The Project Gutenberg EBook of Big Timber, by Bertrand W. Sinclair
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Title: Big Timber
A Story of the Northwest
Author: Bertrand W. Sinclair
Release Date: February 22, 2004 [EBook #11223]
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A Story of the Northwest
By BERTRAND W. SINCLAIR
By DOUGLAS DUER
GREEN FIELDS AND PASTURES NEW
The Imperial Limited lurched with a swing around the last
hairpin curve of the Yale canyon. Ahead opened out a timbered
valley,—narrow on its floor, flanked with bold mountains, but
nevertheless a valley,—down which the rails lay straight and
shining on an easy grade. The river that for a hundred miles had
boiled and snarled parallel to the tracks, roaring through the
granite sluice that cuts the Cascade Range, took a wider channel
and a leisurely flow. The mad haste had fallen from it as haste
falls from one who, with time to spare, sees his destination near
at hand; and the turgid Fraser had time to spare, for now it was
but threescore miles to tidewater. So the great river moved
placidly—as an old man moves when all the headlong urge of
youth is spent and his race near run.
On the river side of the first coach behind the diner, Estella
Benton nursed her round chin in the palm of one hand, leaning her
elbow on the window sill. It was a relief to look over a widening
valley instead of a bare-walled gorge all scarred with slides, to
see wooded heights lift green in place of barren cliffs, to watch
banks of fern massed against the right of way where for a day and a
night parched sagebrush, brown tumble-weed, and such scant growth
as flourished in the arid uplands of interior British Columbia had
streamed in barren monotony, hot and dry and still.
She was near the finish of her journey. Pensively she considered
the end of the road. How would it be there? What manner of folk and
country? Between her past mode of life and the new that she was
hurrying toward lay the vast gulf of distance, of custom, of class
even. It was bound to be crude, to be full of inconveniences and
uncouthness. Her brother's letters had partly prepared her for
that. Involuntarily she shrank from it, had been shrinking from it
by fits and starts all the way, as flowers that thrive best in
shady nooks shrink from hot sun and rude winds. Not that Estella
Benton was particularly flower-like. On the contrary she was a
healthy, vigorous-bodied young woman, scarcely to be described as
beautiful, yet undeniably attractive. Obviously a daughter of the
well-to-do, one of that American type which flourishes in families
to which American politicians unctuously refer as the backbone of
the nation. Outwardly, gazing riverward through the dusty pane, she
bore herself with utmost serenity. Inwardly she was full of
Four days of lonely travel across a continent, hearing the
drumming clack of car wheels and rail joint ninety-six hours on
end, acutely conscious that every hour of the ninety-six put its
due quota of miles between the known and the unknown, may be either
an adventure, a bore, or a calamity, depending altogether upon the
individual point of view, upon conditioning circumstances and
Estella Benton's experience along such lines was chiefly a blank
and the conditioning circumstances of her present journey were
somber enough to breed thought that verged upon the melancholy.
Save for a natural buoyancy of spirit she might have wept her way
across North America. She had no tried standard by which to measure
life's values for she had lived her twenty-two years wholly
shielded from the human maelstrom, fed, clothed, taught, an untried
product of home and schools. Her head was full of university lore,
things she had read, a smattering of the arts and philosophy,
liberal portions of academic knowledge, all tagged and sorted like
parcels on a shelf to be reached when called for. Buried under
these externalities the ego of her lay unaroused, an incalculable
All of which is merely by way of stating that Miss Estella
Benton was a young woman who had grown up quite complacently in
that station of life in which—to quote the
Philistines—it had pleased God to place her, and that Chance
had somehow, to her astonished dismay, contrived to thrust a spoke
in the smooth-rolling wheels of destiny. Or was it Destiny? She had
begun to think about that, to wonder if a lot that she had taken
for granted as an ordered state of things was not, after all,
wholly dependent upon Chance. She had danced and sung and played
lightheartedly accepting a certain standard of living, a certain
position in a certain set, a pleasantly ordered home life, as her
birthright, a natural heritage. She had dwelt upon her ultimate
destiny in her secret thoughts as foreshadowed by that of other
girls she knew. The Prince would come, to put it in a nutshell. He
would woo gracefully. They would wed. They would be delightfully
happy. Except for the matter of being married, things would move
along the same pleasant channels.
Just so. But a broken steering knuckle on a heavy touring car
set things in a different light—many things. She learned then
that death is no respecter of persons, that a big income may be
lived to its limit with nothing left when the brain force which
commanded it ceases to function. Her father produced perhaps
fifteen to twenty thousand dollars a year in his brokerage
business, and he had saved nothing. Thus at one stroke she was put
on an equal footing with the stenographer in her father's office.
Scarcely equal either, for the stenographer earned her bread and
was technically equipped for the task, whereas Estella Benton had
no training whatsoever, except in social usage. She did not yet
fully realize just what had overtaken her. Things had happened so
swiftly, to ruthlessly, that she still verged upon the incredulous.
Habit clung fast. But she had begun to think, to try and establish
some working relation between herself and things as she found them.
She had discovered already that certain theories of human relations
are not soundly established in fact.
She turned at last in her seat. The Limited's whistle had
shrilled for a stop. At the next stop—she wondered what lay
in store for her just beyond the next stop. While she dwelt
mentally upon this, her hands were gathering up some few odds and
ends of her belongings on the berth.
Across the aisle a large, smooth-faced young man watched her
with covert admiration. When she had settled back with bag and
suitcase locked and strapped on the opposite seat and was hatted
and gloved, he leaned over and addressed her genially.
"Getting off at Hopyard? Happen to be going out to Roaring
Miss Benton's gray eyes rested impersonally on the top of his
head, traveled slowly down over the trim front of his blue serge to
the polished tan Oxfords on his feet, and there was not in eyes or
on countenance the slightest sign that she saw or heard him. The
large young man flushed a vivid red.
Miss Benton was partly amused, partly provoked. The large young
man had been her vis-à-vis at dinner the day before and at
breakfast that morning. He had evinced a yearning for conversation
each time, but it had been diplomatically confined to salt and
other condiments, the weather and the scenery. Miss Benton had no
objection to young men in general, quite the contrary. But she did
not consider it quite the thing to countenance every amiable
Within a few minutes the porter came for her things, and the
blast of the Limited's whistle warned her that it was time to leave
the train. Ten minutes later the Limited was a vanishing object
down an aisle slashed through a forest of great trees, and Miss
Estella Benton stood on the plank platform of Hopyard station.
Northward stretched a flat, unlovely vista of fire-blackened
stumps. Southward, along track and siding, ranged a single row of
buildings, a grocery store, a shanty with a huge sign proclaiming
that it was a bank, dwelling, hotel and blacksmith shop whence
arose the clang of hammered iron. A dirt road ran between town and
station, with hitching posts at which farmers' nags stood
dispiritedly in harness.
To the Westerner such spots are common enough; he sees them not
as fixtures, but as places in a stage of transformation. By every
side track and telegraph station on every transcontinental line
they spring up, centers of productive activity, growing into
orderly towns and finally attaining the dignity of cities. To her,
fresh from trim farmsteads and rural communities that began setting
their houses in order when Washington wintered at Valley Forge,
Hopyard stood forth sordid and unkempt. And as happens to many a
one in like case, a wave of sickening loneliness engulfed her, and
she eyed the speeding Limited as one eyes a departing friend.
"How could one live in a place like this?" she asked
But she had neither Slave of the Lamp at her beck, nor any Magic
Carpet to transport her elsewhere. At any rate, she reflected,
Hopyard was not her abiding-place. She hoped that her destination
would prove more inviting.
Beside the platform were ranged two touring cars. Three or four
of those who had alighted entered these. Their baggage was piled
over the hoods, buckled on the running boards. The driver of one
car approached her. "Hot Springs?" he inquired tersely.
She affirmed this, and he took her baggage, likewise her trunk
check when she asked how that article would be transported to the
lake. She had some idea of route and means, from her brother's
written instruction, but she thought he might have been there to
meet her. At least he would be at the Springs.
So she was whirled along a country road, jolted in the tonneau
between a fat man from Calgary and a rheumatic dame on her way to
take hot sulphur baths at St. Allwoods. She passed seedy
farmhouses, primitive in construction, and big barns with moss
plentifully clinging on roof and gable. The stretch of charred
stumps was left far behind, but in every field of grain and
vegetable and root great butts of fir and cedar rose amid the
crops. Her first definitely agreeable impression of this land,
which so far as she knew must be her home, was of those huge and
numerous stumps contending with crops for possession of the fields.
Agreeable, because it came to her forcibly that it must be a sturdy
breed of men and women, possessed of brawn and fortitude and high
courage, who made their homes here. Back in her country, once
beyond suburban areas, the farms lay like the squares of a chess
board, trim and orderly, tamely subdued to agriculture. Here, at
first hand, she saw how man attacked the forest and conquered it.
But the conquest was incomplete, for everywhere stood those
stubborn roots, six and eight and ten feet across, contending with
man for its primal heritage, the soil, perishing slowly as perish
the proud remnants of a conquered race.
Then the cleared land came to a stop against heavy timber. The
car whipped a curve and drove into what the fat man from Calgary
facetiously remarked upon as the tall uncut. Miss Benton sighted up
these noble columns to where a breeze droned in the tops, two
hundred feet above. Through a gap in the timber she saw mountains,
peaks that stood bold as the Rockies, capped with snow. For two
days she had been groping for a word to define, to sum up the
feeling which had grown upon her, had been growing upon her
steadily, as the amazing scroll of that four-day journey unrolled.
She found it now, a simple word, one of the simplest in our mother
tongue—bigness. Bigness in its most ample sense,—that
was the dominant note. Immensities of distance, vastness of rolling
plain, sheer bulk of mountain, rivers that one crossed, and after a
day's journey crossed again, still far from source or confluence.
And now this unending sweep of colossal trees!
At first she had been overpowered with a sense of insignificance
utterly foreign to her previous experience. But now she discovered
with an agreeable sensation of surprise she could vibrate to such a
keynote. And while she communed with this pleasant discovery the
car sped down a straight stretch and around a corner and stopped
short to unload sacks of mail at a weather-beaten yellow edifice,
its windows displaying indiscriminately Indian baskets, groceries,
and hardware. Northward opened a broad scope of lake level, girt
about with tremendous peaks whose lower slopes were banked with
Somewhere distant along that lake shore was to be her home. As
the car rolled over the four hundred yards between store and
white-and-green St. Allwoods, she wondered if Charlie would be
there to meet her. She was weary of seeing strange faces, of being
directed, of being hustled about.
But he was not there, and she recalled that he never had been
notable for punctuality. Five years is a long time. She expected to
find him changed—for the better, in certain directions. He
had promised to be there; but, in this respect, time evidently had
wrought no appreciable transformation.
She registered, was assigned a room, and ate luncheon to the
melancholy accompaniment of a three-man orchestra struggling vainly
with Bach in an alcove off the dining room. After that she began to
make inquiries. Neither clerk nor manager knew aught of Charlie
Benton. They were both in their first season there. They advised
her to ask the storekeeper.
"MacDougal will know," they were agreed. "He knows everybody
around here, and everything that goes on."
The storekeeper, a genial, round-bodied Scotchman, had the
information she desired.
"Charlie Benton?" said he. "No, he'll be at his camp up the
lake. He was in three or four days back. I mind now, he said he'd
be down Thursday; that's to-day. But he isn't here yet, or his
boat'd be by the wharf yonder."
"Are there any passenger boats that call there?" she asked.
MacDougal shook his head.
"Not reg'lar. There's a gas boat goes t' the head of the lake
now an' then. She's away now. Ye might hire a launch. Jack Fyfe's
camp tender's about to get under way. But ye wouldna care to go on
her, I'm thinkin'. She'll be loaded wi' lumberjacks—every man
drunk as a lord, most like. Maybe Benton'll be in before
She went back to the hotel. But St. Allwoods, in its dual
capacity of health-and-pleasure resort, was a gilded shell, making
a brave outward show, but capitalizing chiefly lake, mountains, and
hot, mineral springs. Her room was a bare, cheerless place. She did
not want to sit and ponder. Too much real grief hovered in the
immediate background of her life. It is not always sufficient to be
young and alive. To sit still and think—that way lay tears
and despondency. So she went out and walked down the road and out
upon the wharf which jutted two hundred yards into the lake.
It stood deserted save for a lone fisherman on the outer end,
and an elderly couple that preceded her. Halfway out she passed a
slip beside which lay moored a heavily built, fifty-foot boat,
scarred with usage, a squat and powerful craft. Lakeward stretched
a smooth, unrippled surface. Overhead patches of white cloud
drifted lazily. Where the shadows from these lay, the lake spread
gray and lifeless. Where the afternoon sun rested, it touched the
water with gleams of gold and pale, delicate green. A white-winged
yacht lay offshore, her sails in slack folds. A lump of an island
lifted two miles beyond, all cliffs and little, wooded hills. And
the mountains surrounding in a giant ring seemed to shut the place
away from all the world. For sheer wild, rugged beauty, Roaring
Lake surpassed any spot she had ever seen. Its quiet majesty, its
air of unbroken peace soothed and comforted her, sick with hurry
and swift-footed events.
She stood for a time at the outer wharf end, mildly interested
when the fisherman drew up a two-pound trout, wondering a little at
her own subtle changes of mood. Her surrounding played upon her
like a virtuoso on his violin. And this was something that she did
not recall as a trait in her own character. She had never inclined
to the volatile—perhaps because until the motor accident
snuffed out her father's life she had never dealt in anything but
After a time she retraced her steps. Nearing the halfway slip,
she saw that a wagon from which goods were being unloaded blocked
the way. A dozen men were stringing in from the road, bearing
bundles and bags and rolls of blankets. They were big, burly men,
carrying themselves with a reckless swing, with trousers cut off
midway between knee and ankle so that they reached just below the
upper of their high-topped, heavy, laced boots. Two or three were
singing. All appeared unduly happy, talking loudly, with deep
laughter. One threw down his burden and executed a brief clog.
Splinters flew where the sharp calks bit into the wharf planking,
and his companions applauded.
It dawned upon Stella Benton that these might be Jack Fyfe's
drunken loggers, and she withdrew until the way should be clear,
vitally interested because her brother was a logging man, and
wondering if these were the human tools he used in his business, if
these were the sort of men with whom he associated. They were a
rough lot—and some were very drunk. With the manifestations
of liquor she had but the most shadowy acquaintance. But she would
have been little less than a fool not to comprehend this.
Then they began filing down the gangway to the boat's deck. One
slipped, and came near falling into the water, whereat his fellows
howled gleefully. Precariously they negotiated the slanting
passage. All but one: he sat him down at the slip-head on his
bundle and began a quavering chant. The teamster imperturbably
finished his unloading, two men meanwhile piling the goods
The wagon backed out, and the way was clear, save for the logger
sitting on his blankets, wailing his lugubrious song. From below
his fellows urged him to come along. A bell clanged in the pilot
house. The exhaust of a gas engine began to sputter through the
boat's side. From her after deck a man hailed the logger sharply,
and when his call was unheeded, he ran lightly up the slip. A
short, squarely-built man he was, light on his feet as a dancing
He spoke now with authority, impatiently.
"Hurry aboard, Mike; we're waiting."
The logger rose, waved his hand airily, and turned as if to
retreat down the wharf. The other caught him by the arm and spun
him face to the slip.
"Come on, Slater," he said evenly. "I have no time to fool
The logger drew back his fist. He was a fairly big man. But if
he had in mind to deal a blow, it failed, for the other ducked and
caught him with both arms around the middle. He lifted the logger
clear of the wharf, hoisted him to the level of his breast, and
heaved him down the slip as one would throw a sack of bran.
The man's body bounced on the incline, rolled, slid, tumbled,
till at length he brought up against the boat's guard, and all that
saved him a ducking was the prompt extension of several stout arms,
which clutched and hauled him to the flush after deck. He sat on
his haunches, blinking. Then he laughed. So did the man at the top
of the slip and the lumberjacks clustered on the boat. Homeric
laughter, as at some surpassing jest. But the roar of him who had
taken that inglorious descent rose loudest of all, an explosive,
He clambered unsteadily to his feet, his mouth expanded in an
"Hey, Jack," he shouted. "Maybe y' c'n throw m' blankets down
too, while y'r at it."
The man at the slip-head caught up the roll, poised it high, and
cast it from him with a quick twist of his body. The woolen missile
flew like a well-put shot and caught its owner fair in the breast,
tumbling him backwards on the deck—and the Homeric laughter
rose in double strength. Then the boat began to swing, and the man
ran down and leaped the widening space as she drew away from her
Stella Benton watched the craft gather way, a trifle shocked,
her breath coming a little faster. The most deadly blows she had
ever seen struck were delivered in a more subtle, less virile mode,
a curl of the lip, an inflection of the voice. These were a
different order of beings. This, she sensed was man in a more
primitive aspect, man with the conventional bark stripped clean off
him. And she scarcely knew whether to be amused or frightened when
she reflected that among such her life would presently lie. Charlie
had written that she would find things and people a trifle rougher
than she was used to. She could well believe that. But—they
were picturesque ruffians.
Her interested gaze followed the camp tender as it swung around
the wharf-end, and so her roaming eyes were led to another craft
drawing near. This might be her brother's vessel. She went back to
the outer landing to see.
Two men manned this boat. As she ranged alongside the piles, one
stood forward, and the other aft with lines to make fast. She cast
a look at each. They were prototypes of the rude crew but now
departed, brown-faced, flannel-shirted, shod with calked boots,
unshaven for days, typical men of the woods. But as she turned to
go, the man forward and almost directly below her looked her full
in the face.
She leaned over the rail.
"Charlie Benton—for Heaven's sake."
They stared at each other.
"Well," he laughed at last. "If it were not for your mouth and
eyes, Stell, I wouldn't have known you. Why, you're all grown
He clambered to the wharf level and kissed her. The rough
stubble of his beard pricked her tender skin and she drew back.
"My word, Charlie, you certainly ought to shave," she observed
with sisterly frankness. "I didn't know you until you spoke. I'm
awfully glad to see you, but you do need some one to look
Benton laughed tolerantly.
"Perhaps. But, my dear girl, a fellow doesn't get anywhere on
his appearance in this country. When a fellow's bucking big timber,
he shucks off a lot of things he used to think were quite
essential. By Jove, you're a picture, Stell. If I hadn't been
expecting to see you, I wouldn't have known you."
"I doubt if I should have known you either," she returned
MR. ABBEY ARRIVES
Stella accompanied her brother to the store, where he gave an
order for sundry goods. Then they went to the hotel to see if her
trunks had arrived. Within a few yards of the fence which enclosed
the grounds of St. Allwoods a man hailed Benton, and drew him a few
steps aside. Stella walked slowly on, and presently her brother
The baggage wagon had brought the trunks, and when she had paid
her bill, they were delivered at the outer wharf-end, where also
arrived at about the same time a miscellaneous assortment of
supplies from the store and a Japanese with her two handbags. So
far as Miss Estella Benton could see, she was about to embark on
the last stage of her journey.
"How soon will you start?" she inquired, when the last of the
stuff was stowed aboard the little steamer.
"Twenty minutes or so," Benton answered. "Say," he went on
casually, "have you got any money, Stell? I owe a fellow thirty
dollars, and I left the bank roll and my check book at camp."
Miss Benton drew the purse from her hand bag and gave it to him.
He pocketed it and went off down the wharf, with the brief
assurance that he would be gone only a minute or so.
The minute, however, lengthened to nearly an hour, and Sam Davis
had his blow-off valve hissing, and Stella Benton was casting
impatient glances shoreward before Charlie strolled leisurely
"You needn't fire up quite so strong, Sam," he called down. "We
won't start for a couple of hours yet."
"Sufferin' Moses!" Davis poked his fiery thatch out from the
engine room. "I might 'a' known better'n to sweat over firin' up.
You generally manage to make about three false starts to one
Benton laughed good-naturedly and turned away.
"Do you usually allow your men to address you in that
impertinent way?" Miss Benton desired to know.
Charlie looked blank for a second. Then he smiled, and linking
his arm affectionately in hers, drew her off along the wharf,
chuckling to himself.
"My dear girl," said he, "you'd better not let Sam Davis or any
of Sam's kind hear you pass remarks like that. Sam would say
exactly what he thought about such matters to his boss, or King
George, or to the first lady of the land, regardless. Sabe? We're
what you'll call primitive out here, yet. You want to forget that
master and man business, the servant proposition, and proper
respect, and all that rot. Outside the English colonies in one or
two big towns, that attitude doesn't go in B.C. People in this neck
of the woods stand pretty much on the same class footing, and
you'll get in bad and get me in bad if you don't remember that.
I've got ten loggers working for me in the woods. Whether they're
impertinent or profane cuts no figure so long as they handle the
job properly. They're men, you understand, not servants. None of
them would hesitate to tell me what he thinks about me or anything
I do. If I don't like it, I can fight him or fire him. They won't
stand for the sort of airs you're accustomed to. They have the
utmost respect for a woman, but a man is merely a two-legged male
human like themselves, whether he wears mackinaws or broadcloth,
has a barrel of money of none at all. This will seem odd to you at
first, but you'll get used to it. You'll find things rather
different out here."
"I suppose so," she agreed. "But it sounds queer. For instance,
if one of papa's clerks or the chauffeur had spoken like that, he'd
have been discharged on the spot."
"The logger's a different breed," Benton observed drily. "Or
perhaps only the same breed manifesting under different conditions.
He isn't servile. He doesn't have to be."
"Why the delay, though?" she reverted to the point. "I thought
you were all ready to go."
"I am," Charlie enlightened. "But while I was at the store just
now, Paul Abbey 'phoned from Vancouver to know if there was an
up-lake boat in. His people are big lumber guns here, and it will
accommodate him and won't hurt me to wait a couple of hours and
drop him off at their camp. I've got more or less business dealings
with them, and it doesn't hurt to be neighborly. He'd have to hire
a gas-boat otherwise. Besides, Paul's a pretty good head."
This, of course, being strictly her brother's business, Stella
forbore comment. She was weary of travel, tired with the tension of
eternally being shunted across distances, anxious to experience
once more that sense of restful finality which comes with a
journey's end. But, in a measure her movements were no longer
dependent upon her own volition.
They walked slowly along the broad roadway which bordered the
lake until they came to a branchy maple, and here they seated
themselves on the grassy turf in the shadow of the tree.
"Tell me about yourself," she said. "How do you like it here,
and how are you getting on? Your letters home were always chiefly
remarkable for their brevity."
"There isn't a great lot to tell," Benton responded. "I'm just
beginning to get on my feet. A raw, untried youngster has a lot to
learn and unlearn when he hits this tall timber. I've been out here
five years, and I'm just beginning to realize what I'm equal to and
what I'm not. I'm crawling over a hump now that would have been a
lot easier if the governor hadn't come to grief the way he did. He
was going to put in some money this fall. But I think I'll make it,
anyway, though it will keep me digging and figuring. I have a
contract for delivery of a million feet in September and another
contract that I could take if I could see my way clear to finance
the thing. I could clean up thirty thousand dollars net in two
years if I had more cash to work on. As it is, I have to go slow,
or I'd go broke. I'm holding two limits by the skin of my teeth.
But I've got one good one practically for an annual pittance. If I
make delivery on my contract according to schedule it's plain
sailing. That about sizes up my prospects, Sis."
"You speak a language I don't understand," she smiled. "What
does a million feet mean? And what's a limit?"
"A limit is one square mile—six hundred and forty acres
more or less—of merchantable timber land," he explained. "We
speak of timber as scaling so many board feet. A board foot is one
inch thick by twelve inches square. Sound fir timber is worth
around seven dollars per thousand board feet in the log, got out of
the woods, and boomed in the water ready to tow to the mills. The
first limit I got—from the government—will scale around
ten million feet. The other two are nearly as good. But I got them
from timber speculators, and it's costing me pretty high. They're a
good spec if I can hang on to them, though."
"It sounds big," she commented.
"It is big," Charlie declared, "if I could go at it
right. I've been trying ever since I got wise to this timber
business to make the governor see what a chance there is in it. He
was just getting properly impressed with the possibilities when the
speed bug got him. He could have trimmed a little here and there at
home and put the money to work. Ten thousand dollars would have
done the trick, given me a working outfit along with what I've got
that would have put us both on Easy Street. However, the poor old
chap didn't get around to it. I suppose, like lots of other
business men, when he stopped, everything ran down. According to
Lander's figures, there won't be a thing left when all accounts are
"Don't talk about it, Charlie," she begged. "It's too near, and
I was through it all."
"I would have been there too," Benton said. "But, as I told you,
I was out of reach of your wire, and by the time I got it, it was
all over. I couldn't have done any good, anyway. There's no use
mourning. One way and another we've all got to come to it some
Stella looked out over the placid, shimmering surface of Roaring
Lake for a minute. Her grief was dimming with time and distance,
and she had all her own young life before her. She found herself
drifting from painful memories of her father's sudden death to a
consideration of things present and personal. She found herself
wondering critically if this strange, rude land would work as many
changes in her as were patent in this bronzed and burly
He had left home a slim, cocksure youngster, who had proved more
than a handful for his family before he was half through college,
which educational finishing process had come to an abrupt stop
before it was complete. He had been a problem that her father and
mother had discussed in guarded tones. Sending him West had been a
hopeful experiment, and in the West that abounding spirit which
manifested itself in one continual round of minor escapades
appeared to have found a natural outlet. She recalled that latterly
their father had taken to speaking of Charlie in accents of pride.
He was developing the one ambition that Benton senior could
thoroughly understand and properly appreciate, the desire to get
on, to grasp opportunities, to achieve material success, to make
Just as her father, on the few occasions when he talked business
before her, spoke in a big way of big things as the desirable
ultimate, so now Charlie spoke, with plans and outlook to match his
speech. In her father's point of view, and in Charlie's now, a
man's personal life did not seem to matter in comparison with
getting on and making money. And it was with that personal side of
existence that Stella Benton was now chiefly concerned. She had
never been required to adjust herself to an existence that was
wholly taken up with getting on to the complete exclusion of
everything else. Her work had been to play. She could scarce
conceive of any one entirely excluding pleasure and diversion from
his or her life. She wondered if Charlie had done so. And if not,
what ameliorating circumstances, what social outlet, might be found
to offset, for her, continued existence in this isolated region of
towering woods. So far as her first impressions went, Roaring Lake
appeared to be mostly frequented by lumberjacks addicted to rude
speech and strong drink.
"Are there many people living around this lake?" she inquired.
"It is surely a beautiful spot. If we had this at home, there would
be a summer cottage on every hundred yards of shore."
"Be a long time before we get to that stage here," Benton
returned. "And scenery in B.C. is a drug on the market; we've got
Europe backed off the map for tourist attractions, if they only
knew it. No, about the only summer home in this locality is the
Abbey place at Cottonwood Point. They come up here every summer for
two or three months. Otherwise I don't know of any lilies of the
field, barring the hotel people, and they, being purely transient,
don't count. There's the Abbey-Monohan outfit with two big logging
camps, my outfit, Jack Fyfe's, some hand loggers on the east shore,
and the R.A.T. at the head of the lake. That's the
population—and Roaring Lake is forty-two miles long and eight
"Are there any nice girls around?" she asked.
Benton grinned widely.
"Girls?" said he. "Not so you could notice. Outside the Springs
and the hatchery over the way, there isn't a white woman on the
lake except Lefty Howe's wife,—Lefty's Jack Fyfe's
foreman,—and she's fat and past forty. I told you it was a
God-forsaken hole as far as society is concerned, Stell."
"I know," she said thoughtfully. "But one can scarcely realize
such a—such a social blankness, until one actually
experiences it. Anyway, I don't know but I'll appreciate utter
quiet for awhile. But what do you do with yourself when you're not
"There's seldom any such time," he answered. "I tell you,
Stella, I've got a big job on my hands. I've got a definite mark to
shoot at, and I'm going to make a bull's-eye in spite of hell and
high water. I have no time to play, and there's no place to play if
I had. I don't intend to muddle along making a pittance like a hand
logger. I want a stake; and then it'll be time to make a splurge in
a country where a man can get a run for his money."
"If that's the case," she observed, "I'm likely to be a handicap
to you, am I not?"
"Lord, no," he smiled. "I'll put you to work too, when you get
rested up from your trip. You stick with me, Sis, and you'll wear
She laughed with him at this, and leaving the shady maple they
walked up to the hotel, where Benton proposed that they get a canoe
and paddle to where Roaring River flowed out of the lake half a
mile westward, to kill the time that must elapse before the
The St. Allwoods' car was rolling out to Hopyard when they came
back. By the time Benton had turned the canoe over to the boathouse
man and reached the wharf, the horn of the returning machine
sounded down the road. They waited. The car came to a stop at the
abutting wharf. The driver handed two suitcases off the burdened
hood of his machine. From out the tonneau clambered a large,
smooth-faced young man. He wore an expansive smile in addition to a
blue serge suit, white Panama, and polished tan Oxfords, and he
bestowed a hearty greeting upon Charlie Benton. But his smile
suffered eclipse, and a faint flush rose in his round cheeks, when
his eyes fell upon Benton's sister.
Miss Benton's cool, impersonal manner seemed rather to heighten
the young man's embarrassment. Benton, apparently observing nothing
amiss, introduced them in an offhand fashion.
"Mr. Abbey—my sister."
Mr. Abbey bowed and murmured something that passed for
acknowledgment. The three turned up the wharf toward where Sam
Davis had once more got up steam. As they walked, Mr. Abbey's
habitual assurance returned, and he directed part of his genial
flow of conversation to Miss Benton. To Stella's inner amusement,
however, he did not make any reference to their having been fellow
travelers for a day and a half.
Presently they were embarked and under way. Charlie fixed a seat
for her on the after deck, and went forward to steer, whither he
was straightway joined by Paul Abbey. Miss Benton was as well
pleased to be alone. She was not sure she should approve of young
men who made such crude efforts to scrape acquaintance with women
on trains. She was accustomed to a certain amount of formality in
such matters. It might perhaps be laid to the "breezy Western
manner" of which she had heard, except that Paul Abbey did not
impress her as a Westerner. He seemed more like a type of young man
she had encountered frequently in her own circle. At any rate, she
was relieved when he did not remain beside her to emit polite
commonplaces. She was quite satisfied to sit by herself and look
over the panorama of woods and lake—and wonder more than a
little what Destiny had in store for her along those silent
The Springs fell far behind, became a few white spots against
the background of dusky green. Except for the ripples spread by
their wake, the water laid oily smooth. Now, a little past four in
the afternoon, she began to sense by comparison the great bulk of
the western mountains,—locally, the Chehalis Range,—for
the sun was dipping behind the ragged peaks already, and deep
shadows stole out from the shore to port. Beneath her feet the
screw throbbed, pulsing like an overdriven heart, and Sam Davis
poked his sweaty face now and then through a window to catch a
breath of cool air denied him in the small inferno where he stoked
the fire box.
The Chickamin cleared Echo Island, and a greater sweep of
lake opened out. Here the afternoon wind sprang up, shooting
gustily through a gap between the Springs and Hopyard and ruffling
the lake out of its noonday siesta. Ripples, chop, and a growing
swell followed each other with that marvellous rapidity common to
large bodies of fresh water. It broke the monotony of steady
cleaving through dead calm. Stella was a good sailor, and she
rather enjoyed it when the Chickamin began to lift and yaw
off before the following seas that ran up under her fantail
After about an hour's run, with the south wind beginning to whip
the crests of the short seas into white foam, the boat bore in to a
landing behind a low point. Here Abbey disembarked, after taking
the trouble to come aft and shake hands with polite farewell.
Standing on the float, hat in hand, he bowed his sleek blond head
"I hope you'll like Roaring Lake, Miss Benton," he said, as
Benton jingled the go-ahead bell. "I tried to persuade Charlie to
stop over awhile, so you could meet my mother and sister, but he's
in too big a hurry. Hope to have the pleasure of meeting you again
Miss Benton parried courteously, a little at a loss to fathom
this bland friendliness, and presently the widening space cut off
their talk. As the boat drew offshore, she saw two women in white
come down toward the float, meet Abbey, and turn back. And a little
farther out through an opening in the woods, she saw a white and
green bungalow, low and rambling, wide-verandahed, set on a hillock
three hundred yards back from shore. There was an encircling area
of smooth lawn, a place restfully inviting.
Watching that, seeing a figure or two moving about, she was
smitten with a recurrence of that poignant loneliness which had
assailed her fitfully in the last four days. And while the
Chickamin was still plowing the inshore waters on an even
keel, she walked the guard rail alongside and joined her brother in
the pilot house.
"Isn't that a pretty place back there in the woods?" she
"Abbey's summer camp; spells money to me, that's all," Charlie
grumbled. "It's a toy for their women,—up-to-date cottage,
gardeners, tennis courts, afternoon tea on the lawn for the guests,
and all that. But the Abbey-Monohan bunch has the money to do what
they want to do. They've made it in timber, as I expect to make
mine. You didn't particularly want to stay over and get acquainted,
"I? Of course not," she responded.
"Personally, I don't want to mix into their social game,"
Charlie drawled. "Or at least, I don't propose to make any
tentative advances. The women put on lots of side, they say. If
they want to hunt us up and cultivate you, all right. But I've got
too much to do to butt into society. Anyway, I didn't want to run
up against any critical females looking like I do right now."
"Under certain circumstances, appearances do count then, in this
country," she remarked. "Has your Mr. Abbey got a young and
"He has, but that's got nothing to do with it," Charlie
retorted. "Paul's all right himself. But their gait isn't
mine—not yet. Here, you take the wheel a minute. I want to
smoke. I don't suppose you ever helmed a forty-footer, but you'll
never learn younger."
She took the wheel and Charlie stood by, directing her. In
twenty minutes they were out where the run of the sea from the
south had a fair sweep. The wind was whistling now. All the
roughened surface was spotted with whitecaps. The Chickamin
would hang on the crest of a wave and shoot forward like a racer,
her wheel humming, and again the roller would run out from under
her, and she would labor heavily in the trough.
It began to grow insufferably hot in the pilot house. The wind
drove with them, pressing the heat from the boiler and fire box
into the forward portion of the boat, where Stella stood at the
wheel. There were puffs of smoke when Davis opened the fire box to
ply it with fuel. All the sour smells that rose from an unclean
bilge eddied about them. The heat and the smell and the surging
motion began to nauseate Stella.
"I must get outside where I can breathe," she gasped, at length.
"It's suffocating. I don't see how you stand it."
"It does get stuffy in here when we run with the wind," Benton
admitted. "Cuts off our ventilation. I'm used to it. Crawl out the
window and sit on the forward deck. Don't try to get aft. You might
slip off, the way she's lurching."
Curled in the hollow of a faked-down hawser with the clean air
fanning her, Stella recovered herself. The giddiness left her. She
pitied Sam Davis back in that stinking hole beside the fire box.
But she supposed he, like her brother, was "used to it." Apparently
one could get used to anything, if she could judge by the amazing
change in Charlie.
Far ahead loomed a ridge running down to the lake shore and
cutting off in a bold promontory. That was Halfway Point, Charlie
had told her, and under its shadow lay his camp. Without any
previous knowledge of camps, she was approaching this one with less
eager anticipation than when she began her long journey. She began
to fear that it might be totally unlike anything she had been able
to imagine, disagreeably so. Charlie, she decided, had grown hard
and coarsened in the evolution of his ambition to get on, to make
his pile. She was but four years younger than he, and she had
always thought of herself as being older and wiser and steadier.
She had conceived the idea that her presence would have a good
influence on him, that they would pull together—now that
there were but the two of them. But four hours in his company had
dispelled that illusion. She had the wit to perceive that Charlie
Benton had emerged from the chrysalis stage, that he had the will
and the ability to mold his life after his elected fashion, and
that her coming was a relatively unimportant incident.
In due course the Chickamin bore in under Halfway Point,
opened out a sheltered bight where the watery commotion outside
raised but a faint ripple, and drew in alongside a float.
The girl swept lake shore, bay, and sloping forest with a
quickening eye. Here was no trim-painted cottage and velvet lawn.
In the waters beside and lining the beach floated innumerable logs,
confined by boomsticks, hundreds of trunks of fir, forty and sixty
feet long, four and six feet across the butt, timber enough, when
it had passed through the sawmills, to build four such towns as
Hopyard. Just back from the shore, amid stumps and littered
branches, rose the roofs of divers buildings. One was long and low.
Hard by it stood another of like type but of lesser dimension. Two
or three mere shanties lifted level with great stumps,—crude,
unpainted buildings. Smoke issued from the pipe of the larger, and
a white-aproned man stood in the doorway.
Somewhere in the screen of woods a whistle shrilled. Benton
looked at his watch.
"We made good time, in spite of the little roll," said he.
"That's the donkey blowing quitting time—six o'clock. Well,
come on up to the shack, Sis. Sam, you get a wheelbarrow and run
those trunks up after supper, will you?"
Away in the banked timber beyond the maples and alder which
Stella now saw masked the bank of a small stream flowing by the
cabins, a faint call rose, long-drawn:
They moved along a path beaten through fern and clawing
blackberry vine toward the camp, Benton carrying the two grips. A
loud, sharp crack split the stillness; then a mild swishing sound
arose. Hard on the heels of that followed a rending, tearing crash,
a thud that sent tremors through the solid earth under their feet.
The girl started.
"Falling gang dropped a big fir," Charlie laughed. "You'll get
used to that. You'll hear it a good many times a day here."
"Good Heavens, it sounded like the end of the world," she
"Well, you can't fell a stick of timber two hundred feet high
and six or eight feet through without making a pretty considerable
noise," her brother remarked complacently. "I like that sound
myself. Every big tree that goes down means a bunch of money."
He led the way past the mess-house, from the doorway of which
the aproned cook eyed her with frank curiosity, hailing his
employer with nonchalant air, a cigarette resting in one corner of
his mouth. Benton opened the door of the second building. Stella
followed him in.
It had the saving grace of cleanliness—according to
logging-camp standards. But the bareness of it appalled her. There
was a rusty box heater, littered with cigar and cigarette stubs, a
desk fabricated of undressed boards, a homemade chair or two,
sundry boxes standing about. The sole concession to comfort was a
rug of cheap Axminster covering half the floor. The walls were
decorated chiefly with miscellaneous clothing suspended from nails,
a few maps and blue prints tacked up askew. Straight across from
the entering door another stood ajar, and she could see further
vistas of bare board wall, small, dusty window-panes, and a bed
whereon gray blankets were tumbled as they fell when a waking
sleeper cast them aside.
Benton crossed the room and threw open another door.
"Here's a nook I fixed up for you, Stella," he said briskly. "It
isn't very fancy, but it's the best I could do just now."
She followed him in silently. He set her two bags on the floor
and turned to go. Then some impulse moved him to turn back, and he
put both hands on her shoulders and kissed her gently.
"You're home, anyway," he said. "That's something, if it isn't
what you're used to. Try to overlook the crudities. We'll have
supper as soon as you feel like it."
He went out, closing the door behind him.
Miss Estella Benton stood in the middle of the room fighting
against a swift heart-sinking, a terrible depression that strove to
"Good Lord in Heaven," she muttered at last. "What a place to be
marooned in. It's—it's simply impossible."
Her gaze roved about the room. A square box, neither more nor
less, fourteen by fourteen feet of bare board wall, unpainted and
unpapered. There was an iron bed, a willow rocker, and a rude
closet for clothes in one corner. A duplicate of the
department-store bargain rug in the other room lay on the floor. On
an upturned box stood an enamel pitcher and a tin washbasin. That
She sat down on the bed and viewed it forlornly. A wave of
sickening rebellion against everything swept over her. To herself
she seemed as irrevocably alone as if she had been lost in the
depths of the dark timber that rose on every hand. And sitting
there she heard at length the voices of men. Looking out through a
window curtained with cheesecloth she saw her brother's logging
gang swing past, stout woodsmen all, big men, tall men,
short-bodied men with thick necks and shoulders, sunburned, all
grimy with the sweat of their labors, carrying themselves with a
free and reckless swing, the doubles in type of that roistering
crew she had seen embark on Jack Fyfe's boat.
In so far as she had taken note of those who labored with their
hands in the region of her birth, she had seen few like these. The
chauffeur, the footman, the street cleaner, the factory
workers—they were all different. They lacked
something,—perhaps nothing in the way of physical excellence;
but these men betrayed in every movement a subtle difference that
she could not define. Her nearest approximation and the first
attempt she made at analysis was that they looked like pirates.
They were bold men and strong; that was written in their faces and
the swing of them as they walked. And they served the very
excellent purpose of taking her mind off herself for the time
She watched them cluster by a bench before the cookhouse, dabble
their faces and hands in washbasins, scrub themselves promiscuously
on towels, sometimes one at each end of a single piece of cloth,
hauling it back and forth in rude play.
All about that cookhouse dooryard spread a confusion of empty
tin cans, gaudily labeled, containers of corn and peas and
tomatoes. Dishwater and refuse, chips, scraps, all the refuse of
the camp was scattered there in unlovely array.
But that made no more than a passing impression upon her. She
was thinking, as she removed her hat and gloves, of what queer
angles come now and then to the human mind. She wondered why she
should be sufficiently interested in her brother's hired men to
drive off a compelling attack of the blues in consideration of them
as men. Nevertheless, she found herself unable to view them as she
had viewed, say, the clerks in her father's office.
She began to brush her hair and to wonder what sort of food
would be served for supper.
A FORETASTE OF THINGS TO COME
Half an hour later she sat down with her brother at one end of a
table that was but a long bench covered with oilcloth. Chairs there
were none. A narrow movable bench on each side of the fixed table
furnished seating capacity for twenty men, provided none objected
to an occasional nudging from his neighbor's elbow. The dishes,
different from any she had ever eaten from, were of enormously
thick porcelain, dead white, variously chipped and cracked with
fine seams. But the food, if plain, was of excellent quality,
tastily cooked. She discovered herself with an appetite wholly
independent of silver and cut glass and linen. The tin spoons and
steel knives and forks harrowed her aesthetic sense without
impairing her ability to satisfy hunger.
They had the dining room to themselves. Through a single shiplap
partition rose a rumble of masculine talk, where the logging crew
loafed in their bunkhouse. The cook served them without any
ceremony, putting everything on the table at once,—soup,
meat, vegetables, a bread pudding for dessert, coffee in a tall tin
pot. Benton introduced him to his sister. He withdrew hastily to
the kitchen, and they saw no more of him.
"Charlie," the girl said plaintively, when the man had closed
the door behind him, "I don't quite fathom your social customs out
here. Is one supposed to know everybody that one encounters?"
"Just about," he grinned. "Loggers, Siwashes, and the natives in
general. Can't very well help it, Sis. There's so few people in
this neck of the woods that nobody can afford to be
exclusive,—at least, nobody who lives here any length of
time. You can't tell when you may have to call on your neighbor or
the fellow working for you in a matter of life and death almost. A
man couldn't possibly maintain the same attitude toward a bunch of
loggers working under him that would be considered proper back
where we came from. Take me, for instance, and my case is no
different from any man operating on a moderate scale out here. I'd
get the reputation of being swell-headed, and they'd put me in the
hole at every turn. They wouldn't care what they did or how it was
done. Ten to one I couldn't keep a capable working crew three weeks
on end. On the other hand, take a bunch of loggers on a pay roll
working for a man that meets them on an equal footing—why,
they'll go to hell and back again for him. They're as loyal as
soldiers to the flag. They're a mighty self-sufficient, independent
lot, these lumberjacks, and that goes for most everybody knocking
about in this country,—loggers, prospectors, miners,
settlers, and all. If you're what they term 'all right,' you can do
anything, and they'll back you up. If you go to putting on airs and
trying to assert yourself as a superior being, they'll go out of
their way to hand you packages of trouble."
"I see," she observed thoughtfully. "One's compelled by
circumstances to practice democracy."
"Something like that," he responded carelessly and went on
eating his supper.
"Don't you think we could make this place a lot more homelike,
Charlie?" she ventured, when they were back in their own quarters.
"I suppose it suits a man who only uses it as a place to sleep, but
it's bare as a barn."
"It takes money to make a place cosy," Benton returned. "And I
haven't had it to spend on knickknacks."
"Fiddlesticks!" she laughed. "A comfortable chair or two and
curtains and pictures aren't knickknacks, as you call them. The
cost wouldn't amount to anything."
Benton stuffed the bowl of a pipe and lighted it before he
"Look here, Stella," he said earnestly. "This joint probably
strikes you as about the limit, seeing that you've been used to
pretty soft surroundings and getting pretty nearly anything you
wanted whenever you expressed a wish for it. Things that you've
grown into the way of considering necessities are luxuries.
And they're out of the question for us at present. I got a pretty
hard seasoning the first two years I was in this country, and when
I set up this camp it was merely a place to live. I never thought
anything about it as being comfortable or otherwise until you
elected to come. I'm not in a position to go in for trimmings.
Rough as this camp is, it will have to go as it stands this summer.
I'm up against it for ready money. I've got none due until I make
delivery of those logs in September, and I have to have that
million feet in the water in order to make delivery. Every one of
these men but the cook and the donkey engineer are working for me
with their wages deferred until then. There are certain expenses
that must be met with cash—and I've got all my funds figured
down to nickels. If I get by on this contract, I'll have a few
hundred to squander on house things. Until then, it's the simple
life for us. You can camp for three or four months, can't you,
without finding it completely unbearable?"
"Why, of course," she protested. "I wasn't complaining about the
way things are. I merely voiced the idea that it would be nice to
fix up a little cosier, make these rooms look a little homelike. I
didn't know you were practically compelled to live like this as a
matter of economy."
"Well, in a sense, I am," he replied. "And then again, making a
place away out here homelike never struck me as being anything but
an inconsequential detail. I'm not trying to make a home here. I'm
after a bundle of money. A while ago, if you had been here and
suggested it, you could have spent five or six hundred, and I
wouldn't have missed it. But this contract came my way, and gave me
a chance to clean up three thousand dollars clear profit in four
months. I grabbed it, and I find it's some undertaking. I'm dealing
with a hard business outfit, hard as nails. I might get the banks
or some capitalist to finance me, because my timber holdings are
worth money. But I'm shy of that. I've noticed that when a logger
starts working on borrowed capital, he generally goes broke. The
financiers generally devise some way to hook him. I prefer to sail
as close to the wind as I can on what little I've got. I can get
this timber out—but it wouldn't look nice, now, would it, for
me to be buying furniture when I'm standing these boys off for
their wages till September?"
"I should have been a man," Miss Estella Benton pensively
remarked. "Then I could put on overalls and make myself useful,
instead of being a drone. There doesn't seem to be anything here I
can do. I could keep house—only you haven't any house to
keep, therefore no need of a housekeeper. Why, who's that?"
Her ear had caught a low, throaty laugh, a woman's laugh,
outside. She looked inquiringly at her brother. His expression
remained absent, as of one concentrated upon his own problems. She
repeated the question.
"That? Oh, Katy John, I suppose, or her mother," he answered.
"Siwash bunch camping around the point. The girl does some washing
for us now and then. I suppose she's after Matt for some bread or
Stella looked out. At the cookhouse door stood a short,
plump-bodied girl, dark-skinned and black-haired. Otherwise she
conformed to none of Miss Benton's preconceived ideas of the
aboriginal inhabitant. If she had been pinned down, she would
probably have admitted that she expected to behold an Indian maiden
garbed in beaded buckskin and brass ornaments. Instead, Katy John
wore a white sailor blouse, a brown pleated skirt, tan shoes, and a
bow of baby blue ribbon in her hair.
"Why, she talks good English," Miss Benton exclaimed, as
fragments of the girl's speech floated over to her.
"Sure. As good as anybody," Charlie drawled. "Why not?"
"Well—er—I suppose my notion of Indians is rather
vague," Stella admitted. "Are they all civilized and educated?"
"Most of 'em," Benton replied. "The younger generation anyhow.
Say, Stell, can you cook?"
"A little," Stella rejoined guardedly. "That Indian girl's
really pretty, isn't she?"
