The Silver Horde by Rex Ellingwood Beach
Chapter XXIV. Wherein "The Grande Dame" Arrives, Laden with Disappointments
As the sun slanted up between the southward hills, out from the gossamer haze that lay like filmy forest smoke above the ocean came a snow-white yacht. She stole inward past the headlands, as silent as a wraith, leaving a long, black streamer penciled against the sky; so still was the dawn that the breath from her funnel lay like a trail behind her, slowly fading and blending with the colors of the morning.
The waters were gleaming nickel beneath her prow, and she clove them like a blade; against the dove-gray sky her slender rigging was traced as by some finely pointed instrument; her sides were as clean as the stainless breasts of the gulls that floated near the shore.
As she came proudly up through the fleets of fishing-boats, perfect in every line and gliding with stately dignity, the grimy little crafts drew aside as if in awe, while tired-eyed men stared silently at her as if at a vision.
To Boyd Emerson she seemed like an angel of mercy, and he stood forth upon the deck of his launch searching her hungrily for the sight of a woman's figure. When he had first seen the ship rounding the point he had uttered a cry, then fallen silent watching her as she drew near, heedless of his surroundings. His heart was leaping, his breath was choking him. It seemed as if he must shout Mildred's name aloud and stretch his arms out to her. Of course, she would see him as The Grande Dame passed--she would be looking for him, he knew. She would be standing there, wet with the dew, searching with all her eyes. Doubtless she had waited patiently at her post from the instant land came into sight. Seized by a sudden panic lest she pass him unnoticed, he ordered his launch near the yacht's course, where he could command a view of her cabin doors and the wicker chairs upon her deck. His eyes roved over the craft, but all he saw was a uniformed officer upon the bridge and the bronzed faces of the watch staring over the rail. By now The Grande Dame was so close that he might have flung a line to her, and above the muffled throbbing of her engines he heard the captain give some low-spoken command. Yet nowhere could he catch a glimpse of Mildred. He saw close-drawn curtains over the cabin windows, indicating that the passengers were still asleep. Then, as he stood there, heavy-hearted, drooping with fatigue, his wet body chilled by the morning's breath, The Grande Dame glided past, and he found the shell beneath his feet rocking in her wake.
As he turned shoreward George Balt hailed him, and brought his own launch alongside.
"What craft is that?" he inquired.
"She is the Company's yacht with the N. A. P. A. officers aboard."
The big fellow stared curiously after the retreating ship.
"Some of our boys is hurt pretty bad," he observed. "I've told them to take in their nets and go back to the plant."
"We all need breakfast."
"I don't want nothing. I'm going over to the trap."
Emerson shrugged his shoulders listlessly; he was very tired. "What is the use? It won't pay us to lift it."
"I've watched that point of land for five years, and I never seen fish act this way before," Balt growled, stubbornly. "If they don't strike in to- day, we better close down. Marsh's men cut half our nets and crippled more than half our crew last night." He began to rumble curses. "Say! We made a mistake the other day, didn't we? We'd ought to have put that feller away. It ain't too late yet."
"Wait! Wayne Wayland is aboard that yacht; I know him. He's a hard man, and I've heard strange stories about him, but I don't believe he knows all that Marsh has been doing. I'm going to see him and tell him everything."
"S'pose he turns you down?"
"Then there will be time enough to--to consider what you suggest. I don't like to think about it."
"You don't have to," said Balt, lowering his voice so that the helmsmen could not hear. "I've been thinking it over all night, and it looks like I'd ought to do it myself. Marsh is coming to me anyhow, and--I'm older than you be. It ain't right for a young feller like you to take a chance. If they get me, you can run the business alone."
Boyd laid his hand on his companion's shoulder.
"No," he said. "Perhaps I wouldn't stick at murder--I don't know. But I won't profit by another man's crime, and if it comes to that, I'll take my share of the risk and the guilt. Whatever you do, I stand with you. But we'll hope for better things. It's no easy thing for me to go to Mr. Wayland asking a favor. You see, his daughter is--Well, I--I want to see her very badly."
Balt eyed him shrewdly.
