AN AUSPICIOUS MEETING
Malkern as a village had two moments in the
day when it wore the appearance of a thoroughly
busy city. At all other times there was little outward
sign to tell of the prosperity it really enjoyed.
Malkern's really bustling time was at noon, when
its workers took an hour and a half recess for the
midday meal, and at six o'clock in the evening,
when the day and night "shifts" at the mill exchanged
There was no eight-hour working day in this
lumbering village. The lumber-jacks and all the
people associated with it worked to make money,
not to earn a mere living. They had not reached
that deplorable condition of social pessimism when
the worker for a wage believes he is the man who
is making millions for an employer, who is prospering
only by his, the worker's, capacity to do. They
were working each for himself, and regarded the
man who could afford them such opportunity as an
undisguised blessing. The longer the "time" the
higher the wages, and this was their whole scheme
Besides this, there is a certain pride of achievement
in the lumber-jack. He is not a mere automaton.
He is a man virile, strong, and of a wonderful
independence all his own. His spirits are
animal, keen of perception, keen for all the joys of
life such as he knows. He lives his life, whether in
play or work. Whether he be a sealer, a cant-hook
man, a teamster, or an axeman, his pride is in
his skill, and the rating of his skill is estimated
largely by the tally of his day's work, on which
depends the proportion of his wages.
It was the midday dinner-hour now, and the
mill was debouching its rough tide of workers upon
the main street. Harley-Smith's bar was full of
men seeking unnecessary "appetizers." Every
boarding-house was rapidly filling with hungry
men clamoring for the ample, even luxurious meal
awaiting them. These men lived well; their work
was tremendous, and food of the best, and ample,
was needed to keep them fit. The few stores
which the village boasted were full of eager purchasers
demanding instant service lest the precious
time be lost.
Harley-Smith's hotel abutted on the main road,
and the tide had to pass its inviting portals on their
way to the village. Usually the veranda was
empty at this time, for the regular boarders were at
dinner, and the bar claimed those who were not yet
dining. But on this occasion it possessed a solitary
He was sitting on a hard windsor chair, tilted
back at a dangerous angle, with his feet propped
upon the veranda rail in an attitude of ease, if not
of elegance. He was apparently quite unconcerned
at anything going on about him. His
broad-brimmed hat was tilted well forward upon
his nose, in a manner that served the dual purpose
of shading his eyes from the dazzling sunlight, and
permitting his gaze to wander whither he pleased
without the observation of the passers-by. To
give a further suggestion of indolent indifference,
he was luxuriously smoking one of Harley-Smith's
But the man's attitude was a pretense. No one
passed the veranda who escaped the vigilance of
his quick eyes. He scanned each face sharply, and
passed on to the next; nor did his watchfulness
relax for one instant. It was clear he was looking
for some one whom he expected would pass that
way, and it was equally evident he had no desire to
advertise the fact.
Suddenly he pushed his hat back from his face,
and, at the same time, his feet dropped to the
boarded floor. This brought his chair on its four
legs with a jolt, and he sat bolt upright. Now he
showed the bloated young face of Jim Truscott.
There was a look in his eyes of something approaching
venomous satisfaction. He had seen the
man he was looking for, and promptly beckoned to
Dick Mansell was passing at that moment, and
his small, ferret-like eyes caught the summons.
He hesitated, nor did he come at once in response
to the other's smile of good-fellowship.
"Dick!" Truscott said. Then he added genially,
"I was wondering if you'd come along this
Mansell nodded indifferently. His face was ill-humored,
and his small eyes had little friendliness
in them. He nodded, and was about to pass on,
but the other stayed him with a gesture.
"Don't go," he said. "I want to speak to you.
Come up to my room and have a drink."
He kept his voice low, but he might have saved
himself the trouble. The passing crowd were far
too intent upon their own concerns to bother with
him. The fact was his attitude was the result of
nearly forty-eight hours of hard thinking, thinking
inspired by a weak character goaded to offense by
the rough but justifiable treatment meted out to
him in Dave's office. This man's character, at no
time robust, was now morally run-down, and its
condition was like the weakly body of an unhealthy
man. It collected to itself every injurious
germ and left him diseased. His brain and nerves
were thrilling with resentment, and a desire to get
even with the "board." He was furiously determined
that Dave should remember with regret the
moment he had laid hands upon him, and that he
had come between him and the girl he had intended
to make his own.
Mansell, stepping on to the veranda, paused and
looked the other full in the eye.
"Well," he said, after a moment's doubtful consideration,
"what is it? 'Tain't like you givin'
drink away—'specially to me. What monkey
tricks is it?"
There was truculence in the sawyer's tone.
There was offense in his very attitude.
"Are you coming to my room for that drink?"
Truscott spoke quite coldly, but he knew the
curse of the man's thirst. He had reason to.
Mansell laughed without any mirth.
"Guess I may as well drink your brandy. It'll
taste the same as any other. Go ahead."
His host at once led the way into the hotel and
up the stairs to his room. It was a front room on
the first floor, and comparatively luxurious. The
moment the door closed behind him Mansell took
in the details with some interest.
