lawyers get everything their own way.”

“Once in awhile it happens that way,” Mr. Bradshaw agreed. “And when
you’re settling anyway there will be a ten-spot coming to me.”

“To you? For what?”

“Legal advice,” answered Mr. Bradshaw, placing his thumbs in the upper
pockets of his vest with an air of great complacency. “Haven’t I just
told you you’d have to pay it?”

Riles was so dumbfounded that he pulled out ten dollars, threw it at the
smiling lawyer, and proceeded down street without a word.

But having paid fifteen dollars for legal advice Riles was too shrewd a
business man not to profit by it. That night he engaged another
“barnyard savage,” being careful to hire him for a month. The man worked
for four days and quit. Riles refused to pay him any wages, and hired
another stranger on the same terms. In this way he was able to get
through the fall without any direct outlay for help.

But the system was not very satisfactory. Too much time was lost hunting
for new men, and the labourers always quit before they got into Riles’
way of managing the farm. The suggestion of the man who knocked him into
the wheel of the buckboard stayed with him almost as tenaciously as the
scar he then received. “Hire a green Englishman—some poor fool that
doesn’t know any more than be a victim of a blood-sucker of your class.”
Of course the words were rather strong—even Riles objected to them—but
the sentiment was all right. Besides, it was doing the Englishman a good
turn. It brought him away from a congested country and gave him an
insight into life in a new land. With industry and application even an
Englishman might become—_might become_—as prosperous and successful a
farmer as he himself! There was something for a young man to look
forward to!

A good scheme had been worked by one or two of Riles’s neighbours. These
men—transplanted Englishmen themselves—who, to tell the truth, had made
a very indifferent success of agriculture, had hit upon the idea of
giving instruction to young Englishmen of good family in the art of
farming as it is practised in the Canadian West. They had no difficulty
in finding fond fathers who, for reasons that need not be entered into
here, were anxious that their sons should have a “colonial” experience,
and were willing to pay from fifty to two hundred pounds a head per year
(according to the state of the paternal exchequer and the desirability
of the exodus) for the board, lodging and instruction of their sons in
the “colony.” Of course it never occurred to these worthy parents that
there are state-controlled institutions for giving just the instruction
needed, where their sons would be brought in contact with the best
influences in the land. Even had they known of these institutions they
would probably have preferred to place their young hopefuls with some
old acquaintance whose Munchausian reports of his success in Canada were
accepted as gospel, but whose real accomplishments consisted mainly in
supporting the brewery and dodging the bailiff—two occupations which
usually go hand in hand.

But Riles was not of the blood. He knew no one in England, and one or
two advances which he made to the English neighbours mentioned with a
view to “getting in on a good thing” were met with a coldness which
amounted to a rebuff. There remained only one thing to be done—adopt a
Barnardo boy. Riles would have much preferred a grown-up man, but on
consultation with some of the neighbours who had adopted these boys he
was assured that they could be depended upon to do as much work as a
man, and were more easily controlled. Twenty years ago the latter
consideration would not have appealed to Riles, but he recalled the
incident where he received his scar, and he knew enough about Englishmen
to know that if they excelled in anything it was in their ability to
protect themselves from physical damage, and incidentally to administer
a thrashing to their assailants. On the whole, perhaps a boy would suit
his purpose better.

Before being entrusted with the foster-parentage of an English orphan,
Riles found that he must have his application supported by the
recommendation of two reputable citizens and a resident clergyman. He at
once appealed to his neighbour, David Grant, than whom there was no more
respected farmer in the community. He hardly was prepared for Mr.
Grant’s frankness.

“No, Hiram, I can’t sign that paper. If one of my boys, ten or twelve
years old, were to be left an orphan, I wouldn’t want him to come under
your influence for the next five years of his life. You’re a good
farmer, Riles, but being a good farmer is one thing, and being a good
father’s another. A great many people in this country seem to think it
more important that a man should be able to break in a colt than bring
up a boy.”

“Oh, well,” Riles answered, good naturedly enough, “if it was yer son of
course it ’ud be different. They’ve always had a good home, better’n
most boys, I’m thinkin’. But these English brats, herded out of the
streets an’ turned loose in this country to live or die—it’s a charity
for anyone to take them in. They don’t know nothin’, an’ never will, but
eat an’ sleep an’ lie an’ steal when they get a chance. They’ve got to
be broke in severe, an’ I reckon Hiram Riles can do it ’s well as the
next one. ’Course, if yuh’ve got conscientious objections,” continued
Riles, the habitual sneer creeping back into his disfigured face, “I
won’t press you to sign the paper.”

“After a speech like that I think you had better not,” said Grant,
quietly, but there was a significance in his voice that did not appear
on the surface.

Nothing daunted, Riles called on his two English neighbours who were
giving instruction in agriculture at so much per head. They signed his
recommendation without question. A clergyman who had never been in
Riles’ home, who had never met Mrs. Riles, who knew nothing of their
style of living, put his name to the paper, as he did so speaking some
cheap platitudes about the privilege of giving a Christian home to “one
of these little ones.”

And so it came about that Wilfred Vickery, already introduced to the
reader as “London,” became the bond-servant of Hiram Riles and his wife,
Eliza Riles.

For a week or so the little orphan boy found everything so strange and
unreal that he went around as one in a trance. Pure English was
difficult enough for him, but the slangy colloquialism of the Riles’
home was almost unintelligible. Half the time he did not know what they
said to him, but stared in a vacant, meaningless way which they ascribed
to downright stupidity. When he spoke they mocked his language, although
using an equally corrupted tongue themselves. For a few weeks, while
under the direct care of responsible officers of the Home, the little
fellow had experienced a kindness and a personal interest which had
begun to unfold before him a life of which he had never dreamed. He had
been taught to sing a few hymns, he had been taught to utter a simple
prayer, he had been taught that there is a great Father to whom every
child is dearer than to even the kindest earthly father. He had never
known what an earthly father was, but in the new, great land to which
they were going he should soon know—he should find that for every little
child in all God’s world some heart beats with the joy of a father’s
love, some bosom swells with the wealth of a mother’s devotion. He had
been taught these things, and some glimpse of that great real world
which lies just beyond the realm of the intellect had come to his poor
dwarfed soul and fired his spirit with the unutterable yearning that no
man has ever answered in terms of time and sense. He had learned that
life is not merely a battle to fill the belly, that the earth is not
only for fighting and swearing in, that Love is a _real_ thing, more
powerful than hate. The slumbering germ of his spiritual life, deafened
by a decade of London’s roar, had been wakened by a brief contact with
kindness, and in the birth of imagination the world had taken on a new
interest and a new possibility. All these hidden emotions, touched to
sudden life, were clamouring for expression, for utterance, when he had
come—to this.

The boy’s disillusionment was terrible and complete. They thought him
stupid, but he found the guise of stupidity serve his purpose well, and
he was more cunning than they. He stole to fill his stomach; he lied to
cover his theft. He shirked his labour whenever he could; he destroyed
property whenever he dared. When they cuffed him he cursed them; when
they swore at him he swore back, and he had the advantage of vocabulary.
When they made him milk cows he would pour the milk on the ground and
say the cow kicked it; when he was old enough to drive a team he would
let it run away whenever opportunity offered. He was to have been sent
to school, but he went only on those rare occasions when nothing could
be found for him to do on the farm, but he was compelled to write
periodical letters to the Home saying how happy he was and how kind Mr.
and Mrs. Riles were to him. He was held up as an object of contempt
before neighbours and strangers; he was the butt of their coarse humour
and the victim of their bullying authority.

The kind officers of the Home had taught him a little prayer, and told
him never to forget the good people who were to be his foster-parents in
the new land. And every night as he crawled to his musty mattress and
blankets in the mouse-chamber already described he would kneel by the
broken chair and repeat:

      “Jesus, tender shepherd, hear me,
        Bless Thy little lamb to-night,
      Through the darkness be Thou near me.
        Keep me safe till morning’s light.
    God bless Mr. and Mrs. Riles and make me a good boy, for Jesus’
       sake, Amen.”

He had repeated this prayer nightly for months. One night he had
difficulty getting the calves into their pen; they would run every
direction except the way he would have them go. He still had his cows to
milk, his pigs to feed, his wood and water to carry in, but the calves
refused to be housed. When he had them almost in they broke away, and
raced into the darkness of the pasture field, jumping and frisking in
appreciation of the joke. He ran after them as fast as his tired little
legs would take him, sobbing and swearing as he ran, but without
success. They could not be found in the darkness, and as he came back,
defeated and utterly played out, he met Riles, who had just returned
from town and was none the better for his potations. Without a word the
ruffian knocked the boy down with a swinging blow on the face, and
kicked him almost into insensibility. As he crawled to bed that night,
stiff, bruised and battered, he knelt before his broken chair and
repeated his nightly prayer. When he came to the words “God bless Mr.
and Mrs. Riles” he stopped. The significance of the words dawned upon
him in a way he had never quite understood. He was only a little boy,
against whom environment and ancestry seemed to have conspired, but he
was no hypocrite. He was praying for a man he hated, and the words stuck
in his teeth. For a long time he remained there on his knees, looking at
the misty light in the half-blackened lantern, and thinking, thinking.
He was fighting one of those great fights which come earlier in boyhood
than we sometimes think, and which decide in large measure the whole
course of after life.

Finally his jaws closed with a snap. “Damn Mr. Riles,” he said, and
climbed into bed.



CHAPTER VIII—A MYSTERIOUS ACQUAINTANCE


    “There are times when most folks figure that their life has been a
       blank;
    You may be a homeless hobo or director of a bank,
    But the thought will catch you nappin’—catch you sometime unawares—
    That your life has been a failure, and that no one really cares.”

                                                     _Prairie Born._

As the spring lengthened into summer the business in Gardiner’s store
increased. The wheat had stooled well, and a couple of showers early in
May had relieved the drought that threatens before the thunder-storms of
June and July set in. The country was glorious in its verdure of growing
crops and green pastures, ponds of bright water not yet tinged with the
murkiness of vegetation, and little streams murmuring through the night
on their easy descent to the lower levels. Everything pointed to a
prosperous season, and the farmers, who, with Western optimism, always
buy on the prospects of the future, were patronising the local merchants
liberally. Gardiner and Burton had so far been able to keep up with the
rush, but when George Graves arrived on the afternoon train in search of
a position in a store, and showed Gardiner his references, he was
promptly engaged.

From the first Graves showed an interest in Burton amounting to an
attachment. He tried to get rooms at Mrs. Goode’s in order that they
might be near each other, but the landlady too was enjoying a prosperous
season, and was unable to accommodate him.

“No, Mr. Grain, my house is quite plumb full, more’s the pity, an’ I’m
thinkin’ o’ you when I say it. It don’t take folks long to find where
they can get a good meal, an’ there ain’t a boarder at my table but
speaks for himself. William!”—this in response to her husband’s
footsteps in the hall—“William, go down and get the mail. I’m looking
for a letter from the new girl.” Mrs. Goode considered her inferior half
a poor advertisement, and generally contrived to keep him out of the way
when customers were in prospect.

“No, Mr. Grange,” she continued, “the work has got so heavy, what with
all home cookin’ and sweepin’ the upstairs every day, for if there’s one
thing I says a young man wants it’s a clean room and a good meal that’s
cooked all through, an’ what with it all I’m getting a new girl, all the
way from Torontuh, an’ it’ll be doublin’ up as it is when she gets here,
an’ two sleepin’ in the parlour already.”

Graves’ disappointment was so evident that Mrs. Goode was touched by the
implied compliment, and ventured to suggest, “Maybe Mr. Burtle would
share with you.”

This seemed a solution, but Burton was one of those young men who enjoy
their own company too much to forfeit it altogether, and although sorry
to refuse he could not be persuaded to let the new clerk room with him.
Graves, however, took no umbrage at Burton’s refusal; on the contrary,
he seemed to seek the boy’s companionship more than ever, and they soon
found they had many interests in common and proved to be congenial
associates.

But in Burton’s eyes, at least, the arrival of the new clerk was much
eclipsed by the arrival of the new “girl” for Mrs. Goode’s
boarding-house. Polly Lester was a lithe, dark young thing, with black
eyes accustomed to sleep dreamily through ordinary experiences, but they
glowed like a flame-shot thundercloud when aroused. Her hair, black and
luxuriant, her well-cut nose, thin but sensitive lips, and chin that sat
in a square, feminine defiance made her a girl to demand a second
glance. The neck sloped gently into the fold of her dress, clasped with
a modest black ornament at the throat, and when she spoke it was in a
voice low and vibrant, suggestive of moonlight walks and confidences
whispered in a friendly ear. Her step was quiet, almost stealthy, but
every poise from the ankle to the chin spoke courage and self-reliance.
A strange girl, this, to leave a city and seek a menial position in a
country boarding-house. She was a girl to direct, to command, to
engineer, and to execute; but here she waited on tables, made beds and
swept floors. When she looked at Burton, before she had so much as
spoken his name, he felt himself under the witching power of those
eyes—eyes that looked into him so calmly, but yet with such irresistible
attraction.

One night, a few days after Polly Lester’s arrival at Plainville, Burton
closed the store and walked down to the little stream which the country
people dignified with the name of river. It was late in June, and heavy
rains had swollen the creek until it slipped by in rapid, muddy silence.
Through the clear evening air came the sound of the baseballers
practising for the great tournament on Dominion Day, now almost at hand;
although a mile away he heard the bass voice of the umpire calling balls
and strikes, and the cheers of the townspeople who sat about the diamond
when one of the boys made a hit or a sensational catch or contributed to
a double play. And although he could not hear them he knew that in
another part of the town eight young men and women were flushed and
laughing in the height of their excitement over a close fought game of
tennis, while on a score of verandahs little groups lounged after the
heat of the day and speculated on the outcome of “The First,” or sipped
ice cream and nibbled cake. A muskrat across the stream sat on the muddy
bank and shot occasional cheeky glances at the intruder; a bird in the
willow overhead twittered snatches of her evening lullaby. The very air
was vital and vitalising, the lungs leaped in response to the optimistic
oxygen. It was a good world—for some. But to Burton it was a hard world,
and it was growing harder. He was under the shadow of a crime, and it
seemed the shadow would darken into a cloud that should blight his whole
life. Time was passing on, and nothing had occurred to relieve him of
the weight of suspicion which had fallen upon him. He would have to face
it out, he would probably be acquitted, but simply for lack of evidence.
His wages were small; under the circumstances he could ask no more;
indeed, he felt under an obligation to Gardiner for retaining him in his
employ at all. He had had a conference with his father, and the memory
did not reassure him. His father had made it plain that even he was
reserving judgment. A good lawyer would be engaged and every chance
given the lad to prove his innocence, but if he failed! Then there was
Miss Vane. He had met her once or twice in the store since the robbery,
and she had spoken to him as though nothing had happened. Indeed, he
even thought there was a soft tenderness in her words which he had not
detected before, but whether of love or pity, how should he discern? In
any case he could say nothing, do nothing, hope nothing until this
ordeal was over. And what could he hope then? What dared he hope? It was
folly, folly! He should love her always; he should paint her always in
the portrait gallery of his soul as he had seen her that exquisite
morning, ages ago, creamy white, from the tip of her shoes to the tip of
her hat, save where the rose nestled in her hair and a little brooch
glowed against the pink-veined ermine of her throat. Ah, that glimpse
that comes but once, that treasure to be hoarded for ever in the
chambers of the mind, where no minions of the law could find it, where
no judge and jury could wrest it away, where even life and death could
not lay tax, that was his, his for ever, for ever.... And as his eyes
moistened with the joy of that great revelation a vision rose from the
mist, dimly and undefined at first, but gradually revealing itself as
clear as if cut from a block of granite—a vision of raven hair and eyes
with the slumbering glow of the pent-up heavens. Burton gazed as though
at an apparition, and the fine features of Polly Lester stood reflected
in the mirror of his brain. At first the truth numbed him, but presently
he had grasped it at its real value. The polygamous instinct of the
human mind crushed in with a cruel shattering of ideals; his soul was
running riot with a chaos of overturned emotions.

He sprang to his feet. “My God,” he cried, “and must I lose this too?
Can I not guard even the treasures of my own heart?”

“You are agitated, Mr. Burton,” said a low voice at his side. “Have you
been seeing visions—in the water?”

He turned and looked in the face of Polly Lester.

“Not visions,” he managed to say, “but reflections.”

“Reflections should not disturb you, Raymond”—she used his first name as
though she had been his mother—“but you are straining your nervous
system to the breaking point. Here is a dry log—shall we sit down?”

She led him to the log and seated herself beside him. The sun was
setting after the long midsummer day, and the smooth, muddy water took
on a surface of quicksilver. Their faces looked back at them out of the
stream, and up from the young man’s memory rushed a similar scene,
staged at Crotton’s Crossing. And just as the thought struck home, by a
trick of the waving water the faces blended into one!

“You wonder that I, who have known you a week, should follow you here,
do you not?” she was saying. “I should have stayed behind, I should have
let you learn my secret for yourself. It is woman’s lot to carry her
secret in her heart, guarded as a precious thing, until the object of
that secret pries it forth. But I am not a woman, as other women are. I
defy traditions; I defy conventions. I claim the right God gave me to
live my life as I will, where I will, how I will, with whom I will. When
first I looked into you—when first your eyes met mine, I knew—what you
knew. Why should we deceive ourselves? Why should we mock our own
destinies?”

“You speak strangely,” said Burton. “I—I do not understand.”

“Why do you lie to me, Raymond?” she asked, still in that low voice,
deep and vibrant, but without a suggestion of anger. “Why do you seek to
conceal—that which we both know?”

“You are a strange woman. I do not understand you.”

“Oh, that is different. Of course you do not understand me. Nobody does.
I am so different. Instead of pretending I don’t care for you, instead
of pretending I don’t know that you care for me, I admit it all. I am
frank. I am truthful. I am, as you say, a strange woman.”

“What are you doing in Plainville?” the young man demanded. “Why do you
work for Mrs. Goode, sweeping her boarders’ rooms—a menial servant, a—a
chambermaid?”

“Fie on you, sir!” she cried, but there was a playful note in her voice.
“All honest work is honourable. There is nothing menial—except being
menial.”

“But you—you don’t need to do this. You are educated. Your speech
proclaims it. I have seen your handwriting; it is that of a business
woman. You have appearance. You have presence. You don’t need to do this
work. Why do you do it?”

“Why should I answer that question?” she parried.

“I don’t know. I suppose there is no reason. But you said you—you loved
me——”

“I didn’t.”

“You let me know it.”

“You divined it. You found it out yourself. That saves me. If I had told
you I would be a shameless woman, but if you find it out my honour is
unscathed. Such are the decrees of convention.”

“At any rate, now you have admitted it. Will you answer my question. Why
are you in Plainville?”

“Do you admit as much? You are interested in me. Do yourself the justice
to believe that I am interested in you.”

“Admit that I love you? Yes, I believe I do.”

The sun was down. Dusk was settling over the plain. The water ran black
before them. They sat for some time, gazing into its smooth depths. At
last she broke the silence.

“Do you know, Mr. Burton, you are rather undemonstrative in your
declaration of love.” There was a sly, fascinating banter in her voice.

Burton made no answer. He saw a figure in white, and heard a voice
saying, “I have sometimes thought I could, perhaps, love a man, if I
found one who was not a liar.” And he was wondering, weighing these two
women, each so powerful in her personality, although differing so much
in manner of expressing it. Miss Vane he understood, or at least thought
he did, but this girl was something so altogether different. He knew
that most men, and all women, would question her motives; he would be
sincere with her. At least he would not be a liar, active or passive.

“Perhaps I admitted more than I really meant,” he ventured, at length.

“More than was true?”

“Yes, more than was quite true.”

“Then you love another. It is that love that has made you honest with
me. I congratulate her. Tell me about her.”

“You take rejection easily.”

“Silly boy! A woman is never rejected while she lives. Is she pretty?”

“Yes, as pretty as you.”

“How nice! And good?”

“Yes, better than you.”

“Now I _am_ interested. How quickly you learn to be honest! I am hunting
the world for a man who isn’t a liar.”

The similarity of the expression was not lost on Burton, but his
companion continued:

“And you are going to be——”

“No.”

“No? Why?”

“You know my trouble, don’t you—Polly?”

“I have heard of it. But I believe nothing. Does she?”

“No, I am convinced she is as true as steel. But while this cloud is
over me I can say nothing—I can do nothing.”

“But it will soon be gone. Your trial will come in the fall. All the
boarders say you can’t be convicted. You will be free.”

“Yes, free, with this stain of infamy upon me. Free to go West, to lose
myself in the great new country, to forget my past—if I can. But free to
marry her—never!”

“You mean that the real culprit must be found. There must be a positive
verdict, not a negative one?”

“That’s it. The criminal must be run to earth. The money must be
discovered, if possible.”

It was quite dark. Night blanketted the prairies, and night on the
prairies is always cold. Miss Lester shivered. Silently her form nestled
into the arms of Burton. A hand fell against his, and he shook as though
struck by an electric current. She raised her face to his, her warm
breath flooded his cheeks and eyes and stole into his nostrils and his
lungs.

“Raymond dear,” she whispered. “You are carrying too much alone. You
will break down. I can help you. Will you let me? Will you—do you trust
me?”

And in a voice so low that she caught it by instinct rather than hearing
he answered, “I do.”

“Then tell me—all.”

“All?”

“Yes, tell me who took the money, and why, and where to find it, and I
pledge you my word—my honour—that you shall walk out of court not only
free, but justified. Remember, you trust me. You say you trust me—you do
trust me.” She raised her hand and held the spread fingers, pointed,
towards his temples, her eyes were within a palm’s width of his.
“Remember, you trust me, Raymond, you trust me. This log shall rise in
witness against you before I do. You trust me—tell me—ALL.”

With a curse he threw her from him. “This, then, is your love, your
honour, your—your perfidy. God judge between me and you this night!”



CHAPTER IX—A FUGITIVE


    “Ever the sun sets in the west;
        Yellow and gold;
    Ever a face to a window prest;
        Can it behold,
    Large in the lens of the dying light,
    Wandering boy, in joy or plight,
    Trudging sturdily into the night,
        Fearless and bold?”

                                              _The Empire Builders._

Dominion Day was the big day of the year at Plainville. Then the
baseball teams from all the towns around gathered in the Agricultural
Grounds for the final contest of the season, as the approach of haying
time would soon give the young men other outlets for their energy.
Baseball was the great game of the district, but in order to afford some
variety of attraction there would also be a football match between the
English and Canadian born—an event usually marked with much friendly
enthusiasm. The Englishmen had been schooled in the rudiments of the
game on the playgrounds of the motherland, but years behind the plough
or in the harvest field had left the flesh strangely unequal to the
spirit. The Canadians, on the other hand, knew less of the game but
trusted more to the pioneer qualities of force and endurance, although
George Grant said his chief difficulty was in dodging the h’s dropped by
his opponents. Then there were pony races, usually won by some
unheralded farm plug, to the disgust of the “sports”; a tug-of-war,
married men against single, in which the benedicts, thanks to
avoirdupois, were invariably victorious, while the Plainville brass band
discoursed uncertain music to the appreciative throng.

But it is not with the celebration of Dominion Day that you and I are
concerned, much as we should enjoy an afternoon with the husky young
athletes of the prairie. Other events, essential to the progress of our
story, were under way, and demand our attention.

By common consent the Plainville stores remained open on Dominion Day
until eleven in the forenoon, when they closed to enable the proprietors
and their staffs to enjoy the day’s celebration. It had been a busy
forenoon, and Burton was hurriedly sweeping up behind the grocery
counter after the blinds had been drawn, when Graves approached and
leaned over the counter, watching him. Burton was conscious of the eyes
upon him, and at length looked up. It was evident his fellow employee
had something on his mind.

“I want to say that I have a rather disagreeable piece of information
for you, Burton,” said Graves, after a moment’s hesitation. “Did you
ever wonder why I came out here and took this job with Gardiner?”

“No, I can’t say that I did,” the other replied. “I supposed you were
looking for employment and this was the first thing to turn up. But
there has been nothing disagreeable to me about it.”

“Unfortunately there will be, shortly, and I assure you the whole thing,
as it is turning out, is little to my liking. Burton, you’re not
suspicious enough for a criminal career. Do I look like a store clerk?”

There was a touch of sarcasm in the last two words which did not escape
his hearer, but the reference to a criminal career had cut much deeper.

“What do you mean?” he demanded. “What right have you to speak to me in
this way?”

