The Silver Horde by Rex Ellingwood Beach
Chapter VIII. Wherein Boyd Admits His Failure
A week later Boyd and George were watching the lights of Port Townsend blink out in the gloom astern. A quick change of boats at Juneau had raised their spirits, enabling them to complete the second stage of their journey in less than the expected time, and the southward run, out from the breath of the Arctics into a balmier climate, had removed nearly the last trace of their suffering from the frost.
A sort of meditative silence which had fallen upon the two men was broken at last by George, who for some time had been showing signs of uneasiness.
"How long are we going to stay in Seattle?" he inquired.
"Only long enough," Boyd replied, "for me to arrange a connection with some bank. That will require a day, perhaps."
"I suppose a feller has got to dress pretty swell back there in Chicago," George ventured.
"Some people do."
"Full-dress suits of clothes, eh?"
"Did you ever wear one?"
"Well, I'll be--" The fisherman checked himself and gazed at his companion as if he saw him suddenly in a new light; in fact, he had discovered many strange phases of this young man's character during the past fortnight. "Right along?" he questioned, incredulously.
"Why, yes. Pretty steadily."
"All day, at a time?"
Boyd laughed. "I haven't worn one in the daytime since I left college. They are used only at night."
George pondered this for some time, while Emerson stared out into the velvet darkness, to be roused again a moment later.
"A feller told me a funny thing once. He said them rich men back East had women come around and clean their finger-nails, and shine 'em up. Is that right?"
Another pause, then Balt cleared his throat and said, with an assumption of carelessness:
"Well, I don't suppose--you ever had 'em--shine your finger-nails, did you?"
The big man opened his mouth to speak; then, evidently changing his mind, observed, "Seems to me I'd better stay here on the coast and wait for you."
"No, indeed!" the other answered, quickly. "I will need you in raising that money. You know the practical side of the fishing business, and I don't."
"All right, I'll go. If you can stand for me, I'll stand for the full- dress suits of clothes and the finger-nail women. Anyhow, it won't last long."
"When were you outside last?"
"Four years ago."
"Ever been East?"
"Sure! I've got a sister in Spokane Falls. But I don't like it back there."
"You will have a good time in Chicago." Boyd smiled.
"Fingerless" Fraser came to them from the lighted regions amidship, greeting them cheerfully.
"Well, we're pretty near there, ain't we? I'm glad of it; I've about cleaned up this ship."
The adventurer had left his companions alone much of the time during the trip--greatly to Boyd's relief, for the fellow was an unconscionable bore --and had thus allowed them time to perfect their plans and thresh out numberless details.
"I grabbed another farmer's son at supper--just got through with him. He was good for three-fifty."
"Three hundred and fifty dollars?" questioned Balt.
"Yep! I opened a little stud game for him. Beats all how these suckers fall for the old stuff."
"Where did you get money to gamble with?" inquired Boyd.
"Oh! I won a pinch of change last night in a bridge game with that Dawson Bunch."
"But it must have required a bank-roll to sit in a game with them. They seem to be heavy spenders. How did you manage that?"
"I sold some mining property the day before. I got the captain of the ship." Fraser chuckled.
"Did you swindle that old fellow?" Emerson cried, angrily. "See here! I won't allow--"
"Swindle! Who said I 'swindled' anybody? I wouldn't trim my worst enemy."
"You have no mining claims."
"What makes you think I haven't? Alaska is a big country."
"You told me so."
"Well, I didn't have any claims at that time, but since we came aboard of this wagon at Juneau I have improved each shining hour. While you and George was building canneries I was rustling. And I did pretty well, if I do say it as shouldn't."
Emerson shrugged his broad shoulders. "You will get into trouble! If you do, I won't come to your rescue. I have helped you all I can."
"Not me!" denied the self-satisfied Fraser. "There ain't a chance. Why? Because I'm on the level, I am. That's why. But say, getting money from these Reubs is a joke. It's like kicking a lamb in the face." He clinked some gold coins in his pocket and began to whistle noiselessly. "When do we pull out for Chi?" he next inquired.
"We?" said Emerson. "I told you I would take you as far as Seattle. I can't stand for your 'work.' I think you had better stop here, don't you?"