"I see! And that makes it dead wrong for you to take a hand. If it's necessary to get Marsh, I'll do it alone. With him out of the way, I think you can make a go of it. He's like a rattler--somebody's got to stomp on him. Now I'm off for the trap. Let me know what the old man says."
Boyd returned to the cannery with the old mood of self-disgust and bitterness heavy upon him. He realized that George's offer to commit murder had not shocked him as much as upon its first mention. He knew that he had thought of shedding human blood with as little compunction as if the intended victim had been some noxious animal. He felt, indeed, that if his love for Mildred made him a criminal, she too would be soiled by his dishonor, and for her sake he shrank from the idea of violence, yet he lacked the energy at that time to put it from him. Well, he would go to her father, humble himself, and beg for protection. If he failed, then Marsh must look out for himself. He could not find it in his heart to spare his enemy.
At the plant he found Alton Clyde tremendously excited at the arrival of the yacht, and eager to visit his friends. He sent him to the launch, and, after a hasty breakfast, joined him.
On their way out, Boyd felt a return of that misgiving which had mastered him on his first meeting with Mildred in Chicago. For the second time he was bringing her failure instead of the promised victory. Now, as then, she would find him in the bitterness of defeat, and he could not but wonder how she would bear the disappointment. He hoped at least that she would understand his appeal to her father; that she would see him not as a suppliant begging for mercy, but as a foeman worthy of respect, demanding his just dues. Surely he had proved himself capable. Wayne Wayland could hardly make him contemptible in Mildred's eyes. Yet a feeling of disquiet came over him as he drew near The Grande Dame.
Willis Marsh was ahead of him, standing with Mr. Wayland at the rail. Some one else was with them; Boyd's heart leaped wildly as he recognized her. He would have known that slim figure anywhere--and Mildred saw him too, pointing him out to her companions.
With knees shaking under him, he came stumbling up the landing-ladder, a tall, gaunt figure of a man in rough clothing and boots stained with the sea--salt. He looked older by five years than when the girl had last seen him; his cheeks were hollowed and his lips cracked by the wind, but his eyes were aflame with the old light, his smile was for her alone.
He never remembered the spoken greetings nor the looks the others gave him, for her soft, cool hands lay in his hard, feverish palms, and she was smiling up at him.
Alton Clyde was at his heels, and he felt Mildred disengage her hand. He tore his eyes away from her face long enough to nod at Marsh,--who gave him a menacing look, then turned to Wayne Wayland. The old man was saying something, and Boyd answered him unintelligibly, after which he took Mildred's hands once more with such an air of unconscious proprietorship that Willis Marsh grew pale to the lips and turned his back. Other people, whom Boyd had not noticed until now, came down the deck--men and women with field-glasses and cameras swung over their shoulders. He found that he was being introduced to them by Mildred, whose voice betrayed no tremor, and whose manners were as collected as if this were her own drawing-room, and the man at her side a casual acquaintance. The strangers mingled with the little group, levelled their glasses, and made senseless remarks after the manner of tourists the world over. Boyd gathered somehow that they were officers of the Trust, or heavy stockholders, and their wives. They seemed to accept him as an uninteresting bit of local color, and he regarded them with equal indifference, for his eyes were wholly occupied with Mildred, his ears deaf to all but her voice. At length he saw some of them going over the rail, and later found himself alone with his sweetheart. He led her to a deck-chair, and seated himself beside her.
"At last!" he breathed. "You are here, Mildred. You really came, after all?"
"And are you glad?"
"Indeed I am. The trip has been wonderful."
"It doesn't seem possible. I can't believe that this is really you--that I am not dreaming, as usual."
"And you? How have you been?"
"I've been well--I guess I have--I haven't had time to think of myself. Oh, my Lady!" His voice broke with tenderness, and he laid his hand gently upon hers.
She withdrew it quickly.
"Not here! Remember where we are. You are not looking well, Boyd. I don't know that I ever saw you look so badly. Perhaps it is your clothes."
"I am tired," he confessed, feeling anew the weariness of the past twenty- four hours. He covertly stroked a fold of her dress, murmuring: "You are here, after all. And you love me, Mildred? You haven't changed, have you?"
"Not at all. Have you?"
