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Trail of the Axe, The

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<SPAN NAME="chap32"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> CHAPTER XXXII </H3> <H4 ALIGN="center"> TWO MEN&mdash;AND A WOMAN </H4> <P> It took some time for Betty to carry out Dave's wishes. Simon Odd, who was Jim Truscott's jailer while the mills were idle, and who had him secreted away where curious eyes were not likely to discover him, was closely occupied with the preparations at the other mill. She had to dispatch a messenger to him, and the messenger having found Simon, it was necessary for the latter to procure his prisoner and hand him over to Dave himself. All this took a long time, nearly an hour and a half, which made it two o'clock in the morning before Truscott reached the office under his escort. </P> <P> Odd presented him with scant ceremony. He knocked on the door, was admitted, and stood close behind his charge's shoulder. </P> <P> "Here he is, boss," said the man with rough freedom. "Will I stand by in case he gits gay?" </P> <P> But Dave had his own ideas. He needed no help from anybody in dealing with this man. </P> <P> "No," he said at once. "You can get back to your mill. I relieve you of all further responsibility of your&mdash;charge. But you can pass me some things to prop my pillow up before you go." </P> <P> The giant foreman did as he was bid. Being just a plain lumberman, with no great nicety of fancy he selected three of the ledgers for the purpose. Having propped his employer into a sitting posture, he took his departure in silence. </P> <P> Dave waited until the door closed behind him. His cold eyes were on the man who had so nearly ruined him, who, indirectly, had nearly cost him his life. As the door closed he drew his right hand from under the blankets, and in it was a revolver. He laid the weapon on the blanket, and his fingers rested on the butt. </P> <P> Jim Truscott watched his movements, but his gaze was more mechanical than one of active interest. What his thoughts were at the moment it would have been hard to say, except that they were neither easy nor pleasant, if one judged from the lowering expression of his weak face. The active hatred which he had recently displayed in Dave's presence seemed to be lacking now. It almost seemed as though the rough handling he had been treated to, the failure of his schemes for Dave's ruin, had dulled the edge of his vicious antagonism. It was as though he were indifferent to the object of the meeting, to its outcome. He did not even seem to appreciate the significance of the presence of that gun under Dave's fingers. </P> <P> His attitude was that of a man beaten in the fight where all the odds had seemed in his favor. His mind was gazing back upon the scene of his disaster as though trying to discover the joint in the armor of his attack which had rendered him vulnerable and brought about his defeat. </P> <P> Dave understood something of this. His understanding was more the result of his knowledge of a character he had studied long ago, before the vicious life the man had since lived had clouded the ingenuous impulses of a naturally weak but happy nature. He did not fathom the man's thoughts, he did not even guess at them. He only knew the character, and the rest was like reading from an open book. In his heart he was more sorry for him than he would have dared to admit, but his mind was thinking of all the suffering the mischief of this one man had caused, might yet cause. Betty had displayed a wonderful wisdom when she bade him let his heart govern his judgment in dealing with this man. </P> <P> "You'd best sit down&mdash;Jim," Dave said. Already his heart was defying his head. That use of a familiar first name betrayed him. "It may be a long sitting. You're going to stay right here with me until the mill starts up work. I don't know how long that'll be." </P> <P> Truscott made no answer. He showed he had heard and understood by glancing round for a chair. In this quest his eyes rested for a moment on the closed door. They passed on to the chair at the desk. Then they returned to the door again. Dave saw the glance and spoke sharply. </P> <P> "You'd best sit, boy. That door is closed&mdash;to you. And I'm here to keep it closed&mdash;to you." </P> <P> Still the man made no reply. He turned slowly toward the chair at the desk and sat down. His whole attitude expressed weariness. It was the dejected weariness of a brain overcome by hopelessness. </P> <P> Watching him, Dave's mind reverted to Betty in association with him. He wondered at the nature of this man's regard for her, a regard which was his excuse for the villainies he had planned and carried out against him, and the mills. His thoughts went back to the day of their boy and girl engagement, as he called it now. He remembered the eager, impulsive lover, weak, selfish, but full of passion and youthful protestations. He thought of his decision to go away, and the manner of it. He remembered it was Betty who finally decided for them both. And her decision was against his more selfish desires, but one that opened out for him the opportunity of showing himself to be the man she thought him. Yes, this man had been too young, too weak, too self-indulgent. There lay the trouble of his life. His love for Betty, if it could be called by so pure a name, had been a mere self-indulgence, a passionate desire of the moment that swept every other consideration out of its path. There was not that underlying strength needed for its support. Was he wholly to blame? Dave thought not. </P> <P> Then there was that going to the