“Now don’t get angry,” said Graves. “You lost your temper here once
before, and while I don’t say I blame you, the rough-house with Elton
didn’t improve your case any. Fact is, if you can’t see it for yourself,
that I’m not here to sell goods, but to _watch you_!”

“Watch me?” exclaimed Burton, straightening up and taking in the other
man at a glance as though measuring him physically. “Then you’re a——”

“A detective. Yes.”

“Well, what have you found? Can you add anything to a bunch of keys and
a suspicion?”

“I haven’t found much yet, but I expect to shortly. That’s why I wanted
to speak to you now. I have a warrant to search your room and personal
belongings, and I propose to do so to-day. It’s altogether
unprofessional in me to tip you off, but, hang it, I like you, Burton,
and if there’s any changes you want to make down there slip away and get
them done, and I won’t be down for half-an-hour.”

“Changes? What changes should I want to make? Your words are an insult,
Graves, and if it were not for your evident sincerity I’d start making
the changes right here and now. No, I want no changes! Bring all the
world along, and let them see me searched in public.”

“You carry it with a high hand, my young friend,” said Graves. “However,
I can do no more than warn you. Shall we go now? There should be at
least one other present.”

“Mr. Gardiner has just gone down to Goode’s with some butter. We will
detain him as a witness, if you think it necessary,” was Burton’s reply;
“come, I am ready.”

The two young men walked down the street, thronged with buggies, wagons
and automobiles, until they reached Mrs. Goode’s boarding-house. At the
door they met Gardiner.

“Mr. Gardiner, will you do me a favour? I find that I have been working
alongside of a detective, instead of a store clerk, as I imagined. He
has a warrant to search my room. Will you come along, as a witness?”

“Why, yes, if you ask me to. This is a surprise for me. Graves, you need
not report for work to-morrow morning.”

The three went up to room sixteen. As they were about to enter Polly
Lester came out. “I was just finishing tidying up,” she explained to Mr.
Gardiner. Since the night at the river Burton had not spoken to her nor
recognised her existence.

The detective began with Burton’s clothes. He searched all the pockets
and felt the fabric generally to ascertain if anything might be quilted
into it. Then he examined the bed, feeling the pillows and mattress very
carefully. Then the washstand and bureau received attention, but without
revealing anything of moment.

“There is only the trunk left,” said Graves. “Will you let me have the
key?”

“Go ahead; it isn’t locked,” Burton returned. “I wish you joy of all you
find.”

Each article in the trunk was lifted out and set on the bed, carefully.
Graves was at least a thorough workman. At last there were only a few
items in the bottom of the trunk, and Gardiner was about congratulating
Burton, when the detective cried, “Hello, what have we here?”

Both spectators rushed to his side. At the very bottom of the trunk lay
a large envelope, on which two large wax seals were visible.

“That looks like it,” said Gardiner, in a tense voice. “Dig it out.”

The package was produced and held before Burton. The young man was too
astonished for speech.

“Well, what have you to say about it?” said Graves, at last.

“It is the stolen package,” said Burton, with a dry sob. “But how it got
there God only knows.” He put his hand to his head; he looked around as
one dazed, bewildered; his eye fell on the crack of the door, and
through that crack he caught the gleam of another eye, blue-black as a
hail-cloud on a summer night. He gasped, and would have rushed for the
door, but Graves detained him.

“There’s no hurry, Burton,” he explained. “Perhaps you will see your way
to make a clear breast of this business. If Mr. Gardiner gets his money
back I think he might be big-hearted enough to withdraw the charge,
although you have no right to expect such treatment from him, after
betraying his trust in this way, and then trying to brazen it out as you
have done. Of course, it’s a criminal charge, and out of Gardiner’s
hands, but there’s more ways of killing a dog than choking it with
butter. I have something to do with the Department, and I promise you
that if you come out and clean this thing up and express your regret
there’ll be no true bill found against you. The money is all there,
isn’t it?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t know any of it was there. I——”

Gardiner picked up the package and turned it over in his hands; suddenly
it almost dropped from his fingers. “This package has been opened,” he
said to Graves.

The detective took it and withdrew the bills. They were bright, new ten
dollar bank notes. He counted them.

“Well, I congratulate you, Gardiner. The package has been opened, but
only one bill is gone. And the serial letter and number compare with the
memo, furnished us by the bank. You have your money back, practically
complete. What am I to do with this man?”

“Let him go. Burton, I’m sorry,” said Gardiner.

“No, I won’t let him go,” said Graves. “He has refused a fair chance of
liberty; now he must take the consequences. I advise you, Gardiner, to
withdraw your bail. One of these days this fine fellow will be across
the line.”

“Leave that to me,” said Gardiner, shortly.

Within an hour the finding of the stolen money in Burton’s trunk was a
general topic in the town; by evening it was common knowledge among all
the crowd assembled for the sports.

Burton went straight to the store and locked himself in. Neither the
streets nor the grounds were any place for him that day. Presently
Gardiner let himself in and discovered the young man in the office.

“Burton,” he said, speaking with some difficulty, “this is a bad mess.
There was every reason to expect your acquittal until this turned up.
Now—well, now you’re in for it.”

The young man sat with his face between his hands, and made no reply.

At length Gardiner continued. “I hate to think you guilty, Burton, I
really do, for your own sake, and for your father’s, and for
your—friends! But what else can I think? And if I, who have stood by
you, protesting you innocent, all along, must admit your guilt, what
will the people in the town and country, who are only too glad to
believe evil, think of you? You will be a marked man, and an avoided
man. I don’t like to say it, but it is quite impossible for me to keep
you any longer in my employ. The fact is, Burton, you’re up against it.
I don’t want to see you go to jail, but if you come to trial that’s
what’s going to happen. If you take my advice you’ll get out while the
coast is clear.”

“But you are my bondsman! You will have to forfeit the bail!”

“I know. But I am willing to do that, to see you safe at liberty. I may
lose the bail, but I have the money back, so I’m really nothing more
out. You can get across the line to-night, and work west or south or
east. The world is big, and if you straighten up you will soon find
chances of useful life. If you go to jail your life is ruined, but if
you take my advice you may still be a credit to yourself.”

“They’ll follow me,” the young man moaned. “They’ll get me anywhere.”

“No, they won’t. If you were a murderer, or a criminal of that sort,
public opinion would keep them after you, but a case of this kind is
really a private matter after all, and will soon be forgotten. Have you
money?”

“A little.”

Gardiner took a roll from his pocket. “There is a hundred dollars,” he
said. “That should see you out of harm’s way.”

“I can’t take it, Mr. Gardiner; I really can’t. You have done too much
for me already.”

“Take it as a loan, then.... Well, think it over. I’ll leave it here in
the till, and if you’re as wise as I take you to be, both you and the
money will be missing to-night. Good-bye, Burton,” he said, but without
offering to shake hands. “I have to drive out to Grant’s.”

There was a significance in the last remark that did not escape Burton.
As he sat in the dimly lighted office in the dark, empty, silent store,
the ruins of his life came crashing down upon him. He tried to think
calmly, to collect his thoughts, but his mind was a chaos of emotions.
Out of the maze of perplexities, complete mysteries and half known
truths more baffling still, a few characters, a few incidents, gradually
distinguished themselves. The night at Grant’s, the singer, and his
recital, spoken to an audience but aimed at one soul; the sacramental
day at Crotton’s Crossing, again in memory he rehearsed it; he recalled
the great stone, he saw the faces blend in the smiling water, and the
solemn red sun look through the serried bars—! Ah, the bars! Prophetic
vision which he had left unread! Bars, bars between him and the
sunlight! Yes, bars, and cold, wet stone walls. They stared at him now,
they glared at him, wet and shiny, out of the dark corners. They circled
him, they compassed him, they crowded him. Bars, and stones, and water!
They would strip him of the dress of civilization and clothe him in the
garb of infamy. They would feed his body with prison fare, but his soul
they would leave to shrivel and starve. However innocent he might go in,
only a criminal could he come out. There was something worse than being
a fugitive. Better to defy the law and the officers of the law than to
let them thrust him into the criminal mill. Gardiner was right. He would
fly. The world was large, there still was a chance for him, he would
learn to live—and forget.

A mental numbness followed the strain of these thoughts; he did not
sleep, but he lost consciousness of time. When he came to himself it was
quite dark, and he was hungry. He groped his way through the store and
found some cheese and biscuits, which he thrust into his pocket. Then he
remembered the money Gardiner had left, but as he reached to take it
from the drawer his hand paused, irresolute. Surely Gardiner had done
enough for him; Gardiner, who had gone his bond and then urged him to
fly. He turned away, the money untouched.

Burton let himself out by a side door; the outer air was strangely hot
and oppressive. He heard many voices, and a babel of strange, confused
sounds; horses being hurried into shafts, automobiles whirring along the
streets. He made his way to a lane, and a large drop of rain spat on his
face. His eyes were as yet unaccustomed to distant objects, but he
turned to the west and beheld the heavens a-seethe with lightning—not a
vivid glare that blinds the beholder, but a bright silvery flush playing
like the aurora behind a mass of dark-blue cloud. Burton knew the
country well enough to read the menace at a glance; the heavy blue-black
cloud riding ahead of the storm never hunts except for big game. The air
was oppressively still, but shortly it would be torn with the violence
of the tornado; the half-obscured lightning, now playing all the way
from the horizon to the zenith, would break in jagged, white-hot thunder
bolts through the uneven atmosphere, and at its heels would come the
deluge of rain and, perhaps, hail. It was not an uncommon scene; once or
twice a season these terrifying storms were to be expected, and farmer
and merchant alike watched anxiously for the straight, misty, greyish
cloud and listened for the accompanying rumble of the dreaded hail.

But to the fugitive the threatened storm meant nothing. The warfare of
the elements could tear no deeper than the warfare of his own soul; the
fire-edged death from heaven would furnish honourable end to a
discouraging struggle. Avoiding the main roads, he made his way into the
country, but on every trail were rigs driving by at high speed. The
drivers and occupants were much too concerned with the problem of
getting home dry and safe to pay attention to pedestrians on the road,
and he walked on mechanically, confident that none recognised him and
that none cared.

The early darkness closed down quickly; the great cloud in advance of
the storm, rolling in the heavens like a mighty fish, had swept far to
the eastward; the lightning now played in dazzling flashes from cloud to
cloud and from cloud to earth, its zig-zag course marking the rarer
atmospheres, and accompanied by a growing, growling chorus of thunder as
the menagerie of the skies roared and crackled on the crest of the
storm. The blinding light left the eyes useless in the dark, and it was
with difficulty Burton followed the trail.

Presently the rain came on. Swept by a mighty wind that overturned more
than one top buggy that night, a few great, scattered drops dashed
against the ground, then the wind subsided and was followed by a sudden
stillness so intense it could be felt. But it was for an instant; a
great rift of lightning shook the clouds asunder and their pent-up load
of moisture poured out upon the earth. In a moment Burton was drenched
to the skin; the prairie roads were running in water; and as he
floundered on a cold wind struck him that brought a shiver, not for
himself, but for the farmers whose fortunes were all on the growing
fields. Then the thought came to him that if he should be caught
unprotected in the hail he would be killed. He had faced the lightning
without fear, but the prospect of being gradually pummelled to death was
not inviting, and he began to look about for some place of shelter. It
was not until now that he realised he had paid no attention to the
course he took, and although most of the country was familiar to him in
daylight he had no idea where he was. To his great relief a warm breeze
sprung up, which indicated that the hail strip was narrow and had
probably chosen another course, and he struggled on through mud and
water hoping that every flash of lightning would reveal some place of
shelter. But the country seemed strangely desolate, and the night must
have been half spent before he caught an instant’s glance of a building.
He pressed toward it, and another flash revealed a deserted log hut
which he now recalled as being only a few miles from town and but a
short way from the main road that led to Grant’s. The windows were gone
and the door was off its hinges, but it would at least be better than
outside, and he hurried toward it. As he did so through the darkness he
fancied he saw a gleam of light in the deserted building. It was not
lightning, and yet he could have sworn it was no trick of the
imagination or the nerves. As he drew nearer he saw it again—a dull
flicker lighting up the square framed by the empty window. Stealthily he
approached the building.



CHAPTER X—PLAYING THE GAME


    “Hear ye a little lesson—can ye the truth divine?
    Milk ye may mix with water, and water will mix with wine;
    Mix as ye may on your prairies, mix in your hope and toil,
    But know in all your mixing that water won’t mix with oil!”

                                              _The Empire Builders._

With only one run to the good, Harry Grant in the pitcher’s box, the
bases full and nobody out, the finish of the ninth inning in the last
game of the Dominion Day tournament looked gloomy enough for Plainville.
The sun was gilding the crest of a great cloud which was already casting
its shadow over the prairie, the air was close and hot, the band had
long since exhausted their repertoire, and its members, big-lipped from
their day’s exertions, gazed dry-throated at the tragedy on the diamond;
the Plainville backers, who all day long had placed their two to one on
the home team, were stamping up and down behind the ropes that winged
the grounds, chewing their cigars and swearing vaguely. The “rooting”
was over; there is a point beyond which no loyalty can “root”; the
situation was too dramatic for speech. Even the supporters of the
opposing team were too excited to hollo, they had holloed all day
against discouraging odds, and now, when a little lung power might well
have been brought to the support of their favourites, they found
themselves voiceless from sheer exhaustion and surprise.

In a buggy facing the grounds from the right fielder’s corner sat
Gardiner and Miss Vane. The bright face and the electric mouth seemed
intent upon the game before them, but in the eyes was a hollow look that
might have told any keen observer the brain was wandering in far fields.

“It’s bad,” said Gardiner. “The worst possible. He can never climb out
of that hole.”

“At any rate he will try,” said the girl, absently. “You think he will
run away?”

Gardiner turned and looked at his companion quizzically. She gave a
little start and a flush stole through the deep ivory of her cheeks and
forehead. “I—I beg your pardon,” she stammered. “I was thinking.”

“You are thinking too much. If I had known it would spoil your day’s
enjoyment I would not have told you.”

“How could you think otherwise? You know he was, that is, he is, our
friend.”

“Just a friend—is that all?” Gardiner pressed the question.

“Oh, look, that is two strikes. Harry is keeping his head. Let us watch
the game,” and Miss Vane seemed lost in the scene before her.

The ropes along the wings stretched and swung with the mass of humanity
leaning over them; in the grand-stand every eye was on the pitcher, as
tense as though life itself depended upon the delivery of the next ball.

Harry saw one crooked finger below his catcher’s mitt, and prepared a
hot in-shoot. An out and a drop were responsible for the batter’s two
previous abortive swats, and this change should fool him. A right hand
batter seldom looks for an in-shoot with the bases full; the chance of a
walk is so big it frightens most pitchers, but Harry’s catcher had
decided on heroic measures.

The base runner from third led up. Standing on his right foot, an inch
outside the pitcher’s box, Harry feinted at third and drove the
adventurous runner back; the next instant he was back in the box and had
delivered the ball to the batter.

But his caution was his undoing. He purposely threw a little wide, to
avoid the possibility of striking the batter. Six feet from the base the
ball broke and cut straight for the centre of the plate. It was only a
fraction of an instant, but in that fraction the batter swung and caught
it a straight drive over second. A yell broke from his sympathisers as
he dashed for first.

Billy Haynes, the hardware clerk, was holding down second. Billy was
long and agile and a rapid thinker. He had the two first requisites of a
baseballer—a quick eye and a quick brain. As he saw the hot shot coming
four feet above his head he sprang two steps backward, jumped, and
brought it to earth, dropping it as he fell. The next instant he had one
hand on his base and the other on the ball, and almost before the umpire
could detect the play he had thrown, not to home, but first. For an
instant the third base runner hesitated, fearing a caught fly, and that
instant cost his side the game. He fully expected Haynes would play
home, and hesitated again; when he saw the ball delivered to first he
dashed forward, but he was too late. The sphere seemed hardly to stop at
first at all; it simply changed its course there and shot home, beating
the runner to the plate by a good two feet. The game was over.
Plainville had won. It was the only triple play seen on that diamond for
many a day, and the crowd went wild with enthusiasm. Billy Haynes was
borne aloft by his admirers, and the other participants in the play were
thumped and shaken by the hero-hungry mob. By dint of much profanity the
band leader was able to muster two cornets, a trombone and a base drum
to play the National Anthem as the crowd hurried from the grounds. It
would soon be closing time at the village bars, and there were many
thirsts to liquidate.

But even as they walked the short distance from the grounds to the town
the minds of the visitors were turned to another matter. The sun was
obscured, and up from the west a great mass of cloud heaved higher and
higher. The old-timers needed no second glance; a Dominion Day storm was
considered as much a matter of course as the baseball tournament and the
football game between English and Canadians, and young men and old
hurried to the livery stables and the stock-yards, where their horses
were tied, in an endeavour to get home before the weather broke.

Gardiner drove up town for a waterproof, and by the time he and Miss
Vane were at last on the road to the Grant homestead it had grown quite
dark. It was the eastern girl’s first experience with a severe electric
storm on the prairie; several thunder showers had swept by during June,
but nothing so terrifying as this. The lightning became more and more
vivid, and after every flash the horse would pause, uncertain of his
footing in the darkness. Then the distant growl of the thunder added its
accompaniment, steadily growing in volume and intensity. Gardiner was
not an expert horseman and had some difficulty in keeping the animal on
the road. The poor creature had little relish for the trip and would
have much preferred to hurry back to his stable in town.

Suddenly a terrific squall of wind burst upon them, and before Gardiner
had time to square the horse up to it it had tipped the buggy and
whipped the reins from his hand. The animal, terrified by the storm,
staggering over one shaft, and feeling all control removed, dashed in a
panic across the prairie. Presently the rig struck a post, the shafts
were torn free, and the horse disappeared in the darkness.

Gardiner extricated himself from the wreckage. “Are you hurt, Miss
Vane?” he asked, anxiously.

“No, I think not,” said the girl, as she dragged herself free. “Oh!” A
smothered cry escaped her lips.

“You are hurt,” said Gardiner, as he raised her in his arms. “You are
hurt. Tell me. Let me help you.”

The gale had swept by, and the air was very still and warm.

“No, I am not hurt—much,” she answered. “But we cannot stay here. It
will rain soon, and the lightning is—” She closed her eyes. ”Can’t we go
somewhere? Can’t we walk home?”

“I am afraid we must try,” said her companion. “Or I might go back to
town for another rig?”

“No, we will walk home. We must be more than half way. Let me see—what
direction is that?”

“South, I think.”

“No, it must be west. Surely it is west?”

“Let us follow the fence; it must lead somewhere.”

At that moment a tongue of fire came leaping along the upper wire of the
fence. Both drew back, as though to dodge the electric current.

“The further from the fence the better,” said Gardiner. “There is no
place so dangerous in a thunderstorm. Let us keep to the middle of the
roadway.”

They moved to the right, but at the first step a groan escaped the
girl’s lips. “My ankle,” she moaned. “I—I must have hurt it.”

Gardiner stood irresolute. “Can you lean on it at all?” he asked.

She placed her weight gently upon the ankle, but a flash of lightning
revealed a wince of pain across her face.

“I must carry you somewhere,” said Gardiner. “We cannot stay here. The
rain is coming on, and perhaps hail with it. We shall be drenched, at
least.”

“I think I can walk if you will help,” she ventured bravely. “Stand
here, to the right. Let me rest my arm on your shoulder.”

He obeyed. Resting her right hand on his left shoulder she limped
painfully a short distance through the darkness. The rain began to fall
in great scattered drops, then a vicious rent of lightning seemed to
shake the whole heavens, and it fell in floods.

They had worked their painful way about fifty yards. The road was now
running in water, and the slippery mud made walking still more
difficult. One little shoe drew off and was lost. At every flash they
took their bearings for a few feet further, but it became more and more
evident they would be unable to reach shelter.

“You must leave me,” she said at last, shouting in his ear to make
herself heard. “I cannot go much further. You can find your way to town,
or perhaps to a neighbour’s, and get another buggy. I will stay here.”

“Then I will stay with you,” her companion answered. “I cannot leave you
alone on the prairie in such a night. Besides, I don’t know where we
are. I would never find my way back. We must—hello, what is that?”

“What? I saw nothing.”

“Look this way.” He pointed through the darkness. “Watch for the next
flash.”

They had not long to wait. In a moment another bolt lit up the prairie
in all directions.

“It is a building—an old house, I think,” she said. “I can walk that
far. It will be better than the prairie.”

With much effort they dragged their way toward the building. It proved
to be a little log structure, built by a homesteader in the early days.
The windows were gone and the door was off its hinges, but inside was
comparatively dry. In an inner pocket Gardiner found some matches that
gave promise of a light. He struck one; it flared for an instant and was
whipped out by the breeze. But it had revealed a partition running
through the middle of the building. They groped their way around it and
found a more protected corner. Here he struck another match. It burned
steadily, disclosing a little, low room, papered with heavy building
paper. Against the logs of the outer wall tar paper had been nailed, but
years of damp and wind had loosened this pioneer protection, and the
paper now hung in long shreds or curled in uncertain rolls about the
bottom of the walls. The floor was decayed and broken through in several
places, as though cattle had walked on the rotten boards, and from the
sod roof the water trickled in little streamlets.

With a sigh of relief Miss Vane seated herself in a corner. “This is
better than outside at least,” she said.

“Yes, indeed,” Gardiner agreed. “By means of this tar paper and some of
these broken boards we will start a fire. We can surely find water
enough to hold it in check.”

In a few minutes he had a little fire burning. Part of a broken crock
was found, and with this filled with water he stood guard over man’s
best servant.

As the fire flickered up its light fell on the face of the girl, pale
and drawn with pain. The young man looked at her helplessly, and then
ventured, “You are suffering, Miss Vane. I wonder if you would let me be
surgeon?”

“Yes,” she answered, simply.

He removed the shoe. The buckles were cutting into the flesh.

“No bones broken, I think,” he said, after a brief survey, “but a bad
sprain.”

With the scissors which every store clerk carries he cut away the foot
of the stocking. The ankle was badly swollen and discoloured.

Gardiner removed his coat and deftly cut the lining out of it. This he
cut into strips, and, dipping the strips in water, bandaged the injured
member. Presently the inflammation was somewhat relieved and the pain
became more bearable.

“You are very good,” the girl whispered. “I feel better now.”

“I am glad of that,” he answered. “The accident is most regrettable, and
the fault is all mine.”

“Not at all. It was an accident, and an accident is not a fault.”

“Do you believe that these accidents are preordained—that they are part
of some great scheme of management, that we but vaguely recognise?”

“I don’t know. I suppose there is a purpose to all things—even to this
sprained ankle.” She smiled faintly. “If there is no purpose in little
things there can be no purpose in life, as life is made up of little
things.”

He seized at her answer. “And what purpose, can you guess, lay behind
this mishap?”

“A warning, no doubt, in future to be home before dark,” she answered,
with a return of her natural spirit. “And I shall have such splendid
hair after this rain-water bath.”

The little fire flickered and shifted with every gust of wind that stole
into even this protected corner. The rain fell in torrents on the sod
roof and washed down the log walls of the hut. The lightning was
incessant, the thunder terrific, and as they spoke the trumpetings of
heaven often choked the words in their mouths.

“No,” said Gardiner at length, “there was a deeper purpose in your
misfortune. It seems too bad to profit by it, but don’t you know—can’t
you see, Miss Vane, that I have wanted so long an opportunity to talk
with you alone?”

She drew up slightly in the corner where she sat, but did not speak.

“You must know that I have sought your company—your company, and none
but yours—since the night I first saw you. My interest—my attention—must
have told you long ago—that which I would speak to you in words
to-night.”

He was standing, gazing at her across the fire. For months he had
rehearsed his declaration, and he felt that he had made a good start.
She had not stopped him, and he was encouraged.

“I am very tired,” she murmured.

“As you said a little while ago, surely there must be a purpose in all
things,” he continued. “Surely it was such a purpose that brought you to
Plainville, and permitted me to know the charm of your personality—the
sweet delight of your companionship. Miss Vane—Myrtle—I love you—have
loved you since first my eyes fell on your fair face—shall love you
always. May I hope?”

She looked up; in her eyes was a strange gleam that sent the young man’s
pulses throbbing. Had he known her better he would have read a different
meaning in that deep light.

She waited until the echoes of a crack of thunder died away, and then
asked, very quietly, “Is it quite fair to press your question after all
that has happened to-day?”

