The Sealed Valley - Hulbert Footner - ebook

The Sealed Valley ebook

Hulbert Footner

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The Fort Edward Hotel, better known as the Maroney’s Hotel, looked in the middle of the streets like a packing box among soap dishes. Other habitats stretched out on both sides of the wrong double row. At eleven in the morning there were few humans in sight, because the black? ies were in murderous fettle, and anyway, the principal industry of the place was waiting for the railway. Strange things happen on these streets. The reader will not immediately be able to understand what’s the matter.

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Liczba stron: 419

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Contents

I. ROMANCE

II. ON BOARD THE TEWKSBURY

III. ON THE LITTLE RIVER

IV. THE DAY OF DAYS

V. THE RICE RIVER

VI. BLIND MAN'S BUFF

VII. BOWL OF THE MOUNTAINS

VIII. IN THE VALLEY

IX. NAHNYA'S STORY

X. MOONLIGHT

XI. THE DEPARTURE FROM THE VALLEY

XII. THE OBJECT LESSON

XIII. OUTSIDE

XIV. THE JOURNEY IN AGAIN

XV. THE STANLEY RAPIDS

XVI. THE TWO GIRLS

XVII. THE GRANTED PRAYER

XVIII. THE TRIANGLE

XIX. NEW ACTORS ON THE SCENE

XX. THE SECRET ESCAPES

XXI. THE RETURN TO THE VALLEY

XXII. RENUNCIATION

XXIII. THE LAST SCENE

XXIV. EPILOGUE

I. ROMANCE

ONE of the fairest paintings of Nature was at that point among the mountains of the Canadian province of Cariboo where the Campbell River takes the Boardman to its bosom and swings south on its pilgrimage to the Pacific. Like all of Nature’s more dramatic compositions, by reason of its very effectiveness, it was predestined to be smudged by a town, and the collection of shacks and tents known as Fort Edward was already begun. It was conceded that Fort Edward was bound to be a great city when the new transcontinental passed through. To be sure, railhead was still beyond the mountains, a matter of two or three years’ construction, but the noise of the town’s greatness-to-be had been industriously drummed up by real-estate operators outside, and many optimists had struggled up the three hundred miles of the Campbell Valley from the existing railway to be on hand in plenty of time.

On a day in June of the year when the “rush” began, the settlement looked sodden and raw after much rain. The two prevailing styles of dwellings were wet “A” tents with projecting, rusty stovepipes and new pine shacks of a crass yellow, having roofs of tar paper studded with tin-headed tacks as big as half dollars. A single two-story building loomed up in the middle like a packing-case among soap-boxes. This was the Fort Edward Hotel, better known as Maroney’s. The other habitations reached out on either hand in an irregular double row.

The space within the double row was going to be “the main artery of traffic” some day, but where the optimists (and the real-estate operators) fondly foresaw automobiles and trolley cars rolling up and down, at present there was nothing but a parade of jagged stumps among which muddy paths threaded their devious ways. Below the hotel a tiny stern-wheeler of quaint, lubberly design lay with her nose tucked in the mud of the river bank. At eleven in the morning there were few humans in sight, because the black flies were in murderous fettle, and anyway, the principal industry of the place was–waiting for the railway.

One had only to raise one’s eyes to receive a quite different impression of the scene. Where man’s work looked sodden, Nature’s was deliciously refreshed. The world wore that honest look it shows after rain before the sun comes out, that calm openness under the pure light that casts no shadows. The pine-clad mountains loomed near and clean and dark. The cloud wrack pressed down close upon their heads, giving the valley the confined and intimate look of a room. There were already rents in the ceiling, revealing a tender blue back-cloth. The air was as sweet in the nostrils as spring water in a parched throat.

Farthest from the hotel on the Campbell River side was a shack more of the dimensions of a chicken house than a residence for humans. Beside the door was nailed a little sign obviously painted by an unprofessional hand, reading, “Ralph Cowdray, M. D.” Within, in the first of the two closets the shack comprised, sat the doctor and his friend Dan Keach, the telegraph operator, the first with his heels cocked on the packing-case that served him for a desk, the other with his lower extremities supported by the window-sill. From each ascended a column of smoke. The only other furniture of the room was a little stand of pine shelves in the corner bearing the doctor’s slender library and pharmaceutical stock, books and bottles as new as the doctor’s office and the doctor himself.

The two men mustered forty-nine years between them, with the odd year on the telegrapher’s side. The doctor was a youth of middle height with a strong, well-knit frame, and a comely head broadest over the ears, with a luxuriant thatch of dark brown. His face was strongly moulded, almost too heavy in its lines for his years, but oddly redeemed by a pair of dreamy brown eyes. There was an interesting contradiction here: nose, mouth, chin, suggested a commendable hardihood, an honest obstinacy, while the eyes seemed to see through and beyond what they were turned on. Like all resolute young men, Ralph regarded the softer side of his character as a weakness and hid it close. Like other young men again, he paid his way through the world with the small change of a facetious manner, which reduces them all to a common, comfortable level.

Ralph and Dan killed time with endless, jocular quarrelling. Their dependence on each other’s society in this dull little settlement had brought about an unusual degree of intimacy in a few weeks. In other words, they were almost honest with each other. At present Ralph’s facetious manner only half concealed a very real grievance against life.

“Romance is extinct, like the dodo,” he announced. Dan was a tall, lean young man, inclining to the saturnine type. “That requires examination,” he said judicially. “First, define Romance.”

“Romance,” said Ralph, throwing back his head and puffing a tall column of smoke toward the ceiling–the dreaminess of his eyes had full sway at that moment–“Romance is every man’s unrealized desire.”

