MoboReader> Literature > The Highgrader

   Chapter 24 TWO IN A BUCKET

The Highgrader By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 20671

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Jack heard the story of his rescue from India. He surprised her alone in the breakfast room by hobbling in one morning after the rest had gone.

She popped a question directly at him. "Did the doctor say you could get up?"

"Didn't ask him," he answered with a laugh, and dropped into a seat across the table.

Shaven and dressed in a clean freshly pressed suit, he looked a different man from the haggard grimy vagabond Captain Kilmeny had brought back with him three days earlier. The eyes were still rather sunken and the face a bit drawn, but otherwise he was his very competent and debonair self. His "Good mornin', India," was as cheery and matter of fact as if those five days of horror had never existed.

"Don't believe it will hurt you." Her bright eyes were warm in their approval of him. "You look a lot fitter than you did even yesterday. It's awfully jolly to see you around again, Cousin Jack."

"I'm enjoying it myself," he conceded. "Anything of importance in that covered dish over there?"

"Tell me all about it," she ordered, handing him the bacon. Then, with a shudder, she added: "Must have been rather awful down there."

"Bad enough," he admitted lightly.

"Tell me." She leaned forward, chin in hand.

"What's the use? Those fellows put me down. Your brother took me up. That's all."

"It isn't all. Ned says it is perfectly marvelous the way you dug that tunnel and escaped from being crushed, and then dug it again after it had caved."

"Couldn't lie down and quit, could I? A man in the hole I was can't pick and choose." He smiled lazily at her and took a muffin from a plate handed him by the waiter. "My turn to ask questions. I want the full story of how you guessed I was in the west shaft of the Golden Nugget."

"Haven't you heard? It was Moya guessed it-from the tapping on the pipe, you know."

"So I've been told. Now let's have the particulars." His eyes went arrow-straight into hers and rested there.

India told him. She knew that Ned would make a safer husband for Moya than this forceful adventurer. It was quite likely to be on the cards that he cared nothing for her friend. Indeed, his desperate flirtation with Joyce indicated as much. Moreover, Moya would not marry a man whom she could not respect, one who made his living by dishonest practices. But in spite of all these objections Miss Kilmeny told her cousin how Moya had fought for his life against ridicule and unbelief, regardless of what any of them might think of her.

He made one comment when she had finished. "So I have to thank Moya Dwight for my life."

"Moya alone. They laughed at her, but she wouldn't give up. I never saw anybody so stubborn. There's something splendid in her. She didn't care what any of us thought. The one thing in her mind was that she was going to save you. So Mr. Bleyer had to get up from dinner and find out from the maps where that pipe went. He traced it to the old west shaft of the Golden Nugget."

"And what did you think?" he asked, watching her steadily.

"I admired her pluck tremendously."

"Did Verinder-and Bleyer-and Lady Farquhar?"

"How do I know what they thought?" flamed the girl. "If Mr. Verinder is cad enough--" She stopped, recalling certain obligations she was under to that gentleman.

"Why did she do it?"

She flashed a look of feminine scorn at him. "You'll have to ask Moya that-if you want to know."

He nodded his head slowly. "That's just what I'm going to do."

"You'll have more time to talk with her-now that Joyce is engaged and daren't flirt with you," his cousin suggested maliciously.

Though he tried to carry this off with a laugh, the color mounted to his face. "I've been several kinds of an idiot in my time."

"Don't you dare try any nonsense with Moya," her friend cried, a little fiercely.

"No," he agreed.

"She's not Joyce."

He had an answer for that. "I'd marry her to-morrow if she'd take me."

"You mean you...?"

"Yes. From the first day I met her again. And I didn't know it till I was down in that hell hole. Shall I tell you something?" He put his arms on the table and leaned toward her with shining eyes. "She was with me down there most of the time. Any time I stopped to listen I could hear her whisper courage in that low, sweet voice of hers."

"You know about her and Ned?"

"Yes."

"He's a better man than you are, Jack."

"Yes."

"But you won't let him have her."

"No, by God, not unless she loves him."

"She would have loved him if it hadn't been for you."

"You mean she loves me?"

"She won't marry you. She can't."

"Why not? Because I don't belong to her social set?"

"No. That would be reason enough for Joyce or me, but I don't think it would stop Moya."

"You mean-highgrading?"

"Yes."

Joyce interrupted further confidences by making her usual late appearance for breakfast. At sight of Kilmeny her eyes brightened. Life always became more interesting for her when a possible man was present. Instantly she came forward with a touch of reluctant eagerness that was very effective.