For the moment he was taken back. “Of course, you know, I don’t mean to
take any advantage,” he stammered. “Certainly you are suffering, and I
must wait your answer until you can think it over calmly. Is it very
painful?”

“Oh, the ankle? I wasn’t thinking about it.”

“What then?”

“What, you ask? Oh, cannot you see, either? Must I tell you in so many
words?”

“Burton!” he exclaimed. “It is of him you are thinking?”

“How could I forget—so soon? You said he would fly—even now he is
probably a fugitive from jus—from the law.... It is a fitting night for
such a tragedy in his life. And still, black as it all looks, I cannot
think but he is more sinned against than sinning.”

“Your loyalty does you credit. Burton is fortunate in having such a
friend.” Under the soft voice there was just the suggestion of a sneer.

“Nevertheless,” she said, ignoring his remark, “Burton will come back to
trial, if indeed he ever leaves. His innocence will yet be established.”

“Your faith is equal to your loyalty,” he answered. “I wish I could have
the same confidence. Indeed, I did believe in him until this latest
development, but now—one must believe his eyes,” he said, with a shrug
of the shoulders. “I suppose I shall lose the amount of his bail, but I
forfeit it gladly for the sake of his liberty. I count such losses
nothing, if only I may hope to gain—what I have asked to-night.”

“I cannot answer you now. You have been too good to me, and to my
friend, to be denied without at least the courtesy of consideration.”

“Your words carry little encouragement. Listen. While I do not press for
an answer, surely I may state my case. I can offer you much that appeals
to every woman. I am not rich, but I have a profitable business. No
woman in Plainville will be better provided for. In a few years I hope
to have saved enough to enter business in a larger centre, and introduce
you to circles where your personality will command the admiration it
deserves. As for this boy——”

She made a gesture of dissent. “Your argument makes no appeal to me, Mr.
Gardiner. A profitable business is a small thing to offer for a woman’s
affections. You undervalue the prize you seek. And if social status were
a consideration to me——” She left the sentence unfinished, but Gardiner
thought he understood.

“Forgive me if I have seemed to place too much stress on material
things. I merely wish to satisfy you that my declaration—my love—is
reasonable, and that I am in a position to carry it out to its logical
conclusion. Now, tell me I may hope?”

“Hark! What was that?” she whispered, her face tense with excitement.
“Surely I heard a sound?”

“It is nothing. The thunder, or the wind, or the rain. On such a night
the air is full of sound.”

“But this was different; a real sound, a _human_ sound. I was sure I
heard it.”

“Your nerves are playing tricks on you to-night, Miss Vane. I assure you
there was no sound but the elements. Compose yourself, and tell me I may
hope.”

“I can tell you nothing now.”

“Then to-morrow?”

“No, not to-morrow.”

“When then? Set a limit to my uncertainty.”

“Not until after the trial.”

“Burton’s trial. If he should be acquitted?”

“You will know your answer.”

“And if convicted?”

“Then I will take time. Oh, please don’t force me to be unkind. I cannot
give myself—you would not take the gift—without love. I must analyse my
own heart, and I cannot do that while this cloud hangs over—us. When it
has dispersed, or settled, I will know.”

He took her hand in his and raised it to his lips. “You are kind,” he
said, “and fair.”



CHAPTER XI—A FRIEND IN NEED


    “Oh, I take ’em from the counter, the factory, the mine,
    They are rough-and-ready rascals till I lick ’em into line;
    They are coming, coming, coming, from the land of Who-Knows-Where,
    Black and white and many-tinted, brown and yellow, dark and fair;
    They are coming from the valley, from the prairie, from the hill,
    They are coming from the ‘May I?’ to the country of ‘I will!’
    And for some the smart of failure, and for some Achievement’s
       crown,
    As I roll ’em out Canadians—all but the yellow and brown.”

                                              _The Empire Builders._

Burton looked cautiously through the window. A little fire was burning
on the wet floor, and between him and the fire stood Gardiner, facing
the corner in which Miss Vane sat, pale and troubled. With a gasp he
sank to the earth. What tragedy was this, enacted before his eyes? Why
were these two here, in such a place, at such a time? Could not
revengeful Providence spare him even this? Why had he been led through
that howling night to this spot, to this scene, of all the places on the
great prairie?

His first impulse was to rush in, throttle Gardiner, and escort Miss
Vane home. He stole back to the window with this determination in his
heart, but a second look at the girl made him pause. Whatever the
explanation of her presence here she was evidently not a prisoner. She
was talking with Gardiner, talking in a low voice which he could not
hear for the din of the night. But there was no anger in her eyes,
rather a deep sorrow, and the sympathetic quiver of her lip, which
passed across it even more quickly than the uncertain flicker of the
fire, brought a lump to the boy’s throat and banished every thought of
forcible intrusion. After all, Gardiner had been a good friend to him.
Had he withdrawn his bond after the discovery of the money, as most men
would, Burton at this moment would not have been at liberty. And, while
he could not understand their presence here at such a time and in such a
manner, it might be that after all a satisfactory explanation could be
given. Certainly he could not improve the situation by intruding.

They were talking earnestly, in short, tense sentences. Then Miss Vane
spoke at a little greater length, kindly, as he thought, as one may do
who does not wish to wound a friend, and Gardiner took her hand in his
and raised it to his lips.

Burton waited for nothing more. He drew away from the window as quietly
as he had come and started his tramp through mud and water back to town.
He had now one thought only, to get away, to escape, to forget
Plainville and Plainville people for ever. The last thin, silvery, cord,
stronger in its slender weave than any cable of steel, which had bound
him to the place was broken, snapped at the distant end. It still wound
round his heart and would deepen and tighten there forever, but its
other anchorage was gone. The pain was there but the restraint was
removed; Plainville was now less to him than any town of the great new
West. And to that great new country he would take himself, as quickly
and as cunningly as he knew. They would think he had crossed the line,
that would be the natural conclusion; instead, he would beat his way
into one of the new provinces and lose himself in the desolation of a
homestead far from the furthest edge of civilisation.

Burton thought these things out as he tramped the muddy road, guided by
the incessant lightning which still played in the heavens, although the
force of the storm had passed to the eastward. The revival of a purpose
was as a rudder to his life; again he threw back his shoulders and drank
in the night air, purified and vitalized by the hundred million volts of
electricity shot through it in the last few hours. He was tired and wet,
but his mind had been revived from its stupor, and he tasted the strange
delight of the hunted man—the joy of matching his wit against the united
wit of society and the machinery of government. As the fox who eludes
the hounds may well be conceived to glory among his fellows over his
accomplishment, so hunted man glories in his ability to outwit his
pursuers, and in addition can take the heroic attitude of the one
against the million.

As he approached the town he left the main road and swung down toward
the river, where was a water-tank beside the railway bridge. It was the
custom of the west-bound freights to take water at this tank, and he
trusted to a happy chance that such a train might come along before
daylight.

As though to encourage him in his new resolve he had scarcely reached
the tank when he heard the whistle of an approaching train. He walked
back along the track, keeping well into the shadow of the cut-bank. The
engines on that division did not use electric lights, and he had little
fear of being seen by the crew as they swept past.

The train pulled up slowly, the engineer having allowed for a wet rail
and shut off steam well down the line. He slid a little past the tank on
his first stop and was obliged to back up a rail-length; meanwhile
Burton had located a car with a threshing separator and engine on it,
and had little difficulty in getting on board while the tender was
receiving water. Feeling cautiously about the separator, he soon found
an open trap-door with a space inside large enough to accommodate him,
and here he concealed himself. It was dry in there, and the night was
still warm with lightning; he huddled himself up and almost before the
train was in motion had fallen asleep.

When he awoke he was sore in every joint, and at first he stared in
bewilderment at the slats and pulleys about him. But he soon recalled
that he was a fugitive, a hunted man, a man who dared not travel under
the name his mother gave him, and the thought brought less enthusiasm
than he had felt the night before. He was conscious, also, of hunger,
and feeling in his pockets found some broken biscuits and a few crumbs
of cheese. These he ate eagerly and settled back again to wait for the
train to resume its journey.

As time wore on and the train did not start the boy became impatient,
and at last ventured to look out. The car on which he had concealed
himself stood alone, on a side track at a flag station where it had been
set off in the early morning. He was not more than forty miles from
Plainville, and in a country where he might easily be identified. He saw
a farm house about half-a-mile away, and as the sun was approaching the
zenith he doubted not that inside were a pot of boiling potatoes and a
roast of beef, with the best the good wife’s garden could produce. He
had only a few cents in his pocket, but a good muscle in his arm, and
was not afraid to work for a meal, but he feared to reveal himself lest
it might later lead to his identification. After thinking it over he
decided to remain in his hiding place until dark, when he would steal to
the farmer’s garden and ward off starvation with his vegetables.

He had settled back to put in the time as best he could when another
thought occurred to him. This threshing outfit had evidently been
consigned to some farmer of the district, and was likely to be unloaded
that very day. True, it was a little early in the season for threshing
mills, but the companies were anxious to get as many as possible placed
before the real rush of harvest was upon them, and there was no reason
to suppose that this car would be taken any further until unloaded. And,
if he should be found concealed in the separator, then explanations
_would_ be required.

Having turned this matter over in his mind for a short time he let
himself out by the trap-door as stealthily as possible, although quite
sure that there could be no one within half-a-mile; sprang to the ground
on the side of the car furthest from the farmer’s house, and presently
commenced to walk unconcernedly across the prairie to the north-west.
The country was not closely settled, and he soon ventured to follow a
trail leading away from the railroad. The walking was not bad here, as
the district seemed to have been out of the direct path of the storm,
and he soon found himself swinging along the road at a good rate. He
knew that ten or twelve miles to the northward was another line of
railway, and it occurred to him that it would be good policy to walk
across and divert his patronage to the other company. It would at least
make him less easily followed.

The sun was high and the day was warm, and white, blocky clouds floated
in the sky like icebergs in a sea of blue. The gophers played along the
trail, and, far above, a hawk, pinioned on motionless wings, spied the
plain for the more unwary. The memory of the night before, of the
experience of the past thirty-six hours, hid itself behind a mist of
unreality; but there was a vacant soreness, a sensation of pain as from
some deep wound now healing, a pain so keen that it was part pleasure. A
frost-bite and a burn are similar in their nature and their effect, and
there is a point at which joy can scarce be distinguished from pain. A
sense of loss may in itself become an asset; adversity and rejection,
instead of crushing some men down, force them forward and upward. Such a
spirit was Burton’s; as he walked along the prairie trail a resolution
took shape in his heart that he yet would show “them”—meaning his little
world—the stuff of which he was made.

His reverie was broken by a blast of a horn which caused him to jump
clear of the roadway. Looking hurriedly around, he saw behind him an
automobile with only the driver on board, and the broad smile on the
latter’s face indicated his amusement at the young man’s nervousness.
Burton’s first thought was that he had been followed; that his bail had
been withdrawn, and he would be taken back and thrown into jail. But
there was no menace in the kindly eye of the automobilist, as he brought
his car to a stop.

“Jump in,” he called, “we are going the same way, let us travel
together.”

Burton found no excuse for refusal, and obeyed.

In a moment the car was again in motion, but the driver, a man of fifty
or thereabouts, found time to catechize his guest.

“Going far?” he demanded.

“Yes, quite a distance.”

“Live hereabouts?”

“No, down the line.”

“Perhaps you know me. I am Doctor Millar.”

“Why, yes!” exclaimed Burton, looking him in the face for the first
time. “I have often heard my father speak of you.”

“Yes?” said the doctor. “And what is your name?”

“Raymond Burton.” The words were out before, with a gasp of surprise, he
realised that he had revealed his identity. But it was now too late to
recall them, he must face it through.

“Not a son of John Burton’s, of Plainville?” asked the doctor, a new
interest leaping into his eyes.

“The same—the only son.”

“Well, well. I knew John Burton when I was a shanty doctor on the
Ottawa, and have known him ever since. In the earlier days here, when
doctor’s drives were longer than they are now, and we didn’t ride on
rubber either, I have been at his house more than once—but you won’t
remember. But—let me see—I hope you won’t think me too personal—I am
your father’s friend—you had some—some misunderstanding, did you not?
The papers get things so wrong, but——”

There was something in the man’s manner, in his frank, open face and
clear, genial eyes that commanded Burton’s confidence. He resolved to
make a clean breast of it.

“Yes, I’m in trouble,” he admitted. “A package of two thousand dollars
disappeared from my employer’s safe, and I was suspected. I was
committed for trial although the evidence against me was very vague. But
detectives were put on my trail, and the money was found in my trunk.
How it got there you know as well as I, Doctor. But it swept my feet
from under me, and now I am beating my way west. I hope to lose my old
life entirely, and make a fresh start where this shadow will not follow
me.”

The doctor drove furiously for a full mile. Then he slowed up.

“Its pretty hard to lose one’s old life,” said he. “You will find
acquaintances wherever you go, just as you found me. But there must be
an explanation to this thing. You must have enemies?”

“No, at least, only one, and he’s a farmer living out of town, with no
means of doing me this injury.”

“You can never tell. I’d have him shadowed, if I were you. You are sure
there is no one else?”

As though it had risen before him at that moment, Burton saw a black,
keen eye through the crack of a door, but he answered, “No, there is no
one else.”

They were now nearing a town on the other line of railway, where Dr.
Millar lived.

“Come right in with me,” said the doctor. “We will go right to my house
and have dinner, and then we will diagnose your case further.”

Burton gladly agreed, and when dinner was over Dr. Millar took him into
his consultation room.

“The first thing I do with a patient, especially a country patient”—his
eye twinkled—“is give him a bath. We will start at the beginning. Step
into the bathroom here and slip your clothes out to me. They may need
some attention, too.”

Burton did as he was bidden, and the refreshing delight of a good bath
went far to restore his confidence in himself.

“I’ll take my clothes now, if they’re ready for me,” he called to the
doctor.

A bundle of clothes was slipped in through the door. Burton opened them
out and saw at a glance that they were not his. The suit, although of no
better quality, was dry and pressed, and there were clean shirt,
underwear and hose. Even a clean collar and tie had not been overlooked.

“These are not my clothes,” he called. “You have made a mistake.”

“They are what the doctor ordered,” came the answer, with a laugh, “and
you put them right on, or stay where you are.”

There was nothing for it but to obey, and in a few minutes Burton, well
and dryly clad, was back in the consultation room, expostulating with
the doctor.

“Sit right down here,” said the doctor, disregarding his protestations.
“Do you know what is the matter with you?”

“No,” said the young man, in surprise.

“You have eczema!”

“Eczema! Nonsense, doctor. I am quite well, physically.”

“Now look here, young man, this is my case, and if I say you have eczema
you have eczema, and you have it bad. So bad I’ll have to send you to a
town I know in the far West for treatment.”

“Doctor! I don’t understand you, but even if I had eczema, or any such
trouble, why should I go to the far West for treatment? Are there
specialists there?”

“No, but—well, you see, it’s in the new homestead country.”

“Doctor!”

“Not a word. There’s a train leaving in two hours, and you’re going on
it. By the time I dress up that face for eczema your own father wouldn’t
know it, and a good sousing with iodoform will keep the passengers from
getting too curious.”

“But doctor, I cannot have you do this thing. You are assisting a
fugitive. You may be held responsible. You are running a risk.”

“Not much. I have no evidence that there is a warrant out for you. If I
make a mistake in treating you for eczema that is simply a professional
misjudgment. A doctor is permitted to make mistakes—and bury them.”

“But it is at least an evasion of the spirit of the law. Of course, I’m
not trying to defend the law, I’m evading it myself, but I don’t want
you to be mixed up in it.”

“I’ve been thinking of that, too. I studied your case while you were
making your toilet. I’m a good Canadian, and I obey the law. Society is
founded upon obedience. But if laws conflict, which am I to obey?”

“The higher law, I suppose,” said Burton, not just clear to what the
doctor referred.

“Very well. That is just the way I figured it out. The law of man says,
‘Hand him over to the police.’ The law of God says, ‘Do unto others as
ye would—.’ When the law of man conflicts with the law of God, the law
of man is _ultra vires_. We must obey the higher law, and if men
generally would do so fewer jails would be needed. So you see how you
happen to have eczema.”

“I can’t thank you enough,” said Burton, the moisture gathering in his
eyes. “I will repay—when I can.”

“That’s all right,” the good doctor assured him, but he turned his face
away a little. “I helped you into the world, and I guess it’s my
privilege to help you through it.”



CHAPTER XII—LOVE—OR LAW?


    “They say there is wealth in the doing,
      That royal and rich are the gains,
    But ’tisn’t the wealth I am wooing,
      So much as the life of the plains;
    For here in the latter day morning,
      Where Time to Eternity clings,
    Midwife to a breed in the borning,
      I behold the Beginning of things!”

                                              _The Empire Builders._

Thirty hours later, in a forward seat of a colonist car, sat a young man
with his face in bandages. A strong odour of disinfectants pervaded that
section of the car, and other passengers avoided it as much as possible,
but a doctor’s certificate that the trouble was not of a dangerous
nature satisfied conductors and trainmen. For thirty hours the young man
had fasted, and the interminable journey across the broad vest of the
prairie country wore on in dull monotony. Villages, towns and cities had
flashed by, and now they were in the great unsettled ranching country,
where one may travel many townships without seeing sign of human life.
Here and there, at great intervals, the eye caught a glimpse of
numberless herds grazing on the rolling uplands; and at intervals
greater still a horseman loomed high against the distant horizon. The
two slender threads of steel seemed the only connecting link with modern
civilization, and as they strung far into the endless West the very
minds of the passengers underwent an evolution, a broadening, a
disassociation with Established Things, and assumed an attitude of
receptiveness toward That Which Shall Be. Here, at last, was the new
West, the manless land, its bosom bared for a thousand miles to the
hungry embrace of landless man.

Through his little window Burton watched it, and with the eye of faith
and optimism saw all this boundless country checkered into farms; towns
and cities rising where now were flag-stations and water-tanks,
telephones and telegraphs where now were fences and buffalo runs;
electric railways groaning with wheat across the now trailless prairie.
Here was a chance to be in at the beginning; to lay new foundations of
business, government, and society, unchecked by tradition, unhampered by
convention, undaunted by the arrogance of precedent. How well those
foundations must be laid; a variation of a thousandth of a principle,
projected through a thousand years, might swing the centre of gravity of
society beyond its base! And who were the men to lay this foundation? To
whom had Fate entrusted such responsibility? He glanced about the car,
foul from its long journey, saturated in tobacco smoke, reeking with
alcoholic fumes and the nameless odours of unwashed humanity. Across the
aisle sat a mother from Central Europe, crowded in the seat with her
three children, clad in shawls and blankets, sweltering in the July
heat. Once he caught their eye; they looked at him through the eye of
the hunted thing, the croucher, the oppressed; the eye where hate serves
for passion, where strength means tyranny, where love has only an animal
significance. Was it from this that the ideal State should rise; from
this sad flotsam of the seas of oppression and vice? And yet as he
looked he saw in that same eye another element, deeper, perhaps, and
less pronounced, as though only rising into being. It was the element of
wonder; and whoso wonders is not without hope. And there was ambition!
This little frightened family had dared to cross an ocean and half of
two continents—for what? Surely only to share in a possibility
impossible at home. Likely enough the husband was already a homesteader
in the new land; he would meet them at one of these little flag-stations
with his ox-team and wagon, and they would trek away, fifty, sixty, a
hundred miles into the wilderness to rear their home, to lay the
foundations of their future, to bring up a family of free-born
Canadians. The whole car was filled with such foreigners; rough and
vicious-looking many of them; sad-eyed and wondering a few, with here
and there a son of that jocund hilarity which knows no restraint and
whose current runs fullest where is most to dry it up.

And yet, who should set bounds to their future? What “mute, inglorious
Miltons,” what “village Hampdens” might be here, waiting only the saving
grace of environment to bring them surging into the fulness of a life
unknown, undreamt, and yet the lure of whose prophetic vision had fired
their dark eyes in the far fields of their unhappy ancestry! How far
from the civilisation of the past, how far even from the civilisation of
the present, had they thrown themselves in this wild projection into the
unknown and the unlimited!

The train stood, waiting, on a side-track. With his head out of the
window Burton saw a black cloud of smoke far to the westward; steadily
it grew until the muzzle of a locomotive could be distinguished, and in
a few minutes the eastbound express roared past them in its down hill
run to evening dress and music and conventions made for the fascination
of disregarding them! But even as it swept by from the open windows of
the dining car came the scent of fresh-cut roses and carnations, and a
moment later the “newsy” hurried through the car with a bundle of
morning papers. Burton stopped him and bought a copy, somewhat to the
vendor’s surprise, and settled down to read, verbatim, the speech of the
Prime Minister of England delivered in London the evening before!

As the train approached the young man’s destination he quietly slipped
into the washroom and removed his bandages. With soap which the doctor
had supplied him he erased the salve and grease, and after a good wash,
with his hair combed and his collar and tie adjusted, he felt more like
a civilized being than at any time since he had left the consultation
room of Dr. Millar. As the crowd swept out at the station he mingled,
unnoticed, among them.

He rushed first into a lunch-room, and after satisfying his long hunger
he had scarce set foot on the station platform until a friendly hand
grasped him by the arm and led him to one side.

“Come this way, Jack,” said a young man, little older than himself, but
with that alert, active manner which is as distinctive of the country as
the chinook. “Let’s get out of this bunch before they get wised up.
Lucky I saw you in time. Jimmy Reid, a chum of mine that came in here
homesteadin’ last year, has just got word tuh go home tuh I-o-way, where
his father’s most all in, an’ he says to me last night—no longer ago
than last night—he says, ‘Frank, slip down tuh the station to-morrow an’
if yuh see a likely lookin’ fellow ’at ’ud appreciate a bit of a start
in this country put him next tuh my homestead. I got tuh let her go,’ he
says, ‘Dad’s all in an’ I’ll have tuh coop up under Old Glory for
awhile, anyway. Put some decent fellow next it,’ says he. Talk about
luck——”

“But I am afraid I don’t understand,” said Burton. “A man can’t sell a
homestead unless he has the patent, can he?”

The new acquaintance looked Burton in the face for five seconds, and
then burst into a sudden guffaw.

“No, of course he can’t,” he declared, slapping his leg and laughing
hilariously. “Not any more than he can travel on a train without a
ticket. Oh, you wise one,” he exclaimed, giving Burton a friendly nudge
in the ribs, and dropping his voice, “what are you travellin’ colonist
fer? Oh, don’t tell me,” he went on, without waiting for an answer.
“It’s easier ’an butter. My chum has the best homestead outa doors, an’
I can’t take it, ’count o’ havin’ exhausted my rights already, an’
that’s the only reason you get in easy. All you got tuh do is stick
around until notice o’ cancellation is posted, an’ then get in your
application. He’s sixty days to get back on the job, an’ unless he sees
it’s goin’ your way back he’ll come, an’ spoil the game of any one that
tries tuh butt in. It’s done ev’ry day in the week, an’ you’re as safe
as a dollar.”

“What’s this information going to cost me?” Burton interrupted.

Jimmy Reid’s chum hesitated for a minute. “I wouldn’t hardly like to say
just what Jimmy was settin’ on that place,” he said at last, slowly, as
one who is deliberating every word. “It’s easy worth twenty dollars an
acre, which is thirty-two hundred fer the quarter, an’ when a man is
lookin’ fer a farm to achually go out an’ live on a homestead’s as good
as railway land. The duties don’t cut no figure if your goin’ to live
there anyway. Course, Jimmy was expectin’ whoever got it ’ud use him
decent—say about two thousand.” The last word was uttered with an
inflection as though the speaker asked a question.

“I’m afraid it’s out of my class,” said Burton. “I’ve only a few dollars
with me, and I intend to work out for a while to get enough to start me
on a claim of my own.”

“I’m awful sorry,” said the other, “I am, fer a fact. ’Taint ev’ry day
such a chance goes strolling by. But—oh, by the way, I was forgettin’.
Here’s somethin’ right in your line. Put that few dollars of yours into
some A number one top-notch town property an’ it’ll earn more fer you
before the snow flies than your muscles will. Here’s somethin’ extra
good,” as he drew a map from his pocket. “See this block—high class
industrial property. Prices from one hundred to three hundred dollars a
lot, tenth down an’ ten dollars a month until paid fer; no taxes,
interest, or charges of any kind. Here’s a fine corner here, facin’
south an’ west, overlookin’ the town, five hundred dollars fer two lots,
that’s only fifty dollars you’d need to put up an’ we’ll sell those lots
again for a cool thousand before December. Come along, you’re dry after
your trip; let’s wet this thing a little an’ then we’ll take an auto out
an’ show you the stuff.”

