The Project Gutenberg eBook of David Vallory

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Title: David Vallory

Author: Francis Lynde

Illustrator: Arthur E. Becher

Release date: November 16, 2021 [eBook #66754]
Most recently updated: January 28, 2022

Language: English

Original publication: United States: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1919

Credits: D A Alexander, David E. Brown, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)






It had given him a glow of superecstasy to find that she
was familiar with many of the details.       (Page 232)




NEW YORK  : : : : : : : : : :  1919

Copyright, 1919, by

Published August, 1919





I. In the Green Tree 1
II. The Deluge 8
III. Eben Grillage 26
IV. An Honorable Discharge 40
V. Gloriana 55
VI. The Henchman 68
VII. A Reward of Merit 89
VIII. Out of the Past 103
IX. Silas Plegg 113
X. The Miry Clay 127
XI. Bridge Number Two 143
XII. Under the High Stars 160
XIII. Altman’s Nerves 173
XIV. The Mucker 186
XV. Plegg’s Back-Fire 198
XVI. Master and Man 207
XVII. The Tar-Barrel 220
XVIII. In Loco Parentis 237
XIX. The Ultimatum 251
XX. In the Ore Shed 264[viii]
XXI. The Other David 277
XXII. At Bridge Three 293
XXIII. The Killer 312
XXIV. No Thoroughfare 323
XXV. Cataclysmic 339
XXVI. The Heart of Qojogo 357
XXVII. The Terror 370
XXVIII. Regeneration 381
XXIX. As It Should Be 390




In the Green Tree

DAVID VALLORY’S train, to make which he had precipitately thrown down pencil and mapping-pen in the drafting room of the Government harbor-deepening project on the Florida coast two days earlier, was an hour late arriving at Middleboro; and in this first home-coming from the distant assignment, the aspect of things once so familiar seemed jarred a trifle out of focus. It was not that the June fields were less green, or the factory suburb through which the long train was slowing more littered and unsightly. But there was a change, and it was in a manner depressive.

“Your home town?” inquired the traveler in the opposite half of the Pullman section, as Vallory began to assemble his various belongings.

“Yes,” said David, adding, as if in some sort of justification: “I was born here in Middleboro.”

The man who had occupied the upper berth[2] looked aside reflectively, taking in and appraising the country-town tritenesses as the open car windows passed them in review.

“A man may be born anywhere,” he remarked; then, with the appraisive glance directed at the fair-haired, frank-faced young man kneeling to strap an over-filled suit case; “It’s a safe bet that you’ll not die in Middleboro—unless you should chance to be killed in an accident.”

Vallory, soberly preoccupied, looked up from the strapping.

“Why do you say that?”

The older man smiled with a rather grim widening of the thin lips half hidden by a cropped beard and mustaches.

“You are young, and youth is always impatient of the little horizons. Let me make another guess. You have been away for some time, and this is your first return. You are finding it a bit disappointing. Am I right?”

“Not exactly disappointing,” Vallory denied.

“Well, then, different, let us say. You may not realize it yet, but you have outgrown the home town. I know, because, years ago, I had precisely the same experience myself. Do your people live here?”

The train had been halted in the yard by a[3] dropped semaphore arm, and for the moment Vallory was at the mercy of his chance traveling companion. Yet he told himself that there was no good reason why he should be churlish.

“Yes,” he conceded; “my father and sister live here. And I have lived here all my life except for the four years in college, and the past two years in Florida.”

“College—to be sure,” the inquisitor agreed half absently. “What course, if I may ask?”


At this the bearded man exhibited a tiny fob charm made in the shape of a simple trestle bent and extended a hand individualized by the spatulate thumb and square-ended fingers of the artist-artisan.

“Shake!” he exclaimed, with something more than Middle-Western informality. “I happen to be one of the same breed. Now I am quite certain you won’t die here in—Middletown?—is that the name?—always making an exception in favor of the untoward accident, of course.”

“Middleboro,” David corrected. Then to the repetition of the prophecy: “You are probably right. I found that I had to leave home to get my first job. I have been on Government work in Florida—rivers and harbors.”

[4]“Government work? A deep grave and a safe one. Would you mind telling me just why you chose to bury yourself in it?”

Vallory’s smile was still good-natured. For so young a man he was singularly free from the false dignity which so often is made to pass for the real.

“I don’t mind in the least. I did what most college men do; took the first reasonably decent thing that offered. It wasn’t at all what I wanted, but my own particular line was rather dull two years ago. I majored in railroad building.”

“Railroad building, eh? That’s my trade, too,” said the other. Then, with an overlooking glance that was too frankly a renewal of the appraisive summing-up to be mistaken for anything else: “You’ll go far, my young friend—if you’re not too good.”

David Vallory’s smile broadened into a laugh.

“Thanks,” he said. “But what do you mean by ‘too good’?”

“Precisely what I say; no more and no less. You can take it from a total stranger, can’t you? You have a good jaw, and I shouldn’t care to get in your way if you had any reason to wish to beat me up. But your eyes tell another story.”

Vallory had a telegram in his pocket, the brief[5] summons which, two days earlier, had caused him to drop pen and pencil in the Florida office and hasten to catch the first northbound train. There was nothing in the wording of the message to breed alarm; but the mere fact that his father had telegraphed him to come home had awakened disturbing qualms of anxiety. Wondering if he were still youthful enough to advertise the disquietude so plainly that a stranger might read the signs of it, he said:

“Well, go on; what do my eyes tell you?”

“This: that in spite of your twenty-five, six, or seven years, whatever they may be, you are still sufficiently youthful and unspoiled to take things at their face value. You believe good of a man or a woman until the evil is proved, and even then you change reluctantly. You hold your word as binding as your oath. In short, you are still generous enough to believe that the world is much better than the muckrakers would make it out to be. Isn’t this all true?”

“I should be sorry if I had to contradict you,” said Vallory soberly. “At that, you are only accusing me of the common civilized humanities. The world has been very decent to me, thus far. Doesn’t it occur to you that a man usually finds what he looks for in life?—that, as a general[6] proposition, he gets just about what he is willing to give?”

The bearded man shook his head, as one too well seasoned to argue with unvictimized youth.

“Four years in college, and two in a Government service which taught you absolutely nothing about life as it is lived in a world of men and women and sharply competitive business,” he scoffed gently. “Ah, well; we’ll let it go with a word of advice—advice from a man whose name you don’t know, and whom you will most likely never meet again. When you come to take the plunge; the real plunge into the sure-enough puddle of life as it is lived by most men and not a few women; don’t tie up too hard with any man or set of men, or yet to those old-fashioned principles which you have been taught to regard as law and Gospel. If you do, you won’t succeed—in the only sense in which the world measures success.”

The train was moving on again, and Vallory was not sorry. Being healthily suspicious of cynicism in any of its forms, he was glad that his critical section mate had not chosen to begin on him at the dining-car breakfast, where they had first met. None the less, at the station stop he shook hands with the volunteer prophet of evil.

“Good-by,” he said. “I’d like to hear your estimate[7] of the next man with whom you happen to share a Pullman section. But part of your prediction will doubtless come true. I have definitely broken away from the Government job, and I shall probably not stay very long in Middleboro.”

As he left the train he glanced at his watch. It was past nine; therefore his father would be at the bank. With only a hand-bag for encumbrance he walked rapidly up the main street with the well-remembered home town surroundings still making their curiously depressive appeal.


The Deluge

THE Middleboro Security Bank, housed in a modest two-storied brick three squares up from the railroad station, seemed on that morning of mornings to be a center of subdued excitement. Early in the forenoon as it was, a number of farm teams were halted at the curb, and little knots of country folk and townspeople obstructed the sidewalk. David Vallory nodded good-morning to one and another in the groups as he swung past, and was immediately conscious of a sort of hushed restraint on the part of those who returned his greetings.

In the bank an orderly throng was inching and shuffling its way in sober silence to the paying teller’s window. There were no signs of panic, and any excitement that might underlie the unusual crush of business seemed to be carefully suppressed. But Vallory saw that old Abner Winkle, and the clerk he had called into the cage to help him, wore anxious faces; and Winkle’s hands, the hands of a man who had grown gray in the service[9] of the country-town bank, were tremulous and uncertain as he counted out the money to the waiting cheque-holders.

David made his way to the rear of the narrow lobby, to a door with a ground-glass panel bearing the word “President” in black lettering. He entered without knocking, but was careful to snap the catch of the lock to prevent a possible intrusion. A tall, thinly bearded man, prematurely white-haired, with a face that was almost effeminate in its skin texture and the fineness of its lines, and with the near-sighted eyes and round-shouldered stoop of a student and book lover, got rather uncertainly out of his chair at the old-fashioned desk.

“David!” he exclaimed. “I knew you’d come, and I’m glad you are here. Was the train late?”

“An hour or thereabouts. Didn’t you get my answer to your wire?”

The older man put his hand to his head. “Did I?” he asked half absently. “I suppose I must have, if you sent one. I—I think I haven’t been quite responsible since I telegraphed you. You saw what is going on out in the bank; it has been that way since day before yesterday. I waited as long as I dared. I knew it would be a shock to you, and I—I didn’t want to shock you, son.”

[10]David Vallory placed a chair for himself at the desk end and felt mechanically for his pipe and tobacco. Disaster was plainly in the air and he prepared himself to meet it.

“When you’re ready, Dad,” he said.

Adam Vallory sank into his chair. There was a bit of string on the desk and he picked it up and began aimlessly to untie the knots in it.

“I wasn’t sure you’d come; I didn’t know whether you could come. It isn’t fair to take you away from your work; but——”

“Of course, I’d come!” David broke in warmly. “I’m here to take hold with you, and you must remember that there are two of us now. What has gone wrong?”

Adam Vallory shook his head sadly.

“The thing that went wrong dates back to a time before you were born, David; to the time when I allowed your grandfather, and some others, to persuade me that I ought to make a business man of myself. That was a mistake; a very sorry mistake. I haven’t been a good banker.”

David shook his head in honest filial deprecation. “You have been the best and kindest of fathers to Lucille and me, and that counts for much more than being a successful money-grabber. And you’ve earned the love and respect of everybody[11] worth while in Middleboro. What is the present trouble? Are you having a run on the bank?”

“I suppose you wouldn’t call it a run, as yet. There is no special excitement and the people are very quiet and orderly. But there have been a great many withdrawals, and there will doubtless be more. If it should come to a real run——”

“Let me have it all,” the son encouraged, when the pause grew over-long. “Do you mean that the bank isn’t solvent?”

“It is not,” was the low-toned rejoinder, given without qualification. “I have made a number of bad loans. So long as I had to deal only with neighbors and friends, men whom I have known and trusted all my life, I got along fairly well, though the bank has never earned much more than the family living, as you know. But when the town began to grow and the factories came in the conditions were changed—for me. Then Mugridge started the Middleboro National, and that was the beginning of the end. He took his pick of the new customers and let me have the fag ends. The Stove Works went into bankruptcy a week ago, and that was the last straw.”

“You were carrying Carnaby, of the Stove Works?” David asked.

[12]“Yes; and for much more than his capitalization, or our resources, would warrant. He has been very smooth and plausible, and I have believed in him, as I have in others. The story of my involvement with Carnaby leaked out, as such stories always do. As I have said, there has been no panic; just the steady stream of withdrawals and account-closings. It’s telling on us fast now, and the end is practically in sight. This is no world for the idealist in business, David.”

David Vallory was silent for a time, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his chin propped in his palms. His pipe had gone out, but he still held it clamped between his teeth. In Middleboro tradition it was said that he favored his mother’s people, and the square-set, firm-lipped mouth bore out the assertion. But the good gray eyes were, not the eyes of a dreamer, perhaps, but the eyes of the son of a dreamer; more—they were the eyes of a man who had not yet outgrown the illusions. Adam Vallory had matured slowly; he was in his thirties when he married. And the slow maturing process seemed to have been handed on to the son. A stronger man than his father, this David, one would have said; though perhaps only as athletic youth is stronger than age. And a close observer, like the crop-bearded[13] stranger of the Pullman car, might have added that the strength was idealistic rather than practical; a certain potency of endurance rather than of militancy.

“Just how bad is it—in actual figures?” the son asked, at the end of the chin-nursing pause.

Adam Vallory closed his eyes as one wearied and stunned in the clash and clamor of a battle too great for him.

“We can go on paying out to-day, and perhaps to-morrow. Beyond that, there is failure for the bank; and—and beyond the failure, David, there is a prison for me!”

The younger man straightened up quickly and there was unfeigned horror in the good gray eyes.

“Good heavens, Dad!—you don’t mean anything like that!” he exclaimed in a shocked voice.

“I wish I didn’t, son, but it is true. I have been weak; criminally weak, some will say. All along I have been clinging desperately to the hope that I could pull through; that the bad paper the bank is holding would somehow miraculously turn into good paper. A better business man would have faced the worst weeks ago. I didn’t. We have gone on receiving deposits when I knew that we were, to all intents and purposes, insolvent. That, as you know, is a penitentiary offense.”

[14]David Vallory got upon his feet and began to pace up and down the length of the small room, three strides and a turn. It was his maiden projection into the jostling arena of business, and for the moment he could only struggle hardily for standing room in it. He had always known, in a general way, that his book-loving father was no money-getter in any modern sense of the term, but there had always been enough and something to spare for him and for the blind sister whose birth had cost the mother’s life. With the healthy ambition of the average boy and youth, he had looked forward to a time when he should go to work for himself in some chosen field and manfully build up the slender fortunes of the family. But now the world of youthful anticipation had gone suddenly and hopelessly awry.

“We can’t think of giving up, Dad!” he broke out, after he had tramped his way through to some measure of decision. “There must be something that we can turn into money and save the bank and your good name. Can’t you find somebody who will carry you until we can make the turn?”

Adam Vallory shook his head in patient despair.

“That ground has all been plowed long ago, son. It is now six months or more since I began[15] borrowing on my private resources, such as they are. There is nothing left; not even the house we live in. I suppose I should have told you sooner, but that was another weakness. I wished you to have a chance to finish your college course and get your start in the world without distractions, and that much, at least, has been accomplished.”

Once more the younger man sought to stem the torrent of the incredible reversals, and this time he was partly successful.

“We can still hope that it isn’t altogether as bad as you think it is, Dad,” he said, with greater optimism than his inner conviction warranted. “In a few minutes I’m going to pull off my coat and have a look at things from the inside. We’re not going down without a fight; that’s settled. Aside from this prison scare—and it’s only a scare, you know—no Middleboro jury would ever believe for a single moment that you meant to do a criminal act—aside from that, there are two mighty good reasons why we mustn’t go to the dogs.”

“Lucille?” queried the father.

“Yes; she is one of the reasons, and a pretty stout one. Life is always going to be hard enough for the little sister, without adding poverty and a sorrow that she can neither help nor hinder.”

[16]“Quite true; and the other reason?”

David Vallory had sat down again, and a boyish flush came to darken the healthy brown which was the gift of a more or less athletic youth.

“I didn’t intend to tell you—not just yet,” he demurred; “at least, not until I had shown you that I could make good on my own, and prove that you haven’t been throwing your money away on me. I—I’ve found the girl, Dad.”

The older man leaned back in his chair and the tired eyes were closed.

“That is natural, and was to be expected,” he acquiesced. “You have been very moderate, David. Many another young fellow would have found, not one girl, but a round dozen, before reaching your age.”

David Vallory’s laugh matched the absurdity of the “round dozen.”

“Nothing like that; I’m not built that way, I guess,” he returned. “There is only one girl, and though I hadn’t realized it until lately, I think I discovered her to be that one while I was still wearing knickerbockers.”

Adam Vallory nodded as one who understood.

“I have often wondered if it might not turn out that way,” he said; “wondered and been just a trifle—no, I won’t say it. Judith is a good girl,[17] and she will doubtless make you a warm-hearted, loyal wife.”

“Judith?” said David, and now his flush was darker.

“Yes. You thought you were mighty secret about it, but I knew it, all along; knew that you were corresponding with her while you were at college, and missed you every time you spent an evening at the Fallons’. It’s all right, son. I haven’t a word to say.”

“But—but—you’re tremendously mistaken, Dad!” the younger man protested earnestly. “There has never been anything serious between Judith and me. We were just good chums together in school, and——”

“Hold on a minute, son,” said Adam Vallory gently. “We have no money, but we still have a few traditions. One of them is that no man of the Vallory name has ever put the burden of proof on a woman, so far as the records show. You admit that you wrote to Judith while you were in college, and all Middleboro knows that you were always going about with her in your vacations. Haven’t you been writing back and forth while you were in Florida?”

“Oh, yes; now and then, of course. But——”

“You are trying to tell me that I have guessed[18] wrong. Before you go any farther, let me say this: your relations with Judith may have meant nothing to you; but how about Judith herself? She is warm-blooded, ardent, and much more mature than you are, in spite of the difference in your ages. Be very sure that you don’t owe her something, David—the biggest debt that a woman can ever hold against a man. Now go on and tell me as much as you care to about the other girl—the real one.”

David was still showing the marks of disturbance, but he went on manfully.

“There isn’t so very much to tell. I’ve—well, I’ve just found her, that’s all. I met her last winter at Palm Beach. She was down there with a bunch of New York people who go there every year. Raglan, my chief on the Government job, knew her and some of her New York friends. He began to introduce me, but she laughed and said, ‘Mr. Vallory and I were rocked in the same cradle—in Old Middleboro,’ and that settled it.”

The beaten man in the desk chair roused himself to say: “Then you did know her as a child? She belongs here?”

“Not now. She is a citizen of a very much larger world.”

[19]“Do I know her, or her people?—but of course I must.”

“You do. You have held her on your knee and told her fairy tales many a time, while I stood by and listened. Doesn’t that place her for you?”

Adam Vallory shook his head with a smile that was reminiscent of pleasanter things than the navigating of stormy seas in a sinking business craft.

“I have held many little girls on my knee to tell them fairy stories, David. That is another reason why I should never have been a banker; I love children—and fairy tales—far too well.”

“You would never guess,” said David, with all the fatuousness of the new-born lover. “Yet you and her father were schoolboys together.”

Adam Vallory roused himself again. “Not Eben Grillage?” he said.

“Yes; she is Mr. Grillage’s daughter; the brown-eyed little Vinnie we used to know; though they all call her ‘Miss Virginia’ now.”

Again the upcast of reminiscence came to make the unsuccessful banker forget for the moment the rotten business craft that was sinking beneath him.

“Eben Grillage,” he mused. “He was, and is, everything that I am not. He was a born leader, even as a boy. Success, or what most people value as success, has been his for the taking. You have[20] seen him, David? Is he growing old, as I am?”

“You are old only in hard work; work that doesn’t appeal to you,” the son said loyally. Then: “I have met Mr. Grillage only once, and—well, I guess he didn’t have much time to throw away on an apprentice engineer who was just then trying his prettiest to get a chance to talk over old times with his daughter. I remember he asked about you.”

“That was in Florida?”

“Yes. I chased over to Palm Beach as often as I could during the short season, but it didn’t do me much good. There were too many other fellows ahead of me. It was on one of these trips that I met Mr. Grillage. He had run down from some place in Georgia, where his company was building a dam, to spend a week-end with his daughter. The most that he said to me was in the nature of a good-humored ‘josh’ for burying myself in a Government job.”

Adam Vallory nodded.

“You don’t remember Vinnie’s mother, of course; she died while you were still only a little lad. She was what we, in my younger days, used to call a belle; a most attractive woman, and as true and good as she was beautiful. Eben Grillage had none of the qualities that such women are[21] supposed to care for—save one; he was big enough and strong enough to reach out and take what he wanted. He idolized his wife; and the love which was hers while she lived has been carried along to his daughter.”

“Any one can see that,” said David, laughing. “Virginia is the apple of his eye. Have you kept in touch with him at all since he left Middleboro?”

“Only at long intervals.”

“They say he is rich, and rapidly growing richer. He has made the Grillage Engineering Company; built it from the ground up; and there isn’t any undertaking too big for him to tackle and carry through. If he wasn’t Virginia’s father, I’d strike him for a job—after we get things straightened out here for you.”

“He would do well by you, for old times’ sake, I don’t doubt. To me, Eben Grillage has never been the hard man that others seem to find him; he is still the loyal friend of the boyhood days—our boyhood. Different as we were, or perhaps just because of that difference, we were like brothers. Why should the fact that he is Vinnie’s father make you hold back?”

“I don’t know that I could explain it, even to you, Dad. But, somehow, I should feel handcapped. Virginia has a mighty keen, sharp-edged[22] little mind of her own. I have a notion that she wouldn’t think much of a fellow that her father was nursing along by hand.”

“Perhaps you are right. But tell me more about her.”

“I wish there were more to tell. I have met her a few times, and she has been mighty sweet to me—for the sake of the kiddie days here in Middleboro, as she occasionally took care to remind me. I’m not in her set, you know; not even in the outer edges of it. Besides, as I have said, she has a string of fellows as long as your arm. It’s only a pipe-dream for me, as yet, and I’m going to forget all about it now, until after we’ve staved off this trouble of yours. Will you turn me loose among the money papers and securities? I’d like to make a few figures for myself.”

With this for a beginning, David Vallory’s first day in the home town resolved itself into a grind of hard work. Through what was left of the forenoon, and straight on to three o’clock—welcome hour when the bank doors were shut upon the public, and the tired old paying teller and his assistant had an opportunity to balance their cash—the young man probed steadily, sometimes with his father at his elbow, but oftener alone.

What he discovered sobered him at first, and[23] later evoked symptoms of a panicky nature. The Middleboro Security, a one-man bank in all that the term implies, was—unless some of the bad paper could be redeemed—plainly insolvent; and, what was much worse, the insolvent condition was of long standing. The failure of the Carnaby Stove Works had been merely the tiring spark to set off the explosion. Without immediate help; help that must run into the tens of thousands; the bank must close its doors.

Though the June afternoon was not oppressively warm, David Vallory found himself sweating profusely when the final column of figures had been added. In the quiet of the semi-darkened bank, where Winkle and the three clerks were still striving silently for their balances after the strenuous business day, a menacing shadow fell. It was not only ruin; it was ruin with disgrace. David was far from holding his father responsible in any moral sense, this though it was apparent that the present state of affairs had been long threatened. That it had not reached a climax sooner was due chiefly to the fact that for many years the country-town bank had done business only with honest customers. David was not blind to his father’s one amiable weakness. It was known far and wide that Adam Vallory could[24] never say “No” to a sufficiently importunate borrower; also, that he judged all men by his own upright standards.

David Vallory got up from the table-desk at which he had been working and slowly struggled into his coat. Grown man as he was, this was his first rude collision with life in its commercial aspect, and he rose from the preliminary grapple with a belittling feeling of inadequacy; as if, as a boy, he had been rudely buffeted into the gutter by a man. But the feeling did not becloud the clearly defined conclusion at which he had arrived. He did not—could not—minify the impending consequences. The bank examiner would come, and at his coming the pitiless mill of publicity would begin to grind. There would be exposure and a criminal prosecution. Those who knew Adam Vallory, the man, would refuse to believe that he had consciously committed a crime; but to the wider world he would figure merely as another addition to the ranks of those who gamble with other people’s money; a banker who had taken the desperate chance involved in going on and receiving deposits when there was no reasonable hope of repaying the depositors.

The old-fashioned clock on the wall was striking four as the volunteer checker of accounts[25] gathered up the slips of scratch paper which he had covered with figures and passed out to the small room at the rear of the working space. The gray-faced man bending dejectedly over his desk and waiting had no illusions. “Well, son?” he said, as David came in.

The young man dropped heavily into a chair and sat for some moments staring at the slips of scratch paper.

“This morning when you told me where we stood you didn’t make it any worse than it really is,” he announced soberly. “Winkle gave me his figures just now—the withdrawals for to-day. If they come after us to-morrow as they have to-day, we shan’t be able to last until three o’clock. I’ve gone over everything in the vault with a fine-tooth comb; we need something like a hundred thousand dollars more than we have in sight.”

Adam Vallory’s gaze was fixed upon the dust-covered steamship lithograph hanging above his desk, but he saw the picture only with the outward eye.

“A hundred thousand,” he repeated slowly. “David, it might as well be a million. There is no use. I shall telegraph to the bank examiner to-night, and we won’t open the bank doors in the morning.”


Eben Grillage

AT his father’s definite acknowledgment of defeat David Vallory rose and thrust the penciled sheets into his pocket, crumpling them absently into a wad.

“I can’t tell you what to do,” he admitted. “I’m too young and too raw; how raw I never realized until to-day. Just the same, everything in me rises up to yell for an endurance fight. Call it stubbornness or anything you like, but I’d rather be knocked out than squeezed out. Some of the bad paper can be made good if we retain an up-to-date lawyer and put the pressure on as if we meant it. In the savings department we can gain time by insisting upon the sixty days’ notice of withdrawal that the law allows. It’s tough to have to go down without mixing it up a little with the enemy, Dad!”

“I know,” was the colorless reply. “But the fight has all been taken out of me, David. You[27] mustn’t think that I’ve been sitting here in my chair and letting things take their course without making a struggle. It hasn’t been anything like that. I’ve turned and twisted every way; have borrowed to my limit and then tried to borrow more. I’ve even gone practically on my knees to Mugridge, of the new Middleboro National. He was as cold as a fish; told me that I ought to push my collections.”

“Have you consulted a lawyer?”

“Not specifically. Young Oswald has known about how things were going, and he has advised me—as a friend. He would make a legal fight for us if I’d let him.”

“Bert Oswald is going to make himself the rarest combination on earth—or at least he was heading that way when he came out of the law school.”

“A combination?”

“Yes, a man who will be stubbornly honorable and upright in spite of his profession.” David Vallory was prone to magnify his own profession to the detriment of some others, and in the engineering school he had imbibed the technical man’s suspicion of those who draw up contracts and specifications only to leave loopholes of escape. “I don’t believe he would ever take a rascal’s retainer,”[28] he went on, adding: “Why don’t you employ him?”

It was Adam Vallory’s turn to show embarrassment.

“Bert has been coming to the house rather oftener than his boyhood friendship with you would seem to warrant,” he returned half reluctantly. “This morning you gave me your reason for not wishing to take service under Eben Grillage. Can’t you imagine that I may have a somewhat similar reason for not wishing to involve young Oswald in this sorry business of ours?”

This was a new surprise for David. “Lucille?” he queried.

Adam Vallory nodded. “It can come to nothing, of course. Lucille, herself, would be the first to insist that one with her affliction has no right to become a wife and mother. Yet it has been a great comfort to her to have Oswald dropping in at odd moments, or for an evening. He understands her thoroughly, shares her keen love for music, and all that. He has even taught her to play chess and to do a number of things that we have never thought she was able to attempt. For her sake we mustn’t drag him into this mess of ours, David.”

This hesitantly given explanation opened a new[29] field of dismay for David Vallory. As it seemed, there was a separate and distinct disaster reaching out for each member of the little family of three persons; the grim threat hanging over his father, the indefinite postponement of his own embryo love affair, and now this portentous problem of Lucille’s happiness. His love for the blind sister was deep and tender, as it should have been, and at the moment his own affair shrank to inconsequence, as it was constrained to when he realized how heavily the blow would fall upon one who had been sheltered and protected in every way.

“You have fully made up your mind to wire for the examiner to-night?” he asked, after another interval filled with blind gropings for a helpful suggestion.

Adam Vallory looked away toward the window and through it to the empty country-town street beyond.

“There is no use in prolonging the agony, David. The day of reckoning has come, and a few hours one way or another can make no possible difference. I shall have to face the music in the end; we shall all three have to face it, more is the pity. If there were the slenderest chance of escape——”

The interruption, voices in the adjoining banking[30] room, gruff tones raised emphatically, and Winkle’s more moderate ones parroting excuses and explanations came over the half-height partition of the rear office. It culminated now in an abrupt opening of the door of privacy. The intruder, whom Winkle had apparently been trying to bar out, was a big man with a clean-shaven face in which each feature seemed to have been massively exaggerated to make it harmonize with the gigantic figure; a great Roman beak of a nose; a hard-bitted mouth buttressed by a jaw over which the heavy cheeks hung like the dewlaps of a bulldog; strong teeth clamping the blackest of cigars; shrewd eyes that glared from beneath penthouse brows; in short, a man who, in the Stone Age, would have acquired the most commodious of the caves and swung the heaviest of the clubs.

“Adam—you old snipe!” was the giant’s explosive greeting, and his hand-grip fairly lifted the slighter man out of his chair. “Nice kind of a welcome your watch-dog cashier out there was trying to hand me: said you were busy and couldn’t be interrupted! How are you, David, boy”—and now it came David’s turn to wince under the vigorous hand-grasp; at least, until he could summon his athletic training and do a little bone crushing on his own account.

[31]Adam Vallory, sunk fathoms deep in the pool of despair but a moment before, made a generous effort to rise to the hospitable requirements.

“You took us completely unawares, Eben; I didn’t dream you were anywhere within a day’s journey of old Middleboro. And Winkle’s eyesight must be getting bad if he didn’t recognize you. Sit down, if you can find a chair big enough to hold you. It’s a pleasure to see your face again; you don’t give me the chance any too often. Now tell us what good wind has blown you back to Middleboro.”

The big man seated himself, and the chair, though it was the stoutest one in the room, whined its protest.

“Business, Adam; always business. We have an order in with your two-by-four equipment factory here for a lot of scrapes and dump-cars, and at the last minute Judson wired that he couldn’t deliver on time. I didn’t happen to have anybody to send, so I came down here to read the riot act to Tom Judson. He’ll ship now; I’ve just been out to see him.” Then to David: “Young man, how soon can I get a train back to Chicago?”

David looked up the required information. The next through train would leave at four minutes past nine o’clock. The visitor glanced at a watch[32] big enough and thick enough to have been used as a missile.

“That gives us about four hours, Adam,” he rumbled, “and we ought to be able to pull up a good lot of the arrears in that length of time. Shut up your desk and call it a day. We’ll trot over to the hotel and be boys together for a little while. David will stay here and wind up the odds and ends of the day’s business for you.”

Adam Vallory was opening his mouth to protest hospitably against the hotel, but his son broke in ahead of him.

“That’s right, Mr. Grillage; I’m mighty glad you can have a little time with Dad,” he interposed quickly. “We were speaking of you this morning, and I was telling Dad that I had met you for a few minutes one day last winder in Florida. Take him away with you, and I’ll stay and close the bank.”

“Good boy!” was the gruff rejoinder. “By and by, when you get around to it, you may make a sleeper reservation for me on that nine o’clock train. Wire for it, and bring the answer over to the hotel. No, Adam”—to the host who was trying to make himself the entertainer instead of the entertained—“no, you’re not going to take me home with you, this time. I want you all to myself.[33] We’ll go to the St. Nicholas and make old Vignaux give us one of his Frenchy dinners in a private room. Get your hat and come along.”

Left to himself, David Vallory checked over the day’s transactions with Winkle, telegraphed for the big man’s berth in the Chicago sleeping-car, and then walked out to the tree-shaded suburb on the hill to eat his dinner with the sister whom he had not yet seen. To his great satisfaction he found young Herbert Oswald at the house, and the presence of the young lawyer, who was easily persuaded to make a third at the family dinner-table, pushed the disaster explanations, or such of them as might have to be made to the blind girl, a little farther into the future.

Though David forced himself to talk at the table-for-three, his cheerful attempts to keep the conversation in some safe middle-of-the-road channel did not obscure for him the sentimental situation developing under his eyes. Lucille, whose delicate, rose-leaf beauty was a direct inheritance from her father, was more animated than David had ever seen her, and it was doubly hard to realize that the softly lighted eyes, lifted shyly now and again in Oswald’s direction, were sightless. And as for the clean-cut, eager-faced young attorney,[34] there was small effort at concealment on his part.

David Vallory left the house after dinner with a heavy heart. He had known Oswald all his life, and liked him. He was well assured that the young lawyer would stand by and be a very tower of strength to the family in the storm which was about to burst. But the outcome of it all would be a swift conflagration in the sentimental field, and a heart-breaking awakening for the blind sister, who was obviously in love with Oswald without at all realizing it. On the half-mile walk to the St. Nicholas David Vallory told himself in many and sternly emphatic repetitions that something must be done to avert the triple-headed calamity; though what the “something” should be was entirely beyond his powers of imagination.

It was past eight o’clock when he reached the town’s one hotel and found a quiet corner in the small office-lobby where he could smoke and wait for the two who were bringing up the boyhood arrears in a private room above-stairs. When the waiting interval ended, it was only the burly guest-host who appeared, coming down from the private-dining-room suite alone. Catching sight of David, he crossed the lobby, cast his big body[35] heavily into a chair, and lighted a cigar, the end of which was already chewed into shapelessness.

“You have sent Dad home?” inquired the son, after he had delivered the telegram assuring one Eben Grillage of a reserved space in the Chicago sleeping-car.

“No!”—disgustedly. “Some crazy farmer broke in on us a few minutes ago and insisted on taking your father over to the bank. Said he had an option on a piece of land, and was obliged to get his money to-night to make good on it.”

David winced. He knew perfectly well that the excuse given had been only an excuse; that the intruding farmer was merely one of the badly frightened depositors in the Middleboro Security who was afraid to wait for another day. He was wondering how much or how little his father had told Grillage of the threatened disaster when the big man went on.

“There is something the matter with your father, David. All evening he’s been acting like a man with a clot on his brain. Hasn’t been sick, has he?”

This was one question that the son could answer without reservations: “No; he hasn’t been side.”

“Humph! Then it’s business. How long have[36] you been home, and how much do you know about his banking affairs?”

“I’ve been here only one day, but I know all there is to know, I guess,” said David, looking down at the worn pattern of the linoleum on the lobby floor.

The head of the Grillage Engineering Company twisted himself in his chair and bored into the young man at his side with the masterful eyes.

“Huh! Been here only one day, and yet you know it all. That means that he’s up against it. I knew it; it was bound to come sooner or later. Anywhere else but in Middleboro he would have gone on the rocks years ago; I’ve always told him that. Shake it loose, young man, and give me the facts.”

David hesitated in some manly fashion. If his father had not seen fit to confide in the tried friend of his youth, it was not for the son to take matters into his own hands.

“I don’t know that I have a right to do that, Mr. Grillage,” he began. “I——”

“See here!” was the explosive interruption; “if you knew me a little better, you wouldn’t make a break like that. When I ask a man to loosen up, he loosens, and that’s all there is to it. Dump it out—all of it.”

[37]David, untried enough to feel that any sharing of the dreadful thing would be a relief, hesitated no longer. The secret would be published broadcast in a day or two at most, so nothing mattered much. In a few words he told the story of the threatening catastrophe, exaggerating nothing, minimizing nothing. Eben Grillage heard him through without interrupting, shifting the chewed cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other as he listened. But at the end of the story he was scowling ferociously.

“Your father is still the same kind of a tender-hearted fool that he has always been!” he rapped out. “Sat through an hour-and-a-half dinner with me—dammit!—and never once opened his head about this bog hole he’s mired in!” Then he dragged out the biscuit-like watch. “We’ve got barely fifteen minutes, young man. You go and get Judson, the scrapers-and-dump-car man, on the ’phone, while I do a bit of figuring. Jump for it!”

David Vallory obeyed blindly, with his brain in a whirl. It took several of the hastening minutes to locate Judson at his home in the northern suburb, and when the telephone connection was finally made, the hotel porter was calling the Chicago train and Eben Grillage was at the desk, paying[38] his bill and growling out orders about his hand-baggage. A moment later David had handed the telephone receiver to the big-bodied man and was listening mechanically to the audible half of the conversation which began with shot-like directness.

“Yes, this is Grillage.... No, I don’t want to talk about the shipment; I want to know where you do your banking.... With the Middleboro National, you say? Well, this time you’ll do it through my bank—the Middleboro Security. Get that? Attach your draft to bill of lading and give it to Adam Vallory. Otherwise you don’t get your money. That’s all. Good-night.”

“Train time, Mr. Grillage,” interrupted the hotel clerk, in his most deferential tone.

“That’s all right; you hold that ’bus until I get ready!” snapped the departing guest. Then, thrusting a slip of paper into David’s hand: “Take that to your father, with my love. And a word to you, my boy”—this in a rumbling aside: “After this ’phone talk of mine gets handed about, your father will have all the credit he needs; but just the same, if you’ve got the level head that you seem to have, you’ll stand by and wind this bank business up, once for all. Your father’s too damned good to be a banker in any such wicked world as the one we’re living in. Dig up a good[39] lawyer, push the crooked borrowers to a settlement, and see if you can’t screw enough out of it to square up and leave your father and sister a little something to live on. When it’s done, you let me know by wire, and I’ll give you a job where you can make good if you’ve got it in you. That’s all I’ve got to say. Tell your father good-by for me; I shan’t have time to stop at the bank.”

It was not until after the crazy omnibus had rattled away, bearing the St. Nicholas’s departing guest in galloping haste for the train, that David Vallory ventured to glance at the slip of paper which had been shoved into his hand. For an instant the figures on it dazzled him and he had a rush of blood to the brain that made the electric lights in the hotel lobby coruscate and take on many-colored halos.

The slip of paper was Eben Grillage’s personal cheque on a Chicago bank for the round sum of one hundred thousand dollars.


An Honorable Discharge

DAVID VALLORY lost little time in crossing the square from the St. Nicholas to the bank corner; in point of fact, he was boyish enough to run. In the bank he found his father relocking the vault after having given the frightened farmer his money.

“Is your heart-action still pretty good, Dad?” he asked. “No high blood pressure, or anything like that, is there?”

“No, David. If I were as sound in mind as I am in body——”

But David would not let him finish. “Take a look at this and tell the blues to go hang,” he laughed, fishing the cheque of salvation out of an inner pocket.

Adam Vallory held the strip of paper up to the electric vault light, saw the figures and the signature, and dropped back into a chair, shaken and tremulous.

“David!” he gasped reproachfully. “Did you tell him?”

[41]“I did. Because it was evident that you hadn’t told him, I tried my best to dodge; but it was no manner of use. When Mr. Eben Grillage goes after a thing, he is not to be denied. He nearly bit my head off when he saw that I was trying to keep something from him. He said I was to give you that piece of paper with his love; that was after he’d ordered me to call Tom Judson on the ’phone for him and had told Judson that the Middleboro Security was his bank, and that he must draw through you for the money to pay for the shipment of scrapers and dump-cars. He said it so that the people standing around in the hotel lobby couldn’t help hearing and knowing that he is backing you. Isn’t that just about the finest thing you ever heard of?”

Adam Vallory was shaking his head dubiously.

“It is too fine, David; the obligation, even from an old friend like Eben.... It’s crushing. But we must consider it as a loan, no matter how he regards it. Yet I don’t see how we shall ever be able to pay it back.”

The young man had perched himself upon the bookkeeper’s high stool, and he had his answer ready.

“You’ve been doing all the scrapping, thus far, Dad, but now you must let me take my whirl at[42] it. We’ll let the old ship go decently and honorably ashore, and then climb out and save the pieces. We’ll pay Mr. Grillage back all we can rake and scrape out of the wreck; and beyond that——”

“Well?—beyond that, what, son?”

“It sounds rather stagy, but I’m going to say it. Beyond what money payment we may be able to make, we shall owe Mr. Grillage a debt of gratitude that will be canceled only when we are both under the sod. That is about the way it strikes me. I don’t care what people say about his business methods and the way he rides rough-shod over his competitors; that doesn’t cut any figure in his relations with you. He has done this thing for you, individually, and I don’t come even into the outer edges of it; just the same, he has laid an obligation upon me that I shall never live long enough to forget.”

For a long minute Adam Vallory sat staring into vacancy. When he looked up it was to say: “You are bone of my bone, David, and I thank God for a son who can see eye to eye with me at a time like this. And yet ... you are young, David; in many ways you are younger than your years. You are maturing slowly, just as I did. Sometimes I’ve been afraid—afraid you might[43] throw yourself into something as a boy throws himself, without reserve, you know; blind to everything but the one thing, whatever it might be. If you can only have time to ripen——”

David’s laugh was entirely care free. “That was the way you talked when I went to college, Dad, and again, when I left for Florida. I haven’t noticed that I’m particularly raw, compared with other men.”

“It isn’t that,” the father hastened to say, “it’s just that, up to to-day, you’ve never had to shoulder a man’s load. Perhaps I am foolishly apprehensive, but the way in which you spoke just now of our obligation—your obligation—to Eben Grillage.... I don’t know how to express it, but it made me feel as I have sometimes felt before; that if anything which you might conceive to be a duty were pushing you, you’d shut your eyes and go to any length.”

David laughed and shook his head. “Some day, Dad, you’ll wake up and find that I’m a man grown; or I hope you will. Just the same, we do owe Mr. Grillage a lot more than we can ever pay, and if it ever comes in my way to chop the debt down a bit, you may be sure I’ll sharpen my axe. Now, if you are not too wretchedly tired and worn out, suppose we turn in and make our[44] plans before we sleep. I told Lucille that we’d most likely be late coming home and she won’t be sitting up for us. To-morrow morning you’re going to turn the winding up of this thing over to me and let me save what I can. That is what Mr. Grillage said I must do, and it is what I mean to do.”

Deep into the night father and son sat together in the private room in the rear, poring over the books and bank paper and setting things in order for the speedy beaching of the outworn business ship. But it was not until after they had left the bank and were walking home that David won his final point.

“You shall do as you think best, David,” the father conceded, closing an argument which had begun at the very outset of the planning. “If it were left to me, I should probably be too easy with the bank’s debtors, as I’ve always been. You may retain Oswald, if you think best; only don’t let him be too hard on the borrowers who are in difficulties.”

The following day saw the beginning of the end for the oldest banking institution in the county. At nine o’clock in the morning the cue leading to Winkle’s wicket was formed again; but in an hour or two the tide showed signs of turning.[45] At Oswald’s suggestion the Vallorys had posted a notice in the bank window to the effect that Middleboro Security was going out of business, and inviting all who had claims upon the bank to present them and get their money. Coincidently with the posting of this notice, a rumor, starting from nobody knew just where, began to pass from lip to lip among the anxious depositors. It was to the effect that Eben Grillage, well known in the town and currently spoken of by his former townsmen as a multimillionaire, was backing Adam Vallory. The result was almost magical. First one and then another dropped out of the line in front of Winkle’s window; and by noon many of those who had already withdrawn their savings were coming back to furnish an object-lesson in the mutability of human nature by begging Adam Vallory to stay in business and reinstate them as depositors.

Early in the afternoon David persuaded his father to go home, and himself took the chair at the president’s desk, with Herbert Oswald at his elbow. By evening a good beginning had been made and the tangle was simplifying itself.

“Time is the thing we need to save,” said David, as he and the young lawyer went together to the St. Nicholas for their belated dinner. “Dad[46] is needing a rest, and I’ve got to strike out and do something for myself; something better than making maps in a Government surveying office. Naturally, I can’t go until after things are wound up properly here, and Dad and Lucille are provided for in some fashion. How long do you think it is going to take?”

Oswald reserved his answer until after they had found their places in the café and had given their dinner order.

“As to the time, it will probably ask for more than you will care to give to it,” he predicted; “that is, if you mean to stay and see it through. But that isn’t at all necessary. We can shake you loose in a few days, after we have closed the bank doors and have brought matters down to a routine settlement with debtors and creditors. I can handle that part of it myself, as the bank’s counsel.”

In accordance with this outline of Oswald’s, David Vallory stood by for the few days, taking his father’s place in the bank and doing what he could to hasten the beaching of the Security ship. The end of that phase of it came when the last depositor had chequed out his account, and Winkle had closed his wicket for the final time. Only the deferred collections remained, and these were turned over to Oswald.

[47]In the evening of this climaxing day, David and the young attorney were once more dining together in Vignaux’s café. The strain was off, and for the first time since his home-coming, David was free to begin the consideration of his own future. It was Oswald who gave the table talk its start in the proper direction.

“You are footloose at last, David, and I can imagine that you are mighty glad of it,” was the way the start was given. “It has been a new experience for you, and you have certainly buckled down to it like a man.”

David’s smile was boyishly complacent. “Sure I have; there was no reason why I shouldn’t. Isn’t that what a man’s son is for, in the last analysis?”

“Yes, but——”

“But what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. A good many sons don’t seem to see it in that light; and in your case—well, I’ve known you a long time, David, and I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend,’” David quoted, with a return of the good-natured smile. “What have I done to make you think small of me? Or is it something that I haven’t done?”

“Neither,” was the thoughtful reply. “It’s[48] just—oh, well; I guess it is because we were boys together, and I couldn’t seem to realize that you have grown up.”

“You and Dad are the limit. Do you realize it now?”

“Y-yes; to some extent. I’ve been watching you through this business whirl. You’ve done well; splendidly well. But it was the fighting of the untrained soldier.”

“Of course it was. What I didn’t know of the actual details of the business would have filled a library.”

“That isn’t what I meant; I guess I can’t express myself clearly enough to make you understand just what it is that I do mean. It sizes itself up something like this: you’re so wholesome and straightforward and decent, David——”

“Break it off,” laughed David; “you make me blush!”

“That’s it,” said the keen-eyed young fellow across the table; “you do blush. Which is the proof of the pudding. But I mustn’t devil you when you’re tired; tired and more or less discouraged.”

“Discouraged? Not a bit of it. Why should I be discouraged?”

“Most fellows would be, in your shoes. You’ve[49] had every reason to believe that you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth—or at least, a triple-plated one.”

“I? Not in a thousand years!” grinned the son whose light was of a proper filial brightness. “I’ve known all along that the Middleboro Security would have to be wound up some time. Dad is all the fine things you can say of him, Bert, but he wasn’t cut out for a successful banker. He knows it as well as anybody.”

Oswald looked up questioningly. “You haven’t any twinges of your own, Dave? It used to be the town’s idea that you’d some day come back and marry Judith Fallon and settle down to be Vallory Number Two in the banking business.”

“Marry Judith? What put that idea into the town’s head—or yours?”

“You did,” said Oswald gravely.