"I'm glad to see you up again-so glad, Mr. Kilmeny."

In the pretty breakfast gown which displayed her soft curves and the ripe roundness of throat and arm she made a picture wholly charming. If Jack was overpowered he gave no sign of it.

"Glad to meet you, Miss Seldon."

Her eyes rained sweet pity on him, a tenderness potent enough to disturb the serenity of any young man not in armor.

"We-we've been so worried about you."

He laughed, genially and without resentment. "Awfully good of you. Shall I ring for the waiter?"

India rose. "I'm going riding with Ned and Moya," she explained.

Alone with the Westerner, Joyce felt her blood begin to quicken.

"Are you quite ... recovered?" she asked.

Their eyes met. In his there was a faint cynical smile of amusement.

"Quite."

She understood the double meaning in his words. Her lashes fell to the soft cheeks, then lifted again. "I thought perhaps there might be ... that you might still be...."

He shook his head vigorously. "It was only a dream. I can laugh at it now-and at myself for taking it seriously."

Joyce bit her lip with vexation. There was something not quite decent in so prompt a recovery from her charms. He did not appear to hold even any resentment.

Nor did he. Kilmeny had been brought too near the grim realities to hold any petty pique. He found this young woman still charming, but his admiration was tinctured with amusement. No longer did his imagination play upon her personality. He focused it upon the girl who had fought for his life against the ridicule and the suspicions of her friends. It was impossible for him to escape the allure of her fine sweet courage so gallantly expressed in every look and motion.

But Moya let him severely alone. Her pride was suffering because she had showed to all her little world too keen an interest in him. In her anxiety to repudiate any claim he might think she felt she had upon him the girl was scornfully indifferent to his advances. Almost rudely she rejected his gratitude.

"The man does not owe me anything. Can't he see that honors are easy?" she said impatiently to Lady Farquhar.

Jack Kilmeny was no quitter. He set that lean jaw of his and would not accept repulse. In four days now the Farquhar party was going to leave Goldbanks and he made the most of his time.

Moya never saw him coming toward her without having her pulses stirred, but her look met his always quietly and steadily. Not once did she give him a chance to see her alone. Even Lady Farquhar, who had been a severe critic of her vagaries, commended now her discretion. Jack rebelled against it in vain. He could not find a chance to speak. It was characteristic of him that he made one.

By shrewd maneuvering he arranged an expedition to the Silent Sam mine. The property itself was of no particular interest. The attractive feature was a descent in ore buckets from the shaft-house, perched far up on the edge of a precipitous cliff, to the mill in the valley below. This was made by means of heavy cables to which the buckets were suspended. After Jack had explained how the men rode back and forth by this means between the mill and the mine India was seized with the inspiration he had hoped for.

"Let's go down in the buckets, dear people."

Lady Farquhar protested and was overruled by a chorus of votes. The miner assured her that it was entirely safe. Reluctantly she gave permission for her flock to make the trip if they desired.

They rode on horseback to the mill. Jack paired with India, making no attempt to ride beside Moya, who brought up the rear with the captain. The Westerner, answering the questions of his cousin, was at his debonair best. Occasionally there drifted back to the couple in the rear fragmentary snatches of his talk. He was telling of the time he had been a mule skinner in New Mexico, of how he had ridden mail near Deming, and of frontier days at Tombstone. Casual anecdotes were sprinkled through his explanations to liven them. He spoke in the slurring drawl of the Southwest, which went so well with the brown lean face beneath the pinched-in felt hat and the well-packed vigor of the man.

"And what is 'bucking a sample'?" India wanted to know after one of his stories.

"You just pound some rock up and mix it to get a sample. Once when I was drag-driver of a herd in a round-up...."

Moya heard no more. She turned her attention resolutely to her companion and tried to detach her mind from the man in front. She might as well have tried to keep her heart from beating.

After they had arrived at the mill Jack quietly took charge of the disposition of the party. Verinder and Joyce were sent up in the first bucket. When this was halfway up to the mine the cable stopped to let another couple enter a bucket. Joyce, fifty feet up in the air, waved her hand to those below.

"You next, India," ordered her cousin.

The young woman stepped into the bucket. "I'm 'fraid," she announced promptly.

"No need to be. Captain, your turn."

The eyes of the two men met. Ned Kilmeny guessed instantly that the other had arranged this so as to get a few minutes alone with Moya. He took a place beside his sister immediately.

