Beelingo.com

English Audio Books

Trail of the Axe, The

SPONSORED LINKS
<SPAN NAME="chap08"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> CHAPTER VIII </H3> <H4 ALIGN="center"> AT THE CHURCH BAZAAR </H4> <P> Two days later brought Tom Chepstow's church bazaar. Dave had not yet had the opportunity of interceding with Betty and her uncle on behalf of Jim, but to-day he meant to fulfil his obligations as Tom's chief supporter in church affairs, and, at the same time, to do what he could for the man he had promised to help. </P> <P> The whole morning the valley was flooded with a tremendous summer deluge. It was just as though the heavens had opened and emptied their waters upon the earth. Dave viewed the prospect with no very friendly eye. He knew the summer rains only too well; the possibilities of flood were well grounded, and just now he had no desire to see the river rise higher than it was at present. Still, as yet there was no reason for alarm. This was the first rain, and the glass was rising. </P> <P> By noon the clouds broke, and the barometer's promise was fulfilled, so that, by the time he had clad himself in his best broadcloth, he left his office under a radiant sky. In spite of the wet under foot it was a delight to be abroad. The air was fresh and sparkling; the dripping trees seemed to be studded with thousands of diamonds as the poising rain-drops glistened in the blazing sun. The valley rang with the music of the birds, and the health-giving scent of the pine woods was wafted upon the gentlest of zephyrs. Dave's soul was in perfect sympathy with the beauties about him. To him there could be no spot on God's earth so fair and beautiful as this valley. </P> <P> Passing the mill on his way out of the yards he was met by Joel Dawson, whose voice greeted him with a note of satisfaction in it. </P> <P> "She's goin' full, boss," he said. "We set the last saws in her this mornin' an' she's steaming hard. Ther' ain't nothin' idle. Ther' ain't a' band' or 'gang' left in her." </P> <P> And Dave without praise expressed his satisfaction at the rapidity with which his orders had been carried out. This was his way. Dawson was an excellent foreman, and his respect for his "boss" was largely based on the latter's capacity to extract work out of his men. While praise might have been pleasant to him, it would never have fallen in with his ideas of how the mills should be run. His pride was in the work, and to keep his respect at concert pitch it was necessary that he should feel that his "boss" was rather favoring him by entrusting to him the more important part of the work. </P> <P> Dave passed out of the yards certain that nothing would be neglected in his absence. If things went wrong Dawson would receive no more consideration than a common lumber-jack, and Dawson had no desire to receive his "time." </P> <P> The Meeting House stood slightly apart from the rest of the village. It was a large, staring frame building, void of all pretentiousness and outward devotional sign. The weather-boarding was painted; at least, it had been. But the winter snows had long since robbed it of its original terra-cotta coloring and left its complexion a drab neutral tint. The building stood bare, with no encompassing fence, and its chief distinctive features were a large doorway, a single row of windows set at regular intervals, and a pitched roof. </P> <P> As Dave drew near he saw a considerable gathering of men and horses about the doorway and tie-post. He was greeted cordially as he came up. These men were unfeignedly glad to see him, not only because he was popular, but in the hopes that he would show more courage than they possessed, and lead the way within to the feminine webs being woven for their enmeshing. </P> <P> He chatted for some moments, then, as no one seemed inclined to leave the sunshine for the tempting baits so carefully set out inside the building, he turned to Jenkins Mudley&mdash; </P> <P> "Are you fellows scared of going in?" he inquired, with his large laugh. </P> <P> Jenkins shook his head shamefacedly, while Harley-Smith, loud and vulgar, with a staring diamond pin gleaming in his necktie, answered for him. </P> <P> "'Tain't that," he said. "His wife's kind o' dep'ty for him. She's in ther' with his dollars." </P> <P> "And you?" Dave turned on him quickly. </P> <P> "Me? Oh, I ain't no use for them cirkises. Too much tea an' cake an' kiddies to it for me. Give me a few of the 'jacks' around an' I kind o' feel it homely." </P> <P> "Say, they ain't got a table for 'draw' in there, have they?" inquired Checks facetiously. "That's what Harley-Smith needs." </P> <P> Dave smilingly shook his head. </P> <P> "I