Part 4 out of 5
"Well, do you recall--you were there when the estate was wound up, and I
was not--any mention of some worthless oil stock? Some California
wildcat stuff the governor got bit on? It was found among his effects."
"I seem to recall something of the sort," she answered. "But I don't
remember positively. What about it?"
"Lander writes me that there is a prospect of it being salable. The
company is reviving. And he finds himself without legal authority to do
business, although the stock certificates are still in his hands. He
suggests that we give him a power of attorney to sell this stuff. He's
an awfully conservative old chap, so there must be a reasonable prospect
of some cash, or he wouldn't bother. My hunch is to give him a power of
attorney and let him use his own judgment."
"How much is it worth?" she asked.
"The par value is forty thousand dollars," Benton grinned. "But the
governor bought it at ten cents on the dollar. If we get what he paid,
we'll be lucky. That'll be two thousand apiece. I brought you a blank
form. I'm going down with you on the _Bug_ to-morow to send mine. I'd
advise you to have yours signed up and witnessed before a notary at
Hopyard and send it too."
"Of course I will," she said.
"It isn't much," Benton mused, leaning on the foot of the crib, watching
her smooth the covers over little Jack. "But it won't come amiss--to me,
at least. I'm going to be married in the spring."
Stella looked up.
"You are?" she murmured. "To Linda Abbey?"
He nodded. A slight flush crept over his tanned face at the steady look
she bent on him.
"Hang it, what are you thinking?" he broke out. "I know you've rather
looked down on me because I acted like a bounder that winter. But I
really took a tumble to myself. You set me thinking when you made that
sudden break with Jack. I felt rather guilty about that--until I saw how
it turned out. I know I'm not half good enough for Linda. But so long as
she thinks I am and I try to live up to that, why we've as good a chance
to be happy as anybody. We all make breaks, us fellows that go at
everything roughshod. Still, when we pull up and take a new tack, you
shouldn't hold grudges. If we could go back to that fall and winter, I'd
do things a lot differently."
"If you're both really and truly in love," Stella said quietly, "that's
about the only thing that matters. I hope you'll be happy. But you'll
have to be a lot different with Linda Abbey than you were with me."
"Ah, Stella, don't harp on that," he said shame-facedly. "I was rotten,
it's true. But we're all human. I couldn't see anything then only what I
wanted myself. I was like a bull in a china shop. It's different now.
I'm on my feet financially, and I've had time to draw my breath and take
a squint at myself from a different angle. I did you a good turn,
anyway, even if I was the cause of you taking a leap before you looked.
You landed right."
Stella mustered a smile that was purely facial. It maddened her to hear
his complacent justification of himself. And the most maddening part of
it was her knowledge that Benton was right, that in many essential
things he had done her a good turn, which her own erratic inclinations
bade fair to wholly nullify.
"I wish you all the luck and happiness in the world," she said gently.
"And I don't bear a grudge, believe me, Charlie. Now, run along. We'll
keep baby awake, talking."
"All right." He turned to go and came back again.
"What I really came in to say, I've hardly got nerve enough for." He
sank his voice to a murmur. "Don't fly off at me, Stell. But--you
haven't got a trifle interested in Monohan, have you? I mean, you
haven't let him think you are?"
Stella's hands tightened on the crib rail. For an instant her heart
stood still. A wholly unreasoning blaze of anger seized her. But she
controlled that. Pride forbade her betraying herself.
"What a perfectly ridiculous question," she managed to reply.
He looked at her keenly.
"Because, if you have--well, you might be perfectly innocent in the
matter and still get in bad," he continued evenly. "I'd like to put a
bug in your ear."
She bent over Jack Junior, striving to inject an amused note into her
"Don't be so absurd, Charlie."
"Oh, well, I suppose it is. Only, darn it, I've seen him look at you in
a way--Pouf! I was going to tell you something. Maybe Jack has--only
he's such a close-mouthed beggar. I'm not very anxious to peddle
things." Benton turned again. "I guess you don't need any coaching from
He walked out. Stella stared after him, her eyes blazing, hands clenched
into hard-knuckled little fists. She could have struck him.
And still she wondered over and over again, burning with a consuming
fire to know what that "something" was which he had to tell. All the
slumbering devils of a stifled passion awoke to rend her, to make her
rage against the coil in which she was involved. She despised herself
for the weakness of unwise loving, even while she ached to sweep away
the barriers that stood between her and love. Mingled with that there
whispered an intuition of disaster to come, of destiny shaping to
peculiar ends. In Monohan's establishing himself on Roaring Lake she
sensed something more than an industrial shift. In his continued
presence there she saw incalculable sources of trouble. She stood
leaning over the bed rail, staring wistfully at her boy for a few
minutes. When she faced the mirror in her room, she was startled at the
look in her eyes, the nervous twitch of her lips. There was a physical
ache in her breast.
"You're a fool, a fool," she whispered to her image. "Where's your will,
Stella Fyfe? Borrow a little of your husband's backbone.
Presently--presently it won't matter."
One can club a too assertive ego into insensibility. A man may smile and
smile and be a villain still, as the old saying has it, and so may a
woman smile and smile when her heart is tortured, when every nerve in
her is strained to the snapping point. Stella went back to the living
room and sang for them until it was time to go to bed.
The Aldens went first, then Charlie. Stella left her door ajar. An hour
afterward, when Fyfe came down the hall, she rose. It had been her
purpose to call him in, to ask him to explain that which her brother had
hinted he could explain, what prior antagonism lay between him and
Monohan, what that "something" about Monohan was which differentiated
him from other men where she was concerned. Instead she shut the door,
slid the bolt home, and huddled in a chair with her face in her hands.
She could not discuss Monohan with him, with any one. Why should she
ask? she told herself. It was a closed book, a balanced account. One
does not revive dead issues.
THE OPENING GUN
The month of November slid day by day into the limbo of the past. The
rains washed the land unceasingly. Gray veilings of mist and cloud
draped the mountain slopes. As drab a shade colored Stella Fyfe's daily
outlook. She was alone a great deal. Even when they were together, she
and her husband, words did not come easily between them. He was away a
great deal, seeking, she knew, the old panacea of work, hard,
unremitting work, to abate the ills of his spirit. She envied him that
outlet. Work for her there was none. The two Chinamen and Martha the
nurse left her no tasks. She could not read, for all their great store
of books and magazines; the printed page would lie idle in her lap, and
her gaze would wander off into vacancy, into that thought-world where
her spirit wandered in distress. The Abbeys were long gone; her brother
hard at his logging. There were no neighbors and no news. The savor was
gone out of everything. The only bright spot in her days was Jack
Junior, now toddling precociously on his sturdy legs, a dozen steps at a
time, crowing victoriously when he negotiated the passage from chair to
From the broad east windows of their house she saw all the traffic that
came and went on the upper reaches of Roaring Lake, Siwashes in dugouts
and fishing boats, hunters, prospectors. But more than any other she saw
the craft of her husband and Monohan, the powerful, black-hulled
_Panther_, the smaller, daintier _Waterbug_.
There was a big gasoline workboat, gray with a yellow funnel, that she
knew was Monohan's. And this craft bore past there often, inching its
downward way with swifters of logs, driving fast up-lake without a tow.
Monohan had abandoned work on the old Abbey-Monohan logging-grounds. The
camps and the bungalow lay deserted, given over to a solitary watchman.
The lake folk had chattered at this proceeding, and the chatter had come
to Stella's ears. He had put in two camps at the lake head, so she heard
indirectly: one on the lake shore, one on the Tyee River, a little above
the mouth. He had sixty men in each camp, and he was getting the name of
a driver. Three miles above his Tyee camp, she knew, lay the camp her
husband had put in during the early summer to cut a heavy limit of
cedar. Fyfe had only a small crew there.
She wondered a little why he spent so much time there, when he had
seventy-odd men working near home. But of course he had an able
lieutenant in Lefty Howe. And she could guess why Jack Fyfe kept away.
She was sorry for him--and for herself. But being sorry--a mere
semi-neutral state of mind--did not help matters, she told herself
Lefty Howe's wife was at the camp now, on one of her occasional visits.
Howe was going across the lake one afternoon to see a Siwash whom he had
engaged to catch and smoke a winter's supply of salmon for the camps.
Mrs. Howe told Stella, and on impulse Stella bundled Jack Junior into
warm clothing and went with them for the ride.
Halfway across the six-mile span she happened to look back, and a new
mark upon the western shore caught her eye. She found a glass and
leveled it on the spot. Two or three buildings, typical logging-camp
shacks of split cedar, rose back from the beach. Behind these again the
beginnings of a cut had eaten a hole in the forest,--a slashing
different from the ordinary logging slash, for it ran narrowly, straight
back through the timber; whereas the first thing a logger does is to cut
all the merchantable timber he can reach on his limit without moving his
donkey from the water. It was not more than two miles from their house.
"What new camp is that?" she asked Howe.
"Monohan's," he answered casually.
"I thought Jack owned all the shore timber to Medicine Point?" she said.
Howe shook his head.
"Uh-uh. Well, he does too, all but where that camp is. Monohan's got a
freak limit in there. It's half a mile wide and two miles straight back
from the beach. Lays between our holdin's like the ham in a sandwich.
Only," he added thoughtfully, "it's a blame thin piece uh ham. About the
poorest timber in a long stretch. I dunno why the Sam Hill he's cuttin'
it. But then he's doin' a lot uh things no practical logger would do."
Stella laid down the glasses. It was nothing to her, she told herself.
She had seen Monohan only once since the day Fyfe choked him, and then
only to exchange the barest civilities--and to feel her heart flutter at
the message his eyes telegraphed.
When she returned from the launch trip, Fyfe was home, and Charlie
Benton with him. She crossed the heavy rugs on the living room floor
noiselessly in her overshoes, carrying Jack Junior asleep in her arms.
And so in passing the door of Fyfe's den, she heard her brother say:
"But, good Lord, you don't suppose he'll be sap-head enough to try such
fool stunts as that? He couldn't make it stick, and he brings himself
within the law first crack; and the most he could do would be to annoy
"You underestimate Monohan," Fyfe returned. "He'll play safe,
personally, so far as the law goes. He's foxy. I advise you to sell if
the offer comes again. If you make any more breaks at him, he'll figure
some way to get you. It isn't your fight, you know. You unfortunately
happen to be in the road."
"Damned if I do," Benton swore. "I'm all in the clear. There's no way he
can get me, and I'll tell him what I think of him again if he gives me
half a chance. I never liked him, anyhow. Why should I sell when I'm
just getting in real good shape to take that timber out myself? Why, I
can make a hundred thousand dollars in the next five years on that block
of timber. Besides, without being a sentimental sort of beggar, I don't
lose sight of the fact that you helped pull me out of a hole when I sure
needed a pull. And I don't like his high-handed style. No, if it comes
to a showdown, I'm with you, Jack, as far as I can go. What the hell
_can_ he do?"
