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   Chapter 4 THE MAN IN THE DARK

The La Chance Mine Mystery By Susan Morrow Jones Characters: 11898

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

It sounded crazy, for what could a girl like that do to gold that was securely packed? But women had been mixed up in ugly work about gold before, and somehow the vision of my dream girl standing by the safe stuck to me all that day. Suppose I had helped her to cover up a theft from Dudley! It was funny; but the ludicrous side of it did not strike me. What did was that I must see her alone and get rid of the poisonous distrust of her that she, or Marcia, had put into my head. But that day went by, and two more on top of it, and I had no chance to speak to Paulette Brown.

Part of the reason was that I had not a second to call my own. La Chance had been an amateur mine when we began it, and it was one still. There was only Dudley-who did nothing, and was celebrating himself stupid with drugs, or I was much mistaken-Macartney, and myself to run it; with not enough men even to get out the ore, without working the mill and the amalgam plates. It had been no particular matter while the whole mine was only a tentative business, and I had been having half a fit at Dudley's mad extravagance in putting up a ten-stamp mill when we had nothing particular to crush in it. But now, with ore that ran over a hundred to the ton being fed into the mill, and Macartney and I doing the work of six men instead of two, I agreed with Dudley when he announced in a sober interval that we required a double shift of men and the mill to crush day and night, instead of stopping at dark,-besides a cyanide plant and a man to run it.

But Macartney unexpectedly jibbed at the idea. He returned bluntly that he could attend to the cyanide business himself, when it was really needed; while as to extra men he could not watch a night shift at the plates as well as a day one, and he would have to be pretty sure of the honesty of his new amalgam man before he started in to get one. Also-and it struck me as a sentiment I had never heard from a mine superintendent before-that if we sent out for men half of those we got might be riffraff and make trouble for us, without so much as a sheriff within a hundred miles. "I'd sooner pick up new men one at a time," he concluded, "even if it takes a month. We've ladies here, and if we got in a gang of tramps--" he gave a shrug and a significant glance at Dudley.

"Why, we've some devils out of purgatory now," I began scornfully, and stopped,-because Dudley suddenly agreed with Macartney. But the waste of time in making the mine pay for itself and the stopping of the mill at night galled me; and so did the work I had to do from dawn to dark, because any two-dollar-a-day man could have done it instead.

Macartney seemed to be made of iron, for he took longer hours than I did. But he could talk to Marcia Wilbraham in the evenings, while Dudley stood between me and the dream girl I thought had come true for me when first I came to La Chance.

I watched her, though; I couldn't help it. There were times when I could have sworn her soul matched her body and she was honest all through; and times when a devil rose up in me and bade me doubt her; till between work and worry I was no nearer finding out the kind she really was than to discovering the man she had meant to speak to in the dark the night she blundered on me. Yet I had some sort of a clue there, if it were not much of one. Dunn and Collins, our two slackers who had been kicked out of Yale to land in our bunk house, evidently had some game on. Dunn I was not much bothered about: he was just a plain good-for-nothing, with a perennial chuckle. But Collins was a different story. Tall, pale, long-eyelashed, his blasé young face barely veiled a mind that was an encyclop?dia of sin,-or I was much mistaken. And he and Dunn had suddenly ceased to raise Hades in the bunk house every night and developed a taste for going to bed with the hens. At least, the snoring bunk house thought so. If they went abroad instead on whatever they were up to, I never caught them at it; but I did catch them watching me, like lynxes, whenever they were off shift. I never saw either of them speak to Miss Brown, but I got a good growing idea it was just Collins she had meant to interview the night she spoke to me: and it fitted in well enough with my doubts about her and Dudley's gold, for I would have put no gold stealing past Collins. As for Paulette Brown herself, I could see no earthly sense in Marcia's silly statement that "she was afraid for her life-or Dudley's." She was afraid of Dudley, I could see that; for she shrank from him quite often. But on the other hand, I saw her follow him into his office one night, when he was fit for no girl to tackle, and try to get him to listen to something. From outside I heard her beg him to "please listen and try to understand"-and I made her a sign from the doorway to come away before he flew at her. I asked her if there were anything I could do, and she said no; it was only something she wanted to tell Dudley. But suddenly she looked at me with those clear eyes of hers. "You're very-good to me," she said rather piteously.

I shook my head, and that minute I believed in her utterly. But the next night I had a jar. I was starting for Caraquet the morning after, with the gold Dudley had in his office, so I was late in the stable, putting washers on my light wagon, and came home by a short cut through the bush, long after dark. If I moved Indian-silent in my moccasins it was because I always did. But-halfway to the shack clearing-I stopped short, wolf-silent; which is different. Close by, invisible in the dark spruces, I heard Paulette Brown speaking; and knew that once more she was meeting a man in the dark, and, this time, the right one! I could not see him any more than I could hear him, for he did not speak; but I knew he was there. I crouched to make a blind jump for him-and my dream girl's voice held me still.

