Chapter XIII. In Which Cherry Malotte Becomes Suspicious
 

At the hotel Emerson found Clyde and Fraser in Balt's room awaiting him. They were noisy and excited at the success of the enterprise and at the prospect of immediate action.

Quoth "Fingerless" Fraser: "It has certainly lifted a load off my mind to put this deal through."

Emerson was forced to smile. "Now that you have succeeded," said he, "what next?"

"Back to the Coast. This town is a bum."

"Are you going west with us?"

"Sure! Why not? This game ain't opened yet."

"How long are we to be favored with your assistance?"

"Hard telling. I want to see you get off on the right foot; I'd feel bad if you fell down."

"Well, of all--"

"Let him rave," advised George. "He can't sell us nothing."

"I did my share, anyhow," Alton Clyde declared, curling up comfortably in his chair, with a smile of such beatitude that Fraser cried:

"Now purr! Nice kitty! Seems like I can see a canary feather sticking to your mustache."

"It is my debut in business," Clyde explained. "It's my commercial coming- out party. I never did anything useful before in my whole life, so, naturally, I'm all swelled up."

"It ain't necessary for me to itemize my statement," Fraser observed. "A moment's consecutive thought will show anybody who's capable of bearing the strain of that much brain effort where I came in." Gazing upon them with prophetic eye, he announced: "And mark what I say, gents: I'll be even a bigger help to you before you get through. You do the rough work; I'll be there with the bottle of oil and the hand-polish. Yes, sir! When the time comes I'll go down in the little bag of tricks and dig up anything you need, from a jig dance to a jimmy and a bottle of soup."

"I know what you call 'soup'!" exclaimed Alton, with lively interest. "Did you ever crack a safe? By Jove, that's immense!"

"I've worked in banks, considerable," "Fingerless" Fraser admitted, with admirable caution. "What I mean to say is, I'm a general handy man, and I may be useful, so you better let me stick around."

Boyd told them little of the news that had startled him earlier in the evening, beyond the bare fact that Marsh had floated a packers' trust, and that secrecy, for the present, was now doubly necessary to the success of their undertaking. The full significance of the merger, therefore, did not strike his associates, even when, on the train, the next day, they read the announcement of its formation in the newspapers. Balt alone took notice of it, and fell into a furious rage at his enemy's success.

Alton Clyde, on the other hand, was more than ever elated over his share in a conspiracy threatened by so formidable a foe; and when Emerson constituted him a sort of secretary, with duties mainly of sending and receiving telegrams, his delight was beyond measure. He grew, in fact, insufferably conceited, and his overweening sense of his own importance became a severe trial to Fraser, who was roused to his most elaborate efforts of sarcasm. The adventurer wasted hours in a search for fitting similes by which to measure the clubman's general and comprehensive ineptitude, all of which rebounded from his victim's armor of complacency.

No sooner were they fairly under way for the West than Emerson began the definite shaping of his plans. He and George carefully went over the many details of their coming work and sent many messages, with the result that outfitters in a dozen lines were awaiting them when they arrived in Seattle. Without loss of time Boyd installed himself and his friends at a hotel, secured a competent and close-mouthed stenographer, and then sought out the banker with whom he had made a tentative agreement before going to Chicago. Mr. Hilliard greeted him cordially.

"I see you have carried out your part of the programme," said he; "but before we definitely commit ourselves, we should like to know what effect this new trust is going to have on the canning business."

"You mean the N. A. P. A.?"

"Precisely. Our Chicago correspondent can't tell us any more than we have learned from the press--namely, that a combination has been formed. We are naturally somewhat cautious about financing a competitive plant until we know what policy the trust will pursue."

Here was exactly the complication Boyd had feared; therefore, it was with some trepidation that he argued:

"The trust is in business for the money, and its very formation ought to be conclusive evidence of your good judgment. However, you have backed so many plants such as mine that you know, as well as I do, the big profits to be taken."

"That isn't the point. Ordinarily we would not waver an instant, but the Wayland-Marsh outfit is apt to upset conditions. If we only knew--"

"I know!" boldly declared Boyd. "Mr. Wayland outlined his policy to me before the public knew anything about the trust."

"Indeed? Are you acquainted with Wayne Wayland?" asked Mr. Hilliard, with a new light of curiosity in his eyes.

"I know him well."

"Ah! I congratulate you. Perhaps this is--er, Wayland money behind you?"

"That I am not at liberty to discuss," the younger man replied, evasively. "However, just to make your loan absolutely sure, I have taken steps to sell my season's output in advance. The commission men will be in town shortly, and I shall contract for the entire catch at a stipulated price. Is that satisfactory?"