"They nearly all are when they're young," he observed. "But they
are old and tubby by the time they're thirty."
Katy John's teeth shone white between her parted lips at some
sally from the cook. She stood by the door, swinging a straw hat in
one hand. Presently Matt handed her a parcel done up in newspaper,
and she walked away with a nod to some of the loggers sitting with
their backs against the bunkhouse wall.
"Why were you asking if I could cook?" Stella inquired, when the
girl vanished in the brush.
"Why, your wail about being a man and putting on overalls and
digging in reminded me that if you liked you may have a chance to
get on your apron and show us what you can do," he laughed. "Matt's
about due to go on a tear. He's been on the water-wagon now about
his limit. The first man that comes along with a bottle of whisky,
Matt will get it and quit and head for town. I was wondering if you
and Katy John could keep the gang from starving to death if that
happened. The last time I had to get in and cook for two weeks
myself. And I can't run a logging crew from the cook shanty very
"I daresay I could manage," Stella returned dubiously. "This
seems to be a terrible place for drinking. Is it the accepted thing
to get drunk at all times and in public?"
"It's about the only excitement there is," Benton smiled
tolerantly. "I guess there is no more drinking out here than any
other part of this North American continent. Only a man here gets
drunk openly and riotously without any effort to hide it, and
without it being considered anything but a natural lapse. That's
one thing you'll have to get used to out here, Stell—I mean,
that what vices men have are all on the surface. We don't get drunk
secretly at the club and sneak home in a taxi. Oh, well, we'll
cross the bridge when we come to it. Matt may not break out for
He yawned openly.
"Sleepy?" Stella inquired.
"I get up every morning between four and five," he replied. "And
I can go to sleep any time after supper."
"I think I'll take a walk along the beach," she said
"All right. Don't hike into the woods and get lost, though."
She circled the segment of bay, climbed a low, rocky point, and
found herself a seat on a fallen tree. Outside the lake heaved
uneasily, still dotted with whitecaps whipped up by the southerly
gale. At her feet surge after surge hammered the gravelly shore.
Far through the woods behind her the wind whistled and hummed among
swaying tops of giant fir and cedar. There was a heady freshness in
that rollicking wind, an odor resinous and pungent mingled with
that elusive smell of green growing stuff along the shore.
Beginning where she sat, tree trunks rose in immense brown pillars,
running back in great forest naves, shadowy always, floored with
green moss laid in a rich, soft carpet for the wood-sprites' feet.
Far beyond the long gradual lower slope lifted a range of
saw-backed mountains, the sanctuary of wild goat and bear, and
across the rolling lake lifted other mountains sheer from the
water's edge, peaks rising above timber-line in majestic contour,
their pinnacle crests grazing the clouds that scudded before the
Beauty? Yes. A wild, imposing grandeur that stirred some
responsive chord in her. If only one could live amid such
surrounding with a contented mind, she thought, the wilderness
would have compensations of its own. She had an uneasy feeling that
isolation from everything that had played an important part in her
life might be the least depressing factor in this new existence.
She could not view the rough and ready standards of the woods with
much equanimity—not as she had that day seen them set forth.
These things were bound to be a part of her daily life, and all the
brief span of her years had gone to forming habits of speech and
thought and manner diametrically opposed to what she had so far
She nursed her chin in her hand and pondered this. She could not
see how it was to be avoided. She was there, and perforce she must
stay there. She had no friends to go elsewhere, or training in the
harsh business of gaining a livelihood if she did go. For the first
time she began dully to resent the manner of her upbringing. Once
she had desired to enter hospital training, had been properly
enthusiastic for a period of months over a career in this field of
mercy. Then, as now, marriage, while accepted as the ultimate
state, was only to be considered through a haze of idealism and
romanticism. She cherished certain ideals of a possible lover and
husband, but always with a false sense of shame. The really serious
business of a woman's life was the one thing to which she made no
attempt to apply practical consideration. But her parents had had
positive ideas on that subject, even if they were not openly
expressed. Her yearnings after a useful "career" were skilfully
discouraged,—by her mother because that worthy lady thought
it was "scarcely the thing, Stella dear, and so unnecessary"; by
her father because, as he bluntly put it, it would only be a waste
of time and money, since the chances were she would get married
before she was half through training, and anyway a girl's place was
at home till she did get married. That was his only reference to
the subject of her ultimate disposition that she could recall, but
it was plain enough as far as it went.
It was too late to mourn over lost opportunities now, but she
did wish there was some one thing she could do and do well, some
service of value that would guarantee self-support. If she could
only pound a typewriter or keep a set of books, or even make a
passable attempt at sewing, she would have felt vastly more at ease
in this rude logging camp, knowing that she could leave it if she
So far as she could see things, she looked at them with
measurable clearness, without any vain illusions concerning her
ability to march triumphant over unknown fields of endeavor. Along
practical lines she had everything to learn. Culture furnishes an
excellent pair of wings wherewith to soar in skies of abstraction,
but is a poor vehicle to carry one over rough roads. She might have
remained in Philadelphia, a guest among friends. Pride forbade
that. Incidentally, such an arrangement would have enabled her to
stalk a husband, a moneyed husband, which did not occur to her at
all. There remained only to join Charlie. If his fortunes mended,
well and good. Perhaps she could even help in minor ways.
But it was all so radically different—brother and
all—from what she had pictured that she was filled with
dismay and not a little foreboding of the future. Sufficient,
however, unto the day was the evil thereof, she told herself at
last, and tried to make that assurance work a change of heart. She
was very lonely and depressed and full of a futile wish that she
were a man.
Over across the bay some one was playing an accordeon, and to
its strains a stout-lunged lumberjack was roaring out a song, with
all his fellows joining strong in the chorus:
"Oh, the Saginaw Kid was a cook in a camp, way up
on the Ocon-to-o-o.
And the cook in a camp in them old days had a damn hard row to
Had a damn hard row to hoe."
There was a fine, rollicking air to it. The careless note in
their voices, the jovial lilt of their song, made her envious. They
at least had their destiny, limited as it might be and cast along
rude ways, largely under their own control.
Her wandering gaze at length came to rest on a tent top showing
in the brush northward from the camp. She saw two canoes drawn up
on the beach above the lash of the waves, two small figures playing
on the gravel, and sundry dogs prowling alongshore. Smoke went
eddying away in the wind. The Siwash camp where Katy John hailed
from, Miss Benton supposed.
She had an impulse to skirt the bay and view the Indian camp at
closer range, a notion born of curiosity. She debated this
casually, and just as she was about to rise, her movement was
arrested by a faint crackle in the woods behind. She looked away
through the deepening shadow among the trees and saw nothing at
first. But the sound was repeated at odd intervals. She sat still.
Thoughts of forest animals slipped into her mind, without making
her afraid. At last she caught sight of a man striding through the
timber, soundlessly on the thick moss, coming almost straight
He was scarcely fifty yards away. Across his shoulders he bore a
reddish-gray burden, and in his right hand was a gun. She did not
move. Bowed slightly under the weight, the man passed within twenty
feet of her, so close that she could see the sweat-beads glisten on
that side of his face, and saw also that the load he carried was
the carcass of a deer.
Gaining the beach and laying the animal across a boulder, he
straightened himself up and drew a long breath. Then he wiped the
sweat off his face. She recognized him as the man who had thrown
the logger down the slip that day at noon,—presumably Jack
Fyfe. A sturdily built man about thirty, of Saxon fairness, with a
tinge of red in his hair and a liberal display of freckles across
nose and cheek bones. He was no beauty, she decided, albeit he
displayed a frank and pleasing countenance. That he was a
remarkably strong and active man she had seen for herself, and if
the firm round of his jaw counted for anything, an individual of
considerable determination besides. Miss Benton conceived herself
to be possessed of considerable skill at character analysis.
He put away his handkerchief, took up his rifle, settled his
hat, and strode off toward the camp. Her attention now diverted
from the Siwashes, she watched him, saw him go to her brother's
quarters, stand in the door a minute, then go back to the beach
accompanied by Charlie.
In a minute or so he came rowing across in a skiff, threw his
deer aboard, and pulled away north along the shore.
She watched him lift and fall among the waves until he turned a
point, rowing with strong, even strokes. Then she walked home.
Benton was poring over some figures, but he pushed aside his pencil
and paper when she entered.
"You had a visitor, I see," she remarked.
"Yes, Jack Fyfe. He picked up a deer on the ridge behind here
and borrowed a boat to get home."
"I saw him come out of the woods," she said. "His camp can't be
far from here, is it? He only left the Springs as you came in. Does
he hunt deer for sport?"
"Hardly. Oh, well, I suppose it's sport for Jack, in a way. He's
always piking around in the woods with a gun or a fishing rod,"
Benton returned. "But we kill 'em to eat mostly. It's good meat and
cheap. I get one myself now and then. However, you want to keep
that under your hat—about us fellows hunting—or we'll
have game wardens nosing around here."
"Are you not allowed to hunt them?" she asked.
"Not in close season. Hunting season's from September to
"If it's unlawful, why break the law?" she ventured
hesitatingly. "Isn't that rather—er—"
"Oh, bosh," Charlie derided. "A man in the woods is entitled to
venison, if he's hunter enough to get it. The woods are full of
deer, and a few more or less don't matter. We can't run forty miles
to town and back and pay famine prices for beef every two or three
days, when we can get it at home in the woods."
Stella digested this in silence, but it occurred to her that
this mild sample of lawlessness was quite in keeping with the men
and the environment. There was no policeman on the corner, no
mechanism of law and order visible anywhere. The characteristic
attitude of these woodsmen was of intolerance for restraint, of
complete self-sufficiency. It had colored her brother's point of
view. She perceived that whereas all her instinct was to know the
rules of the game and abide by them, he, taking his cue from his
environment, inclined to break rules that proved inconvenient, even
to formulate new ones to apply.
"And suppose," said she, "that a game warden should catch you or
Mr. Jack Fyfe killing deer out of season?"
"We'd be hauled up and fined a hundred dollars or so," he told
her. "But they don't catch us."
He shrugged his shoulders, and smiling tolerantly upon her,
proceeded to smoke.
Dusk was falling now, the long twilight of the northern seasons
gradually deepening, as they sat in silence. Along the creek bank
arose the evening chorus of the frogs. The air, now hushed and
still, was riven every few minutes by the whir of wings as ducks in
evening flight swept by above. All the boisterous laughter and talk
in the bunkhouse had died. The woods ranged gloomy and
impenetrable, save only in the northwest, where a patch of sky
lighted by diffused pink and gray revealed one mountain higher than
its fellows standing bald against the horizon.
"Well, I guess it's time to turn in." Benton muffled a yawn.
"Pleasant dreams, Sis. Oh, here's your purse. I used part of the
bank roll. You won't have much use for money up here, anyway."
He flipped the purse across to her and sauntered into his
bedroom. Stella sat gazing thoughtfully at the vast bulk of Mount
Douglas a few minutes longer. Then she too went into the box-like
room, the bare discomfort of which chilled her merely to
With a curious uncertainty, a feeling of reluctance for the
proceeding almost, she examined the contents of her purse. For a
little time she stood gazing into it, a queer curl to her full red
lips. Then she flung it contemptuously on the bed and began to take
down her hair.
"'A rich, rough, tough country, where it doesn't do to be
finicky about anything,'" she murmured, quoting a line from one of
Charlie Benton's letters. "It would appear to be rather
unpleasantly true. Particularly the last clause."
In her purse, which had contained one hundred and ten dollars,
there now reposed in solitary state a twenty-dollar bill.
THE TOLL OF BIG TIMBER
Day came again, in the natural sequence of events. Matt, the
cook, roused all the camp at six o'clock with a tremendous banging
on a piece of boiler plate hung by a wire. Long before that Stella
heard her brother astir. She wondered sleepily at his
sprightliness, for as she remembered him at home he had been a
confirmed lie-abed. She herself responded none too quickly to the
breakfast gong, as a result of which slowness the crew had filed
away to the day's work, her brother striding in the lead, when she
entered the mess-house.
She killed time with partial success till noon. Several times
she was startled to momentary attention by the prolonged series of
sharp cracks which heralded the thunderous crash of a falling tree.
There were other sounds which betokened the loggers' activity in
the near-by forest,—the ringing whine of saw blades, the dull
stroke of the axe, voices calling distantly.
She tried to interest herself in the camp and the beach and
ended up by sitting on a log in a shady spot, staring dreamily over
the lake. She thought impatiently of that homely saw concerning
Satan and idle hands, but she reflected also that in this isolation
even mischief was comparatively impossible. There was not a soul to
hold speech with except the cook, and he was too busy to talk, even
if he had not been afflicted with a painful degree of diffidence
when she addressed him. She could make no effort at settling down,
at arranging things in what was to be her home. There was nothing
to arrange, no odds and ends wherewith almost any woman can conjure
up a homelike effect in the barest sort of place. She beheld the
noon return of the crew much as a shipwrecked castaway on a desert
shore might behold a rescuing sail, and she told Charlie that she
intended to go into the woods that afternoon and watch them
"All right," said he. "Just so you don't get in the way of a
A narrow fringe of brush and scrubby timber separated the camp
from the actual work. From the water's edge to the donkey engine
was barely four hundred yards. From donkey to a ten-foot jump-off
on the lake shore in a straight line on a five per cent. gradient
ran a curious roadway, made by placing two logs in the hollow
scooped by tearing great timbers over the soft earth, and a bigger
log on each side. Butt to butt and side to side, the outer sticks
half their thickness above the inner, they formed a continuous
trough the bottom and sides worn smooth with friction of sliding
timbers. Stella had crossed it the previous evening and wondered
what it was. Now, watching them at work, she saw. Also she saw why
the great stumps that rose in every clearing in this land of
massive trees were sawed six and eight feet above the ground.
Always at the base the firs swelled sharply. Wherefore the falling
gangs lifted themselves above the enlargement to make their
Two sawyers attacked a tree. First, with their double-bitted
axes, each drove a deep notch into the sapwood just wide enough to
take the end of a two-by-six plank four or five feet long with a
single grab-nail in the end,—the springboard of the Pacific
coast logger, whose daily business lies among the biggest timber on
God's footstool. Each then clambered up on his precarious perch,
took hold of his end of the long, limber saw, and cut in to a depth
of a foot or more, according to the size of the tree. Then jointly
they chopped down to this sawed line, and there was the undercut
complete, a deep notch on the side to which the tree would fall.
That done, they swung the ends of their springboards, or if it were
a thick trunk, made new holding notches on the other side, and the
long saw would eat steadily through the heart of the tree toward
that yellow, gashed undercut, stroke upon stroke, ringing with a
thin, metallic twang. Presently there would arise an ominous
cracking. High in the air the tall crest would dip slowly, as if it
bowed with manifest reluctance to the inevitable. The sawyers would
drop lightly from their springboards, crying:
The earthward swoop of the upper boughs would hasten till the
air was full of a whistling, whishing sound. Then came the rending
crash as the great tree smashed prone, crushing what small timber
stood in its path, followed by the earth-quivering shock of its
impact with the soil. The tree once down, the fallers went on to
another. Immediately the swampers fell upon the prone trunk with
axes, denuding it of limbs; the buckers followed them to saw it
into lengths decreed by the boss logger. When the job was done, the
brown fir was no longer a stately tree but saw-logs, each with the
square butt that lay donkeyward, trimmed a trifle rounding with the
Benton worked one falling gang. The falling gang raced to keep
ahead of the buckers and swampers, and they in turn raced to keep
ahead of the hook tender, rigging slinger, and donkey, which last
trio moved the logs from woods to water, once they were down and
trimmed. Terrible, devastating forces of destruction they seemed to
Stella Benton, wholly unused as she was to any woodland save the
well-kept parks and little areas of groomed forest in her native
State. All about in the ravaged woods lay the big logs, scores of
them. They had only begun to pull with the donkey a week earlier,
Benton explained to her. With his size gang he could not keep a
donkey engine working steadily. So they had felled and trimmed to a
good start, and now the falling crew and the swampers and buckers
were in a dingdong contest to see how long they could keep ahead of
the puffing Seattle yarder.
Stella sat on a stump, watching. Over an area of many acres the
ground was a litter of broken limbs, ragged tops, crushed and bent
and broken younger growth, twisted awry by the big trees in their
fall. Huge stumps upthrust like beacons in a ruffled harbor, grim,
massive butts. From all the ravaged wood rose a pungent smell of
pitch and sap, a resinous, pleasant smell. Radiating like the
spokes of a wheel from the head of the chute ran deep, raw gashes
in the earth, where the donkey had hauled up the Brobdingnagian
logs on the end of an inch cable.
"This is no small boy's play, is it, Stell?" Charlie said to her
once in passing.
And she agreed that it was not. Agreed more emphatically and
with half-awed wonder when she saw the donkey puff and quiver on
its anchor cable, as the hauling line spooled up on the drum. On
the outer end of that line snaked a sixty-foot stick, five feet
across the butt, but it came down to the chute head, brushing earth
and brush and small trees aside as if they were naught. Once the
big log caromed against a stump. The rearward end flipped ten feet
in the air and thirty feet sidewise. But it came clear and slid
with incredible swiftness to the head of the chute, flinging aside
showers of dirt and small stones, and leaving one more deep furrow
in the forest floor. Benton trotted behind it. Once it came to rest
well in the chute, he unhooked the line, freed the choker (the
short noosed loop of cable that slips over the log's end), and the
haul-back cable hurried the main line back to another log. Benton
followed, and again the donkey shuddered on its foundation skids
till another log laid in the chute, with its end butted against
that which lay before. One log after another was hauled down till
half a dozen rested there, elongated peas in a wooden pod.
Then a last big stick came with a rush, bunted these others
powerfully so that they began to slide with the momentum thus
imparted, slowly at first then, gathering way and speed, they shot
down to the lake and plunged to the water over the ten-foot
jump-off like a school of breaching whales.
All this took time, vastly more time than it takes in the
telling. The logs were ponderous masses. They had to be maneuvered
sometimes between stumps and standing timber, jerked this way and
that to bring them into the clear. By four o'clock Benton and his
rigging-slinger had just finished bunting their second batch of
logs down the chute. Stella watched these Titanic labors with a
growing interest and a dawning vision of why these men walked the
earth with that reckless swing of their shoulders. For they were
palpably masters in their environment. They strove with woodsy
giants and laid them low. Amid constant dangers they sweated at a
task that shamed the seven labors of Hercules. Gladiators they were
in a contest from which they did not always emerge victorious.
When Benton and his helper followed the haul-back line away to
the domain of the falling gang the last time, Stella had so far
unbent as to strike up conversation with the donkey engineer. That
greasy individual finished stoking his fire box and replied to her
"Work? You bet," said he. "It's real graft, this is. I got the
easy end of it, and mine's no snap. I miss a signal, big stick
butts against something solid; biff! goes the line and maybe cuts a
man plumb in two. You got to be wide awake when you run a loggin'
donkey. These woods is no place for a man, anyway, if he ain't spry
both in his head and feet."
"Do many men get hurt logging?" Stella asked. "It looks awfully
dangerous, with these big trees falling and smashing everything.
Look at that. Goodness!"
From the donkey they could see a shower of ragged splinters and
broken limbs fly when a two-hundred-foot fir smashed a dead cedar
that stood in the way of its downward swoop. They could hear the
pieces strike against brush and trees like the patter of shot on a
The donkey engineer gazed calmly enough.
"Them flyin' chunks raise the dickens sometimes," he observed.
"Oh, yes, now an' then a man gets laid out. There's some things you
got to take a chance on. Maybe you get cut with an axe, or a limb
drops on you, or you get in the way of a breakin'
line,—though a man ain't got any business in the bight of a
line. A man don't stand much show when the end of a inch 'n' a
quarter cable snaps at him like a whiplash. I seen a feller on Howe
Sound cut square in two with a cable-end once. A broken block's the
worst, though. That generally gets the riggin' slinger, but a piece
of it's liable to hit anybody. You see them big iron pulley blocks
the haul-back cable works in? Well, sometimes they have to anchor a
snatch block to a stump an' run the main line through it at an
angle to get a log out the way you want. Suppose the block breaks
when I'm givin' it to her? Chunks uh that broken cast iron'll fly
like bullets. Yes, sir, broken blocks is bad business. Maybe you
noticed the boys used the snatch block two or three times this
afternoon? We've been lucky in this camp all spring. Nobody so much
as nicked himself with an axe. Breaks in the gear don't come very
often, anyway, with an outfit in first-class shape. We got good
gear an' a good crew—about as skookum a bunch as I
ever saw in the woods."
Two hundred yards distant Charlie Benton rose on a stump and
semaphored with his arms. The engineer whistled answer and stood to
his levers; the main line began to spool slowly in on the drum.
Another signal, and he shut off. Another signal, after a brief
wait, and the drum rolled faster, the line tautened like a
fiddle-string, and the ponderous machine vibrated with the strain
of its effort.
Suddenly the line came slack. Stella, watching for the log to
appear, saw her brother leap backward off the stump, saw the cable
whip sidewise, mowing down a clump of saplings that stood in the
bight of the line, before the engineer could cut off the power. In
that return of comparative silence there rose above the sibilant
hiss of the blow-off valve a sudden commotion of voices.
"Damn!" the donkey engineer peered over the brush. "That don't
sound good. I guess somebody got it in the neck."
Almost immediately Sam Davis and two other men came running.
"What's up?" the engineer called as they passed on a dog
"Block broke," Davis answered over his shoulder. "Piece of it
near took a leg off Jim Renfrew."
Stella stood a moment, hesitating.
"I may be able to do something. I'll go and see," she said.
"Better not," the engineer warned. "Liable to run into something
that'll about turn your stomach. What was I tellin' about a broken
block? Them ragged pieces of flyin' iron sure mess a man up.
They'll bring a bed spring, an' pack him down to the boat, an' get
him to a doctor quick as they can. That's all. You couldn't do
Nevertheless she went. Renfrew was the rigging slinger working
with Charlie, a big, blond man who blushed like a schoolboy when
Benton introduced him to her. Twenty minutes before he had gone
trotting after the haul-back, sound and hearty, laughing at some
sally of her brother's. It seemed a trifle incredible that he
should lie mangled and bleeding among the green forest growth,
while his fellows hurried for a stretcher.
Two hundred yards at right angles from where Charlie had stood
giving signals she found a little group under a branchy cedar.
Renfrew lay on his back, mercifully unconscious. Benton squatted
beside him, twisting a silk handkerchief with a stick tightly above
the wound. His hands and Renfrew's clothing and the mossy ground
was smeared with blood. Stella looked over his shoulder. The
overalls were cut away. In the thick of the man's thigh stood a
ragged gash she could have laid both hands in. She drew back.
Benton looked up.
"Better keep away," he advised shortly. "We've done all that can
She retreated a little and sat down on a root, half-sickened.
The other two men stood up. Benton sat back, his first-aid work
done, and rolled a cigarette with fingers that shook a little. Off
to one side she saw the fallers climb up on their springboards.
Presently arose the ringing whine of the thin steel blade, the
chuck of axes where the swampers attacked a fallen tree. No matter,
she thought, that injury came to one, that death might hover near,
the work went on apace, like action on a battlefield.
A few minutes thereafter the two men who had gone with Sam Davis
returned with the spring from Benton's bed and a light mattress.
They laid the injured logger on this and covered him with a
blanket. Then four of them picked it up. As they started, Stella
heard one say to her brother:
"What?" Benton exploded. "Where'd it come from?"
"One uh them Hungry Bay shingle-bolt cutters's in camp," the
logger answered. "Maybe he brought a bottle. I didn't stop to see.
But Matt's sure got a tank full."
Benton ripped out an angry oath, passed his men, and strode away
down the path. Stella fell in behind him, wakened to a sudden
uneasiness at the wrathful set of his features. She barely kept in
sight, so rapidly did he move.
Sam Davis had smoke pouring from the Chickamin's stack,
but the kitchen pipe lifted no blue column, though it was close to
five o'clock. Benton made straight for the cookhouse. Stella
followed, a trifle uncertainly. A glimpse past Charlie as he came
out showed her Matt staggering aimlessly about the kitchen,
red-eyed, scowling, muttering to himself. Benton hurried to the
bunkhouse door, much as a hound might follow a scent, peered in,
and went on to the corner.
On the side facing the lake he found the source of the cook's
intoxication. A tall and swarthy lumberjack squatted on his
haunches, gabbling in the Chinook jargon to a klootchman and
a wizen-featured old Siwash. The Indian woman was drunk beyond any
mistaking, affably drunk. She looked up at Benton out of vacuous
eyes, grinned, and extended to him a square-faced bottle of Old Tim
gin. The logger rose to his feet.
"H'lo, Benton," he greeted thickly. "How's every-thin'?"
Benton's answer was a quick lurch of his body and a smashing jab
of his clenched fist. The blow stretched the logger on his back,
with blood streaming from both nostrils. But he was a hardy
customer, for he bounced up like a rubber ball, only to be floored
even more viciously before he was well set on his feet. This time
Benton snarled a curse and kicked him as he lay.
"Charlie, Charlie!" Stella screamed.
If he heard her, he gave no heed.
"Hit the trail, you," he shouted at the logger. "Hit it quick
before I tramp your damned face into the ground. I told you once
not to come around here feeding booze to my cook. I do all the
whisky-drinking that's done in this camp, and don't you forget it.
Damn your eyes, I've got troubles enough without whisky."
The man gathered himself up, badly shaken, and holding his hand
to his bleeding nose, made off to his rowboat at the float.
"G'wan home," Benton curtly ordered the Siwashes. "Get drunk at
your own camp, not in mine. Sabe? Beat it."
They scuttled off, the wizened little old man steadying his fat
klootch along her uncertain way. Down on the lake the
chastised logger stood out in his boat, resting once on his oars to
shake a fist at Benton. Then Charlie faced about on his shocked and
"Good Heavens!" she burst out. "Is it necessary to be so
downright brutal in actions as well as speech?"
"I'm running a logging camp, not a kindergarten," he snapped
angrily. "I know what I'm doing. If you don't like it, go in the
house where your hyper-sensitive tastes won't be offended."
"Thank you," she responded cuttingly and swung about, angry and
hurt—only to have a fresh scare from the drunken cook, who
came reeling forward.
"I'm gonna quit," he loudly declared. "I ain't goin' to stick
'round here no more. The job's no good. I want m' time. Yuh hear
me, Benton. I'm through. Com-pletely, ab-sho-lutely through. You
bet I am. Gimme m' time. I'm a gone goose."
"Quit, then, hang you," Benton growled. "You'll get your check
in a minute. You're a fine excuse for a cook, all right—get
drunk right on the job. You don't need to show up here again, when
you've had your jag out."
"'S all right," Matt declared largely. "'S other jobs. You ain't
the whole Pacific coast. Oh, way down 'pon the Swa-a-nee
He broke into dolorous song and turned back into the cookhouse.
Benton's hard-set face relaxed. He laughed shortly.
"Takes all kinds to make a world," he commented. "Don't look so
horrified, Sis. This isn't the regular order of events. It's just
an accumulation—and it sort of got me going. Here's the
The four stretcher men set down their burden in the shade of the
bunkhouse. Renfrew was conscious now.
"Tough luck, Jim," Benton sympathized. "Does it pain much?"
Renfrew shook his head. White and weakened from shock and loss
of blood, nevertheless he bravely disclaimed pain.
"We'll get you fixed up at the Springs," Benton went on. "It's a
nasty slash in the meat, but I don't think the bone was touched.
You'll be on deck before long. I'll see you through, anyway."
They gave him a drink of water and filled his pipe, joking him
about easy days in the hospital while they sweated in the woods.
The drunken cook came out, carrying his rolled blankets, began
maudlin sympathy, and was promptly squelched, whereupon he
retreated to the float, emitting conversation to the world at
large. Then they carried Renfrew down to the float, and Davis began
to haul up the anchor to lay the Chickamin alongside.
While the chain was still chattering in the hawse pipe, the
squat black hull of Jack Fyfe's tender rounded the nearest
"Whistle him up, Sam," Benton ordered. "Jack can beat our time,
and this bleeding must be stopped quick."
The tender veered in from her course at the signal. Fyfe himself
was at the wheel. Five minutes effected a complete arrangement, and
the Panther drew off with the drunken cook singing atop of
the pilot house, and Renfrew comfortable in her cabin, and Jack
Fyfe's promise to see him properly installed and attended in the
local hospital at Roaring Springs.
Benton heaved a sigh of relief and turned to his sister.
"Still mad, Stell?" he asked placatingly and put his arm over
"Of course not," she responded instantly to this kindlier phase.
"Ugh! Your hands are all bloody, Charlie."
"That's so, but it'll wash off," he replied. "Well, we're shy a
good woodsman and a cook, and I'll miss 'em both. But it might be
worse. Here's where you go to bat, Stella. Get on your apron and
lend me a hand in the kitchen, like a good girl. We have to eat, no
matter what happens."
THE DIGNITY (?) OF TOIL
By such imperceptible degrees that she was scarce aware of it,
Stella took her place as a cog in her brother's logging machine, a
unit in the human mechanism which he operated skilfully and
relentlessly at top speed to achieve his desired end—one
million feet of timber in boomsticks by September the first.
From the evening that she stepped into the breach created by a
drunken cook, the kitchen burden settled steadily upon her
shoulders. For a week Benton daily expected and spoke of the
arrival of a new cook. Fyfe had wired a Vancouver employment agency
to send one, the day he took Jim Renfrew down. But either cooks
were scarce, or the order went astray, for no rough and ready
kitchen mechanic arrived. Benton in the meantime ceased to look for
one. He worked like a horse, unsparing of himself, unsparing of
others. He rose at half-past four, lighted the kitchen fire, roused
Stella, and helped her prepare breakfast, preliminary to his day in
the woods. Later he impressed Katy John into service to wait on the
table and wash dishes. He labored patiently to teach Stella certain
simple tricks of cooking that she did not know.
Quick of perception, as thorough as her brother in whatsoever
she set her hand to do, Stella was soon equal to the job. And as
the days passed and no camp cook came to their relief, Benton left
the job to her as a matter of course.
"You can handle that kitchen with Katy as well as a man," he
said to her at last. "And it will give you something to occupy your
time. I'd have to pay a cook seventy dollars a month. Katy draws
twenty-five. You can credit yourself with the balance, and I'll pay
off when the contract money comes in. We might as well keep the
coin in the family. I'll feel easier, because you won't get drunk
and jump the job in a pinch. What do you say?"
She said the only possible thing to say under the circumstances.
But she did not say it with pleasure, nor with any feeling of
gratitude. It was hard work, and she and hard work were utter
strangers. Her feet ached from continual standing on them. The heat
and the smell of stewing meat and vegetables sickened her. Her
hands were growing rough and red from dabbling in water, punching
bread dough, handling the varied articles of food that go to make
up a meal. Upon hands and forearms there stung continually certain
small cuts and burns that lack of experience over a hot range
inevitably inflicted upon her. Whereas time had promised to hang
heavy on her hands, now an hour of idleness in the day became a
Yet in her own way she was as full of determination as her
brother. She saw plainly enough that she must leave the drone stage
behind. She perceived that to be fed and clothed and housed and to
have her wishes readily gratified was not an inherent
right—that some one must foot the bill—that now for all
she received she must return equitable value. At home she had never
thought of it in that light; in fact, she had never thought of it
at all. Now that she was beginning to get a glimmering of her true
economic relation to the world at large, she had no wish to emulate
the clinging vine, even if thereby she could have secured a
continuance of that silk-lined existence which had been her
fortunate lot. Her pride revolted against parasitism. It was
therefore a certain personal satisfaction to have achieved
self-support at a stroke, insofar as that in the sweat of her
brow,—all too literally,—she earned her bread and a
compensation besides. But there were times when that solace seemed
scarcely to weigh against her growing detest for the endless
routine of her task, the exasperating physical weariness and
irritations it brought upon her.
For to prepare three times daily food for a dozen hungry men is
no mean undertaking. One cannot have in a logging camp the
conveniences of a hotel kitchen. The water must be carried in
buckets from the creek near by, and wood brought in armfuls from
the pile of sawn blocks outside. The low-roofed kitchen shanty was
always like an oven. The flies swarmed in their tens of thousands.
As the men sweated with axe and saw in the woods, so she sweated in
the kitchen. And her work began two hours before their day's labor,
and continued two hours after they were done. She slept, like one
exhausted and rose full of sleep-heaviness, full of bodily soreness
and spiritual protest when the alarm clock raised its din in the
"You don't like thees work, do you, Mees Benton?" Katy John said
to her one day, in the soft, slurring accent that colored her
English. "You wasn't cut out for a cook."
"This isn't work," Stella retorted irritably. "It's simple
drudgery. I don't wonder that men cooks take to drink."
"Why don't you be nice to Mr. Abbey," she suggested archly.
"He'd like to give you a better job than thees—for life. My,
but it must be nice to have lots of money like that man's got, and
never have to work."
"You'll get those potatoes peeled sooner if you don't talk quite
so much, Katy," Miss Benton made reply.
There was that way out, as the Siwash girl broadly indicated.
Paul Abbey had grown into the habit of coming there rather more
often than mere neighborliness called for, and it was palpable that
he did not come to hold converse with Benton or Benton's gang,
although he was "hail fellow" with all woodsmen. At first his
coming might have been laid to any whim. Latterly Stella herself
was unmistakably the attraction. He brought his sister once, a
fair-haired girl about Stella's age. She proved an exceedingly
self-contained young person, whose speech during the hour of her
stay amounted to a dozen or so drawling sentences. With no hint of
condescension or superciliousness, she still managed to arouse in
Stella a mild degree of resentment. She wore an impeccable pongee
silk, simple and costly, and her hands had evidently never
known the roughening of work. In one way and another Miss Benton
straightway conceived an active dislike for Linda Abbey. As her
reception of Paul's sister was not conducive to chumminess, Paul
did not bring Linda again.
But he came oftener than Stella desired to be bothered with him.
Charlie was beginning to indulge in some rather broad joking, which
offended and irritated her. She was not in the least attracted to
Paul Abbey. He was a nice enough young man; for all she knew, he
might be a concentration of all the manly virtues, but he gave no
fillip to either her imagination or her emotions. He was too much
like a certain type of young fellow she had known in other
embodiments. Her instinct warned her that stripped of his worldly
goods he would be wholly commonplace. She could be friends with the
Paul Abbey kind of man, but when she tried to consider him as a
possible lover, she found herself unresponsive, even amused. She
was forced to consider it, because Abbey was fast approaching that
stage. It was heralded in the look of dumb appeal that she
frequently surprised in his gaze, by various signs and tokens, that
Stella Benton was too sophisticated to mistake. One of these days
he would lay his heart, and hand at her feet.
Sometimes she considered what her life might be if she should
marry him. Abbey was wealthy in his own right and heir to more
wealth. But—she could not forbear a wry grimace at the idea.
Some fateful hour love would flash across her horizon, a living
flame. She could visualize the tragedy if it should be too late, if
it found her already bound—sold for a mess of pottage at her
ease. She did not mince words to herself when she reflected on this
matter. She knew herself as a creature of passionate impulses,
consciously resenting all restraint. She knew that men and women
did mad things under the spur of emotion. She wanted no shackles,
she wanted to be free to face the great adventure when it came.
Yet there were times during the weeks that flitted past when it
seemed to her that no bondage could be meaner, more repugnant, than
that daily slavery in her brother's kitchen; that transcendent
conceptions of love and marriage were vain details by comparison
with aching feet and sleep-heavy eyes, with the sting of burns, the
smart of sweat on her face, all the never-ending trifles that so
irritated her. She had been spoiled in the making for so sordid an
existence. Sometimes she would sit amid the array of dishes and
pans and cooking food and wonder if she really were the same being
whose life had been made up of books and music, of teas and dinners
and plays, of light, inconsequential chatter with genial,
well-dressed folk. There was no one to talk to here and less time
to talk. There was nothing to read except a batch of newspapers
filtering into camp once a week or ten days. There was not much in
this monster stretch of giant timber but heat and dirt and flies
and hungry men who must be fed.
If Paul Abbey had chanced to ask her to marry him during a
period of such bodily and spiritual rebellion, she would probably
have committed herself to that means of escape in sheer
desperation. For she did not harden to the work; it steadily sapped
both her strength and patience. But he chose an ill time for his
declaration. Stella had overtaken her work and snared a fleeting
hour of idleness in mid-afternoon of a hot day in early August.
Under a branchy alder at the cook-house-end she piled all the
pillows she could commandeer in their quarters and curled herself
upon them at grateful ease. Like a tired animal, she gave herself
up to the pleasure of physical relaxation, staring at a perfect
turquoise sky through the whispering leaves above. She was not even
thinking. She was too tired to think, and for the time being too
much at peace to permit thought that would, in the very nature of
things, be disturbing.
Abbey maintained for his own pleasure a fast motorboat. He slid
now into the bay unheard, tied up beside the float, walked to the
kitchen, glanced in, then around the corner, and smilingly took a
seat on the grass near her.
"It's too perfect a day to loaf in the shade," he observed,
after a brief exchange of commonplaces. "Won't you come out for a
little spin on the lake? A ride in the Wolf will put some
color in your cheeks."
"If I had time," she said, "I would. But loggers must eat though
the heavens fall. In about twenty minutes I'll have to start
supper. I'll have color enough, goodness knows once I get over that
Abbey picked nervously at a blade of grass for a minute.
"This is a regular dog's life for you," he broke out
"Oh, hardly that," she protested. "It's a little hard on me
because I haven't been used to it, that's all."
"It's Chinaman's work," he said hotly. "Charlie oughtn't to let
you stew in that kitchen."
Stella said nothing; she was not moved to the defence of her
brother. She was loyal enough to her blood, but not so intensely
loyal that she could defend him against criticism that struck a
responsive chord in her own mind. She was beginning to see that,
being useful, Charlie was making use of her. His horizon had
narrowed to logs that might be transmuted into money. Enslaved
himself by his engrossing purposes, he thought nothing of enslaving
others to serve his end. She had come to a definite conclusion
about that, and she meant to collect her wages when he sold his
logs, collect also the ninety dollars of her money he had coolly
appropriated, and try a different outlet. If one must work, one
might at least seek work a little to one's taste. She therefore
dismissed Abbey's comment carelessly:
"Some one has to do it."
A faint flush crept slowly up into his round, boyish face. He
looked at her with disconcerting steadiness. Perhaps something in
his expression gave her the key to his thought, or it may have been
that peculiar psychical receptiveness which in a woman we are
pleased to call intuition; but at any rate Stella divined what was
coming and would have forestalled it by rising. He prevented that
move by catching her hands.
"Look here, Stella," he blurted out, "it just grinds me to death
to see you slaving away in this camp, feeding a lot of roughnecks.
Won't you marry me and cut this sort of thing out? We'd be no end
She gently disengaged her hands, her chief sensation one of
amusement, Abbey was in such an agony of blushing diffidence, all
flustered at his own temerity. Also, she thought, a trifle
precipitate. That was not the sort of wooing to carry her off her
feet. For that matter she was quite sure nothing Paul Abbey could
do or say would ever stir her pulses. She had to put an end to the
situation, however. She took refuge in a flippant manner.
"Thanks for the compliment, Mr. Abbey," she smiled. "But really
I couldn't think of inflicting repentance at leisure on you in that
offhand way. You wouldn't want me to marry you just so I could
resign the job of chef, would you?"
"Don't you like me?" he asked plaintively.
"Not that way," she answered positively.
"You might try," he suggested hopefully. "Honest, I'm crazy
about you. I've liked you ever since I saw you first. I wouldn't
want any greater privilege than to marry you and take you away from
this sort of thing. You're too good for it. Maybe I'm kind of
sudden, but I know my own mind. Can't you take a chance with
"I'm sorry," she said gently, seeing him so sadly in earnest.
"It isn't a question of taking a chance. I don't care for you. I
haven't got any feeling but the mildest sort of friendliness. If I
married you, it would only be for a home, as the saying is. And I'm
not made that way. Can't you see how impossible it would be?"
"You'd get to like me," he declared. "I'm just as good as the
His smooth pink-and-white skin reddened again.
"That sounds a lot like tooting my own horn mighty strong," said
he. "But I'm in dead earnest. If there isn't anybody else yet, you
could like me just as well as the next fellow. I'd be awfully good
"I daresay you would," she said quietly. "But I couldn't be good
to you. I don't want to marry you, Mr. Abbey. That's final. All the
feeling I have for you isn't enough for any woman to marry on."
"Maybe not," he said dolefully. "I suppose that's the way it
goes. Hang it, I guess I was a little too sudden. But I'm a stayer.
Maybe you'll change your mind some time."
He was standing very near her, and they were both so intent upon
the momentous business that occupied them that neither noticed
Charlie Benton until his hail startled them to attention.
"Hello, folks," he greeted and passed on into the cook shanty,
bestowing upon Stella, over Abbey's shoulder, a comprehensive grin
which nettled her exceedingly. Her peaceful hour had been disturbed
to no purpose. She did not want to love or be loved. For the moment
she felt old beyond her years, mature beyond the comprehension of
any man. If she had voiced her real attitude toward Paul Abbey, she
would have counseled him to run and play, "like a good little
Instead she remarked: "I must get to work," and left her
downcast suitor without further ceremony.
As she went about her work in the kitchen, she saw Abbey seat
himself upon a log in the yard, his countenance wreathed in gloom.
He was presently joined by her brother. Glancing out, now and then,
she made a guess at the meat of their talk, and her lip curled
slightly. She saw them walk down to Abbey's launch, and Charlie
delivered an encouraging slap on Paul's shoulder as he embarked.
Then the speedy craft tore out of the bay at a headlong gait, her
motor roaring in unmuffled exhaust, wide wings of white spray
arching off her flaring bows.
"The desperate recklessness of thwarted
affection—fiddlesticks!" Miss Benton observed in sardonic
mood. Her hands were deep in pie dough. She thumped it viciously.
The kitchen and the flies and all the rest of it rasped at her
Charlie came into the kitchen, hunted a cookie out of the tin
box where such things were kept, and sat swinging one leg over a
corner of the table, eying her critically while he munched.
"So you turned Paul down, eh?" he said at last. "You're the
prize chump. You've missed the best chance you'll ever have to put
yourself on Easy Street."
SOME NEIGHBORLY ASSISTANCE
For a week thereafter Benton developed moods of sourness,
periods of scowling thought. He tried to speed up his gang, and
having all spring driven them at top speed, the added straw broke
the back of their patience, and Stella heard some sharp
interchanges of words. He quelled one incipient mutiny through
sheer dominance, but it left him more short of temper, more
crabbedly moody than ever. Eventually his ill-nature broke out
against Stella over some trifle, and she—being herself an
aggrieved party to his transactions—surprised her own sense
of the fitness of things by retaliating in kind.
"I'm slaving away in your old camp from daylight till dark at
work I despise, and you can't even speak decently to me," she
flared up. "You act like a perfect brute lately. What's the matter
Benton gnawed at a finger nail in silence.
"Hang it, I guess you're right," he admitted at last. "But I
can't help having a grouch. I'm going to fall behind on this
contract, the best I can do."
"Well," she replied tartly. "I'm not to blame for that. I'm not
responsible for your failure. Why take it out on me?"
"I don't, particularly," he answered. "Only—can't you
sabe? A man gets on edge when he works and sweats for months
and sees it all about to come to nothing."
"So does a woman," she made pointed retort.
Benton chose to ignore the inference.
"If I fall down on this, it'll just about finish me," he
continued glumly. "These people are not going to allow me an inch
leeway. I'll have to deliver on that contract to the last
stipulated splinter before they'll pay over a dollar. If I don't
have a million feet for 'em three weeks from to-day, it's all off,
and maybe a suit for breach of contract besides. That's the sort
they are. If they can wiggle out of taking my logs, they'll be to
the good, because they've made other contracts down the coast at
fifty cents a thousand less. And the aggravating thing about it is
that if I could get by with this deal, I can close a
five-million-foot contract with the Abbey-Monohan outfit, for
delivery next spring. I must have the money for this before I can
undertake the bigger contract."
"Can't you sell your logs if these other people won't take
them?" she asked, somewhat alive now to his position—and,
incidentally, her own interest therein.
"In time, yes," he said. "But when you go into the open market
with logs, you don't always find a buyer right off the reel. I'd
have to hire 'em towed from here to Vancouver, and there's some bad
water to get over. Time is money to me right now, Stell. If the
thing dragged over two or three months, by the time they were sold
and all expenses paid, I might not have anything left. I'm in debt
for supplies, behind in wages. When it looks like a man's losing,
everybody jumps him. That's business. I may have my outfit seized
and sold up if I fall down on this delivery and fail to square up
accounts right away. Damn it, if you hadn't given Paul Abbey the
cold turn-down, I might have got a boost over this hill. You were
certainly a chump."
"I'm not a mere pawn in your game yet," she flared hotly. "I
suppose you'd trade me for logs enough to complete your contract
and consider it a good bargain."
"Oh, piffle," he answered coolly. "What's the use talking like
that. It's your game as much as mine. Where do you get off, if I go
broke? You might have done a heap worse. Paul's a good head. A girl
that hasn't anything but her looks to get through the world on
hasn't any business overlooking a bet like that. Nine girls out of
ten marry for what there is in it, anyhow."
"Thank you," she replied angrily. "I'm not in the market on that
"All this stuff about ideal love and soul communion and perfect
mating is pure bunk, it seems to me," Charlie tacked off on a new
course of thought. "A man and a woman somewhere near of an age
generally hit it off all right, if they've got common horse
sense—and income enough so they don't have to squabble
eternally about where the next new hat and suit's coming from. It's
the coin that counts most of all. It sure is, Sis. It's me that
knows it, right now."
He sat a minute or two longer, again preoccupied with his
"Well," he said at last, "I've got to get action somehow. If I
could get about thirty men and another donkey for three weeks, I'd
He went outside. Up in the near woods the whine of the saws and
the sounds of chopping kept measured beat. It was late in the
forenoon, and Stella was hard about her dinner preparations.
Contract or no contract, money or no money, men must eat. That fact
loomed biggest on her daily schedule, left her no room to think
overlong of other things. Her huff over, she felt rather sorry for
Charlie, a feeling accentuated by sight of him humped on a log in
the sun, too engrossed in his perplexities to be where he normally
was at that hour, in the thick of the logging, working harder than
any of his men.
A little later she saw him put off from the float in the
Chickamin's dinghy. When the crew came to dinner, he had not
returned. Nor was he back when they went out again at one.
Near mid-afternoon, however, he strode into the kitchen, wearing
the look of a conqueror.
"I've got it fixed," he announced.
Stella looked up from a frothy mass of yellow stuff that she was
stirring in a pan.
"Got what fixed?" she asked.
"Why, this log business," he said. "Jack Fyfe is going to put in
a crew and a donkey, and we're going to everlastingly rip the
innards out of these woods. I'll make delivery after all."
"That's good," she remarked, but noticeably without enthusiasm.
The heat of that low-roofed shanty had taken all possible
enthusiasm for anything out of her for the time being. Always
toward the close of each day she was gripped by that feeling of
deadly fatigue, in the face of which nothing much mattered but to
get through the last hours somehow and drag herself wearily to
Benton playfully tweaked Katy John's ear and went whistling up
the trail. It was plain sailing for him now, and he was
He tried to talk to Stella that evening when she was through,
all about big things in the future, big contracts he could get, big
money he could see his way to make. It fell mostly on
unappreciative ears. She was tired, so tired that his egotistical
chatter irritated her beyond measure. What she would have welcomed
with heartfelt gratitude was not so much a prospect of future
affluence in which she might or might not share as a lightening of
her present burden. So far as his conversation ran, Benton's sole
concern seemed to be more equipment, more men, so that he might get
out more logs. In the midst of this optimistic talk, Stella walked
abruptly into her room.
Noon of the next day brought the Panther coughing into
the bay, flanked on the port side by a scow upon which rested a
twin to the iron monster that jerked logs into her brother's chute.
