Chapter XVI. Willis Marsh Comes Out from Cover
 

George Balt, Clyde, and Fraser formed a glum trio as they sat in a nook of the hotel cafe, sipping moodily at their glasses, when, on the following afternoon, Emerson joined them. But they sensed some untoward happening even before he spoke; for his face wore a look of dazed incredulity, and his manner was so extraordinary that they questioned in chorus:

"What's the matter? Are you sick?"

"No," said he. "But I--I must have lost my mind."

"What is it?"

"The trick is turned."

"The trick!"

"I have raised the money."

With a shout that startled the other occupants of the room, Balt and Clyde jumped to their feet and began to caper about in a frenzy. Even "Fingerless" Fraser's expressionless face cracked in a wide grin of amazement.

"About noon I was called on the 'phone by Hilliard. He asked me to come down to the bank at once, and I went. He said he had reconsidered, and wanted to put up the money. It's up. He'll back us. I've got it in writing. It's all cinched. One hundred thousand dollars--and more, if we need it."

"You must have made a great talk," declared Clyde.

"I said nothing. He offered it himself, as a personal loan. It has nothing to do with the bank."

"Well, I'm--!" cried Big George.

"And that goes two ways," supplemented Fraser.

"I'm going to tell Cherry, now. She will be delighted."

Alton Clyde tittered. "I told you she could pull it off," he said.

"This was Hilliard's own notion," Boyd returned, coldly. "He merely reconsidered his decision, and--"

"Turn over! You're on your back."

"It was only yesterday afternoon that I talked with Cherry. I dare say she hasn't seen him since."

"Well, I happen to know that she has. As I came home last night I saw them together. They came out of that French cafe across the street, and got into Hilliard's car. She was dressed up like a pony."

"What's that got to do with it?" demanded "Fingerless" Fraser.

"She pulled the old fellow's leg, that's all," explained Alton.

"Well, it wasn't your leg, was it?" inquired Fraser, sourly.

"No; I've no kick coming. I think she's mighty clever."

"If I thought she had done that," said Emerson, slowly, "I wouldn't touch a penny of the money."

"I don't care where the money came from or how it got here," rumbled Balt. "It's here; that's enough."

"I care, and I intend to find out."

"Oh, come now, don't spoil a good piece of work," cautioned Clyde, visibly perturbed at Boyd's expression. "You know you aren't the only one to consider in this matter; the rest of us are entitled to a look-in. For Heaven's sake, try to control this excess of virtue, and when you get into one of those Martin Luther moods, just reflect that I have laid ten thousand aching simoleons on the altar."

"Sure!" supplemented George; "and look at me and Cherry. Success means as much to her as it does to any of us, and if she pulled this off, you bet she knew what she was doing. Anyhow, you ain't got any right to break up the play."

But Boyd clung to his point with a stubbornness which he himself found it difficult to explain. The arguments of the others only annoyed him. The walk to Cherry's hotel afforded him time for reflection which, while it deepened his doubt, somewhat lessened his impatience, and when he was shown into her presence he did not begin in the impetuous manner he had designed. A certain hesitation and dread of the truth mastered him, and, moreover, the girl's appearance dismayed him. She seemed almost ill. She was listless and fagged. Upon his announcement of the good news, she only smiled wearily, and said:

"I told you not to give up. The unexpected always happens."

"And was it unexpected--to you?" he asked, awkwardly.

"What happens is nearly always unexpected--when it's good."

"Not to the one who brings it about."

"What makes you think I had anything to do with it?"

"You were with Hilliard last night."

She nodded slightly, "We closed our negotiations for the copper-mine last night."

"How did you come out?"

"He takes it over, and does the development work," she answered.

"That means that you are independent; that you can leave the North Country and do all the things you want to do?" This time her smile was puzzling. "You don't seem very glad!"

"No! Realization discounts anticipation about ninety per cent but don't let's talk about me. I--I'm unstrung to-day."

"I'm sorry you aren't going back to Kalvik," he said, with genuine regret.

"But I am," she declared, quickly. "I'm going back with you and George if you will let me. I want to see the finish of our enterprise."

"See here, Cherry, I hope you didn't influence Hilliard in this affair?"

"Why probe the matter?"

"Because I haven't lost all my manhood," he answered, roughly. "Yesterday you assumed the blame for this trouble, and spoke of sacrifices--and-- well, I don't know much about women; but for all I know, you may have some ridiculous, quixotic strain in your make-up. I hope you didn't--"

"What?"

"Well, do anything you may be sorry for." At last he detected a gleam of spirit in her eyes.

"Suppose I did. What difference to you would that make?" He shifted uncomfortably under her scrutiny.

