Chapter XXVI. In Which a Score is Settled
 

Cherry Malotte, coming down to the cannery on her daily visit, saw Willis Marsh and Mr. Wayland leaving it. Wondering, she hurried into the main building in search of Boyd. The place was as busy as when she had left it on the afternoon before, and she saw that the men had been at work all night; many of them were sprawled in corners, where they had sunk from weariness, snatching a moment's rest before the boss kicked them back to their posts. The Chinese hands were stoically performing their tasks, their yellow faces haggard with the strain; at the butchering-tables yesterday's crew was still slitting, slashing, hacking at the pile of fish that never seemed to grow less. Some of them were giving up, staggering away to their bunks, while others with more vitality had stood so long in the slime and salt drip that their feet had swelled, and it had become necessary to cut off their shoes.

Boyd was standing in the door of the office. In a few words he told her of Mr. Wayland's threat.

"Do you think he can injure the company?" she inquired, anxiously.

"I haven't a doubt of it. He can work very serious harm, at least."

"Tell me--why did he turn against you so suddenly? What made Miss Wayland angry with you?"

"I--I would rather not"

"Why? I'm your partner, and I ought to be told, You and George and I will have to work together closer than ever now. Don't let's begin by concealing anything."

"Well, perhaps you had better know the whole thing," said Boyd, slowly. "Mildred does not like you; her father's mind has been poisoned by Marsh. It seems they resent our friendship; they believe--all sorts of things."

"So I am the cause of your trouble, after all."

"They blame me equally--more than you. It seems that Marsh made an inquiry into your--well, your life history--and he babbled all the gossip he heard to them. Of course they believed it, not knowing you as I do, and they misunderstood our friendship. But I can explain, and I shall, to Mildred. Then I shall prove Marsh a liar. Perhaps I can show Mr. Wayland that he was in the wrong. It's our only hope."

"What did Marsh say about me?" asked the girl.

She was pale to the lips.

"He said a lot of things that at any other time I would have made him swallow on the spot. But it's only a pleasure deferred. With your help, I'll do it in their presence. I don't like to tell you this, but the truth is vital to us all, and I want to arm myself."

Cherry was silent.

"You may leave it to me," he said, gently. "I will see that Marsh sets you right."

"There is nothing to set right," said the girl, wearily. "Marsh told the truth, I dare say."

"The truth! My God! You don't know what you're saying!"

"Yes, I do." She returned his look of shocked horror with half-hearted defiance. "You must have known who I am. Fraser knew, and he must have told you. You knew I had followed the mining camps, you knew I had lived by my wits. You must have known what people thought of me. I cast my lot in with the people of this country, and I had to match my wits with those of every man I met. Sometimes I won, sometimes I did not. You know the North."

"I didn't know," he said, slowly. "I never thought--I wouldn't allow myself to think--"

"Why not? It is nothing to you. You have lived, and so have I. I made mistakes--what girl doesn't who has to fight her way alone? But my past is my own; it concerns nobody but me." She saw the change in his face, and her reckless spirit rose. "Oh, I've shocked you! You think all women should be like Miss Wayland. Have you ever stopped to think that even you are not the same man you were when you came fresh from college? You know the world now; you have tasted its wickedness. Would you change your knowledge for your earlier innocence? You know you would not, and you have no right to judge me by a separate code. What difference does it make who I am or what I have done? I didn't ask your record when I gave you the chance to win Miss Wayland, and neither you nor she have any right to challenge mine."

"I agree with you in that."

"I came away from the mining camps because of wagging tongues--because I was forever misjudged. Whatever I may have been, I have at least played fair with that girl; it hurts me now to be accused by her. I saw your love for her, and I never tried to rob her. Oh, don't look as if I couldn't have done differently if I had tried. I could have injured her very easily if I had been the sort she thinks me. But I helped you in every way I could. I made sacrifices, I did things she would never have done."

She stopped on the verge of tears. Boyd felt the justice of her words. He could not forget the unselfish devotion and loyalty she had shown throughout his long struggle. For the hundredth time there came to him the memory of her services in the matter of Hilliard's loan, and the thought caused him unspeakable distress.

"Why--did you do all this?" he asked.

"Don't you know?" Cherry gazed at him with a faint smile.

Then, for the first time, the whole truth burst upon him. The surprise of it almost deprived him of speech, and he stammered:

"No, I--I--" Then he fell silent.