To starboard was made fast a like scow. That was housed over, a
smoking stovepipe stuck through the roof, and a capped and aproned
cook rested his arms on the window sill as they floated in. Men to
the number of twenty or more clustered about both scows and the
Panther's deck, busy with pipe and cigarette and rude jest.
The clatter of their voices uprose through the noon meal. But when
the donkey scow thrust its blunt nose against the beach, the chaff
and laughter died into silent, capable action.
"A Seattle yarder properly handled can do anything but climb a
tree," Charlie had once boasted to her, in reference to his own
It seemed quite possible to Stella, watching Jack Fyfe's crew at
work. Steam was up in the donkey. They carried a line from its drum
through a snatch block ashore and jerked half a dozen logs
crosswise before the scow in a matter of minutes. Then the same
cable was made fast to a sturdy fir, the engineer stood by, and the
ponderous machine slid forward on its own skids, like an up-ended
barrel on a sled, down off the scow, up the bank, smashing brush,
branches, dead roots, all that stood in its path, drawing steadily
up to the anchor tree as the cable spooled up on the drum.
A dozen men tailed on to the inch and a quarter cable and bore
the loose end away up the path. Presently one stood clear, waving a
signal. Again the donkey began to puff and quiver, the line began
to roll up on the drum, and the big yarder walked up the slope
under its own power, a locomotive unneedful of rails, making its
own right of way. Upon the platform built over the skids were piled
the tools of the crew, sawed blocks for the fire box, axes, saws,
grindstones, all that was necessary in their task. At one o'clock
they made their first move. At two the donkey was vanished into
that region where the chute-head lay, and the great firs stood
waiting the slaughter.
By mid-afternoon Stella noticed an acceleration of numbers in
the logs that came hurtling lakeward. Now at shorter intervals
arose the grinding sound of their arrival, the ponderous splash as
each leaped to the water. It was a good thing, she
surmised—for Charlie Benton. She could not see where it made
much difference to her whether ten logs a day or a hundred came
down to the boomsticks.
Late that afternoon Katy vanished upon one of her periodic
visits to the camp of her kindred around the point. Bred out of
doors, of a tribe whose immemorial custom it is that the women do
all the work, the Siwash girl was strong as an ox, and nearly as
bovine in temperament and movements. She could lift with ease a
weight that taxed Stella's strength, and Stella Benton was no
weakling, either. It was therefore a part of Katy's routine to keep
water pails filled from the creek and the wood box supplied, in
addition to washing dishes and carrying food to the table. Katy
slighted these various tasks occasionally. She needed oversight,
continual admonition, to get any job done in time. She was slow to
the point of exasperation. Nevertheless, she lightened the day's
labor, and Stella put up with her slowness since she needs must or
assume the entire burden herself. This time Katy thoughtlessly left
with both water pails empty.
Stella was just picking them up off the bench when a shadow
darkened the door, and she looked around to see Jack Fyfe.
"How d' do," he greeted.
He had seemed a short man. Now, standing within four feet of
her, she perceived that this was an illusion created by the
proportion and thickness of his body. He was, in fact, half a head
taller than she, and Stella stood five feet five. His gray eyes met
hers squarely, with a cool, impersonal quality of gaze. There was
neither smirk nor embarrassment in his straightforward glance. He
was, in effect, "sizing her up" just as he would have looked
casually over a logger asking him for a job. Stella sensed that,
and resenting it momentarily, failed to match his manner. She
flushed. Fyfe smiled, a broad, friendly grin, in which a wide mouth
opened to show strong, even teeth.
"I'm after a drink," he said quite impersonally, and coolly
taking the pails out of her hands, walked through the kitchen and
down to the creek. He was back in a minute, set the filled buckets
in their place, and helped himself with a dipper.
"Say," he asked easily, "how do you like life in a logging camp
by this time? This is sure one hot job you've got."
"Literally or slangily?" she asked in a flippant tone. Fyfe's
reputation, rather vividly colored, had reached her from various
sources. She was not quite sure whether she cared to countenance
him or not. There was a disturbing quality in his glance, a subtle
suggestion of force about him that she felt without being able to
define in understandable terms. In any case she felt more than
equal to the task of squelching any effort at familiarity, even if
Jack Fyfe were, in a sense, the convenient god in her brother's
machine. Fyfe chuckled at her answer.
"Both," he replied shortly and went out.
She saw him a little later out on the bay in the
Panther's dink, standing up in the little boat, making long,
graceful casts with a pliant rod. She perceived that this manner of
fishing was highly successful, insomuch as at every fourth or fifth
cast a trout struck his fly, breaking water with a vigorous splash.
Then the bamboo would arch as the fish struggled, making sundry
leaps clear of the water, gleaming like silver each time he broke
the surface, but coming at last tamely to Jack Fyfe's landing net.
Of outdoor sports she knew most about angling, for her father had
been an ardent fly-caster. And she had observed with a true
angler's scorn the efforts of her brother's loggers to catch the
lake trout with a baited hook, at which they had scant success.
Charlie never fished. He had neither time nor inclination for such
fooling, as he termed it. Fyfe stopped fishing when the donkeys
whistled six. It happened that when he drew in to his cookhouse
float, Stella was standing in her kitchen door. Fyfe looked up at
her and held aloft a dozen trout strung by the gills on a stick,
gleaming in the sun.
"Vanity," she commented inaudibly. "I wonder if he thinks I've
been admiring his skill as a fisherman?"
Nevertheless she paid tribute to his skill when ten minutes
later he sent a logger with the entire catch to her kitchen. They
looked toothsome, those lakers, and they were. She cooked one for
her own supper and relished it as a change from the everlasting
bacon and ham. In the face of that million feet of timber, Benton
hunted no deer. True, the Siwashes had once or twice brought in
some venison. That, with a roast or two of beef from town, was all
the fresh meat she had tasted in two months. There were enough
trout to make a breakfast for the crew. She ate hers and mentally
thanked Jack Fyfe.
Lying in her bed that night, in the short interval that came
between undressing and wearied sleep, she found herself wondering
with a good deal more interest about Jack Fyfe than she had ever
bestowed upon—well, Paul Abbey, for instance.
She was quite positive that she was going to dislike Jack Fyfe
if he were thrown much in her way. There was something about him
that she resented. The difference between him and the rest of the
rude crew among which she must perforce live was a question of
degree, not of kind. There was certainly some compelling magnetism
about the man. But along with it went what she considered an almost
brutal directness of speech and action. Part of this conclusion
came from hearsay, part from observation, limited though her
opportunities had been for the latter. Miss Stella Benton, for all
her poise, was not above jumping at conclusions. There was
something about Jack Fyfe that she resented. She irritably
dismissed it as a foolish impression, but the fact remained that
the mere physical nearness of him seemed to put her on the
defensive, as if he were in reality a hunter and she the
Fyfe joined Charlie Benton about the time she finished work. The
three of them sat on the grass before Benton's quarters, and every
time Jack Fyfe's eyes rested on her she steeled herself to
resist—what, she did not know. Something intangible,
something that disturbed her. She had never experienced anything
like that before; it tantalized her, roused her curiosity. There
was nothing occult about the man. He was nowise fascinating, either
in face or manner. He made no bid for her attention. Yet during the
half hour he sat there, Stella's mind revolved constantly about
him. She recalled all that she had heard of him, much of it, from
her point of view, highly discreditable. Inevitably she fell to
comparing him with other men she knew.
She had, in a way, unconsciously been prepared for just such a
measure of concentration upon Jack Fyfe. For he was a power on
Roaring Lake, and power,—physical, intellectual or
financial,—exacts its own tribute of consideration. He was a
fighter, a dominant, hard-bitten woodsman, so the tale ran. He had
gathered about him the toughest crew on the Lake, himself, upon
occasion, the most turbulent of all. He controlled many square
miles of big timber, and he had gotten it all by his own effort in
the eight years since he came to Roaring Lake as a hand logger. He
was slow of speech, chain-lightning in action, respected generally,
feared a lot. All these things her brother and Katy John had
sketched for Stella with much verbal embellishment.
There was no ignoring such a man. Brought into close contact
with the man himself, Stella felt the radiating force of his
personality. There it was, a thing to be reckoned with. She felt
that whenever Jack Fyfe's gray eyes rested impersonally on her. His
pleasant, freckled face hovered before her until she fell asleep,
and in her sleep she dreamed again of him throwing that drunken
logger down the Hot Springs slip.
By September first a growing uneasiness hardened into
distasteful certainty upon Stella. It had become her firm resolve
to get what money was due her when Charlie marketed his logs and
try another field of labor. That camp on Roaring Lake was becoming
a nightmare to her. She had no inherent dislike for work. She was
too vibrantly alive to be lazy. But she had had an overdose of
unaccustomed drudgery, and she was growing desperate. If there had
been anything to keep her mind from continual dwelling on the
manifold disagreeableness she had to cope with, she might have felt
differently, but there was not. She ate, slept, worked,—ate,
slept, and worked again,—till every fibre of her being cried
out in protest against the deadening round. She was like a flower
striving to attain its destiny of bloom in soil overrun with rank
weeds. Loneliness and hard, mean work, day after day, in which all
that had ever seemed desirable in life had neither place nor
consideration, were twin evils of isolation and flesh-wearying
labor, from which she felt that she must get away, or go mad.
But she did not go. Benton left to make his delivery to the mill
company, the great boom of logs gliding slowly along in the wake of
a tug, the Chickamin in attendance. Benton's crew
accompanied the boom. Fyfe's gang loaded their donkey and gear
aboard the scow and went home. The bay lay all deserted, the woods
silent. For the first time in three months she had all her hours
free, only her own wants to satisfy. Katy John spent most of her
time in the smoky camp of her people. Stella loafed. For two days
she did nothing, gave herself up to a physical torpor she had never
known before. She did not want to read, to walk about, or even lift
her eyes to the bold mountains that loomed massive across the lake.
It was enough to lie curled among pillows under the alder and stare
drowsily at the blue September sky, half aware of the drone of a
breeze in the firs, the flutter of birds' wings, and the lap of
water on the beach.
Presently, however, the old restless energy revived. The spring
came back to her step and she shed that lethargy like a cast-off
garment. And in so doing her spirit rose in hot rebellion against
being a prisoner to deadening drudgery, against being shut away
from all the teeming life that throve and trafficked beyond the
solitude in which she sat immured. When Charlie came back, there
was going to be a change. She repeated that to herself with
determination. Between whiles she rambled about in the littered
clearing, prowled along the beaches, and paddled now and then far
outside the bay in a flat-bottomed skiff, restless, full of plans.
So far as she saw, she would have to face some city alone, but she
viewed that prospect with a total absence of the helpless feeling
which harassed her so when she first took train for her brother's
camp. She had passed through what she termed a culinary inferno.
Nothing, she considered, could be beyond her after that unremitting
But Benton failed to come back on the appointed day. The four
days lengthened to a week. Then the Panther, bound up-lake,
stopped to leave a brief note from Charlie, telling her business
had called him to Vancouver.
Altogether it was ten days before the Chickamin whistled
up the bay. She slid in beside the float, her decks bristling with
men like a passenger craft. Stella, so thoroughly sated with
loneliness that she temporarily forgot her grievances, flew to meet
her brother. But one fair glimpse of the disembarking crew turned
her back. They were all in varying stages of liquor—from two
or three who had to be hauled over the float and up to the
bunkhouse like sacks of bran, to others who were so happily under
the influence of John Barleycorn that every move was some silly
antic. She retreated in disgust. When Charlie reached the cabin, he
himself proved to be fairly mellow, in the best of
spirits—speaking truly in the double sense.
"Hello, lady," he hailed jovially. "How did you fare all by your
lonesome this long time? I didn't figure to be gone so long, but
there was a lot to attend to. How are you, anyway?"
"All right," she answered coolly. "You evidently celebrated your
log delivery in the accepted fashion."
"Don't you believe it," he grinned amiably. "I had a few drinks
with the boys on the way up, that's all. No, sir, it was straight
business with a capital B all the time I was gone. I've got a good
thing in hand, Sis—big money in sight. Tell you about it
later. Think you and Katy can rustle grub for this bunch by
"Oh, I suppose so," she said shortly. It was on the tip of her
tongue to tell him then and there that she was through,—like
Matt, the cook, that memorable afternoon, "completely an'
ab-sho-lutely through." She refrained. There was no use in being
truculent. But that drunken crowd looked formidable in numbers.
"How many extra?" she asked mechanically.
"Thirty men, all told," Benton returned briskly. "I tell you I'm
sure going to rip the heart out of this limit before spring. I've
signed up a six-million-foot contract for delivery as soon as the
logs'll go over Roaring Rapids in the spring. Remember what I told
you when you came? You stick with me, and you'll wear diamonds. I
stand to clean up twenty thousand on the winter's work."
"In that case, you should be able to hire a real cook," she
suggested, a spice of malice in her tone.
"I sure will, when it begins to come right," he promised
largely. "And I'll give you a soft job keeping books then. Well,
I'll lend you a hand for to-night. Where's the Siwash maiden?"
"Over at the camp; there she comes now," Stella replied. "Will
you start a fire, Charlie, while I change my dress?"
"You look like a peach in that thing." He stood off a pace to
admire. "You're some dame, Stell, when you get on your glad
She frowned at her image in the glass behind the closed door of
her room as she set about unfastening the linen dress she had worn
that afternoon. Deep in her trunk, along with much other unused
finery, it had reposed all summer. That ingrained instinct to be
admired, to be garbed fittingly and well, came back to her as soon
as she was rested. And though there were none but squirrels and
bluejays and occasionally Katy John to cast admiring eyes upon her,
it had pleased her for a week to wear her best, and wander about
the beaches and among the dusky trunks of giant fir, a picture of
blooming, well-groomed womanhood. She took off the dress and threw
it on the bed with a resentful rush of feeling. The treadmill gaped
for her again. But not for long. She was through with that. She was
glad that Charlie's prospects pleased him. He could not call on her
to help him out of a hole now. She would tell him her decision
to-night. And as soon as he could get a cook to fill her place,
then good-by to Roaring Lake, good-by to kitchen smells and flies
and sixteen hours a day over a hot stove.
She wondered why such a loathing of the work afflicted her; if
all who earned their bread in the sweat of their brow were ridden
with that feeling,—woodsmen, cooks, chauffeurs, the slaves of
personal service and the great industrial mills alike? Her heart
went out to them if they were. But she was quite sure that work
could be otherwise than repellent, enslaving. She recalled that
cooks and maids had worked in her father's house with no sign of
the revolt that now assailed her. But it seemed to her that their
tasks had been light compared with the job of cooking in Charlie
Curiously enough, while she changed her clothes, her thoughts a
jumble of present things she disliked and the unknown that she
would have to face alone in Vancouver, she found her mind turning
on Jack Fyfe. During his three weeks' stay, they had progressed
less in the direction of acquaintances than she and Paul Abbey had
done in two meetings. Fyfe talked to her now and then briefly, but
he looked at her more than he talked. Where his searching gaze
disturbed, his speech soothed, it was so coolly impersonal. That,
she deemed, was merely another of his odd contradictions. He was
contradictory. Stella classified Jack Fyfe as a creature of
unrestrained passions. She recognized, or thought she recognized,
certain dominant, primitive characteristics, and they did not
excite her admiration. Men admired him—those who were not
afraid of him. If he had been of more polished clay, she could
readily have grasped this attitude. But in her eyes he was merely a
rude, masterful man, uncommonly gifted with physical strength,
dominating other rude, strong men by sheer brute force. And she
herself rather despised sheer brute force. The iron hand should
fitly be concealed beneath the velvet glove.
Yet in spite of the bold look in his eyes that always confused
and irritated her, Fyfe had never singled her out for the slightest
attention of the kind any man bestows upon an attractive woman.
Stella was no fool. She knew that she was attractive, and she knew
why. She had been prepared to repulse, and there had been nothing
to repulse. Once during Charlie's absence he had come in a rowboat,
hailed her from the beach, and gone away without disembarking when
she told him Benton was not back. He was something of an enigma,
she confessed to herself, after all. Perhaps that was why he came
so frequently into her mind. Or perhaps, she told herself, there
was so little on Roaring Lake to think about that one could not
escape the personal element. As if any one ever could. As if life
were made up of anything but the impinging of one personality upon
another. That was something Miss Stella Benton had yet to learn.
She was still mired in the rampant egotism of untried youth, as yet
the sublime individualist.
That side of her suffered a distinct shock later in the evening.
When supper was over, the work done, and the loggers' celebration
was slowly subsiding in the bunkhouse, she told Charlie with blunt
directness what she wanted to do. With equally blunt directness he
declared that he would not permit it. Stella's teeth came together
with an angry little click.
"I'm of age, Charlie," she said to him. "It isn't for you to say
what you will or will not permit me to do. I want that money
of mine that you used—and what I've earned. God knows I
have earned it. I can't stand this work, and I don't intend
to. It isn't work; it's slavery."
"But what can you do in town?" he countered. "You haven't the
least idea what you'd be going up against, Stell. You've never been
away from home, and you've never had the least training at anything
useful. You'd be on your uppers in no time at all. You wouldn't
have a ghost of a chance."
"I have such a splendid chance here," she retorted ironically.
"If I could get in any position where I'd be more likely to die of
sheer stagnation, to say nothing of dirty drudgery, than in this
forsaken hole, I'd like to know how. I don't think it's
"You could be a whole lot worse off, if you only knew it,"
Benton returned grumpily. "If you haven't got any sense about
things, I have. I know what a rotten hole Vancouver or any other
seaport town is for a girl alone. I won't let you make any foolish
break like that. That's flat."
From this position she failed to budge him. Once angered, partly
by her expressed intention and partly by the outspoken protest
against the mountain of work imposed on her, Charlie refused
point-blank to give her either the ninety dollars he had taken out
of her purse or the three months' wages due. Having made her
request, and having met with this—to her—amazing
refusal, Stella sat dumb. There was too fine a streak in her to
break out in recrimination. She was too proud to cry.
So that she went to bed in a ferment of helpless rage. Virtually
she was a prisoner, as much so as if Charlie had kidnaped her and
held her so by brute force. The economic restraint was all potent.
Without money she could not even leave the camp. And when she
contemplated the daily treadmill before her, she shuddered.
At least she could go on strike. Her round cheek flushed with
the bitterest anger she had ever known, she sat with eyes burning
into the dark of her sordid room, and vowed that the thirty loggers
should die of slow starvation if they did not eat until she cooked
another meal for them.
JACK FYFE'S CAMP
She was still hot with the spirit of mutiny when morning came,
but she cooked breakfast. It was not in her to act like a petulant
child. Morning also brought a different aspect to things, for
Charlie told her while he helped prepare breakfast that he was
going to take his crew and repay in labor the help Jack Fyfe had
"While we're there, Jack's cook will feed all hands," said he.
"And by the time we're through there, I'll have things fixed so it
won't be such hard going for you here. Do you want to go along to
"No," she answered shortly. "I don't. I would much prefer to get
away from this lake altogether, as I told you last night."
"You might as well forget that notion," he said stubbornly.
"I've got a little pride in the matter. I don't want my sister
drudging at the only kind of work she'd be able to earn a living
"You're perfectly willing to have me drudge here," she flashed
"That's different," he defended. "And it's only temporary. I'll
be making real money before long. You'll get your share if you'll
have a little patience and put your shoulder to the wheel. Lord,
I'm doing the best I can."
"Yes—for yourself," she returned. "You don't seem to
consider that I'm entitled to as much fair play as you'd have to
accord one of your men. I don't want you to hand me an easy living
on a silver salver. All I want of you is what is mine, and the
privilege of using my own judgment. I'm quite capable of taking
care of myself."
If there had been opportunity to enlarge on that theme, they
might have come to another verbal clash. But Benton never lost
sight of his primary object. The getting of breakfast and putting
his men about their work promptly was of more importance to him
than Stella's grievance. So the incipient storm dwindled to a
sullen mood on her part. Breakfast over, Benton loaded men and
tools aboard a scow hitched beside the boat. He repeated his
invitation, and Stella refused, with a sarcastic reflection on the
company she would be compelled to keep there.
The Chickamin with her tow drew off, and she was alone
"Marooned once more," Stella said to herself when the little
steamboat slipped behind the first jutting point. "Oh, if I could
just be a man for a while."
Marooned seemed to her the appropriate term. There were the two
old Siwashes and their dark-skinned brood. But they were little
more to Stella than the insentient boulders that strewed the beach.
She could not talk to them or they to her. Long since she had been
surfeited with Katy John. If there were any primitive virtues in
that dusky maiden they were well buried under the white man's
schooling. Katy's demand upon life was very simple and in marked
contrast to Stella Benton's. Plenty of grub, no work, some cheap
finery, and a man white or red, no matter, to make eyes at. Her
horizon was bounded by Roaring Lake and the mission at
Skookumchuck. She was therefore no mitigation of Stella's
Nevertheless Stella resigned herself to make the best of it, and
it proved a poor best. She could not detach herself sufficiently
from the sordid realities to lose herself in day-dreaming. There
was not a book in the camp save some ten-cent sensations she found
in the bunkhouse, and these she had exhausted during Charlie's
first absence. The uncommon stillness of the camp oppressed her
more than ever. Even the bluejays and squirrels seemed to sense its
abandonment, seemed to take her as part of the inanimate fixtures,
for they frisked and chattered about with uncommon fearlessness.
The lake lay dead gray, glassy as some great irregular window in
the crust of the earth. Only at rare intervals did sail or smoke
dot its surface, and then far offshore. The woods stood breathless
in the autumn sun. It was like being entombed. And there would be a
long stretch of it, with only a recurrence of that deadly grind of
kitchen work when the loggers came home again.
Some time during the next forenoon she went southerly along the
lake shore on foot without object or destination, merely to satisfy
in some measure the restless craving for action. Colorful turns of
life, the more or less engrossing contact of various personalities,
some new thing to be done, seen, admired, discussed, had been a
part of her existence ever since she could remember. None of this
touched her now. A dead weight of monotony rode her hard. There was
the furtive wild life of the forest, the light of sun and sky, and
the banked green of the forest that masked the steep granite
slopes. She appreciated beauty, craved it indeed, but she could not
satisfy her being with scenic effects alone. She craved, without
being wholly aware of it, or altogether admitting it to herself,
some human distraction in all that majestic solitude.
It was forthcoming. When she returned to camp at two o'clock,
driven in by hunger, Jack Fyfe sat on the doorstep.
"How-de-do. I've come to bring you over to my place," he
announced quite casually.
"Thanks. I've already declined one pressing invitation to that
effect," Stella returned drily. His matter-of-fact assurance rather
"A woman always has the privilege of changing her mind," Fyfe
smiled. "Charlie is going to be at my camp for at least three
weeks. It'll rain soon, and the days'll be pretty gray and dreary
and lonesome. You might as well pack your war-bag and come
She stood uncertainly. Her tongue held ready a blunt refusal,
but she did not utter it; and she did not know why. She did have a
glimpse of the futility of refusing, only she did not admit that
refusal might be of no weight in the matter. With her mind running
indignantly against compulsion, nevertheless her muscles
involuntarily moved to obey. It irritated her further that she
should feel in the least constrained to obey the calmly expressed
wish of this quiet-spoken woodsman. Certain possible phases of a
lengthy sojourn in Jack Fyfe's camp shot across her mind. He seemed
of uncanny perception, for he answered this thought before it was
"Oh, you'll be properly chaperoned, and you won't have to mix
with the crew," he drawled. "I've got all kinds of room. My boss
logger's wife is up from town for a while. She's a fine, motherly
old party, and she keeps us all in order."
"I haven't had any lunch," she temporized. "Have you?"
He shook his head.
"I rowed over here before twelve. Thought I'd get you back to
camp in time for dinner. You know," he said with a twinkle in his
blue eyes, "a logger never eats anything but a meal. A lunch to us
is a snack that you put in your pocket. I guess we lack tone out
here. We haven't got past the breakfast-dinner-supper stage yet;
too busy making the country fit to live in."
"You have a tremendous job in hand," she observed.
"Oh, maybe," he laughed. "All in the way you look at it. Suits
some of us. Well, if we get to my camp before three, the cook might
feed us. Come on. You'll get to hating yourself if you stay here
alone till Charlie's through."
Why not? Thus she parleyed with herself, one half of her minded
to stand upon her dignity, the other part of her urging
acquiescence in his wish that was almost a command. She was tempted
to refuse just to see what he would do, but she reconsidered that.
Without any logical foundation for the feeling, she was shy of
pitting her will against Jack Fyfe's. Hitherto quite sure of
herself, schooled in self-possession, it was a new and disturbing
experience to come in contact with that subtle, analysis-defying
quality which carries the possessor thereof straight to his or her
goal over all opposition, which indeed many times stifles all
opposition. Force of character, overmastering personality,
emanation of sheer will, she could not say in what terms it should
be described. Whatever it was, Jack Fyfe had it. It existed, a
factor to be reckoned with when one dealt with him. For within
twenty minutes she had packed a suitcase full of clothes and was
embarked in his rowboat.
He sent the lightly built craft easily through the water with
regular, effortless strokes. Stella sat in the stern, facing him.
Out past the north horn of the bay, she broke the silence that had
fallen between them.
"Why did you make a point of coming for me?" she asked
Fyfe rested on his oars a moment, looking at her in his direct,
"I wintered once on the Stickine," he said. "My partner pulled
out before Christmas and never came back. It was the first time I'd
ever been alone in my life. I wasn't a much older hand in the
country than you are. Four months without hearing the sound of a
human voice. Stark alone. I got so I talked to myself out loud
before spring. So I thought—well, I thought I'd come and
bring you over to see Mrs. Howe."
Stella sat gazing at the slow moving panorama of the lake shore,
her chin in her hand.
"Thank you," she said at last, and very gently.
Fyfe looked at her a minute or more, a queer, half-amused
expression creeping into his eyes.
"Well," he said finally, "I might as well tell the whole truth.
I've been thinking about you quite a lot lately, Miss Stella
Benton, or I wouldn't have thought about you getting lonesome."
He smiled ever so faintly, a mere movement of the corners of his
mouth, at the pink flush which rose quickly in her cheeks, and then
resumed his steady pull at the oars.
Except for a greater number of board shacks and a larger area of
stump and top-littered waste immediately behind it, Fyfe's
headquarters, outwardly, at least, differed little from her
brother's camp. Jack led her to a long, log structure with a
shingle roof, which from its more substantial appearance she judged
to be his personal domicile. A plump, smiling woman of forty
greeted her on the threshold. Once within, Stella perceived that
there was in fact considerable difference in Mr. Fyfe's habitation.
There was a great stone fireplace, before which big easy-chairs
invited restful lounging. The floor was overlaid with thick rugs
which deadened her footfalls. With no pretense of ornamental
decoration, the room held an air of homely comfort.
"Come in here and lay off your things," Mrs. Howe beamed on her.
"If I'd 'a' known you were livin' so close, we'd have been
acquainted a week ago; though I ain't got rightly settled here
myself. My land, these men are such clams. I never knowed till this
mornin' there was any white woman at this end of the lake besides
She showed Stella into a bedroom. It boasted an enamel washstand
with taps which yielded hot and cold water, neatly curtained
windows, and a deep-seated Morris chair. Certainly Fyfe's household
accommodation was far superior to Charlie Benton's. Stella expected
the man's home to be rough and ready like himself, and in a measure
it was, but a comfortable sort of rough and readiness. She took off
her hat and had a critical survey of herself in a mirror, after
which she had just time to brush her hair before answering Mrs.
Howe's call to a "cup of tea."
The cup of tea resolved itself into a well-cooked and
well-served meal, with china and linen and other unexpected table
accessories which agreeably surprised, her. Inevitably she made
comparisons, somewhat tinctured with natural envy. If Charlie would
fix his place with a few such household luxuries, life in their
camp would be more nearly bearable, despite the long hours of
disagreeable work. As it was—well, the unrelieved discomforts
were beginning to warp her out-look on everything.
Fyfe maintained his habitual sparsity of words while they ate
the food Mrs. Howe brought on a tray hot from the cook's outlying
domain. When they finished, he rose, took up his hat and helped
himself to a handful of cigars from a box on the fireplace
"I guess you'll be able to put in the time, all right," he
remarked. "Make yourself at home. If you take a notion to read,
there's a lot of books and magazines in my room. Mrs. Howe'll show
He walked out. Stella was conscious of a distinct relief when he
was gone. She had somehow experienced a recurrence of that peculiar
feeling of needing to be on her guard, as if there were some
curious, latent antagonism between them. She puzzled over that a
little. She had never felt that way about Paul Abbey, for instance,
or indeed toward any man she had ever known. Fyfe's more or less
ambiguous remark in the boat had helped to arouse it again. His
manner of saying that he had "thought a lot about her" conveyed
more than the mere words. She could quite conceive of the Jack Fyfe
type carrying things with a high hand where a woman was concerned.
He had that reputation in all his other dealings. He was
aggressive. He could drink any logger in the big firs off his feet.
He had an uncanny luck at cards. Somehow or other in every
undertaking Jack Fyfe always came out on top, so the tale ran.
There must be, she reasoned, a wide streak of the brute in such a
man. It was no gratification to her vanity to have him admire her.
It did not dawn upon her that so far she had never got over being a
little afraid of him, much less to ask herself why she should be
afraid of him.
But she did not spend much time puzzling over Jack Fyfe. Once
out of her sight she forgot him. It was balm to her lonely soul to
have some one of her own sex for company. What Mrs. Howe lacked in
the higher culture she made up in homely perception and unassuming
kindliness. Her husband was Fyfe's foreman. She herself was not a
permanent fixture in the camp. They had a cottage at Roaring
Springs, where she spent most of the time, so that their three
children could be in school.
"I was up here all through vacation," she told Stella. "But
Lefty he got to howlin' about bein' left alone shortly after school
started again, so I got my sister to look after the kids for a
spell, while I stay. I'll be goin' down about the time Mr. Benton's
Stella eventually went out to take a look around the camp. A
hard-beaten path led off toward where rose the distant sounds of
logging work, the ponderous crash of trees, and the puff of the
donkeys. She followed that a little way and presently came to a
knoll some three hundred yards above the beach. There she paused to
look and wonder curiously.
For the crest of this little hillock had been cleared and graded
level and planted to grass over an area four hundred feet square.
It was trimmed like a lawn, and in the center of this vivid green
block stood an unfinished house foundation of gray stone. No stick
of timber, no board or any material for further building lay in
sight. The thing stood as if that were to be all. And it was not a
new undertaking temporarily delayed. There was moss creeping over
the thick stone wall, she discovered when she walked over it.
Whoever had laid that foundation had done it many a moon before.
Yet the sward about was kept as if a gardener had it in charge.
A noble stretch of lake and mountain spread out before her gaze.
Straight across the lake two deep clefts in the eastern range
opened on the water, five miles apart. She could see the white
ribbon of foaming cascades in each. Between lifted a great
mountain, and on the lakeward slope of this stood a terrible scar
of a slide, yellow and brown, rising two thousand feet from the
shore. A vaporous wisp of cloud hung along the top of the slide,
and above this aërial banner a snow-capped pinnacle thrust
itself high into the infinite blue.
"What an outlook," she said, barely conscious that she spoke
aloud. "Why do these people build their houses in the bush, when
they could live in the open and have something like this to look
at. They would, if they had any sense of beauty."
"Sure they haven't? Some of them might have, you know, without
being able to gratify it."
She started, to find Jack Fyfe almost at her elbow, the gleam of
a quizzical smile lighting his face.
"I daresay that might be true," she admitted.
Fyfe's gaze turned from her to the huge sweep of lake and
mountain chain. She saw that he was outfitted for fishing, creel on
his shoulder, unjointed rod in one hand. By means of his
rubber-soled waders he had come upon her noiselessly.
"It's truer than you think, maybe," he said at length. "You
don't want to come along and take a lesson in catching rainbows, I
"Not this time, thanks," she shook her head.
"I want to get enough for supper, so I'd better be at it," he
remarked. "Sometimes they come pretty slow. If you should want to
go up and watch the boys work, that trail will take you there."
He went off across the grassy level and plunged into the deep
timber that rose like a wall beyond. Stella looked after.
"It is certainly odd," she reflected with some irritation, "how
that man affects me. I don't think a woman could ever be just
friends with him. She'd either like him a lot or dislike him
intensely. He isn't anything but a logger, and yet he has a
presence like one of the lords of creation. Funny."
Then she went back to the house to converse upon domestic
matters with Mrs. Howe until the shrilling of the donkey whistle
brought forty-odd lumberjacks swinging down the trail.
Behind them a little way came Jack Fyfe with sagging creel. He
did not stop to exhibit his catch, but half an hour later they were
served hot and crisp at the table in the big living room, where
Fyfe, Stella and Charlie Benton, Lefty Howe and his wife, sat down
A flunkey from the camp kitchen served the meal and cleared it
away. For an hour or two after that the three men sat about in
shirt-sleeved ease, puffing at Jack Fyfe's cigars. Then Benton
excused himself and went to bed. When Howe and his wife retired,
Stella did likewise. The long twilight had dwindled to a misty
patch of light sky in the northwest, and she fell asleep more at
ease than she had been for weeks. Sitting in Jack Fyfe's living
room through that evening she had begun to formulate a philosophy
to fit her enforced environment—to live for the day only, and
avoid thought of the future until there loomed on the horizon some
prospect of a future worth thinking about. The present looked
passable enough, she thought, if she kept her mind strictly on it
And with that idea to guide her, she found the days slide by
smoothly. She got on famously with Mrs. Howe, finding that woman
full of virtues unsuspected in her type. Charlie was in his
element. His prospects looked so rosy that they led him into
egotistic outlines of what he intended to accomplish. To him the
future meant logs in the water, big holdings of timber, a growing
bank account. Beyond that,—what all his concentrated effort
should lead to save more logs and more timber,—he did not
seem to go. Judged by his talk, that was the ultimate, economic
power,—money and more money. More and more as Stella listened
to him, she became aware that he was following in his father's
footsteps; save that he aimed at greater heights and that he worked
by different methods, juggling with natural resources where their
father had merely juggled with prices and tokens of product, their
end was the same—not to create or build up, but to grasp, to
acquire. That was the game. To get and to hold for their own use
and benefit and to look upon men and things, in so far as they were
of use, as pawns in the game.
She wondered sometimes if that were a characteristic of all men,
if that were the big motif in the lives of such men as Paul Abbey
and Jack Fyfe, for instance; if everything else, save the struggle
of getting and keeping money, resolved itself into purely
incidental phases of their existence? For herself she considered
that wealth, or the getting of wealth, was only a means to an
Just what that end might be she found a little vague, rather
hard to define in exact terms. It embraced personal leisure and the
good things of life as a matter of course, a broader existence, a
large-handed generosity toward the less fortunate, an intellectual
elevation entirely unrelated to gross material things. Life, she
told herself pensively, ought to mean something more than ease and
good clothes, but what more she was chary of putting into concrete
form. It hadn't meant much more than that for her, so far. She was
only beginning to recognize the flinty facts of existence. She saw
now that for her there lay open only two paths to food and
clothing: one in which, lacking all training, she must earn her
bread by daily toil, the other leading to marriage. That, she would
have admitted, was a woman's natural destiny, but one didn't pick a
husband or lover as one chose a gown or a hat. One went along
living, and the thing happened. Chance ruled there, she believed.
The morality of her class prevented her from prying into this
question of mating with anything like critical consideration. It
was only to be thought about sentimentally, and it was easy for her
to so think. Within her sound and vigorous body all the heritage of
natural human impulses bubbled warmly, but she recognized neither
their source nor their ultimate fruits.
Often when Charlie was holding forth in his accustomed vein, she
wondered what Jack Fyfe thought about it, what he masked behind his
brief sentences or slow smile. Latterly her feeling about him, that
involuntary bracing and stiffening of herself against his
personality, left her. Fyfe seemed to be more or less
self-conscious of her presence as a guest in his house. His manner
toward her remained always casual, as if she were a man, and there
was no question of sex attraction or masculine reaction to it
between them. She liked him better for that; and she did admire his
wonderful strength, the tremendous power invested in his
magnificent body, just as she would have admired a tiger, without
caring to fondle the beast.
Altogether she spent a tolerably pleasant three weeks. Autumn's
gorgeous paintbrush laid wonderful coloring upon the maple and
alder and birch that lined the lake shore. The fall run of the
salmon was on, and every stream was packed with the silver horde,
threshing through shoal and rapid to reach the spawning ground
before they died. Off every creek mouth and all along the lake the
seal followed to prey on the salmon, and sea-trout and lakers alike
swarmed to the spawning beds to feed upon the roe. The days
shortened. Sometimes a fine rain would drizzle for hours on end,
and when it would clear, the saw-toothed ranges flanking the lake
would stand out all freshly robed in white,—a mantle that
crept lower on the fir-clad slopes after each storm. The winds that
whistled off those heights nipped sharply.
Early in October Charlie Benton had squared his neighborly
account with Jack Fyfe. With crew and equipment he moved home, to
begin work anew on his own limit.
Katy John and her people came back from the salmon fishing. Jim
Renfrew, still walking with a pronounced limp, returned from the
hospital. Charlie wheedled Stella into taking up the cookhouse
burden again. Stella consented; in truth she could do nothing else.
Charlie spent a little of his contract profits in piping water to
the kitchen, in a few things to brighten up and make more
comfortable their own quarters.
"Just as soon as I can put another boom over the rapids, Stell,"
he promised, "I'll put a cook on the job. I've got to sail a little
close for a while. With this crew I ought to put a million feet in
the water in six weeks. Then I'll be over the hump, and you can
take it easy. But till then—"
"Till then I may as well make myself useful," Stella interrupted
"Well, why not?" Benton demanded impatiently. "Nobody around
here works any harder than I do."
And there the matter rested.
ONE WAY OUT
That was a winter of big snow. November opened with rain. Day
after day the sun hid his face behind massed, spitting clouds.
Morning, noon, and night the eaves of the shacks dripped steadily,
the gaunt limbs of the hardwoods were a line of coursing drops, and
through all the vast reaches of fir and cedar the patter of rain
kept up a dreary monotone. Whenever the mist that blew like rolling
smoke along the mountains lifted for a brief hour, there, creeping
steadily downward, lay the banked white.
Rain or shine, the work drove on. From the peep of day till dusk
shrouded the woods, Benton's donkey puffed and groaned, axes
thudded, the thin, twanging whine of the saws rose. Log after log
slid down the chute to float behind the boomsticks; and at night
the loggers trooped home, soaked to the skin, to hang their
steaming mackinaws around the bunkhouse stove. When they gathered
in the mess-room they filled it with the odor of sweaty bodies and
profane grumbling about the weather.
Early in December Benton sent out a big boom of logs with a
hired stern-wheeler that was no more than out of Roaring Lake
before the snow came. The sleety blasts of a cold afternoon turned
to great, moist flakes by dark, eddying thick out of a windless
night. At daybreak it lay a foot deep and snowing hard. Thenceforth
there was no surcease. The white, feathery stuff piled up and piled
up, hour upon hour and day after day, as if the deluge had come
again. It stood at the cabin eaves before the break came, six feet
on the level. With the end of the storm came a bright, cold sky and
frost,—not the bitter frost of the high latitudes, but a
nipping cold that held off the melting rains and laid a thin scum
of ice on every patch of still water.
Necessarily, all work ceased. The donkey was a shapeless mound
of white, all the lines and gear buried deep. A man could neither
walk on that yielding mass nor wallow through it. The logging crew
hailed the enforced rest with open relief. Benton grumbled. And
then, with the hours hanging heavy on his hands, he began to spend
more and more of his time in the bunkhouse with the "boys,"
particularly in the long evenings.
Stella wondered what pleasure he found in their company, but she
never asked him, nor did she devote very much thought to the
matter. There was but small cessation in her labors, and that only
because six or eight of the men drew their pay and went out. Benton
managed to hold the others against the thaw that might open up the
woods in twenty-four hours, but the smaller size of the gang only
helped a little, and did not assist her mentally at all. All the
old resentment against the indignity of her position rose and
smoldered. To her the days were full enough of things that she was
terribly weary of doing over and over, endlessly. She was always
tired. No matter that she did, in a measure, harden to her work,
grow callously accustomed to rising early and working late. Always
her feet were sore at night, aching intolerably. Hot food, sharp
knives, and a glowing stove played havoc with her hands. Always she
rose in the morning heavy-eyed and stiff-muscled. Youth and natural
vigor alone kept her from breaking down, and to cap the strain of
toil, she was soul-sick with the isolation. For she was isolated;
there was not a human being in the camp, Katy John included, with
whom she exchanged two dozen words a day.
Before the snow put a stop to logging, Jack Fyfe dropped in once
a week or so. When work shut down, he came oftener, but he never
singled Stella out for any particular attention. Once he surprised
her sitting with her elbows on the kitchen table, her face buried
in her palms. She looked up at his quiet entrance, and her face
must have given him his cue. He leaned a little toward her.
"How long do you think you can stand it?" he asked gently.
"God knows," she answered, surprised into speaking the thought
that lay uppermost in her mind, surprised beyond measure that Be
should read that thought.
He stood looking down at her for a second or two. His lips
parted, but he closed them again over whatever rose to his tongue
and passed silently through the dining room and into the bunkhouse,
where Benton had preceded him a matter of ten minutes.
It lacked a week of Christmas. That day three of Benton's men
had gone in the Chickamin to Roaring Springs for supplies.
They had returned in mid-afternoon, and Stella guessed by the new
note of hilarity in the bunkhouse that part of the supplies had
been liquid. This had happened more than once since the big snow
closed in. She remembered Charlie's fury at the logger who started
Matt the cook on his spree, and she wondered at this relaxation,
but it was not in her province, and she made no comment.
Jack Fyfe stayed to supper that evening. Neither he nor Charlie
came back to Benton's quarters when the meal was finished. While
she stacked up the dishes, Katy John observed:
"Goodness sakes, Miss Benton, them fellers was fresh at supper.
They was half-drunk, some of them. I bet they'll be half a dozen
fights before mornin'."
Stella passed that over in silence, with a mental turning up of
her nose. It was something she could neither defend nor excuse. It
was a disgusting state of affairs, but nothing she could change.
She kept harking back to it, though, when she was in her own
quarters, and Katy John had vanished for the night into her little
room off the kitchen. Tired as she was, she remained wakeful,
uneasy. Over in the bunkhouse disturbing sounds welled now and then
into the cold, still night,—incoherent snatches of song,
voices uproariously raised, bursts of laughter. Once, as she looked
out the door, thinking she heard footsteps crunching in the snow,
some one rapped out a coarse oath that drove her back with burning
As the evening wore late, she began to grow uneasily curious to
know in what manner Charlie and Jack Fyfe were lending countenance
to this minor riot, if they were even participating in it. Eleven
o'clock passed, and still there rose in the bunkhouse that unabated
hum of voices.
Suddenly there rose a brief clamor. In the dead silence that
followed, she heard a thud and the clinking smash of breaking
glass, a panted oath, sounds of struggle.
Stella slipped on a pair of her brother's gum boots and an
overcoat, and ran out on the path beaten from their cabin to the
shore. It led past the bunkhouse, and on that side opened two
uncurtained windows, yellow squares that struck gleaming on the
snow. The panes of one were broken now, sharp fragments standing
like saw teeth in the wooden sash.
She stole warily near and looked in. Two men were being held
apart; one by three of his fellows, the other by Jack Fyfe
alone. Fyfe grinned mildly, talking to the men in a quiet, pacific
"Now you know that was nothing to scrap about," she heard him
say, "You're both full of fighting whisky, but a bunkhouse isn't
any place to fight. Wait till morning. If you've still got it in
your systems, go outside and have it out. But you shouldn't disturb
our game and break up the furniture. Be gentlemen, drunk or sober.
Better shake hands and call it square."
"Aw, let 'em go to it, if they want to."
Charlie's voice, drink-thickened, harsh, came from a earner of
the room into which she could not see until she moved nearer. By
the time she picked him out, Fyfe resumed his seat at the table
where three others and Benton waited with cards in their hands, red
and white chips and money stacked before them.
She knew enough of cards to realize that a stiff poker game was
on the board when she had watched one hand dealt and played. It
angered her, not from any ethical motive, but because of her
brother's part in it. He had no funds to pay a cook's wages, yet he
could afford to lose on one hand as much as he credited her with
for a month's work. She could slave at the kitchen job day in and
day out to save him forty-five dollars a month. He could lose that
without the flicker of an eyelash, but he couldn't pay her wages on
demand. Also she saw that he had imbibed too freely, if the redness
of his face and the glassy fixedness of his eyes could be read
"Pig!" she muttered. "If that's his idea of pleasure. Oh, well,
why should I care? I don't, so far as he's concerned, if I could
just get away from this beast of a place myself."
Abreast of her a logger came to the broken window with a sack to
bar out the frosty air. And Stella, realizing suddenly that she was
shivering with the cold, ran back to the cabin and got into her
But she did not sleep, save in uneasy periods of dozing, until
midnight was long past. Then Fyfe and her brother came in, and by
the sounds she gathered that Fyfe was putting Charlie to bed. She
heard his deep, drawly voice urging the unwisdom of sleeping with
calked boots on, and Beaton's hiccupy response. The rest of the
night she slept fitfully, morbidly imagining terrible things. She
was afraid, that was the sum and substance of it. Over in the
bunkhouse the carousal was still at its height. She could not rid
herself of the sight of those two men struggling to be at each
other like wild beasts, the bloody face of the one who had been
struck, the coarse animalism of the whole whisky-saturated gang. It
repelled and disgusted and frightened her.
The night frosts had crept through the single board walls of
Stella's room and made its temperature akin to outdoors when the
alarm wakened her at six in the morning. She shivered as she
dressed. Katy John was blissfully devoid of any responsibility, for
seldom did Katy rise first to light the kitchen fire. Yet Stella
resented less each day's bleak beginning than she did the enforced
necessity of the situation; the fact that she was enduring these
things practically under compulsion was what galled.
A cutting wind struck her icily as she crossed the few steps of
open between cabin and kitchen. Above no cloud floated, no
harbinger of melting rain. The cold stars twinkled over
snow-blurred forest, struck tiny gleams from stumps that were now
white-capped pillars. A night swell from the outside waters beat,
its melancholy dirge on the frozen beach. And, as she always did at
that hushed hour before dawn, she experienced a physical shrinking
from those grim solitudes in which there was nothing warm and human
and kindly, nothing but vastness of space upon which silence lay
like a smothering blanket, in which she, the human atom, was
utterly negligible, a protesting mote in the inexorable wilderness.
She knew this to be merely a state of mind, but situated as she
was, it bore upon her with all the force of reality. She felt like
a prisoner who above all things desired some mode of escape.
A light burned in the kitchen. She thanked her stars that this
bitter cold morning she would not have to build a fire with
freezing fingers while her teeth chattered, and she hurried in to
the warmth heralded by a spark-belching stovepipe. But the Siwash
girl had not risen to the occasion. Instead, Jack Fyfe sat with his
feet on the oven door, a cigar in one corner of his mouth. The
kettle steamed. Her porridge pot bubbled ready for the meal.
"Good morning," he greeted. "Mind my preempting your job?"
"Not at all," she answered. "You can have it for keeps if you
"No, thanks," he smiled. "I'm sour on my own cooking. Had to eat
too much of it in times gone by. I wouldn't be stoking up here
either, only I got frozen out. Charlie's spare bed hasn't enough
blankets for me these cold nights."
He drew his chair aside to be out of the way as she hurried
about her breakfast preparations. All the time she was conscious
that his eyes were on her, and also that in them lurked an
expression of keen interest. His freckled mask of a face gave no
clue to his thoughts; it never did, so far as she had ever
observed. Fyfe had a gambler's immobility of countenance. He
chucked the butt of his cigar in the stove and sat with hands
clasped over one knee for some time after Katy John appeared and
began setting the dining room table with a great clatter of
He arose to his feet then. Stella stood beside the stove, frying
bacon. A logger opened the door and walked in. He had been one to
fare ill in the night's hilarity, for a discolored patch encircled
one eye, and his lips were split and badly swollen. He carried a
"Kin I get some hot water?" he asked.
