Chapter XXV. The Clash
 

"I've heard the news!" cried Cherry, later that afternoon, shrieking to make herself heard above the rattle and jar of the machinery.

"There seems to be a Providence that watches over fishermen," said Boyd.

"I am happy, for your sake, and I want to apologize for my display of temper. Come away where I won't have to scream so. I want to talk to you."

"It is music to my ears," he answered, as he led her past the rows of Chinamen bowed before their soldering-torches as if busied with some heathen rites. "But I'm glad to sit down just the same. I've been on my feet for thirty-six hours."

"You poor boy! Why don't you take some sleep?"

"I can't. George is coming with another load of fish, and the plant is so new I am afraid to leave it even for an hour."

"It's too much for one man," she declared.

"Oh, I'll sleep to-morrow."

"Did you see--her?" questioned Cherry.

"Yes!"

"She must be very proud of you," she said, wistfully.

"I--I--don't think she understands what I am trying to do, or what it means. Our talk was not very satisfactory."

"She surely must have understood what Marsh is doing."

"I didn't tell her that."

"Why not?"

"What good would it have done?"

"Why"--Cherry seemed bewildered--"she could put a stop to it; she could use her influence with her father against Marsh. I expected to see your old crew back at work again. Oh, I wish I had her power!"

"She wouldn't take a hand under any circumstances--it wouldn't occur to her--and naturally I couldn't ask her." Boyd flushed uncomfortably. "Thanks to George's trap, there is no need." He went on to tell Cherry of the scene with Mr. Wayland and its stormy ending.

"They have used all their resources to down you," she said, "but luck is with you, and you mustn't let them succeed. Now is the time to show them what is in you. Go in and win her now, against all of them."

He was grateful for her sympathy, yet somehow it made him uncomfortable.

"What was it you wished to see me about?" he asked.

"Oh! Have you seen Chakawana?"

"No."

"She disappeared early this morning soon after the yacht came in; I can't find her anywhere. She took the baby with her and--I'm worried."

"Doesn't Constantine know where she is?"

"Why, Constantine is down here, isn't he?"

"He hasn't been here since yesterday."

Cherry rose nervously. "There is something wrong, Boyd. They have been acting queerly for a long time."

"Then you are alone at your place," he said, thoughtfully. "I think you had better come down here."

"Oh no!"

"I shall send some one up to spend the night at your house. You shouldn't be left unprotected." But just then Constantine came sauntering round the corner of the building.

"Thank Heaven!" cried Cherry. "He will know where the others are."

But when his mistress questioned him, Constantine merely replied: "I don' know. I no see Chakawana."

"They have been gone since morning, and I can't find them anywhere."

"Umph! I guess they all right."

"There is something queer about this," said Emerson. "Where have you been all day?"

"I go sleep. I tired from fighting last night. I come back now and go work. Bime'by Chakawana come back too, I guess."

"Well, I don't need you to-night, so you'd better go back to Cherry's house and stay there till I send for you."

Constantine acquiesced calmly, and a few minutes later accompanied his mistress up the beach.

As she passed Marsh's cannery, Cherry saw a tender moored to the dock, and noticed strangers among the buildings. They stared at her curiously, as if the sight of a white girl attended by a copper-hued giant were part of the picturesqueness they expected. As she drew near her own house, she saw a woman approaching, and while yet a stone's-throw distant she recognized her. A jealous tightening of her throat and a flutter at her breast told her that this was Mildred Wayland.

Cherry would have passed on silently, but Miss Wayland checked her.

"Pardon me," she said. "Will you tell me what that odd-looking building is used for?" She pointed to the village above.

"That is the Greek church."

"How interesting! Are there many Greeks here?"

"No. It is a relic of the Russian days. The natives worship there."

"I intended to go closer; but the walking is not very good, is it?" She glanced down at her dainty French shoes, then at Cherry's hunting-boots. "Do you live here?"

"Yes. In the log house yonder."

"Indeed! I tried to find some one there, but--you were out, of course. You have it arranged very cozily, I see." Mildred's manner was faintly patronizing. She was vexed at the beauty and evident refinement of this woman whom she had thought to find so different.

"If you will go back I will show it to you from the inside, Miss Wayland." Cherry enjoyed her start at the name and the look of cold hostility that followed.

"You have the advantage of me," said Mildred. "I did not think we had met. You are--?" She raised her brows, inquiringly.

"Cherry Malotte, of course."

"I remember. Mr. Marsh spoke of you."

"I am sorry."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I say I am sorry Mr. Marsh ever spoke of me."

Mildred smiled frigidly. "Evidently you do not like him?"

"Nobody in Alaska likes him. Do you?"