The

cable did not stop again until the second pair of passengers had reached the mine.

Moya, followed by Jack, stepped into the basket, which began to rise steadily as it moved across the valley.

Kilmeny did not lose a minute.

"Why don't you let me see you alone? Why do you run away from me?" he demanded.

Little patches of color burned beneath the shadows of her eyes. A sound as of a distant surf began to beat in her ears.

"What nonsense! Why should I run from you?" she asked, meeting with difficulty the attack of his masterful gaze.

"Because you're afraid to let me tell you that I love you," he charged.

"Thought it was Joyce you ... fancied," she retorted quietly, her pulse hammering.

"So it was. I fancied her. I love you. I'm asking you to marry me."

"You don't have to ask me to marry you because you exaggerate the service I did you."

"I ask you because I love you."

"Thank you very much for the compliment. Sorry I must decline." She did not dare look at him. Her eyes were fixed on the mill far below.

"Why must you-since you love me?"

The telltale pink stained her cheeks. "You take that for granted, do you?"

"It's true, I believe. How can I make love to you as other men do? Lady Farquhar won't let me see you alone-even if you were willing to give me a chance. In two days you are going out of my life. I must speak the truth ... bluntly. I love you. It has been that way with me ever since you came into my life again, little Moya. But I was blind and didn't see it till ... till I was alone in the mine with death."

"I ... am sorry."

"That is not enough. I'm going to have the truth. You saved my life. What for? It is yours ... if you will take it."

She looked straight at him. "I can't marry you."

"Why can't you? Can you say that you don't love me?"

In the full-charged silence that followed a stifling emotion raced through her blood. The excitement in her set a pulse beating in her throat. Womanlike, she evaded the issue.

"The cable has stopped. What has happened?"

"Nothing has happened. It has stopped because I arranged with the engineer at the hoist to have it stop. When I give the signal it will start again."

"But...."

He brushed aside her futile protest. "I'm going to have this out with you. Dare you tell me that you don't love me, Moya?"

He forced her to meet his eyes, and in that moment she felt weak and faint. The throb of passion beat tumultuously against her will.

"Please ... be generous. What will they think? Let us start," she begged.

"They will think something is wrong with the machinery. But it doesn't matter in the least what they think. It's my last chance, and I'll not give it up. You've got to answer me."

The point where the bucket had stopped was a hundred feet above the ground below. She looked down, and shuddered.

"It's so far down ... please."

"Then don't look down. Look at me, Moya. It won't take you a moment to answer me."

"I have. I said I couldn't marry you."

"Tell me that you don't love me and I'll give the signal."

"I ... don't."

"Look straight at me and say it."

She tried to look at him and repeat it, but her eyes betrayed the secret she was fighting to keep from him. The long lashes fell to the hot cheeks an instant too late.

His hand found hers. "My little Irish wild rose, all sweetness and thorns," he murmured.

Above the tumult of her heart she heard her voice say, as if it were that of a stranger, "It's no use ... I can't ... marry you."

"Because I'm a highgrader?"

She nodded.

"Do you think I'm worse than other men? Down in the bottom of your heart do you believe that?"

She smiled wanly. "Other men are not ... making love to me."

"Am I nothing but a thief to you?"

"I have told you that you are the man I ... love. Isn't that a good deal?"

The desire of her, pure as a flame, swept through him. "It's the greatest thing that ever came into my life. Do you think I'm going to let it end there? I'm going to fight for our happiness. I'm going to beat down the things that come between us."

"You can't. It's too late," she cried wistfully.

"It's never too late for love so long as we're both alive."

"Not for love, but...."

"You've got to see this as I see it, sweetheart. I'm a man-primitive, if you like. I've done wild and evil things-plenty of them. What of that? I slough them off and trample them down. The heart of me is clean, isn't it?"

"Yes."

To look at him was enough to clear away all doubt. He had the faults that go with full-blooded elemental life, but at bottom this virile American was sound.

"Well! Isn't that enough?"

The little movement of her hands toward him seemed to beg for pity. "Jack! I can't help it. Maybe I'm a little prig, but ... mustn't we guide our lives by principle and not by impulse?"

"Do I guide mine by impulse?"

"Don't you?" She hurried on to contradict, or at least to modify, her reluctant charge. "Oh, I know you are a great influence here. You're known all over the state. Men follow you wherever you lead. Why should I criticize you-I, who have done nothing all my life but lean on others?"

