The La Chance Mine Mystery - Susan Morrow Jones - ebook
Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1920

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Susan Morrow Jones

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About
Chapter 1 - I COME HOME: AND THE WOLVES HOWL
Chapter 2 - MY DREAM: AND DUDLEY'S GIRL

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Chapter 1 I COME HOME: AND THE WOLVES HOWL

I am sick of the bitter wood-smoke,
    And sick of the wind and rain:
I will leave the bush behind me,
    And look for my love again.

Little as I guessed it, this story really began at Skunk's Misery. But Skunk's Misery was the last thing in my head, though I had just come from the place.

Hungry, dog-tired, cross with the crossness of a man in authority whose orders have been forgotten or disregarded, I drove Billy Jones's old canoe across Lac Tremblant on my way home to Dudley Wilbraham's gold mine at La Chance, after an absence of months. It was halfway to dark, and the bitter November wind blew dead in my teeth. Slaps of spray from flying wave-crests blinded me with gouts of lake water, that was oddly warm till the cutting wind froze it to a coating of solid ice on my bare hands and stinging face, that I had to keep dabbing on my paddling shoulder to get my eyes clear in order that I might stare in front of my leaky, borrowed canoe.

To a stranger there might have seemed to be nothing particular to stare at, out on a lake where the world was all wind and lumpy seas and growing November twilight; but any one who had lived at La Chance knew better. By the map Lac Tremblant should have been our nearest gold route to civilization, but it was a lake that was no lake, as far as transport was concerned, and we never used it. The five-mile crossing I was making was just a fair sample of the forty miles of length Lac Tremblant stretched mockingly past the La Chance mine toward the main road from Caraquet—our nearest settlement—to railhead: and that was forty miles of queer water, sown with rocks that were sometimes visible as tombstones in a cemetery and sometimes hidden like rattlesnakes in a blanket. For the depth of Lac Tremblant, or its fairway, were two things no man might ever count on. It would fall in a night to shallows a child could wade through, among bristling needles of rocks no one had ever guessed at; and rise in a morning to the tops of the spruce scrub on its banks,—a sweet spread of water with not a rock to be seen. What hidden spring fed it was a mystery. But in the bitterest winter it was never cold enough to freeze, further than to form surging masses of frazil ice that would neither let a canoe push through them, nor yet support the weight of a man. Winter or summer, it was no thoroughfare—and neither was the ungodly jumble of swamp and mountains that stopped me from tapping the lower end of it—or I should not have spent the last three months in making fifty miles of road through untrodden bush to Caraquet, over which to transport the La Chance gold to a post-road and a railway: and it was no chosen return route of mine to La Chance now, either.

If I could draw you a map I should not have to explain the country. But failing that I will be as clear as I can.

The line of Lac Tremblant, and that of the road I had just made from Caraquet to La Chance, ran away from each other in two sides of a triangle,—except that the La Chance mine was five miles down the far side of the lake from Caraquet, and my road had to half-moon round the head of Lac Tremblant to get home—a lavish curve, too, by reason of swamps.

But it was on that half-moon road that I should have been now, if my order to have a horse meet me at the Halfway stables I had built at the beginning of it had not been forgotten or disregarded by some one at La Chance.

Getting drenched to the skin with lake water was no rattling good exchange for riding home on a fresh horse that felt like a warm stove under me, but a five-mile short cut across the apex of the road and lake triangle was better than walking twenty-two miles along the side of it on my own legs—which was the only choice I had had in the matter.

I was obliged to get home, for reasons of my own; but when I walked in on Billy Jones, the foreman at the Halfway stables, that afternoon, after months of absence and road-making, there was not even a team horse in his stables, let alone my own saddle mare. There was not a soul about the place, either, but Billy himself, blandly idle and sprawling over a grubby old newspaper in front of the stove in his shack.

His welcome was heartening, but his intelligence was not. No one had told him a word about me or my mare, he informed me profanely; also that it was quite impossible for me to ride over to La Chance that night. There were not any work horses at the Halfway, because he had doubled up the teams for some heavy hauling from Caraquet, according to my orders sent over from Caraquet the week before, and no horses had been sent back from La Chance since. He guessed affably that some one might be driving over from the mine in the morning, and that after tramping from Caraquet I had better stay where I was for the night.