Stella silently indicated the reservoir at one end of the range.
The man ladled his basin full. The fumes of whisky, the unpleasant
odor of his breath offended her, and she drew back. Fyfe looked at
her as the man went out.
"What?" he asked.
She had muttered something, an impatient exclamation of disgust.
The man's appearance disagreeably reminded her of the scene she had
observed through the bunkhouse window. It stung her to think that
her brother was fast putting himself on a par with
them—without their valid excuse of type and training.
"Oh, nothing," she said wearily, and turned to the sputtering
Fyfe put his foot up on the stove front and drummed a tattoo on
his mackinaw clad knee.
"Aren't you getting pretty sick of this sort of work, these more
or less uncomfortable surroundings, and the sort of people you have
to come in contact with?" he asked pointedly.
"I am," she returned as bluntly, "but I think that's rather an
impertinent question, Mr. Fyfe."
He passed imperturbably over this reproof, and his glance turned
briefly toward the dining room. Katy John was still noisily at
"You hate it," he said positively. "I know you do. I've seen
your feelings many a time. I don't blame you. It's a rotten
business for a girl with your tastes and bringing up. And I'm
afraid you'll find it worse, if this snow stays long. I know what a
logging camp is when work stops, and whisky creeps in, and the boss
lets go his hold for the time being."
"That may be true," she returned gloomily, "but I don't see why
you should enumerate these disagreeable things for my benefit."
"I'm going to show you a way out," he said softly. "I've been
thinking it over for quite a while. I want you to marry me."
"Listen," he said peremptorily, leaning closer to her and
lowering his voice. "I have an idea that you're going to say you
don't love me. Lord, I know that. But you hate this.
It grates against every inclination of yours like a file on steel.
I wouldn't jar on you like that. I wouldn't permit you to live in
surroundings that would. That's the material side of it. Nobody can
live on day dreams. I like you, Stella Benton, a whole lot more
than I'd care to say right out loud. You and I together could make
a home we'd be proud of. I want you, and you want to get away from
this. It's natural. Marry me and play the game fair, and I don't
think you'll be sorry. I'm putting it as baldly as I can. You stand
to win everything with nothing to lose—but your domestic
chains—" the gleam of a smile lit up his features for a
second. "Won't you take a chance?" "No," she declared impulsively.
"I won't be a party to any such cold-blooded transaction."
"You don't seem to understand me," he said soberly. "I don't
want to hand out any sentiment, but it makes me sore to see you
wasting yourself on this sort of thing. If you must do it, why
don't you do it for somebody who'll make it worth while? If you'd
use the brains God gave you, you know that lots of couples have
married on flimsier grounds than we'd have. How can a man and a
woman really know anything about each other till they've lived
together? Just because we don't marry with our heads in the fog is
no reason we shouldn't get on fine. What are you going to do? Stick
here at this till you go crazy? You won't get away. You don't
realize what a one-idea, determined person this brother of yours
is. He has just one object in life, and he'll use everything and
everybody in sight to attain that object. He means to succeed and
he will. You're purely incidental; but he has that perverted,
middle-class family pride that will make him prevent you from
getting out and trying your own wings. Nature never intended a
woman like you to be a celibate, any more than I was so intended.
And sooner or late you'll marry somebody—if only to hop out
of the fire into the frying pan."
"I hate you," she flashed passionately, "when you talk like
"No, you don't," he returned quietly. "You hate what I say,
because it's the truth—and it's humiliating to be helpless.
You think I don't sabe? But I'm putting a weapon into your
hand. Let's put it differently; leave out the sentiment for a
minute. We'll say that I want a housekeeper, preferably an
ornamental one, because I like beautiful things. You want to get
away from this drudgery. That's what it is, simple drudgery. You
crave lots of things you can't get by yourself, but that you could
help me get for you. There's things lacking in your life, and so is
there in mine. Why shouldn't we go partners? You think about
"I don't need to," she answered coolly. "It wouldn't work. You
don't appear to have any idea what it means for a woman to give
herself up body and soul to a man she doesn't care for. For me it
would be plain selling myself. I haven't the least affection for
you personally. I might even detest you."
"You wouldn't," he said positively.
"What makes you so sure of that?" she demanded.
"It would sound conceited if I told you why," he drawled.
"Listen. We're not gods and goddesses, we human beings. We're not,
after all, in our real impulses, so much different from the age
when a man took his club and went after a female that looked good
to him. They mated, and raised their young, and very likely faced
on an average fewer problems than arise in modern marriages
supposedly ordained in Heaven. You'd have the one big problem
solved,—the lack of means to live decently,—which
wrecks more homes than anything else, far more than lack of love.
Affection doesn't seem to thrive on poverty. What is love?"
His voice took on a challenging note.
Stella shook her head. He puzzled her, wholly serious one
minute, a whimsical smile twisting up the corners of his mouth the
next. And he surprised her too by his sureness of utterance on
subjects she had not supposed would enter such a man's mind.
"I don't know," she answered absently, turning over strips of
bacon with the long-handled fork.
"There you are," he said. "I don't know either. We'd start even,
then, for the sake of argument. No, I guess we wouldn't either,
because you're the only woman I've run across so far with whom I
could calmly contemplate spending the rest of my life in close
contact. That's a fact. To me it's a highly important fact. You
don't happen to have any such feeling about me, eh?"
"No. I hadn't even thought of you in that way," Stella answered
"You want to think about me," he said calmly. "You want to think
about me from every possible angle, because I'm going to come back
and ask you this same question every once in a while, so long as
you're in reach and doing this dirty work for a thankless boss. You
want to think of me as a possible refuge from a lot of disagreeable
things. I'd like to have you to chum with, and I'd like to have
some incentive to put a big white bungalow on that old foundation
for us two," he smiled. "I'll never do it for myself alone. Go on.
Take a gambling chance and marry me, Stella. Say yes, and say it
But she shook her head resolutely, and as Katy John came in just
then, Fyfe took his foot off the stove and went out of the kitchen.
He threw a glance over his shoulder at Stella, a broad smile, as if
to say that he harbored no grudge, and nursed no wound in his
vanity because she would have none of him.
Katy rang the breakfast gong. Five minutes later the tattoo of
knives and forks and spoons told of appetites in process of
appeasement. Charlie came into the kitchen in the midst of this,
bearing certain unmistakable signs. His eyes were inflamed, his
cheeks still bearing the flush of liquor. His demeanor was that of
a man suffering an intolerable headache and correspondingly
short-tempered. Stella barely spoke to him. It was bad enough for a
man to make a beast of himself with whisky, but far worse was his
gambling streak. There were so many little ways in which she could
have eased things with a few dollars; yet he always grumbled when
she spoke of money, always put her off with promises to be redeemed
when business got better.
Stella watched him bathe his head copiously in cold water and
then seat himself at the long table, trying to force food upon an
aggrieved and rebellious stomach. Gradually a flood of recklessness
welled up in her breast.
"For two pins I would marry Jack Fyfe," she told herself
savagely. "Anything would be better than this."
Stella went over that queer debate a good many times in the ten
days that followed. It revealed Jack Fyfe to her in a new,
inexplicable light, at odd variance with her former conception of
the man. She could not have visualized him standing with one foot
on the stove front speaking calmly of love and marriage if she had
not seen him with her own eyes, heard him with somewhat incredulous
ears. She had continued to endow him with the attributes of
unrestrained passion, of headlong leaping to the goal of his
desires, of brushing aside obstacles and opposition with sheer
brute force; and he had shown unreckoned qualities of restraint, of
understanding. She was not quite sure if this were guile or
sensible consideration. He had put his case logically, persuasively
even. She was very sure that if he had adopted emotional methods,
she would have been repelled. If he had laid siege to her hand and
heart in the orthodox fashion, she would have raised that siege in
short order. As it stood, in spite of her words to him, there was
in her own mind a lack of finality. As she went about her daily
tasks, that prospect of trying a fresh fling at the world as Jack
Fyfe's wife tantalized her with certain desirable features.
Was it worth while to play the game as she must play it for some
time to come, drudge away at mean, sordid work and amid the
dreariest sort of environment? At best, she could only get away
from Charlie's camp and begin along new lines that might perhaps be
little better, that must inevitably lie among strangers in a
strange land. To what end? What did she want of life, anyway? She
had to admit that she could not say fully and explicitly what she
wanted. When she left out her material wants, there was nothing but
a nebulous craving for—what? Love, she assumed. And she could
not define love, except as some incomprehensible transport of
emotion which irresistibly drew a man and a woman together, a
divine fire kindled in two hearts. It was not a thing she could
vouch for by personal experience. It might never touch and warm
her, that divine fire. Instinct did now and then warn her that some
time it would wrap her like a flame. But in the meantime—Life
had her in midstream of its remorseless, drab current, sweeping her
along. A foothold offered. Half a loaf, a single slice of bread
even, is better than none.
Jack Fyfe did not happen in again for nearly two weeks and then
only to pay a brief call, but he stole an opportunity, when Katy
John was not looking, to whisper in Stella's ear:
"Have you been thinking about that bungalow of ours?"
She shook her head, and he went out quietly, without another
word. He neither pleaded nor urged, and perhaps that was wisest,
for in spite of herself Stella thought of him continually. He
loomed always before her, a persistent, compelling factor.
She knew at last, beyond any gainsaying, that the venture
tempted, largely perhaps because it contained so great an element
of the unknown. To get away from this soul-dwarfing round meant
much. She felt herself reasoning desperately that the frying pan
could not be worse than the fire, and held at least the merit of
greater dignity and freedom from the twin evils of poverty and
thankless domestic slavery.
While she considered this, pro and con, shrinking from such a
step one hour, considering it soberly the next, the days dragged
past in wearisome sequence. The great depth of snow endured, was
added to by spasmodic flurries. The frosts held. The camp seethed
with the restlessness of the men. In default of the daily work that
consumed their superfluous energy, the loggers argued and fought,
drank and gambled, made "rough house" in their sleeping quarters
till sometimes Stella's cheeks blanched and she expected murder to
be done. Twice the Chickamin came back from Roaring Springs
with whisky aboard, and a protracted debauch ensued. Once a drunken
logger shouldered his way into the kitchen to leer unpleasantly at
Stella, and, himself inflamed by liquor and the affront, Charlie
Benton beat the man until his face was a mass of bloody bruises.
That was only one of a dozen brutal incidents. All the routine
discipline of the woods seemed to have slipped out of Benton's
hands. When the second whisky consignment struck the camp, Stella
stayed in her room, refusing to cook until order reigned again.
Benton grumblingly took up the burden himself. With Katy's help and
that of sundry loggers, he fed the roistering crew, but for his
sister it was a two-day period of protesting disgust.
That mood, like so many of her moods, relapsed into dogged
endurance. She took up the work again when Charlie promised that no
more whisky should be allowed in the camp.
"Though it's ten to one I won't have a corporal's guard left
when I want to start work again," he grumbled. "I'm well within my
rights if I put my foot down hard on any jinks when there's work,
but I have no license to set myself up as guardian of a logger's
morals and pocketbook when I have nothing for him to do. These
fellows are paying their board. So long as they don't make
themselves obnoxious to you, I don't see that it's our funeral
whether they're drunk or sober. They'd tell me so quick
To this pronouncement of expediency Stella made no rejoinder.
She no longer expected anything much of Charlie, in the way of
consideration. So far as she could see, she, his sister, was little
more to him than one of his loggers; a little less important than,
say, his donkey engineer. In so far as she conduced to the
well-being of the camp and effected a saving to his credit in the
matter of preparing food, he valued her and was willing to concede
a minor point to satisfy her. Beyond that Stella felt that he did
not go. Five years in totally different environments had dug a
great gulf between them. He felt an arbitrary sense of duty toward
her, she knew, but in its manifestations it never lapped over the
bounds of his own immediate self-interest.
And so when she blundered upon knowledge of a state of affairs
which must have existed under her very nose for some time, there
were few remnants of sisterly affection to bid her seek extenuating
Katy John proved the final straw. Just by what means Stella grew
to suspect any such moral lapse on Benton's part is wholly
irrelevant. Once the unpleasant likelihood came to her notice, she
took measures to verify her suspicion, and when convinced she taxed
her brother with it, to his utter confusion.
"What kind of a man are you?" she cried at last in shamed anger.
"Is there nothing too low for you to dabble in? Haven't you any
respect for anything or anybody, yourself included?"
"Oh, don't talk like a damned Puritan," Benton growled, though
his tanned face was burning. "This is what comes of having women
around the camp. I'll send the girl away."
"You—you beast!" she flared—and ran out of the
kitchen to seek refuge in her own room and cry into her pillow some
of the dumb protest that surged up within her. For her knowledge of
passion and the workings of passion as they bore upon the relations
of a man and a woman were at once vague and tinctured with
inflexible tenets of morality, the steel-hard conception of virtue
which is the bulwark of middle-class theory for its wives and
daughters and sisters—with an eye consistently blind to the
concealed lapses of its men.
Stella Benton passed that morning through successive stages of
shocked amazement, of pity, and disgust. As between her brother and
the Siwash girl, she saw little to choose. From her virtuous
pinnacle she abhorred both. If she had to continue intimate living
with them, she felt that she would be utterly defiled, degraded to
their level. That was her first definite conclusion.
After a time she heard Benton come into their living room and
light a fire in the heater. She dried her eyes and went out to face
"Charlie," she declared desperately, "I can't stay here any
longer. It's simply impossible."
"Don't start that song again. We've had it often enough," he
answered stubbornly. "You're not going—not till spring. I'm
not going to let you go in the frame of mind you're in right now,
anyhow. You'll get over that. Hang it, I'm not the first man whose
foot slipped. It isn't your funeral, anyway. Forget it."
The grumbling coarseness of this retort left her speechless.
Benton got the fire going and went out. She saw him cross to the
kitchen, and later she saw Katy John leave the camp with all her
belongings in a bundle over her shoulder, trudging away to the camp
of her people around the point.
Kipling's pregnant line shot across her mind:
"For the colonel's lady and Judy O'Grady are sisters under their
"I wonder," she mused. "I wonder if we are? I wonder if that
poor, little, brown-skinned fool isn't after all as much a victim
as I am. She doesn't know better, maybe; but Charlie does, and he
doesn't seem to care. It merely embarrasses him to be found out,
that's all. It isn't right. It isn't fair, or decent, or anything.
We're just for him to—to use."
She looked out along the shores piled high with broken ice and
snow, through a misty air to distant mountains that lifted
themselves imperiously aloof, white spires against the
sky,—over a forest all draped in winter robes; shore,
mountains, and forest alike were chill and hushed and desolate. The
lake spread its forty-odd miles in a boomerang curve from Roaring
Springs to Fort Douglas, a cold, lifeless gray. She sat a long time
looking at that, and a dead weight seemed to settle upon her heart.
For the second time that day she broke down. Not the shamed,
indignant weeping of an hour earlier, but with the essence of all
things forlorn and desolate in her choked sobs.
She did not hear Jack Fyfe come in. She did not dream he was
there, until she felt his hand gently on her shoulder and looked
up. And so deep was her despondency, so keen the unassuaged craving
for some human sympathy, some measure of understanding, that she
made no effort to remove his hand. She was in too deep a spiritual
quagmire to refuse any sort of aid, too deeply moved to indulge in
analytical self-fathoming. She had a dim sense of being oddly
comforted by his presence, as if she, afloat on uncharted seas, saw
suddenly near at hand a safe anchorage and welcoming hands.
Afterward she recalled that. As it was, she looked up at Fyfe and
hid her wet face in her hands again. He stood silent a few seconds.
When he did speak there was a peculiar hesitation in his voice.
"What is it?" he said softly. "What's the trouble now?"
Briefly she told him, the barriers of her habitual reserve swept
aside before the essentially human need to share a burden that has
grown too great to bear alone.
"Oh, hell," Fyfe grunted, when she had finished. "This isn't any
place for you at all."
He slid his arm across her shoulders and tilted her face with
his other hand so that her eyes met his. And she felt no desire to
draw away or any of that old instinct to be on her guard against
him. For all she knew—indeed, by all she had been
told—Jack Fyfe was tarred with the same stick as her brother,
but she had no thought of resisting him, no feeling of
"Will you marry me, Stella?" he asked evenly. "I can free you
from this sort of thing forever."
"How can I?" she returned. "I don't want to marry anybody. I
don't love you. I'm not even sure I like you. I'm too miserable to
think, even. I'm afraid to take a step like that. I should think
you would be too."
He shook his head.
"I've thought a lot about it lately," he said. "It hasn't
occurred to me to be afraid of how it may turn out. Why borrow
trouble when there's plenty at hand? I don't care whether you love
me or not, right now. You couldn't possibly be any worse off as my
wife, could you?"
"No," she admitted. "I don't see how I could."
"Take a chance then," he urged. "I'll make a fair bargain with
you. I'll make life as pleasant for you as I can. You'll live
pretty much as you've been brought up to live, so far as money
goes. The rest we'll have to work out for ourselves. I won't ask
you to pretend anything you don't feel. You'll play fair, because
that's the way you're made,—unless I've sized you up wrong.
It'll simply be a case of our adjusting ourselves, just as mating
couples have been doing since the year one. You've everything to
gain and nothing to lose."
"In some ways," she murmured.
"Every way," he insisted. "You aren't handicapped by caring for
any other man."
"How do you know?" she asked.
"Just a hunch," Fyfe smiled. "If you did, he'd have beaten me to
the rescue long ago—if he were the sort of man you
could care for."
"No," she admitted. "There isn't any other man, but there might
be. Think how terrible it would be if it
Fyfe shrugged his shoulders.
"Sufficient unto the day," he said. "There is no string on
either of us just now. We start even. That's good enough. Will
"You have me at a disadvantage," she whispered. "You offer me a
lot that I want, everything but a feeling I've somehow always
believed ought to exist, ought to be mutual. Part of me wants to
shut my eyes and jump. Part of me wants to hang back. I can't stand
this thing I've got into and see no way of getting out of. Yet I
dread starting a new train of wretchedness. I'm
afraid—whichever way I turn."
Fyfe considered this a moment.
"Well," he said finally, "that's a rather unfortunate attitude.
But I'm going into it with my eyes open. I know what I want. You'll
be making a sort of experiment. Still, I advise you to make it. I
think you'll be the better for making it. Come on. Say yes."
Stella looked up at him, then out over the banked snow, and all
the dreary discomforts, the mean drudgery, the sordid shifts she
had been put to for months rose up in disheartening phalanx. For
that moment Jack Fyfe loomed like a tower of refuge. She trusted
him now. She had a feeling that even if she grew to dislike him,
she would still trust him. He would play fair. If he said he would
do this or that, she could bank on it absolutely.
She turned and looked at him searchingly a long half-minute,
wondering what really lay behind the blue eyes that met her own so
steadfastly. He stood waiting patiently, outwardly impassive. But
she could feel through the thin stuff of her dress a quiver in the
fingers that rested on her shoulder, and that repressed sign of the
man's pent-up feeling gave her an odd thrill, moved her strangely,
swung the pendulum of her impulse.
"Yes," she said.
Fyfe bent a little lower.
"Listen," he said in characteristically blunt fashion. "You want
to get away from here. There is no sense in our fussing or
hesitating about what we're going to do, is there?"
"No, I suppose not," she agreed.
"I'll send the Panther down to the Springs for Lefty
Howe's wife," he outlined his plans unhesitatingly. "She'll get up
here this evening. To-morrow we will go down and take the train to
Vancouver and be married. You have plenty of good clothes, good
enough for Vancouver. I know,"—with a whimsical
smile,—"because you had no chance to wear them out. Then
we'll go somewhere, California, Florida, and come back to Roaring
Lake in the spring. You'll have all the bad taste of this out of
your mouth by that time."
Stella nodded acquiescence. Better to make the plunge boldly,
since she had elected to make it.
"All right. I'm going to tell Benton," Fyfe said. "Good-by till
She stood up. He looked at her a long time earnestly,
searchingly, one of her hands imprisoned tight between his two big
palms. Then, before she was quite aware of his intention, he kissed
her gently on the mouth, and was gone.
This turn of events left Benton dumbfounded, to use a trite but
expressive phrase. He came in, apparently to look at Stella in
amazed curiosity, for at first he had nothing to say. He sat down
beside his makeshift desk and pawed over some papers, running the
fingers of one hand through his thick brown hair.
"Well, Sis," he blurted out at last. "I suppose you know what
"I think so," Stella returned composedly.
"But why all this mad haste?" he asked. "If you're going to get
married, why didn't you let me know, so I could give you some sort
of decent send-off."
"Oh, thanks," she returned dryly. "I don't think that's
necessary. Not at this stage of the game, as you occasionally
He ruminated upon this a minute, flushing slightly.
"Well, I wish you luck," he said sincerely enough. "Though I can
hardly realize this sudden move. You and Jack Fyfe may get on all
right. He's a good sort—in his way."
"His way suits me," she said, spurred to the defensive by what
she deemed a note of disparagement in his utterance. "If you have
any objections or criticisms, you can save your breath—or
address them direct to Mr. Fyfe."
"No, thank you," he grinned. "I don't care to get into any
argument with him, especially as he's going to be my
brother-in-law. Fyfe's all right. I didn't imagine he was the sort
of man you'd fancy, that's all."
Stella refrained from any comment on this. She had no intention
of admitting to Charlie that marriage with Jack Fyfe commended
itself to her chiefly as an avenue of escape from a well-nigh
intolerable condition which he himself had inflicted upon her. Her
pride rose in arms against any such belittling admission. She
admitted it frankly to herself,—and to Fyfe,—because
Fyfe understood and was content with that understanding. She
desired to forget that phase of the transaction. She told herself
that she meant honestly to make the best of it.
Benton turned again to his papers. He did not broach the subject
again until in the distance the squat hull of the Panther
began to show on her return from the Springs. Then he came to where
Stella was putting the last of her things into her trunk. He had
some banknotes in one hand, and a check.
"Here's that ninety I borrowed, Stell," he said. "And a check
for your back pay. Things have been sort of lean around here,
maybe, but I still think it's a pity you couldn't have stuck it out
till it came smoother. I hate to see you going away with a chronic
grouch against me. I suppose I wouldn't even be a welcome guest at
"No," she said unforgivingly. "Some things are a little
"Oh," he replied casually enough, pausing in the doorway a
second on his way out, "you'll get over that. You'll find that
ordinary, everyday living isn't any kid-glove affair."
She sat on the closed lid of her trunk, looking at the check and
money. Three hundred and sixty dollars, all told. A month ago that
would have spelled freedom, a chance to try her luck in less
desolate fields. Well, she tried to consider the thing
philosophically; it was no use to bewail what might have been. In
her hands now lay the sinews of a war she had forgone all need of
waging. It did not occur to her to repudiate her bargain with Jack
Fyfe. She had given her promise, and she considered she was bound,
irrevocably. Indeed, for the moment, she was glad of that. She was
worn out, all weary with unaccustomed stress of body and mind. To
her, just then, rest seemed the sweetest boon in the world. Any
port in a storm, expressed her mood. What came after was to be met
as it came. She was too tired to anticipate.
It was a pale, weary-eyed young woman, dressed in the same plain
tailored suit she had worn into the country, who was cuddled to
Mrs. Howe's plump bosom when she went aboard the Panther for
the first stage of her journey.
A slaty bank of cloud spread a somber film across the sky. When
the Panther laid her ice-sheathed guard-rail against the Hot
Springs wharf the sun was down. The lake spread gray and lifeless
under a gray sky, and Stella Benton's spirits were steeped in that
same dour color.
AND SO THEY WERE MARRIED
Spring had waved her transforming wand over the lake region
before the Fyfes came home again. All the low ground, the creeks
and hollows and banks, were bright green with new-leaved birch and
alder and maple. The air was full of those aromatic exudations the
forest throws off when it is in the full tide of the growing time.
Shores that Stella had last seen dismal and forlorn in the
frost-fog, sheathed in ice, banked with deep snow, lay sparkling
now in warm sunshine, under an unflecked arch of blue. All that was
left of winter was the white cap on Mount Douglas, snow-filled
chasms on distant, rocky peaks. Stella stood on the Hot Springs
wharf looking out across the emerald deep of the lake, thinking
soberly of the contrast.
Something, she reflected, some part of that desolate winter,
must have seeped to the very roots of her being to produce the
state of mind in which she embarked upon that matrimonial voyage. A
little of it clung to her still. She could look back at those
months of loneliness, of immeasurable toil and numberless
indignities, without any qualms. There would be no repetition of
that. The world at large would say she had done well. She herself
in her most cynical moments could not deny that she had done well.
Materially, life promised to be generous. She was married to a man
who quietly but inexorably got what he wanted, and it was her good
fortune that he wanted her to have the best of everything.
She saw him now coming from the hotel, and she regarded him
thoughtfully, a powerful figure swinging along with light,
effortless steps. He was back on his own ground, openly glad to be
back. Yet she could not recall that he had ever shown himself at a
disadvantage anywhere they had been together. He wore evening
clothes when occasion required as unconcernedly as he wore
mackinaws and calked boots among his loggers. She had not yet
determined whether his equable poise arose from an unequivocal
democracy of spirit, or from sheer egotism. At any rate, where she
had set out with subtle misgivings, she had to admit that socially,
at least, Jack Fyfe could play his hand at any turn of the game.
Where or how he came by this faculty, she did not know. In fact, so
far as Jack Fyfe's breeding and antecedents were concerned, she
knew little more than before their marriage. He was not given to
reminiscence. His people—distant relatives—lived in her
own native state of Pennsylvania. He had an only sister who was now
in South America with her husband, a civil engineer. Beyond that
Fyfe did not go, and Stella made no attempt to pry up the lid of
his past. She was not particularly curious.
Her clearest judgment of him was at first hand. He was a big,
virile type of man, generous, considerate, so sure of himself that
he could be tolerant of others. She could easily understand why
Roaring Lake considered Jack Fyfe "square." The other tales of him
that circulated there she doubted now. The fighting type he
certainly was, aggressive in a clash, but if there were any
downright coarseness in him, it had never manifested itself to her.
She was not sorry she had married him. If they had not set out
blind in a fog of sentiment, as he had once put it, nevertheless
they got on. She did not love him,—not as she defined that
magic word,—but she liked him, was mildly proud of him. When
he kissed her, if there were no mad thrill in it, there was at
least a passive contentment in having inspired that affection. For
he left her in no doubt as to where he stood, not by what he said,
but wholly by his actions.
He joined her now. The Panther, glossy black as a crow's
wing with fresh paint, lay at the pier-end with their trunks
aboard. Stella surveyed those marked with her initials, looking
them over with a critical eye, when they reached the deck.
"How in the world did I ever manage to accumulate so much stuff,
Jack?" she asked quizzically. "I didn't realize it. We might have
been doing Europe with souvenir collecting our principal aim, by
the amount of our baggage."
Fyfe smiled, without commenting. They sat on a trunk and watched
Roaring Springs fall astern, dwindle to a line of white dots
against the great green base of the mountain that rose behind
"It's good to get back here," he said at last. "To me, anyway.
How about it, Stella? You haven't got so much of a grievance with
the world in general as you had when we left, eh?"
"No, thank goodness," she responded fervently.
"You don't look as if you had," he observed, his eyes admiringly
Nor had she. There was a bloom on the soft contour of her cheek,
a luminous gleam in her wide, gray eyes. All the ill wrought by
months of drudging work and mental revolt had vanished. She was
undeniably good to look at, a woman in full flower, round-bodied,
deep-breasted, aglow with the unquenched fires of youth. She was
aware that Jack Fyfe found her so and tolerably glad that he did so
find her. She had revised a good many of her first groping
estimates of him that winter. And when she looked over the port bow
and saw in behind Halfway Point the huddled shacks of her brother's
camp where so much had overtaken her, she experienced a swift rush
of thankfulness that she was—as she was. She slid her gloved
hand impulsively into Jack Fyfe's, and his strong fingers shut down
on hers closely.
They sat silent until the camp lay abeam. About it there was
every sign of activity. A chunky stern-wheeler, with blow-off valve
hissing, stood by a boom of logs in the bay, and men were moving
back and forth across the swifters, making all ready for a tow.
Stella marked a new bunkhouse. Away back on the logging ground in a
greater clearing she saw the separate smoke of two donkey engines.
Another, a big roader, Fyfe explained, puffed at the water's edge.
She could see a string of logs tearing down the skid-road.
"He's going pretty strong, that brother of yours," Fyfe
remarked. "If he holds his gait, he'll be a big timberman before
you know it."
"He'll make money, I imagine," Stella admitted, "but I don't
know what good that will do him. He'll only want more. What is
there about money-making that warps some men so, makes them so
grossly self-centered? I'd pity any girl who married Charlie. He
used to be rather wild at home, but I never dreamed any man could
"You use the conventional measuring-stick on him," her husband
answered, with that tolerance which so often surprised her. "Maybe
his ways are pretty crude. But he's feverishly hewing a
competence—which is what we're all after—out of pretty
crude material. And he's just a kid, after all, with a kid's
tendency to go to extremes now and then. I kinda like the beggar's
ambition and energy."
"But he hasn't the least consideration for anybody or anything,"
Stella protested. "He rides rough-shod over every one. That isn't
either right or decent."
"It's the only way some men can get to the top," Fyfe answered
quietly. "They concentrate on the object to be attained. That's all
that counts until they're in a secure position. Then, when they
stop to draw their breath, sometimes they find they've done lots of
things they wouldn't do again. You watch. By and by Charlie Benton
will cease to have those violent reactions that offend you so. As
it is—he's a youngster, bucking a big game. Life, when you
have your own way to hew through it, with little besides your hands
and brain for capital, is no silk-lined affair."
She fell into thought over this reply. Fyfe had echoed almost
her brother's last words to her. And she wondered if Jack Fyfe had
attained that degree of economic power which enabled him to spend
several thousand dollars on a winter's pleasuring with her by the
exercise of a strong man's prerogative of overriding the weak,
bending them to his own inflexible purposes, ruthlessly turning
everything to his own advantage? If women came under the same head!
She recalled Katy John, and her face burned. Perhaps. But she could
not put Jack Fyfe in her brother's category. He didn't fit. Deep in
her heart there still lurked an abiding resentment against Charlie
Benton for the restraint he had put upon her and the license he had
arrogated to himself. She could not convince herself that the
lapses of that winter were not part and parcel of her brother's
philosophy of life, a coarse and material philosophy.
Presently they were drawing in to Cougar Point, with the
weather-bleached buildings of Fyfe's camp showing now among the
upspringing second-growth scrub. Fyfe went forward and spoke to the
man at the wheel. The Panther swung offshore.
"Why are we going out again?" Stella asked.
"Oh, just for fun," Fyfe smiled.
He sat down beside her and slipped one arm around her waist. In
a few minutes they cleared the point. Stella was looking away
across the lake, at the deep cleft where Silver Creek split a
mountain range in twain.
"Look around," said he, "and tell me what you think of the House
There it stood, snow-white, broad-porched, a new house reared
upon the old stone foundation she remembered. The noon sun struck
flashing on the windows. About it spread the living green of the
grassy square, behind that towered the massive, darker-hued
background of the forest.
"Oh," she exclaimed. "What wizard of construction did the work.
That was why you fussed so long over those plans in Los
Angeles. I thought it was to be this summer or maybe next winter. I
never dreamed you were having it built right away."
"Well, isn't it rather nice to come home to?" he observed.
"It's dear. A homey looking place," she answered. "A beautiful
site, and the house fits,—that white and the red tiles. Is
the big stone fireplace in the living room, Jack?"
"Yes, and one in pretty nearly every other room besides," he
nodded. "Wood fires are cheerful."
The Panther turned her nose shoreward at Fyfe's word.
"I wondered about that foundation the first time I saw it,"
Stella confessed, "whether you built it, and why it was never
finished. There was moss over the stones in places. And that lawn
wasn't made in a single season. I know, because dad had a country
place once, and he was raging around two or three summers because
the land was so hard to get well-grassed."
"No, I didn't build the foundation or make the lawn," Fyfe told
her. "I merely kept it in shape. A man named Hale owned the land
that takes in the bay and the point when I first came to the lake.
He was going to be married. I knew him pretty well. But it was
tough going those days. He was in the hole on some of his timber,
and he and his girl kept waiting. Meantime he cleared and graded
that little hill, sowed it to grass, and laid the foundation. He
was about to start building when he was killed. A falling tree
caught him. I bought in his land and the timber limits that lie
back of it. That's how the foundation came there."
"It's a wonder it didn't grow up wild," Stella mused. "How long
ago was that?"
"About five years," Fyfe said. "I kept the grass trimmed. It
didn't seem right to let the brush overrun it after the poor devil
put that labor of love on it. It always seemed to me that it should
be kept smooth and green, and that there should be a big, roomy
bungalow there. You see my hunch was correct, too."
She looked up at him in some wonder. She hadn't accustomed
herself to associating Jack Fyfe with actions based on pure
sentiment. He was too intensely masculine, solid, practical,
impassive. He did not seem to realize even that sentiment had
influenced him in this. He discussed it too matter-of-factly for
that. She wondered what became of the bride-to-be. But that Fyfe
could not tell her.
"Hale showed me her picture once," he said, "but I never saw
her. Oh, I suppose she's married some other fellow long ago. Hale
was a good sort. He was out-lucked, that's all."
The Panther slid in to the float. Jack and Stella went
ashore. Lefty Howe came down to meet them. Thirty-five or forty men
were stringing away from the camp, back to their work in the woods.
Some waved greeting to Jack Fyfe, and he waved back in the
hail-fellow fashion of the camps.
"How's the frau, Lefty?" he inquired, after they had shaken
"Fine. Down to Vancouver. Sister's sick," Howe answered
laconically. "House's all shipshape. Wanta eat here, or up
"Here at the camp, until we get straightened around," Fyfe
responded. "Tell Pollock to have something for us in about half an
hour. We'll go up and take a look."
Howe went in to convey this message, and the two set off up the
path. A sudden spirit of impishness made Jack Fyfe sprint. Stella
gathered up her skirt and raced after him, but a sudden shortness
of breath overtook her, and she came panting to where Fyfe had
stopped to wait.
"You'll have to climb hills and row and swim so you'll get some
wind," Fyfe chuckled. "Too much easy living, lady."
She smiled without making any reply to this sally, and they
entered the house—the House of Fyfe, that was to be her
If the exterior had pleased her, she went from room to room
inside with growing amazement. Fyfe had finished it from basement
to attic without a word to her that he had any such undertaking in
hand. Yet there was scarcely a room in which she could not find the
visible result of some expressed wish or desire. Often during the
winter they had talked over the matter of furnishings, and she
recalled how unconsciously she had been led to make suggestions
which he had stored up and acted upon. For the rest she found her
husband's taste beyond criticism. There were drapes and rugs and
prints and odds and ends that any woman might be proud to have in
"You're an amazing sort of a man, Jack," she said thoughtfully.
"Is there anything you're not up to? Even a Chinese servant in the
kitchen. It's perfect."
"I'm glad you like it," he said. "I hoped you would."
"Who wouldn't?" she cried impulsively. "I love pretty things.
Wait till I get done rearranging."
They introduced themselves to the immobile-featured Celestial
when they had jointly and severally inspected the house from top to
bottom. Sam Foo gazed at them, listened to their account of
themselves, and disappeared. He re-entered the room presently,
bearing a package.
"Mist' Chol' Bentlee him leave foh yo'."
Stella looked at it. On the outer wrapping was written:
From C.A. Benton to Mrs. John Henderson
A Belated Wedding Gift
She cut the string, and delved into the cardboard box, and
gasped. Out of a swathing of tissue paper her hands bared sundry
small articles. A little cap and jacket of knitted silk—its
double in fine, fleecy yarn—a long silk coat—a bonnet
to match,—both daintily embroidered. Other things—a
shoal of them—baby things. A grin struggled for lodgment on
Fyfe's freckled countenance. His blue eyes twinkled.
"I suppose," he growled, "that's Charlie's idea of a joke,
Stella turned away from the tiny garments, one little, hood
crumpled tight in her hand. She laid her hot face against his
breast and her shoulders quivered. She was crying.
"Stella, Stella, what's the matter?" he whispered.
"It's no joke," she sobbed. "It's a—it's a reality."
IN WHICH EVENTS MARK TIME
From that day on Stella found in her hands the reins over a
smooth, frictionless, well-ordered existence. Sam Foo proved
himself such a domestic treasure as only the trained Oriental can
be. When the labor of an eight-room dwelling proved a little too
much for him, he urbanely said so. Thereupon, at Fyfe's suggestion,
he imported a fellow countryman, another bland, silent-footed model
of efficiency in personal service. Thereafter Stella's task of
supervision proved a sinecure.
A week or so after their return, in sorting over some of her
belongings, she came across the check Charlie had given her: that
two hundred and seventy dollars which represented the only money
she had ever earned in her life. She studied it a minute, then went
out to where her husband sat perched on the verandah rail.
"You might cash this, Jack," she suggested.
He glanced at the slip.
"Better have it framed as a memento," he said, smiling. "You'll
never earn two hundred odd dollars so hard again, I hope. No, I'd
keep it, if I were you. If ever you should need it, it'll always be
good—unless Charlie goes broke."
There never had been any question of money between them. From
the day of their marriage Fyfe had made her a definite monthly
allowance, a greater sum than she needed or spent.
"As a matter of fact," he went on, "I'm going to open an account
in your name at the Royal Bank, so you can negotiate your own paper
and pay your own bills by check."
She went in and put away the check. It was hers, earned, all too
literally, in the sweat of her brow. For all that it represented
she had given service threefold. If ever there came a time when
that hunger for independence which had been fanned to a flame in
her brother's kitchen should demand appeasement—she pulled
herself up short when she found her mind running upon such an
eventuality. Her future was ordered. She was married—to be a
mother. Here lay her home. All about her ties were in process of
formation, ties that with time would grow stronger than any
shackles of steel, constraining her to walk in certain
ways,—ways that were pleasant enough, certain of ease if not
of definite purpose.
Yet now and then she found herself falling into fits of
abstraction in which Roaring Lake and Jack Fyfe, all that meant
anything to her now, faded into the background, and she saw herself
playing a lone hand against the world, making her individual
struggle to be something more than the petted companion of a
dominant male and the mother of his children. She never quite lost
sight of the fact that marriage had been the last resort, that in
effect she had taken the avenue her personal charm afforded to
escape drudgery and isolation. There was still deep-rooted in her a
craving for something bigger than mere ease of living. She knew as
well as she knew anything that in the natural evolution of things
marriage and motherhood should have been the big thing in her life.
And it was not. It was too incidental, too incomplete, too much
like a mere breathing-place on life's highway. Sometimes she
reasoned with herself bluntly, instead of dreaming, was driven to
look facts in the eye because she did dream. Always she encountered
the same obstacle, a feeling that she had been defrauded, robbed of
something vital; she had forgone that wonderful, passionate drawing
together which makes the separate lives of the man and woman who
experiences it so fuse that in the truest sense of the word they
Mostly she kept her mind from that disturbing introspection,
because invariably it led her to vague dreaming of a future which
she told herself—sometimes wistfully—could never be
realized. She had shut the door on many things, it seemed to her
now. But she had the sense to know that dwelling on what might have
been only served to make her morbid, and did not in the least serve
to alter the unalterable. She had chosen what seemed to her at the
time the least of two evils, and she meant to abide steadfast by
Charlie Benton came to visit them. Strangely enough to Stella,
who had never seen him on Roaring Lake, at least, dressed otherwise
than as his loggers, he was sporting a natty gray suit, he was
clean shaven, Oxford ties on his feet, a gentleman of leisure in
his garb. If he had started on the down grade the previous winter,
he bore no signs of it now, for he was the picture of ruddy vigor,
clear-eyed, brown-skinned, alert, bubbling over with good
"Why, say, you look like a tourist," Fyfe remarked after an
"I'm making money, pulling ahead of the game, that's all,"
Benton retorted cheerfully. "I can afford to take a holiday now and
then. I'm putting a million feet a month in the water. That's going
some for small fry like me. Say, this house of yours is all to the
good, Jack. It's got class, outside and in. Makes a man feel as if
he had to live up to it, eh? Mackinaws and calked boots don't go
with oriental rugs and oak floors."
"You should get a place like this as soon as possible then,"
Stella put in drily, "to keep you up to the mark, on edge
aesthetically, one might put it."
"Not to say morally," Benton laughed. "Oh, maybe I'll get to it
by and by, if the timber business holds up."
Later, when he and Stella were alone together, he said to
"You're lucky. You've got everything, and it comes without an
effort. You sure showed good judgment when you picked Jack Fyfe.
He's a thoroughbred."
"Oh, thank you," she returned, a touch of irony in her voice, a
subtlety of inflection that went clean over Charlie's head.
He was full of inquiries about where they had been that winter,
what they had done and seen. Also he brimmed over with his own
affairs. He stayed overnight and went his way with a brotherly
threat of making the Fyfe bungalow his headquarters whenever he
felt like it.
"It's a touch of civilization that looks good to me," he
declared. "You can put my private mark on one of those big leather
chairs, Jack. I'm going to use it often. All you need to make this
a social center is a good-looking girl or two—unmarried ones.
You watch. When the summer flock comes to the lake, your place is
going to be popular."
That observation verified Benton's shrewdness. The Fyfe bungalow
did become popular. Two weeks after Charlie's visit, a lean, white
cruiser, all brass and mahogany above her topsides, slid up to the
float, and two women came at a dignified pace along the path to the
house. Stella had met Linda Abbey once, reluctantly, under the
circumstances, but it was different now—with the difference
that money makes. She could play hostess against an effective
background, and she did so graciously. Nor was her graciousness
wholly assumed. After all, they were her kind of people: Linda,
fair-haired, perfectly gowned, perfectly mannered, sweetly pretty;
Mrs. Abbey, forty-odd and looking thirty-five, with that calm
self-assurance which wealth and position confer upon those who hold
it securely. Stella found them altogether to her liking. It pleased
her, too, that Jack happened in to meet them. He was not a
scintillating talker, yet she had noticed that when he had anything
to say, he never failed to attract and hold attention. His quiet,
impersonal manner never suggested stolidness. And she was too keen
an observer to overlook the fact that from a purely physical
standpoint Jack Fyfe made an impression always, particularly on
women. Throughout that winter it had not disturbed her. It did not
disturb her now, when she noticed Linda Abbey's gaze coming back to
him with a veiled appraisal in her blue eyes that were so like
Fyfe's own in their tendency to twinkle and gleam with no
corresponding play of features.
"We'll expect to see a good deal of you this summer," Mrs. Abbey
said cordially at leave-taking. "We have a few people up from town
now and then to vary the monotony of feasting our souls on scenery.
Sometimes we are quite a jolly crowd. Don't be formal. Drop in when
you feel the inclination."
When Stella reminded Jack of this some time later, in a moment
of boredom, he put the Panther at her disposal for the
afternoon. But he would not go himself. He had opened up a new
outlying camp, and he had directions to issue, work to lay out.
"You hold up the social end of the game," he laughed. "I'll
So Stella invaded the Abbey-Monohan precincts by herself and
enjoyed it—for she met a houseful of young people from the
coast, and in that light-hearted company she forgot for the time
being that she was married and the responsible mistress of a house.
Paul Abbey was there, but he had apparently forgotten or forgiven
the blow she had once dealt his vanity. Paul, she reflected, was
not the sort to mourn a lost love long.
She had the amused experience too of beholding Charlie Benton
appear an hour or so before she departed and straightway monopolize
Linda Abbey in his characteristically impetuous fashion. Charlie
was no diplomat. He believed in driving straight to any goal he
"So that's the reason for the outward metamorphosis,"
Stella reflected. "Well?"
Altogether she enjoyed the afternoon hugely. The only fly in her
ointment was a greasy smudge bestowed upon her dress—a
garment she prized highly—by some cordage coiled on the
Panther's deck. The black tender had carried too many
cargoes of loggers and logging supplies to be a fit conveyance for
persons in party attire. She exhibited the soiled gown to Fyfe with
"I hope you'll have somebody scrub down the Panther the
next time I want to go anywhere in a decent dress," she said
ruefully. "That'll never come out. And it's the prettiest thing
I've got too."
"Ah, what's the odds?" Fyfe slipped one arm around her waist.
"You can buy more dresses. Did you have a good time? That's the
That ruined gown, however, subsequently produced an able,
forty-foot, cruising launch, powerfully engined, easy in a sea, and
comfortably, even luxuriously fitted as to cabin. With that for
their private use, the Panther was left to her appointed
service, and in the new boat Fyfe and Stella spent many a day
abroad on Roaring Lake. They fished together, explored nooks and
bays up and down its forty miles of length, climbed hills together
like the bear of the ancient rhyme, to see what they could see. And
the Waterbug served to put them on intimate terms with their
neighbors, particularly the Abbey crowd. The Abbeys took to them
wholeheartedly. Fyfe himself was highly esteemed by the elder
Abbey, largely, Stella suspected, for his power on Roaring Lake.
Abbey père had built up a big fortune out of timber.
He respected any man who could follow the same path to success.
Therefore he gave Fyfe double credit,—for making good, and
for a personality that could not be overlooked. He told Stella that
once; that is to say, he told her confidentially that her husband
was a very "able" young man. Abbey senior was short and
double-chinned and inclined to profuse perspiration if he moved in
haste over any extended time. Paul promised to be like him, in that
Summer slipped by. There were dances, informal little hops at
the Abbey domicile, return engagements at the Fyfe bungalow,
laughter and music and Japanese lanterns strung across the lawn.
There was tea and tennis and murmuring rivers of small talk. And
amid this Stella Fyfe flitted graciously, esteeming it her world, a
fair measure of what the future might be. Viewed in that light, it
seemed passable enough.
Later, when summer was on the wane, she withdrew from much of
this activity, spending those days when she did not sit buried in a
book out on the water with her husband. When October ushered in the
first of the fall rains, they went to Vancouver and took
apartments. In December her son was born.
A CLOSE CALL AND A NEW ACQUAINTANCE
With the recurrence of spring, Fyfe's household transferred
itself to the Roaring Lake bungalow again. Stella found the change
welcome, for Vancouver wearied her. It was a little too crude, too
much as yet in the transitory stage, in that civic hobbledehoy
period which overtakes every village that shoots up over-swiftly to
a city's dimensions. They knew people, to be sure, for the Abbey
influence would have opened the way for them into any circle.
Stella had made many friends and pleasant acquaintances that summer
on the lake, but part of that butterfly clique sought pleasanter
winter grounds before she was fit for social activity. Apart from a
few more or less formal receptions and an occasional auction party,
she found it pleasanter to stay at home. Fyfe himself had spent
only part of his time in town after their boy was born. He was
extending his timber operations. What he did not put into words,
but what Stella sensed because she experienced the same thing
herself, was that town bored him to death,—such town
existence as Vancouver afforded. Their first winter had been
different, because they had sought places where there was manifold
variety of life, color, amusement. She was longing for the wide
reach of Roaring Lake, the immense amphitheater of the surrounding
mountains, long before spring.
So she was quite as well pleased when a mild April saw them
domiciled at home again. In addition to Sam Foo and Feng Shu, there
was a nurse for Jack Junior. Stella did not suggest that; Fyfe
insisted on it. He was quite proud of his boy, but he did not want
her chained to her baby.
"If the added expense doesn't count, of course a nurse will mean
a lot more personal freedom," Stella admitted. "You see, I haven't
the least idea of your resources, Jack. All I know about it is that
you allow me plenty of money for my individual expenses. And I
notice we're acquiring a more expensive mode of living all the
"That's so," Fyfe responded. "I never have gone into any details
of my business with you. No reason why you shouldn't know what
limits there are to our income. You never happened to express any
curiosity before. Operating as I did up till lately, the business
netted anywhere from twelve to fifteen thousand a year. I'll double
that this season. In fact, with the amount of standing timber I
control, I could make it fifty thousand a year by expanding and
speeding things up. I guess you needn't worry about an extra
servant or two."