don't think there's any gambling about this&mdash;unless it's the bran tub. But that is scarcely a gamble. It's a pretty sure thing you get bested over it. Still, there might be a raffle, or an auction. How would that do you, Harley-Smith?" </P> <P> The saloon-keeper laughed boisterously. He liked being the object of interest; he liked being noticed so much by Dave. It tickled his vulgar vanity. But, to his disappointment, the talk was suddenly shifted into another channel by Checks. The dry-goods merchant turned to Dave with very real interest. </P> <P> "Talking of 'draw,'" he said pointedly, "you know that shanty right opposite me. It's been empty this year an' more. Who was it lived there? Why, the Sykeses, sure. You know it, it's got a shingle roof, painted red." </P> <P> "Yes, I know," replied Dave. "It belongs to me. I let Sykes live there because there wasn't another house available at the time. I used to keep it as a storehouse." </P> <P> "Sure, that's it," exclaimed Checks. "Well, there's some one running a game there at night. I've seen the boys going in, and it's been lit up. Some guy is running a faro bank, or something of the sort. My wife swears it's young Jim Truscott. She's seen him going in for the last two nights. She says he's always the first one in and the last to leave." </P> <P> "Psha!" Jenkins Mudley exclaimed, with fine scorn. "Jim ain't no gambler. I'd bet it's some crook in from Calford. There's lots of that kidney coming around, seeing the place is on the boom. The bees allus gets around wher' the honey's made." </P> <P> "Grows," suggested Checks amiably. </P> <P> Harley-Smith laughed loudly. </P> <P> "Say, bully for you," he cried sarcastically. "Young Jim ain't no gambler? Gee! I've see him take a thousand of the best bills out of the boys at 'craps' right there in my bar. Gambler? Well, I'd snigger!" </P> <P> And he illustrated his remark loudly and long. </P> <P> Dave had dropped out of the conversation at the mention of Jim Truscott's name. He felt that he had nothing to say. And he hoped to avoid being again brought into it. But Jenkins had purposely told him. Jenkins was a rigid churchman, and he knew that Dave was also a strong supporter of Parson Tom's. His wife had been very scandalized at the opening of a gambling house directly opposite their store, and he felt it incumbent upon him to fall in with her views. Therefore he turned again to Dave. </P> <P> "Well, what about it, Dave?" he demanded. "What are you going to do?" </P> <P> The lumberman looked him straight in the eye and smiled. </P> <P> "Do? Why, what all you fellows seem to be scared to do. I'm going into this bazaar to do my duty by the church. I'm going to hand them all my spare dollars, and if there's any change coming, I'll take it in dry-goods." </P> <P> But the lightness of his tone and smile had no inspiration from his mood. He was angry; he was disappointed. So this was the worth of Jim's promises! This was the man who, in a perfect fever of passion, had said that the old life of gambling and debauchery was finished for him. And yet he had probably left his (Dave's) office and gone straight to a night of heavy gaming, and, if Checks were right, running a faro bank. He knew only too well what that meant. No man who had graduated as a gambler in such a region as the Yukon was likely to run a faro bank straight. </P> <P> Then a light seemed to flash through his brain, and of a sudden he realized something that fired the blood in his veins and set his pulses hammering feverishly. For the moment it set his thoughts chaotic; he could not realize anything quite clearly. One feeling thrilled him, one wild hope. Then, with stern self-repression, he took hold of himself. This was neither time nor place for such weakness, he told himself. He knew what it was. For the moment he had let himself get out of hand. He had for so long regarded Betty as belonging to Jim; he had for so long shut her from his own thoughts and only regarded her from an impersonal point of view, that it had never occurred to him, until that instant, that there was a possibility of her engagement to Jim ever falling through. </P> <P> This was what had so suddenly stirred him. Now, actuated by his sense of duty and honor, he thrust these things aside. His loyalty to the girl, the strength of his great love for her, would not, even for a moment, permit him to think of himself. Five years ago he had said good-bye to any hopes and thoughts such as these. On that day he had struggled with himself and won. He was not going to destroy the effects of that victory by any selfish thought now. His love for the girl was there, nothing could alter that. It would