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   Chapter 28 LESLIE STEPS OUT

Thurston of Orchard Valley By Harold Bindloss Characters: 17438

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Henry Leslie did not return home at noon on the day following the altercation with his wife. Millicent had an ugly temper, but she would cool down if he gave her time, he said to himself. In the evening he fell in with two business acquaintances from a mining district, who were visiting the city for the purpose of finding diversion and they invited him to assist them in their search for amusement. Leslie, though unprincipled, lacked several qualities necessary for a successful rascal, and, oppressed by the fear of Shackleby's displeasure should Thurston return to the mountains prematurely, and uncertain what to do, was willing to try to forget his perplexities for an hour or two.

The attempt was so far successful that he went home at midnight, somewhat unsteadily, a good many dollars poorer than when he set out. Trying the door of his wife's room, he found it locked. He did not suspect that it had been locked on the outside and that Millicent had thrown the key away. He was, however, rather relieved than otherwise by the discovery of the locked door, and, sleeping soundly, wakened later than usual next morning. Millicent, however, was neither at the breakfast-table nor in her own room when he pried the door open. He saw that some garments and a valise were missing, and decided that she had favored certain friends with her company, and, returning mollified, would make peace again, as had happened before. Still, he was uneasy until he espied her writing-case with the end of a letter protruding. Reading the letter, he discovered it to be an invitation to Victoria. He noticed on the blotter the reversed impression of an addressed envelope, which showed that she had answered the invitation. Two days passed, and, hearing nothing, he grew dissatisfied again, and drafted a diplomatic telegram to the friends in Victoria. It happened that Shackleby was in his office when the answer arrived.

"Has Thurston come into town yet? You told me you saw your way to keep him here," said Shackleby. "Didn't you mention he had the handling of a small legacy left Mrs. Leslie?"

"It is strange, but he has not arrived," was the answer. "My wife is an old friend of his, and I had counted on her help in detaining him, but, unfortunately, she considered it necessary to accept an invitation to Victoria somewhat suddenly."

"I should hardly have fancied Thurston was an old friend of-yours," Shackleby remarked with a carelessness which almost blunted the sneer. "I'm also a little surprised at what you tell me, because I saw Mrs. Leslie hurrying along to the Atlantic express. She couldn't book that way to Victoria."

"You must have been mistaken," said Leslie, who turned towards a clerk holding out a telegraphic envelope. He ripped it open and read the enclosure with a smothered ejaculation.

"Can't understand your wire. Mrs. Leslie not here. Wrote saying she could not come."

"Excuse the liberty. I believe I have a right to inspect all correspondence," observed Shackleby, coolly leaning over and picking up the message. Then he looked straight at Leslie, and there was a moment's silence before he asked, "How much does Mrs. Leslie know about your business?"

"I don't know," answered the anxious man in desperation. "I had to tell her a little so that she could help me."

"So I guessed!" commented Shackleby. "Now, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you can't afford to quarrel with me if I do. You're coming straight with me to the depot to find out where Mrs. Leslie bought a ticket to."

"I'll see you hanged first," broke out Leslie. "Isn't it enough that you presume to read my private correspondence? I'll suffer no interference with my domestic affairs."

Shackleby laughed contemptuously. "You'll just come along instead of blustering-there's not an ounce of real grit in you. This is no time for sentiment, and you have admitted that Mrs. Leslie was on good terms with Thurston. If she has warned him, one of us at least will have to make a record break out of this country. If he doesn't it won't be the divorce court he'll figure in."

Leslie went without further protest, and Shackleby looked at him significantly when the booking-clerk said, "If I remember right, Mrs. Leslie bought a ticket for Thompson's. It's a flag station at the head of the new road that's to be driven into the Orchard Valley."

"I guess that's enough," remarked Shackleby. "You and I are going there by the first train too. Oh, yes, I'm coming with you whether you like it or not, for it strikes me our one chance is to bluff Thurston into a bargain for the cessation of hostilities. It's lucky he's supposed to be uncommonly short of money."

Geoffrey Thurston, Mrs. Leslie, and Thomas Savine of course, could not know of this conversation, but the woman was anxious as they rode together into sight of the little flag station shortly before the Atlantic express was due. When the others dismounted, Thomas Savine, who had been summoned by telegram from Vancouver, remained discreetly behind. It was very cold, darkness was closing down on the deep hollow among the hills, and some little distance up the ascending line, a huge freight locomotive was waiting with a string of cars behind it in a side track. Thurston pointed to the fan-shaped blaze of the great head lamp.

"We have timed it well. They're expecting your train now," he said.

"I am glad," was Millicent's answer. "I shall feel easier when I am once upon the way, for all day I have been nervously afraid that Harry might arrive or something unexpected might happen to detain me. There will be only time to catch the Allan boat, you say, and once the train leaves this station nobody could overtake me?"