Yukon. He had protested at the boy's decision. He had known from the first that his character had not the strength to face the pitiless breath of that land of snowy desolation. How could one so weak pit himself against the cruel forces of nature such as are to be found in that land? It was impossible. The inevitable had resulted. He had fallen to the temptations of the easier paths of vice in Dawson, and, lost in that whirl, Betty was forgotten. His passion died down, satiated in the filthy dives of Dawson. Then had come his return to Malkern. Stinking with the contamination of his vices, he had returned caring for nothing but himself. He had once more encountered Betty. The pure fresh beauty of the girl had promptly set his vitiated soul on fire. But now there was no love, not even a love such as had been his before, but only a mad desire, a desire as uncontrolled as the wind-swept rollers of a raging sea. It was the culminating evil of a manhood debased by a long period of loose, vicious living. She must be his at any cost, and opposition only fired his desire the more, and drove him to any length to attain his end. The pity of it! A spirit, a bright buoyant spirit lost in the mad whirl of a nature it had not been given him the power to control. His heart was full of a sorrowful regret. His heart bled for the man, while his mind condemned his ruthless actions. </P> <P> He lay watching in a silence that made the room seem heavy and oppressive. As yet he had no words for the man who had come so nearly to ruining him. He had not brought him there to preach to him, to blame him, to twit him with the failure of his evil plans, the failure he had made of a life that had promised so much. He held him there that he might settle his reckoning with him, once and for all, in a manner which should shut him out of his life forever. He intended to perform an action the contemplation of which increased the sorrow he felt an hundredfold, but one which he was fully determined upon as being the only course, in justice to Betty, to Malkern, to himself, possible. </P> <P> The moments ticked heavily away. Truscott made no move. He gave not the slightest sign of desiring to speak. His eyes scarcely heeded his surroundings. It was almost as if he had no care for what this man who held him in his power intended to do. It almost seemed as though the weight of his failure had crushed the spirit within him, as though a dreary lassitude had settled itself upon him, and he had no longer a thought for the future. </P> <P> Once during that long silence he lifted his large bloodshot eyes, and his gaze encountered the other's steady regard. They dropped almost at once, but in that fleeting glance Dave read the smouldering fire of hate which still burned deep down in his heart. The sight of it had no effect. The man's face alone interested him. It looked years older, it bore a tracery of lines about the eyes and mouth, which, at his age, it had no right to possess. His hair, too, was already graying amongst the curls that had always been one of his chief physical attractions. It was thinning, too, a premature thinning at the temples, which also had nothing to do with his age. </P> <P> Later, again, the man's eyes turned upon the door with a calculating gaze. They came back to the bed where Dave was lying. The movement was unmistakable. Dave's fingers tightened on the butt of his revolver, and his great head was moved in a negative shake, and the ominous shining muzzle of his revolver said plainly, "Don't!" Truscott seemed to understand, for he made no movement, nor did he again glance at the door. </P> <P> It was a strange scene. It was almost appalling in its significant silence. What feelings were passing, what thoughts, no one could tell from the faces of the two men. That each was living through a small world of recollection, mostly bitter, perhaps regretful, there could be no doubt, yet neither gave any sign. They were both waiting. In the mind of one it was a waiting for what he could not even guess at, in the other it was for something for which he longed yet feared might not come. </P> <P> The hands of the clock moved on, but neither heeded them. Time meant nothing to them now. An hour passed. An hour and a half. Two hours of dreadful silence. That vigil seemed endless, and its silence appalling. </P> <P> Then suddenly a sound reached the waiting ears. It was a fierce hissing, like an escape of steam. It grew louder, and into the hiss came a hoarse tone, like a harsh voice trying to bellow through the rushing steam. It grew louder and louder. The voice rose to a long-drawn "hoot," which must have been heard far down the wide spread of the Red Sand Valley. It struck deep into Dave's heart, and loosed in it such a joy as rarely comes to the heart of man. It was the steam siren of the mill belching out its message to a sleeping village. The master of the mills had triumphed over every obstacle. The mill had once more started work. </P> <P> Dave waited until the last echo of that welcome voice had died out. Then, as his ears drank in the welcome song of his saws, plunging their jagged fangs into the newly-arrived logs, he was content. </P> <P> He turned to the man in the chair. </P> <P> "Did you hear that, Jim? D'you know what it means?" he asked, in a voice softened by the emotion of the moment. </P> <P> Truscott's eyes lifted. But he made no answer. The light in them was ugly. He knew. </P> <P> "It means that you are free to go," Dave went on. "It means that my contract will be successfully completed within the time limit. It means that you will leave this village at once and never return, or the penitentiary awaits you