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   Chapter 20 IDA CLAIMS AN ACQUAINTANCE

The Gold Trail By Harold Bindloss Characters: 20827

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


It was early on a fine spring evening when Clarence Weston lay somewhat moodily on the wooded slope of the mountain that rises behind Montreal. It is not very much of a mountain, though it forms a remarkably fine natural park, and from where Weston lay he could look down upon a vast sweep of country and the city clustering round the towers of Notre Dame. It is, from almost any point of view, a beautiful city, for its merchants and financiers of English and Scottish extraction have emulated the love of artistic symmetry displayed by the old French Canadian religious orders, as well as their lavish expenditure, in the buildings they have raised. Churches, hospitals, banks and offices delight the eye, and no pall of coal-smoke floats over Montreal. It lies clean and sightly between its mountain and the river under the clear Canadian sky.

On the evening in question the faintest trace of thin blue vapor etherealized its clustering roofs and stately towers, and the great river, spanned by its famous bridge, gleamed athwart the flat champaign, a wide silver highway to the distant sea. Beyond it, stretches of rolling country ran back league after league into the vast blue distance where Vermont lay. Still, Weston, who was jaded and cast down, frowned at the city and felt that he had a grievance against it. During the last week or two he had, for the most part vainly, endeavored to interview men of importance connected with finance and company promoting. Very few of them would see him at all, and those with whom he gained audience listened to what he had to say with open impatience, or with a half-amused toleration that was almost as difficult to bear. Perhaps this was not astonishing, as most of them already had had somewhat costly experiences with what they called wild-cat mining schemes.

There was, however, a certain vein of dogged persistency in Clarence Weston; and, almost intolerably galling as he-found it, he would still have continued to obtrude his presence on gentlemen who had no desire whatever to be favored with it, and to waylay them in the hotels, but for the fact that the little money he had brought with him was rapidly running out. One can, in case of stern necessity, put one's pride in one's pocket, though the operation is occasionally painful, but one cannot dispense with food and shelter, and the latter are not, as a rule, to be obtained in a Canadian city except in exchange for money. Weston, who had had no lunch that day, took out the little roll of bills still left in his wallet, and, when he had flicked them over, it became unpleasantly clear that he could not prosecute the campaign more than a very few days longer. Then he took out his pipe, and, filling it carefully, broke off a sulphur match from the block in his pocket. He felt that this was an extravagance, but he was in need just then of consolation. He had wandered up on the mountain, past the reservoir and the M'Gill University, after a singularly discouraging afternoon, to wait until supper should be ready at his boarding-house.

One or two groups of loungers, young men and daintily dressed women, strolled by; and then he started suddenly at the sound of a voice that sent a thrill through him. He would have recognized it and the laugh that followed it, anywhere. He sprang to his feet as a group of three people came out from a winding path among the trees. For a moment or two a wholly absurd and illogical impulse almost impelled him to bolt. He knew it was quite unreasonable, especially as he had thought of the girl every day since he had last seen her; but he remembered that she was a rich man's daughter and he a wandering packer of no account, with an apparently unrealizable project in his mind, and in his pocket no more money than would last a week. While he hesitated, she saw him. He stood perfectly still, perhaps a little straighter than was absolutely necessary, and not looking directly toward her. If she preferred to go by without noticing him, he meant to afford her the opportunity.

She turned toward her father and said something that Weston could not hear, but he felt his heart beat almost unpleasantly fast when, a moment later, she moved on quietly straight toward him. She looked what she was, a lady of station, and her companion's attire suggested the same thing, while, though Weston now wore city clothes, he was morbidly afraid that the stamp of defeat and failure was upon him. Much as he had longed for her it would almost have been a relief to him if she had passed. Ida, however, did nothing of the kind. She stopped and held out her hand while she looked at him with gracious composure. It was impossible for him to know that this had cost her a certain effort.

"Where have you come from? We certainly didn't expect to see you here," she said.

"From Winnipeg. That is, immediately," said Weston, and added, "I hired out to bring a draft of cattle."