"What little I did, I did because I love you," said the girl, in a tired voice. "You may as well know, for it makes no difference now."

"I--I am sorry," he said, gripped by a strong emotion that made him go hot and cold. "I have been a fool."

"No, you were merely wrapped up in your own affairs. You see, I had been living my own life, and was fairly contented till you came; then everything changed. For a long time I hoped you might grow to love me as I loved you, but I found it was no use. When I saw you so honest and unselfish in your devotion to that other girl, I thought it was my chance to do something unselfish in my turn. It was hard--but I did my best. I think I must love you in the same way you love her, Boyd, for there is nothing in all the world I would not do to make you happy. That's all there is to the poor little story, and it won't make any difference now, except that you and I can't go on as we have done; I shall never have the courage to come back after this. You will win Miss Wayland yet, and attain your heart's desire. I am only sorry that I have made it harder for you-- that I cannot help you any further. But I cannot. There is but one thing more I can do--"

"I want no more sacrifice!" he cried, roughly. "I've been blind. I've taken too much from you already."

The girl stood for a moment with her eyes turned toward the river. Then she said:

"I must think. I--I want to go away. Good-bye."

"Good-bye," he returned, and stood watching her as she hurried away, half suspecting the tears that were trembling amid her lashes.

It was not until supper-time that Boyd saw "Fingerless" Fraser, and questioned him about his quest for an heiress.

"Nothing doing in the heiress business," replied the adventurer. "I couldn't stand the exposure."

"They were cold, eh?"

"Yep! They weathered me out."

"Did you really meet any of those people?"

"Sure! I met 'em all, but I didn't catch their names. I 'made' one before I'd gone a mile--tall, slim party, with cracked ice in her voice."

Boyd looked up quickly. "Did you introduce yourself?"

"As Chancy De Benville, that's all. How is that for a drawing-room monaker? She fell for the name all right, but there must have been something phony about the clothes. That's the trouble with this park harness; if I'd wore my 'soup and fish' and my two-gallon hat, I'd have passed for a gentleman sure. I'm strong for those evening togs. I see another one later; a little Maduro colored skirt with a fat nose."

"Miss Berry."

"I'm glad to meet her. I officed her out of a rowboat and told her I was Mr. Yonkers of New York. We was breezing along on the bit till Clyde broke it up. He called me Fraser, and it was cold in a minute. Fraser is a cheap name, anyhow; I'm sorry I took it."

"Do you mean to say it isn't your real name?" asked his companion, in genuine bewilderment.

"Naw! Switzer is what I was born with. Say it slow and it sounds like an air brake, don't it? I never won a bet as long as I packed it around, and Fraser hasn't got it beat by more than a lip."

"Well!" Boyd breathed deeply. "You are the limit."

"Speaking of clothes, I notice you are dressed up like a fruit salad. What is it? The yacht!"

"Yes."

"You'd better hurry; she sails at high tide."

"Sails!"

"Alton told me so, and said that he was going along."

"Thank Heaven for that, anyhow, but--I don't understand about the other."

Boyd voiced the question that was foremost in his mind.

"Did you know Cherry in the 'upper country'?"

"Nope."

"She said you did."

"She said that?"

"Yes. She thought you had told me who she was."

"Hell! She might have known I'd never crack. It's her own business, and-- I've got troubles enough with this cannery on my hands."

"I wish you had told me," said Emerson.

"Why? There's no use of rehearsing the dog-eared dope. Nobody can live the past over again, and who wants to repeat the present? It's only the future that's worth while. I guess her future is just as good as anybody's."

"What she told me came as a shock."

"Fingerless" Fraser grunted. "I don't know why. For my part, I can't stand for an ingenue. If ever I get married, Cherry's the sort for me. I'm out of the kindergarten myself, and I'd hate to spend my life cutting paper figures for my wife. No, sir! If I ever seize a frill, I want her to know as much as me; then she won't tear away with the first dark-eyed diamond broker that stops in front of my place to crank up his whizz-buggy. You never heard of a wise woman breaking up her own home, did you? It's the pink-faced dolls from the seminary that fall for Bertie the Beautiful Cloak Model."

Fraser whittled himself a toothpick as he went on:

"A feller in my line of business don't gather much useful information, but he certainly gets Jerry to the female question in all its dips, angles, and spurs. Cherry Malotte is the squarest girl I ever saw, and while she may have been crowded at the turn, she'll finish true. It takes a thoroughbred to do that, and the guy that gets her will win his Derby. Now, those fillies on the yacht, for instance, warm up fine, but you can't tell how they'll run."