“Great Scott! Can’t a man be just ordinarily chummy with a girl he’s known all his life without having the gossips of a country-town tie a tin can to him?”

“With a number of them, yes; but with one, no.”

“Bosh!” said David.

“No, it isn’t ‘bosh.’ You’ve specialized on Judith; I’ve seen it myself. Candidly, David,[50] I’ve tried to shut my eyes to it, partly because I hoped it might die out. Judith’s a good girl, and in her own class she is the prettiest thing that was ever turned loose in a world of more or less squashy young men. But I can’t seem to see her calling herself Mrs. Vallory.”

“You needn’t try.”

Oswald’s eyebrows went up. “She has turned you down?”

“Bert, if this place wasn’t so public I should blow up! Good Lord, man! there has never been anything sentimental between Judith and me!—nothing on top of earth more than a bit of jolly good-comradeship!”

Being already up, Oswald’s eyebrows stayed in that position.

“On your part, perhaps; but how about Judith? Listen, David: within the past month I’ve heard half a dozen times that you and Judith were to be married as soon as you got yourself relocated in some more habitable place than a Florida swamp. You may howl all you want to about country-town gossip, but——”

This time David Vallory interrupted with a twist of the square jaw that took Oswald swiftly back to a day long remembered in Middleboro school annals when David had plunged, head[51] down, into battle with the leader of the “factory gang” and had for all time vindicated the superiority of “town-side” brain over mere brawn.

“Drop it, Herbert,” he said quietly; and then: “Let’s get back on the main track again. You were saying that the town expected me to come back and follow in Dad’s footsteps. There’s nothing doing. In another way, I’m as incompetent as he is. Money-handling doesn’t appeal to me; it never has appealed to me. I’d rather go out as a transit-man on some building job worth while than to be the president of the biggest bank in the State. It’s all in the way a man happens to be built.”

“You are beginning at the bottom in your profession, though, aren’t you?”

“Of course; any man worth his salt begins that way. And that brings us down to the finances again. Have you carried the figuring far enough along to be able to guess at what will be left after all the bills are paid?”

Oswald shook his head. “Your father hasn’t taken either of us fully into his confidence,” he averred. “He insists that we must try to realize on the assets so as to have a hundred thousand dollars left to pay a personal debt which doesn’t appear on the bank’s books. If we subtract even[52] half of that amount from the most favorable outcome at present in sight, there will be nothing of any account left for him and your sister.”

“It will be enough; with what I may be able to add to it,” said David, neither affirming nor denying the lawyer’s hint that he was not entirely in his father’s confidence.

“You are going away to look for a job?” Oswald asked.

“As it happens, I don’t have to look for one. I leave for Chicago on the eleven-fifteen to-night, and my job is waiting for me.”

“Fine!” was the friendly approval. “Is it a secret?”

“Not at all. I’m going to work for the Grillage Engineering Company; an assistant engineer’s billet on a bridge construction job up in Wisconsin. There is a reason why I shouldn’t take the job, and a still stronger reason why I can’t refuse.”

“That’s capital!” said Oswald, ignoring the qualifying part of the announcement. “You are lucky—or I guess you are. They say Mr. Eben Grillage can dig his profit out of the shrewdest contract that was ever drawn and never turn a hair. But as an engineer in the field, you won’t have anything to do with that part of it.”

[53]David glanced up quickly with a little frown coming and going between the honest eyes.

“Again I’ll have to ask you to break it off, Bert. Mr. Grillage is my father’s friend.”

“Of course he is; I forgot for the moment,” was the placative reply. “I shouldn’t have repeated the gossip—which is only gossip, after all. I suppose you remember his daughter Vinnie, as a little girl, don’t you?”

“Very well, indeed,” said David, with his eyes on his plate.

“She has grown up to be a raving, tearing, heart-smashing beauty,” the lawyer went on, entirely unmindful of the sudden change in his table-mate. “I met her in Indianapolis last summer when I was there on a business trip. She was stopping with friends, and she gave me exactly five minutes by the watch—which was all the time she could spare; all the time a dozen other fellows would let her spare. Somebody told me she was, or is, going to marry an English title.”

“That is gossip, too,” said David, still looking down.

“I suppose so. You can hear all sorts of things if you’ll only hold your ears open. Finished your dinner? If you have, let’s go and smoke.”

At this, David Vallory came to life again.

[54]“No; I can’t take the time, Bert. I must go out home and pack my trunk. And I’m going to ask a favor of you. Will you be at the train to see me off.”

“Surest thing in the world,” said the young lawyer; and after David had gone he sauntered out to the office-lobby and bought a cigar with thoughtful deliberation, recalling, now that he had time to do so, David’s cryptic remark about the reasons—still unexplained—for and against his new employment.



DAVID VALLORY had not been strictly truthful in pleading the journey preparations as an excuse for leaving Oswald at the dinner-table. It still wanted three hours of train time; and, as a matter of fact, his trunk, packed in Florida for the hurried flight northward, had not since been unpacked. But on no account would he have given Oswald the real reason for his early defection.

That reason began to define itself when, at the corner beyond the St. Nicholas, he turned to the left and walked rapidly in a direction precisely opposite to that in which the home suburb lay. Down to the railroad yards and across the tracks he fared, turning presently from the main street into another which led to a region called “Judsontown,” taking its name from the Judson Foundries and housing the major portion of Judson’s workmen.

At the gate of a cottage a trifle larger and[56] more commodious than its neighbors on either hand, David turned in and walked up the slag-paved path to the porch. There was a light turned low in one room of the cottage, but no other signs of life. But at his approach there was a rustle of modish skirts on the porch and a vision appeared; the vision taking the form of a strikingly handsome young woman, round limbed, scarlet-lipped, with midnight eyes and hair. The light from the near-by street lamp framed her in the porch opening for David as he swung up the path, and it was a picture to stir the blood in the veins of an anchorite.

“Gloriana!” he said, taking both of her hands, and giving her the name she had given herself as soon as she was old enough to hate the one her parents had given her.

“Davie! you’ve come at last, have you?” she breathed. “’Tis long ago I’d given you up. A week you’ve been back, and but for the papers I’d never have known it!”

“Don’t scold me, Glo,” he begged. “If you could only know how busy I’ve been. This is the first spare minute I’ve had in the week, honestly. Where are your father and mother?”

“They’ve gone up-town to the movie. You’ll be coming in?”

[57]“Just for a little while.”

She led the way into the cottage, into the room of the dimmed light. It was exactly as David remembered it from a time when he had often been made at home in it; the big-figured red carpet, the marble-topped center table with the family Bible, the family photograph album, and a crocheted mat in the middle for the foot of an ornate parlor lamp with a crimson shade. Also, there were the same stiff-backed chairs and the same sofa upholstered in green rep. In one corner was the young woman’s piano. John Fallon was a foreman in the Judson Foundries and could well afford to buy his daughter a piano, if he chose. David sat down on one of the uncomfortable chairs.

“Turn up the light and let me see you, Glo,” he said, and when she did it: “Jove! but you picked the right name for yourself years ago when we were kiddies! The movie stars have nothing on you—not one of them.”

“Flatterer!” she laughed, and if there were a faint suggestion of the “h” after the “t’s” he did not mind. Her Irish accent had always seemed to harmonize perfectly with her rich, “black-Irish” beauty. Then: “The two years have been making you into a man, Davie. ’Twas in your[58] letters when I’d be reading them. Don’t be propping yourself on that chair; come over here and be yourself.”

He went to sit beside her on the green sofa and was straightway conscious that he had stepped within a strange aura. Pointedly and of set purpose he began to talk of commonplace things; Middleboro things that had happened during his absence. But the subtle distraction persisted, coming like a veil between the thought and the words until he scarcely knew at times what he was saying. It was a new experience. What he had told Oswald was the simple truth; in the old days he and Judith Fallon had been more like two boys together than a boy and girl, and the frank comradeship had carried over from childhood to manhood and womanhood; or it had up to now. But now he could see and feel nothing but her superb physical beauty. Once, as a college Freshman, he had permitted himself to be ridiculed into gulping down a drink of whiskey. “It was like this,” he found himself saying aloud, and the girl beside him laughed.

“What’s come over you, Davie?” she said. “Half the time you’re talking nonsense—just nonsense. But for knowing how you hate it, I might think you’d been drinking!”

[59]“I have,” he returned soberly, suddenly realizing. Then: “Glo, you ought to pick out some decent young fellow and get married.”

She laughed at this, but the black eyes were hard.

“Why would I want to be getting married?” she demanded.

“Don’t you?”

“I thought I did—two years ago.”

“You were too young then,” he decided gravely. “But now it is time. You—you’re a living threat, as you are. Don’t you know it?”

“And what would I be threatening, then?”

“The peace of mind of every man who comes near you. You may not know it, Glo, but you are the kind of woman for whom men, ever since the world began, have been throwing everything worth while into the discard; truth, honor, loyalty—anything they had to fling away.”

“Would you just be finding that out, Davie?”

“You—you’re different in some way, Glo; or else I am. What have you been doing to yourself in these two years?”

“What should I be doing? Is a girl to be waiting always for something that’s never going to happen?”

A cold horror seized him, but he tried to shake[60] it off; tried to recall the Gloriana he had grown up with; a frank, outspoken daughter of the people, strong to attract, but also strong to resist. The “town-side” boys had jeered him for companying with John Fallon’s daughter, a “factory-side” girl, but then, as now, he was wont to go his own way when he was convinced that the way was straight and honest. The way had been straight, he told himself, because the girl was straight. But now——

“Glo, I meant what I said a few minutes ago; you ought to get married. Some wise person has said that all men and women can be divided into two classes: those who need not marry unless they choose to, and those who must. You are one of those who must. It’s your harbor of safety.”

Her low laugh was like an invitation to a sensuous dance.

“Since when have you turned preacher, Davie?” she mocked. “What’s got into you to-night? Put your head down here and let me comb it, the way I used to when you wore knee stockings.”

“No,” he refused.

She leaned toward him and slipped a round arm across his shoulders. He reached up and disengaged it gently.

“No,” he said again. “You shouldn’t do[61] things like that, Glo. You used to do them once, and it didn’t matter. But now you are not the same.”

This time her laugh had an edge to it.

“The fishes have nothing on you for the cold blood, Davie. But you’re like all the men. After you’ve made what you like out of a girl, you slap her in the face.”

Vaguely he understood that she was accusing him of something.

“I’m wishing for nothing but your happiness, Glo; can’t you understand that? I’ve never wished for anything else.”

She was silent for a moment. Then she said:

“’Tis to a convent I should have gone, Davie, instead of to the public—to run with boys, and with you. ’Twas you taught me things a girl shouldn’t know.”

“I?” said David, still more horror-stricken.

“’Tis so. I was a woman grown whilst you were yet but a boy. You didn’t know. If your lady mother had lived she might have told you more about girls and women. I was loving you, Davie, long before ever you put a razor to your face.”

For the first time in his life David the man found it easeful and fitting to curse David the[62] boy. “Warm-hearted,” he had called Judith in those other days, and thought no more of it. But now ... he had been as one who tosses a careless match aside and passes on, only to turn and find a forest ablaze.

“Tell me what you care to, Glo,” he said gravely.

“’Tis an old story, I’m thinking. Whilst I could be writing to you and knowing you’d be coming back from the college the bad heart of me kept still. But when you went to that place in Florida the bad heart was empty—empty for a man. The man came, Davie; I’m thinking he always comes.”

David had to moisten his lips before he could say: “Who was it, Glo?”

“’Twas young Tommy Judson.”

“God!” said David. The exclamation was half prayer and half execration. He knew Judson; all Middleboro knew him as the country town’s most faithful imitation of gilded youth and its degeneracy. After a time he said: “Somebody ought to kill him, Glo; I ought to kill him.”

“’Tis little good that would do now. He’s gone away, and my father would be getting a raise in his pay, little knowing why he got it.”

Though the windows were open to the summer[63] night breeze David felt as if he were suffocating. Springing to his feet he began to pace the narrow limits of the little sitting-room.

“Glo,” he said chokingly, “this is the most awful thing I’ve ever had to face. I came here to-night just as I used to come years ago. I meant to tell you that I had found the girl that I hoped some day to marry. And now you tell me that I led you up to the edge and left you where the next man who came along could push you over.”

“No, Davie, dear; I’m not blaming you,” came from the green-covered sofa.

“But I am blaming myself.” He stopped abruptly before her. “Let me see your face, Glory: have you been trying to tell me that I ought to marry you?”

She would not look up. “And you with another girl in your heart? I’m not that wicked, Davie.”

“Then at least you must let me talk to you as we used to talk in the other days; straight from the shoulder. I was wiser than I knew, a little while ago, Glory, when I said that your safety was in marriage. Can’t you forget and start afresh? There are plenty of young fellows here in your part of town who would never ask you to turn back a single leaf of your life book for[64] them; can’t you marry one of them and make him a good wife, Glory?”

She shook her head. “I can not,” she said shortly.

He drew out his watch and held its dial to the lamp light. It was time to be gone.

“I must go; I am leaving town to-night, and the kindest thing I can hope for you is that you’ll never see my face again. It doesn’t help matters any, but if you have suffered, I shall suffer, too. You have put a mark on me that I shall carry to my grave.”

She got up without a word and walked with him to the door and down the slag-paved path to the gate. But at the moment of parting, when he was again seeking vainly for some word of heartening, she flung her arms around his neck and kissed him twice, thrice.

That’s why I can’t marry another man!” she panted; and before he could reply she had darted up the path and into the cottage and had slammed the door.

It was an older and soberer David who tramped slowly back through the factory district and across the railroad tracks to the better lighted main street of the town. Conscience is definable only in terms, not of the common, but of the individual[65] human factor. For the David Vallorys there are no compromises. He either was, or was not, Judith Fallon’s keeper. Had he been responsible for her development up to a certain point, the danger point, and had then been blind enough or thoughtless enough to cast her adrift? One responsibility he could not shirk: from a time reaching deeply into their childish years his influence over her had been stronger than that of any one else, her parents not excepted. How was he to know that her yielding to him had been chiefly sexual, and that unconsciously he had walked in her path instead of leading her to walk in his? But even so, was he wholly blameless?

These soul-searching questions kept even step with him on the way to the hill suburb, and they made the home leave-taking, a little later, thoughtfully abstracted. It was his promise to his sister to come home for Christmas, if he could leave his work, that reminded him of another responsibility; and all the way down to the railroad station he was hoping that Herbert Oswald would not forget his agreement to be at the train.

Oswald had not forgotten. He was waiting at the station entrance, and together they walked out upon the platform. The Chicago express was bulletined fifteen minutes late, and David was[66] thankful for the brief extension of time. There was a thing to be said to Oswald, and, finding no way in which to lead up to it, he plunged bluntly.

“Bert, there is something that I want to say—that I’ve got to say—before I leave. You’ve been a mighty good friend to us in this shake-up, and we shall always owe you a lot more than we can pay. But I’m obliged to be a sort of dog in the manger, right here at the last. I have a sister, and she is blind.”

“Well?” said Oswald, and his voice was a bit thick.

“You know what I ought to say; what I want to say, and can’t. Lucille isn’t like other girls; she can’t be. And yet she is just as human as other girls. You mustn’t go to the house so often, Bert. If you do, there’ll be an explosion some day, and you’ll never get over being sorry.”

“I don’t know exactly what you mean,” was the low-spoken reply.

“Then I shall have to tell you in so many words, brutal as it may sound. With her affliction, Lucille can’t marry, and she—oh, dammit all—you know what I mean!”

“Do I?” queried the young lawyer, in the same thick voice. “Perhaps I do, and perhaps I don’t. You might make it a little plainer, if you care to.”

[67]The belated train had evidently made up some of its lost time; it was whistling for Middleboro and the roar of its coming was already filling the air of the calm summer night with thunderous murmurings.

“I will make it plainer. The little sister has taken you on as a friend. But at the same time you are the only man outside of the family who has ever taken the trouble to make her life more bearable. Let it stop at that, Bert; for God’s sake, let it stop at that if you don’t want to break her heart!”

The train was in; the conductor was calling “All aboard!” and the Pullman porter had opened his vestibule. Oswald crossed the platform with David Vallory in sober silence, but at the hand-gripping instant he found his tongue.

“You may go to your job and rest easy, David. I’m the last man on God’s green earth who will ever do anything to break your sister’s heart. Good-by—and let me hear from you.”


The Henchman

THE great concrete railroad bridge at Coulee du Sac was nearing completion, and for David Vallory, who had spent a summer, an autumn, and the better part of a winter on the work, the closing scenes of his brief summer stop-over in Middleboro had withdrawn into a past already taking on the characteristics of remoteness.

In their general aspect the bridge-building weeks and months had been uneventful, or, at least, unexciting; long working days made short by a keen interest in his chosen profession; the good will, early won, of his associates on the engineering staff; clipped words of approval now and then—progress markers, these—from his chief, Grimsby, a saturnine man-driver who cracked the whip oftener than he praised, and who seemed to enjoy to the fullest extent the confidence of the boss of bosses, Eben Grillage.

[69]Only once in the nine months had David taken time off; a scant three days in December, two of them travel-spoiled, and the one in between—Christmas Day, it was—spent with his father and sister in the Middleboro home. Partly he went to keep his conditional promise to the blind one; but underlying the fraternal motive there was another. Twice during the previous summer he had written to Judith Fallon, conceiving it to be no less than a binding duty. There had been no reply, but the second letter had been returned to him with the postal legend, “No such person at the address given,” stamped upon the envelope. His twenty-four-hour Christmas stay in Middleboro gave him little chance to make inquiries; but few inquiries were needed. The Fallons had sold their cottage in Judsontown and moved away, leaving no word by which they could be traced. Also, there was a story, not vouched for by David’s informant, that there had been trouble of some sort in the Foundries offices, with a big Irish foreman smashing his way into Mr. Thomas Judson’s private room and assaulting its occupant.

With this new barb to rankle, David went back to his work at Coulee du Sac saddened and depressed, and grievously weighted with the sense[70] of responsibility. He found no difficulty in believing the story of the explosion in the Judson offices, and was well able to supply the missing details. Fallon’s quarrel was the deadliest a father could have, and the only wonder was that he had not committed a murder.

During his nine months’ isolation at Coulee du Sac, David had met the Vallory benefactor only a few times; and the benefactor’s daughter not at all. For the lack of the social opportunity he was grateful rather than sorry. In the light of the Judith Fallon tragedy he was beginning to question his right to make love to Virginia Grillage, even if the magic circle could be broken into; or if not to question the right, to realize the immense and humiliating barrier which must always exist between a man with a tragedy in his past and a woman to whom that past should be as a pane of glass. And the height of the barrier was not lessened by the thought that, in the last analysis, he was culpable only to the extent of having been bat-blind to the temperamental abysses yawning for the Judith Fallons. A great love might condone the blindness, but no pure-minded woman could ever be made to believe that it was total.

As to Virginia’s whereabouts during the three-quarters of a year, David had learned something[71] from Eben Grillage, himself. She had spent the summer with a party of friends in the Rockies—the farther Rockies—touring and resting at a small resort hotel known only to the elect; she had spent the shooting season with other friends in the Adirondacks; and she had gone to Florida late in the season to escape the Northern winter.

So much for the slightly wider horizons. In the working-day field, David had been given the most convincing proof that he had not been merely placed and forgotten. There had been offerings of ample opportunity to show what was in him, with pay-roll advances to fit; and on a March day when Grimsby, the saturnine chief of construction, called him into the bridge office for a conference, he was given fresh assurances that he had been accepted as a post-graduate member of the staff.

“You are a rising young man in the profession, Vallory, and if you keep on as you’ve begun, you’ll come out at the top of the heap,” was the complimentary phrase with which the conference began. “You are not like most of the young fellows I’ve had to hammer into shape; you don’t go around firing off the proposition that you know it all.”

“I should hope not,” said David. “That sort[72] of thing is the best possible evidence that a man needs to go to school again.”

“Meaning that we’re all learning all the time?—that’s the idea, exactly,” said the chief brusquely. “Take it in the use—the modern use—of reinforced concrete, for example: we are all children going to school in that field. What we don’t know about it would fill a library.”

“You are right,” David admitted. “I’m learning something new about it every day.”

“And just because we are still in the apprentice stage, I imagine we go pretty wide on the side of safety,” Grimsby went on. “That’s natural; we’re afraid to take our own figures after we’ve made them. Now this ‘mix’ we’re using on this bridge; I’ll venture the cement content could be cut down twenty per cent and still leave an ample margin of safety. What?” Then, with an abrupt break: “Sit down and have a cigar.”

David found a three-legged stool and nodded acquiescence to the general postulate that the use of concrete as a substitute for masonry was as yet but a babe in arms.

“The quality of the cement is another disputed point,” Grimsby argued. “There isn’t the least doubt in my mind that we are altogether too finical about that. We’ve set up a code of theoretical[73] standards; such and such a degree of fineness, such and such a chemical analysis, and all that; and yet, after the job’s done, you can’t tell where the tested stuff ends and the untested begins. Isn’t that so?”

“I couldn’t prove that it isn’t,” said David.

“All right; neither can I. But on this very point we’re continually having trouble with the railroad people, as you know. We may admit cheerfully that we don’t know quite all there is to be known about concrete; but neither do the railroad company’s engineers. Their inspectors on this bridge are a bunch of cranks; that is the sort of fault-finders that the ‘party of the first part’ always hires to put on the job to watch the contractors. If we lived up to the specifications as they’d like to make us, the Grillage Engineering Company would come out about a mile deep in the hole.”

Again David Vallory acquiesced. From time to time he had had troubles of his own with the watch-dog inspectors representing the railroad company for which the bridge was being constructed.

“You younger fellows are fresh from the laboratories, and you have the latest word in the testing experiments,” said Grimsby. “That’s why[74] I’ve called you in for a conference. You’ve been following the cement tests made in our field laboratory, haven’t you?”

“Most of them; yes.”

“Well, you haven’t seen anything wrong with the stuff, so far, have you?”


The bearded chief nodded. “That’s the talk,” he said; then he made his frontal attack without further preface. “You are loyal to your salt, aren’t you, Vallory? If what they tell me about you and Mr. Grillage is true, you ought to be.”

“I hope I am,” returned the loyalist, a little at a loss to prefigure what was coming next. Then he added: “My family owes Mr. Grillage a greater debt than we can ever hope to pay, if that is what you mean.”

“So I’ve understood. Now we can get down to the nub of the thing. You’ve heard that the railroad company has hired a new chief engineer, haven’t you?”

“Mr. Esher? Yes; I met him day before yesterday when he was going over the work.”

“Esher is his name, and he’s the prize crank of the lot. He has just thrown out that last shipment of cement on us; says it doesn’t test up to standard in the railroad lab. It’s all poppy-cock,[75] of course. Some little-boy chemist on the railroad pay-roll has made a blunder—that’s all there is to it. Now then; have you been keeping in touch with your college?”

“Fairly well; yes.”

“Stand in with the professors in the college cement lab.?”

“Yes; I know them all.”

“Good men, are they?—men whose word you’d take in settling a dispute?”

“In proof tests, you mean? Certainly; I’d accept them without question.”

“Good. Here’s what we’re up against. This shipment of cement that I’m talking about is the material Shubrick was to have used in the under-water work on Pier Four. We can’t afford to throw it away, and to save it we’ll have to do a little juggling; but I want you to satisfy yourself fully beforehand. Take samples of the cement, just as it stands, and send them to your college for analysis. We’ll keep Shubrick supplied out of the reserve stock until you get your answer. Better get the samples off to-day.”

Now all this was purely routine, and David, who had thus been honored by the confidence of his chief, went about it as a part of the day’s work. The samples were duly taken and forwarded[76] to the university, with a personal letter explaining the reason for the requested analysis. An unbiased opinion was desired, and the letter-writer ventured to hope that it might be given promptly.

In a few days the answer came, and it was entirely satisfactory. The samples which had been submitted tested fully up to standard, and the college authorities were at a loss to understand why any question should have been raised as to the quality of the material. David Vallory showed the letter to Grimsby, and was rewarded by the hard-featured chief’s nearest approach to a smile.

“Now for the needful bit of juggling,” was Grimsby’s comment. “The railroad people have us by the neck because we have to ship everything in over their line. But we’ll fool ’em, Vallory. Luckily, the cement mill isn’t on their line. We’ll send the condemned shipment out to-night, as if we were returning it to the mill. To-morrow morning you can slip out on the passenger train and overtake the freight, say at Little River, on the F. S. & A., where we are building the power dam for the paper mill.”

David Vallory was staring out of the office window with a small frown wrinkling between his honest gray eyes. He could forecast what was[77] coming, and while the cause seemed to be righteous enough, the expedient to which he was to resort bore all the earmarks of crookedness.

“And then?” he queried.

“Then you can take a few laborers off the dam—I’ll give you an order to Bullock authorizing it—shift the cement into other cars, and fire it back here. When it comes in, it’ll figure as a new shipment, and you’ll have to doctor the railroad way-bills a bit to make them fit.”

It was the first time in his working experience that David had been asked to carry out a piece of deliberate trickery, though there had been other occasions when he had helped to throw dust into the eyes of the too-critical railroad inspectors. Quite naturally, his point of view in these smaller deceptions had been that of the men who figured with him as Eben Grillage’s paid henchmen; but this cement “juggling,” as Grimsby had baldly named it, had all the characteristics of a crime.

“It’s a rotten shame that we have to get down to such methods!” he protested. “Let me go to Mr. Esher with the result of these university tests and Professor Luthe’s letter. Taking them together they ought to convince him that we’re not trying to put a spoiled batch of cement across on him.”

[78]Grimsby’s smile was too well guarded to betray his real meaning.

“Esher would turn you down cold. It’s his business to stand by his own laboratory, of course, and he’ll do it. I didn’t ask you to get this college analysis with any hope of convincing Esher with it; I merely wanted you to be satisfied in your own mind. You see what we’re up against. If we have to throw away that shipment of Portland, it will mean a good chunk of loss for the Grillage Engineering Company. You said you owed the big boss something; now’s the time to prove that you weren’t talking through your hat.”

Thus appealed to, David stifled his qualms; and the next day he carried out his instructions faithfully and to the letter. The condemned material was overhauled at Little River and was shunted into the Engineering Company’s own construction yard at the dam. Here it was shifted to other cars by Bullock’s laborers, and the juggling process was brought into play. To the F. S. & A. agent at Little River, David merely stated a fact. He was shipping three car-loads of cement from the company’s yard at the dam to the bridge at Coulee du Sac. Would the agent way-bill them accordingly?

“Ship cement in one day and out the next, do[79] you?” grinned the railroad man. “Didn’t I see the yard crew shoving these three cars over to the dam yesterday?”

“These are not the same cars,” said David, and he produced the yard boss’s memorandum to prove it.

The half-truth, which was wholly an untruth so far as the inner fact was concerned, succeeded. The cars were billed, and in due course they reached Coulee du Sac as a new shipment. Just what was to be gained by the juggling, when the railroad inspectors would be certain to sample the cement and test it, with probably the same results as those they had reached before, was not very clear to David Vallory. But one night, a little farther along, he was given a shock of enlightenment.

The shock was administered by his bunk-shack mate, the engineer in charge of the under-water work in the caissons; Shubrick by name, and by training a man who had grown accustomed to many shifts and tricks in that branch of engineering which is fullest of fatalities. To Shubrick David Vallory was freeing his mind on the general subject of over-critical inspection.

“These railroad watchers are getting on my nerves more and more, all the time!” he complained.[80] “They act as if they think we are a bunch of crooks, needing only half a chance to scamp this job so that it will fall into the river with the first train that passes over it. Do they worry you on the under-water work as much as they do us on the concreting?”

Shubrick grinned ferociously.

“I’d shut off the air and drown a few of them if they did. Just the same, David, they’re onto their job all right. You needn’t make any mistake about that.”

“You say that as if you thought we needed watching. Do you think so?”

This time Shubrick’s grin took a sardonic twist.

“When you are a few years older, you’ll know a heap more, David. Why, good Lord, man! are you nourishing the idea that this contracting company is doing business on a philanthropic basis?”

David Vallory shook his head. “You’ll have to diagram it for me, I guess. We may not be any too honest; I’ve seen some things done that I’ve wished we didn’t have to do. But that isn’t an admission that we’re a gang of thieves, to be watched and harried from one day’s end to another.”

“It’s a fight,” said the older man cynically.[81] “The other fellows tie us up with a lot of specifications that they know perfectly well would ruin us if we should live up to them; and, on our side, we live up to just as few of them as the law will allow. The honor system may work in college, but it doesn’t get by to any marked extent in business. As far as that goes, you, yourself, are not as innocent as you look, David. You worked that little cement juggle the other day to the queen’s taste.”

“You heard about that?” said David, and it was a mark of the short distance he had traveled on the road to equivocation that he flushed when he said it.

“Everybody knows about it—everybody but the railroad people. You played it mighty fine. What’s puzzling me is the railroad way-bill part of it. How on top of earth did you contrive to get those way-bills doctored on the F. S. & A. at Little River? Did you buy the agent?”

The flush deepened under David Vallory’s eyes. The misleading explanation he had made to induce the railroad agent to bill the condemned cement as a mill shipment to be transferred from the work on the dam to that on the Coulee du Sac bridge was the least defensible part of the transaction, or so it seemed to him.

[82]“The less said about that part of it will be the soonest mended,” he returned gruffly.

“Well, it was a neat little trick all the way round,” the under-water boss commented. “If Congdon hadn’t fallen down in the first place, we wouldn’t have had to work it.”

This was new ground to David Vallory and he said as much. “What did Congdon have to do with it?” he asked.

Shubrick relighted his pipe, and after a puff or two: “Do you mean to tell me that you don’t know?”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.”

Again the under-water engineer sucked slowly at his pipe. “There is one of two things, David,” he remarked, after the pause: “you are either a good bit deeper than I’ve been giving you credit for being—or else you’re too innocent to be running loose without a guardian. Didn’t Grimsby tell you how it all got balled up in the beginning?”

“He told me that some railroad chemist had blundered in making the tests.”

Shubrick’s laugh was soundless. “It was our man Congdon who did the blundering. After he had made the tests in our own lab., he was ass enough not to see to it that the railroad chemist didn’t get a whack at the stuff.”

[83]“Are you trying to tell me that the cement wasn’t up to standard?” demanded Grimsby’s accessory.

“If you need to be told. It’s a ‘second,’ all right enough; it sets unevenly, and is otherwise off color; but nobody will ever know the difference after it’s in place in the bottom of the river.”

For a moment the air of the small bunk shack became stifling and David Vallory got up and went to stand in the doorway. When he turned back to Shubrick it was to say: “Then the whole thing was a frame-up, was it?—to enable us to work off a cheaper grade of Portland in a place where it couldn’t show up?”

“Of course it was. We have to play even when we can.”

“But I had that shipment analyzed myself. I sent samples of it to the university.”

“Then you took your samples from the wrong sacks, that’s all. I’m using the stuff in the caisson, and I guess I know what I’m talking about. It’s punk.”

“If that is so, why haven’t the railroad people found it out in a second test?”

“That’s easy. This time Congdon was right on the job and saw to it that they got the proper[84] kind of samples. You needn’t look so horrified; the bridge isn’t going to tumble down.”

But more important things than bridges were tumbling down in David Vallory’s heart and mind at that moment. When a young man has grown up in an ethical atmosphere the first broad step toward the unethical is apt to be subversive of a good many preconceived ideas and standards. After a time he said:

“Shubrick, the frame-up wasn’t altogether on the railroad people. Part of it was on me.”

“That’s easy, too,” said the older man. “Grimsby was merely trying to provide you with a good, stout alibi; to leave you a nice, respectable hole to crawl out of in case there should be any future to the thing. But if you’re really stirred up about it, you are foolish. Things like that are done every day. We are fighting for our own hand. The Golden Rule is pretty to look at, but it doesn’t hold water in business.”

“You’re taking the ground that we are dealing with a condition and not with principles of right and wrong?”

“Precisely. A man has got to be loyal to something, Vallory: I’m loyal to my bread and butter; so, too, in the long run, are you, and ninety-nine other men out of a hundred. Possibly it digs a[85] little deeper with you. Haven’t I heard you say that you’d willingly go a mile or so out of your way where Mr. Grillage’s interests are concerned?—that it was up to you to take long shifts or hard ones, or anything else that came up?”

“You have.”

“There it is, then. No man living has ever been able to draw the line absolute between ethical right and wrong and lay it down as a mathematical axiom. I’ll put it up to you. If you are a fanatical crank your duty is plain. You know the inside of this cement deal, and you can show it up if you feel like it and make it cost the Grillage Engineering Company a pot of money. But you are not going to do any such asinine and ungrateful thing—you know you’re not. What you’ll do will be to tell yourself that the particular grade of Portland used is strictly a matter of opinion between our staff and the railroad’s, and let it go at that.”

It is altogether improbable that Warner Shubrick regarded himself as in any sense an advocatus diaboli; and it might be even farther afield to suppose that Grimsby had given him a hint to safeguard the cement fraud by trying to justify it for his shack-mate. None the less, the seed was sown and a new point of view was opened for[86] David Vallory. Given time to wear itself out, the natural indignation arising upon the discovery that he had been used as a tool in Grimsby’s small plot became gradually transmuted into something quite different. Shubrick, in declaring that a man must be loyal to something, labeled a solvent which has dissolved much fine gold in the human laboratory. The transition from loyalty to an ideal to loyalty to a cause is not so violent as it may seem. Hence, it need not be written down as a miracle that, in proportion as the ideals withdrew, there grew up in David Vallory a blind determination to be loyal, first, to his salt.

It was in a letter to his father, written at the end of this same month of March, that the newer viewpoint got itself set forth in words.

“I didn’t know what a cramped little circle I’d been trotting around in all my life until I came up here,” he wrote. “You have to go up against the real thing in the world fight before you can get your ideas straightened out, and give things their proper relative values. The university did nothing for me in that respect, and the Government job in Florida was a mere anæsthetic. But here I’m doing a man’s work, and carrying a man’s responsibility. I know you won’t take it as a brag if I say to you, Dad, that I’ve grown[87] more in the nine months that I’ve been at Coulee du Sac than I did in the nine years before that. For the first time in my experience I’m beginning to be able to peep out over the edge of things, and to grab hold while the grabbing is good. Incidentally, I’m learning what it means to be loyal to a man who has been loyal to me and mine, and I know it will please you when I say that I’ve been able, now and then, to work off a little of the big debt of gratitude we owe to Mr. Grillage.

“Ordinarily, I should suppose, Mr. Grillage doesn’t trouble himself to keep tab on the many apprentice engineers that he has scattered around on his numerous contracts, but I’ve had more than a hint that he looks my way, now and then. Only yesterday Grimsby was telling me in his sort of bitter way that he guessed the big boss was grooming me for something better than I have now. While I’m well enough satisfied with my present billet, I’m not married to it so that Mr. Grillage couldn’t divorce me. Anyway, here’s hoping.”

It was only a short fortnight after the writing of this home letter that David was summoned to Chicago by a telegram from the king of the contractors, and he went with a light heart, half forecasting another promotion. Also, he was soberly jubilant over the thought that, by some happy[88] conjunction of the lucky planets, he might again be permitted to divide time, at least for one evening, with Virginia Grillage’s retinue of court-payers.


A Reward of Merit

IT was after city office hours when David Vallory reached Chicago, arriving in obedience to the telegram from headquarters, and he was preparing to go to a hotel for the night when a brisk young fellow in livery singled him out to ask his name and to tell him that Mr. Grillage’s car had been sent for him. In the waiting automobile, to his unbounded surprise and delight, he found Miss Virginia. The lapse of something over a year had only made her more ravishingly beautiful in David’s eyes, and his welcome was all that he could ask—and more.

“You ought to feel highly honored,” she said, making room for him in the limousine. “I ran away from a houseful of people to come in town for you.” And then, lest he should be too unreasonably happy: “It is so good to be reminded of dear, old, study Middleboro again!”

“I wish to goodness I might remind you of something besides Middleboro,” David complained, laughing; “of myself, for example, or[90] Palm Beach, or—well, in fact, almost anything. Do you realize that it is over a year since we last met?”

“I do, indeed. Also, I realize that you have never, by any chance, written a line or happened to come to Chicago at any time when I’ve been at home. Or perhaps you’ve been here and didn’t think it worth while to let me know.”

“Nothing like it,” said David, matching her mood. “I haven’t been in the city since your father sent me to Coulee du Sac, unless you count the car-changing times when I went home at Christmas. You don’t realize that I have become a workingman since I left the Government service. I have, and I’ve had a laudable ambition to stick to the job and earn my wages honestly.” Then, as the car began threading its way through the traffic to the northward: “Where are you taking me?”

“Home, of course; to The Maples.”

“To the houseful of people? I shall disgrace you.”

“No clothes?” she suggested, with a smile that made him tingle to his finger-tips.

“Absolutely nothing to wear!”

“How shocking! But never mind; I shall tell them all that they are lucky not to have you in[91] overalls and mining-boots—or don’t you wear mining-boots on bridges? However, you needn’t worry; you won’t have any chance to be social, unless it’s at dinner. Father will monopolize you.”

“What is he going to do to me; fire me?”

The limousine had reached the northward lake drive, and the king’s daughter pressed the bell-push for more speed. “Dinner will be waiting,” she explained. Then she answered his question. “It’s a perfectly profound secret, of course, but I really believe you are going to be ‘fired.’”

“That is a nice, comforting thing to be told—just before dinner!” he laughed. “But my obsequies are of no special consequence; tell me about yourself. Is the English lord still hovering upon the horizon?”

“Cumberleigh? What do you know about him?”

“Oh, nothing much; I merely heard last summer that you were going to marry him.”

“When I do, you shall have a handsomely engraved invitation to the wedding—for the sake of the past-and-gone kiddie times in old Middleboro. Won’t that console you?”

“I am consoled speechless. Weddings and funerals always affect me that way, and the Cumberleigh[92] occasion will be both, from my point of view.”

There were some miles of this light-hearted foolishness; brief miles, to be sure, since the big limousine was both powerful and speedy. At the end of the miles the car turned in past the gate lodge of a lakeside estate, an establishment princely in extent, landscaping and architecture; and the gap which a disparity of worldly possessions digs between hope and fruition suddenly yawned wide for David Vallory.

“Why the sphynxian silence?” inquired the princess of the magnificences, gibing amiably at David’s lapse into speechlessness.

“Too much money,” he returned half playfully, waving an arm to include the display of the Grillage fortune. “I was just wondering what it means to you, individually.”

“I have often wondered, myself,” was the half musing rejoinder. “Sometimes I think it means a lot. It grips one that way, now and again. But there are other times when I’m simply obliged to run away from it, just to convince myself that I’m not one of the lay figures in the stage-setting. Can you understand that?”

Her answer gave David another of the ecstatic little thrills. It was not the first time that she[93] had let him see that the quick-witted, clear-sighted girl-child of his boyish adulation had been only overlaid, and not spoiled, by the lavishnesses.

“I think I understand it perfectly,” he assured her. “Money, in and of itself, is nothing. It is only a means to an end.”

The limousine was stopping under the carriage entrance of the great house and they had but a moment more of the comradely isolation. It was the young woman who seized and made use of it.

“I hope you will always remember that, David—and let it be clean money,” she said soberly; and then, with a quick return to the playful mood: “Here we are, just in time for dinner. I shall introduce you to the houseful as my cradle-brother—may I?—and after dinner you may go your way with father and get yourself properly ‘fired.’”

Drawing pretty heavily upon the simplicities, David won through the social preliminaries without calling any marked attention to himself. Miss Virginia’s “houseful” made an even dozen at the rather resplendent dinner-table, and the naïvely inquisitive young wife of an elderly stock-broker, who was David’s elbow companion, and who kept him busy answering childish questions about his profession, saved him from particularizing too curiously as to the others, though he was observant[94] enough to note that none of the many competitors he had had at Palm Beach was among them. At the table dispersal he found himself at once in the clutches of the master of the house.

“Come on into my den and we’ll break away from all this hullaballoo,” growled the king of the man-drivers; and when the coveted privacy was secured: “Pull up a chair and smoke. You’ll find cigars in that sponge-box, or pipes and tobacco on the mantel. How did you leave the bridge?”

“We are working on the closing span, and two months more ought to see the rails down and the trains running over them,” David reported, settling himself in a deep chair with one of the long-stemmed pipes. “Now that the cold weather is over, there is nothing to hold us back.”

“Lose much concrete in the freezing?”

“No; very little. We used your idea of tarpaulin coverings and a perforated steam-pipe and saved practically every yard we put in place. There was some little kicking on the part of the inspectors, but we got by with nearly all of it.”

“Huh!” grunted the big man. “A bunch of inspectors wouldn’t be happy if they couldn’t find something to kick about! That’ll do for the bridge. We’ll call it a back-number for you and[95] pass it up. I’ve been letting you alone at Coulee du Sac; wanted to see what you were going to make of yourself—what you were made of.”

“I hope I haven’t disappointed you too badly,” David ventured.

“You haven’t; if you had, you wouldn’t be here to-night. Now then; are you ready to tackle something a good deal bigger than an assistant’s job on a concrete bridge?”

“I’ll tackle anything you give me; though I’m not asking you to push me any faster or farther than the good of the service will warrant.”

“Don’t you lose any sleep over that,” was the gruff retort. “You’ll never get any plums from me merely because you happen to be Adam Vallory’s son. For that matter, the shoe’s on the other foot. I’m thinking about giving you a hard job—a damned hard job. What do you know about the Nevada Short Line new-alignment project out in the Timanyoni country?”

David shook his head in token that he knew little.

“Practically nothing more than the technical articles in the engineering journals have told me.”

“Well, it’s a right sizable job, and we have the contract. We had a fellow named Lushing out there as chief, but I had to let him go.”

[96]“Incompetent?” said David.

“No; competent as the very devil. But he welshed; let himself be bought up by the railroad company.”

“How was that?”

“Just plain crooked; gave us the double-cross; chummed in with the railroad staff; took favors, and all that. Any time he wanted a special to run down to Brewster for a night off, he got it—and we paid for it.”

Having his recent experience in mind, David Vallory understood perfectly. With a man of the Lushing type in charge as chief constructing engineer there would naturally be no cutting of corners on the hard-and-fast specifications; no saving of money for the Grillage treasury.

“It seems to me that plain business loyalty is one of the things you buy, or ought to buy, with the salaries you pay,” was his disposal of the Lushing case.

“Lushing is a fise-dog, and he has proved it by going over to the railroad engineering staff as chief inspector,” rasped the man-driver. “What do you think about that?—going over to the other side and carrying with him all the information that his job with us had given him?”

David was by this time sufficiently partisan to[97] lose sight of the fact that a discharged man might be excused for taking the first place that might offer.

“It was unprofessional, to say the least,” was his comment.

“There was more to it than that, but we needn’t go into the contemptible whys and wherefores,” Grillage went on, with a portentous frown. “I let him out, and for a month or more we’ve been rocking along without a chief—and with a man against us who knows all the tricks of the trade. I’ve called you in to ask if you think you are big enough to swing the job and hold up our end of the pole. Grimsby says you are.”

David Vallory gasped. It was a tremendous promotion for a young man less than four years out of college, and he was wise enough to discount his lack of experience.

“I am only an apprentice, as you might say, Mr. Grillage, and many a man with my equipment, or more, is still carrying a transit,” he said, after a momentary pause for the breath-catching. “But I’m going to leave it with you. If you think I am equal to it, I can only say that I’ll do my level best not to disappoint you.”

The big man’s laugh was like the creaking of a rusty door-hinge.

[98]“You’re modest, David, and that isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a young fellow in his beginnings. But I’ve been keeping cases on you, and I go a good deal on what Grimsby says. He gives you a good send-off; says you know the engineering game, and can keep your head and handle men. The Timanyoni job won’t ask for much more, unless it’s a little of this loyalty you talk about. If you need an older head, you’ll have Plegg, who’s been first assistant on the job since it began. Plegg has the age and the experience, and you can lean on him for everything but initiative—which is the one thing he hasn’t got. Now we’ll get down to the lay-out,” and he took a huge roll of blue-prints from its case and began a brittle outlining of the realignment project in the Hophra Mountains.

David Vallory, still a trifle dazed by the suddenness and magnitude of the promotion, bent over the drawings and became a sponge to soak up the details. In the construction of the Nevada Short Line over the Hophras in the day of the great gold discoveries, haste had been the watch-word of the builders. With the golden lure ahead to put a premium upon speed, the engineers had eliminated cuts, fills and tunnels, so far as possible, and had made the line climb by a series of reversed[99] curves and heavy grades to the surmounting of the obstacle mountain range at Hophra Pass.

Now, since the Short Line had become an integral part of the far-reaching P. S-W. system, a campaign of distance-shortening and grade-reducing had been inaugurated. There were bridges to be built, hills to be cut through, tunnels to be driven. Powder Can, a mining town nestling in the shadow of the mountains, was the center of the activities, but the work extended for some miles in either direction from the town, with the heaviest of the hill-cutting and tunnel-driving climaxing in the big bore which was to form the needle’s eye for the threading of the mountain range.

Again modestly discounting his lack of experience, David Vallory was doubtful of his ability to plan and carry out such a vast undertaking from its inception. But the trail was already broken for him, and he had only to walk in the technical footsteps of his predecessors. And with a good assistant who had been familiar with the work from the first, this should be comparatively easy.

“I’m your man, Mr. Grillage,” he said, after the maps and plans had been duly considered. “I’ll lean on Plegg, as you suggest, and give you the best there is in me. I’ll say frankly that I don’t believe I’m big enough yet to swing a thing[100] like this as a new proposition. But with the lay-out all made and the work in progress, I ought to be able to pick it up and carry it to the finish.”

“That’s up to you,” said the big man shortly. “You may take this set of blue-prints with you and check yourself into the job on your way to Colorado. Grimsby says you’re good for the engineering end of it, and I’m taking his word for that. But there is another angle that you mustn’t lose sight of. It is a big job, and there were half a dozen bidders. We had to cut mighty close to get in, and any bad breaks on our part are going to shove the profits over to the other side of the books and write ’em down in red ink.”