remain there, deep down in his heart, dormant but living. But it was something more than a mere human passion, it was something purer, loftier; something that crystallized the human clay of his thought into the purest diamonds of unselfishness. </P> <P> In the few moments that it took him to pass into the Meeting House and launch himself upon his task of furthering the cause of Tom Chepstow's church, his mind cleared. He could not yet see the line of action he must take if the gossip of Mr. Addlestone Checks were true. But one thing was plain, that gossip must not influence him until its truth were established. Just as he was seized upon by at least half a dozen of the women who had wares to sell, and were bent on morally picking his pockets, he had arrived at his decision. </P> <P> The hall was ablaze with colored stuffs. There were festoons and banners, and rosettes and evergreen. Every bare corner was somehow concealed. There were drapings of royal blue and staring white, and sufficient bunting to make a suit of flags for a war-ship. </P> <P> All the seats and benches had been removed, and round the walls had been erected the stalls and booths of the saleswomen. One end of the room was given up to a platform, on which, in the evening, the most select of the local vocalists would perform. Beside this was a bran tub, where one could have a dip for fifty cents and be sure of winning a prize worth at least five. Then there was a fortune-telling booth on the opposite side, presided over by a local beauty, Miss Eva Wade, whose father was a small rancher just outside the valley. This institution was eyed askance by many of the women. They were not sure that fortune-telling could safely be regarded as strictly moral. Parson Tom was responsible for its inception, and his lean shoulders were braced to bear the consequences. </P> <P> Dave was by no means new to church bazaars. Any one living in a small western village must have considerable experience of such things. They are a form of taxation much in favor, and serve multifarious purposes. They are at once a pleasant social function where young people can safely meet under the matronly eye; they keep all in close touch with religion; they give the usually idle something to think of and work for, and the busy find them an addition to their burdens. They create a sort of central bureau for the exchange of scandal, and a ready market for trading useless articles to people who do not desire to purchase, but having purchased feel that the moral sacrifice they have made is at least one step in the right direction to make up for many backslidings in the past. </P> <P> Dave doubtless had long since considered all this. But he saw and appreciated the purpose underlying it. He knew Tom Chepstow to be a good man, and though he had little inspiration as a churchman, he spared no pains in his spiritual labors, and the larger portion of his very limited stipend went in unobtrusive charity. No sick bed ever went uncheered by his presence, and no poor ever went without warm clothing and wholesome food in the terrible Canadian winter so long as he had anything to give. Therefore Dave had come well provided with money, which he began at once to spend with hopeless prodigality. </P> <P> The rest of the men followed in the lumberman's wake, and soon the bustle and noise waxed furious. They all bought indiscriminately. Dave started on Mrs. Checks' "gentlemen's outfitters" stall. His heart rejoiced when he sighted a pile of handkerchiefs which the lady had specially made for him, and which she now thrust at him with an exorbitant price marked upon them. He bought them all. He bought a number of shirts he could not possibly have worn. He bought underclothing that wouldn't have been a circumstance on his cumbersome figure. He passed on to Louisa Mudley's millinery stall and bought several hats, which he promptly shed upon the various women in his vicinity. He did his duty royally, and bought dozens of things which he promptly gave away. And his attentions in this matter were quite impartial. He did it with the air of some great good-natured schoolboy that set everybody delighted with him, with themselves, with everything; and the bazaar, as a result, went with a royal, prosperous swing. Here, as in his work, his personality carried with it the magic of success. </P> <P> At last he reached Betty's stall. She was presiding over a hideous collection of cheap bric-�-brac. With her usual unselfishness and desire to promote harmony amongst the workers, and so help the success of the bazaar, she had sacrificed herself on the altar of duty by taking charge of the most unpopular stall. Nobody wanted the goods