"We're not talking of marriage," said Boyd, as he rose. When he had gone out, Fraser ruminated aloud:

"Maybe not! I ain't very bright, and we may have been talking about the weather. However, if you're after that wild-flower dame with the cold- storage talk instead of Cherry Malotte, why, I hope you get her. There's no accounting for tastes. I certainly did my best to send you along this morning." Turning to the Jap steward, he remarked, sagely: "My boy, always remember one thing--if you can't boost, don't knock."

Wayne Wayland was by no means sure that Boyd would not make good his threat to visit the yacht that evening, and in any case he wished to be prepared. A scene before the other passengers of The Grande Dame was not to be thought of. Besides, if the young man were roughly handled, it would make him a martyr in Mildred's eyes. He talked over the matter with Marsh, who suggested that the sightseers should dine ashore and spend the evening with him at the plant. With only Mildred and her father left on the yacht, there would be no possibility of scandal, even if Emerson were mad enough to force an interview.

"And what is more," declared Mr. Wayland, "I shall give orders to clear on the high tide. That fellow is a menace, and the sooner Mildred is away from him the better. You shall go with us, my boy."

But when he went to Mildred, to explain the nature of his arrangements, he found her in a furious temper.

"Why did you announce my engagement to Mr. Marsh?" she demanded, angrily. "The whole ship is talking about it. By what right did you do that?"

"I did it for your own sake," said the old man. "This whelp, Emerson, has made a fool of you and of me long enough. There must be an end to it."

"But I don't love Willis Marsh!" she cried. "You forget I am of age."

"Nonsense! Willis is a fine fellow, he loves you, and he is the best business man for his years I have ever known. If it were not for this foolish boy-and-girl affair, you would return his love. He suits me, and-- well, I have put my foot down, so there's an end of it."

"Do you intend to force me to marry him?"

Mr. Wayland recognized the danger-signal.

"Absurd! Take all the time you wish; you'll come around all right. That reprobate you were engaged to defied me and defended that woman."

He told of his stormy interview with Boyd, concluding: "It is fortunate we found him out, Mildred. I have guarded you all my life. I have lavished everything money could buy upon you. I have built up the greatest fortune in all the West for you. I have kept you pure and sweet and good--and to think that such a fellow should dare--" Mr. Wayland choked with anger. "The one thing I cannot stand in a man or a woman is immorality. I have lived clean myself, and my son shall be as clean as I."

"Did you say that Boyd threatened to come aboard this evening?" questioned the girl.

"Yes. But I swore that he should not."

"And still he repeated his threat?" Mildred's eyes were strangely bright. She was smiling as if to herself.

"He did, the braggart! He had better not try it."

"Then he'll come," said Mildred.

It was twilight when Willis Marsh was rowed out to the yacht. He found Mr. Wayland and Mildred seated in deck-chairs enjoying the golden sunset while the old man smoked. Marsh explained that he had excused himself from his guests to go whither his inclination led him, and drew his seat close to Mildred, rejoicing in the fact that no one could gainsay him this privilege. In reality, he had been drawn to The Grande Dame largely by a lurking fear of Emerson. He was not entirely sure of the girl, and would not feel secure until the shores of Kalvik had sunk from sight and his rival had been left behind. But in spite of his uneasiness, it was the happiest moment of his life. If he had failed to ruin his enemy in the precise way he had planned, he was fairly satisfied with what he had accomplished. He had shifted the battle to stronger shoulders, and he had gained the woman he wanted. Moreover, he had won the unfaltering loyalty of Wayne Wayland, the dominant figure of the West. Nothing could keep him now from the success his ambition demanded. It added to his satisfaction to note the group of lusty sailors at the rail. He almost wished that Emerson would try to come aboard, that he might witness his discomfiture. Meanwhile he did his best to be pleasant.

His complaisant enjoyment was interrupted at last by the approach of the second officer, who announced that a lady wished to see Mr. Wayland.

"A lady?" asked the old man, in surprise.

"Yes, sir. She came alongside in a small boat, just now, with some natives. I stopped her at the landing, but she says she must see you at once."

"Ah! That woman again." Mr. Wayland's jaws snapped. "Tell her to begone. I refuse to see her."