“There mustn’t be any bad breaks; that’s all there is to that part of it,” said David, with youthful dogmatism.

“That’s the talk. And more than that, we must shave all the foolish frills out of the specifications. You know how that goes, or, if you don’t, Matt Grimsby hasn’t done his duty by you. On a job like this the railroad engineers would have us gold-plate every spike we drive, if they could. You’ve been in the contracting business long enough now to know what I mean.”

David made the sign of assent without prejudice to any of the standards of uprightness and[101] fair play, the undermining of which he was still far from suspecting in his own case.

“I shall be working for the Grillage Engineering Company, first, last and all the time,” he asserted. “The company’s business is my business, and I haven’t any other.”

At this, the contractor-king’s gruffness fell away from him as if it were a displaced mask.

“There spoke your father, David, and a better man never lived. I was only trying you out a while back when I said that you needn’t look for the plums just because you happen to be Adam Vallory’s son. After you get a little farther up the ladder and find that you have to depend on the man or men lower down, you’ll be willing to pay high for a little personal loyalty of the sort that looks an inch or two beyond the next pay-day. I’m putting you right where I’d put a son of my own, if I had one, out yonder in the Timanyoni country, boy—and for the same reason. I want to have somebody on the job that I can bank on and swear by.”

It was the one touch needed to put the fragrant flower of personal relationship upon the juggler-grown tree of promotion. David Vallory was still young enough to take the oath of allegiance without reservations to any master strong enough[102] and generous enough to command his loyalty, and Eben Grillage could have found no surer way to light the fires of blind, unreckoning fealty.

“A little less than a year ago, Mr. Grillage, you loaded me with the heaviest obligation a man can carry. You are adding to it now by giving me a boost big enough to make a much older man light-headed. I’d be a mighty poor sort of a son to Dad if I didn’t——”

“Never mind the obligations,” the master broke in, with a return to the brittle abruptness. “There is an old saying that the quickest way to make an enemy of a man is to do him a favor. If it isn’t working out that way in your case, why, so much the better. Now you may go back to the dinner people, if you want to. I’ve got to dictate a bunch of letters.” And the king of the contractors jabbed his square-ended thumb on a push-button to summon his secretary.


Out of the Past

DISMISSED from the presence of the hard-bitted maker of destinies, David Vallory—not being a devotee of bridge—spent little enough of what was left of the evening in the manner in which he most wished to spend it. But at the end of things, when hope deferred was about to fold its wings and go to bed, Miss Virginia gave her place at the second whist table to the elderly broker’s juvenile wife, and David had the reward which comes to those who only stand and wait.

“Well, have you been dishonorably discharged?” she asked, after they had passed out of earshot of the card players.

“I imagine you know a lot more than I can tell you about it,” he bubbled happily. “I’m to take an early train to-morrow morning and vanish, disappear, fade into the western horizon.”

“Are you sorry—or glad?”

“Both. I’ve had a promotion so whaling big that it makes my head swim. But the place of it is a mighty long jump from Chicago.”

[104]“You didn’t make any use of the nearness of Chicago while you had it at Coulee du Sac,” she cavilled. Then: “Are you starting west without going to see your father and sister?”

“I was with them Christmas, as I told you. And I have a plan which has been simmering while I was waiting for you to get tired of the whist-game. If the living accommodations in the Timanyoni country are at all possible, I shall send for Dad and Lucille a little later in the season.”

“The accommodations are very good. There is a small summer-resort hotel with cottages on the ridge opposite Powder Can.”

“You have been there?” David asked.

“Once; for a few weeks last summer, or rather early in the autumn, when the work was just starting. But won’t that be a rather violent change for your father and sister?—from sleepy old Middleboro to the heart of the Rockies?”

“Possibly. But there are reasons for believing that it will be beneficial all around. Dad isn’t entirely well. His heart was never in the banking business to any great extent, but just the same, the breaking up of all the old routine is hard for him. A complete change will do him no end of good.”

[105]“You said ‘reasons’, and that is only one.”

“There is another. How much do you remember about my sister, Lucille?”

“Only that she is blind, and perfectly angelic, and the most delicately beautiful child that ever breathed.”

“She is all those things yet—only more so. Do you remember Bert Oswald?”

“Oh, yes; quite well. He is a lawyer now, isn’t he?”

“Even so. Worse than that, he is in love with Lucille, and—er—I’m very much afraid she is with him—entirely without realizing it, you know. It’s a pitiful misfortune for both of them. Of course, Lucille can never marry.”

“Why do you say ‘of course’?”

“With her affliction? She doesn’t dream of such a thing! Herbert has been very decent about it. I put him on his guard last summer before I left Middleboro, and he hasn’t spoken—yet. But a day may come when he will speak, and then, as I have told him, there will be trouble and a lot of needless wretchedness. That’s why I want to get Dad and sister away from Middleboro. If they are not where Bert can drop in every few minutes, it will be different.”

For a time the daughter of profitable contracts[106] did not comment on the plan, but when she did there was a touch of her father’s shrewd directness in her manner.

“You are the most frightfully cold-blooded person I’ve ever met,” she told him. “If you had ever been in love yourself you wouldn’t talk so calmly about separating these two. What if Lucille is blind? There have been blind wives, and blind husbands, for that matter, since the beginning of time. You’re hard-hearted.”

“No,” said David; “I am only trying to be the right kind of a brother—as I have tried to be ever since that black day years ago when old Doctor Brown told us that the little sister would never see again. And your argument falls down at the other end, too. You say, if I had ever been in love myself.... That has already happened to me, Virginia.”

Her laugh was deliciously care free. “And you have never told me!” she mocked. “Does she live in Middleboro?—or maybe it’s Florida. Or have you broken all the traditions by keeping faith with a college widow?”

“No, she doesn’t live in Middleboro or in Florida, and I am very certain she has never been a college widow. It’s only a pipe-dream for me as yet, but some day——”

[107]“Some day she will grow tired of waiting and marry somebody else,” was the brisk retort. “Is she pretty?”

“No; that isn’t the word at all.”

“Beautiful, then?”

“So beautiful that I can’t be with her without going fairly dotty.”

Again she laughed derisively.

“You seem to have all the symptoms, and really I didn’t believe it of you, David. You have always seemed so solid and sensible.”

“I am both,” he boasted gravely. Then in a quick shift to safer ground: “You told me once that you enjoyed going out on the work with your father—is there any chance that you may come to the Timanyoni this summer?”

“Maybe. I liked it when I was out there last year—for some things.”

“And for some other things you didn’t? What were they?”

“I’d rather not talk about them. But there was one thing.... Do you know anything about Powder Can?”

“Less than nothing beyond what your father has just told me. He says it’s a mining-camp.”

“It is worse than the usual mining-camp, or it was when I saw it. It is the only place where the[108] workmen can go to spend their pay, and you know what that would mean.”

“I can visualize it pretty well; whiskey, dance-halls and gambling dens, and all that.”

“Yes. We saw little of it at the hotel; the Inn is quite a distance from the town and on the other side of the river. But once I went there with—with a man. I didn’t know where he was taking me—or us; there was a party of us from the hotel, you know; slummers, you’d call us.”

“I don’t know the man, but he ought to have been murdered,” said David.

“Something like that, yes,” she said. “But that wasn’t what I meant to speak about particularly. One of the places where he tried to take us—only we wouldn’t go in—was a dance-hall. There was a girl at the piano; I could see her from where I was standing on the sidewalk. She was beautiful, David, and it made my heart ache to see her in such a place.”

“You should never have seen her,” said David hotly. “I’ve been trying to imagine the kind of man who would take you to such a place as that!”

“He isn’t worth imagining,” she asserted quietly. “But I was speaking of the girl. She was playing for the dancers, you know, and just in the little minute that we were standing there, a[109] big quarryman broke out of the circle and—and put his arm around her neck. It was horrible. She fought like a tiger, but the man was too strong for her. He struck her ... with his fist.”

David shook his head. “Why are you making yourself remember all this? It’s just painful, and it can’t do any good. It was a shame that you had to see it.”

“That is foolish,” she reproved gravely. “We are not living in the Victorian age, David, and the shame wasn’t in my seeing it. The dancing stopped, of course, and the men in our party, or some of them, rushed in and interfered. The girl was carried out; the brute’s blow had knocked her senseless. She was taken home and we did what we could for her. The next day I went to see her.”

“That was like you, Virginia, only——”

“Only what?”

“I won’t say that you ought not to have done it; you know best about that; but——”

“I had to go, David. There was a—a sort of obligation, you know. She was one of our Middleboro girls. I didn’t know her, but I remembered seeing her as a little thing. Perhaps you knew her; her name is Judith Fallon.”

If a bomb had been suddenly exploded under[110] David Vallory he could scarcely have been more completely unnerved and shaken. They were sitting in a window alcove a little apart from the bridge players, and the looped-back curtains dimmed the lights in some measure—for which he was thankful. But Virginia Grillage seemed not to have noticed his gasping start at the mention of Judith’s name, and she went on soberly.

“As I say, I had to go, and I found that things were not quite as bad as they seemed—though they were bad enough. The girl had lately lost her mother, and she was keeping house in a little three-room shack for her father, a mechanic in the Murtrie Mine. I didn’t see him, of course, but from what Judith said I gathered that he had taken to drinking after the mother’s death. You’d say he must have gotten pretty low, to let his daughter earn money by playing the piano in a dance-hall.”

David recalled the John Fallon he had known; a rough-cast, unlettered man, but a skilled mechanic and thrifty.

“I knew him well,” he said; adding: “There was some trouble—family trouble, I think—before the Fallons moved away from Middleboro. I heard something about it when I was home for Christmas.”

[111]“It’s the conditions in Powder Can,” she averred; “and for those the new work on the railroad is responsible—an army of workmen with money to throw away. Judith, and probably her father, are neither better nor worse than other people with their point of view. It isn’t fair to such people to permit the conditions.”

“I quite agree with you,” he rejoined hastily. “I don’t know how much I shall be able to do, as chief of construction, but from what you have been telling me it is evident that this plague spot right at our doors ought to be cleaned up with a strong hand.”

“Does that mean that you are going to reform things out there, David?”

“Whatever needs reforming, yes; if I can.”

“I wish you might say that and mean it, knowing all that it implies,” she returned, half musingly.

“What does it imply?”

The card players were rising, and there was a sputtering rapid-fire of motors in the driveway.

“That,” she said slowly, “is something you must find out for yourself, if you can—and will. Now I must go. People will want to be telling me what an exquisite time they’ve had. You say you are leaving early in the morning? Then I will say[112] good-night and good-by. The hall man will show you your room. Give my love to your father and sister when you write, and don’t, for pity’s sake, drag them away out yonder to the ragged edge of nowhere!”


Silas Plegg

POWDER GAP, a hill-studded basin where the Powder River, leaping down from the high watershed of the upper range, gathers itself for the swift rush to its emptying into the Timanyoni forty miles away, lies like a half-closed hand in a gorge of the Hophras, with the upturned fingers and thumb postulating the surrounding majesties of mountain peaks, and the forested hills and ridges figuring as the callouses in the palm.

At the foot of one of the callouses lies the mining hamlet of Powder Can; once, in the day of the early mineral discoveries, a plangent, strident nucleus of excitement, but—in the phrase of its oldest inhabitant—a “has-been” at the time of David Vallory’s advent, with a few deep shafts and winding drifts out of which day-laborers, unenthusiastic successors of the early discoverers and plungers, winched or wheeled a few monthly car-loads of low-grade ore.

In some measure the Nevada Short Line’s track-changing activities had brought a return of the[114] plangencies. Scattered construction camps with their armies of workmen dotted the basin above and below the mining town, and once more saloons and dance-halls and gambling places sprang up and did a thriving business on real pay-roll money. Eben Grillage’s attitude toward these absorbents of the money he paid out for labor had ever been that of the closed eye. To all appeals for the betterment of conditions in the humanitarian field he had a stereotyped reply: “The Grillage Engineering Company is strictly an industrial proposition. It does not undertake to say how its employees shall spend their time or their money when they are off duty.”

On the summit of a ridge diagonally opposite Powder Can the prospective millionaires of the mining-camp had, in the day of magnificent expectations, laid out a suburb for the future city, and in token of their faith in the future had built a log-house hotel with appropriate cottages. For some years after the collapse of the mining boom the hotel had remained closed; but with the nearer approach of the railroad it was reopened, with a few families from Brewster as the groundwork of the guest structure, and some small sprinkling of tourists to come and go during the season.

For a month or more after his arrival in the[115] Hophra basin, David Vallory saw little of Powder Can the town, and still less of the log-built inn on the top of the adjacent ridge. New to every phase of the track-changing project, he had scant time even for eating and sleeping. At a dozen different points on the new location the work was driving at top speed; here and there bridges in process of construction over the swift mountain stream; numerous hill cuttings where great steam-shovels clashed their gears and chains from shift to shift throughout the twenty-four-hour days; prodigious fills growing foot by foot with the dumped spoil from the cuttings; and, last but by no means least, the projected tunnel under Powder Pass which was inching its way from both sides of the mountain in gigantic worm-gnawings through the granite.

During this strenuous preliminary period in which he was striving to gather the multiplicity of working threads into his hands, David lived in the bunk trains and mess tents, getting in touch with the various units of the laboring armies, and absorbing the details as a thirsty dog laps water. To his great satisfaction he found his staff largely composed of young men eager to make a record; eager, also, to pledge fealty to a chief who was himself young enough to be still in the process of winning his spurs. Plegg, the first assistant, was[116] the single exception to the youth of the staff. He was a man of middle age, and at their first meeting David was struck with a vague sense of familiarity; an elusive impression that he had somewhere in the memory files a picture of the senior assistant’s weathered face, with its clipped beard, shrewd eyes and thin-lipped mouth about which a half-cynical smile played so often and so easily as to become almost an added feature.

“Have we ever met before, Mr. Plegg?” he had asked, at that first meeting; and the mildly sardonic smile had immediately fallen into broader lines.

“Once, Mr. Vallory; on a fine June morning nearly a year ago. It was in a Pullman sleeper, back in God’s country; and, if I recall it correctly, I told you you would go far if you were not too good. You are fulfilling my little prophecy very handsomely; and incidentally we are both proving the truth of that old bromide about the extreme narrowness of the world we live in. I’m glad to have you for my chief.”

It was Silas Plegg who did the most toward helping the new chief in the absorbing of the details, and David Vallory early acquired a great and growing respect for the technical gifts of his first assistant. The organization of the engineering[117] staff, and of the rank and file, was fairly geniusful, the hand of a master being evident in every disposition of the huge working army. David weighed and measured, studied and observed; and at the end of the preliminary month was ready to give credit where credit was due.

“Plegg, you are too good an engineer to be anybody’s assistant,” he said, one evening after they had finished a round of the night-shift activities and had returned to the cramped quarters of the small bunk car which they shared together. “Why didn’t Mr. Grillage give you this job after Lushing quit?”

Plegg’s smile was grim.

“If I were really as cynical as you think I am, I might hint that possibly Mr. Grillage had a young man in his eye whom he wished to give a shove up the ladder. But I’ll stand it upon another leg. Mr. Eben Grillage is an excellent judge of men; and he knows me of old.”

David shook his head.

“That ought to be your very best recommendation. What have you ever done to make him pass you up in the promotion scheme?”

“It was something that my ancestors did—if you believe in heredity. They gave me the qualities of a good follower and neglected to include[118] the saving moiety of leadership—that’s all. But speaking of Mr. Grillage; did you know he is on his way out here?”

David had not known it and he said so. “How did you hear?” he asked.

“Such news always travels ahead of a man of Mr. Grillage’s importance in the scheme of things. I heard it from one of the clerks at the Alta Vista Inn. The big boss has wired ahead for a double suite.”

The double suite could mean only one thing, and David’s pulses quickened after the most approved fashion of pulses in such case made and provided.

“He is bringing Miss Virginia with him?” he queried.

“Most likely. She chums with her father a good bit—when she isn’t too busy otherwise. Ever meet her?”

David Vallory admitted the fact affirmative but did not dilate upon it.

“She is a pretty good little engineer, herself,” Plegg went on. “She was out here last fall, and it was whispered around at the Inn that Lushing had the colossal nerve to make love to her.”

“But that wasn’t the reason why he was dropped?” said David, willing to learn something more of the rise and fall of his predecessor.

[119]“Nobody knows; but it may have had some bearing. Mr. Grillage never had much use for Lushing as a man, but he was—and is—a cracking good organizer; a man who could squeeze a profit out of a job on a bid that had driven every other contractor out of the field. It was a fairly open secret around here last fall that Miss Virginia turned him down hard; and after that he began to sell us out to the railroad company. Basing the notion upon the Inn gossip about him and Miss Virginia, our fellows were not slow to charge his treason to pure vindictiveness.”

David Vallory was wiser now than he had been when he began as a working assistant on the Coulee du Sac bridge.

“What did he have to sell, Plegg?” he asked.

Plegg closed one eye and his habitual smile showed his strong, even teeth.

“Little tricks of the trade,” he answered obliquely. “You are the chief on the job now, and if you don’t know what they are, you can say that you don’t, and swear to it.”

“You mean that we are not giving the railroad company a square deal?”

Again Plegg’s reply took the diagonal instead of the direct line.

“We are giving them all they are paying us for.[120] Of course, they are not satisfied; no party of the first part in a contracting deal ever is. And now that Lushing has gone over to their side of the fence, we’ve had trouble on top of trouble. If you’ll take a word of advice from an older man and a subordinate, you’ll stay out of it. In fact, I think that is what Mr. Grillage expects you to do.”

At the moment, David did not attach any special importance to this remark of Plegg’s about Mr. Grillage’s attitude. But if he could have turned the leaves of the book of days backward to the night of his stay at the lakeside mansion of the lavishnesses, the explanation would have synchronized itself quite accurately with his retreat to his room in The Maples and the departure of the last of the bridge-playing dinner guests.

At the door-closing upon the final couple, Miss Virginia had sought her father in his den. By this time the private secretary had been dismissed and the king of the contractors was alone.

“Hello, Vinnie, girl!” he rumbled. “Come to tell the old daddy good-night?”

“Partly,” was the crisp rejoinder. “But mostly it’s about David. You have decided to send him to the Timanyoni, in spite of my little protest?”

Eben Grillage’s laugh resembled nothing so[121] much as the rasping of circular saws, but he meant it to be good-natured. He could hold no other attitude toward the daughter whom David, in his talk with his father, had characterized as the apple of his eye.

“You women are too much for me, Vinnie. You like David, and you want to see him get ahead. But when I hunt out a good place for him, you suddenly take a notion that you don’t want him to have it. What’s the particular reason?”

It was at this point that the young woman had taken a chair at the opposite side of the broad working table where she sat facing her father.

“If I thought I could make you understand,” she said, half musingly. And then: “I do like David and I respect him. It seems such a needless pity to spoil him, don’t you think?”

“What do you mean by spoiling him?”

“You know perfectly well what I mean. He has his own ideas of uprightness and common honesty—or he did have them before he went to work for the company—and they are the right ideas. How long is he going to be able to keep them if you put him in charge of the work in Powder Gap and make him responsible for all the crooked things that are being done?”

“That’s a pretty hard word to fling at your old[122] daddy, Vinnie. Has it reached the point where you can call your father’s business crooked? If I had known that the colleges were going to put that kind of a fad into your head, they wouldn’t have got any of my money—not in a thousand years.”

She shook the head in question despairingly.

“How often must I say that it wasn’t the colleges. It is in the air. A new era is dawning, if we only had eyes to see and ears to hear. As a people we had forgotten that there was such a thing as an American conscience. Some of us are remembering now.”

“Some few impractical college professors and fanatics are making mountains out of molehills!” was the grumbling retort. “You mustn’t be foolish, Vinnie, girl. Competition is the life of trade, and competition means a fight. If we don’t do the other fellow—within reasonable business limits, of course—he’ll do us, and we’ll all go to the poor-farm.”

“We have been over all that before, many times,” said the young woman, with a touch of weariness in her tone. “I don’t ever hope to make you see it as I do—as I can’t help seeing it—but I shouldn’t be your daughter and a Grillage if I refused to make a fight for David.”

[123]For some little time the grizzled giant in the wide-armed chair made no reply. He had picked up a paper-knife and was absently passing it through his thick, square-ended fingers in the manner of one testing the keenness of an edged tool. Finally he said: “Is David the man, Vinnie?”

She did not affect to misunderstand him.

“There isn’t any ‘the man’ yet. I like the grown-up David, partly because he has kept the promise of the little-boy David, and partly because he is so different from the others. He needs an alert, wide-awake sister to look after him much more than he does a wife. Besides, he’s already in love with—some girl.”

The father’s chuckle was good-naturedly derisive.

“That’s sheer girl-talk—the sisterly business, and the other—and it isn’t like you to try to throw dust, Vinnie. We’ll clear the air in that quarter, once for all. I haven’t any objections. David’s a good boy; a good son of a mighty good father. If he inherits some of Adam’s finicky notions, I suppose that can’t be helped. He’s as poor as Job’s turkey, but I can make him a rich man for you if you don’t insist on chucking too many stones in front of the wheels. You can’t marry a poor[124] man, you know; you haven’t been brought up right.”

It was just here that the daughter of profitable contracts showed her first touch of warmth.

“You have some other reason for sending David to the work in Powder Gap,” she said accusingly. “You know you have always made it your boast that you never mix business and sentiment.”

“Maybe this was one time when business and sentiment happened to trot in double harness”—with a grim smile. “If you’re figuring on being a contracting engineer’s wife some time, you’ll have to throw away some of your highbrow college notions and get down to the practical things. One way and another, we’ve been getting in Dutch with the railroad people out yonder on the Short Line. You know that, don’t you?”

“I know there has been quarreling almost from the beginning.”

“Well, Ford, the president of the P. S-W. system, contends that we have a set of crooks in charge out there—this in spite of the fact that some understrapper of his on the ground has hired Lushing, the biggest of the crooks. Ford knows David’s family, and the straight-backed honest old stock there is in the Vallorys. I’m killing two[125] birds with one cartridge. With Adam Vallory’s boy in charge for us at Powder Gap, Ford may rest easier, and maybe he’ll make it a little easier for us. And, by giving David his boost, I’m fixing it so you won’t have to marry a poor man.”

“I’m not talking about marrying; I’m talking about the soul of a man,” was the quick retort. “It is in your hands to keep David Vallory true to his ideals, or to make him like other men who have one conscience for their personal relations and another for business. David is more loyal to you than your own son would be, if you had one; after what you did for his father last summer he would go through fire and water for you. It isn’t right or just for you to use so fine a thing as his gratitude and make it the means of his undoing!”

Again the big man in the opposite chair fell silent. When he spoke again it was to say:

“You’re all wrong, Vinnie, girl; wrong and a little bit wrought up. You are carried away by your own impossible notions of the golden-rule in business, and all that—things that you know about only by hearsay. You won’t take it amiss if the old daddy has his notions, too, will you? Just the same, we’re chums, little girl, and we won’t fight about a little thing like that. I’ll see to it that David doesn’t have to stick his fingers into[126] the tar-barrel, if that’s what you want. Now run along to bed.”

The upshot of this heart-to-heart talk between the father and daughter had been a letter to Silas Plegg, which followed David Vallory so promptly in his westward flight as to be in the first assistant’s hands when he made his introductory round over the big job with the new chief. It was a letter to be read, remembered, and burned; but if David Vallory could have seen it, it would have explained Plegg’s attitude, and many other things which grew more and more puzzling as time went on.


The Miry Clay

HAVING himself so recently made the journey from Chicago to the Timanyoni, David Vallory knew that he could count upon at least two clear days in which to gather up the loose ends and otherwise to prepare his huge working machine for a critical inspection by the president of the company. To that end he called a conference of the members of his staff and applied the spur. The big boss was coming, and it was up to them to show him the machine in perfect working order. If there were any loose ends, now was the time to tie them in.

“There’s only one thing that I’d like to see changed,” said Crawford, the grading expert who had charge of the line building on the lower end of the cut-off; “that is this crazy practice of paying off every two weeks instead of once a month. I count on at least a ten per cent reduction in my gangs for two or three days after every second Saturday—which is about the length of time it[128] takes the high-rollers to get rid of their money in the Powder Can dives.”

“Leaks of that kind are precisely what we are trying to find and stop,” the new chief broke in. “Any suggestions?”

There were several made by different members of the staff, but they were all variations upon the same theme, namely, some method by which the too-frequent pay-days might be abolished.

“I’m afraid the twice-a-month basis will have to stand,” was David Vallory’s decision. “I talked that matter out with Mr. Grillage before I left Chicago. He is opposed to the fortnightly pay-day, but he has been forced to establish it on all of his contracts because other companies have adopted it, and if we don’t keep step we lose our men.”

“Zat Powder Can—she is one blot on zee face of zee eart’!” spat out Regnier, the fiery little French-Canadian engineer who was handling the gangs in the rock cuttings.

David Vallory nodded. “I’m new to this country,” he admitted. “Are there no laws by which these man-trappers can be put out of business?”

It was Plegg who made answer to this.

“The sheriff’s writs don’t run this far from the nearest court-house. What is everybody’s business[129] is nobody’s business. Besides, the man-traps and the construction camps have gone hand-in-hand ever since the beginning of time.”

“There is no reason why they should continue to do so to the end of time,” David cut in. “If the Powder Can lawlessness is holding us back, we must clean it up.”

Plegg shook his head. “That’s easier said than done. The town is on its own, and it gets its revenue chiefly from our pay-rolls. The mines, with the single exception of the Murtrie, don’t amount to anything.”

“Maybe the railroad people would help us out,” suggested Altman, the smooth-faced, young-looking mining engineer who was directing the granite boring in the east-end tunnel heading. “Somebody told me once that nearly all of the town is built on land leased from the railroad company.”

“I’ll look into this Powder Can business, myself,” said David, as the conference broke up. “The thing that’s biting us just now is the need to show Mr. Grillage a clean slate when he comes. He knows good work when he sees it, and I don’t want to have to begin making excuses the minute he lights down in Powder Gap. Go to it and key things up to concert pitch.”

With the great machine grinding merrily under[130] this new impetus, David Vallory did look cursorily into the Powder Can situation, stealing time from the strenuous activities to make inquiries as to what might be done. Up to this time, when the doing of something began to urge itself baldly as an industrial necessity, he had been postponing action in this particular field, excusing himself upon what seemed to be the perfectly justifiable plea that the mining-camp man-traps and their curbing or abolition were matters outside of the line of his duties; a view which he knew to be in strict accordance with that of the president of his company. It was not that he meant to adopt the policy of the blind eye in principle. His promise to Virginia Grillage forbade that. But the excuses had opened the door to postponement.

Such were the surface indications of the vein of reluctance; but deeper down there was another reason for the postponement. Not at any time since his arrival had David forgotten that Judith Fallon was most probably still living in Powder Can. If he should chance to meet her—which was not at all unlikely—the entire question of his responsibilities—a question which the lapse of time, and the growing hope that he might one day win the love of Virginia Grillage, had pushed into the background—would be reopened.

[131]As a result of his inquiries he soon found that there would be little use in making an appeal to the law. As Plegg had pointed out, the Powder Gap region was far enough distant from civilization to be a law unto itself. But there was the hope that he might be able to make such representations to the railroad people, who were the lessors of the land upon which the town was built, as might induce them to intervene on the side of law and order. Being thus brought face to face with the thorny duty, he enlisted Plegg; and after the mess-tent supper they crossed the basin together to make such a survey of the conditions as would enable them to present the demoralizing facts in their reality to the railroad company.

With one of the fortnightly pay-days less than thirty-six hours in the past there was ample evidence of the malignance of the social and industrial ulcer. The wide-open resorts were packed with throngs of the Grillage workmen, and the harvesting of the hard-earned dollars was in full swing.

“We’ll see it all while we’re about it,” said David; and with Plegg at his elbow he pushed his way through one of the crowded bar-rooms to a den at the rear where a faro-game was running, with the circle of sitters backed by eager gamblers[132] who reached over the shoulders of the chair circle to place their bets. Outside in the bar there was noise enough, but here the strained silence was broken only by the clicking of the counters, the heavy breathing of the men, and the silken whisper of the cards as the dealer ran them from his box. David let his gaze sweep the table circle and come to rest upon the forbidding features of the man who was running the cards; a swarthy, heavy-faced giant with Indian-like hair, drooping mustaches that only half veiled a mouth of utter ruthlessness, and eyes that were at the moment as dead as the pallor showing beneath the Mexican-darkness of his skin.

“‘Black Jack’ Dargin,” Plegg whispered in Vallory’s ear. “He owns and runs this place, and does his own dealing, but he has another sort of dive a little farther up the street.”

David Vallory’s jaw was set when they had worked their way out to the open air.

“It isn’t even a square game!” he gritted. “What I don’t know about faro would fill a book, but any sober man with eyes in his head could see that that scoundrel was running a stacked deck! Who is this Dargin?”

“You’ve seen,” said Plegg shortly. “In a way, he’s the boss of this camp; has a reputation as a[133] ‘killer’ and he has traded on it until he has everybody ‘buffaloed.’ He is the only faro dealer I’ve ever seen who would consent to run a game without a ‘lookout.’ He makes a brag of it; says all he needs is a boy to sell the chips. The woman is the only human being in this camp who has ever made him take a stand-off.”

“The woman?” said David.

“Yes; I keep forgetting that you’re new. She is another example of Dargin’s cave-man methods. When the work began here in the Gap last September, Dargin was about the first man on the ground for the shekel harvest. He opened this place and a dance-hall, killed a man or two to get himself properly dreaded, and began to rake in the easy money. About that time the woman dropped in.”

“God pity her, whoever she is,” was David’s comment.

“It was a curious case,” Plegg went on, as they walked together up a street blatant with the roistering crowds. “Shortly after the dissipations had caught their stride a young plunger from somewhere back east turned up here and took rooms in the Hophra House. As nearly as I could learn at the time, the young ass was rich—or at least a rich man’s son—and he had been stung on[134] a Powder Can mining scheme. He came here to see what he’d been let in for, and he didn’t have any better sense than to bring his wife along—to such a wolf-den as this!”

“Go on,” said David, with some dim premonition warning him that, instead, he should have told Plegg to stop.

“I don’t know all the ins and outs of it; or just how much or how little the woman was to blame. But the upshot of the matter was that one day, right in the face and eyes of the whole camp, as you might say, Black Jack backed this young fool up against a wall, stuck a gun into his face, and gave him a quick choice between passing out there and then, or buying his life and a chance to vanish by giving up all claims to his wife.”

“Good heavens!” the listener ejaculated. “Cave-man is right!”

“One of the laws of the jungle that Kipling didn’t mention,” was the first assistant’s terse summing-up. “Dargin saw something that he wanted, and that was his way of reaching out and taking it. But now comes the queer part of it. The young plunger disappeared between two days, and everybody looked to see the woman take up with Dargin. But that isn’t what happened. She stayed on at the Hophra House for a few days and then[135] sent for her father, a poor devil of a machinist who seemed to be trying to drink himself to death. Either she or Dargin got him a job at the Murtrie mine, and the two of them set up housekeeping in one of the mine shacks.”

“Dargin and the woman, you mean?”

“No! the woman and her father. And that’s the way it has been ever since. Making all due allowances for the time and place, Dargin’s relations with the woman are the only half-way decent ones he has. The old man was drunk half the time, so Dargin gave the girl a job playing the piano in his dance-hall—by way of giving her a chance to earn an honest living, you’d say. That seems to be as far as it has gone, except that one day last fall a tipsy ‘hard-rock’ man tried to take liberties with the girl at the piano, and when she fought him, struck her. He skipped out, across the range, but Black Jack caught up with him and shot him.”

David Vallory’s premonition of coming tragedy had been fulfilled long before Plegg reached this point in his story, but if there had been any doubt as to the woman’s identity the incident of the “hard-rock” man would have dispelled it. Oddly enough, the filling-out of Judith Fallon’s story did not seem to lessen his own feeling of moral obligation;[136] on the contrary, it increased it. More than ever, as it appeared, it was needful that Judith should be taken quickly out of the false position into which her relations, innocent or otherwise, with the man-killer had placed her.

By this time their progress up the single street of the town had brought them to another of the resorts; a dance-hall, this, also with its bar-room annex. There was little room on the dancing-floor for spectators, and they did not try to enter. But enough could be seen from the bar to determine the character of the place.

“This is Dargin’s other place,” said Plegg. “It’s the least tough of any of the Powder Can joints, and the money is made over the bar. If a man gets too well ‘lit up’ he is thrown out. Most of the women you see in there are the miners’ wives and daughters. It hurts us chiefly because it attracts men who would neither gamble nor drink if they didn’t start in here on a sort of social plane.”

David nodded and was turning away when a hand was laid on his arm and he wheeled quickly.

“Judith!” he gasped. Then, as Plegg stood aside and pretended not to see or hear; “My God!”

“Yes,” she said, “’tis ‘Judith’ now, and never[137] ‘Glory’ any more. What brings you here, Davie?”

“You—partly,” he blurted out. “Put something on and come outside. I want to talk to you.”

“No,” she refused bluntly; and then, to temper the bluntness: “’Tis no good it can do now, Davie, and ’twould do you harm. There be tongues to wag, even in Powder Can, and you’re the chief on the big job.”

“But I must see you and talk with you!” he insisted.

“’Twill do no good,” she repeated. “I’ve made my bed, Davie, and I’ve got to lie on it.”

The bar-room throng was jostling them as they stood, and David saw the bartender marking them through half-closed eyes. He fancied there was crafty suspicion in the look, but at the moment he was thinking chiefly of the obligation that he must not shirk.

“I shall come again, in daytime,” he said. “You are living on the Murtrie claim?”

“You must not!” she forbade quickly. “’Twould be—it might be as much as your life’s worth! Nor must you stay here talking to me. Go now, or the Plegg man will be asking questions that you can’t answer!” And with that she[138] slipped aside and lost herself in the throng on the dancing-floor.

David Vallory was gravely silent on the remainder of the round of investigation; and Plegg, knowing that something sobering had happened at Dargin’s dance-hall, respected his chief’s mood. But on the way back to the construction camp the silence was broken by David himself.

“You saw the woman I was talking to in that place across from the Murtrie ore yard?”

“Yes, I saw her.”

“Do you know who she is?”

Plegg nodded. “She is the one I was talking about.”

“I know it. And the hound who brought her here? I believe you didn’t mention his name.”

“It was Hudson—no, that isn’t quite it—Judson; Thomas Judson.”

To the astonishment of the reticent, self-contained first assistant, David Vallory lifted his clenched hands to the stars and swore savagely. But as Plegg had respected his chief’s former silence, so now he respected the wrathful outburst. Farther along, when they were crossing the tracks in the material yard, David offered niggard explanation.

“I knew the woman, back home, Plegg; I grew[139] up with her. If ever a man needed killing, Tom Judson is that man.”

“They were not married?” said Plegg.

“I have no reason to believe that they were. But that doesn’t excuse Judson.”

“Of course not; it makes it worse—if he was the original sinner.”

“He was,” said David; “but he was not the only one.” And with that he shut his mouth like a trap and did not open it again until they reached the steps of their bunk car. Then he said shortly: “I am going up to Brady’s Cut. You needn’t leave the lamp burning for me when you turn in; I don’t know when I’ll get back.”

In naming the place to which he was going, David gave the first assistant only the outward husk of the kernel of truth. As he tramped his stumbling course over the unevenly spaced cross-ties of the construction track in the general direction of Brady’s, he was thinking little enough of the work at the cutting or of anything connected with the affairs of the Grillage Engineering Company. Taking their revenge for a long period of banishment into a limbo of things conveniently pushed aside, the thoughts that had once harassed him into something like a congestive chill of moral remorse assailed him afresh.

[140]The woman he had unconsciously led up to the brink of the chasm had not only gone over; she had sunk to a depth perilously near the bottom. There could be no doubt of what the end would be. For some inscrutable reason of his own, Dargin, “the killer,” was according her such a measure of respect as his cave-man attributes were capable of entertaining for anything in the shape of a woman. But that was the most that could be said. Poor Gloriana! What a bitter price she was paying! And with what portion of that price must he, David Vallory, in justice charge himself?

Reaching the approach to Brady’s Cut, a huge gash torn through the side of one of the rounded basin hills, David turned to his left and climbed steadily until he attained the sparse growth of trees crowning the hill at the edge of the great cutting. Below him the ordered pandemonium of industry was in full stride. Under the light of masthead arcs, two mammoth steam-shovels rattled and clanked, the sharp staccato of their exhaust pipes echoing from the surrounding heights like the cachinnations of some invisible and mocking giant of the immensities. Between the shovels rooting like prehistoric monsters into the banks on either hand, a grunting locomotive pushed its train of dump-cars for the spoil, moving them so[141] accurately that the circling shovel buckets to right and left never failed of an empty hopper into which to drop the three-ton torrent of mingled clay and broken stone.

David Vallory cast himself down at the edge of the cutting with his back to one of the little trees. The chattering clamor of the industries floated up to him on a thin nimbus of coal smoke; but when the senses are turned inward the near and the actual lose their appeal. Once more the fair structure of David’s imaginings was preparing to topple—a structure that he had thought Judith’s disappearance from Middleboro, leaving no trace, gave him leave to rear. But now their paths had crossed again; she was here, almost within rifle-shot of the tree against which he was leaning. And in a day or two Virginia Grillage would come. Was it mere chance, or an avenging fate, that was about to place him at the converging point of a great happiness and an equally great reckoning with a past that could never be recalled?

It was far past midnight when he got up and shook himself as one awaking from a troubled dream. Down on the construction track he saw a train of flat-cars bringing the two-o’clock shifts to relieve the gangs which had gone on in the early evening. Above the mechanical clamor in the[142] cutting at his feet he could hear the upcoming men singing raucously.

“Bellow it out—it’s little enough you have to trouble you!” he grated, apostrophizing the singing workmen. Then he turned his steps toward the distant material yard, avoiding the approaching train, and closing sullen ears to the noisy human atoms who had no troubles.


Bridge Number Two

SINCE he was now able to argue from a personal knowledge of the Powder Can facts, David Vallory was ready to go to the railroad officials with a plea for intervention and relief. But with his own president’s visit impending he was unwilling to absent himself for the needful trip to the railroad headquarters in Brewster. In this small dilemma a bit of gossip trickling in over the construction line wire from Agorda, the point at which the new grade diverged from the old, offered an alternative. There was a right-of-way claim to be adjusted at Agorda, and the gossiping wire said that the Short Line’s legal representative had come up from Brewster on the morning train to settle with the claimants.

Seizing the opportunity, David Vallory boarded an empty material train backing out of the Powder Gap yards and in due time was set down at the desolate little junction station at the foot of Mount Latigo. There was a private car standing on one of the side-tracks, and inquiry at the[144] telegraph office developed the fact that the right-of-way claimants had already had their day in court, and Mr. Jolly was in his car, waiting for the afternoon train to come along and tow him back to Brewster.

Walking down the tracks to the occupied siding, David presented himself at the door of the private car and was welcomed effusively by a round-bodied little gentleman with a face like a full moon.

“Vallory, hah!—do I get the name right?—always want to get a man’s name right—demned awkward to find that you’ve been calling Smith Jones, when his name is Smith,” bubbled the welcomer. “Sit down—sit down, Mr. Vallory, and be at home. Of the Grillage Engineering Company, you say? Big job you’ve got on your hands here—tre-mendous job! How’s it coming along?”

David Vallory braced himself as one stepping out of shelter into a blustering March wind. Gusty talkers had always been his pet aversion, and he seemed to have encountered the original of the type. By taking persevering advantage of the lulls between the gusts he contrived to explain his errand. The Powder Can situation was thus and so. The Grillage company had no jurisdiction,[145] and he understood that the Short Line company, in its capacity as owner of the town site, might possibly be able to intervene on the side of law and order. How about it?

“Why, hah! my dear Mr. Vallory! what do you take us for?” cackled the gusty one. “We’re not an eleemosynary institution, any more than you are! Why, hah! bless your heart, if we should go into the moral-issue business in these mountains we’d last as a railroad corporation just about as long as it would take an indignant State legislature to repeal our charter!”

“I must have stated the case clumsily, Mr. Jolly; I’m not asking you to do more than any respectable landlord ought to be willing to do,” David persisted firmly. “Your property in Powder Can is being put to uses which were never contemplated when the leases were signed. A public nuisance harmful to your neighbors has developed, and you ought to be willing to help abate it.”

“Nothing to be done, I assure you, my dear young man. Those Powder Can leases are mere matters of form, to enable us to hold what land we may need for railroad purposes after the new line is opened. I’m not sure, but I think the consideration was the usual one dollar, or something[146] of that sort. We can’t police Powder Can for you.”

“All right; we’ll drop the moral argument and take up another,” said David, stubbornly. “The railroad company has set a time limit on the completion of this new line. The Powder Can nuisance is delaying the work.”

“That, hah! is up to your people, Mr. Vallory. The contract provides for forfeitures if you don’t come within the time limit, and a bonus if you better it. You can’t stand it on that leg.”

It was just here that David lost his temper.

“I’m not making any charges, Mr. Jolly, but an unprejudiced outsider might take the view that the railroad company, or some of its officials, are profiting by the continued existence of a wide-open town where our men are robbed.”

Instantly the moon-like face of the railroad attorney became a blank.

“No; I shouldn’t make any such charge as that, if I were you,” he barked. And then, abruptly: “Have you taken this matter up with your own president? Or are you going it alone?”

“There is no reason why I should take it up with Mr. Grillage. He holds me responsible for the work, and for the conditions under which we are working.”

[147]“That’s all very well,” snapped the lawyer. “But if you are ever tempted to make that charge you speak of, Mr. Vallory, you’d better think twice. The natural counter-charge would be that your own officials have a much better chance for a Powder Can rake-off than ours have. Like yourself, I’m making no accusations; but I’ll say this: when you see Mr. Eben Grillage next, you ask him plainly what he wants you to do about this Powder Can business. If he tells you to clean it up, maybe our people can be induced to help.” Then, as if some secret spring had been touched, the full-moon face lightened up and the gusty joviality slipped into place again: “But, hah! that’s enough of these disagreeable topics. You’re my guest, Mr. Vallory: you’ll stop and take a noon bite with me, won’t you? I’ve, hah! got a fairly good cook on the car.”

Wishing nothing less than to be entertained by a verbal March wind, David Vallory pleaded a press of work, escaped, and was fortunate enough to catch the loaded material train as it was starting up the new line. He was soberly depressed, not so much by the lawyer’s attitude, which he had partially discounted before the interview, as by the seed which had been planted by Jolly’s retort to his own small outburst of temper.[148] The thought that his employer and the Vallory benefactor could be profiting, however indirectly, by sharing with the Powder Can pirates was grossly incredible—a thought to be cast down and indignantly trodden upon. Yet it is the fashion of planted seeds to germinate quite irrespective of the wishes of the soil into which they have been thrust. David Vallory could not help recalling the brief reference made to Powder Can as the contractor-king was threshing out the details with him on the eve of his outsetting: “A tough mining-camp, running wide-open; but that’s no affair of yours,” was the curt phrase in which Eben Grillage had dismissed it.

It was on Crawford’s section of the new work that David roused himself out of the depressive reverie. The material train was rounding a long curve on the approach to Bridge Number Two, and the engineer checked its speed to slow for the crossing of the little river on the temporary trestle just beyond the bridge-building activities. Dropping from the moving train a few hundred yards from the bridge location, David was immediately pounced upon by the square-shouldered young athlete who was driving the work on Bridge Number Two.

“By George! Mr. Vallory—you’re like an[149] angel sent from heaven!” was the athlete’s enthusiastic welcome. “Bittner has just ’phoned from down the line that Strayer, of the railroad inspecting force, is on his way up here in a gas-car. Will you flag him when he comes along and hold him for a few minutes until I can get back to the bridge?”

David, thinking pointedly of his late encounter with the railroad attorney, nodded abstractedly. “Yes, I’ll stop Strayer, if you want me to. But what’s the object—what are you trying to cover up?”

“N-nothing,” Crawford explained hurriedly. “I just want to make sure that those concrete fellows are carrying out instructions. Strayer’s got an eye like a hawk, and if so much as a single piece of reinforcing steel happens to be an inch out of line, he’ll see it and report that we’re not living up to the specifications.”

“I see,” said David; “go to it,” and he sat down on a projecting cross-tie end to wait for the railroad inspector’s gas-velocipede to come in sight.

From the cross-tie waiting-place on the inner side of the long curve the bridge under construction was in plain view. It was a single short arch spanning the stream; the false-work and wooden[150] forming were in place, and from the aërial spout of the distributing tower a continuous trickle of concrete was pouring into the box-like forms. David Vallory’s half-absent gaze followed Crawford’s retreating figure. When it reached the bridge the distance-softened grind of the concrete mixer and hoist stopped abruptly, and the absent-minded onlooker a few hundred yards down the line saw Crawford climb to the bridge-head and wave his arms.

The precise object of what followed was not clearly apparent to a man thinking soberly of something else. Other figures, silhouetted against the sky-line, appeared, crawling out upon the forms. When they erected themselves they seemed to be tamping the concrete into place. The young chiefs conclusion was the most obvious one that offered. “Humph!” he muttered, “he’s been letting his ‘mix’ go too dry, and he’s ramming it so the water will come up. Strayer would jump him for that, of course.”

It was a measure of the distance that one Matthew Grimsby had led David along the road to “salt” loyalty that he made no mental note to “jump” Crawford himself for the forbidden practice of ramming dry concrete into bridge forms; and when the motor-driven inspection car appeared[151] at the farther end of the curve he got up to flag it. As it chanced, the big, bearded engineer who was driving the car was no less ready to stop than David was to have him stop. With the brakes locked he sprang out and fired his battery.

“I was hoping I’d find you somewhere this side of the Gap,” he rasped. “There’s no use talking, Vallory, you fellows have got to hew closer to the line or you’ll hear something drop. If you think, because Lushing happens to be away, you can put something across on us every day or two, you’ve got another guess coming.”