"You see, I am not an Alaskan."

It occurred to Cherry that this girl was ignorant of the unexpected change in Boyd's affairs. She decided to sound her--to find out for herself the answer to those questions which Boyd had evaded. He had not spoken to Mildred of Marsh. Perhaps if she knew the truth, she would love him better, and even now her assistance would not be valueless.

"Do you know that Mr. Marsh is to blame for all of Boyd's misfortune?" she said.

"Boyd's?"

"Yes, Boyd's, of course. Oh, let us not pretend--I call him by his first name. I think you ought to know the truth about this business, even if Boyd is too chivalrous to tell you."

"Why do you think he has not told me?"

"I have just come from him."

"If Mr. Emerson blames any one but himself for his failure, I am sure he would have told me."

"Then you don't know him."

"I never knew him to ask another to defend him."

"He never asked me to defend him. I merely thought that if you knew the truth, you might help him."

"I? How?"

"It is for you to find a way. He has met with opposition and treachery at every step; I think it is time some one came to his aid."

"He has had your assistance at all times, has he not?"

"I have tried to help wherever I could, but--I haven't your power."

Mildred shrugged her shoulders. "You even went to Seattle to help him, did you not?"

"I went there on my own business."

"Why do you take such an interest in Mr. Emerson's affairs, may I ask?"

"It was I who induced him to take up this venture," said Cherry, proudly. "I found him discouraged, ready to give up; I helped to put new heart into him. I have something at stake in the enterprise, too--but that's nothing. I hate to see a good man driven to the wall by a scoundrel like Marsh."

"Wait! There is something to be said on both sides. Mr. Marsh was magnanimous enough to overlook that attempt upon his life."

"What attempt?"

"You must have heard. He was wounded in the shoulder."

"Didn't Boyd tell you the truth about that?"

"He told me everything," said Mildred, coldly. This woman's attitude was unbearable. It would seem that she even dared to criticise her, Mildred Wayland, for her treatment of Boyd. She pretended to a truer friendship, a more intimate knowledge of him. But no--it wasn't pretense. It was too natural, too unconscious, for that; and therein lay the sting.

"I shall ask him about it again this evening," she continued. "If there has really been persecution, as you suggest, I shall tell my father."

"You won't see Boyd this evening," said Cherry.

"Oh yes, I shall."

"He is very busy and--I don't think he can see you."

"You don't understand. I told him to come out to the yacht!" Mildred's temper rose at the light she saw in the other woman's face.

"But if he should disappoint you," Cherry insisted, "remember that the fish are running, and you have no time to lose if you are going to help."

Mildred tossed her head. "To be frank with you, I never liked this enterprise of Boyd's. Now that I have seen the place and the people--well, I can't say that I like it better."

"The country is a bit different, but the people are much the same in Kalvik and in Chicago. You will find unscrupulous men and unselfish women everywhere."

Mildred gave her a cool glance that took her in from head to foot.

"And vice versa, I dare say. You speak from a wider experience than I." With a careless nod she picked her way toward the launch, where her friends were already assembling. She was angry and suspicious. Her pride was hurt because she had not been able to feel superior to the other woman. Instead, she had descended to the weak resource of innuendo, while Cherry had been simple and direct. She had expected to recognize instantly the type of person with whom she had to deal, but she found herself baffled. Who was this woman? What was she doing here? Why had Boyd never told her of this extraordinary intimacy? She remembered more than one occasion when he had defended the woman. She resolved to put an end to the affair at once; Boyd must either give up Cherry or--

During the talk between the two young women Constantine had kept at a respectful distance, but when Mildred had gone he came up to Cherry, with the question:

"Who is that?"

"That is Miss Wayland. That is the richest girl in the world, Constantine."

"Humph!"

"And the pity of it is, she doesn't understand how very rich she is. Her father owns all these canneries and many more besides, and lots of railroads--but you don't know what a railroad is, do you?"

"Mebbe him rich as Mr. Marsh, eh?"

"A thousand time richer. Mr. Marsh works for him the way you work for me."

Being too much a gentleman to dispute his mistress' word, Constantine merely shook his head and smiled broadly.

"She fine lady," he acknowledged. "She got plenty nice dress--silik."

"Yes, silk."

"She more han'somer than you be," he added, with reluctant candor. "Mebbe that's lie 'bout Mr. Marsh, eh? White men all work for Mr. Marsh. He no work for nobody."

"No, it is true. Mr. Marsh knows how rich she is, and that is why he wants to marry her."

The breed wheeled swiftly, his soft soles crunching the gravel.

"Mr. Marsh want marry her?" he repeated, as if doubting his ears.