"Perhaps it is for the best," Fraser observed, carelessly. "Time alone can tell." He bade them good-night and disappeared to snatch a few hours' sleep, but upon their arrival at the dock on the following morning, without waiting for an invitation he bundled himself into their carriage and rode to the hotel, registering immediately beneath them. They soon lost sight of him, however, for their next move was in the direction of a clothier's, where they were outfitted from sole to crown. The garments they stood up in showed whence they had come; yet the strangeness of their apparel excited little comment, for Seattle is the gateway to the great North Country, and hither the Northmen foregather, going and coming. But to them the city was very strange and exciting. The noises deafened them, the odors of civilization now tantalized, now offended their nostrils; the crowding streams of humanity confused them, fresh from their long sojourn in the silences and solitudes. Every clatter and crash, every brazen clang of gong, caused George to start; he watched his chance and took street- crossings as if pursued.
"If one of them bells rings behind me," he declared, "I'll jump through a plate-glass window." When his roving eyes first lighted upon a fruit stand he bolted for it and filled his pockets with tomatoes.
"I've dreamed about these things for four years," he declared, "and I can't stand it any longer." He bit into one voraciously, and thereafter followed his companion about munching tomatoes at every step, refilling his pockets as his supply diminished. To show his willingness for any sacrifice, he volunteered to wear a dress suit if Emerson would buy it for him, and it required considerable argument to convince him that the garb was unnecessary.
"You better train me up before we get East," he warned, "or I'll make your swell friends sore and spoil the deal. I could wear it on the cars and get easy in it."
"My dear fellow, it takes more than a week to 'get easy' in a dress suit." Boyd smiled, amused at his earnestness, for the big fellow was merely a boy out on a wonderful vacation.
"Well, if there is a Down-East manicure woman in Seattle, show her to me and I'll practice on her," he insisted. "She can halter-break me, at least."
"Yes, it might not hurt to get that off your hands," Emerson acknowledged, at which the clothier's clerk, who had noted the condition of the fisherman's huge paws, snickered audibly.
It was a labor of several hours to fit Big George's bulky frame, and when the two returned to the hotel Emerson found the representative of an afternoon newspaper anxiously awaiting him at the desk.
"We noticed your arrival from the North," began the reporter, "and Mr. Athens sent me down to get a story."
"Athens! Billy Athens?"
"Yes! He is the editor. I believe you two were college mates. He wanted to know if you are the Boyd Emerson of the Michigan football team."
"Well, well!" Boyd mused. "Billy Athens was a good tackle."
"He thought you might have something interesting to tell about Alaska," the newspaper man went on. "However, I won't need to take much of your time, for your partner has been telling me all about you and your trip and your great success."
"Yes. Mr. Frobisher. He heard me inquire about you and volunteered to give me an interview in your name."
"Frobisher!" said Emerson, now thoroughly mystified.
"Sure, that's him, over yonder." The reporter indicated "Fingerless" Fraser, who, having watched the interview from a distance, now solemnly closed one eye and stuck his tongue into his cheek.
"Oh, yes, yes! Frobisher!" Boyd stammered. "Certainly!"
"He is a character, isn't he? He told me how you rescued that girl when she broke through the ice at Kalvik."
"Quite a romance, wasn't it? It is a good newspaper story and I'll play it up. He is going to let me in on that hydraulic proposition of yours, too. Of course I haven't much money, but it sounds great, and--"
"How far along did you get with your negotiations about this hydraulic proposition?" Boyd asked, curiously.
"Just far enough so I'm all on edge for it. I'll make up a little pool among the boys at the office and have the money down here before you leave to-night."
"I am sorry, but Mr. Frobisher and I will have to talk it over first," said Emerson, grimly. "I think we will keep that 'hydraulic proposition' in the family, so to speak."
"Then you won't let me in?"
"Not just at present."
"I'm sorry! I should like to take a chance with somebody who is really successful at mining. When a fellow drones along on a salary month after month it makes him envious to see you Klondikers hit town with satchels full of coin. Perhaps you will give me a chance later on?"
"Perhaps," acceded Boyd; but when the young man had gone he strode quickly over to Fraser, who was lolling back comfortably, smoking a ridiculously long cigar with an elaborate gold band.
"Look here, Mr. 'Frobisher,'" he said, in a low tone, "what do you mean by mixing me up in your petty-larceny frauds?"
Fraser grinned. "'Frobisher' is hot monaker, ain't it? It sounds like the money. I believe I'll stick to 'Frobisher.'"
"I spiked your miserable little scheme, and if you try anything more like that, I'll have to cut you out altogether."
"Pshaw!" said the adventurer, mildly. "Did you say that hydraulic mine was no good? Too bad! That reporter agreed to take some stock right away, and promised to get his editor in on it, too."
"His editor!" Emerson cried, aghast. "Why, his editor happens to be a friend of mine, whose assistance I may need very badly when I get back from Chicago."
"Oh, well! That's different, of course."
"Now see here, Fraser, I want you to leave me out of your machinations, absolutely. You've been very decent to me in many ways, but if I hear of anything more like this I shall hand you over to the police."
"Don't be a sucker all your life," admonished the rogue. "You stick to me, and I'll make you a lot of money. I like you--"
Emerson, now seriously angry, wheeled and left him, realizing that the fellow was morally atrophied. He could not forget, however, that except for this impossible creature he himself would be lying at Petellin's store at Katmai with no faintest hope of completing his mission, wherefore he did his best to swallow his indignation.
"Hey! What time do we leave?" Fraser called after him, but the young man would not answer, proceeding instead to his room, there to renew his touch with the world through strange clean garments, the feel of which awakened memories and spurred him on to feverish haste. When he had dressed he hurried to a telegraph office and dispatched two messages to Chicago, one addressed to his own tailor, the other to a number on Lake Shore Drive. Over the latter he pondered long, tearing up several drafts which did not suit him, finally giving one to the operator with an odd mingling of timidity and defiance. This done, he hastened to one of the leading banks, and two hours later returned to the hotel, jubilant.
He found Big George in the lobby staring with fascinated eyes at his finger-nails, which were strangely purified and glossy.
"Look at 'em!" the fisherman broke out, admiringly. "They're as clean as a hound's tooth. They shine so I dassent take hold of anything."
"I have made my deal with the bank," Boyd exulted. "All I need to raise now is one hundred thousand dollars. The bank will advance the rest."
"That's great," said Balt, without interrupting the contemplation of his digits. "That's certainly immense. Say! Don't they glisten?"
"They look very nice--"
"Stylish! I think."
"That one hundred thousand dollars makes all the difference in the world. The task is easy, now. We will make it go, sure. These bankers know what that salmon business is. Why, I had no trouble at all. They say we can't lose if we have a good site on the Kalvik River."
"They're wise, all right. I guess that girl took me for a Klondiker," George observed. "She charged me double. But she was a nice girl, though. I was kind of rattled when I walked in and sat down, and I couldn't think of nothing to talk about. I never opened my head all the time, but she didn't notice it. When I left she asked me to come back again and have another nice long visit. She's an awful fine girl."
"Look out!" laughed his companion. "Every Alaskan falls in love with a manicurist at some time or other. It seems to be in the blood. We are going to have no matrimony, mind you."
"Lord! She wouldn't look at me," said the fisherman, suddenly, assuming a lobster pink.
That evening they dined as befits men just out from a long incarceration in the North, first having tried unsuccessfully to locate Fraser; for the rogue was bound to them by the intangible ties of hardship and trail life, and they could not bear to part from him without some expression of gratitude for the sacrifices he had made. But he was nowhere to be found, not even at train time.
"That seems hardly decent," Boyd remarked. "He might at least have said good-bye and wished us well."
"When he's around he makes me sore, and when he's away I miss him," said George. "He's probably out organizing something--or somebody."
At the station they waited until the last warning had sounded, vainly hoping that Fraser would put in an appearance, then sought their Pullman more piqued than they cared to admit. When the train pulled out, they went forward to the smoking compartment, still meditating upon this unexpected defection; but as they lighted their cigars, a familiar voice greeted them:
"Hello, you!"--and there was Fraser grinning at their astonishment.
"What are you doing here?" they cried, together.
"Me? Oh, I'm on my way East."
"Chicago, ain't it? I thought that was what you said." He seated himself and lighted another long cigar.
"Are you going to Chicago?" George asked.
"Sure! We've got to put this cannery deal over." The crook sighed luxuriously and began to blow smoke rings. "Pretty nice train, ain't it?"
"Yes," ejaculated Emerson, undecided whether to be pleased or angered at the fellow's presence. "Which is your car?"
"This one--same as yours. I've got the drawing-room."
"What are you going to do in Chicago?"
"Oh, I ain't fully decided yet, but I might do a little promoting. Seattle is too full of Alaskan snares."
Emerson reflected for a moment before remarking: "I dare say you will tangle me up in some new enterprise that will land us both in jail, so for my own protection I'll tell you what I'll do. I have noticed that you are a good salesman, and if you will take up something legitimate--"
"Legitimate!" Fraser interrupted, with indignation. "Why, all my schemes are legitimate. Anybody can examine them. If he don't like them, he needn't go in. If he weakens on one proposition, I'll get something that suits him better. You've got me wrong."
"If you want to handle something honest, I'll let you place some of this cannery stock on a commission."
"I don't see nothing attractive in that when I can sell stock of my own and keep all the money. Maybe I'll organize a cannery company of my own in Chicago--"
"If you do--" Boyd exploded.
"Very well! Don't get sore. I only just suggested the possibility. If that is your graft, I'll think up something better."
The younger man shook his head. "You are impossible," said he, "and yet I can't help liking you."
Late into the night they talked, Emerson oscillating between extreme volubility and deep abstraction. At one moment he was as gay as a prospective bridegroom, at the next he was more dejected than a man under sentence. And instead of growing calmer his spirits became more and more variable with the near approach of the journey's end.
In Chicago, as in Seattle, Fraser accompanied his fellow-travellers to their hotel, and would have registered himself under some high-sounding alias except for a whispered threat from Boyd. That young gentleman, after seeing his companions comfortably ensconced, left them to their own devices while he drove to the tailor to whom he had telegraphed, returning in a short time garbed in new clothes. He found Fraser sipping a solitary cocktail and visiting with the bartender on the closest terms of intimacy.
"George?" said that one, in answer to his inquiry. "Oh, George has gone on a still-hunt for a manicure parlor. Ain't that a rave? He's gone finger- mad. He'd ought to have them front feet shod. He don't need a manicurist; what he wants is a blacksmith."
"He is rather out of his latitude, so I wish you would keep an eye on him," Boyd said.
"All right! I'll take him out in the park on a leash, but if he tries to bite anybody I'll have to muzzle him. He ain't safe in the heart of a great city; he's a menace to the life and limb of every manicure woman who crosses his path. You gave him an awful push on the downward path when you laid him against this finger stuff."
Promptly at four o'clock Emerson called a cab and was driven toward the North Side. As the vehicle rolled up Lake Shore Drive the excitement under which he had been laboring for days increased until he tapped his feet nervously, clenched his gloved fingers, and patted the cushions as if to accelerate the horse's footfalls. Would he never arrive! The animal appeared to crawl more slowly every moment, the rubber-rimmed wheels to turn more sluggishly with each revolution. He called to the driver to hurry, then found himself of a sudden gripped by an overpowering hesitation, and grew frightened at his own haste. The close atmosphere of the cab seemed to stifle him: he jerked the window open, flung back the lapels of his great coat, and inhaled the sharp Lake air in deep breaths. Why did that driver lash a willing steed? They were nearly there, and he was not ready yet. He leaned out to check their speed, then closed his lips and settled back in his seat, staring at the houses slipping past. How well he remembered every one of them!
The dark stone frowned at him, the leaded windows stared at him through a blind film of unrecognition, the carven gargoyles grinned mockingly at him.
It all oppressed him heavily and crushed whatever hope had lain at his heart when he left the hotel. Never before had his goal seemed so unattainable; never before had he felt so bitterly the cruelty of riches, the hopelessness of poverty.
The vehicle drew up at last before one of the most pretentious residences, a massive pile of stone and brick fronting the Lake with what seemed to him a singularly proud and chilling aspect. His hand shook as he paid the driver, and it was a very pale though very erect young man who mounted the stone steps to the bell. Despite the stiffness with which he held himself, he felt the muscles at his knees trembling weakly, while his lungs did not seem to fill, even when he inhaled deeply. During the moments that he waited he found his body pulsating to the slow, heavy thumping of his heart; then a familiar face greeted him.
"How do you do, Hawkins," he heard himself saying, as a liveried old man ushered him in and took his coat. "Don't you remember me?"
"Yes, sir! Mr. Emerson. You have been away for a long time, sir."
"Is Miss Wayland in?"
"Yes, sir; she is expecting you. This way, please."
Boyd followed, thankful for the subdued light which might conceal his agitation. He knew where they were going: she had always awaited him in the library, so it seemed. And how well he remembered that wonderful book walled room! It was like her to welcome him on the spot where she had bade him good-bye three years ago.
Hawkins held the portieres aside and Boyd heard their velvet swish at his back, yet for the briefest instant he did not see her, so motionless did she stand. Then he cried, softly:
"My Lady!" and strode forward.
"Boyd! Boyd!" she answered and came to meet him, yielding herself to his arms. She felt his heart pounding against hers like the heart of a runner who has spent himself at the tape, felt his arms quivering as if from great fatigue. For a long time neither spoke.