“Sorry,” confessed Burton, rather ashamed to have to refuse, “but I
really couldn’t handle any of it. I’ve just four dollars and forty cents
in my pocket at this minute, and no more coming until I earn it.”

“Sorry too,” said the land man, with no abatement of his good humour.
“Sorry both fer you and me. But that really is a great buy. Come an’ see
me when yer in town. You don’t look like a fellow that ’ud stay
sod-bustin’ long when you can make more money in town in six months than
most of these moss-backs ever saw. Here’s my card—look me up when yuh
get settled an’ perhaps I can turn something your way yet. Here’s a man
I’ve got to see. So long. Good luck!” and the real estate dealer drilled
away through the crowd.

Down the platform a little way a group of men were gathered about an old
farmer—a tall, thin, one-time Yankee, typical from top boots to chin
whiskers. He was dickering with a bunch of new arrivals for labour for
his farm. A few foreigners, curious-eyed, gazed at him for a minute or
two, their packs on their backs and their chins drooping; then swung
away to gravitate to railway construction offices or the town labour
department. Half a dozen Anglo-Saxons remained; two Englishmen, in
riding breeches, and three or four Eastern Canadians and Americans.
Burton joined the group.

“I came out to learn to fawm, sir,” one of the Englishmen was saying. “I
should jolly well like to have a gow at it. Is there any gime—er—any—er
antelope or—gophahs?”

The farmer chewed a generous ration of tobacco reflectively for some
seconds, then expectorated with much accuracy at a fish-plate on the
railway. “Ah,” he said at length, “there be some game, all right, young
man, and there also be some gun experts. Ah got a neighbour out there
who’s been stuffin’ birds an’ beasts fer twenty year, an’ he’s so durn
handy with a gun he can wing a grass-hopper without breakin’ a bone. I
reckon he’s got most every crittur indig’ous to this country in that
collection o’ his’n. Ah,” repeated the farmer, meditatively, “I reckon
he has.”

“Ah, bah jove, I should like to meet him. A jolly good sort, I should
say.”

“Yep, not so bad. An’ awful accerate with a gun. He’d be glad tuh see
yuh, too. But if he caught you walkin’ round in them seeder-drills yer
wearin’ he’d sure enough bag another zoological specimen. An’ yu’d loose
yerself in a pair o’ jeans.”

There was a laugh in which all but the Englishmen joined, and they, with
a remark about a “lot of bally rough-necks” withdrew themselves from the
group.

“I tell you what, Mr. Whiskers,” said a young fellow wearing a Stetson
and cigarette, “I think I’m just the man you need. Was born on a farm
and know the whole deck. Can drive anything from a dog-team to a
traction engine. Nothin’ in the State had anythin’ on me when it came to
drivin’.”

The farmer focused his eyes on the cigarette with supreme contempt. “If
Ah had ye ah’d use ye fer driving all right,” he said, speaking with
great deliberateness. “Yep. Ah’d use ye fer drivin’ posts—if I could fit
a handle!”

There was another laugh, but the crowd was thinning down.

“Well, Ah suppose you was brung up on a farm, too?” continued the
farmer, addressing a husky looking chap in a cottanade suit and flannel
shirt. “Can ye shock?”

“Well I guess I can,” said the man addressed. “I was the long-distance
shocker of our settlement.”

“Use tuh take in shockin’, Ah suppose,” answered the farmer. “Waal, how
many sheaves did they put in the shock, your way about?”

The candidate for the position hesitated a moment. “Well,” he ventured
at length, “I don’t know that I ever counted, but I should say about
fifty.”

“That’ll do fer you,” said the farmer. “You’re not a shocker. You’re a
stacker.” Then turning to Burton, “Ah suppose you was raised on a farm
too?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ever drive a binder?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How’s binders built—right or left-hand cut?”

“Most of them are left-hand, except McCormicks.”

“By hang,” said the farmer, addressing an invisible audience, “here’s a
fellow that knows somethin’, anyhow. Say! Now, supposin’ you was drivin’
a binder, an’ she was kickin’ out loose sheaves right along, with the
knot all on one end o’ the string, what’ud yuh do fer it?”

“I’d sharpen the knotter-knife first,” said Burton, “and if that didn’t
fix it I’d——”

“Thet’ll do,” interrupted the farmer. “This is my wagon here. Throw in
yer bundle an’ stretch yerself around town fer an hour, an’ then we’ll
hit the trail. But Ah forgot to tell you, it’s fifty miles tuh my farm,
an’ the comp’ny out there ain’t much writ up in the sassiety papers.”

“The farther the better,” said Burton. There was a touch of bitterness
in his voice, and the old man looked at him keenly.

“Love—or law?” he asked, at length.

Burton flushed but did not reply, and the farmer continued, with a
sudden kindness in his speech, “Never mind, lad. This country’s full of
fellows who’re tryin’ to git away from one or t’other of them two
irresistibles—love an’ law. But God help the fellow thet gits hit by
both. When a chinook crosses the path of a nor’wester there’s trouble
fer everybody.”

Burton accompanied his new employer about the town for a couple of
hours. The farmer was making purchases at the stores and implement
houses, and as he did not expect to be in the town again until after the
threshing it was some time before his business was completed. The young
man stood beside him in the store, and his practical knowledge of
quality and values astonished the old farmer. At length the purchasing
was finished, and with the double wagon-box piled high with groceries,
canned goods, dry-goods, hardware, harness, binder twine, machine oil
and all the other sundries demanded by the activities of the harvest
season, the two men started on their journey farmwards.

The sun was well into the western sky before they left the town, and in
the hot July afternoon the horses had to be allowed their pace. The
roads were alive with traffic, farmers driving in as much as a hundred
miles for their fall supplies. Scores of other wagons, loaded as was
this one, were to be seen; great stacks of lumber were dragged slowly
along by four- and six-horse teams; a veritable procession of mowers,
rakes and binders, some loaded on wagons and some running on their own
wheels, stretched along the country road, the procession here and there
blocked into divisions by giant steam or gas tractor outfits with their
long, slow-crawling caravan of paraphernalia.

Sundown found our travellers approaching a diminutive farm house, where
the team of their own accord turned in at the open gate.

“This is whar Zeb Ensley lives,” said the farmer. “His shack is small,
but his hospitality would fill a hemisphere, an’ Ah gen’rally allow to
put up with him goin’ an’ comin’. Zeb’s English, but he’s past the
moultin’ stage, an’ he’s awful white. After an Englishman moults—gits
rid of his unnecessary feathers—they ain’t no better neighbour.”

By this time the team had stopped in front of an enclosure made by
standing mill slabs on end, which was all the shelter provided for Mr.
Ensley’s horses. The host himself was beside the wheel, and placed a
brown hand in the farmer’s as the latter clambered down from the high
spring seat.

“How are you, Mr. McKay? Back this far, safe, I see, with a big load and
a likely looking farm hand. Won’t you introduce me?”

“Waal, now, by hang, thet’s one thing Ah can’t do,” said Mr. McKay.
“They ain’t been no formalities yet. When Ah find a man ’at knows gee
frum haw Ah don’t worry much about what he was christened.”

“Call me Ray,” said Burton, as he threw the inside tugs over the horses’
backs and slipped the tongue from the neck-yoke. “Go into the house and
rest, Mr. McKay, and I will put the team away, if Mr. Ensley will show
me where.”

“Waal, what d’ye think of thet?” said Mr. McKay, slapping his thigh.
“The young fellow’s givin’ orders already. An’ what’s more—what’s more,”
he repeated, pointing a huge fore-finger at Burton—“what’s more, the old
man’s goin’ tuh do as he’s told.”

Burton unhitched the team and watered them; drew the harness off and
rubbed them down with a wisp of hay as Ensley filled the mangers. Then
the two men walked to the shack, where they found Mr. McKay with his
great boots off and his stockinged feet resting comfortably on the
ash-pan of the stove, in which a slab fire burned cheerily. The
tea-kettle was singing lustily; a saucepan of dried apples simmered on
the back of the stove, and presently the appetising smell of frying
potatoes and eggs filled the little room. The light from Ensley’s single
lamp fell on the walls, papered with pictures and cartoons from English
publications, with a dry-goods box nailed up for a cupboard, and over
the door the miniature arsenal which always marks the Britisher’s home.
Outside the darkness was settling down; the long, persistent twilight of
the Canadian summer lingered in the western sky, but the east loomed
black and colourless, and a strange night wind sighed mournfully over
the endless, sweeping fields of grass.



CHAPTER XIII—GROPING


    “Then I gave him hopes he could not define and fears
      that he could not flee;
    And he heard my cry in the long, still night,
    In my spirit-thrall I held him tight,
    And his blind soul-eyes craved for the light;
      But the light he could not see.”

                                                     _Prairie Born._

Hiram Riles’ temper was not improved by driving home through a soaking
rain from the Dominion Day sports at Plainville. Hiram’s interest in
sports at best was purely negative. He enjoyed the discomfiture of the
defeated team; he gloated over the player whose costly error brought
upon him the wrath of the spectators. At a game Hiram always stood a
little to one side, watching, not for brilliant plays, but for errors,
and passing contemptuous remarks about such of the players as were
unfortunate enough to localise his displeasure. There had been only one
bright spot in the whole day’s experiences. That was the news of the
stolen money being found in Burton’s trunk. Riles had never forgiven the
affair at Grant’s, and his nature was such that his hatred grew rather
than abated with the passage of time. He now felt that his young enemy
would be properly covered with shame; he could honourably dismiss the
matter from his mind, or at least lay it aside to be revived when Burton
regained his liberty. But the storm had interfered with his intended
carousal; Riles’ appetite rarely got the better of his prudence, and
even the reflection that Burton was by this time probably safe in the
cells failed to give the pleasure such a happy situation warranted.

But Riles’ displeasure during his drive home was a small thing compared
with his rage on discovering that the hailstorm had swept out forty
acres of his best crop. The destruction had caught only a corner of his
farm, and although his poor neighbour to the south had every stalk of
his crop destroyed Riles wasted no sympathy on neighbours, but walked
his floor all night nursing his anger and vexation. At an earlier hour
than usual he wakened London, and cuffed the boy soundly before he made
his escape to the stables. The cows in the corral yawned and rose
lazily, stretching their hind quarters to throw off the night’s cramp,
as a soft mist rose from the warm spots where they had lain. London
glanced at the house, but there was no sign of Riles; then he softly set
the dog on the astonished cattle. For a minute or two they circled the
corral; then one old cow, more venturesome than the rest, sprang over
the fence, breaking the upper wire in the effort, and all followed her
to liberty.

“That’ll give ’im somethink helse to worry habout,” reflected the boy.
“’E’ll think they broke away when the ’ail struck ’em.”

Riles’ temper showed no improvement during the day, nor for many days
thereafter. The loss of forty acres of grain was a matter calling for at
least as many days’ mourning. The poor neighbour, whose crop was all he
had, had taken heart again, and whistled as he ploughed the ruin of the
storm underfoot, but Riles could not forget that Providence had been
most unfair to him, and was even more brutal than ever with his help,
both beast and human.

But London was not the child he had been when first he entered the
farmer’s employ. He was now eighteen years old, and although small and
ungainly of stature, and erratic in many of his mental exploits, he had
imbibed something of the ambition and independence of the young men of
the district, and he chafed more than ever under Riles’ authority. He
found opportunity frequently to visit the Grant farmhouse; in fact,
whenever the cattle were lost he first inquired at Grant’s, and it was
noticed that on such occasions the stray animals were never discovered
until long after dark. This meant a booting from Riles, but London held
a couple of hours’ respite with the Grant boys well worth the price.
Sometimes, too, he would chat with Susy Grant or Miss Vane, and neither
girl guessed the strange workings of his dwarfed little intellect.

“Everybody calls you London,” said Miss Vane, one evening. “But that
must be a nickname. Tell me, what is your real name? What did your
mother call you, or do you remember your mother?” she added, softly.

“My real name is Wilfred Vickery,” answered the boy, “but nobody calls
me that. Guess Hi’m not worth a real name,” he continued, with a bitter
little laugh. “My mother gave me that name, but Hi never ’eard ’er speak
it, leastways, not as Hi remembers hof.”

“That is a nice name,” said Myrtle. “I am going to call you Wilfred. You
must not think you are not worthy of a good name. You must feel
worthy—and then be worthy.”

“That’s not wot they say hin the churches,” the boy replied. “Once Hi
went to church hin the school’ouse, to see w’at hit was loike, an’ the
preacher said as ’ow we was all sinners, an’ ’ow we was hall to think
wot big sinners we was, an’ ’ow we was all to think we was a bigger
sinner than anybody helse. Hi guess Hi am, too, bigger’n anybody—’cept
old Riles.”

“Have you tried not to be a sinner?” the girl asked.

“Wot? Not to be a sinner? Hi tried to do wot the preacher said, an’ be
the biggest sinner ever was. An’ Hi guess Hi am—all but Riles.”

“But that is not what the minister meant, Wilfred. He meant that you
must be humble, and that you must be sorry for your own wrongdoing.”

“Wot is ’umble?”

“Why, to be humble is to feel that you are in the world to help, and to
be of service to other people, no matter who they may be.”

“Are you ’umble, Miss Vane?”

The question was quite unexpected, and the girl hesitated for a moment
as she descended from the abstract to the concrete.

“I hope I am,” she said at length.

“But people say as ’ow you are proud an’ stuck hup.”

“Do they Wilfred? Who say that?”

“Riles an’ Mrs. Riles. She says as ’ow you’re a ’ot-’ouse plant, fer
hornament more than use.”

“Dear me, that is too bad,” laughed the girl, and the ripple of her
voice was good to hear. Even London knew that it was—he couldn’t
describe it—but _different_ from any other voice. “But, supposing Mrs.
Riles is right, don’t you think that to be an ornament is to be useful?
Look at that tiger lily; is it not beautiful? But of what use is it?”

“Hi guess hit haint no use,” said the boy. “But when Hi go over the
prairie after the cattle hoften Hi pull a lily, hand Hi loike to walk
w’ere they grow.”

“And if God took all the beautiful flowers, and the wonderful clouds,
and the glorious sunsets and dawns, and the singing birds, and the weep
of the wind as it blows up out of the dark, and—and the beautiful people
out of the world, it wouldn’t be such a nice place to live in, would
it?”

“No, because ’Ee would ’ave to take you, Miss Vane.”

The girl coloured, pleased with the genuine and unexpected compliment.
But she turned it to account.

“Then it is possible for the ornamental to be useful, isn’t it?”

The setting sun was crimsoning the fleecy clouds far overhead, and
throwing long shadows in the warm August evening. Everywhere was the
smell of ripening wheat. The tinkle of a cowbell came up from the
distance; a meadowlark sang its short liquid tune from a neighbouring
fence post.

“Hi guess you’re right,” said the boy, after a long pause: “Hi guess
hit’s worth while bein’ beautiful. Per’aps hit’s jist has himportant to
be beautiful has to raise w’eat hand milk cows, but nobody hever talked
that wy to me before.”

“It’s worth thinking about, Wilfred. So many people in this country have
not learned that ‘the life is more than food, and the body more than
raiment.’ They can see the use of potatoes, but not of poetry. And they
are in such a hurry! Such a hurry to live, one would think they wanted
to get their lives over with. Poise and repose are lost arts.”

She was looking at the gathering dusk in the east, and spoke as though
soliloquizing with herself. London brought her back to earth.

“Hi don’t know hall you sy, but hi know wothever you sy his roight,” he
declared, with sincere gallantry. “Hand Miss Vane, can Hi come at
noights w’enhever Hi can sneak away, an’—talk with you, loike we did
to-noight?”

“Yes, Wilfred, you may come whenever you can, and we will talk about
things that are beautiful, and things that are useful. And we will try
to remember that there is nothing so beautiful as a useful life, and
nothing so useful as a beautiful life. And there is nothing so precious
as—a friend.”

She took the hand of the boy, so long friendless, in her own, and in
that moment the soul of the little Barnardo orphan burst the bonds of
eighteen years’ environment and lit up the face of a _man_.

This evening’s conversation was the first of many. Wilfred was an artist
at devising reasons and excuses for visiting Grants’. And soon an
unlooked-for opportunity presented itself. Miss Vane had taken a deep
interest in the boy, and did not hesitate to enlist her cousins in a
little plan for setting Wilfred at liberty in the evenings. Accordingly,
George Grant called on Riles, and, after the customary commonplaces
about the weather and the crops, mentioned his desire to get a boy to
sit up for an hour or two at night to watch the smudge fires, and put
them out after the cattle had settled down. Could Mr. Riles spare London
from nine to eleven for a job like that? They would either pay him in
money for the boy’s services, or allow it when they exchanged labour in
threshing time. But perhaps London had enough to do as it was, and would
be better in bed after his day’s——.

Not a bit of it. He was rusting for want of exercise. Of course, he
could go. Grants had always been good neighbours, and they would always
find Hiram Riles ready to do a favour. The boy would go over every night
as long as he was needed. For, be it said, it was one of the whims of
Riles’ nature that he entertained no aversion to the Grants.

So it came about that Wilfred spent many of his evenings at the Grant
farm. The companionship of the Grant boys, the parental kindness of Mr.
and Mrs. Grant, the ready wit of Susy, which spared neither herself nor
her acquaintances, were a relevation to the boy, who had always
associated farm life with grim labour, hard words and sour dispositions.
At nine at night the farm company gathered about the kitchen table,
where were onions from the garden and buttermilk from the dairy; and as
they ate, the exploits of the day were re-enacted, and the best of cheer
and fellowship prevailed. And when the simple meal was over, and the
“old folks” had gone upstairs, the young people engaged in harmless
pastimes and amusements for another hour. Miss Vane was the soul of
kindness and courtesy to the orphan boy, and although she joined in all
the pleasantries of the evening she had through all a deeper purpose
than mere pastime, and she seldom failed to have a few serious words
with Wilfred before he started on his walk through the dew-laden grass
to the Riles’ farm. And the lad was responding to her interest and her
confidence. A new spirit seemed to have been born in him, his slouchy
habits gave way to an air of brisk alertness, and his speech, although
not yet refined, had a tone of seriousness and responsibility unknown in
the past.

In conversation Myrtle seized every opportunity to quote to the boy from
the masters of literature such selections as his awakening intellect
could appreciate, and she had the satisfaction at length of finding his
interest excited, not only in the selections themselves, but in the
authors of them. She now knew that she had attained her first purpose;
she had made his world wider than the boundaries of a little farming
community; she had raised him to the point where his mental eye fastened
on something beyond his horizon of the past. She had wakened the desire
for knowledge; all other things were now possible.

Walking up the path from the pasture field one evening—the self-same
path she had walked with Burton in that spring that seemed so many years
ago—the light night wind stirred in the tops of the willows growing by
the little stream. Against the background of the faintly coloured west
distances took on an enchanted perspective, and the little limbs a few
feet above their heads could easily be seen as forest monsters
stretching into the lowering sky. They paused and sat on a grassy bank,
watching the dusk gather through the lattice-work of leaves, and as they
sat the girl repeated softly—

    “I remember, I remember
        The fir-trees dark and high;
    I used to think their slender tops
        Were close against the sky.

    “It was a childish ignorance,
        But now ’tis little joy
    To know I’m farther off from heaven
        Than when I was a boy.”

“I have heard old men choke on that last line, Wilfred,” she added, but
was hardly prepared for his answer,—

“Yes, but they started ’igh up and grew down. Hi started low down and
ham—am, Hi mean—growing up. For me, Hi’m closer to ’even to-night than
w’en Hi was a boy—a little boy—for Hi’m a boy yet. Hi’m close to ’even
w’en Hi’m close to you,” declared the lad, his face flushed with a light
she could not see in the darkness.

She laughed lightly, all unguessing the streams of passion of which his
sincerity should have made her aware. From an equal she could not have
accepted the remark without misgiving, but from Wilfred—the idea was so
unique that it did not even occur to her.

“Oo wrote that?” the boy demanded, after a silence.

“Thomas Hood,” was the answer. “But the night is growing chilly. Let us
go to the house. I have a little volume of Hood’s I will lend you—if you
will read it.”

“Hindeed Hi will,” he answered, as they walked up the path.

At the house they found that all had retired. Myrtle slipped a little
book into Wilfred’s hand. “Read ‘The Song of the Shirt,’ and ‘The Bridge
of Sighs’ and—perhaps—‘Eugene Aram.’ Good night.”

“Good night,” he said, and disappeared in the darkness.

Myrtle sat down in the little parlour of the farmhouse. All was
stillness. The hard labour of agricultural life had driven the boys and
Susy early to their rooms. But their beautiful cousin had no thought of
sleep. As she walked up the pasture path a gust of memory swept over
her; the memory of a night, dark, with slight stirring breezes that
whispered eerily among the willows; the memory of a strong hand that had
helped her to her place on the pony, and had lain on his mane as they
walked slowly homeward. Burton’s disappearance had been complete; since
the First of July celebration he appeared to have dropped out of
existence as absolutely as if the earth had swallowed him. Her strong
confidence in his innocence had battled bravely against overwhelming
evidence, but in the unequal conflict she knew it to be breaking down.
Since the night of their terrible experiences in the thunderstorm
Gardiner had not attempted to force his acquaintance with her, but while
she suffered from the injured ankle he telephoned a courteous inquiry
daily, and since had found occasion to make a couple of casual calls.
Miss Vane had received him kindly; he had been Burton’s friend; he was,
indeed, her friend. Burton’s disappearance placed Gardiner in the _rôle_
of a benefactor; he would forfeit the bail given for the young man’s
liberty, and the fact that he seemed prepared to do so without a murmur
of protest gave him a strong claim upon Myrtle’s regard. But she could
not lose sight of the fact that there was a purpose in all Gardiner’s
conduct; that he sought her for his wife, and that he was only waiting
until there seemed no possibility of Burton’s return before he pleaded
his suit once more with her.

And if Burton did not return—what? A hundred times she had thrown this
thought from her mind, but it intruded again more arrogantly than ever.
A hundred times she had said, “He will return.” But time was wearing on,
and Burton’s complete disappearance left little question as to his
purpose. Even while she told herself he would return the cold sweat of
doubt and uncertainty gathered on her brow. Early in the history of his
trouble she had written to her brother in the East, and had received an
answer of sound advice and practical encouragement; but Harry had soon
after sailed for Europe, and neither advice nor consolation was to be
had from him at present.

With a gesture as if warding off something unpleasant—something real and
unseen—she walked across the room and drew a little volume from a
book-case. It opened in her hand, and as she sat down her eyes fell upon
the lines—

    “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
    As the swift seasons roll!
        Leave thy low vaulted past!
        Let each new temple, nobler than the last.
        Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast.
    Till thou at length art free,
    Leaving thine outgrown shell by Life’s unchanging sea.”

With a sharp breath she closed the book. The whole scene stood before
her again; the house crowded with merry-makers, their curious faces
turned toward the reciter in courteous attention, but with an expression
as though to ask what it all was about; the young man, with slightly
flushed features but clear, deep, even voice; and then that wonderful
instant of telepathy when their eyes met, and she heard the voice deepen
and broaden as though a great storage of reserve energy had been
connected to the human dynamo.

She rose with the book still in her fingers, drew a shawl about her
slight figure, and stepped out into the night. It was absolutely dark. A
soft wind moved quietly, toying with the light folds of her dress; a few
heavy drops of rain spattered in the dust. God’s heaven had descended in
a mantle of darkness and lay brooding over all the face of the prairies.
And somewhere under that mantle of darkness, somewhere under the heaven
of that same God, was a young man, sturdy and physically strong, but
bearing in his quiet eyes and melancholy mouth a load beyond his years.
How had his “stately mansions” narrowed in!

As high-strung natures will, she sought relief from her mental torment
in physical exercise. Regardless of the darkness and the threatening
rain she walked down the path and out at the gate; her feet found the
hard earth of the country road and she walked rapidly along, caring
little where she went. But the blood, demanded by her exercise, drew
away from the brain; the cool, moist wind salved the fever of her brow,
and presently she turned her footsteps homeward. As she passed the
summer-house a sudden impulse seized her; she entered, laid herself down
on a bench of woven willows, and in a few minutes was lost in sleep.



CHAPTER XIV—THE SACRIFICE OF SILENCE


    “Greater than the measure of the heroes of renown,
    He is building for the future, and no hand can hold him down;
    Though they count him but a common man, he holds the Outer Gate,
    And posterity will own him as the father of the State.”