Ida, who was quite aware that the tending of cattle on trains was not a well-paid occupation, and was usually adopted only by those who desired to save the cost of a ticket, fancied that she understood why he mentioned this, and was not sure that she was pleased. It was, as she recognized, the man's unreasonable pride which impelled him to thrust facts of that kind into the foreground. Just then, however, her father, who had waited a moment or two, stepped forward and shook hands with him.

"Where are you staying in the city?" he asked.

"At Lemoine's boarding-house," answered Weston, mentioning a street in the French Canadian quarter, from which any one acquainted with the locality could deduce that he found it desirable to study economy.

"Doing anything here?" asked Stirling.

Weston said that he had some mining business in hand; and he looked down at his clothes, when Stirling 'suggested that he should come' home with them to supper, though, from his previous acquaintance with the man, he was not astonished at the invitation. Stirling laughed.

"That's quite right," he said. "We call it supper, and that's how I dress. I don't worry about the little men when I bring them along, and the big ones don't mind."

Weston glanced at Ida, and when he saw that she seconded the invitation, he said that he would run around to his boarding-house first to see whether there were any letters or messages for him. Stirling made a sign of comprehension, for this was a thing he could understand. There had been a time when he had watched and waited for the commissions which very seldom came.

"Then you can come straight across as soon as you have called there," said Ida.

She presented him to her companion, who, it appeared, came from Toronto; and then she explained that they had climbed the mountain so that her friend might see the surroundings of the city. They walked back together until they reached a spot where two roads led downhill, and Weston left them.

It was some little time later when he reached Stirling's house, and was left to wait a few minutes in a very artistically-furnished room. Its floor was of polished parquetry with a few fine skins from British Columbia spread upon it here and there, and the dainty, spindle-legged chairs, the little tables, the cabinets and the Watteau figures were, he fancied, either of old French manufacture or excellent copies. The big basement heater had apparently been extinguished, but a snapping wood-fire blazed upon the English pattern hearth, and, for the light was fading outside, it flung an uncertain, flickering radiance about the room. Weston, sitting down, contrasted its luxury with the grim bareness of his match-boarded cubicle in the boarding-house, and with the log shanties of the railroad and logging camps. He frowned as he did so, for all that his eyes rested on made unpleasantly plain the distinction between himself and the girl whose room it evidently was.

Then he rose as she came in, attired in a long, trailing dress that rustled as she moved. It seemed to become her wonderfully, and he became conscious of a faint embarrassment. He had not seen her dressed in that fashion before, and, after the years that he had spent in lonely bush and noisy railroad camp, her beauty and daintiness had an almost disconcerting effect on him. She drew a low chair a little nearer the hearth, and, sinking into it, motioned to him to be seated.

"My father is busy, and Nellie Farquhar will not be down for a little while," she said. "We shall probably have half an hour to ourselves, and I want you to tell me all that you have been doing since we left you."

Weston understood that she meant to resume their acquaintance-though he was not sure that was quite the correct word for it-at the point at which it had been broken off, and he was rather glad that she asked him what he had been doing. It was a safe topic and naturally one on which he could converse, and he felt that any silence or sign of constraint would have been inadmissible.

"Oh," he said, "we went up to look for the mine again."

"You were not successful?"

"No," said Weston. "It was winter, and we had rather a rough time in the ranges. In fact, I got one foot frost-bitten, and was lame for some while afterward. It was the one I cut, which probably made it more susceptible."

His face hardened a trifle as he recalled the agony of the march back through the snowy wilderness, and the weeks he had afterward spent, unable to set his foot to the ground, in the comfortless log hotel of a little desolate settlement.

"Wasn't it rather foolish to go up into the ranges in winter?" Ida asked.

"It was," admitted Weston, with a faint, dry smile. "Still, you see, I couldn't stay away. The thing has become an obsession."

Ida fancied that she understood. He had on several occasions revealed to her his stubborn pride, and she knew that, whatever he thought of her, he would keep it to himself unless he found that mine. She also had some idea of what one would have to face floundering over the snow-barred passes into the great desolation in winter time.

"Well," she asked quietly, "what did you do then?"

"We worked in a logging camp until spring, and then I went down to Vancouver to raise money for the next campaign. Nobody seemed inclined to let me have any, for which one couldn't very well blame them. After all," and Weston laughed softly, "the thing looks uncomm

only crazy. Later on, we got a pass to do some track-grading back east, on one of the prairie lines, and when we'd saved a few dollars I started to try my luck in Montreal."