"Very well, sir!" The mate turned, but Mildred said, suddenly:

"Wait! Why don't you talk to her, father?"

"That creature? I have nothing to say to her."

"Quite right!" agreed Marsh, with a cautionary glance at the speaker. "She is up to some trick."

"She may have something really important to say to you," urged the girl.

"No."

Mildred leaned forward, and called to the ship's officer: "Show her up. I will see her."

"Mildred, you mustn't talk to that woman!" her father cried.

"It is very unwise," Marsh chimed in, apprehensively. "She isn't the sort of person--"

Miss Wayland chilled him with a look and waved the mate away, then sank back into her chair.

"I have talked with her already. I assure you she is not dangerous."

"Have your own way," Mr. Wayland grunted. "But it is bound to lead to something unpleasant. She has probably come with a message from--that fellow."

Willis Marsh squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. He fixed his eyes upon the knot of men at the starboard rail; an expression of extreme alertness came over his bland features. His feet were drawn under him, and his fingers were clinched upon the arms of his chair. Then, with a sharp indrawing of his breath, he leaped up and darted down the deck.

Over the side had come Cherry Malotte, accompanied by an Indian girl in shawl and moccasins--a slim, shrinking creature who stood as if bewildered, twisting her hands and staring about with frightened eyes. Behind them, head and shoulders above the sailors, towered a giant copper- hued breed with a child in his arms.

They saw that Marsh was speaking to the newcomers, but could not distinguish his words. The Indian girl fell back as if terrified. She cried out something in her own tongue, shook her head violently, and pointed to her white companion. Marsh's face was livid; he shook a quivering hand in Cherry Malotte's face. It seemed as if he would strike her; but Constantine strode between them, scowling silently down into the smaller man's face, his own visage saturnine and menacing. Marsh retreated a step, chattering excitedly. Then Cherry's voice came clearly to the listeners:

"It is too late now, Mr. Marsh. You may as well face the music."

Followed by the stares of the sailors, she came up the deck toward the old man and his daughter, who had arisen, the Indian girl clinging to her sleeve, the tall breed striding noiselessly behind. Willis Marsh came with them, his white lips writhing, his face like putty. He made futile detaining grasps at Constantine, and in the silence that suddenly descended upon the ship, they heard him whispering.

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded Mr. Wayland.

"I heard you were about to sail, so I came out to see you before--"

Marsh broke in, hoarsely: "She's a bad woman! She has come here for blackmail!"

"Blackmail!" cried Wayne Wayland. "I thought as much!"

"That's her game. She wants money!"

Cherry shrugged her shoulders and showed her white teeth in a smile.

"Mr. Marsh anticipates slightly. You may judge if he is right."

Marsh started to speak, but Mildred Wayland, who had been watching him intently, was before him.

"Who sent you here, Miss?"

"No one sent me. If Mr. Marsh will stop his chatter, I can make myself understood."

"Don't listen to her--"

Cherry turned upon him swiftly. "You've got to face it, so you may as well keep still."

He fell silent.

"We heard that Mr. Marsh was going away with you, and I came out to ask him for enough money to support his child while he is gone."

"His child!" Wayne Wayland turned upon his daughter's fiance with a face of stern surprise. "Willis, tell her she is lying!"

"She's lying!" Marsh repeated, obediently; but they saw the truth in his face.

Cherry spoke directly to Miss Wayland now. "I have supported this little fellow and his mother for a year." She indicated the red-haired youngster in Constantine's arms. "That is all I care to do. When you people arrived, Mr. Marsh induced Chakawana to take the baby up-river to a fishing-camp and stay there until you had gone. But Constantine heard that he intended to marry you, and hearing also that he intended leaving to-night, Constantine brought his sister back in the hope that Mr. Marsh would do what is right. You see, he promised to marry Chakawana long before he met you."

Mildred could have done murder at the expression she saw in Cherry's face. This woman she had scorned had humbled her in earnest. With flashing eyes she turned upon her father.

"Since you were so prompt in announcing my engagement, perhaps you can deny it with equal promptness."

"Good God! What a scandal if this is true!" Wayne Wayland wiped his forehead.

"Oh, it's true," said Cherry.