"Suppose that Mr. Hilliard had called on me for some great sacrifice before he gave up that money. Would you allow it to affect you?"

"Of course," he answered. Then, unable to sit still under her searching gaze, he arose with flushed face, to meet further discomfiture as she continued:

"Even if it meant your own ruin, the loss of the fortune you have raised among your friends--money that is entrusted to you--and--and the relinquishment of Miss Wayland? Honestly, now"--her voice had softened and dropped to a lower key--"would it make any difference?"

"Certainly!"

"How much difference?"

"I'm in a very embarrassing position," he said, slowly. "You must realize that with others depending on me I'm not free to follow my own inclinations."

She uttered a little, mocking laugh. "Pardon me. It was not a fair question, and I shouldn't have asked it; but your hesitation was sufficient answer." Then, as he broke into a heated denial, she went on:

"Like most men, you think a woman has but one asset upon which to trade. However, if I felt responsible for your difficulties, that was my affair; and if I determined to help extricate you, that also concerned me alone." He stepped forward as if to protest, but she silenced his speech with an imperious little stamp of her foot. "This spasm of righteousness on your part is only temporary--yes it is"--as he attempted to break in--"and now that you have voiced it and freed your mind, you can feel at rest. Have you not repeatedly asserted that to win Miss Wayland you would use any means that offered? You are not really sincere in this sudden squeamishness, and I would like you better if you had seized your advantage at once, without stopping to consider whence or how it came. That would have been primitive--elemental--and every woman loves an elemental lover."

He was no subtle casuist, and found himself without words to reply. The girl's sharp challenging of his motives had disconcerted him without helping him to a clearer understanding of his own mind, and in spite of the cheering turn his fortunes had taken it was in no very amiable mood that he left her at last, no whit the wiser for all his questioning. In the hotel lobby below he encountered the newspaper reporter who had fallen under Fraser's spell upon their first arrival from the North. The man greeted him eagerly.

"How d'y'do, Mr. Emerson. Can you give me any news about the fisheries?"

"No!"

"I thought there might be something new bearing on my story."

"Indeed! So you are the chap who wrote that article some time ago, eh?"

"Yes, sir. Good, wasn't it?"

"Doubtless, from the newspaper point of view. Where did you get it?"

"From Mr. Clyde."

"Clyde! You mean Fraser--Frobisher, I should say."

"No, sir. Alton Clyde! He was pretty talkative the night I saw him." The reporter laughed, meaningly.

"Drunk, do you mean?"

"Oh, not exactly drunk, but pretty wet. He knew what he was saying, however. Can't you give me something more?"

"Nothing." Boyd hurried to his hotel, a prey to mingled anger and contrition. So Fraser had told the truth, after all, and with a kind of sullen loyalty had chosen to remain under a cloud himself rather than inform on a friend. It was quite in keeping with the fellow's peculiar temperament. As it happened, Boyd found the two men together and lost no time in acquainting them with his discovery.

"I've come to apologize to you," he said to Fraser, who grinned broadly and was seized with a sudden abashment which stilled his tongue. Emerson turned to Clyde. "Why did you permit me to do this injustice?"

"I--I didn't mean to give out any secrets--I don't remember doing it," Alton apologized, lamely. "You know I can't drink much. I don't remember a thing about it, honestly." Boyd regarded him coldly, but the young man's penitence seemed so genuine, he looked so weak, so pitifully incompetent, that the other lacked heart to chastise him. It requires resistance to develop heat, and against the absence of character it is impossible to create any sort of emotion.

"When you got drunk that night you not only worked a great hardship on all of us, but afterward you allowed me to misjudge a very faithful man," declared Boyd. "Fraser's ways are not mine, and I have said harsh things to him when my temper prompted; but I am not ungrateful for the service he has done me and the sacrifices he has made. Now, Alton, you have chosen to join us in a desperate venture, and the farther we go the more vigorous will be the resistance we shall meet. If you can't keep a close mouth, and do as you are told, you'd better go back to Chicago. By rare good luck we have averted this disaster, but I have no hope of being so fortunate again."

"Don't climb any higher," admonished "Fingerless" Fraser. "He's all fluffed up now. I'll lay you eight to one he don't make another break of the kind."

"No, I was so com-cussed-pletely pickled that I forgot I even spoke about the salmon-canning business. I'll break my corkscrew and seal my flask, and from this moment until we come out next fall the demon rum and I are divorced. Is that good news?"

"Everything is a joke to you, isn't it?" said Boyd. "If this trip doesn't make a man of you, you'll never grow up. Now I've got work for all of us, including you, Fraser."

"What is it?"

