TERROR IN THE MOUNTAINS
Fear drove Chepstow headlong for the dugout.
Mason's words, his tone and manner, had served to
excite him to a pitch closely bordering upon absolute
terror. What of Betty? Over and over again
he asked himself what might not happen to her,
left alone at the mercy of these savages? What if,
baulked of their prey, they turned to loot and
wreck his hut? It was more than possible. To
his fear-stricken imagination it was inevitable. His
gorge rose and he sickened at the thought, and he
raced through the fog to the girl's help.
The self-torture he suffered in those weary minutes
was exquisite. He railed at his own criminal
folly in letting her leave his side. He reviled
Mason and his wild schemes. Dave and his interests
were banished from his mind. The well-being
of Malkern, of the mills, of anybody in the world
but the helpless girl, mattered not at all to him. It
was Betty—of Betty alone he thought.
An innocent girl in the hands of such ruthless
brutes as these strikers—what could she do? It
was a maddening thought. He prayed to Heaven
as he went, that he might be in time, and his
prayers rang with a fervor such as they never
possessed in his vocation as a churchman. And
this mood alternated with another, which was its
direct antithesis. The vicious thoughts of a man
roused to battle ran through his brain in a fiery
torrent. His whole outlook upon life underwent a
change. All the kindly impulses of his heart, all
the teachings of his church, all his best Christian
beliefs, fell from him, and left him the naked, passionate
man. Churchman, good Christian he
undoubtedly was, but, before all things, he was a
man; and just now a man in fighting mood.
It probably took him less than twenty minutes
to make the return journey, yet it seemed to him
hours—he certainly endured hours of mental anguish.
But at last it ended with almost ludicrous
abruptness. In the obscurity of the fog he was
brought to a halt by impact with the walls of the
He recovered himself and stood for a moment
listening. There was no sound of any one within,
nor was there any sign of the strikers. He moved
round to the door; a beam of light shone beneath
it. He breathed more freely. Then, to his dismay,
at his first touch, the door swung open. His fears
leapt again, he dreaded what that open door might
disclose. Then, in the midst of his fears, a cry of
relief and joy broke from him.
"Thank God, you're safe!" he exclaimed, as he
rushed into the room.
Betty looked up from the work in her lap. She
was seated beside the box-stove sewing. Her calmness
was in flat contrast to her uncle's excited state.
She smiled gently, and her soft eyes had in them a
questioning humor that had a steadying effect upon
"Safe? Why, dear, of course I'm safe," she
said. "But—I was a little anxious about you.
You were so long getting back. Did Bob Mason
get safely away?"
"Yes, oh yes. <i>He</i> got away safely."
The work lay in Betty's lap, and her fingers had
"Yes. But we captured one of the strikers."
The parson suddenly turned to the door and
barred it securely. Then, as he went on, he crossed
to the windows, and began to barricade them.
"Yes, we had a busy time. They were hard on
his heels when he pulled up for me. We nailed the
foremost. He jumped on the buckboard and almost
strangled Mason. I jumped on it too, and—and
almost strangled him."
He laughed harshly. His blood was still up.
Betty bent over her work and her expressive face
"Who was he? I mean your prisoner. Did you
recognize him, or was he a new hand?"
Chepstow's laugh abruptly died out. He had
suddenly remembered who his prisoner was; and
he tried to ignore the question.
"Oh, yes, we recognized him. But," he went on
hurriedly, "we must get some supper. I think we
are in for a busy time."
But Betty was not so easily put off. Besides, her
curiosity was roused by her uncle's evident desire to
avoid the subject.
"Who was he?" she demanded again.
There was no escape, and the man knew it.
Betty could be very persistent.
"Eh? Oh, I'm afraid it was Jim—Jim Truscott,"
he said reluctantly.
Betty rose from her chair without a word. She
stirred the fire in the cook-stove, and began to prepare
a supper of bacon and potatoes and tea, while
her uncle went on with his task of securing the windows.
It was the latter who finally broke the silence.
"Has any one—has anybody been here?" he
Betty did not look up from her work.