"A mighty swell apartment—fer you," he observed
Truscott shrugged as he turned his back to pour
out drinks at the table.
"That's my business," he said. "I pay for it,
and," he added, glancing meaningly over his
shoulder, "I can afford to pay for it—or anything
else I choose to have."
Mansell was a fine figure of a man, and beside
him the other looked slight, even weedy. But his
face and head spoiled him. Both were small and
mean, and gave the impression of a low order of
intelligence. Yet he was reputed one of the finest
sawyers in the valley, and a man, when not on the
drink, to be thoroughly trusted. Before he went
away to the Yukon with Jim he had been a teetotaler
for two years, and on that account, and his
unrivaled powers as a sawyer, he had acted as the
other's foreman in his early lumbering enterprise.
Except, however, for those two years his past had
in it far more shadows than light.
He grinned unpleasantly.
"No need to ast how you came by the stuff," he
Truscott was round on him in an instant. His
eyes shone wickedly, but there was a grin about his
"The same way you tried to come by it too, only
you couldn't keep your damned head clear. You
couldn't let this stuff alone." He handed the man
a glass of neat brandy. "You and your cursed
drink nearly ruined my chances. It wasn't your
fault you didn't. When I ran that game up in
Dawson I was a fool to take you into it. I did it
out of decency, because you had gone up there
with me, and quite against my best judgment
when I saw the way you were drinking. If you'd
kept straight you'd be in the same position as I am.
You wouldn't have returned here more or less broke
and only too ready to set rotten yarns going around
The sawyer had taken the brandy and swallowed
it. Now he set the glass down on the table with a
"What yarns?" he demanded angrily.
"Tchah! Hardwig's a meddling busybody.
You might have known it would come back to me
sooner or later. But I didn't bring you here to
throw these things up in your face. You brought
it on yourself. Keep a civil tongue, and if you like
to stand in I'll put you into a good thing. You're
not working? And you've got no money?"
Truscott's questions came sharply. His plans
were clear in his mind. These points he had made
sure of already. But he wanted to approach the
matter he had in hand in what he considered the
best way in dealing with a man like Mansell. He
knew the sawyer to have scruples of a kind, that is
until they had been carefully undermined by brandy.
It was his purpose to undermine them now.
"You seem to know a heap," Mansell observed
sarcastically. Then he became a shade more interested.
"What's the 'good thing'?"
Jim poured some brandy out for himself, at the
same time, as though unconsciously, replenishing
the other's glass liberally. The sawyer watched him
while he waited for a reply, and suddenly a thought
occurred to his none too ready brain.
"Drink, eh?" he laughed mockingly, as though
answering a challenge on the subject. "Drink?
Say, who's been doing the drink since you got
back? Folks says as your gal has gone right back
on you, that ther' wench as you was a-sparkin' 'fore
we lit out. An' it's clear along of liquor. They
say you're soused most ev'ry night, an' most days
too. You should git gassin'—I don't think."
The man's mean face was alight with brutish glee.
He felt he had handed the other a pretty retort.
And in his satisfaction he snatched up his glass and
drank off its contents at a gulp. Indifferent to the
gibe, Jim smiled his satisfaction as he watched the
other drain his glass.
"You've got no work?" he demanded, as Mansell
set it down empty.
"Sure I ain't," the other grinned. "An'," he
added, under the warming influence of the spirit,
"I ain't worritin' a heap neither. My credit's good
with the boardin'-house boss. Y' see," he went on,
his pride of craft in his gimlet eyes, "I'm kind o'
known here for a boss sawyer. When they want
sawyers there's allus work for Dick Mansell."
"Your credit's good?" Truscott went on, ignoring
the man's boasting. "Then you have no
"I allows the market's kind o' low."
Mansell's mood had become one of clumsy
jocularity under the influence of the brandy.
"If you can get work so easily, why don't you?"
Truscott demanded, filling the two glasses again as
Mansell seated himself on the bed unbidden.
"Wal," he began expansively, "I'm kind o' holiday-makin',
as they say. Y' see," he went on with
a leer, "I worked so a'mighty hard gittin' back
from the Yukon, I'm kind o' fatigued. Savee?
Guess I'll git to work later. Say, one o' them for
me?" he finished up, pointing at the glasses.
Truscott nodded, and Mansell helped himself
The former fell in with the other's mood. He
found him very easy to deal with. It was just a
question of sufficient drink.
"Well, I don't believe in work, anyway. That
is unless it happens to be my pleasure, too. I
worked hard up at Dawson, but it was my pleasure.
I made good money, too—a hell of a sight more
than you or anybody else ever had any idea of."
"You ran a dandy game," agreed the sawyer.
"With plenty of customers with mighty fat rolls
"I was a fool to quit you," he said regretfully.
"You were. But it isn't too late. If you aren't
yearning to work too hard."
Truscott's smile was crafty. And, even with the
drink in him, Mansell saw and understood it.
"Monkey tricks?" he said.
"Monkey tricks—if you like."
Mansell looked over at the bottle.