"Go down to the freight-office and trace a shipment of machinery, while I--"

"Nix! That ain't my line. If you need a piece of rough money quick, why I'll take my gat and stick somebody up in an alley, or I'll feel out a safe combination for you in the dark; but this chaperoning freight cars ain't my game. I'd only crab it."

"I thought you wanted to help."

"I do, sure I do! I'll be glad when you're on your way, but I must respectfully duck all bills-of-lading and shipping receipts."

"You are merely lazy," Emerson smiled. "Nevertheless, if we get in a tight place, I'll make you take a hand in spite of yourself."

"Any time you need me," cheerfully volunteered the other, lighting a fresh cigar. "Only don't give me child's work."

As if Hilliard's conversion had marked the turning-point of their luck, the partners now entered upon a period of almost uninterrupted success. In the reaction from their recent discouragement they took hold of their labors with fresh energy, and fortune aided them in unexpected ways. Boyd signed his charter, securing a tramp steamer then discharging at Tacoma. Balt closed his contracts for Chinese labor, and the scattered car-loads of material, which had been lost en route or mysteriously laid out on sidings, began to come in as if of their own accord. Those supplies which had been denied them they found in unexpected quarters close at hand; and almost before they were aware of it The Bedford Castle had finished unloading and was coaling at the bunkers.

A brigade of Orientals and a miniature army of fishermen had appeared as if by magic, and were quartered in the lower part of the city awaiting shipment. Boyd and Big George worked unceasingly in the midst of a maelstrom of confusion, the centre of which was the dock. There, one throbbing April evening, The Bedford Castle berthed, ready to receive her cargo, and the two men made their way toward their hotel, weary, but glowing with the grateful sense of an arduous duty well performed. The following morning would find the wharf swarming with stevedores and echoing to the rattle of trucks, the clank of hoists, and the shrill whistles of the signalmen.

"Looks like they couldn't stop us now," said Balt.

"It does," agreed Emerson. "We ought to clear in four days--that'll be the 15th."

"It smells like an early spring, too," the fisherman observed, sniffing the air. "If it is, we'll be in Kalvik the first week in May."

"Is your sense of smell sharp enough to tell what's happening up there?"

"Sure."

"Suppose it's a backward season?"

"Then we'll lay in the ice alongside the Company boats till she breaks. That may be in June."

"I would like to get in early, and have the buildings started before Marsh arrives. There's no telling what he may try."

George gave his companion a short nod. "And there ain't no telling what we may try right back at him. Anyhow, he'll have to fight in the open, and that's better than this shadow-boxing that we've been doing."

"I'm off to tell Cherry," said Boyd. "She'll need to be getting ready."

His course took him past Hilliard's bank, and when abreast of it he nearly collided with a man who came hurrying forth, an angry scowl between his eyes giving evidence of a surly humor. In the well-groomed, fiery-haired, plump-figured man who, absorbed in his own anger, was rushing by without raising his eyes, Emerson recognized the manager of the North American Packers' Association.

"Good-evening, Mr. Marsh."

Marsh whirled about. "Eh? Ah!" With a visible effort he smoothed the lines from his brow; his full lips lost their angry pout, and he showed his teeth in a startled, apprehensive smile.

"Why, yes--it's Emerson. How are you, Mr. Emerson?" He extended a soft hand, which Boyd took. Apparently reassured by this mute response, Marsh continued: "I heard you were in town. How is the new cannery coming on?"

"Nicely, thank you. When did you arrive from the East?"

"I just got in. Haven't had time to get straightened out yet. We--Mr. Wayland and I--were speaking of you before I left Chicago. We were-- somewhat surprised to learn that you were engaging in the same line of business as ourselves."

"Doubtless."

"I told him there was room for us all."

"You did?"

"Yes! I assured him that his resentment was unwarranted."

"He resents something, does he?"

"Well, naturally," Marsh declared, with a wintry smile. "In view of the circumstances I may truthfully say that his feelings embrace not only a sense of resentment, but the firmly fixed idea that he has been betrayed-- however, you are no doubt aware of all that. You have an able champion on the ground." He looked out across the street abstractedly. "Miss Wayland and I did our utmost to convince him you merely took a legitimate commercial advantage in dining at his house the night before you left."

"It was good of you to take my part," said Boyd, with such an air of simple cordiality that Marsh shot a startled glance at him. "Now that we are to be neighbors this summer, I hope we will get well acquainted, for Mr. Wayland spoke highly of you, and strongly advised me to pattern after you."

Marsh hid his bewilderment behind an expression which he strove to make as friendly as Emerson's own. "I understand you are banking here," he said, jerking his head toward the building at his back.

"Yes. I was offered a number of propositions, but Mr. Hilliard was so insistent and made such substantial inducements that I finally placed the business with him."