“I’ve met you before, Strayer,” said David, with his slow smile. “I worked with a round half-dozen of you all last summer and fall in Wisconsin. What’s gone wrong now?”

“That fill at Havercamp’s. The specifications call for solid work on the fills. Your man is burying unbroken chunks of clay in that embankment as big as he can pick up with his steam-hog. The first heavy snow that melts back of that fill will make it look like a toboggan slide!”

“We’ll look into the Havercamp fill,” said David mildly. “Anything else?”

“Yes; the cutting just below Havercamp’s, where they’re getting the spoil for the fill. I asked[152] the foreman just now if he considered that the lower side of the cutting was worked back to the required angle. He said that he did, and it was; but when I put my instrument on it, I found that there is still a good six-foot slice to come off. It won’t do, Vallory; you’ve got to quit this business of cost-shaving at every twist and turn that offers.”

“We are not in the contracting business for our health,” was David Vallory’s good-natured retort; “I admit it. When you find anything wrong, we correct it, don’t we? And you’re here to find the wrong things, aren’t you? If we should toe the mark all the time, you’d be out of a job. I’ll look after the cutting. What next?”

“Next I’ll have a squint at this bridge of Crawford’s. When you fellows take to pouring concrete, you need to have a man standing over you day and night. If you’re headed my way, get on the car and I’ll give you a ride.”

David Vallory accepted the invitation, climbing into the second seat of the three-wheeled car. At the approach to the temporary wooden trestle over which the construction track ran, the car was halted and they crossed to the new structure.

The machinery was grinding again by this time and David Vallory stood aside while the railroad engineer went carefully over the job. The big,[153] bearded inspector took nothing for granted. The “mix” was examined, samples of the cement were taken, a handful of the sand was put into a bottle with water, shaken, and allowed to settle to determine its purity. On the work itself nothing escaped him; he even counted the steel reinforcing bars whose ends stuck up out of the rising tide of soft concrete, checking the number against the figures in his field-notes.

“Something radically wrong here,” he grinned, when the final item had been checked. “It’s the first time I haven’t found Jimmy Crawford trying to put something over on me. What’s the matter, Jimmy—got religion?”

“Sure!” said Crawford, with a sly wink for his chief. “Didn’t you know Mr. Vallory holds revival meetings in his bunk car every little while? You ought to come up some night and we’ll convert you.”

“I’m going up, right now,” Strayer announced; and it was thus that David got a motor-car ride all the way to the Gap, the railroad watch-dog enlivening the journey with additional criticisms as they went along.

It was after they had reached the headquarters camp, and David had invited the railroad man into his office bunk car for an intermission smoke,[154] that the bluff inspector dipped abruptly into the personalities.

“I like you, Vallory,” he said, “and I’ve been wondering for a solid month how you ever came to tie up with this Grillage outfit. Would you mind telling me?”

“Not in the least. Mr. Grillage and my father are old friends; they were schoolmates.”

“That stops me dead,” was Strayer’s rejoinder. “I shan’t say any of the things I was going to say.”

“It needn’t stop you,” was David’s surrejoinder.

“But it does. Under such conditions you have personal relations with Father Eben; you can’t help having them. And that reminds me, he is in Brewster now, on his way up here. Did you know he was coming?”

“Yes; I heard of it through the hotel people.”

“He’s got his daughter with him. Did you know that?”

“Not positively, no.”

“Leaving her father entirely out of it, she’s a mighty fine young woman,” said Strayer. “I met her when she was here last September. She didn’t seem to think that a railroad inspecting engineer was merely a new kind of dog to be kicked off the door-step.”

[155]“Neither do I,” David asserted. “You think we are a bunch of crooks on our side, and we know you want to get something for nothing on yours. There needn’t be anything personal about it.”

The big man’s grin bared a marvelously fine set of teeth.

“You are crooks, Vallory; so crooked that it would break a snake’s back to try to keep up with you. If Eben Grillage wasn’t your father’s friend, I’d say that he ought to have a middle name beginning with the letter ‘S’ for——”

“But he is my father’s friend—and mine,” interrupted David, with a little of the emphasis belligerent on the verb.

“Sure! I’ll quit. And to make up for the implied slam, I’ll give you a little pointer, Vallory. This business of systematically dodging specifications has about run its course, and it’s going to get you in bad. Our people have been taking it rather easy and contenting themselves with checking you up in spots and making you make good. Do you get me?”

“I’m listening.”

“All right. That was the way it ran along at first. But now it’s beginning to be whispered around in our headquarters that the Grillage company[156] is out for blood on this contract; that no amount of inspection can keep you from skinning us alive—which the same you are doing. That isn’t a healthy state of affairs, and it ought to be cured before the whisper spreads, let us say, to the Executive Board in New York. Are you on?”

“No,” David challenged stubbornly. Then he fell back upon the seller’s time-worn argument: “You are getting all you pay for, and more.”

“Enough said,” laughed Strayer, getting up to go. “No offense meant, and none taken, I hope. But you say Mr. Grillage is your friend, and—well, it’s just a word to the wise, that’s all. So long, till I see you again.”

Somewhat later in the day, returning from a trip to Brady’s Cut, David paused on the sheltered side of the office bunk car to light his pipe. A window was open, and he heard voices within; the voices, namely, of young Jimmy Crawford and Silas Plegg. Crawford had come to camp for a missing detail drawing of some part of Bridge Number Two, and Plegg was getting it for him out of the blueprint locker.

“A close squeak,” Crawford was saying. “If Bittner hadn’t been thoughtful enough to ’phone, I’d have been caught red-handed. I lost my head for a minute and ran down the track to flag[157] Strayer, meaning to choke the big stiff if I couldn’t think of any other way of keeping him off. Just then the material train came along and the boss dropped off right at my feet. He was a Godsend, and I used him, got him to stay and flag Strayer while I ran back and got busy.”

Then Plegg’s voice: “Did you tell Mr. Vallory what you were going to do?”

“Not hardly!” was Crawford’s laughing denial; “not after the song and dance you gave us fellows a while back, just after the boss came on the job. I just told him that Strayer was coming, and that I’d like to have him hindered until I could make sure everything was ship-shape for an inspection. He seemed to be thinking pretty hard about something else, but he was good-natured enough to sit down on a tie-end and wait for Strayer.”

David’s pipe was alight and he moved away. What he had overheard merely confirmed his former assumption that Crawford had been tamping dry concrete to make it appear wet, and he thought no more of it. But if his match had gone out and he had been obliged to light another on the windless side of the bunk car....

Plegg seemed to be having trouble in the search for the missing drawing, and Crawford rattled on.

[158]“When I got back to the bridge I turned the whole gang loose on the stage-setting. It was some swift job, believe me, and I didn’t know what minute Strayer’s car’d come chugging around the curve. I’ve got so I keep a bunch of short steels handy, and we stuck ’em up in the concrete to look as if they grew there. Strayer counted ’em when he came, as he always does, and they checked out right, of course. But say, Plegg, if he’d touched one of the dummies it would have tumbled over! The concrete had been running a bit thin, and it was all we could do to make the short pieces stand up long enough to be counted. As it was, two or three of ’em fell down just as Strayer and the boss were climbing to their places in the inspection car. That’s why I say it was a close squeak.”

This, then, was what David missed by not having to light a second match. Instead of a practically harmless ramming of dry concrete, Crawford had been covering up another item of the cost-cutting. One of the commonest economies in concrete construction is the scanting of the steel which binds the mass together and adds its strength to that of the cement. The contract specifications called for a stated number of these bars in Bridge Number Two. Following the Grillage[159] practice, certain of these bars had been left out—to save their cost. Crawford had made his dummy bars figure as permanences for Strayer, and the trick was turned.

But of all this David Vallory knew nothing; and since his pipe was now drawing freely, he mounted to the cab of one of the construction locomotives to have himself conveyed to the tunnel mouth on the eastern slope of the great mountain.


Under the High Stars

IT was in the evening of the day in which David Vallory had been twice told that his president was on the way to Powder Gap that the stub train forming the connecting link between the main line and the construction headquarters came in with a private Pullman for a trailer. David was four miles away, in the eastern heading of the big tunnel, at the moment, but the service telephone line quickly transmitted the news of the big boss’s arrival. An hour farther along, after a hurried supper in the mess-tent at Brady’s cut, David took a short path across the basin and climbed the forested ridge to the Alta Vista Inn.

He had his reward for the haste, the primitive meal, and the rapid climb when he came in sight of the Inn and its rustic porches. The radiant daughter of profit-gaining contracts was there in visible presence; David singled her out instantly among the people lounging on the westward-facing[161] porch. She stood at the railing, leaning against one of the rough tree-trunk porch pillars and gazing out upon the sunset which was painting itself in colorings known only to the high altitudes. David drew near, treading softly. It was a lover’s fancy that the glories of the sunset were reflected in the starry eyes, in the ripe lips parted a little as if in the rapture of the vision, and in the warm tintings of neck and cheek.

When he finally stood beside her she gave him her hand without loosing her eye-hold upon the crimson-shot glories.

“Isn’t it perfectly exquisite!” she breathed, accepting the fact of his presence quite as if their parting in the lakeside mansion had been but the day before.

“The sunset? Naturally; they are built that way out here. But you mustn’t expect me to rhapsodize over the scenery when I can look at you.”

“Please don’t be frivolous,” she chided. “There are plenty of others to say the silly things; and besides, it isn’t your—it isn’t in character. Stand here and enjoy this with me while it lasts, and then we’ll go somewhere and talk.”

David acquiesced willingly enough, and after the sunset had faded, and they had found chairs in the corner farthest removed from the chattering[162] groups of summer people, he told her of his few weeks of strenuous work, enlarging in boyish enthusiasm upon the magnitude of the job and the possibilities of man-sized growth it offered to those who were driving it.

“And you haven’t had any trouble?” she interrogated, after the story was told.

“Not what you would call trouble; no. Of course, the railroad inspectors make life miserable for us when they can, but that is all in the day’s work. It amuses them and keeps them out of mischief, and it doesn’t hurt us.”

“Why should they make life miserable for you?”

“You ask me that?—and you the only daughter of the king of the contractors?” he laughed. “That is what they are hired for; to find fault, and to get us to give them something for nothing if they can.”

At this point it pleased Miss Virginia to play the part of the innocent and the uninformed.

“How should I know anything about it?” she queried. “Could you explain it so that a woman could understand?”

“I can explain it so that this one woman I’m talking to can understand. Have you ever happened to read a contract and specifications?”

[163]“What a question!”

“I didn’t suppose you had. They are like the Congressional Record—nobody reads them unless it’s a necessity. But they are fearfully and wonderfully constructed. One of the clauses in the regulation form reads something like this: ‘The engineer of the party of the first part’—that’s the railroad company in the present instance—‘reserves the right to pass upon all work and material, and to reject either if found, in his judgment, to be unsatisfactory.’ Mark the wording and you’ll notice that it leaves an open door wide enough to drive a locomotive through. And up here we have a man against us who would like to hitch a whole train of cars to the locomotive.”

“Mr. Lushing, you mean?”

“The same.”

“Have you met him yet?”

“Not yet; he hasn’t been on the job in person since I came. I understand he has gone East. But he has left some pretty able fault-finders to represent him, I can assure you. If there is anything in the category of crime that they don’t accuse us of committing, it is something they have temporarily forgotten. But you mustn’t make me talk shop all the time. I’m sure it bores you, only you are too good-natured to say so.”

[164]“A man’s work, if it is at all worth while, ought not to bore anybody. It is your life, isn’t it?”

“It was, up to just a little while ago.”

“What happened a little while ago?”

“You came.”

“That is another of the sayings that doesn’t fit,” she warned him.

“All right; we’ll talk about something else. How long can you stay?”

“I don’t know. Father is calling it his vacation, and threatens to go trout-fishing in the mountains.”

“That will be fine. If I didn’t have to watch Lushing’s outfit so closely, I’d like to go with him.”

She looked up quickly. “Have you ever had a real vacation, David?”

“I suppose not; not in your sense of the word. I was out on field work during the four college summers. I’m saving up for my honeymoon.”

“I thought you said that was only a dream; a ‘pipe-dream,’ you called it, didn’t you?”

“I did; and it is. I was only joking. The only thing I can talk seriously about is the big job. And you are not interested especially in that—or are you? Plegg said one day when we were[165] speaking of you that you were a pretty good little engineer. I’m quoting him literally. He meant it as a compliment.”

“Mr. Plegg,” she said, with a touch of abstraction which the mention of the first assistant’s name seemed to evoke. “Do you like him?”

“Immensely; though he always gives me the feeling that there are nooks and corners in him that he never allows anybody to explore. I met him first a year ago. It was in the Pullman, when I was going home from Florida. He had the upper berth in my section, and we scraped an acquaintance of a sort just as the train was pulling into Middleboro, though neither of us learned the other’s name. I remembered him chiefly on account of his sardonic smile, and a queer thing he said to me.”

“Will the queer thing bear repeating?”

“To you, yes. He made a running commentary on my face—like one of those street-corner physiognomists, you know; eyes, nose, jaw, and so on, and said I’d probably go far in my profession if I wasn’t too good.”

“What an exceedingly odd thing for a stranger to say to you!”

“Wasn’t it? But he was so genial about it that I couldn’t take offense.”

[166]“What did he mean by not being ‘too good’?” she questioned gravely.

“I didn’t know at the time, but I’ve found out since. I grew up with a good many old-fashioned notions, I guess, and I’m not sure that I haven’t got some of them yet. One of them that I’ve been trying to modify was the belief that a man might set up his own standards and live by them.”

“I have that same belief now,” asserted the daughter of the luxuries. “Why are you trying to modify it? Isn’t it reasonable?”

“It is reasonable enough, and it is right and proper that you should have it. It is your woman’s privilege to believe the best of everything. But the man has to take the world as he finds it.” Thus far he was merely skirting judiciously upon the safer edges of the generalizations. But the next moment he found himself yielding to the temptation which so easily besets the average man—to confide in a woman. “I’ll tell you, Virginia; I’ve done things in the past year that I would never have dreamed of doing in my callow days; things that would make my father gasp if he knew about them.”

“Wicked things?” she suggested.

“There was a time when I should have called them wicked, without a shadow of doubt. But[167] that was before I had come to realize that business—all kinds of business—is a sort of war; a fight in which, if you don’t ‘get’ the other fellow, he’ll get you.”

“You are all wrong—hideously wrong!” she broke out in a sudden passion of vehemence. “I don’t mean in the statement of fact—that is only too true. But in your own attitude. It is the first of the downward steps: if you take that step deliberately, there is no reason why you should stop at anything!”

There was only soft starlight on the sheltered porch, and David could smile in safety. The little outburst of generous indignation carried him swiftly back to the childhood days, reviving his memory picture of a hot-hearted little girl whose anger had always flamed fiercely at any spectacle of wrong or oppression, and whose defending of stray kittens and homeless dogs had more than once made him fight in blind boyish rage—not for the dogs and kittens, but for her.

“You haven’t changed much, inside, since we were babies together, and I’m glad of it,” he said, after the momentary pause ushered in by the indignant protest. “It is good of you not to make me always think of you as the grown-up Miss Virginia—the little sister of the luxuries.”

[168]“There are times, David, when I hate the luxuries—knowing so well the source of so many of them,” she declared; and then: “Are you trying to tell me that you have thrown all of the ideals overboard?”

The appeal in her tone sobered him suddenly.

“No, I hope not, Virginia. What I’ve been saying applies only to business; the business conscience, if you want to call it that. I have plenty of the other kind left. And it’s giving me a lot of trouble.”

“Is the trouble like the professional things you were talking about a few minutes ago?—explainable to this woman?”

“No; at least, not yet. It is a question of duty, and how much duty. It is as if you had incurred a debt and didn’t know the amount of it. You’d be willing to pay, perhaps, if you only knew how much to pay.”

“That sounds entrancingly interesting,” she said. And then: “To whom do you owe the debt, David?”

“I’m not sure that I owe it to any one; or if there really is a debt. I shall have to think it out, and when I know, I’ll tell you.”

From this their talk slipped back to the big job and its askings and drawbacks, and so led up to[169] the moral cancer whose lights they could see twinkling in the distance at the foot of Gold Hill. David spoke of the demoralizing effects of the cancer upon his working force, and told of his futile effort to enlist the railroad people on the side of reform.

“Mr. Ford would do something, if he knew,” the young woman suggested, naming the president of the P. S-W. system.

“I believe he would; but it is like climbing a ladder a mile high to get to him. From what Jolly said, I gathered that the Brewster officials are absolutely indifferent, and to get at Mr. Ford I’d have to go over their heads.”

“You have been in the mining-camp?” she asked.

“Once, only, after dark. Some day you are going to tell me the name of the man who took your slumming party there last fall and I’ll go and beat him up.”

“Never mind the man. Did you see Judith Fallon?”

“Yes; but only for a moment. I tried to get a chance to talk to her, but she wouldn’t have it.”

“She is still living with her father?”


[170]“You needn’t be afraid to tell me all of it, David.”

At that he repeated Plegg’s short account of the manner in which Judith Fallon had come to Powder Can, and its near-tragic outcome.

“How terrible!” she said. “I remember Tom Judson, just vaguely, as a handsome little kiddie with light curly hair and the bluest of blue eyes. And he’s grown up into that!”

“Yes; and he didn’t take long about it, either,” said David. “Long before he was expelled from college he was Middleboro’s most shining example of depravity.”

“But this other man; Dargin, did you call him? Isn’t Judith worse off than if she had no protector at all?”

“God knows,” said David, solemnly. “Except for the single fact that he seems to have some respect for her, he is the crudest of crude brutes, according to Plegg’s story. It’s going to be mighty hard to run him out of Powder Can.”

“Are you going to try to run him out?”

“It’s up to me, I guess. The railroad people won’t do anything, and the place has got to be cleaned up. This job of ours demands it. But see here; can’t we keep this talk from stumbling into the sink-holes? Tell me how long you are[171] going to be content to stay away from the luxuries?”

“I told you there were times when I hated the luxuries. You must be awfully good to me if you don’t want me to run away to the lavishnesses that I use and despise in the same breath. I shall put on a khaki skirt and leggings, and you’ll have to show me everything that is going on. Have you seen father?”

“No, not yet.”

“Mercy me! I was to tell you to report to him at the car down in the railroad yard if I saw you first. I’m afraid I haven’t been a very obedient call-boy.”

David got out of his chair reluctantly.

“I’m trying to realize that you are sending me away—and that just as we were beginning to get down to the real heart of things. May I come back after your father is through with me? It is so soul-satisfying not to have to divide time with half a dozen other men.”

“The ‘other men,’ as you call them, will probably be here after a while; or some of them, at least,” she laughed. “And that reminds me; what have you done about sending for your father and sister? Nothing, I hope.”

“Oh, but I have; I have done precisely what[172] you said I ought not to do. They are coming, and they will be here next week. I have taken one of the hotel cottages for them.”

“That was downright cruel, and you need to be punished,” she retorted brightly. “And you will be, too; you see if I’m not a true prophet.” Then: “I think you needn’t come back this evening. I shall probably be in bed and asleep long before father lets you escape. Now don’t you wish you hadn’t sent for your father and Lucille?”


Altman’s Nerves

IF David Vallory were reluctant to leave the hotel and make his way down the wooded ridge to the gridironing of tracks in the railroad yard, it was only because his duty was shortening the evening with Virginia. Without being unduly puffed up with a sense of his own efficiency, he felt sure that his work would show for itself and that there was no reason why he should hesitate to spread the results before the president.

Not knowing where Mr. Grillage’s car had been placed, it took him some few minutes to find it in the crowded material yard, which was not too well lighted by the widely spaced masthead electrics. When he did find it, on the single unobstructed spur-track, the nearest electric showed him the figure of a man dropping from the car step to become quickly lost in the shadows of the surrounding material trains. In the brief glimpse David recognized the alert poise and swinging stride of his first assistant; but since neither jealousy[174] nor suspicion had any part in the Vallory make-up, the recognition evoked no wondering query as to why Plegg had anticipated him in calling upon Eben Grillage.

A moment later the porter had admitted him and was standing aside to let him pass through the vestibule to the open compartment in the rear of the luxurious car. At the heavy, glass-topped desk he found the contractor magnate sitting alone, with the inevitable black and shapeless cigar clamped between his teeth.

“Hello, David—come in!” was the brusque greeting; and then with a grim chuckle: “By George! I was beginning to think you were lost out completely.”

“I was up at the tunnel when your train got in,” David explained, judiciously slurring over the interval which had elapsed since the early-evening hour of the arrival.

“And when you crawled out of the tunnel you found your way to the hotel and promptly forgot all about the old duffer who has to dig down into his jeans for the pay-roll money,” laughed the man-driver in jovial humor. “It’s all right, my boy; I was young once, myself. How goes the job?”

“I think you will find it moving along all right,”[175] David ventured. Then he said a good word for the first assistant. “Plegg had things in fine shape when I took hold; good organization, good distribution, and no friction. All that was needed was a little pace-setting.”

“And you’ve been setting the pace, eh? How about the railroad inspectors?—are they giving you much trouble?”

“All we need, though as a general thing they don’t say much to me personally; they go to Plegg. One of them—Strayer—took me into his confidence a bit to-day. He professes to believe that we are deliberately burking the railroad company and threw out a hint to the effect that the railroad Executive Board might take some action.”

“Did you get back at him?”

“I did; there hasn’t been a single instance where we’ve failed to make good when they have called us down, and I told him so. Strayer is acting chief of the inspection staff in Lushing’s absence. I haven’t seen Lushing yet. They tell me he has gone East.”

“I can add something to that,” said Lushing’s former employer, with a sour smile. “He went to New York to appear before the Executive Board of his railroad—at his own request. We’ll hear from him a little later.”

[176]“I suppose he’s trying to make more trouble for us,” said David.

“He is. He is trying to force legal proceedings to get our contract canceled. He threatened to do that when we dropped him. He’s a vindictive cuss, if ever there was one.”

David Vallory shook his head in sympathetic deprecation. He was too loyal himself to be able to understand how a man, even if he were enraged, could turn upon the hand that had fed him.

“He can’t do anything like that,” he asserted confidently. “I’ve specialized a good bit in the law of contracts—took it as a part of my college course. As I see it, the railroad company has absolutely no grounds whatever for cancellation. As I’ve said, when Lushing’s inspectors bring up a specific charge, we make good, and that’s the end of it.”

Since being in love with a man’s daughter is the poorest possible preliminary to any accurate reading of face signs when the subject chances to be the father of the daughter, the slow drooping of an eyelid on the part of the big man in the desk chair opposite was quite thrown away upon David Vallory.

“Of course,” agreed the contractor-king, with a suppressed chuckle which he turned into a forced[177] clearing of his throat; “we’re up to all the little methods of pacifying the enemy, eh, David?” And then: “I’ve just had Plegg here, making him tell tales out of school. Naturally, he didn’t want to say much about his chief, but you’ve got his vote, all right. He tells me you’ve made good with the force, and that you’re a home-grown miracle in the pace-setting. That is what I wanted to hear; but it is also what I expected to hear.”

“More kindness,” said the beneficiary of the kindness, with a comforting glow warming him. “Before I went to Coulee du Sac I used to hear that you were a hard man to work for. I shall feel like scrapping with the next man who says anything like that to me.”

“You go right on believing that I’m a hard man,” said Eben Grillage, with a ferocious twinkle of the shrewd eyes; “it’s safer. Now there’s another little thing, while I think of it: Plegg was telling me something about these dives and speak-easys over in Powder Can; said you’d got stirred up about ’em and wanted to give ’em the high kick. You take a word of advice from me, David, and let ’em alone. After you’ve handled grade laborers and hard-rock men as long as I have, you’ll realize that they’re bound to have their fling after pay-day. If you were an angel from[178] heaven you couldn’t stop it. And you’ll only get your hands muddy if you try.”

“But it’s such a tremendous drawback to the work!” David protested, feeling, in his inmost recesses, that this argument, rather than the moral, would be more likely to appeal to Eben Grillage.

“That’s one of the things you have to figure on,” was the man-driver’s reply. “Pad your gangs with a few extras to make up for the pay-day absentees. Labor’s fairly plentiful just now, and in the contracting business you’ll find that man-muscle is about the cheapest material you handle. But that’s enough about business. What do you hear from your father?”

“Mighty good news, just now. He hasn’t been very well this spring, so I have persuaded him to come out here for a while. I shall be looking for him and my sister next week.”

“That’s the talk!” exclaimed the Vallory benefactor. “I’ll make him go trout-fishing with me. And that drags us back to the business matter again. I’m not out here to stand over you and tell you what to do on the job, David; I’ve told Vinnie it’s my vacation—something that I haven’t had for so long that I’ve forgotten what it looks like. I’ll make a little round of the work with[179] you to-morrow, just to let the outfit see that you’ve got the boss on your side, and after that you can count me out. Vinnie probably won’t let you off so easily, but you can settle that with her.”

With this program for a sort of stirrup-cup, David Vallory left the president’s car with the warm glow at his heart bursting into a generous flame. In an age in which filial piety has come to be more or less regarded as a hold-over from an emotional elder generation, he found himself inclining toward the savior of the good name of the Vallorys with an affection akin to that which he felt for the father who had begotten him. That the industrial world held Eben Grillage as a hard master, and the world of business looked a trifle askance at his huge fortune and the manner of its acquiring, were matters subsidiary to the main question. Under the gruff exterior, the grasping exterior, if his detractors would have it so, David told himself there dwelt a giant of generosity and loving-kindness; a man whose very crudities and bluntnesses were lovable; a man for whom his grateful beneficiaries could never go too far, so long as the saving spark of gratitude remained alive in the human breast.

It was with these exalted emotions stirring him that he swung up to the step of his bunk car.[180] Since the car was lighted, he expected to find Silas Plegg at work on his customary evening task of checking the books of field-notes. But the only occupant of the car proved to be young Altman, who was driving the rock-blasting in the eastern heading of the great tunnel; a sober-minded young mining engineer only a year out of college, but yet with the lines of responsibility already graving themselves visibly in his boyish face.

“I’m disobeying orders, Mr. Vallory,” he began. “Plegg tells us we mustn’t bother you with our complaints, but in justice to my men I’ve got to break over this one time. You know that weak spot in the tunnel roof?—the one I showed you the first time you were in?”

David nodded. The “weak spot” was a section of the big bore which had been driven through a prehistoric gash in the granite; a huge vertical crack which had been filled with softer rock in some later earth upheaval. “What about it?” he asked.

“It’s getting my goat. It is growing worse every day, and I’m afraid it will come down on us. Since we’re working three shifts, with a gang in the heading all the time, you know what a cave-in would mean; the shift that happened to be caught behind it would die to the last man before it could[181] be dug out. There’s enough of that slippery marl hanging up in the ‘fault’ to bury an army, and, sooner or later, it’s going to come down. But I can’t make Plegg see it that way at all. He says I’ve got too many nerves.”

“You think the weak spot ought to be timbered?”

“I know it ought; and the men think so, too. There has been a good bit of grumbling and some little strike talk among them, and I can’t blame them. They say the company has no right to ask them to take their lives in their hands for the sake of saving a few dollars’ worth of timbers. It was my shift off this afternoon, but if I had known you were going to be up there, I should have stayed and asked you to take another look at the roof for yourself.”

“I’ll go up to-morrow,” was David’s prompt offer. “We mustn’t take chances on the lives of your men. At the same time, it doesn’t pay to let a thing of that kind get on your nerves, Fred. The responsibility is up to Plegg and me, and we’ll take care of it. Now you’d better hike back to the bunk shack and catch up on your sleep.”

It was less than a quarter of an hour after Altman had gone when Silas Plegg came in and found David Vallory preparing to go to bed.

[182]“About that weak place in the tunnel roof in heading Number One,” said David, pausing with one lace-boot off. “Have you examined it lately?”

“I’ve been keeping an eye on it ever since we drove through it,” was the first assistant’s answer. Then: “Has Altman been worrying you about it?”

“He was here a few minutes ago. He seems to think it’s dangerous, and says his men are protesting.”

“Altman is a fine young fellow, and an expert in the rock-blasting, but he is a little inclined to be nervous,” Plegg threw in. “That sort of thing is always contagious, and Altman’s personal scare has been spreading itself. That roof stood up while we were driving through the fault, and I guess it will continue to stand.”

“If there is any doubt about it, it ought to be timbered,” was David’s decision. “I’m looking to you, Plegg, for the carrying out of these routine details.”

“We can’t afford to timber it,” said Plegg, shortly.

“Why not? The cost would be nothing compared with what we’d lose in a strike of the hard-rock men.”

“I’ll guarantee the men won’t strike. And as for the cost of the timbering; have you considered[183] what it would mean to us if we should call the attention of the railroad inspectors to that bad spot by propping it up?”

“Do you mean to say that the railroad engineers, and Lushing among them, don’t know about that ‘fault’?”

“We’re hoping they don’t,” said Plegg, with the sardonic smile wrinkling slowly at the corners of his eyes. “It would give Mr. James B. Lushing the one big chance he is looking for. The day in which we haul the first car-load of props into the tunnel will be the day when he’ll fall on us like a thousand of brick. We’ll get a peremptory order from the railroad headquarters to shoot that bad roof down and plug the hole with concrete. That will mean a delay, maybe of weeks, a forfeiture of our time-limit bond for the completion of the job, and a bill of costs for the additional work that will turn the Grillage company’s profit into a loss heavy enough to make the big boss sweat blood.”

David said nothing while he was slowly removing the remaining lace-boot. When he spoke it was to ask a curt question.

“Does Mr. Grillage know about this bad spot in the tunnel.”

“Sure he does. I sent him photographs when[184] we were driving through it. He’s an old hand at the rock-blasting, and he isn’t losing any sleep over the cracked roof—which is cracked chiefly in Altman’s imagination.”

In some vague sense David Vallory felt that he was confronting a crisis and another test of the ideals. Before he realized it the battle was joined between a just regard for human life on one hand, and strict loyalty to Eben Grillage on the other. Should he heed Altman’s warning and order the timbering, regardless of the possible consequences to the Grillage Engineering Company? Or should he take Plegg’s assurances at their face value and discount the fears of an overanxious subordinate?

The daughter of the luxuries had possibly spoken better than she knew in saying that the first downward step in the ethical ladder makes all the others easy. As David Vallory rolled himself into the bunk blankets and turned his face away from the light of the hanging lamp under which Plegg was squaring himself for the nightly task of field-note checking, the decision came.

“Perhaps you are right about Altman’s nerves, Plegg. Suppose you shift him to the quarry work in Dixon’s Cut and put Regnier in the tunnel heading. If I’m any judge of men, Regnier won’t let[185] the spalling roof trouble him. He’ll be too busy trying to break Altman’s record of so many feet advance a day, and that will be some job.”

“That’s better,” said Plegg, bending lower over the checking. But when David’s regular breathing began, as it did almost at the instant of eye-closing, the first assistant straightened up, shaking his head regretfully.

“It’s a damned shame!” he muttered under his breath. And then: “If I were half as loyal to him as he is to Grillage, I’d blow the whole gaff—tell him exactly what he is up against on this crooked job, and at least give him a chance to fight with his eyes open. Maybe I shall, some day—after it’s everlastingly too late.”


The Mucker

FOR some little time after his chief had gone to sleep, Silas Plegg bent thoughtfully over his task at the trestle-table. It was said of him that he could live and work with less sleep than any other man on the staff, and his nightly vigils proved it. Now and again the midnight workers on some remote section of the job would look up to find the first assistant staring down at them from some coign of vantage, and the shirkers never knew at what moment the cool, crisp voice of the under-boss would come crackling out of the shadows with a snap like that of a whip lash.

With the slipping of the rubber band over the last of the field-books, Plegg rose noiselessly and left the car as if to begin another of his nocturnal rounds. In the shadow of the cement sheds he overtook the yard watchman.

“Anything stirring, Mac?” he asked.

“Nothin’ but that tunnel mucker they call ‘Simmy’. Early in the evenin’ I caught him prowlin’ ’round the big boss’s private car. I asked him[187] what he was doin’ and he said he couldn’t sleep. I wouldn’t ’a’ thought nothin’ of it if you hadn’t told me to keep an eye out for him.”

“Anything else?”

“Nothin’ much, ’cept that the next time I come around I catch him snoopin’ under the windows of yours and Mr. Vallory’s sleep-wagon. This time I takes him by the ear and runs him over to his bunk shack and tells him to stay there till his shift’s called.”

“How long ago was that?” Plegg inquired.

“’Bout a half-hour, I reckon. He—Well, I’ll be dog-goned! Look yonder!”

Plegg had already seen. The sputtering light of a distant masthead showed a lop-shouldered figure making off across the yard, dodging as it went to keep within the shadows cast by the scattered material cars.

“I’ll go after him,” said the watchman; but Plegg stopped him.

“No, Mac; stay on your job. I think this may be what I’ve been waiting for.” And as craftily as if he had been trained in Indian warfare, the first assistant set out to trail the dodging figure.

After the first few hundred yards down the tracks it was not difficult to guess the tunnel mucker’s destination. He was heading across the[188] basin to the mining-camp at the foot of Gold Hill. Plegg did not try to keep him in sight after his direction was assured, contenting himself with closing the gap when the man ahead was entering the single street of the town. Even then the pursuer made no haste and paid no special attention to the lop-shouldered one. It was as if he had known in advance where his quarry would alight, and when the dodging figure was lost finally among the late roisterers still obstructing the planked sidewalks, Plegg pushed on steadily until he reached the corner occupied by Black Jack Dargin’s gambling resort.

At the corner, the first assistant changed his tactics suddenly. Flattening himself against the side of the building he edged his way cautiously down the short side street. Being the headquarters of a leading industry, Dargin’s “place” enjoyed the distinction of standing as the only two-storied building in the camp. With its ground floor devoted strictly to the business of relieving restless or thirsty souls of the hard-earned dollars, the second floor was the living apartment of the master gambler. It was approached by an outside stair, and up this stair Plegg crept on his toes and finger-ends.

The door at the stair-head was closed, but the[189] first assistant seemed to know his ground. Noiselessly a skeleton key was slipped into the lock, there was a faint click, and the door swung inward, opening into a dark hall running crosswise of the building. Again Plegg showed his familiarity with his surroundings. Closing the door, and thus shutting himself into the Egyptian darkness of the narrow upper hall, he felt his way carefully to the opposite end of the passage, found and unlocked another door, and stepped out upon a railed gallery running the full length of the building at the second-story level. A few steps to the right two windows and a door gave upon the gallery, and the windows were lighted.

Once more resorting to the Indian tactics, Plegg crouched in the shadow and worked his way silently on hands and knees to the nearest window. The shade was partly drawn down, but since the night was unusually warm for the season and the altitude the window was open a few inches at the bottom.

The view from the gallery was unobstructed. Plegg saw an interior gaudily furnished, a costly carpet, ill-kept and soiled by muddied boots, yellowed lace hangings at the windows, heavy mahogany chairs, scarred and with their leather upholstering chafed and abused, a marble-topped[190] table littered with cigar stubs, an ash tray, a scattered deck of cards and an open box of cigars; the whole lighted by a hanging lamp with a cheap tin reflector.

There were two men in the room and they sat on opposite sides of the table. One was the master gambler; he had selected the one wooden chair in the room, and he sat back with his hands in his pockets, rocking the chair gently on two legs. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and the black, Indian-like hair fell forward in a lock that shaded the coldly staring eyes.

The other man was the “mucker” of the yard watchman’s report, the man Plegg had been following. On the Grillage pay-roll he appeared as Simeon Backus, serving on the day shift as a muck shoveler in the eastern heading of the great tunnel. He sat in one of the upholstered chairs with a deep seat, and his deformities—the lopped shoulder and arms much too long for his body—were accentuated. His face, with its lines half obliterated by a ragged beard, lacked none of the villainous characteristics of the ingrained criminal; beady eyes that would look at nothing steadily, a retreating chin, a thin-lipped, acrid mouth.

When Silas Plegg reached his spying place on the gallery, Dargin was speaking.

[191]“Cut it out, Simmy; cut it all out and get down to brass tacks!” he was growling. “Your hard job in the tunnel isn’t any skin off of me; and you get paid twice for it, at that.”

“What little rake-off you give me for steerin’ the money-burners down here don’t cut no ice with me!” snapped the smaller man. “I’ve got bigger game to-night.”

“Shoot,” said Dargin.

“I’ve got a line on the new boss. Did you know he was down here lookin’ you over the other night?”

“I saw him,” was the brief reply.

“Well, he’s goin’ to run you out—clean up the shop—wipe off the slate.”

“Who says he is?”

“He says so, by cripes! I’ve got it straight. This here hell-hole’s got to be took off the map. It’s bu’stin’ up his gangs and robbin’ his men, and he ain’t goin’ to stand for no such. And say, Jack—he’s got the old geezer behind him!”

“Grillage? Not in a thousand years, Simmy.”

“I’m tellin’ you I got it straight. There’s a skirt in it this time.”

“Cough it up.”

“It’s this-away; that young cock-o’-the-walk’s goin’ to marry Grillage’s daughter—see?”

[192]“How do you know he is?”

“There ain’t much that a bunch as big as ours don’t know about its bosses—or that it can’t find out if it tries. Vallory hadn’t hardly lit down on the job before ever’body knew that he got his boost from the inside—that it was all in the family. Why, hell; he’s nothin’ but an overgrowed kid!”

“You talk too many, Simmy,” was the gruff interruption. “Get down to the face-cards and aces.”

“All right, I will. Did you know Grillage is here?”

“I knew he was coming.”

“Well, he’s come—and he’s fetched the girl with him. You know what she tried to get him to do last fall, after Lushing was fool enough to bring that look-see crowd down here from the hotel?”

“I know,” said Dargin. “She tried to get the old man to put the kibosh on us. He wouldn’t do it then; and he isn’t going to back Vallory now.”

“Don’t you believe it! The girl will make him back Vallory, if she feels like it. I’m tellin’ you again—I got it straight. The minute Vallory hears she’s here, he makes a straight shoot[193] for the hotel, and sits most o’ the evenin’ on the porch with her. I kep’ cases on ’em.”

“That doesn’t prove anything.”

“It proves what I’m sayin’. You’re goin’ to get the hook, Dargin, and I’m the one man that can keep it out o’ your liver.”

Silas Plegg, from his cramped spying place on the gallery, saw a bleak smile flicker for a moment in the cold eyes of the master gambler.

“You get your pay, don’t you, Simmy?”

“For leggin’ for your skin game down-stairs, yes. But this time I’ve got somethin’ to sell—somethin’ that Grillage’ll pay for, if you don’t want it.”

“Suppose you tell me what it is, Simmy.”

“I’ll tell you this much: s’pose you could go to Grillage and say, ‘Look-ee here, old sport; I’m wise to somethin’ that’ll knock all the money out o’ this railroad job o’ yours, and then some; you keep this here Vallory hook out o’ me, and I’ll keep mine out o’ you.’ How does that hit you?”

Again Plegg saw the vanishing smile.

“Where did you get all this flim-flam dope, Simmy?”

“Some of it I’ve had a good little spell. The rest of it I got to-night listenin’ under the windows of Vallory’s bunk car.”

[194]“Who was doing the talking?”

“Three of ’em, first and last: young Altman and Vallory, and then Vallory and that gun-totin’ under-boss o’ his’n, Plegg.”

“Supposing I say that I’m not in the market; then what?”

The lop-shouldered man struggled up in his chair and spat his reply out viciously. “Then, by cripes, I’ll go to Grillage himself! He’ll buy!”

“I see,” said Dargin softly. “You’ll sell this thing to me or to Grillage, whichever one of us bids the highest. Is that it?”

“You’re shoutin’ now. I’m tired o’ hidin’ out and dodgin’ Hank Bullock in these dam’ mountains. Some o’ these days he’s goin’ to hike up this-away and get the drop on me; and then”—the misshapen man made a gesture pantomiming the clicking of handcuffs upon wrists. “I want to skip down yonder to Honduras, ’r some o’ them places where they never heard o’ me ’r the croakin’ business in Gunnison. And you lissen to me, Jack; I’m goin’ to have a wad big enough to stake me when I get there, and don’t you forget it!”

The swarthy giant on the opposite side of the table was still tilting his chair and still had his hands deeply buried in his pockets.

“Let’s see if I’m getting it straight, Simmy,” he[195] said gently. “You’ve thought it all out, and you’re going to sell this thing you’ve got hold of—and which you haven’t named for me yet—either to me or to the big boss. If I get it, I can make the hook miss; and if Grillage beats me to it—what happens then?”

“Why, then Grillage plays safe on his profit by gettin’ me out o’ the country; see? And then, if Vallory wants to stick his fork into you——”

The man in the deep chair stopped short. The other made no move. His dark face with its leaden eyes and the heavy drooping mustaches was as impassive as the face of the Buddha. The lop-shouldered “mucker” seemed to be trying to read the Buddha face, and when he failed he gave a gulping swallow.

“I—I reckon I’m talkin’ through my hat, Jack,” he wavered. “Grillage ain’t in the deal; I’m goin’ to sell my stock to you.”

Plegg, looking on at a distance of not more than half the width of the room would have sworn that no man of Dargin’s build could have moved so swiftly. At one instant he was swaying gently in the tilted chair. At the next he was leaning across the table and thrusting the muzzle of a pistol against the shrinking body of the talebearer. When he spoke his voice was like the whistling of[196] the north wind. “No, Simmy, you’re not going to sell it to me; you’re going to give it to me, now!”

For possibly five minutes, as if the pressing pistol muzzle were a magnet to electrify and hold him rigid, Simeon Backus, ex-cattle rustler, ex-yeggman, and now a manslayer hiding from justice, sat erect and motionless, pouring forth a stammering story. There was little in the story that was new to the listening ear at the window. Chiefly it was made up of the facts concerning the weak roof in the tunnel—facts still unknown to the railroad people; wherein lay their value to one who could trade upon them. Plegg heard Altman’s talk with Vallory repeated; then, almost word for word, his own talk with Vallory, with the emphasis laid upon the consequences which he, himself, had predicted would follow any leakage of the facts in Lushing’s direction.

Plegg waited until he was measurably certain that he had heard all that Backus had to spill, and when there were signs that the talebearer was about to be released, he hastened to make his retreat, retracing his steps through the dark cross hall and locking the doors behind him with his skeleton key. Safely down the outside stair and afoot in the street he hesitated. The facts about[197] the dangerous tunnel roof were no longer a secret to be carefully guarded by the Grillage staff. They were weapons in the hands of a man who would use them instantly in his own behalf. There were two ways in which they might be used. Dargin might go to Grillage and buy the immunity which the contractor-king would doubtless assure by laying positive orders upon Vallory to let the Powder Can man-traps alone. Or, if by some unheard-of chance, Virginia Grillage could succeed in swinging her father over to her side and Vallory’s, Dargin could use his information to make capital with Lushing, and at one stroke entrench himself with the railroad management and—through the loss which would be saddled upon the Grillage company—square his account with Vallory.

All this the first assistant saw, and saw clearly, in the momentary halt made upon the street corner. Holding his watch in the light streaming from the windows of the Dargin bar-room he found that it stiff lacked a few minutes of eleven. There was a chance and he took it, walking rapidly up the street toward the place where, a few nights before, he had drawn aside to become charitably blind and deaf while David Vallory was talking to Judith Fallon.


Plegg’s Back-Fire

FOR good and sufficient reasons Silas Plegg did not wish to show himself in the dance-hall opposite the Murtrie Mine ore sheds. On all accounts he would have been glad to be assured that he had thus far gone unrecognized through the ill-lighted Powder Can street. Standing before the wide-open doors of this other outreaching of Dargin’s, he could pass the shuffling dancers in review. The woman he was looking for was not among them, and neither was she at the piano.

Turning away with a sigh of relief he crossed the street, circled the ore sheds, and came upon the row of shack cottages belonging to the Murtrie company. Only one of the cottages showed a lighted window, and here, again, Plegg made careful reconnaissance before he knocked on the door. It was Judith Fallon who opened to him.

“Oh, ’tis you, is it?” she said, when the light fell upon him. “If it’s my father you’re wanting, he’ll be over at the mine. ’Tis his week to be on the night shift.”

[199]“No, I don’t want to see your father, Judith,” he said quietly. “I came to see you. May I come in?”

The black eyes snapped and their light was unfriendly. “’Tis an honor to the likes of me. The door is open.”

Plegg accepted the scant welcome and went in. The interior of the cottage was plain almost to poverty. Since the young woman would not sit down he was forced to plunge bluntly into his errand.

“I’ve come to you, Judith, because I am David Vallory’s friend,” he began. “Have I made a mistake?”

Her attitude was still antagonistic. “You needn’t be worrying,” she snapped. “I know my place. ’Tis not I that will be running after Davie Vallory.”

“You misunderstood me completely,” he hastened to say. And then: “Won’t you please sit down?”

She moved toward the lighted window. “’Tis better that I don’t—and that you don’t,” she flung out; and Plegg was quick to take the hint. She was expecting some one else, and the some one would doubtless be Dargin, the man who had constituted himself her protector.

[200]“I’ll take a chance, Judith—for Vallory’s sake,” he thrust in boldly. “Won’t you do the same?”

“’Tis himself would kill you if he found you here. But what is it you’ll want to be saying about Davie?”

There was neither time nor opportunity for a guarded approach to his object, and Plegg plunged again.

“Listen, Judith: Black Jack has just been told something that gives him a strangle hold on Vallory; if he uses it, it will cost Vallory his place on this job, to say the least. I’m not saying that Dargin wouldn’t be justified, from his own point of view. Vallory would clean up these Powder Can joints if he had the authority—which he hasn’t, and won’t have. But he has said he would, and Dargin knows it.”

“How would Jack be using this thing that you haven’t tied a name to?” she asked.

“By passing it on to Lushing.”

“That black-hearted devil!” she burst out. “’Tis little but the back of my hand that I’m owing him!”