"Yes. That is why he has fought Mr. Emerson--they both want to marry her. That is why Marsh broke Mr. Emerson's machinery, and hired his men away from him, and cut his nets. They hate each other--do you understand?"

"Me savvy!" said Constantine shortly, then strode on beside the girl. "Me think all the time Mr. Emerson goin' marry you."

Cherry gasped. "No, no! Why, he is in love with Miss Wayland."

"S'pose he don' marry her?"

"Than Mr. Marsh will get her, I dare say."

After a moment Constantine announced, with conviction: "I guess Mr. Marsh is damn bad man."

"I'm glad you have discovered that. He has even tried to kill Mr. Emerson; that shows the sort of man he is."

"It's good thing--get marry!" said Constantine, vaguely. "The Father say if woman don' marry she go to hell."

"I'd hate to think that," laughed the girl.

"That's true," the other affirmed, stoutly. "The pries' he say so, and pries' don' lie. He say man takes a woman and don' get marry, they both go to hell and burn forever. Bime'by little baby come, and he go to hell, too."

"Oh, I understand! The Father wants to make sure of his people, and he is quite right. You natives haven't observed the law very carefully."

"He say Indian woman stop with white man, she never see Jesus' House no more. She go to hell sure, and baby go too. You s'pose that's true?"

"I dare say it is, in a way."

"By God! That's tough on little baby!" exclaimed Constantine, fervently.

All that night Boyd stayed at his post, while the cavernous building shuddered and hissed to the straining toil of the machines and the gasping breath of the furnaces. As the darkness gathered, he had gone out upon the dock to look regretfully toward the twinkling lights on The Grande Dame, then turned doggedly back to his labors. Another load had just arrived from the trap; already the plant, untried by the stress of a steady run, was clogged and working far below capacity. He would have sent Mildred word, but he had not a single man to spare.

At ten o'clock the next morning he staggered into his quarters, more dead than alive. In his heart was a great thankfulness that Big George had not found him wanting. The last defective machine was mended, the last weakness strengthened, and the plant had reached its fullest stride. The fish might come now in any quantity; the rest was but a matter of coal and iron and human endurance. Meanwhile he would sleep.

He met "Fingerless" Fraser emerging, decked royally in all the splendor of new clothes and spotless linen.

"Where are you going?" Boyd asked him.

"I'm going out into society."

"Clyde is taking you to the yacht, eh?"

"No! He's afraid of my work, so I'm going out on my own. He told me all about the swell quilts at Marsh's place, so I thought I'd lam up there and look them over. I may cop an heiress." He winked wisely. "If I see one that looks gentle, I'm liable to grab me some bride. He says there ain't one that's got less than a couple of millions in her kick."

Boyd was too weary to do more than wish him success, but it seemed that fortune favored Fraser, for before he had gone far he saw a young woman seated in a patch of wild flowers, plucking the blooms with careless hand while she drank in the beauty of the bright Arctic morning. She was simply dressed, yet looked so prosperous that Fraser instantly decided:

"That's her! I'll spread my checks with this one."

"Good-morning!" he began.

The girl gave him an indifferent glance from two fearless eyes, and nodded slightly. But "Fingerless" Fraser upon occasion could summon a smile that was peculiarly engaging. He did so now, seating himself hat in hand, with the words:

"If you don't mind, I'll rest a minute. I'm out for my morning walk. It's a nice day, isn't it?" As she did not answer, he ran on, glibly: "My name is De Benville--I'm one of the New Orleans branch. That's my cannery down yonder." He pointed in the direction from which he had just come.

"Indeed!" said the young lady.

"Yes. It's mine."

A wrinkle gathered at the corners of the stranger's eyes; her face showed a flicker of amusement.

"I thought that was Mr. Emerson's cannery," she said.

"Oh, the idea! He only runs it for me. I put up the money. You know him, eh?"

The girl nodded. "Yes; I know Mr. Clyde also."

"Who--Alton?" he queried, with reassuring warmth. "Why, you and I have got mutual friends. Alton and me is pals." He shook his head solemnly. "Ain't he a scourge?"

"I beg your pardon."

"I say, ain't he an awful thing? He ain't anything like Emerson. There's a ring-tailed swallow, all right, all right! I like him."

"Are you very intimate with him?"

"Am I? I'm closer to him than a porous plaster. When Boyd ain't around, I'm him, that's all." From her look Fraser judged that he was progressing finely. He hastened to add: "I always like to help out young fellows like him. I like to give 'em a chance. That's my name, you know, Chancy De Benville--always game to take a chance. Is that your yacht?"

"No. My father and I are merely passengers."