Ida said nothing for a few moments. She could fill in most of what he left untold, and it seemed to her that one who knew how men lived in the lonely logging camps through the iron winter, or drove the new track across the prairie through the thaw slush in spring, could make an epic of such a theme. It was toil that taxed man's utmost strength of body and mind, under the Arctic frost, and, what was even worse to bear, in half-thawed mire. She had once seen the track-graders trooping back, wet to the skin, worn out, and clogged with soil to the knees, to the reeking shanty which was filled with the foul steam of drying clothes. As the result of it all, Weston had, perhaps, saved less money than she often spent on one gown. She felt very compassionate toward him, and he was troubled by the softness in her eyes. He felt that if he watched her too closely he might lose his head.

"I tried to study a few works on trigonometry and surveying during the winter, but it was a little difficult," he said. "For one thing, if you sat near the stove in the logging shack the light was dim, and you couldn't very well read anywhere else in the frost we had. Besides that, the boys generally insisted on everybody's playing cards, and if any one refused they had a playful trick of throwing things at him."

The girl, who had imagination, could picture the dimly-lighted shanty and the bronzed and ragged men flinging their long boots, as well as very pointed badinage, at the comrade who tried to read. It would, she admitted, certainly be a little difficult to study trigonometry in such surroundings.

"You see, I wanted to go into the thing systematically," continued Weston, who felt that he was safest when he kept on talking. "We have decided that Verneille couldn't have made more than forty miles from the lake, and, as he was heading south, that gives us at most a sweep of about a hundred and twenty miles to search, though the whole of it is practically a nest of mountains. As I wasn't able to read up the subject quite as much as I should have liked, we have thought of hiring a professional surveyor and raising money enough to spend the whole summer over the thing, even if we have to let the men who help us take a share in the mine."

"I wonder whether you would be very much offended if some of your friends were to offer to bear part of the expense?" Ida asked quietly.

"I'm afraid I couldn't permit it." The man's face flushed. "They probably would never get their money back. After all, it's only a wild-cat scheme."

"That doesn't sound very convincing," said Ida. "Haven't you another reason?"

She had expected to find the suggestion useless when she made it, for she understood his attitude. He would not take her money, and that, of course, was in one respect just as she would have had it; but, on the other hand, there were so many difficulties, and probably hazards, that she could save him.

"Well," he said quietly, "it's the only reason I can offer."

There was silence for almost half a minute, and Ida felt that it was becoming singularly uncomfortable. So much could have been said by both of them that their conversation up to this point had suggested to her the crossing of a river on very thin ice. On the surface it was smooth, but the stream ran strong below, and there was the possibility that at any moment one of them might plunge through. Pride forbade her making any deliberate attempt to break the ice, but she would not have been very sorry had it suddenly given way. The man evidently was holding himself in hand, and she felt that she must emulate his reticence. She clung to the safe topic, in which she really was interested, as he had done.

"Won't you go on?" she asked. "You were not successful in Vancouver, and you tried to raise the money in Montreal. It's a little difficult, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes," said Weston, laughing, "as I'm situated, it certainly is. Of course, a good deal depends on how you set about this kind of thing, and the correct way would have been to come in on a Pullman instead of a cattle-car, and then engage a suite of rooms at the biggest hotel. Financiers and company jobbers seem rather shy of a man who gives Lemoine's boarding-house as his address, and some of them are not quite civil when they hear what he has to say to them. In fact, I'm afraid that I shall have to give them up in a day or two."

It was evident that he took his defeat quietly; but Ida thought that she knew what that quietness cost.

"How are you going to get back?" she asked.

She felt that it was rather a cruel question, for this was not the man to give up while he had a dollar in hand, and she was sure that he was going back to search for the mine again. Still, in one respect, she was a little vexed with him. His self-control was excellent, but there was rather too much of it.

"That," he said, with a whimsical twinkle in his eyes, "is a point that will require rather careful consideration."

Ida liked his smile, but the desire to startle him out of his reticence in one way or another became suddenly irresistible, and she changed the subject abruptly.