Plegg saw his opening and drove the wedge promptly.

[201]“We all know Lushing,” he said; “you probably have good reasons for hating him.”

“Reasons, it is? Do you know what he’d be doing to me? For shame I can’t tell you. But if Jack Dargin had listened to him, it’s not here that I’d be, keeping house for my father!”

“Dargin wants to marry you?” said Plegg quickly.

The woman’s hard black eyes grew suddenly tender. “’Tis not all bad he is, Mr. Plegg. Show me the man like him that would do what he’s done.”

Plegg had never faced a problem requiring swifter or more skilful handling. In the very nature of it he had to take much for granted; to assume the values of the unknown quantities where he could not demonstrate them.

“You knew Vallory before you came here, didn’t you?” he asked.

Her eyes fell. “I grew up with him—in Middleboro.”

Plegg smiled. It was easier now.

“I’m not going to ask you why you refused to talk with him the other night; we’ll let that go. I’m going to leave this thing with you, Judith. David Vallory stands to get a knife in the back. Jim Lushing will do the stabbing, but it will be[202] Dargin who will hand him the knife. Your woman’s heart will tell you what to do, and how to do it.”

She covered her face with her hands. “I can’t—I can’t!” she shuddered. “Himself would kill me, and I’d not be blaming him—after what he’s done for me in this place. Think of what you’d be asking me to do—to put the double-cross on the one man who would be caring anything for me!”

Plegg caught his breath and took his last long leap in the dark.

“Dargin is Dargin,” he said, speaking slowly, “but—you love David Vallory, Judith. That’s all I had to say; good-night.” And he opened the door and vanished.

Having thus done his best to avert a possible tragedy—at the possible cost of another tragedy—the first assistant owned but one pressing anxiety, namely, to get out of the mining-camp speedily, and without stumbling upon some one of the late-hour stragglers who might recognize him.

Leaving the Fallon cottage, he was at first minded to climb the steep slope of Gold Hill, thus making his exit without passing again through the town street. But the night was dark, and there was no path over the hill shoulder that he could[203] recall. Dismissing the alternative, he faced about to return as he had come; but before he had taken a dozen steps toward the street the lights of the dance-hall opposite showed him a man turning the corner at the ore sheds and coming toward him.

Though the distance was too great and the light too uncertain to enable him to identify the man, there could be little doubt that it was Dargin. Judith Fallon had shown plainly that she was expecting him. Instantly Plegg realized that there were likely to be consequences if Dargin should meet him. The Fallon house was the only one in the shack-cottage group that showed any signs of life, and Dargin would be swift to draw conclusions. But there was even a greater danger than this to be feared. Plegg had left Judith Fallon in tears, wrestling with the sharpest problem that can confront any woman, gentle or simple. If Dargin should find her thus, and before she was given time to compose herself....

Plegg’s hand flew to his hip pocket and his resolve was taken. Of the two evils he would choose that which seemed to be the lesser. Half-way down the little hill he met the master gambler and blocked his path. Dargin stopped and thrust his head forward for a better sight of the obstructionist.[204] Then: “Oh, it’s you, is it? What the hell——”

“I was looking for you, Dargin,” Plegg said promptly, turning fugitive expectation into aggressive fact. Then he added the whole-cloth lie. “Somebody said I’d find you at John Fallon’s.”

“Well, now that you’ve found me, what of it?”

It may be imagined that never, in a life-time that had not been in any manner devoid of exciting moments, had Silas Plegg been more sorely put to it to fill a suddenly yawning gap. But at any cost time must be gained.

“It’s a personal matter, Dargin,” he explained coolly. “Word has been passed in camp that you’re out gunning for Vallory. I’d like to believe that it’s nothing but camp gossip; some of the hard-boiled eggs talking just to make a noise. How about it?”

“What business is it of yours?”

“I’m making it my business, Jack. Vallory’s my boss and my friend. He isn’t a gun-toter, and you know it. He’d stand just about as much show with you as these pick-and-shovel men do betting against your faro-game.”

“I haven’t said I was after him, have I?”

“Not to me, you haven’t. And I don’t ask you either to say it or deny it. All I want to say[205] is this: if you go gunning for Vallory, you’ve got to include me. You understand?”

The giant grunted. “Perhaps you’d like to try it out right now?” he suggested.

“As you please,” said Plegg calmly. “I’m heeled, and I know you are. If you think you can get to it quicker than I can, the bars are down.”

This time the “killer’s” grunt lapsed into a chuckle.

“I don’t need a man for breakfast to-morrow morning,” he said. “When I do, I’ll let you know. S’pose you get out o’ the way and let me pass.”

“With pleasure,” snapped Plegg. “Only what I say, goes. If you hit Vallory, you hit me. And it will be safer if you hit me first, and you always know where to find me.”

Judith’s saving interval having thus been bought and paid for, Plegg stood aside and let Dargin have the path. But after he had left the town behind and was plodding across the basin on his way back to the headquarters camp and his long-deferred rest, he was weighing judicially the value of the expedient to which he had resorted. To which extreme of the arc would the pendulum of a woman’s emotions be carried? Would Judith Fallon be true to whatever feeling she still cherished[206] for David Vallory? Or would she refuse to betray the man who, so far as his limitations had permitted, had stood between her and utter degradation?

“I guess it’s on the knees of the gods,” was the first assistant’s final summing-up of the matter; the conclusion reached as he was crossing the yard tracks to the isolated bunk car. “There may be some man living who can tell what a woman will do under given conditions, but the good Lord knows I’m not that man.”

And so leaving it he swung up the steps of the car and crept to his bunk, quietly, so as not to disturb his sleeping chief.


Master and Man

ON the day following the arrival of Mr. Grillage’s private car at Powder Gap, word was passed from camp to camp that the big boss was about to make an inspection round with the new chief of construction, and the activities automatically speeded themselves up to grace the occasion.

At the bridge sites the clank and grind of the concrete mixers, the upshoot and dumping tip of the hoist buckets, and the clattering descent of the concrete into the forms played the industrial quick-step. In the hill cuttings the intermittent clamor of steam-shovels and the strident exhausts of locomotives dragging the spoil to the fills made deafening discords. In the short tunnel under Dead Man’s Ridge the hard-rock men timed their forenoon blasts accurately to make a thunderous crash of dynamite salute the upcoming of the light engine and way-car bearing President Grillage and his chief engineer.

So far as any routine-changing result was concerned,[208] the inspection trip was conspicuously barren. It was rather a triumphal progress for the new chief. At each stopping-place the big boss climbed down dutifully from the way-car to look on and listen while David explained some new method of cost-cutting, and there was always the word of gruff approval, coupled with the suggestion that they move along.

“I’m taking all your little economies and short-cuttings for granted, David,” said the tamed tyrant, as the way-car special shot around the curves of approach to the main tunnel. “I got it pretty straight from Coulee du Sac that you were up in all the late kinks in money-saving and systematizing. You are doing good work, and I’m right proud of you.”

Again David’s heart warmed to the big man who had been so grossly misrepresented as a hard boss. Thus far, there had been no single word of criticism; nothing but hearty appreciation and praise. David knew well enough that his work couldn’t be beyond criticism; that to a master workman as experienced as Eben Grillage the shortcomings must surely be apparent. Yet there had been nothing said that would lead him to believe that the contractor-king was making anything but the most perfunctory duty trip over the job.

[209]At the tunnel portal they found Plegg, who was apparently waiting for them. There was a halt of a few minutes while the first assistant, in obedience to a signal which David was not permitted to see, held his chief to ask some routine question about a proposed re-sloping of the approach cutting. Eben Grillage walked on into the tunnel alone. The great black bore was lighted only by a string of inadequate electric bulbs hung at hundred-foot intervals, and the massive figure of the president was soon lost to view in the depths. David Vallory answered Plegg’s queries impatiently, the more so because they seemed to be peculiarly trivial and ill-timed. It was something less than respectful to allow the president to go stumbling into the tunnel unattended.

When they finally overtook him the big boss had penetrated to the working heading, and was looking on quietly while the drillers and their helpers removed the drill-columns and prepared for a blast. Again there were words commendatory of the discipline and the industrial systematizing.

“Fine!” was Eben Grillage’s comment, when David came up with Plegg at his elbow. “I’ll be losing you two fellows to the efficiency squad one of these fine days; that’s a fact.” Then to the black-eyed, black-mustached little French-Canadian[210] who had taken Altman’s place: “Hello, Regnier! So they’ve got you on the mole job, now, have they?”

Regnier came across to join the onlooking group.

“Eet is moz’ in’ospitable, but in five minute ze men will fire ze blast,” he announced. “Me, I am désolé to ’ave to h’ask you zhentlemen to go h’out, mais——”

“But we’d better go out if we don’t want to get our necks stretched, eh?” laughed the visiting overlord. “That’s all right, Regnier; we’ve seen all we need to, I guess.” And the retreat was made so hurriedly that David had no chance to inspect the dangerous spot in the roof, or to call the president’s attention to it, as he had fully intended doing.

These were the commonplace incidents of the day of inspections, and there were no other kind. But when the day was ended, and David Vallory was once more finding a reward for duty done in an ecstatic hour with Virginia on the Inn porch, it is conceivable that the joy-nerve might have lost some of its thrills if he could have been endowed with the gift of double personality, enabling him to see and hear what was transpiring coincidently in the Grillage private Pullman at the foot of the[211] ridge. In the open central compartment of the car Plegg was once more under fire, and the special target of the bombardment was his estimate of the bad roof in tunnel heading Number One.

“You are losing your sand, Plegg, the same as young Altman did,” Grillage was asserting bluntly. “I took the chance you made for me this morning and had a good look at that ‘fault’ while you were holding Vallory at the portal. In spite of your test-borings, and all that you’ve had to say about it, I say the roof will stay up while we’re driving. If the railroad company wants to concrete it after we’re through, that’s a horse of another color. We’re not hunting for a chance to throw good money away.”

“I know,” said Plegg, almost humbly.

“How did you manage to get Altman out and Regnier in?”

“The change was made to-day and Vallory authorized it. Altman went over my head last night and took his complaint to Vallory, though I had warned him not to. A little later Vallory fell upon me and wanted to know why I hadn’t ordered the weak spot timbered. I smoothed it over as well as I could; gave him a hint of the use Lushing might make of it if we should advertise the weak spot by timbering it. He saw the[212] point after a while and told me to shift Altman and put Regnier in. But I had to lie to him to bring it about.”

“Bosh! That roof isn’t coming down. You’ve been letting Altman’s nerves put one across on yours!”

It was just here that the first assistant took his courage in both hands.

“I know what I know; and you know it, as well, Mr. Grillage,” he said. “The test drillings showed up the conditions plainly enough, as I wrote you at the time. That entire crevice is filled with loose material that is certain to come down, sooner or later. Why not go to the railroad people frankly, show them what we’re up against, and try to persuade them to let us concrete that break on force account, with the cost of doing it added to our estimate?”

Eben Grillage’s answer to this was brutally direct.

“I’m running the business end of this company’s affairs, Plegg, and when I want your help I’ll call on you. But since you’ve gone this far, I’ll tell you a thing or two. Lushing hasn’t been idle since he climbed over the fence into the railroad pasture. He’s been building prejudice against us to beat the band. If we’d make the break you[213] suggest, I wouldn’t put it beyond him to claim that we’d shaken that roof up purposely with dynamite to get an excuse to run a force account job in on them. Such things have been done, on other jobs, and I shouldn’t wonder if Lushing had helped do some of ’em. No; our safe play is to let sleeping dogs lie.”

“But if somebody should take the trouble to wake this particular dog?” Plegg put in quietly.

“Put Lushing on?” queried the big man at the desk.


“Who would do it?”

“The bad roof is an open secret. The men in the tunnel shifts all know about it.”

“But none of our men will go to Lushing. They hate him too well.”

“There is one other man who knows about it, too.”

“Who is that?”

“Black Jack Dargin.”

“Huh! How did he find out?”

“That door is pretty wide open, isn’t it? A good many of the hard-rock men blow their money in Dargin’s dives.”

“Are you sure he knows?”

“Yes, quite sure.”

[214]“He’d sell the tip to Lushing?”

Plegg shook his head. “No, I don’t believe he’d sell it. But he might give it.”

“Spit it all out—don’t beat around the bush, Plegg! What’s the inside of the deal? You know more than you’re willing to tell, and that isn’t a safe play for you to make at me!”

Plegg ignored the implication and the threat and answered only the direct question.

“I don’t know the inside of the deal. But one man’s guess is as good as another’s. Lushing goes all the gaits in Powder Can; he did it while he was with us, and he does it now, when he’s here. I’ve thought, more than once, that he might have some sort of a stand-in with Dargin. As the matter stands now, Dargin can give us away any time he feels like it.”

As was his habit when he was putting his back to the wall in any fight, Eben Grillage caught up the paper-knife from his desk and began to test the edge of it with a spatulate thumb.

“I’m beginning to get at the inwards of this thing,” he said slowly. “David was saying something last night about wanting to clean out the Powder Can messes. Dargin is going to hold this tunnel business as a club. Vallory mustn’t meddle[215] with the nuisances; you must see to it that he doesn’t.”

“Vallory doesn’t take ‘seeing to’ very submissively.”

“That’s all right; you keep him from meddling with Dargin’s affairs.”

“You won’t consider my suggestion about making a clean breast of the tunnel situation to Mr. Ford? As I’ve said, I am firmly convinced that the stuff in the crevice will come down, sooner or later. If it slides while we are still driving the heading, no man who happens to be behind it will get out alive.”

“I don’t want your suggestion—or your convictions either, for that matter.”

“Very well. It is your risk and you see fit to take it. I have nothing more to say.”

“Never mind the risk. Have you stopped the calamity talk among the men?”

“For the time being, yes. I raised the pay of the shift bosses, and told them what it was for. That is all in the game, and I’m crooked enough by this time not to mind an additional bit of bribery. But there is one thing that I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again: it’s a damned shame to hoodwink a fine young fellow like Vallory the way I’ve been doing ever since he came on the job. He[216] has no idea that we are not playing square with the railroad people; none whatever. And it’s just as I told you last night; if a smash should come, it will hit him harder than it will anybody else.”

“We’ll take care of all the smashes,” growled the tyrant, who was no longer tame. “All you have to do is to keep your mouth shut and go on sawing wood. You know very well why I want Vallory kept in the dark; or at least, you know the business reason, anyway. He is valuable on this job only so long as he is kept in the dark. You are the man to do it, Plegg, and you’ve got it to do.”

Plegg’s thin lips curled in a dog-like grimace.

“If I don’t do it, you’ll revive that old criminal charge against me on the Falling Water dam and get me jugged—the charge that made me the scapegoat for the use of rotten cement when you and your man Homer were the responsible people,” he said bitterly. “I know perfectly well where I stand with you—and with the courts—Mr. Grillage. But there are limits. One of these days I may decide to tell you to go to hell—and take whatever may be coming to me. Vallory trusts me and I am abusing his confidence every day and resorting to all kinds of shifts to keep him from finding out the thousand-and-one[217] crooked things we’re doing to beat the specifications on this job. You say I know the business reason why he was sent out here, but I don’t. Why you wanted to put a clean young fellow like David Vallory in charge of this job is beyond me.”

“You’re duller than usual to-night, Plegg, and that’s needless,” was the tyrant’s unfeeling retort. “The chief reason is that David has put some capital into this thing. President Ford knows Adam Vallory, and the Vallory connections generally. We’re capitalizing that knowledge. But that’s a side issue. Coming back to this tunnel business: we’re into it and we’ve got to go through with it. The secret of that ‘rotten spot,’ as you insist upon calling it, must be kept quiet so far as the railroad people are concerned. Jack Dargin must keep it, too, if you have to go and buy him outright. Lushing will be out here in a few days, loaded for bear. He has given it out cold that he is going to do us up, and he wouldn’t ask for any better chance than this tunnel roof tempest in a teapot would give him. You may go now; that will be all for to-night.”

It was at this precise moment, when Plegg was leaving the private Pullman in the construction yard, that David Vallory was asking the daughter of profitable contracts a pointed question.

[218]“Is there ever such a thing as a middle course between absolute right and absolute wrong, Vinnie?”

“What a question!” she laughed. “Is that what you’ve been thinking about all this time that you’ve been letting me do the talking?”

“But I’d like to know,” he persisted.

“I imagine you have as much common sense, and rather more conscience, than most men, David. Why do you ask me?”

“Because I know you are honest, and altogether fearless.”

“So are you,” she returned quickly.

“No. I was once, I think; but, somehow, things are changing for me. The old anchorages are slipping away, and I can’t seem to find any new ones. For example: I did a thing last night which seems perfectly justifiable on one side, and almost criminal on the other. I’ve been trying all day to make up my mind as to whether I ought to pat myself on the back, or go to jail.”

“If you should tell me what you did, perhaps I might be able to help your common sense, or your conscience, or whatever it is that is involved,” she suggested.

David glanced at his watch. The hour was[219] late, and there were but few of the Inn guests remaining on the porches.

“I’m keeping you up,” he said shortly. “Some day, perhaps, I’ll take the lid off and let you see the tangle inside of me; but it’s too late to begin on as big a job as that to-night. Are you going to let me show you over the plant to-morrow?”

“What else is there for me to do in this wilderness of a place?” she asked in mock despair. “I shall most probably tag you around like a meddlesome little boy until you’ll be glad to put me on the train and send me home.”

David was still holding the hand of leave-taking. “If you don’t go home until I send you, you’ll stay here a long time,” he said happily. And then he went his way, forgetting, in this newest prospect of joy, the troublesome underthought which had been growing, like an ominous threat, around the incident of the talk with Altman, and its outcome.


The Tar-Barrel

IN any descent to Avernus it is not often given to the wayfarer to recognize the point at which he first begins to go down-hill. In the removal of the careful Altman from the eastern tunnel boring and the substituting of the reckless, devil-may-care Regnier, David Vallory had succeeded in persuading himself that he had merely checked off an item in the day’s work, and was far enough from suspecting that the item figured as another milestone in the downward inclining path.

But certain results followed in due course, and a growth, not in grace. For one of the results, David, being a shrewd-eyed master of his trade, soon began to discover many of the things that Plegg was trying to hide from him—the dishonesties large and small by which unscrupulous Business seeks to increase the margin or profit; to discover them and pass by on the other side with closed eyes. Another result was his changed and changing attitude toward the Powder Can nuisance. From regarding the wide-open mining-camp[221] chiefly as a moral menace, he was beginning to look upon it more as an obstacle to progress—his own industrial progress on the job. It was sapping the strength of his working force, and therefore—in spite of the contractor-king’s injunction, which he took to be another of the little kindnesses designed to make things easier for him—it was to be abolished.

In the field of the discovered dishonesties and the closed eye, effect succeeded to cause with due celerity. The conditions on a well-systematized undertaking like the line-shortening project are fairly telepathic. Almost immediately it began to be whispered about among the gang bosses and the men that the new chief was bent upon making a record; the first assistant said so, and the first assistant ought to know. This being the fact, the bridle might be taken off—always with due regard for the railroad watch-dogs, and for a decent concealment from a chief who, for the look of the thing, must be in a position to say that he knew nothing whatever of cast-off bridles and the substitution of loose halters therefor.

When David Vallory began to realize that his lowering of the standards was taken as an ell for an inch by his subordinates and the rank and file, it may be supposed that he was frankly appalled.[222] But momentum counts for something. And back of the push on the downward slide there was always the debt of obligation owed to Eben Grillage. The king of the contractors might be all that men said he was; a hard bargain driver and a cold-blooded buccaneer of business. But at the same time he was Virginia’s father and the savior of the Vallory good name.

If these were the inner wrestlings, David had as yet shared them with no one. Outwardly, at least on the social side, he was measuring up to a rather exacting standard set by Miss Virginia. Days in which he took her on the construction locomotives and put her in touch with the throbbings of the feverish heart of the activities were intermingled with summer evenings on the Alta Vista porches. For some cause as yet unexplained, the coming of his father and sister was delayed; and for some other cause, into which his infatuation forbade him to inquire, no one of Virginia Grillage’s retinue of suitors had thus far intruded upon the scene.

“And still you are not entirely happy,” she laughed, one evening, when he spoke of the comforting dearth of the suitors.

“What makes you think I’m not happy?” he shot back.

[223]“I can tell. You have something on your mind.”

He made an attempt to turn her aside from the topic of the mind-burdens.

“Haven’t I had you to myself for days and days? I don’t know what more a man could ask.”

“Oh, that!” she mocked. “But, just the same, you’re not happy.” Then she added, apparently as an after-thought: “And neither am I.”

“Don’t tell me it is because you are missing the others,” he pleaded, still intent upon warding off the more personal personalities.

“I am missing them dreadfully; especially Lord Cumberleigh and little Freddy Wishart. But mostly it’s your ingratitude.”

“My ingratitude?”

“That is what I said. In the kiddie days you used to tell me everything. But now you are shutting me out. You lead me along just so far, but beyond that I find myself talking to another David, one that I know less and less every day.”

For a time he was silent. Then he said: “You are altogether right—as you always are, Vinnie. There is another David; a man that I am trying mighty hard to get acquainted with, myself. I don’t know him well enough yet to introduce him to you.”

[224]“That sounds almost uncanny. Is it meant to be?”

“It is uncanny. I can’t account for it—or him—or wholly approve him. This other David isn’t always a pleasant person to meet. Part of the time I seem to recognize him in a vague sort of way, and then again he becomes a total stranger; a man of moods and impulses and perfectly barbarous leanings.”

“I know,” she said quietly. “I’ve seen him now and then. I saw him to-day when we were down at the Cross Gulch bridge. The foreman had apparently been doing something that you had told him not to do. You didn’t rave at him, but for a second or two the other David looked out through your eyes.”

“How do you account for it—or him?”

“How should I be able to account for it—or him—if you can’t? Of course, there are always general principles. If a watch has been keeping good time and begins to go wrong, it is a sign that some one has been tinkering with the works, isn’t it?”

“And you would suggest that some one has been tinkering with my works?”

“I know that you are different—and that I am sorry.”

[225]“Have I been different this evening?”

“Yes, part of the time.”

“There is some little cause for the added grouch just now. I’ve been neglecting a plain duty. Did you notice the thinness of the gangs working on the lower section when we were down there to-day?”

“Not particularly.”

“They were thin. Yesterday was pay-day, and a lot of those hand-to-mouth ‘wops’ are blowing themselves in Powder Can. When I first came here I saw that that mining-camp would have to be cleaned up, but I’ve been putting it off. Out of the goodness of his heart, your father tells me to let it alone; he’d rather take his losses than to have me shoulder another load, I suppose. But the thing has reached the limit. I’m going after it with a sharp stick.”

On this particular evening they were sitting on the western porch, a bit withdrawn, as usual, from the groups of idling summer people. At the end of the porch a low-branching fir grew so close to the building that its nearer twigs, swayed by the gentle breeze sliding down from the heights of Qojogo, made little tapping sounds to break the silence of the mountain night. Under the low-hanging branches of the fir the big St. Bernard belonging[226] to the hotel proprietor was curled up; at least David Vallory thought it was the dog—had reason to think so since it was the St. Bernard’s nightly sleeping-place.

“Something ought to be done,” was the young woman’s agreement with the sharp-stick suggestion. “How will you go about it?”

It was at this conjuncture that the sleeping dog stirred uneasily, but David Vallory did not look aside.

“A man named Dargin is the head and front of things over there. If he were run out, the smaller fellows could be handled without much trouble. I’ve been hesitating between two methods of getting at Dargin. I suppose the simplest plan would be to walk over there some day and tell him that he can have twenty-four hours in which to settle up his affairs and vanish.”

Miss Virginia’s exclamation was a little shriek. “The idea!” she said. “Do you suppose he would go away for anything like that?”

“He would if it were properly backed up; if I should tell him, for example, that if I had the job to do over, I’d do it with a gun.”

“Mercy me! This is the ‘other David’ with a vengeance! Do you really mean it?”

“Why shouldn’t I mean it? If the argument[227] of force is the only one that would appeal to him——”

“But you’d be killed! I’ve heard the most awful stories of this man. He wouldn’t give you the slightest chance. Promise me that you won’t do any such recklessly foolish thing!”

“I shan’t, if you don’t want me to; though it’s much the simpler way to go about it. The other way is to write a personal letter to President Ford of the railroad company. I don’t know him, but my father does, and he is a good man—a clean man. I am practically certain that if he knew the conditions he’d use the railroad company’s power to clean up the camp—the power given it by the land leases. But that is enough about the job and me and my little insanities. I must hike back down the hill to my blankets. I know you’d be yawning if you were not too polite.”

She got up to walk with him to the porch steps, and at the good-night moment he said: “Where are you going to let me take you to-morrow?”

“Before I pick the place I’m going to ask you once more why you have been so persistently refusing to take me to the big tunnel. Don’t you know that I simply adore tunnels?”

Now David had his own good reasons for not[228] having taken Eben Grillage’s quick-witted daughter into the big bore where Regnier was driving his hard-rock crews. Day by day the dangerous ‘fault’ was scattering its warnings in chips and spallings of fresh rock thrown down from the disintegrating roof—evidences which Regnier was careful to remove before they should attract the attention of the railroad inspectors.

“A tunnel in process of construction isn’t a good place in which to entertain inquisitive little girls,” David evaded. “And this particular tunnel is wet and mucky.”

“That isn’t the reason why you haven’t taken me there,” she asserted calmly.

“How do you know it isn’t?”

“Because I was in the tunnel this afternoon. You had been making so many foolish excuses that my curiosity was aroused. I took advantage of your absence at the other end of things and made Mr. Plegg take me. He didn’t want to; he was just as gruff and impossible as he dared to be to the big boss’s daughter. But I made him do it.”

It is easily conceivable that David felt cold chills racing up and down his spine at the bare thought of what might have happened during this unauthorized visit—this, be it remarked, though he[229] fancied he had settled it definitely with himself that nothing was going to happen.

“That was altogether wrong!” he said, in his best workmanlike manner. “Don’t you know you shouldn’t break discipline that way?”

“Poof!” she retorted. “That is what Cumberleigh would call ‘putting on side’. It’s a pity if I have to ask permission when I wish to go somewhere—and of you!”

He shook his head in despair.

“You are not a bit less wilful than you used to be in the old Middleboro days. But, really, Vinnie, you mustn’t go into the tunnel again. It’s—it’s no place for visitors, or at least for women visitors.”

“You have a reason for saying that, and it isn’t any of those you’ve been giving me,” she flashed back.

“Do you think so?” He had not yet reached the point at which he could lie to her deliberately.

“I know it. You haven’t any scruples about letting me get mucky and grimy on any other part of the work; you have rather enjoyed telling me that my face needed washing.”

“Never, unless it did,” he laughed, hoping to find some way of diverting the talk from the unwelcome[230] tunnel channel. But Miss Virginia, with an end in view, was not of those who may be easily turned aside.

“Then there was Mr. Silas Plegg,” she went on. “I have had a good many escorts, first and last—and some of them unwilling, no doubt—but Mr. Plegg capped the climax. He was as nervous as a cat after we got inside, and if I didn’t know him so well, I should say he acted as if he were afraid of something.”

“He was,” Plegg’s chief confirmed grimly. “I have given positive orders that no one, other than those connected with the working shifts, be admitted to the tunnel headings. Plegg knew he would be in for a bawling-out when I should find out what he’d done.”

The young woman’s smile was a mocking little grimace.

“It wasn’t at all that kind of ‘afraid’; it seemed to me more like just plain scare. While we were watching the drills, Mr. Regnier pulled him aside and spoke to him. They probably thought the drills were making such a clatter that I couldn’t hear what they said; but I did hear.”

“Cuss-words?” David suggested. He was still trying to maintain the good-naturedly playful attitude.

[231]She nodded vigorously. “Perfectly hair-raising!” she assured him. “Mr. Regnier said, ‘Why in the’—a long string of sizzling things—‘do you bring her here? Have you not of the senses the—blinkety-blank-blank—smallest portion?’

“I couldn’t hear what excuse Mr. Plegg made, but it was evidently not a very good one, for Mr. Regnier broke loose again: ‘Sacre bleu! you are prip-pare to get yourself deeslike. Hein! you shall chase her out of here so queek as le bon Dieu will let you!’ You spoke of discipline a minute ago. I shouldn’t think you’d allow one of the under-assistants to talk that way to your second in command. It’s disgraceful.”

Answering the disciplinary gibe, David sought once more to stave off the tunnel climax—if so be the breaker of discipline were working toward a climax. But again Miss Virginia proved herself a true inheritor of the Grillage obstinacies and persistences.

“There is something the matter with that tunnel, David, and I want to know what it is,” she urged gravely.

He told a half-truth merely because no plausible or practicable falsehood suggested itself at the moment.

“It is a bit dangerous—in one place.”

[232]“But if it is dangerous for me it is dangerous for the workmen. Why don’t you timber the bad place?”

He laughed. “What do you know about timbering tunnels?”

“You forget that I’ve been eating the bread of the construction camps all my life.”

“That’s so; I had forgotten.” In their excursions together over the job it had given him a glow of superecstasy to find that she was familiar with many of the details of her father’s trade—and his own; details which would have been purest Greek to most women. Silas Plegg’s commendation was amply borne out by the fact; she was, indeed, “a pretty good little engineer, herself.” None the less his lips were sealed in the matter of tunnel-timbering—or the lack of it. He could not tell her that, for the sake of her father’s profit account, the weak roof must not be timbered. Hence, he temporized.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t have called it dangerous; it isn’t so bad as you may be imagining. Timbering is an obstruction to the work, and we always get along without it if we can.” Then, resolute to shelve the subject so high that it couldn’t be reached again: “What has become of your father? I haven’t seen him for two or three days.”

[233]“He is down at the car to-night. But he hasn’t been well.”

“Not well? I can’t think of him as not being well. He always looks to me as if he’d never known what it was to be sick.”

“He hasn’t known very often, and for that reason he never takes any care of himself. But something over a year ago he scared me silly; he had a touch of apoplexy. The doctors told me, but they wouldn’t tell him. He got well in almost no time, but since, I’ve been trying to make him take things easy. That was one reason why I insisted on coming out here with him this summer.”

“He needs a complete rest,” said David.

“Yes; and maybe he’ll get one when your father comes. By the way—when are they coming—your father and Lucille?”

“See how association with you makes me forget things!” he jested. “I knew I had something to tell you. They will be here to-morrow. I had a letter this morning.”

“Are you ready for them?” she asked.

“They are to have that cottage over there under the pines, and they can take their meals here in the hotel.”

It was a perfect summer night, with the stars burning like beacon-lights in the inverted bowl of[234] the heavens, a crescent moon hanging low over the saw-tooth outline of Qojogo, and the elevated backgrounds sweeping in the blackest of shadow to the high horizons.

“The sublime majesty of it!” said the young woman softly, commenting on the grandeurs. “And to think that Lucille won’t be able to see it when she comes! It’s heart-breaking, David!”

“I think—I hope—the little sister doesn’t miss what she hasn’t had since she was four years old,” he returned, matching her low tone.

“I know; though it seems as if she must. But you are making her miss some of the things she needn’t miss, David.”

“I have been a poor plotter,” he confessed. “I’ll admit that in getting them out here I was confidently counting upon breaking it off for Oswald. But it seems that I have only made matters worse. The letter that I spoke of was from Herbert. He has taken a partner in his law business and is giving himself a vacation. He says Dad’s health is still poor and it is hardly right for him to travel with the care of Lucille; so he, Bert, is coming along. I suppose I shall be obliged to read the riot act to him again.”

Miss Virginia was standing on the lowest porch step and she drew herself up in combative protest.

[235]“You will do nothing of the sort,” she declared, with a touch of her father’s peremptory manner. “If you do, I shall let Lord Cumberleigh and Freddy Wishart know what a perfectly gorgeous place this is in which to spend a summer vacation. Good-night; it’s late and I’m going in.”

When David had descended the hill to his bunk car headquarters he found that Plegg had not yet come in. But Jean Marie François Regnier was there, dark-faced, and with the Gallic temper coruscating.

“Thees devil of hard-rock men!” he sputtered. “They ’ave not so moch as the courage of a mice! They say to me, ‘You s’all timber thees bad place or shoot it down, or bygod we s’all strike.’ Sacr-r-re!

As once before, in a similar crisis, David Vallory sat on the edge of his bunk to take off his lace-boots.

“I’ll think about it, Regnier” he said slowly. “You tell your men that you’ve put it up to me. I’ll see you to-morrow.”

After Regnier had gone, David went on mechanically with his bed-time preparations. Then, as if at the bidding of a sudden impulse, he hurriedly put the boots and his coat on again and went out to the rear platform of the small car.

[236]When he saw that the lights were still on in Mr. Grillage’s Pullman he dropped from the step and went across the tracks to present himself at the porter-guarded door of the Athenia.


In Loco Parentis

ADMITTED to the office compartment of the private car, David Vallory found its occupant preparing to go up to the hotel; but at the swing of the corridor door Eben Grillage sat down again in the capacious swing-chair at his desk and relighted the stub of his cigar.

“Come in, David,” he growled not unkindly; and before Vallory could speak: “Vinnie ’phoned down a few minutes ago to tell me that you’re looking for your father to-morrow. That sounds mighty good to me. We’ll have another chance to renew our youth. You don’t appreciate how much that means; you’re too young. But some day you will.”

David drew up one of the wicker chairs and sat down. The abrupt dip into the purely friendly relations side-tracked his errand, temporarily; but it also gave him time to gather himself for the plunge into the weightier matter.

“Yes,” he assented; “I had a letter this morning. There will be three of them; Dad and my sister and Bert Oswald.”

[238]“You don’t mean John Oswald’s boy?”

“Yes, that is the one. Bert is a lawyer now, in business for himself in Middleboro.”

Eben Grillage wagged his head as one incredulous, and the massive features were relaxed in a reminiscent smile.

“Well, well; the idea of that little red-headed, blue-eyed chap of Oswald’s growing up to be a man and a lawyer! How time does skip along!” Then: “What’s he coming out here for? We don’t need any lawyers on this job—not yet, I hope.”

“Bert says the trip is a vacation excursion for him,” David replied, suppressing Oswald’s true motive. Then he began on his own errand. “I came over here to bother you for a bit of advice on something that I’ve changed my mind about half a dozen times or more. It’s that weak place in the roof of heading Number One that Plegg wrote you about before I came on the job.”

“Well, what about it?”

“At first I was willing to discount all the nervous stories. I spent one entire summer in hard-rock work, and I know how prone the drill crews are to cry ‘wolf’ when they drive through something a little different. But latterly I’ve been a little anxious myself.”

[239]“I shouldn’t worry, if I were you,” said the big man, with the lenient indulgence of a master for a neophyte. “There’s a good old saying, David, that you ought always to remember: Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you. I’ve had a look at that tunnel roof, myself. You needn’t lose any sleep over it.”

“It looks a bit bad to me,” David made bold to say. “And now Regnier tells me that the men have gone from complaining to making threats.”

“Threats?—what kind of threats?”

“They say if we don’t timber, or shoot the bad roof down, they’ll strike on us; which will be giving open notice to the railroad people that there is something wrong.”

David Vallory did not know that, under conditions similar to those he was presenting, the king of the contractors was wont to explode in volcanic wrath, consigning everybody remotely implicated to the scrap-heap of the nerveless and the yellow-streaked. Nor did he know that he was especially favored when his chief consented to argue the matter with him.

“It has always been that way with the hard-rock crews,” the master maintained; “they’re not happy if they don’t have something to kick about. As to the threat; Lushing and his inspectors[240] know—or ought to know—all that anybody can tell them about that ‘fault’. It’s their business to find out.”

David felt that he was losing ground, but he tried once more.

“It has always seemed better to me to be safe than sorry,” he ventured; and he was going on to make the same suggestion that Plegg had made, about taking the matter up with the railroad company for a new contract, when the exponent of modern business success broke in.

“‘Safety first’ is a good idea, but it has been run into the ground, like a lot of other good things, David. You were telling me that your college vacations were spent working for the railroads, and there you would naturally get the safety idea rubbed into you good and hard. I’ve seen railroad engineers spend thousands of dollars—of other people’s money—on precautions that will never be tested while the world stands. When you are working for your own pocketbook it’s different.”

“Yet I suppose we ought not to take too many chances,” David constrained himself to say.

“That is where you are wrong,” was the prompt contradiction. “All business is a taking of chances. The merchant who buys a stock of goods[241] in spring that he hopes to sell in the fall is taking a chance. The lawyer who expects to charge a fat fee if he wins his cause is taking a chance. The farmer who plows and plants is taking a mighty long chance on what the season and the weather will do to him. Don’t you see how it runs through everything a man can do?”

“Yes, but——”

“Take our own job here and look at the hamperings. I’m talking to you now as Adam Vallory’s boy and not as a hired man. We were ground to the limit on the bidding; and at every turn the railroad people are trying to get more than they bargained for—something for nothing. It’s all right; that’s their part of it, you’ll say. But in addition to all this we’ve got Jim Lushing against us; a man who will stoop to any kind of low, disreputable trickery to do us up. You may say it’s dog eat dog, and so it is. But it’s business.”

David took a leaf from his father’s book and proffered it, not too confidently.

“Dad was always so strong on the ethics of a thing,” he began; but Eben Grillage interrupted with a good-natured laugh.

“Your father is a white-haired old angel; and he is just about as completely out of touch with[242] the modern business world as the other angels are. There are no theoretical ethics in business, David. If you don’t fight for your own hand, you go to the wall, every time. That is one reason why I offered you a job. I didn’t want to see Adam Vallory’s boy settle down in the old Middleboro Security and become a fossilized back-number before he could grow a beard.”

Here it was, deep in the personalities again, and David Vallory would have been either more or less than human if he could have disentangled himself from the purely friendly relation.

“You have been mighty good to me—good to all of us,” he broke out gratefully. “If I’ve said too much about that tunnel roof——”

“Just you forget the tunnel roof and let it go. It has stood up all right since we drove through it, and you know what it would cost to shoot it down and plug the hole. I want to see you succeed, David, and you can’t do it if you are always worrying about the other fellow’s side of things. I only wish I had a boy like you of my own.”

“You have something vastly better,” said the model son, with a smile.

“Vinnie, you mean? Sometimes I think so; and then, again, I’m sort of worried. When it[243] comes right down to the jumping-off place, I’m afraid she isn’t going to pick out a sure-enough man. Look at the crowd she runs with! Half of ’em are after my money, and the other half haven’t got brains enough to fry, or sand enough in ’em to keep the wheels from slipping.”

David was far enough beyond the tunnel and all other troubles now to be able to laugh happily. It was reasonably evident that any obstacles which might lie in his way in the sentimental race were not such as might be raised by a purse-proud father, and once again his heart warmed toward the benefactor and foster-father who was so generously overlooking the master-and-man hamperings.

“Virginia is your own daughter, Mr. Grillage; you needn’t be alarmed about her,” he put in loyally.

“I know; but she’s got a raft of high-flown notions about ethical culture—whatever that is—and the brotherhood of man, and ‘tainted money’, and all that—you probably know the whole rigmarole. And when Vinnie sets her head on anything you couldn’t switch her with a hundred-and-fifty-ton crane and a five-yard steam-shovel put together. I tell her what she needs is to marry a man who is in the thick of the business[244] fight for himself—and for her. Then she’d learn a few practical, every-day facts.”

David Vallory felt that it would be almost a breach of confidence—the confidence that had been growing up day by day between Virginia and himself—if he should let the talk dig any deeper into the personalities in Virginia’s direction. So he spoke again of his father’s coming, and of his hope that the change of scene and climate might prove beneficial.

“We’ll make it beneficial,” declared the big man, with a return to the genially masterful mood; and after a few minutes more of the friendly talk, David took his leave, warming himself once again at the fires of henchman loyalty. Who was he to set up the standards of his own narrow convincements against the wisdom and experience of a man whose success was equalled only by his generosity and princely liberality? And beyond this, had not Eben Grillage as good as said that his consent was already gained if his daughter’s choice should fall upon a man who was not of the great army of idlers?

Other phases of the talk emphasized themselves for the young chief of construction after he had seen the big boss striding sturdily up the steep path toward the ridge-top hotel. In no uncertain[245] sense his father’s benefactor had shown himself willing to be a second father to the son, supplying, from his wider experience of men and things, the lacks of a too-narrow upbringing. In an upflash of the newer partisanship, David could smile at his own compunctions. In a world of shrewd battlings one might easily theorize too much. But deep down under this generalization the new loyalty, born first of worthy gratitude, was digging a channel for itself; the channel leading now to blind fealty. The problem was no longer a question of right and wrong in the abstract. It was resolving itself into a grim determination to hew doggedly to the line—the line being the success, in a financial sense, of the Grillage Engineering Company.

With this determination in the saddle, David Vallory did not return to his bunk car. A locomotive was about to make the run up to the tunnel with a supply of freshly blacksmithed drill-bits, and he boarded it. The night breeze, slipping down from the peaks of the higher range, was like a draft of invigorating wine. The moon had gone down, but the carbide flares and electric arcs illuminating the scene in the huge cuttings made the men and machines stand out in harsh relief. Above the clatter of the locomotive the[246] rapid, intermittent volley-fire of the steam-shovels rose like the snortings of strange monsters; and against the inky background of the western mountain a single electric star marked the mouth of the tunnel.

At the portal David dropped from the step of the engine and made his way, unaccompanied, into the heart of the mountain. The thread of incandescent bulbs starred the blackness, each illuminating its little circle of the underworld. The distant clamor of the drills ceased shortly after David reached the spot where the threatening roof was sprinkling its daily warnings. Posturing solely as the cool-headed engineer and technician, he would have decided at once that the danger signals were growing more portentous—did so decide in the inner depths of him. The overhead rock had an appearance not unlike that of a slaking lime bed, checked and crisscrossed in every direction with fine seams and cracks.

While he was still examining the roof and telling himself that this was only one of the many chances that had to be taken in the battle for success, a man came out of the half-lighted darkness of the farther depths and spoke to him. It was Silas Plegg.

“Getting your goat so that you can’t sleep[247] nights, is it?” said the first assistant, with his teeth-baring smile.

David ignored the reference to his responsibilities and asked a question.

“Any more strike talk among the men?”

“A little; yes.”

“What do you think about this roof by this time? I know what you thought a few days ago.”

Plegg shook his head.

“It’s not up to me to do the thinking. What do you think?”

“Frankly, Plegg, I don’t know what to say. Just before you came up I was thinking that if I were called in here as an outsider and asked to give an opinion I’d say it was a risk—a damned bad risk. But as a Grillage man, I’ve come around to your point of view on the necessities. We’ve got to trust to luck and bully it through.”

“Yes; if the devil doesn’t take too good care of his own.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that it doesn’t lie with us any more to keep this thing quiet.”

“What? Have the inspectors caught on?”

“Since we haven’t had a bunch of them jumping[248] onto us, I infer not. But there is at least one warm enemy of yours who knows about it.”

“Who is it?”

“Black Jack Dargin.”

David flew into a rage for the second time that day.

“Can’t I get a positive order obeyed any more on this job?” he rasped. “How many times have I got to say that nobody from the outside is to be allowed in this tunnel?”

“Dargin hasn’t been here,” said Plegg evenly. “But he has had one of his steerers working here as a mucker.” A pause, and then, in the same even tone: “I guess you’ll have to give up your idea of running Black Jack off the lot. It isn’t worth while, anyway.”

David Vallory was still angry. “I’ll be shot if I’ll give it up!” he snapped. “I’ve got a string to pull that will clean those Powder Can dives off the map, and I’ll pull it to-night before I sleep!”

“And take the risk of Dargin’s giving this thing away?”

“I’m not considering risks just now! If that tin-horn gambler thinks he can put something over on us, let him try it.”

Plegg turned aside and stooped as if to examine[249] a joint in the pressure pipe which led the air from the compressor-plant at the portal to the drills in the heading. When he straightened up it was to say, “Have you seen Lushing?”


“He is here at the front again; so Altman told me this afternoon.”

“Which means that from now on we’re to have him around under foot!” gritted the angry one.

Plegg glanced back into the depths where the chug-chug of the drills had ceased.

“We’d better be moving out; they’re getting ready to fire a round of shots,” he offered; and after they were in the open air and the muffled reverberations of the dynamite had come rolling out to jar upon the midnight silence: “Lushing will do more than get under foot. He is spiteful, and when he gets ready to hit out, we’ll all know about it. I’m only hoping that he and Dargin won’t get together and compare notes.”

They had started to walk down to the approach track where the waiting locomotive was standing before David made his comment on the Lushing vindictiveness.

“Plegg,” he said grittingly, “you know, and I know, the particular reason why Lushing wants[250] to stick a knife into us. It’s running in my mind that somebody ought to put him out of the game. And if he strikes me just right, I’m the man to do it!”


The Ultimatum

ON the day succeeding David Vallory’s midnight visit to the tunnel the guest list of the Alta Vista Inn had a number of additions. Upon the arrival of the stub train from Agorda, David met the three for whose coming Oswald’s letter had prepared him, and even in the moment of welcomings saw his difficulties take on added thorninesses. Oswald, his face set in lines of frowning determination, was evidently anticipating reproaches, or something sharper; but when David saw his sister, and marked her quick little groping for Oswald’s hands in the descent from the car-steps, his heart smote him and he said neither more, nor less, than was meet.

A mountain motor hack was at the service of the Alta Vista group for the drive to the top of the ridge, and with the transfer in process, David had time to observe the other arrivals. One was a well-groomed young man with sleepy eyes and a bored expression, and on one of the numerous traveling-bags obstructing the foot space in the[252] car David read the initials “F. W.” Another of the newcomers was a rather solemn-faced person in clothes of English cut; he, also, looked bored, and the monocle which he occasionally fitted to an eye with grimaces provocative of subdued mirth in the other passengers, gave him the appearance of a weary owl contemplating sad and depressive surroundings with a single eye. David, sitting with his father and pointing out the various phases of the big job as the car climbed the ridge, needed no additional tags to enable him to identify the pair on the opposite seat. Of Miss Virginia’s retinue at least two, Mr. Frederic Wishart and the Englishman, Cumberleigh, had discovered her retreat.