The animosity that glimmered for one fleeting instant in Marsh's eyes amused Boyd greatly, advertising as it did, that for once the Trust's executive felt himself at a disadvantage. The younger man never doubted for an instant that his coup in securing Hilliard's assistance at the eleventh hour was responsible for his enemy's sudden appearance from cover, nor that the arrival of The Bedford Castle had brought Marsh to the banker's office out of hours in final desperation. From the man's bearing he judged that the interview had not been as placid as a spring morning, and this awoke in him not only a keen sense of elation but the very natural desire to goad his opponent.

"All in all, we have been singularly fortunate in our enterprise thus far," he continued, smoothly. "We were held up on some of our machinery, but in every instance the delay turned out a blessing in disguise, for it enabled us to buy in other quarters at a saving."

"I'm delighted to hear it," Marsh declared. "When do you sail?"

"Immediately. We begin to load to-morrow."

"I have changed my plans somewhat," the other announced. "I'll follow your tracks before long."

"What is your hurry?"

"Repairs. Kalvik is our most important station, so I want to get it in first-class shape before Mr. Wayland and Mildred arrive."

"Mildred!" ejaculated Boyd, surprised past resenting Marsh's use of the girl's first name. "Is she coming?"

The other's smile was peculiarly irritating.

"Oh, indeed yes! We expect to make the trip quite an elaborate excursion. Sorry I can't ask you to join us on the homeward voyage, but--" he shrugged his fat shoulders. "Run in and see me before you leave. I may be able to give you some pointers."

"Thank you. I hope you'll enjoy the summer up there in the wilderness. It will be a relief to get away from all conventions and restraints."

The men extended their hands and the Trust's manager said, in final invitation, "Drop in on me any day at the office. I'm at the National Building."

"Oh, you've moved, eh?" said Boyd, with a semblance of careless interest.

"Moved? No!"

"Indeed! I thought you were still at 610, Hotel Buller." With a short laugh and a casual gesture of adieu he turned, leaving the manager of the Trust staring after him, an astonished pucker upon his womanish mouth, a vindictive glare in his eyes. Not until his rival had turned the corner did Willis Marsh remove his gaze. Then he found that he was trembling as if from weakness.

"The ruffian!" He reached into his pocket and produced a gold cigarette- case, repeatedly snapping the heavy sides together with vicious force. When he attempted to light a match it broke in his fingers, then in a temper he threw the cigarette from him and hurried away, his plump face working, his lips drawn into a spiteful fold.

For the first time in a fortnight Boyd allowed himself the luxury of a long sleep, and a late breakfast on the following morning. But the meal came to an abrupt conclusion when Balt, who always arose with the sun, rushed in upon him and exclaimed:

"Hey! come on down to the dock, quick. There's hell to pay!"

"What's up now?"

"Strike! The longshoremen have walked out on us. I was on hand early to oversee the loading, but the whole mob refused to commence. There's some union trouble because The Bedford Castle discharged her cargo with scab labor."

"In Tacoma?"

"No. In Frisco; next to her last trip."

"Why, that's ridiculous! What does Captain Peasley say?"

"He says--I'll have to wait till we're outside before I can repeat what he says."

Together the two hurried to the water-front to find a crowd of surly stevedores loafing about the dock, and an English sea-captain at breakfast in his cabin, his attention divided equally between toast, tea, marmalade and profanity.

"The beggars are mad, absolutely mad," declared the Captain. "I can't understand it. I'm still in my bed when I'm aroused by an insolent loafer who calls himself a walking delegate and tells me his union won't load me until I pay some absurd sum."

"What did you tell him?" inquired Emerson.

"What did I tell him?" Captain Peasley laid down his knife gently and wiped the tea from his drooping mustache, then squared about in his seat. "Here's what I told him as near as my memory serves." Whereupon he broke into a tornado of nautical profanity so picturesquely British in its figures, and so whole-souled in its vigor, that his auditors could not but smile. "Then I bashed him with my boot, and bloody well pursued him over the rail. Two thousand dollars! Sweet mother of Queen Anne! Wouldn't I look well, now, handing four hundred pounds over to those highbinders? My owners would hang me."

"So they demand two thousand dollars!"

"Yes! Just because of some bally rot about who may and who may not work for a living on the docks at Frisco."

"What are you going to do about it?"

"I'm going to make a swimming delegate out of the next walking emissary that boards me. Two thousand dollars!" He hid half a slice of toast behind his mustache and stirred his tea violently.

"It's Marsh again," said Big George.

"I dare say," Emerson answered. "It's a hold-up pure and simple. However, if ships can be unloaded with non-union labor they can be loaded in the same manner, and Captain Peasley talks like a man who would like to have the argument out. I want you to stay here and watch our freight while I see the head of the union."