So, apart from voluntary service on behalf of Jack Junior, she
was free as of old to order her days as she pleased. Yet that small
morsel of humanity demanded much of her time, because she released
through the maternal floodgates a part of that passionate longing
to bestow love where her heart willed. Sometimes she took issue
with herself over that wayward tendency. By all the rules of the
game, she should have loved her husband. He was like a rock, solid,
enduring, patient, kind, and generous. He stood to her in the most
intimate relation that can exist between a man and a woman. But she
never fooled herself; she never had so far as Jack Fyfe was
concerned. She liked him, but that was all. He was good to her, and
she was grateful.
Sometimes she had a dim sense that under his easy-going exterior
lurked a capacity for tremendously passionate outbreak. If she had
been compelled to modify her first impression of him as an
arrogant, dominant sort of character, scarcely less rough than the
brown firs out of which he was hewing a fortune, she knew likewise
that she had never seen anything but the sunny side of him. He
still puzzled her a little at times; there were odd flashes of
depths she could not see into, a quality of unexpectedness in
things he would do and say. Even so, granting that in him was
embodied so much that other men she knew lacked, she did not love
him; there were indeed times when she almost resented him.
Why, she could not perhaps have put into words. It seemed too
fantastic for sober summing-up, when she tried. But lurking always
in the background of her thoughts was the ghost of an unrealized
dream, a nebulous vision which once served to thrill her in secret.
It could never be anything but a vision, she believed now, and
believing, regretted. The cold facts of her existence couldn't be
daydreamed away. She was married, and marriage put a full stop to
the potential adventuring of youth. Twenty and maidenhood lies at
the opposite pole from twenty-four and matrimony. Stella subscribed
to that. She took for her
guiding-star—theoretically—the twin concepts of
morality and duty as she had been taught to construe them. So she
saw no loophole, and seeing none, felt cheated of something
infinitely precious. Marriage and motherhood had not come to her as
the fruits of love, as the passionately eager fulfilling of her
destiny. It had been thrust upon her. She had accepted it as a last
resort at a time when her powers of resistance to misfortune were
at the ebb.
She knew that this sort of self-communing was a bad thing, that
it was bound to sour the whole taste of life in her mouth. As much
as possible she thrust aside those vague, repressed longings.
Materially she had everything. If she had foregone that bargain
with Jack Fyfe, God only knew what long-drawn agony of mind and
body circumstances and Charlie Benton's subordination of her to his
own ends might have inflicted upon her. That was the reverse of her
shield, but one that grew dimmer as time passed. Mostly, she took
life as she found it, concentrating upon Jack Junior, a sturdy boy
with blue eyes like his father, and who grew steadily more
Nevertheless she had recurring periods when moodiness and
ill-stifled discontent got hold of her. Sometimes she stole out
along the cliffs to sit on a mossy boulder, staring with absent
eyes at the distant hills. And sometimes she would slip out in a
canoe, to lie rocking in the lake swell,—just dreaming,
filled with a passive sort of regret. She could not change things
now, but she could not help wishing she could.
Fyfe warned her once about getting offshore in the canoe.
Roaring Lake, pent in the shape of a boomerang between two mountain
ranges, was subject to squalls. Sudden bursts of wind would shoot
down its length like blasts from some monster funnel. Stella knew
that; she had seen the glassy surface torn into whitecaps in ten
minutes, but she was not afraid of the lake nor the lake winds. She
was hard and strong. The open, the clean mountain air, and a
measure of activity, had built her up physically. She swam like a
seal. Out in that sixteen-foot Peterboro she could detach herself
from her world of reality, lie back on a cushion, and lose herself
staring at the sky. She paid little heed to Fyfe's warning beyond a
smiling assurance that she had no intention of courting a watery
So one day in mid-July she waved a farewell to Jack Junior,
crowing in his nurse's lap on the bank, paddled out past the first
point to the north, and pillowing her head on a cushioned thwart,
gave herself up to dreamy contemplation on the sky. There was
scarce a ripple on the lake. A faint breath of an offshore breeze
fanned her, drifting the canoe at a snail's pace out from land.
Stella luxuriated in the quiet afternoon. A party of campers
cruising the lake had tarried at the bungalow till after midnight.
Jack Fyfe had risen at dawn to depart for some distant logging
point. Stella, once wakened, had risen and breakfasted with him.
She was tired, drowsy, content to lie there in pure physical
relaxation. Lying so, before she was aware of it, her eyes
She wakened with a start at a cold touch of moisture on her
face,—rain, great pattering drops. Overhead an ominously
black cloud hid the face of the sun. The shore, when she looked,
lay a mile and a half abeam. To the north and between her and the
land's rocky line was a darkening of the lake's surface. Stella
reached for her paddle. The black cloud let fall long, gray
streamers of rain. There was scarcely a stirring of the air, but
that did not deceive her. There was a growing chill, and there was
that broken line sweeping down the lake. Behind that was wind, a
summer gale, the black squall dreaded by the Siwashes.
She had to buck her way to shore through that. She drove hard on
the paddle. She was not afraid, but there rose in her a peculiar
tensed-up feeling. Ahead lay a ticklish bit of business. The
sixteen-foot canoe dwarfed to pitiful dimensions in the face of
that snarling line of wind-harried water. She could hear the
distant murmur of it presently, and gusty puffs of wind began to
Then it swept up to her, a ripple, a chop, and very close behind
that the short, steep, lake combers with a wind that blew off the
tops as each wave-head broke in white, bubbling froth. Immediately
she began to lose ground. She had expected that, and it did not
alarm her. If she could keep the canoe bow on, there was an even
chance that the squall would blow itself out in half an hour. But
keeping the canoe bow on proved a task for stout arms. The wind
would catch all that forward part which thrust clear as she topped
a sea and twist it aside, tending always to throw her broadside
into the trough. Spray began to splash aboard. The seas were so
short and steep that the Peterboro would rise over the crest of a
tall one and dip its bow deep in the next, or leap clear to strike
with a slap that made Stella's heart jump. She had never undergone
quite that rough and tumble experience in a small craft. She was
being beaten farther out and down the lake, and her arms were
growing tired. Nor was there any slackening of the wind.
The combined rain and slaps of spray soaked her thoroughly. A
puddle gathered about her knees in the bilge, sloshing fore and aft
as the craft pitched, killing the natural buoyancy of the canoe so
that she dove harder. Stella took a chance, ceased paddling, and
bailed with a small can. She got a tossing that made her head swim
while she lay in the trough. And when she tried to head up into it
again, one comber bigger than its fellows reared up and slapped a
barrel of water inboard. The next wave swamped her.
Sunk to the clamps, Stella held fast to the topsides, crouching
on her knees, immersed to the hips in water that struck a chill
through her flesh. She had the wit to remember and act upon Jack
Fyfe's coaching, namely, to sit tight and hang on. No sea that ever
ran can sink a canoe. Wood is buoyant. So long as she could hold
on, the submerged craft would keep her head and shoulders above
water. But it was numbing cold. Fed by glacial streams, Roaring
Lake is icy in hottest midsummer.
What with paddling and bailing and the excitement of the
struggle, Stella had wasted no time gazing about for other boats.
She knew that if any one at the camp saw her, rescue would be
speedily effected. Now, holding fast and sitting quiet, she looked
eagerly about as the swamped canoe rose loggily on each wave.
Almost immediately she was heartened by seeing distinctly some sort
of craft plunging through the blow. She had not long to wait after
that, for the approaching launch was a lean-lined speeder,
powerfully engined, and she was being forced. Stella supposed it
was one of the Abbey runabouts. Even with her teeth chattering and
numbness fastening itself upon her, she shivered at the chances the
man was taking. It was no sea for a speed boat to smash into at
thirty miles an hour. She saw it shoot off the top of one wave and
disappear in a white burst of spray, slash through the next and
bury itself deep again, flinging a foamy cloud far to port and
starboard. Stella cried futilely to the man to slow down. She could
hang on a long time yet, but her voice carried no distance.
After that she had not long to wait. In four minutes the
runabout was within a hundred yards, open exhausts cracking like a
machine gun. And then the very thing she expected and dreaded came
about. Every moment she expected to see him drive bows under and go
down. Here and there at intervals uplifted a comber taller than its
fellows, standing, just as it broke, like a green wall. Into one
such hoary-headed sea the white boat now drove like a lance. Stella
saw the spray leap like a cascade, saw the solid green curl deep
over the forward deck and engine hatch and smash the low
windshield. She heard the glass crack. Immediately the roaring
exhausts died. Amid the whistle of the wind and the murmur of
broken water, the launch staggered like a drunken man, lurched off
into the trough, deep down by the head with the weight of water she
The man in her stood up with hands cupped over his mouth.
"Can you hang on a while longer?" he shouted. "Till I can get my
"I'm all right," she called back.
She saw him heave up the engine hatch. For a minute or two he
bailed rapidly. Then he spun the engine, without result. He
straightened up at last, stood irresolute a second, peeled off his
The launch lay heavily in the trough. The canoe, rising and
clinging on the crest of each wave, was carried forward a few feet
at a time, taking the run of the sea faster than the disabled
motorboat. So now only a hundred-odd feet separated them, but they
could come no nearer, for the canoe was abeam and slowly drifting
Stella saw the man stoop and stand up with a coil of line in his
hand. Then she gasped, for he stepped on the coaming and plunged
overboard in a beautiful, arching dive. A second later his head
showed glistening above the gray water, and he swam toward her with
a slow, overhand stroke. It seemed an age—although the actual
time was brief enough—before he reached her. She saw then
that there was method in his madness, for the line strung out
behind him, fast to a cleat on the launch. He laid hold of the
canoe and rested a few seconds, panting, smiling broadly at
"Sorry that whopping wave put me out of commission," he said at
last. "I'd have had you ashore by now. Hang on for a minute."
He made the line fast to a thwart near the bow. Holding fast
with one hand, he drew the swamped canoe up to the launch. In that
continuous roll it was no easy task to get Stella aboard, but they
managed it, and presently she sat shivering in the cockpit,
watching the man spill the water out of the Peterboro till it rode
buoyantly again. Then he went to work at his engine methodically,
wiping dry the ignition terminals, all the various connections
where moisture could effect a short circuit. At the end of a few
minutes, he turned the starting crank. The multiple cylinders fired
with a roar.
He moved back behind the wrecked windshield where the steering
"Well, Miss Ship-wrecked Mariner," said he lightly, "where do
you wish to be landed?"
"Over there, if you please." Stella pointed to where the red
roof of the bungalow stood out against the green. "I'm Mrs.
"Ah!" said he. An expression of veiled surprise flashed across
his face. "Another potential romance strangled at birth. You know,
I hoped you were some local maiden before whom I could pose as a
heroic rescuer. Such is life. Odd, too. Linda Abbey—I'm the
Monohan tail to the Abbey business kite, you see—impressed me
as pilot for a spin this afternoon and backed out at the last
moment. I think she smelled this blow. So I went out for a ride by
myself. I was glowering at that new house through a glass when I
spied you out in the thick of it."
He had the clutch in now, and the launch was cleaving the seas,
even at half speed throwing out wide wings of spray. Some of this
the wind brought across the cockpit. "Come up into this seat,"
Monohan commanded. "I don't suppose you can get any wetter, but if
you put your feet through this bulkhead door, the heat from the
engine will warm you. By Jove, you're fairly shivering."
"It's lucky for me you happened along," Stella remarked, when
she was ensconced behind the bulkhead. "I was getting so cold. I
don't know how much longer I could have stood it."
"Thank the good glasses that picked you out. You were only a
speck on the water, you know, when I sighted you first."
He kept silent after that. All his faculties were centered on
the seas ahead which rolled up before the sharp cutwater of the
launch. He was making time and still trying to avoid boarding seas.
When a big one lifted ahead, he slowed down. He kept one hand on
the throttle control, whistling under his breath disconnected
snatches of song. Stella studied his profile, clean-cut as a cameo
and wholly pleasing. He was almost as big-bodied as Jack Fyfe, and
full four inches taller. The wet shirt clinging close to his body
outlined well-knit shoulders, ropy-muscled arms. He could easily
have posed for a Viking, so strikingly blond was he, with fair,
curly hair. She judged that he might be around thirty, yet his face
was altogether boyish.
Sitting there beside him, shivering in her wet clothes, she
found herself wondering what magnetic quality there could be about
a man that focussed a woman's attention upon him whether she willed
it or no. Why should she feel an oddly-disturbing thrill at the
mere physical nearness of this fair-haired stranger? She did. There
was no debating that. And she wondered—wondered if a bolt of
that lightning she had dreaded ever since her marriage was about to
strike her now. She hoped not. All her emotions had lain fallow. If
Jack Fyfe had no power to stir her,—and she told herself Jack
had so failed, without asking herself why,—then some other
man might easily accomplish that, to her unutterable grief. She had
told herself many a time that no more terrible plight could
overtake her than to love and be loved and sit with hands folded,
foregoing it all. She shrank from so tragic an evolution. It meant
only pain, the ache of unfulfilled, unattainable desires. If, she
reflected cynically, this man beside her stood for such a motif in
her life, he might better have left her out in the swamped
While she sat there, drawn-faced with the cold, thinking rather
amazedly these things which she told herself she had no right to
think, the launch slipped into the quiet nook of Cougar Bay and
slowed down to the float.
Monohan helped her out, threw off the canoe's painter, and
climbed back into the launch.
"You're as wet as I am," Stella said. "Won't you come up to the
house and get a change of clothes? I haven't even thanked you."
"Nothing to be thanked for," he smiled up at her. "Only please
remember not to get offshore in a canoe again. I mightn't be handy
the next time—and Roaring Lake's as fickle as your charming
sex. All smiles one minute, storming the next. No, I won't stay
this time, thanks. A little wet won't hurt me. I wasn't in the
water long enough to get chilled, you know. I'll be home in half an
hour. Run along and get dressed, Mrs. Fyfe, and drink something hot
to drive that chill away. Good-by."
Stella went up to the house, her hand tingling with his parting
grip. Over and above the peril she had escaped rose an uneasy
vision of a greater peril to her peace of mind. The platitudes of
soul-affinity, of irresistible magnetic attraction, of love that
leaped full-blown into reality at the touch of a hand or the glance
of an eye, she had always viewed with distrust, holding them the
weaknesses of weak, volatile natures. But there was something about
this man which had stirred her, nothing that he said or did, merely
some elusive, personal attribute. She had never undergone any such
experience, and she puzzled over it now. A chance stranger, and his
touch could make her pulse leap. It filled her with astonished
Afterward, dry-clad and warm, sitting in her pet chair, Jack
Junior cooing at her from a nest among cushions on the floor, the
natural reaction set in, and she laughed at herself. When Fyfe came
home, she told him lightly of her rescue.
He said nothing at first, only sat drumming on his chair-arm,
his eyes steady on her.
"That might have cost you your life," he said at last. "Will you
remember not to drift offshore again?"
"I rather think I shall," she responded. "It wasn't a pleasant
"Monohan, eh?" he remarked after another interval. "So he's on
Roaring Lake again."
"Do you know him?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied briefly.
For a minute or so longer he sat there, his face wearing its
habitual impassiveness. Then he got up, kissed her with a queer
sort of intensity, and went put. Stella gazed after him, mildly
surprised. It wasn't quite in his usual manner.
It might have been a week or so later that Stella made a
discovery which profoundly affected the whole current of her
thought. The long twilight was just beginning. She was curled on
the living-room floor, playing with the baby. Fyfe and Charlie
Benton sat by a window, smoking, conversing, as they frequently
did, upon certain phases of the timber industry. A draft from an
open window fluttered some sheet music down off the piano rack, and
Stella rescued it from Jack Junior's tiny, clawing hands. Some of
the Abbeys had been there the evening before. One bit of music was
a song Linda had tried to sing and given up because it soared above
her vocal range. Stella rose to put up the music. Without any
premeditated idea of playing, she sat down at the piano and began
to run over the accompaniment. She could play passably.
"That doesn't seem so very hard," she thought aloud. Benton
turned at sound of her words.
"Say, did you never get any part of your voice back, Stell?" he
asked. "I never hear you try to sing."
"No," she answered. "I tried and tried long after you left home,
but it was always the same old story. I haven't sung a note in five
"Linda fell down hard on that song last night," he went on.
"There was a time when that wouldn't have been a starter for you,
eh? Did you know Stella used to warble like a prima donna,
Fyfe shook his head.
"Fact. The governor spent a pot of money cultivating her voice.
It was some voice, too. She—"
He broke off to listen. Stella was humming the words of the
song, her fingers picking at the melody instead of the
"Why, you can," Benton cried.
"Can what?" She turned on the stool.
"Sing, of course. You got that high trill that Linda had to
screech through. You got it perfectly, without effort."
"I didn't," she returned. "Why, I wasn't singing, just humming
"You let out a link or two on those high notes just the same,
whether you knew you were doing it or not," her brother returned
impatiently. "Go on. Turn yourself loose. Sing that song."
"Oh, I couldn't," Stella said ruefully. "I haven't tried for so
long. It's no use. My voice always cracks, and I want to cry."
"Crack fiddlesticks!" Benton retorted. "I know what it used to
be. Believe me, it sounded natural, even if you were just lilting.
He came over to the piano and playfully edged her off the
"I'm pretty rusty," he said. "But I can fake what I can't play
of this. It's simple enough. You stand up there and sing."
She only stood looking at him.
"Go on," he commanded. "I believe you can sing anything. You
have to show me, if you can't."
Stella fingered the sheets reluctantly. Then she drew a deep
breath and began.
It was not a difficult selection, merely a bit from a current
light opera, with a closing passage that ranged a trifle too high
for the ordinary untrained voice to take with ease. Stella sang it
effortlessly, the last high, trilling notes pouring out as sweet
and clear as the carol of a lark. Benton struck the closing chord
and looked up at her. Fyfe leaned forward in his chair. Jack
Junior, among his pillows on the floor, waved his arms, kicking and
"You did pretty well on that," Charlie remarked complacently.
"Now sing something. Got any of your old pieces?"
"I wonder if I could?" Stella murmured. "I'm almost afraid to
She hurried away to some outlying part of the house, reappearing
in a few minutes with a dog-eared bundle of sheets in her hand.
From among these she selected three and set them on the rack.
Benton whistled when he glanced over the music.
"The Siren Song," he grunted. "What is it? something new? Lord,
look at the scale. Looks like one of those screaming arias from the
'Flying Dutchman.' Some stunt."
"Marchand composed it for the express purpose of trying out
voices," Stella said. "It is a stunt."
"You'll have to play your own accompaniment," Charlie grinned.
"That's too much for me."
"Oh, just so you give me a little support here and there,"
Stella told him. "I can't sing sitting on a piano stool."
Benton made a face at the music and struck the keys.
It seemed to Stella nothing short of a miracle. She had been
mute so long. She had almost forgotten what a tragedy losing her
voice had been. And to find it again, to hear it ring like a
trumpet. It did! It was too big for the room. She felt herself
caught up in a triumphant ecstasy as she sang. She found herself
blinking as the last note died away. Her brother twisted about on
the piano stool, fumbling for a cigarette.
"And still they say they can't come back," he remarked at last.
"Why, you're better than you ever were, Stella. You've got the old
sweetness and flexibility that dad used to rave about. But your
voice is bigger, somehow different. It gets under a man's
She picked up the baby from the floor, began to play with him.
She didn't want to talk. She wanted to think, to gloat over and hug
to herself this miracle of her restored voice. She was very quiet,
very much absorbed in her own reflections until it was
time—very shortly—to put Jack Junior in his bed. That
was a function she made wholly her own. The nurse might greet his
waking whimper in the morning and minister to his wants throughout
the day, but Stella "tucked him in" his crib every night. And after
the blue eyes were closed, she sat there, very still, thinking. In
a detached way she was conscious of hearing Charlie leave.
Later, when she was sitting beside her dressing table brushing
her hair, Fyfe came in. He perched himself on the foot rail of the
bed, looking silently at her. She had long grown used to that. It
was a familiar trick of his.
"How did it happen that you've never tried your voice lately?"
he asked after a time.
"I gave it up long ago," she said. "Didn't I ever tell you that
I used to sing and lost my voice?"
"No," he answered. "Charlie did just now. You rather took my
breath away. It's wonderful. You'd be a sensation in opera."
"I might have been," she corrected. "That was one of my little
dreams. You don't know what a grief it was to me when I got over
that throat trouble and found I couldn't sing. I used to try and
try—and my voice would break every time. I lost all heart to
try after a while. That was when I wanted to take up nursing, and
they wouldn't let me. I haven't thought about singing for an age.
I've crooned lullabies to Jacky without remembering that I once had
volume enough to drown out an accompanist. Dad was awfully proud of
"You've reason to be proud of it now," Fyfe said slowly. "It's a
voice in ten thousand. What are going to do with it?"
Stella drew the brush mechanically through her heavy hair. She
had been asking herself that. What could she do? A long road and a
hard one lay ahead of her or any other woman who essayed to make
her voice the basis of a career. Over and above that she was not
free to seek such a career. Fyfe himself knew that, and it
irritated her that he should ask such a question. She swung about
"Nothing," she said a trifle tartly. "How can I? Granting that
my voice is worth the trouble, would you like me to go and study in
the East or abroad? Would you be willing to bear the expense of
such an undertaking? To have me leave Jack to nursemaids and you to
"So that in the fullness of time I might secure a little
reflected glory as the husband of Madame Fyfe, the famous soprano,"
he replied slowly. "Well, I can't say that's a particularly
"Then why ask me what I'm going to do with it?" she flung back
impatiently. "It'll be an asset—like my
She dropped her face in her hands, choking back an involuntary
sob. Fyfe crossed the room at a bound, put his arms around her.
"Stella, Stella!" he cried sharply. "Don't be a fool."
"D—don't be cross, Jack," she whispered. "Please. I'm
sorry. I simply can't help it. You don't understand."
"Oh, don't I?" he said savagely. "I understand too well; that's
the devil of it. But I suppose that's a woman's way,—to feed
her soul with illusions, and let the realities go hang. Look
He caught her by the shoulders and pulled her to her feet,
facing him. There was a fire in his eye, a hard shutting together
of his lips that frightened her a little.
"Look here," he said roughly. "Take a brace, Stella. Do you
realize what sort of a state of mind you're drifting into? You
married me under more or less compulsion,—compulsion of
circumstances,—and gradually you're beginning to get
dissatisfied, to pity yourself. You'll precipitate things you maybe
don't dream of now, if you keep on. Damn it, I didn't create the
circumstances. I only showed you a way out. You took it. It
satisfied you for a while; you can't deny it did. But it doesn't
any more. You're nursing a lot of illusions, Stella, that are going
to make your life full of misery."
"I'm not," she sobbed. "It's because I haven't any illusions
that—that—Oh, what's the use of talking, Jack? I'm not
complaining. I don't even know what gave me this black mood, just
now. I suppose that queer miracle of my voice coming back upset me.
I feel—well, as if I were a different person, somehow; as if
I had forfeited any right to have it. Oh, it's silly, you'll say.
But it's there. I can't help my feeling—or my lack of
Fyfe's face whitened a little. His hands dropped from her
"Now you're talking to the point," he said quietly. "Especially
that last. We've been married some little time now, and if
anything, we're farther apart in the essentials of mating than we
were at the beginning. You've committed yourself to an undertaking,
yet more and more you encourage yourself to wish for the moon. If
you don't stop dreaming and try real living, don't you see a lot of
trouble ahead for yourself? It's simple. You're slowly hardening
yourself against me, beginning to resent my being a factor in your
life. It's only a matter of time, if you keep on, until your
emotions center about some other man."
"Why do you talk like that?" she said bitterly. "Do you think
I've got neither pride nor self-respect?"
"Yes. Both a-plenty," he answered. "But you're a woman, with a
rather complex nature even for your sex. If your heart and your
head ever clash over anything like that, you'll be in perfect hell
until one or the other gets the upper hand. You're a thoroughbred,
and high-strung as thoroughbreds are. It takes something besides
three meals a day and plenty of good clothes to complete your
existence. If I can't make it complete, some other man will make
you think he can. Why don't you try? Haven't I got any
possibilities as a lover? Can't you throw a little halo of romance
about me, for your own sake—if not for mine?"
He drew her up close to him, stroking tenderly the glossy brown
hair that flowed about her shoulders.
"Try it, Stella," he whispered passionately. "Try wanting to
like me, for a change. I can't make love by myself. Shake off that
infernal apathy that's taking possession of you where I'm
concerned. If you can't love me, for God's sake fight with me. Do
Looking back at that evening as the summer wore on, Stella
perceived that it was the starting point of many things, no one of
them definitely outstanding by itself but bulking large as a whole.
Fyfe made his appeal, and it left her unmoved save in certain
superficial aspects. She was sorry, but she was mostly sorry for
herself. And she denied his premonition of disaster. If, she said
to herself, they got no raptures out of life, at least they got
along without friction. In her mind their marriage, no matter that
it lacked what she no less than Fyfe deemed an essential to
happiness, was a fixed state, final, irrevocable, not to be altered
by any emotional vagaries.
No man, she told herself, could make her forget her duty. If it
should befall that her heart, lacking safe anchorage, went astray,
that would be her personal cross—not Jack Fyfe's. He
should never know. One might feel deeply without being moved to act
upon one's feelings. So she assured herself.
She never dreamed that Jack Fyfe could possibly have foreseen in
Walter Monohan a dangerous factor in their lives. A man is not
supposed to have uncanny intuitions, even when his wife is a
wonderfully attractive woman who does not care for him except in a
friendly sort of way. Stella herself had ample warning. From the
first time of meeting, the man's presence affected her strangely,
made an appeal to her that no man had ever made. She felt it
sitting beside him in the plunging launch that day when Roaring
Lake reached its watery arms for her. There was seldom a time when
they were together that she did not feel it. And she pitted her
will against it, as something to be conquered and crushed.
There was no denying the man's personal charm in the ordinary
sense of the word. He was virile, handsome, cultured, just such a
man as she could easily have centered her heart upon in times
past,—just such a man as can set a woman's heart thrilling
when he lays siege to her. If he had made an open bid for Stella's
affection, she, entrenched behind all the accepted canons of her
upbringing, would have recoiled from him, viewed him with wholly
But he did nothing of the sort. He was a friend, or at least he
became so. Inevitably they were thrown much together. There was a
continual informal running back and forth between Fyfe's place and
Abbey's. Monohan was a lily of the field, although it was common
knowledge on Roaring Lake that he was a heavy stock-holder in the
Abbey-Monohan combination. At any rate, he was holidaying on the
lake that summer. There had grown up a genuine intimacy between
Linda and Stella. There were always people at the Abbeys';
sometimes a few guests at the Fyfe bungalow. Stella's marvellous
voice served to heighten her popularity. The net result of it all
was that in the following three months source three days went by
that she did not converse with Monohan.
She could not help making comparisons between the two men. They
stood out in marked contrast, in manner, physique, in everything.
Where Fyfe was reserved almost to taciturnity, impassive-featured,
save for that whimsical gleam that was never wholly absent from his
keen blue eyes, Monohan talked with facile ease, with wonderful
expressiveness of face. He was a finished product of courteous
generations. Moreover, he had been everywhere, done a little of
everything, acquired in his manner something of the versatility of
his experience. Physically he was fit as any logger in the camps, a
big, active-bodied, clear-eyed, ruddy man.
What it was about him that stirred her so, Stella could never
determine. She knew beyond peradventure that he had that power. He
had the gift of quick, sympathetic perception,—but so too had
Jack Fyfe, she reminded herself. Yet no tone of Jack Fyfe's voice
could raise a flutter in her breast, make a faint flush glow in her
cheeks, while Monohan could do that. He did not need to be actively
attentive. It was only necessary for him to be near.
It dawned upon Stella Fyfe in the fullness of the season, when
the first cool October days were upon them, and the lake shores
flamed again with the red and yellow and umber of autumn, that she
had been playing with fire—and that fire burns.
This did not filter into her consciousness by degrees. She had
steeled herself to seeing him pass away with the rest of the summer
folk, to take himself out of her life. She admitted that there
would be a gap. But that had to be. No word other than friendly
ones would ever pass between them. He would go away, and she would
go on as before. That was all. She was scarcely aware how far they
had traveled along that road whereon travelers converse by glance
of eye, by subtle intuitions, eloquent silences. Monohan himself
delivered the shock that awakened her to despairing clearness of
He had come to bring her a book, he and Linda Abbey and Charlie
together,—a commonplace enough little courtesy. And it
happened that this day Fyfe had taken his rifle and vanished into
the woods immediately after luncheon. Between Linda Abbey and
Charlie Benton matters had so far progressed that it was now the
most natural thing for them to seek a corner or poke along the
beach together, oblivious to all but themselves. This afternoon
they chatted a while with Stella and then gradually detached
themselves until Monohan, glancing through the window, pointed them
out to his hostess. They were seated on a log at the edge of the
lawn, a stone's throw from the house.
"They're getting on," he said. "Lucky beggars. It's all plain
sailing for them."
There was a note of infinite regret in his voice, a sadness that
stabbed Stella Fyfe like a lance. She did not dare look at him.
Something rose chokingly in her throat. She felt and fought against
a slow welling of tears to her eyes. Before she sensed that she was
betraying herself, Monohan was holding both her hands fast between
his own, gripping them with a fierce, insistent pressure, speaking
in a passionate undertone.
"Why should we have to beat our heads against a stone wall like
this?" he was saying wildly. "Why couldn't we have met and loved
and been happy, as we could have been? It was fated to happen. I
felt it that day I dragged you out of the lake. It's been growing
on me ever since. I've struggled against it, and it's no use. It's
something stronger than I am. I love you, Stella, and it maddens me
to see you chafing in your chains. Oh, my dear, why couldn't it
have been different?"
"You mustn't talk like that," she protested weakly. "You
mustn't. It isn't right."
"I suppose it's right for you to live with a man you don't love,
when your heart's crying out against it?" he broke out. "My God, do
you think I can't see? I don't have to see things; I can feel them.
I know you're the kind of woman who goes through hell for her
conceptions of right and wrong. I honor you for that, dear. But,
oh, the pity of it. Why should it have to be? Life could have held
so much that is fine and true for you and me together. For you do
care, don't you?"
"What difference does that make?" she whispered. "What
difference can it make? Oh, you mustn't tell me these things, I
mustn't listen. I mustn't."
"But they're terribly, tragically true," Monohan returned. "Look
at me, Stella. Don't turn your face away, dear. I wouldn't do
anything that might bring the least shadow on you. I know the
pitiful hopelessness of it. You're fettered, and there's no
apparent loophole to freedom. I know it's best for me to keep this
locked tight in my heart, as something precious and sorrowful. I
never meant to tell you. But the flesh isn't always equal to the
task the spirit imposes."
She did not answer him immediately, for she was struggling for a
grip on herself, fighting back an impulse to lay her head against
him and cry her agony out on his breast. All the resources of will
that she possessed she called upon now to still that tumult of
emotion that racked her. When she did speak, it was in a hard,
strained tone. But she faced the issue squarely, knowing beyond all
doubt what she had to face.
"Whether I care or not isn't the question," she said. "I'm
neither little enough nor prudish enough to deny a feeling that's
big and clean. I see no shame in that. I'm afraid of it—if
you can understand that. But that's neither here nor there. I know
what I have to do. I married without love, with my eyes wide open,
and I have to pay the price. So you must never talk to me of love.
You mustn't even see me, if it can be avoided. It's better that
way. We can't make over our lives to suit ourselves—at least
I can't. I must play the game according to the only rules I know.
We daren't—we mustn't trifle with this sort of a feeling.
With you—footloose, and all the world before you—it'll
die out presently."
"No," he flared. "I deny that. I'm not an impressionable boy. I
He paused, and the grip of his hands on hers tightened till the
pain of it ran to her elbows. Then his fingers relaxed a
"Oh, I know," he said haltingly. "I know it's got to be that
way. I have to go my road and leave you to yours. Oh, the blank
hopelessness of it, the useless misery of it. We're made for each
other, and we have to grin and say good-by, go along our separate
ways, trying to smile. What a devilish state of affairs! But I love
you, dear, and no matter—I—ah—"
His voice flattened out. His hands released hers, he
straightened quickly. Stella turned her head. Jack Fyfe stood in
the doorway. His face was fixed in its habitual mask. He was biting
the end off a cigar. He struck a match and put it to the cigar end
with steady fingers as he walked slowly across the big room.
"I hear the kid peeping," he said to Stella quite casually, "and
I noticed Martha outside as I came in. Better go see what's up with
Trained to repression, schooled in self-control, Stella rose to
obey, for under the smoothness of his tone there was the iron edge
of command. Her heart apparently ceased to beat. She tried to
smile, but she knew that her face was tear-wet. She knew that Jack
Fyfe had seen and understood. She had done no wrong, but a terrible
apprehension of consequences seized her, a fear that tragedy of her
own making might stalk grimly in that room.
In this extremity she banked with implicit faith on the man she
had married rather than the man she loved. For the moment she felt
overwhelmingly glad that Jack Fyfe was iron—cool, unshakable.
He would never give an inch, but he would never descend to any
sordid scene. She could not visualize him the jealous, outraged
husband, breathing the conventional anathema, but there were
elements unreckonable in that room. She knew instinctively that
Fyfe once aroused would be deadly in anger and she could not vouch
for Monohan's temper under the strain of feeling. That was why she
So she lingered a second or two outside the door, quaking, but
there arose only the sound of Fyfe's heavy body settling into a
leather chair, and following that the low, even rumble of his
voice. She could not distinguish words. The tone sounded ordinary,
conversational. She prayed that his intent was to ignore the
situation, that Monohan would meet him halfway in that effort.
Afterward there would be a reckoning. But for herself she neither
thought nor feared. It was a problem to be faced, that was all. And
so, the breath of her coming in short, quick respirations, she went
to her room. There was no wailing from the nursery. She had known
Sitting beside a window, chin in hand, her lower lip compressed
between her teeth, she saw Fyfe, after the lapse of ten minutes,
leave by the front entrance, stopping to chat a minute with Linda
and Charlie Benton, who were moving slowly toward the house. Stella
rose to her feet and dabbed at her face with a powdered chamois.
She couldn't let Monohan go like that; her heart cried out against
it. Very likely they would never meet again.
She flew down the hall to the living room. Monohan stood just
within the front door, gazing irresolutely over his shoulder. He
took a step or two to meet her. His clean-cut face was drawn into
sullen lines, a deep flush mantled his cheek.
"Listen," he said tensely. "I've been made to feel
like—like—Well, I controlled myself. I knew it had to
be that way. It was unfortunate. I think we could have been trusted
to do the decent thing. You and I were bred to do that. I've got a
little pride. I can't come here again. And I want to see you once
more before I leave here for good. I'll be going away next week.
That'll be the end of it—the bitter finish. Will you slip
down to the first point south of Cougar Bay about three in the
afternoon to-morrow? It'll be the last and only time. He'll have
you for life; can't I talk to you for twenty minutes?"
"No," she whispered forlornly. "I can't do that. I—oh,
"Stella, Stella," she heard his vibrant whisper follow after.
But she ran away through dining room and hall to the bedroom, there
to fling herself face down, choking back the passionate protest
that welled up within her. She lay there, her face buried in the
pillow, until the sputtering exhaust of the Abbey cruiser growing
fainter and more faint told her they were gone.
She heard her husband walk through the house once after that.
When dinner was served, he was not there. It was eleven o'clock by
the time-piece on her mantel when she heard him come in, but he did
not come to their room. He went quietly into the guest chamber
across the hall.
She waited through a leaden period. Then, moved by an impulse
she did not attempt to define, a mixture of motives, pity for him,
a craving for the outlet of words, a desire to set herself right
before him, she slipped on a dressing robe and crossed the hall.
The door swung open noiselessly. Fyfe sat slumped in a chair, hat
pulled low on his forehead, hands thrust deep in his pockets. He
did not even look up. His eyes stared straight ahead, absent,
unseeingly fixed on nothing. He seemed to be unconscious of her
presence or to ignore it,—she could not tell which.
"Jack," she said. And when he made no response she said again,
tremulously, that unyielding silence chilling her, "Jack."
He stirred a little, but only to take off his hat and lay it on
a table beside him. With one hand pushing back mechanically the
straight, reddish-tinged hair from his brow, he looked up at her
and said briefly, in a tone barren of all emotion:
She was suddenly dumb. Words failed her utterly. Yet there was
much to be said, much that was needful to say. They could not go on
with a cloud like that over them, a cloud that had to be dissipated
in the crucible of words. Yet she could not begin. Fyfe, after a
prolonged silence, seemed to grasp her difficulty. Abruptly he
began to speak, cutting straight to the heart of his subject, after
"It's a pity things had to take his particular turn," said he.
"But now that you're face to face with something definite, what do
you propose to do about it?"
"Nothing," she answered slowly. "I can't help the feeling. It's
there. But I can thrust it into the background, go on as if it
didn't exist. There's nothing else for me to do, that I can see.
I'm sorry, Jack."
"So am I," he said grimly. "Still, it was a chance we
took,—or I took, rather. I seem to have made a mistake or
two, in my estimate of both you and myself. That is human enough, I
suppose. You're making a bigger mistake than I did though, to let
Monohan sweep you off your feet."
There was something that she read for contempt in his tone. It
"He hasn't swept me off my feet, as you put it," she cried.
"Good Heavens, do you think I'm that spineless sort of creature?
I've never forgotten I'm your wife. I've got a little self-respect
left yet, if I was weak enough to grasp at the straw you threw me
in the beginning. I was honest with you then. I'm trying to be
honest with you now."
"I know, Stella," he said gently. "I'm not throwing mud. It's a
damnably unfortunate state of affairs, that's all. I foresaw
something of the sort when we were married. You were candid enough
about your attitude. But I told myself like a conceited fool that I
could make your life so full that in a little while I'd be the only
possible figure on your horizon. I've failed. I've known for some
time that I was going to fail. You're not the thin-blooded type of
woman that is satisfied with pleasant surroundings and any sort of
man. You're bound to run the gamut of all the emotions, sometime
and somewhere. I loved you, and I thought in my conceit I could
make myself the man, the one man who would mean everything to
"Just the same," he continued, "you've been a fool, and I don't
see how you can avoid paying the penalty for folly."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You haven't tried to play the game," he answered tensely. "For
months you've been withdrawing into your shell. You've been
clanking your chains and half-heartedly wishing for some mysterious
power to strike them off. It wasn't a thing you undertook lightly.
It isn't a thing—marriage, I mean—that you hold
lightly. That being the case, you would have been wise to try
making the best of it, instead of making the worst of it. But you
let yourself drift into a state of mind where you—well, you
see the result. I saw it coming. I didn't need to happen in this
afternoon to know that there were undercurrents of feeling swirling
about. And so the way you feel now is in itself a penalty. If you
let Monohan cut any more figure in your thoughts, you'll pay bigger
in the end."
"I can't help my thoughts, or I should say my feelings," she
"You think you love him," Fyfe made low reply. "As a matter of
fact, you love what you think he is. I daresay that he has sworn
his affection by all that's good and great. But if you were
convinced that he didn't really care, that his flowery
protestations had a double end in view, would you still love
"I don't know," she murmured. "But that's beside the point. I do
love him. I know it's unwise. It's a feeling that has overwhelmed
me in a way that I didn't believe possible, that I had hoped to
avoid. But—but I can't pretend, Jack. I don't want you to
misunderstand. I don't want this to make us both miserable. I don't
want it to generate an atmosphere of suspicion and jealousy. We'd
only be fighting about a shadow. I never cheated at anything in my
life. You can trust me still, can't you?"
"Absolutely," Fyfe answered without hesitation.
"Then that's all there is to it," she replied,
"unless—unless you're ready to give me up as a hopeless case,
and let me go away and blunder along the best I can."
He shook his head.
"I haven't even considered that," he said. "Very likely it's
unwise of me to say this,—it will probably antagonize
you,—but I know Monohan better than you do. I'd go pretty far
to keep you two apart—now—for your sake."
"It would be the same if it were any other man," she muttered.
"I can understand that feeling in you. It's so—so typically
"No, you're wrong there, dead wrong," Fyfe frowned. "I'm not a
self-sacrificing brute by any means. Still, knowing that you'll
only live with me on sufferance, if you were honestly in love with
a man that I felt was halfway decent, I'd put my feelings in my
pocket and let you go. If you cared enough for him to break every
tie, to face the embarrassment of divorce, why, I'd figure you were
entitled to your freedom and whatever happiness it might bring. But
Monohan—hell, I don't want to talk about him. I trust you,
Stella. I'm banking on your own good sense. And along with that
good, natural common sense, you've got so many illusions. About
life in general, and about men. They seem to have centered about
this one particular man. I can't open your eyes or put you on the
right track. That's a job for yourself. All I can do is to sit back
His voice trailed off huskily.
Stella put a hand on his shoulder.
"Do you care so much as all that, Jack?" she whispered. "Even in
spite of what you know?"
"For two years now," he answered, "you've been the biggest thing
in my life. I don't change easy; I don't want to change. But I'm
"I'm sorry, Jack," she said. "I can't begin to tell you how
sorry I am. I didn't love you to begin with—"
"And you've always resented that," he broke in. "You've hugged
that ghost of a loveless marriage to your bosom and sighed for the
real romance you'd missed. Well, maybe you did. But you haven't
found it yet. I'm very sure of that, although I doubt if I could
"Let me finish," she pleaded. "You knew I didn't love
you—that I was worn out and desperate and clutching at the
life line you threw. In spite of that,—well, if I fight down
this love, or fascination, or infatuation, or whatever it
is,—I'm not sure myself, except that it affects me
strongly,—can't we be friends again?"
"Friends! Oh, hell!" Fyfe exploded.
He came up out of his chair with a blaze in his eyes that
startled her, caught her by the arm, and thrust her out the
"Friends? You and I?" He sank his voice to a harsh whisper. "My
God—friends! Go to bed. Good night."
He pushed her into the hall, and the lock clicked between them.
For one confused instant Stella stood poised, uncertain. Then she
went into her bedroom and sat down, her keenest sensation one of
sheer relief. Already in those brief hours emotion had well-nigh
exhausted her. To be alone, to lie still and rest, to banish
thought,—that was all she desired.
She lay on her bed inert, numbed, all but her mind, and that
traversed section by section in swift, consecutive progress all the
amazing turns of her life since she first came to Roaring Lake.
There was neither method nor inquiry in this
back-casting—merely a ceaseless, involuntary activity of the
A little after midnight when all the house was hushed, she went
into the adjoining room, cuddled Jack Junior into her arms, and
took him to her own bed. With his chubby face nestled against her
breast, she lay there fighting against that interminable, maddening
buzzing in her brain. She prayed for sleep, her nervous fingers
stroking the silky, baby hair.
IN WHICH THERE IS A FURTHER CLASH
One can only suffer so much. Poignant feeling brings its own
anaesthetic. When Stella Fyfe fell into a troubled sleep that
night, the storm of her emotions had beaten her sorely. Morning
brought its physical reaction. She could see things clearly and
calmly enough to perceive that her love for Monohan was fraught
with factors that must be taken into account. All the world loves a
lover, but her world did not love lovers who kicked over the
conventional traces. She had made a niche for herself. There were
ties she could not break lightly, and she was not thinking of
herself alone when she considered that, but of her husband and Jack
Junior, of Linda Abbey and Charlie Benton, of each and every
individual whose life touched more or less directly upon her
She had known always what a woman should do in such case, what
she had been taught a woman should do: grin, as Monohan had said,
and take her medicine. For her there was no alternative. Fyfe had
made that clear. But her heart cried out in rebellion against the
necessity. To her, trying to think logically, the most grievous
phase of the doing was the fact that nothing could ever be the same
again. She could go on. Oh, yes. She could dam up the wellspring of
her impulses, walk steadfast along the accustomed ways. But those
ways would not be the old ones. There would always be the skeleton
at the feast. She would know it was there, and Jack Fyfe would
know, and she dreaded the fruits of that knowledge, the bitterness
and smothered resentment it would breed. But it had to be. As she
saw it, there was no choice.
She came down to breakfast calmly enough. It was nothing that
could be altered by heroics, by tears and wailings. Not that she
was much given to either. She had not whined when her brother made
things so hard for her that any refuge seemed alluring by
comparison. Curiously enough, she did not blame her brother now;
neither did she blame Jack Fyfe.
She told herself that in first seeking the line of least
resistance she had manifested weakness, that since her present
problem was indirectly the outgrowth of that original weakness, she
would be weak no more. So she tried to meet her husband as if
nothing had happened, in which she succeeded outwardly very well
indeed, since Fyfe himself chose to ignore any change in their
She busied herself about the house that forenoon, seeking
deliberately a multitude of little tasks to occupy her hands and
But when lunch was over, she was at the end of her resources.
Jack Junior settled in his crib for a nap. Fyfe went away to that
area back of the camp where arose the crash of falling trees and
the labored puffing of donkey engines. She could hear faint and far
the voices of the falling gangs that cried: "Tim-ber-r-r-r." She
could see on the bank, a little beyond the bunkhouse and
cook-shack, the big roader spooling up the cable that brought
string after string of logs down to the lake. Rain or sun,
happiness or sorrow, the work went on. She found it in her heart to
envy the sturdy loggers. They could forget their troubles in the
strain of action. Keyed as she was to that high pitch, that sense
of their unremitting activity, the ravaging of the forest which
produced the resources for which she had sold herself irritated
her. She was very bitter when she thought that.
She longed for some secluded place to sit and think, or try to
stop thinking. And without fully realizing the direction she took,
she walked down past the camp, crossed the skid-road, stepping
lightly over main line and haul-back at the donkey engineer's
warning, and went along the lake shore.
A path wound through the belt of brush and hardwood that fringed
the lake. Not until she had followed this up on the neck of a
little promontory south of the bay, did she remember with a shock
that she was approaching the place where Monohan had begged her to
meet him. She looked at her watch. Two-thirty. She sought the shore
line for sight of a boat, wondering if he would come in spite of
her refusal. But to her great relief she saw no sign of him.
Probably he had thought better of it, had seen now as she had seen
then that no good and an earnest chance of evil might come of such
a clandestine meeting, had taken her stand as final.
She was glad, because she did not want to go back to the house.
She did not want to make the effort of wandering away in the other
direction to find that restful peace of woods and water. She moved
up a little on the point until she found a mossy boulder and sat
down on that, resting her chin in her palms, looking out over the
placid surface of the lake with somber eyes.
And so Monohan surprised her. The knoll lay thick-carpeted with
moss. He was within a few steps of her when a twig cracking
underfoot apprised her of some one's approach. She rose, with an
impulse to fly, to escape a meeting she had not desired. And as she
rose, the breath stopped in her throat.
Twenty feet behind Monohan came Jack Fyfe with his hunter's
stride, soundlessly over the moss, a rifle drooping in the crook of
his arm. A sunbeam striking obliquely between two firs showed her
his face plainly, the faint curl of his upper lip.
Something in her look arrested Monohan. He glanced around,
twisted about, froze in his tracks, his back to her. Fyfe came up.
Of the three he was the coolest, the most rigorously
self-possessed. He glanced from Monohan to his wife, back to
Monohan. After that his blue eyes never left the other man's
"What did I say to you yesterday?" Fyfe opened his mouth at
last. "But then I might have known I was wasting my breath on
"Well," Monohan retorted insolently, "what are you going to do
about it? This isn't the Stone Age."
Fyfe laughed unpleasantly.
"Lucky for you. You'd have been eliminated long ago," he said.
"No, it takes the present age to produce such rotten specimens as
A deep flush rose in Monohan's cheeks. He took a step toward
Fyfe, his hands clenched.
"You wouldn't say that if you weren't armed," he taunted
"No?" Fyfe cast the rifle to one side. It fell with a metallic
clink against a stone. "I do say it though, you see. You are a sort
of a yellow dog, Monohan. You know it, and you know that I know it.
That's why it stings you to be told so."
Monohan stepped back and slipped out of his coat. His face was
"By God, I'll teach you something," he snarled.