"Two men paid me a visit," she said easily.
"One asked for you. He seemed angry. I—I
told him you had gone over to the sick camp—that
you were coming back to supper. He laughed—fiercely.
He said if you didn't come back I'd find
myself up against it. Then he hurried off—and I
"And the other?"
Chepstow's work was finished. He had crossed
over and was standing beside the cook-stove. His
question came with an undercurrent of fierceness
that Betty was unused to, but she smiled up into
"The other? I think he had been drinking.
He was one of those two I met in the woods. He
asked me why I hadn't taken his warning. I told
him I was considering it. He leered at me and
said it was too late, and assured me I must take the
consequences. Then he—tried to kiss me. It was
"Funny? Great Heavens! And you——"
Betty's smile broadened as she pointed to a heavy
revolver lying in the chair she had just vacated.
"I didn't have any trouble. I told him there
were five barrels in that, all loaded, and each
barrel said he'd better get out."
"Did—did he go?"
Chepstow could scarcely control his fury. But
Betty answered him in a quiet determined manner.
"Not until I had emptied one of them," she said.
Then with a rueful smile she added, "But it went
very wide of its mark."
Her uncle tried to laugh, but the result was little
better than a furious snort.
"Why did you leave the door open?" he inquired
a moment later.
"Well, you were out. You might have returned
in—in a hurry and—— But sit down, uncle dear,
The man sat down and Betty stood by to supply
him with all he needed. Then he noticed she had
only prepared food for one.
"Why, child, what about you?" he demanded
"I've had some biscuits and tea, before you
came in. I'm not hungry. Now don't bother
about it, dear. Yes, I am quite well." She shook
her head and smiled at him as he attempted to interrupt
her, but the smile was a mere cloak to her
real feelings. She had eaten before he came in, as
she said. But if she hadn't she could have eaten
nothing now. Her mind was swept with a hot tide
of anxious thought. She had a thousand and one
questions unanswered, and she knew it would be useless
putting any one of them to her kindly, impetuous
uncle. He was to her the gentlest of guardians,
but quite impossible as a confidant for her woman's
fears, her woman's passionate desire to help the
man she loved. He was staunch and brave, and in
what might lay before them she could have no better
companion, no better champion, but where the
subtleties of her woman's feelings were concerned
there could be no confidence in him.
She watched him eat in silence, and, presently,
when he looked up at her, her soft brown eyes were
lit by an almost maternal regard for him. He had
no understanding of that look, and Betty knew it,
otherwise it would not have been there.
"I can't understand it all," he said. "Jim is a
worse—a worse rascal than I thought. I believe
he's not only in this strike, but one of the organizers.
Why? That's what I can't make out. Is
it mischief—wanton mischief? Is it jealousy of
Dave's success? It's a puzzle I can't solve anyhow.
After all his protestations to me the thing's inconceivable.
It's enough to destroy all one's belief in
"Or strengthen it."
"It is only natural for people to err," Betty said
seriously. "And having erred it is human nature,
whatever our motives, however good our intentions,
to find that the mire into which we have fallen sucks
hard. It is more often than not the floundering to
save ourselves that drives us deeper into it. Poor
Jim. He needs our pity and help, just as we so
often need help."
Her uncle stared into the grave young face. His
astonishment kept him silent for a moment. He
pushed impatiently away from the table. But it
was not until Betty had moved back to her chair at
the stove that he found words to express himself.
He was angry, quite angry with her. It was not
that he was really unchristian, but when he thought
of all that this strike meant, he felt that sympathy
for the man who was possibly the cause of it was
entirely out of place.
"Truscott needs none of your pity, Betty," he
said sharply. "If pity be needed it is surely for
those whom one man's mischief will harm. Do you
know what this strike means, child? Before it
reaches the outside of these camps it will turn a
tide of vice loose upon the men themselves. They
will drink, gamble. They will quarrel and fight.