"Nothing--that I can see." Fyfe laughed unpleasantly. "But he'll try. He
has dollars to our cents. He could throw everything he's got on Roaring
Lake into the discard and still have forty thousand a year fixed income.
Sabe? Money does more than talk in this country. I think I'll pull that
camp off the Tyee."
"Well, maybe," Benton said. "I'm not sure--"
Stella passed on. She wanted to hear, but it went against her grain to
eavesdrop. Her pause had been purely involuntary. When she became
conscious that she was eagerly drinking in each word, she hurried by.
Her mind was one urgent question mark while she laid the sleeping
youngster in his bed and removed her heavy clothes. What sort of
hostilities did Monohan threaten? Had he let a hopeless love turn to the
acid of hate for the man who nominally possessed her? Stella could
scarcely credit that. It was too much at variance with her idealistic
conception of the man. He would never have recourse to such littleness.
Still, the biting contempt in Fyfe's voice when he said to Benton: "You
underestimate Monohan. He'll play safe ... he's foxy." That stung her to
the quick. That was not said for her benefit; it was Fyfe's profound
conviction. Based on what? He did not form judgments on momentary
impulse. She recalled that only in the most indirect way had he ever
passed criticism on Monohan, and then it lay mostly in a tone, suggested
more than spoken. Yet he knew Monohan, had known him for years. They had
clashed long before she was a factor in their lives.
When she went into the big room, Benton and Fyfe were gone outdoors. She
glanced into Fyfe's den. It was empty, but a big blue-print unrolled on
the table where the two had been seated caught her eye. She bent over
it, drawn by the lettered squares along the wavy shore line and the
marked waters of creeks she knew.
She had never before possessed a comprehensive idea of the various
timber holdings along the west shore of Roaring Lake, since it had not
been a matter of particular interest to her. She was not sure why it now
became a matter of interest to her, unless it was an impression that
over these squares and oblongs which stood for thousands upon thousands
of merchantable logs there was already shaping a struggle, a clash of
iron wills and determined purposes directly involving, perhaps arising
because of her.
She studied the blue-print closely. Its five feet of length embraced all
the west shore of the lake, from the outflowing of Roaring River to the
incoming Tyee at the head. Each camp was lettered in with pencil. But
her attention focussed chiefly on the timber limits ranging north and
south from their home, and she noted two details: that while the limits
marked A-M Co. were impartially distributed from Cottonwood north, the
squares marked J.H. Fyfe lay in a solid block about Cougar Bay,--save
for that long tongue of a limit where she had that day noted the new
camp. That thrust like the haft of a spear into the heart of Fyfe's
There was the Abbey-Monohan cottage, the three limits her brother
controlled lying up against Fyfe's southern boundary. Up around the
mouth of the Tyee spread the vast checkerboard of Abbey-Monohan limits,
and beyond that, on the eastern bank of the river, a single
block,--Fyfe's cedar limit,--the camp he thought he would close down.
Why? Immediately the query shaped in her mind. Monohan was concentrating
his men and machinery at the lake head. Fyfe proposed to shut down a
camp but well-established; established because cedar was climbing in
price, an empty market clamoring for cedar logs. Why?
Was there aught of significance in that new camp of Monohan's so near
by; that sudden activity on ground that bisected her husband's property?
A freak limit of timber so poor that Lefty Howe said it could only be
logged at a loss.
She sighed and went out to give dinner orders to Sam Foo. If she could
only go to her husband and talk as they had been able to talk things
over at first. But there had grown up between them a deadly restraint.
She supposed that was inevitable. Both chafed under conditions they
could not change or would not for stubbornness and pride.
It made a deep impression on her, all these successive, disassociated
finger posts, pointing one and all to things under the surface, to
motives and potentialities she had not glimpsed before and could only
guess at now.
Fyfe and Benton came to dinner more or less preoccupied, an odd mood for
Charlie Benton. Afterwards they went into session behind the closed door
of Fyfe's den. An hour or so later Benton went home. While she listened
to the soft _chuff-a-chuff-a-chuff_ of the _Chickamin_ dying away in the
distance, Fyfe came in and slumped down in a chair before the fire where
a big fir stick crackled. He sat there silent, a half-smoked cigar
clamped in one corner of his mouth, the lines of his square jaw in
profile, determined, rigid. Stella eyed him covertly. There were times,
in those moods of concentration, when sheer brute power seemed his most
salient characteristic. Each bulging curve of his thick upper arm, his
neck rising like a pillar from massive shoulders, indicated his power.
Yet so well-proportioned was he that the size and strength of him was
masked by the symmetry of his body, just as the deliberate immobility of
his face screened the play of his feelings. Often Stella found herself
staring at him, fruitlessly wondering what manner of thought and feeling
that repression overlaid. Sometimes a tricksy, half-provoked desire to
break through the barricade of his stoicism tempted her. She told
herself that she ought to be thankful for his aloofness, his
acquiescence in things as they stood. Yet there were times when she
would almost have welcomed an outburst, a storm, anything rather than
that deadly chill, enduring day after day. He seldom spoke to her now
except of most matter-of-fact things. He played his part like a
gentleman before others, but alone with her he withdrew into his shell.
Stella was sitting back in the shadow, still studying him, measuring him
in spite of herself by the Monohan yardstick. There wasn't much basis
for comparison. It wasn't a question of comparison; the two men stood
apart, distinctive, in every attribute. The qualities in Fyfe that she
understood and appreciated, she beheld glorified in Monohan. Yet it was
not, after all, a question of qualities. It was something more subtle,
something of the heart which defied logical analysis.
Fyfe had never been able to set her pulse dancing. She had never craved
physical nearness to him, so that she ached with the poignancy of that
craving. She had been passively contented with him, that was all. And
Monohan had swept across her horizon like a flame. Why couldn't Jack
Fyfe have inspired in her that headlong sort of passion? She smiled
hopelessly. The tears were very close to her eyes. She loved Monohan;
Monohan loved her. Fyfe loved her in his deliberate, repressed fashion
and possessed her, according to the matrimonial design. And although now
his possession was a hollow mockery, he would never give her up--not to
Walter Monohan. She had that fatalistic conviction.
How would it end in the long run?
She leaned forward to speak. Words quivered on her lips. But as she
struggled to shape them to utterance, the blast of a boat whistle came
screaming up from the water, near and shrill and imperative.
Fyfe came out of his chair like a shot. He landed poised on his feet,
lips drawn apart, hands clenched. He held that pose for an instant, then
relaxed, his breath coming with a quick sigh.
Stella stared at him. Nerves! She knew the symptoms too well. Nerves at
terrible tension in that big, splendid body. A slight quiver seemed to
run over him. Then he was erect and calmly himself again, standing in a
"That's the _Panther_?" he said. "Pulling in to the _Waterbug's_
landing. Did I startle you when I bounced up like a cougar, Stella?" he
asked, with a wry smile. "I guess I was half asleep. That whistle jolted
Stella glanced out the shaded window.
"Some one's coming up from the float with a lantern," she said. "Is
there--is there likely to be anything wrong, Jack?"
"Anything wrong?" He shot a quick glance at her. Then casually: "Not
that I know of."
The bobbing lantern came up the path through the lawn. Footsteps
crunched on the gravel.
"I'll go see what he wants," Fyfe remarked, "Calked boots won't be good
for the porch floor."
She followed him.
"Stay in. It's cold." He stopped in the doorway.
"No. I'm coming," she persisted.
They met the lantern bearer at the foot of the steps.
"Well, Thorsen?" Fyfe shot at him. There was an unusual note of
sharpness in his voice, an irritated expectation.
Stella saw that it was the skipper of the _Panther_, a big and burly
Dane. He raised the lantern a little. The dim light on his face showed
it bruised and swollen. Fyfe grunted.
"Our boom is hung up," he said plaintively. "They've blocked the river.
I got licked for arguin' the point."
"How's it blocked?" Fyfe asked.
"Two swifters uh logs strung across the channel. They're drivin' piles
in front. An' three donkeys buntin' logs in behind."
"Swift work. There wasn't a sign of a move when I left this morning,"
Fyfe commented drily. "Well, take the _Panther_ around to the inner
landing. I'll be there."
"What's struck that feller Monohan?" the Dane sputtered angrily. "Has he
got any license to close the Tyee? He says he has--an' backs his
argument strong, believe me. Maybe you can handle him. I couldn't. Next
time I'll have a cant-hook handy. By jingo, you gimme my pick uh Lefty's
crew, Jack, an' I'll bring that cedar out."
"Take the _Panther_ 'round," Fyfe replied. "We'll see."
Thorsen turned back down the slope. In a minute the thrum of the boat's
exhaust arose as she got under way.
"Come on in. You'll get cold standing here," Fyfe said to Stella.
She followed him back into the living room. He sat on the arm of a big
leather chair, rolling the dead cigar thoughtfully between his lips,
little creases gathering between his eyes.
"I'm going up the lake," he said at last, getting up abruptly.
"What's the matter, Jack?" she asked. "Why, has trouble started up
"Part of the logging game," he answered indifferently. "Don't amount to
"But Thorsen has been fighting. His face was terrible. And I've heard
you say he was one of the most peaceable men alive. Is it--is Monohan--"
"We won't discuss Monohan," Fyfe said curtly. "Anyway, there's no danger
of _him_ getting hurt."
He went into his den and came out with hat and coat on. At the door he
paused a moment.
"Don't worry," he said kindly. "Nothing's going to happen."
But she stood looking out the window after he left, uneasy with a
prescience of trouble. She watched with a feverish interest the stir
that presently arose about the bunkhouses. That summer a wide space had
been cleared between bungalow and camp. She could see moving lanterns,
and even now and then hear the voices of men calling to each other. Once
the _Panther's_ dazzling eye of a searchlight swung across the landing,
and its beam picked out a file of men carrying their blankets toward the
boat. Shortly after that the tender rounded the point. Close behind her
went the _Waterbug_, and both boats swarmed with men.
Stella looked and listened until there was but a faint thrum far up the
lake. Then she went to bed, but not to sleep. What ugly passions were
loosed at the lake head she did not know. But on the face of it she
could not avoid wondering if Monohan had deliberately set out to cross
and harass Jack Fyfe. Because of her? That was the question which had
hovered on her lips that evening, one she had not brought herself to
ask. Because of her, or because of some enmity that far preceded her?
She had thought him big enough to do as she had done, as Fyfe was
tacitly doing,--make the best of a grievous matter.
But if he had allowed his passions to dictate reprisals, she trembled
for the outcome. Fyfe was not a man to sit quiet under either affront or
injury. He would fight with double rancor if Monohan were his adversary.
"If anything happens up there, I'll hate myself," she whispered, when
the ceaseless turning of her mind had become almost unendurable. "I was
a silly, weak fool to ever let Walter Monohan know I cared. And I'll
hate him too if he makes me a bone of contention. I elected to play the
game the only decent way there is to play it. So did he. Why can't he
abide by that?"