"I don't care how you threaten me: you've got t

o go," she said doggedly. "I know I've my own safety to look after, but I'll chance that. I'll give you one week more. Then, if you dare to stay on here, and interfere with me or the gold or anything else, I'll confess everything to Dudley Wilbraham. I nearly did it last night. I won't trust you-even if it means your giving away my hiding place to the police!"

Whoever she spoke to moved infinitesimally in the dark. He must have muttered something I could not hear, for the girl answered sharply: "As for that, I'm done with you! Whether you go or don't go, this is the last time I'll ever sneak out to meet you. When you dare to say you love me"-and once more the collected hatred in her voice staggered me, only this time I was thankful for it-"I could die! I won't hear of what you say, remember, but I'll give you one week's chance. Then-or if you try anything on with me and the gold-I'll tell!"

There was no answer. But my blood jumped in me with sheer fury, for answer or no answer, I knew who the man beside her was. Close by me I heard Dunn's unmistakable chuckle: and where Dunn was Collins was too. I behaved like a fool. I should have bounced through the bush and grabbed Dunn at least, which might have stopped some of the awful work that was to come. But I stood still, till a sixth sense told me Collins was gone, just as I could have gone myself, without sound or warning. Yet even then I paused instead of going after him. First, because I had no desire to give my reason for dismissing him next morning; second, because I had a startling, ghastly thought that I'd heard Macartney's quiet, characteristic footstep moving away,-and if a hard, set-eyed man like our capable superintendent had been out listening to what a girl said to Collins, as I had, I didn't know how in the devil I was to make him hold his tongue about it. And in the middle of that pleasant thought my dream girl spoke again, to herself this time: "Oh, I can't trust him! I'll have to get hold of the gold myself-at least all I've marked."

On the top of her words a wolf howled startlingly, close by. It was evidently the last touch on what must have been a cheerful evening, for Paulette Brown gave one appalled spring and was gone, fleeing for the kitchen door. I am not slow on my feet. I was in the front way before she struck the back one. From the front door I observed the living room, and what I saw inside it before I strolled in there made me catch my breath with relief and comforting security for the first time that night. Macartney could not have been out listening in the dark, if I had. He sat lazily in the living room, talking to Marcia, with his feet in old patent leather shoes he could never have run in, even if it had not been plain he had not been out-of-doors at all. Marcia had evidently not been spying either, which was a comfort; and Dudley was out of the question, for he dozed by the fire, palpably half asleep. But suddenly I had a fright. The girl who entered the living room five minutes behind me had very plainly been out; and I was terrified that Marcia would notice her wind-blown hair. I spoke to her as she passed me. "You're losing a hairpin on the left side of your head," was all I said. And much I got for it. My dream girl tucked in her wildly flying curl with that sleight of hand women use and never even looked at me. But the thing was done, and I had covered up her tracks for the third time.

I decided to fire Collins before breakfast the next morning and get off to Caraquet straight after. But I didn't; and I did not fire Collins, either. When I went to the bunk house and then to the mine, where he was a rock man, he had apparently fired himself, as Paulette had told him to. He was nowhere to be found, anyhow, or Dunn either. I wasted an hour hunting for him, and after that Macartney wanted me, so that it was late afternoon before I could load up my gold and get off. And as I opened the safe in Dudley's office I swore.

There were four boxes of the stuff; small, for easy handling; and if I had had time I would have opened every hanged one of them. Even as it was, I determined to do no forwarding from Caraquet till I knew what something on them meant. For on each box, just as I had expected even before I heard Paulette Brown say she had marked them, was a tiny seal in blue wax!

The reason for any seal knocked me utterly, but I couldn't wait to worry over it. No one else saw it, for I loaded the boxes into my wagon myself, and there was nobody about to see me off. Dudley was dead to the world, as I'd known he was getting ready to be for a week past; Marcia, to her fury, had had to retire to bed with a swelled face; and Macartney was the only other person who knew my light wagon and pair of horses was taking our clean-up into Caraquet,-except Paulette Brown!

And there was no sign of her anywhere. I had not expected there would be, but I was sore all the same. I had helped her out of difficulties three times, and all I'd got for it was-nothing! I saw Macartney coming up from the mill, and yelled to him to come and hold my horses, while I went back to my room for a revolver. This was from sheer habit. The snow still held off, and before me was nothing more exciting than a cold drive over a bad road that was frozen hard as a board, a halt at the Halfway stables to change horses, and perhaps the society of Billy Jones as far as Caraquet,-if he wanted to go there. The only other human being I could possibly meet might be some one from Skunk's Misery, though that was unlikely; the denizens of Skunk's Misery had few errands that took them out on roads. So I pocketed my gun mechanically. But as I went out again I stopped short in the shack door.

My dream girl, whom I'd never been alone with for ten minutes, sat in my wagon, with my reins in her hands. "My soul," I thought, galvanized, "she can't be-she must be-coming with me to Caraquet!"

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