                                              _The Empire Builders._

As Wilfred walked home through the wet grass his spirits were high with
a new-born enthusiasm of youth. The drudgery, the hardship, the toil
unlightened by a gleam of humour or a thought except of selfishness,
with which the past years of his life had been surrounded, seemed now as
an unreal dream. There were greater things in life than cows, and
gardens, and fields of wheat; and in a dim way these things of which he
had not so much as guessed were opening to his astonished vision. In his
hand he carried the little book of poems, but in his heart was the joy
of a grassy slope, where they watched the night deepening through the
willows, and the sound of her voice, liquid as the little stream before
them. He had thought of girls, always, with a shyness strongly seasoned
with an element of contempt; but toward her he felt only a reverence so
deep it almost hurt. He was young, and buoyant with the first great
emotion of his life, and in the crude colourings of his fancy he traced
wonderful dreams that drew out of the future and became very real to his
intoxicated senses.

But at the door of the Riles’ house his visions fled, and the spirit of
cunning that had so long been his best protector brought him back to
earth. He slipped quietly in, found the lantern on its nail, and
silently climbed the ladder to his room. Here he lit the lantern, and
without removing his clothing lay down to read by the smoky light.

Wilfred’s education was very elemental, and he stumbled through many
passages with difficulty, but in it all he was able to catch something
of the spirit of the verses. At length he settled into “Eugene Aram,”
and as the excitement of the dramatic lines tightened about him he read
aloud, wholly unconscious of the flight of time.

On his bed below Hiram Riles fancied he heard a mumbling sound come from
his garret, and opening his eyes saw a dim light shining through the
opening in the ceiling. It was deep in the dead of night, but there was
no question that London was talking, in a nervous, agitated voice. Riles
could not distinguish the words; he stole to the foot of the ladder and
noiselessly ascended it until his head came to the level of the garret
floor. Here he saw the boy lying on his mattress, a few rags of blankets
about him, his knees drawn up, his head supported by a bundle of
clothing, the lantern sitting on the broken chair and throwing an
uncertain light upon the little volume in his hands. Riles paused in
wonder, and in a moment was rivetted by the words—

    “Two sudden blows with a ragged stick,
      And one with a ’eavy stone,
    One ’urried gash with a ’asty knife,—
      And then the deed was done:
    There was nothing lying at my feet
      But lifeless flesh and bone!

    “Nothing but lifeless flesh and bone,
      That could not do me hill;
     And yet Hi feared ’im hall the more
      For lying there so still.
    There was a manhood in ’is look
      That murder could not kill!

    “And, lo! the universal hair
      Seemed lit with ghastly flame,—
    Ten thousand thousand dreadful eyes
      Were looking down in blame;
    Hi took the dead man by ’is ’and——”

Riles’ face was writhing in an effort to find expression, but the vocal
organs refused to fill their office. Like most men of low moral nature,
while scoffing at religion he was an easy victim to the terrors of the
supernatural. The fact that this orphan boy, the victim of his brutality
for so many years, should lie awake at the dead of night stammering
through these ghastly lines must carry some horrible significance. He
tried to speak, but a muffled gurgle in his throat was all the sound
that responded.

It was enough. Wilfred’s ears, sharpened by the terror of the thing he
read, caught and magnified the guttural noise. With a shriek he sprang
from the bed and, standing in the centre of the floor, his body bent
forward, his fingers clutching in nervous excitement, he peered about
the musty little room. Presently his eyes fell upon the livid face of
Riles, just above the floor line. They fixed each other in a stare of
terror, but, to his own great surprise, the boy found a strong sense of
self-control beginning to bear him up.

He was first to break the silence. “So hit was you, ’Iram Riles. You
couldn’t sty awy. These words drew you loike a magnet draws a needle.
Listen, w’ile Hi read ye more——”

“Don’t, boy; don’t!” Riles managed to exclaim. “It isn’t true. I never
harmed him.”

Wilfred’s mind seemed to be acting by telepathy rather than from his own
initiative. Afterwards he could not guess what put the words in his
mouth.

“Yuh never ’armed ’im, didn’t yuh? Well, w’ere is ’e? W’ere is ’e, ’Iram
Riles? That’s wot people are haskin’, an’ they’re thinkin’ o’ you w’en
they hask it. W’ere is ’e?”

“I don’t know, Wilfred”—he had never called him Wilfred before—“I don’t
know where he is. I didn’t touch him. I tell yuh it never struck him, do
yuh hear?”

“Ho, oh, then you missed ’im! By ’ow much? Tell me, ’Iram Riles. ’Ow
much? A foot?”

The man had drawn himself into a half sitting posture, his back against
the wall, his body half through the trap door, his arms outstretched
upon the floor. His fingers trembled, and his lips twitched as he tried
to speak. He was a poor ghost of the strong man Wilfred had always
known.

“Listen, boy,” he said at length. “I figured on fixin’ him, but I
didn’t. I waited for him to come out of the store, and I threw it at
him, but in the darkness I missed.”

“Han’ then yuh went in hand robbed the syfe,” completed Wilfred.

“You lie!” shouted Riles, suddenly regaining his self-possession. “It’s
all lies! What I told you was a lie! You hear me?”

He had risen on to his feet, and, with arms outstretched, was slowly
approaching the boy. Wilfred read the change, and saw that the man who
had narrowly escaped committing murder was still capable of it. But the
lad had long been accustomed to protect himself, and his cunning did not
desert him at the critical moment. Quick as a flash he seized the
burning lantern and hurled it in the face of his assailant. For an
instant all was darkness; then a tongue of flame shot across the floor
and leapt up the oil-saturated night garments of Riles. With a scream
the man, now a blazing torch, plunged down the opening to the floor
below and rushed into the outer air. His wife, awakened by Wilfred’s
shriek a few moments before, showed her presence of mind by wrapping
Riles in a blanket, which extinguished the blaze before he was seriously
injured. Wilfred took the opportunity to steal silently out of the
building. Riles was swearing terribly as the boy slipped by the corner
and disappeared in the darkness.

Wilfred’s plans were soon laid. Bundling up such clothing as he had been
able to snatch up in the moment allowed, he waited a short time to see
if the house would take fire. It did not, somewhat to his
disappointment. To return to Riles would, he knew, be to court disaster.
He had a very different purpose now in view. Of late he had been reading
the papers at Grants’ in the evenings, and had learned that the
Government of Canada was prepared to give a quarter section to any man
who would live on it and establish a farm. It was a great day when his
poor, narrow imagination first made the leap that supposed him—Wilfred
Vickery, Barnardo boy—the owner of a farm in his own right. But when the
supposition had once been made it grew upon him with a resistless
fascination. He was now eighteen. The problem of getting West was a
small thing to him. The harvest season was approaching, and he could
work. He had been nursing this great thought for weeks, and now, at this
moment, it became evident that he must strike out and boldly grapple
with destiny. And he had another purpose, of which he scarcely dared
think, but which was in reality the foundation of his whole desire.

Perhaps it was this deeper purpose that directed his footsteps again to
the Grant farmhouse. He hardly knew the road he had taken until the
building loomed up before him, solemn but friendly in the first gray
suggestion of dawn. He walked quietly around and looked at all the
windows, but there was no gleam of light. If only _she_ would appear! If
only he might tell her of his plans, his hopes—if only he dared! But she
was sleeping, dreaming, perhaps, of “the fir trees, grim and high,” and
he dared not take the chance of discovery by remaining until the family
were astir. He must leave, silently and without good-bye; he must pass
out of her life, for the present at least, as a leaf that falls in a
stream and is borne away in the darkness. With a sigh he turned to go,
down the little path that lead out by way of the garden. A few steps
brought him to the door of the summer-house. Here he paused again; the
place was sanctified with the memory of one or two holy evenings; he
stepped inside, if only to prolong the sweet sorrow of his leave-taking.

As he stood, framed in the doorway, his vision was drowned in the blank
darkness of the little building. But as one sense becomes inoperative
another grows more alert, and in a moment his quick ears caught the
sound of easy, regular breathing. Someone was sleeping in the
summer-house; probably one of the boys. His first impulse was to steal
silently away, but a strange fascination led him toward the little
rustic couch across the farther wall. Hands outstretched, he crept
toward it in the darkness, until his fingers touched a mass so uncertain
their nerve-tips scarce detected it. He rubbed finger and thumb
together, and knew that silken tresses lay between.

With a great bound his heart almost seemed to drive the air from the
lungs; the veins of his neck bulged as though they would burst. He sank
upon his knees, leaning forward. A flood of warm air flushed across his
tense face; it beat and rebeat like the waves of a sea, and in that
moment the boy understood that Time is but a segment calendared out of
the circle of Eternity. He could not be mistaken. The elective
affinities are never deceived. With a great breath he drew his shoulders
back. Within his reach, within the very touch of his finger-tips, was
the prize of life compared to which heaven and earth resolved into
vague, uncertain promises!

She stirred slightly, as though some wandering thought from the material
world had blown in airy ruffles across the smooth lying haven of her
spirit land. Some consciousness of human presence—strange element of the
divine, which, like a sudden light on sleeping eyes can pass the gates
of slumber without unbarring them—was calling the mind back to its
vacated chambers. Wilfred remained kneeling, thrilled with the strange
exaltation of triumph and humility. His presence was operating upon her,
like the magnet upon steel. In a moment she would speak. She would call
him by name.

His eyes, straining through the darkness, caught the outline of her
face. One hand lay across the forehead, palm upward. It fell listlessly
to her side. She turned her head gently toward him, and a low sound
escaped her lips.

His ear had not been quick enough. He leaned close to her, alert for the
moment when she would call his name.

“Ray,” she murmured. “Oh, Ray, they said you would not come back.”

As a hypnotist may convert his subject into human stone by the utterance
of a single word, the heart of the Barnardo boy froze as that low sound
struck his ear, and his tense face moulded itself in deep, sudden
furrows. Not all the years of the future should quite efface those
quick-cut channels of disillusionment.

He sat back on his heels, his hands limp by his sides. For a moment—one
brief moment—an unworthy warfare raged in his nature. How completely she
was in his power! But the thought had not crossed his mind when, by some
strange instinct, he removed his hat from his dishevelled head, as one
might do in a holy presence. For a long while he sat, staring at the
blank wall before him; then quietly rose and stole toward the door.

“Who’s that? Who’s that?” she demanded in a frightened tone, sitting
suddenly bolt upright. “Where am I? Speak, will you?”

Wilfred turned again toward her. “Hit’s only London, Miss Vane,” he
managed to say.

“You, Wilfred? What are you doing here? What am I doing here? Where are
we?”

“Hin the summer’ouse, Miss Vane. You were sleepin’ ’ere, han’ I came in.
Hi didn’t know you was ’ere, Miss Vane, honest, Hi didn’t, han’ Hi tried
to leave without wakin’ yuh.”

She drew her fingers across her eyes. “I begin to remember,” she said.
“I must have been dreaming. I thought—oh! a lot of strange things. But
what are you doing here? Have you never gone home?”

“No, Miss Vane. That is, Hi ’ave no ’ome to go to, any more. Hi ’ave
left Riles, left ’im for good an’ all. Hi ’ave left ’im, han’ I am goin’
away to the West to be a farmer myself. Han’ before Hi went Hi thought
Hi would come along this wy han’ maybe Hi would see—that is, maybe Hi
could sy good-bye to the boys.”

Myrtle rose and walked the few steps to where the boy stood leaning
against the door. She looked very close in his face before speaking.

“Wilfred, do you mean this? Have you thought it all over? Are you sure
of yourself?”

“Yes, Miss Vane, Hi am. Hi am goin’ to be a man, has other boys are men,
Wy shouldn’t Hi? Hi am goin’ to the new land, w’ere the Gover’ment gives
farms to those as will work ’em, han’ Hi am goin’ to work hout for money
to do the himprovements. Hin three years Hi will ’ave a farm of my hown,
han’ be has good a man has ’Iram Riles.” He ended with a defiant snap at
those last words.

“A great deal better man, I hope,” she said. “The goodness of a man is
not measured by his possessions, although that seems one of the hardest
lessons for people to learn. Some One has said that he who ruleth his
own spirit is greater than he who taketh a city. To control one’s
ambition is greater than to realise one’s ambition. In the home of Riles
I am afraid you have seen but little self-control in any form. Can you
measure up to it when it is required of you?”

She had no inkling of the great test from which he had just come out
victorious. And he answered modestly, “Hi think Hi can.”

“But why do you leave in this way?” she asked, a new thought presenting
itself. “You are not—not running away, are you?”

“Well, Hi guess you would call hit that. Hi’d a row with Riles, an’ Hi’m
goin’.”

There was a silence that lengthened into minutes. The boy shifted from
one foot to another, powerless to tear himself away, and yet without an
excuse for remaining longer.

“Well, good-bye, Miss Vane,” he said at length.

She started as the words recalled her. “Not yet, Wilfred,” she said.
“Not yet, for a little while,” and there was something akin to pleading
in her voice. “Wilfred, I believe you are an honest boy. I believe I can
trust you. Can I trust you, Wilfred?”

And again he answered modestly, “Hi think you can.”

“Well, I am going to trust you. I am going to tell you a secret, a
secret that no one in the world must know but our two selves. And most
of all, if you meet _him_ he must not know I told you this. But
somewhere in the great West, I believe there is one who is more to me
than—than——” She stopped for a term of comparison. “You can’t
understand, Wilfred, yet, but some day you will know. You will know what
it is to find your life revolving around one great thought, as the earth
circles the sun, and to know that that thought springs from one Source,
for which you were created, which is the end and purpose of your
existence. And for me that Centre has been removed—has been torn out of
my plan of life. I may find another Centre, but I can never describe a
true circle about it. It will always be an elliptic, an eccentric, drawn
and pushed by other forces to which I know I should not respond.”

“Hi ’ardly know hall you mean, Miss Vane, but——”

“I don’t know all I mean myself, least of all what I mean by talking to
you in this way, but I _must_ talk to some one. The worst loneliness in
the world is to have no one to talk to, no one who can understand you.
Talk is putting thoughts into words and draining them out of your stormy
brain, as the great thunderclouds, when they become overloaded, find
relief in rain, and out of their wild bursts of passion emerges a
cloudless sky. But you know who I mean, don’t you?”

“Ray Burton.”

“Yes. You may find him in that great country. If he lives I look for him
back here to stand his trial. You can tell him that much, Wilfred. And
if he does not live ... earth has lost another noble soul.”

They faced each other in the brightening dawn. Suddenly, as if almost
overwhelmed by a great thought that had nearly escaped him, Wilfred
staggered forward, clutching Miss Vane by the shoulders.

“Oh! Miss Vane,” he cried, “Hi know ’oo took the money. Hi know ’oo took
it.”

It was her turn to stagger. “You know, Wilfred! Speak! Quick, tell me
all!”

“Hit was Riles. ’E threw the bottle that might ’a killed Burton—’e
hadmitted it—han’ ’e took the money, too. Hi haccused ’im of it, han’
the wy ’e acted Hi know ’e did.”

“But can you prove it? Give me your proof,” she demanded.

“Hi ’ave no proof, but Hi ’ave told yuh ’oo took the money. P’raps the
proof ’ull turn hup yet.”

“God grant it so,” exclaimed the girl fervently. “At least, now I _know_
that Burton is innocent.”

“Yuh don’t mean tuh sy yuh ever thought hit was Burton, do yuh?”
demanded the boy, and there was a reproach in his tone that cut. “Yuh
never thought that, did yuh?”

“No, I never thought him guilty. But if I could prove him innocent it
would make a great difference to me—and to one or two others. The fact
is I find myself in a rather embarrassing position. But you don’t
understand, and I can’t ex——”

“Yes Hi do, though. Hit’s about that dog Gardiner. ’E’s worse’n Riles.”

“Wilfred!”

“Hi mean it, han’ Hi can’t prove it hit, either.”

“But you must be wrong in this case. Mr. Gardiner has been a good
friend, but that is all. That is the trouble. Why can’t a good friend
remain a friend instead of spoiling it by wanting to be—something more?”

The boy flushed, but it was with the pride of victory. “Hit’s gettin’
light,” he said. “Hi must be goin’ now. Hif Hi see _’im_, is there hany
message; hanything more than you ’ave said?”

She thought for a moment. “Only this,” she said, reaching for the little
book of poems. It opened at a well-thumbed spot and she tore a leaf from
the binding. She folded it twice and pressed it into his palm. “Give him
that,” she said.

He took her hand. “Good-bye, Miss Vane,” he said.

She pressed a chaste kiss on his forehead. “Good-bye. God bless you.”

And he walked sturdily away, carrying unspoken the secret tragedy of his
young life.



CHAPTER XV—STILL PLAYING THE GAME


    “We have smelt the smoke-wraith flying in the hot October wind,
    And have fought the fiery demon that came raging down behind.”

                                                     _Prairie Born._

The harvest was at its height. Blood-red the sun rose every morning to
plough its silent way across an ocean of polished steel, while white
cloud-swans, with ruffled plumage, floated on its glassy bosom;
blood-red it sank to rest every night behind the dim haze of harvest
dust. The smell of ripe wheat filled the air, and where the binders
clattered into fields of rusty oats a red cloud marked their pilgrimage
as a modern people fought its slow way out of the land of bondage. The
great, white, dangerous full moon of August had left the fields
unharmed, and men and women and horses and steam and gasoline were deep
in their pitched battle against time and the steadily shortening day and
approaching winter.

Work on the Grant homestead was in full swing. From the earliest moment
that the dew would permit operations until the stooks stood eerie and
indistinct in the thickening dusk the boys broadsided their two binders
into the ranks of the standing grain. Four heavy horses swung on the
tugs of each binder, their heads swaying to the slow time of their
shaggy feet. After the first day the rattle of the machinery had no
terrors for them and they plodded sullenly along with equine
resignation, but their sly eyes missed no standing stalk that came
within the license of their check-reins, and occasionally the off animal
would desert the path made by the drive-wheel on the previous round to
make a hurried grab at a stook which appeared to be within reach. Mr.
Grant found his time fully occupied arranging the relays, as the
practical farmer plans that during good weather his binder must never
stop except to change horses and oil the machinery. Twenty thousand
harvesters from the eastern provinces had poured into the country in ten
days, and it was on this imported help the farmers depended for the
stooking. It was work, hard work and long hours, for everybody, but it
was work with a spirit for all. The fruit of the year’s labour now stood
within measureable distance; victory was within their grasp.

Farmers on light soil had finished cutting, and already the whistle of
the steam thresher was heard in the land. The mills were working
short-handed, a condition with which they would have to be content until
the stooking was finished, and a run of a thousand bushels a day was
considered better than no run at all. The thresher first in the field
was usually able to choose his territory, and the choice might mean the
difference between loss and gain at the close of the season.

On a farm adjoining the Grants’ such a short-handed mill was in
operation. The water haul was short, and to economise labour the same
team was being used to draw water and supply straw to the engine. A
small matter, as a general rule, but a very important one in this
instance, as it turned out.

Having to supply both straw and water the tankman unfortunately allowed
the water reserve to fall very low. The whistle was blowing incessantly
for water, and the driver whipped his team with the heavy wagon across
the stubble fields. Suddenly a whiff of smoke partially obscured the
engine from his view, and the next moment he knew that the straw with
which the engine was partially surrounded had caught fire. The water
barrels were empty, and the engineer, instantly taking in the situation,
drove his engine forward without so much as throwing the belt, grappled
on to the separator, and backed the outfit away from the zone of danger.

All this was done in less time than is required to relate it, but
already the fire was beyond control. Whisked by a hot wind from the
south-west the flames leapt from the smaller pile of straw provided for
the engine to the larger one behind the separator, and in a moment were
away across the field, the heavy, dry stubble burning furiously. With
much courage and presence of mind the tankman swung his team around and
endeavoured to cross the path of the fire, at the same time drawing the
plug, which allowed the water from the tank to spray out over the
stubble. The ruse did temporarily check the flames, but they had already
gained too much headway to be stopped by a narrow strip of
half-moistened stubble, and in a moment the courageous driver found
himself and team surrounded by fire. But his wit had not deserted him.
The horses, scenting the danger, plunged in frenzy as they saw the fire
sweeping about them, but the driver sprang on the tongue, and, removing
the draw-bolt, released them from the wagon. From that moment they could
be depended upon to take care of themselves, and they dashed furiously
away through the smoke and across the field. The driver, throwing his
smock about his head, faced the fire, and in a moment was through the
danger zone and safe on burnt ground.

Harry Grant swung his binder at the northwest corner of the field and
started his team on the south stretch. Looking suddenly up he saw a
cloud of smoke blowing across the lower end of the field. Already he
could see the red line of flame a mile away where it swept through the
neighbour’s stooks. There were no fire guards so early in the season,
and the road allowances stood knee-deep in dry grass. The farm buildings
were safe enough, as they were surrounded by a considerable area of bare
land, but the fire would lick up the stooks and even burn the standing
grain, which was now dead ripe. In ten minutes they would pay an awful
price for their two months’ dry weather, and the nearest plough was in
the implement shed, half a mile away!

In a moment Harry had his team unhitched. Throwing himself on the back
of one of the horses he galloped them homeward, the trace-chains flying
wildly about their heels as they ran. A wedge of hot smoke blew across
their course, but they plunged into it without slackening, as a
locomotive enters a fog. As they drew up in front of the implement shed
Harry was just in time to meet his brother George coming out with his
four-horse team and gang plough. George had been at a closer part of the
field when he discovered the fire.

“Start at the south-west corner, Harry,” George shouted as he drove
past. “You go east. I’ll go north.”

The brothers did as arranged. They were able to reach the south-west
corner of the farm ahead of the fire, and by ploughing a guard north and
east they formed a wedge to divide the fire. The stookers had reached
the scene by this time, and ran ahead of the horses, throwing the stooks
out of the way. Mr. Grant started a back-fire, which steadily widened
the strip of bare land between the approaching enemy and the fruit of
their year’s labours.

The Grant farm was safe, but the fire had been spread rather than
controlled. It now raced away to the east and north, destroying every
unprotected thing in its path. The wind seemed to rise as the flames
gained headway, but above the roaring of the fire and the crackle of the
wheat could be heard the rumble of wagons galloping along the
smoke-obscured roads. All the threshers and harvesters within range were
hurrying to give their assistance, but indeed it was little they could
do. Further away, but still in the path of the fire, farmers were
ploughing guards and settling out back-fires, and it was not until these
were reached that the flames finally burned themselves out.

News of the fire had soon reached the little town of Plainville, and
business men of all classes did not hesitate to close their stores and
shops and drive to the scene of the conflagration in wagons, buggies and
automobiles. It was little assistance they could give at best, but there
is a satisfaction and a suggestion of heroism in even _appearing_ to
assist. And the face of a merchant looming up through the smoke that
enveloped a farmer’s building might be the drawing card which would
establish another good account on that merchant’s books.

When the telephone brought the first word of the fire Gardiner hitched
up his horse and buggy and drove straight to the Grant homestead, but
before he arrived the fire zone had swept onward. Some one said that
young Mrs. Delt was alone at the mercy of the fire, as her husband was
away assisting a distant neighbour, and Gardiner at once whipped his
horse in that direction. Heavy banks of smoke lay across the road, and
at places it was with difficulty he could fill his lungs with air.
Suddenly, in such a smoke-cloud, his horse threw itself back on the
brechin, and Gardiner fancied he heard a girl’s voice raised in alarm.
Springing out, he went to the horse’s head, and could there distinguish
the form of a woman now standing by the side of the road.

“Why, Miss Vane! What are you doing here?”

“I might answer with the same question, Mr. Gardiner, if there were time
to play with words. But I want to ride with you to poor Mrs. Delt’s.
Come, let’s hurry.”

“Just where I was going,” said Gardiner. “I might have known I would
find you wherever an errand of mercy called.”

“The crack of that whip would sound better than a compliment just now,
Mr. Gardiner. There may not be a moment to lose.”

The young man answered by urging his horse to a run, and in a few
moments they were at Mrs. Delt’s door.

“Oh, Mr. Gardiner and Miss Vane!” cried the farmer’s wife, as soon as
she recognised her visitors. “What _shall_ I do? There are no horses
here and nothing to work with. Whatever _can_ we do?”

But Gardiner had already taken in the situation.

“You are protected to the west by the summer-fallow,” he said, “so your
only danger is from the south. There’s a strip of stubble a hundred
yards wide there that the fire would lick up in a moment. We must throw
a break across it in some way.”