His deep breath and the light that flamed into his face was her answer. "I want to be alone with you," he cried, huskily. "My arms ache for you. Come away from here; this is torture. I'm like a man dying of thirst."
No woman could have beheld his burning eagerness without an answering thrill, and although Mildred sat motionless, her lids drooped slightly and a faint color tinged her cheeks. Her idle hands clasped themselves rigidly.
"You are always the same," she smiled. "You sweep me away from myself and from everything. I have never seen any one like you. There are people everywhere. Father is somewhere close by."
"I don't care-"
"My launch is alongside; let me take you ashore and show you what I have done. I want you to see."
"I can't. I promised to go ashore with the Berrys and Mr. Marsh."
"Now don't get tragic! We are all going to look over his plant and have lunch there--they are expecting me. Oh, dear!" she cried, plaintively, "I have seen and heard nothing but canneries ever since we left Vancouver. The men talk nothing but fish and packs and markets and dividends. It's all deadly stupid, and I'm wretchedly tired of it. Father is the worst of the lot, of course."
Emerson's eyes shifted to his own cannery. "You haven't seen mine--ours," said he.
"Oh yes, I have. Mr. Marsh pointed it out to father and me. It looks just like all the others." There was an instant's pause before she ran on. "Do you know, there is only one interesting feature about. them, to my notion, and that is the way the Chinamen smoke. Those funny, crooked pipes and those little wads of tobacco are too ridiculous." The lightness of her words damped his ardor, and brought back the sense of failure. That formless huddle of buildings in the distance seemed to him all at once very dull and prosaic. Of course, it was just like scores of others that his sweetheart had seen all the way north from the border-line. He had never thought of that till now.
"I was down with the fishing fleet at the mouth of the bay this morning when you came in. I thought I might see you," he said.
"At that hour? Heavens! I was sound asleep. It was hard enough to get up when we were called. Father might have instructed the captain not to steam so fast."
Boyd stared at her in hurt surprise; but she was smiling at Alton Clyde in the distance, and did not observe his look.
"Don't you care even to hear what I have done?" he inquired.
"Of course," said Mildred, bringing her eyes back to him.
Hesitatingly he told her of his disappointments, the obstacles he had met and overcome, avoiding Marsh's name, and refraining from placing the blame where it belonged. When he had concluded, she shook her head.
"It is too bad. But Mr. Marsh told us all about it before you came. Boyd, I never thought well of this enterprise. Of course, I didn't say anything against it, you were so enthusiastic, but you really ought to try something big. I am sure you have the ability. Why, the successful men I know at home have no more intelligence than you, and they haven't half your force. As for this--well, I think you can accomplish more important things than catching fish."
"Important!" he cried. "Why, the salmon industry is one of the most important on the Coast. It employs ten thousand men in Alaska alone, and they produce ten million dollars every year."
"Oh, let's not go into statistics," said Mildred, lightly; "they make my head ache. What I mean is that a fisherman is nothing like--an attorney or a broker or an architect, for instance; he is more like a miner. Pardon me, Boyd, but look at your clothes." She began to laugh. "Why, you look like a common laborer!"
He became conscious for the first time that he cut a sorry figure. Everything around him spoke of wealth and luxury. Even the sailor that passed at the moment was better dressed than he. He felt suddenly awkward and out of place.
"I might have slicked up a bit," he acknowledged, lamely; "but when you came, I forgot everything else."
"I was dreadfully embarrassed when I introduced you to the Berrys and the rest. I dare say they thought you were one of Mr. Marsh's foremen."
Never before had Boyd known the least constraint in Mildred's presence, but now he felt the rebuke behind her careless manner, and it wounded him deeply. He did not speak, and after a moment she went on, with an abrupt change of subject:
"So that funny little house over there against the hill is where the mysterious woman lives?"
"Yes. How did you learn that?"
"Mr. Marsh pointed it out. He said she came up on the same ship with you."
"That is true."
"Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you write me that she was with you in Seattle?"
"I don't know; I didn't think of it." She regarded him coolly.
"Has anybody discovered who or what she is?"
"Why are you so curious about her?"