I hesitated. I was dog-tired for once in my life, but I had not done any tramp from Caraquet that day, if I had told the bald truth. Only I had no idea of telling it, nor any wish to explain to Billy Jones that I had been making a fool of myself elsewhere, doing a solid week of hospital nursing over a filthy boy I had found on my just-finished road the morning I had really left Caraquet. From the look of him I guessed he had got hurt cutting down a tree and not getting out of the way in time, though he was past telling me that or anything else. But I had also guessed where he lived, by the dirt on him, and was ass enough to carry him home to the squalid, half-French, half-Indian village the Caraquet people called Skunk's Misery.

It lay in the bush, in a slanting line between Caraquet and Lac Tremblant: a nest of thriftless evil stuck in a hollow you might pass within twenty yards of, and never guess held a house. Once there I had no choice but to stay and nurse the boy's sickening pain, till his mother came home from some place where she was fishing eels for the winter; for none of the rest of the population of fat-faced, indifferent women—I never saw a man, whether they were away in the lumber woods or not—would lay a hand on him. I will say plainly that I was more than thankful to hand him over to his mother. I had spilt over myself a bottle of some nameless and abominable brew that I'd mistaken for liniment, and my clothes smelt like carrion; also the lean-to I had lived in was so dirty that I scratched from suspicion all day long, except when I was yawning from a week of hardly closing my eyes. Altogether, as I said, I was dog-tired, if it were not from walking, and I might have stayed at Billy Jones's if I had not been crazy to get rid of my dirt-infected clothes. The worst reek had gone from them, but even out in the open air they smelt. I saw Billy Jones wrinkle up his nose to sniff innocently while he talked to me, and that settled me.

"I have to get home," I observed hastily. "Wilbraham expected me a week ago. But I don't walk any twenty-two miles! I'll take your old canoe and a short cut across the lake."

I was the only man who ever used Lac Tremblant, and the foreman of the Halfway stables cast a glance on me. "If it was me, I'd walk," he remarked drily. "But take your choice. The lake's a short cut right enough, only I wouldn't say where to—in my crazy old birchbark this kind of a blowing-up evening!"

That, and a few more things he said as he squinted a weather-wise eye on the lake, came back to me as I fought his old canoe through the water. And fighting it was, mind you, for the spray hid the rocks I knew, and the wind shoved me back on the ones I didn't know. Also the canoe was leaking till she was dead logy, and the gusts were so fierce I could not stop paddling to bail her. The short, vicious seas that snapped at me five ways at once were the color of lead and felt as heavy as cold molasses. But, for all that, crossing Lac Tremblant was saving me twenty-two miles on my feet, and I was not wasting any dissatisfaction on the traverse. Only, as I shoved the canoe forward, I was nearer to being played out, from one thing on top of another, than ever I was in my life. I pretended the paddle that began to hang in spite of me was only heavy with freezing spray and that the dead ache in my back was a kink. But I had to put every ounce there was in my six feet of weary bones into lightning-change wrenches to hold the old canoe head on to the splattering seas and keep her from swamping. I was very near to thinking I had been a fool not to have stayed with Billy Jones,—when I was suddenly aware of absolute, utter calm in the air that felt as warm on my face as if I'd gone into a house; of tranquil water under the forefoot of the canoe that had jumped forward under me as the resistance of the wind ceased; and of the lake shore—dark, featureless, silent—within twenty feet of me. I was across Lac Tremblant and in the shelter of the La Chance shore!

There is no good in denying that for five minutes all I did was to sit back and breathe. Then I lit my pipe, that was dry because it was inside my shirt; bailed the unnecessary water out of the canoe and the immediate neighborhood of my legs; and, without meaning to, turned a casual eye on the shore at my right hand.

