Chapter X. In Which Big George Meets His Enemy
 

It was well on toward midnight when Emerson reached his hotel, and being too full of his visit with Mildred to sleep, he strolled through the lobby and into the Pompeian Room. The theatre crowds had not dispersed, and the place was a-glitter; for it was the grand-opera season. The room was so well filled that he had difficulty in finding a seat, and he made his way slowly, meditating gloomily upon the fact that out of all this concourse in which he had once figured not a single familiar face greeted him. Finding no unoccupied table, he was about to retreat when he heard his name spoken and felt a vigorous slap upon the back.

"Boyd Emerson! By Jove, I'm glad to see you!" He turned to face an anaemic youth whose colorless, gas-bleached face was wrinkled into an expansive grin.

"Hello, Alton!"

They shook hands like old friends, while Alton Clyde continued to express his delight.

"So you've been roughing it out in Nebraska, eh?"

"Alaska."

"So it was. I always get those places mixed. Come over and have a drink. I want to talk to you. Funny thing, I just met a Klondiker myself this evening. Great chap, too! I want you to know him: he's immense. Only watch out he don't get you full. He's an awful spender. I'm half kippered myself. His name is Froelich, but he isn't a Dutchman. Ever meet him up there?"

"I think not."

"Come on, you'll like him."

Clyde led his companion toward a table, chattering as they went. "Y' know, I'm democratic myself, and I'm fond of these rough fellows. I'd like to go out to Nebraska--"

"Alaska."

"--and punch cows and shoot a pistol and yell. I'm really tremendously rough. Here he is! Mr. Froelich, my old friend Mr. Emerson. We played football together--or, at least, he played; I was too light."

Mr. Froelich shoved back his chair and turned, exposing the face of "Fingerless" Fraser, quite expressionless save for the left eyelid, which drooped meaningly.

"'Froelich'!" said Boyd, angrily; "good heavens, Fraser, have you picked another? I thought you were going to stick to 'Frobisher.'" Turning to Clyde, he observed: "This man's name is Fraser. One of his peculiarities is a dislike of proper names. He has never found one that suited him."

"I like 'Froelich' pretty well," observed the imperturbable Fraser. "It sounds distanguay, and--"

"Don't believe anything he tells you," Boyd broke in, seating himself. "He is the most circumstantial liar in the Northwest, and if you don't watch him every minute he will sell you a hydraulic mine, or a rubber plantation, or a sponge fishery. Underneath his eccentricities, however, he is really a pretty decent fellow, and I am indebted to him for my presence here to-night."

Alton Clyde made his astonishment evident by inquiring incredulously of Fraser, "Then that scheme of yours to establish a gas plant at Nome was all--"

"Certainly!" Emerson laughed. "The incandescent lamp travels about as fast as the prospector. Nome is lighted by electricity, and has been for years."

"Is it?" demanded Fraser, with an assumption of the supremest surprise.

"You know as well as I do."

"H'm! I'd forgotten. Just the same, my plan was a good one. Gas is cheaper." He reached for his glass, at which Clyde's eye fell upon his missing fingers, and the young clubman exploded:

"Well! If that's the kind of pill you are, maybe you didn't lose your mit in the Boer War either."

Emerson answered for the adventurer: "Hardly! He got blood-poisoning from a hangnail."

Clyde began to laugh uncontrollably. "Really! That's great! Oh, that's lovely! Here I've been gobbling fairy tales like a black bass at sunset. He! he! he! I must introduce Mr. Froel--Mr. Fra--Mr. What's-his-name to the boys. He! he! he!"

It was evident that Fraser was not accustomed to this sort of treatment; his injured pride took refuge in a haughty silence, which further stirred the risibilities of Clyde until that young man's thin shoulders shook, and he doubled up, his hollow chest touching his knees. He pounded the tiles with his cane, stamped his patent-leather boots, and wept tears of joy.

"What's the joke?" demanded the rogue. "Anybody would think I was the sucker."

"Where is George?" questioned Boyd, to change the subject.

"In his trundle-bed, I suppose," said Fraser, stiffly.

"Along about nine o'clock he begins to yawn like a trained seal. That's how I came to fall in with--this." He indicated the giggling Clyde. "I didn't have anything better to do."

"Did you show George around, as I asked?"

"Sure! After that fairy--farrier, I should say--finished his front feet, I took him out and let him look at the elevated railroad. Then he came back and hunted up the janitor of the building. He spent the evening in the basement with the engineer. Oh, he's had a splendid day!"