Noon of the next day saw the _Waterbug_ heave to a quarter mile abeam of
Cougar Point to let off a lone figure in her dinghy, and then bore on,
driving straight and fast for Roaring Springs. Stella flew to the
landing. Mother Howe came puffing at her heels.
"Land's sake, I been worried to death," the older woman breathed. "When
men git to quarrellin' about timber, you never can tell where they'll
stop, Mrs. Jack. I've knowed some wild times in the woods in the past."
The man in the dink was Lefty Howe. He pulled in beside the float. When
he stepped up on the planks, he limped perceptibly.
"Land alive, what happened yuh, Lefty?" his wife cried.
"Got a rap on the leg with a peevy," he said. "Nothin' much."
"Why did the _Waterbug_ go down the lake?" Stella asked breathlessly.
The man's face was serious. "What happened up there?"
"There was a fuss," he answered quietly. "Three or four of the boys got
beat up so they need patchin'. Jack's takin' 'em down to the hospital.
Damn that yeller-headed Monohan!" his voice lifted suddenly in
uncontrollable anger. "Billy Dale was killed this mornin', mother."
Stella felt herself grow sick. Death is a small matter when it strikes
afar, among strangers. When it comes to one's door! Billy Dale had
piloted the _Waterbug_ for a year, a chubby, round-faced boy of twenty,
a foster-son, of Mother Howe's before she had children of her own.
Stella had asked Jack to put him on the _Waterbug_ because he was such a
loyal, cheery sort of soul, and Billy had been a part of every
expedition they had taken around the lake. She could not think of him as
a rigid, lifeless lump of clay. Why, only the day before he had been
laughing and chattering aboard the cruiser, going up and down the cabin
floor on his hands and knees, Jack Junior perched triumphantly astride
"What happened?" she cried wildly. "Tell me, quick."
"It's quick told," Howe said grimly. "We were ready at daylight.
Monohan's got a hard crew, and they jumped us as soon as we started to
clear the channel. So we cleared them, first. It didn't take so long.
Three of our men was used bad, and there's plenty of sore heads on both
sides. But we did the job. After we got them on the run, we blowed up
their swifters an' piles with giant. Then we begun to put the cedar
through. Billy was on the bank when somebody shot him from across the
river. One mercy, he never knew what hit him. An' you'll never come so
close bein' a widow again, Mrs. Fyfe, an' not be. That bullet was meant
for Jack, I figure. He was sittin' down. Billy was standin' right behind
him watchin' the logs go through. Whoever he was, he shot high, that's
all. There, mother, don't cry. That don't help none. What's done's
Stella turned and walked up to the house, stunned. She could not credit
bloodshed, death. Always in her life both had been things remote. And as
the real significance of Lefty Howe's story grew on her, she shuddered.
It lay at her door, equally with her and Monohan, even if neither of
their hands had sped the bullet,--an indirect responsibility but
gruesomely real to her.
God only knows to what length she might have gone in reaction. She was
quivering under that self-inflicted lash, bordering upon hysteria when
she reached the house. She could not shut out a too-vivid picture of
Billy Dale lying murdered on the Tyee's bank, of the accusing look with
which Fyfe must meet her. Rightly so, she held. She did not try to
shirk. She had followed the line of least resistance, lacked the dour
courage to pull herself up in the beginning, and it led to this. She
felt Billy Dale's blood wet on her soft hands. She walked into her own
house panting like a hunted animal.
And she had barely crossed the threshold when back in the rear Jack
Junior's baby voice rose in a shrill scream of pain.
* * * * *
Stella scarcely heard her husband and the doctor come in. For a weary
age she had been sitting in a low rocker, a pillow across her lap, and
on that the little, tortured body swaddled with cotton soaked in olive
oil, the only dressing she and Mrs. Howe could devise to ease the pain.
All those other things which had so racked her, the fight on the Tyee,
the shooting of Billy Dale, they had vanished somehow into thin air
before the dread fact that her baby was dying slowly before her
anguished eyes. She sat numbed with that deadly assurance, praying
without hope for help to come, hopeless that any medical skill would
avail when it did come. So many hours had been wasted while a man rowed
to Benton's camp, while the _Chickamin_ steamed to Roaring Springs,
while the _Waterbug_ came driving back. Five hours! And the skin, yes,
even shreds of flesh, had come away in patches with Jack Junior's
clothing when she took it off. She bent over him, fearful that every
feeble breath would be his last.
She looked up at the doctor. Fyfe was beside her, his calked boots
biting into the oak floor.
"See what you can do, doc," he said huskily. Then to Stella: "How did it
"He toddled away from Martha," she whispered. "Sam Foo had set a pan of
boiling water on the kitchen floor. He fell into it. Oh, my poor little
They watched the doctor bare the terribly scalded body, examine it,
listen to the boy's breathing, count his pulse. In the end he re-dressed
the tiny body with stuff from the case with which a country physician
goes armed against all emergencies. He was very deliberate and
thoughtful. Stella looked her appeal when he finished.
"He's a sturdy little chap," he said, "and we'll do our best. A child
frequently survives terrific shock. It would be mistaken kindness for me
to make light of his condition simply to spare your feelings. He has an
even chance. I shall stay until morning. Now, I think it would be best
to lay him on a bed. You must relax, Mrs. Fyfe. I can see that the
strain is telling on you. You mustn't allow yourself to get in that
abnormal condition. The baby is not conscious of pain. He is not
suffering half so much in his body as you are in your mind, and you
mustn't do that. Be hopeful. We'll need your help. We should have a
nurse, but there was no time to get one."
They laid Jack Junior amid downy pillows on Stella's bed. The doctor
stood looking at him, then drew a chair beside the bed.
"Go and walk about a little, Mrs. Fyfe," he advised, "and have your
dinner. I'll want to watch the boy a while."
But Stella did not want to walk. She did not want to eat. She was
scarcely aware that her limbs were cramped and aching from her long
vigil in the chair. She was not conscious of herself and her problems,
any more. Every shift of her mind turned on her baby, the little mite
she had nursed at her breast, the one joy untinctured with bitterness
that was left her. The bare chance that those little feet might never
patter across the floor again, that little voice never wake her in the
morning crying "Mom-mom," drove her distracted.
She went out into the living room, walked to a window, stood there
drumming on the pane with nervous fingers. Dusk was falling outside; a
dusk was creeping over her. She shuddered.
Fyfe came up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, and turned her
so that she faced him.
"I wish I could help, Stella," he whispered. "I wish I could make you
feel less forlorn. Poor little kiddies--both of you."
She shook off his hands, not because she rebelled against his touch,
against his sympathy, merely because she had come to that nervous state
where she scarce realized what she did.
"Oh," she choked, "I can't bear it. My baby, my little baby boy. The one
bright spot that's left, and he has to suffer like that. If he dies,
it's the end of everything for me."
Fyfe stared at her. The warm, pitying look on his face ebbed away,
hardened into his old, mask-like absence of expression.
"No," he said quietly, "it would only be the beginning. Lord God, but
this has been a day."
He whirled about with a quick gesture of his hands, a harsh, raspy laugh
that was very near a sob, and left her. Twenty minutes later, when
Stella was irresistibly drawn back to the bedroom, she found him sitting
sober and silent, looking at his son.
A little past midnight Jack Junior died.
FREE AS THE WIND
Stella sat watching the gray lines of rain beat down on the asphalt, the
muddy rivulets that streamed along the gutter. A forlorn sighing of wind
in the bare boughs of a gaunt elm that stood before her window reminded
her achingly of the wind drone among the tall firs.
A ghastly two weeks had intervened since Jack Junior's little life
blinked out. There had been wild moments when she wished she could keep
him company on that journey into the unknown. But grief seldom kills.
Sometimes it hardens. Always it works a change, a greater or less
revamping of the spirit. It was so with Stella Fyfe, although she was
not keenly aware of any forthright metamorphosis. She was, for the
present, too actively involved in material changes.
The storm and stress of that period between her yielding to the lure of
Monohan's personality and the burial of her boy had sapped her of all
emotional reaction. When they had performed the last melancholy service
for him and went back to the bungalow at Cougar Point, she was as
physically exhausted, as near the limit of numbed endurance in mind and
body as it is possible for a young and healthy woman to become. And
when a measure of her natural vitality re-asserted itself, she laid her
course. She could no more abide the place where she was than a pardoned
convict can abide the prison that has restrained him. It was empty now
of everything that made life tolerable, the hushed rooms a constant
reminder of her loss. She would catch herself listening for that baby
voice, for those pattering footsteps, and realize with a sickening pang
that she would never hear them again.
The snapping of that last link served to deepen and widen the gulf
between her and Fyfe. He went about his business grave and preoccupied.
They seldom talked together. She knew that his boy had meant a lot to
him; but he had his work. He did not have to sit with folded hands and
think until thought drove him into the bogs of melancholy.
And so the break came. With desperate abruptness Stella told him that
she could not stay, that feeling as she did, she despised herself for
unwilling acceptance of everything where she could give nothing in
return, that the original mistake of their marriage would never be
rectified by a perpetuation of that mistake.
"What's the use, Jack?" she finished. "You and I are so made that we
can't be neutral. We've got to be thoroughly in accord, or we have to
part. There's no chance for us to get back to the old way of living. I
don't want to; I can't. I could never be complaisant and agreeable
again. We might as well come to a full stop, and each go his own way."
She had braced herself for a clash of wills. There was none. Fyfe
listened to her, looked at her long and earnestly, and in the end made a
quick, impatient gesture with his hands.
"Your life's your own to make what you please of, now that the kid's no
longer a factor," he said quietly. "What do you want to do? Have you
made any plans?"
"I have to live, naturally," she replied. "Since I've got my voice back,
I feel sure I can turn that to account. I should like to go to Seattle
first and look around. It can be supposed I have gone visiting, until
one or the other of us takes a decisive legal step."
"That's simple enough," he returned, after a minute's reflection. "Well,
if it has to be, for God's sake let's get it over with."
And now it was over with. Fyfe remarked once that with them luckily it
was not a question of money. But for Stella it was indeed an economic
problem. When she left Roaring Lake, her private account contained over
two thousand dollars. Her last act in Vancouver was to re-deposit that
to her husband's credit. Only so did she feel that she could go free of
all obligation, clean-handed, without stultifying herself in her own
eyes. She had treasured as a keepsake the only money she had ever earned
in her life, her brother's check for two hundred and seventy dollars,
the wages of that sordid period in the cookhouse. She had it now. Two
hundred and seventy dollars capital. She hadn't sold herself for that.
She had given honest value, double and treble, in the sweat of her brow.
She was here now, in a five-dollar-a-week housekeeping room, foot-loose,
free as the wind. That was Fyfe's last word to her. He had come with
her to Seattle and waited patiently at a hotel until she found a place
to live. Then he had gone away without protest.
"Well, Stella," he had said, "I guess this is the end of our experiment.
In six months,--under the State law,--you can be legally free by a
technicality. So far as I'm concerned, you're free as the wind right
now. Good luck to you."