He lunged forward as he spoke, shooting a straight-arm blow for
Fyfe's face. It swept through empty air, for Fyfe, poised on the
balls of his feet, ducked under the driving fist, and slapped
Monohan across the mouth with the open palm of his hand.
"Tag," he said sardonically. "You're It."
Monohan pivoted, and rushing, swung right and left, missing by
inches. Fyfe's mocking grin seemed to madden him completely. He
rushed again, launching another vicious blow that threw him partly
off his balance. Before he could recover, Fyfe kicked both feet
from under him, sent him sprawling on the moss.
Stella stood like one stricken. The very thing she dreaded had
come about. Yet the manner of its unfolding was not as she had
visualized it when she saw Fyfe near at hand. She saw now a side of
her husband that she had never glimpsed, that she found hard to
understand. She could have understood him beating Monohan
senseless, if he could. A murderous fury of jealousy would not have
surprised her. This did. He had not struck a blow, did not attempt
She could not guess why, but she saw that he was playing with
Monohan, making a fool of him, for all Monohan's advantage of
height and reach. Fyfe moved like the light, always beyond
Monohan's vengeful blows, slipping under those driving fists to
slap his adversary, to trip him, mocking him with the futility of
She felt herself powerless to stop that sorry exhibition. It was
not a fight for her. Dimly she had a feeling that back of her lay
something else. An echo of it had been more than once in Fyfe's
speech. Here and now, they had forgotten her at the first word.
They were engaged in a struggle for mastery, sheer brute
determination to hurt each other, which had little or nothing to do
with her. She foresaw, watching the odd combat with a feeling akin
to fascination, that it was a losing game for Monohan. Fyfe was his
master at every move.
Yet he did not once attempt to strike a solid blow, nothing but
that humiliating, open-handed slap, that dexterous swing of his
foot that plunged Monohan headlong. He grinned steadily, a cold
grimace that reflected no mirth, being merely a sneering twist of
his features. Stella knew the deadly strength of him. She wondered
at his purpose, how it would end.
The elusive light-footedness of the man, the successive stinging
of those contemptuous slaps at last maddened Monohan into ignoring
the rules by which men fight. He dropped his hands and stood
panting with his exertions. Suddenly he kicked, a swift lunge for
Fyfe leaped aside. Then he closed. Powerful and weighty a man as
Monohan was, Fyfe drove him halfway around with a short-arm blow
that landed near his heart, and while he staggered from that,
clamped one thick arm about his neck in the strangle-hold. Holding
him helpless, bent backwards across his broad chest, Fyfe slowly
and systematically choked him; he shut off his breath until
Monohan's tongue protruded, and his eyes bulged glassily, and
horrible, gurgling noises issued from his gaping mouth.
"Jack, Jack!" Stella found voice to shriek. "You're killing
Fyfe lifted his eyes to hers. The horror he saw there may have
stirred him. Or he may have considered his object accomplished.
Stella could not tell. But he flung Monohan from him with a force
that sent him reeling a dozen feet, to collapse on the moss. It
took him a full minute to regain his breath, to rise to unsteady
feet, to find his voice.
"You can't win all the time," he gasped. "By God, I'll show you
that you can't."
With that he turned and went back the way he had come. Fyfe
stood silent, hands resting on his hips, watching until Monohan
pushed out a slim speed launch from under cover of overhanging
alders and set off down the lake.
"Well," he remarked then, in a curiously detached, impersonal
tone. "The lightning will begin to play by and by, I suppose."
"What do you mean?" Stella asked breathlessly.
He did not answer. His eyes turned to her slowly. She saw now
that his face was white and rigid, that the line of his lips drew
harder together as he looked at her; but she was not prepared for
the storm that broke. She did not comprehend the tempest that raged
within him until he had her by the shoulders, his fingers crushing
into her soft flesh like the jaws of a trap, shaking her as a
terrier might shake a rat, till the heavy coils of hair cascaded
over her shoulders, and for a second fear tugged at her heart. For
she thought he meant to kill her.
When he did desist, he released her with a thrust of his arms
that sent her staggering against a tree, shaken to the roots of her
being, though not with fear. Anger had displaced that. A hot
protest against his brute strength, against his passionate
outbreak, stirred her. Appearances were against her, she knew. Even
so, she revolted against his cave-man roughness. She was amazed to
find herself longing for the power to strike him.
She faced him trembling, leaning against the tree trunk, staring
at him in impotent rage. And the fire died out of his eyes as she
looked. He drew a deep breath or two and turned away to pick up his
rifle. When he faced about with that in his hand, the old mask of
immobility was in place. He waited while Stella gathered up her
scattered hairpins and made shift to coil her hair into a semblance
of Order. Then he said gently:
"I won't break out like that again."
"Once is enough."
"More than enough—for me," he answered.
She disdained reply. Striking off along the path that ran to the
camp, she walked rapidly, choking a rising flood of desperate
thought. With growing coolness paradoxically there burned hotter
the flame of an elemental wrath. What right had he to lay hands on
her? Her shoulders ached, her flesh was bruised from the terrible
grip of his fingers. The very sound of his footsteps behind her was
maddening. To be suspected and watched, to be continually the
target of jealous fury! No, a thousand times, no. She wheeled on
him at last.
"I can't stand this," she cried. "It's beyond endurance. We're
like flint and steel to each other now. If to-day's a sample of
what we may expect, it's better to make a clean sweep of
everything. I've got to get away from here and from you—from
Fyfe motioned her to a near-by log.
"Sit down," said he. "We may as well have it out here."
For a few seconds he busied himself with a cigar, removing the
band with utmost deliberation, biting the end off, applying the
match, his brows puckered slightly.
"It's very unwise of you to meet Monohan like that," he uttered
"Oh, I see," she flashed. "Do you suggest that I met him
purposely—by appointment? Even if I did—"
"That's for you to say, Stella," he interrupted gravely. "I told
you last night that I trusted you absolutely. I do, so far as
really vital things are concerned, but I don't always trust your
judgment. I merely know that Monohan sneaked along shore, hid his
boat, and stole through the timber to where you were sitting. I
happened to see him, and I followed him to see what he was up to,
why he should take such measures to keep under cover."
"The explanation is simple," she answered stiffly. "You can
believe it or not, as you choose. My being there was purely
unintentional. If I had seen him before he was close, I should
certainly not have been there. I have been at odds with myself all
day, and I went for a walk, to find a quiet place where I could sit
"It doesn't matter now," he said. "Only you'd better try to
avoid things like that in the future. Would you mind telling me
just exactly what you meant a minute ago? Just what you propose to
He asked her that as one might make any commonplace inquiry, but
his quietness did not deceive Stella.
"What I said," she began desperately. "Wasn't it plain enough?
It seems to me our life is going to be a nightmare from now on if
we try to live it together. I—I'm sorry, but you know how I
feel. It may be unwise, but these things aren't dictated by reason.
You know that. If our emotions were guided by reason and
expediency, we'd be altogether different. Last night I was willing
to go on and make the best of things. To-day,—especially
after this,—it looks impossible. You'll look at me, and guess
what I'm thinking, and hate me. And I'll grow to hate you, because
you'll be little better than a jailer. Oh, don't you see that the
way we'll feel will make us utterly miserable? Why should we stick
together when no good can come of it? You've been good to me. I've
appreciated that and liked you for it. I'd like to be friends. But
I—I'd hate you with a perfectly murderous hatred if you were
always on the watch, always suspecting me, if you taunted me as you
did a while ago. I'm just as much a savage at heart as you are,
Jack Fyfe. I could gladly have killed you when you were jerking me
about back yonder."
"I wonder if you are, after all, a little more of a primitive
being than I've supposed?"
Fyfe leaned toward her, staring fixedly into her eyes—eyes
that were bright with unshed tears.
"And I was holding the devil in me down back there, because I
didn't want to horrify you with anything like brutality," he went
on thoughtfully. "You think I grinned and made a monkey of
him because it pleased me to do that? Why, I could
have—and ached to—break him into little bits, to smash
him up so that no one would ever take pleasure in looking at him
again. And I didn't, simply and solely because I didn't want to let
you have even a glimpse of what I'm capable of when I get started.
I wonder if I made a mistake? It was merely the reaction from
letting him go scot-free that made me shake you so. I
wonder—well, never mind. Go on."
"I think it's better that I should go away," Stella said. "I
want you to agree that I should; then there will be no talk or
anything disagreeable from outside sources. I'm strong, I can get
on. It'll be a relief to have to work. I won't have to be the
kitchen drudge Charlie made of me. I've got my voice. I'm quite
sure I can capitalize that. But I've got to go. Anything's better
than this; anything that's clean and decent. I'd despise myself if
I stayed on as your wife, feeling as I do. It was a mistake in the
beginning, our marriage."
"Nevertheless," Fyfe said slowly, "I'm afraid it's a mistake
you'll have to abide by—for a time. All that you say may be
true, although I don't admit it myself. Offhand, I'd say you were
simply trying to welch on a fair bargain. I'm not going to let you
do it blindly, all wrought up to a pitch where you can scarcely
think coherently. If you are fully determined to break away from
me, you owe it to us both to be sure of what you're doing before
you act. I'm going to talk plain. You can believe it and disdain it
if you please. If you were leaving me for a man, a real man, I
think I could bring myself to make it easy for you and wish you
luck. But you're not. He's—"
"Can't we leave him out of it?" she demanded. "I want to get
away from you both. Can you understand that? It doesn't help you
any to pick him to pieces."
"No, but it might help you, if I could rip off that swathing of
idealization you've wrapped around him," Fyfe observed patiently.
"It's not a job I have much stomach for however, even if you were
willing to let me try. But to come back. You've got to stick it out
with me, Stella. You'll hate me for the constraint, I suppose. But
until—until things shape up differently—you'll
understand what I'm talking about by and by, I think—you've
got to abide by the bargain you made with me. I couldn't force you
to stay, I know. But there's one hold you can't break—not if
I know you at all."
"What is that?" she asked icily.
"The kid's," he murmured.
Stella buried her face in her hands for a minute.
"I'd forgotten—I'd forgotten," she whispered.
"You understand, don't you?" he said hesitatingly. "If you
leave—I keep our boy."
"Oh, you're devilish—to use a club like that," she cried.
"You know I wouldn't part from my baby—the only thing I've
got that's worth having."
"He's worth something to me too," Fyfe muttered. "A lot more
than you think, maybe. I'm not trying to club you. There's nothing
in it for me. But for him; well, he needs you. It isn't his fault
he's here, or that you're unhappy. I've got to protect him, see
that he gets a fair shake. I can't see anything to it but for you
to go on being Mrs. Jack Fyfe until such time as you get back to a
normal poise. Then it will be time enough to try and work out some
arrangement that won't be too much of a hardship on him. It's
that—or a clean break in which you go your own way, and I try
to mother him to the best of my ability. You'll understand sometime
why I'm showing my teeth this way."
"You have everything on your side," she admitted dully, after a
long interval of silence. "I'm a fool. I admit it. Have things your
way. But it won't work, Jack. This flare-up between us will only
smoulder. I think you lay a little too much stress on Monohan. It
isn't that I love him so much as that I don't love you at all. I
can live without him—which I mean to do in any case—far
easier than I can live with you. It won't work."
"Don't worry," he replied. "You won't be annoyed by me in
person. I'll have my hands full elsewhere."
They rose and walked on to the house. On the porch Jack Junior
was being wheeled back and forth in his carriage. He lifted chubby
arms to his mother as she came up the steps. Stella carried him
inside, hugging the sturdy, blue-eyed mite close to her breast. She
did not want to cry, but she could not help it. It was as if she
had been threatened with irrevocable loss of that precious bit of
her own flesh and blood. She hugged him to her, whispering
mother-talk, half-hysterical, wholly tender.
Fyfe stood aside for a minute. Then he came up behind her and
stood resting one hand on the back of her chair.
"I got word from my sister and her husband in this morning's
mail. They will very likely be here next week for a three days'
stay. Brace up. Let's try and keep our skeleton from rattling while
they're here. Will you?"
"All right, Jack. I'll try."
He patted her tousled hair lightly and left the room. Stella
looked after him with a surge of mixed feeling. She told herself
she hated him and his dominant will that always beat her own down;
she hated him for his amazing strength and for his unvarying
sureness of himself. And in the same breath she found herself
wondering if,—with their status reversed,—Walter
Monohan would be as patient, as gentle, as self-controlled with a
wife who openly acknowledged her affection for another man. And
still her heart cried out for Monohan. She flared hot against the
disparaging note, the unconcealed contempt Fyfe seemed to have for
Yet in spite of her eager defence of him, there was something
ugly about that clash with Fyfe in the edge of the woods, something
that jarred. It wasn't spontaneous. She could not understand that
tigerish onslaught of Monohan's. It was more the action she would
have expected from her husband.
It puzzled her, grieved her, added a little to the sorrowful
weight that settled upon her. They were turbulent spirits both. The
matter might not end there.
In the next ten days three separate incidents, each isolated and
relatively unimportant, gave Stella food for much puzzled
The first was a remark of Fyfe's sister in the first hours of
their acquaintance. Mrs. Henry Alden could never have denied blood
kinship with Jack Fyfe. She had the same wide, good-humored mouth,
the blue eyes that always seemed to be on the verge of twinkling,
and the same fair, freckled skin. Her characteristics of speech
resembled his. She was direct, bluntly so, and she was not much
given to small talk. Fyfe and Stella met the Aldens at Roaring
Springs with the Waterbug. Alden proved a genial sort of man
past forty, a big, loose-jointed individual whose outward
appearance gave no indication of what he was
professionally,—a civil engineer with a reputation that
promised to spread beyond his native States.
"You don't look much different, Jack," his sister observed
critically, as the Waterbug backed away from the wharf in a
fine drizzle of rain. "Except that as you grow older, you more and
more resemble the pater. Has matrimony toned him down, my dear?"
she turned to Stella. "The last time I saw him he had a black
Fyfe did not give her a chance to answer.
"Be a little more diplomatic, Dolly," he smiled. "Mrs. Jack
doesn't realize what a rowdy I used to be. I've reformed."
"Ah," Mrs. Alden chuckled, "I have a vision of you growing meek
They talked desultorily as the launch thrashed along. Alden's
profession took him to all corners of the earth. That was why the
winter of Fyfe's honeymoon had not made them acquainted. Alden and
his wife were then in South America. This visit was to fill in the
time before the departure of a trans-Pacific liner which would land
the Aldens at Manila.
Presently the Abbey-Monohan camp and bungalow lay abeam. Stella
told Mrs. Alden something of the place.
"That reminds me," Mrs. Alden turned to her brother. "I was
quite sure I saw Walter Monohan board a train while we were waiting
for the hotel car in Hopyard. I heard that he was in timber out
here. Is he this Monohan?"
"How odd," she remarked, "that you should be in the same region.
Do you still maintain the ancient feud?"
Fyfe shot her a queer look.
"We've grown up, Dolly," he said drily. Then: "Do you expect to
get back to God's country short of a year, Alden?"
That was all. Neither of them reverted to the subject again. But
Stella pondered. An ancient feud? She had not known of that.
Neither man had ever dropped a hint.
For the second incident, Paul Abbey dropped in to dinner a few
days later and divulged a bit of news.
"There's been a shake-up in our combination," he remarked
casually to Fyfe. "Monohan and dad have split over a question of
business policy. Walter's taking over all our interests on Roaring
Lake. He appears to be going to peel off his coat and become
personally active in the logging industry. Funny streak for Monohan
to take, isn't it? He never seemed to care a hoot about the working
end of the business, so long as it produced dividends."
Lastly, Charlie Benton came over to eat a farewell dinner with
the Aldens the night before they left. He followed Stella into the
nursery when she went to tuck Jack Junior in his crib.
"Say, Stella" he began, "I have just had a letter from old man
Lander; you remember he was dad's legal factotum and executor."
"Of course," she returned.
"Well, do you recall—you were there when the estate was
wound up, and I was not—any mention of some worthless oil
stock? Some California wildcat stuff the governor got bit on? It
was found among his effects."
"I seem to recall something of the sort," she answered. "But I
don't remember positively. What about it?"
"Lander writes me that there is a prospect of it being salable.
The company is reviving. And he finds himself without legal
authority to do business, although the stock certificates are still
in his hands. He suggests that we give him a power of attorney to
sell this stuff. He's an awfully conservative old chap, so there
must be a reasonable prospect of some cash, or he wouldn't bother.
My hunch is to give him a power of attorney and let him use his own
"How much is it worth?" she asked.
"The par value is forty thousand dollars," Benton grinned. "But
the governor bought it at ten cents on the dollar. If we get what
he paid, we'll be lucky. That'll be two thousand apiece. I brought
you a blank form. I'm going down with you on the Bug
to-morow to send mine. I'd advise you to have yours signed up and
witnessed before a notary at Hopyard and send it too."
"Of course I will," she said.
"It isn't much," Benton mused, leaning on the foot of the crib,
watching her smooth the covers over little Jack. "But it won't come
amiss—to me, at least. I'm going to be married in the
Stella looked up.
"You are?" she murmured. "To Linda Abbey?"
He nodded. A slight flush crept over his tanned face at the
steady look she bent on him.
"Hang it, what are you thinking?" he broke out. "I know you've
rather looked down on me because I acted like a bounder that
winter. But I really took a tumble to myself. You set me thinking
when you made that sudden break with Jack. I felt rather guilty
about that—until I saw how it turned out. I know I'm not half
good enough for Linda. But so long as she thinks I am and I try to
live up to that, why we've as good a chance to be happy as anybody.
We all make breaks, us fellows that go at everything roughshod.
Still, when we pull up and take a new tack, you shouldn't hold
grudges. If we could go back to that fall and winter, I'd do things
a lot differently."
"If you're both really and truly in love," Stella said quietly,
"that's about the only thing that matters. I hope you'll be happy.
But you'll have to be a lot different with Linda Abbey than you
were with me."
"Ah, Stella, don't harp on that," he said shame-facedly. "I was
rotten, it's true. But we're all human. I couldn't see anything
then only what I wanted myself. I was like a bull in a china shop.
It's different now. I'm on my feet financially, and I've had time
to draw my breath and take a squint at myself from a different
angle. I did you a good turn, anyway, even if I was the cause of
you taking a leap before you looked. You landed right."
Stella mustered a smile that was purely facial. It maddened her
to hear his complacent justification of himself. And the most
maddening part of it was her knowledge that Benton was right, that
in many essential things he had done her a good turn, which her own
erratic inclinations bade fair to wholly nullify.
"I wish you all the luck and happiness in the world," she said
gently. "And I don't bear a grudge, believe me, Charlie. Now, run
along. We'll keep baby awake, talking."
"All right." He turned to go and came back again.
"What I really came in to say, I've hardly got nerve enough
for." He sank his voice to a murmur. "Don't fly off at me, Stell.
But—you haven't got a trifle interested in Monohan, have you?
I mean, you haven't let him think you are?"
Stella's hands tightened on the crib rail. For an instant her
heart stood still. A wholly unreasoning blaze of anger seized her.
But she controlled that. Pride forbade her betraying herself.
"What a perfectly ridiculous question," she managed to
He looked at her keenly.
"Because, if you have—well, you might be perfectly
innocent in the matter and still get in bad," he continued evenly.
"I'd like to put a bug in your ear."
She bent over Jack Junior, striving to inject an amused note
into her reply.
"Don't be so absurd, Charlie."
"Oh, well, I suppose it is. Only, darn it, I've seen him look at
you in a way—Pouf! I was going to tell you something. Maybe
Jack has—only he's such a close-mouthed beggar. I'm not very
anxious to peddle things." Benton turned again. "I guess you don't
need any coaching from me, anyhow."
He walked out. Stella stared after him, her eyes blazing, hands
clenched into hard-knuckled little fists. She could have struck
And still she wondered over and over again, burning with a
consuming fire to know what that "something" was which he had to
tell. All the slumbering devils of a stifled passion awoke to rend
her, to make her rage against the coil in which she was involved.
She despised herself for the weakness of unwise loving, even while
she ached to sweep away the barriers that stood between her and
love. Mingled with that there whispered an intuition of disaster to
come, of destiny shaping to peculiar ends. In Monohan's
establishing himself on Roaring Lake she sensed something more than
an industrial shift. In his continued presence there she saw
incalculable sources of trouble. She stood leaning over the bed
rail, staring wistfully at her boy for a few minutes. When she
faced the mirror in her room, she was startled at the look in her
eyes, the nervous twitch of her lips. There was a physical ache in
"You're a fool, a fool," she whispered to her image. "Where's
your will, Stella Fyfe? Borrow a little of your husband's backbone.
Presently—presently it won't matter."
One can club a too assertive ego into insensibility. A man may
smile and smile and be a villain still, as the old saying has it,
and so may a woman smile and smile when her heart is tortured, when
every nerve in her is strained to the snapping point. Stella went
back to the living room and sang for them until it was time to go
The Aldens went first, then Charlie. Stella left her door ajar.
An hour afterward, when Fyfe came down the hall, she rose. It had
been her purpose to call him in, to ask him to explain that which
her brother had hinted he could explain, what prior antagonism lay
between him and Monohan, what that "something" about Monohan was
which differentiated him from other men where she was concerned.
Instead she shut the door, slid the bolt home, and huddled in a
chair with her face in her hands.
She could not discuss Monohan with him, with any one. Why should
she ask? she told herself. It was a closed book, a balanced
account. One does not revive dead issues.
THE OPENING GUN
The month of November slid day by day into the limbo of the
past. The rains washed the land unceasingly. Gray veilings of mist
and cloud draped the mountain slopes. As drab a shade colored
Stella Fyfe's daily outlook. She was alone a great deal. Even when
they were together, she and her husband, words did not come easily
between them. He was away a great deal, seeking, she knew, the old
panacea of work, hard, unremitting work, to abate the ills of his
spirit. She envied him that outlet. Work for her there was none.
The two Chinamen and Martha the nurse left her no tasks. She could
not read, for all their great store of books and magazines; the
printed page would lie idle in her lap, and her gaze would wander
off into vacancy, into that thought-world where her spirit wandered
in distress. The Abbeys were long gone; her brother hard at his
logging. There were no neighbors and no news. The savor was gone
out of everything. The only bright spot in her days was Jack
Junior, now toddling precociously on his sturdy legs, a dozen steps
at a time, crowing victoriously when he negotiated the passage from
chair to chair.
From the broad east windows of their house she saw all the
traffic that came and went on the upper reaches of Roaring Lake,
Siwashes in dugouts and fishing boats, hunters, prospectors. But
more than any other she saw the craft of her husband and Monohan,
the powerful, black-hulled Panther, the smaller, daintier
There was a big gasoline workboat, gray with a yellow funnel,
that she knew was Monohan's. And this craft bore past there often,
inching its downward way with swifters of logs, driving fast
up-lake without a tow. Monohan had abandoned work on the old
Abbey-Monohan logging-grounds. The camps and the bungalow lay
deserted, given over to a solitary watchman. The lake folk had
chattered at this proceeding, and the chatter had come to Stella's
ears. He had put in two camps at the lake head, so she heard
indirectly: one on the lake shore, one on the Tyee River, a little
above the mouth. He had sixty men in each camp, and he was getting
the name of a driver. Three miles above his Tyee camp, she knew,
lay the camp her husband had put in during the early summer to cut
a heavy limit of cedar. Fyfe had only a small crew there.
She wondered a little why he spent so much time there, when he
had seventy-odd men working near home. But of course he had an able
lieutenant in Lefty Howe. And she could guess why Jack Fyfe kept
away. She was sorry for him—and for herself. But being
sorry—a mere semi-neutral state of mind—did not help
matters, she told herself gloomily.
Lefty Howe's wife was at the camp now, on one of her occasional
visits. Howe was going across the lake one afternoon to see a
Siwash whom he had engaged to catch and smoke a winter's supply of
salmon for the camps. Mrs. Howe told Stella, and on impulse Stella
bundled Jack Junior into warm clothing and went with them for the
Halfway across the six-mile span she happened to look back, and
a new mark upon the western shore caught her eye. She found a glass
and leveled it on the spot. Two or three buildings, typical
logging-camp shacks of split cedar, rose back from the beach.
Behind these again the beginnings of a cut had eaten a hole in the
forest,—a slashing different from the ordinary logging slash,
for it ran narrowly, straight back through the timber; whereas the
first thing a logger does is to cut all the merchantable timber he
can reach on his limit without moving his donkey from the water. It
was not more than two miles from their house.
"What new camp is that?" she asked Howe.
"Monohan's," he answered casually.
"I thought Jack owned all the shore timber to Medicine Point?"
Howe shook his head.
"Uh-uh. Well, he does too, all but where that camp is. Monohan's
got a freak limit in there. It's half a mile wide and two miles
straight back from the beach. Lays between our holdin's like the
ham in a sandwich. Only," he added thoughtfully, "it's a blame thin
piece uh ham. About the poorest timber in a long stretch. I dunno
why the Sam Hill he's cuttin' it. But then he's doin' a lot uh
things no practical logger would do."
Stella laid down the glasses. It was nothing to her, she told
herself. She had seen Monohan only once since the day Fyfe choked
him, and then only to exchange the barest civilities—and to
feel her heart flutter at the message his eyes telegraphed.
When she returned from the launch trip, Fyfe was home, and
Charlie Benton with him. She crossed the heavy rugs on the living
room floor noiselessly in her overshoes, carrying Jack Junior
asleep in her arms. And so in passing the door of Fyfe's den, she
heard her brother say:
"But, good Lord, you don't suppose he'll be sap-head enough to
try such fool stunts as that? He couldn't make it stick, and he
brings himself within the law first crack; and the most he could do
would be to annoy you."
"You underestimate Monohan," Fyfe returned. "He'll play safe,
personally, so far as the law goes. He's foxy. I advise you to sell
if the offer comes again. If you make any more breaks at him, he'll
figure some way to get you. It isn't your fight, you know. You
unfortunately happen to be in the road."
"Damned if I do," Benton swore. "I'm all in the clear. There's
no way he can get me, and I'll tell him what I think of him again
if he gives me half a chance. I never liked him, anyhow. Why should
I sell when I'm just getting in real good shape to take that timber
out myself? Why, I can make a hundred thousand dollars in the next
five years on that block of timber. Besides, without being a
sentimental sort of beggar, I don't lose sight of the fact that you
helped pull me out of a hole when I sure needed a pull. And I don't
like his high-handed style. No, if it comes to a showdown, I'm with
you, Jack, as far as I can go. What the hell can he do?"
"Nothing—that I can see." Fyfe laughed unpleasantly. "But
he'll try. He has dollars to our cents. He could throw everything
he's got on Roaring Lake into the discard and still have forty
thousand a year fixed income. Sabe? Money does more than talk in
this country. I think I'll pull that camp off the Tyee."
"Well, maybe," Benton said. "I'm not sure—"
Stella passed on. She wanted to hear, but it went against her
grain to eavesdrop. Her pause had been purely involuntary. When she
became conscious that she was eagerly drinking in each word, she
Her mind was one urgent question mark while she laid the
sleeping youngster in his bed and removed her heavy clothes. What
sort of hostilities did Monohan threaten? Had he let a hopeless
love turn to the acid of hate for the man who nominally possessed
her? Stella could scarcely credit that. It was too much at variance
with her idealistic conception of the man. He would never have
recourse to such littleness. Still, the biting contempt in Fyfe's
voice when he said to Benton: "You underestimate Monohan. He'll
play safe ... he's foxy." That stung her to the quick. That was not
said for her benefit; it was Fyfe's profound conviction. Based on
what? He did not form judgments on momentary impulse. She recalled
that only in the most indirect way had he ever passed criticism on
Monohan, and then it lay mostly in a tone, suggested more than
spoken. Yet he knew Monohan, had known him for years. They had
clashed long before she was a factor in their lives.
When she went into the big room, Benton and Fyfe were gone
outdoors. She glanced into Fyfe's den. It was empty, but a big
blue-print unrolled on the table where the two had been seated
caught her eye. She bent over it, drawn by the lettered squares
along the wavy shore line and the marked waters of creeks she
She had never before possessed a comprehensive idea of the
various timber holdings along the west shore of Roaring Lake, since
it had not been a matter of particular interest to her. She was not
sure why it now became a matter of interest to her, unless it was
an impression that over these squares and oblongs which stood for
thousands upon thousands of merchantable logs there was already
shaping a struggle, a clash of iron wills and determined purposes
directly involving, perhaps arising because of her.
She studied the blue-print closely. Its five feet of length
embraced all the west shore of the lake, from the outflowing of
Roaring River to the incoming Tyee at the head. Each camp was
lettered in with pencil. But her attention focussed chiefly on the
timber limits ranging north and south from their home, and she
noted two details: that while the limits marked A-M Co. were
impartially distributed from Cottonwood north, the squares marked
J.H. Fyfe lay in a solid block about Cougar Bay,—save for
that long tongue of a limit where she had that day noted the new
camp. That thrust like the haft of a spear into the heart of Fyfe's
There was the Abbey-Monohan cottage, the three limits her
brother controlled lying up against Fyfe's southern boundary. Up
around the mouth of the Tyee spread the vast checkerboard of
Abbey-Monohan limits, and beyond that, on the eastern bank of the
river, a single block,—Fyfe's cedar limit,—the camp he
thought he would close down.
Why? Immediately the query shaped in her mind. Monohan was
concentrating his men and machinery at the lake head. Fyfe proposed
to shut down a camp but well-established; established because cedar
was climbing in price, an empty market clamoring for cedar logs.
Was there aught of significance in that new camp of Monohan's so
near by; that sudden activity on ground that bisected her husband's
property? A freak limit of timber so poor that Lefty Howe said it
could only be logged at a loss.
She sighed and went out to give dinner orders to Sam Foo. If she
could only go to her husband and talk as they had been able to talk
things over at first. But there had grown up between them a deadly
restraint. She supposed that was inevitable. Both chafed under
conditions they could not change or would not for stubbornness and
It made a deep impression on her, all these successive,
disassociated finger posts, pointing one and all to things under
the surface, to motives and potentialities she had not glimpsed
before and could only guess at now.
Fyfe and Benton came to dinner more or less preoccupied, an odd
mood for Charlie Benton. Afterwards they went into session behind
the closed door of Fyfe's den. An hour or so later Benton went
home. While she listened to the soft chuff-a-chuff-a-chuff
of the Chickamin dying away in the distance, Fyfe came in
and slumped down in a chair before the fire where a big fir stick
crackled. He sat there silent, a half-smoked cigar clamped in one
corner of his mouth, the lines of his square jaw in profile,
determined, rigid. Stella eyed him covertly. There were times, in
those moods of concentration, when sheer brute power seemed his
most salient characteristic. Each bulging curve of his thick upper
arm, his neck rising like a pillar from massive shoulders,
indicated his power. Yet so well-proportioned was he that the size
and strength of him was masked by the symmetry of his body, just as
the deliberate immobility of his face screened the play of his
feelings. Often Stella found herself staring at him, fruitlessly
wondering what manner of thought and feeling that repression
overlaid. Sometimes a tricksy, half-provoked desire to break
through the barricade of his stoicism tempted her. She told herself
that she ought to be thankful for his aloofness, his acquiescence
in things as they stood. Yet there were times when she would almost
have welcomed an outburst, a storm, anything rather than that
deadly chill, enduring day after day. He seldom spoke to her now
except of most matter-of-fact things. He played his part like a
gentleman before others, but alone with her he withdrew into his
Stella was sitting back in the shadow, still studying him,
measuring him in spite of herself by the Monohan yardstick. There
wasn't much basis for comparison. It wasn't a question of
comparison; the two men stood apart, distinctive, in every
attribute. The qualities in Fyfe that she understood and
appreciated, she beheld glorified in Monohan. Yet it was not, after
all, a question of qualities. It was something more subtle,
something of the heart which defied logical analysis.
Fyfe had never been able to set her pulse dancing. She had never
craved physical nearness to him, so that she ached with the
poignancy of that craving. She had been passively contented with
him, that was all. And Monohan had swept across her horizon like a
flame. Why couldn't Jack Fyfe have inspired in her that headlong
sort of passion? She smiled hopelessly. The tears were very close
to her eyes. She loved Monohan; Monohan loved her. Fyfe loved her
in his deliberate, repressed fashion and possessed her, according
to the matrimonial design. And although now his possession was a
hollow mockery, he would never give her up—not to Walter
Monohan. She had that fatalistic conviction.
How would it end in the long run?
She leaned forward to speak. Words quivered on her lips. But as
she struggled to shape them to utterance, the blast of a boat
whistle came screaming up from the water, near and shrill and
Fyfe came out of his chair like a shot. He landed poised on his
feet, lips drawn apart, hands clenched. He held that pose for an
instant, then relaxed, his breath coming with a quick sigh.
Stella stared at him. Nerves! She knew the symptoms too well.
Nerves at terrible tension in that big, splendid body. A slight
quiver seemed to run over him. Then he was erect and calmly himself
again, standing in a listening attitude.
"That's the Panther?" he said. "Pulling in to the
Waterbug's landing. Did I startle you when I bounced up like
a cougar, Stella?" he asked, with a wry smile. "I guess I was half
asleep. That whistle jolted me."
Stella glanced out the shaded window.
"Some one's coming up from the float with a lantern," she said.
"Is there—is there likely to be anything wrong, Jack?"
"Anything wrong?" He shot a quick glance at her. Then casually:
"Not that I know of."
The bobbing lantern came up the path through the lawn. Footsteps
crunched on the gravel.
"I'll go see what he wants," Fyfe remarked, "Calked boots won't
be good for the porch floor."
She followed him.
"Stay in. It's cold." He stopped in the doorway.
"No. I'm coming," she persisted.
They met the lantern bearer at the foot of the steps.
"Well, Thorsen?" Fyfe shot at him. There was an unusual note of
sharpness in his voice, an irritated expectation.
Stella saw that it was the skipper of the Panther, a big
and burly Dane. He raised the lantern a little. The dim light on
his face showed it bruised and swollen. Fyfe grunted.
"Our boom is hung up," he said plaintively. "They've blocked the
river. I got licked for arguin' the point."
"How's it blocked?" Fyfe asked.
"Two swifters uh logs strung across the channel. They're drivin'
piles in front. An' three donkeys buntin' logs in behind."
"Swift work. There wasn't a sign of a move when I left this
morning," Fyfe commented drily. "Well, take the Panther
around to the inner landing. I'll be there."
"What's struck that feller Monohan?" the Dane sputtered angrily.
"Has he got any license to close the Tyee? He says he has—an'
backs his argument strong, believe me. Maybe you can handle him. I
couldn't. Next time I'll have a cant-hook handy. By jingo, you
gimme my pick uh Lefty's crew, Jack, an' I'll bring that cedar
"Take the Panther 'round," Fyfe replied. "We'll see."
Thorsen turned back down the slope. In a minute the thrum of the
boat's exhaust arose as she got under way.
"Come on in. You'll get cold standing here," Fyfe said to
She followed him back into the living room. He sat on the arm of
a big leather chair, rolling the dead cigar thoughtfully between
his lips, little creases gathering between his eyes.
"I'm going up the lake," he said at last, getting up
"What's the matter, Jack?" she asked. "Why, has trouble started
"Part of the logging game," he answered indifferently. "Don't
amount to much."
"But Thorsen has been fighting. His face was terrible. And I've
heard you say he was one of the most peaceable men alive. Is
"We won't discuss Monohan," Fyfe said curtly. "Anyway, there's
no danger of him getting hurt."
He went into his den and came out with hat and coat on. At the
door he paused a moment.
"Don't worry," he said kindly. "Nothing's going to happen."
But she stood looking out the window after he left, uneasy with
a prescience of trouble. She watched with a feverish interest the
stir that presently arose about the bunkhouses. That summer a wide
space had been cleared between bungalow and camp. She could see
moving lanterns, and even now and then hear the voices of men
calling to each other. Once the Panther's dazzling eye of a
searchlight swung across the landing, and its beam picked out a
file of men carrying their blankets toward the boat. Shortly after
that the tender rounded the point. Close behind her went the
Waterbug, and both boats swarmed with men.
Stella looked and listened until there was but a faint thrum far
up the lake. Then she went to bed, but not to sleep. What ugly
passions were loosed at the lake head she did not know. But on the
face of it she could not avoid wondering if Monohan had
deliberately set out to cross and harass Jack Fyfe. Because of her?
That was the question which had hovered on her lips that evening,
one she had not brought herself to ask. Because of her, or because
of some enmity that far preceded her? She had thought him big
enough to do as she had done, as Fyfe was tacitly doing,—make
the best of a grievous matter.
But if he had allowed his passions to dictate reprisals, she
trembled for the outcome. Fyfe was not a man to sit quiet under
either affront or injury. He would fight with double rancor if
Monohan were his adversary.
"If anything happens up there, I'll hate myself," she whispered,
when the ceaseless turning of her mind had become almost
unendurable. "I was a silly, weak fool to ever let Walter Monohan
know I cared. And I'll hate him too if he makes me a bone of
contention. I elected to play the game the only decent way there is
to play it. So did he. Why can't he abide by that?"
Noon of the next day saw the Waterbug heave to a quarter
mile abeam of Cougar Point to let off a lone figure in her dinghy,
and then bore on, driving straight and fast for Roaring Springs.
Stella flew to the landing. Mother Howe came puffing at her
"Land's sake, I been worried to death," the older woman
breathed. "When men git to quarrellin' about timber, you never can
tell where they'll stop, Mrs. Jack. I've knowed some wild times in
the woods in the past."
The man in the dink was Lefty Howe. He pulled in beside the
float. When he stepped up on the planks, he limped perceptibly.
"Land alive, what happened yuh, Lefty?" his wife cried.
"Got a rap on the leg with a peevy," he said. "Nothin'
"Why did the Waterbug go down the lake?" Stella asked
breathlessly. The man's face was serious. "What happened up
"There was a fuss," he answered quietly. "Three or four of the
boys got beat up so they need patchin'. Jack's takin' 'em down to
the hospital. Damn that yeller-headed Monohan!" his voice lifted
suddenly in uncontrollable anger. "Billy Dale was killed this
Stella felt herself grow sick. Death is a small matter when it
strikes afar, among strangers. When it comes to one's door! Billy
Dale had piloted the Waterbug for a year, a chubby,
round-faced boy of twenty, a foster-son, of Mother Howe's before
she had children of her own. Stella had asked Jack to put him on
the Waterbug because he was such a loyal, cheery sort of
soul, and Billy had been a part of every expedition they had taken
around the lake. She could not think of him as a rigid, lifeless
lump of clay. Why, only the day before he had been laughing and
chattering aboard the cruiser, going up and down the cabin floor on
his hands and knees, Jack Junior perched triumphantly astride his
"What happened?" she cried wildly. "Tell me, quick."
"It's quick told," Howe said grimly. "We were ready at daylight.
Monohan's got a hard crew, and they jumped us as soon as we started
to clear the channel. So we cleared them, first. It didn't take so
long. Three of our men was used bad, and there's plenty of sore
heads on both sides. But we did the job. After we got them on the
run, we blowed up their swifters an' piles with giant. Then we
begun to put the cedar through. Billy was on the bank when somebody
shot him from across the river. One mercy, he never knew what hit
him. An' you'll never come so close bein' a widow again, Mrs. Fyfe,
an' not be. That bullet was meant for Jack, I figure. He was
sittin' down. Billy was standin' right behind him watchin' the logs
go through. Whoever he was, he shot high, that's all. There,
mother, don't cry. That don't help none. What's done's done."
Stella turned and walked up to the house, stunned. She could not
credit bloodshed, death. Always in her life both had been things
remote. And as the real significance of Lefty Howe's story grew on
her, she shuddered. It lay at her door, equally with her and
Monohan, even if neither of their hands had sped the
bullet,—an indirect responsibility but gruesomely real to
God only knows to what length she might have gone in reaction.
She was quivering under that self-inflicted lash, bordering upon
hysteria when she reached the house. She could not shut out a
too-vivid picture of Billy Dale lying murdered on the Tyee's bank,
of the accusing look with which Fyfe must meet her. Rightly so, she
held. She did not try to shirk. She had followed the line of least
resistance, lacked the dour courage to pull herself up in the
beginning, and it led to this. She felt Billy Dale's blood wet on
her soft hands. She walked into her own house panting like a hunted
And she had barely crossed the threshold when back in the rear
Jack Junior's baby voice rose in a shrill scream of pain.
Stella scarcely heard her husband and the doctor come in. For a
weary age she had been sitting in a low rocker, a pillow across her
lap, and on that the little, tortured body swaddled with cotton
soaked in olive oil, the only dressing she and Mrs. Howe could
devise to ease the pain. All those other things which had so racked
her, the fight on the Tyee, the shooting of Billy Dale, they had
vanished somehow into thin air before the dread fact that her baby
was dying slowly before her anguished eyes. She sat numbed with
that deadly assurance, praying without hope for help to come,
hopeless that any medical skill would avail when it did come. So
many hours had been wasted while a man rowed to Benton's camp,
while the Chickamin steamed to Roaring Springs, while the
Waterbug came driving back. Five hours! And the skin, yes,
even shreds of flesh, had come away in patches with Jack Junior's
clothing when she took it off. She bent over him, fearful that
every feeble breath would be his last.
She looked up at the doctor. Fyfe was beside her, his calked
boots biting into the oak floor.
"See what you can do, doc," he said huskily. Then to Stella:
"How did it happen?"
"He toddled away from Martha," she whispered. "Sam Foo had set a
pan of boiling water on the kitchen floor. He fell into it. Oh, my
poor little darling."
They watched the doctor bare the terribly scalded body, examine
it, listen to the boy's breathing, count his pulse. In the end he
re-dressed the tiny body with stuff from the case with which a
country physician goes armed against all emergencies. He was very
deliberate and thoughtful. Stella looked her appeal when he
"He's a sturdy little chap," he said, "and we'll do our best. A
child frequently survives terrific shock. It would be mistaken
kindness for me to make light of his condition simply to spare your
feelings. He has an even chance. I shall stay until morning. Now, I
think it would be best to lay him on a bed. You must relax, Mrs.
Fyfe. I can see that the strain is telling on you. You mustn't
allow yourself to get in that abnormal condition. The baby is not
conscious of pain. He is not suffering half so much in his body as
you are in your mind, and you mustn't do that. Be hopeful. We'll
need your help. We should have a nurse, but there was no time to
They laid Jack Junior amid downy pillows on Stella's bed. The
doctor stood looking at him, then drew a chair beside the bed.
"Go and walk about a little, Mrs. Fyfe," he advised, "and have
your dinner. I'll want to watch the boy a while."
But Stella did not want to walk. She did not want to eat. She
was scarcely aware that her limbs were cramped and aching from her
long vigil in the chair. She was not conscious of herself and her
problems, any more. Every shift of her mind turned on her baby, the
little mite she had nursed at her breast, the one joy untinctured
with bitterness that was left her. The bare chance that those
little feet might never patter across the floor again, that little
voice never wake her in the morning crying "Mom-mom," drove her
She went out into the living room, walked to a window, stood
there drumming on the pane with nervous fingers. Dusk was falling
outside; a dusk was creeping over her. She shuddered.
Fyfe came up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, and
turned her so that she faced him.
"I wish I could help, Stella," he whispered. "I wish I could
make you feel less forlorn. Poor little kiddies—both of
She shook off his hands, not because she rebelled against his
touch, against his sympathy, merely because she had come to that
nervous state where she scarce realized what she did.
"Oh," she choked, "I can't bear it. My baby, my little baby boy.
The one bright spot that's left, and he has to suffer like that. If
he dies, it's the end of everything for me."
Fyfe stared at her. The warm, pitying look on his face ebbed
away, hardened into his old, mask-like absence of expression.
"No," he said quietly, "it would only be the beginning. Lord
God, but this has been a day."
He whirled about with a quick gesture of his hands, a harsh,
raspy laugh that was very near a sob, and left her. Twenty minutes
later, when Stella was irresistibly drawn back to the bedroom, she
found him sitting sober and silent, looking at his son.
A little past midnight Jack Junior died.
FREE AS THE WIND
Stella sat watching the gray lines of rain beat down on the
asphalt, the muddy rivulets that streamed along the gutter. A
forlorn sighing of wind in the bare boughs of a gaunt elm that
stood before her window reminded her achingly of the wind drone
among the tall firs.
A ghastly two weeks had intervened since Jack Junior's little
life blinked out. There had been wild moments when she wished she
could keep him company on that journey into the unknown. But grief
seldom kills. Sometimes it hardens. Always it works a change, a
greater or less revamping of the spirit. It was so with Stella
Fyfe, although she was not keenly aware of any forthright
metamorphosis. She was, for the present, too actively involved in
The storm and stress of that period between her yielding to the
lure of Monohan's personality and the burial of her boy had sapped
her of all emotional reaction. When they had performed the last
melancholy service for him and went back to the bungalow at Cougar
Point, she was as physically exhausted, as near the limit of numbed
endurance in mind and body as it is possible for a young and
healthy woman to become. And when a measure of her natural vitality
re-asserted itself, she laid her course. She could no more abide
the place where she was than a pardoned convict can abide the
prison that has restrained him. It was empty now of everything that
made life tolerable, the hushed rooms a constant reminder of her
loss. She would catch herself listening for that baby voice, for
those pattering footsteps, and realize with a sickening pang that
she would never hear them again.
The snapping of that last link served to deepen and widen the
gulf between her and Fyfe. He went about his business grave and
preoccupied. They seldom talked together. She knew that his boy had
meant a lot to him; but he had his work. He did not have to sit
with folded hands and think until thought drove him into the bogs
And so the break came. With desperate abruptness Stella told him
that she could not stay, that feeling as she did, she despised
herself for unwilling acceptance of everything where she could give
nothing in return, that the original mistake of their marriage
would never be rectified by a perpetuation of that mistake.
"What's the use, Jack?" she finished. "You and I are so made
that we can't be neutral. We've got to be thoroughly in accord, or
we have to part. There's no chance for us to get back to the old
way of living. I don't want to; I can't. I could never be
complaisant and agreeable again. We might as well come to a full
stop, and each go his own way."
She had braced herself for a clash of wills. There was none.
Fyfe listened to her, looked at her long and earnestly, and in the
end made a quick, impatient gesture with his hands.
"Your life's your own to make what you please of, now that the
kid's no longer a factor," he said quietly. "What do you want to
do? Have you made any plans?"
"I have to live, naturally," she replied. "Since I've got my
voice back, I feel sure I can turn that to account. I should like
to go to Seattle first and look around. It can be supposed I have
gone visiting, until one or the other of us takes a decisive legal
"That's simple enough," he returned, after a minute's
reflection. "Well, if it has to be, for God's sake let's get it
And now it was over with. Fyfe remarked once that with them
luckily it was not a question of money. But for Stella it was
indeed an economic problem. When she left Roaring Lake, her private
account contained over two thousand dollars. Her last act in
Vancouver was to re-deposit that to her husband's credit. Only so
did she feel that she could go free of all obligation,
clean-handed, without stultifying herself in her own eyes. She had
treasured as a keepsake the only money she had ever earned in her
life, her brother's check for two hundred and seventy dollars, the
wages of that sordid period in the cookhouse. She had it now. Two
hundred and seventy dollars capital. She hadn't sold herself for
that. She had given honest value, double and treble, in the sweat
of her brow. She was here now, in a five-dollar-a-week housekeeping
room, foot-loose, free as the wind. That was Fyfe's last word to
her. He had come with her to Seattle and waited patiently at a
hotel until she found a place to live. Then he had gone away
"Well, Stella," he had said, "I guess this is the end of our
experiment. In six months,—under the State law,—you can
be legally free by a technicality. So far as I'm concerned, you're
free as the wind right now. Good luck to you."
He turned away with a smile on his lips, a smile that his eyes
belied, and she watched him walk to the corner through the same
sort of driving rain that now pelted in gray lines against her
She shook herself impatiently out of that retrospect. It was
done. Life, as her brother had prophesied, was no kid-glove affair.