"I told you I was going to England," she said. "I wonder whether you would be surprised to hear that I spent a month or two at Scarthwaite Hall?"

Weston did not seem exactly astonished, but he was clearly disconcerted and off his guard.

"I heard that you did," he said.

"Then you know that I met your father and sister and didn't keep my promise, or, at least, that I didn't do what you wanted me to?"

"Yes," said Weston simply.

His quietness was too obvious, and she felt that it covered a good deal.

"One of them wrote you?" she asked.

"Yes," admitted Weston, "my father indulged in a few reproaches. He didn't seem to like the notion of my having served as your camp-packer. After that, you were in London?"

He was at fault on two points, for, though compelled to answer her, he should not have volunteered any information as to what was in the letter, nor should he have attempted to change the subject, for this made it clear to Ida that things had been said which he did not wish her to suspect. There would, of course, be reproaches, but it seemed probable that there would be a word or two of half-contemptuous advice as well, and she felt reasonably sure what this would be. Weston of Scarthwaite had, no doubt, suggested that the man of whom she had spoken so favorably would be a fool if he did not marry her. A trace of color crept into her face, and, seeing that there was a certain diffidence in her companion's manner, she felt that she hated Weston of Scarthwaite. It was, however, evident that silence would be too suggestive just then.

"I didn't make a promise, after all," she said. "Are you afraid that I gave your people a wrong impression about you?"

"No," replied Weston quietly, looking her in the eyes. "I know you would say nothing that was not kind of me. Still, the only thing that would affect my people would be the fact that I haven't succeeded at anything yet." He smiled rather grimly. "I'm not sure it wouldn't please them, in a way. You see, they probably expected it."

On the whole, both of them were glad that Miss Farquhar came in just then; and in a few more minutes Stirling appeared, and they went in to dinner. It was not a very elaborate meal, for the contractor, who had once toiled much as Weston had done, was, like a good many others of his kind, in some respects a simple and frugal man. Still, when Ida and Miss Farquhar left them, he laid a cigar-box on the table and filled Weston's glass with wine.

"Now," he said, "if you have no objections, you can tell me what you're doing in Montreal."

Weston supplied him with a brief account of his business, and Stirling, who asked one or two very shrewd questions, sat apparently reflecting for a minute or two.

"You struck nobody in Vancouver who seemed inclined to take a hand in it?"

"Only one concern, and they seemed very doubtful. Anyway, their terms were practically prohibitive."

"Grafton?"

"No. Norris & Lander."

"Well," said Stirling, "before you could expect to do anything here, you'd want to locate the reef and get some big mining man to visit it and give you a certificate that it was a promising property. If you had that, and a bag of specimens of high-grade milling ore, people would listen to you."

"The trouble is that I can't get them."

"Then," observed Stirling, "I guess you'll have to fall back on your friends."

"I'm afraid that none of my friends have any money to invest; and, in any case, I'd rather deal with strangers," said Weston.

His host glanced at him very keenly.

"Seems to me you have got to let the thing go," he said.

"No," declared Weston. "In some respects, it's a crazy project; but I'm going on."

Stirling quietly turned the conversation into another channel, but when Western took his departure he called up his secretary on the telephone.

"I want you to write Norris & Lander, Vancouver, the first thing in the morning, and get it off by the Pacific express," he said. "Tell them they can let a young man named Weston, with whom they've been in communication, have the money he asks for, to count as stock when he starts his company, at the biggest discount they can get. They can charge me usual brokerage, but they're to keep my name out of it."

The secretary said it should be done, and Stirling sat down to his cigar with a smile. He was inclined to fancy that Weston would find Norris & Lander much more amenable after that. It was an hour later when Ida came into the room, and he looked at her thoughtfully.

"There's some grit in that young man, and I guess it's just as well," he observed. "He's up against quite a big proposition."

He saw the faint gleam in Ida's eyes.

"If he has taken hold, I think he will put it through," she said.

She turned away the next moment, and moved a glass on the table; but, when she looked around again, she saw Stirling's smile.

"Well," he said, "considering everything, it's quite likely."

After this, he carefully picked out another cigar, and Ida left him, wondering what he could have meant.

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