And when such men fight it more often than not
results in some terrible tragedy. Then, like some
malignant cuttlefish, this strike will grope its crushing
feelers out from here, its lair, seeking prey on
which to fix its sucking tentacles. They will reach
Malkern, and work will be paralyzed. That means
ruin to more than half the villagers who depend
upon their weekly wage. It goes further than that.
The mills will shut down. And if the mills shut,
good-bye to all trade in Malkern. It means ruin
for everybody. It means the wrecking of all
Dave's hopes—hopes which have for their object
the welfare of the people of our valley. It is a
piece of rascality that nothing can justify. Jim
Truscott does not need our pity. It is the penitentiary
he needs. Betty, I'm—I'm——"
But Betty looked up with passionate, glowing
eyes from the work she had resumed.
"Do you think I don't know what it means, uncle?"
she demanded, with a depth of feeling that
silenced him instantly. "Do you think because I
pity poor Jim that I do not understand the enormity
of his wickedness in this matter? Have I
spent the best part of my life in our valley carrying
on the work that has fallen to my share—work that
has been my joy and happiness to do—without understanding
the cruelty which this strike means to
our people, those who are powerless to help themselves
against it? Do you think I don't understand
what it means to Dave? Oh, uncle, if you
but knew," she went on reproachfully. "I know it
means practically the end of all things for Dave if
his contract fails. I know that he is all out for the
result. That his resources are even now taxed to
their uttermost limit, and that only the smooth running
of the work can save him from a disaster that
will involve us all. If I had a man's strength there
is nothing I would not do to serve him. If my
two hands, if my brain could assist him in the
smallest degree, he would not need to ask for them.
They are his—his!" she cried, with a passion that
thrilled the listening man. "You are angry with
me because I feel sorry for an erring man. I <i>am</i>
sorry for him. Yet should evil come to our valley—to
Dave—through his work, no wildcat would
show him less mercy than I. Oh, why am I not a
man with two strong hands?" she cried despairingly.
"Why am I condemned to be a useless
burden to those I love? Oh, Dave, Dave," she
cried with a sudden self-abandonment, so passionate,
so overwhelming that it alarmed her uncle,
"why can't I help you? Why can't I stand beside
you and share in your battles with these two
hands?" She held out her arms, in a gesture of appeal.
Then they dropped to her side. In a moment
she turned almost fiercely upon her uncle,
swept on by a tide of feeling long pent up behind
the barrier of her woman's reserve, but now no
longer possible of restraint. "I love him! I love
him! I know! You are ashamed for me! I can
see it in your face! You think me unwomanly!
You think I have outraged the conventions which
hem our sex in! And what if I have? I don't
care! I care for nothing and no one but him!
He is the world to me—the whole, wide world. I
love him so I would give my life for him. Oh, uncle,
I love him, and I am powerless to help him."
She sank into her chair, and buried her face in
her hands. Blame, displeasure, contempt, nothing
mattered. The woman was stirred, let loose; the
calm strength which was so great a part of her
character, had been swept aside by her passion,
which saw only the hopelessness with which this
strike confronted the man she loved.
Chepstow watched her for some moments. He
was no longer alarmed. His heart ached for her,
and he wanted to comfort her. But it was not easy
for him. At last he moved close to her side, and
laid a hand upon her bowed head. The action was
full of a tender, even reverential sympathy. And
it was that, more than his words, which helped to
comfort the woman's stricken heart.
"You're a good child, Betty," he said awkwardly.
"And—and I'm glad you love him. Dave will
win out. Don't you fear. It is the difficulties he
has had to face that have made him the man he is.
Remember Mason has got away, and—— What's
Something crashed against the door and dropped
to the ground outside. Though the exclamation
had broken from the man he needed no answer. It
was a stone. A stone hurled with vicious force.
Betty sat up. Her face had suddenly returned to
its usual calm. She looked up into her uncle's
eyes, and saw that the light of battle had been rekindled
there. Her own eyes brightened. She,
too, realized that battle was imminent. They were
two against hundreds. Her spirit warmed. Her
recent hopelessness passed and she sprang to her
"The cowards!" she cried.
The man only laughed.