He turned away with a smile on his lips, a smile that his eyes belied,
and she watched him walk to the corner through the same sort of driving
rain that now pelted in gray lines against her window.
She shook herself impatiently out of that retrospect. It was done. Life,
as her brother had prophesied, was no kid-glove affair. The future was
her chief concern now, not the past. Yet that immediate past, bits of
it, would now and then blaze vividly before her mental vision. The only
defense against that lay in action, in something to occupy her mind and
hands. If that motive, the desire to shun mental reflexes that brought
pain, were not sufficient, there was the equally potent necessity to
earn her bread. Never again would she be any man's dependent, a pampered
doll, a parasite trading on her sex. They were hard names she called
Meantime she had not been idle; neither had she come to Seattle on a
blind impulse. She knew of a singing teacher there whose reputation was
more than local, a vocal authority whose word carried weight far beyond
Puget Sound. First she meant to see him, get an impartial estimate of
the value of her voice, of the training she would need. Through him she
hoped to get in touch with some outlet for the only talent she
possessed. And she had received more encouragement than she dared hope.
He listened to her sing, then tested the range and flexibility of her
"Amazing," he said frankly. "You have a rare natural endowment. If you
have the determination and the sense of dramatic values that musical
discipline will give you, you should go far. You should find your place
"That's my ambition," Stella answered. "But that requires time and
training. And that means money. I have to earn it."
The upshot of that conversation was an appointment to meet the manager
of a photoplay house, who wanted a singer. Stella looked at her watch
now, and rose to go. Money, always money, if one wanted to get anywhere,
she reflected cynically. No wonder men struggled desperately for that
token of power.
She reached the Charteris Theater, and a doorman gave her access to the
dim interior. There was a light in the operator's cage high at the rear,
another shaded glow at the piano, where a young man with hair brushed
sleekly back chewed gum incessantly while he practiced picture
accompaniments. The place looked desolate, with its empty seats, its
bald stage front with the empty picture screen. Stella sat down to wait
for the manager. He came in a few minutes; his manner was very curt,
business-like. He wanted her to sing a popular song, a bit from a Verdi
opera, Gounod's Ave Maria, so that he could get a line on what she
could do. He appeared to be a pessimist in regard to singers.
"Take the stage right there," he instructed. "Just as if the spot was on
you. Now then."
It wasn't a heartening process to stand there facing the gum-chewing
pianist, and the manager's cigar glowing redly five rows back, and the
silent emptinesses beyond,--much like singing into the mouth of a gloomy
cave. It was more or less a critical moment for Stella. But she was
keenly aware that she had to make good in a small way before she could
grasp the greater opportunity, so she did her best, and her best was no
mediocre performance. She had never sung in a place designed to show
off--or to show up--a singer's quality. She was even a bit astonished
She elected to sing the Ave Maria first. Her voice went pealing to the
domed ceiling as sweet as a silver bell, resonant as a trumpet. When the
last note died away, there was a momentary silence. Then the accompanist
looked up at her, frankly admiring.
"You're _some_ warbler," he said emphatically, "believe _me_."
Behind him the manager's cigar lost its glow. He remained silent. The
pianist struck up "Let's Murder Care," a rollicking trifle from a
Broadway hit. Last of all he thumped, more or less successfully, through
the accompaniment to an aria that had in it vocal gymnastics as well as
"Come up to the office, Mrs. Fyfe," Howard said, with a singular change
from his first manner.
"I can give you an indefinite engagement at thirty a week," he made a
blunt offer. "You can sing. You're worth more, but right now I can't pay
more. If you pull business,--and I rather think you will,--have to sing
twice in the afternoon and twice in the evening."
Stella considered briefly. Thirty dollars a week meant a great deal more
than mere living, as she meant to live. And it was a start, a move in
the right direction. She accepted; they discussed certain details. She
did not care to court publicity under her legal name, so they agreed
that she should be billed as Madame Benton,--the Madame being Howard's
suggestion,--and she took her leave.
Upon the Monday following Stella stood for the first time in a fierce
white glare that dazzled her and so shut off partially her vision of the
rows and rows of faces. She went on with a horrible slackness in her
knees, a dry feeling in her throat; and she was not sure whether she
would sing or fly. When she had finished her first song and bowed
herself into the wings, she felt her heart leap and hammer at the
hand-clapping that grew and grew till it was like the beat of ocean
Howard came running to meet her.
"You've sure got 'em going," he laughed. "Fine work. Go out and give 'em
In time she grew accustomed to these things, to the applause she never
failed to get, to the white beam that beat down from the picture cage,
to the eager, upturned faces in the first rows. Her confidence grew;
ambition began to glow like a flame within her. She had gone through
the primary stages of voice culture, and she was following now a method
of practice which produced results. She could see and feel that herself.
Sometimes the fear that her voice might go as it had once gone would
make her tremble. But that, her teacher assured her, was a remote
So she gained in those weeks something of her old poise. Inevitably, she
was very lonely at times. But she fought against that with the most
effective weapon she knew,--incessant activity. She was always busy.
There was a rented piano now sitting in the opposite corner from the gas
stove on which she cooked her meals. Howard kept his word. She "pulled
business," and he raised her to forty a week and offered her a contract
which she refused, because other avenues, bigger and better than singing
in a motion-picture house, were tentatively opening.
December was waning when she came to Seattle. In the following weeks her
only contact with the past, beyond the mill of her own thoughts, was an
item in the _Seattle Times_ touching upon certain litigation in which
Fyfe was involved. Briefly, Monohan, under the firm name of the
Abbey-Monohan Timber Company, was suing Fyfe for heavy damages for the
loss of certain booms of logs blown up and set adrift at the mouth of
the Tyee River. There was appended an account of the clash over the
closed channel and the killing of Billy Dale. No one had been brought to
book for that yet. Any one of sixty men might have fired the shot.
It made Stella wince, for it took her back to that dreadful day. She
could not bear to think that Billy Dale's blood lay on her and Monohan,
neither could she stifle an uneasy apprehension that something more
grievous yet might happen on Roaring Lake. But at least she had done
what she could. If she were the flame, she had removed herself from the
powder magazine. Fyfe had pulled his cedar crew off the Tyee before she
left. If aggression came, it must come from one direction.
They were both abstractions now, she tried to assure herself. The
glamour of Monohan was fading, and she could not say why. She did not
know if his presence would stir again all that old tumult of feeling,
but she did know that she was cleaving to a measure of peace, of
serenity of mind, and she did not want him or any other man to disturb
it. She told herself that she had never loved Jack Fyfe. She recognized
in him a lot that a woman is held to admire, but there were also
qualities in him that had often baffled and sometimes frightened her.
She wondered sometimes what he really thought of her and her actions,
why, when she had been nerved to a desperate struggle for her freedom,
if she could gain it no other way, he had let her go so easily?
After all, she reflected cynically, love comes and goes, but one is
driven to pursue material advantages while life lasts. And she wondered,
even while the thought took form in her mind, how long she would retain
that point of view.
In the early days of February Stella had an unexpected visitor. The
landlady called her to the common telephone, and when she took up the
receiver, Linda Abbey's voice came over the wire.
"When can I see you?" she asked. "I'll only be here to-day and
"Now, if you like," Stella responded. "I'm free until two-thirty."
"I'll be right over," Linda said. "I'm only about ten minutes drive from
where you are."
Stella went back to her room both glad and sorry: glad to hear a
familiar, friendly voice amid this loneliness which sometimes seemed
almost unendurable; sorry because her situation involved some measure of
explanation to Linda. That hurt.
But she was not prepared for the complete understanding of the matter
Linda Abbey tacitly exhibited before they had exchanged a dozen
"How did you know?" Stella asked. "Who told you?"
"No one. I drew my own conclusions when I heard you had gone to
Seattle," Linda replied. "I saw it coming. My dear, I'm not blind, and
I was with you a lot last summer. I knew you too well to believe you'd
make a move while you had your baby to think of. When he was gone--well,
I looked for anything to happen."
"Still, nothing much has happened," Stella remarked with a touch of
bitterness, "except the inevitable break between a man and a woman when
there's no longer any common bond between them. It's better so. Jack has
a multiplicity of interests. He can devote himself to them without the
constant irritation of an unresponsive wife. We've each taken our own
road. That's all that has happened."
"So far," Linda murmured. "It's a pity. I liked that big, silent man of
yours. I like you both. It seems a shame things have to turn out this
way just because--oh, well. Charlie and I used to plan things for the
four of us, little family combinations when we settled down on the lake.
Honestly, Stella, do you think it's worth while? I never could see you
as a sentimental little chump, letting a momentary aberration throw your
whole life out of gear."
"How do you know that I have?" Stella asked gravely.
Linda shrugged her shoulders expressively.
"I suppose it looks silly, if not worse, to you," Stella said. "But I
can't help what you think. My reason has dictated every step I've taken
since last fall. If I'd really given myself up to sentimentalism, the
Lord only knows what might have happened."
"Exactly," Linda responded drily. "Now, there's no use beating around
the bush. We get so in that habit as a matter of politeness,--our sort
of people,--that we seldom say in plain English just what we really
mean. Surely, you and I know each other well enough to be frank, even if
it's painful. Very likely you'll say I'm a self-centered little beast,
but I'm going to marry your brother, my dear, and I'm going to marry him
in the face of considerable family opposition. I _am_ selfish. Can you
show me any one who isn't largely swayed by motives of self-interest, if
it comes to that? I want to be happy. I want to be on good terms with my
own people, so that Charlie will have some of the opportunities dad can
so easily put in his way. Charlie isn't rich. He hasn't done anything,
according to the Abbey standard, but make a fair start. Dad's
patronizing as sin, and mother merely tolerates the idea because she
knows that I'll marry Charlie in any case, opposition or no opposition.
I came over expressly to warn you, Stella. Anything like scandal now
would be--well, it would upset so many things."
"You needn't be uneasy," Stella answered coldly. "There isn't any
foundation for scandal. There won't be."
"I don't know," Linda returned, "Walter Monohan came to Seattle a boat
ahead of me. In fact, that's largely why I came."
Stella flushed angrily.
"Well, what of that?" she demanded. "His movements are nothing to me."
"I don't know," Linda rejoined. She had taken off her gloves and was
rolling them nervously in a ball. Now she dropped them and impulsively
grasped Stella's hands.
"Stella, Stella," she cried. "Don't get that hurt, angry look. I don't
like to say these things to you, but I feel that I have to. I'm worried,
and I'm afraid for you and your husband, for Charlie and myself, for all
of us together. Walter Monohan is as dangerous as any man who's
unscrupulous and rich and absolutely self-centered can possibly be. I
know the glamour of the man. I used to feel it myself. It didn't go very
far with me, because his attention wandered away from me before my
feelings were much involved, and I had a chance to really fathom them
and him. He has a queer gift of making women care for him, and he trades
on it deliberately. He doesn't play fair; he doesn't mean to. Oh, I know
so many cruel things, despicable things, he's done. Don't look at me
like that, Stella. I'm not saying this just to wound you. I'm simply
putting you on your guard. You can't play with fire and not get burned.
If you've been nursing any feeling for Walter Monohan, crush it, cut it
out, just as you'd have a surgeon cut out a cancer. Entirely apart from
any question of Jack Fyfe, don't let this man play any part whatever in
your life. You'll be sorry if you do. There's not a man or woman whose
relations with Monohan have been intimate enough to enable them to
really know the man and his motives who doesn't either hate or fear or
despise him, and sometimes all three."
"That's a sweeping indictment," Stella said stiffly. "And you're very
earnest. Yet I can hardly take your word at its face value. If he's so
impossible a person, how does it come that you and your people
countenanced him socially? Besides, it's all rather unnecessary, Linda.
I'm not the least bit likely to do anything that will reflect on your
prospective husband, which is what it simmers down to, isn't it? I've
been pulled and hauled this way and that ever since I've been on the
coast, simply because I was dependent on some one else--first Charlie
and then Jack--for the bare necessities of life. When there's mutual
affection, companionship, all those intimate interests that marriage is
supposed to imply, I daresay a woman gives full measure for all she
receives. If she doesn't, she's simply a sponge, clinging to a man for
what's in it. I couldn't bear that. You've been rather painfully frank;
so will I be. One unhappy marriage is quite enough for me. Looking back,
I can see that even if Walter Monohan hadn't stirred a feeling in me
which I don't deny,--but which I'm not nearly so sure of as I was some
time ago,--I'd have come to just this stage, anyway. I was drifting all
the time. My baby and the conventions, that reluctance most women have
to make a clean sweep of all the ties they've been schooled to think
unbreakable, kept me moving along the old grooves. It would have come
about a little more gradually, that's all. But I have broken away, and
I'm going to live my own life after a fashion, and I'm going to achieve
independence of some sort. I'm never going to be any man's mate again
until I'm sure of myself--and of him. There's my philosophy of life, as
simply as I can put it. I don't think you need to worry about me. Right
now I couldn't muster up the least shred of passion of any sort. I seem
to have felt so much since last summer, that I'm like a sponge that's
been squeezed dry."
"I don't blame you, dear," Linda said wistfully. "A woman's heart is a
queer thing, though. When you compare the two men--Oh, well, I know
Walter so thoroughly, and you don't. You couldn't ever have cared much
"That hasn't any bearing on it now," Stella answered. "I'm still his
wife, and I respect him, and I've got a stubborn sort of pride. There
won't be any divorce proceedings or any scandal. I'm free personally to
work out my own economic destiny. That, right now, is engrossing enough
Linda sat a minute, thoughtful.
"So you think my word for Walter Monohan's deviltry isn't worth much,"
she said. "Well, I could furnish plenty of details. But I don't think I
shall. Not because you'd be angry, but because I don't think you're
quite as blind as I believed. And I'm not a natural gossip. Aside from
that, he's quite too busy on Roaring Lake for it to mean any good. He
never gets active like that unless he has some personal axe to grind. In
this case, I can grasp his motive easily enough. Jack Fyfe may not have
said a word to you, but he certainly knows Monohan. They've clashed
before, so I've been told. Jack probably saw what was growing on you,
and I don't think he'd hesitate to tell Monohan to walk away around. If
he did,--or if you definitely turned Monohan down; you see I'm rather in
the dark,--he'd go to any length to play even with. Fyfe. When Monohan
wants anything, he looks upon it as his own; and when you wound his
vanity, you've stabbed him in his most vital part. He never rests then
until he's paid the score. Father was always a little afraid of him. I
think that's the chief reason for selling out his Roaring Lake interests
to Monohan. He didn't want to be involved in whatever Monohan
contemplated doing. He has a wholesome respect for your husband's rather
volcanic ability. Monohan has, too. But he has always hated Jack Fyfe.
To my knowledge for three years,--prior to pulling you out of the water
that time,--he never spoke of Jack Fyfe without a sneer. He hates any
one who beats him at anything. That ruction on the Tyee is a sample.
He'll spend money, risk lives, all but his own, do anything to satisfy a
grudge. That's one of the things that worries me. Charlie will be into
anything that Fyfe is, for Fyfe's his friend. I admire the spirit of the
thing, but I don't want our little applecart upset in the sort of
struggle Fyfe and Monohan may stage. I don't even know what form it will
ultimately take, except that from certain indications he'll try to make
Fyfe spend money faster than he can make it, perhaps in litigation over
timber, over anything that offers, by making trouble in his camps,
harassing him at every turn. He can, you know. He has immense resources.
Oh, well, I'm satisfied, Stella, that you're a much wiser girl than I
thought when I knew you'd left Jack Fyfe. I'm quite sure now you aren't
the sort of woman Monohan could wind around his little finger. But I'm
sure he'll try. You'll see, and remember what I tell you. There, I think
I'd better run along. You're not angry, are you, Stella?"
"You mean well enough, I suppose," Stella answered. "But as a matter of
fact, you've made me feel rather nasty, Linda. I don't want to talk or
even think of these things. The best thing you and Charlie and Jack Fyfe
could do is to forget such a discontented pendulum as I ever existed."
"Oh, bosh!" Linda exclaimed, as she drew on her gloves. "That's sheer
nonsense. You're going to be my big sister in three months. Things will
work out. If you felt you had to take this step for your own good, no
one can blame you. It needn't make any difference in our friendship."
On the threshold she turned on her heel. "Don't forget what I've said,"
she repeated. "Don't trust Monohan. Not an inch."
Stella flung herself angrily into a chair when the door closed on Linda
Abbey. Her eyes snapped. She resented being warned and cautioned, as if
she were some moral weakling who could not be trusted to make the most
obvious distinctions. Particularly did she resent having Monohan flung
in her teeth, when she was in a way to forget him, to thrust the strange
charm of the man forever out of her thoughts. Why, she asked bitterly,
couldn't other people do as Jack Fyfe had done: cut the Gordian knot at
one stroke and let it rest at that?
So Monohan was in Seattle? Would he try to see her?
Stella had not minced matters with herself when she left Roaring Lake.
Dazed and shaken by suffering, nevertheless she knew that she would not
always suffer, that in time she would get back to that normal state in
which the human ego diligently pursues happiness. In time the legal tie
between herself and Jack Fyfe would cease to exist. If Monohan cared for
her as she thought he cared, a year or two more or less mattered little.
They had all their lives before them. In the long run, the errors and
mistakes of that upheaval would grow dim, be as nothing. Jack Fyfe would
shrug his shoulders and forget, and in due time he would find a fitter
mate, one as loyal as he deserved. And why might not she, who had never
loved him, whose marriage to him had been only a climbing out of the
fire into the frying-pan?
So that with all her determination to make the most of her gift of song,
so that she would never again be buffeted by material urgencies in a
material world, Stella had nevertheless been listening with the ear of
her mind, so to speak, for a word from Monohan to say that he
understood, and that all was well.
Paradoxically, she had not expected to hear that word. Once in Seattle,
away from it all, there slowly grew upon her the conviction that in
Monohan's fine avowal and renunciation he had only followed the cue she
had given. In all else he had played his own hand. She couldn't forget
Billy Dale. If the motive behind that bloody culmination were thwarted
love, it was a thing to shrink from. It seemed to her now, forcing
herself to reason with cold-blooded logic, that Monohan desired her less
than he hated Fyfe's possession of her; that she was merely an added
factor in the breaking out of a struggle for mastery between two
diverse and dominant men. Every sign and token went to show that the pot
of hate had long been simmering. She had only contributed to its boiling
"Oh, well," she sighed, "it's out of my hands altogether now. I'm sorry,
but being sorry doesn't make any difference. I'm the least factor, it
seems, in the whole muddle. A woman isn't much more than an incident in
a man's life, after all."
She dressed to go to the Charteris, for her day's work was about to
begin. As so often happens in life's uneasy flow, periods of calm are
succeeded by events in close sequence. Howard and his wife insisted that
Stella join them at supper after the show. They were decent folk who
accorded frank admiration to her voice and her personality. They had
been kind to her in many little ways, and she was glad to accept.
At eleven a taxi deposited them at the door of Wain's. The Seattle of
yesterday needs no introduction to Wain's, and its counterpart can be
found in any cosmopolitan, seaport city. It is a place of subtle
distinction, tucked away on one of the lower hill streets, where
after-theater parties and nighthawks with an eye for pretty women, an
ear for sensuous music, and a taste for good food, go when they have
money to spend.
Ensconced behind a potted palm, with a waiter taking Howard's order,
Stella let her gaze travel over the diners. She brought up with a
repressed start at a table but four removes from her own, her eyes
resting upon the unmistakable profile of Walter Monohan. He was dining
vis-a-vis with a young woman chiefly remarkable for a profusion of
yellow hair and a blazing diamond in the lobe of each ear,--a plump,
blond, vivacious person of a type that Stella, even with her limited
experience, found herself instantly classifying.
A bottle of wine rested in an iced dish between them. Monohan was toying
with the stem of a half-emptied glass, smiling at his companion. The
girl leaned toward him, speaking rapidly, pouting. Monohan nodded,
drained his glass, signaled a waiter. When she got into an elaborate
opera cloak and Monohan into his Inverness, they went out, the plump,
jeweled hand resting familiarly on Monohan's arm. Stella breathed a sigh
of relief as they passed, looking straight ahead. She watched through
the upper half of the cafe window and saw a machine draw against the
curb, saw the be-scarfed yellow head enter and Monohan's silk hat
follow. Then she relaxed, but she had little appetite for her food. A
hot wave of shamed disgust kept coming over her. She felt sick,
physically revolted. Very likely Monohan had put her in _that_ class, in
his secret thought. She was glad when the evening ended, and the Howards
left her at her own doorstep.
On the carpet where it had been thrust by the postman under the door, a
white square caught her eye, and she picked it up before she switched on
the light. And she got a queer little shock when the light fell on the
envelope, for it was addressed in Jack Fyfe's angular handwriting.
She tore it open. It was little enough in the way of a letter, a couple
of lines scrawled across a sheet of note-paper.
"I was in Seattle a few days ago and heard you sing. Here's hoping
good luck rides with you.
Stella sat down by the window. Outside, the ever-present Puget Sound
rain drove against wall and roof and sidewalk, gathered in wet,
glistening pools in the street. Through that same window she had watched
Jack Fyfe walk out of her life three months ago without a backward look,
sturdily, silently, uncomplaining. He hadn't whined, he wasn't whining
now,--only flinging a cheerful word out of the blank spaces of his own
life into the blank spaces of hers. Stella felt something warm and wet
steal down her cheeks.
She crumpled the letter with a sudden, spasmodic clenching of her hand.
A lump rose chokingly in her throat. She stabbed at the light switch and
threw herself on the bed, sobbing her heart's cry in the dusky quiet.
And she could not have told why, except that she had been overcome by a
miserably forlorn feeling; all the mental props she relied upon were
knocked out from under her. Somehow those few scrawled words had flung
swiftly before her, like a picture on a screen, a vision of her baby
toddling uncertainly across the porch of the white bungalow. And she
could not bear to think of that!
* * * * *
When the elm before her window broke into leaf, and the sodden winter
skies were transformed into a warm spring vista of blue, Stella was
singing a special engagement in a local vaudeville house that boasted a
"big time" bill. She had stepped up. The silvery richness of her voice
had carried her name already beyond local boundaries, as the singing
master under whom she studied prophesied it would. In proof thereof she
received during April a feminine committee of two from Vancouver bearing
an offer of three hundred dollars for her appearance in a series of
three concerts under the auspices of the Woman's Musical Club, to be
given in the ballroom of Vancouver's new million-dollar hostelry, the
Granada. The date was mid-July. She took the offer under advisement,
promising a decision in ten days.
The money tempted her; that was her greatest need now,--not for her
daily bread, but for an accumulated fund that would enable her to reach
New York and ultimately Europe, if that seemed the most direct route to
her goal. She had no doubts about reaching it now. Confidence came to
abide with her. She throve on work; and with increasing salary, her fund
grew. Coming from any other source, she would have accepted this further
augmentation of it without hesitation, since for a comparative beginner,
it was a liberal offer.
But Vancouver was Fyfe's home town; it had been hers. Many people knew
her; the local papers would feature her. She did not know how Fyfe would
take it; she did not even know if there had been any open talk of their
separation. Money, she felt, was a small thing beside opening old sores.
For herself, she was tolerably indifferent to Vancouver's social
estimate of her or her acts. Nevertheless, so long as she bore Fyfe's
name, she did not feel free to make herself a public figure there
without his sanction. So she wrote to him in some detail concerning the
offer and asked point-blank if it mattered to him.
His answer came with uncanny promptness, as if every mail connection had
been made on the minute.
"If it is to your advantage to sing here," he wrote, "by all means
accept. Why should it matter to me? I would even be glad to come and
hear you sing if I could do so without stirring up vain longings and
useless regrets. As for the other considerations you mention, they
are of no weight at all. I never wanted to keep you in a glass case.
Even if all were well between us, I wouldn't have any feeling about
your singing in public other than pride in your ability to command
public favor with your voice. It's a wonderful voice, too big and
fine a thing to remain obscure.
He added, evidently as an afterthought, a somewhat lengthy postscript:
"I wish you would do something next month, not as a favor to me
particularly, but to ease things along for Charlie and Linda. They
are genuinely in love with each other. I can see you turning up your
little nose at that. I know you've held a rather biased opinion of
your brother and his works since that unfortunate winter. But it
doesn't do to be too self-righteous. Charlie, then, was very little
different from any rather headlong, self-centered, red-blooded
youngster. I'm afraid I'm expressing myself badly. What I mean is
that while he was drifting then into a piggy muddle, he had the
sense to take a brace before his lapses became vices. Partly
because--I've flattered myself--I talked to him like a Dutch uncle,
and partly because he's cast too much in the same clean-cut mold
that you are, to let his natural passions run clean away with him.
He'll always be more or less a profound egotist. But he'll be a good
deal more of a man than you, perhaps, think.
"I never used to think much of these matters. I suppose my own
failure at a thing in which I was cocksure of success had made me a
bit dubious about anybody I care for starting so serious an
undertaking as marriage under any sort of handicap. I do like
Charlie Benton and Linda Abbey. They are marrying in the face of her
people's earnest attempt to break it up. The Abbeys are hopelessly
conservative. Anything in the nature of our troubles aired in public
would make it pretty tough sledding for Linda. As it stands, they
are consenting very ungracefully, but as a matter of family pride,
intend to give Linda a big wedding.
"Now, no one outside of you and me and--well you and me--knows that
there is a rift in our lute. I haven't been quizzed--naturally. It
got about that you'd taken up voice culture with an eye to opera as
a counteracting influence to the grief of losing your baby. I
fostered that rumor--simply to keep gossip down until things shaped
themselves positively. Once these two are married, they have
started--Abbey _pere_ and _mere_ will then be unable to frown on
Linda's contemplated alliance with a family that's produced a
"I do not suppose you will take any legal steps until after those
concerts. Until then, please keep up the fiction that the house of
Fyfe still stands on a solid foundation--a myth that you've taken no
measures to dispel since you left. When it does come, it will be a
sort of explosion, and I'd rather have it that way--one amazed yelp
from our friends and the newspapers, and it's over.
"Meantime, you will receive an invitation to the wedding. I hope
you'll accept. You needn't have any compunctions about playing the
game. You will not encounter me, as I have my hands full here, and
I'm notorious in Vancouver for backing out of functions, anyway. It
is not imperative that you should do this. It's merely a safeguard
against a bomb from the Abbey fortress.
"Linda is troubled by a belief that upon small pretext they would be
very nasty, and she naturally doesn't want any friction with her
folks. They have certain vague but highly material ambitions for her
matrimonially, which she, a very sensible girl, doesn't subscribe
to. She's a very shrewd and practical young person, for all her
whole-hearted passion for your brother. I rather think she pretty
clearly guesses the breach in our rampart--not the original mistake
in our over-hasty plunge--but the wedge that divided us for good. If
she does, and I'm quite sure she does, she is certainly good stuff,
because she is most loyally your champion. I say that because
Charlie had a tendency this spring to carp at your desertion of
Roaring Lake. Things aren't going any too good with us, one way and
another, and of course he, not knowing the real reason of your
absence, couldn't understand why you stay away. I had to squelch
him, and Linda abetted me successfully. However, that's beside the
point. I hope I haven't irritated you. I'm such a dumb sort of brute
generally. I don't know what imp of prolixity got into my pen. I've
got it all off my chest now, or pretty near.
Stella sat thoughtfully gazing at the letter for a long time.
"I wonder?" she said aloud, and the sound of her own voice galvanized
her into action. She put on a coat and went out into the mellow spring
sunshine, and walked till the aimless straying of her feet carried her
to a little park that overlooked the far reach of the Sound and gave
westward on the snowy Olympics, thrusting hoary and aloof to a perfect
sky, like their brother peaks that ringed Roaring Lake. And all the time
her mind kept turning on a question whose asking was rooted neither in
fact nor necessity, an inquiry born of a sentiment she had never
expected to feel.
Should she go back to Jack Fyfe?
She shook her head impatiently when she faced that squarely. Why tread
the same bitter road again? But she put that self-interested phase of it
aside and asked herself candidly if she _could_ go back and take up the
old threads where they had been broken off and make life run smoothly
along the old, quiet channels? She was as sure as she was sure of the
breath she drew that Fyfe wanted her, that he longed for and would
welcome her. But she was equally sure that the old illusions would never
serve. She couldn't even make him happy, much less herself.
Monohan--well, Monohan was a dead issue. He had come to the Charteris to
see her, all smiles and eagerness. She had been able to look at him and
through him--and cut him dead--and do it without a single flutter of her
That brief and illuminating episode in Wain's had merely confirmed an
impression that had slowly grown upon her, and her outburst of feeling
that night had only been the overflowing of shamed anger at herself for
letting his magnetic personality make so deep an impression on her that
she could admit to him that she cared. She felt that she had belittled
herself by that. But he was no longer a problem. She wondered now how he
ever could have been. She recalled that once Jack Fyfe had soberly told
her she would never sense life's real values while she nursed so many
illusions. Monohan had been one of them.
"But it wouldn't work," she whispered to herself. "I couldn't do it.
He'd know I only did it because I was sorry, because I thought I should,
because the old ties, and they seem so many and so strong in spite of
everything, were harder to break than the new road is to follow alone.
He'd resent anything like pity for his loneliness. And if Monohan has
made any real trouble, it began over me, or at least it focussed on me.
And he might resent that. He's ten times a better man than I am a woman.
He thinks about the other fellow's side of things. I'm just what he said
about Charlie, self-centered, a profound egotist. If I really and truly
loved Jack Fyfe, I'd be a jealous little fury if he so much as looked at
another woman. But I don't, and I don't see why I don't. I want to be
loved; I want to love. I've always wanted that so much that I'll never
dare trust my instincts about it again. I wonder why people like me
exist to go blundering about in the world, playing havoc with themselves
and everybody else?"
Before she reached home, that self-sacrificing mood had vanished in the
face of sundry twinges of pride. Jack Fyfe hadn't asked her to come
back; he never would ask her to come back. Of that she was quite sure.
She knew the stony determination of him too well. Neither hope or
heaven nor fear of hell would turn him aside when he had made a
decision. If he ever had moments of irresolution, he had successfully
concealed any such weakness from those who knew him best. No one ever
felt called upon to pity Jack Fyfe, and in those rocked-ribbed
qualities, Stella had an illuminating flash, perhaps lay the secret of
his failure ever to stir in her that yearning tenderness which she knew
herself to be capable of lavishing, which her nature impelled her to
lavish on some one.
"Ah, well," she sighed, when she came back to her rooms and put Fyfe's
letter away in a drawer. "I'll do the decent thing if they ask me. I
wonder what Jack would say if he knew what I've been debating with
myself this afternoon? I wonder if we were actually divorced and I'd
made myself a reputation as a singer, and we happened to meet quite
casually sometime, somewhere, just how we'd really feel about each
She was still musing on that, in a detached, impersonal fashion, when
she caught a car down to the theater for the matinee.
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
The formally worded wedding card arrived in due course. Following close
came a letter from Linda Abbey, a missive that radiated friendliness and
begged Stella to come a week before the date.
"You're going to be pretty prominent in the public eye when you sing
here," Linda wrote. "People are going to make a to-do over you. Ever
so many have mentioned you since the announcement was made that
you'll sing at the Granada concerts. I'm getting a lot of reflected
glory as the future sister-in-law of a rising singer. So you may as
well come and get your hand into the social game in preparation for
being fussed over in July."
In the same mail was a characteristic note from Charlie which ran:
"As the Siwashes say, long time I see you no. I might have dropped a
line before, but you know what a punk correspondent I am. They tell
me you're becoming a real noise musically. How about it?
"Can't you break away from the fame and fortune stuff long enough to
be on hand when Linda and I get married? I wasn't invited to your
wedding, but I'd like to have you at mine. Jack says it's up to you
to represent the Fyfe connection, as he's too busy. I'll come over
to Seattle and get you, if you say so."
She capitulated at that and wrote saying that she would be there, and
that she did not mind the trip alone in the least. She did not want
Charlie asking pertinent questions about why she lived in such grubby
quarters and practiced such strict economy in the matter of living.
Then there was the detail of arranging a break in her engagements, which
ran continuously to the end of June. She managed that easily enough, for
she was becoming too great a drawing card for managers to curtly
override her wishes.