It might have been because I was tired, but that shore struck me as if I had never seen it before; and on a November evening it was not an inviting prospect. Bush and bush, and more bush, grew down to the very verge of the water in a mass that spoke of heavy swamp and no landing. Behind that, I knew, was rising land, country rock, and again swamp and more swamp,—and all of it harsh, ugly, and inhospitable. But the queer thought that came over me was that it was more than inhospitable: it was forbidding. High over my head poured the bitter wind in a river of sound through the bare tree tops; close at hand it rustled with a flurry of dead leaves that was uncannily like the bustle of inimical businesses pursued insolently in the dark, at my very elbow; and suddenly, through and over all other sounds, there rose in the harsh gloom the long, ravening cry of a wolf.

Heaven knows I was used to the bush, and no howling was much to me; but you know how things come over you sometimes. It came over me then that I was sick of my life at La Chance; sick of working with Wilbraham and sicker still of washing myself in brooks and sleeping on the ground,—for I had not been in a house since August. Before I knew it I was speaking out loud as men do in books, only it was something I had thought before, which in books it generally isn't: "Scott, I'm a fool to stay here. I'd sooner go and work on day's wages somewhere and have a place to go home to!" And then I felt my face get red in the dark, for I knew what I meant, if you do not.

There was nothing to go home to at Wilbraham's, except a roof over my head, till circumstances sent me out into the bush again. In the daytime there were the mine and the mill. At night there was the bare living room of Wilbraham's shack, without a book, or a paper, or a decent chair; Wilbraham himself, fat, pig-headed, truculent, stumping the devil's sentry-go up and down the bare floor, talking eternally about himself and the mine, till a saint must have loathed the two of them; Thompson, the mine superintendent, silent, slow and stupid, playing ghastly solitaire games in a corner with a pack of dirty cards; and me, Nick Stretton, hunching myself irritably on a hard chair till I could decently go to bed. Even the bush was better than night after night of that,—and suddenly I felt my thoughts bursting out, even if I had sense enough to keep my mouth shut.

I was as sick of the bush as I was of the shack. I wanted a place of my own and a life of my own: and I was going to have it. There was nothing but old friendship to tie me to Wilbraham's; I could do as well anywhere else, and I was going there—to-morrow; going somewhere, anyhow, so that when my day's work was over I could go home to a blazing fire on a wide hearth, instead of Wilbraham's smelly stove where no one ever cleaned the creosote out of the pipe,—and where the girl I had had in my head for ten years would be waiting for me.

Don't imagine it was any girl I knew that I was thinking of; it was just a dream girl I meant to marry, when I found her. I'd never met such a girl anywhere, and it sounds like a fool to say I knew I was going to meet her: that she was waiting somewhere in the world for me, just as I was looking for her. I knew exactly what she must be like. She would have that waving bronze-gold hair that stands out in little separate, shining tendrils; eyes that startled you with their clear blue under dark, level eyebrows—I never look twice at a girl with arched brows—the rose-white, satin-smooth skin that goes with all of them, and she would move like——Well, you've seen Pavlova move! Her voice—somehow one of the most important things I knew about her seemed to be her voice—would be the clear, carrying kind that always sounds gay. I was certain I should know my dream girl—first—by that. And that was the girl—I forgot it was all made-up child's play—who somewhere in the world was waiting for me, Nick Stretton; a fool with nothing on earth but six feet of a passably good body, and a dark, high-nosed face like an Indian's, who was working in the bush for Wilbraham instead of sieving creation for her. Well, I would start to-morrow; and, where the clean heavens meant me to, I should find her!

And with the words I came alive to the dark lake, and the leaky canoe I sat in, and the knowledge that all I had been thinking about a bronze-haired girl was just the cracked dream of a lonely man. Even if it had not been, and I could have started to look for a real girl to-morrow, I had to get back to Wilbraham's to-night. My drenched clothes were freezing on me, and I was hungrier than the wolf who had just howled again, as I picked up my slippery paddle and started for the La Chance landing.

There was no light there, naturally, since no one ever used the lake except myself, and I had been away for months; but as I rounded the point between the canoe and the landing, and slipped into the dark of its shadow, the lamplight from Wilbraham's living room shone out on me in a narrow beam, like a moon path on the water. As I crossed it and beached the canoe I must have been in plain sight to any one on the shore, though all I saw was the dark shingle I stepped upon. I stooped to lift the canoe out of water,—and I did what you mean when you say you nearly jumped out of your skin.