“Oh, do hurry and think what is to be done,” cried Miss Vane. “You know
all about prairie fires and I am quite useless. I keep looking all the
time for the hose reel.”

Gardiner smiled, even as he turned over in his mind the expedients that
might be adopted. The girl’s voice was music in his ears, and the sense
of danger and emergency seemed to deepen the acquaintance between them,
as a moment of crisis rises superior to a century of convention.

Gardiner’s eye fell on the full water trough beside the well.

“You have a rope?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, there is plenty of rope in the stable,” Mrs. Delt answered,
and all three at once ran in that direction. They found a coil of rope
hanging on a harness pin. Gardiner seized the coil bodily, and the
ladies, anxious to help, found an end apiece. As they ran the rope
became entangled and dragged along the ground, and presently all three
were precipitated in a knot which required some moments to untie.

“Now a bed tick. You have a bed tick, Mrs. Delt?”

“Such a question!” gasped Myrtle, as all three rushed away again, this
time to the house. Following Mrs. Delt up the narrow stairway they found
the good lady in the spare room, littering quilts and pillows to right
and left.

“But we want an old tick—not the best you have,” Gardiner remonstrated.

“The best tick I have is none too good for Mr. Gardiner,” was Mrs.
Delt’s reply, which left the young man speechless. There was no time for
explanation, so tick and trio crowded down the stairs and out into the
yard. Gardiner bundled the tick into a roll and made a couple of loops
around it with the rope.

“Now, into the tank with it,” he shouted, and the bedding was promptly
immersed. A hotter blast of smoke hastened them in their efforts, as the
women soused the tick up and down in the water to get it thoroughly
saturated, while Gardiner hitched it to the rear axle of the buggy by
means of the rope.

“Now, all together!” he shouted, springing into the buggy and speaking
to his horse. “One of you sit on the tick.”

With the discipline of a regular Mrs. Delt instantly obeyed, but at the
first tug of the rope found herself unhorsed, if the term is
permissible. Miss Vane immediately took her place and was whisked in an
uncertain course across the hundred yards of stubble, the water dripping
from the tick all the way.

They drove across the field and back, and then, with the added
protection of a couple of water pails and three wet sacks, they started
a back-fire. Several times it jumped the dampened streak, but on each
occasion they beat it out with the wet sacks. The back-fire worked
steadily backward against the wind, gradually widening the margin of
protection, and by the time the fire came speeding down upon them a
strip of burnt stubble twenty yards wide baffled its designs. For a few
minutes the flames stood up, snapping far into the air, and throwing
detached ribbons of fire toward the Delt buildings. But their fury was
soon spent, and, admitting defeat, they slunk back shamefacedly and died
down among the ashes.

When Gardiner had assured himself that the danger was past he turned to
his companions and found Miss Vane busily sprinkling water from the well
on the face of Mrs. Delt, who when the height of the excitement was
over, had availed herself of a woman’s privilege to faint away. But the
fresh water soon restored her. For a moment her eyes wandered
uncertainly from one of her rescuers to the other, and presently she
burst out in a ringing laugh.

Gardiner looked at Miss Vane with an expression of alarm. He was more at
home fighting a prairie fire than caring for a woman in hysteria.

Mrs. Delt seemed to read his question. “Oh, don’t be alarmed,” she said,
as soon as she could control herself. “I was just thinking of the
picture Miss Vane presented as she rode that tick across the field. You
couldn’t see her to advantage, Mr. Gardiner. And my poor best tick at
that!”

Then it was time for everybody to laugh, and when that was over and
smoke clouds had cleared away and the sun looked out blood-red from the
western sky, Mrs. Delt insisted first that Miss Vane share some dry
clothing with her, and second that all remain for supper.

The uneasiness of the Grants was set at rest by telephone, which,
despite many burnt poles, was fortunately still in service, and
Gardiner, nothing loath, ’phoned his clerk that he would not be in until
late.

The sun had set, and a moonless sky, studded with a million diamond
points, arched over Gardiner and Miss Vane as they drove home through
the smoke-scented night air. A hundred points of fire glowed like great
coals on the horizon, with here and there a brighter pyramid of flame
marking a burning stack or some unfortunate settler’s buildings. After
the heat and excitement of the day everything was strangely cool, and
quiet, and peaceful. The milch cows lay in their corrals, complacently
chewing, and occasionally heaving great sighs of satisfaction; the
horses, which had sniffed the smoke in terror during the day, had by
this time concluded that it was all a part of the mysterious designs of
their strange master, man, and settled themselves to enjoy a night free
from the bane of flies and mosquitoes. A rainbow of light arose in the
northern sky and deepened in colour until every fairy of auroraland
seemed dancing in draperies of white and pink and yellowish green before
the footlights of the Arctic circle to the music of the silence of
immeasurable space.

“It is wonderful, isn’t it?” said Miss Vane, after a long silence.
“These great prairies—how majestic they are, how silent, how
awe-inspiring. It is the first time I have seen them in anger—at war
with the puny efforts of man. And even in their anger how beautiful they
are! You prairie-dwellers have, I am told, two great elements of
danger—the blizzard and the prairie fire?”

“Three,” said Gardiner.

“Three? And what is the third?”

“Love.”

For the moment she was taken off her guard. It was the one subject she
did not care to discuss with Gardiner. But she answered, in a quiet
impersonal voice,

“Love is not peculiar to the prairies.”

“No, but the love of the prairies is peculiar. How can a soul, hemmed in
by the works of man, seeing life in all the seaminess of man’s—and
woman’s—depravity, and knowing that it is but one drop in the ocean of
humanity, rise to the sublime heights experienced by the dweller on the
prairie, where all the works of nature seem combined to elevate the
individual? The greatest organisms come out of the cities, but the
greatest individuals will always come out of the country. And love is
individual.”

“Inhale that ‘prairie-fire smell in the gloaming,’ Mr. Gardiner. Is it
not exquisite?”

“Miss Vane—Myrtle—why do you close your eyes to that which must be
obvious? You have seen to-day the ravages of material fire—do you
imagine the fire of the heart burns less deeply, or that it abates with
the passing of time? Rather it grows from day to day and from month to
month. The fact I declared to you that night—that memorable night of
your unfortunate accident—seems a thousand times more a fact now than it
was then. I realise the prize I ask, and I am astonished that I dare ask
it, but what will one not do when life is at stake? And for me more than
life is at stake; if you deny me this prize I ask no longer anything
that life can give.”

“I do not wish to be unkind, Mr. Gardiner, nor to coach you in your
suit, but—don’t you think you are arguing your case too much from your
point of view? To put it plainly, you present reasons why you should
want to marry me. Would it not be more to the point to suggest reasons
why I should want to marry you?”

“Perhaps you are right. I admit I was speaking from my own view point.
But, if I must say it, surely I am not without recommendations. I can
keep you comfortably, and gratify your tastes and ambitions anywhere
within reason. I have a good business, and some investments——”

“I said I didn’t wish to coach you, but I see I must. Can’t you see that
tastes and ambitions and business and investments are nothing—absolutely
nothing—without love? Love is the only argument that can appeal to a
true girl’s heart, and when love argues it needs not to be supplemented
by any other consideration. Without love there can be no marriage. There
may be a ceremony, but it is a hollow mockery—an outraging of every
principle of real virtue. That is the argument you need, Mr. Gardiner,
the only argument that can ever persuade me. And that argument is
lacking.”

“Which is a roundabout way of saying you don’t love me?”

“Love may be denied, but it needs not to be confessed. Where it exists
it will proclaim itself.”

“So you have not yet learned to love me?”

She did not answer.

“You are still thinking of someone else?”

She did not answer.

“I do not wish to pursue an unpleasant subject, Miss Vane, but if you
are still hoping for Burton’s return let me urge you to disillusion
yourself. He will not return. If you care for him you should hope that
he will not return. Return can mean only one thing to him, and he must
know that. And he will not be brought back. I may say that I used my
influence with the Department to have no effort made to apprehend him.
He will not come back.”

“I think he will come back.”

“I will wager anything—I would lay any odds, that he will not come back.
Listen—I lay you a wager. If Burton voluntarily returns to trial I
promise never to press this question again. If he does not your answer
is to be ‘Yes.’ Have you faith enough in Burton for that?”

For a moment she hesitated.

“You are not so sure of him,” he urged.

“Yes, I am sure of him.”

“Then our wager is placed, and bound by the honour of each,” he cried,
exultantly.



CHAPTER XVI—KIT MCKAY


    “Ned McCann owned the Double Star ’way back in the early days;
    He had come out here with a sickly wife and a kid he hoped to raise
    Where the climate suited the feeble-lunged, but life was scarce at
       its brim,
    Till a little mound by a prairie hill held half of the world for
       him;
    And his double love would have spoiled the child had she been like
       me or you,
    But her only thought was for her dad and the mother she scarcely
       knew.”

                                                     _Prairie Born._

The sun was setting on their second day’s drive when Burton and Mr.
McKay crested a ridge behind which lay the farmer’s buildings and his
sweeping fields of grain, already glowing yellowish in the long bars of
amber sunlight that bathed their gently rustling mass. Before them
stretched the prairie trail, down a gentle incline until it lost itself
in a little gulley; there was the plain bald scar where it climbed out
at the other side, and immediately beyond was the farmhouse. Burton’s
eyes drank in the magnitude and peace of the scene with a sense that
here at least was a haven where his troubles might not follow him. And
he mentally blessed the old farmer, for whom he already felt a strong
friendship.

“Waal, thar she be, all the same as we left her,” proclaimed the farmer,
jerking his whip-hand forward. “Yep, thar she be, all right.”

The farmer was not emotional, and the words seemed a very commonplace
statement of fact, but Burton guessed that beneath his rough exterior
the old man carried a heart that turned to his home with that fervent
loyalty to place so often found among the rural classes. It was his
home—his own home, chopped from the bush and dug from the hillside,
largely by the force of his own right arm. And between the home that is
built and the home that is acquired is a gulf as broad as between birth
and adoption.

“So that is your home,” the young man ventured. “What a beautiful
place!”

“It is purty, haint it?” said the farmer, looking around, and there was
a light of gratification in his eye. “An’ yet,” he continued, “yu’ll
find men ’at wonder how a man can live in a place like this. They think
electric lights an’ telephones and movin’ pictures an’—an’ the left foot
on the rail most uv the time—they think that’s what makes life. Well, by
hang, Ah spend a little money myself when Ah go to town.” The farmer
paused and chuckled meditatively for a minute or two. “Yep. Some of ’em
holler ‘Ol’ Sport’ soon’s they see me comin’. But Ah take my spice as an
appetiser, not as a food. Why, hang it, youngster, Ah wouldn’t live in a
city if they let me sleep in the Crystal Palace and sent my breakfast up
with the mayor! Ah got twelve hundred and eighty acres of land here, an’
more cattle ’an it’s worth while countin’; Ah got all outdoors to
stretch myself, and Ah ain’t wantin’ tuh trade with nobody.”

The farmer shaded his eyes with his hand. The rays of the sun, now
almost horizontal, blinded their vision of the valley.

“Yep,” he said at last, with a sigh of satisfaction. “There’s Kid
comin’. Ah reckoned she’d be watchin’ fer us.”

A cloud of dust rose lazily from the ravine; then stretched in a thin
ribbon along the hot prairie trail. Burton’s eye was not trained to
horsemanship, but it needed no experienced observer to know that the
rider was approaching furiously. The streak of dust lengthened out as
though shot from a gun.

“That’s my daughter,” the old man said, and Burton was conscious of a
deep thrill of pride in his voice. “She allus rides like thet. She’s the
girl fer a rusty cayuse, an’ don’t forget it. By hang, she’d ride a
rabbit if she could saddle it. Yep, she’s a-comin’ to meet us.”

“To meet _you_, I guess,” corrected Burton.

The old man looked at him quizzically. “Waal, Ah guess thet is more
technically keerect,” he admitted. “Ah ain’t sayin’ she’s comin’ out
particular to meet you _this trip_.”

There was an emphasis on the last words which Burton had not fathomed
when a chestnut horse swung up beside the wagon, and a young girl, as
brown and lithe as her beautiful mount, brought her gauntletted hand
down with a resounding smack on Mr. McKay’s shoulder.

“Ho, Dad,” she cried, “you’re a sight for the angels.”

“Yep,” assented the old man, “fer my angel, Ah reckon that’s right.”

“I declare,” laughed the girl, “how you do learn those cunning speeches
when you go to town! Tell me, now, who taught you that?”

“You’re gettin’ a bigger tease than ever, Kid. Tell me, how’s ever’thing
goin’ on the farm?”

“Oh, that’s too big an order. I know I have been all right—fine—fit. But
say, Dad, haven’t you forgotten something?”

“Waal, that might be, easy enough,” said the farmer, looking back and
surveying the heavy load. “There’s the binder twine and the groceries
and machine oil an’ the mail——”

“Dad, you’re a chump. Here you let me live in the wilderness, with
nothing more exciting than bronchoes and mustangs, and when a real
live—possibility—comes along you—you won’t even introduce me!” The
sentence ended in a burst of mimic sobbing.

“Waal, by hang, one does sorta ferget his sassiety manners, usin’ ’em so
little. This is my daughter Kid——”

“Not Kid!” exclaimed the girl. “Kath——”

“All right. Kath-er-een. Kate for short. Kid fer shorter. She allus gets
shorter——”

But by this time the chestnut had flashed around to the other side of
the wagon, and the girl had ridden up beside Burton.

“All right, Dad,” she interrupted. “I am sufficiently designated. Now
tell me _his_ name.”

“Waal, thet’s just what Ah’m kinda killin’ time over. Ah did hear his
name too, but hang me if Ah ain’t plumb fergot it.”

Burton looked up in the bright face now close by his side. “I find I
must always assist your father in a case of this kind,” he said,
smiling. “And as he does not appear to be much of a formalist—just call
me Ray.”

“That sounds like starting in the middle of a book,” laughed the girl.

“The first chapters are only preliminary, anyway,” said Burton.

“All right, Ray,” she said, extending her hand. “This eliminates the
first ten chapters. Now I must gallop home and have your suppers ready.”
And almost before he knew he had released her hand the cloud of dust
trailed again down the valley.

The McKay farmhouse was built of logs, with an upper story over the main
section. The board floors were white and bare, save where a wolf skin or
other trophy of the chase served as ornament and carpet. The hard, clean
floors, the whitewashed, bulging logs, the bare joists and rafters,
afforded a charm of rustic simplicity which no display of wealth can
provide. Even as he ate his supper with a relish of his long drive
Burton’s eyes stole about into the shadowy corners of the room, where
the firelight from the wood stove flickered along the floor and lost
itself in the darkness. There was everywhere an air of comfort; of
peace; of simplicity; yet what tales might those lurking corners repeat
of the pioneers who for twenty years had shared the McKay hospitality as
they related exploits of the early days more wonderful than any fiction!

The meal was ended. Burton felt that at least he had not been a bright
conversationalist. Several times the farmer’s daughter had addressed a
remark to him a second time, and he answered almost in monosyllables.
His mind was too busy with the past—with the far, vague, distant past,
when he sat before the wood fire and felt his young frame thrill as he
listened to tales of adventure in the shanties of the Madawaska—tales of
the river drive and the faction-fight, of the cry of the wolverine by
lonely moonlit shores and the weird romances of loup-garou and windigo.
How he thrilled with a deep wonder of the mystery of the untrod path
which lay before him, leading into the far, strange fields of manhood,
where he too should do great deeds and win great victories and fear
nothing. But even as he dreamed of future bravery he would snuggle
nearer to the centre of the group. He could almost hear the wolverine
baying out beyond the stables!... Then there was the evening prayer and
the good-night kiss, and the ascent up the creaking stairs; the bed
under the bare rafters, where through the broken shingles a single star
watched until his eyes closed with the sweet weariness of early
childhood, and he knew that the angels were guarding his sleep. God! How
far had he travelled since then!

“You are tired, Ray,” said the girl. “Let me show you to your room.”

“Yep,” added the farmer. “The sleepin’ sickness has got you. We have it
just as bad as in Africa. It don’t kill anybody here, but there’s no
cure ’cept to sleep it off. Trouble is, the new-comer allus gets the
sleepin’ sickness an’ the eatin’ sickness tugether, which makes it
powerful hard on the proprietor. It’s twenty-one years since Ah struck
these diggin’s, an’ Ah mind yet how Ah et an’ slep’ that first year.
Your mother use to say there wa’n’t no use cookin’ agin an appetite like
that. Yep, Kid, that was twenty-one years ago. You was born the next
spring.”

“That’s how Dad betrays a woman’s secret,” bantered the girl. But the
farmer was leaning forward in his chair, his eyes staring at the sparks
as they dropped from the grate. His elbows rested on his knees, his
palms stretched straight before him, the fingers touching at the tips.
There was a strange tenderness in the weather-worn face; a misty light
in those honest old eyes. He was thinking of a little mound, just up the
hillside, on which the grass had grown for twenty years.

The girl touched Burton’s arm. He looked in her face, and she raised her
eyebrows a hair’s-breadth. No word was spoken as he followed her
silently up the stairs.

At the door of his room she placed the lamp in his hand. Then in a low
voice she said, “Dad never forgets. Dear old Dad!”

She remained lost in thought for a few moments, and Burton surveyed her.
She had removed the brown riding habit in which he first saw her, and
stood revealed in a modest black dress. Her fair face, brown with the
summer winds, seemed almost to fade into the masses of her brown hair,
as the calm sea fades into the shore-line. The only shade of colour she
wore was a string of scarlet ribbon drawing the dark garment together at
her throat. She was rather under average height, and at first he thought
her slim, but a second glance convinced him that the perfection of her
proportions and her strong, athletic life gave an impression that the
scales would quickly dissipate. The upper lip rose slightly in the
centre, as though alert to smile; the nose, strong but not over large,
caught the vision for a moment, but immediately it was stolen by the
eyes. What eyes they were! The warmth of the chinook, the freedom of the
great plains, the wonder of sunset and dawn, the mystery of the deep,
starless night, the courage of the white, fearless winter—all were
blended in their hazel depths; or was it brown, or amber-grey? The lamp
tricked him; he would see in daylight.

Her wits came back from their wanderings with a suddenness that caused
her to start.

“You were dreaming at supper-time,” she said. “I am dreaming now.”

“God bless the world’s dreamers,” said Burton, fervently. “How often in
Bible history He revealed himself to His people in a dream! And shall He
not do it still? Can we suppose the Father of thought has lost the key
to the midnight chambers of the brain? But practical men despise
dreamers.”

Her eyes had opened wider as he spoke; she was leaning slightly toward
him when he finished. Thoughts are such mighty magnets that they attract
even the material bodies that encase them. There was an appreciation in
her look and her partly opened lips that Burton did not fail to notice.

“Practical men are fools,” she said. “Good night.”

For some days Burton did not find himself assigned to any regular duties
about the farm. Grain-growing was only a small part of Mr. McKay’s
business, and was, indeed, still regarded as largely experimental; the
real wealth of the farm was represented by the herds of ranch cattle
which fed in the heavy grass of the valley or roamed the unsettled
plains for miles around. With these herds Burton had no concern; they
were under the care of two cowboys long in Mr. McKay’s employ. Decent
fellows Burton found them to be, yet while they treated him with frank
familiarity they could not altogether disguise their inbred conviction
that the cow-puncher is of better clay than the sod-buster. He envied
them their wild free life, their rides over the limitless plains, their
“leave and liking to shout,” while he sharpened the binder knives and
tacked new slats on the canvases, and made fly-blankets for the horses
out of twine sacks. The ancient war of the herdsman and the grainman was
being fought out again in his own breast, and he secretly admitted a
sense of envy. To ride the plains seemed a greater thing than to till
them.

But if the cattlemen excited a measure of envy in the breast of Burton,
he soon discovered that he had unwittingly aroused their jealousy.
Although their feeling toward him took no unkind form of expression, he
became more and more conscious that he was regarded as an intruder, an
unwelcome person tolerated simply for courtesy’s sake. And the boy knew,
by a kind of intuition, that the farmer’s daughter was largely
responsible for this. With the cattlemen she chatted flippantly, giving
them word for word and laughing at their smartest sallies; but with
Burton she talked slowly in the dusk of the long, cool evenings, when
the work inside and out was finished, and the farmer smoked his pipe on
the kitchen porch. The cowboys, whom she had known for years, she still
held saucily at a safe distance; but with Burton, on a week’s
acquaintance, she spoke of things whereof her soul hungered for
conversation. She had taken the boy at his word. She had started in the
middle of the book.

And to himself Burton confessed that to him she was a new relevation of
womanhood. At times, out of the nightmare of the past, he would conjure
up that face which, in all his wanderings and through all his
associations, still hedged his soul about on every side, so that he
could follow no emotion far until he met it. He saw her as she rode home
on her pony along the pasture path, while the gathering dusk raised the
willows very tall about them; he saw her as they sat by the water’s edge
that never to-be-forgotten Sunday at the Crossing; he saw her again,
half-reclining against a wall, her face drawn as though with pain and
yet flushed as in excitement, the flickering light of an uncertain fire
falling upon her fine features. He stood her before him and he tried to
compare, but he could not compare. It was as though one would compare
form with colour, or sound with sight. She was, he knew, everything that
was “pure womanly,” but this daughter of the prairie was something more.
Although clothed in all the delicacy of her sex, she seemed to hide
nothing, to conceal nothing, behind that distinction of nature which has
been so grossly misused by convention. At times she spoke to him as a
sister might speak; at other times it might have been the voice of his
mother; again, she was a child at his feet; but most of all it seemed
she spoke as a brother. It was this spirit of comradeship, this attitude
of equality, this frankness so sincere that it seemed the only natural
thing—the inevitable thing—it was these that drew his soul out to her
with the affection of a brother. And yet he marvelled that the face
still hedged him about; that every new experience, every new confidence,
seemed to paint it still clearer on his mind’s horizon.

The season wore on. Presently the wheat fields were ripe, and Burton
found himself so lost in work that thoughts of his past, his present,
and his future seemed crowded out of the busy hours. His practical
knowledge of farm work and farm machinery, and the genuine personal
interest he took in everything that fell to his lot, won for him a
regard by the old farmer that was almost paternal. Indeed, more than
once Mr. McKay dropped remarks about his advancing years, intimating
that he felt the time must soon come when he should place the active
management of his affairs in younger hands, and on such occasions Burton
felt his heart bound as the thought of a possibility fired his pulses.
But then the face rose, calm and thoughtful, and the possibility died
away amid the mist of dreams.

And then, one Sunday afternoon, after the wheat was all in stook, came
another incident to change the course of his career. The cowboys, with a
number of friends, were riding to neighbouring ranches; Mr. McKay dozed
over an old newspaper as he sat in the shade of the kitchen porch; and
Burton and Kate lounged on the front verandah, reading little excerpts
from their magazines, but most of the time staring with dreaming eyes
across the hot prairies.

“Pshaw,” said Burton, after his fourth attempt to centre his interest in
a story, “I can’t read to-day. Let’s go for a walk, Kate.” He called her
Kate now, although he had not been able to bring himself to the more
familiar name by which the other hands addressed her. And yet he knew
that he was much better acquainted with her than were they.

The girl clasped her hands above her head and yawned leisurely. Then she
looked long and intently at the fringe of willows along the gulley.
“It’s too hot,” she said at length.

“What, you a prairie girl and afraid of the heat?” Burton bantered.

“I’m not afraid of it,” she answered, laughing, “but I respect it. And I
can’t walk in the grass in this skirt. And most of all,” she confessed,
bringing her elbows to her knees and resting her chin on her hands—“most
of all, I’m lazy.”

“I admire lazy people,” said Burton.

“Oh, how gallant you are! I suppose if I had said I was lame you would
have admired lame people?”

“But I spoke seriously,” he protested. “I don’t say I admire one who is
chronically lazy, but I do respect the man or woman who can forget the
rush of life now and again and lapse into a period of laziness.
‘Leisure,’ some people call it, and it is closely identified with
culture, which brings us around to the poets and the painters and art
generally.”

“Speaking of art, did I ever let you see my pictures? I have a few I
gathered when I was East at college. Oh, yes, and my photographs. That
is where so many acquaintances start, you know, over the family album,
while one expounds to someone who doesn’t care the tribal history of
people he doesn’t know.”

The sentence was ended on the stairs. In a minute she was down with a
basketful of photographs.