Almost before she realized it, June was at hand. Linda wrote again
urgently, and Stella took the night boat for Vancouver a week before the
wedding day. Linda met her at the dock with a machine. Mrs. Abbey was
the essence of cordiality when she reached the big Abbey house on
Vancouver's aristocratic "heights," where the local capitalists, all
those fortunate climbers enriched by timber and mineral, grown wealthy
in a decade through the great Coast boom, segregated themselves in
"Villas" and "Places" and "Views," all painfully new and sometimes
garish, striving for an effect in landscape and architecture which the
very intensity of the striving defeated. They were well-meaning folk,
however, the Abbeys included.
Stella could not deny that she enjoyed the luxury of the Abbey menage,
the little festive round which was shaping about Linda in these last
days of her spinsterhood. She relished the change from unremitting
work. It amused her to startle little groups with the range and quality
of her voice, when they asked her to sing. They made a much ado over
that, a genuine admiration that flattered Stella. It was easy for her to
fall into the swing of that life; it was only a lapsing back to the old
But she saw it now with a more critical vision. It was soft and
satisfying and eminently desirable to have everything one wanted without
the effort of striving for it, but a begging wheedling game on the part
of these women. They were, she told herself rather harshly, an
incompetent, helpless lot, dependent one and all upon some man's favor
or affection, just as she herself had been all her life until the past
few months. Some man had to work and scheme to pay the bills. She did
not know why this line of thought should arise, neither did she so far
forget herself as to voice these social heresies. But it helped to
reconcile her with her new-found independence, to put a less formidable
aspect on the long, hard grind that lay ahead of her before she could
revel in equal affluence gained by her own efforts. All that they had
she desired,--homes, servants, clothes, social standing,--but she did
not want these things bestowed upon her as a favor by some man, the
emoluments of sex.
She expected she would have to be on her guard with her brother, even to
dissemble a little. But she found him too deeply engrossed in what to
him was the most momentous event of his career, impatiently awaiting the
day, rather dreading the publicity of it.
"Why in Sam Hill can't a man and a woman get married without all this
fuss?" he complained once. "Why should we make our private affairs a
spectacle for the whole town?"
"Principally because mamma has her heart set on a spectacle," Linda
laughed. "She'd hold up her hands in horror if she heard you. Decorated
bridal bower, high church dignitary, bridesmaids, orange blossoms, rice,
and all. Mamma likes to show off. Besides, that's the way it's done in
society. _And_ the honeymoon."
They both giggled, as at some mirthful secret.
"Shall we tell her?" Linda nodded toward Stella.
"Sure," Benton said. "I thought you had."
"The happy couple will spend their honeymoon on a leisurely tour of the
Southern and Eastern States, remaining for some weeks in Philadelphia,
where the groom has wealthy and influential connections. It's all
prepared for the pay-a-purs," Linda whispered with exaggerated secrecy
behind her hand.
"Can you beat that?" he appealed to Stella.
"And all the time," Linda continued, "the happy couple, unknown to every
one, will be spending their days in peace and quietness in their shanty
at Halfway Point. My, but mamma would rave if she knew. Don't give us
away, Stella. It seems so senseless to squander a lot of money gadding
about on trains and living in hotels when we'd much rather be at home by
ourselves. My husband's a poor young man, Stella. 'Pore but worthy.' He
has to make his fortune before we start in spending it. I'm sick of all
this spreading it on because dad has made a pile of money," she broke
out impatiently. "Our living used to be simple enough when I was a kid.
I think I can relish a little simplicity again for a change. Mamma's
been trying for four years to marry me off to her conception of an
eligible man. It didn't matter a hang about his essential qualities so
long as he had money and an assured social position."
"Forget that," Charlie counseled slangily. "I have all the essential
qualities, and I'll have the money and social position too; you watch my
"Conceited ninny," Linda smiled. But there was no reproof in her tone,
only pure comradeship and affection, which Benton returned so openly and
unaffectedly that Stella got up and left them with a pang of envy, a
dull little ache in her heart. She had missed that. It had passed her
by, that clean, spontaneous fusing of two personalities in the biggest
passion life holds. Marriage and motherhood she had known, not as the
flowering of love, not as an eager fulfilling of her natural destiny,
but as something extraneous, an avenue of escape from an irksomeness of
living, a weariness with sordid things, which she knew now had obsessed
her out of all proportion to their reality. She had never seen that
tenderness glow in the eyes of a mating pair that she did not envy them,
that she did not feel herself hopelessly defrauded of her woman's
She went up to her room, moody, full of bitterness, and walked the
thick-carpeted floor, the restlessness of her chafing spirit seeking the
outlet of action.
"Thank the Lord I've got something to do, something that's worth doing,"
she whispered savagely. "If I can't have what I want, I can make my life
embrace something more than just food and clothes and social trifling.
If I had to sit and wait for each day to bring what it would, I believe
I'd go clean mad."
A maid interrupted these self-communings to say that some one had called
her over the telephone, and Stella went down to the library. She wasn't
prepared for the voice that came over the line, but she recognized it
instantly as Fyfe's.
"Listen, Stella," he said. "I'm sorry this has happened, but I can't
very well avoid it now, without causing comment. I had no choice about
coming to Vancouver. It was a business matter I couldn't neglect. And as
luck would have it, Abbey ran into me as I got off the train. On account
of your being there, of course, he insisted that I come out for dinner.
It'll look queer if I don't, as I can't possibly get a return train for
the Springs before nine-thirty this evening. I accepted without
stuttering rather than leave any chance for the impression that I wanted
to avoid you. Now, here's how I propose to fix it. I'll come out about
two-thirty and pay a hurry-up five-minute call. Then I'll excuse myself
to Mrs. Abbey for inability to join them at dinner--press of important
business takes me to Victoria and so forth. That'll satisfy the
conventions and let us both out. I called you so you won't be taken by
surprise. Do you mind?"
"Of course not," she answered instantly. "Why should I?"
There was a momentary silence.
"Well," he said at last, "I didn't know how you'd feel about it. Anyway,
it will only be for a few minutes, and it's unlikely to happen again."
Stella put the receiver back on the hook and looked at her watch. It
lacked a quarter of two. In the room adjoining, Charlie and Linda were
jubilantly wading through the latest "rag" song in a passable soprano
and baritone, with Mrs. Abbey listening in outward resignation. Stella
sat soberly for a minute, then joined them.
"Jack's in town," she informed them placidly, when the ragtime spasm
ended. "He telephoned that he was going to snatch a few minutes between
important business confabs to run out and see me."
"I could have told you that half an hour ago, my dear," Mrs. Abbey
responded with playful archness. "Mr. Fyfe will dine with us this
"Oh," Stella feigned surprise. "Why, he spoke of going to Victoria on
the afternoon boat. He gave me the impression of mad haste--making a
dash out here between breaths, as you might say."
"Oh, I hope he won't be called away on such short notice as that," Mrs.
Abbey murmured politely.
She left the room presently. Out of one corner of her eye Stella saw
Linda looking at her queerly. Charlie had turned to the window, staring
at the blue blur of the Lions across the Inlet.
"It's a wonder Jack would leave the lake," he said suddenly, "with
things the way they are. I've been hoping for rain ever since I've been
down. I'll be glad when we're on the spot again, Linda."
"Wishing for rain?" Stella echoed. "Why?"
"Fire," he said shortly. "I don't suppose you realize it, but there's
been practically no rain for two months. It's getting hot. A few weeks
of dry, warm weather, and this whole country is ready to blow away. The
woods are like a pile of shavings. That would be a fine wedding
present--to be cleaned out by fire. Every dollar I've got's in timber."
"Don't be a pessimist," Linda said sharply.
"What makes you so uneasy now?" Stella asked thoughtfully. "There's
always the fire danger in the dry months. That's been a bugaboo ever
since I came to the lake."
"Yes, but never like it is this summer," Benton frowned. "Oh, well, no
use borrowing trouble, I suppose."
"When Jack comes, I'll be in the library," she said. "I'm going to read
But the book she took up lay idle in her lap. She looked forward to that
meeting with a curious mixture of reluctance and regret. She could not
face it unmoved. No woman who has ever lain passive in a man's arms can
ever again look into that man's eyes with genuine indifference. She may
hate him or love him with a degree of intensity according to her nature,
be merely friendly, or nurse a slow resentment. But there is always that
intangible something which differentiates him from other men. Stella
felt now a shyness of him, a little dread of him, less sureness of
herself, as he swung out of the machine and took the house steps with
that effortless lightness on his feet that she remembered so well.
She heard him in the hall, his deep voice mingling with the thin,
penetrating tones of Mrs. Abbey. And then the library door opened, and
he came in. Stella had risen, and stood uncertainly at one corner of a
big reading table, repressing an impulse to fly, finding herself
stricken with a strange recurrence of the feeling she had first disliked
him for arousing in her,--a sense of needing to be on her guard, of
impending assertion of a will infinitely more powerful than her own.
But that was, she told herself, only a state of mind, and Fyfe put her
quickly at her ease. He came up to the table and seated himself on the
edge of it an arm's length from her, swinging one foot free. He looked
at her intently. There was no shadow of expression on his face, only in
his clear eyes lurked a gleam of feeling.
"Well, lady," he said at length, "you're looking fine. How goes
"Fairly well," she answered.
"Seems odd, doesn't it, to meet like this?" he ventured. "I'd have
dodged it, if it had been politic. As it is, there's no harm done, I
imagine. Mrs. Abbey assured me we'd be free from interruption. If the
exceedingly cordial dame had an inkling of how things stand between us,
I daresay she'd be holding her breath about now."
"Why do you talk like that, Jack?" Stella protested nervously.
"Well, I have to say something," he remarked, after a moment's
reflection. "I can't sit here and just look at you. That would be rude,
not to say embarrassing."
Stella bit her lip.
"I don't see why we can't talk like any other man and woman for a few
minutes," she observed.
"I do," he said quietly. "You know why, too, if you stop to think. I'm
the same old Jack Fyfe, Stella. I don't think much where you are
concerned; I just feel. And that doesn't lend itself readily to
"How do you feel?" she asked, meeting his gaze squarely. "If you don't
hate me, you must at least rather despise me."
"Neither," he said slowly. "I admire your grit, lady. You broke away
from everything and made a fresh start. You asserted your own
individuality in a fashion that rather surprised me. Maybe the incentive
wasn't what it might have been, but the result is, or promises to be. I
was only a milestone. Why should I hate or despise you because you
recognized that and passed on? I had no business setting myself up for
the end of your road instead of the beginning. I meant to have it that
way until the kid--well, Fate took a hand there. Pshaw," he broke off
with a quick gesture, "let's talk about something else."
Stella laid one hand on his knee. Unbidden tears were crowding up in her
"You were good to me," she whispered. "But just being good wasn't
enough for a perverse creature like me. I couldn't be a sleek pussy-cat,
comfortable beside your fire. I'm full of queer longings. I want wings.
I must be a variation from the normal type of woman. Our marriage didn't
touch the real me at all, Jack. It only scratched the surface. And
sometimes I'm afraid to look deep, for fear of what I'll see. Even if
another man hadn't come along and stirred up a temporary tumult in me, I
couldn't have gone on forever."