Touching my shoulder, her hand fiercely imperative in the dark, was a girl—at La Chance, where no girl had ever set foot!—and she was speaking to me with just that golden, carrying voice I knew would belong to my own dream girl, if she were keeping it down to a whisper.

"So you're here," was what she said; and it would have fitted in with the fool's thoughts I had just come out of, if it had not been for her tone. That startled me, till all I could do was to nod in the dark I could just see her in. I could not discern what she looked like, for her head was muffled in a shawl; and I never realized that all she could see of me was my height and general make-up, since my face must have been invisible where I stood in the shadow.

"You!" her golden voice stabbed like a dagger. "I won't have you staying here—where I am! I told you I'd speak to you when I could, and I'm speaking. You kept your word and disgraced me once, if I don't know how you did it; but I won't run the chance of that again! I'm safe here, except for you; and you've got to let me alone. If you don't, I—I——" she stammered till I knew she was shaking, but she got hold of herself in the second. "You won't find it safe to play any tricks with the gold here—or me—if that's what you came for," she said superbly, "and you've given me a way to stop it. That's why I've sneaked out to meet you: not because I care for you. You must go away, or—I'll tell that you're here! Do you hear? I don't care what promises you make me—they always came easily to you. If you want me to hold my tongue about you, you've got to go. Go and betray me, if you like—but go!"

There was dead, cold hatred in it, the kind a woman has for a man she once cared for, and it staggered what wits I had left. I nodded like a fool, just as if I had known what she was talking about, and went on lifting the canoe ashore. Whether I really heard her give a terrified gasp I don't know; perhaps I only thought so. But as I put the canoe on the bank I heard a rustle, and when I looked up she was gone. There was nothing to tell me she had really even been there. It was just as probable that I was crazy, or walking in my sleep, as that a girl who talked like that—or even any kind of a girl—should be at La Chance. The cold, collected hatred in her voice still jarred me, since it was no way for even a dream girl to speak. But what jarred me worse was that the whole thing had been so quick I could not have sworn she had been there at all. I was honestly dazed as I walked up the rough path to Wilbraham's and my shack. I must have stood in front of it a good five minutes, with my wet clothes freezing as hard as a board, and the noise of the men in the bunk house down by the mine coming up to me on the night wind.

"'If I be I, as I should be, I've a little dog at home, and he'll know me,'" I said to myself at last like the old woman in the storybook, only with a grin. For when I went into the house there would be the neglected living room with the smelly stove, and Wilbraham walking up and down there as usual; and Dudley Wilbraham's conversation would bring any man back to his senses, even if he needed it worse than I did. I opened the shack door and went in,—and in the bare passage I jerked up taut.

The living room faced me,—and there was no stove in it. And no Wilbraham, walking up and down and talking to himself. There was a glowing, blazing log fire in a stone fireplace that must have been built while I was away; and, sitting alone before it, exactly as I had always thought of her, was my dream girl,—that I had meant to hunt the world for to welcome me home!


Chapter 2 MY DREAM: AND DUDLEY'S GIRL

All I could do was to stand in the living room doorway and stare at her.

There she sat by the fire, in a short blue skirt that showed her little feet in blue stockings and buckled shoes, and a blue sweater whose rolling collar fell away from the column of her soft throat. And she was just exactly what I had known she would be! There was a gold crest to every exquisite, warm wave of her bronze hair; her level eyebrows were about five shades darker, and her curled-up eye-lashes darker still, where she sat with her head bent over some sort of sewing. And even before she looked up and I saw her eyes, the beauty of her caught me at my heart. I had never thought even my dream girl could be as lovely as she was. But there was more to her face than beauty. It was so young and sweet and gay, and—when you looked hard at her—so sad, that I forgot I ought either to speak up or go away. Of who she was or how she came to be at La Chance, I had no earthly clue. I knew, of course, that it was she who had met me at the landing, and common sense told me she had taken me for some one else: but I had no desire to say so, or to go away either. And suddenly she looked up and saw me.