In the hotel dining-room, where he secured a table for his own party, David ate his heart out under an outward mask of the welcomer’s cheerfulness when he saw Virginia making merry with the owlish Englishman and the son of the multimillionaire breakfast-food king at a table four removes distant. Gone for him were the joyous excursions over the work in the company of a khaki-clad maiden whose interest in the technical activities had been scarcely second to his own. Gone, likewise, were the ecstatic evenings in the secluded porch nook, shadowed by the wall-tapping[253] fir-tree, with no one to interfere and none to distract.

“Yes, we are getting along fairly well,” David was saying, continuing the talk with his father and Oswald and wrenching himself forcibly aside from the heart-consuming spectacle four tables away. “If nothing unforeseen happens, the through trains ought to be running over the new line before snow flies.”

“Accidents, you mean?” queried the sweet-voiced one who sat in darkness.

“Accidents or other hamperings. Of course, on a job as big as this there is always a chance for the unexpected.” And he went on to enumerate some of the hamperings which might cause delay, carefully avoiding, however, any mention of tunnels and caving roofs therein.

Later, the table talk was led to other topics. David wished to know how they had fared on the long journey from Middleboro; he spoke of the satisfaction it gave him to have the family united again; melting a little in the glow of his own galvanized warmth, he was even hypocritical enough to descant upon the good luck which had enabled Oswald to join the vacation party.

After dinner business intruded. Plegg came up to secure his chief’s decision upon certain foundations[254] which were being sunk for one of the bridges, and David had to go with him to the bunk-car office to consult the blue-prints. When he was free to return to the Inn he found his family scattered. Eben Grillage had swooped down upon the friend of his youth and had spirited him away; and it was only after some little search on the porches that David discovered his sister and Oswald.

Coming up behind them unnoticed, he went away again without intruding upon them. The after-glow of another of the gorgeous sunsets was spreading itself in the western heavens, and Oswald was describing it for the blind girl. It was the low-spoken admission of the blind one that made David forbear to break in. “You think I am missing it, Herbert, but that is not so. Sometimes it seems as if I could see things through your eyes better than if I had my own.”

On another of the porches David had a glimpse of Virginia and the two newcomers, and a dull fire of resentment was kindled. The daughter of the luxuries was evidently in her gayest mood, and if there were any lingering regret for the change from the technicalities and the duet evenings in the shadow of the fir-tree her manner did not betray it. David turned away when he saw[255] her holding a match to light Wishart’s cigarette. The most infatuated of lovers may be permitted a pang of disappointment at the discovery that he has apparently been useful only as a convenient fill-in.

Having the social—and sentimental—nerve centers thus painfully cauterized, David was fain to fall back upon the job and its requirements. There need be no lack of occupation. He knew that Plegg would be hard at work checking the estimate for the month; and there was always the overseeing round of the night shifts, which one or the other of them usually made before turning in. But there was another urge which fitted in better with the mood of the moment. Plegg’s news, that Lushing was back at the head of the inspection staff, and that Dargin was the possessor of the tunnel secret, had not yet been acted upon. In some less morose frame of mind, David Vallory might have thought twice before yielding to a sudden impulse to carry the war into the enemy’s country. As it was, he turned his back upon the hotel and a short half-hour later was entering the single street of the mining-camp.

The impulse which had sent him across the basin was not very definite in its promptings. In accordance with the minatory promise made to[256] Plegg, he had written to the president of the railroad company, asking that some drastic action be taken in the matter of the nuisances. Something might come of this, in time, but meanwhile Dargin must be prevented from using his weapon. How to go about the preventing presented a rather difficult problem. Things which seem measurably easy of accomplishment at a distance are apt to take on new and difficult aspects in the face-to-face encounter, and as David made his way toward the Dargin lair where he had once looked on with Plegg, he was still undecided as to the manner in which the gambler should be approached.

As he soon found out, an approach of any sort at the moment was plainly impossible. The bi-monthly Grillage pay-day was still a fresh memory and the town and its resorts were filled with the money-scattering workmen. The Dargin place was packed to the doors, and David had some trouble in wedging himself into the gambling room at the rear of the bar. Here the impossibility of getting speech with Dargin became apparent. The master gambler was dealing at the faro table, and his isolation for the time being was safely assured and secure.

As David was shouldering his way back to the[257] street entrance for a breath of clean air a man in the bar-room throng touched him upon the shoulder, calling him by name. It was a prompting of the morose demon in possession that made him turn and stare at the questioner half-angrily before he made answer. The man was well-dressed, something below the middle height, and rather heavy set, dark, and with a closely cropped brown beard. The mouth outlined beneath the tightly curled mustaches was full-lipped and gross, and the bulging eyes, with a hint of a hard drinker in them, evenly matched the sensuous lips.

“Vallory is my name, yes,” David admitted, and the bare admission was a challenge.

“Mine is Lushing,” was the curt announcement. “I suppose you have heard of me before this?”

David did not say whether he had or had not. An antagonism of a sort that he had never before experienced was laying hold upon him so fiercely that he scarcely dared trust himself to speak. This was the man who had been audacious enough to make love to Virginia, and who was now boasting that he would break the Grillage Engineering Company.

“You were looking for me?” David said.

Lushing bit the end of a cigar and struck a match.

[258]“Yes; I’ve been wanting to get hold of you,” he rapped out, between puffs. “I want to have a talk with you. It’s too noisy here; let’s go back to one of Jack’s private rooms.”

If David Vallory hesitated it was only because the feeling of antagonism was growing by leaps and bounds, and he was afraid to be alone with the man—afraid for Lushing, not for himself.

“Is it business?” he inquired curtly. Then he added: “I’m waiting to see Dargin.”

“Yes, it’s business. And if you’re waiting for Jack, you’ll wait a long time. When he sits in at the game, he stays to see it out. Let’s get out of this mess.”

David reluctantly followed his guide to one of a series of small card-rooms back of the bar. Lushing snapped the electric light switch as one who knew his surroundings intimately, and sat down at the card-table.

“What’ll you drink?” he demanded brusquely.

“Nothing at all; I’m not thirsty.”

Lushing pressed the bell-push for himself, and when the bar-man came, ordered a whiskey-sour. “Won’t you change your mind?” he suggested, after the drink had been served; and when David shook his head: “All right; every man to his own taste. Here goes,” and he drained his glass.

[259]More and more David was wishing himself well out of it. There could be nothing but enmity between him and this loose-lipped man across the card-table, and the savage prompting to precipitate an open conflict was becoming ungovernable.

“If you’ll say what you wish to say,” he grated. “My time is pretty strictly limited.”

“Not if you’re waiting for Jack Dargin,” said Lushing. “But perhaps you want to get back to the hotel.” Then he added in a tone which seemed to be intentionally insulting: “They tell me you are one of Eben Grillage’s pets.”

David’s anger flamed alive like a flash of dry powder, but he was telling himself in many repetitions that his time had not yet come.

“We shall get along faster, and perhaps farther, if you will cut out the personalities,” he said sourly.

“I was only repeating what I have heard. You are young to be at the head of a job of this size, and people have a way of explaining such things to suit themselves.”

“I might go into the repeating business myself, if I cared to,” David was beginning; but Lushing cut him off with a short laugh.

“I know; some of them have told you that I[260] have a personal quarrel with Grillage, and perhaps some others have hinted that I wanted to marry into the company and got kicked out for my impudence. We’ll let that go. What was, is ancient history, and we’re dealing with the here and now. Your company is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg, and if you don’t know it, you ought to. Its days on this job are numbered.”

“Threats are the cheapest things in the world,” said David.

“You will find that this is more than a threat. You are a new man in the field, and I’ve nothing against you—as yet. What I wanted to see you for was to say to you that you’d better go while the sledding is good.”

“You are advising me to discharge myself?”

“That’s it—quit—throw up the job—climb out while you can get out with a whole skin.”

“But why?”

“Because if you don’t, you’ll be shown up with the other pirates and sneak thieves.”

David glanced again at the flushed face and bibulous eyes. It was evident that the drink tossed off while the bar-man waited was only the latest of a series which had been begun much earlier in the day.

“You are in no condition to talk business with[261] me or with any one,” he said bluntly. “Some other time, perhaps, when you are entirely sober——”

Lushing brought his fist down upon the card-table with an oath.

“No, young fellow; you’ll hear what I’ve got to say now, and then you may take it straight to the fish-eyed old buccaneer you’re working for. Grillage hasn’t a dollar in this world that he has made honestly, and you may tell him I say so. Also, you may tell him that I’m going to make it my business to hound him to his finish. When all the crooked deals he has worked off on this job are shown up, he’ll be lucky if he can stay out of the pen. On top of all that, you may tell him that his daughter will see the day when she’ll beg me on her knees to let up—and I won’t do it!”

David was upon his feet and his eyes were blazing.

“You’ve said enough, and more than enough!” he broke out in hot wrath. “If you were not too drunk to be held accountable, I’d cram your words down your neck for that insult to Miss Grillage! Past that, I’ll say, once for all, that Mr. Grillage is more than my employer; he is my friend and my father’s friend. Go to it when you’re ready, and I shall know how to get back at you.”

At this, Lushing whipped an automatic pistol[262] from his pocket and laid it upon the table, covering it with his hand.

“You make any bad breaks and I’ll drill you,” he said viciously. “Take that for a back-sight any time you feel tempted to beat me up. When a man of your size comes at me, I shoot first and shoot quick. I’m out to get your crooked company and the man who owns it. You say you’ll fight for him, and that puts you on the black list. I’m fair enough to give you a tip, and I’ve given it to you. If you don’t get off this job quick and fade away, you’ll wake up some fine morning to find yourself dead.”

What little calm judgment David Vallory still retained was telling him to go away; that there was nothing to be gained by staying and listening to Lushing’s threats. But by this time he was well out of reach of any of the calm voices.

“You’re taking it for granted that I’m unarmed, and you are right,” he flashed back. “I don’t care for your gun. You’ve laid the law down for me, and now I’ll lay a little of it down for you. Your inspectors will be welcome on the job anywhere and at any time, but as for yourself, you’ll stay away from it. If you show up in any camp of mine, you want to bring that gun along[263] with you, for I shall take care to have one of my own, and I’ll use it!”

Lushing picked up the weapon and let it lie in his palm.

“Did the little Grillage tell you to kill me off out of the way?” he leered.

That was the final straw. David Vallory flung himself across the card-table in a mad-bull charge, carrying the table with him in his eagerness to close with his antagonist. For a few breathless seconds the battle was obstructed. David’s rush had borne Lushing backward, tilting the chair in which he was sitting until it brought up against the wall and was crushed under his weight and David’s and that of the overturned table. Too furious to fight coolly, David tried to snatch the wreck of the broken chair out of the way so that he could get at the man entangled in it and held down by the tipped table. One good punch he got in, or thought he did, and then there was a stunning crash, a fleeting whiff of powder smoke, and the light went out.


In the Ore Shed

WHEN David came to his senses he found himself lying on bare ground in the dark. There seemed to be a weight like that of an elephant’s knee pressing upon his chest, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he could get his breath. Somewhere near at hand he could hear sounds as of a woman sobbing. Next he realized vaguely that his boots had been taken off. Groping aimlessly in the dark, his hand found the woman. She was kneeling beside him, and at his touch the sobs became a choking cry.

“Davie, dear; is it yourself that’s alive?” The voice seemed to come from an immense distance, but he heard it and recognized it.

“You, Judith?”—then, jerkily: “What’s—happened—to me?”

“’Tis killed dead you are!” she whimpered.

“Nothing like it.” The words were coming a bit easier now and he did not have to stop and[265] gasp between each pair of them. Also, he was beginning to remember some of the events precedent. “Did—did the house fall down on me?” he asked.

“Jim Lushing—the black curse be upon him!—he shot you; didn’t you know that?”

“I don’t remember. Whereabouts am I hit?”

“I wouldn’t be knowing that at all, Davie; I’m just this minute here. The shed watchman came and told me that Lushing had killed you in Jack’s place down the street. ’Twas scared they were to have you found dead in that place, so they carried you here.”

“Scared?” said David.

“For what your men might do; there’s a many of them in town, and they’d have wrecked the place. Where is it hurting you, Davie, dear?”

“I feel as if somebody had given me the heart punch—I believe that’s what the ring-fighters call it. But it’s letting up a bit now. Where am I?”

“In the Murtrie ore shed. They’d be putting it up to Mike Drogheen, the watchman, to say he’d shot you—taking you for an ore thief.”

“And paying him well for it, I suppose.” He was groping carefully for the wound and found only a rip in the left breast of the brown duck shooting-coat. There was no blood; only a tremendous[266] soreness. He raised himself and sat up. “If we only had a light of some sort,” he muttered.

“Wait,” she said, and ran away to come back within the minute with the watchman’s lantern. “Poor old Mike’s hiding beyond in the blacksmith shop, scared trembling at the lie he’s thinking he’s got to tell. Don’t sit up, Davie; you might be bleeding to death.”

David was groping again, and this time, out of the ripped pocket of the brown coat he fished an engineer’s field-note book. Then he knew why there was no blood, and why the body area behind the pocket was as painful as if it had been beaten with a hammer. Lushing’s shot had been a glancing one, and the thick note-book had turned it aside. There was little left of the book save the perforated leather cover and a mass of torn leaves.

“The fellows who carried me off must have been pretty badly rattled, not to have found out that I wasn’t even scratched,” he commented.

“’Tis no wonder. When Mike brought me here, the doctor himself would have said you were dead. There was no breath in you at all, and your heart had stopped entirely.”

“What became of Lushing?”

[267]“’Tis little I know, or care—the black dog! Mike says they told him you’d half killed him.”

“I think I meant to,” said David soberly. “And after this, I suppose I’ll have to kill him—or let him kill me. But that’s a future. He knows what he’s got to do if he wants to keep on living. Where are my boots?”

She found the boots with the help of the lantern and gave them to him. He put them on, though the effort, and the lacing of them, made him grit his teeth and swear.

“What did they want to take my boots off for?” he growled.

“Don’t you know?” she asked. “’Tis that way in the camps. They wouldn’t be letting anybody die with his boots on, if they could help it.”

“Rotten superstition!” he complained, and swore again.

The woman heard wonderingly.

“’Tis you that have changed, Davie, till I’d hardly be knowing you,” she said.

“Yes; I’ve changed. And so have you, Judith. Are you living with Dargin?”

“I am not!”

“But from what they tell me, you might as well be. You’ve taken help from him.”

[268]“And if I have; ’tis nothing I’ve taken that an honest woman might not take.”

“You’re telling me the truth?”

“I am. When did I ever lie to you, Davie?”

“Never,” he conceded. But the main question was yet untouched. “I know how you came here to Powder Can—Plegg told me,” he went on bluntly. “It’s no place for you, here in Powder Can. You know that, don’t you?”

“Where would I be going, then?”

David held his head in his hands and tried to think. With the return of his faculties the spirit of morose disheartenment and impatient resentment which had brought him to the mining-camp, and had been the chief factor in precipitating the quarrel with Lushing, was reasserting itself. Since the bitter moods grow by what they feed upon, he could see nothing in just perspective. What a fool’s Paradise he had been living in since the Grillage private car had come to anchor in the construction yard! He had been crying for the moon, and the moon had been kind enough to shine for him—when there was no one else to shine upon. But now there were others....

“I don’t know,” he said abstractedly, in answer to her question as to where she should go. “It’s[269] a pretty tough old world, Judith.” Then, suddenly: “Are you still blaming me?”

“For what would I be blaming you?”

“For chasing around with you in the old days and giving you the idea that I was going to marry you some time?”

“That’s all past and gone, Davie, dear.”

“Past and gone, maybe, but that doesn’t let me out. I know you’ve got your father, but I can’t help feeling more or less responsible for you. It has worried me a lot.”

“You shouldn’t be worrying.”

“I can’t help it. Last year, after I went to Wisconsin, I had a sort of plan worked out, and I wrote you twice before I found out that you’d left Middleboro. What you need—what you’ve always needed, Judith—is something that you could put your whole heart into, like—well, like music. My notion was that you could go to some good conservatory and study, and I was ready to help you. Is it too late to consider something of that kind now?”

She shook her head. “’Tis much too late, Davie.”

“You mean that you’re tied up with this man Dargin?”

“We’ll leave Jack Dargin be. There’s the old[270] father; he’s not what he used to be, Davie; what with mother dying, and me——”

“I know,” he interposed hastily. “Plegg told me about that, too. But here’s more trouble, Judith. This man Dargin is your friend, or at least I’m trying to believe that he has befriended you, and I’ve got to chase him and his bunch out of Powder Can. I came over here to-night to tell him so. That muddles things still worse.”

“You’d better be letting Powder Can alone.”

“No, I can’t do that; it’s cutting too much out of the efficiency record on the job. I can’t fight Lushing and his outfit, and a booze joint as well. And right there, you break in. From what you’ve admitted, a lick at Jack Dargin is going to hurt you worse than it will him. And I don’t want to hurt you, Judith.”

“You shouldn’t be thinking so much about me.”

“Yes, I should; you need somebody to think about you. I wish you’d consider that notion of mine. You could take your father with you. He is too good a workman to be throwing himself away in a mine repair shop. He can get a better job anywhere he goes. I could get Mr. Grillage to help a bit in that direction. He knows everybody, everywhere.”

[271]“He’d be wanting to know why,” she objected.

“What if he does? I’ll tell him why.”

“Tell him that you’re trying to help a poor girl back to her feet?—and you wanting to marry his daughter?”

“Who told you I wanted to marry his daughter?”

“There’s little goes on in the camps that we don’t hear in Powder Can. There’s never a man of yours to come over here without having his say about you and the daughter of the man you’d be working for. ’Tis well I know it was Vinnie Grillage you were telling me about that night at home when you were leaving. I’d not be messing up your life and hers, Davie.”

He forced a sour smile. “My part of it is already messed up. Vinnie has been good to me—chiefly because we were kiddies together, long before I knew you, Judith. But that’s all there is to it. There are two other entries now, and I’m out of the race. Does that make it any easier for you to think of my plan?”

“It does not!” she flashed out, almost vindictively, he thought.

Since there seemed to be nothing more to be said, he got upon his feet, scarcely realizing that the girl stooped and put her arms around him and[272] half lifted him. For a few seconds the dimly lighted interior of the ore shed spun around in dizzying circles, and the bullet bruise throbbed like a whirlwind of hammer blows. But he found he could breathe better standing.

“I must get back to camp,” he said. “Have you any idea what time it is?”

“’Tis early yet.” Then, anxiously: “You couldn’t be walking all that way, Davie!”

“Yes, I can; I’ll be all right in a few minutes more. Can you show me the way out of this place? I don’t want to go through the town unless I have to.”

She did not show him; she led him, with a strong arm under his to steady him. At the wagon gate at the rear of the ore yard he would have sent her home, but she would not go. “’Tis not fit you are to be going alone,” she said; and in spite of his urgings she went on with him, choosing a path that skirted the shoulder of the hill and left the town to the right. In sober silence they walked on until half of the distance between Powder Can and the construction camp lay behind them. Then David Vallory made his urgings mandatory.

“You must go back,” he insisted. “I’m quite all right, now. If Dargin should hear of this——”

[273]“What is it Jack Dargin can do to you?” she interrupted shortly.

“It is something about the work; something that he knows. If he should tell Lushing——”

She interrupted again. “What has Jack got against you that would make him be giving you away to Jim Lushing?”

“I told you a little while ago. I’m trying to wipe him and his man-traps off the map, and he doubtless knows it.”

“Jack Dargin would only be respecting you the more for that. Sure, it’s himself that knows how bad Powder Camp would be needing a cleaning up.”

“But, good heavens, girl! Dargin is the head and front of the lawlessness himself!”

“’Tis so; but that makes no difference. You can’t tell what’s in the heart of a man, Davie—and I know Jack Dargin; that side of him that not you, nor any one else knows. He’d fight you; maybe he’d kill you. But he’d respect you the more.”

There was a grim humor in the paradox, but David Vallory was not in the mood to appreciate it.

“He’ll be gunning for me; and so will Lushing. But I don’t care; I’ll fight the whole outfit, if I[274] have to. I was fool enough to go into that dive to-night unarmed, but that won’t happen again. Lushing had pulled a gun on me; that was one reason why I jumped him. The next time——”

“’Tis little you’d know about the shooting, Davie.”

“What I don’t know I can learn. Now you are going straight back home from here ... no, not another step with me. Good-night—Glory—and—God bless you!”

Once again, if David Vallory could have had a small modicum of the gift of omniscience; could have detached his astral body, let us say, to send it back over the road he had just traversed; there would have been revelations, puzzling, perhaps, but still not without interest to one fighting against the powers of darkness. At the side of the road the detached messenger would have found a woman, crumpled in a forlorn heap on the cold ground, and sobbing as if her heart would break. Still farther back, in the mining-camp itself, the astral David might have looked into a shabbily luxurious upper room where a curious confirmation of Judith Fallon’s prediction touching the contradictory motives which may lie side by side in the human heart was staging itself.

After the fight in the card-room and its supposed[275] tragical outcome, the down-stairs game-room had been hastily closed. As on the night of Plegg’s eavesdropping, the upper room held two occupants, and they were the same two whose voices had reached the first assistant through the partly opened gallery window. And, as before, the lop-shouldered man was the bearer of news.

“By cripes! I guess I know what I’m talking about?” he snarled. “I’ve just come from there. He’s gone, I tell you; lit out—skipped. The watchman swears he don’t know nothin’ about it—didn’t go near the shed after they took him there.”

The master gambler, again with his hands in his pockets, and again tilting gently in the wooden-seated chair, nodded his approval. “I’m glad of it,” he said.

“The hell you are! And him tryin’ to butt in on your game and run you out?”

“That’s what I said”—curtly.

“And you ain’t goin’ to use that dope that you pulled out o’ me at the end of a gun?”

“Not in a thousand years, Simmy. Haven’t you been with me long enough to know that I’m no damn’ worm to crawl up a man’s leg and bite him to death? You say the young duck’s alive and has made his get-away. That’s all right. If[276] he comes at me like a two-fisted man, maybe I’ll send him word that he’d better come heeled. But that’s all.”

“You won’t take the dope and do him up the way I was tellin’ you?”

“Nothing doing.”

“Well, then, by cripes! I know somebody that will take it—and pay good money for it!” shrilled the disappointed one.

“Grillage, you mean?”

“No; I tried him, and what do I get? He tells that big, black nigger porter of his to put me out of the car. I’ll show him—him and Vallory at the same clatter!”

The master gambler got up, as if to signify that he had heard enough.

“Better look out that you don’t get stepped on—like other worms—Simmy,” he warned; and then, reaching for the hanging lamp over the table to turn it out: “Get a crawl on you; I’m going to shut up shop.”


The Other David

WHEN David Vallory, plodding doggedly, reached the construction camp upon his return from Powder Can, he found Herbert Oswald waiting for him at the steps of the office bunk car.

“Everybody had gone to bed in the hotel, and I thought I’d straggle down to see if I could find your headquarters,” was the way in which the young lawyer accounted for himself. “If you are tired and want to turn in, you are at liberty to shoo me away.”

“No,” said David crisply. “Come on in.”

Oswald groped his way into the dark interior of the car at the heels of his crusty welcomer and found a seat on Plegg’s unoccupied bunk while David was lighting a lamp. At the blowing-out of the match, the lamp-lighter stood staring gloomily down upon his late-in-the-evening visitor.

“I know pretty well what you’ve come to say,” he thrust in gruffly. “Suppose you say it and have it over with.”

[278]Oswald looked up in mild surprise.

“I didn’t come here to scrap with you, David. And, so far as I know, I haven’t done anything to make you run at me with a chip on your shoulder. Of course, I know you are thinking I ought not to have come out here, but——”

“What I may think doesn’t seem to cut any figure,” said David, with the air of a man who would rather precipitate a quarrel than avoid one. “I told you exactly and precisely what I thought a year ago as I was leaving Middleboro, and I haven’t had any reason to change my mind.”

Oswald, ready enough in any legal matching of man against man, seemed helplessly nonplussed.

“You have changed rather ferociously,” he remarked. “I don’t quite know how to take you. If you are giving me a fair shot at your present self, you are not the David Vallory I used to know.”

“No, I am not the same. A little while ago I was trying my best to kill a man; I shall do it yet, one of these days, if he doesn’t keep out of my sight. But go on and say what you’ve got to say.”

“It amounts to this: for a whole year I’ve kept faith with you—honest faith—and every day of that year has been a day of heartburnings and[279] regrets. Your attitude toward your sister is entirely unreasonable. There have been blind wives before this, and they have been happy wives—and mothers, for that matter; at least, their blindness hasn’t necessarily been a bar to happiness. A year ago, if I had spoken, I should have spoken only for myself: now I am speaking for Lucille as well as for myself.”

“All of which is entirely beside the question,” was the irritable rejoinder. “I know Lucille, and however far she has allowed herself to go in the matter of learning to care for you or for any man, it’s a sure thing she has never thought of marriage, even as a possibility. If you propose it, two things will happen; she will wake up to the fact that she has been mistaking love for friendship; and she will realize that she has to refuse the love. After that, her life will be nothing but a miserable, repining blank.”

“I can’t agree with you at all,” objected the lover, argumentatively ready to defend his own point of view. “If you were the David Vallory I once knew, you would listen to reason; at least, to the extent of giving your sister a voice in ordering her own future. I have come to the fork of the road, David, and I am here to say it to you, face to face. I need Lucille, and she needs[280] me. When the time is fully ripe I shall ask her to be my wife. You put me under bonds of a certain sort a year ago, but now I shall refuse longer to be bound by them; I repudiate them absolutely.”

David Vallory sat down, and for a time the silence of the small car interior was broken only by the clash and jangle of a shifting-engine in the upper yard. Finally the decision came.

“Oswald, Lucille is my sister, and I am going to stand between her and the life of heartbroken wretchedness you are planning for her. You give me your word that you will not break over while you are both here together, and upon that condition you may stay in Powder Gap as long as you see fit.”

Oswald stood up and his lips were pale.

“And if I refuse to submit to any such unreasonable and humiliating condition—what then?”

David Vallory frowned up at his one-time schoolmate.

“You say that you have been bound by your promise of a year ago, but that you now repudiate it; as a man of honor, you are bound by it until I release you.”

“You are not answering my question.”

“I’ll answer it. The stub train going east leaves[281] here every morning at seven-thirty; I’ll give you a day or two in which to think it over—with the promise still holding good.”

“And if, at the end of the day or two, I still refuse to recognize your right to interfere?”

“This is not Middleboro; and, as you have remarked, I am not the David Vallory you used to know. If you still decline to listen to reason, you’ll take that train and get out of here—if I have to hog-tie you and throw you into the baggage-car!”


“You needn’t beg; I mean it. I am neither drunk nor insane. You have said your say and I have said mine, and that settles it.”

The young lawyer took a step toward the door. But with his hand on the knob he stopped and faced about.

“So this is what Eben Grillage has done for you, is it?” he grated. “Like master, like man; with the doctrine of brute force for your code. I wouldn’t have believed it possible for the son of your father, David.”

“I have had the brute force all along, only I haven’t had sense enough to apply it,” was the surly rejoinder. “But it’s never too late to mend. Good-night—if you’re going.”

[282]“I am going, but not before I have finished saying my say. For the present, and purely because I don’t consider the time fully ripe, I shall postpone asking your sister to marry me. But I refuse utterly and definitely to be bound by your tyrannical conditions.”

Shortly after Oswald had gone, David Vallory rummaged in Plegg’s kit-locker until he found a blued service revolver in its holster. He hung it under his coat by the shoulder-strap, and then dug further for a supply of cartridges. Thus armed, he took to the open again. The shock of the bullet bruise was still unsteadying him, and the bruise itself was hurting savagely, but he would not give up to it. At Brady’s Cut he found Plegg.

“The war is on,” he announced briefly, when he had taken the first assistant aside.

“You have seen Lushing?” Plegg asked.

“Yes; and he gave himself away: says he means to break us. We had it back and forth for a few minutes, and then he pulled a gun on me.”

“Good Lord!” said Plegg. “Where were you?”

“In one of Dargin’s card-rooms. We mixed it. I couldn’t stand for the gun-pulling—and some other things. He tried to plug me, but I’m hoping he got as good as he sent. Anyhow, I’ve[283] cleared the air a bit. I’ve taken the liberty of borrowing your extra forty-five, and I’m going loaded for him after this. I’ve told him what he may expect if he shows his face on this job again while I’m here.”

“For heaven’s sake! I—well, it isn’t my put in, but you’ve rather got me going, you know. Can you—er—do you know how to use the forty-five?”

“Not very well; I did a little pistol-practice in Florida. But to-morrow you’ll take me back in the hills and show me a bit. Just now we’ve got other fish to fry. We’re going to fight Lushing on his own ground. He says we’re a gang of thieves, and if we have the name, we may as well have the game.”

“But even if you’ve bluffed him into staying off the job, he still has the ear of the railroad people.”

“That’s all right; I’ll fight him to a knockout, all the way up to Mr. Ford—if he wants to carry it that far. In the meantime we’ll show him, and the men who are paying his salary, that we know how to hit back when they call us thieves. Pass the word to our staff, and let the fellows pass it on to the foremen and subcontractors. They’ll know how to cut the corners, and how to keep the railroad inspectors from finding out—no[284] coarse-hand work, you know, Plegg, but every dollar that can be squeezed out of this job from now on. That’s what we want.”

Plegg was shaking his head like a man in a maze; and the new chief—new now in his attitude as well as in the shortness of his service—went on.

“About that weak spot in the tunnel; have you found out who gave it away to Dargin?”

“Yes; a fellow named Backus, who worked in one of the muck shifts. The men say he was a steerer for Dargin’s faro-game.”

“What has become of him?”

“He’s fired: I suppose he’s in Powder Can.”

“He is the man we want. I’m going to put it up to you, Plegg, to find him and grab him before he gets next to Lushing. When he is found, buy him, and shoot him out of the country—anywhere where he’ll be out of Lushing’s reach until we get this job done.”

“And if he can’t be bought?”

“Lock him up somewhere and keep him from talking. Now about the bad roof itself: that is where Lushing can hit us the hardest. Give Regnier his tip, and do it to-night. Tell him to have the tunnel re-wired for lights so there won’t be a bulb anywhere near that soft spot. Tell him to[285] keep his men quiet if he has to raise the pay of every man in the three shifts. Then make him understand that the rule against the admission of outsiders must be rigidly enforced, if he has to maintain an armed guard at the portal.”

“That won’t keep Lushing’s inspectors out,” Plegg suggested mildly.

“I’m coming to that. Regnier must see to it that some man of ours who can be trusted is within reach every time an inspector goes in. We don’t care to hurt anybody needlessly, but if one of our hard-rock bullies should happen to get into a scrap with the man who chances to discover that ‘fault’—well, you know what I mean. Mr. Grillage says that place is perfectly safe, and we’re going to take his word for it.”

The first assistant nodded, and the slow smile bared his teeth and wrinkled at the corners of his eyes.

“I certainly owe you an apology,” he said, with the faintest suggestion of irony in his tone; “several of them, in fact. There was a time when I fancied you were going to be too good—to revert to that morning in the Pullman a year ago; and I imagine Mr. Grillage harbored the same inadequate notion. You’ll want to be getting back to headquarters, I suppose: there is an engine due[286] down from the tunnel—there it comes—I’ll flag it for you.”

David caught the eastbound engine, but he did not stop off at the headquarters camp. That was because Crawford, the concrete bridge builder, was at the yard platform to climb to the cab with a bit of news. Under new orders, inspectors had been placed at the three bridges in Crawford’s section, and they were in relays so that there was hardly an hour in the three shifts when one of them was not on duty. Crawford was looking for Plegg, but when he found that the first assistant was unattainable, he unburdened himself to the chief, setting forth the hard conditions.

“Well?” said David, while the engine halted.

“It’s—er—making it sort of difficult for me,” said Crawford, unwilling to go much deeper into the matter in the face of Plegg’s inhibition forbidding detail talk with the boss.

“Difficult? How?”

“Why—er—there can’t very well be two bosses on a job, and when I give an order and Strayer countermands it——”

“Do you mean to say that Strayer is trying to boss your job?”

“It amounts to that.”

David turned to the engine-driver.

[287]“Run us down to bridge Number Two, Pete,” he ordered, and the heavy construction locomotive lumbered down through the yard and out over the switches.

The run was a short one, and at the bridge approach David and his assistant got off to walk over to the new structure. The bridge plant was well lighted by carbide gas flares, and prominent on the form stagings was the big figure of Strayer, the railroad inspector. David Vallory called up to him.

“Come down here a minute, Strayer; I want to talk to you,” he said.

When the railroad engineer joined him he led the way to the cement platform, where the noise of the mixer was less insistent.

“What’s the idea, Strayer?” he demanded.

The big man did not affect to misunderstand.

“You know perfectly well, Vallory; or if you don’t, you ought to. Crawford’s scamping these bridges shamelessly. He is scanting the ‘mix’, and also the reinforcing steel. I’ve caught him at it.”

“Why didn’t you complain to me?”

“What the devil good would it do? I’ve yelled at you people for everything, and you patch one hole only to leave another.”

[288]“I suppose you have your orders to come here and take the direction of the work out of the hands of my man?”

“I have orders to see that you don’t pull any more bones on us, if I have to eat and sleep on the job to prevent it. And I’m like little old Casabianca, Vallory; I obey orders.”

“Who gave you the orders?”

“Lushing: he’s back now.”

“Don’t you know that he’s a damned crook, himself, Strayer?”

The square-jawed, bearded inspector laughed grimly.

“Set a thief to catch a thief, eh?” he grinned. “Between us two, Vallory, I haven’t much use for Lushing; none at all, personally. But he’s the boss.”

“Do you know where he is now?”

“Yes; he’s over at Powder Can: makes his headquarters in the Hophra House.”

“I take it you’re not particularly struck on standing over Crawford this way, day and night, are you?”

“Well, if you put it that way, I’m not. Crawford’s a good boy, and he means well. See here, Vallory, if you’ll give me your word that you’ll make the boy live up to the specifications on these[289] bridges, I’ll do what I can to keep Lushing off of you. Is it a go?”

David was thoughtful for a moment, and then he said: “I’ll do better than that, Strayer. I’m needing another engineer to handle the tunnel approach work on the other side of the mountain. I know what the railroad company is paying you, and I’ll better the salary. This is straight goods. What do you say?”

The big man shook his head slowly.

“You oughtn’t to make a break like that at me, Vallory, and you know it. It’s too bald, and—well, dog-gone it all, I thought better of you!” The inspector turned and walked away with his head down and his hands in his pockets. David Vallory waited until he had passed the corner of the cement house, and then, at a signal from Crawford, he sprang upon the bridge stagings.

“We’re up against it,” said the bridge builder hastily; “that’s why I went after Plegg. We’ve reached the point where we’ve got to place the top span reinforcement, and I haven’t got the steel!”

“How is that?”

“It’s this way,” Crawford explained, still more hurriedly. “When we begun on this job, Plegg and I figured the plans over and he—that is, we[290] concluded that it was simply wasting steel to put it in as thickly as the plans called for—why, the factor of safety was the whole cheese! So we agreed to cut the steel down. If you can’t get Strayer away from here for an hour or so, I’ll have to stop the run and take the risk of the concrete’s setting in the forms while we’re getting some more steel down here.”

A month earlier David Vallory would have known what to say, and would have said it, without garnishings. But now he merely nodded and walked down the runway and across to the cement house where Strayer was still pacing back and forth.

“This situation needs threshing out from the bottom up, Strayer,” he began crisply. “Suppose you get on the engine and go up to headquarters with me where we can fight it out to some sort of a conclusion. I’m tired of this business of scrapping with you fellows all the time.”

“I’m sorry, Vallory, but Lushing is the man you’ll have to talk to.”

“You’re his second, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but you know the rules; I don’t have anything to say when he is on the job.”

“Well, he isn’t on the job. He had a racket with a man over in Powder Can a couple of hours[291] ago, and they tell me he’s knocked out for the present. That puts it up to you, again, doesn’t it?”

“Why, yes; I guess so—if he’s—how badly is he hurt?”

“I don’t know; pulled a gun on a man, and the man jumped him.”

Strayer shook his head.

“That’s bad; neither Mr. Ford nor Mr. Maxwell will stand for anything like that. Just between us two, Vallory, Lushing has always spent a lot of time in Powder Can—did it while he was with your people.”

“I know. But now that he’s out of it, temporarily, at least, why can’t we get together and straighten up some of the kinks? You know how exasperating it is for these fellows of mine to have somebody standing over them with a club all the time. Come on up to camp with me and we’ll hammer it out.”

Crawford had stopped his concrete mixer because he had to; no more concrete could be poured until the steel bars were placed. The crisis had come, and while Strayer hesitated, David Vallory, the new David, took the deep-water plunge into the stagnant pool of open trickery. Crawford’s men were bringing the scanted supply of steel[292] bars, getting in each other’s way to kill time. David stepped over to the steel pile and counted the pieces.

“Say, Crawford!” he called out; “you haven’t got enough steel here! Heavens and earth, man! don’t you know any better than to run right up against a shortage like this?”

Crawford gasped twice, and then he understood. “Ding bust it, Mr. Vallory, I ought to be fired! Mr. Strayer, here, has been keeping me so busy that I haven’t looked at that steel pile. What are we going to do?”

“Do? You’ll just have to place what you’ve got, and hold your mixer until we can get some more down to you. I’ll go back to the yard and see that it’s hustled out. Come on, Strayer; let’s take a ride.”

The crisis was past and the big inspector climbed on the engine with the Grillage chief.

“I’ll take an hour off with you, Vallory, after I’ve seen that steel put on the car,” he laughed; and at a sign from David, the throttle was opened and the locomotive clattered away up the grade.


At Bridge Three

AFTER the dash in the card-room at Black Jack Dargin’s place, and its immediate and transforming consequences, Silas Plegg, shrewd observer and most efficient of assistants, looked confidently for trouble, and went about prepared to stand by his chief when the trouble should materialize. It was during Lushing’s administration as the Grillage chief of construction that the Powder Can kennels had begun to flourish, and it had been broadly hinted that he had been a sharer in the profits. Rumor had it that he was still hand-in-glove with the kennel-keepers; and with such a lawless contingent at his command, the ex-chief became—at least in Plegg’s estimation—a man whose enmity was to be feared.

Besides keeping a brotherly watch over his chief, Plegg contrived to keep in touch with the Powder Can end of things. Lushing, he learned, had been laid up for a matter of two or three days as the result of the brief card-room battle, and he was still making his headquarters in the[294] Powder Can tavern. Thus far he had not been visible on the work, though from the increased activities of his inspectors it was apparent that he was directing a searching campaign of investigation.

Vallory’s men were required to dig try-holes beside foundation walls of abutments and retaining masonry to prove that the foundations went deep enough. Test-borings were made in the fills to ascertain their density. The slopes of the hill cuttings were surveyed and re-surveyed to make sure that the angles agreed with the map notes. In one of the bridges, Strayer—this time with apologies to David Vallory—had holes drilled to verify the placing of the reinforcing steel. In uncounted ways the investigation was pushed; to the discomfort of all concerned—and also to the sharpening of the wits of those who had something to conceal.

Throughout this interval David Vallory gave an excellent imitation of a man hard at work, riding the line incessantly, encouraging, driving; plotting with his subordinates to outwit the inspectors, and keeping a vengeful eye out for Lushing. In due time it began to be whispered about that “the little big boss,” as he was affectionately called by the rank and file, not only “had[295] it in” for Lushing, but that he had fairly bluffed the chief inspector off the job. It was known that he went armed; and on at least one occasion when he disappeared for an hour or so in Little Creek gorge, there was some one to report that he had spent the time practicing at a target with a “forty-five.”

Naturally, with so many working crises thickly bestudding the days, David had little time to climb the hill to the Inn; or, if he had the time, he seldom took it. Duty visits he paid, indeed, to his father and sister in the tree-sheltered cottage; but these were brief—crabbedly brief when Oswald chanced to be one of the cottage’s inmates. On all of these excursions he avoided the hotel, with morose offishness in the saddle. None the less, he now and then got a glimpse of Virginia—and chanced to see her always in company with one or both of the men upon whom the desirable moon—unattainable by those who cry for it—seemed now to be shining its brightest.

It was after one of these brief evening visits to the cottage under the pines that David found Plegg waiting for him at the foot of the ridge.

“Just to make sure you shouldn’t be taken off your guard,” said the first assistant; and without further preface: “Lushing is on his way up here[296] with a bunch of men sworn in as deputies. Crawford has just ’phoned in from bridge Number One.”

“What’s the object?”

“Nobody seems to know, but I have a guess coming. Burford, the new transit-man working with Strayer, gave me a hint. He’s a soak, and yesterday, after he’d been hitting his pocket-bottle pretty freely, he let out a word or two about something sensational which was to follow this epidemic of inspection we’ve been having.”

“Didn’t describe it, did he?”

“No; he was so plainly ‘lit up’ that I didn’t pay much attention to him. But since, I’ve been piecing the odd bits together. This dead set that the railroad force has been making at us can have only one object—to get evidence of some sort against us that will hold in court.”


“I shouldn’t wonder if they have the evidence.”

“The tunnel?”

“No; that is safe, as yet, I believe. It is in the bridges. There is a certain specified penalty for jerry-building bridges that are to be used for human traffic, you know.”

“Bosh!” said David. “These little two-by-four spans we are throwing over the Powder River[297] would carry anything you could pile upon them; you know they would, Plegg. And they’d do it if they didn’t have a single bar of steel in them.”

“Sure!” said Plegg, with a dry smile. “But we’d better be getting over to the car and the ’phone. If those temporary sheriffs are coming up here, we ought to know it.”

“Lushing won’t come,” David averred, as they walked together toward the bunk car office.

“Think not?”

“He’d better not.”

The service telephone was buzzing when they entered the car. Plegg picked up the receiver and held it to his ear. After a time, he said, “It’s Crawford again. He is at Number Three bridge now. The Lushing crowd had a break-down with their gasoline push-car, and Tommy skipped across the hill in the hair-pin curve and got to Number Three ahead of them. He says he talked to one of the men who came back to Number One to borrow a monkey-wrench. The man was foolish enough to let the cat out of the bag and brag about it. The bunch is coming up here to arrest you and Mr. Grillage. Crawford wants to know what he shall do with the few minutes he has at his disposal.”

David Vallory took three seconds for reflection.

[298]“Tell him he has a brain of his own, and now is a good time to use it,” he said shortly. “And you may add that we’d like to buy a little delay if there is any in the market.”

Plegg repeated the message, rounding it out with a demand for a quick report as to results. The waiting interval was remarkably short. When the ’phone buzzed again, Plegg answered with a single word. “Shoot!” he said, and David, sitting in the opposite bunk, could hear the minified repetition of the reporting voice without being able to distinguish the words. Crawford was brief, as befitted a man of action; and when Plegg returned the receiver to its hook he was smiling grimly.

“You’ll have to hand it to Tommy for being able to make a hurry use of what little brain he may have,” he commented. “He slipped a stick of dynamite into the stone bin at Number Three, and now he says there are about forty tons of crushed rock spilled on the track for the gasoline car to climb over. And the car is not yet in sight.”

“That is better,” said David coolly. “They’ll get around the obstruction, no doubt, but it will hold them for a little while. Now for our part of it. You once remarked that the law doesn’t[299] reach this far from the nearest court-house. We don’t know, officially, that these men are coming as officers, and we’ll act upon that ignorance. You go over to the bunk shacks and turn out a handful of Brady’s day-shift men. Tell them to bring pick-handles. Then go to the light plant and tell the night engineer to listen for a pistol shot. If he hears one, he is to pull the switch on the yard circuit and leave us in the dark.”

“So that the Lushing crowd won’t be able to identify any of us?”

“So that we shan’t be able to identify them—as officers.”

“Once more I’m apologizing to you,” said Plegg, in mild irony. “Anything else?”

“Nothing, except that you are to pick your men, and let it be understood that the raiders are after Mr. Grillage and me. If you pick the right men, they’ll fight for that. I’ll run over to the Athenia and get Mr. Grillage out of the way. I don’t want to have him mixed up in this, even by implication.”

As Plegg went one way, David went the other, hurrying across to the private Pullman, which he knew was occupied because it was lighted. When he pushed through the vestibule swing-door he found the contractor-king poring over an estimate[300] sheet. Taken for an instant off his guard, the big man looked haggard and care-worn. It was this that made David begin with a sober protest.

“You put in too many hours down here, Mr. Grillage,” he said, much as he might have said it to his own father. “How about that fishing trip you were going to take with Dad?”

“We’re going, pretty soon, now,” was the gruff reply. And then: “David, you’re right; I’ve got too darned many irons in the fire, and some of ’em get too hot, and some of ’em freeze. Hurry up and get through with this Short Line crucifixion, so you can take hold and blow some of the other bellowses for me.”

“‘Crucifixion’ is right!” said David, with a workmanlike scowl. “I haven’t worried you much about the job lately, but the railroad people—with Lushing egging them on, of course—have been mighty active for the past few days—perniciously active, I’d say. I didn’t know what was up until just now; though I’ve been ready for anything. It seems they’ve been trying to find a peg upon which to hang a legal fight, and they think they’ve found it—just what sort of a peg, I don’t know.”

“Legal, you say; do you mean criminal?”

“Plegg thinks it may be; based on alleged[301] jerry-work on the bridges, or something of that sort. Anyhow, Lushing is on his way up here with a gang of subsidized deputies, and Crawford telephones that the object of the raid is to arrest you and me.”

“Huh!” grunted the giant, straightening himself in his chair. “Going to try that, is he?”

“So Crawford says. I came to ask you to go up to the hotel and let me handle it.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Some few days ago I met Lushing and we had a—er—well, a little disagreement, you might call it. He——”

“I heard about it,” interrupted the boss of bosses, with a satisfied grin. “You beat him up and warned him to stay off the job if he wanted to keep his hide whole. I owe you something for that, David; it did me a whole lot of good. But go on.”