"A temporary tumult," Fyfe mused. "Have you thoroughly chucked that
illusion? I knew you would, of course, but I had no idea how long it
would take you."
"Long ago," she answered. "Even before I left you, I was shaky about
that. There were things I couldn't reconcile. But pride wouldn't let me
admit it. I can't even explain it to myself."
"I can," he said, a little sadly. "You've never poured out that big,
warm heart of yours on a man. It's there, always has been there, those
concentrated essences of passion. Every unattached man's a possible
factor, a potential lover. Nature has her own devices to gain her end. I
couldn't be the one. We started wrong. I saw the mistake of that when it
was too late. Monohan, a highly magnetic animal, came along at a time
when you were peculiarly and rather blindly receptive. That's all.
Sex--you have it in a word. It couldn't stand any stress, that sort of
attraction. I knew it would only last until you got one illuminating
glimpse of the real man of him. But I don't want to talk about him.
He'll keep. Sometime you'll really love a _man_, Stella, and he'll be a
very lucky mortal. There's an erratic streak in you, lady, but there's a
bigger streak that's fine and good and true. You'd have gone through
with it to the bitter end, if Jack Junior hadn't died. The weaklings
don't do that. Neither do they cut loose as you did, burning all their
economic bridges behind them. Do you know that it was over a month
before I found out that you'd turned your private balance back into my
account? I suppose there was a keen personal satisfaction in going on
your own and making good from the start. Only I couldn't rest
His voice trailed huskily off into silence. The gloves in his left hand
were doubled and twisted in his uneasy fingers. Stella's eyes were
"Well, I'm going," he said shortly. "Be good."
He slipped off the table and stood erect, a wide, deep-chested man,
tanned brown, his fair hair with its bronze tinge lying back in a smooth
wave from his forehead, blue eyes bent on her, hot with a slumbering
Without warning, he caught her close in his arms so that she could feel
the pounding of his heart against her breast, kissed her cheeks, her
hair, the round, firm white neck of her, with lips that burned. Then he
held her off at arm's length.
"That's how _I_ care," he said defiantly. "That's how I want you. No
other way. I'm a one-woman man. Some time you may love like that, and if
you do, you'll know how I feel. I've watched you sleeping beside me and
ached because I couldn't kindle the faintest glow of the real thing in
you. I'm sick with a miserable sense of failure, the only thing I've
ever failed at, and the biggest, most complete failure I can conceive
of,--to love a woman in every way desirable; to have her and yet never
He caught up his hat, and the door clicked shut behind him. A minute
later Stella saw him step into the tonneau of the car. He never looked
And she fled to her own room, stunned, half-frightened, wholly amazed at
this outburst. Her face was damp with his lip-pressure, damp and warm.
Her arms tingled with the grip of his. The blood stood in her cheeks
like a danger signal, flooding in hot, successive waves to the roots of
her thick, brown hair.
"If I thought--I could," she whispered into her pillow, "I'd try. But I
daren't. I'm afraid. It's just a mood, I know it is. I've had it before.
A--ah! I'm a spineless jellyfish, a weathercock that whirls to every
emotional breeze. And I won't be. I'll stand on my own feet if I can--so
help me God, I will!"
THE FIRE BEHIND THE SMOKE
This is no intimate chronicle of Charlie Benton and Linda Abbey, save in
so far as they naturally furnish a logical sequence in what transpired.
Therefore the details of their nuptials is of no particular concern.
They were wedded, ceremonially dined as befitted the occasion, and
departed upon their hypothetical honeymoon, surreptitiously abbreviated
from an extravagant swing over half of North America to seventy miles by
rail and twenty by water,--and a month of blissful seclusion, which
suited those two far better than any amount of Pullman touring, besides
leaving them money in pocket.
When they were gone, Stella caught the next boat for Seattle. She had
drawn fresh breath in the meantime, and while she felt tenderly, almost
maternally, sorry for Jack Fyfe, she swung back to the old attitude.
Even granting, she argued, that she could muster courage to take up the
mantle of wifehood where she laid it off, there was no surety that they
could do more than compromise. There was the stubborn fact that she had
openly declared her love for another man, that by her act she had
plunged her husband into far-reaching conflict. Such a conflict existed.
She could put her finger on no concrete facts, but it was in the air.
She heard whispers of a battle between giants--a financial duel to the
death--with all the odds against Jack Fyfe.
Win or lose, there would be scars. And the struggle, if not of and by
her deed, had at least sprung into malevolent activity through her. Men,
she told herself, do not forget these things; they rankle. Jack Fyfe was
only human. No, Stella felt that they could only come safe to the old
port by virtue of a passion that could match Fyfe's own. And she put
that rather sadly beyond her, beyond the possibilities. She had felt
stirrings of it, but not to endure. She was proud and sensitive and
growing wise with bitterly accumulated experience. It had to be all or
nothing with them, a cleaving together complete enough to erase and
forever obliterate all that had gone before. And since she could not see
that as a possibility, there was nothing to do but play the game
according to the cards she held. Of these the trump was work, the inner
glow that comes of something worth while done toward a definite,
purposeful end. She took up her singing again with a distinct relief.
Time passed quickly and uneventfully enough between the wedding day and
the date of her Granada engagement. It seemed a mere breathing space
before the middle of July rolled around, and she was once more aboard a
Vancouver boat. In the interim, she had received a letter from the
attorney who had wound up her father's estate, intimating that there was
now a market demand for that oil stock, and asking if he should sell or
hold for a rise in price which seemed reasonably sure? Stella
telegraphed her answer. If that left-over of a speculative period would
bring a few hundred dollars, it would never be of greater service to her
All the upper reach of Puget Sound basked in its normal midsummer haze,
the day Stella started for Vancouver. That great region of island-dotted
sea spread between the rugged Olympics and the foot of the Coast range
lay bathed in summer sun, untroubled, somnolent. But nearing the
international boundary, the _Charlotte_ drove her twenty-knot way into a
thickening atmosphere. Northward from Victoria, the rugged shores that
line those inland waterways began to appear blurred. Just north of
Active Pass, where the steamers take to the open gulf again, a vast bank
of smoke flung up blue and gray, a rolling mass. The air was pungent,
oppressive. When the _Charlotte_ spanned the thirty-mile gap between
Vancouver Island and the mainland shore, she nosed into the Lion's Gate
under a slow bell, through a smoke pall thick as Bering fog. Stella's
recollection swung back to Charlie's uneasy growl of a month earlier.
Fire! Throughout the midsummer season there was always the danger of
fire breaking out in the woods. Not all the fire-ranger patrols could
guard against the carelessness of fishermen and campers.
"It's a tough Summer over here for the timber owners," she heard a man
remark. "I've been twenty years on the coast and never saw the woods so
"Dry's no name," his neighbor responded. "It's like tinder. A cigarette
stub'll start a blaze forty men couldn't put out. It's me that knows it.
I've got four limits on the North Arm, and there's fire on two sides of
me. You bet I'm praying for rain."
"They say the country between Chehalis and Roaring Lake is one big
blaze," the first man observed.
"So?" the other replied. "Pity, too. Fine timber in there. I came near
buying some timber on the lake this spring. Some stuff that was on the
market as a result of that Abbey-Monohan split. Glad I didn't now. I'd
just as soon have _all_ my money out of timber this season."
They moved away in the press of disembarking, and Stella heard no more
of their talk. She took a taxi to the Granada, and she bought a paper in
the foyer before she followed the bell boy to her room. She had scarcely
taken off her hat and settled down to read when the telephone rang.
Linda's voice greeted her when she answered.
"I called on the chance that you took the morning boat," Linda said.
"Can I run in? I'm just down for the day. I won't be able to hear you
sing, but I'd like to see you, dear."
"Can you come right now?" Stella asked. "Come up, and we'll have
something served up here. I don't feel like running the gauntlet of the
dining room just now."
"I'll be there in a few minutes," Linda answered.
Stella went back to her paper. She hadn't noticed any particular stress
laid on forest fires in the Seattle dailies, but she could not say that
of this Vancouver sheet. The front page reeked of smoke and fire. She
glanced through the various items for news of Roaring Lake, but found
only a brief mention. It was "reported" and "asserted" and "rumored"
that fire was raging at one or two points there, statements that were
overshadowed by positive knowledge of greater areas nearer at hand
burning with a fierceness that could be seen and smelled. The local
papers had enough feature stuff in fires that threatened the very
suburbs of Vancouver without going so far afield as Roaring Lake.
Linda's entrance put a stop to her reading, without, however, changing
the direction of her thought. For after an exchange of greetings, Linda
divulged the source of her worried expression, which Stella had
"Who wouldn't be worried," Linda said, "with the whole country on fire,
and no telling when it may break out in some unexpected place and wipe
one out of house and home."
"Is it so bad as that at the lake?" Stella asked uneasily. "There's not
much in the paper. I was looking."
"It's so bad," Linda returned, with a touch of bitterness, "that I've
been driven to the Springs for safety; that every able-bodied man on the
lake who can be spared is fighting fire. There has been one man killed,
and there's half a dozen loggers in the hospital, suffering from burns
and other hurts. Nobody knows where it will stop. Charlie's limits have
barely been scorched, but there's fire all along one side of them. A
change of wind--and there you are. Jack Fyfe's timber is burning in a
dozen places. We've been praying for rain and choking in the smoke for a
Stella looked out the north window. From the ten-story height she could
see ships lying in the stream, vague hulks in the smoky pall that
shrouded the harbor.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"It's devilish," Linda went on. "Like groping in the dark and being
afraid--for me. I've been married a month, and for ten days I've only
seen my husband at brief intervals when he comes down in the launch for
supplies, or to bring an injured man. And he doesn't tell me anything
except that we stand a fat chance of losing everything. I sit there at
the Springs, and look at that smoke wall hanging over the water, and
wonder what goes on up there. And at night there's the red glow, very
faint and far. That's all. I've been doing nursing at the hospital to
help out and to keep from brooding. I wouldn't be down here now, only
for a list of things the doctor needs, which he thought could be
obtained quicker if some one attended to it personally. I'm taking the
evening train back."
"I'm sorry," Stella repeated.
She said it rather mechanically. Her mind was spinning a thread, upon
which, strung like beads, slid all the manifold succession of things
that had happened since she came first to Roaring Lake. Linda's voice,
continuing, broke into her thoughts.
"I suppose I shouldn't be croaking into your ear like a bird of ill
omen, when you have to throw yourself heart and soul into that concert
to-morrow," she said contritely. "I wonder why that Ancient Mariner way
of seeking relief from one's troubles by pouring them into another ear
is such a universal trait? You aren't vitally concerned, after all, and
I am. Let's have that tea, dear, and talk about less grievous things. I
still have one or two trifles to get in the shops too."
After they had finished the food that Stella ordered sent up, they went
out together. Later Stella saw her off on the train.
"Good-by, dear," Linda said from the coach window. "I'm just selfish