Whoever she was she had good nerves, for she never even stared as women do at a strange man. I could have been no reassuring vision either, standing there in moccasined feet that had come in on her as silently as a wolf or an Indian; with dirty, frozen clothes; and a face that the Lord knows is dark and hard at its best, and must have been forbidding enough that night between dirt and fatigue. But that girl only glanced at me as quietly as if she had known I was there.

"Did you——Were you looking for any one?" she asked. And the second I heard her voice I knew she guessed she had spoken to me a quarter of an hour ago in words she would probably have given all she possessed to prevent a stranger from knowing she had need to speak to any one.

Only that was not the reason I half stammered, "Not exactly." It was because I could see her eyes,—and they were like sapphires, and the sea, and the night sky with the first stars in it. I snatched off my cap that I had forgotten, and bits of melting ice fell off it and tinkled on the floor. The sharp little sound brought my wits back to me. Perhaps I had never really thought my dream girl would come true, but once I had found her I never meant to lose her. And I knew, if I cared a straw for my life and the love that was to be in it, that I must meet her now for the first time; that nothing, not even if she told me so herself, must make me admit she had come to me at the lake by mistake, or that I had ever heard her voice before.

I said, easily enough, "I'm afraid I startled you. I'm Stretton, Wilbraham's partner"—which I was to the extent of a thousand dollars—"I've just come home."

And crazy as it sounds, I felt as if I had come home, for the first time in my life. For the girl of my dreams came to her feet with just that lovely, controlled ease you see in Pavlova, and with the prettiest little gesture of welcome.

"Oh, you're frozen stiff," she said with a kind of dismayed sympathy. "And I heard Mr. Wilbraham say some one had forgotten to send out your horse for you, and that you'd probably walk—the whole way from Caraquet! You must be tired to death. Please come to the fire and get warm—now you've come home!"

I thought of the queer smell that clung to my stained old coat and the company I had kept at Skunk's Misery—though if I had guessed what that wretched boy was going to mean to me I might have grudged my contact with him less—and I would not have gone near my dream girl for a fortune. "I think I'll get clean first," I began, and found myself laughing for the first time in a week. But as I turned away I glanced back from the dark passage where Charliet, the French-Canadian cook, was supposed to keep a lamp and never did, and saw the girl in the living room look after me,—with a look I had never seen in any girl's eyes, if I'd seen a hunted man have it.

"Gad, she knows I know she met me—and she doesn't mean to say so," I thought vividly. What the reason was I couldn't see, or whom there could be at La Chance that such a girl should find it necessary to tell that she would not have him disgrace her, and that he must go away. It made me wrathy to think there could be any one she needed to hit out at like that. But we had a queer lot at the mine, including Dunn and Collins, a couple of educated boys who had not been educated enough to pass as mining engineers, and had been kicked out into the world by their families. It might have been either of those two star failures in the bunk house. The only person it could not have been was Dudley Wilbraham; since aside from the fact that she could easily speak to him in the shack she could not have told him he must go away from his own mine. Which reminded me I'd never even asked where Dudley was or one thing about the mine I'd been away from so long.

But my dream girl, where no girl had ever been, was the only thing I could think of. I had meant to get some food and go to bed, but instead I threw my Skunk's Misery clothes out of the window, and got ready to go out to supper and see that girl again. Who under heaven she could be was past me, as well as how she came to be at La Chance. I would have been scared green lest she was the wife of some man at the mine, only she had no wedding ring on the slim left hand that had beckoned me to the fire. Yet, "She can't just be here alone, either, and I'm blessed if I see who she can have come with," I thought blankly. And I opened my room door straight on Marcia Wilbraham,—Wilbraham's sister!

"Well," I said. It was the only thing that came to me. I knew immediately, of course, that the girl in the living room must have come out with Marcia; but it knocked me silly to see Marcia herself at La Chance. I had known Marcia Wilbraham, as I had known Dudley, ever since I wore blue serge knickerbockers trimmed with white braid. She never went anywhere with Dudley. She had money of her own, and she spent it on Horse Show horses, and traveling around to show them. But here she stood in front of me, in a forsaken backwoods mine that I should not have expected even Dudley himself to stay at if I had not known his reasons.