Mildred shrugged her shoulders. "Your discussion with Willis Marsh that night at our house interested me very much. I thought I would ask Mr. Marsh to bring her around when we went ashore. It would be rather amusing. She wouldn't come out to the yacht and return my call, would she?" Boyd smiled at her frank concern at this possibility.
"You don't know the kind of girl she is," he said. "She isn't at all what you think; I don't believe you would be able to meet her in the way you suggest."
"Indeed!" Mildred arched her brows. "Why?"
"She wouldn't fancy being 'brought around,' particularly by Marsh."
From her look of surprise, he knew that he had touched on dangerous ground, and he made haste to lead the conversation back to its former channel. He wished to impress Mildred with the fact that if he had not quite succeeded, he had by no means failed; but she listened indifferently, with the air of humoring an insistent child.
"I wish you would give it up and try something else," she said, at last. "This is no place for you. Why, you are losing all your old wit and buoyancy, you are actually growing serious. And serious people are not at all amusing."
Just then Alton Clyde and a group of people, among whom was Willis Marsh, emerged from the cabin, talking and laughing. Mildred arose, saying:
"Here come the Berrys, ready to go ashore."
"When may I see you again?" he inquired, quickly.
"You may come out this evening."
His eyes blazed as he answered, "I shall come!"
As the others came up, she said:
"Mr. Emerson can't accompany us. He wishes to see father."
"I just left him in the cabin," said Marsh. He helped the ladies to the ladder, and a moment later Emerson waved the party adieu, then turned to the saloon in search of Wayne Wayland.
In Mr. Wayland's stiff greeting there was no hint that the two men had ever been friendly, but Emerson was prepared for coolness, and seated himself without waiting for an invitation, glad of the chance to rest his tired limbs. He could not refrain from comparing these splendid quarters with his own bare living shack. The big carved desk, the heavy leather chairs, the amply fitted sideboard, seemed magnificent by contrast. His eyes roved over the walls with their bookshelves and rare paintings, and between velour hangings he caught a glimpse of a bedroom all in cool, white enamel. The unaccustomed feel of the velvet carpet was grateful to his feet; he coveted that soft bed in yonder with its smooth linen. For all these things he felt the savage hunger that comes of deprivation and hardship.
Mr. Wayland had removed his glasses, and was waiting grimly.
"I have a good deal to say to you, sir," Emerson began, "and I would like you to hear me through."
"I am going to tell you some things about Mr. Marsh that I dare say you will disbelieve, but I can verify my statements. I think you are a just man, and I don't believe you know, or would approve, the methods he has used against me."
"If this is to be an arraignment of Mr. Marsh, I suggest that you wait until he can be present. He has gone ashore with the women folks."
"I prefer to talk to you, first. We can call him in later if you wish."
"Before we begin, may I inquire what you expect of me?"
"I expect relief."
"You remember our agreement?"
"I don't want assistance; I want relief."
"Whatever the distinction in the words, I understand that you are asking a favor?"
"I don't consider it so."
"Very well. Proceed."
"When you sent me out three years ago to make a fortune for Mildred, it was understood that there should be fair play on both sides--"
"Have you played fair?" quickly interposed the old man.
"I have. When I came to Chicago, I had no idea that you were interested in the Pacific Coast fisheries, I had raised the money before I discovered that you even knew Willis Marsh. Then it was too late to retreat. When I reached Seattle, all sorts of unexpected obstacles came up. I lost the ship I had chartered; machinery houses refused deliveries; shipments went astray; my bank finally refused its loan, and every other bank in the Northwest followed suit. I was harassed in every possible way. And it wasn't chance that caused it; it was Willis Marsh. He set spies upon me, he incited a dock strike that resulted in a riot and the death of at least one man; moreover, he tried to have me killed."
"How do you know he did that?"
"I have no legal proof, but I know it just the same."
Mr. Wayland smiled. "That is not a very definite charge. You surely don't hold him responsible for the death of that striker?"
"I do; and for the action of the police in trying to fix the crime upon me. You know, perhaps, how I got away from Seattle. When Marsh arrived at Kalvik, he first tried to sink my boilers; failing in that, he ruined my Iron Chinks; then he 'corked' my fish-trap, not because he needed more fish, but purely to spoil my catch. The day the run started he bribed my fishermen to break their contracts, leaving me short-handed. He didn't need more men, but did that simply to cripple me. I got Indians to replace the white men, but he won them away by a miserable trick and by threats that I have no doubt he would make good if the poor devils dared to stand out.