she had to sell; consequently Dave found her deserted. She smiled up at him a little pathetically as he came over to her. </P> <P> "Are you coming as a friend or as a customer? Most of the visits I have received have been purely friendly." She laughed, but Dave could see that the natural spirit of rivalry was stirred, and she was a little unhappy at the rush of business going on everywhere but at her stall. </P> <P> "I come as both," he said, with that air of frank kindliness so peculiarly his own. </P> <P> The girl's eyes brightened. </P> <P> "Then let's get to work on the customer part of your visit first," she said at once; "the other can wait. Now here I have a nice plate. You can hang it in your office on the wall. You see it's already wired. It might pass for old Worcester if you don't let in too much light. But there, you never have your windows washed, do you? Then I have," she hurried on, turning to other articles, "this. This is a shell&mdash;at least I suppose it is," she added na�vely. "And this is a Toby jug; and this is a pipe-rack; this is for matches; this is for a whisk brush; and these two vases, they're real fine. Look at them. Did you ever see such colors? No, and I don't suppose anybody else ever did." She laughed, and Dave joined in her laugh. </P> <P> But her laugh suddenly died out. The man heard a woman, only a few feet away, mention Jim Truscott's name, and he knew that Betty had heard it too. He knew that her smiling chatter, which had seemed so gay, so irresponsible, had all been pretense, a pretense which had suddenly been swept aside at the mere mention of Jim's name. At that moment he felt he could have taken the man up in his two strong hands and strangled him. However, he allowed his feelings no display, but at once took up the challenge of the saleswoman. </P> <P> "Say, Betty, there's just one thing in the world I'm crazy about: it's bits of pots and things such as you've got on your stall. It seems like fate you should be running this stall. Now just get right to it, and fetch out some tickets&mdash;a heap of 'em&mdash;and write 'sold' on 'em, and dump 'em on all you like. How much for the lot?" </P> <P> "What do you mean, Dave?" the girl cried, her eyes wide and questioning. </P> <P> "How much? I don't want anybody else buying those things," Dave said seriously. "I want 'em all." </P> <P> Betty's eyes softened almost to tears. </P> <P> "I can't let you do it, Dave," she said gently. "Not all. Some." </P> <P> But the man was not to be turned from his purpose. </P> <P> "I want 'em all," he said doggedly. "Here. Here's two hundred dollars. That'll cover it." He laid four bills of fifty dollars each on the stall. "There," he added, "you can sell 'em over again if any of the boys want to buy." </P> <P> Betty was not sure which she wanted to do, cry or laugh. However, she finally decided on the latter course. Dave's simple contradiction was quite too much for her. </P> <P> "You're the most refreshing old simpleton I ever knew," she said. "But I'll take your money&mdash;for the church," she added, as though endeavoring to quiet her conscience. </P> <P> Dave sighed in relief. </P> <P> "Well, that's that. Now we come to the friendly side of my visit," he said. "I've got a heap to say to you. Jim Truscott's been to me." </P> <P> He made his statement simply, and waited. But no comment was forthcoming. Betty was stooping over a box, collecting cards to place on the articles on her stall. Presently she looked up, and her look was an invitation for him to go on. </P> <P> The man's task was not easy. It would have been easy enough had he not spoken with Checks outside, but now it was all different. He had promised his help, but in giving it he had no clear conscience. </P> <P> He propped himself against the side-post of her stall, and his weight set the structure shaking perilously. </P> <P> "I've often wondered, Betty," he said, in a rumbling, confidential tone, "if there ever was a man, or for that matter a woman, who really understood human nature. We all think we know a lot about it. We size up a man, and we reckon he's good, bad, or indifferent, and if our estimate happens to prove, we pat ourselves, and hold our heads a shade higher, and feel sorry for those who can't read a man as easy as we can." </P> <P> Betty nodded while she stuck some "Sold" cards about her stall. </P> <P> "A locomotive's a great proposition, so long as it's on a set track. It's an all-fired nuisance without. Guess a locomotive can do everything it shouldn't when it gets loose of its track. My word, I'd hate to be around with a loco up to its fool-tricks, running loose in a city. Seems to me that's how it is with