“You contradict yourself,” said Dan with provoking exactness. “How can a thing be dead which was never realized?”

The question was awkward, so Ralph serenely ignored it. “Ever since I went into long trousers I’ve been looking for it,” he went on lightly. “Nothing doing!”

“Maybe that’s the trouble,” suggested Dan; “maybe Romance begins at home.”

“Did you ever find it?” challenged Ralph.

“Never looked,” returned Dan calmly.

“Oh, you’ve no imagination!”

Dan chuckled. “According to that, Romance is only imaginary, then. Got you again, Doc!”

Naturally these discussions never arrived anywhere. When one was stumped for an answer he hit out on a new line. The thing was to keep the ball in play by any device until the next meal created a diversion.

“I thought college would be romantic,” Ralph went on. “I had fun of course, bully fun, but just the ordinary college fun. There were girls, plenty of ‘em, dear little things! transparent as window-glass. Gad! a man longs to meet a woman who can fascinate him, and stir him to the bottom, and keep him guessing!”

“Well, let me see what we’ve got in Fort Edward,” said Dan. “To begin with, there’s Biddy Maroney”

“Cut it out!” cried Ralph. “Fatal to thoughts of Romance! After college there was the medical school and the hospitals,” he went on. “They knocked the spots out of Romance. Say, a city doctor loses faith in his fellowmen. I decided I’d hang out my shingle in the woods, and I came up here because it was the beyondest place I could hear of.”

“Thinking you’d surely find Romance somewhere back of beyond,” suggested Dan.

“Sure! The noble red man, you understand; the glittering-eyed prospector lusting for gold; the sturdy pioneer hewing a home for his brood in the wilderness–and all that! Well, here I am, and what is it?–a village of poor suckers done up brown, like myself, by the real-estate sharks outside!”

“Striking metaphor!” murmured Dan.

“Everybody sitting on their tails expecting to be rich any day by the grace of God!” Ralph went on. “And Indians! swillers of beer-dregs! Town scavengers! Moreover, it’s the healthiest place on earth, I believe. I never get a case but a scalp wound or two after a big night at Maroney’s. As for Romance, she’s as far away as ever! And I’m getting on!”

“True,” said Dan, with a serious wag of the head, “you’ve no time to lose!”

As a matter of fact, Ralph’s youthfulness was a sore subject with him, as it is with all young doctors.

He let the dig pass unnoticed. “I’ve almost given up hope,” he said.

There was a knock at the door.

“Here she is now,” said Dan dryly.

“Come in,” said Ralph indifferently.

It was a woman, but only an Indian woman dressed in a ridiculous travesty of white women’s clothes. The two young men lowered their feet, and exchanged a humorous glance. After an idle look, Ralph’s regard returned to his pipe. To tell the truth, he had found the Indians around Fort Edward as patients neither profitable nor grateful, and he could not be expected to welcome a new one with any enthusiasm. Dan was the more impressed; he studied the girl with a kind of wonder, and from her looked curiously at his friend.

“I want to see the doctor,” she said, in a soft and agreeable voice.

“What can I do for you?” asked Ralph, off-hand.

She did not answer immediately, and he looked at her again. Her eyes were bent on Dan, unmistakably conveying a polite hint. Dan saw it and rose.

“See you at Maroney’s at dinner,” he said, passing out with a backward glance at his friend; teasing, a little wondering still, and frankly envious.

“Well?” said Ralph, looking his caller over with a professional eye. She seemed healthy. For an Indian she was very good-looking, but this fact reached him only by degrees. Her clothes were deplorable: a flat red hat with a pert frill balanced crazily on her glossy hair; a curiously tortured blue satin waist; a full woollen skirt hanging on her like an ill-made bag, and cheap, new, misshapen shoes. The effect was as if some wag had draped a classic statue in a low comedy make-up. Naturally Ralph received his first impression from the make- up.

In answer to his measuring glance she said: “I not sick. I come to get you for my mot’er.”

Ralph reached for his hat.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “We must talk before.”

“Sit down,” said Ralph.

She shook her head. “I stand,” she said coolly.

There was a pause while she studied him with grave, troubled eyes. “You ver’ yo’ng to be a doctor,” she remarked at length.

Ralph frowned in an elderly way, and bit his lip.

“Are you a good doctor?” she asked.

He laughed in his annoyance. “What am I to say to that?”

His laughter disconcerted her. “I mean a college doctor,” she said sulkily.

“McGill, Bellevue,” said Ralph.

“I don’t know those,” she said. “Have you any writings?”

Ralph stared at her. “What a question from an Indian!” he thought. He began to be aware that he was dealing with a distinct individuality, and for the first he perceived the classic beauties obscured by the grotesque outer semblance. The anatomist in him judged and approved the admirable flowing lines of her body, and the lover of beauty thrilled. One of her greatest beauties was in the graceful poise of her head on her neck. Indian women commonly have no necks to speak of. His gaze rose to her eyes and lost itself for a moment. All the Indians he had seen hitherto had hard, flat, shallow eyes; hers had depth and purpose and feeling. “Extraordinarily beautiful eyes!” he thought, with the start of a discoverer.

His good humor restored, he showed her his diplomas, following the script with a forefinger, and reading aloud.

“I can read,” she said calmly.

Ralph felt rebuked.

“But that is fonny printing,” she confessed.

Her next question surprised him afresh. “Can you cut?”

“Cut?” echoed Ralph, gaping a little. “You mean surgery? Yes.”

“My mot’er, she break her arm,” the girl explained. “I set it myself. I know that. After that I have to go away. She take off the–what do you call the sticks–?” She illustrated.

“Splints,” put in Ralph.

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