"So you trailed the old skeezicks along with you? Well, that's right. Make the most of your father while you've got him. If I'd paid more attention to mine I'd have been better off now. But I was wild." Fraser winked in a manner to inform his listener that all worldly wisdom was his. "I wanted to be a jockey, and the old party cut me off. What I've got now, I made all by myself, but if I'd stayed in Bloomington I might have been president of the bank by this time."

"Bloomington! I understood you to say New Orleans."

"My old man had a whole string of banks," Fraser averred, hastily.

"Tell me--is Mr. Emerson ill?" asked the girl.

"Ill enough to lick a den of wildcats."

"He intended coming out to the yacht last night, but he disappointed us."

"He's as busy as an ant-hill. I met him turning in just as I came out for my constitutional."

"Where had he been all night?" Her voice betrayed an interest that Fraser was quick to detect. He answered, cannily:

"You can search me! I don't keep cases on him. As long as he does his work, I don't care where he goes at quitting time." He resolved that this girl should learn nothing from him.

"There seem to be very few white women in this place," she said, after a pause.

"Only one, till you people came. Maybe you've crossed her trail?"

"Hardly!"

"Oh, she's all right. Take it on the word of a fire-man, she's an ace."

"Mr. Emerson told me about her. He seems quite fond of her."

"I've always said they'd make a swell-looking pair."

"One can hardly blame her for trying to catch him."

"Oh, you can make book that she didn't start no love-making. She ain't the kind to curl up in a man's ear and whisper. She don't have to. All she needs to do is look natural; the men will fall like ripe persimmons."

"They have been together a great deal, I suppose."

"Every hour of the day, and the days are long," said Fraser, cheerfully. "But he ain't crippled; be could have walked away if he'd wanted to. It's a good thing he didn't, though, because she's done more to win this bet for us than we've done ourselves."

"She's unusually pretty," the girl remarked, coldly.

"Yes, and she's just as bright as she is good-looking--but I don't care for blondes." Fraser gazed admiringly at the brown hair before him, and rolled his eyes eloquently. "I'm strong for brunettes, I am. It's the Creole blood in me."

She gathered up her wild flowers and rose, saying:

"I must be going."

"I'll go with you." He jumped to his feet with alacrity.

"Thank you. I prefer to walk alone."

"Couldn't think of it. I'll--" But he paused at the lift of her brows and the extraordinarily frigid look she gave him. He stood in his tracks, watching her descend the river trail.

"Declined with thanks!" he murmured. "I'd need ear-muffs and mittens to handle her. I think I'll build me some bonfire and thaw out. She must own the mint."

At the upper cannery Mildred found Alton Clyde with the younger Berry girl. She called him aside, and talked earnestly with him for several minutes.

"All right," he said, at length. "I'm glad to get out, of course; the rest is up to you."

Mildred's lips were white and her voice hard as she cried:

"I am thoroughly sick of it all. I have played the fool long enough."

"Now look here," Clyde objected, weakly, "you may be mistaken, and--it doesn't look like quite the square thing to do." But she silenced him with an angry gesture.

"Leave that to me. I'm through with him."

"All right. Let's hunt up the governor." Together they went to the office in search of Wayne Wayland.

A half-hour later, when Clyde rejoined Miss Berry, she noticed that he seemed ill at ease, gazing down the bay with a worried, speculative look in his colorless eyes.

Boyd Emerson roused from his death-like slumber late in the afternoon, still worn from his long strain and aching in every muscle. He was in wretched plight physically, but his heart was aglow with gladness. Big George was still at the trap, and the unceasing rumble from across the way told him that the fish were still coming in. As he was finishing his breakfast, a watchman appeared in the doorway.

"There's a launch at the dock with some people from above," he announced. "I stopped them, according to orders, but they want to see you."

"Show them to the office." Boyd rose and went into the other building, where, a moment later, he was confronted by Wayne Wayland and Willis Marsh. The old man nodded to him shortly. Marsh began:

"We heard about your good-fortune. Mr. Wayland has come to look over your plant."

"It is not for sale."

"How many fish are you getting?"

"That is my business." He turned to Mr. Wayland. "I hardly expected to see you here. Haven't you insulted me enough?"

"Just a moment before you order me out. I'm a stockholder in this company, and I am within my rights."

"You a stockholder? How much stock do you own? Where did you get it?"

"I own thirty-five thousand shares outright." Mr. Wayland tossed a packet of certificates upon the table. "And I have options on all the stock you placed in Chicago. I said you would hear from me when the time came."

"So you think the time has come to crush me, eh?" said Emerson. "Well, you've been swindled. Only one-third of the capital stock has been sold, and Alton Clyde holds thirty-five thousand shares of that."