"Of course not!" answered Geoffrey, reassuringly. "It is perhaps natural that you should be apprehensive, but there is no reason for it. Whether you are doing right or wrong I dare not presume to judge, and, under the circumstances, I wish there had been somebody else to counsel you; but if your husband has treated you cruelly and you are in fear of him, I cannot venture to dissuade you. You will write to me when you have settled your plans?"

"Yes," she promised. After a moment's pause, she went on: "I have hardly been able to consider the position yet, but I will never go back to Harry. My trustees must either help me to fight him or bribe him not to molest me. It is a hateful position, but though I have suffered a great deal there are things I cannot countenance."

The hoot of a whistle came ringing up the valley, the light of another head lamp, growing brighter, flickered among the firs, and Millicent looked up at her companion as she said:

"I may never see you again, Geoffrey, but I cannot go without asking you to forgive me. You do not know, and I dare not tell you, in how many ways I have injured you. I would like to think that you do not cherish any ill-will against me."

"You may be quite sure of it," was the answer, and Geoffrey smiled upon her. "What I shall remember most clearly is how much you risked to warn me, and that the safe completion of the work I have set my heart on is due to you. We will forget all the unpleasant things that have happened in the past and meet as good friends next time, Millicent."

The woman's voice trembled a little as she replied: "I hope when one by one you hear of the unpleasant things you will be charitable. But a last favor-you will not tell Harry where I have gone until I am safely on my way to England?"

"No," promised Geoffrey. "You can depend upon that. I have not forgiven your husband, but the train is coming in and it will only stop a few seconds."

With couplings clashing the long cars lurched in. Geoffrey hurried Millicent into one of them. He felt his hand grasped fervently, and fancied he saw a tear glisten in Millicent's eyes by the light of the flashing lamps. Then the great engine snorted, and he sprang down from the vestibule footboard as the train rolled out. Turning back towards the station to join Thomas Savine, he found himself confronted by two men who had just alighted.

Their surprise was mutual, but Thomas Savine, who stood beside a box just hurled out of the baggage car, had his wits about him. "Here's one case, Geoffrey. The conductor thinks that some fool must have labelled the others wrong, and they'll come on by first freight," he said.

This was an accurate statement, and for Millicent's sake Geoffrey was grateful that his comrade should make it so opportunely. It accounted for his presence at the station.

"It can't be helped," he said, and then turned stiffly towards Shackleby and Henry Leslie, who waited between him and the roadway.

"We want

a few words with you, but didn't expect to find you here," abruptly remarked Shackleby. "Is there any place fit to sit in at the saloon yonder?"

"I really don't know," Geoffrey replied. "Having no time to waste in conversation, neither do I care. If you have anything to say to me you can say it-very briefly-here."

Shackleby pinched the cigar he was smoking. Laying his hand on Leslie's shoulder warningly, he whispered, "Keep still, you fool."

"I don't know that I can condense what I have to say," he answered airily, addressing Thurston. "Fact is, in the first place, and before Mr. Leslie asks a question, I want to know whether we-that is I-can still come to terms with you. It's tolerably well-known that my colleagues are, so to speak, men of straw, and individually I figure it might be better for both of us if we patched up a compromise. I can't sketch out the rest of my programme in the open air, but, as a general idea, what do you think, Mr. Savine?"

"That your suggestion comes rather late in the day," was the answer.

Shackleby was silent for a moment, though, for it was quite dark now that the train had gone. Savine could not be quite certain whether he moved against Leslie by accident or deliberately hustled him a few paces away. Geoffrey, however, felt certain that neither had seen Millicent, nor, thanks to Savine, suspected that she was on board the departing cars. Just then a deep-toned whistle vibrated across the pines, somebody waved a lantern between the rails, and the panting of the freight locomotive's pump became silent. The track led down grade past the station towards the coast.

"Better late than never," said Shackleby. "My hand's a good one still. I'm not sure I won't call you."

"To save time I'll show you mine a little sooner than I meant to do, and you'll see the game's up," replied Geoffrey, grimly. "It may prevent you from worrying me during the next week or two, and you can't well profit by it. I've got Black, who is quite ready to go into court at any time, where you can't get at him. I've got the nearest magistrate's warrant executed on the person of your other rascal, and Black will testify as to his record, which implies the throwing of a sidelight upon your own. No doubt, to save himself, the other man will turn against you. In addition, if it's necessary, which I hardly think possible, I have even more damaging testimony. I have sworn a statement before the said magistrate for the Crown-lands authorities, and purpose sending a copy to each of your directors individually. That ought to be sufficient, and I have no more time to waste with you."

"But you have me to settle with, or I'll blast your name throughout the province if I drag my own in the mud. Where's my wife?" snarled Leslie, wrenching himself free from his confederate's restraining grasp.