In the silence that followed the child struggled out of Constantine's arms and stood beside his mother, the better to inspect these strangers. His little face was grimy, his clothes, cut in the native fashion, were poor and not very clean; yet he was more white than Aleut, and no one seeing him could doubt his parentage. The seamen had left their posts, and were watching with such absorption that they failed to see a skiff with a single oarsman swing past the stern of The Grande Dame and make fast to the landing. Still unobserved, the man mounted the companionway swiftly.

For once in his life Wayne Wayland was too confused for definite speech. Willis Marsh stood helpless, his plump face slack-jowled and beaded with sweat. He could not yet grasp the completeness of his downfall, and waited anxiously for some further sign from Mildred. It came at last in a look that scorched him, firing him to a last effort.

"Don't believe her!" he broke out. "She is lying to protect her own lover!" He pointed to Chakawana. "That girl is the child's mother, but its father is Boyd Emerson!"

"Boyd Emerson was never in Kalvik until last December," said Cherry. "The child is three years old."

"It seems I am being discussed," said a voice behind them. Emerson clove his way through the sailors, striding directly to Marsh. "What is the meaning of this?"

Mildred Wayland laid a fluttering hand upon her breast. "I knew he would come," she breathed.

Constantine broke his silence for the first time, addressing Mildred directly.

"This baby b'long Mr. Marsh. He say he goin' marry Chakawana, but he lie; he goin' marry you because you are rich girl." He turned to Marsh. "What for you lie, eh?" He leaned forward with a frightful scowl. "I tell you long time ago I kill you if you don' marry my sister."

"Now I understand!" exclaimed Boyd. "It was you who stabbed him that night in the cannery."

"Yes! Chakawana tell him what the pries' say 'bout woman what don' marry. My sister say she go to hell herself and don' care a damn, but it ain't right for little baby to go to hell too."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Mr. Wayland.

"The Father say if white man take Indian woman and don' marry her, she go to hell for thousan' year--mebbe two, three thousan' year. Anyhow, she don' never see Jesus' House. That's bad thing!" The breed shook his head seriously. "Chakawana she's good girl, and she go to church; I give money to the pries' too, plenty money every time, but he says that's no good-- she's got to be marry or she'll burn for always with little baby. By God! that's make her scare', because little baby ain't do nothing to burn that way. Mr. Marsh he say it's all damn lie, and he don't care if little baby do go to hell. You hear that? He don't care for little baby."

Constantine's eyes were full of tears as he strove laboriously to voice his religious teachings. He went on with growing agitation:

"Chakawana she's mighty scare' of that bad place. and she ask Mr. Marsh again to marry her, but he beat her. That's when I try to kill him. Mebbe Mr. Emerson ain't come so quick, Mr. Marsh go to hell himself."

Wayne Wayland turned upon Marsh.

"Why don't you say something?"

"I told you the brat isn't mine!" he cried. "If it isn't Emerson's, it's Cherry Malotte's. They want money, but I won't be bled."

"You marry my sister?" asked Constantine.

"No!" snarled Willis Marsh. "You can all go to hell and take the child with you--"

Without a single warning cry, the breed lunged swiftly; the others saw something gleam in his hand. Emerson jumped for him, and the three men went to the deck in a writhing tangle, sending the furniture spinning before them. Mildred screamed, the sailors rushed forward, pushing her aside and blotting out her view. The sudden violence of the assault had frightened her nearly out of her senses. She fled to her father, striving to hide her face against his breast, but something drew her eyes back to the spot where the men were clinched. She heard Boyd Emerson cry to the sailors:

"Get out of the way! I've got him!" Then saw him locked in the Indian's arms. They had gained their feet now, and spun backward, bringing up against the yacht's cabin with a crash of shivering glass. A knife, wrenched from the breed's grasp, went whirling over the side into the sea. Cherry Malotte ran forward, and at her voice the savage ceased his struggles.

Wayne Wayland loosed his daughter's hold and thrust his way in among the sailors, kneeling beside the man he had chosen for his son-in-law. Emerson joined him, then rose quickly, crying:

"Is there a doctor among your party?"

"Doctor Berry! Send for Berry! He's gone ashore!" exclaimed Mr. Wayland.

"Quick! Somebody fetch Doctor Berry!" Boyd directed.

As the sailors drew apart, Mildred Wayland saw a sight that made her grow deathly faint and close her eyes. Turning, she fled blindly into the cabin. A few moments later Emerson found her stretched unconscious at the head of the main stairs, with a hysterical French maid sobbing over her.