human nature." </P> <P> Betty's brown eyes were thoughtfully contemplating the man's ugly features. </P> <P> "I suppose you mean we all need a track to run on?" </P> <P> "Why, yes," Dave went on, brightening. "Some of us start out in life with a ready-made track, with 'points' we can jump if we've a notion. Some of us have a track without 'points,' so there's no excuse for getting off it. Some of us have to lay down our own track, and keep right on it, building it as we go. That's the hardest. We're bound to have some falls. You see there's so much ballasting needed, the ground's so mighty bumpy. I seem to know a deal about that sort of track. I've had to build mine, and I've fallen plenty. Sometimes it's been hard picking myself up, and I've been bruised and sore often. Still, I've got up, and I don't seem no worse for falling." </P> <P> Betty's eyes were smiling softly. </P> <P> "But <i>you</i> picked yourself up, Dave, didn't you?" she asked gently. </P> <P> "Well&mdash;not always. You see, I've got a mother. She's helped a whole heap. You see, she's mostly all my world, and I used to hate to hurt her by letting her see me down. She kind of thinks I'm the greatest proposition ever, and it tickles my vanity. I want her to go on thinking it, as it keeps me hard at work building that track. And now, through her, I've been building so long that it comes easier, and thinking of her makes me hang on so tight I don't get falling around now. There's other fellows haven't got a mother, or&mdash;you see, I've always had her with me. That's where it comes in. Now, if she'd been away from me five years, when I was very young; you see&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> Dave broke off clumsily. He was floundering in rough water. He knew what he wanted to say, but words were not too easy to him. </P> <P> "Poor Jim!" murmured Betty softly. </P> <P> Dave's eyes were on her in a moment. Her manner was somehow different from what he had expected. There was sympathy and womanly tenderness in her voice; but he had expected&mdash;&mdash; Then his thoughts went back to the time when they had spoken of Jim on the bridge. And, without knowing why, his pulses quickened, and a warmth of feeling swept over him. </P> <P> "Poor Jim!" he said, after a long pause, during which his pulses had steadied and he had become master of his feelings again. "He's fallen a lot, and I'm not sure it's all his fault. He always ran straight when he was here. He was very young to go away to a place like the Yukon. Maybe&mdash;maybe you could pick him up; maybe you could hold him to that track, same as mother did for me?" </P> <P> Betty was close beside him. She had moved out of her stall and was now looking up into his earnest face. </P> <P> "Does he want me to?" she asked wistfully. "Do <i>you</i> think I can help him?" </P> <P> The man's hands clenched tightly. For a moment he struggled. </P> <P> "You can," he said at last. "He wants you; he wants your help. He loves you so, he's nearly crazy." </P> <P> The girl gazed up at him with eyes whose question the man tried but failed to read. It was some seconds before her lips opened to speak again. </P> <P> But her words never came. At that moment Addlestone Checks hurried up to them. He drew Dave sharply on one side. His manner was mysterious and important, and his face wore a look of outraged piety. </P> <P> "Something's got to be done," he said in a stage whisper. "It's the most outrageous thing I've seen in years. Right here&mdash;right here in the house where the parson preaches the Word! It sure is enough to set it shakin' to its foundation. Drunk! That's what he is&mdash;roarin', flamin', fightin' drunk! You must do something. It's up to you." </P> <P> "What do you mean? Who is drunk?" cried Dave, annoyed at the man's Pharisaical air. </P> <P> Before he could get a reply there was a commotion at the far end of the bazaar. Voices were raised furiously, and everybody had flocked in that direction. Once Dave thought he heard Chepstow's voice raised in protest. Betty ran to his side directly the tumult began. </P> <P> "Oh, Dave, what's the matter down there? I thought I heard Jim's voice?" </P> <P> "So you did, Miss Betty," cried Checks, with sanctimonious spleen. "So you did&mdash;the drunken&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> "Shut up, or I'll break your neck!" cried Dave, threatening him furiously. </P> <P> The dry-goods dealer staggered back just as Betty's hand was gently, but firmly, laid on Dave's upraised arm. </P> <P> "Don't bother, Dave," she said piteously. "I've seen him. Oh, Jim&mdash;Jim!" And she covered her face with her hands. </P> <BR><BR><BR>
SPONSORED LINKS