“Plegg’s getting a few of Brady’s Irishmen together, and we’ll take care of these raiders. We don’t know, in any legal way, that they are deputies, and we shall act accordingly. What I need is to get you out of it; so far out that you won’t know anything about it, if any one should ask you after the fact.”

Eben Grillage gripped the edge of his desk[302] with both hands and pulled himself out of his chair. David marked the forced muscle-strain that went into the effort, and immediately saw a curious change come over the massive face with its staring eyes and hanging, dewlap jaws.

“Run away from a fight, David? I guess—it would be the—first——”

David leaped, and was in time to ease the big body back into the swing-chair before it could crumple and fall. For a few seconds Eben Grillage sat motionless, purple-faced and gasping. Then he reached into a desk drawer, found some tablets in a druggist’s box, and swallowed one. The effect was almost instantaneous.

“It’s all right, now, David,” he mumbled, a bit thickly; “just a little spell. But it’s telling me that my fighting days are over, I guess. Lucky I’ve got you, my boy. Stick me up on the hill path, and I’ll keep out of your way and give you a free hand.”

David did more than was required. Precious as time might be, he went all the way to the Inn with his charge, and at the leave-taking laid filial commands upon the man whose right to command him he had never questioned.

“This settles it, Mr. Grillage,” he protested warmly. “To-morrow you’ll take Dad and your[303] fishing tackle and get out of here—go away and stay away until we get this railroad snarl straightened out. Go on in, now, and go to bed. Plegg and I will do the needful.”

With this parting injunction he fled down the ridge path and took command of the little group of huskies that Plegg had assembled beside the bunk car.

“Any more news?” he demanded; and Plegg answered.

“Another ’phone from Crawford. He is blockaded in the Number Three bridge office shack, but he got a bit of talk through before they cut his ’phone wire. Lushing has taken our night shift off the bridge and set it at work shoveling the crushed stone off the track. Tommy says they will be able to get through with their gas-car within the next few minutes.”

“Good. We won’t wait for them,” said David quickly. “Get that engine up there at the coal chute, and couple an empty flat-car ahead of it, and another behind it. Hurry!”

The order was carried out briskly, and when the oddly made up train slowed to a stand beside the bunk car, the pick-handle squad climbed upon the rearward car, and the chief and his first assistant sprang into the engine cab. “Down the line!”[304] was David’s order to the engine-driver, and the train moved off, gathering such momentum as the roughly surfaced construction track permitted.

In the make-up of the train the engine was backing, with an empty flat-car for its pilot. Being a construction machine, the locomotive had a headlight at either end. With the yard switches left behind, David reached up, uncoiled the short signal-bell cord, and shouted into the ear of the big Irishman at the throttle. “Listen, Callahan: I’m going up on the coal to keep a lookout and flag for you. If I give you one bell, clamp your brakes and make an emergency stop; if I give you two bells, let her have all she will take. Understand?”

The Irishman nodded; and David, with Plegg at his heels, climbed over the coal to a lookout position on the rear end of the tender. By this time the scenery, or so much of it as the starlight revealed, was unreeling itself rapidly on either hand, and in the beam of the tender-carried headlight the straight-away stretches of the track rushed up in quick succession to be shot to the rear under the roaring wheels. “Lord!” yelped Plegg; “if we should meet ’em on a curve!——” but David Vallory made no reply. He was gripping the bell-cord and staring steadily down the[305] track ahead, following the double line of rails to the farthest reach of the spreading cone of light.

As it chanced, the meeting point with the gasoline-driven push-car was not on a curve. On the mile-long tangent which marked the approach to bridge Number Three the converging lines of the rails in the distance met in a dark blot; a moving blot that shot quickly into the glare of the headlight. Plegg saw a series of black dots tumbling grotesquely from the blot to right and left, heard a sharp double clang of the signal in the cab behind him, and felt the sudden lurch of the tender as the engine’s throttle was opened. “Duck!” was the command shouted in his ear, and the next instant there was a crash and the air was filled with flying wreckage.

Luckily, no wheel of the attacking train was derailed, and a minute or so later, Callahan, in obedience to a signal from his chief, was braking the heavy “mogul” to a stop beside Crawford’s dynamited rock pile. The place was light with flares, the concrete-pouring on the bridge had been resumed, and Crawford came down the staging runway with a broad grin on his boyish face.

“I saw a little of it from the far end of the staging,” he chuckled. “How many of ’em did you get?”

[306]“Not any of them, I hope,” said David Vallory soberly, as he swung down from the engine step. “It was meant for an object-lesson—not a murder. Now talk fast, Crawford: how many of them are there, and who are they?—besides Lushing?”

“Seven in all, besides the boss-devil; and they looked to me like Brewster toughs, or hold-up men, or something of that sort.”


“Sure!—one of ’em ran me off the staging with a gun.”

“Brewster toughs, you say?—are you sure they are not Powder Can toughs? Lushing would have to take them to Brewster to have them sworn in as deputies—which would account for their coming from down the line.”

“By George—that’s so! I did see a bunch of plug-uglies going down on the stub train yesterday, come to think of it.”

David Vallory turned upon Plegg. “There you are,” he said. And then to Crawford: “We are going back to headquarters now, and maybe they’ll give us a scrap as we go by, and maybe they won’t. If they don’t show up for us, they may come down here and make trouble for you. How about that?”

[307]“I’ll take my chances,” returned the bridge expert cheerfully. “I have my old pump-gun now; it was in the office shack, and I didn’t have sense enough to go and get it before they came up and fell on me. I’ll stand ’em off, all right, if they try to stop the job again.”

“You said one of them came to you at Number One to borrow a monkey-wrench: what did he say?”

“He was just joshing me a few lines while I was looking for the wrench; said I wouldn’t have any bosses to-morrow, because they’d both be in jail. I asked him who he meant by ‘both’, and he said, ‘the big one and the little one.’ I took that to mean you and Mr. Grillage.”

“You probably guessed right; but the man was a liar. We are not going to jail—any of us. And before I forget it: you’ve done a good job to-night, Crawford, and I shall see to it that you get credit where it will do you the most good.”

“I don’t need any credit; it’s all in the day’s work,” laughed the cheerful bridge builder; then, as his chief was turning to climb into Callahan’s cab: “Oh, say—I meant to ask you: have you seen Lushing since you—er—since he went into retirement a few days ago? He’s a plumb sight! You broke his nose; turned it around so it points[308] east when he’s going north. Gee! but he looks fierce!”

“It ought to have been his neck,” was the brittle rejoinder, and then the double-ended train pulled out for the return.

There was no demonstration at the point where the abandoned gasoline car had been demolished, though David had the train stopped and got off with his pick-handle squad to beat the covers. The straight piece of track was on the river bank, with a wooded hill on the left from which a few determined snipers might have wrought havoc with the beaters, but no man was found and no shot was fired.

Plegg spoke of the probabilities as the train proceeded up the valley.

“We are through with them for to-night,” was his prediction. “It is eight miles to Powder Can or the Gap, and only four to Agorda. They’ll go east instead of west.”

“Yes,” David agreed; “now that they know they can’t bluff us. That is what I meant to do; turn the bluff the other way around. I guess we did it.”

The first assistant, isolated in his seat on the fireman’s box, held his peace until the train came to the end of its run in the headquarters yard.[309] But on the way over to the bunk car with his chief, he had a word to add, and added it.

“Now that Crawford has dumped the wheel-barrow and spilled all the garden truck, I can speak of a thing we’ve all known since the story of your manhandling of Lushing drifted into camp. Lushing is peacock-vain; no stage-door johnnie was ever more so. Even when he was here on the work he kept his mustaches curled, his beard trimmed to a hair, and his clothes looking as if he had just stepped out of a tailor’s shop. You’ve spoiled his beauty for all time, and he’d draw and quarter you for it if he could.”

“As a matter of fact, I hit him only once; it was all the chance I had before his gun went off. But I don’t care what I’ve done to his face, Plegg. As I remarked to Crawford, I’m only sorry I didn’t break his neck.”

“Perhaps it would have been safer if you had,” was the quiet suggestion. “As it is, he’ll never forgive you, and he won’t be satisfied with any light revenge. Which brings on more talk. I have a notion that this ‘arrest’ business to-night was pure bunk. I don’t doubt that Lushing had gone through all the forms and had sworn out the warrants. Doubtless, he was going to make a bluff at serving them. But, Vallory, I’ll bet a[310] little round gold dollar with a hole in it that the real play was to make you put up a fight so that you might righteously be killed in resisting an officer of the law.”

Again David said, “I don’t care,” and Plegg went on calmly. “If that is the play, we’ll have to take measures accordingly. You mustn’t run around on the job unless I’m with you. If you will pardon me for saying it, you are not quite quick enough on the draw, as yet; and you haven’t learned to hold the other fellow’s eye while you’re doing it. That is about all the difference there is between living and dying when it comes to a show-down, you know.”

They had boarded the bunk car and were preparing to turn in. David looked up from the boot-unlacing and his eyes were bloodshot.

“Damn your grannying!” he flared out savagely. “When I need a wet nurse I’ll advertise for one!”

A few seconds later he looked up again, to find Plegg chuckling softly.

“What the devil are you laughing at?” he snapped.

The chuckle expanded into the first assistant’s slow, half-cynical smile. “And once, not so many months ago, I was idiotic enough to cherish the[311] notion that you might be too good!” he exclaimed, in mock self-derision. And with that, he rolled himself in his blankets and turned his face from the light.


The Killer

ON the morning following the raid which had failed to connect, Eben Grillage carried out his promise to side-track business and go a-fishing. David made the necessary arrangements, stocking the Athenia’s larder with provisions from the camp commissary, borrowing a tent and camping outfit from one of the grade subcontractors, and otherwise bestirring himself to expedite the departure of the anglers.

With the Athenia out of its berth and safely on its way to some unannounced destination in the upper Timanyoni, a handicap of a sort was removed; a handicap and a restriction. As David phrased it for Plegg, he had gotten two non-combatants out of the range of the guns and the field was now clear for whatever battle of reprisals might be threatening.

Of the restriction removed he said nothing to Plegg or to any one. There be certain secret curtains of the heart which are not to be drawn[313] aside for alien eyes to view what may lie behind them; and as yet, not even to himself would David admit that he was no longer able to see eye to eye with his father. None the less, it was with a distinct sense of relief that he waved good-by to the pair standing on the rear platform of the private Pullman as Callahan’s “mogul” snaked it out through the yard to make a flying-switch coupling with the outgoing stub train.

It was on this same morning that Plegg reported for the third time his inability to find the man Backus, and the report was made while he and Vallory were climbing the mountain on their way to make an inspecting tour of the western slope activities, including the tunnel drift which was slowly gnawing its way to meet Regnier’s bore from the eastward.

“I’ve had a dozen ‘trusties’ looking for him and they have combed Powder Can and every other mining-camp in a ten-mile radius,” was Plegg’s summing-up of the search. “He has disappeared as completely as if the earth had swallowed him.”

“If we could only be sure that the earth has swallowed him,” growled the one for whom the restrictions had been removed. “But there is another fork to that road, Plegg. Maybe Lushing[314] has him hidden out somewhere. Had you thought of that?”

“Yes; that seemed to be the most reasonable explanation of his disappearance. But in a very short time I discovered that Lushing was also looking for him.”

“You are sure of that?”

“Quite sure. I have it from a number of different sources. He has even gone so far as to offer a reward—not publicly, of course, but the word has been passed among our workmen.”

“Which means that Lushing knows Backus has something to sell. We mustn’t let Lushing beat us to it, Plegg. You haven’t stopped your investigating machine, have you?”

“Not at all. I have even gone Lushing one better and raised his bet on the reward—though you didn’t authorize me to spend any real money.”

“You did right; and I’ll see to it that the money is forthcoming when it is needed.”

Here the matter rested for the time, and the two men spent the entire day on the western slope, tramping over the work on the desert cut-off, visiting the sub-headquarters in Lost Creek basin, and taking the lost motion out of the job wherever it was found. Cartwright, the sub-chief in general charge of the over-mountain work, was[315] making good progress, though he, too, complained bitterly of the obstructing activities of the railroad inspection staff. Lushing, as it appeared, had not yet been over the range since his return from the East, and Cartwright, a nervous little man with a harsh voice and a choleric eye, was explosively profane when he was told the story of the raid that failed.

“Some of us will have to ‘get’ that beggar yet, Vallory!” he rasped. “It’s gone a long way past any business vigilance on his part; he is simply a vindictive scoundrel, and he is making a personal fight upon the entire Grillage outfit. If he shows up on this side of the range, he’d better bring a bodyguard with him; that’s all I’ve got to say!”

On the return from the desert inspection, David and his first assistant had supper at Cartwright’s headquarters on Lost Creek, and afterward crossed the mountain by starlight. Plegg dropped out of the procession of two on the descent to the eastern tunnel entrance, ostensibly to see how Regnier was getting along, but really because the dangerous roof drew him with a mysterious fascination that was always making him go out of his way to take another look at it.

[316]David Vallory kept on down the mountain alone, and in due time, with a number of brief pauses at the various working points, tramped into the Powder Gap yard at an hour not far from midnight. Learning from the yard boss that there had been no new developments during the day, he went across to the bunk car and let himself in. There was a fragrance of good tobacco smoke in the darkened interior, and as he struck a light he was wondering what member of the staff had been making free with Plegg’s carefully hoarded store of “perfectos.”

It was not until after he had snapped the lamp chimney into place, and was turning the wick to its proper height, that he had a shock that sent his hand quickly to the grip of the weapon slung by its shoulder-strap under his coat. Sitting quietly on Plegg’s bunk, and still smoking the cigar which had perfumed the stuffy interior of the little car, was the swarthy, cold-eyed master gambler of Powder Can.

Dargin was the first to break the surcharged silence.

“Been waiting for you,” he said shortly; and then: “You needn’t be feelin’ for that gun. If I’d wanted to croak you, you’d ’ve been dead a whole half-minute ago.”

[317]David Vallory sat down on his own bed, the shock spasm subsiding a little.

“I hope I haven’t kept you waiting very long,” he ventured, not too inhospitably.

“About a half-hour. But I had some smokes in my poke, and the waiting didn’t cut any ice.”

Hastily David passed in review the various reasons why Dargin should come thus to lie in wait for him. There were two and possibly three; all of them warlike if Dargin chose to hold them so: the attempt to abate the man-traps, the attempt to persuade Judith Fallon to leave Powder Can, and for the third, the assumption that Dargin was in a partnership of some sort with Lushing. In the new recklessness which had come to him with the other transformations, he attacked the reasons boldly in their order.

“You’ve got a kick coming, Dargin, if you want to make it,” he began brusquely. “I’m out to wipe your Powder Can speak-easys off the map if I can swing the big stick hard enough.”

“I was onto that a month ago,” was the growling answer. Then, after a deep pull at the fragrant cigar: “I reckon they ought to be wiped out—though that ain’t sayin’ that I wouldn’t take a crack at the man that did it when it came to a show-down.”

[318]“If you think the place ought to be cleaned up, why don’t you do it yourself?” David shot back.

“Huh! Maybe I will, some day—if you don’t beat me to it.”

“But if I should beat you to it, I suppose you’ll come after me with a gun. Is that the way of it?”

The shadow that flitted across the swarthy face of the man on the opposite bunk was scarcely a smile, though possibly it was intended for one.

“I might; but it’d be a heap like takin’ candy from a baby. You ain’t been carryin’ a gun long enough to get the hang of it. You’re a whole lot too slow to make it interestin’.”

“All right,” said David; “we’ll pass that up. The next thing may get a bit nearer to you. Judith Fallon has doubtless told you that she knew me back East, and that we went to school together and were good friends?”


“But perhaps she hasn’t told you that I have tried to persuade her to break off with you and leave Powder Can?”

“No; she ain’t told me anything like that.”

“Well, it’s so; I did it.”

“What for?”

“For common decency’s sake. If you admit[319] that the mining-camp dives ought to be wiped out, you’ll also have to admit the facts concerning that girl. I know you’ve been befriending her honestly—the only mistake you made was in not putting a bullet through Tom Judson before you turned him loose—but you must know that a man of your stripe can’t befriend any woman without making her pay the penalty.”

“A man of my stripe, eh?—well, I reckon that’s so, too.”

“Then you are not here to pick a quarrel with me over Judith?”

“Hell, no; not in a thousand years!”

“Then what did you come for? Did Lushing send you?”

“Jim Lushing? He can’t send me nowhere. He ain’t got the insides.”

David Vallory had reached the end of his resources. There was apparently nothing for it but to wait patiently until Dargin was ready to disclose the object of the midnight visit; and he seemed to be in no manner of haste.

David unbuckled his uncomfortable weapon and tossed it aside. “I can’t think of any other grouch that you might have,” he said, with the nearest approach to his former good-natured smile that he had been able to achieve since the[320] moon of Virginia Grillage’s favor had gone into eclipse for him. Then he dug into Plegg’s locker and brought out the first assistant’s cherished box of “perfectos.” “Your smoke is about used up; have another,” he offered.

Dargin helped himself, and took the lighted match that David held out to him. Then the flitting shadow that passed for a smile began at the corners of the hard-bitted mouth and crept slowly up to the murderous eyes.

“I’m stuck on your nerve, Dave Vallory—damned if I ain’t!” he grated. “If you could only draw a fraction quicker and shoot as plumb straight as you can talk, you’d be some man. Now I’ll spill what I mogged over here to spill: ever hear of a duck named Backus?—Simmy Backus?”

“Yes,” said David.

“Well, he used to pipe off the easy marks for me—same time he was working for you-all.”

“I know.”

“You lose him, and you’ve been lookin’ for him, ain’t you?”

“Right, again.”

“Uh-huh; I thought so. Know why you couldn’t find him?”


[321]“Well, I can tell you, I reckon. I had him hid out.”

“Hid out? locked up, you mean? Why did you do that?”

“Because he’s a worm. He was aimin’ to give you the double-cross: tried to sell me a chance on it. I didn’t hate you-all bad enough to let him run loose; see?”

“Is that straight, Dargin?”

“Straight as a string.”

“But they tell me that you and Lushing have a stand-in together; and Lushing hates us heartily enough.”

“Maybe so; and maybe we have got a stand-in. But that ain’t no skin off’m this other thing. Backus is a worm.”

“I’m glad you don’t like worms. I have a feeling that way, myself.”

The master gambler got up and pushed his soft hat back to allow the forelock of Indian-black hair to fall over his brow. As he was moving to the door, he said, “Reckon that’s about all I had to spill—all but one little thing: that damn’ worm’s done dug him a hole and crawled out. Thought maybe you’d like to know. So long,” and he was gone.

For a long time after he was left alone, David[322] Vallory sat on the edge of his bed, buried in thought. With the spy, Backus, at large, it was only a question of time when Lushing would have another weapon in his hands. In odd moments David had made an estimate on the cost of shooting down the menace in the eastern tunnel drifting and concreting the gash which would be left by the blasting out of the fissure material. The figures were appalling. Not only would the profits on the entire contract be likely to disappear in the chasm; there was a chance that there would be a huge loss, as well, since nobody could tell how much of the fissure contents would come down in the blasting. As Eben Grillage had frankly confessed, the line-shortening job had been taken on a narrow margin, and there had been no provision made for untoward happenings.

There was but one conclusion to be reached, and by this time David Vallory had passed all the mile-stones of hesitancy. Backus, the worm, must be found and silenced, and there must be no fumbling delay in either half of the undertaking.


No Thoroughfare

AT the departure of the two fishermen, Virginia Grillage had taken Lucille Vallory under her wing, closing the cottage under the pines and taking the blind girl to the hotel. This left Oswald more or less unattached. Since there was no welcome for him at the foot of the ridge, and David had not even taken the trouble to introduce him to the members of the engineering staff, he spent the greater part of his time at the Inn, devoting himself, so far as Miss Grillage would permit it, to the care and comfort of the helpless one, and taking his meals in due submission at a table with Miss Virginia and her charge, the Englishman, and the heir of profitable breakfast-foods.

Beneath these routine time-killings, days in which nothing transpired to break the monotonous round of eating and sleeping and lounging upon the shaded porches of the Inn, Oswald fancied he could feel the tension of an approaching[324] crisis. To a keen-eyed young lawyer whose profession led logically to a study of the human problem in all its phases, the premonitory signs emphasized themselves. Miss Virginia, apparently engrossed in her favorite pastime of playing off one man against another, struck a false note now and then; young Wishart was occasionally jogged out of his customary rut of good-natured indolence; and even the imperturbable Englishman was losing the fine edge of a carefully cultivated Old-World indifference to his surroundings.

Notwithstanding these indications, it was Lucille Vallory who first put the impending threat into words, confiding in Oswald one evening when Virginia Grillage had gone for a stroll along the ridge accompanied by her two shadows.

“What is it, Herbert?” the blind girl asked; “what is happening to us all?”

“What should be happening?” he evaded. “Aren’t you enjoying yourself?”

“You know what I mean,” she insisted. “Nothing is the same any more; I can feel it. You are troubled about something, and so is Virginia. No, it isn’t anything that either of you say; it’s just how you feel inside. And Davie; he is different, too—so cruelly different. Is it because he is worried about his work?”

[325]Oswald said what there was to be said, doing violence to his own convictions in an effort to shield the loved one. There was nothing for anybody to be troubled about, he told her; and David—she must remember that David was now at the head of an immense undertaking and was carrying a heavy load of responsibility. She was silenced, but he could see that his well-meant effort had been thrown away.

This happened on an evening when the two fishermen had been three days in the wilds of the upper Timanyoni. On the next morning the monotonies were broken. Little gossip of the big job penetrated to the Alta Vista, the summerers, as a rule, being content to hold the great engineering feat as a part of the scenic stage-effect for which they paid in their hotel bills. But on the morning in question, when Cumberleigh had joined a sunrise peak-climbing party, and Wishart was not yet out of bed, there was news of a small catastrophe. Oswald had the story from one of the Alta Vista clerks as he was getting his morning mail. Some time during the night an accident had happened in the big tunnel. In one of the blasts a man had been blown up and desperately hurt. A Brewster doctor had been telegraphed for and was coming up on a special train.

[326]Oswald was interested only casually, and he saw no special significance in the added word particularizing the injured man as one of the railroad company’s inspectors. As he was crossing the lobby he met Miss Virginia. Though she was apparently just down from her rooms and on her way to breakfast, her first word was of the tragedy, or near-tragedy, in the tunnel.

“You have heard of the accident to Mr. Strayer?” she asked hurriedly. And then: “Have you seen David this morning?”

Oswald answered both queries in a single sentence.

“Yes, I’ve heard of the accident—the clerk was just this minute telling me about it: and I haven’t seen David.”

Miss Virginia was plainly anxious and disturbed She hesitated for a moment, a little frown coming and going between the straight-browed eyes, and Oswald noted that she was nervously twisting a bit of paper between her fingers. “I must see David—at once,” she said, half as if she were thinking aloud. “May I ask you to go and tell him so, Herbert?”

Since Virginia had shown herself more than friendly in his own trying involvement, Oswald consented willingly.

[327]“I’ll find him for you,” he promised; and a minute later he was on his way down to the construction yard.

It so happened that he had to go no farther than to the office bunk car. The door was open and he went in. David Vallory was sitting behind the small mapping-table, checking dimensions on a set of blue-prints. At the sound of Oswald’s footsteps he looked up with a scowl of impatience, and his greeting was a challenge.

“Oh, it’s you, is it? I’ve been thinking it was about time you were showing up. When do you start back to Middleboro?”

Oswald ignored the ungracious demand and said what he had been sent to say.

“Miss Virginia is at the hotel, and she wishes to see you.”

“What for?”

“I didn’t inquire. She asked me to find you and deliver her message. I have done both.”

“I can’t go just now; I’m, busy.”

“Then I’ll wait for you,” said Oswald coolly, and he sat down on Plegg’s bunk, found a cigarette in his pocket case and lighted it.

In sheer perversity, as it seemed to the young lawyer, David went on shuffling the blue-prints and making figures on a pad under his hand. Oswald[328] waited in silence and in due time had his reward.

“Be half-way decent about it, Bert, and tell me what I’m wanted for,” said the figure-maker, looking up suddenly from his work. “She has Cumberleigh and Wishart; aren’t they enough?”

Oswald’s smile was a palpable easing of strains. If David’s malady were nothing worse than a fit of jealousy, it was not necessarily incurable.

“I was wondering, before I came out here, what Vinnie might be doing to you,” he said. “You wrote us that she and her father were here, if you remember.”

“What she did to me was done more than a year ago, if you care to know. But you haven’t answered my question. What does she want of me this morning?”

“Honestly, I don’t know, David.”

“Where did you see her?”

“In the hotel lobby; she was on her way to the breakfast-room, I think.”

“And the other two?”

“Cumberleigh has gone to climb Qojogo with a sunrise party, and Wishart hasn’t turned out yet. Half of the time he is never visible before noon.”

“What did she say?”

[329]“She asked first if I had heard of the accident in the tunnel last night.”

Once more David Vallory bent over the table and busied himself with the figure-making.

“You’ve heard of it, I suppose?” he offered, without looking up.

“Only in passing. The hotel clerk told me that a man was hurt; in one of the blasts, I think he said.”

David pushed his work aside as one who faces the guns only because he must. “Let’s go,” he consented shortly; and together they walked through the yard and climbed the ridge.

Miss Virginia was waiting on one of the porches when the pair crossed the painfully cared-for bit of greensward in front of the Inn. Oswald, telling himself that he had done his part, went on through to the breakfast-room, leaving David to fight his battle—if there were to be a battle—alone. The young woman’s first question was as direct as it was unexpected.

“Why have you been avoiding me so persistently?” she asked, making room for the summoned one to sit beside her on the settee.

“Perhaps it was because I had just sense enough to see that I had served my turn and[330] wasn’t needed any more,” he answered in a tone that might have been copied faithfully from the king of the contractors in his most brittle mood.

“Silly!” she chided, with a strained little laugh. “I could forgive you for saying such a thing as that if you were only sincere. It isn’t Cumberleigh and Freddy Wishart, David; it’s yourself.”

“You wrote and told them where you were,” he accused.

“As it happens, I did not. But you needn’t try to hide behind a shadow—or two shadows. You have had other reasons for avoiding me. For one thing, you have met Mr. Lushing, and you have quarreled with him.”

“Everybody seems to know that,” he complained. “Go on.”

“For another thing, you have determined, in spite of all that we have talked about, to fight Mr. Lushing with his own weapons.”

This seemed to be too accurate to be classed with the shrewd guesses, and he accused her again.

“You’ve been prying into Plegg.”

“I haven’t seen Mr. Plegg in weeks; I haven’t been prying into any one, and I haven’t needed to. You have been showing very plainly that you have broken with the ideals—all of them. Why[331] couldn’t you stay up on the pedestal, David? It was such a nice pedestal!”

He laughed mirthlessly. “You are such a queer mixture of good, hard sense and back-number romanticism,” he commented. “Can’t you realize that I’ve got to be a man among men?”

“That is what you ought to be—in the other and better meaning of the phrase. You won’t make a very successful villain, David.”

“Perhaps not; but I shall try mighty hard not to let the other man make a wooden Indian of me,” he returned grimly.

“And you haven’t stopped, even at—murder.” She shuddered over the final word, but she would not qualify it.

He was regarding her through half-closed eyes. “Having said that much, you ought to say more, don’t you think?” he suggested.

“I am going to say more; lots more. That man in the tunnel last night: he wasn’t blown up by a blast.”

“How do you know he wasn’t?”

“One of your men carried or dragged him half-way to the mouth of the tunnel before the blast was fired.”

“Well?” he prompted.

“It comes to this; either it was a sheer accident—a[332] stone falling from the roof—or there was foul play. Mr. Lushing says it was foul play.”

“Lushing? You don’t mean to say that he has had the brazen effrontery to come to you!”

“No; he didn’t come here. He sent me a note; an unsigned note, because he is a coward. He did it once before, when he was dis—when he left the Grillage Company. He says you will be tried for murder if the man dies, and he throws it in my face.”

David got upon his feet rather unsteadily, but the unsteadiness was of rage.

“There wasn’t any murder last night, but there is going to be one when I can find this man who writes anonymous letters to you!” he broke out.

“No; sit down again, please. I am not nearly through. It makes very little difference what Mr. Lushing, or anybody else, may write or say to me, David; but there are other things that do make a world of difference. What special thing is there in that tunnel that you don’t want Mr. Lushing or his engineers to find out?”

He stared at her gloomily. “If you were your father’s son instead of his daughter, I might tell you.”

“You will tell me anyhow,” she declared quickly. “If you don’t, I shall find out for myself.”

[333]“I believe you are quite capable of it. But there is nothing to be told more than I have already told you. You may remember that I admitted that there was a place in the tunnel that may be called dangerous. If Lushing finds out about it, he will immediately insist that it is dangerous, and the railroad people will make us spend a lot of money needlessly. Your father didn’t put me here to bankrupt the Grillage Engineering Company, Vinnie.”

She ignored the clause in condonation.

“So, accordingly, you have given orders to our men to have an accident happen if the secret seems likely to be discovered. This is simply horrible, David!”

“It is rather primitive, I’ll admit. But it’s business—in the modern meaning of the word. More than that, I owe it to your father.”

“You don’t owe him anything that ought to be paid with such a frightful price! What ought to be done with that place in the tunnel? What would be done if you were not blind to everything but profit and loss?”

David shrugged his shoulders and turned his face away. “I suppose the bad piece of roof would be shot down.”

“And you are deliberately allowing it to stay[334] up—if it will—and endangering the lives of your workmen every hour of the day and night?”

“Hard-rock men always take a chance. It is a part of their trade. And Regnier, or some other member of the staff, is always there to take it with them.”

“You are hopeless—absolutely and utterly hopeless, David! Don’t you see what you are forcing me to do?”


“I have some little conscience, if you haven’t. I can’t say anything to Mr. Lushing, of course, and I wouldn’t if I could. But I can write to Mr. Maxwell, the general manager of the railroad at Brewster. It so happens that I know him, and his wife.”

“Hold on; you wouldn’t do anything like that! Think a minute of the position in which it would place your father.”

She shook her head despairingly.

“You drive me into a corner and then beat me!” she cried. “It is all wrong, wrong! And you have broken my heart, David, because I thought you were different. You lay this horrible burden upon me one minute, and tie my hands the next. What if this man who was hurt last night should die?”

[335]“He won’t die; but neither will he talk,” was the gritting reply.

The young woman had risen and her color was coming and going in hot little flashes.

“You think because I am my father’s daughter you are safe in saying anything you please, and in going on in any hard-hearted way you choose! It is what I might have expected of a man who would deny his only sister her one little chance of happiness. You are worse than other men, because you know the right way and you won’t walk in it!”

He sprang up suddenly and caught her hands in both of his.

“You are right, Vinnie; I do know better. Every word you have been saying has cut like a knife!” he burst out, smashing all the barriers of insincerity at a single blow. “I know where I stand, and what I’ve been doing, and I have been a conscious hypocrite every time I have pleaded the way of the world as my excuse. But a man must be loyal to something. For the obligation, the immense obligation, I owe your father. I have put my hands between his knees as the old-time vassals used to do, and sworn to make his cause my cause. He knows about that bad tunnel roof; knows more than I do; and when I spoke to him,[336] he told me to forget it. I can’t be disloyal to him—and keep even a thief’s sense of honor!”

She released her hands quickly. It was early for any of the porch loungers to be out, but they were standing fairly in front of the lobby windows.

“That is better; much better,” she commended with a little sigh. “I thought you were gone, David; honestly, I was afraid that the good old David I used to know and—and think a lot of—was dead and buried—and it hurt me as much as it would if you had been my own brother. Now, if I could only forget what happened last night——”

“You may set your mind at rest about Strayer,” he put in quickly. “He won’t die; and he wasn’t assaulted, as you seem to think he was, though I won’t say what might or might not have happened in another minute or two. He was testing the bad roof with the point of an iron bar, and a loose rock came down upon his head.”

“But now you will pull the roof down, or timber it, or do whatever is needful to make it safe?” she said, half pleading with him.

“No; my hands are tied, too. I can’t saddle the company with the added expense after your father has told me in so many words to let it[337] alone. Neither must I let Lushing find out and force it upon him if I can help it. We must just trust to luck, Vinnie; there is no help for it.”

“There is going to be help for it,” she asserted, with true Grillage resolution. Then: “One more word before you go, David: you won’t fi—quarrel with Mr. Lushing again?”

But at this his eyes grew hard. “I owe him something more, now, for that anonymous letter. Besides, he’s out for my scalp, personally, and I shall certainly try to hold up my end if he starts anything. You can’t blame me for that, Vinnie. But that is a future. There is Wishart coming out of the breakfast-room, and I suppose he is looking for you. Anyway, my job is yelling for me and I must go. Don’t you worry a single minute about anything; do you hear?”

“Not even about Herbert and Lucille?” she threw in quickly, as one thrusts an antagonist who is helplessly off his guard.

“Oh, say; that isn’t fair!” he retorted, with a frown that turned itself into a grin in spite of the reluctances. “I’m right about Bert and the little sister—I’m practically certain I am; but you’ve got me going, and you know it. Do whatever you think is best. Good-by.”

What Miss Virginia thought was best was not[338] to stay and meet the short-sighted heir of the breakfast-foods who was rambling aimlessly in her direction. Instead, she went into the lobby and sent a telegram. It was addressed to her father at Red Butte, and it was short and to the point:

“Highly important that you return at once.



NOTWITHSTANDING his chief’s angry assertion that he did not need safeguarding, Silas Plegg had contrived to keep track of the goings and comings of “the little big boss” on the job, and his vigilance was increased after the near-tragedy in the tunnel. The gossip of the camps made much of the little war which had developed between the Grillage Company’s chief and Lushing, and it was quickly passed from lip to lip that the enmity between the two men had now become actively and vindictively personal; had, in the phrase of the unfettered desert country, reached the stage in which each was “looking” for the other with vengeful intent. In spite of the assertion, often repeated and as often contradicted, that Strayer’s injury was purely the result of an unlucky accident, there were many to speak of it with an eyelid drooped, and to intimate that Lushing would go far to even up the account with David Vallory, an account which carried its[340] largest debit item in the blow which had disfigured him.

For Plegg there was a small lessening of one of the many stresses when David, on the day after the accident, had modified the order given in the battle night when he had so promptly backslidden into the field of things elemental.

“About keeping that tunnel situation dark, Plegg: I’ve been thinking that some of our men might take me too literally—that possibly you did,” was the way the modifying clause was introduced. “I was pretty savage that night. I told you that Lushing shot at me, but let you infer that he missed. It was a miss, but it wouldn’t have been if my field-note book hadn’t turned the bullet.”

“I saw the hole in your coat afterwards,” said Plegg quietly.

“Yes; the shock stopped the clock for me, and the gambling house people carried me out for dead—thought I was dead. Naturally, when the clock got to running again, I was hot; was still pretty warm when I talked with you at Brady’s. Of course, I didn’t mean to convey the idea that Lushing, or any member of his staff, was to be massacred out of hand.”

“Of course not,” the first assistant agreed,[341] readily enough. “But we are not to let them find out about the ‘fault,’ are we?”

“Not if we can help it without going to extremes. Mr. Grillage will be back before long, and I’m going to put that tunnel-roof question up to him again good and hard. I know what it will mean to us if we have to dig that hollow tooth out and fill it, but just the same, the responsibility is getting too heavy for me, Plegg. It’s got so I wake up in the night to think about it, and that’s bad medicine.”

Plegg offered no comment on this, but he made haste to pass the word to Regnier that guile, and not violence, was henceforth to be used in preserving the secret of the bad roof. Shortly after the word-passing Regnier had a deduction of his own to proffer. It was to be inferred that the secret had finally escaped, through the man Backus, or otherwise, and that Strayer’s accident had been taken as a warning. None of the railroad inspectors were venturing into the tunnel since Strayer had been injured, Regnier reported.

Beyond this, there was a plot of some sort afoot, so Regnier told Plegg. An attempt had been made to bribe one of the portal watchmen posted to keep unauthorized visitors out of the tunnel, and the briber was one of the Powder Can[342] dive-keepers—not Dargin, but one of his concessionaries, who was also known as “Black Jack.” The watchman had proved incorruptible, and had reported the attempt to Regnier. His story was that he had been offered a certain sum of money if he would find out when Vallory was to be in the tunnel at any shift-changing time, and would use the working telephone to notify the briber beforehand.

Plegg said nothing of this to his chief, but it made him doubly watchful. Also, it made him fertile in excuses to keep Vallory from making any but strictly unannounced visits to Heading Number One. Time was all the first assistant hoped to gain. It was reported that Mr. Grillage’s private car was on its way back from Red Butte, and there was the slender chance that, with the president on the ground again, something might be done to clear the air and quiet the various gathering menaces.

This was the situation at the close of the day when the private Pullman Athenia came in and was shunted to its former position on the spur track. At the moment of its arrival David Vallory was making a tour of the lower camps. Plegg was in the construction yard, and he saw Eben Grillage and his fishing companion leave[343] the car and go up to the Inn together. And after dinner he saw the king of the contractors come back to the car alone. Later still, the first assistant, smoking his pipe on the platform of the office bunk car, saw a woman descending the path from the hotel. Recognizing the big boss’s daughter, Plegg dutifully went across the yard tracks to meet her.

“Thank you, Mr. Plegg,” she said, as he came up. “I imagine I was just about to lose myself. Whereabouts is the Athenia?”

“I’ll show you,” he offered, and he led her around an obstructing material train and over to the spur-track, where he helped her up the steps of the private car. As he was lifting his hat to go away she stopped him to ask a question.

“Do you happen to know where Mr. Vallory is?”

Plegg gave such information as he had, or thought he had: the chief was somewhere down the line at one of the lower camps; or at least he had gone down earlier in the evening and he had not come back to supper. The young woman appeared to be satisfied with the answer, and when the porter had admitted her to her father’s car, Plegg went his way, wondering if anything new had developed. The conclusion was negative.[344] Miss Virginia’s question was natural and casual; one that need have no bearing upon the threatening conditions—doubtless had none. But if he could have been a listener at the door of the office compartment in the Athenia, he would have known better how much was at stake in the matter of keeping in close touch with his chief’s movements.

Miss Virginia found her father planted in his great chair behind the glass-topped table-desk. The fishing absence was responsible for a huge accumulation of mail, and he was slitting the envelopes with a nimble dexterity curiously at variance with his massive bulk and knotty-knuckled, square-fingered hands.

“Hello, little girl; you down here?” he rumbled; and before she could speak: “I got your wire—two days late. What is it?—something that won’t keep until I have read my mail?” Then, with a chuckling laugh: “Which one is it you’re going to spring on me—Wishart, or the ‘belted earl’?”

“Neither,” she replied succinctly. “I have come to talk business.”

“Oho! business, is it? Well, I guess I’m a business man. Go ahead and open up your samples.”

[345]“The reason why I telegraphed you to come back was because you haven’t kept your promise.”

“Which one?” he inquired, with large indulgence.

“The one you made me when you were sending David out here. You promised me that he wasn’t to be spoiled.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it?”—with another of the deep-chested chuckles. “All right; let’s have it: what do you think you’ve found out?”

“You know, well enough,” she returned coldly. “For a time, I think, Mr. Plegg was able to keep the crooked things hidden from David—as you doubtless instructed him to. But of course David soon found out what is being done, and that it is being done by your orders. And now you are about to make a criminal of him. I don’t see how you can ever look his father in the face.”

Eben Grillage wagged his big head sorrowfully.

“You’re all I’ve got in the world, Vinnie, girl, and there’s mighty little I wouldn’t do for you; but it’s terribly hard to live up to your notions, sometimes. You’ve been a business man’s daughter all your life, and yet you haven’t the faintest idea of what business means.”

“I have a very clear idea of what it means to[346] cheat, to lie, to put human life in jeopardy, and to take a clean, straightforward young man like David Vallory and turn him into a potential murderer.”

“Oh, pshaw!” grunted the king of the contractors. “I suppose somebody has been scaring you about that tunnel and the few cracks it has in the roof. Was it David?”

“No, it wasn’t David; I found out about it myself, before you went away. And the ‘few cracks’ have nearly killed one man, already.”

“Strayer, you mean?—I had David’s report of that. Strayer is a pretty good engineer, and he ought to have known better than to pry a rock loose and let it fall on his own head. Vinnie, I’m getting sore about this thing. That tunnel roof will stand up all right if they’ll only quit monkeying with it and let it alone.”

“I’m not here to argue with you about the tunnel as a tunnel,” said the daughter, with a touch of the true Grillage bluntness. “I merely wish to find out if you’re going to try to patch up that broken promise.”

“What in the name of common sense can I do—more than I have done? I wrote Plegg to keep David on the windward side of the little economies we have to make, and I’m sorry if he hasn’t[347] been able to do it. I’ll haul Plegg over the coals, if that will make you feel any better.”

“Mr. Plegg doubtless did his best, and it wasn’t good enough. David is a graduate engineer and a grown man. He would be singularly stupid if he could be your chief of construction and not know what was going on right under his eyes. But that is not the point now. Are you, or are you not, going to give David authority to do what he, and Mr. Plegg, and every member of your own engineering staff, know ought to be done to that dangerous place in the tunnel—a thing that is endangering the lives of the men every day? That is what I came to ask.”

It was a rare thing for Eben Grillage to refuse his daughter’s demands, even when they were unreasonable; but the habits of a ruthless life-time were too strong to be set aside, even at the bidding of indulgent fatherly affection.

“You are my daughter, Vinnie, but you are just like other women when you get your head set on anything. If I should let you run my business for me, there wouldn’t be any business left after a little while, and we’d both join the bread line. If you’ve made up your mind that David is the man you want, just say so and I’ll take him off the job and set him up in any kind of business you[348] pick out—if you can pick one that measures up to your Utopian notions of honesty. That’s fair, isn’t it?”

She did not answer the question. There was one more arrow in her quiver and she fitted it to the string and drew the bow.

“The tunnel isn’t the only thing, as you know. James Lushing makes it an open boast that he will break you, and you know best what reasons he may have for thinking such a thing possible. Beyond that, David has met him and they have quarreled—fought. I have been told that Lushing’s first blow will be struck at David, to get him out of the way.”

“Who told you any such thing as that?”

“No matter; I have heard it, and I have no reason to doubt the truth of the report. David is so loyal to you that he is the biggest obstacle in Lushing’s way. Everybody knows that Lushing can command the help of any number of desperate characters in Powder Can. It wouldn’t be beyond him to——”

—“To have David killed off out of the way?” supplied the big man, with another chuckle. “If you go much deeper, you’ll be telling me that David is the man, after all. But don’t you worry. When you marry David Vallory, Vinnie, you’ll[349] marry a man. If he is half the scrapper I take him to be, he’ll be well able to take care of himself in any mix-up with Jim Lushing—or with any of Lushing’s paid blacklegs.”

The special pleader’s eyes grew suddenly weary.

“Then you will do nothing about the tunnel?” she asked patiently.

“Not until I have some better reason than a foolish little girl’s notion—no.”

“Hasn’t David told you what he thinks ought to be done?”

“Oh, yes, of course; the hard-rock men got him rattled, right at the start, and he came to me about it, boy-like.”

“And you told him to let it alone?”

“Sure I did. We are going to lose money enough on this job, as it is.”

The fine persistence was broken at last. The daughter of the luxuries—and the ideals—rose and moved toward the door. As she reached the vestibule exit she turned and gazed at the big man filling the great arm-chair, and there was neither anger nor impatience in her eyes; only a profound depth of shocked disappointment and reproach.

“I never knew you could be so hard and pitiless,” she said slowly. “If this is what money[350] and the love of it can do to you——” The swing door of the vestibule yielded under her hand and she went out, leaving the sentence unfinished.

At the car-steps the negro porter had placed his carpeted foot-stool, but Silas Plegg was not there to see the president’s daughter safely across the tracks. It is conceivable that she did not mark the omission. From childhood she had known construction yards and the paraphernalia of the contracting trade, and her father was fond of boasting that she was as self-reliant as any boy.

Picking her way in the gathering dusk around the obstructing cars filled with building material, she came presently to the foot of the path leading up to the Inn. Out of the first clump of scrub pine on the hill trail a woman darted into the path and blocked it. Virginia Grillage stopped short with a little gasp of apprehension. Then she saw who it was.

“You—Judith? were you looking for me?”

“I was. They couldn’t tell me at the hotel, and I was that frightened I thought I’d be choking. Jack Dargin sent me, and the other Jack—Black Jack Runnels, he is—would be killing me if he knew I came. You’ll remember what I was telling you yesterday. David is to be murdered—in[351] the tunnel some way—I don’t know how. They’re to get him in between the shifts; when the day men have come out and before the night men have gone in. Dargin says there’d be a clock of some kind in a box—he said to tell you that, and you’d understand.”

“But David isn’t at the tunnel; he is at one of the lower camps. Mr. Plegg told me so just a few minutes ago.”

“Maybe he was, but he isn’t now; he went up on an engine not ten minutes ago. It was Simmy Backus’s job to get him there—to ’phone him there was a man hurt in the tunnel. He’d fall for that—David would—and he went. I saw the engine when it passed me, going up. What must we do? ’Tis you that would be loving David, Vinnie Grillage, and that I know well, but you’re not the only one: I—I’d die for him this minute!”

For a moment Virginia Grillage, quick-witted and resourceful as any daughter of Eve since the world began, stood shocked and irresolute, fighting desperately for some shreddings of the capability to act which had suddenly deserted her. Then the lost self-control came back with a bound.

“The telephone!” she gasped. “You run back to the hotel, Judith, and find Bert Oswald—tell him what you’ve told me and he’ll know what to[352] do! While you’re doing that, I’ll try to find a ’phone here in the yards. Run!” and she set the example by flying down the path and dodging around the obstructing cars to reach the Athenia.