The old man smiled grimly. "I have not been swindled."

"Then Clyde sold out!" exploded Boyd.

"Yes. I paid him back the ten thousand dollars he put in, and I took over the twenty-five thousand shares you got Mildred to take."

"Mildred!" Emerson started as if he had been struck. "Are you insane? Mildred doesn't own--Why, Alton never told me who put up that money!"

"Don't tell me you didn't know!" cried Wayne Wayland. "You knew all the time. You worked your friends out, and then sent that whipper-snapper to my daughter when you saw you were about to fail. You managed well; you knew she couldn't refuse."

"How did you find out that she held the stock?"

"She told me, of course."

"Don't ask me to believe that. If she hadn't told you before, she wouldn't tell you now. All I can say is that she acted of her own free will. I never dreamed she put up that twenty-five thousand dollars. What do you intend to do, now that you have taken over these holdings?"

"What do you think? I would spend ten times the money to save my daughter." The old man was quivering.

"You are only a minority stockholder; the control of this enterprise still rests with me and my friends."

"Your friends!" cried Mr. Wayland. "That's what brings me here--you and your friends! I'll break you and your friends, if it takes my fortune."

"I can understand your dislike of me, but my associates have never harmed you."

"Your associates! And who are they? A lawless ruffian, who openly threatened Willis Marsh's murder, and a loose woman from the dance-halls."

"Take care!" cried Emerson, in a sharp voice.

The old man waved his hands as if at a loss for words. "Look here! You can't be an utter idiot. You must know who she is."

"Do you? Then tell me."

Wayne Wayland turned his back in disgust. "Do you really wish to know?" Marsh's smooth voice questioned.

"I do."

"She is a very common sort," said Willis Marsh. "I am surprised that you never heard of her while you were in the 'upper country.' She followed the mining camps and lived as such women do. She is an expert with cards--she even dealt faro in some of the camps."

"How do you know?"

"I looked up her history in Seattle. She is very--well, notorious."

"People talk like that about nearly every woman in Alaska."

"I didn't come here to argue about that woman's character," broke in Mr. Wayland.

"You have said enough now, so that you will either prove your words or apologize."

"If you want proof, take your own relation with her. It's notorious; even Mildred has heard of it."

"I can explain to her in a word."

"Perhaps you can also explain that affair with Hilliard. If so, you had better do it. I suppose you didn't know anything about that, either. I suppose you don't know why he advanced that loan after once refusing it. They have a name for men like you who take money from women of her sort."

Emerson uttered a terrible cry, and his face blanched to a gray pallor.

"Do you mean to say--I sent--her--to Hilliard?"

"Hilliard as good as told me so himself. Do you wonder that I am willing to spend a fortune to protect my girl from a man like you? I'm going to break you. I've got a foothold in this enterprise of yours, and I'll root you out if it takes a million. I'll kick you back into the gutter, where you belong."

Boyd stood appalled at the violence of this outburst. The man seemed insane. He could not find words to answer him.

"You did not come down here to tell me that," he said, at last.

"No. I came here with a message from Mildred; she has told me to dismiss you once and for all."

"I shall take my dismissal from no one but her. I can explain everything."

"I expected you to say that. If you want her own words, read this." With shaking fingers, he thrust a letter before Emerson's eyes. "Read it!"

The young man opened the envelope, and read, in a hand-writing he knew only too well:

"DEAR BOYD,--The conviction has been growing on me for some time that you and I have made a serious mistake. It is not necessary to go into details --let us spare each other that unpleasantness. I am familiar with all that father will say to you, and his feelings are mine; hence there is no necessity for further explanations. Believe me, this is much the simplest way.

"MILDRED."

Boyd crushed the note in his palm and tossed it away carelessly.

"You dictate well," he said, quietly, "but I shall tell her the truth, and she will--"

"Oh no, you won't. You won't see her again. I have seen to that. Mildred is engaged to Willis Marsh. It's all settled. I warn you to keep away. Her engagement has been announced to all our friends on the yacht."

"I tell you I won't take my dismissal from any one but her. I shall come aboard The Grande Dame to-night."

"Mr. Marsh and I may have something to say to that."

Boyd wheeled upon Marsh with a look that made him recoil.

"If you try to cross me, I'll strip your back and lash you till you howl like a dog."

Marsh's florid face went pale; his tongue became suddenly too dry for speech. But Wayne Wayland was not to be cowed.

"I warn you again to keep away from my daughter!" he cried, furiously.

"And I warn you that I shall come aboard the yacht to-night alone."

The president of the Trust turned, and, followed by his lieutenant, left the room without another word.