"I don't wonder you say 'well,'" Marcia returned crisply. She was good-looking in a big way, if you did not mind brown eyes that were too small for her face and a smile that showed her gums. I had never liked or disliked her especially, any more than you do any girl about your own age whom you've always known. "I've been here for three months! I was very near going home a month ago—but I don't think I'll go now. I believe I'll try a winter here."

"A winter!" I thought of Marcia "trying a winter," and I laughed.

"Oh, you needn't throw back your handsome Indian head to grin at me, Nicky Stretton," said she crossly. "I'm tired of always doing the same thing. And anyhow, the stable lost money, and I had to sell out!"

"But why stay here—with Dudley?" I let out. The two of them had always fought like cats.

"I'm going to do some shooting—and wolf hunting," Marcia smiled the ugly smile I never could stand. "I'm going to stay, anyhow; so you'll have to bear it, Nicky!"

"I'm—charmed!" I thought like lightning that my dream girl would do whatever Marcia did, and I blessed my stars she was staying; though I knew she would be all kinds of a nuisance if she insisted on turning out to hunt wolves. She was all but dressed for it even then, in a horrid green divided skirt that made her look like a fat old gentleman. But it was not Marcia I meant to talk about.

"Have you brought the—other girl—to hunt wolves, too?" I inquired, as we moved on down the passage; there was no upstairs to the shack.

"No," said Marcia quite carelessly, if I had not caught the snap in her eyes. "She's come to hunt Dudley! She's going to marry him."

"She's what?" I was suddenly thankful we had left the light from my open door and that Charliet despised keeping a lamp in the passage. The bland idea that I had found my dream girl split to bits as if a half-ton rock had landed on it. For her to be going to marry any one was bad enough; but Dudley, with his temper, and his drink, and the drugs I was pretty sure he took! The thing was so unspeakable that I stopped short in the passage.

Marcia Wilbraham stopped short too. "I don't wonder you're knocked silly," she said. "Here, come out of this; I want to speak to you, and I may as well do it now!" She pushed me into the office where Dudley did his accounts—which was his name for sitting drinking all day, and never speaking to any one—and shut the door. "Look here, Nicky, if you're thinking that girl is a friend of mine, she isn't! I don't know one thing about her. Except that this summer I had reason to oblige Dudley, and one day he came to me—you know he was in New York for nearly two months——"

I nodded. I had not cared where he was, so that he was away from La Chance, where he and old Thompson would drive a tunnel just where I knew it was useless.

"Well, he came to me in the first of August, and said he was going to marry a girl called Paulette Brown,—and he wanted me to bring her out here! Why he didn't marry her straight off and bring her out here himself, I don't know; he only hummed and hawed when I asked him. But anyhow, I met Paulette Brown, for the first time, at the station, when we started up here—she and I and Dudley. And she puzzled me from the second we got into the Pullman, and I saw her pull off the two veils she'd worn around her head in the station! And she puzzles me worse now."

"Why?" I might have been puzzled myself, remembering Paulette Brown's speech to me in the dark, but it was none of Marcia's business.

"Because I know I've seen her before," Marcia returned calmly, "only with no 'Paulette Brown' tacked on to her. I've seen her dance somewhere, but I can't think where—and that's the first thing that puzzles me."

"I don't see why," I said disagreeably, "considering that every one dances somewhere all day long just now."

"It wasn't that kind of dancing. It was rather—wonderful! And there was some story tacked on to it," Marcia frowned, "only I can't think what! And the second thing that puzzles me about Paulette Brown—I tell you, Nicky, I believe she can't bear Dudley, and that she doesn't want to marry him!"

It was the first decent thing I had heard from her, and I could have opened my mouth and cheered. But I said, "Then why's she here?"

"Just because it suits her for some reason of her own," Marcia was earnest as I had never seen her. "Nicky, I don't think she's anything in the world but some sort of an adventuress—only what I can't understand about her is what she wants of Dudley! It isn't money, for I know he's tried to make her take it, and she wouldn't. Yet I know, too, that she hadn't a cent coming up here, and she hasn't now—or even any clothes but summer things, and a blue sweater she wears all the time. She never speaks about herself, or where she comes from——"

"I don't see why there should be any mystery about that!" It was a lie, but I might not have seen, if she had not spoken to me incomprehensibly in the dark. "Dudley probably knows all about her people."