"His men won't allow my fellows to work; we have had our nets cut and our fish thrown out. Last night we had a bad time on the banks, and a number of people were hurt. The situation is growing worse every hour, and there will be bloodshed unless this persecution stops. All I want is a fair chance. There are fish enough for us all in the Kalvik, but that man has used the power of your organization to ruin me--not for business reasons, but for personal spite. I have played the game squarely, Mr. Wayland, but unless this ceases I'm through."
"You are through?"
"Yes. The run is nearly a week old, and I haven't begun to pack my salmon. I have less than half a boat crew, and of those half are laid up."
The president of the Trust stirred for the first time since Boyd had begun his recital; the grim lines about his mouth set themselves deeper, and, staring with cold gray eyes at the speaker, he said:
"Well, sir! What you have told me confirms my judgment that Willis Marsh is the right man in the right place."
Completely taken back by this unexpected reply, Boyd exclaimed:
"You don't mean to say that you approve of what he has done?"
"Yes, of what I know he has done. Mr. Marsh is pursuing a definite policy laid down by his board of directors. You have shown me that he has done his work well. You knew before you left the East that we intended to crush all opposition."
Emerson's voice was sharp as he cried: "I understand all that; but am I to understand also that the directors of the N. A. P. A. instructed him to kill me?"
"Tut, tut! Don't talk nonsense. You admit that you have no proof of Willis' connection with the attempt upon your life. You put yourself in the way of danger when you hired scab labor to break that strike. I think you got off very easily."
"If Marsh was instructed to crush the independents, why has he centred all his efforts on me alone? Why has he spent this summer in Kalvik and not among the other stations to the south?"
"That is our business. Different methods are required in different localities."
"Then you have no criticism to make--you uphold him?" Boyd's indignation was getting beyond control.
"None whatever. I cannot agree that Marsh is even indirectly responsible for the collision of the scows, for the damage to your machinery, or for the fighting between the men. On the contrary, I know that he is doing his best to prevent violence, because it interferes with the catch. He hired your men because he needed them. Nobody knows who broke your machinery. As for your fish-trap, you are privileged to build another, or a dozen more, wherever you please. Willis has already told me everything that you have said, and it strikes me that you have simply been outgeneraled. Your complaints do not appeal to me. Even granting your absurd assumption that Marsh tried to put you out of the way, it seems to me that you have more than evened the score."
"He is still wearing bandages over that knife-thrust you gave him."
Emerson leaped to his feet.
"He knows I didn't do that; everybody knows it!" he cried. "He lied to you."
"We won't discuss that," said Wayne Wayland, curtly. "What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to end this persecution. I want you to sail him off."
"In other words, you want me to save you."
Emerson swallowed. "I suppose it amounts to that. I want to be let alone, I want a square deal."
"Well, I won't." Wayne Wayland's voice hardened suddenly; his sound, white teeth snapped together. "You are getting exactly what you deserve. You betrayed me by spying upon me while you broke bread in my house. I see nothing reprehensible in Mr. Marsh's conduct; but even if I did, I would not censure him; any measures are justifiable against a traitor."
Boyd Emerson's face went gray beneath its coating of tan, and his voice threatened to break as he said:
"I am no traitor, and you know it. I thought you a man of honor, and I came to you, not for help but for justice. But I see I was mistaken. I am beginning to believe that Marsh acted under your instructions from the first."
"Believe what you choose."
"You think you've got me, but you haven't. I'll beat you yet."
"You can't beat me at anything." Mr. Wayland's jaws were set like iron.
"Not this year perhaps, but next. You and Marsh have whipped me this time; but the salmon will come again, and I'll run my plant in spite of hell!"
Wayne Wayland made as if to speak, but Boyd went on unheeding: "You've taken a dislike to me, but your conduct shows that you fear me. You are afraid I'll succeed, and I will."
"Brave talk!" said the older man. "But you owe one hundred thousand dollars, and your stockholders will learn of your mismanagement."
"Your persecution, you mean!" cried the other. "I can explain. They will wait another year. I will raise more money, and they will stand by me."
"Perhaps I know more about that than you do."
Emerson strode toward the desk menacingly, crying, in a quivering voice:
"I warn you to keep your hands off of them. By God! don't try any of your financial trickery with me, or I'll--"
Wayne Wayland leaped from his chair, his face purple and his eyes flashing savagely.
"Leave this yacht!" he thundered. "I won't allow you to insult me; I won't stand your threats. I've got you where I want you, and when the time comes you'll know it. Now, get out!" He stretched forth a great square hand and closed it so fiercely that the fingers cracked. "I'll crush you--like that!"
Boyd turned and strode from the cabin.
Half-blinded with anger, he stumbled down the ladder to his launch.
"Back to the plant!" he ordered, then gazed with lowering brows and defiant eyes at The Grande Dame as she rested swanlike and serene at her moorings. His anger against Mildred's father destroyed for the time all thought of his disappointment at her own lack of understanding and her cool acceptance of his failure. He saw only that his affairs had reached a final climax where he must bow to the inevitable, or--Big George's parting words came to him--strike one last blow in reprisal. A kind of sickening rage possessed him. He had tried to fight fair against an enemy who knew no scruple, partly that he might win that enemy's respect. Now he was thoroughly beaten and humbled. After all, he was merely an adventurer, without friends of resources. His long struggle had made him the type of man of whom desperate things might be expected. He might as well act the part. Why should he pretend to higher standards than Wayne Wayland or Marsh? George's way was best. By the time he had reached the cannery, he had practically made up his mind.
It was the hour of his darkest despair--the real crisis in his life. There are times when it rests with fate to make a strong man stronger or turn him altogether to evil. Such a man will not accept misfortune tamely. He is the reverse of those who are good through weakness; it is his nature to sin strongly.
But the unexpected happened, and Boyd's black mood vanished in amazement at the sight which met his eyes. Moored to the fish-dock was a lighter awash with a cargo that made him stare and doubt his vision. He had seen his scanty crew of gill-netters return empty-handed with the rising sun, exhausted, disheartened, depleted in numbers; yet there before him were thousands of salmon. They were strewn in a great mass upon the dock and inside the shed, while from the scow beneath they came in showers as the handlers tossed them upward from their pues. Through the wide doors he saw the backs of the butchers busily at work over their tables, and heard the uproar of his cannery running full for the first time.
Before the launch had touched, he had leaped to the ladder and swung himself upon the dock. He stumbled into the arms of Big George.
"Where--did those--fish come from?" he cried, breathlessly.
"From the trap." George smiled as he had not smiled in many weeks. "They've struck in like I knew they would, and they're running now by the thousands. I've fished these waters for years, but I never seen the likes of it. They'll tear that trap to pieces. They're smothering in the pot, tons and tons of 'em, with millions more milling below the leads because they can't get in. It's a sight you'll not see once in a lifetime."
"That means that we can run the plant--that we'll get all we can use?"
"Hell! We've got fish enough to run two canneries. They've struck their gait I tell you, and they'll never stop now night or day till they're through. We don't need no gill-netters; what we need is butchers and slimers and handlers. There never was a trap site in the North till this one; I told Willis Marsh that years ago." He flung out a long, hairy arm, bared half to the shoulder, and waved it exultantly. "We built this plant to cook forty thousand salmon a day, but I'll bring you three thousand every hour, and you've got to cook 'em. Do you hear?"
"And they couldn't cork us, after all!" Emerson leaned unsteadily against a pile, for his head was whirling.
"No! We'll show that gang what a cannery can do. Marsh's traps will rot where they stand." Big George shook his tight-clinched fist again. "We've won, my boy! We've won!"
"Then don't let us stand here talking!" cried Emerson, sharply. "Hurry! Hurry!" He turned, and sped up the dock.
He had come into his own at last, and he vowed with tight-shut teeth that no wheel should stop, no belt should slacken, no man should leave his duty till the run had passed. At the entrance to the throbbing, clanging building he paused an instant, and with a smile looked toward the yacht floating lazily in the distance. Then, with knees sagging beneath him from weariness, he entered.