To her utter dismay, she found the private car untenanted. The lights were still on, and the recently opened mail lay on the desk, but the big swing-chair was empty. Twice, and again, she called her father, and when there was no answer she caught up the telephone set from the desk and tried to make somebody hear. But the set was dead; the wires connecting it with the working system had not been restrung since the Athenia had returned from Red Butte.

Next she made frantic and fruitless search for the porter; but the negro, too, had disappeared. Plegg was the alternative now, and she ran breathlessly up the yard to the office bunk car. But this, also, proved to be a hope defeated, or at least deferred. The car was dark when she reached it, and when she tried the door she found it locked. The remaining expedient, the only one that suggested itself, was to run to the Inn railroad station a half-mile distant down the yard, where she knew there was an accessible telephone. It was a lame expedient and she knew it; a thousand things might delay the sending of the message[353] of warning to the tunnel, and time was priceless. Yet she ran, stumbling over the loosely bedded cross-ties, and praying that she might happen upon Plegg or some other member of the staff who would know what to do and how to do it.

She had scarcely begun this new flight when she saw one of the construction locomotives lumbering toward her on the main track. The quick wit was coming to its own again, and she stopped, stripping off her coat and stepping into the cone of the headlight beam so that she could be seen when she waved her signal. The engine was Callahan’s “mogul,” and she gave a little sob of joy when she recognized the good-natured Irishman who leaned from his cab window to ask what she wanted. Callahan was the driver with whom she had ridden oftenest when David Vallory had been showing her over the job.

“I want you and your engine, Mr. Callahan!” she panted. “Will you take orders from me?”

“Sure I will, Miss Vinnie,” was the quick response; and when the fireman had helped her up to the foot-board: “Where will ye be wanting the ould ’Thirty-six to be taking you?”

“To the tunnel—as fast as ever you can go! It’s—it’s life and death!”

[354]Callahan asked no further questions. Miss Virginia was the big boss’s daughter, and her demands were sufficient law and Gospel for any man on the Grillage Company’s pay-rolls. While the fireman was lifting her to his box, the heavy construction machine went slamming out over the yard switches, shrieking its warning to all and sundry, and the race was begun.

Though the track was new and rough, and the detours around the hill cuttings held curves of hazard, Callahan—“Wild Irish,” they called him on the job—slackened speed for nothing. Onward and upward through the gathering darkness roared the big locomotive, vomiting a trail of sparks to mark its crooked climb. Virginia Grillage tried pitifully hard to plan what she should do when the goal should be reached; but the dominant impulse would have nothing to do with cool-headed plannings. David’s life hung in the balance, and David must be warned. She could get no further than this.

So it came about that when the tunnel portal was reached, and Callahan and his firemen were helping her down from the high cab, common sense and clarity of mind fled away, and she was once more only an incoherent and badly frightened young woman. A gang of workmen waited[355] at the tunnel mouth; dimly she realized that this was the night shift, preparing to go in when the day men should come out. One glance showed her that there was no member of the engineering staff with them; no one in authority save the burly Cornish drill-boss.

“Mr. Vallory!” she demanded; “where is he?”

The Cornishman knew the president’s daughter by sight. He pointed into the dark depths of the tunnel. “If ye’ll wait just a minute; it’s time for the shift to be coomin’ out, and he’ll be——” but the remainder of the sentence was lost upon the young woman who had darted into the black depths with neither light nor guide, stumbling blindly over the cross-ties of the spoil-track in her flight, and following the lead of the wide-spaced line of electric bulbs into the grim heart of the mountain.

A scant margin of two minutes after his daughter had halted and boarded a construction engine to be whirled away to the tunnel, Eben Grillage, who had been across to the commissary to put in a call for Plegg, returned to his desk in the Athenia and once more began the reading of his neglected mail. A matter of three-quarters of an hour later, while he was still immersed in his correspondence,[356] the swing-door of the forward corridor flew open as from the impact of a heavy projectile and Silas Plegg staggered into the office compartment. His lips were drawn back and he was shaking like one in an ague fit.

“The roof in Heading Number One!” he jerked out. “It’s down, damn you, do you hear that?—it’s down, and the day shift is behind it!”

Eben Grillage’s heavy face went purple, and for an instant his jaw sagged and he gasped for breath. Then the strong will triumphed for the moment over the failing body and he sprang out of his chair to catch the news-bringer in a grasp that threatened to crush muscle and bone.

“Vallory—where’s David Vallory?” he stormed.

“He’s—he’s in there with the men—and—and that isn’t all: your daughter’s there, too—if she isn’t buried under the slide!”

Slowly the big man’s grasp upon Plegg relaxed and the veins in his forehead swelled to whip-cords. Eben Grillage’s day of reckoning had come. Before the first assistant realized what was happening, the gigantic figure of the contractor-king swayed like a toppling tower and would have fallen with a crash if Plegg had not braced himself and caught it.


The Heart of Qojogo

VIRGINIA GRILLAGE, flying into the tunnel depths over the rock-strewn spoil-track, was mercifully spared the introductory horrors of the sudden entombment. An earthquake crash, so close behind her that she was enveloped in a shower of flakings and spallings and stifling dust, a rush of air that was like a tornado to sweep her from her feet, and she stumbled and fell and was blotted out.

When she recovered consciousness there was darkness that could be felt and a silence to match it. She was lying on a pallet of coats; she knew they were coats because the sleeves of one of them were drawn over her; and some one was chafing her hands.

“Is it you, David?” she asked in a voice made small and weak by the horrible stillness.

“Yes; can you tell me how badly you are hurt?”

She grasped his arm and sat up.

[358]“I—I think I’m not hurt at all,” she stammered. Then: “Did the roof come down?”

“It did. We found you half buried in the muck. What under heaven were you doing in here?”

“I came to tell you,” she said simply. “Where are the men?”

“They are all down at the slide, and Regnier is with them. They are trying to find out how effectually we are buried. You are sure you’re not hurt?”

“A little bruised and shaken up, of course, but that is nothing. Will the men be able to dig us out?”

With any other woman he knew as the questioner, David Vallory might have temporized. But he knew Virginia Grillage’s quality and the steel-true fineness of it.

“We shall not be able to dig out from this side,” he said soberly. “We are not equipped for it.”

She shuddered.

“This darkness is very horrible, isn’t it? And the air—it seems so close.”

David did not tell her that there was the best of reasons for the closeness of the air; that the ventilating conduit, and the smaller pipe-line which[359] supplied the air pressure for the drills, were crushed under the avalanche, leaving them in a sealed pocket in the heart of Qojogo.

“You mustn’t let it grip you too hard,” he said, meaning to hearten her if he could. “By this time every camp on the line will have heard the news, and there will be no lack of help.”

She groped in the darkness and found his hand.

“I am not afraid, David—this is no time to be afraid. So you needn’t blink the facts for me. How wide was the bad place in the roof?”

“Twenty feet or more.”

“You say there are plenty of men to help; but you know, and I know, that only a few of them can work at one time in such a narrow place as the tunnel. Tell me plainly: will there be air enough to last until we starve to death? Or shall we be stifled before we have had time to starve?”

“I am not admitting either contingency yet; and you mustn’t. While there is life, there is always hope. But I can’t understand why you came here. What made you think I needed to be told?”

“That much is easily explained,” she said calmly. “There was a plot to murder you, and at the same time to bring about the first of a series of disasters that would smash the Grillage Company. Did you get a telephone message that a[360] man was hurt, and that you were wanted up here?”

“I did. I was at McCulloch’s camp and I took an engine and came up here in a hurry. The accident report was a fake, and I came in to ask Regnier what he knew about it.”

“It was a part of the plot,” she went on evenly. “It was Judith Fallon who came and told me. She had already warned me that there was something threatening, but she did not know what it was. That first time was just before Mr. Strayer was hurt, and all she could tell me then was that James Lushing ‘had it in for you,’ as she put it, and was plotting with a man named Black Jack Runnels.”

“Runnels?” he queried. “Not Dargin?”

“No, it was Runnels; I’m sure of the name. Yesterday she came again. She had heard a little more, but nothing very definite. Then this evening I had been down to the Athenia—it came in from Red Butte on the afternoon train, as perhaps you know—and I was on my way back to the Inn. Judith met me on the path; she had been up to the hotel, looking for me.”

“Yes,” he encouraged.

“She was terribly excited and said that the thing, whatever it was, was to be done this evening, at the changing hour of the shifts. She told[361] me that a man named Backus was to call you by ’phone and tell you that there was a man hurt in the tunnel. Then she said that you had already gone up the line; she saw you on an engine that overtook and passed her.”

“I saw a woman running on the Powder Can road, but I didn’t recognize her as Judith,” said David.

“You wouldn’t, of course, with the engine running fast. When she told me that you were already on your way up here, I didn’t know what to do. Then I thought of the telephones, and sent her up to the hotel to find Herbert Oswald and ask him to call you at the tunnel ’phone, while I ran down to the Athenia to get father to ’phone. There was nobody in the Athenia; father had gone out somewhere. Then I tried to find Mr. Plegg, but he was gone, too. I didn’t know where to look for another telephone nearer than the Inn railroad station, and I was starting to run down there when I saw Callahan on his engine and made him bring me up here.”

“But surely you saw the night shift getting ready to come in, didn’t you? Do you mean to tell me that that bunch of thick-headed stone-borers let you come in here alone?”

“They were not to blame—not at all. I merely[362] asked if you were in here, and when one of them said you were, I ran.”

“I am too thankful to say what I ought to say, about them and about you—thankful that you are alive,” said David, and his voice trembled a little. “One second, a half-second, later and you would have been fairly under the slide. As it was, we had to dig you out; and—and Vinnie, I hope no human being will ever suffer as I did when we found you. I—I thought you were dead, and that I had killed you!”

“It wouldn’t have been you,” she said softly; “it would have been the thing we call Business; the thing that is killing all the kindliness, all the fairness, all the best there is in us.”

“No,” he denied sturdily, “I can’t let you shift the blame that way. I knew what ought to be done here; I have known it all along. If I had made a fight for it with your father, as I should have done, he would have given in.”

“I don’t know,” she said wearily. “That was what I went down to the Athenia for this evening—before I met Judith. Father wouldn’t listen to me; and now——”

David knew what it was she had begun to say and could not finish; that now Eben Grillage had lost the daughter for whom, at the end of the[363] ends, all the cost-cuttings and life-risking economies had been made. Hence, he tried again to comfort her.

“We must always give him the benefit of the doubt,” he interposed. “From what Judith told you, it is perfectly plain that the roof hasn’t fallen of its own accord at this particular time, though there isn’t much doubt but that it would have come down some time. Within the past few days a crack had opened in one side of it big enough to conceal a charge of dynamite—or a time-clock infernal machine, which was probably what was used. It was timed to go off between the shifts, and Regnier and I were the only ones they meant to catch. It was the natural inference that we would stay in the heading to see the night shift come on; Regnier always does that.”

As if the mention of his name had evoked him, the fiery little French-Canadian came up to the heading with a flickering candle-end shielded between his hands. His first inquiry was for the president’s daughter.

“Mees Virginia—you vill not been keel? Zat ees tres bon!”

“What did you find out, Jean?” David demanded.

“Eet ees bad—ver’ bad. They vill deeg on[364] the other side—peek—peek—but zat loose stuff she ees come down so fast as they peek it out, oui. Eet ees come down on our side, aussi, like one damn’ hopper—pardon, M’am’selle—like one hopper full with loose stones.”

“We have no tools on this side?”

“Nossing moch. The men s’all deeg with zat what they ’ave; the peek and shovel of the mucker; but eet ees nossing.”

Since anything was better than stagnation, Virginia proposed that they go to the slide to look on, or to help, if they could. The pilgrimage was made in silence, Regnier lighting the way as best he could with his candle-end. The barrier, as the candles revealed it, was a blank slope of broken rock. Four or five men of the day shift were shoveling half-heartedly at it, and the futility of the effort was apparent at once. For every shovelful removed, two more rolled down from the filled “hopper” above. David Vallory called a halt at once on the discouraging attempt.

“Let it alone, men; it isn’t worth while,” he said. “You are only wasting your strength, and you may need it all before we get out of here.”

With the small confusion of the shoveling stopped they all fell to listening. Far away, so far that it sounded like miles instead of feet and[365] inches, they could hear faint tappings, followed at irregular intervals by the hoarse rumble of falling detritus. David went on his knees at one side of the pit to examine the pipe of the air-line. It was bent and crushed out of shape, and there was no air coming through it, though a subdued hissing proved that the pressure was on, and that the engineer at the portal compressor-plant was still trying to force air into the blocked heading.

While he was kneeling at the pipe, David discovered another ominous threat; his knees were wet, and in the drainage ditch cut at the side of the tunnel a little pool was forming. He knew well what this meant; that death in still another form was creeping upon them. The tunnel had been a “wet” tunnel almost from the beginning, and here was a hint that the great slide might possibly prove to be a dam as well as a barrier. Fortunately, however, there was a slight up-grade in the bore, and it might be hours, or even days, before the highest point, at the working end of the bore, would overflow.

“We are not doing any good here,” he said to the young woman who stood listening with him. “We may as well go back where it is drier.”

The men had scattered as far as the limits of the cavern would permit, and Regnier surrendered[366] his bit of candle to David to light the retreat. In the heading David made a platform of a few of the bulkhead planks and rearranged the coat-cushioned pallet.

“In a little while the close air will make you sleepy,” he told his fellow-prisoner. “When it does, you must get all the rest you can. I am afraid we are in for a long siege.”

She nodded and sat down on the plank pallet, locking her hands over her knees.

“You needn’t be afraid to say what you think—to me, David. In your own mind you are wondering which will come first: hunger, the bad air, the rising water, or the digging away of the slide. I can face what is in store for us as well as another.”

“I don’t question your courage; God knows, you proved it sufficiently by coming in here when you knew what was going to happen—for you practically did know,” he hastened to say. Then: “Some of us men will probably break long before you will. That is why I say you must rest while you can. You may be needed later on—to keep some of us from forgetting that we are men.”

She gave him a tired little smile. “You are giving me a name to live up to. I wonder if I shall be able to do it—at the last?”

“I don’t doubt it for a single moment; I have[367] never doubted it. Did you have dinner before you began on this hideous adventure?”

She nodded again. “It was a good dinner, too. Your father and mine were at the table, and Lucille and Herbert Oswald.”

“And Wishart and the Englishman?”

“No; they respected the family reunion. Your father looked years younger, and he is as brown as anything. And that reminds me; there is something I ought to tell you—before a time comes when I may not care to talk, or you to listen. It is about Lucille and Herbert.”

“Go on,” he said gently.

“I gave Herbert his hint—after you had given me leave to do as I pleased. That same evening, when I was in my bed-room lying down, Herbert came up to find Lucille. They sat together in the sitting-room of our suite, and, most naturally, they thought I had gone out. It was wicked of me to lie there and listen, but I hadn’t the heart to let them know that they were not alone.”

“Everybody knows about your heart,” David put in, striving to dispel a little of the gloom.

“Herbert said his little say very gently and tenderly, and oh, David, I wish you could have seen Lucille’s face! It was just like a beautiful rose blossoming while you looked. She didn’t say anything[368] at first; she just put her hand up to Herbert’s face, and I could see her touching his forehead and eyes and lips with those finger-tips of hers that can see more than most of us can with our eyes. ‘I—I wanted to see if you really meant it, Herbert, or if you were only just sorry for me,’ she said, so softly that it was hardly more than a whisper; and then: ‘Oh, my dear, my dear—I am so happy!’”

There was silence for a little time; then David said: “I am glad you have told me, Vinnie; it’s a tremendous comfort to me now, in the light of what may happen to us here. You see, I am taking you at your word and not trying to hide things from you.”

“Then you think it is doubtful—our getting out alive?”

“Very doubtful,” he admitted, lowering his voice so that the men might not hear. “If it were a mere matter of digging out what has already fallen in—but it isn’t, you know. The crevice has been ‘prospected’ with test holes all the way up to the surface on the mountain-side three hundred feet above us. Plegg told me that only yesterday. It is rotten all the way through, and it will probably fall in as fast as it can be dug out.”

Again there was an interval of speechlessness,[369] and then the hushed voice of the young woman sitting with her hands locked over her knees.

“Did my father know of that prospecting?” she asked.


“Poor father!” she said, and her voice was shaken. “He is just simply stone blind on that side, David. I’ve tried and tried, and I can’t make him see! And now—he is going—to pay—the highest price he knows—for the dreadful cure!”

“It is time for you to forget for a while, if you can,” said David, not knowing what else to say; and he went aside with Regnier, blowing out the light of the precious candle-end to save it for a time of greater need.

A little later, when he came back and struck a match, he found her sleeping with her face hidden in the crook of an arm, and he was glad.


The Terror

WHEN Virginia opened her eyes, after a troubled sleep which seemed to her to have lasted only a few moments, it was with a start, and out of the depths of a nightmare in which she had dreamed that some one was smothering her.

David!” she called softly; and he answered at once out of the enveloping darkness.

“I am here—sitting beside you. Have you had a good sleep?”

“It was dreadful!” she shuddered. “I dreamed that a big man like—like my father—had his hand over my face and was stifling me. What time is it?”

“It is another day. It was a little past eight o’clock when I struck a match about an hour ago. You have slept all night.”

“And you?” she inquired quickly.

“I couldn’t sleep very much—naturally. Besides, I didn’t wish to. I was afraid you might waken and call me, and I shouldn’t hear.”

[371]“There is no news?”

“A little. Regnier reports that the digging has gone on steadily all night. He knows the Morse alphabet, and he contrived to get into communication with Plegg during the night by tapping on the crushed air-pipe; so they know on the outside that we are here and alive.”

She pressed her hands to her forehead. Though he could not see the movement, he knew she made it.

“Does your head ache?” he asked.

“Some. The air is much worse, isn’t it?”

“It isn’t any better,” he conceded. “Once, in the night, they tried shooting the slide from the other side—blasting it with dynamite, you know. That was what made Regnier try the pipe-tapping. The fumes of the dynamite were blown through the loose stuff and that made it worse for us. Now they are trying to force a large pipe through the mass of the slide to give us air and food.”

“Will they succeed?” she queried.

“I promised, last night, to talk straight to you. If the slide is made up entirely of broken rock in small pieces, as it seems to be from our side, it should be comparatively easy to drive through it. But if the mass happens to contain large bowlders——”

[372]“Then they will drill and blast them,” she put in quickly.

“Yes; but it may prove to be a long job; and I must be plain again. Every move they make seems to bring down more of the stuff from above. The water is not rising much, but the air is growing worse every hour.”

“All of which means that you think we should be prepared for the worst?”

“Yes; always continuing to hope for the best, of course. Are you very hungry?”

“Not yet. But you must be.”

“I can stand it better than the workmen. They have had nothing since they came in yesterday at ten o’clock. Very few of them carry a dinner bucket on an eight-hour shift.”

“How are they enduring it?”

“Each after his kind. Three of the Welshmen wanted to sing a while ago, but I wouldn’t let them. I knew it would waken you, and I thought you ought to sleep as long as you could.”

“Go right away and tell them to sing all they wish to!” she commanded instantly; and a little time after he had gone and returned, a Welsh melody rose on the stagnant air, lifted by voices that were strangely deadened by the stifling closeness of the dank cavern.

[373]This was the beginning of a day of creeping horrors. Steadily, hour by hour, the vitiated air grew worse. All day long the rescuers were apparently fighting madly with the difficulties encountered in the pipe-driving attempt, but the buried ones could form no estimate of the progress made, or, indeed, if there were any progress at all.

As the hours wore on, the imprisoned workmen began to react to the torturings of the foul air and the despairing situation, each after his kind, as David had said. One man, a huge-muscled Cornish miner, went stark mad and it took the united strength of all the others to conquer and tie him. Another, a north-of-England coal miner, by his burring speech, was the next to break; he was not violent, but he babbled incessantly of green fields and sunshine—of running brooks, and the fresh, keen air of the north.

David Vallory tried to shield the woman he loved from as much of this as he could, and Regnier seconded him loyally. But at the last the heroic heart refused to be sheltered longer and kept away from the abyss into which the men were slipping one by one.

“No; you must let me do what I can, while I can!” she cried; and then she went about among the men and talked to them, bidding them be of[374] good cheer, and telling them that they must be men to the very end—that God was good and merciful and He would not let them suffer more than they could bear. And once she persuaded the Welshmen to sing a hymn with her, her woman’s voice rising clear above the deeper tones of the men, and never faltering even on the last heart-moving stanza:

“Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”

It was then that Patrick Connolly, drill foreman and the leader in many a brutal pay-day brawl, made husky confession.

“’Tis your father’s blame, this, and well do we know it,” he grated. “’Twas in the back of me mind all night and all day that if we ever got out o’ this I’d take me two hands and choke him to hell, as we’re chokin’ this minut’. But ’tis all past and gone now, what wid the blessed love an’ nerve of you, little gyerl; an’ here’s hopin’ that the Gawd you believe in ’ll let you die quiet-like an’ peaceable, as I’d want my own little gyerl to go if I had wan.”

Through all this, David Vallory lived as one in[375] hideous dream. But when the flare of another of the precious matches, a tiny flame that was scarcely visible in its brief and futile struggle with the heavy air, showed him that a second night was far advanced, he drew Virginia away to the heading and made her lie down on the coat-covered pallet, which he had remade, propping it as high as he could on the broken stone to escape the lower stratum of air.

For a long time she was silent, and when she spoke it was to ask if he were still beside her.

“Yes, Vinnie; I am here—and I shall be here when they find us.”

“You think it is all over, then?”

“I know that in a few more hours, a very few, the end must come. We can’t go on breathing this air indefinitely.”

She sat up again at that, and again he knew that she was holding her head in her hands.

“Have you ever wondered how the end would come to you, David?—how you would feel, and what you would do?”

“Not as often as I ought perhaps. There was a time last year, when I was in a caisson with Shubrick at Coulee du Sac. The bottom blew out under the air pressure, and we all thought we were gone. I don’t remember much about what I[376] thought—only that Shubrick and I owed it to the ‘sand-hogs’ to get them into the air-lock first.”

“Once I saw a woman die,” she said, her voice thrilling with suppressed emotion. “She was horribly frightened at the last, and—and I’ve always prayed since then that when my time should come I might not go that way.”

“You won’t,” he made himself say; “there isn’t a drop of craven blood in you, Vinnie—dear.”

Again the brooding silence fell, and, as before, it was the young woman who broke it.

“If we are going to be stifled in a little while—as I suppose we are—it doesn’t matter much what we say to each other, does it, David? I mean that we needn’t consider any future, so far as we usually count futures in a conventional way?”

“No; we are only a man and a woman, naked before the God who created us, Vinnie—and we are about to die.”

“Then—David, dear—I love you!

“I know it,” he returned gently; “I have known it for a night and a day,” and he took her in his arms and kissed her almost solemnly. “You are giving your life because you tried to save mine.”

She made no effort to free herself. She was weary and weak to the point of collapse, and the supporting arms were grateful and comforting.

[377]“I had ambitions,” she murmured; “such splendid ambitions! Ever since I have been old enough to understand, I have known how dis—dishonestly much of the money was made in the contracting, and it has hurt me—oh, you don’t know how it has hurt me! Father doesn’t see; he simply can’t see. And then my ambition came. A year ago I saw how father felt toward you; first because you were Adam Vallory’s son, and afterward because you were yourself—just such a son as he would have given worlds to have for his own. I whispered to myself then that I would make you love me and marry me; and then there would be two of us to fight for honesty and fair-dealing and the—the righteousness that cares for something more than merely keeping clear of the law. You would have helped me, wouldn’t you, David?”

He bent and kissed the pulse in the throbbing temple.

“You could have made of me anything that you wished, dear. You know that.”

“I didn’t wish to make anything of you but what you were; what you had always been until father tied you hand and foot with that horrible debt of gratitude. Then he sent you out here, and I knew what would happen—what simply must happen; how your gratitude to him would break you down,[378] first in the little things, and then in the terrible ones. And that was why I persuaded him to come, and to bring me. Was it all very—unwomanly, David?”

“It was the finest thing a woman ever did for the man she loved. But you have always done the fine things.”

“Even when I made you fall in love with me when you didn’t want to?”

“I outdistanced you by many miles in that,” he said with sober gravity. “I think it went back to the kiddie days in old Middleboro.”

“In spite of Judith?”

He held her closer. “That is the one thing that I have to confess, Vinnie. I did go about a good bit with Judith, in my college years and before. We were just good chums, and I never thought for a moment——”

“Of course you didn’t! But I don’t blame Judith, either; I can’t, when I’ve done the same thing myself. But you were saying it went back to the kiddie days with—with me.”

“Yes; but I didn’t realize it until we met in Florida. I was full of hope then: I meant to make a success of myself so that I might go to your father like a man and say, ‘I want to marry your daughter.’ Then the big debt fell on me, and[379] I couldn’t say anything while I owed your father more than I could ever hope to repay.”

“If you hadn’t died—we are both just the same as dead, aren’t we?—if you hadn’t died, you were going to pay him in the best possible way; by making ‘the apple of his eye’ deliriously happy, and by showing him the honest way out of all the little crookednesses and the big ones, too. Oh, yes; that was what was going to happen. After we were married he would have taken you into the company, and in just a little while you and I together would have been setting the pace; the good old-fashioned, honest pace. Isn’t it the pity of all pities that we had to go and die and spoil it all?—that we couldn’t have lived to make it come true, David, dear?”

“God!” he said under his breath, but for other reply there were no words.

After a time she spoke again.

“I—I think I’m going now, David. You said I’d outlast you and the men, but I shouldn’t want that. No, dear; there isn’t any pain, except in my head. I’m just—tired—and—sleepy.”

“You mustn’t give up, Vinnie!” he pleaded passionately. “We must live—both of us—to make it all come true! Listen! Isn’t that the men trying to cheer? O my God, I thank thee!

[380]A roaring blast of clean, fresh air, driven strongly enough to penetrate even to their distant retreat at the heading, fanned their faces. “The pipe!” he shouted; “they’ve got the pipe through and they’ve turned the air on. Vinnie—Vinnie!—we shall live, and it shall come true!”

But the sudden reversal from despair to hope had been too much for the strong heart. The yielding body David was clasping in his arms had become limp and unresponsive, and the lips were silent.



THE pipe of life, a four-inch steel tube which had been driven by screw-jack pressure through the mass of the slide as a result of Plegg’s inventive strugglings, soon refreshed the vitiated air in the sealed cavern. Beyond this, food, in well-wrapped paper cartridges, and hot coffee, in bottles, were passed through the tube, and the famished prisoners were able to break their long fast. That nothing within the possibilities should be lacking, Plegg ran electric wires, with an incandescent bulb attached, through the conduit, and thus the feast was lighted.

In the fast-breaking, Regnier ate with his men, but David carried his portion and Virginia’s a little apart. Though she had revived quickly in the splendid rebound of youth and health under the changed conditions, the king’s daughter ate sparingly and with eyes downcast, and was, in David’s eyes, more radiantly beautiful than she[382] had ever been. After the keen edge of famine—David’s famine—was a little blunted, she looked up and met his glances bravely.

“We didn’t die, David, and—and you must forget,” she pleaded. “You will forget, won’t you?”

“Forget?—not if I live to be a million years old,” he avowed gravely. And after a pause: “You mustn’t be an Indian, Vinnie—to give, and then want the gift returned. I am going to talk to Plegg again in a few minutes, and you shall hear what I say to him.”

The previsioned talk with the first assistant—the four-inch pipe serving for a speaking-tube—turned out to be principally technical, to be sure. In his proper person as chief engineer, David gave directions for the pushing forward of the rescue work. The jack-screw process was to be employed again, this time to press a steel shield into the mass of loose debris, so that the rescuers might be protected as they dug. The shield could be made out of a cast-off boiler shell with the heads removed. In this manner a tunnel within the tunnel could be excavated and the prisoners released.

With so much for the technicalities, the human side of things came in for its word.

“Is Mr. Grillage with you?” David asked.

Plegg’s reply was guarded. He guessed, and[383] guessed rightly, that Eben Grillage’s daughter was listening with David at the prison end of the speaking-tube.

“Mr. Grillage is at the hotel; he is not very well. He has had a stroke of some sort, but the Brewster doctor who is with him says it isn’t necessarily dangerous.”

“You have sent him word that we are all alive and well?”

“Sure; that was the first thing we did.”

“Good. Now listen, and carry out my orders to the letter. After you get the tunneling started here, put Altman in charge and go yourself to the telegraph office at the Inn station. I heard, day before yesterday, that President Ford of the P. S-W. was in Denver, with a number of his directors. The report was that Mr. Ford and his party were making an inspection trip over the western lines of the system. You send a telegram to Mr. Ford, asking him if he will come here for a conference with me, bringing as many of the directors as may be willing to come. Do you get that?”

“Perfectly. What else?”

“You may sign my name to the telegram, and make it as urgent as you can. This is important. Then I want you to go up to the Inn and see Mr.[384] Grillage for yourself. Find out his condition exactly, and come back here and report.”

“All right; is that all?”

“Not quite. While you are at the hotel, see my father and sister and Herbert Oswald, and tell them that the danger is all over for us—that is, if you haven’t already ’phoned them.”

“Your father and Oswald came up here with me when the alarm was given, and they have been here ever since until a couple of hours ago, when I persuaded Oswald to take your father back to the Inn on the assurance that we should reach you with the pipe within a short time. Your father was pretty well tuckered out, and I didn’t dare to let him stay here any longer.”

“Good man!” said David; “I owe you something for that, Silas. Be sure and tell them at the hotel that we are all right and quite comfortable, and that there is nothing to worry about. And while you’re at it, you may give Oswald and my sister my hearty congratulations, and tell them, from Miss Virginia and me, that we hope they’ll be as happy as they deserve to be.”

Plegg, the imperturbable, let slip a little imprecation of joy.

“I—I’ll be damned!” he burbled; “you don’t[385] know what a relief it is to hear you talking that way! Any more errands?”

“Yes; one more. Our engagement—Miss Virginia’s and mine—hasn’t been announced yet, so you may break the news, if you care to; to Mr. Grillage when you see him, to my people, and to the folks at the Inn. Also, you may let it go to the fellows on the staff and to the men on the job. We shall be married as soon as Mr. Grillage is up and able to give the bride away.”

“Good!—oh, bully good!” came from the other end of the tube, from which it may be inferred that the first assistant’s half-cynical habit of self-restraint and reticence was broken beyond repair. Then: “Of course, I’m taking your word for it, but if Miss Virginia would—er—sort of counter-sign the order ... I haven’t heard her voice yet.”

Virginia put her lips to the tube and her eyes were dancing.

“It’s so, Mr. Plegg; can you hear me? And there are some other things that are going to be so, too—things in which you’ll have to help. We are counting upon you—may we?”

“You may, indeed; to the last scrapings of the grab-bucket!” was the ready assurance. “Now—I don’t want to be impolite, but if that is all, I’ll[386] ask you both to take your faces away from the pipe; I’m going to put the air blast on again.”

Even with the help of the steel shield it took the remainder of the night and the better part of the next forenoon for the outside men, working in fifteen-minute shifts, to dig through the mass of the slide, the work being delayed somewhat by the encountering, in the midst of things, of a great bowlder which had to be carefully blasted with dynamite. Nevertheless, the task was accomplished finally. With the advancing shield the diggers burst through with a yell of triumph, and the poor prisoners were passed out one by one to the clean air and the blessed sunshine of the outdoor world.

Once more able to take command, David Vallory gave directions for the clearing of the tunnel by digging and timber-shoring from either side of the slide, and outlined for Plegg in a few words a plan for the excavating and permanent filling and arching of the breach. Plegg heard him through, and then looked up to say: “Does this mean that we’re to have a new deal?”

“Either a new deal or a smash. If I can come to some sort of terms with Mr. Ford, we’ll go on and finish this job honestly, the way it ought to be finished. If I can’t, we’ll take our losses and get out, without waiting to be kicked out.”

[387]An engine had been ’phoned for to come up after the chief and Miss Grillage, but it was as yet only on the way. Miss Virginia was talking to the released hard-rock men, praising them for their courage, and telling them how glad she was to have been given the chance to share the peril with them, since the peril had to be. This gave Plegg his opportunity with his chief.

“You are speaking for Mr. Grillage, Vallory?—or only for yourself?” he queried.

“I hope I’m speaking for both of us. I’m afraid Mr. Grillage is out of the active part of it, permanently. Miss Virginia tells me that this is his second stroke.”

“Miss Virginia,” said Plegg; “of course, she is with you on this reformation turn-over?”

“Heart and soul; in fact, it is her idea. We’ll fight it through together.”

Once more the quaint smile twitched at the corners of the first assistant’s thin-lipped mouth and his eyes twinkled. “My congratulations,” he said; “I—I’m damned if you aren’t going to be ‘too good,’ after all! I hope you won’t fire your first assistant crook, Vallory. I’d like to see how it feels to work for an absolutely honest outfit for just one time before I die. Do I stay?”

“Just as long as I do, Silas.” And then the engine[388] came, and David and his charge were whirled away to the valley.

At the stop at the foot of the Inn ridge, David helped Virginia down from the engine cab, and together they climbed the hill path. The news had been passed to the tunnel that President Ford and his inspecting committee had arrived at Powder Gap an hour earlier and were quartered in the Alta Vista; wherefore David Vallory knew that his request had been granted and that his hour was come.

“You will go to your father at once, of course,” he said, as they were ascending the steps of the Inn entrance. Then: “You must stand to your guns, Vinnie, and do all the things you said you’d like to do when you thought we had to die. Mr. Ford is here, and after I’ve had a word with Dad and sister, I’m going to fight the good fight with the Short Line people, taking matters entirely into my own hands. If Mr. Ford doesn’t fire us bodily, this job shall be finished—and finished honestly. After that, your father may fire me if he wishes to; but he must be made to understand that if he does, he is firing his daughter’s husband.”

“Oh!” she said softly, “it’s such a precious thing to find that you are just as big and strong as I always believed you were, David! I’ll stand[389] by, and after you are through with Mr. Ford, you must come straight to our suite.” Then, with exaggerated humility: “May I have your august permission to say good-by to Freddy Wishart and Cumberleigh?”

“You can’t—unless you do it by wire,” he grinned. “Plegg tells me they went East on the morning train, shortly after he had announced our engagement here at the hotel. We can send them cards a little later, if you wish.”


As It Should Be

THE conference in the Alta Vista’s sun-parlor, which was isolated for the purpose, was rather long drawn out, as it was constrained to be, but in due time the large-bodied, shrewd-eyed man who had been doing practically all of the talking for the railroad company brought it to a conclusion.

“I have no more use for a welsher than you have, Mr. Vallory,” he said, referring pointedly to one James Lushing. “You have frankly admitted that there have been the usual contractor’s shavings and parings on the job, to the manifest detriment of the railroad company’s interest. I’ll be equally frank and say that Lushing was given his place with us largely because he knew of the little parings—having devised a good many of them himself, probably—and was therefore able to check and prevent them. But I wish it to be distinctly understood that we don’t stand for any highbinding methods; and your evidence of sheer[391] criminality on Lushing’s part seems to be entirely conclusive. You say they have found the wrecked time-clock of the infernal machine in the tunnel digging?”

David nodded. “We have that, and the testimony of the young woman I speak of. Also, we have another witness in the person of a man named Dargin, who, my assistant tells me, is ready to testify that Lushing, the man Backus, and another named Runnels, deliberately plotted the blowing up of the tunnel, partly for the purpose of smashing our company, but principally—so Dargin says—to dispose of me in a manner which would appear to be entirely accidental.”

“Dargin?” said the president, with a faint smile. “Isn’t he the head and front of these Powder Can nuisances that you described in your letter to me, and wished to have us help you clean out?”

“The same,” said David.

“Did he know of your effort in this direction?”

“He did.”

“And yet he tried to warn you through the woman Fallon? What sort of a desperado is he, Mr. Vallory?”

“Really, I don’t know,” David confessed. “He is rather beyond me. Desperado is the word; he has a perfectly horrifying list of shootings to his[392] credit, and is, generally, what is known west of civilization as a ‘bad man.’ And yet he agreed with me when I told him that his dives ought to be cleaned up, and that I was going to try to clean them up; adding that some day he might do it himself, if I didn’t beat him to it.”

“That would be a miracle, indeed,” said the railroad president.

“Yet it is one that is already wrought,” David put in. “Mr. Plegg—my assistant—assures me that the Powder Can saloons and gambling dens were all closed on the night of the tunnel explosion, and that Dargin had sent him word that they would not be reopened.”

Again the big-bodied president smiled. “We are living in an age of wonders, Mr. Vallory. This man Dargin’s action proves it, and, if you will permit me to say it, so does yours in asking for this conference. Do you know what has become of Lushing?”

“I do not. When it became known, as it was almost immediately, that the tunnel disaster was not an accident, Lushing disappeared, together with his accomplices. But, as I have pointed out, we have the evidence.”

“You could scarcely make a legal case against the railroad company,” said the president.[393] “Lushing was acting entirely on his own responsibility when he stepped over into the criminal field to satisfy his grudge against you and Mr. Grillage. But I understand from what you have said that you have no intention of taking the matter into the courts.”

“None whatever. I am merely asking you gentlemen for a square deal in return for a square deal. Our bid on this job was too low, if the work were to be done honestly. If the railroad company will allow the slight increase in the estimates that I have asked for, we shall go on and complete the job to your entire satisfaction. And you may cover the entire mileage six feet deep with inspectors if you choose.”

There was a little interval of silence to follow this statement, with some uneasy moving in their chairs on the part of the four Short Line directors who had listened to the arguments pro and con.

“I believe in you, Mr. Vallory,” said the president at length, slightly stressing the pronoun. “If the matter were solely in your hands, I should say, go ahead on the plan you have outlined. But what guaranty can you give us that Mr. Grillage will permit you to carry out your ideas? You must remember that we have had dealings with him before this.”

[394]“Mr. Grillage will not interfere,” said David calmly. “The chief reason is that before the new plan goes into effect, I shall be his son-in-law and a partner in the business of the Grillage Engineering Company.”

“Oho!” said the railroad magnate, with a good-natured chuckle. “So the wind sets in that quarter, does it? Are we to understand that you will have your wife’s approval and—er—coöperation in these business matters?”

“To the very fullest extent,” was the prompt rejoinder. “In fact, the course I have indicated is based more upon her initiative than mine.”

“That is better. I have had the privilege of meeting Miss Virginia, and—you are to be congratulated, most heartily, Mr. Vallory. Did the—er—accident in the tunnel contribute something toward the bringing about of this happy state of affairs?”

“It did,” said David shortly. “You may, or may not, have heard that Miss Virginia took her life in her hands to save mine and those of the men of the day shift.”

President Ford rose to intimate that the conference was ended.

“We’ll meet you half-way, Mr. Vallory, and in good faith,” he said. “I am told you have a lawyer[395] friend here in the house; our attorneys will meet him and draw up new contracts. We shall ask only for decent economy and fairness; and if you can do as you promise—get the line open before snow flies—there will be a substantial bonus for you, individually; which may enable you to make your interest in the Grillage Engineering Company a financial as well as a—er—sentimental one. I think that is all we need to say this morning.”

David Vallory passed through the corridor to the Grillage suite with the blood hammering in his veins. In the hour-long conference with the railroad magnates he had kept his word to Virginia, fighting openly and honestly, and battling his way through to the desired end. The battle had not been won without stress. At first, there had been only silence and cold attention on the part of the magnates. But the triumphant fact remained: he had warmed them finally and the victory was won.

But now the real crisis was at hand. Would Eben Grillage, the benefactor to whom he owed his fealty in the final analysis, turn the helm over to a moneyless youngster who was masterfully proposing to marry his daughter out of hand, and[396] to throw all of the Grillage business methods and maxims into the scrap-heap?

Virginia met him at the door of the private suite, and her eyes were full of trouble.

“You must be prepared for a great change, David,” she told him. “It is paralysis, and he will never be the same man again. You must help me, dear; in a way, you know, I was the cause of it.”

“We’ll carry the load—together,” he assured her gently, and then she led him to the bedside of the stricken giant.

Her word of warning did not come amiss. For a moment David was shocked silent, and he could scarcely realize that the big figure propped among the pillows was that of the man who had stood as the very image of strength and aggressive vigor at their last meeting on the morning of the departure for the fishing excursion. The beetle-browed eyes were undimmed, to be sure, but the heavy face hung in folds, and its color was that of age-old parchment. Yet the indomitable spirit was unbroken.

“Come to look over the wreck, have you, David?” he said, with the grim Grillage smile strangely distorted by his malady. “Makes me think of that advertisement of the insurance people:[397] ‘A house may burn, but a man must die.’ I’m not dead yet, though.”

“Of course you’re not,” said David cheerfully. “You’re not going to be allowed to die before I’ve paid you some of the big debt I owe you.”

Again the grim smile flitted across the flabby expanse of the wrecked face.

“Vinnie tells me you’re aiming to make the debt bigger before you make it less. Do you realize that you’re taking all I’ve got in the world worth having, David? But of course you don’t; you young robbers never do. Have you seen President Ford?”

“Yes; I have just had a talk with him and four of his directors. We are to have a new contract, with increased estimates, and a square deal all around. And bygones are to be bygones.”

Eben Grillage rocked his head slowly back and forth on the pillows, and this time the grim smile was almost ghastly.

“You might have waited until I was safely under ground, you and Vinnie, before you began on your Utopian house-wrecking,” he said, with a touch of humor that was too bitter to be merely sardonic. “Are you trying to tell me that Ford is going to pay more than the original contract calls for?”

[398]“Just that—for the right kind of work. I had to argue for a solid hour, but I carried my point.”

“I suppose you told him that the old buccaneer was as good as dead, and that the Golden Rule had been taken out of its wrappings and polished up so you could see your face in it?”

At this the buccaneer’s daughter broke in, speaking for the first time in the brisk interchange of question and reply.

“I can’t let you torture David that way!” she protested. “He speaks of his debt to you, and you have spoken of it; can’t you see that he is trying to pay it in the biggest, finest way there is?”

Again the big head wagged on the pillows.

“You’ll tell me, you two, that it is the day of the new generation, and that I’m only a wornout back-number. Maybe it’s so. But Utopia isn’t here yet, and the world I’ve fought in ... but what’s the use? You two wouldn’t see it my way if I should talk till midnight. What is it that you want to do, David?”

David slipped an arm around Virginia to make what he was about to say a joint declaration.

“We mean to have you live to hear the Grillage Engineering Company called the squarest contracting firm in the business; to see the time when its bid will be the highest one made on a job, and[399] yet will be the bid that is accepted. That is how we shall try to pay some part of the big debt. You’ll let us try for it, won’t you?”

For a full minute the fierce eyes were closed and the massive figure outlined under the bed-clothes lay motionless and rigid. When the eyes were unclosed the king of the contractors was himself again, in curt decision and terseness of speech, at least.

“Have your way, both of you,” he growled. “It isn’t my way, and you can’t hope to teach an old dog new tricks. Find Oswald, and we’ll draw up some kind of a document that will put you in the saddle and give you the authority to make the deal with Ford and his lawyers. And say: tell Oswald to bring me a cigar—the blackest one he can find.... No, I don’t care a damn what the doctor says!”

There was a double wedding in the Inn club-room a week later, the Grillage private car having been sent all the way to Brewster to bring the officiating clergyman. Contrary to all precedent—at least in Virginia Grillage’s world—there was no formality. The Inn guests were invited in a body; and on David’s side there was a crowding[400] of engineers in working clothes, of grade foremen and subcontractors, of all and sundry who could be spared from the big job.

Eben Grillage, his great body propped in a wheel-chair, gave one of the brides away; but the chief interest for the onlookers centered in the slender, sylph-like figure of the other bride, whose face, almost other-worldly in its delicate, rose-leaf beauty, was as the face of an innocent child, and whose eyes, seeing neither the throng nor the morning sunlight streaming through the windows of the transformed lounging-room, were yet shining with happiness ineffable.

“I—I simply can’t believe she is blind!” whispered one white-haired mother of daughters among the witnesses; and there were others, also, to wink away the quick-springing tears of sympathy.

Again, contrary to all precedent, there was no wedding journey to follow the simple ceremony in the hotel club-room. Almost immediately the Oswalds went across to the cottage they were to occupy; and a short half-hour after her marriage, Virginia Vallory, clad in serviceable khaki, forthfared with her husband to make a round over the job.

The sun was setting crimson fires alight in[401] Qojogo’s cloud cap when they returned to a late dinner. The summerers were thickly clustered on the Inn porches, and the two who had just reached the summit of the steep ridge path turned their backs upon the conventions and their faces toward the western effulgences.

“You’ve had the better part of a day to think about it; are you sorry for that little minute of confessions in the tunnel, Vinnie?” David asked, as one still unable to realize his blessings and the full magnitude of them.

“Sorry? Why should I be sorry?”

“You might have had an old and honorable title, you know,” he reminded her. “Cumberleigh could have given you that much, at least.”

She glanced up with a bewitching little twist of the lips which carried him swiftly back to childhood days, and to his memories of her childhood.

“I have a title,” she retorted; “the most honorable title in all the world. When I die it shall be graven on my tombstone.”

“Epitaphs—already?” he deprecated, with his sober smile. Then, in a sudden rush of poignant tenderness: “Oh, my dear one—let us hope that the day is far distant!”

“Amen!” she said softly; “because I don’t want to leave you, David. But when the day does come[402] I shall have my title: I thought of it this afternoon when we were at McCulloch’s camp, and I stood aside and heard you say, ‘No, Mac—do the job just as if you were doing it for yourself.’ Then I saw just how my epitaph-title was going to read: ‘Here lies Virginia Vallory, the wife of an honest man.’ There now; if that crowd wasn’t looking on with all its eyes, I’m sure you’d kiss me for that. Let’s go in to dinner; I’m actually unromantic enough to be fiercely hungry. Good-by, blessed sunset,” and she blew a kiss to the crimson west.


Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.

Archaic or alternate spelling has been retained from the original.