"If you're bent on making a fool of yourself, and I guess you can't help it, go on your own way," interposed Shackleby, with ironical contempt.

"I have no intention of telling you where Mrs. Leslie is," asserted Geoffrey. "You will hear from her when she considers it advisable to write."

A whir of driver wheels slipping on the rails came down the track, followed by a shock of couplings tightening and the snorting of a heavy locomotive, but none of the party noticed it.

"She was here; you can't deny it," shouted Leslie, who had yielded to a fit of rabid fury. He was not a courageous man, and had been held in check by fear of Shackleby, but there was some spirit in him, and, perhaps because he had injured Thurston, had always hated him. Now when his case seemed desperate, with the boldness of a rat driven into a corner, he determined to tear the hand that crushed him.

"I'll take action against you. I'll blazon it in the press. I'll close every decent house in the province against you," he continued, working himself up into a frenzy. "Where have you hidden my wife? By Heaven, I'll make you tell me."

"Take care!" warned Geoffrey, straightening himself and thrusting one big hand behind his back. "It is desperately hard for me to keep my fingers off you now, but if you say another word against Mrs. Leslie, look to yourself. Shackleby, you have heard him; now for the woman's sake listen to me. I have never wronged your wife by thought or word, Leslie, and the greatest indiscretion she was ever guilty of was marrying you."

"You have hidden her!" almost screamed the desperate man. "I'll have satisfaction one way if you're too strong for me another. Liar, traitor, sed--"

Geoffrey strode forward before the last word was completed, Leslie flung up one hand, but Shackleby struck it aside in time, and something that fell from it clinked with a metallic sound. Exactly how what followed really happened was never quite certain. Leslie, blind with rage, either tripped over his confederate's outstretched foot, or lost his balance, for just as a blaze of light beat upon the group, he staggered, clutched at Thurston, and missing him, stepped over the edge of the platform and fell full length between the rails.

There was a yell from a man with a lantern and a sudden hoot from the whistle of the big locomotive. Savine's face turned white under the glare of the headlight. With a reckless leap Geoffrey followed his enemy. Only conscious of the man's peril, he acted upon impulse without reflection.

"Good God! They'll both be killed!" exclaimed Shackleby.

Thurston was strong of limb and every muscle in him had been toughened by strenuous toil, but Leslie had struck his head on the rails and lay still, stunned and helpless. The lift was heavy for the man who strove to raise him, and though the brakes screamed along the line of cars the locomotive was almost upon them. Standing horrified, and, without power to move, the two spectators saw Geoffrey still gripping his enemy's shoulders, heave himself erect in a supreme effort, then the cow-catcher on the engine's front struck them both, and Savine felt, rather than heard, a sickening sound as the huge machine swept resistlessly on. Afterward he declared that the suspense which followed while the long box-cars rolled by was horrible, for nothing could be seen, and the two men shivered with the uncertainty as to what might be happening beneath the grinding wheels.

When the last car passed both leapt down upon the track, and a man joined them holding a lantern aloft. Savine stooped over Thurston, who lay just clear of the rails, looking strangely limp.

"Another second would have done it-did I heave him clear?" he gasped. He tried to raise himself by one hand but fell back with a groan.

"I guess not," answered a railroad employé, holding the lantern higher, and while two others ran up the tracks, the light fell upon a shapeless, huddled heap. "That one has passed his checks in, certain," the holder of the lantern announced.

Within ten minutes willing assistants from the tiny settlement were on the spot and stretchers were improvised. Savine had bidden the agent telegraph for a doctor, and the two victims were slowly carried towards the New Eldorado saloon. When they were gently laid down an elderly miner, familiar with accidents, pointing to Thurston after making a hasty examination said:

"This one has got his arm broken, collar-bone gone, too, but if there's nothing busted inside he'll come round. The other one has been stone dead since the engine hit him."

There were further proffers of help from several of his comrades, who, as usual with their kind, possessed some knowledge of rude surgery. When all that was possible had been done for the living, Savine was drawn aside by Shackleby.

"This is what he dropped on the platform-I picked it up quietly," he said, holding out an ivory-handled revolver. "No use letting any ugly tales get round or raking up that other story, is it? I don't know whether Thurston induced Leslie's wife to run off or not-from what I have heard of him I hardly think he did-but one may as well let things simmer down gracefully."

"I am grateful for your thoughtfulness," replied Savine. "Probably it is more than he would have done for you. This is hardly the time to discuss such questions, but what has happened can't affect our position. Still, personally, I may not feel inclined to push merely vindictive measures against you."

"I didn't think it would change matters," said Shackleby, with a shrug. "If I should be wanted I'm open to describe the-accident-and let other details slide. The railroad fellows suspect nothing. Thurston has made your side a strong one, and in a way I don't blame him. If he had stood in with me, we'd have smashed up your brother completely."

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