"Go ahead. When I ask you to marry me I invite your criticism."

"I have to take little steps and to keep in well-worn paths. I can't make laws for myself as you do. Those that have been made may be wrong, but I must obey them."

"Why? Why should you? If they're wrong, fight against them."

"I can't argue with you ... dear. But I know what I think right. I want to think as you do. Oh, you don't know how I long to throw my Puritan conscience overboard and just trust your judgment. I ... admire you tremendously. But I can't give in ... I can't."

The muscles stood out on his lean cheeks as he set his teeth. "You've got to, Moya. Our love has been foreordained. Do you think it is for nothing that we met again after all these years? You're mine-the one woman in the world I want and am going to have."

She shook her head sadly. "No ... no!"

"Is it the money I have made highgrading? Is that what stands between us? If I were able to come to you without a dollar but with clean hands-would you marry me then?"

He leaned toward her, eager, ardent, passionate, the color in his cheeks burning to a dull brick tint beneath the tan. Body and soul she swayed toward him. All her vital love of life, of things beautiful and good and true, fused in a crescendo of emotion.

"My dear ... my dear, I'm only a girl-and I love you." Somehow her hands were buried in the strong grip of his. "But ... I can't live on the profits of what I think is wrong. If it weren't for that ... Jack, I'd marry you if you were a pauper-and thank God for the chance."

He faced her doggedly. "I'm not a pauper. I've fought for my share of the spoils. You've been brought up in a hot-house. Out in the world a man wins because he's strong. Do you think it's all been play with me? By God, no! I've ridden night herd in a blizzard when the temperature was below zero. I've done my shift on the twelfth level of the Never Quit many a month. I've mushed in Alaska and fought against Castro in Venezuela. Do you think I'm going to give up my stake now I've won it at last?"

She looked at him tremulously. "I don't ask you to give it up. You'll have to decide that for yourself."

"Don't you see I can't give it up? If I do, I lose you. How can I take care of you without money?"

"I'd do my best, Jack."

"You don't understand. It would be for years-until I had made another start. I wouldn't let you give up everything unless I had something to offer. I wouldn't consider it."

"Isn't that putting pride before love, Jack? You know I have a little money of my own. We could live-in very decent poverty. I would love to feel that we were fighting ... together. We both know you'll win in the end. Wouldn't it be fine to work out your success in partnership? Dear, I'd rather marry you while you're still a poor man."

For a moment the vision of it tempted him, but he put the dream away. "No. It won't do. Of course I'm going to win out in the end, but it might take a dozen years to set me on Easy street. For a woman brought up as you have been poverty is hell."

"Then you think I'm only a doll," she flashed. "You want to put me back in that hot-house you mentioned. I'm just an ornament to dress up and look at and play with."

"I think you're a little tinder-box," he said, smiling ruefully.

"Don't you see how it is with me, Jack? I've always craved life. I've wanted to take hold of it with both hands and without gloves. But they would never let me. I've got my chance now ... if you really love me more than you do your pride and your money. I want to live close to the people-as you do."

"What did that suit cost you?" he asked abruptly.

"Don't remember. Twenty-five pounds, maybe. Why?"

"One hundred twenty dollars, say. And you need dozens of dresses in a season. I'll make a guess that it takes five thousand a year to clothe you. That is nearly twice as much as I'll earn altogether next year if I throw away my stake."

She waved his argument aside. "Stupid boy! I have dresses enough to last me for five years-if you'll let me be that poor man's wife. I can make them over myself later and still be the best dressed woman in camp."

From above came Captain Kilmeny's shout. "We telephoned down. The engineer has the trouble arranged."

The cable began to move.

"When shall I see you alone again, Moya?" Jack demanded.

"I don't know."

"I'm going to see you. We've got to fight this out. I'll not let Lady Farquhar keep me from seeing you alone. It's serious business."

"Yes," she admitted. "I'll tell Lady Jim. But ... there's no use in letting you think I'll give up. I can't."

"You've got to give up. That's all there is to it." His jaw was set like a vise.

The party above fell upon them as they landed.

"Were you frightened, Moya?" exclaimed Joyce above the chorus of questions.

"Just for a moment." Moya did not look at Jack. "Mr. Kilmeny told me it would be all right."

Jack's eyes danced. "I told her we would work out of the difficulty if she would trust me."

Moya blushed. It happened that Captain Kilmeny was looking directly at her when his cousin spoke.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares