Bertrand W. Sinclair
Part 2 out of 5
day in early August. Under a branchy alder at the cook-house-end she
piled all the pillows she could commandeer in their quarters and curled
herself upon them at grateful ease. Like a tired animal, she gave
herself up to the pleasure of physical relaxation, staring at a perfect
turquoise sky through the whispering leaves above. She was not even
thinking. She was too tired to think, and for the time being too much at
peace to permit thought that would, in the very nature of things, be
Abbey maintained for his own pleasure a fast motorboat. He slid now into
the bay unheard, tied up beside the float, walked to the kitchen,
glanced in, then around the corner, and smilingly took a seat on the
grass near her.
"It's too perfect a day to loaf in the shade," he observed, after a
brief exchange of commonplaces. "Won't you come out for a little spin on
the lake? A ride in the _Wolf_ will put some color in your cheeks."
"If I had time," she said, "I would. But loggers must eat though the
heavens fall. In about twenty minutes I'll have to start supper. I'll
have color enough, goodness knows once I get over that stove."
Abbey picked nervously at a blade of grass for a minute.
"This is a regular dog's life for you," he broke out suddenly.
"Oh, hardly that," she protested. "It's a little hard on me because I
haven't been used to it, that's all."
"It's Chinaman's work," he said hotly. "Charlie oughtn't to let you stew
in that kitchen."
Stella said nothing; she was not moved to the defence of her brother.
She was loyal enough to her blood, but not so intensely loyal that she
could defend him against criticism that struck a responsive chord in her
own mind. She was beginning to see that, being useful, Charlie was
making use of her. His horizon had narrowed to logs that might be
transmuted into money. Enslaved himself by his engrossing purposes, he
thought nothing of enslaving others to serve his end. She had come to a
definite conclusion about that, and she meant to collect her wages when
he sold his logs, collect also the ninety dollars of her money he had
coolly appropriated, and try a different outlet. If one must work, one
might at least seek work a little to one's taste. She therefore
dismissed Abbey's comment carelessly:
"Some one has to do it."
A faint flush crept slowly up into his round, boyish face. He looked at
her with disconcerting steadiness. Perhaps something in his expression
gave her the key to his thought, or it may have been that peculiar
psychical receptiveness which in a woman we are pleased to call
intuition; but at any rate Stella divined what was coming and would have
forestalled it by rising. He prevented that move by catching her hands.
"Look here, Stella," he blurted out, "it just grinds me to death to see
you slaving away in this camp, feeding a lot of roughnecks. Won't you
marry me and cut this sort of thing out? We'd be no end good chums."
She gently disengaged her hands, her chief sensation one of amusement,
Abbey was in such an agony of blushing diffidence, all flustered at his
own temerity. Also, she thought, a trifle precipitate. That was not the
sort of wooing to carry her off her feet. For that matter she was quite
sure nothing Paul Abbey could do or say would ever stir her pulses. She
had to put an end to the situation, however. She took refuge in a
"Thanks for the compliment, Mr. Abbey," she smiled. "But really I
couldn't think of inflicting repentance at leisure on you in that
offhand way. You wouldn't want me to marry you just so I could resign
the job of chef, would you?"
"Don't you like me?" he asked plaintively.
"Not that way," she answered positively.
"You might try," he suggested hopefully. "Honest, I'm crazy about you.
I've liked you ever since I saw you first. I wouldn't want any greater
privilege than to marry you and take you away from this sort of thing.
You're too good for it. Maybe I'm kind of sudden, but I know my own
mind. Can't you take a chance with me?"
"I'm sorry," she said gently, seeing him so sadly in earnest. "It isn't
a question of taking a chance. I don't care for you. I haven't got any
feeling but the mildest sort of friendliness. If I married you, it would
only be for a home, as the saying is. And I'm not made that way. Can't
you see how impossible it would be?"
"You'd get to like me," he declared. "I'm just as good as the next man."
His smooth pink-and-white skin reddened again.
"That sounds a lot like tooting my own horn mighty strong," said he.
"But I'm in dead earnest. If there isn't anybody else yet, you could
like me just as well as the next fellow. I'd be awfully good to you."
"I daresay you would," she said quietly. "But I couldn't be good to you.
I don't want to marry you, Mr. Abbey. That's final. All the feeling I
have for you isn't enough for any woman to marry on."
"Maybe not," he said dolefully. "I suppose that's the way it goes. Hang
it, I guess I was a little too sudden. But I'm a stayer. Maybe you'll
change your mind some time."
He was standing very near her, and they were both so intent upon the
momentous business that occupied them that neither noticed Charlie
Benton until his hail startled them to attention.
"Hello, folks," he greeted and passed on into the cook shanty, bestowing
upon Stella, over Abbey's shoulder, a comprehensive grin which nettled
her exceedingly. Her peaceful hour had been disturbed to no purpose. She
did not want to love or be loved. For the moment she felt old beyond her
years, mature beyond the comprehension of any man. If she had voiced her
real attitude toward Paul Abbey, she would have counseled him to run and
play, "like a good little boy."
Instead she remarked: "I must get to work," and left her downcast
suitor without further ceremony.
As she went about her work in the kitchen, she saw Abbey seat himself
upon a log in the yard, his countenance wreathed in gloom. He was
presently joined by her brother. Glancing out, now and then, she made a
guess at the meat of their talk, and her lip curled slightly. She saw
them walk down to Abbey's launch, and Charlie delivered an encouraging
slap on Paul's shoulder as he embarked. Then the speedy craft tore out
of the bay at a headlong gait, her motor roaring in unmuffled exhaust,
wide wings of white spray arching off her flaring bows.
"The desperate recklessness of thwarted affection--fiddlesticks!" Miss
Benton observed in sardonic mood. Her hands were deep in pie dough. She
thumped it viciously. The kitchen and the flies and all the rest of it
rasped at her nerves again.
Charlie came into the kitchen, hunted a cookie out of the tin box where
such things were kept, and sat swinging one leg over a corner of the
table, eying her critically while he munched.
"So you turned Paul down, eh?" he said at last. "You're the prize chump.
You've missed the best chance you'll ever have to put yourself on Easy
SOME NEIGHBORLY ASSISTANCE
For a week thereafter Benton developed moods of sourness, periods of
scowling thought. He tried to speed up his gang, and having all spring
driven them at top speed, the added straw broke the back of their
patience, and Stella heard some sharp interchanges of words. He quelled
one incipient mutiny through sheer dominance, but it left him more short
of temper, more crabbedly moody than ever. Eventually his ill-nature
broke out against Stella over some trifle, and she--being herself an
aggrieved party to his transactions--surprised her own sense of the
fitness of things by retaliating in kind.
"I'm slaving away in your old camp from daylight till dark at work I
despise, and you can't even speak decently to me," she flared up. "You
act like a perfect brute lately. What's the matter with you?"
Benton gnawed at a finger nail in silence.
"Hang it, I guess you're right," he admitted at last. "But I can't help
having a grouch. I'm going to fall behind on this contract, the best I
"Well," she replied tartly. "I'm not to blame for that. I'm not
responsible for your failure. Why take it out on me?"
"I don't, particularly," he answered. "Only--can't you _sabe_? A man
gets on edge when he works and sweats for months and sees it all about
to come to nothing."
"So does a woman," she made pointed retort.
Benton chose to ignore the inference.
"If I fall down on this, it'll just about finish me," he continued
glumly. "These people are not going to allow me an inch leeway. I'll
have to deliver on that contract to the last stipulated splinter before
they'll pay over a dollar. If I don't have a million feet for 'em three
weeks from to-day, it's all off, and maybe a suit for breach of contract
besides. That's the sort they are. If they can wiggle out of taking my
logs, they'll be to the good, because they've made other contracts down
the coast at fifty cents a thousand less. And the aggravating thing
about it is that if I could get by with this deal, I can close a
five-million-foot contract with the Abbey-Monohan outfit, for delivery
next spring. I must have the money for this before I can undertake the
"Can't you sell your logs if these other people won't take them?" she
asked, somewhat alive now to his position--and, incidentally, her own
"In time, yes," he said. "But when you go into the open market with
logs, you don't always find a buyer right off the reel. I'd have to hire
'em towed from here to Vancouver, and there's some bad water to get
over. Time is money to me right now, Stell. If the thing dragged over
two or three months, by the time they were sold and all expenses paid, I
might not have anything left. I'm in debt for supplies, behind in
wages. When it looks like a man's losing, everybody jumps him. That's
business. I may have my outfit seized and sold up if I fall down on this
delivery and fail to square up accounts right away. Damn it, if you
hadn't given Paul Abbey the cold turn-down, I might have got a boost
over this hill. You were certainly a chump."
"I'm not a mere pawn in your game yet," she flared hotly. "I suppose
you'd trade me for logs enough to complete your contract and consider it
a good bargain."
"Oh, piffle," he answered coolly. "What's the use talking like that.
It's your game as much as mine. Where do you get off, if I go broke? You
might have done a heap worse. Paul's a good head. A girl that hasn't
anything but her looks to get through the world on hasn't any business
overlooking a bet like that. Nine girls out of ten marry for what there
is in it, anyhow."
"Thank you," she replied angrily. "I'm not in the market on that basis."
"All this stuff about ideal love and soul communion and perfect mating
is pure bunk, it seems to me," Charlie tacked off on a new course of
thought. "A man and a woman somewhere near of an age generally hit it
off all right, if they've got common horse sense--and income enough so
they don't have to squabble eternally about where the next new hat and
suit's coming from. It's the coin that counts most of all. It sure is,
Sis. It's me that knows it, right now."
He sat a minute or two longer, again preoccupied with his problems.
"Well," he said at last, "I've got to get action somehow. If I could get
about thirty men and another donkey for three weeks, I'd make it."
He went outside. Up in the near woods the whine of the saws and the
sounds of chopping kept measured beat. It was late in the forenoon, and
Stella was hard about her dinner preparations. Contract or no contract,
money or no money, men must eat. That fact loomed biggest on her daily
schedule, left her no room to think overlong of other things. Her huff
over, she felt rather sorry for Charlie, a feeling accentuated by sight
of him humped on a log in the sun, too engrossed in his perplexities to
be where he normally was at that hour, in the thick of the logging,
working harder than any of his men.
A little later she saw him put off from the float in the _Chickamin's_
dinghy. When the crew came to dinner, he had not returned. Nor was he
back when they went out again at one.
Near mid-afternoon, however, he strode into the kitchen, wearing the
look of a conqueror.
"I've got it fixed," he announced.
Stella looked up from a frothy mass of yellow stuff that she was
stirring in a pan.
"Got what fixed?" she asked.
"Why, this log business," he said. "Jack Fyfe is going to put in a crew
and a donkey, and we're going to everlastingly rip the innards out of
these woods. I'll make delivery after all."
"That's good," she remarked, but noticeably without enthusiasm. The
heat of that low-roofed shanty had taken all possible enthusiasm for
anything out of her for the time being. Always toward the close of each
day she was gripped by that feeling of deadly fatigue, in the face of
which nothing much mattered but to get through the last hours somehow
and drag herself wearily to bed.
Benton playfully tweaked Katy John's ear and went whistling up the
trail. It was plain sailing for him now, and he was correspondingly
He tried to talk to Stella that evening when she was through, all about
big things in the future, big contracts he could get, big money he could
see his way to make. It fell mostly on unappreciative ears. She was
tired, so tired that his egotistical chatter irritated her beyond
measure. What she would have welcomed with heartfelt gratitude was not
so much a prospect of future affluence in which she might or might not
share as a lightening of her present burden. So far as his conversation
ran, Benton's sole concern seemed to be more equipment, more men, so
that he might get out more logs. In the midst of this optimistic talk,
Stella walked abruptly into her room.
Noon of the next day brought the _Panther_ coughing into the bay,
flanked on the port side by a scow upon which rested a twin to the iron
monster that jerked logs into her brother's chute. To starboard was made
fast a like scow. That was housed over, a smoking stovepipe stuck
through the roof, and a capped and aproned cook rested his arms on the
window sill as they floated in. Men to the number of twenty or more
clustered about both scows and the _Panther's_ deck, busy with pipe and
cigarette and rude jest. The clatter of their voices uprose through the
noon meal. But when the donkey scow thrust its blunt nose against the
beach, the chaff and laughter died into silent, capable action.
"A Seattle yarder properly handled can do anything but climb a tree,"
Charlie had once boasted to her, in reference to his own machine.
It seemed quite possible to Stella, watching Jack Fyfe's crew at work.
Steam was up in the donkey. They carried a line from its drum through a
snatch block ashore and jerked half a dozen logs crosswise before the
scow in a matter of minutes. Then the same cable was made fast to a
sturdy fir, the engineer stood by, and the ponderous machine slid
forward on its own skids, like an up-ended barrel on a sled, down off
the scow, up the bank, smashing brush, branches, dead roots, all that
stood in its path, drawing steadily up to the anchor tree as the cable
spooled up on the drum.
A dozen men tailed on to the inch and a quarter cable and bore the loose
end away up the path. Presently one stood clear, waving a signal. Again
the donkey began to puff and quiver, the line began to roll up on the
drum, and the big yarder walked up the slope under its own power, a
locomotive unneedful of rails, making its own right of way. Upon the
platform built over the skids were piled the tools of the crew, sawed
blocks for the fire box, axes, saws, grindstones, all that was necessary
in their task. At one o'clock they made their first move. At two the
donkey was vanished into that region where the chute-head lay, and the
great firs stood waiting the slaughter.
By mid-afternoon Stella noticed an acceleration of numbers in the logs
that came hurtling lakeward. Now at shorter intervals arose the grinding
sound of their arrival, the ponderous splash as each leaped to the
water. It was a good thing, she surmised--for Charlie Benton. She could
not see where it made much difference to her whether ten logs a day or a
hundred came down to the boomsticks.
Late that afternoon Katy vanished upon one of her periodic visits to the
camp of her kindred around the point. Bred out of doors, of a tribe
whose immemorial custom it is that the women do all the work, the Siwash
girl was strong as an ox, and nearly as bovine in temperament and
movements. She could lift with ease a weight that taxed Stella's
strength, and Stella Benton was no weakling, either. It was therefore a
part of Katy's routine to keep water pails filled from the creek and the
wood box supplied, in addition to washing dishes and carrying food to
the table. Katy slighted these various tasks occasionally. She needed
oversight, continual admonition, to get any job done in time. She was
slow to the point of exasperation. Nevertheless, she lightened the day's
labor, and Stella put up with her slowness since she needs must or
assume the entire burden herself. This time Katy thoughtlessly left with
both water pails empty.
Stella was just picking them up off the bench when a shadow darkened the
door, and she looked around to see Jack Fyfe.
"How d' do," he greeted.
He had seemed a short man. Now, standing within four feet of her, she
perceived that this was an illusion created by the proportion and
thickness of his body. He was, in fact, half a head taller than she, and
Stella stood five feet five. His gray eyes met hers squarely, with a
cool, impersonal quality of gaze. There was neither smirk nor
embarrassment in his straightforward glance. He was, in effect, "sizing
her up" just as he would have looked casually over a logger asking him
for a job. Stella sensed that, and resenting it momentarily, failed to
match his manner. She flushed. Fyfe smiled, a broad, friendly grin, in
which a wide mouth opened to show strong, even teeth.
"I'm after a drink," he said quite impersonally, and coolly taking the
pails out of her hands, walked through the kitchen and down to the
creek. He was back in a minute, set the filled buckets in their place,
and helped himself with a dipper.
"Say," he asked easily, "how do you like life in a logging camp by this
time? This is sure one hot job you've got."
"Literally or slangily?" she asked in a flippant tone. Fyfe's
reputation, rather vividly colored, had reached her from various
sources. She was not quite sure whether she cared to countenance him or
not. There was a disturbing quality in his glance, a subtle suggestion
of force about him that she felt without being able to define in
understandable terms. In any case she felt more than equal to the task
of squelching any effort at familiarity, even if Jack Fyfe were, in a
sense, the convenient god in her brother's machine. Fyfe chuckled at
"Both," he replied shortly and went out.
She saw him a little later out on the bay in the _Panther's_ dink,
standing up in the little boat, making long, graceful casts with a
pliant rod. She perceived that this manner of fishing was highly
successful, insomuch as at every fourth or fifth cast a trout struck his
fly, breaking water with a vigorous splash. Then the bamboo would arch
as the fish struggled, making sundry leaps clear of the water, gleaming
like silver each time he broke the surface, but coming at last tamely to
Jack Fyfe's landing net. Of outdoor sports she knew most about angling,
for her father had been an ardent fly-caster. And she had observed with
a true angler's scorn the efforts of her brother's loggers to catch the
lake trout with a baited hook, at which they had scant success. Charlie
never fished. He had neither time nor inclination for such fooling, as
he termed it. Fyfe stopped fishing when the donkeys whistled six. It
happened that when he drew in to his cookhouse float, Stella was
standing in her kitchen door. Fyfe looked up at her and held aloft a
dozen trout strung by the gills on a stick, gleaming in the sun.
"Vanity," she commented inaudibly. "I wonder if he thinks I've been
admiring his skill as a fisherman?"
Nevertheless she paid tribute to his skill when ten minutes later he
sent a logger with the entire catch to her kitchen. They looked
toothsome, those lakers, and they were. She cooked one for her own
supper and relished it as a change from the everlasting bacon and ham.
In the face of that million feet of timber, Benton hunted no deer. True,
the Siwashes had once or twice brought in some venison. That, with a
roast or two of beef from town, was all the fresh meat she had tasted in
two months. There were enough trout to make a breakfast for the crew.
She ate hers and mentally thanked Jack Fyfe.
Lying in her bed that night, in the short interval that came between
undressing and wearied sleep, she found herself wondering with a good
deal more interest about Jack Fyfe than she had ever bestowed
upon--well, Paul Abbey, for instance.
She was quite positive that she was going to dislike Jack Fyfe if he
were thrown much in her way. There was something about him that she
resented. The difference between him and the rest of the rude crew among
which she must perforce live was a question of degree, not of kind.
There was certainly some compelling magnetism about the man. But along
with it went what she considered an almost brutal directness of speech
and action. Part of this conclusion came from hearsay, part from
observation, limited though her opportunities had been for the latter.
Miss Stella Benton, for all her poise, was not above jumping at
conclusions. There was something about Jack Fyfe that she resented. She
irritably dismissed it as a foolish impression, but the fact remained
that the mere physical nearness of him seemed to put her on the
defensive, as if he were in reality a hunter and she the hunted.
Fyfe joined Charlie Benton about the time she finished work. The three
of them sat on the grass before Benton's quarters, and every time Jack
Fyfe's eyes rested on her she steeled herself to resist--what, she did
not know. Something intangible, something that disturbed her. She had
never experienced anything like that before; it tantalized her, roused
her curiosity. There was nothing occult about the man. He was nowise
fascinating, either in face or manner. He made no bid for her attention.
Yet during the half hour he sat there, Stella's mind revolved constantly
about him. She recalled all that she had heard of him, much of it, from
her point of view, highly discreditable. Inevitably she fell to
comparing him with other men she knew.
She had, in a way, unconsciously been prepared for just such a measure
of concentration upon Jack Fyfe. For he was a power on Roaring Lake, and
power,--physical, intellectual or financial,--exacts its own tribute of
consideration. He was a fighter, a dominant, hard-bitten woodsman, so
the tale ran. He had gathered about him the toughest crew on the Lake,
himself, upon occasion, the most turbulent of all. He controlled many
square miles of big timber, and he had gotten it all by his own effort
in the eight years since he came to Roaring Lake as a hand logger. He
was slow of speech, chain-lightning in action, respected generally,
feared a lot. All these things her brother and Katy John had sketched
for Stella with much verbal embellishment.
There was no ignoring such a man. Brought into close contact with the
man himself, Stella felt the radiating force of his personality. There
it was, a thing to be reckoned with. She felt that whenever Jack Fyfe's
gray eyes rested impersonally on her. His pleasant, freckled face
hovered before her until she fell asleep, and in her sleep she dreamed
again of him throwing that drunken logger down the Hot Springs slip.
By September first a growing uneasiness hardened into distasteful
certainty upon Stella. It had become her firm resolve to get what money
was due her when Charlie marketed his logs and try another field of
labor. That camp on Roaring Lake was becoming a nightmare to her. She
had no inherent dislike for work. She was too vibrantly alive to be
lazy. But she had had an overdose of unaccustomed drudgery, and she was
growing desperate. If there had been anything to keep her mind from
continual dwelling on the manifold disagreeableness she had to cope
with, she might have felt differently, but there was not. She ate,
slept, worked,--ate, slept, and worked again,--till every fibre of her
being cried out in protest against the deadening round. She was like a
flower striving to attain its destiny of bloom in soil overrun with rank
weeds. Loneliness and hard, mean work, day after day, in which all that
had ever seemed desirable in life had neither place nor consideration,
were twin evils of isolation and flesh-wearying labor, from which she
felt that she must get away, or go mad.
But she did not go. Benton left to make his delivery to the mill
company, the great boom of logs gliding slowly along in the wake of a
tug, the _Chickamin_ in attendance. Benton's crew accompanied the boom.
Fyfe's gang loaded their donkey and gear aboard the scow and went home.
The bay lay all deserted, the woods silent. For the first time in three
months she had all her hours free, only her own wants to satisfy. Katy
John spent most of her time in the smoky camp of her people. Stella
loafed. For two days she did nothing, gave herself up to a physical
torpor she had never known before. She did not want to read, to walk
about, or even lift her eyes to the bold mountains that loomed massive
across the lake. It was enough to lie curled among pillows under the
alder and stare drowsily at the blue September sky, half aware of the
drone of a breeze in the firs, the flutter of birds' wings, and the lap
of water on the beach.
Presently, however, the old restless energy revived. The spring came
back to her step and she shed that lethargy like a cast-off garment. And
in so doing her spirit rose in hot rebellion against being a prisoner to
deadening drudgery, against being shut away from all the teeming life
that throve and trafficked beyond the solitude in which she sat immured.
When Charlie came back, there was going to be a change. She repeated
that to herself with determination. Between whiles she rambled about in
the littered clearing, prowled along the beaches, and paddled now and
then far outside the bay in a flat-bottomed skiff, restless, full of
plans. So far as she saw, she would have to face some city alone, but
she viewed that prospect with a total absence of the helpless feeling
which harassed her so when she first took train for her brother's camp.
She had passed through what she termed a culinary inferno. Nothing, she
considered, could be beyond her after that unremitting drudgery.
But Benton failed to come back on the appointed day. The four days
lengthened to a week. Then the _Panther_, bound up-lake, stopped to
leave a brief note from Charlie, telling her business had called him to
Altogether it was ten days before the _Chickamin_ whistled up the bay.
She slid in beside the float, her decks bristling with men like a
passenger craft. Stella, so thoroughly sated with loneliness that she
temporarily forgot her grievances, flew to meet her brother. But one
fair glimpse of the disembarking crew turned her back. They were all in
varying stages of liquor--from two or three who had to be hauled over
the float and up to the bunkhouse like sacks of bran, to others who were
so happily under the influence of John Barleycorn that every move was
some silly antic. She retreated in disgust. When Charlie reached the
cabin, he himself proved to be fairly mellow, in the best of
spirits--speaking truly in the double sense.
"Hello, lady," he hailed jovially. "How did you fare all by your
lonesome this long time? I didn't figure to be gone so long, but there
was a lot to attend to. How are you, anyway?"
"All right," she answered coolly. "You evidently celebrated your log
delivery in the accepted fashion."
"Don't you believe it," he grinned amiably. "I had a few drinks with the
boys on the way up, that's all. No, sir, it was straight business with
a capital B all the time I was gone. I've got a good thing in hand,
Sis--big money in sight. Tell you about it later. Think you and Katy can
rustle grub for this bunch by six?"
"Oh, I suppose so," she said shortly. It was on the tip of her tongue to
tell him then and there that she was through,--like Matt, the cook, that
memorable afternoon, "completely an' ab-sho-lutely through." She
refrained. There was no use in being truculent. But that drunken crowd
looked formidable in numbers.
"How many extra?" she asked mechanically.
"Thirty men, all told," Benton returned briskly. "I tell you I'm sure
going to rip the heart out of this limit before spring. I've signed up a
six-million-foot contract for delivery as soon as the logs'll go over
Roaring Rapids in the spring. Remember what I told you when you came?
You stick with me, and you'll wear diamonds. I stand to clean up twenty
thousand on the winter's work."
"In that case, you should be able to hire a real cook," she suggested, a
spice of malice in her tone.
"I sure will, when it begins to come right," he promised largely. "And
I'll give you a soft job keeping books then. Well, I'll lend you a hand
for to-night. Where's the Siwash maiden?"
"Over at the camp; there she comes now," Stella replied. "Will you start
a fire, Charlie, while I change my dress?"
"You look like a peach in that thing." He stood off a pace to admire.
"You're some dame, Stell, when you get on your glad rags."
She frowned at her image in the glass behind the closed door of her
room as she set about unfastening the linen dress she had worn that
afternoon. Deep in her trunk, along with much other unused finery, it
had reposed all summer. That ingrained instinct to be admired, to be
garbed fittingly and well, came back to her as soon as she was rested.
And though there were none but squirrels and bluejays and occasionally
Katy John to cast admiring eyes upon her, it had pleased her for a week
to wear her best, and wander about the beaches and among the dusky
trunks of giant fir, a picture of blooming, well-groomed womanhood. She
took off the dress and threw it on the bed with a resentful rush of
feeling. The treadmill gaped for her again. But not for long. She was
through with that. She was glad that Charlie's prospects pleased him. He
could not call on her to help him out of a hole now. She would tell him
her decision to-night. And as soon as he could get a cook to fill her
place, then good-by to Roaring Lake, good-by to kitchen smells and flies
and sixteen hours a day over a hot stove.
She wondered why such a loathing of the work afflicted her; if all who
earned their bread in the sweat of their brow were ridden with that
feeling,--woodsmen, cooks, chauffeurs, the slaves of personal service
and the great industrial mills alike? Her heart went out to them if they
were. But she was quite sure that work could be otherwise than
repellent, enslaving. She recalled that cooks and maids had worked in
her father's house with no sign of the revolt that now assailed her. But
it seemed to her that their tasks had been light compared with the job
of cooking in Charlie Benton's camp.
Curiously enough, while she changed her clothes, her thoughts a jumble
of present things she disliked and the unknown that she would have to
face alone in Vancouver, she found her mind turning on Jack Fyfe. During
his three weeks' stay, they had progressed less in the direction of
acquaintances than she and Paul Abbey had done in two meetings. Fyfe
talked to her now and then briefly, but he looked at her more than he
talked. Where his searching gaze disturbed, his speech soothed, it was
so coolly impersonal. That, she deemed, was merely another of his odd
contradictions. He was contradictory. Stella classified Jack Fyfe as a
creature of unrestrained passions. She recognized, or thought she
recognized, certain dominant, primitive characteristics, and they did
not excite her admiration. Men admired him--those who were not afraid of
him. If he had been of more polished clay, she could readily have
grasped this attitude. But in her eyes he was merely a rude, masterful
man, uncommonly gifted with physical strength, dominating other rude,
strong men by sheer brute force. And she herself rather despised sheer
brute force. The iron hand should fitly be concealed beneath the velvet
Yet in spite of the bold look in his eyes that always confused and
irritated her, Fyfe had never singled her out for the slightest
attention of the kind any man bestows upon an attractive woman. Stella
was no fool. She knew that she was attractive, and she knew why. She had
been prepared to repulse, and there had been nothing to repulse. Once
during Charlie's absence he had come in a rowboat, hailed her from the
beach, and gone away without disembarking when she told him Benton was
not back. He was something of an enigma, she confessed to herself, after
all. Perhaps that was why he came so frequently into her mind. Or
perhaps, she told herself, there was so little on Roaring Lake to think
about that one could not escape the personal element. As if any one ever
could. As if life were made up of anything but the impinging of one
personality upon another. That was something Miss Stella Benton had yet
to learn. She was still mired in the rampant egotism of untried youth,
as yet the sublime individualist.
That side of her suffered a distinct shock later in the evening. When
supper was over, the work done, and the loggers' celebration was slowly
subsiding in the bunkhouse, she told Charlie with blunt directness what
she wanted to do. With equally blunt directness he declared that he
would not permit it. Stella's teeth came together with an angry little
"I'm of age, Charlie," she said to him. "It isn't for you to say what
you will or will not _permit_ me to do. I want that money of mine that
you used--and what I've earned. God knows I _have_ earned it. I can't
stand this work, and I don't intend to. It isn't work; it's slavery."
"But what can you do in town?" he countered. "You haven't the least idea
what you'd be going up against, Stell. You've never been away from home,
and you've never had the least training at anything useful. You'd be on
your uppers in no time at all. You wouldn't have a ghost of a chance."
"I have such a splendid chance here," she retorted ironically. "If I
could get in any position where I'd be more likely to die of sheer
stagnation, to say nothing of dirty drudgery, than in this forsaken
hole, I'd like to know how. I don't think it's possible."
"You could be a whole lot worse off, if you only knew it," Benton
returned grumpily. "If you haven't got any sense about things, I have. I
know what a rotten hole Vancouver or any other seaport town is for a
girl alone. I won't let you make any foolish break like that. That's
From this position she failed to budge him. Once angered, partly by her
expressed intention and partly by the outspoken protest against the
mountain of work imposed on her, Charlie refused point-blank to give her
either the ninety dollars he had taken out of her purse or the three
months' wages due. Having made her request, and having met with this--to
her--amazing refusal, Stella sat dumb. There was too fine a streak in
her to break out in recrimination. She was too proud to cry.
So that she went to bed in a ferment of helpless rage. Virtually she was
a prisoner, as much so as if Charlie had kidnaped her and held her so by
brute force. The economic restraint was all potent. Without money she
could not even leave the camp. And when she contemplated the daily
treadmill before her, she shuddered.
At least she could go on strike. Her round cheek flushed with the
bitterest anger she had ever known, she sat with eyes burning into the
dark of her sordid room, and vowed that the thirty loggers should die of
slow starvation if they did not eat until she cooked another meal for
JACK FYFE'S CAMP
She was still hot with the spirit of mutiny when morning came, but she
cooked breakfast. It was not in her to act like a petulant child.
Morning also brought a different aspect to things, for Charlie told her
while he helped prepare breakfast that he was going to take his crew and
repay in labor the help Jack Fyfe had given him.
"While we're there, Jack's cook will feed all hands," said he. "And by
the time we're through there, I'll have things fixed so it won't be such
hard going for you here. Do you want to go along to Jack's camp?"
"No," she answered shortly. "I don't. I would much prefer to get away
from this lake altogether, as I told you last night."
"You might as well forget that notion," he said stubbornly. "I've got a
little pride in the matter. I don't want my sister drudging at the only
kind of work she'd be able to earn a living at."
"You're perfectly willing to have me drudge here," she flashed back.
"That's different," he defended. "And it's only temporary. I'll be
making real money before long. You'll get your share if you'll have a
little patience and put your shoulder to the wheel. Lord, I'm doing the
best I can."
"Yes--for yourself," she returned. "You don't seem to consider that I'm
entitled to as much fair play as you'd have to accord one of your men. I
don't want you to hand me an easy living on a silver salver. All I want
of you is what is mine, and the privilege of using my own judgment. I'm
quite capable of taking care of myself."
If there had been opportunity to enlarge on that theme, they might have
come to another verbal clash. But Benton never lost sight of his primary
object. The getting of breakfast and putting his men about their work
promptly was of more importance to him than Stella's grievance. So the
incipient storm dwindled to a sullen mood on her part. Breakfast over,
Benton loaded men and tools aboard a scow hitched beside the boat. He
repeated his invitation, and Stella refused, with a sarcastic reflection
on the company she would be compelled to keep there.
The _Chickamin_ with her tow drew off, and she was alone again.
"Marooned once more," Stella said to herself when the little steamboat
slipped behind the first jutting point. "Oh, if I could just be a man
for a while."
Marooned seemed to her the appropriate term. There were the two old
Siwashes and their dark-skinned brood. But they were little more to
Stella than the insentient boulders that strewed the beach. She could
not talk to them or they to her. Long since she had been surfeited with
Katy John. If there were any primitive virtues in that dusky maiden they
were well buried under the white man's schooling. Katy's demand upon
life was very simple and in marked contrast to Stella Benton's. Plenty
of grub, no work, some cheap finery, and a man white or red, no matter,
to make eyes at. Her horizon was bounded by Roaring Lake and the mission
at Skookumchuck. She was therefore no mitigation of Stella's loneliness.
Nevertheless Stella resigned herself to make the best of it, and it
proved a poor best. She could not detach herself sufficiently from the
sordid realities to lose herself in day-dreaming. There was not a book
in the camp save some ten-cent sensations she found in the bunkhouse,
and these she had exhausted during Charlie's first absence. The uncommon
stillness of the camp oppressed her more than ever. Even the bluejays
and squirrels seemed to sense its abandonment, seemed to take her as
part of the inanimate fixtures, for they frisked and chattered about
with uncommon fearlessness. The lake lay dead gray, glassy as some great
irregular window in the crust of the earth. Only at rare intervals did
sail or smoke dot its surface, and then far offshore. The woods stood
breathless in the autumn sun. It was like being entombed. And there
would be a long stretch of it, with only a recurrence of that deadly
grind of kitchen work when the loggers came home again.
Some time during the next forenoon she went southerly along the lake
shore on foot without object or destination, merely to satisfy in some
measure the restless craving for action. Colorful turns of life, the
more or less engrossing contact of various personalities, some new thing
to be done, seen, admired, discussed, had been a part of her existence
ever since she could remember. None of this touched her now. A dead
weight of monotony rode her hard. There was the furtive wild life of the
forest, the light of sun and sky, and the banked green of the forest
that masked the steep granite slopes. She appreciated beauty, craved it
indeed, but she could not satisfy her being with scenic effects alone.
She craved, without being wholly aware of it, or altogether admitting it
to herself, some human distraction in all that majestic solitude.
It was forthcoming. When she returned to camp at two o'clock, driven in
by hunger, Jack Fyfe sat on the doorstep.
"How-de-do. I've come to bring you over to my place," he announced quite
"Thanks. I've already declined one pressing invitation to that effect,"
Stella returned drily. His matter-of-fact assurance rather nettled her.
"A woman always has the privilege of changing her mind," Fyfe smiled.
"Charlie is going to be at my camp for at least three weeks. It'll rain
soon, and the days'll be pretty gray and dreary and lonesome. You might
as well pack your war-bag and come along."
She stood uncertainly. Her tongue held ready a blunt refusal, but she
did not utter it; and she did not know why. She did have a glimpse of
the futility of refusing, only she did not admit that refusal might be
of no weight in the matter. With her mind running indignantly against
compulsion, nevertheless her muscles involuntarily moved to obey. It
irritated her further that she should feel in the least constrained to
obey the calmly expressed wish of this quiet-spoken woodsman. Certain
possible phases of a lengthy sojourn in Jack Fyfe's camp shot across her
mind. He seemed of uncanny perception, for he answered this thought
before it was clearly formed.
"Oh, you'll be properly chaperoned, and you won't have to mix with the
crew," he drawled. "I've got all kinds of room. My boss logger's wife is
up from town for a while. She's a fine, motherly old party, and she
keeps us all in order."
"I haven't had any lunch," she temporized. "Have you?"
He shook his head.
"I rowed over here before twelve. Thought I'd get you back to camp in
time for dinner. You know," he said with a twinkle in his blue eyes, "a
logger never eats anything but a meal. A lunch to us is a snack that you
put in your pocket. I guess we lack tone out here. We haven't got past
the breakfast-dinner-supper stage yet; too busy making the country fit
to live in."
"You have a tremendous job in hand," she observed.
"Oh, maybe," he laughed. "All in the way you look at it. Suits some of
us. Well, if we get to my camp before three, the cook might feed us.
Come on. You'll get to hating yourself if you stay here alone till
Why not? Thus she parleyed with herself, one half of her minded to stand
upon her dignity, the other part of her urging acquiescence in his wish
that was almost a command. She was tempted to refuse just to see what he
would do, but she reconsidered that. Without any logical foundation for
the feeling, she was shy of pitting her will against Jack Fyfe's.
Hitherto quite sure of herself, schooled in self-possession, it was a
new and disturbing experience to come in contact with that subtle,
analysis-defying quality which carries the possessor thereof straight to
his or her goal over all opposition, which indeed many times stifles all
opposition. Force of character, overmastering personality, emanation of
sheer will, she could not say in what terms it should be described.
Whatever it was, Jack Fyfe had it. It existed, a factor to be reckoned
with when one dealt with him. For within twenty minutes she had packed a
suitcase full of clothes and was embarked in his rowboat.
He sent the lightly built craft easily through the water with regular,
effortless strokes. Stella sat in the stern, facing him. Out past the
north horn of the bay, she broke the silence that had fallen between
"Why did you make a point of coming for me?" she asked bluntly.
Fyfe rested on his oars a moment, looking at her in his direct,
"I wintered once on the Stickine," he said. "My partner pulled out
before Christmas and never came back. It was the first time I'd ever
been alone in my life. I wasn't a much older hand in the country than
you are. Four months without hearing the sound of a human voice. Stark
alone. I got so I talked to myself out loud before spring. So I
thought--well, I thought I'd come and bring you over to see Mrs. Howe."
Stella sat gazing at the slow moving panorama of the lake shore, her
chin in her hand.
"Thank you," she said at last, and very gently.
Fyfe looked at her a minute or more, a queer, half-amused expression
creeping into his eyes.
"Well," he said finally, "I might as well tell the whole truth. I've
been thinking about you quite a lot lately, Miss Stella Benton, or I
wouldn't have thought about you getting lonesome."
He smiled ever so faintly, a mere movement of the corners of his mouth,
at the pink flush which rose quickly in her cheeks, and then resumed his
steady pull at the oars.
Except for a greater number of board shacks and a larger area of stump
and top-littered waste immediately behind it, Fyfe's headquarters,
outwardly, at least, differed little from her brother's camp. Jack led
her to a long, log structure with a shingle roof, which from its more
substantial appearance she judged to be his personal domicile. A plump,
smiling woman of forty greeted her on the threshold. Once within, Stella
perceived that there was in fact considerable difference in Mr. Fyfe's
habitation. There was a great stone fireplace, before which big
easy-chairs invited restful lounging. The floor was overlaid with thick
rugs which deadened her footfalls. With no pretense of ornamental
decoration, the room held an air of homely comfort.
"Come in here and lay off your things," Mrs. Howe beamed on her. "If
I'd 'a' known you were livin' so close, we'd have been acquainted a week
ago; though I ain't got rightly settled here myself. My land, these men
are such clams. I never knowed till this mornin' there was any white
woman at this end of the lake besides myself."
She showed Stella into a bedroom. It boasted an enamel washstand with
taps which yielded hot and cold water, neatly curtained windows, and a
deep-seated Morris chair. Certainly Fyfe's household accommodation was
far superior to Charlie Benton's. Stella expected the man's home to be
rough and ready like himself, and in a measure it was, but a comfortable
sort of rough and readiness. She took off her hat and had a critical
survey of herself in a mirror, after which she had just time to brush
her hair before answering Mrs. Howe's call to a "cup of tea."
The cup of tea resolved itself into a well-cooked and well-served meal,
with china and linen and other unexpected table accessories which
agreeably surprised, her. Inevitably she made comparisons, somewhat
tinctured with natural envy. If Charlie would fix his place with a few
such household luxuries, life in their camp would be more nearly
bearable, despite the long hours of disagreeable work. As it was--well,
the unrelieved discomforts were beginning to warp her out-look on
Fyfe maintained his habitual sparsity of words while they ate the food
Mrs. Howe brought on a tray hot from the cook's outlying domain. When
they finished, he rose, took up his hat and helped himself to a handful
of cigars from a box on the fireplace mantel.
"I guess you'll be able to put in the time, all right," he remarked.
"Make yourself at home. If you take a notion to read, there's a lot of
books and magazines in my room. Mrs. Howe'll show you."
He walked out. Stella was conscious of a distinct relief when he was
gone. She had somehow experienced a recurrence of that peculiar feeling
of needing to be on her guard, as if there were some curious, latent
antagonism between them. She puzzled over that a little. She had never
felt that way about Paul Abbey, for instance, or indeed toward any man
she had ever known. Fyfe's more or less ambiguous remark in the boat had
helped to arouse it again. His manner of saying that he had "thought a
lot about her" conveyed more than the mere words. She could quite
conceive of the Jack Fyfe type carrying things with a high hand where a
woman was concerned. He had that reputation in all his other dealings.
He was aggressive. He could drink any logger in the big firs off his
feet. He had an uncanny luck at cards. Somehow or other in every
undertaking Jack Fyfe always came out on top, so the tale ran. There
must be, she reasoned, a wide streak of the brute in such a man. It was
no gratification to her vanity to have him admire her. It did not dawn
upon her that so far she had never got over being a little afraid of
him, much less to ask herself why she should be afraid of him.
But she did not spend much time puzzling over Jack Fyfe. Once out of her
sight she forgot him. It was balm to her lonely soul to have some one
of her own sex for company. What Mrs. Howe lacked in the higher culture
she made up in homely perception and unassuming kindliness. Her husband
was Fyfe's foreman. She herself was not a permanent fixture in the camp.
They had a cottage at Roaring Springs, where she spent most of the time,
so that their three children could be in school.
"I was up here all through vacation," she told Stella. "But Lefty he got
to howlin' about bein' left alone shortly after school started again, so
I got my sister to look after the kids for a spell, while I stay. I'll
be goin' down about the time Mr. Benton's through here."
Stella eventually went out to take a look around the camp. A hard-beaten
path led off toward where rose the distant sounds of logging work, the
ponderous crash of trees, and the puff of the donkeys. She followed that
a little way and presently came to a knoll some three hundred yards
above the beach. There she paused to look and wonder curiously.
For the crest of this little hillock had been cleared and graded level
and planted to grass over an area four hundred feet square. It was
trimmed like a lawn, and in the center of this vivid green block stood
an unfinished house foundation of gray stone. No stick of timber, no
board or any material for further building lay in sight. The thing stood
as if that were to be all. And it was not a new undertaking temporarily
delayed. There was moss creeping over the thick stone wall, she
discovered when she walked over it. Whoever had laid that foundation had
done it many a moon before. Yet the sward about was kept as if a
gardener had it in charge.
A noble stretch of lake and mountain spread out before her gaze.
Straight across the lake two deep clefts in the eastern range opened on
the water, five miles apart. She could see the white ribbon of foaming
cascades in each. Between lifted a great mountain, and on the lakeward
slope of this stood a terrible scar of a slide, yellow and brown, rising
two thousand feet from the shore. A vaporous wisp of cloud hung along
the top of the slide, and above this aerial banner a snow-capped
pinnacle thrust itself high into the infinite blue.
"What an outlook," she said, barely conscious that she spoke aloud. "Why
do these people build their houses in the bush, when they could live in
the open and have something like this to look at. They would, if they
had any sense of beauty."
"Sure they haven't? Some of them might have, you know, without being
able to gratify it."
She started, to find Jack Fyfe almost at her elbow, the gleam of a
quizzical smile lighting his face.
"I daresay that might be true," she admitted.
Fyfe's gaze turned from her to the huge sweep of lake and mountain
chain. She saw that he was outfitted for fishing, creel on his shoulder,
unjointed rod in one hand. By means of his rubber-soled waders he had
come upon her noiselessly.
"It's truer than you think, maybe," he said at length. "You don't want
to come along and take a lesson in catching rainbows, I suppose?"
"Not this time, thanks," she shook her head.
"I want to get enough for supper, so I'd better be at it," he remarked.
"Sometimes they come pretty slow. If you should want to go up and watch
the boys work, that trail will take you there."
He went off across the grassy level and plunged into the deep timber
that rose like a wall beyond. Stella looked after.
"It is certainly odd," she reflected with some irritation, "how that man
affects me. I don't think a woman could ever be just friends with him.
She'd either like him a lot or dislike him intensely. He isn't anything
but a logger, and yet he has a presence like one of the lords of
Then she went back to the house to converse upon domestic matters with
Mrs. Howe until the shrilling of the donkey whistle brought forty-odd
lumberjacks swinging down the trail.
Behind them a little way came Jack Fyfe with sagging creel. He did not
stop to exhibit his catch, but half an hour later they were served hot
and crisp at the table in the big living room, where Fyfe, Stella and
Charlie Benton, Lefty Howe and his wife, sat down together.
A flunkey from the camp kitchen served the meal and cleared it away. For
an hour or two after that the three men sat about in shirt-sleeved ease,
puffing at Jack Fyfe's cigars. Then Benton excused himself and went to
bed. When Howe and his wife retired, Stella did likewise. The long
twilight had dwindled to a misty patch of light sky in the northwest,
and she fell asleep more at ease than she had been for weeks. Sitting in
Jack Fyfe's living room through that evening she had begun to formulate
a philosophy to fit her enforced environment--to live for the day only,
and avoid thought of the future until there loomed on the horizon some
prospect of a future worth thinking about. The present looked passable
enough, she thought, if she kept her mind strictly on it alone.
And with that idea to guide her, she found the days slide by smoothly.
She got on famously with Mrs. Howe, finding that woman full of virtues
unsuspected in her type. Charlie was in his element. His prospects
looked so rosy that they led him into egotistic outlines of what he
intended to accomplish. To him the future meant logs in the water, big
holdings of timber, a growing bank account. Beyond that,--what all his
concentrated effort should lead to save more logs and more timber,--he
did not seem to go. Judged by his talk, that was the ultimate, economic
power,--money and more money. More and more as Stella listened to him,
she became aware that he was following in his father's footsteps; save
that he aimed at greater heights and that he worked by different
methods, juggling with natural resources where their father had merely
juggled with prices and tokens of product, their end was the same--not
to create or build up, but to grasp, to acquire. That was the game. To
get and to hold for their own use and benefit and to look upon men and
things, in so far as they were of use, as pawns in the game.
She wondered sometimes if that were a characteristic of all men, if that
were the big motif in the lives of such men as Paul Abbey and Jack
Fyfe, for instance; if everything else, save the struggle of getting and
keeping money, resolved itself into purely incidental phases of their
existence? For herself she considered that wealth, or the getting of
wealth, was only a means to an end.
Just what that end might be she found a little vague, rather hard to
define in exact terms. It embraced personal leisure and the good things
of life as a matter of course, a broader existence, a large-handed
generosity toward the less fortunate, an intellectual elevation entirely
unrelated to gross material things. Life, she told herself pensively,
ought to mean something more than ease and good clothes, but what more
she was chary of putting into concrete form. It hadn't meant much more
than that for her, so far. She was only beginning to recognize the
flinty facts of existence. She saw now that for her there lay open only
two paths to food and clothing: one in which, lacking all training, she
must earn her bread by daily toil, the other leading to marriage. That,
she would have admitted, was a woman's natural destiny, but one didn't
pick a husband or lover as one chose a gown or a hat. One went along
living, and the thing happened. Chance ruled there, she believed. The
morality of her class prevented her from prying into this question of
mating with anything like critical consideration. It was only to be
thought about sentimentally, and it was easy for her to so think. Within
her sound and vigorous body all the heritage of natural human impulses
bubbled warmly, but she recognized neither their source nor their
Often when Charlie was holding forth in his accustomed vein, she
wondered what Jack Fyfe thought about it, what he masked behind his
brief sentences or slow smile. Latterly her feeling about him, that
involuntary bracing and stiffening of herself against his personality,
left her. Fyfe seemed to be more or less self-conscious of her presence
as a guest in his house. His manner toward her remained always casual,
as if she were a man, and there was no question of sex attraction or
masculine reaction to it between them. She liked him better for that;
and she did admire his wonderful strength, the tremendous power invested
in his magnificent body, just as she would have admired a tiger, without
caring to fondle the beast.
Altogether she spent a tolerably pleasant three weeks. Autumn's gorgeous
paintbrush laid wonderful coloring upon the maple and alder and birch
that lined the lake shore. The fall run of the salmon was on, and every
stream was packed with the silver horde, threshing through shoal and
rapid to reach the spawning ground before they died. Off every creek
mouth and all along the lake the seal followed to prey on the salmon,
and sea-trout and lakers alike swarmed to the spawning beds to feed upon
the roe. The days shortened. Sometimes a fine rain would drizzle for
hours on end, and when it would clear, the saw-toothed ranges flanking
the lake would stand out all freshly robed in white,--a mantle that
crept lower on the fir-clad slopes after each storm. The winds that
whistled off those heights nipped sharply.
Early in October Charlie Benton had squared his neighborly account with
Jack Fyfe. With crew and equipment he moved home, to begin work anew on
his own limit.
Katy John and her people came back from the salmon fishing. Jim Renfrew,
still walking with a pronounced limp, returned from the hospital.
Charlie wheedled Stella into taking up the cookhouse burden again.
Stella consented; in truth she could do nothing else. Charlie spent a
little of his contract profits in piping water to the kitchen, in a few
things to brighten up and make more comfortable their own quarters.
"Just as soon as I can put another boom over the rapids, Stell," he
promised, "I'll put a cook on the job. I've got to sail a little close
for a while. With this crew I ought to put a million feet in the water
in six weeks. Then I'll be over the hump, and you can take it easy. But
"Till then I may as well make myself useful," Stella interrupted
"Well, why not?" Benton demanded impatiently. "Nobody around here works
any harder than I do."
And there the matter rested.
ONE WAY OUT
That was a winter of big snow. November opened with rain. Day after day
the sun hid his face behind massed, spitting clouds. Morning, noon, and
night the eaves of the shacks dripped steadily, the gaunt limbs of the
hardwoods were a line of coursing drops, and through all the vast
reaches of fir and cedar the patter of rain kept up a dreary monotone.
Whenever the mist that blew like rolling smoke along the mountains
lifted for a brief hour, there, creeping steadily downward, lay the
Rain or shine, the work drove on. From the peep of day till dusk
shrouded the woods, Benton's donkey puffed and groaned, axes thudded,
the thin, twanging whine of the saws rose. Log after log slid down the
chute to float behind the boomsticks; and at night the loggers trooped
home, soaked to the skin, to hang their steaming mackinaws around the
bunkhouse stove. When they gathered in the mess-room they filled it with
the odor of sweaty bodies and profane grumbling about the weather.
Early in December Benton sent out a big boom of logs with a hired
stern-wheeler that was no more than out of Roaring Lake before the snow
came. The sleety blasts of a cold afternoon turned to great, moist
flakes by dark, eddying thick out of a windless night. At daybreak it
lay a foot deep and snowing hard. Thenceforth there was no surcease. The
white, feathery stuff piled up and piled up, hour upon hour and day
after day, as if the deluge had come again. It stood at the cabin eaves
before the break came, six feet on the level. With the end of the storm
came a bright, cold sky and frost,--not the bitter frost of the high
latitudes, but a nipping cold that held off the melting rains and laid a
thin scum of ice on every patch of still water.
Necessarily, all work ceased. The donkey was a shapeless mound of white,
all the lines and gear buried deep. A man could neither walk on that
yielding mass nor wallow through it. The logging crew hailed the
enforced rest with open relief. Benton grumbled. And then, with the
hours hanging heavy on his hands, he began to spend more and more of his
time in the bunkhouse with the "boys," particularly in the long
Stella wondered what pleasure he found in their company, but she never
asked him, nor did she devote very much thought to the matter. There was
but small cessation in her labors, and that only because six or eight of
the men drew their pay and went out. Benton managed to hold the others
against the thaw that might open up the woods in twenty-four hours, but
the smaller size of the gang only helped a little, and did not assist
her mentally at all. All the old resentment against the indignity of her
position rose and smoldered. To her the days were full enough of things
that she was terribly weary of doing over and over, endlessly. She was
always tired. No matter that she did, in a measure, harden to her work,
grow callously accustomed to rising early and working late. Always her
feet were sore at night, aching intolerably. Hot food, sharp knives, and
a glowing stove played havoc with her hands. Always she rose in the
morning heavy-eyed and stiff-muscled. Youth and natural vigor alone kept
her from breaking down, and to cap the strain of toil, she was soul-sick
with the isolation. For she was isolated; there was not a human being in
the camp, Katy John included, with whom she exchanged two dozen words a
Before the snow put a stop to logging, Jack Fyfe dropped in once a week
or so. When work shut down, he came oftener, but he never singled Stella
out for any particular attention. Once he surprised her sitting with her
elbows on the kitchen table, her face buried in her palms. She looked up
at his quiet entrance, and her face must have given him his cue. He
leaned a little toward her.
"How long do you think you can stand it?" he asked gently.
"God knows," she answered, surprised into speaking the thought that lay
uppermost in her mind, surprised beyond measure that Be should read that
He stood looking down at her for a second or two. His lips parted, but
he closed them again over whatever rose to his tongue and passed
silently through the dining room and into the bunkhouse, where Benton
had preceded him a matter of ten minutes.
It lacked a week of Christmas. That day three of Benton's men had gone
in the _Chickamin_ to Roaring Springs for supplies. They had returned in
mid-afternoon, and Stella guessed by the new note of hilarity in the
bunkhouse that part of the supplies had been liquid. This had happened
more than once since the big snow closed in. She remembered Charlie's
fury at the logger who started Matt the cook on his spree, and she
wondered at this relaxation, but it was not in her province, and she
made no comment.
Jack Fyfe stayed to supper that evening. Neither he nor Charlie came
back to Benton's quarters when the meal was finished. While she stacked
up the dishes, Katy John observed:
"Goodness sakes, Miss Benton, them fellers was fresh at supper. They was
half-drunk, some of them. I bet they'll be half a dozen fights before
Stella passed that over in silence, with a mental turning up of her
nose. It was something she could neither defend nor excuse. It was a
disgusting state of affairs, but nothing she could change. She kept
harking back to it, though, when she was in her own quarters, and Katy
John had vanished for the night into her little room off the kitchen.
Tired as she was, she remained wakeful, uneasy. Over in the bunkhouse
disturbing sounds welled now and then into the cold, still
night,--incoherent snatches of song, voices uproariously raised, bursts
of laughter. Once, as she looked out the door, thinking she heard
footsteps crunching in the snow, some one rapped out a coarse oath that
drove her back with burning face.
As the evening wore late, she began to grow uneasily curious to know in
what manner Charlie and Jack Fyfe were lending countenance to this minor
riot, if they were even participating in it. Eleven o'clock passed, and
still there rose in the bunkhouse that unabated hum of voices.
Suddenly there rose a brief clamor. In the dead silence that followed,
she heard a thud and the clinking smash of breaking glass, a panted
oath, sounds of struggle.
Stella slipped on a pair of her brother's gum boots and an overcoat, and
ran out on the path beaten from their cabin to the shore. It led past
the bunkhouse, and on that side opened two uncurtained windows, yellow
squares that struck gleaming on the snow. The panes of one were broken
now, sharp fragments standing like saw teeth in the wooden sash.
She stole warily near and looked in. Two men were being held apart; one
by three of his fellows, the other _by_ Jack Fyfe alone. Fyfe grinned
mildly, talking to the men in a quiet, pacific tone.
"Now you know that was nothing to scrap about," she heard him say,
"You're both full of fighting whisky, but a bunkhouse isn't any place to
fight. Wait till morning. If you've still got it in your systems, go
outside and have it out. But you shouldn't disturb our game and break up
the furniture. Be gentlemen, drunk or sober. Better shake hands and call
"Aw, let 'em go to it, if they want to."
Charlie's voice, drink-thickened, harsh, came from a earner of the room
into which she could not see until she moved nearer. By the time she
picked him out, Fyfe resumed his seat at the table where three others
and Benton waited with cards in their hands, red and white chips and
money stacked before them.
She knew enough of cards to realize that a stiff poker game was on the
board when she had watched one hand dealt and played. It angered her,
not from any ethical motive, but because of her brother's part in it. He
had no funds to pay a cook's wages, yet he could afford to lose on one
hand as much as he credited her with for a month's work. She could slave
at the kitchen job day in and day out to save him forty-five dollars a
month. He could lose that without the flicker of an eyelash, but he
couldn't pay her wages on demand. Also she saw that he had imbibed too
freely, if the redness of his face and the glassy fixedness of his eyes
could be read aright.
"Pig!" she muttered. "If that's his idea of pleasure. Oh, well, why
should I care? I don't, so far as he's concerned, if I could just get
away from this beast of a place myself."
Abreast of her a logger came to the broken window with a sack to bar out
the frosty air. And Stella, realizing suddenly that she was shivering
with the cold, ran back to the cabin and got into her bed.
But she did not sleep, save in uneasy periods of dozing, until midnight
was long past. Then Fyfe and her brother came in, and by the sounds she
gathered that Fyfe was putting Charlie to bed. She heard his deep,
drawly voice urging the unwisdom of sleeping with calked boots on, and
Beaton's hiccupy response. The rest of the night she slept fitfully,
morbidly imagining terrible things. She was afraid, that was the sum
and substance of it. Over in the bunkhouse the carousal was still at its
height. She could not rid herself of the sight of those two men
struggling to be at each other like wild beasts, the bloody face of the
one who had been struck, the coarse animalism of the whole
whisky-saturated gang. It repelled and disgusted and frightened her.
The night frosts had crept through the single board walls of Stella's
room and made its temperature akin to outdoors when the alarm wakened
her at six in the morning. She shivered as she dressed. Katy John was
blissfully devoid of any responsibility, for seldom did Katy rise first
to light the kitchen fire. Yet Stella resented less each day's bleak
beginning than she did the enforced necessity of the situation; the fact
that she was enduring these things practically under compulsion was what
A cutting wind struck her icily as she crossed the few steps of open
between cabin and kitchen. Above no cloud floated, no harbinger of
melting rain. The cold stars twinkled over snow-blurred forest, struck
tiny gleams from stumps that were now white-capped pillars. A night
swell from the outside waters beat, its melancholy dirge on the frozen
beach. And, as she always did at that hushed hour before dawn, she
experienced a physical shrinking from those grim solitudes in which
there was nothing warm and human and kindly, nothing but vastness of
space upon which silence lay like a smothering blanket, in which she,
the human atom, was utterly negligible, a protesting mote in the
inexorable wilderness. She knew this to be merely a state of mind, but
situated as she was, it bore upon her with all the force of reality. She
felt like a prisoner who above all things desired some mode of escape.
A light burned in the kitchen. She thanked her stars that this bitter
cold morning she would not have to build a fire with freezing fingers
while her teeth chattered, and she hurried in to the warmth heralded by
a spark-belching stovepipe. But the Siwash girl had not risen to the
occasion. Instead, Jack Fyfe sat with his feet on the oven door, a cigar
in one corner of his mouth. The kettle steamed. Her porridge pot bubbled
ready for the meal.
"Good morning," he greeted. "Mind my preempting your job?"
"Not at all," she answered. "You can have it for keeps if you want."
"No, thanks," he smiled. "I'm sour on my own cooking. Had to eat too
much of it in times gone by. I wouldn't be stoking up here either, only
I got frozen out. Charlie's spare bed hasn't enough blankets for me
these cold nights."
He drew his chair aside to be out of the way as she hurried about her
breakfast preparations. All the time she was conscious that his eyes
were on her, and also that in them lurked an expression of keen
interest. His freckled mask of a face gave no clue to his thoughts; it
never did, so far as she had ever observed. Fyfe had a gambler's
immobility of countenance. He chucked the butt of his cigar in the stove
and sat with hands clasped over one knee for some time after Katy John
appeared and began setting the dining room table with a great clatter
He arose to his feet then. Stella stood beside the stove, frying bacon.
A logger opened the door and walked in. He had been one to fare ill in
the night's hilarity, for a discolored patch encircled one eye, and his
lips were split and badly swollen. He carried a tin basin.
"Kin I get some hot water?" he asked.
Stella silently indicated the reservoir at one end of the range. The man
ladled his basin full. The fumes of whisky, the unpleasant odor of his
breath offended her, and she drew back. Fyfe looked at her as the man
"What?" he asked.
She had muttered something, an impatient exclamation of disgust. The
man's appearance disagreeably reminded her of the scene she had observed
through the bunkhouse window. It stung her to think that her brother was
fast putting himself on a par with them--without their valid excuse of
type and training.
"Oh, nothing," she said wearily, and turned to the sputtering bacon.
Fyfe put his foot up on the stove front and drummed a tattoo on his
mackinaw clad knee.
"Aren't you getting pretty sick of this sort of work, these more or less
uncomfortable surroundings, and the sort of people you have to come in
contact with?" he asked pointedly.
"I am," she returned as bluntly, "but I think that's rather an
impertinent question, Mr. Fyfe."
He passed imperturbably over this reproof, and his glance turned
briefly toward the dining room. Katy John was still noisily at work.
"You hate it," he said positively. "I know you do. I've seen your
feelings many a time. I don't blame you. It's a rotten business for a
girl with your tastes and bringing up. And I'm afraid you'll find it
worse, if this snow stays long. I know what a logging camp is when work
stops, and whisky creeps in, and the boss lets go his hold for the time
"That may be true," she returned gloomily, "but I don't see why you
should enumerate these disagreeable things for my benefit."
"I'm going to show you a way out," he said softly. "I've been thinking
it over for quite a while. I want you to marry me."
"Listen," he said peremptorily, leaning closer to her and lowering his
voice. "I have an idea that you're going to say you don't love me. Lord,
_I_ know that. But you _hate_ this. It grates against every inclination
of yours like a file on steel. I wouldn't jar on you like that. I
wouldn't permit you to live in surroundings that would. That's the
material side of it. Nobody can live on day dreams. I like you, Stella
Benton, a whole lot more than I'd care to say right out loud. You and I
together could make a home we'd be proud of. I want you, and you want to
get away from this. It's natural. Marry me and play the game fair, and I
don't think you'll be sorry. I'm putting it as baldly as I can. You
stand to win everything with nothing to lose--but your domestic
chains--" the gleam of a smile lit up his features for a second. "Won't
you take a chance?" "No," she declared impulsively. "I won't be a party
to any such cold-blooded transaction."
"You don't seem to understand me," he said soberly. "I don't want to
hand out any sentiment, but it makes me sore to see you wasting yourself
on this sort of thing. If you must do it, why don't you do it for
somebody who'll make it worth while? If you'd use the brains God gave
you, you know that lots of couples have married on flimsier grounds than
we'd have. How can a man and a woman really know anything about each
other till they've lived together? Just because we don't marry with our
heads in the fog is no reason we shouldn't get on fine. What are you
going to do? Stick here at this till you go crazy? You won't get away.
You don't realize what a one-idea, determined person this brother of
yours is. He has just one object in life, and he'll use everything and
everybody in sight to attain that object. He means to succeed and he
will. You're purely incidental; but he has that perverted, middle-class
family pride that will make him prevent you from getting out and trying
your own wings. Nature never intended a woman like you to be a celibate,
any more than I was so intended. And sooner or late you'll marry
somebody--if only to hop out of the fire into the frying pan."
"I hate you," she flashed passionately, "when you talk like that."
"No, you don't," he returned quietly. "You hate what I say, because
it's the truth--and it's humiliating to be helpless. You think I don't
_sabe?_ But I'm putting a weapon into your hand. Let's put it
differently; leave out the sentiment for a minute. We'll say that I want
a housekeeper, preferably an ornamental one, because I like beautiful
things. You want to get away from this drudgery. That's what it is,
simple drudgery. You crave lots of things you can't get by yourself, but
that you could help me get for you. There's things lacking in your life,
and so is there in mine. Why shouldn't we go partners? You think about
"I don't need to," she answered coolly. "It wouldn't work. You don't
appear to have any idea what it means for a woman to give herself up
body and soul to a man she doesn't care for. For me it would be plain
selling myself. I haven't the least affection for you personally. I
might even detest you."
"You wouldn't," he said positively.
"What makes you so sure of that?" she demanded.
"It would sound conceited if I told you why," he drawled. "Listen. We're
not gods and goddesses, we human beings. We're not, after all, in our
real impulses, so much different from the age when a man took his club
and went after a female that looked good to him. They mated, and raised
their young, and very likely faced on an average fewer problems than
arise in modern marriages supposedly ordained in Heaven. You'd have the
one big problem solved,--the lack of means to live decently,--which
wrecks more homes than anything else, far more than lack of love.
Affection doesn't seem to thrive on poverty. What is love?"
His voice took on a challenging note.
Stella shook her head. He puzzled her, wholly serious one minute, a
whimsical smile twisting up the corners of his mouth the next. And he
surprised her too by his sureness of utterance on subjects she had not
supposed would enter such a man's mind.
"I don't know," she answered absently, turning over strips of bacon with
the long-handled fork.
"There you are," he said. "I don't know either. We'd start even, then,
for the sake of argument. No, I guess we wouldn't either, because you're
the only woman I've run across so far with whom I could calmly
contemplate spending the rest of my life in close contact. That's a
fact. To me it's a highly important fact. You don't happen to have any
such feeling about me, eh?"
"No. I hadn't even thought of you in that way," Stella answered
"You want to think about me," he said calmly. "You want to think about
me from every possible angle, because I'm going to come back and ask you
this same question every once in a while, so long as you're in reach and
doing this dirty work for a thankless boss. You want to think of me as a
possible refuge from a lot of disagreeable things. I'd like to have you
to chum with, and I'd like to have some incentive to put a big white
bungalow on that old foundation for us two," he smiled. "I'll never do
it for myself alone. Go on. Take a gambling chance and marry me, Stella.
Say yes, and say it now."
But she shook her head resolutely, and as Katy John came in just then,
Fyfe took his foot off the stove and went out of the kitchen. He threw a
glance over his shoulder at Stella, a broad smile, as if to say that he
harbored no grudge, and nursed no wound in his vanity because she would
have none of him.
Katy rang the breakfast gong. Five minutes later the tattoo of knives
and forks and spoons told of appetites in process of appeasement.
Charlie came into the kitchen in the midst of this, bearing certain
unmistakable signs. His eyes were inflamed, his cheeks still bearing the
flush of liquor. His demeanor was that of a man suffering an intolerable
headache and correspondingly short-tempered. Stella barely spoke to him.
It was bad enough for a man to make a beast of himself with whisky, but
far worse was his gambling streak. There were so many little ways in
which she could have eased things with a few dollars; yet he always
grumbled when she spoke of money, always put her off with promises to be
redeemed when business got better.
Stella watched him bathe his head copiously in cold water and then seat
himself at the long table, trying to force food upon an aggrieved and
rebellious stomach. Gradually a flood of recklessness welled up in her
"For two pins I would marry Jack Fyfe," she told herself savagely.
"_Anything_ would be better than this."
Stella went over that queer debate a good many times in the ten days
that followed. It revealed Jack Fyfe to her in a new, inexplicable
light, at odd variance with her former conception of the man. She could
not have visualized him standing with one foot on the stove front
speaking calmly of love and marriage if she had not seen him with her
own eyes, heard him with somewhat incredulous ears. She had continued to
endow him with the attributes of unrestrained passion, of headlong
leaping to the goal of his desires, of brushing aside obstacles and
opposition with sheer brute force; and he had shown unreckoned qualities
of restraint, of understanding. She was not quite sure if this were
guile or sensible consideration. He had put his case logically,
persuasively even. She was very sure that if he had adopted emotional
methods, she would have been repelled. If he had laid siege to her hand
and heart in the orthodox fashion, she would have raised that siege in
short order. As it stood, in spite of her words to him, there was in her
own mind a lack of finality. As she went about her daily tasks, that
prospect of trying a fresh fling at the world as Jack Fyfe's wife
tantalized her with certain desirable features.
Was it worth while to play the game as she must play it for some time
to come, drudge away at mean, sordid work and amid the dreariest sort of
environment? At best, she could only get away from Charlie's camp and
begin along new lines that might perhaps be little better, that must
inevitably lie among strangers in a strange land. To what end? What did
she want of life, anyway? She had to admit that she could not say fully
and explicitly what she wanted. When she left out her material wants,
there was nothing but a nebulous craving for--what? Love, she assumed.
And she could not define love, except as some incomprehensible transport
of emotion which irresistibly drew a man and a woman together, a divine
fire kindled in two hearts. It was not a thing she could vouch for by
personal experience. It might never touch and warm her, that divine
fire. Instinct did now and then warn her that some time it would wrap
her like a flame. But in the meantime--Life had her in midstream of its
remorseless, drab current, sweeping her along. A foothold offered. Half
a loaf, a single slice of bread even, is better than none.
Jack Fyfe did not happen in again for nearly two weeks and then only to
pay a brief call, but he stole an opportunity, when Katy John was not
looking, to whisper in Stella's ear:
"Have you been thinking about that bungalow of ours?"
She shook her head, and he went out quietly, without another word. He
neither pleaded nor urged, and perhaps that was wisest, for in spite of
herself Stella thought of him continually. He loomed always before her,
a persistent, compelling factor.
She knew at last, beyond any gainsaying, that the venture tempted,
largely perhaps because it contained so great an element of the unknown.
To get away from this soul-dwarfing round meant much. She felt herself
reasoning desperately that the frying pan could not be worse than the
fire, and held at least the merit of greater dignity and freedom from
the twin evils of poverty and thankless domestic slavery.
While she considered this, pro and con, shrinking from such a step one
hour, considering it soberly the next, the days dragged past in
wearisome sequence. The great depth of snow endured, was added to by
spasmodic flurries. The frosts held. The camp seethed with the
restlessness of the men. In default of the daily work that consumed
their superfluous energy, the loggers argued and fought, drank and
gambled, made "rough house" in their sleeping quarters till sometimes
Stella's cheeks blanched and she expected murder to be done. Twice the
_Chickamin_ came back from Roaring Springs with whisky aboard, and a
protracted debauch ensued. Once a drunken logger shouldered his way into
the kitchen to leer unpleasantly at Stella, and, himself inflamed by
liquor and the affront, Charlie Benton beat the man until his face was a
mass of bloody bruises. That was only one of a dozen brutal incidents.
All the routine discipline of the woods seemed to have slipped out of
Benton's hands. When the second whisky consignment struck the camp,
Stella stayed in her room, refusing to cook until order reigned again.
Benton grumblingly took up the burden himself. With Katy's help and that
of sundry loggers, he fed the roistering crew, but for his sister it was
a two-day period of protesting disgust.
That mood, like so many of her moods, relapsed into dogged endurance.
She took up the work again when Charlie promised that no more whisky
should be allowed in the camp.
"Though it's ten to one I won't have a corporal's guard left when I want
to start work again," he grumbled. "I'm well within my rights if I put
my foot down hard on any jinks when there's work, but I have no license
to set myself up as guardian of a logger's morals and pocketbook when I
have nothing for him to do. These fellows are paying their board. So
long as they don't make themselves obnoxious to you, I don't see that
it's our funeral whether they're drunk or sober. They'd tell me so quick
To this pronouncement of expediency Stella made no rejoinder. She no
longer expected anything much of Charlie, in the way of consideration.
So far as she could see, she, his sister, was little more to him than
one of his loggers; a little less important than, say, his donkey
engineer. In so far as she conduced to the well-being of the camp and
effected a saving to his credit in the matter of preparing food, he
valued her and was willing to concede a minor point to satisfy her.
Beyond that Stella felt that he did not go. Five years in totally
different environments had dug a great gulf between them. He felt an
arbitrary sense of duty toward her, she knew, but in its manifestations
it never lapped over the bounds of his own immediate self-interest.
And so when she blundered upon knowledge of a state of affairs which
must have existed under her very nose for some time, there were few
remnants of sisterly affection to bid her seek extenuating
Katy John proved the final straw. Just by what means Stella grew to
suspect any such moral lapse on Benton's part is wholly irrelevant. Once
the unpleasant likelihood came to her notice, she took measures to
verify her suspicion, and when convinced she taxed her brother with it,
to his utter confusion.
"What kind of a man are you?" she cried at last in shamed anger. "Is
there nothing too low for you to dabble in? Haven't you any respect for
anything or anybody, yourself included?"
"Oh, don't talk like a damned Puritan," Benton growled, though his
tanned face was burning. "This is what comes of having women around the
camp. I'll send the girl away."
"You--you beast!" she flared--and ran out of the kitchen to seek refuge
in her own room and cry into her pillow some of the dumb protest that
surged up within her. For her knowledge of passion and the workings of
passion as they bore upon the relations of a man and a woman were at
once vague and tinctured with inflexible tenets of morality, the
steel-hard conception of virtue which is the bulwark of middle-class
theory for its wives and daughters and sisters--with an eye consistently
blind to the concealed lapses of its men.
Stella Benton passed that morning through successive stages of shocked
amazement, of pity, and disgust. As between her brother and the Siwash
girl, she saw little to choose. From her virtuous pinnacle she abhorred
both. If she had to continue intimate living with them, she felt that
she would be utterly defiled, degraded to their level. That was her
first definite conclusion.
After a time she heard Benton come into their living room and light a
fire in the heater. She dried her eyes and went out to face him.
"Charlie," she declared desperately, "I can't stay here any longer. It's
"Don't start that song again. We've had it often enough," he answered
stubbornly. "You're not going--not till spring. I'm not going to let you
go in the frame of mind you're in right now, anyhow. You'll get over
that. Hang it, I'm not the first man whose foot slipped. It isn't your
funeral, anyway. Forget it."
The grumbling coarseness of this retort left her speechless. Benton got
the fire going and went out. She saw him cross to the kitchen, and later
she saw Katy John leave the camp with all her belongings in a bundle
over her shoulder, trudging away to the camp of her people around the
Kipling's pregnant line shot across her mind:
"For the colonel's lady and Judy O'Grady are sisters under their skins."
"I wonder," she mused. "I wonder if we are? I wonder if that poor,
little, brown-skinned fool isn't after all as much a victim as I am. She
doesn't know better, maybe; but Charlie does, and he doesn't seem to
care. It merely embarrasses him to be found out, that's all. It isn't
right. It isn't fair, or decent, or anything. We're just for him to--to
She looked out along the shores piled high with broken ice and snow,
through a misty air to distant mountains that lifted themselves
imperiously aloof, white spires against the sky,--over a forest all
draped in winter robes; shore, mountains, and forest alike were chill
and hushed and desolate. The lake spread its forty-odd miles in a
boomerang curve from Roaring Springs to Fort Douglas, a cold, lifeless
gray. She sat a long time looking at that, and a dead weight seemed to
settle upon her heart. For the second time that day she broke down. Not
the shamed, indignant weeping of an hour earlier, but with the essence
of all things forlorn and desolate in her choked sobs.
She did not hear Jack Fyfe come in. She did not dream he was there,
until she felt his hand gently on her shoulder and looked up. And so
deep was her despondency, so keen the unassuaged craving for some human
sympathy, some measure of understanding, that she made no effort to
remove his hand. She was in too deep a spiritual quagmire to refuse any
sort of aid, too deeply moved to indulge in analytical self-fathoming.
She had a dim sense of being oddly comforted by his presence, as if she,
afloat on uncharted seas, saw suddenly near at hand a safe anchorage and
welcoming hands. Afterward she recalled that. As it was, she looked up
at Fyfe and hid her wet face in her hands again. He stood silent a few
seconds. When he did speak there was a peculiar hesitation in his
"What is it?" he said softly. "What's the trouble now?"
Briefly she told him, the barriers of her habitual reserve swept aside
before the essentially human need to share a burden that has grown too
great to bear alone.
"Oh, hell," Fyfe grunted, when she had finished. "This isn't any place
for you at all."
He slid his arm across her shoulders and tilted her face with his other
hand so that her eyes met his. And she felt no desire to draw away or
any of that old instinct to be on her guard against him. For all she
knew--indeed, by all she had been told--Jack Fyfe was tarred with the
same stick as her brother, but she had no thought of resisting him, no
feeling of repulsion.
"Will you marry me, Stella?" he asked evenly. "I can free you from this
sort of thing forever."
"How can I?" she returned. "I don't want to marry anybody. I don't love
you. I'm not even sure I like you. I'm too miserable to think, even. I'm
afraid to take a step like that. I should think you would be too."
He shook his head.
"I've thought a lot about it lately," he said. "It hasn't occurred to me
to be afraid of how it may turn out. Why borrow trouble when there's
plenty at hand? I don't care whether you love me or not, right now. You
couldn't possibly be any worse off as my wife, could you?"
"No," she admitted. "I don't see how I could."
"Take a chance then," he urged. "I'll make a fair bargain with you. I'll
make life as pleasant for you as I can. You'll live pretty much as
you've been brought up to live, so far as money goes. The rest we'll
have to work out for ourselves. I won't ask you to pretend anything you
don't feel. You'll play fair, because that's the way you're
made,--unless I've sized you up wrong. It'll simply be a case of our
adjusting ourselves, just as mating couples have been doing since the
year one. You've everything to gain and nothing to lose."
"In some ways," she murmured.
"Every way," he insisted. "You aren't handicapped by caring for any
"How do you know?" she asked.
"Just a hunch," Fyfe smiled. "If you did, he'd have beaten me to the
rescue long ago--if he were the sort of man you _could_ care for."
"No," she admitted. "There isn't any other man, but there might be.
Think how terrible it would be if it happened--afterward."
Fyfe shrugged his shoulders.
"Sufficient unto the day," he said. "There is no string on either of us
just now. We start even. That's good enough. Will you?"
"You have me at a disadvantage," she whispered. "You offer me a lot that
I want, everything but a feeling I've somehow always believed ought to
exist, ought to be mutual. Part of me wants to shut my eyes and jump.
Part of me wants to hang back. I can't stand this thing I've got into
and see no way of getting out of. Yet I dread starting a new train of
wretchedness. I'm afraid--whichever way I turn."
Fyfe considered this a moment.
"Well," he said finally, "that's a rather unfortunate attitude. But I'm
going into it with my eyes open. I know what I want. You'll be making a
sort of experiment. Still, I advise you to make it. I think you'll be
the better for making it. Come on. Say yes."
Stella looked up at him, then out over the banked snow, and all the
dreary discomforts, the mean drudgery, the sordid shifts she had been
put to for months rose up in disheartening phalanx. For that moment Jack
Fyfe loomed like a tower of refuge. She trusted him now. She had a
feeling that even if she grew to dislike him, she would still trust him.
He would play fair. If he said he would do this or that, she could bank
on it absolutely.
She turned and looked at him searchingly a long half-minute, wondering
what really lay behind the blue eyes that met her own so steadfastly. He
stood waiting patiently, outwardly impassive. But she could feel through
the thin stuff of her dress a quiver in the fingers that rested on her
shoulder, and that repressed sign of the man's pent-up feeling gave her
an odd thrill, moved her strangely, swung the pendulum of her impulse.
"Yes," she said.
Fyfe bent a little lower.
"Listen," he said in characteristically blunt fashion. "You want to get
away from here. There is no sense in our fussing or hesitating about
what we're going to do, is there?"
"No, I suppose not," she agreed.
"I'll send the _Panther_ down to the Springs for Lefty Howe's wife," he
outlined his plans unhesitatingly. "She'll get up here this evening.
To-morrow we will go down and take the train to Vancouver and be
married. You have plenty of good clothes, good enough for Vancouver. I
know,"--with a whimsical smile,--"because you had no chance to wear them
out. Then we'll go somewhere, California, Florida, and come back to
Roaring Lake in the spring. You'll have all the bad taste of this out of
your mouth by that time."
Stella nodded acquiescence. Better to make the plunge boldly, since she
had elected to make it.
"All right. I'm going to tell Benton," Fyfe said. "Good-by till
She stood up. He looked at her a long time earnestly, searchingly, one
of her hands imprisoned tight between his two big palms. Then, before
she was quite aware of his intention, he kissed her gently on the mouth,
and was gone.
* * * * *
This turn of events left Benton dumbfounded, to use a trite but
expressive phrase. He came in, apparently to look at Stella in amazed
curiosity, for at first he had nothing to say. He sat down beside his
makeshift desk and pawed over some papers, running the fingers of one
hand through his thick brown hair.
"Well, Sis," he blurted out at last. "I suppose you know what you're
"I think so," Stella returned composedly.
"But why all this mad haste?" he asked. "If you're going to get married,
why didn't you let me know, so I could give you some sort of decent
"Oh, thanks," she returned dryly. "I don't think that's necessary. Not
at this stage of the game, as you occasionally remark."
He ruminated upon this a minute, flushing slightly.
"Well, I wish you luck," he said sincerely enough. "Though I can hardly
realize this sudden move. You and Jack Fyfe may get on all right. He's a
good sort--in his way."
"His way suits me," she said, spurred to the defensive by what she
deemed a note of disparagement in his utterance. "If you have any
objections or criticisms, you can save your breath--or address them
direct to Mr. Fyfe."
"No, thank you," he grinned. "I don't care to get into any argument with
_him_, especially as he's going to be my brother-in-law. Fyfe's all
right. I didn't imagine he was the sort of man you'd fancy, that's all."
Stella refrained from any comment on this. She had no intention of
admitting to Charlie that marriage with Jack Fyfe commended itself to
her chiefly as an avenue of escape from a well-nigh intolerable
condition which he himself had inflicted upon her. Her pride rose in
arms against any such belittling admission. She admitted it frankly to
herself,--and to Fyfe,--because Fyfe understood and was content with
that understanding. She desired to forget that phase of the
transaction. She told herself that she meant honestly to make the best
Benton turned again to his papers. He did not broach the subject again
until in the distance the squat hull of the _Panther_ began to show on
her return from the Springs. Then he came to where Stella was putting
the last of her things into her trunk. He had some banknotes in one
hand, and a check.
"Here's that ninety I borrowed, Stell," he said. "And a check for your
back pay. Things have been sort of lean around here, maybe, but I still
think it's a pity you couldn't have stuck it out till it came smoother.
I hate to see you going away with a chronic grouch against me. I suppose
I wouldn't even be a welcome guest at the wedding?"
"No," she said unforgivingly. "Some things are a little too--too
"Oh," he replied casually enough, pausing in the doorway a second on his
way out, "you'll get over that. You'll find that ordinary, everyday
living isn't any kid-glove affair."
She sat on the closed lid of her trunk, looking at the check and money.
Three hundred and sixty dollars, all told. A month ago that would have
spelled freedom, a chance to try her luck in less desolate fields. Well,
she tried to consider the thing philosophically; it was no use to bewail
what might have been. In her hands now lay the sinews of a war she had
forgone all need of waging. It did not occur to her to repudiate her
bargain with Jack Fyfe. She had given her promise, and she considered
she was bound, irrevocably. Indeed, for the moment, she was glad of
that. She was worn out, all weary with unaccustomed stress of body and
mind. To her, just then, rest seemed the sweetest boon in the world. Any
port in a storm, expressed her mood. What came after was to be met as it
came. She was too tired to anticipate.
It was a pale, weary-eyed young woman, dressed in the same plain
tailored suit she had worn into the country, who was cuddled to Mrs.
Howe's plump bosom when she went aboard the _Panther_ for the first
stage of her journey.
A slaty bank of cloud spread a somber film across the sky. When the
_Panther_ laid her ice-sheathed guard-rail against the Hot Springs wharf
the sun was down. The lake spread gray and lifeless under a gray sky,
and Stella Benton's spirits were steeped in that same dour color.
AND SO THEY WERE MARRIED
Spring had waved her transforming wand over the lake region before the
Fyfes came home again. All the low ground, the creeks and hollows and
banks, were bright green with new-leaved birch and alder and maple. The
air was full of those aromatic exudations the forest throws off when it
is in the full tide of the growing time. Shores that Stella had last
seen dismal and forlorn in the frost-fog, sheathed in ice, banked with
deep snow, lay sparkling now in warm sunshine, under an unflecked arch
of blue. All that was left of winter was the white cap on Mount Douglas,
snow-filled chasms on distant, rocky peaks. Stella stood on the Hot
Springs wharf looking out across the emerald deep of the lake, thinking
soberly of the contrast.
Something, she reflected, some part of that desolate winter, must have
seeped to the very roots of her being to produce the state of mind in
which she embarked upon that matrimonial voyage. A little of it clung to
her still. She could look back at those months of loneliness, of
immeasurable toil and numberless indignities, without any qualms. There
would be no repetition of that. The world at large would say she had
done well. She herself in her most cynical moments could not deny that
she had done well. Materially, life promised to be generous. She was
married to a man who quietly but inexorably got what he wanted, and it
was her good fortune that he wanted her to have the best of everything.
She saw him now coming from the hotel, and she regarded him
thoughtfully, a powerful figure swinging along with light, effortless
steps. He was back on his own ground, openly glad to be back. Yet she
could not recall that he had ever shown himself at a disadvantage
anywhere they had been together. He wore evening clothes when occasion
required as unconcernedly as he wore mackinaws and calked boots among
his loggers. She had not yet determined whether his equable poise arose
from an unequivocal democracy of spirit, or from sheer egotism. At any
rate, where she had set out with subtle misgivings, she had to admit
that socially, at least, Jack Fyfe could play his hand at any turn of
the game. Where or how he came by this faculty, she did not know. In
fact, so far as Jack Fyfe's breeding and antecedents were concerned, she
knew little more than before their marriage. He was not given to
reminiscence. His people--distant relatives--lived in her own native
state of Pennsylvania. He had an only sister who was now in South
America with her husband, a civil engineer. Beyond that Fyfe did not go,
and Stella made no attempt to pry up the lid of his past. She was not
Her clearest judgment of him was at first hand. He was a big, virile
type of man, generous, considerate, so sure of himself that he could be
tolerant of others. She could easily understand why Roaring Lake
considered Jack Fyfe "square." The other tales of him that circulated
there she doubted now. The fighting type he certainly was, aggressive in
a clash, but if there were any downright coarseness in him, it had never
manifested itself to her. She was not sorry she had married him. If they
had not set out blind in a fog of sentiment, as he had once put it,
nevertheless they got on. She did not love him,--not as she defined that
magic word,--but she liked him, was mildly proud of him. When he kissed
her, if there were no mad thrill in it, there was at least a passive
contentment in having inspired that affection. For he left her in no
doubt as to where he stood, not by what he said, but wholly by his
He joined her now. The _Panther_, glossy black as a crow's wing with
fresh paint, lay at the pier-end with their trunks aboard. Stella
surveyed those marked with her initials, looking them over with a
critical eye, when they reached the deck.
"How in the world did I ever manage to accumulate so much stuff, Jack?"
she asked quizzically. "I didn't realize it. We might have been doing
Europe with souvenir collecting our principal aim, by the amount of our
Fyfe smiled, without commenting. They sat on a trunk and watched Roaring
Springs fall astern, dwindle to a line of white dots against the great
green base of the mountain that rose behind it.
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