“Now, Mr. Ray, you shall behold the friends of my girlhood—up to date.
By the way, when are you going to let me into the mystery of your
surname? One of these days some of the neighbours will call, and I shall
have to introduce you as ‘Our man Ray.’ Here I have told you my history
from Alpha to Omega, and all I know about you is that your first name is
Ray. When, please sir, will I be sufficiently established in your
confidence to be entrusted with your name?”

For a moment he hesitated. What she said was true. She had given large
confidences and received little. Why should he not tell his name? Why,
indeed, should he not tell her all? He was sure that it could not change
her attitude toward him; he was sure that his trust would never be
betrayed, and the weight of his secret was hanging heavy about his life.
That strange human instinct which demands the right of confidence the
privilege of confession, was becoming irresistibly strong within him.

“I have a reason for concealing my name,” he said at length. “I do not
wish to tell the name until I can tell the reason also.”

“And when will that be, may I ask?” It was a respectful question, not a
demand for information.

“Oh, perhaps the next time we chat together,” he laughed, anxious to
shelve the matter for the moment. “Now, let us see these photographs.”

She sat on a stool beside his chair, passing up the photographs for his
scrutiny. With each she had a word of comment, but Burton looked at them
mechanically. They were nothing to him but strange faces, in which he
felt only a reflected interest. At length she raised a photograph which
she held a moment longer than usual. “This,” she said, “is a picture of
my particular college chum—my best girl friend. She is pure gold.”

She placed the pasteboard in his fingers. His eyes wandered to the face,
and then his head shot forward as though he had been magnetised. He
instantly attempted to recover his composure, but his fingers trembled
and his breath came hard. It was the face of Myrtle Vane!



CHAPTER XVII—THE HOMESTEAD LINE


    “Where’er Endeavour bares her arm,
      And grapples with the Things To Be,
    At desk or counter, forge or farm,
      On veldt or prairie, land or sea,
    And men press onward, undismayed,
      The Empire Builder plies his trade.”

                                              _The Empire Builders._

What explanation Burton made of his agitation he never quite remembered.
He knew he had said something about a remarkable likeness to a friend of
his, but he felt that his behaviour at best had had only a lame excuse.
Kate, however, had accepted it with the frankness that had marked her
attitude toward him since the day they first met, and had rattled on her
tribute to Myrtle Vane, to every word of which Burton inwardly said
amen. But when she mentioned that they still corresponded regularly, and
that she expected a letter by the next mail, he found himself battling
with conflicting emotions. It was plain that he must tell her all or
nothing; either he must take her into his life or he must go out of
hers. He knew that he loomed big in the world of this farmer’s daughter,
and that when she next wrote to Myrtle she would tell about this Ray,
her discovery. The name would excite Miss Vane’s interest,
identification would surely come, sooner or later. And what would this
girl from whom he had torn himself under the shadow of the law and who
was in very reality more to him than existence itself—what would she say
when she knew of his life as a fugitive from justice, a betrayer of his
bondsman, whose regard for her had been so slight that he had deserted
her under the fear of his own punishment—what would she say when she
knew he had cast off all responsibility for the past and to-day was
living in happiness, the trusted friend of her trusted friend? He saw
his life crumbling about him like a house of cards. He saw only too
plainly how his desertion of the girl he loved would cost him the
friendship of the girl he so much admired.

Burton excused himself to Miss McKay as soon as he could. He walked to
the stables, and, finding himself unobserved, plunged down into the deep
gulley. Here he strode on and on, his mind at first in a turmoil of
confusion. Gradually the exercise calmed his brain and he was able to
think more clearly. And the clearer he saw his position the less he
liked it. Two courses were possible; to disappear and try again to lose
himself, probably by taking up a homestead far back from the centres of
civilization; or to make a clean breast of the whole thing to Kate. But
what would she think of him when she knew the truth? Suppose she
believed in his innocence, of which he had every confidence, would her
attitude change when she knew him to be a fugitive from the law—an
innocent man who lacked the moral courage to prove his innocence or
accept the inevitable? That afternoon he had felt that he could tell her
all; that night he knew that he could tell her nothing.

And yet the idea of unexplained disappearance was unbearable to him. He
felt that he owed it to his friends here, whose home had been such an
oasis to him in his desert of bad fortune, to relieve their minds of any
doubt as to his personal safety. He now remembered that this thought had
not occurred to him when he fled from Plainville, and the blood slowly
mounted to his forehead. But he would not repeat that cruelty; whatever
came he would have an interview with Mr. McKay.

He returned to the house. The cowboys were still absent, and Kate, after
searching for him in vain, had gone riding alone. He found Mr. McKay
still on the kitchen porch, and floundered into his task.

“I have come, Mr. McKay, to tell you that I must leave here, at once. I
have just heard—that is, I have just had information which makes it
imperative that I leave without an hour’s delay. The heavy end of the
harvest is over. I hope you will get along without trouble. Good-bye.”

“But, boy, hang it, there’s somethin’ wrong about this. Bad news?”

“Yes, news that takes me away, and any news that forces me to leave your
home is bad news.”

“But you will come back, Ray? You’ll be back when your troubles—when
things is straightened up with you?”

“I don’t know.”

The farmer sat back in his chair and drew deeply at his pipe for a full
minute, his eyes slightly elevated and his brow knit in thought. When he
spoke the words came slowly, as though each had been chosen after
deliberation.

“Waal, Ray, if your affairs take yuh away from here, tain’t my affairs
tah hold yuh back. But Ah thought of talkin’ kind of confidential with
yuh one of these days, an’ it may as well be now. Ah’ve held down this
claim fer twenty-one years, boy, an’ Ah reckon Ah’ve about attained my
majority. An’ Ah notice Ah don’t climb a cayuse or handle a pitchfork
quite as spry as Ah once did. Ah’ve been lookin’ fer some one to take
part of the load offa me, an’ when Ah saw how you knew farm work, an’
how yuh shaped intuh the collar, Ah kind a’ figured Ah’d found my man at
last. Ah reckon my plans has kinda been upset again.”

“I am sure I appreciate what you have suggested,” said Ray. “If things
shape up so—but the fact is, I can promise nothing, say nothing—at
present. Some day, perhaps. And now, good-bye, and say good-bye to
Kate.”

“I’m thinkin’ it would sound better from your lips. But there’s a little
money comin’ to yuh.”

“I had forgotten that,” said Burton, quite truthfully. “I suppose it may
come in handy.”

The old man walked to his desk and took out a pocket-book, from which he
drew a number of bills. These he placed in Burton’s hand, who, with a
word of thanks, shoved them in his pocket without counting.

“Ah calculated yuh’d rather have bills than a cheque,” said the old man,
and there was something in his voice which made Ray feel that after all
he had disguised very little from his employer.

The two men’s hands met in a moment’s firm grasp, and the next Burton
knew he was tramping down the road he had first seen that summer evening
six weeks before.

Once fairly on the road Burton began to cast about for some definite
plan of action. He determined he would walk into town and there
ascertain where homestead lands were available. Then he would go to the
nearest Dominion Lands Office and file on a quarter section away in some
remote region, where there would be little chance of his identity being
discovered. Here he would commence life anew, under a new name, as he
felt it would not be safe to file as Raymond Burton, and here he would
hope in the years to come to outgrow and outlive the tragedy of his
young life.

A friendly haystack loomed through the gathering dusk, and Burton slept
in its shelter until morning. He awoke stiff and hungry, and half
regretted his refusal to accept Mr. McKay’s offer of a horse and saddle.
But he remembered a farmhouse a few miles along the road, and there he
was given breakfast. He pressed on vigorously through the day, and
before another nightfall turned in at Zeb Ensley’s shack. The Englishman
was watering his horses at the well, but he looked up and recognised his
visitor of a few weeks previous.

“Hello, Ray!” he called, cheerily. “On your way back to town? I suppose
Mr. McKay’s work is advanced sufficiently to let you go, although, upon
my word, I confess I thought you’d likely become a permanent part of his
organisation. Especially,” he added, with a sly twinkle in his eye,
“especially as I happen to have met that young daughter of his.”

“Well, it didn’t work out that way, Mr. Ensley, although she’s as fine a
girl——”

“Mr. Ensley only visits here on Sundays,” interrupted the other. “The
gentleman in charge is known as Zeb. But let us get these plugs in and
then we’ll see what the cook can do for us. Fried eggs, I expect, with
warmed potatoes and dried apples, table d’hôte.” He was unbuckling the
horses’ harness as he spoke, and presently slipped it from their backs
and turned them loose for the night.

Once inside the shanty Burton discovered that “the cook” was Ensley
himself. But no time was wasted in conventions, and in a few minutes a
plain but appetising supper was on the table. “Come, dig in,” was the
host’s invitation, and there was a lull in the conversation as the
hungry men plied the viands.

“So you’ve left McKay’s,” said Ensley, after the first insistent demands
of appetite had been satisfied. “Where are you bound for now—back East?”

“No, I think of taking up a homestead, as soon as I can get a map
showing open land, and learn where I may make application.”

“Good!” said the Englishman, with genuine enthusiasm. “I’m always glad
to see bright fellows taking to the homesteads. Most fathers think they
do their boys a favour when they coop them up in an office or a shop,
but I tell you where this country wants its bright men, some of them, at
any rate, is out on the sod. There is a mob of little interests growing
up, each with its little coterie of promoters and parasites, but the big
industry here will always be agriculture, and it is the big industry
that needs the big brains. Besides, where is the life of town or city
that a free man would accept in exchange for a hundred and sixty acres
to grow in? I always have an eye for the homestead openings, and perhaps
you can get all the information you want right here.”

After the meal was over Ensley spread a number of maps but recently
issued by the Department of the Interior on the table, and enlightened
Burton on the details of the regulations. “Now here,” he said, “is a
fine stretch of land, of which I have first hand knowledge, as I cross
it every fall when I take a few days off for goose shooting. There’s no
better soil in the West. It’s about sixty miles from here, and nearly a
hundred miles from a railway, but they’re building new lines through
this country as fast as they can buy the labour and the steel, and you
are sure to have a road near by in a few years. Now it’s a little early
for goose hunting, but the ducks are at their best, and there is a
chance of a few chicken. Suppose we hitch up to-morrow and make a trip
out there to look over the land?”

“Oh, I couldn’t permit you to go to so much trouble, Mr.—Zeb.”

“No permission needed,” laughed the other. “It’s my buckboard and my
horses, and you ride with me if you will. We leave in the morning at
seven. There’s no time to lose,” he continued, consulting the contents
of a large envelope, “as these lands are to be opened for entry exactly
eight days from to-morrow, and you’d better be at the land office at
least a couple of days ahead. I shouldn’t wonder but there’s men—and
women too, maybe—lined up there waiting now, but most of them are eager
to file on the land closer in. They haven’t been out that far, and they
don’t know what they’re missing. Now there’ll be a ten dollar fee to
pay—you have a little money?” Burton nodded. “Very well. If you’re
short, say so. There’ll be some other expenses too. You’ll have to line
up before the door of the land office and stay there night and day to
hold your place. Caterers will bring you food if you are willing to pay
for the service, and you can perhaps hire a man to stand in your place
part of the time, but be sure he’s honest, or he may give it up to
someone else. Then, of course, you have a little land to break each
year, and certain improvements to make in the way of building a house or
the like, and in three years if you can show that you have lived on the
property six months in each twelve and complied with the other
regulations you will receive from the Government a certificate of title
to the property.”

They talked about many details in connection with homestead life,
talked, indeed, long after they were in bed, while a coyote howled to
his mate across the plain and a waxing moon slanted its soft light
through the single square window of the shanty.

Five days later Burton walked down the street to the Land Office. At
first he thought there must be a riot or disturbance of some sort in
front of the buildings, but on arrival found that the crowd was genial
and orderly, and arranged in single file in the form of a half circle
before the building. Where the end of the half circle came back to the
curb the line extended along the sidewalk. Burton walked slowly the
length of the line, looking curiously into the faces of these patient
waiters; men of all nationalities, Canadian, American, British
Islanders, German, Russian, French, Austrian, Pole, Italian, Hungarian,
Scandinavian, Chinamen—here they were gathered from the corners of the
globe and waiting patiently through night and day, through heat and
cold, through wind and rain, through any trial and any hazard for the
God-sent privilege, born of a new country, of calling the land beneath
their feet their own. There were tired faces there, faces where the
cheek bones stood rugged under a tawny skin and the eyes glowed under
deep foreheads—faces of men from the ballast gang and the sewer gang,
from the tie camp and the grading camp—men who had sweat hard in the hot
sun for the few dollars necessary to stake them to home and title of
their own. Here and there a woman was seen in the line, seated on soap
box or suit case, complacently knitting or engaged with her fancy work.
But they were all good-natured. This human material, combustible as
powder, seemed as innocent as dry sand. And Burton learned that their
good nature and their complacence was due to one fact only—their
confidence that whatever was done would be done in conformity with the
law and with absolute fairness to all concerned. Once shake that
confidence, and you have dropped the spark into what you thought was
sand!

Presently he reached the end of the line, and it was not until then that
he realised that he was a part of this organisation, a link in this
chain which stretched resolute and immovable along the street. Strange
soldiers of fortune they were; men and women who feared neither the
wilderness nor the hardships of the pioneer; volunteers who marched out
to the sunset to wrest an existence from the unknown. Fit sires and
mothers these for the race that shall answer the questions of the next
century!

Burton seated himself on the curb beside the last of the line. A
Chinaman advanced with a basket of sandwiches and a pot of tea. Burton
satisfied his hunger and thirst and paid the modest bill. A news-vendor
sold him a magazine, and he sat down to while away the time until the
doors should be opened and those at the head of the column should file
in to register on the land of their choice.

The day waned and night settled in. Burton began to feel the need of a
blanket, and hired a boy to buy him one at a store. A street lamp burned
overhead and he bought an evening newspaper. Its touch seemed strange to
his fingers—it was so long since he had handled a newspaper fresh from
the press. He glanced over the black headlines, but found little of
interest. What were the papers talking about, anyway? In the last two
months he had fallen entirely out of touch with what is called the
events of the world. In a company of well read men he would have seemed
ignorant. And yet in his heart he felt that these last few weeks had
brought him closer to life, closer to the real things of the world, than
ever he had been before.

He turned over the inside pages idly until his eye, attracted by a
familiar word, fell on a paragraph in an obscure corner. In a moment his
attention was rivetted to the item, as he read:

    “Plainville. The first Assize Court to be held in the town of
    Plainville will open on Monday. The docket will be a light one,
    consisting only of minor cases. The principal local interest
    centres about a charge against Raymond Burton of stealing $2,000
    from the safe of his employer, one of the leading merchants of
    this place. The employer himself was so satisfied of Burton’s
    innocence that he went his bail, but the young man has
    completely disappeared, and the confiding employer seems likely
    to forfeit his bond. The stolen money, however, was recovered,
    having been found in Burton’s trunk by a detective engaged on
    the case.”

He read the paragraph again and again. The words seemed to burn into his
brain. Here was a dispatch, evidently sent through the regular news
channels, and no doubt appearing in every daily paper in the country, a
despatch that branded him not only as a thief—the words suggested no
question as to his guilt—but as a fugitive from justice and a bail
jumper. It placed him in the light of a criminal, and Gardiner in that
of a martyr. It was thrown broadcast to the world. He was beginning to
learn the awful truth that publicity has more terrors than the
penitentiary. If one could go to jail quietly, without any fuss, without
any crowds, without cameras or photographs or reporters or newspapers,
and return in the same way, it might be bearable. But this—this was
worse than any sentence within the province of the Court. What would the
public think? What would his friends think? What would _she_ think? What
_could_ she think?

Burton sat and pondered, gazing down the long street and seeing only his
own checkered career. Where would not this thing follow him? He had
thought himself safe at McKay’s; he had fled from the farmer’s home like
a frightened child from a whipping. He had thought to lose himself on a
homestead; on the very threshold of his hew life the tale of his shame
was thrust in his face. From somewhere a sentence came into his mind.
“Be sure your sin will find you out.” But he had not sinned. That was
the rub. He was innocent—yes, as innocent as the thoughtless
correspondent who sent that despatch. But stay; does an innocent man
jump his bail? Something seemed to say to Burton that at that moment an
innocent man becomes a guilty one. And the load of his guilt seemed
mounting up. He had left Gardiner to pay the price of his
unfaithfulness. There was no evading that, although he had not thought
of it in that light before. In the eyes of the world he was already a
criminal. And yet to go back—what would that avail? Every evidence—every
circumstance, was against him. To go back would simply be to have the
Court confirm the sentence already passed by public opinion.

He gazed down the long street into the darkness. Presently a red light
showed at the end, a trifle to the left, where it glowed in narrow
streaks through the ranks of the telephone poles. It grew quickly in
volume, and Burton at first thought it was a fire; but soon he knew it
to be the rising moon. The scene stirred something in his memory; some
vague recollection of the past. And then it burst upon him, and he saw
again the sun setting through the stately elms at Crotton’s Crossing;
the blood, and the bars. And then behind it all rose that quiet,
thoughtful face which guarded the end of every avenue of his thought.

He put his head between his hands and wept.

A man who had sat down beside him, but after him, having arrived late
that evening, straightened up and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Wot’s the matter, hold chap?” he asked in a low voice, that their
sleeping neighbours might not hear. “Wot’s the matter? Got a pine, or
somethink, or are you ’omesick?”

In the dim light Burton could not distinguish the face, but the voice he
would have known anywhere.

“London!” he cried, as he threw his arms about the astonished boy and
hugged him like a child.

Then were a few moments of golden silence; then a few words of
explanation.

When they spoke of home Burton’s first question was for Miss Vane.

“Hi left ’er with a ’eavy ’eart,” said Wilfred, “but still ’oping. Ho,
Hi sy, ’ere is somethink she sent you.”

The boy produced his little pocket-book and Burton struck a match, for
the shop lights were off and the street was in partial darkness.
Presently the lad located a little torn piece of printed paper.

Burton took it curiously. “Why, that’s only a scrap of paper,” he said.

“That’s wot she sent. ‘Give ’im that,’ she said, ’an’ tell ’im hif ’e
lives Hi look for ’im back to stand ’is trial.’”

“Hold a match!” cried Burton, excitedly. “Here, strike this and hold
it.”

The flame sputtered for a moment, then grew into a steady little light,
and Burton placed the scrap of paper where the rays fell to the best
advantage. And his eyes rested on the printed words:

    “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
    As the swift seasons roll!
        Leave thy low vaulted past!
        Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
        Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
    Till thou at length art free,
    Leaving thine outgrown shell by Life’s unchanging sea.”



CHAPTER XVIII—RIGHT ABOUT FACE


    “Oh, can I doubt the Power that leads
      You safe from zone to zone,
    Is mindful of the man He made
      In image of His own;
    That though we blindly breast the gale,
      Or skirt the shores of Time,
    Our Pilot knows the track we take,
      And guides from clime to clime?”

                                              _The Empire Builders._

Burton sprang to his feet.

“When does the next train go east?” he demanded.

Wilfred produced a railway time-table, and after some study he found the
page. “There’s one at midnight,” he said.

Burton glanced at his watch. It was a quarter to twelve.

“Good-bye, old man,” he said, seizing the hand of the Barnardo boy.

“Wot, you ain’t goin’ to-night, are you?” said the boy. “You’ll lose
your ’omestead, hafter——”

“I’ll lose more if I don’t go. And I would have lost it, lost it all, if
it had not been for you. God bless you, London! Stay and file on your
homestead. I’ll not be wanting one at present. I’m thinking I will be
unable to perform the residence duties for a while,” he added, with a
bitter little laugh.

“But stay,” he continued. “Have you selected your land?”

“No.”

“Just going it blind?”

“Yep. Just takin’ my chance with the rest o’ them. Hi’ve a list of the
hopen lands ’ere, an’ Hi reckon to strike somethink——”

“Yes, you’ll strike a sand bed or an alkali mine. Here’s a list of four
quarters I have looked over personally. They appear in the order of my
preference. Take it, you’re welcome to it.”

There was a look of gratitude in the boy’s eyes which could find no
expression in words. The two friends held each other’s hand a moment in
a firm grasp, and then Burton hurried toward the station. He reached it
just in time to buy a ticket and board his train.

Once in a car and seated, the lights of the city died out of view, and
Burton was left to collect his thoughts. His sudden resolution to go to
his trial regardless of consequences had left him bereft of any plan of
campaign or any definite course of action. For months he had studied how
he might evade the law, but now his only fear was that he might not
reach Plainville in time to appear before the Court and receive his
sentence. That he would be found guilty he took as a matter of course.
He did not deceive himself with any hope of acquittal on any ground
whatever. He was not going back to match himself against his fate; he
was going back to accept his fate. He wondered how long his sentence
would be. It might be one year, it might be five; it might be ten. That
he supposed would depend in some degree upon the digestion of the judge,
and whether his lordship might decide to make an example of him for the
benefit of other evil-doers.

But he felt only a casual interest in these matters. To his great
surprise neither judge, jury nor jail had any terror for him. He
regarded them with an impersonal feeling of unconcern, except a desire
to be done with all of them. He wondered if they would let him wear his
own shirts in jail.

He consulted a time-table, and found that if he made all connections he
should reach Plainville in the early morning of the first day of the
assizes. He supposed there would be a short session of the grand jury
first, but did not know whether his absence then would affect his trial.
He wondered if they would call his case first and immediately require
Gardiner to forfeit his bail, and if they would return the bail when he
appeared and gave himself up.

For twenty-four hours the train drilled steadily eastward, running
without incident. Darkness had again settled down and the hour of
midnight was approaching when suddenly the emergency brakes were applied
with a force that threw the passengers forward in their seats. The train
came to a stop in a moment, and the young men and a few of the older
ones who had not gone to bed in the sleeping cars crowded out to see the
cause of the delay. A dull glow shone down the track from ahead, and a
whiff of wood smoke blew in their nostrils. Aside from that and the
subdued lights in the cars all was darkness, darkness intense and
illimitable, walled in only by the brooding silence of the great
prairies.

A couple of trainmen with lanterns were seen walking on the track, and
Burton hurried to overtake them. As he advanced the glow of light became
brighter and the smell of smoke more noticeable. In a few minutes he had
come up with them, and together they reached a wooden trestle which
spanned a ravine where a little stream trickled at the bottom during the
summer, but was now dried by the long period of rainless weather. The
bridge was on fire; most of the timbers had already given way, and the
hot rails hung in two shining streaks from bank to bank.

From the conversation of the trainmen Burton gathered that the fire was
probably due to a falling coal from a passing engine lighting the
woodwork. He ventured to ask how long it would delay the train.

“Well, that’s hard to say,” was the answer. “It’ll take at least twelve
hours to throw a temporary bridge in there after the work train arrives,
and they won’t likely be here before morning. The company knows nothing
about it yet, so we’ll likely have to pull back to the last station to
give information.”

And the assize court at Plainville sat the next morning!

Burton walked back to the train and consulted his time-table. He was
about seventy-five miles from Plainville and on another line of railway.
Mechanically he started to read the names of the stations which lay
ahead of him, but at the second name his heart gave a bound. That was
the town where Dr. Millar lived. That, he estimated, was about fourteen
miles away. It was now midnight. He could be there by four o’clock, and
the doctor’s automobile would place him in Plainville by eight easily.
He still had a chance to save his honour by appearing in court when his
name was called.

Without further delay he started out at a brisk walk along the railway
track. He scrambled through the dry ravine, and regained the railway on
the other side. He was unhampered by luggage of any kind, and although
walking on the ties in the darkness was rather uncertain he had no doubt
he would be standing in the doctor’s office within five hours. The light
wind was balmy and refreshing, but very soon it began to carry scattered
drops of rain. These gradually grew thicker until a steady shower was
falling. The moisture soon soaked through his clothing, but the exercise
kept him warm and he felt little discomfort. And at ten minutes to four,
warm, wet and footsore, he rang the bell at Dr. Millar’s door.

The doctor answered the ring in person. At first glance he did not
recognise his visitor, but a very few words of explanation sufficed. Dr.
Millar was a master of the art of grasping essentials by intuition.

He looked at his watch, and then he looked out at the black, wet night.
The rain was now falling heavily, and the street lay white with water
where the light from the open door cut its wedge-shaped path across it.

“It’ll be a hard drive, Burton,” he said, “but it must be made, and the
sooner we start the better. I will be dressed in a few minutes, and I
always leave my car ready to pull out at a moment’s notice. But you are
wet. You must have some dry clothing.”

Burton protested that he was quite comfortable, that he did not feel the
dampness at all, but the doctor would not listen to him.