"I say, Boyd, have you got another one like--like this?" Clyde asked, nodding at Fraser, who snorted indignantly.

"Not exactly. Balt is quite the antithesis of Mr. Fraser. He is a fisherman, and he has never been East before."

"He's learning the manicure business," sniffed the adventurer. "He has his nails curried every day. Says it tickles."

"Oh, glory be!" ejaculated the clubman. "I must meet him, too. Let me show him the town, will you? I'll foot the bills; I'll make it something historic. Please do! I'm bored to death."

"We can't spare the time; we are here on business," said Emerson.

"Business!" Clyde remarked. "That sounds interesting. I haven't seen anybody for years who was really busy at anything that was worth being busy at. It must be a great sensation to really do something."

"Don't you do anything?"

"Oh yes; I'm as busy as a one-legged sword-dancer, but I don't do anything. It's the same old thing: leases to sign, rents to collect, and that sort of rot. My agent does most of it, however. I wish I were like you, Boyd; you always were a lucky chap." Emerson smiled rather grimly at thought of the earlier part of the evening and of his present fortune.

"Oh, I mean it!" said Clyde. "Look how lucky you were at the university. Everything came your way. Even M--" He checked himself and jerked his head in the direction of the North Side. "You know! She's never been able to see any of us fellows with a spy-glass since you left, and I have proposed regularly every full moon." He wagged his curly head solemnly and sighed. "Well, there is only one man I'd rather see get her than you, and that's me--or I--whichever is proper."

"I'm not sure it's proper for either of us to get her," smiled Boyd.

"Well, I'm glad you've returned anyhow; for there's an added starter."

"Who is he?"

"He's some primitive Western fellow like yourself! I don't know his name-- never met him, in fact. But while we Chicago fellows were cantering along in a bunch, watching each other, he got the rail."

"From the way her father spoke and acted I judged he had somebody in sight." Boyd's eyes were keenly alight, and Clyde continued.

"We've just got to keep her in Chicago, and you're the one to do it. I tell you, old man, she has missed you. Yes, sir, she has missed you a blamed sight more than the rest of us have. Oh, you don't know how lucky you are."

"I lucky! H'm! You fellows are rich--"

"Bah! I'm not. I've gone through most of what I had. All that is left are the rents; they keep me going, after a fashion. Now that it is too late, I'm beginning to wake up; I'm getting tired of loafing. I'd like to get out and do something, but I can't; I'm too well known in Chicago, and besides, as a business man I'm certainly a nickel-plated rotter."

"I'll give you a chance to recoup," said Boyd. "I am here to raise some money on a good proposition."

The younger man leaned forward eagerly. "If you say it's good, that's all I want to know. I'll take a chance. I'm in for anything from pitch-and- toss to manslaughter."

"I'll tell you what it is, and you can use your own judgment."

"I haven't a particle," Clyde confessed. "If I had, I wouldn't need to invest. Go ahead, however; I'm all ears." He pulled his chair closer and listened intently while the other outlined the plan, his weak gray eyes reflecting the old hero-worship of his college days. To him, Boyd Emerson had ever represented the ultimate type of all that was most desirable, and time had not lessened his admiration.

"It looks as if there might be a jolly rumpus, doesn't it?" he questioned, when the speaker had finished.

"It does."

"Then I've got to see it. I'll put in my share if you'll let me go along."

"You go! Why, you wouldn't like that sort of thing," said Emerson, considerably nonplussed.

"Oh, wouldn't I? I'd eat it! It's just what I need. I'd revel in that out-door life." He threw back his narrow shoulders. "I'm a regular scout when it comes to roughing it. Why, I camped in the Thousand Islands all one summer, and I've been deer-hunting in the Adirondacks. We didn't get any--they were too far from the hotel; but I know all about mountain life."

"This is totally different," Boyd objected; but Clyde ran on, his enthusiasm growing as he tinted the mental picture to suit himself.

"I'm a splendid fisherman, too, and I've plenty of tackle."

"We shall use nets."

"Don't do it! It isn't sportsmanlike. I'll take a book of flies and whip that stream to a froth." Emerson interrupted him to explain briefly the process of salmon-catching, but the young man was not to be discouraged.

"You give me something to do--something where I don't have to lift heavy weights or carry boxes--and watch me work! I tell you, it's what I've been looking for, and I didn't know it; I'll get as husky as you are and all sunburnt. Tell me the sort of furs and the kind of pistols to buy, and I'll put ten thousand dollars in the scheme. That's all I can spare."

"You won't need either furs or firearms," laughed Boyd. "When we get back to Kalvik the days will be long and hot, and the whole country will be a blaze of wild flowers."

"That's fine! I love flowers. If I can't catch fish for the cannery, I'll make up for it in some other way."

"Can you keep books?"

"No; but I can play a mandolin," Clyde offered, optimistically. "I guess a little music would sound pretty good up there in the wilderness."

"Can you play a mandolin?" inquired "Fingerless" Fraser, observing the young fellow with grave curiosity.

"Sure; I'm out of practice, but--"

"Take him!" said Fraser, turning upon Emerson.

"He can set on the front porch of the cannery with wild flowers in his hair and play La Paloma. It will make those other fish-houses mad with jealousy. Get a window-box and a hammock, and maybe Willis Marsh will run in and spend his evenings with you."

"Don't josh!" insisted Clyde, seriously. "I want to go--"

"Me josh?" Fraser's face was like wood.

"I'll think it over," Emerson said, guardedly.

Without warning, the adventurer burst into shrill laughter.

"Are you laughing at me?" angrily demanded the city youth.

Fraser composed his features, which seemed to have suddenly disrupted. "Certainly not! I just thought of something that happened to my father when I was a little child." Again he began to shake, at which Clyde regarded him narrowly; but his merriment was so impersonal as to allay suspicion, and the young fellow went on with undiminished enthusiasm:

"You think it over, and in the mean time I'll get a bunch of the fellows together. We'll all have lunch at the University Club to-morrow, and you can tell them about the affair."

Fraser abruptly ended his laughter as Boyd's heel came heavily in contact with his instep under the table. Clyde was again lost in an exposition of his fitness as a fisherman when Fraser burst out:

"Hello! There's George. He's walking in his sleep, and thinks this is a manicure stable."

Emerson turned to behold Balt's huge figure all but blocking the distant door. It was evident that he had been vainly trying to attract their attention for some time, but lacked the courage to enter the crowded room, for, upon catching Boyd's eye, he beckoned vigorously.

"Call him in," said Clyde, quickly. "I want to meet him. He looks just my sort." And accordingly Emerson motioned to the fisherman. Seeing there was no help for it, Big George composed himself and ventured timidly across the portal, steering a tortuous course toward his friends; but in these unaccustomed waters his bulk became unmanageable and his way beset with perils. Deeming himself in danger of being run down by a waiter, he sheered to starboard, and collided with a table at which there was a theatre party. Endeavoring to apologize, he backed into a great pottery vase, which rocked at the impact and threatened to topple from its foundation.

"I'd rather take an ox-team through this room than him," said Fraser. "He'll wreck something, sure."

Conscious of the attention he was attracting on all sides, Big George became seized with an excess of awkwardness; his face blazed, and the perspiration started from his forehead.

"I hope the head waiter doesn't speak to him," Boyd observed. "He is mad enough to rend him limb from limb." But the words were barely spoken when they saw a steward hasten toward George and address him, following which the big fellow's voice rumbled angrily:

"No, I ain't made any mistake! I'm a boarder here, and you get out of my way or I'll step on you." He strode forward threateningly, at which the waiter hopped over the train of an evening dress and bowed obsequiously. The noise of laughter and many voices ceased. In the silence George pursued his way regardless of personal injury or property damage, breaking trail, as it were, to his destination, where he sank limply into a chair which creaked beneath his weight.

"Gimme a lemonade, quick; I'm all het up," he ordered. "I can't get no footholt on these fancy floors, they're so dang slick."

After a half-dazed acknowledgment of his introduction to Alton Clyde, he continued: "I've been trying to flag you for ten minutes." He mopped his brow feebly.

"What is wrong?"

"Everything! It's too noisy for me in this hotel. I've been trying to sleep for three hours, but this band keeps playing, and that elevated railroad breaks down every few minutes right under my window. There's whistles blowing, bells ringing, and--can't we find some quiet road-house where I can get an hour's rest? Put me in a boiler-shop or a round-house, where I can go to sleep."

"The hotels are all alike," Boyd answered. "You will soon get used to it."

"Who, me? Never! I want to get back to God's country."

"Hurrah for you!" ejaculated Clyde. "Same here. And I'm going with you."

"How's that?" questioned George.

"Mr. Clyde offers to put ten thousand dollars into the deal if he can go to Kalvik with us and help run the cannery," explained Emerson.

George looked over the clubman carefully from his curly crown to his slender, high-heeled shoes, then smiled broadly.

"It's up to Mr. Emerson. I'm willing if he is." Whereupon, vastly encouraged, Clyde proceeded to expatiate upon his own surpassing qualifications. While he was speaking, a party of three men approached, and seated themselves at an adjoining table. As they pulled out their chairs, Big George chanced to glance in their direction; then he put down his lemonade glass carefully.

"What's the matter?" Boyd demanded, in a low tone, for the big fellow's face had suddenly gone livid, while his eyes had widened like those of an enraged animal.

"That's him!" George growled, "That's the dirty hound!"

"Sit still!" commanded Fraser; for the fisherman had shoved back from the table and was rising, his hands working hungrily, the cords in his neck standing out rigidly. Seeing the murder-light in his companion's eyes, the speaker leaned forward and thrust the big fellow back into the chair from which he had half lifted himself.

"Don't make a fool of yourself," he cautioned.

Clyde, who had likewise witnessed the giant's remarkable metamorphosis, now inquired its meaning.

"That's him!" repeated George, his eyes glaring redly. "That's Willis Marsh."

"Where?" Emerson whirled curiously; but there was no need for George to point out his enemy, for one of the strangers stood as if frozen, with his hand upon the back of his chair, an expression of the utmost astonishment upon his face. A smile was dying from his lips.

Boyd beheld a plump, thick-set man of thirty-eight in evening dress. There was nothing distinctive about him except, perhaps, his hair, which was of a decided reddish hue. He was light of complexion; his mouth was small and of a rather womanish appearance, due to the full red lips. He was well groomed, well fed, in all ways he was a typical city-bred man. He might have been a broker, though he did not carry the air of any particular profession.

That he was, at all events, master of his emotions he soon gave evidence. Raising his brows in recognition, he nodded pleasantly to Balt; then, as if on second thought, excused himself to his companions and stepped toward the other group. The legs of George's chair scraped noisily on the tiles as he rose; the sound covered Fraser's quick admonition:

"Take it easy, pal; let him talk."

"How do you do, George? What in the name of goodness are you doing here? I hardly recognized you." Marsh's voice was round and musical, his accent Eastern. With an assumption of heartiness, he extended a white-gloved hand, which the big, uncouth man who faced him refused to take. The other three had risen. George seemed to be groping for a retort. Finally he blurted out, hoarsely:

"Don't offer me your hand. It's dirty! It's got blood on it!"

"Nonsense!" Marsh smiled. "Let's be friends again, George. Bygones are bygones. I came over to make up with you and ask about affairs at Kalvik. If you are here on business and I can help--"

"You dirty rat!" breathed the fisherman.

"Very well; if you wish to be obstinate--" Willis Marsh shrugged his shoulders carelessly, although in his voice there was a metallic note. "I have nothing to say." He turned a very bright and very curious pair of eyes upon George's companions, as if seeking from them some hint as to his victim's presence there. It was but a momentary flash of inquiry, however, and then his gaze, passing quickly over Clyde and Fraser, settled upon Emerson.

"Mr. Balt and I had a business misunderstanding," he said, smoothly, "which I hoped was forgotten. It didn't amount to much--"

At this Balt uttered a choking snarl and stepped forward, only to meet Boyd, who intercepted him.

"Behave yourself!" he ordered. "Don't make a scene," and before the big fellow could prevent it he had linked arms with him, and swung him around. The movement was executed so naturally that none of the patrons of the cafe noticed it, except, perhaps, as a preparation for departure. Marsh bowed civilly and returned to his seat, while Boyd sauntered toward the exit, his arm which controlled George tense as iron beneath his sleeve. He felt the fisherman's great frame quivering against him and heard the excited breath halting in his lungs; but possessed with the sole idea of getting him away without disorder, he smiled back at Clyde and Fraser, who were following, and chatted agreeably with his prisoner until they had reached the foyer. Then he released his hold and said, quietly:

"You'd better go up to your room and cool off. You came near spoiling everything."

"He tried to shake hands," George mumbled, "with me! That thieving whelp tried to shake--" He trailed off into an unintelligible jargon of curses and threats which did not end until he had reached the elevator. Here Alton Clyde clamored for enlightenment as to the reason for this eruption.

"That is the fellow we will have to fight, "Boyd explained. "He is the head of the cannery combination at Kalvik, and a bitter enemy of George's. If he suspects our motives or gets wind of our plans, we're done for."

Clyde spoke more earnestly than at any time during the evening. "Well, that absolutely settles it as far as I am concerned. This is bound to end in a row."

"You mean you don't want to join us?"

"Don't want to! Why, I've just got to, that's all. The ten thousand is yours, but if you don't take me along I'll stow away."