The Tempting of Tavernake by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter IV. Pritchard's Good News
Late in the afternoon of the following day, Ruth came home from the village and found Tavernake hard at work on his boat. She put down her basket and stopped by his side.
"So you are back again," she remarked.
"Yes, I am back again."
"And nothing has happened?"
"Nothing has happened," he assented, wearily. "Nothing ever will happen now."
"You mean that you will stay here and build boats all your life?"
"That is what I mean to do," he announced.
She laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"Don't believe it, Leonard," she said. "There is other work for you in the world somewhere, just as there is for me."
He shook his head and she picked up her basket again, smiling.
"Your time will come as it comes to the rest of us," she declared, cheerfully. "You won't want to sit here and bury your talents in the sands all your days. Have you heard what is going to happen to me?"
"No! Something good, I hope."
"My father's favorite niece is coming to live with us--there are seven of them altogether, and farming doesn't pay like it used to, so Margaret is coming here. Father says that if she is as handy as she used to be I may go back to the schools almost at once."
Tavernake was silent for a moment. Then he got up and threw down his tools.
"Great Heavens!" he exclaimed. "If I am not becoming the most selfish brute that ever breathed! Do you know, the first thought I had was that I should miss you? You are right, young woman, I must get out of this."
She disappeared into the house, smiling, and Tavernake called out to Nicholls, who was sitting on the wall.
"Mr. Nicholls," he asked, "how much notice do you want?"
Matthew Nicholls removed his pipe from his mouth.
"Why, I don't know that I'm particular," he replied, "being as you want to go. Between you and me, I'm gettin' fat and lazy since you came. There ain't enough work for two, and that's all there is to it, and being as you're young and active, why, I've left it to you, and look at my arms."
He held them up.
"Used to be all muscle, now they're nothin' but bloomin' pap. And no' but two glasses of beer a day extra have I drunk, just to pass the time. You can stay if you will, young man, but you can go out fishin' and leave me the work, and I'll pay you just the same, for I'm not saying that I don't like your company. Or you can go when you please, and that's the end of it."
Matthew Nicholls spat upon the stones and replaced his pipe in his mouth. Tavernake came in and sat down by his side.
"Look here," he said, "I believe you are right. I'll stay another week but I'll take things easy. You get on with the boat now. I'll sit here and have a smoke."
Nicholls grunted but obeyed, and for the next few days Tavernake loafed. On his return one afternoon from a long walk, he saw a familiar figure sitting upon the sea wall in front of the workshop, a familiar figure but a strange one in these parts. It was Mr. Pritchard, in an American felt hat, and smoking a very black cigar. He leaned over and nodded to Tavernake, who was staring at him aghast.
"Hallo, old man!" he called out. "Run you to earth, you see!"
"Yes, I see!" Tavernake exclaimed.
"Come right along up here and let's talk," Pritchard continued.
Tavernake obeyed. Pritchard looked him over approvingly. Tavernake was roughly dressed in those days, but as a man he had certainly developed.
"Say, you're looking fine," his visitor remarked. "What wouldn't I give for that color and those shoulders!"
"It is a healthy life," Tavernake admitted. "Do you mean that you've come down here to see me?"
"That's so," Pritchard announced; "down here to see you, and for no other reason. Not but that the scenery isn't all it should be, and that sort of thing," he went on, "but I am not putting up any bluff about it. It's you I am here to talk to. Are you ready? Shall I go straight ahead?"
"If you please," Tavernake said, slowly filling his pipe.
"You dropped out of things pretty sudden," Pritchard continued. "It didn't take me much guessing to reckon up why. Between you and me, you are not the first man who's been up against it on account of that young woman. Don't stop me," he begged. "I know how you've been feeling. It was a right good idea of yours to come here. Others before you have tried the shady side of New York and Paris, and it's the wrong treatment. It's Hell, that's what it is, for them. Now that young woman--we got to speak of her--is about the most beautiful and the most fascinating of her sex--I'll grant that to start with--but she isn't worth the life of a snail, much less the life of a strong man."
"You are, quite right," Tavernake confessed, shortly. "I know I was a fool--a fool! If I could think of any adjective that would meet the case, I'd use it, but there it is. I chucked things and I came here. You haven't come down to tell me your opinion of me, I suppose?"
"Not by any manner of means," Pritchard admitted. "I came down first to tell you that you were a fool, if it was necessary. Since you know it, it isn't. We'll pass on to the next stage, and that is, what are you going to do about it?"
"It is in my mind at the present moment," Tavernake announced, "to leave here. The only trouble is, I am not very keen about London."
Pritchard nodded thoughtfully.
"That's all right," he agreed. "London's no place for a man, anyway. You don't want to learn the usual tricks of money-making. Money that's made in the cities is mostly made with stained fingers. I have a different sort of proposal to make."
"Go ahead," Tavernake said. "What is it?"
"A new country," Pritchard declared, altering the angle of his cigar, "a virgin land, mountains and valleys, great rivers to be crossed, all sorts of cold and heat to be borne with, a land rich with minerals--some say gold, but never mind that. There is oil in parts, there's tin, there's coal, and there's thousands and thousands of miles of forest. You're a surveyor?"
"Passed all my exams," Tavernake agreed tersely.
"You are the man for out yonder," Pritchard insisted. "I've two years' vacation--dead sick of this city life I am--and I am going to put you on the track of it. You don't know much about prospecting yet, I reckon?"
"Nothing at all!"
"You soon shall," Pritchard went on. "We'll start from Winnipeg. A few horses, some guides, and a couple of tents. We'll spend twenty weeks, my friend, without seeing a town. What do you think of that?"
"Gorgeous!" Tavernake muttered.
"Twenty weeks we'll strike westward. I know the way to set about the whole job. I know one or two of the capitalists, too, and if we don't map out some of the grandest estates in British Columbia, why, my name ain't Pritchard."
"But I haven't a penny in the world," Tavernake objected.
"That's where you're lying," Pritchard remarked, pulling a newspaper from his pocket. "See the advertisement for yourself: 'Leonard Tavernake, something to his advantage.' Well, down I went to those lawyers--your old lawyer it was--Martin. I told him I was on your track, and he said--'For Heaven's sake, send the fellow along!' Say, Tavernake, he made me laugh the way he described your bursting in upon him and telling him to take your land for his costs, and walking out of the room like something almighty. Why, he worked that thing so that they had to buy your land, and they took him into partnership. He's made a pot of money, and needs no costs from you, and there's the money for your land and what he had of yours besides, waiting for you."
Tavernake smoked stolidly at his pipe. His eyes were out seaward, but his heart was beating to a new and splendid music. To start life again, a man's life, out in the solitudes, out in the great open spaces! It was gorgeous, this! He turned round and grasped Pritchard by the shoulder.
"I say," he exclaimed, "why are you doing all this for me, Pritchard?"
"You did me a good turn," he said, "and you're a man. You've the pluck--that's what I like. You knew nothing, you were as green and ignorant as a young man from behind the counter of a country shop, but, my God! you'd got the right stuff, and I meant getting even with you if I could. You'll leave here with me to-morrow, and in three weeks we sail."
Ruth came smiling out from the house.
"Won't you bring your friend in to supper, Mr. Tavernake?" she begged. "It's good news, I hope?" she added, lowering her voice a little.
"It's the best," Tavernake declared, "the best!"