"A girl called Paulette Brown doesn't have any people," scornfully. "Besides, her name isn't Brown, or Paulette—she used to forget to answer to either of them at first; and if Dudley knows what it really is, I'm going to know too—before I'm a month older! I tell you I've seen her before, and I know there was some kind of an ugly story tacked on to her and her dancing. That, and her real name, are up in the attic of my brain somewhere, and some day they'll come down!"

"Well, they won't concern me," I cut in stolidly. Whoever Paulette Brown was, if she were going to marry Dudley Wilbraham ten times over, she was the one girl in the world who belonged to me,—and I was not going to have her discussed by Marcia behind a shut door.

But Marcia's retort was too quick for me. "They may interest you, all the same, if that girl's what I think she is! Don't make any mistake, Nicky; she's no chorus girl out of work. She's a lady. Only—she's been something else, too! You watch how she uses a perfectly trained body."

I all but started. I had seen it already, when I thought she moved like Pavlova. "Anything else?" I inquired disagreeably.

"Yes," said Marcia quietly. "She's afraid for her life, or Dudley's—I can't make out which. Wait, and you'll see. Come on; we'll be late for supper. It would have been over hours ago if Dudley and I hadn't been out shooting this afternoon. We've only just come in."

But I was not thinking about supper. The Wilbrahams had been out, and Paulette Brown, left alone, had taken her chance to speak to some one. That she had happened to mistake her man and spoken to me made no difference in the fact, and it came too aptly on Marcia's suspicions about her. But "My good heavens, I won't care what she did," I thought fiercely. My dream girl's eyes were honest, if they were deep blue lakes a man might drown his soul in, too. If she were Dudley's twice over I was going to stand by her, because by all my dreams of her she was more mine. "I haven't time, or chances, to be watching pretty ladies," I said drily, "and Iwouldn't bother over it myself if I were you. I'd let it go at plain Paulette Brown!"

"If you could," said Marcia, just as drily. And over her words, close outside the window, a wolf howled.

It startled me, as it had startled me once before that evening, only this time I knew the reason. "Scott, I never knew the wolves to be coming out so early in the season!" I was thankful to be back to things I could exclaim about. "And down here, beside the house, I never saw any!"

"No; so Dudley said," Marcia returned almost absently. She opened the door for herself, because I had forgotten it, and stood looking at the lighted living room at the end of the passage by the front door. "But the wolves have been round for a week—that was what I meant when I said I was going to have some wolf hunts! The mine superintendent's going to take me."

"Thompson!" I let out. Then I chuckled. Marcia was likely to have a great wolf hunt with Thompson, who knew no difference between a shotgun and a rifle, and would have legged it from a fox if he had met it alone. "Marcia Wilbraham, I'll pay you five dollars if you ever get out wolf hunting with Thompson. Why, the only thing he can do for diversion is to play solitaire!"

"Oh, him—yes," said Marcia carelessly and without grammar. "But I didn't mean old Thompson. He's been gone for a month, and we've a new man. His name's Macartney, and he's been here two weeks."

It was news to me, if it was also an example of the way Dudley Wilbraham ran his mine. But before I could speak Marcia nodded significantly down the passage to the living room door. I had been looking into the room myself, as you do at the lighted stage in a theatre, and I had seen only one thing in it: my dream girl—whose name might or might not be Paulette Brown, whom Dudley Wilbraham had more right to than I had—sitting by the fire as I had left her, that fire I had dreamed I should come home to, just myself alone, and talking to Dudley. But Marcia had been looking at something else, and now my gaze followed hers.

A tall, lean, hard, capable-looking man stood on the other side of the fire. He was taking no share in the conversation between Dudley and the girl who had only lived in my dreams till to-night. He was watching the living room door, quite palpably, and it struck me abruptly that I had not far to seek for Marcia Wilbraham's reason for staying the winter at La Chance. But I might have taken more interest in that and in Macartney, the new mine superintendent, too, if the girl sitting by the fire had not seen Marcia in the doorway and risen to her feet.

For she floated up, effortlessly, unconsciously, to the very tips of her toes, and stood so—like Pavlova!