"Entirely so," declared Mr. Hilliard, heartily. "Go ahead and order your machinery and supplies." As Boyd rose to go, he added, "By the way, what do you know about the mineral possibilities of the region back of Kalvik?"

"Not much; the country is new. There is a--woman at Kalvik who has some men out prospecting."

"Cherry Malotte?"

"Do you know her?" asked Boyd, with astonishment.

"Very well, indeed. I have had some correspondence with her quite recently." Then, noting Boyd's evident curiosity, he went on: "You see, I have made a number of mining investments in the North--entirely on my own account," he hastened to explain. "Of course, the bank could not do such a thing. My operations have turned out so well that I keep several men just to follow new strikes."

"Has Miss Malotte made a strike?"

"Not exactly, but she has uncovered some promising copper prospects."

"H'm! That is news to me. It is rather a small country, after all, isn't it?" He would have liked to ask the banker certain further questions, but resisted the temptation, and shortly after plunged into his work so vigorously that the subject faded wholly from his mind.

Now it was that George Balt made his importance felt. In the days which followed he and Boyd toiled early and late, for a thousand things needed doing at once. Promptness was, above all things, the essence of this enterprise, and the lumber merchants, coal dealers, machinery salesmen, and ship chandlers with whom they dealt vowed they never had met men who reached their decisions so quickly and labored not only with such consuming haste, but with such unerring certainty. There was no haggling over prices, no loss of time in seeking competitive bids; and because George always knew precisely what he wanted, their task of selection became comparatively easy. With every detail of the business he was familiar, from long experience. There was no piece of machinery that he did not know better than its makers. There was never any hesitancy as between rival types or loading down with superfluous gear. His main concern was for dates of delivery.

Three weeks passed quickly in strenuous effort, and then one morning the partners awoke to the realization that there was little more for them to do. Orders were in, shipments had started. They had well-nigh completed the charter of a ship, and a sailing date had been set. There were numerous details yet to be arranged, but the enterprise was in motion, and what remained was simple. Despite their desperate hurry they had made no mistakes, and for this the credit lay largely with Big George.

Through it all Clyde had lent them enthusiastic if feeble assistance; and now that the strain was off, he gave fitting expression to his delight by getting drunk. Being temperamental to a degree, he craved company; and, knowing full well the opposition he would encounter from his friends, he annexed a bibulous following of loafers whose time hung heavy and who were at all times eager to applaud a loose tongue so long as it was accompanied by a loose purse. Toward midnight "Fingerless" Fraser, cruising in a nocturnal search for adventure and profit, found him in a semi-maudlin state, descanting vaporously to his train; and, upon catching mention of the Kalvik fisheries, snatched him homeward and put him to bed, after which he locked him into his room, threw the key over the transom, and stood guard outside until assured that he slept.

At an early hour the adventurer was peremptorily roused, to find Emerson hammering at his door in a fine fury.

"What is this?" demanded Boyd, through white lips, thrusting a morning paper before Fraser's sleepy eyes.

"It's a newspaper," yawned the other--"a regular newspaper."

"Where did this story come from?" With menacing finger Boyd indicated a front column, headed:

    NEW ENEMY OF THE SALMON TRUST!

        FIRST GUN FIRED IN BATTLE FOR FISHERIES!

    N. A. P. A. PROMISED BITTER FIGHT FOR SUPREMACY OF
                        ALASKAN WATERS!

"I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"No; I never read anything but the 'Past Performances' and the funny page. What does it say?"

"It is the whole story of our enterprise, but ridiculously garbled and exaggerated. It says I have headed a new canning company to buck the trust. It tells about George's feud with Marsh, and says we have both been secretly preparing to down him. Good Lord! It's liable to queer us with the bank and upset the whole deal."

"I didn't give it out."

"It is all done in your particularly picturesque style," declared Emerson, angrily. "Alton swears he knows nothing about it, so you must have done it. It is too nearly correct to have come from a stranger."

"Well?" inquired Fraser, quietly.

"The harm is done, but I want to know who is to blame." When the other made no answer except to stare at him curiously, he flamed up, "Why don't you confess?"

For the first time during their acquaintance, "Fingerless" Fraser seemed at a loss for words; but whether for shame or some other motive, his companion was unable to tell. His nature was so warped that his emotions expressed themselves in ways not always easy to follow, and now he merely remarked, with apparent sullenness:

"I'm certainly a hot favorite with you." He clambered stiffly back into bed and turned his defiant face to the wall, nor would he meet his accuser's eyes or open his lips, even when Boyd flung out of the room, convinced that he was the culprit.

All that day Emerson waited fearfully for some word from Hilliard, but night came without it; and when several days in succession had passed without a sign from the banker, he breathed more easily. He had already begun to assure himself that, after all, the exposure would have no effect, when one evening the call he dreaded came. A telephone message summoned him to the bank at eleven o'clock the following morning.

"That means trouble," he grimly told George.

"Maybe not," the big fisherman replied. "If Hilliard took any stock in the story, it seems like he'd have jumped you the next day."

"Our machinery is ordered. You realize what it will mean if he backs water now?"

"Sure! We'll have to go to some other bank."

"Humph! I'll wring Fraser's neck," muttered Emerson. "We have troubles enough without any new ones."

It was with no little anxiety that he asked for the banker at the appointed hour, and was shown into an anteroom, with the announcement:

"Mr. Hilliard is busy; he wishes you to wait."

Inside the glass partition Boyd heard a woman's voice and Hilliard's laughter. He took some comfort in the thought that the banker was in a good-humor, at least; but, being too nervous to sit still, he stood at the window, gazing with vacant eyes at the busy street crowds. Facing him, across the way, was a bulletin-board in front of a newspaper office; and, after a time, he noted idly among its various items of information the announcement that the mail steamer Queen had arrived at midnight from Skagway. He wondered why Cherry had not written. Surely she must be anxious to know his progress. He should have advised her of his whereabouts.

The door to Hilliard's office opened, and he heard the rustle of a woman's dress; then his own name spoken--"Come in, Mr. Emerson."

His attention centred on the approaching interview, he did not glance toward the departing visitor until she stopped suddenly at the outer door, and came straight toward him with outstretched hands.

"Boyd!"

He checked himself, and turned to face Cherry Malotte.

"Why, Cherry," he ejaculated, "what in the world--" He took her two hands in his, and she laughed up into his face. "In the name of Heaven, where did you come from?"

"I arrived last night on the Queen," she said. "Oh, I'm glad to see you!"

"But what brings you to the States? I thought you were in Kal--"

"Sh-h!" She laid a finger on her lips, with a glance over her shoulder at the door to the inner office. "I'll tell you about it later."

"Mr. Hilliard will see you now, sir," the attendant announced to Emerson.

"I must talk to you right away!" Boyd exclaimed, hurriedly. "I won't be long. Can you wait?"

"Certainly; I'll wait right here. Only hurry, hurry!"

The pleasure of seeing her was so genuine that he squeezed her hands heartily, and entered Hilliard's sanctum with a smile on his lips. It was gone, however, when he reappeared a half-hour later, and in its place an expression which caused her to inquire, quickly, "What is the matter? Is something wrong?"

He nodded, but it was not until they had reached the outer office that he said: "Yes, something is decidedly wrong." Then, in answer to her further question: "Wait a while; I'm too angry to talk. I'll have to tell you all about it before you'll understand." He began to mutter harshly under his breath: "Come along. We'll have lunch, and I'll explain. First, however, tell me why you came out at this season."

"I have a big mining deal on with Mr. Hilliard. He sent for me, and I came. Oh, I hardly know where to begin! But you remember when you were in Kalvik I told you that I had several men out prospecting?"

"Yes."

"Well, last summer, long before you came through, one of them located a ledge of copper."

"You never told me."

"There wasn't anything to tell at that time--I hadn't received any assay reports, and I didn't know whether the thing was worth telling; but shortly after you left the returns came in, and they showed remarkable values. Now here is the wonderful part of the story. Unknown to me, my man had sent out other samples and a letter to a friend of his here in Seattle. That man had assays made on his own account, and came to Mr. Hilliard with the result. The very next boat brought him and Hilliard's expert to Katmai. They came over with the mail-carrier. We had opened up the ore body somewhat in the mean time, and it didn't take those men long to see what we had. They were back at my place in no time with a proposition. When I refused to tie up the ground, they made me come out with them--foxy Mr. Halliard had foreseen what would happen, and instructed them to bring me to him if they had to kidnap me. Well, I was a willing victim, and here I am, prepared to deal with Mr. Banker, provided we can reach an agreement. What do you think of me as a business woman?"

Boyd smiled at her enthusiasm. "I think you are fine in every way, and I hope you take all of his money away from him. I can't get any."

"It will take a lot of capital and time to develop the mine, and I am fighting now for control--he is a tight-fisted old fellow."

"I should say he is," remarked Emerson. "He has just thrown a bomb into our camp that makes my teeth rattle. He promised to back me for one hundred thousand dollars, and this morning went back on his word and lay down, absolutely."

"Begin at the beginning, and tell me everything," commanded the girl. "I'm dying to know what you have been doing. Now, right from the start, mind you."

They had reached Emerson's hotel, and, escorting her to the luncheon-room, he proceeded to trace his progress from the day he had bade her farewell in the snows of Kalvik. They had finished their meal before his narrative came to a close.

"To-day Hilliard called me in and coolly informed me that his bank could not make the loan he had promised me, notwithstanding the fact that I had relied on his assurances and ordered my supplies, which are now being shipped."

"Did he offer any reason for his withdrawal?"

"Oh, I dare say he gave a reason, but he beclouded it with so many words that it was merely a fog by the time he got through. All I could distinguish in the general obscurity was that he would not produce. He said something about the bank being overloaded and the board refusing its consent. It's remarkable what a barricade a banker can build out of one board."

"And yet, as I understand it, you have sold your output in advance, at a fixed price."

"Correct."

"It is very strange! The bank would be perfectly safe."

"He merely bulkheaded himself in with a lot of smooth language, and when I tried to argue myself over I just slid off. The moment I stepped into his office I felt the temperature drop. Something new has come up; what it is, I don't know. Anyhow, he froze me out."

"We must raise that money somewhere or we are ruined," Cherry observed, with decision.

"Well, rather!" Boyd agreed, with a desperate grimace.

The girl laughed. "Mr. Hilliard and I merely tried each other's mettle this morning. I am to return at four."

"Let's meet later and dress each other's wounds," he suggested. Cherry's presence had heartened him wonderfully, and the sight of her brightly animated face across the table inspired him with a kind of joyous courage, the like of which he had scarcely felt since their former meeting. In her company his worries had almost disappeared, laughter had become a living thing, and youth a blessing.

"I'll agree to anything," she answered; then, becoming suddenly earnest, she spoke with shining eyes: "Mr. Hilliard is going to open up this copper, and it is going to make me rich--rich! I can't tell you what that means to me--you wouldn't understand. I can leave that whole North Country behind me, and all that it signifies. I can be what I want to be--what I really am."

Boyd saw the great yearning in her eyes, saw that she was fairly breathless with the intensity of her hope. He reached forth and, taking her tightly clasped hands in his, said, simply:

"If I can help you in any way it will be my greatest pleasure." Her glance dropped before his straight gaze, and she answered:

"You are a good man. I am glad to have you for a friend. But you will pardon my selfishness, won't you? I didn't mean to put forward my own affairs when yours are going so badly."

"They went very well," he declared, "until I tried to climb this-- glacier."

"Did that newspaper story frighten Mr. Hilliard?"

"I couldn't make out whether it did or not."

"Let's see! It was nearly a week ago that it appeared."

"Five days, to be exact."

"It takes three days to come from Chicago, doesn't it?"

"What has that to do with it?"

"Hasn't it struck you as strange that Hilliard should wait until you had sewed yourself up in a web of contracts and obligations before advising you of the bad news?"

"If you mean that this is the doing of that Chicago outfit, why did they wait so long? If the Associated Press sent that item to Chicago, or if they were advised from here, why didn't they wire back? It all could have been effected by telegraph in no time."

"It wouldn't be possible to do such a thing by wire or by mail, and, besides, Willis Marsh doesn't work that way. If that despatch was printed in Chicago, and if he saw it, I predict trouble for you in raising one hundred thousand dollars in Seattle."

"You are not a bit reassuring. However, I shall soon determine." He arose. "I'll call for you at seven, and I'll wager right now that your fears are groundless. Prepare to see me return with a ring through the nose of our giant."

"At seven, sharp!" she agreed. "Meanwhile I shall delight myself with a shopping expedition. I'm a perfect sight."

At seven she descended from her room in answer to his call, to find him pacing the hotel parlor, his jaw set stubbornly.

"What luck?" she demanded.

"You spoke with the tongue of a prophet. Money has suddenly become very scarce in Seattle."

"How many banks did you try?"

"Three. I shall try the rest to-morrow. How did you fare?"

"First blood is mine. I feel that I shall capture Mr. Hilliard. Now, no more business, do you understand? No, you are not to mention the subject again. You need a rest. Do you know that your face is haggard and drawn? You are tired out."

After a moment's pause, he acknowledged: "I believe I am. I--I am very glad you have come, Cherry."