The future was her chief concern now, not the past. Yet that
immediate past, bits of it, would now and then blaze vividly before
her mental vision. The only defense against that lay in action, in
something to occupy her mind and hands. If that motive, the desire
to shun mental reflexes that brought pain, were not sufficient,
there was the equally potent necessity to earn her bread. Never
again would she be any man's dependent, a pampered doll, a parasite
trading on her sex. They were hard names she called herself.
Meantime she had not been idle; neither had she come to Seattle
on a blind impulse. She knew of a singing teacher there whose
reputation was more than local, a vocal authority whose word
carried weight far beyond Puget Sound. First she meant to see him,
get an impartial estimate of the value of her voice, of the
training she would need. Through him she hoped to get in touch with
some outlet for the only talent she possessed. And she had received
more encouragement than she dared hope. He listened to her sing,
then tested the range and flexibility of her voice.
"Amazing," he said frankly. "You have a rare natural endowment.
If you have the determination and the sense of dramatic values that
musical discipline will give you, you should go far. You should
find your place in opera."
"That's my ambition," Stella answered. "But that requires time
and training. And that means money. I have to earn it."
The upshot of that conversation was an appointment to meet the
manager of a photoplay house, who wanted a singer. Stella looked at
her watch now, and rose to go. Money, always money, if one wanted
to get anywhere, she reflected cynically. No wonder men struggled
desperately for that token of power.
She reached the Charteris Theater, and a doorman gave her access
to the dim interior. There was a light in the operator's cage high
at the rear, another shaded glow at the piano, where a young man
with hair brushed sleekly back chewed gum incessantly while he
practiced picture accompaniments. The place looked desolate, with
its empty seats, its bald stage front with the empty picture
screen. Stella sat down to wait for the manager. He came in a few
minutes; his manner was very curt, business-like. He wanted her to
sing a popular song, a bit from a Verdi opera, Gounod's Ave Maria,
so that he could get a line on what she could do. He appeared to be
a pessimist in regard to singers.
"Take the stage right there," he instructed. "Just as if the
spot was on you. Now then."
It wasn't a heartening process to stand there facing the
gum-chewing pianist, and the manager's cigar glowing redly five
rows back, and the silent emptinesses beyond,—much like
singing into the mouth of a gloomy cave. It was more or less a
critical moment for Stella. But she was keenly aware that she had
to make good in a small way before she could grasp the greater
opportunity, so she did her best, and her best was no mediocre
performance. She had never sung in a place designed to show
off—or to show up—a singer's quality. She was even a
bit astonished herself.
She elected to sing the Ave Maria first. Her voice went pealing
to the domed ceiling as sweet as a silver bell, resonant as a
trumpet. When the last note died away, there was a momentary
silence. Then the accompanist looked up at her, frankly
"You're some warbler," he said emphatically, "believe
Behind him the manager's cigar lost its glow. He remained
silent. The pianist struck up "Let's Murder Care," a rollicking
trifle from a Broadway hit. Last of all he thumped, more or less
successfully, through the accompaniment to an aria that had in it
vocal gymnastics as well as melody.
"Come up to the office, Mrs. Fyfe," Howard said, with a singular
change from his first manner.
"I can give you an indefinite engagement at thirty a week," he
made a blunt offer. "You can sing. You're worth more, but right now
I can't pay more. If you pull business,—and I rather think
you will,—have to sing twice in the afternoon and twice in
Stella considered briefly. Thirty dollars a week meant a great
deal more than mere living, as she meant to live. And it was a
start, a move in the right direction. She accepted; they discussed
certain details. She did not care to court publicity under her
legal name, so they agreed that she should be billed as Madame
Benton,—the Madame being Howard's suggestion,—and she
took her leave.
Upon the Monday following Stella stood for the first time in a
fierce white glare that dazzled her and so shut off partially her
vision of the rows and rows of faces. She went on with a horrible
slackness in her knees, a dry feeling in her throat; and she was
not sure whether she would sing or fly. When she had finished her
first song and bowed herself into the wings, she felt her heart
leap and hammer at the hand-clapping that grew and grew till it was
like the beat of ocean surf.
Howard came running to meet her.
"You've sure got 'em going," he laughed. "Fine work. Go out and
give 'em some more."
In time she grew accustomed to these things, to the applause she
never failed to get, to the white beam that beat down from the
picture cage, to the eager, upturned faces in the first rows. Her
confidence grew; ambition began to glow like a flame within her.
She had gone through the primary stages of voice culture, and she
was following now a method of practice which produced results. She
could see and feel that herself. Sometimes the fear that her voice
might go as it had once gone would make her tremble. But that, her
teacher assured her, was a remote chance.
So she gained in those weeks something of her old poise.
Inevitably, she was very lonely at times. But she fought against
that with the most effective weapon she knew,—incessant
activity. She was always busy. There was a rented piano now sitting
in the opposite corner from the gas stove on which she cooked her
meals. Howard kept his word. She "pulled business," and he raised
her to forty a week and offered her a contract which she refused,
because other avenues, bigger and better than singing in a
motion-picture house, were tentatively opening.
December was waning when she came to Seattle. In the following
weeks her only contact with the past, beyond the mill of her own
thoughts, was an item in the Seattle Times touching upon
certain litigation in which Fyfe was involved. Briefly, Monohan,
under the firm name of the Abbey-Monohan Timber Company, was suing
Fyfe for heavy damages for the loss of certain booms of logs blown
up and set adrift at the mouth of the Tyee River. There was
appended an account of the clash over the closed channel and the
killing of Billy Dale. No one had been brought to book for that
yet. Any one of sixty men might have fired the shot.
It made Stella wince, for it took her back to that dreadful day.
She could not bear to think that Billy Dale's blood lay on her and
Monohan, neither could she stifle an uneasy apprehension that
something more grievous yet might happen on Roaring Lake. But at
least she had done what she could. If she were the flame, she had
removed herself from the powder magazine. Fyfe had pulled his cedar
crew off the Tyee before she left. If aggression came, it must come
from one direction.
They were both abstractions now, she tried to assure herself.
The glamour of Monohan was fading, and she could not say why. She
did not know if his presence would stir again all that old tumult
of feeling, but she did know that she was cleaving to a measure of
peace, of serenity of mind, and she did not want him or any other
man to disturb it. She told herself that she had never loved Jack
Fyfe. She recognized in him a lot that a woman is held to admire,
but there were also qualities in him that had often baffled and
sometimes frightened her. She wondered sometimes what he really
thought of her and her actions, why, when she had been nerved to a
desperate struggle for her freedom, if she could gain it no other
way, he had let her go so easily?
After all, she reflected cynically, love comes and goes, but one
is driven to pursue material advantages while life lasts. And she
wondered, even while the thought took form in her mind, how long
she would retain that point of view.
In the early days of February Stella had an unexpected visitor.
The landlady called her to the common telephone, and when she took
up the receiver, Linda Abbey's voice came over the wire.
"When can I see you?" she asked. "I'll only be here to-day and
"Now, if you like," Stella responded. "I'm free until
"I'll be right over," Linda said. "I'm only about ten minutes
drive from where you are."
Stella went back to her room both glad and sorry: glad to hear a
familiar, friendly voice amid this loneliness which sometimes
seemed almost unendurable; sorry because her situation involved
some measure of explanation to Linda. That hurt.
But she was not prepared for the complete understanding of the
matter Linda Abbey tacitly exhibited before they had exchanged a
"How did you know?" Stella asked. "Who told you?"
"No one. I drew my own conclusions when I heard you had gone to
Seattle," Linda replied. "I saw it coming. My dear, I'm not blind,
and I was with you a lot last summer. I knew you too well to
believe you'd make a move while you had your baby to think of. When
he was gone—well, I looked for anything to happen."
"Still, nothing much has happened," Stella remarked with a touch
of bitterness, "except the inevitable break between a man and a
woman when there's no longer any common bond between them. It's
better so. Jack has a multiplicity of interests. He can devote
himself to them without the constant irritation of an unresponsive
wife. We've each taken our own road. That's all that has
"So far," Linda murmured. "It's a pity. I liked that big, silent
man of yours. I like you both. It seems a shame things have to turn
out this way just because—oh, well. Charlie and I used to
plan things for the four of us, little family combinations when we
settled down on the lake. Honestly, Stella, do you think it's worth
while? I never could see you as a sentimental little chump, letting
a momentary aberration throw your whole life out of gear."
"How do you know that I have?" Stella asked gravely.
Linda shrugged her shoulders expressively.
"I suppose it looks silly, if not worse, to you," Stella said.
"But I can't help what you think. My reason has dictated every step
I've taken since last fall. If I'd really given myself up to
sentimentalism, the Lord only knows what might have happened."
"Exactly," Linda responded drily. "Now, there's no use beating
around the bush. We get so in that habit as a matter of
politeness,—our sort of people,—that we seldom say in
plain English just what we really mean. Surely, you and I know each
other well enough to be frank, even if it's painful. Very likely
you'll say I'm a self-centered little beast, but I'm going to marry
your brother, my dear, and I'm going to marry him in the face of
considerable family opposition. I am selfish. Can you show
me any one who isn't largely swayed by motives of self-interest, if
it comes to that? I want to be happy. I want to be on good terms
with my own people, so that Charlie will have some of the
opportunities dad can so easily put in his way. Charlie isn't rich.
He hasn't done anything, according to the Abbey standard, but make
a fair start. Dad's patronizing as sin, and mother merely tolerates
the idea because she knows that I'll marry Charlie in any case,
opposition or no opposition. I came over expressly to warn you,
Stella. Anything like scandal now would be—well, it would
upset so many things."
"You needn't be uneasy," Stella answered coldly. "There isn't
any foundation for scandal. There won't be."
"I don't know," Linda returned, "Walter Monohan came to Seattle
a boat ahead of me. In fact, that's largely why I came."
Stella flushed angrily.
"Well, what of that?" she demanded. "His movements are nothing
"I don't know," Linda rejoined. She had taken off her gloves and
was rolling them nervously in a ball. Now she dropped them and
impulsively grasped Stella's hands.
"Stella, Stella," she cried. "Don't get that hurt, angry look. I
don't like to say these things to you, but I feel that I have to.
I'm worried, and I'm afraid for you and your husband, for Charlie
and myself, for all of us together. Walter Monohan is as dangerous
as any man who's unscrupulous and rich and absolutely self-centered
can possibly be. I know the glamour of the man. I used to feel it
myself. It didn't go very far with me, because his attention
wandered away from me before my feelings were much involved, and I
had a chance to really fathom them and him. He has a queer gift of
making women care for him, and he trades on it deliberately. He
doesn't play fair; he doesn't mean to. Oh, I know so many cruel
things, despicable things, he's done. Don't look at me like that,
Stella. I'm not saying this just to wound you. I'm simply putting
you on your guard. You can't play with fire and not get burned. If
you've been nursing any feeling for Walter Monohan, crush it, cut
it out, just as you'd have a surgeon cut out a cancer. Entirely
apart from any question of Jack Fyfe, don't let this man play any
part whatever in your life. You'll be sorry if you do. There's not
a man or woman whose relations with Monohan have been intimate
enough to enable them to really know the man and his motives who
doesn't either hate or fear or despise him, and sometimes all
"That's a sweeping indictment," Stella said stiffly. "And you're
very earnest. Yet I can hardly take your word at its face value. If
he's so impossible a person, how does it come that you and your
people countenanced him socially? Besides, it's all rather
unnecessary, Linda. I'm not the least bit likely to do anything
that will reflect on your prospective husband, which is what it
simmers down to, isn't it? I've been pulled and hauled this way and
that ever since I've been on the coast, simply because I was
dependent on some one else—first Charlie and then
Jack—for the bare necessities of life. When there's mutual
affection, companionship, all those intimate interests that
marriage is supposed to imply, I daresay a woman gives full measure
for all she receives. If she doesn't, she's simply a sponge,
clinging to a man for what's in it. I couldn't bear that. You've
been rather painfully frank; so will I be. One unhappy marriage is
quite enough for me. Looking back, I can see that even if Walter
Monohan hadn't stirred a feeling in me which I don't
deny,—but which I'm not nearly so sure of as I was some time
ago,—I'd have come to just this stage, anyway. I was drifting
all the time. My baby and the conventions, that reluctance most
women have to make a clean sweep of all the ties they've been
schooled to think unbreakable, kept me moving along the old
grooves. It would have come about a little more gradually, that's
all. But I have broken away, and I'm going to live my own life
after a fashion, and I'm going to achieve independence of some
sort. I'm never going to be any man's mate again until I'm sure of
myself—and of him. There's my philosophy of life, as simply
as I can put it. I don't think you need to worry about me. Right
now I couldn't muster up the least shred of passion of any sort. I
seem to have felt so much since last summer, that I'm like a sponge
that's been squeezed dry."
"I don't blame you, dear," Linda said wistfully. "A woman's
heart is a queer thing, though. When you compare the two
men—Oh, well, I know Walter so thoroughly, and you don't. You
couldn't ever have cared much for Jack."
"That hasn't any bearing on it now," Stella answered. "I'm still
his wife, and I respect him, and I've got a stubborn sort of pride.
There won't be any divorce proceedings or any scandal. I'm free
personally to work out my own economic destiny. That, right now, is
engrossing enough for me."
Linda sat a minute, thoughtful.
"So you think my word for Walter Monohan's deviltry isn't worth
much," she said. "Well, I could furnish plenty of details. But I
don't think I shall. Not because you'd be angry, but because I
don't think you're quite as blind as I believed. And I'm not a
natural gossip. Aside from that, he's quite too busy on Roaring
Lake for it to mean any good. He never gets active like that unless
he has some personal axe to grind. In this case, I can grasp his
motive easily enough. Jack Fyfe may not have said a word to you,
but he certainly knows Monohan. They've clashed before, so I've
been told. Jack probably saw what was growing on you, and I don't
think he'd hesitate to tell Monohan to walk away around. If he
did,—or if you definitely turned Monohan down; you see I'm
rather in the dark,—he'd go to any length to play even with.
Fyfe. When Monohan wants anything, he looks upon it as his own; and
when you wound his vanity, you've stabbed him in his most vital
part. He never rests then until he's paid the score. Father was
always a little afraid of him. I think that's the chief reason for
selling out his Roaring Lake interests to Monohan. He didn't want
to be involved in whatever Monohan contemplated doing. He has a
wholesome respect for your husband's rather volcanic ability.
Monohan has, too. But he has always hated Jack Fyfe. To my
knowledge for three years,—prior to pulling you out of the
water that time,—he never spoke of Jack Fyfe without a sneer.
He hates any one who beats him at anything. That ruction on the
Tyee is a sample. He'll spend money, risk lives, all but his own,
do anything to satisfy a grudge. That's one of the things that
worries me. Charlie will be into anything that Fyfe is, for Fyfe's
his friend. I admire the spirit of the thing, but I don't want our
little applecart upset in the sort of struggle Fyfe and Monohan may
stage. I don't even know what form it will ultimately take, except
that from certain indications he'll try to make Fyfe spend money
faster than he can make it, perhaps in litigation over timber, over
anything that offers, by making trouble in his camps, harassing him
at every turn. He can, you know. He has immense resources. Oh,
well, I'm satisfied, Stella, that you're a much wiser girl than I
thought when I knew you'd left Jack Fyfe. I'm quite sure now you
aren't the sort of woman Monohan could wind around his little
finger. But I'm sure he'll try. You'll see, and remember what I
tell you. There, I think I'd better run along. You're not angry,
are you, Stella?"
"You mean well enough, I suppose," Stella answered. "But as a
matter of fact, you've made me feel rather nasty, Linda. I don't
want to talk or even think of these things. The best thing you and
Charlie and Jack Fyfe could do is to forget such a discontented
pendulum as I ever existed."
"Oh, bosh!" Linda exclaimed, as she drew on her gloves. "That's
sheer nonsense. You're going to be my big sister in three months.
Things will work out. If you felt you had to take this step for
your own good, no one can blame you. It needn't make any difference
in our friendship."
On the threshold she turned on her heel. "Don't forget what I've
said," she repeated. "Don't trust Monohan. Not an inch."
Stella flung herself angrily into a chair when the door closed
on Linda Abbey. Her eyes snapped. She resented being warned and
cautioned, as if she were some moral weakling who could not be
trusted to make the most obvious distinctions. Particularly did she
resent having Monohan flung in her teeth, when she was in a way to
forget him, to thrust the strange charm of the man forever out of
her thoughts. Why, she asked bitterly, couldn't other people do as
Jack Fyfe had done: cut the Gordian knot at one stroke and let it
rest at that?
So Monohan was in Seattle? Would he try to see her?
Stella had not minced matters with herself when she left Roaring
Lake. Dazed and shaken by suffering, nevertheless she knew that she
would not always suffer, that in time she would get back to that
normal state in which the human ego diligently pursues happiness.
In time the legal tie between herself and Jack Fyfe would cease to
exist. If Monohan cared for her as she thought he cared, a year or
two more or less mattered little. They had all their lives before
them. In the long run, the errors and mistakes of that upheaval
would grow dim, be as nothing. Jack Fyfe would shrug his shoulders
and forget, and in due time he would find a fitter mate, one as
loyal as he deserved. And why might not she, who had never loved
him, whose marriage to him had been only a climbing out of the fire
into the frying-pan?
So that with all her determination to make the most of her gift
of song, so that she would never again be buffeted by material
urgencies in a material world, Stella had nevertheless been
listening with the ear of her mind, so to speak, for a word from
Monohan to say that he understood, and that all was well.
Paradoxically, she had not expected to hear that word. Once in
Seattle, away from it all, there slowly grew upon her the
conviction that in Monohan's fine avowal and renunciation he had
only followed the cue she had given. In all else he had played his
own hand. She couldn't forget Billy Dale. If the motive behind that
bloody culmination were thwarted love, it was a thing to shrink
from. It seemed to her now, forcing herself to reason with
cold-blooded logic, that Monohan desired her less than he hated
Fyfe's possession of her; that she was merely an added factor in
the breaking out of a struggle for mastery between two diverse and
dominant men. Every sign and token went to show that the pot of
hate had long been simmering. She had only contributed to its
"Oh, well," she sighed, "it's out of my hands altogether now.
I'm sorry, but being sorry doesn't make any difference. I'm the
least factor, it seems, in the whole muddle. A woman isn't much
more than an incident in a man's life, after all."
She dressed to go to the Charteris, for her day's work was about
to begin. As so often happens in life's uneasy flow, periods of
calm are succeeded by events in close sequence. Howard and his wife
insisted that Stella join them at supper after the show. They were
decent folk who accorded frank admiration to her voice and her
personality. They had been kind to her in many little ways, and she
was glad to accept.
At eleven a taxi deposited them at the door of Wain's. The
Seattle of yesterday needs no introduction to Wain's, and its
counterpart can be found in any cosmopolitan, seaport city. It is a
place of subtle distinction, tucked away on one of the lower hill
streets, where after-theater parties and nighthawks with an eye for
pretty women, an ear for sensuous music, and a taste for good food,
go when they have money to spend.
Ensconced behind a potted palm, with a waiter taking Howard's
order, Stella let her gaze travel over the diners. She brought up
with a repressed start at a table but four removes from her own,
her eyes resting upon the unmistakable profile of Walter Monohan.
He was dining vis-à-vis with a young woman chiefly
remarkable for a profusion of yellow hair and a blazing diamond in
the lobe of each ear,—a plump, blond, vivacious person of a
type that Stella, even with her limited experience, found herself
A bottle of wine rested in an iced dish between them. Monohan
was toying with the stem of a half-emptied glass, smiling at his
companion. The girl leaned toward him, speaking rapidly, pouting.
Monohan nodded, drained his glass, signaled a waiter. When she got
into an elaborate opera cloak and Monohan into his Inverness, they
went out, the plump, jeweled hand resting familiarly on Monohan's
arm. Stella breathed a sigh of relief as they passed, looking
straight ahead. She watched through the upper half of the
café window and saw a machine draw against the curb, saw the
be-scarfed yellow head enter and Monohan's silk hat follow. Then
she relaxed, but she had little appetite for her food. A hot wave
of shamed disgust kept coming over her. She felt sick, physically
revolted. Very likely Monohan had put her in that class, in
his secret thought. She was glad when the evening ended, and the
Howards left her at her own doorstep.
On the carpet where it had been thrust by the postman under the
door, a white square caught her eye, and she picked it up before
she switched on the light. And she got a queer little shock when
the light fell on the envelope, for it was addressed in Jack Fyfe's
She tore it open. It was little enough in the way of a letter, a
couple of lines scrawled across a sheet of note-paper.
"I was in Seattle a few days ago and heard you sing. Here's
good luck rides with you.
Stella sat down by the window. Outside, the ever-present Puget
Sound rain drove against wall and roof and sidewalk, gathered in
wet, glistening pools in the street. Through that same window she
had watched Jack Fyfe walk out of her life three months ago without
a backward look, sturdily, silently, uncomplaining. He hadn't
whined, he wasn't whining now,—only flinging a cheerful word
out of the blank spaces of his own life into the blank spaces of
hers. Stella felt something warm and wet steal down her cheeks.
She crumpled the letter with a sudden, spasmodic clenching of
her hand. A lump rose chokingly in her throat. She stabbed at the
light switch and threw herself on the bed, sobbing her heart's cry
in the dusky quiet. And she could not have told why, except that
she had been overcome by a miserably forlorn feeling; all the
mental props she relied upon were knocked out from under her.
Somehow those few scrawled words had flung swiftly before her, like
a picture on a screen, a vision of her baby toddling uncertainly
across the porch of the white bungalow. And she could not bear to
think of that!
When the elm before her window broke into leaf, and the sodden
winter skies were transformed into a warm spring vista of blue,
Stella was singing a special engagement in a local vaudeville house
that boasted a "big time" bill. She had stepped up. The silvery
richness of her voice had carried her name already beyond local
boundaries, as the singing master under whom she studied prophesied
it would. In proof thereof she received during April a feminine
committee of two from Vancouver bearing an offer of three hundred
dollars for her appearance in a series of three concerts under the
auspices of the Woman's Musical Club, to be given in the ballroom
of Vancouver's new million-dollar hostelry, the Granada. The date
was mid-July. She took the offer under advisement, promising a
decision in ten days.
The money tempted her; that was her greatest need now,—not
for her daily bread, but for an accumulated fund that would enable
her to reach New York and ultimately Europe, if that seemed the
most direct route to her goal. She had no doubts about reaching it
now. Confidence came to abide with her. She throve on work; and
with increasing salary, her fund grew. Coming from any other
source, she would have accepted this further augmentation of it
without hesitation, since for a comparative beginner, it was a
But Vancouver was Fyfe's home town; it had been hers. Many
people knew her; the local papers would feature her. She did not
know how Fyfe would take it; she did not even know if there had
been any open talk of their separation. Money, she felt, was a
small thing beside opening old sores. For herself, she was
tolerably indifferent to Vancouver's social estimate of her or her
acts. Nevertheless, so long as she bore Fyfe's name, she did not
feel free to make herself a public figure there without his
sanction. So she wrote to him in some detail concerning the offer
and asked point-blank if it mattered to him.
His answer came with uncanny promptness, as if every mail
connection had been made on the minute.
"If it is to your advantage to sing here," he
wrote, "by all means
accept. Why should it matter to me? I would even be glad to come
hear you sing if I could do so without stirring up vain longings
useless regrets. As for the other considerations you mention,
are of no weight at all. I never wanted to keep you in a glass
Even if all were well between us, I wouldn't have any feeling
your singing in public other than pride in your ability to
public favor with your voice. It's a wonderful voice, too big
fine a thing to remain obscure.
He added, evidently as an afterthought, a somewhat lengthy
"I wish you would do something next month, not as
a favor to me
particularly, but to ease things along for Charlie and Linda.
are genuinely in love with each other. I can see you turning up
little nose at that. I know you've held a rather biased opinion
your brother and his works since that unfortunate winter. But
doesn't do to be too self-righteous. Charlie, then, was very
different from any rather headlong, self-centered, red-blooded
youngster. I'm afraid I'm expressing myself badly. What I mean
that while he was drifting then into a piggy muddle, he had the
sense to take a brace before his lapses became vices. Partly
because—I've flattered myself—I talked to him like a
and partly because he's cast too much in the same clean-cut
that you are, to let his natural passions run clean away with
He'll always be more or less a profound egotist. But he'll be a
deal more of a man than you, perhaps, think.
"I never used to think much of these matters. I suppose my own
failure at a thing in which I was cocksure of success had made me
bit dubious about anybody I care for starting so serious an
undertaking as marriage under any sort of handicap. I do like
Charlie Benton and Linda Abbey. They are marrying in the face of
people's earnest attempt to break it up. The Abbeys are
conservative. Anything in the nature of our troubles aired in
would make it pretty tough sledding for Linda. As it stands,
are consenting very ungracefully, but as a matter of family
intend to give Linda a big wedding.
"Now, no one outside of you and me and—well you and
there is a rift in our lute. I haven't been
got about that you'd taken up voice culture with an eye to opera
a counteracting influence to the grief of losing your baby. I
fostered that rumor—simply to keep gossip down until things
themselves positively. Once these two are married, they have
started—Abbey père and mère will
then be unable to frown on
Linda's contemplated alliance with a family that's produced a
"I do not suppose you will take any legal steps until after
concerts. Until then, please keep up the fiction that the house
Fyfe still stands on a solid foundation—a myth that you've
measures to dispel since you left. When it does come, it will be
sort of explosion, and I'd rather have it that way—one amazed
from our friends and the newspapers, and it's over.
"Meantime, you will receive an invitation to the wedding. I
you'll accept. You needn't have any compunctions about playing
game. You will not encounter me, as I have my hands full here,
I'm notorious in Vancouver for backing out of functions, anyway.
is not imperative that you should do this. It's merely a
against a bomb from the Abbey fortress.
"Linda is troubled by a belief that upon small pretext they would
very nasty, and she naturally doesn't want any friction with
folks. They have certain vague but highly material ambitions for
matrimonially, which she, a very sensible girl, doesn't
to. She's a very shrewd and practical young person, for all her
whole-hearted passion for your brother. I rather think she
clearly guesses the breach in our rampart—not the original
in our over-hasty plunge—but the wedge that divided us for
she does, and I'm quite sure she does, she is certainly good
because she is most loyally your champion. I say that because
Charlie had a tendency this spring to carp at your desertion of
Roaring Lake. Things aren't going any too good with us, one way
another, and of course he, not knowing the real reason of your
absence, couldn't understand why you stay away. I had to
him, and Linda abetted me successfully. However, that's beside
point. I hope I haven't irritated you. I'm such a dumb sort of
generally. I don't know what imp of prolixity got into my pen.
got it all off my chest now, or pretty near.
Stella sat thoughtfully gazing at the letter for a long
"I wonder?" she said aloud, and the sound of her own voice
galvanized her into action. She put on a coat and went out into the
mellow spring sunshine, and walked till the aimless straying of her
feet carried her to a little park that overlooked the far reach of
the Sound and gave westward on the snowy Olympics, thrusting hoary
and aloof to a perfect sky, like their brother peaks that ringed
Roaring Lake. And all the time her mind kept turning on a question
whose asking was rooted neither in fact nor necessity, an inquiry
born of a sentiment she had never expected to feel.
Should she go back to Jack Fyfe?
She shook her head impatiently when she faced that squarely. Why
tread the same bitter road again? But she put that self-interested
phase of it aside and asked herself candidly if she could go
back and take up the old threads where they had been broken off and
make life run smoothly along the old, quiet channels? She was as
sure as she was sure of the breath she drew that Fyfe wanted her,
that he longed for and would welcome her. But she was equally sure
that the old illusions would never serve. She couldn't even make
him happy, much less herself. Monohan—well, Monohan was a
dead issue. He had come to the Charteris to see her, all smiles and
eagerness. She had been able to look at him and through
him—and cut him dead—and do it without a single flutter
of her heart.
That brief and illuminating episode in Wain's had merely
confirmed an impression that had slowly grown upon her, and her
outburst of feeling that night had only been the overflowing of
shamed anger at herself for letting his magnetic personality make
so deep an impression on her that she could admit to him that she
cared. She felt that she had belittled herself by that. But he was
no longer a problem. She wondered now how he ever could have been.
She recalled that once Jack Fyfe had soberly told her she would
never sense life's real values while she nursed so many illusions.
Monohan had been one of them.
"But it wouldn't work," she whispered to herself. "I couldn't do
it. He'd know I only did it because I was sorry, because I thought
I should, because the old ties, and they seem so many and so strong
in spite of everything, were harder to break than the new road is
to follow alone. He'd resent anything like pity for his loneliness.
And if Monohan has made any real trouble, it began over me, or at
least it focussed on me. And he might resent that. He's ten times a
better man than I am a woman. He thinks about the other fellow's
side of things. I'm just what he said about Charlie, self-centered,
a profound egotist. If I really and truly loved Jack Fyfe, I'd be a
jealous little fury if he so much as looked at another woman. But I
don't, and I don't see why I don't. I want to be loved; I want to
love. I've always wanted that so much that I'll never dare trust my
instincts about it again. I wonder why people like me exist to go
blundering about in the world, playing havoc with themselves and
Before she reached home, that self-sacrificing mood had vanished
in the face of sundry twinges of pride. Jack Fyfe hadn't asked her
to come back; he never would ask her to come back. Of that she was
quite sure. She knew the stony determination of him too well.
Neither hope or heaven nor fear of hell would turn him aside when
he had made a decision. If he ever had moments of irresolution, he
had successfully concealed any such weakness from those who knew
him best. No one ever felt called upon to pity Jack Fyfe, and in
those rocked-ribbed qualities, Stella had an illuminating flash,
perhaps lay the secret of his failure ever to stir in her that
yearning tenderness which she knew herself to be capable of
lavishing, which her nature impelled her to lavish on some one.
"Ah, well," she sighed, when she came back to her rooms and put
Fyfe's letter away in a drawer. "I'll do the decent thing if they
ask me. I wonder what Jack would say if he knew what I've been
debating with myself this afternoon? I wonder if we were actually
divorced and I'd made myself a reputation as a singer, and we
happened to meet quite casually sometime, somewhere, just how we'd
really feel about each other?"
She was still musing on that, in a detached, impersonal fashion,
when she caught a car down to the theater for the
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
The formally worded wedding card arrived in due course.
Following close came a letter from Linda Abbey, a missive that
radiated friendliness and begged Stella to come a week before the
"You're going to be pretty prominent in the public
eye when you sing
here," Linda wrote. "People are going to make a to-do over you.
so many have mentioned you since the announcement was made that
you'll sing at the Granada concerts. I'm getting a lot of
glory as the future sister-in-law of a rising singer. So you may
well come and get your hand into the social game in preparation
being fussed over in July."
In the same mail was a characteristic note from Charlie which
"As the Siwashes say, long time I see you no. I might have dropped
line before, but you know what a punk correspondent I am. They
me you're becoming a real noise musically. How about it?
"Can't you break away from the fame and fortune stuff long enough
be on hand when Linda and I get married? I wasn't invited to
wedding, but I'd like to have you at mine. Jack says it's up to
to represent the Fyfe connection, as he's too busy. I'll come
to Seattle and get you, if you say so."
She capitulated at that and wrote saying that she would be
there, and that she did not mind the trip alone in the least. She
did not want Charlie asking pertinent questions about why she lived
in such grubby quarters and practiced such strict economy in the
matter of living.
Then there was the detail of arranging a break in her
engagements, which ran continuously to the end of June. She managed
that easily enough, for she was becoming too great a drawing card
for managers to curtly override her wishes.
Almost before she realized it, June was at hand. Linda wrote
again urgently, and Stella took the night boat for Vancouver a week
before the wedding day. Linda met her at the dock with a machine.
Mrs. Abbey was the essence of cordiality when she reached the big
Abbey house on Vancouver's aristocratic "heights," where the local
capitalists, all those fortunate climbers enriched by timber and
mineral, grown wealthy in a decade through the great Coast boom,
segregated themselves in "Villas" and "Places" and "Views," all
painfully new and sometimes garish, striving for an effect in
landscape and architecture which the very intensity of the striving
defeated. They were well-meaning folk, however, the Abbeys
Stella could not deny that she enjoyed the luxury of the Abbey
ménage, the little festive round which was shaping about
Linda in these last days of her spinsterhood. She relished the
change from unremitting work. It amused her to startle little
groups with the range and quality of her voice, when they asked her
to sing. They made a much ado over that, a genuine admiration that
flattered Stella. It was easy for her to fall into the swing of
that life; it was only a lapsing back to the old ways.
But she saw it now with a more critical vision. It was soft and
satisfying and eminently desirable to have everything one wanted
without the effort of striving for it, but a begging wheedling game
on the part of these women. They were, she told herself rather
harshly, an incompetent, helpless lot, dependent one and all upon
some man's favor or affection, just as she herself had been all her
life until the past few months. Some man had to work and scheme to
pay the bills. She did not know why this line of thought should
arise, neither did she so far forget herself as to voice these
social heresies. But it helped to reconcile her with her new-found
independence, to put a less formidable aspect on the long, hard
grind that lay ahead of her before she could revel in equal
affluence gained by her own efforts. All that they had she
desired,—homes, servants, clothes, social standing,—but
she did not want these things bestowed upon her as a favor by some
man, the emoluments of sex.
She expected she would have to be on her guard with her brother,
even to dissemble a little. But she found him too deeply engrossed
in what to him was the most momentous event of his career,
impatiently awaiting the day, rather dreading the publicity of
"Why in Sam Hill can't a man and a woman get married without all
this fuss?" he complained once. "Why should we make our private
affairs a spectacle for the whole town?"
"Principally because mamma has her heart set on a spectacle,"
Linda laughed. "She'd hold up her hands in horror if she heard you.
Decorated bridal bower, high church dignitary, bridesmaids, orange
blossoms, rice, and all. Mamma likes to show off. Besides, that's
the way it's done in society. And the honeymoon."
They both giggled, as at some mirthful secret.
"Shall we tell her?" Linda nodded toward Stella.
"Sure," Benton said. "I thought you had."
"The happy couple will spend their honeymoon on a leisurely tour
of the Southern and Eastern States, remaining for some weeks in
Philadelphia, where the groom has wealthy and influential
connections. It's all prepared for the pay-a-purs," Linda whispered
with exaggerated secrecy behind her hand.
"Can you beat that?" he appealed to Stella.
"And all the time," Linda continued, "the happy couple, unknown
to every one, will be spending their days in peace and quietness in
their shanty at Halfway Point. My, but mamma would rave if she
knew. Don't give us away, Stella. It seems so senseless to squander
a lot of money gadding about on trains and living in hotels when
we'd much rather be at home by ourselves. My husband's a poor young
man, Stella. 'Pore but worthy.' He has to make his fortune before
we start in spending it. I'm sick of all this spreading it on
because dad has made a pile of money," she broke out impatiently.
"Our living used to be simple enough when I was a kid. I think I
can relish a little simplicity again for a change. Mamma's been
trying for four years to marry me off to her conception of an
eligible man. It didn't matter a hang about his essential qualities
so long as he had money and an assured social position."
"Forget that," Charlie counseled slangily. "I have all the
essential qualities, and I'll have the money and social position
too; you watch my smoke."
"Conceited ninny," Linda smiled. But there was no reproof in her
tone, only pure comradeship and affection, which Benton returned so
openly and unaffectedly that Stella got up and left them with a
pang of envy, a dull little ache in her heart. She had missed that.
It had passed her by, that clean, spontaneous fusing of two
personalities in the biggest passion life holds. Marriage and
motherhood she had known, not as the flowering of love, not as an
eager fulfilling of her natural destiny, but as something
extraneous, an avenue of escape from an irksomeness of living, a
weariness with sordid things, which she knew now had obsessed her
out of all proportion to their reality. She had never seen that
tenderness glow in the eyes of a mating pair that she did not envy
them, that she did not feel herself hopelessly defrauded of her
She went up to her room, moody, full of bitterness, and walked
the thick-carpeted floor, the restlessness of her chafing spirit
seeking the outlet of action.
"Thank the Lord I've got something to do, something that's worth
doing," she whispered savagely. "If I can't have what I want, I can
make my life embrace something more than just food and clothes and
social trifling. If I had to sit and wait for each day to bring
what it would, I believe I'd go clean mad."
A maid interrupted these self-communings to say that some one
had called her over the telephone, and Stella went down to the
library. She wasn't prepared for the voice that came over the line,
but she recognized it instantly as Fyfe's.
"Listen, Stella," he said. "I'm sorry this has happened, but I
can't very well avoid it now, without causing comment. I had no
choice about coming to Vancouver. It was a business matter I
couldn't neglect. And as luck would have it, Abbey ran into me as I
got off the train. On account of your being there, of course, he
insisted that I come out for dinner. It'll look queer if I don't,
as I can't possibly get a return train for the Springs before
nine-thirty this evening. I accepted without stuttering rather than
leave any chance for the impression that I wanted to avoid you.
Now, here's how I propose to fix it. I'll come out about two-thirty
and pay a hurry-up five-minute call. Then I'll excuse myself to
Mrs. Abbey for inability to join them at dinner—press of
important business takes me to Victoria and so forth. That'll
satisfy the conventions and let us both out. I called you so you
won't be taken by surprise. Do you mind?"
"Of course not," she answered instantly. "Why should I?"
There was a momentary silence.
"Well," he said at last, "I didn't know how you'd feel about it.
Anyway, it will only be for a few minutes, and it's unlikely to
Stella put the receiver back on the hook and looked at her
watch. It lacked a quarter of two. In the room adjoining, Charlie
and Linda were jubilantly wading through the latest "rag" song in a
passable soprano and baritone, with Mrs. Abbey listening in outward
resignation. Stella sat soberly for a minute, then joined them.
"Jack's in town," she informed them placidly, when the ragtime
spasm ended. "He telephoned that he was going to snatch a few
minutes between important business confabs to run out and see
"I could have told you that half an hour ago, my dear," Mrs.
Abbey responded with playful archness. "Mr. Fyfe will dine with us
"Oh," Stella feigned surprise. "Why, he spoke of going to
Victoria on the afternoon boat. He gave me the impression of mad
haste—making a dash out here between breaths, as you might
"Oh, I hope he won't be called away on such short notice as
that," Mrs. Abbey murmured politely.
She left the room presently. Out of one corner of her eye Stella
saw Linda looking at her queerly. Charlie had turned to the window,
staring at the blue blur of the Lions across the Inlet.
"It's a wonder Jack would leave the lake," he said suddenly,
"with things the way they are. I've been hoping for rain ever since
I've been down. I'll be glad when we're on the spot again,
"Wishing for rain?" Stella echoed. "Why?"
"Fire," he said shortly. "I don't suppose you realize it, but
there's been practically no rain for two months. It's getting hot.
A few weeks of dry, warm weather, and this whole country is ready
to blow away. The woods are like a pile of shavings. That would be
a fine wedding present—to be cleaned out by fire. Every
dollar I've got's in timber."
"Don't be a pessimist," Linda said sharply.
"What makes you so uneasy now?" Stella asked thoughtfully.
"There's always the fire danger in the dry months. That's been a
bugaboo ever since I came to the lake."
"Yes, but never like it is this summer," Benton frowned. "Oh,
well, no use borrowing trouble, I suppose."
"When Jack comes, I'll be in the library," she said. "I'm going
to read a while."
But the book she took up lay idle in her lap. She looked forward
to that meeting with a curious mixture of reluctance and regret.
She could not face it unmoved. No woman who has ever lain passive
in a man's arms can ever again look into that man's eyes with
genuine indifference. She may hate him or love him with a degree of
intensity according to her nature, be merely friendly, or nurse a
slow resentment. But there is always that intangible something
which differentiates him from other men. Stella felt now a shyness
of him, a little dread of him, less sureness of herself, as he
swung out of the machine and took the house steps with that
effortless lightness on his feet that she remembered so well.
She heard him in the hall, his deep voice mingling with the
thin, penetrating tones of Mrs. Abbey. And then the library door
opened, and he came in. Stella had risen, and stood uncertainly at
one corner of a big reading table, repressing an impulse to fly,
finding herself stricken with a strange recurrence of the feeling
she had first disliked him for arousing in her,—a sense of
needing to be on her guard, of impending assertion of a will
infinitely more powerful than her own.
But that was, she told herself, only a state of mind, and Fyfe
put her quickly at her ease. He came up to the table and seated
himself on the edge of it an arm's length from her, swinging one
foot free. He looked at her intently. There was no shadow of
expression on his face, only in his clear eyes lurked a gleam of
"Well, lady," he said at length, "you're looking fine. How goes
"Fairly well," she answered.
"Seems odd, doesn't it, to meet like this?" he ventured. "I'd
have dodged it, if it had been politic. As it is, there's no harm
done, I imagine. Mrs. Abbey assured me we'd be free from
interruption. If the exceedingly cordial dame had an inkling of how
things stand between us, I daresay she'd be holding her breath
"Why do you talk like that, Jack?" Stella protested
"Well, I have to say something," he remarked, after a moment's
reflection. "I can't sit here and just look at you. That would be
rude, not to say embarrassing."
Stella bit her lip.
"I don't see why we can't talk like any other man and woman for
a few minutes," she observed.
"I do," he said quietly. "You know why, too, if you stop to
think. I'm the same old Jack Fyfe, Stella. I don't think much where
you are concerned; I just feel. And that doesn't lend itself
readily to impersonal chatter."
"How do you feel?" she asked, meeting his gaze squarely. "If you
don't hate me, you must at least rather despise me."
"Neither," he said slowly. "I admire your grit, lady. You broke
away from everything and made a fresh start. You asserted your own
individuality in a fashion that rather surprised me. Maybe the
incentive wasn't what it might have been, but the result is, or
promises to be. I was only a milestone. Why should I hate or
despise you because you recognized that and passed on? I had no
business setting myself up for the end of your road instead of the
beginning. I meant to have it that way until the kid—well,
Fate took a hand there. Pshaw," he broke off with a quick gesture,
"let's talk about something else."
Stella laid one hand on his knee. Unbidden tears were crowding
up in her gray eyes.
"You were good to me," she whispered. "But just being good
wasn't enough for a perverse creature like me. I couldn't be a
sleek pussy-cat, comfortable beside your fire. I'm full of queer
longings. I want wings. I must be a variation from the normal type
of woman. Our marriage didn't touch the real me at all, Jack. It
only scratched the surface. And sometimes I'm afraid to look deep,
for fear of what I'll see. Even if another man hadn't come along
and stirred up a temporary tumult in me, I couldn't have gone on
"A temporary tumult," Fyfe mused. "Have you thoroughly chucked
that illusion? I knew you would, of course, but I had no idea how
long it would take you."
"Long ago," she answered. "Even before I left you, I was shaky
about that. There were things I couldn't reconcile. But pride
wouldn't let me admit it. I can't even explain it to myself."
"I can," he said, a little sadly. "You've never poured out that
big, warm heart of yours on a man. It's there, always has been
there, those concentrated essences of passion. Every unattached
man's a possible factor, a potential lover. Nature has her own
devices to gain her end. I couldn't be the one. We started wrong. I
saw the mistake of that when it was too late. Monohan, a highly
magnetic animal, came along at a time when you were peculiarly and
rather blindly receptive. That's all. Sex—you have it in a
word. It couldn't stand any stress, that sort of attraction. I knew
it would only last until you got one illuminating glimpse of the
real man of him. But I don't want to talk about him. He'll keep.
Sometime you'll really love a man, Stella, and he'll be a
very lucky mortal. There's an erratic streak in you, lady, but
there's a bigger streak that's fine and good and true. You'd have
gone through with it to the bitter end, if Jack Junior hadn't died.
The weaklings don't do that. Neither do they cut loose as you did,
burning all their economic bridges behind them. Do you know that it
was over a month before I found out that you'd turned your private
balance back into my account? I suppose there was a keen personal
satisfaction in going on your own and making good from the start.
Only I couldn't rest until—until—"
His voice trailed huskily off into silence. The gloves in his
left hand were doubled and twisted in his uneasy fingers. Stella's
eyes were blurred.
"Well, I'm going," he said shortly. "Be good."
He slipped off the table and stood erect, a wide, deep-chested
man, tanned brown, his fair hair with its bronze tinge lying back
in a smooth wave from his forehead, blue eyes bent on her, hot with
a slumbering fire.
Without warning, he caught her close in his arms so that she
could feel the pounding of his heart against her breast, kissed her
cheeks, her hair, the round, firm white neck of her, with lips that
burned. Then he held her off at arm's length.
"That's how I care," he said defiantly. "That's how I
want you. No other way. I'm a one-woman man. Some time you may love
like that, and if you do, you'll know how I feel. I've watched you
sleeping beside me and ached because I couldn't kindle the faintest
glow of the real thing in you. I'm sick with a miserable sense of
failure, the only thing I've ever failed at, and the biggest, most
complete failure I can conceive of,—to love a woman in every
way desirable; to have her and yet never have her."
He caught up his hat, and the door clicked shut behind him. A
minute later Stella saw him step into the tonneau of the car. He
never looked back.
And she fled to her own room, stunned, half-frightened, wholly
amazed at this outburst. Her face was damp with his lip-pressure,
damp and warm. Her arms tingled with the grip of his. The blood
stood in her cheeks like a danger signal, flooding in hot,
successive waves to the roots of her thick, brown hair.
"If I thought—I could," she whispered into her pillow,
"I'd try. But I daren't. I'm afraid. It's just a mood, I know it
is. I've had it before. A—ah! I'm a spineless jellyfish, a
weathercock that whirls to every emotional breeze. And I won't be.
I'll stand on my own feet if I can—so help me God, I
THE FIRE BEHIND THE SMOKE
This is no intimate chronicle of Charlie Benton and Linda Abbey,
save in so far as they naturally furnish a logical sequence in what
transpired. Therefore the details of their nuptials is of no
particular concern. They were wedded, ceremonially dined as
befitted the occasion, and departed upon their hypothetical
honeymoon, surreptitiously abbreviated from an extravagant swing
over half of North America to seventy miles by rail and twenty by
water,—and a month of blissful seclusion, which suited those
two far better than any amount of Pullman touring, besides leaving
them money in pocket.
When they were gone, Stella caught the next boat for Seattle.
She had drawn fresh breath in the meantime, and while she felt
tenderly, almost maternally, sorry for Jack Fyfe, she swung back to
the old attitude. Even granting, she argued, that she could muster
courage to take up the mantle of wifehood where she laid it off,
there was no surety that they could do more than compromise. There
was the stubborn fact that she had openly declared her love for
another man, that by her act she had plunged her husband into
far-reaching conflict. Such a conflict existed. She could put her
finger on no concrete facts, but it was in the air. She heard
whispers of a battle between giants—a financial duel to the
death—with all the odds against Jack Fyfe.
Win or lose, there would be scars. And the struggle, if not of
and by her deed, had at least sprung into malevolent activity
through her. Men, she told herself, do not forget these things;
they rankle. Jack Fyfe was only human. No, Stella felt that they
could only come safe to the old port by virtue of a passion that
could match Fyfe's own. And she put that rather sadly beyond her,
beyond the possibilities. She had felt stirrings of it, but not to
endure. She was proud and sensitive and growing wise with bitterly
accumulated experience. It had to be all or nothing with them, a
cleaving together complete enough to erase and forever obliterate
all that had gone before. And since she could not see that as a
possibility, there was nothing to do but play the game according to
the cards she held. Of these the trump was work, the inner glow
that comes of something worth while done toward a definite,
purposeful end. She took up her singing again with a distinct
Time passed quickly and uneventfully enough between the wedding
day and the date of her Granada engagement. It seemed a mere
breathing space before the middle of July rolled around, and she
was once more aboard a Vancouver boat. In the interim, she had
received a letter from the attorney who had wound up her father's
estate, intimating that there was now a market demand for that oil
stock, and asking if he should sell or hold for a rise in price
which seemed reasonably sure? Stella telegraphed her answer. If
that left-over of a speculative period would bring a few hundred
dollars, it would never be of greater service to her than now.