“You are warm now, because you have been walking hard, but a few minutes
in the automobile will set your teeth chattering. Besides, I think I
have some clothes belonging to you around here somewhere, and I want you
to take them away, this very night. Now get in there and hustle them
on,” and suiting the action to the word the doctor shoved Burton into
his private office. There was nothing to do but obey.

A little later an automobile pulled out from Dr. Millar’s gate and
started to plough its path through sixty miles of mud and water.

The holding of the first assize court at Plainville was an event of no
small importance to the people of that obscure but ambitious town.
Plainville had been fortunate enough at the last election to place its
sympathies with the winning side, and the first evidence of appreciation
was a handsome court-house, built on a block of lots which had been held
for a dozen years by Perkins, the lawyer, without a chance of sale, but
was now turned over to the Government at a handsome profit. Mr. Perkins’
allegiance to the party of purity and justice had been further rewarded
by his appointment to the office of crown prosecutor at the assizes. It
was a little disappointing, to be sure, that the crop of criminals had
so far been distressingly small, the most serious case on the docket
being the theft of two thousand dollars which were afterwards recovered,
but neither Plainville nor Perkins were discouraged. The judicial
district was young, and would improve with the passage of time. Who knew
but that some public spirited criminal might yet commit a real murder,
and so bring the name of Plainville into prominence in all the papers of
the province?

The jurors and witnesses had assembled, over-taxing the hotel
accommodation of the town, which the thoughtful lawyers and officials
had reserved for themselves a safe period in advance. A number of minor
offices were filled by Plainville citizens, and this rewarding of the
faithful restored the credit of several shiftless Plainville families at
the grocers’ and butchers’. The hotels were full, the bars were busy,
even the temperance houses had more trade than they could accommodate,
and many a thrifty housewife was ekeing out the price of a new bonnet by
placing the spare room at the disposal of the strangers. Mrs. Goode
found the demands upon her lodgings and her table more than she could
supply, but had boldly met the situation by pitching a number of tents
in her back yard, where her cadaverous husband could be employed without
menace to the business coming in at the front door. Plainville was
prosperous, excited and happy.

After the great fact of the assize itself interest centred mainly in the
case of _King_ v. _Burton_, and the hot discussions in the pool-rooms
and the lobby of the post office over the young man’s guilt or innocence
had given rise to two opposing factions. The first of these held that
Burton was innocent, and would appear to stand his trial at the proper
time; the second declared that he was guilty, and had “skipped the
country for good.” And it was interesting to note how the townspeople
and country people lined up on the two sides of the controversy. It was
a virtual dividing of the sheep and the goats. Those who held high views
of life and embraced all humanity in a kindly sympathy were assured that
Burton would be back to face his trial, and even that his innocence
would be established; while that other class of people who find it
easier and more to their tastes to believe evil than good were equally
certain that the young man had disappeared from Plainville for ever. And
among those who held the latter belief it must be said were a few who
would have preferred to believe otherwise, but whose judgment had forced
them to the unpleasant conclusion. There was Mr. Sempter, of the Sempter
Trading Company, who secretly held Burton in high regard; there were the
Grant boys, who openly—and especially before their cousin—avowed their
confidence in Burton, but who in their hearts were at a loss to
understand his disappearance; and there was Gardiner, who at first had
stoutly maintained the innocence of his former employee, but had at last
admitted that he could no longer believe him guiltless. There, too, was
a third faction which explained Burton’s absence on the theory that some
mishap which had not yet come to light had befallen him. This was a
comfortable position for those who did not wish to antagonise either of
the other parties, as it left the question of Burton’s innocence or
guilt out of the discussion. This was the belief espoused by the local
newspaper, the church organisations, and such other institutions as felt
that it would be bad business to give offence to any section of the
community.

The great day of the opening of the assizes at last arrived. During the
night it rained heavily, and the streets and roads were deep with mud,
but the clouds scattered about nine o’clock and the sun looked through
on the crowds filing down to the court house. The judge read his charge
to the grand jury, and the grand jury at once proceeded to find in
accordance with the thinly-veiled wishes expressed in the charge. The
Court then adjourned to resume its sitting at two o’clock that
afternoon.

As the hour drew near the spirits of those who had to the last hoped for
Burton’s reappearance in the nick of time fell under the depression of a
conviction which for months they had been trying to fight off. John
Burton’s Scotch pride had at last given away to paternal attachment, and
he engaged Bradshaw, the lawyer, to appear in defence of his son. The
lawyer’s office had become the gathering place of the steadily
diminishing group who were still hoping against hope, but as the minutes
wore by the hope changed to despondency. In Burton’s absence they could
read only an admission of his guilt—an admission which cut loyal hearts
deeper than any sentence which might have been pronounced over his
protestations of innocence.

The court house was packed long before the afternoon session commenced;
and when the judge had taken his seat on the bench and the first case,
_King_ v. _Burton_, was called an intensity of excitement prevailed in
the room which seemed even to reach the officers of the law. It was not
that the crime charged was so exceptional, but the reluctance of many
good people to believe in Burton’s guilt and the mystery of his sudden
and complete disappearance had pitched public interest to its highest
key. Many rumours had been in circulation within the last few hours;
rumours that Burton had returned during the night, that he had been in
the custody of the police since July and would be produced at the proper
moment, that he had been drowned in the lake, that he had been seen in a
far western town—all of these and more were flying about in the air and
adding to the confusion of the public mind. But at last the moment had
come; something definite was to be done, or said, or ascertained, and as
many of the townspeople, with a sprinkling of interested ones from the
country, as could crowd into the building were agog to know whatever
could be known.

Down in the little box where the lawyers sat someone was speaking in a
low tone which reached only to the officials of the court. Then the deep
voice of the judge filled the room.

“So the accused has not appeared for trial? Let him be called three
times.”

The court crier cleared his throat and shouted in a raucous voice,
“Raymond Burton! Raymond Burton! Raymond Burton!”

A hush that could be felt fell over the assembled people. For a full
minute there was absolute silence.

It was the judge who spoke again. “Bonds were no doubt given for the
appearance of this Burton at trial?”

An official answered, “Yes, my lord.”

Gardiner stood up from the front seat of the audience. “I am his——” he
managed to say, but was instantly silenced.

“That will do,” said the judge; “an order will——”

At this moment a commotion was heard among the crowd who had not been
able to gain admittance, and all eyes were turned toward the door. In
another instant a young man, flushed, dishevelled and mud-bespattered,
forced his way into the room, glanced about the interior for an instant
to get his bearings, and walked straight to the prisoner’s box where
Bill Hagan, the town constable, now promoted to the position of a court
official, stood with as much dignity as his years spent in leaning over
a bar made possible.

“Well, Bill, were you waiting for me?” was the question he addressed the
constable.

It was not until they heard him speak that the crowd seemed to realise
that Raymond Burton in the flesh stood in the prisoner’s box. When they
grasped that fact an huzzah broke out from a few enthusiasts, which was
immediately seized by others and grew in volume until it threatened to
raise the roof.

Order was quickly restored, when the judge scolded the people soundly,
threatening that he would have the court room cleared if there were any
further demonstrations.

Then turning to Burton he asked, “Are you the Raymond Burton named in
the indictment?”

“I did not hear the indictment, my lord, but I am Raymond Burton.”

“You have,” continued the judge, “by your absence delayed the operation
of this Court and the machinery of justice. I may say to you frankly,
that I was given to understand that you had evaded the police and would
not appear for trial, and at the moment of your entry I was about to
make an order distraining the bail given for your appearance. Can you
give an explanation of your conduct?”

“I can, my lord. I was in the West, where I intended to enter for a
homestead. I was, in fact, in line before the door of the Land Office
when I discovered that if I were to reach Plainville in time for my
trial I must leave at once. I would have been here early this morning if
my train had come through on time, but a bridge was burned out last
night, and we were delayed. I walked fourteen miles along the track,
when a friend provided me with an automobile, but the roads were so bad,
and we had a number of mishaps, that I have only now reached the town. I
am very sorry, my lord, that you have been delayed.”

The judge listened patiently through this explanation, and it was
evident that he was impressed with the sincere, straight-forward manner
in which it was given. He appeared to accept Burton’s statement as the
truth, without question. The effect on the audience of the boy’s
appearance and the quiet words he addressed to the Court was electrical,
and they were again on the point of bursting into a cheer when they were
restrained by a peremptory “Silence in the court.” Burton glanced again
about the room, and to his astonishment saw tears of emotion glistening
in many eyes. Old Dick Matheson’s face was radiant as he confided in a
whisper to a neighbour that he “knew his father on the Muddywaski”;
Alice Goode, who had stolen away from the dinner dishes, was fairly
dancing on her chair; the Grant boys shot at him looks electrified with
enthusiasm; and to the breast of his own father the Scotch pride had
returned as he turned about in his seat and looked with defiance upon
the assembled crowd. There were only two black faces in the house; Hiram
Riles, of whom Burton expected nothing better; and Gardiner, whom he did
not understand. One would have thought that Gardiner would have been
delighted at the saving of his bond, but the merchant chewed his lip in
vexation. He had been playing for greater stakes.

And yet Burton knew that he stood under the shadow of certain
conviction; that from that court house he would march to jail. But he
had played the part of a man; he had justified the loyalty of his
friends, and now nothing else seemed to matter.

“Your failure to appear here on time,” said the judge, again addressing
Burton, “appears to have been due to causes which you could not foresee
and over which you had no control. The Court has been inconvenienced,
but the Court has no grievance in such a case. I will allow you fifteen
minutes to consult with your solicitor, after which your trial will
proceed. If it should appear later that you are entitled to be remanded
to permit of calling witnesses in your defence, reasonable opportunity
will be afforded you to do so.”



CHAPTER XIX—THE LIGHT AT LAST


    “And though on Life’s uncertain sea,
      We veer and tack in stormy stress,
    I doubt not in the years to be
    The generations will agree,
      We sailed direct to blessedness!”

Gardiner was the first witness for the prosecution. He told briefly
facts with which the reader is already acquainted. He had left a package
of two thousand dollars in the safe Saturday night; on Monday morning
the money was gone, and Burton’s keys were hanging in the lock of the
cash drawer. No one but Burton and himself knew the combination of the
safe; no one but Burton and himself had keys to the cash drawer. On
making the discovery he had placed the matter in the hands of the
police. He had always thought Burton to be honest; he believed he lived
inside his salary and that he was free from any extravagant vice.

The next witness was Graves. He gave his profession as that of a
detective, and said he had been detailed to cover the theft from Mr.
Gardiner’s safe. He had obtained employment in Gardiner’s store in the
capacity of clerk, and had made a point to cultivate Burton’s
acquaintance. He had found the prisoner to be a young man of apparent
honesty and good habits. Nothing that could be learned at the store
added any light to the subject, so he had decided to search Burton’s
rooms. At the very bottom of Burton’s trunk he had found the package
stolen from Gardiner’s safe. The package had been broken and a ten
dollar bill removed. Otherwise it was intact. The envelope and money
were produced in evidence.

Burton listened to the evidence of these witnesses without
emotion—almost without interest. But when the next name was called he
looked up with surprised interest. Hiram Riles entered the box.

Riles testified that he was in Plainville late on the Sunday night
preceding the discovery of the robbery. As he was walking down town to
get his team before leaving for home he fancied he saw a glimmer of
light in Gardiner’s store. Peering in through the window he could see
Burton in the little office at the back, working at the combination of
the safe by match-light. He knew that Burton was connected with the
store and at the time did not suspect anything wrong.

Burton fidgeted in his chair. The mystery of the broken bottle was now
clear to him, and he longed to charge Riles with the deed.

A hardware clerk testified to selling Burton a revolver on the morning
the theft was discovered.

Polly Lester was next called. She took the usual oath, and Lawyer
Perkins rose to question her.

“What is your name?”

“Doris Landin.”

“Your profession?”

“I am a private detective.”

At these words a buzz of astonishment ran about the crowded room. To
many present the girl was a stranger, but others knew her as a domestic
at Mrs. Goode’s boarding-house.

“And you, too, were watching Burton?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What did you learn of him.”

“I found nothing to reflect upon his character.”

“Exactly; but you made—that is, you were present at a certain
discovery?”

“I watched from behind the door when the prisoner’s trunk was searched.
I saw the package taken out of his trunk.”

“And you identify the package?”

“I do.”

“Thank you. That will do, Miss Landin.”

“But that is not all I saw.”

“That will do——”

“But I am under oath to tell the whole truth——”

“If the witness has anything to add relative to this charge the Court
will hear it,” said the judge. “Please tell us, as concisely as you can,
what you know of this matter.”

The girl turned and faced the judge, while all ears were strained to
catch her next utterance. The auditors felt that at last some new light
would break on this mystery. Perkins seemed little pleased with the turn
events had taken; Bradshaw evidently enjoyed the situation, although
apparently quite at sea himself, and Burton betrayed his eagerness by
leaning forward and clasping his hands nervously. The fact that the girl
was a detective was a relevation to him, and he wondered what new bolt
would come from a sky so long overcast.

“May it please your lordship,” said the girl, “all I have said is true,
but it is not half the truth. I watched the prisoner closely and
searched his room and his effects daily for any clue that would throw
light on this case, but without result. On the morning of the first of
July, I searched his clothing and his trunk from top to bottom, but made
no discoveries. Shortly before noon, while I was engaged in my work in
one of the other rooms, I fancied I heard stealthy footsteps in the
hall. I looked out, and was astonished to see Mr. Gardiner making his
way silently toward Mr. Burton’s room. I followed, unobserved. I saw Mr.
Gardiner open Mr. Burton’s trunk, which was always left unlocked, and
thrust a package far down into the trunk. Mr. Gardiner then stole away
as quietly as he had come. I immediately entered Mr. Burton’s room and
took the package out of the trunk. I identify it as the package already
placed in evidence. I then——”

But Perkins had sprung to his feet. “Your lordship,” he exclaimed, “I
submit that this is very remarkable evidence. The Crown has built up a
complete and logical case, entirely free from dime novel effects, but if
this testimony is to be credited the structure so carefully built by the
prosecution falls to the ground. It is easy for the witness to make
these statements, absurd as they are on the face of it, but it is
impossible for the Crown to disprove them. I ask that the evidence be
not admitted.”

“Unless supported by confirmatory evidence,” added the judge.

“Unless supported by confirmatory evidence,” agreed Mr. Perkins.

Excitement was now intense. All eyes, by one accord, had turned to
Gardiner. He sat in his chair as white as chalk, and apparently on the
verge of nervous collapse.

“I have provided for the point raised by the Crown prosecutor,”
continued Miss Landin, quite unruffled by the remarks of Mr. Perkins. “I
examined the package, which I have identified. I then broke the two wax
seals and opened the envelope. I counted the money. There were two
hundred ten dollar bills, all on the same bank, new and apparently
unused. The serial numbers began with B-323001 and ran to B-323200. It
will be found that the package now exhibited is one bill short, and that
the missing bill is B-323005. I now produce the missing bill, which I
took from the package at that time, and place it in evidence.” So saying
she drew from her purse a bright new ten dollar bill, which she handed
to the clerk. “Number B-323005,” she said.

“Correct,” said the clerk, when he had examined the bill.

“I then,” continued Miss Landin, “replaced the package in the trunk and
awaited developments. I had not long to wait. Mr. Gardiner, Mr. Graves
and Mr. Burton appeared in the hall in a few minutes. They entered Mr.
Burton’s room, and Mr. Graves found the package in the trunk. I watched
them through the crack of the door, and did not fail to notice Mr.
Gardiner’s agitation when he discovered the package had been opened. I
subsequently told Mr. Graves that I had been a witness to what occurred
in the room, and he thought it would be a good thing to have me appear
here and give evidence. This I have done.”

“Your lordship,” said Mr. Perkins, meanwhile glowering at Gardiner and
Graves, “these developments were entirely unexpected by the Crown, and
place the case in an absolutely new light. I can only ask permission to
withdraw the charge.”

“I think it better to proceed with it,” said the judge. “Do you wish to
call any witnesses for the defence, Mr. Bradshaw?”

“I had intended calling witnesses to establish the previous good
character of the prisoner,” said Bradshaw; “but this has already been
testified to by three Crown witnesses, and I now consider that
unnecessary.”

“And very remarkable evidence it is,” said the judge. “Where testimony,
even when amply supported, appears unreasonable on its face, the law
naturally looks for a motive. Can you supply that in this instance?”

“_I_ can,” continued Miss Landin. “Owing to—to a love affair, in which
Mr. Gardiner found the prisoner here a dangerous rival, he determined to
bring Mr. Burton into disgrace which would cause him to leave the
country. It was a simple matter for Mr. Gardiner to remove the package
from his safe and cast the suspicion upon his clerk. When this failed to
have the desired effect it was another simple matter to conceal the
package in Mr. Burton’s trunk and drop a hint to the detective who was
employed on the case.”

“Then the case is closed. We will not reflect upon the intelligence of
the jury by any remarks. Can the jury find a verdict without leaving the
room?”

“We can,” said the foreman. “All who say ‘Not guilty’ stand up.”

Every juror rose to his feet.

“Discharge the prisoner,” said the judge. “It will, of course, rest with
him whether an action is taken against his traducer. But I should like
to sit on the case.”

Burton rose to say something, but immediately the air became alive with
hands. They were thrust at him out of space—from above, from below, from
every side—and he found himself seized and carried bodily out of the
building.

At the door he saw Miss Landin. There was a room there used for office
purposes. At the moment it was unoccupied. Breaking away from his
enthusiastic friends he seized the girl by the arm, drew her into the
room and locked the door.

“Now tell me all,” he demanded. “Tell me why you did it, how you did it,
and why you kept your discovery a secret, even from the officers of the
law. But first of all accept an apology for the one-time bad opinion of
a boy who has been very much of a fool, and who has been saved by a
miracle. You are the miracle, Polly—I mean, Miss Landin.”

“Hardly that,” said the girl, laughing. “And I am not sure how much I
should tell you. You see, it wasn’t you that engaged me.”

“That’s the biggest part of the mystery. Don’t keep me in suspense. I
haven’t seen my way for the last five months; let me see it clearly
now.”

“I should say that your way is as clear as day. It lies straight to Mrs.
Goode’s little private parlour, where somebody is waiting for you,” she
said, with a knowing smile. “But I suppose I owe you an explanation.
Your friends are clamouring for you at the door, so I will make it
brief. Listen.

“Myrtle Vane loves you. You couldn’t see it, of course, being a man, and
she, being a woman, couldn’t tell you. When you got into trouble there
was only one person in whom she could confide, and that person was her
brother Harry. She wrote him a letter—such a letter as raises the
relation of brother and sister from the human to the divine. He called
me to his office, as I had given him service before in other matters. He
read me his sister’s letter and talked with me frankly. ‘I want you to
go to Plainville,’ he said, ‘and find out all about this case. Learn the
character of this young man who has gained such a hold on the affections
of my sister. If he is guilty help to convict him; if he is innocent
establish his innocence beyond the shadow of doubt or question. But
above all, learn whether or not he is a man. See whether he can stand up
under adversity—whether he can face the inevitable with clear eye and
set chin. And when your investigation is complete report to my sister.’”

“Wonderful!” exclaimed Burton. “And you have reported?”

“Yes, by messenger, an hour ago. I couldn’t report until you came back,
you know.”

“Why?”

“Why? Stupid! With all your masculine assurance, you will hardly claim
that your conduct, up to an hour ago, had a very heroic ring. But your
return—in the nick of time—your explanations, and the course of to-day’s
events establish everything. I had to let you return thinking you were
guilty, otherwise I should have been in doubt what to report. Now while
many believed in you, only you and I and Gardiner in all this world knew
you were innocent. You couldn’t prove it, Gardiner wouldn’t prove it, so
the secret rested with me. And, in spite of my sex, I have learned that
there is just one way to keep a secret. I kept it.”

“Even from Miss Vane?”

“Even from Miss Vane.”

“Polly, you’re a wonder—you’re a brick.” There were tears in his eyes as
he spoke. “I won’t forget you—I won’t forget.” For a moment he held her
hand in his. And there were tears in her eyes, too, when she turned
away.

The Grant boys almost ate him when he reappeared from the little office,
but a clerk from the Sempter Trading Company forced his way to Burton.
“Mr. Sempter would like to see you in his office at once, Burton,” he
said.

“I will be there in ten minutes,” was the answer.

Burton found Mr. Sempter in his private office at the back of the store.
The merchant received him cordially and placed a chair for him. “You
might step down and get the mail for us, Miss Jones,” he said to his
stenographer, and as soon as the young woman had left the room he
plunged into his business with Burton.

“I have no doubt, Mr. Burton, your time is limited to-day. Your friends,
quite naturally, will demand the privilege of showing their elation at
the happy outcome of the miserable affair with which your name was so
unjustly associated. So I will be brief and to the point. When I
established this business here I was the first general merchant in
Plainville. As the town grew I realised that another store was
inevitable. The farmers demand competition, and no matter how well you
may use them they prefer to deal where they have a choice of stores. To
meet that situation it occurred to me to start another store under
another name. Gardiner was recommended to me by an Eastern business
connection. I got into touch with him, and the outcome was the
establishment of a store under his name, although I furnished all the
capital.”

Burton raised his eyebrows a trifle. “Then Gardiner was your employee?”
he interrupted.

“Nothing more or less. But the secret was well kept. Gardiner was a
shrewd businessman, and not even my head clerks ever suspected my
connection with the store that bore his name. Now, to arrive at the
point: I paid Gardiner two thousand dollars a year and twenty per cent.
of the profits. That gave him a net income from the business of between
three and four thousand yearly. His resignation is now in my hands, and
the position is open to you on the same terms. What do you say?”

Burton was so much surprised by the revelation made, and by Mr.
Sempter’s liberal offer, that he found it difficult to answer. But at
last he managed to say something about his inexperience in mercantile
business.

“It is not experience I am hiring,” said Mr. Sempter. “I can hire twenty
years’ experience for twenty dollars a week. It’s character I am bidding
for now. I am an old hand on the market, and I seldom pay more than an
article is worth. Can you assume your new duties to-morrow morning?”

“I can,” said Burton, rising from his chair in his sudden resolve.

The old merchant and the young one clasped hands together, and at that
moment Miss Jones entered with the mail.

“The clerk in the post office said there was a letter for Mr. Burton,”
she explained, “and wondered where to find him, so I brought it with
me.” So saying she placed an envelope in Burton’s hands.

As he left the store he glanced at the post mark, and his heart jumped
as he found it was that of a far western town. He nervously tore open
the enclosure, and read:

    “Dear Ray.—Of course I have found out all about you. Why
    couldn’t you tell me and save all this investigation on my part?
    I am addressing this letter to reach you at Plainville on the
    first day of the assizes. I expect you will be there to lift it;
    if it comes back to me undelivered another pillar of my faith in
    humanity will be gone. But it won’t come back. And in some way
    justice will prevail, even if we do not see it clearly just now.
    The fact that the lady with the scales may sometimes be caught
    napping is no fault of her customer.

    “I have invited myself to visit you and Myrtle when you get
    settled down. Meanwhile—good luck!

                                                       “Kate McKay.”

“Dear old Kid,” said Burton, as he pressed the letter fervently to his
lips. “It’s wonderful how many people there are in this world who ring
true, after all, isn’t it?”

As he entered the hall of the Goode boarding-house he was overwhelmed by
a pair of arms about his neck and a resounding kiss on his cheek. When
he could disengage himself he was looking into the laughing face of
Alice Goode.

“That’s a horse to me,” she exclaimed, gleefully. “I knew it was now or
never. In fifteen minutes you’ll be tagged and labelled, and I never
trespass on other people’s property. But until the ‘Keep off’ sign is up
I don’t mind stamping around on the lawn a little.”

“There’ll always be a corner in the lawn for you, Alice,” he said
earnestly.

“More likely in the root garden,” she sallied. “But hist——”—this with
her finger to her lips—“the great moment is at hand.” She led him softly
to the parlour door, and as it swung open to her touch his eyes fell on
that wonderful face which he had seen in every dawn and every sunset,
every shadow and every sunbeam, since that glorious day, ages ago, when
their mirrored images had blended in the glassy water at their feet.
With a spirit flooded with humility and tenderness he stepped into the
presence that to him was nothing less than sacred.

And Alice Goode gently closed the door and tip-toed down the hall.

BRADBURY, AGNEW, & CO. LD., PRINTERS, LONDON AND TONBRIDGE.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Bail Jumper" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home