"Hand us another horn of that pizen an' I'll
listen," he said.
The other poured out the brandy readily, taking
care to be more than liberal. He watched the sawyer
drink, and then, drawing a chair forward, he sat
"What's that old mill of mine worth?" he asked
They exchanged glances silently. Truscott was
watching the effect of his question, and the other
was trying to fathom the meaning of it.
"I'd say," Mansell replied slowly, giving up the
puzzle and waiting for enlightenment—"I'd say, to a
man who needs it bad, it's worth anything over
fifteen thousand dollars. Fer scrappin', I'd say it
warn't worth but fi' thousand."
"I was thinking of a man needing it."
"Fifteen thousand an' over."
Truscott leant forward in his chair and became
"Dave wants to buy that mill, and I'm going to
sell it to him," he said impressively. "I'll take
twenty thousand for it, and get as much more as I
can. See? Now I don't want that money. I
wouldn't care to handle his money. I've got plenty,
and the means of making heaps more if I need it."
He paused to let his words sink in. Mansell
nodded with his eyes on the brandy bottle. As
yet he did not see the man's drift. He did not see
where he came in. He waited, and Truscott went on.
"Now what would you be willing to do for that
twenty thousand—or more?" he asked smilingly.
The other turned his head with a start, and, for
one fleeting second, his beady eyes searched his
companion's face. He saw nothing there but quiet
good-nature. It was the face of the old Jim Truscott—used
to hide the poisoned mind behind it.
"Give me a drink," Mansell demanded roughly.
"This needs some thinkin'."
Truscott handed him the bottle, and watched him
while he drank nearly half a tumbler of the raw
Mansell breathed heavily.
"Seems to me I'd do—a heap," he said at last.
"Would you take a job as sawyer in Dave's mill,
and—and act under my orders?"
"It kind o' depends on the orders." For some
reason the lumberman became cautious. The price
was high—almost too high for him.
Truscott suddenly rose from his seat, and crossing
the room, turned the key in the door. Then
he closed the window carefully. He finally glanced
round the room, and came back to his seat. Then,
leaning forward and lowering his tone, he detailed
carefully all that the lumberman would have to do
to earn the money. It took some time in the telling,
but at last he sat back with a callous laugh.
"That's all it is, Dick, my boy," he cried familiarly.
"You will be as safe as houses. Not only
that, but I may not need your help at all. I have
other plans which are even better, and which may
do the job without your help. See? This is only
in case it is necessary. You see I don't want to
leave anything to chance. I want to be ready.
And I want no after consequences. You understand?
You may get the money for doing nothing. On the
other hand, what you have to do entails little
enough risk. The price is high, simply because I
do not want the money, and I want to be sure I can
rely on you."
The man's plausibility impressed the none too
bright-witted lumberman. Then, too, the brandy
had done its work. His last scruple fled, banished
by his innate crookedness, set afire by the spirit and
the dazzling bait held out to him. It was a case of
the clever rascal dominating the less dangerous, but
more brutal, type of man. Mansell was as potter's
clay in this man's hands. The clay dry would have
been impossible to mould, but moistened, the artist
in villainy had no difficulty in handling it. And the
lubricating process had been liberally supplied.
"I'm on," Mansell said, his small eyes twinkling
viciously. "I'm on sure. Twenty thousand!
Gee! But I'll need it all, Jim," he added greedily.
"I'll need it all, and any more you git. You
said it yourself, I was to git the lot. Yes," as
though reassuring himself, "I'm on."
Truscott nodded approvingly.
"Good boy," he said pleasantly. "But there's
one thing more, Dick. I make it a proviso you
don't go on any teetotal racket. I know you.
Anyway, I don't believe in the water wagon worth
a cent. It don't suit you in work like this. But
don't get drunk and act foolish. Keep on the edge.
See? Get through this racket right, and you've
got a small pile that'll fill your belly up like a distillery—after.
You'll get the stuff in a bundle the
moment you've done the work."
Mansell reached out for the bottle without invitation,
picked it up, and put the neck to his lips.
Nor did he put it down till he had drained it. It
was the culminating point. The spirit had done
its work, and as Truscott watched him he knew
that, body and soul, the man was his. The lumberman
flung the empty bottle on the bed.
"I'll do it, you damned crook," he cried. "I'll
do it, but not because I like you, or anything to do
with you. It's the bills I need sure—green, crisp,
crinkly bills. But I'll need fifty of 'em now.
Hand over, pard," he cried exultingly. "Hand
over, you imp of hell. I want fifty now, or I don't
stir a hand. Hand 'em——"
Suddenly the man staggered back and fell on the
bed, staring stupidly at the shining silver-plated revolver
in the other's hands.
"Hold your noise, you drunken hog," Jim cried
in a biting tone. "This is the sort of thing I suppose
I can expect from a blasted fool like you.
Now understand this, I'm going to give you that
fifty, not because you demand it, but to seal our
compact. And by the Holy Moses, when you've
handled it, if you attempt to play any game on me,
I'll blow you to hell quicker than any through mail
could carry you there. Get that, and let it sink into
your fool brain."