All the upper reach of Puget Sound basked in its normal
midsummer haze, the day Stella started for Vancouver. That great
region of island-dotted sea spread between the rugged Olympics and
the foot of the Coast range lay bathed in summer sun, untroubled,
somnolent. But nearing the international boundary, the
Charlotte drove her twenty-knot way into a thickening
atmosphere. Northward from Victoria, the rugged shores that line
those inland waterways began to appear blurred. Just north of
Active Pass, where the steamers take to the open gulf again, a vast
bank of smoke flung up blue and gray, a rolling mass. The air was
pungent, oppressive. When the Charlotte spanned the
thirty-mile gap between Vancouver Island and the mainland shore,
she nosed into the Lion's Gate under a slow bell, through a smoke
pall thick as Bering fog. Stella's recollection swung back to
Charlie's uneasy growl of a month earlier. Fire! Throughout the
midsummer season there was always the danger of fire breaking out
in the woods. Not all the fire-ranger patrols could guard against
the carelessness of fishermen and campers.
"It's a tough Summer over here for the timber owners," she heard
a man remark. "I've been twenty years on the coast and never saw
the woods so dry."
"Dry's no name," his neighbor responded. "It's like tinder. A
cigarette stub'll start a blaze forty men couldn't put out. It's me
that knows it. I've got four limits on the North Arm, and there's
fire on two sides of me. You bet I'm praying for rain."
"They say the country between Chehalis and Roaring Lake is one
big blaze," the first man observed.
"So?" the other replied. "Pity, too. Fine timber in there. I
came near buying some timber on the lake this spring. Some stuff
that was on the market as a result of that Abbey-Monohan split.
Glad I didn't now. I'd just as soon have all my money out of
timber this season."
They moved away in the press of disembarking, and Stella heard
no more of their talk. She took a taxi to the Granada, and she
bought a paper in the foyer before she followed the bell boy to her
room. She had scarcely taken off her hat and settled down to read
when the telephone rang. Linda's voice greeted her when she
"I called on the chance that you took the morning boat," Linda
said. "Can I run in? I'm just down for the day. I won't be able to
hear you sing, but I'd like to see you, dear."
"Can you come right now?" Stella asked. "Come up, and we'll have
something served up here. I don't feel like running the gauntlet of
the dining room just now."
"I'll be there in a few minutes," Linda answered.
Stella went back to her paper. She hadn't noticed any particular
stress laid on forest fires in the Seattle dailies, but she could
not say that of this Vancouver sheet. The front page reeked of
smoke and fire. She glanced through the various items for news of
Roaring Lake, but found only a brief mention. It was "reported" and
"asserted" and "rumored" that fire was raging at one or two points
there, statements that were overshadowed by positive knowledge of
greater areas nearer at hand burning with a fierceness that could
be seen and smelled. The local papers had enough feature stuff in
fires that threatened the very suburbs of Vancouver without going
so far afield as Roaring Lake.
Linda's entrance put a stop to her reading, without, however,
changing the direction of her thought. For after an exchange of
greetings, Linda divulged the source of her worried expression,
which Stella had immediately remarked.
"Who wouldn't be worried," Linda said, "with the whole country
on fire, and no telling when it may break out in some unexpected
place and wipe one out of house and home."
"Is it so bad as that at the lake?" Stella asked uneasily.
"There's not much in the paper. I was looking."
"It's so bad," Linda returned, with a touch of bitterness, "that
I've been driven to the Springs for safety; that every able-bodied
man on the lake who can be spared is fighting fire. There has been
one man killed, and there's half a dozen loggers in the hospital,
suffering from burns and other hurts. Nobody knows where it will
stop. Charlie's limits have barely been scorched, but there's fire
all along one side of them. A change of wind—and there you
are. Jack Fyfe's timber is burning in a dozen places. We've been
praying for rain and choking in the smoke for a week."
Stella looked out the north window. From the ten-story height
she could see ships lying in the stream, vague hulks in the smoky
pall that shrouded the harbor.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"It's devilish," Linda went on. "Like groping in the dark and
being afraid—for me. I've been married a month, and for ten
days I've only seen my husband at brief intervals when he comes
down in the launch for supplies, or to bring an injured man. And he
doesn't tell me anything except that we stand a fat chance of
losing everything. I sit there at the Springs, and look at that
smoke wall hanging over the water, and wonder what goes on up
there. And at night there's the red glow, very faint and far.
That's all. I've been doing nursing at the hospital to help out and
to keep from brooding. I wouldn't be down here now, only for a list
of things the doctor needs, which he thought could be obtained
quicker if some one attended to it personally. I'm taking the
evening train back."
"I'm sorry," Stella repeated.
She said it rather mechanically. Her mind was spinning a thread,
upon which, strung like beads, slid all the manifold succession of
things that had happened since she came first to Roaring Lake.
Linda's voice, continuing, broke into her thoughts.
"I suppose I shouldn't be croaking into your ear like a bird of
ill omen, when you have to throw yourself heart and soul into that
concert to-morrow," she said contritely. "I wonder why that Ancient
Mariner way of seeking relief from one's troubles by pouring them
into another ear is such a universal trait? You aren't vitally
concerned, after all, and I am. Let's have that tea, dear, and talk
about less grievous things. I still have one or two trifles to get
in the shops too."
After they had finished the food that Stella ordered sent up,
they went out together. Later Stella saw her off on the train.
"Good-by, dear," Linda said from the coach window. "I'm just
selfish enough to wish you were going back with me; I wish you
could sit with me on the bank of the lake, aching and longing for
your man up there in the smoke as I ache and long for mine. Misery
Stella's eyes were clouded as the train pulled out. Something in
Linda Benton's parting words made her acutely lonely, dispirited,
out of joint with the world she was deliberately fashioning for
herself. Into Linda's life something big and elemental had come.
The butterfly of yesterday had become the strong man's mate of
to-day. Linda's heart was unequivocally up there in the smoke and
flame with her man, fighting for their mutual possessions, hoping
with him, fearing for him, longing for him, secure in the knowledge
that if nothing else was left them, they had each other. It was a
rare and beautiful thing to feel like that. And beyond that
sorrowful vision of what she lacked to achieve any real and
enduring happiness, there loomed also a self-torturing conviction
that she herself had set in motion those forces which now
threatened ruin for her brother and Jack Fyfe.
There was no logical proof of this. Only intuitive, subtle
suggestions gleaned here and there, shadowy finger-posts which
pointed to Monohan as a deadly hater and with a score chalked up
against Fyfe to which she had unconsciously added. He had desired
her, and twice Fyfe had treated him like an urchin caught in
mischief. She recalled how Monohan sprang at him like a tiger that
day on the lake shore. She realized how bitter a humiliation it
must have been to suffer that sardonic cuffing at Fyfe's hands.
Monohan wasn't the type of man who would ever forget or forgive
either that or the terrible grip on his throat.
Even at the time she had sensed this and dreaded what it might
ultimately lead to. Even while her being answered eagerly to the
physical charm of him, she had fought against admitting to herself
what desperate intent might have lain back of the killing of Billy
Dale,—a shot that Lefty Howe declared was meant for Fyfe. She
had long outgrown Monohan's lure, but if he had come to her or
written to make out a case for himself when she first went to
Seattle, she would have accepted his word against anything. Her
heart would have fought for him against the logic of her brain.
But—she had had a long time to think, to compare, to
digest all that she knew of him, much that was subconscious
impression rising late to the surface, a little that she heard from
various sources. The sum total gave her a man of rank passions, of
rare and merciless finesse where his desires figured, a man who got
what he wanted by whatever means most fitly served his need.
Greater than any craving to possess a woman would be the measure of
his rancor against a man who humiliated him, thwarted him. She
could understand how a man like Monohan would hate a man like Jack
Fyfe, would nurse and feed on the venom of his hate until setting a
torch to Fyfe's timber would be a likely enough counterstroke.
She shrank from the thought. Yet it lingered until she felt
guilty. Though it made no material difference to her that Fyfe
might or might not face ruin, she could not, before her own
conscience, evade responsibility. The powder might have been laid,
but her folly had touched spark to the fuse, as she saw it. That
seared her like a pain far into the night. For every crime a
punishment; for every sin a penance. Her world had taught her that.
She had never danced; she had only listened to the piper and longed
to dance, as nature had fashioned her to do. But the piper was
sending his bill. She surveyed it wearily, emotionally bankrupt,
wondering in what coin of the soul she would have to pay.
A RIDE BY NIGHT
Stella sang in the gilt ballroom of the Granada next afternoon,
behind the footlights of a miniature stage, with the blinds drawn
and a few hundred of Vancouver's social elect critically,
expectantly listening. She sang her way straight into the heart of
that audience with her opening number. This was on Wednesday.
Friday she sang again, and Saturday afternoon.
When she came back to her room after that last concert, wearied
with the effort of listening to chattering women and playing the
gracious lady to an admiring contingent which insisted upon making
her last appearance a social triumph, she found a letter forwarded
from Seattle. She slit the envelope. A typewritten sheet enfolded a
green slip,—a check. She looked at the figures, scarcely
comprehending until she read the letter.
"We take pleasure in handing you herewith," Mr.
Lander wrote for the
firm, "our check for nineteen thousand five hundred dollars,
proceeds of oil stock sold as per your telegraphed
less brokerage charges. We sold same at par, and trust this will
She looked at the check again. Nineteen thousand, five
hundred—payable to her order. Two years ago such a sum would
have lifted her to plutocratic heights, filled her with pleasurable
excitement, innumerable anticipations. Now it stirred her less than
the three hundred dollars she had just received from the Granada
Concert committee. She had earned that, had given for it due
measure of herself. This other had come without effort, without
expectation. And less than she had ever needed money before did she
now require such a sum.
Yet she was sensibly aware that this windfall meant a short cut
to things which she had only looked to attain by plodding over
economic hills. She could say good-by to singing in photoplay
houses, to vaudeville engagements, to concert work in provincial
towns. She could hitch her wagon to a star and go straight up the
avenue that led to a career, if it were in her to achieve
greatness. Pleasant dreams in which the buoyant ego soared, until
the logical interpretation of her ambitions brought her to a more
practical consideration of ways and means, and that in turn
confronted her with the fact that she could leave the Pacific coast
to-morrow morning if she so chose.
Why should she not so choose?
She was her own mistress, free as the wind. Fyfe had said that.
She looked out into the smoky veil that shrouded the water front
and the hills across the Inlet, that swirled and eddied above the
giant fir in Stanley Park, and her mind flicked back to Roaring
Lake where the Red Flower of Kipling's Jungle Book bloomed
to her husband's ruin. Did it? She wondered. She could not think of
him as beaten, bested in any undertaking. She had never been able
to think of him in those terms. Always to her he had conveyed the
impression of a superman. Always she had been a little in awe of
him, of his strength, his patient, inflexible determination,
glimpsing under his habitual repression certain tremendous forces.
She could not conceive him as a broken man.
Staring out into the smoky air, she wondered if the fires at
Roaring Lake still ravaged that noble forest; if Fyfe's resources,
like her brother's, were wholly involved in standing timber, and if
that timber were doomed? She craved to know. Secured herself by
that green slip in her hand against every possible need, she
wondered if it were ordained that the two men whose possession of
material resources had molded her into what she was to-day should
lose all, be reduced to the same stress that had made her an
unwilling drudge in her brother's kitchen. Then she recalled that
for Charlie there was an equivalent sum due,—a share like her
own. At the worst, he had the nucleus of another fortune.
Curled among the pillows of her bed that night, she looked over
the evening papers, read with a swift heart-sinking that the
Roaring Lake fire was assuming terrific proportions, that nothing
but a deluge of rain would stay it now. And more significantly,
except for a minor blaze or two, the fire raged almost wholly upon
and around the Fyfe block of limits. She laid aside the papers,
switched off the lights, and lay staring wide-eyed at the dusky
At twenty minutes of midnight she was called to the door of her
room to receive a telegram. It was from Linda, and it read:
"Charlie badly hurt. Can you come?"
Stella reached for the telephone receiver. The night clerk at
the C.P.R. depot told her the first train she could take left at
six in the morning. That meant reaching the Springs at nine-thirty.
Nine and a half hours to sit with idle hands, in suspense. She did
not knew what tragic dénouement awaited there, what she
could do once she reached there. She knew only that a fever of
impatience burned in her. The message had strung her suddenly taut,
as if a crisis had arisen in which willy-nilly she must take a
So, groping for the relief of action, some method of spanning
that nine hours' wait, her eye fell upon a card tucked beside the
telephone case. She held it between, finger and thumb, her brows
TAXIS AND TOURING CARS
Anywhere . . . Anytime
She took down the receiver again and asked for Seymour 9X.
"Western Taxi," a man's voice drawled.
"I want to reach Roaring Hot Springs in the shortest time
possible," she told him rather breathlessly. "Can you furnish me a
machine and a reliable chauffeur?"
"Roaring Springs?" he repeated. "How many passengers?"
"Just a minute."
She heard a faint burble of talk away at the other end of the
wire. Then the same voice speaking crisply.
"We gotta big six roadster, and a first-class driver. It'll cost
you seventy-five dollars—in advance."
"Your money will be waiting for you here," she answered calmly.
"How soon can you bring the car around to the Hotel Granada?"
"In ten minutes, if you say so."
"Say twenty minutes, then."
She dressed herself, took the elevator down to the lobby,
instructed the night clerk to have a maid pack her trunk and send
it by express to Hopyard, care of St. Allwoods Hotel on the lake.
Then she walked out to the broad-stepped carriage entrance.
A low-hung long-hooded, yellow car stood there, exhaust purring
faintly. She paid the driver, sank into the soft upholstering
beside him, and the big six slid out into the street. There was no
traffic. In a few minutes they were on the outskirts of the city,
the long asphalt ribbon of King's Way lying like a silver band
between green, bushy walls. They crossed the last car track. The
driver spoke to her out of one corner of his mouth.
"Wanna make time, huh?"
"I want to get to Roaring Lake as quickly as you can drive,
without taking chances."
"I know the road pretty well," he assured her. "Drove a party
clear to Rosebud day before yesterday. I'll do the best I can.
Can't drive too fast at night. Too smoky."
She could not gage his conception of real speed if the gait he
struck was not "too fast." They were through New Westminster and
rolling across the Fraser bridge before she was well settled in the
seat, breasting the road with a lurch and a swing at the curves, a
noise under that long hood like giant bees in an empty barrel.
Ninety miles of road good, bad and indifferent, forest and farm
and rolling hill, and the swamps of Sumas Prairie, lies between
Vancouver and Roaring Lake. At four in the morning, with dawn an
hour old, they woke the Rosebud ferryman to cross the river. Twenty
minutes after that Stella was stepping stiffly out of the machine
before Roaring Springs hospital. The doctor's Chinaman was abroad
in the garden. She beckoned him.
"You sabe Mr. Benton—Charlie Benton?" she asked. "He in
The Chinaman pointed across the road. "Mist Bentle obah dah," he
said. "Velly much sick. Missa Bentle lib dah, all same gleen
Stella ran across the way. The front door of the green cottage
stood wide. An electric drop light burned in the front room, though
it was broad day. When she crossed the threshold, she saw Linda
sitting in a chair, her arms folded on the table-edge, her head
resting on her hands. She was asleep, and she did not raise her
head till Stella shook her shoulder.
Linda Abbey had been a pretty girl, very fair, with
apple-blossom skin and a wonderfully expressive face. It gave
Stella a shock to see her now, to gage her suffering by the havoc
it had wrought. Linda looked old, haggard, drawn. There was a weary
droop to her mouth, her eyes were dull, lifeless, just as one might
look who is utterly exhausted in mind and body. Oddly enough, she
spoke first of something irrelevant, inconsequential.
"I fell asleep," she said heavily. "What time is it?"
Stella looked at her watch.
"Half-past four," she answered. "How is Charlie? What happened
"Monohan shot him."
Stella caught her breath. She hadn't been prepared for that.
"Is he—is he—" she could not utter the words.
"He'll get better. Wait." Linda rose stiffly from her seat. A
door in one side of the room stood ajar. She opened it, and Stella,
looking over her shoulder, saw her brother's tousled head on a
pillow. A nurse in uniform sat beside his bed. Linda closed the
"Come into the kitchen where we won't make a noise," she
A fire burned in the kitchen stove. Linda sank into a willow
"I'm weary as Atlas," she said. "I've been fretting for so long.
Then late yesterday afternoon they brought him home to
me—like that. The doctor was probing for the bullet when I
wired you. I was in a panic then, I think. Half-past four! How did
you get here so soon? How could you? There's no train."
Stella told her.
"Why should Monohan shoot him?" she broke out. "For God's sake,
There was a curious impersonality in Linda's manner, as if she
stood aloof from it all, as if the fire of her vitality had burned
out. She lay back in her chair with eyelids drooping, speaking in
dull, lifeless tones.
"Monohan shot him because Charlie came on him in the woods
setting a fresh fire. They've suspected him, or some one in his
pay, of that, and they've been watching. There were two other men
with Charlie, so there is no mistake. Monohan got away. That's all
I know. Oh, but I'm tired. I've been hanging on to myself for so
long. About daylight, after we knew for sure that Charlie was over
the hill, something seemed to let go in me. I'm awful glad you
came, Stella. Can you make a cup of tea?"
Stella could and did, but she drank none of it herself. A dead
weight of apprehension lay like lead in her breast. Her conscience
pointed a deadly finger. First Billy Dale, now her brother, and,
sandwiched in between, the loosed fire furies which were taking
toll in bodily injury and ruinous loss.
Yet she was helpless. The matter was wholly out of her hands,
and she stood aghast before it, much as the small child stands
aghast before the burning house he has fired by accident.
Fyfe next. That was the ultimate, the culmination, which would
leave her forever transfixed with remorseful horror. The fact that
already the machinery of the law which would eventually bring
Monohan to book for the double lawlessness of arson and attempted
homicide must be in motion, that the Provincial police would be
hard on his trail, did not occur to her. She could only visualize
him progressing step by step from one lawless deed to another. And
in her mind every step led to Jack Fyfe, who had made a mock of
him. She found her hands clenching till the nails dug deep.
Linda's head drooped over the teacup. Her eyelids blinked.
"Dear," Stella said tenderly, "come and lie down. You're worn
"Perhaps I'd better," Linda muttered. "There's another room in
Stella tucked the weary girl into the bed, and went back to the
kitchen, and sat down in the willow rocker. After another hour the
nurse came out and prepared her own breakfast. Benton was still
sleeping. He was in no danger, the nurse told Stella. The bullet
had driven cleanly through his body, missing as by a miracle any
vital part, and lodged in the muscles of his back, whence the
surgeon had removed it. Though weak from shock, loss of blood,
excitement, he had rallied splendidly, and fallen into a normal
Later the doctor confirmed this. He made light of the wound. One
couldn't kill a young man as full of vitality as Charlie Benton
with an axe, he informed Stella with an optimistic smile. Which
lifted one burden from her mind.
The night nurse went away, and another from the hospital took
her place. Benton slept; Linda slept. The house was very quiet. To
Stella, brooding in that kitchen chair, it became oppressive, that
funeral hush. When it was drawing near ten o'clock, she walked up
the road past the corner store and post-office, and so out to the
end of the wharf.
The air was hot and heavy, pungent, gray with the smoke. Farther
along, St. Allwoods bulked mistily amid its grounds. The crescent
of shore line half a mile distant was wholly obscured. Up over the
eastern mountain range the sun, high above the murk, hung like a
bloody orange, rayless and round. No hotel guests strolled by pairs
and groups along the bank. She could understand that no one would
come for pleasure into that suffocating atmosphere. Caught in that
great bowl of which the lake formed the watery bottom, the smoke
eddied and rolled like a cloud of mist.
She stood a while gazing at the glassy surface of the lake where
it spread to her vision a little way beyond the piles. Then she
went back to the green cottage.
Benton lifted alert, recognizing eyes when she peeped in the
"Hello, Sis," he greeted in strangely subdued tones. "When did
you blow in? I thought you'd deserted the sinking ship completely.
Come on in."
She winced inwardly at his words, but made no outward sign, as
she came up to his bedside. The nurse went out.
"Perhaps you'd better not talk?" she said.
"Oh, nonsense," he retorted feebly. "I'm all right. Sore as the
mischief and weak. But I don't feel as bad as I might. Linda still
"I think so," Stella answered.
"Poor kid," he breathed; "it's been tough on her. Well, I guess
it's been tough on everybody. He turned out to be some bad actor,
this Monohan party. I never did like the beggar. He was a little
too high-handed in his smooth, kid-glove way. But I didn't suppose
he'd try to burn up a million dollars' worth of timber to satisfy a
grudge. Well, he put his foot in it proper at last. He'll get a
good long jolt in the pen, if the boys don't beat the constables to
him and take him to pieces."
"He did start the fire then?" Stella muttered.
"I guess so," Benton replied. "At any rate, he kept it going.
Did it by his lonesome, too. Jack suspected that. We were watching
for him as well as fighting fire. He'd come down from the head of
the lake in that speed boat of his, and this time daylight caught
him before he could get back to where he had her cached, after
starting a string of little fires in the edge of my north limit. He
had it in for me, too, you know; I batted him over the head with a
pike-pole here at the wharf one day this spring, so he plunked me
as soon as I hollered at him. I wish he'd done it earlier in the
game. We might have saved a lot of good timber. As it was, we
couldn't do much. Every time the wind changed, it would break out
in a new place—too often to be accidental. Damn him!"
"How is it going to end, the fire?" Stella forced herself to
ask. "Will you and Jack be able to save any timber?"
"If it should rain hard, and if in the meantime the boys keep it
from jumping the fire-trails we've cut, I'll get by with most of
mine," he said. "But Jack's done for. He won't have anything but
his donkeys and gear and part of a cedar limit on the Tyee which
isn't paid for. He had practically everything tied up in that big
block of timber around the Point. Monohan made him spend money like
water to hold his own. Jack's broke."
Stella's head drooped. Benton reached out an axe-calloused hand,
all grimy and browned from the stress of fire fighting, and covered
her soft fingers that rested on his bed.
"It's a pity everything's gone to pot like that, Stell," he said
softly. "I've grown a lot wiser in human ways the last two years.
You taught me a lot, and Jack a lot, and Linda the rest. It seems a
blamed shame you and Jack came to a fork in the road. Oh, he never
chirped. I've just guessed it the last few weeks. I owe him a lot
that he'll never let me pay back in anything but good will. I hate
to see him get the worst of it from every direction. He grins and
doesn't say anything. But I know it hurts. There can't be anything
much wrong between you two. Why don't you forget your petty larceny
troubles and start all over again?"
"I can't," she whispered. "It wouldn't work. There's too many
scars. Too much that's hard to forget."
"Well, you know about that better than I do," Benton said
thoughtfully. "It all depends on how you feel."
The poignant truth of that struck miserably home to her. It was
not a matter of reason or logic, of her making any sacrifice for
her conscience sake. It depended solely upon the existence of an
emotion she could not definitely invoke. She was torn by so many
emotions, not one of which she could be sure was the vital, the
necessary one. Her heart did not cry out for Jack Fyfe, except in a
pitying tenderness, as she used to feel for Jack Junior when he
bumped and bruised himself. She had felt that before and held it
too weak a crutch to lean upon.
The nurse came in with a cup of broth for Benton, and Stella
went away with a dumb ache in her breast, a leaden sinking of her
spirits, and went out to sit on the porch steps. The minutes piled
into hours, and noon came, when Linda wakened. Stella forced
herself to swallow a cup of tea, to eat food; then she left Linda
sitting with her husband and went back to the porch steps
As she sat there, a man dressed in the blue shirt and mackinaw
trousers and high, calked boots of the logger turned in off the
road, a burly woodsman that she recognized as one of Jack Fyfe's
"Well," said he, "if it ain't Mrs. Jack.
He broke off suddenly, a perplexed look on his face, an
uneasiness, a hesitation in his manner.
"What is it, Barlow?" Stella asked kindly. "How is everything up
It was common enough in her experience, that temporary
embarrassment of a logger before her. She knew them for men with
boyish souls, boyish instincts, rude simplicities of heart. Long
ago she had revised those first superficial estimates of them as
gross, hulking brutes who worked hard and drank harder, coarsened
and calloused by their occupation. They had their weaknesses, but
their virtues of abiding loyalty, their reckless generosity, their
simple directness, were great indeed. They took their lives in
their hands on skid-road and spring-board, that such as she might
flourish. They did not understand that, but she did.
"What is it, Barlow?" she repeated. "Have you just come down the
"Yes'm," he answered. "Say, Jack don't happen to be here, does
"No, he hasn't been here," she told him.
The man's face fell.
"What's wrong?" Stella demanded. She had a swift divination that
something was wrong.
"Oh, I dunno's anythin's wrong, particular," Barlow replied.
"Only—well, Lefty he sent me down to see if Jack was at the
Springs. We ain't seen him for a couple uh days."
Her pulse quickened.
"And he has not come down the lake?"
"I guess not," the logger said. "Oh, I guess it's all right.
Jack's pretty skookum in the woods. Only Lefty got uneasy.
It's desperate hot and smoky up there."
"How did you come down? Are you going back soon?" she asked
"I got the Waterbug," Barlow told her. "I'm goin' right
Stella looked out over the smoky lake and back at the logger
again, a sudden resolution born of intolerable uncertainty, of a
feeling that she could only characterize as fear, sprang
full-fledged into her mind. "Wait for me," she said. "I'm going
"OUT OF THE NIGHT THAT COVERS ME"
The Waterbug limped. Her engine misfired continuously,
and Barlow lacked the mechanical knowledge to remedy its ailment.
He was satisfied to let it pound away, so long as it would revolve
at all. So the boat moved slowly through that encompassing smoke at
less than half speed. Outwardly the once spick and span cruiser
bore every mark of hard usage. Her topsides were foul, her decks
splintered by the tramping of calked boots, grimy with soot and
cinders. It seemed to Stella that everything and every one on and
about Roaring Lake bore some mark of that holocaust raging in the
timber, as if the fire were some malignant disease menacing and
marring all that it affected, and affecting all that trafficked
within its smoky radius.
But of the fire itself she could see nothing, even when late in
the afternoon they drew in to the bay before her brother's camp. A
heavier smoke cloud, more pungent of burning pitch, blanketed the
shores, lifted in blue, rolling masses farther back. A greater heat
made the air stifling, causing the eyes to smart and grow watery.
That was the only difference.
Barlow laid the Waterbug alongside the float. He had
already told her that Lefty Howe, with the greater part of Fyfe's
crew, was extending and guarding Benton's fire-trail, and he half
expected that Fyfe might have turned up there. Away back in the
smoke arose spasmodic coughing of donkey engines, dull resounding
of axe-blades. Barlow led the way. They traversed a few hundred
yards of path through brush, broken tops, and stumps, coming at
last into a fairway cut through virgin timber, a sixty-foot strip
denuded of every growth, great firs felled and drawn far aside,
brush piled and burned. A breastwork from which to fight advancing
fire, it ran away into the heart of a smoky forest. Here and there
blackened, fire-scorched patches abutted upon its northern flank,
stumps of great trees smoldering, crackling yet. At the first such
place, half a dozen men were busy with shovels blotting out streaks
of fire that crept along in the dry leaf mold. No, they had not
seen Fyfe. But they had been blamed busy. He might be up above.
Half a mile beyond that, beside the first donkey shuddering on
its anchored skids as it tore an eighteen-inch cedar out by the
roots, they came on Lefty Howe. He shook his head when Stella asked
"He took twenty men around to the main camp day before
yesterday," said Lefty. "There was a piece uh timber beyond that he
thought he could save. I—well, I took a shoot around there
yesterday, after your brother got hurt. Jack wasn't there. Most of
the boys was at camp loadin' gear on the scows. They said Jack's
gone around to Tumblin' Creek with one man. He wasn't back this
mornin'. So I thought maybe he'd gone to the Springs. I dunno's
there's any occasion to worry. He might 'a' gone to the head uh the
lake with them constables that went up last night. How's Charlie
She told him briefly.
"That's good," said Lefty. "Now, I'd go around to Cougar Bay, if
I was you, Mrs. Jack. He's liable to come in there, any time. You
could stay at the house to-night. Everything around there, shacks
'n' all, was burned days ago, so the fire can't touch the house.
The crew there has grub an' a cook. I kinda expect Jack'll be
there, unless he fell in with them constables."
She trudged silently back to the Waterbug. Barlow started
the engine, and the boat took up her slow way. As they skirted the
shore, Stella began to see here and there the fierce havoc of the
fire. Black trunks of fir reared nakedly to the smoky sky, lay
crisscross on bank and beach. Nowhere was there a green blade, a
living bush. Nothing but charred black, a melancholy waste of
smoking litter, with here and there a pitch-soaked stub still
waving its banner of flame, or glowing redly. Back of those seared
skeletons a shifting cloud of smoke obscured everything.
Presently they drew in to Cougar Bay. Men moved about on the
beach; two bulky scows stood nose-on to the shore. Upon them rested
half a dozen donkey engines, thick-bellied, upright machines, blown
down, dead on their skids. About these in great coils lay piled the
gear of logging, miles of steel cable, blocks, the varied tools of
the logger's trade. The Panther lay between the scows, with
lines from each passed over her towing bitts.
Stella could see the outline of the white bungalow on its grassy
knoll. They had saved only that, of all the camp, by a fight that
sent three men to the hospital, on a day when the wind shifted into
the northwest and sent a sheet of flame rolling through the timber
and down on Cougar Bay like a tidal wave. So Barlow told her. He
cupped his hands now and called to his fellows on the beach.
No, Fyfe had not come back yet.
"Go up to the mouth of Tumbling Creek," Stella ordered.
Barlow swung the Waterbug about, cleared the point, and
stood up along the shore. Stella sat on a cushioned seat at the
back of the pilot house, hard-eyed, struggling against that dead
weight that seemed, to grow and grow in her breast. That elemental
fury raging in the woods made her shrink. Her own hand had helped
to loose it, but her hands were powerless to stay it; she could
only sit and watch and wait, eaten up with misery of her own
making. She was horribly afraid, with a fear she would not name to
Behind that density of atmosphere, the sun had gone to rest. The
first shadows of dusk were closing in, betokened by a thickening of
the smoke-fog into which the Waterbug slowly plowed. To port
a dimming shore line; to starboard, aft, and dead ahead, water and
air merged in two boat lengths. Barlow leaned through the
pilot-house window, one hand on the wheel, straining his eyes on
their course. Suddenly he threw out the clutch, shut down his
throttle control with one hand, and yanked with the other at the
cord which loosed the Waterbug's shrill whistle.
Dead ahead, almost upon them, came an answering toot.
"I thought I heard a gas-boat," Barlow exclaimed. "Sufferin'
Jerusalem! Hi, there!"
He threw his weight on the wheel, sending it hard over. The
cruiser still had way on; the momentum of her ten-ton weight
scarcely had slackened, and she answered the helm. Out of the
deceptive thickness ahead loomed the sharp, flaring bow of another
forty-footer, sheering quickly, as her pilot sighted them. She was
upon them, and abreast, and gone, with a watery purl of her bow
wave, a subdued mutter of exhaust, passing so near than an active
man could have leaped the space between.
"Sufferin' Jerusalem!" Barlow repeated, turning to Stella. "Did
you see that, Mrs. Jack? They got him."
Stella nodded. She too had seen Monohan seated on the after
deck, his head sunk on his breast, irons on his wrists. A glimpse,
"That'll help some," Barlow grunted. "Quick work. But they come
blame near cuttin' us down, beltin' along at ten knots when you
can't see forty feet ahead."
An empty beach greeted them at Tumbling Creek. Reluctantly
Stella bade Barlow turn back. It would soon be dark, and Barlow
said he would be taking chances of piling on the shore before he
could see it, or getting lost in the profound black that would shut
down on the water with daylight's end.
Less than a mile from Cougar Bay, the Waterbug's engine
gave a few premonitory gasps and died. Barlow descended to the
engine room, hooked up the trouble lamp, and sought for the cause.
He could not find it. Stella could hear him muttering profanity,
turning the flywheel over, getting an occasional explosion.
An hour passed. Dark of the Pit descended, shrouding the lake
with a sable curtain, close-folded, impenetrable. The dead
stillness of the day vanished before a hot land breeze, and Stella,
as she felt the launch drift, knew by her experience on the lake
that they were moving offshore. Presently this was confirmed, for
out of the black wall on the west, from which the night wind
brought stifling puffs of smoke, there lifted a yellow effulgence
that grew to a red glare as the boat drifted out. Soon that red
glare was a glowing line that rose and fell, dipping and rising and
wavering along a two-mile stretch, a fiery surf beating against the
Down in the engine room Barlow finally located the trouble, and
the motor took up its labors, spinning with a rhythmic chatter of
valves. The man came up into the pilot house, wiping the sweat from
his grimy face.
"Gee, I'm sorry, Mrs. Fyfe," he said. "A gas-engine man would
'a' fixed that in five minutes. Took me two hours to find out what
was wrong. It'll be a heck of a job to fetch Cougar Bay now."
But by luck Barlow made his way back, blundering fairly into the
landing at the foot of the path that led to the bungalow, as if the
cruiser knew the way to her old berth. And as he reached the float,
the front windows on the hillock broke out yellow, pale blurs in
the smoky night.
"Well, say," Barlow pointed. "I bet a nickel Jack's home. See?
Nobody but him would be in the house."
"I'll go up," Stella said.
"All right, I guess you know the path better'n I do," Barlow
said. "I'll take the Bug around into the bay."
Stella ran up the path. She halted halfway up the steps and
leaned against the rail to catch her breath. Then she went on. Her
step was noiseless, for tucked in behind a cushion aboard the
Waterbug she had found an old pair of her own shoes,
rubber-soled, and she had put them on to ease the ache in her feet
born of thirty-six hours' encasement in leather. She gained the
door without a sound. It was wide open, and in the middle of the
big room Jack Fyfe stood with hands thrust deep in his pockets,
staring absently at the floor.
She took a step or two inside. Fyfe did not hear her; he did not
He gave ever so slight a start, glanced up, stood with head
thrown back a little. But he did not move, or answer, and Stella,
looking at him, seeing the flame that glowed in his eyes, could not
speak. Something seemed to choke her, something that was a strange
compound of relief and bewilderment and a slow wonder at
herself,—at the queer, unsteady pounding of her heart.
"How did you get way up here?" he asked at last.
"Linda wired last night that Charlie was hurt. I got a machine
to the Springs. Then Barlow came down this afternoon looking for
you. He said you'd been missing for two days. So
She broke off. Fyfe was walking toward her with that peculiar,
lightfooted step of his, a queer, tense look on his face.
"Nero fiddled when Rome was burning," he said harshly. "Did you
come to sing while my Rome goes up in smoke?"
A little, half-strangled sob escaped her. She turned to go. But
he caught her by the arm.
"There, lady," he said, with a swift change of tone, "I didn't
mean to slash at you. I suppose you mean all right. But just now,
with everything gone to the devil, to look up and see you
here—I've really got an ugly temper, Stella, and it's pretty
near the surface these days. I don't want to be pitied and
sympathized with. I want to fight. I want to hurt somebody."
"Hurt me then," she cried.
He shook his head sadly.
"I couldn't do that," he said. "No, I can't imagine myself ever
"Why?" she asked, knowing why, but wishful to hear in words what
his eyes shouted.
"Because I love you," he said. "You know well enough why."
She lifted her one free hand to his shoulder. Her face turned up
to his. A warm wave of blood dyed the round, white neck, shot up
into her cheeks. Her eyes were suddenly aglow, lips tremulous.
"Kiss me, then," she whispered. "That's what I came for. Kiss
If she had doubted, if she had ever in the last few hours looked
with misgiving upon what she felt herself impelled to do, the
pressure of Jack Fyfe's lips on hers left no room for anything but
an amazing thrill of pure gladness. She was happy in his arms,
content to rest there, to feel his heart beating against hers, to
be quit of all the uncertainties, all the useless regrets. By a
roundabout way she had come to her own, and it thrilled her to her
finger tips. She could not quite comprehend it, or herself. But she
was glad, weeping with gladness, straining her man to her, kissing
his face, murmuring incoherent words against his breast.
"And so—and so, after all, you do care." Fyfe held her off
a little from him, his sinewy fingers gripping gently the soft
flesh of her arms. "And you were big enough to come back. Oh, my
dear, you don't know what that means to me. I'm broke, and I'd just
about reached the point where I didn't give a damn. This fire has
cleaned me out. I've—"
"I know," Stella interrupted. "That's why I came back. I
wouldn't have come otherwise, at least not for a long
time—perhaps never. It seemed as if I ought to—as if it
were the least I could do. Of course, it looks altogether
different, now that I know I really want to. But you see I didn't
know that for sure until I saw you standing here. Oh, Jack, there's
such a lot I wish I could wipe out."
"It's wiped out," he said happily. "The slate's clean. Fair
weather didn't get us anywhere. It took a storm. Well, the storm's
She stirred uneasily in his arms.
"Haven't you got the least bit of resentment, Jack, for all this
trouble I've helped to bring about?" she faltered.
"Why, no" he said thoughtfully. "All you did was to touch the
fireworks off. And they might have started over anything. Lord no!
put that idea out of your head."
"I don't understand," she murmured. "I never have quite
understood why Monohan should attack you with such savage
bitterness. That trouble he started on the Tyee, then this criminal
firing of the woods. I've had hints, first from your sister, then
from Linda. I didn't know you'd clashed before. I'm not very clear
on that yet. But you knew all the time what he was. Why didn't you
tell me, Jack?"
"Well, maybe I should have," Fyfe admitted. "But I couldn't very
well. Don't you see? He wasn't even an incident, until he bobbed up
and rescued you that day. I couldn't, after that, start in picking
his character to pieces as a mater of precaution. We had a sort of
an armed truce. He left me strictly alone. I'd trimmed his claws
once or twice already. I suppose he was acute enough to see an
opportunity to get a whack at me through you. You were just living
from day to day, creating a world of illusions for yourself,
nourishing yourself with dreams, smarting under a stifled regret
for a lot you thought you'd passed up for good. He wasn't a
factor, at first. When he did finally stir in you an emotion I had
failed to stir, it was too late for me to do or say anything. If
I'd tried, at that stage of the game, to show you your idol's clay
feet, you'd have despised me, as well as refused to believe. I
couldn't do anything but stand back and trust the real woman of you
to find out what a quicksand you were building your castle on. I
purposely refused to let you to, when you wanted to go away the
first time,—partly on the kid's account, partly because I
could hardly bear to let you go. Mostly because I wanted to make
him boil over and show his teeth, on the chance that you'd be able
to size him up.
"You see, I knew him from the ground up. I knew that nothing
would afford him a keener pleasure than to take away from me a
woman I cared for, and that nothing would make him squirm more than
for me to check-mate him. That day I cuffed him and choked him on
the Point really started him properly. After that, you—as
something to be desired and possessed—ran second to his
feeling against me. He was bound to try and play even, regardless
of you. When he precipitated that row on the Tyee, I knew it was
going to be a fight for my financial life—for my own life, if
he ever got me foul. And it was not a thing I could talk about to
you, in your state of mind, then. You were through with me.
Regardless of him, you were getting farther and farther away from
me. I had a long time to realize that fully. You had a grudge
against life, and it was sort of crystallizing on me. You never
kissed me once in all those two years like you kissed me just
She pulled his head down and kissed him again.
"So that I wasn't restraining you with any hope for my own
advantage," he went on. "There was the kid, and there was you. I
wanted to put a brake on you, to make you go slow. You're a complex
individual, Stella. Along with certain fixed, fundamental
principles, you've got a streak of divine madness in you, a
capacity for reckless undertakings. You'd never have married me if
you hadn't. I trusted you absolutely. But, I was afraid in spite of
my faith. You had draped such an idealistic mantle around Monohan.
I wanted to rend that before it came to a final separation between
us. It worked out, because he couldn't resist trying to take a
crack at me when the notion seized him.
"So," he continued, after a pause, "you aren't responsible, and
I've never considered you responsible for any of this. It's between
him and me, and it's been shaping for years. Whenever our trails
crossed there was bound to be a clash. There's always been a
natural personal antagonism between us. It began to show when we
were kids, you might say. Monohan's nature is such that he can't
acknowledge defeat, he can't deny himself a gratification. He's a
supreme egotist. He's always had plenty of money, he's always had
whatever he wanted, and it never mattered to him how he gratified
"The first time we locked horns was in my last year at high
school. Monohan was a star athlete. I beat him in a pole vault.
That irked him so that he sulked and sneered, and generally made
himself so insulting that I slapped him. We fought, and I whipped
him. I had a temper that I hadn't learned to keep in hand those
days, and I nearly killed him. I had nothing but contempt for him,
anyway, because even then, when he wasn't quite twenty, he was a
woman hunter, preying on silly girls. I don't know what his magic
with women is, but it works, until they find him out. He was
playing off two or three fool girls that I knew and at the same
time keeping a woman in apartments down-town,—a girl he'd
picked up on a trip to Georgia,—like any confirmed
"Well, from that time on, he hated me, always laid for a chance
to sting me. We went to Princeton the same year. We collided there,
so hard that when word of it got to my father's ears, he called me
home and read the riot act so strong that I flared up and left.
Then I came to the coast here and got a job in the woods, got to be
a logging boss, and went into business on my own hook eventually.
I'd just got nicely started when I ran into Monohan again. He'd got
into timber himself. I was hand logging up the coast, and I'd hate
to tell you the tricks he tried. He kept it up until I got too big
to be harassed in a petty way. Then he left me alone. But he never
forgot his grudge. The stage was all set for this act long before
you gave him his cue, Stella. You weren't to blame for that, or if
you were in part, it doesn't matter now. I'm satisfied.
Paradoxically I feel rich, even though it's a long shot that I'm
broke flat. I've got something money doesn't buy. And he has
overreached himself at last. All his money and pull won't help him
out of this jack pot. Arson and attempted murder is serious
"They caught him," Stella said. "The constables took him down
the lake to-night. I saw him on their launch as they passed the
"Yes?" Fyfe said. "Quick work. I didn't even know about the
shooting till I came in here to-night about dark. Well," he snapped
his fingers, "exit Monohan. He's a dead issue, far as we're
concerned. Wouldn't you like something to eat, Stella? I'm hungry,
and I was dog-tired when I landed here. Say, you can't guess what I
was thinking about, lady, standing there when you came in."
She shook her head.
"I had a crazy notion of touching a match to the house," he said
soberly, "letting it go up in smoke with the rest. Yes, that's what
I was thinking I would do. Then I'd take the Panther and
what gear I have on the scows and pull off Roaring Lake. It didn't
seem as if I could stay. I'd laid the foundation of a fortune here
and tried to make a home—and lost it all, everything that was
worth having. And then all at once there you were, like a vision in
the door. Miracles do happen!"
Her arms tightened involuntarily about him.
"Oh," she cried breathlessly. "Our little, white house!"
"Without you," he replied softly, "it was just an empty shell of
boards and plaster, something to make me ache with loneliness."
"But not now," she murmured. "It's home, now."
"Yes," he agreed, smiling.
"Ah, but it isn't quite." She choked down a lump in her throat.
"Not when I think of those little feet that used to patter on the
floor. Oh, Jack—when I think of my baby boy! My dear, my
dear, why did all this have to be, I wonder?"
Fyfe stroked her glossy coils of hair.
"We get nothing of value without a price," he said quietly.
"Except by rare accident, nothing that's worth having comes cheap
and easy. We've paid the price, and we're square with the world and
with each other. That's everything."
"Are you completely ruined, Jack?" she asked after an interval.
"Charlie said you were."
"Well," he answered reflectively, "I haven't had time to balance
accounts, but I guess I will be. The timber's gone. I've saved most
of the logging gear. But if I realized on everything that's left,
and squared up everything, I guess I'd be pretty near
"Will you take me in as a business partner, Jack?" she asked
eagerly. "That's what I had in mind when I came up here. I made up
my mind to propose that, after I'd heard you were ruined. Oh, it
seems silly now, but I wanted to make amends that way; at least, I
tried to tell myself that. Listen. When my father died, he left
some supposedly worthless oil stock. But it proved to have a market
value. I got my share of it the other day. It'll help us to make a
She had the envelope and the check tucked inside her waist. She
took it out now and pressed the green slip into his hand.
Fyfe looked at it and at her, a little chuckle deep in his
"Nineteen thousand, five hundred," he laughed. "Well, that's
quite a stake for you. But if you go partners with me, what about
"I don't see how I can have my cake and eat it, too," she said
lightly. "I don't feel quite so eager for a career as I did."
"Well, we'll see," he said. "That light of yours shouldn't be
hidden under a bushel. And still, I don't like the idea of you
being away from me, which a career implies."
He put the check back in the envelope, smiling oddly to himself,
and tucked it back in her bosom. She caught and pressed his hand
there, against the soft flesh.
"Won't you use it, Jack?" she pleaded. "Won't it help? Don't let
any silly pride influence you. There mustn't ever be anything like
that between us again."
"There won't be," he smiled. "Frankly, if I need it, I'll use
it. But that's a matter there's plenty of time to decide. You see,
although technically I may be broke, I'm a long way from the end of
my tether. I think I'll have my working outfit clear, and the
country's full of timber. I've got a standing in the business that
neither fire nor anything else can destroy. No, I haven't any false
pride about the money, dear. But the money part of our future is a
detail. With the incentive I've got now to work and plan, it won't
take me five years to be a bigger toad in the timber puddle than I
ever was. You don't know what a dynamo I am when I get going."
"I don't doubt that," she said proudly. "But the money's yours,
if you need it."
"I need something else a good deal more right now," he laughed.
"That's something to eat. Aren't you hungry, Stella? Wouldn't you
like a cup of coffee?"
"I'm famished," she admitted—the literal truth. The
vaulting uplift of spirit, that glad little song that kept lilting
in her heart, filled her with peace and contentment, but physically
she was beginning to experience acute hunger. She recalled that she
had eaten scarcely anything that day.
"We'll go down to the camp," Fyfe suggested. "The cook will have
something left. We're camping like pioneers down there. The shacks
were all burned, and somebody sank the cookhouse scow."
They went down the path to the bay, hand in hand, feeling their
way through that fire-blackened area, under a black sky.
A red eye glowed ahead of them, a fire on the beach around which
men squatted on their haunches or lay stretched on their blankets,
sooty-faced fire fighters, a weary group. The air was rank with
smoke wafted from the burning woods.
The cook's fire was dead, and that worthy was humped on his
bed-roll smoking a pipe. But he had cold meat and bread, and he
brewed a pot of coffee on the big fire for them, and Stella ate the
plain fare, sitting in the circle of tired loggers.
"Poor fellows, they look worn out," she said, when they were
again traversing that black road to the bungalow.
"We've slept standing up for three weeks," Fyfe said simply.
"They've done everything they could. And we're not through yet. A
north wind might set Charlie's timber afire in a dozen places."
"Oh, for a rain," she sighed.
"If wishing for rain brought it," he laughed, "we'd have had a
second flood. We've got to keep pegging away till it does rain,
that's all. We can't do much, but we have to keep doing it. You'll
have to go back to the Springs to-morrow, I'm afraid, Stella. I'll
have to stay on the firing line, literally."
"I don't want to," she cried rebelliously. "I want to stay up
here with you. I'm not wax. I won't melt."
She continued that argument into the house, until Fyfe
laughingly smothered her speech with kisses.
An oddly familiar sound murmuring in Stella's ear wakened her.
At first she thought she must be dreaming. It was still inky dark,
but the air that blew in at the open window was sweet and cool,
filtered of that choking smoke. She lifted herself warily, looked
out, reached a hand through the lifted sash. Wet drops spattered
it. The sound she heard was the drip of eaves, the beat of rain on
the charred timber, upon the dried grass of the lawn.
Beside her Fyfe was a dim bulk, sleeping the dead slumber of
utter weariness. She hesitated a minute, then shook him.
"Listen, Jack," she said.
He lifted his head.
"Rain!" he whispered. "Good night, Mister Fire. Hooray!"
"I brought it," Stella murmured sleepily. "I wished it on
Roaring Lake to-night."
Then she slipped her arm about his neck, and drew his face down
to her breast with a tender fierceness, and closed her eyes with a
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