for the wrecking of my mills." </P> <P> Truscott rose from his seat. The hate in his heart was stirring. It was rising to his head. The fury of his eyes was appalling. Dave saw it. He shifted his gun and gripped it tightly. </P> <P> "Wait a bit, lad," he said coldly. "It means more than all that to you. A good deal more. Can you guess it? It means that I&mdash;and not you&mdash;am going to marry Betty Somers." </P> <P> "God!" </P> <P> The man was hit as Dave had meant him to be hit. He started, and his clenched hand went up as though about to strike. The devil in his eyes was appalling. </P> <P> "Now go! Quick!" </P> <P> The word leaped from the lumberman's lips, and his gun went up threateningly. For a moment it seemed as though Truscott was about to spring upon him, regardless of the weapon's shining muzzle. But he did not move. A gun in Dave's hand was no idle threat, and he knew it. Besides he had not the moral strength of the other. </P> <P> He moved to the door and opened it. Then for one fleeting second he looked back. It may have been to reassure himself that the gun was still there, it may have been a last expression of his hate. Another moment and he was gone. Dave replaced his gun beneath the blankets and sighed. </P> <BR> <P> Betty sprang into the room. </P> <P> "Hello, door open?" she demanded, glancing about her suspiciously. Then her sparkling eyes came back to the injured man. </P> <P> "Do you hear, Dave?" she cried, in an ecstasy of excitement. "Did you hear the siren! I pulled and held the valve cord! Did you hear it! Thank God!" </P> <P> Dave's happy smile was sufficient for the girl. Had he heard it? His heart was still ringing with its echoes. </P> <P> "Betty, come here," he commanded. "Help me up." </P> <P> "Why&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> "Help me up, dear," the man begged. "I must get up. I must get to the door. Don't you understand, child&mdash;I must see." </P> <P> "But you can't go out, Dave!" </P> <P> "I know. I know. Only to the door. But&mdash;I must see." </P> <P> The girl came over to his bedside. She lifted him with a great effort. He sat up. Then he swung his feet off the bed. </P> <P> "Now, little girl, help me." </P> <P> It felt good to him to enforce his will upon Betty in this way. And the girl obeyed him with all her strength, with all her heart stirred at his evident weakness. </P> <P> He stood leaning on her shakily. </P> <P> "Now, little Betty," he said, breathing heavily, "take me to the door." </P> <P> He placed his sound arm round her shoulders. He even leaned more heavily upon her than was necessary. It was good to lean on her. He liked to feel her soft round shoulders under his arm. Then, too, he could look down upon the masses of warm brown hair which crowned her head. To him his weakness was nothing in the joy of that moment, in the joy of his contact with her. </P> <P> They moved slowly toward the door; he made the pace slower than necessary. To him they were delicious moments. To Betty&mdash;she did not know what she felt as her arm encircled his great waist, and all her woman's strength and love was extended to him. </P> <P> At the door they paused. They stared out into the yards. The great mills loomed up in the ruddy flare light. It was a dark, shadowy scene in that inadequate light. The steady shriek of the saws filled the air. The grinding of machinery droned forth, broken by the pulsing throb of great shafts and moving beams. Men were hurrying to and fro, dim figures full of life and intent upon the labors so long suspended. They could see the trimmed logs sliding down the shoots, they could hear the grind of the rollers, they could hear the shoutings of "checkers"; and beyond they could see the glowing reflection of the waste fire. </P> <P> It was a sight that thrilled them both. It was a sight that filled their hearts with thanks to God. Each knew that it meant&mdash;Success. </P> <P> Dave turned from the sight, and his eyes looked down upon the slight figure at his side. Betty looked up into his face. Her eyes were misty with tears of joy. Suddenly she dropped her eyes and looked again at the scene before them. Her heart was beating wildly. Her arm supporting the man at her side was shaking, nor was it with weariness of her task. She felt that it could never tire of that. Dave's deep voice, so gentle, yet so full of the depth and strength of his nature, was speaking. </P> <P> "It's good, Betty. It's good. We've won out&mdash;you and I." </P> <P> Her lips moved to protest at the part she had played, but he silenced her. </P> <P> "Yes, you and I," he said softly. "It's all ours&mdash;yours and mine. You'll share it with me?" The girl's supporting arm moved convulsively. "No, no," he went on quickly. "Don't take your arm away. I need&mdash;I need its support. Betty&mdash;little Betty&mdash;I need more than that. I need your support always. Say, dear, you'll give it me. You won't leave me alone now? Betty&mdash;Betty, I love you&mdash;so&mdash;so almighty badly." </P> <P> The girl moved her head as though to avoid his kisses upon her hair. Somehow her face was lifted in doing so, and they fell at once upon her lips instead. </P> <BR><BR><BR> <HR> <BR><BR><BR> <P CLASS="t1"> Popular Copyright Books </P> <P CLASS="t2"> AT MODERATE PRICES </P> <P CLASS="t3"> Ask your dealer for a complete list of<BR> A. L. Burt Company's Popular Copyright Fiction. </P> <BR> <P CLASS="noindent"> <b>Abner Daniel.</b> By Will N. Harben.<BR> <b>Adventures of A Modest Man.</b> By Robert W. Chambers.<BR> <b>Adventures of Gerard.</b> By A. Conan Doyle.<BR> <b>Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.</b> By A. Conan Doyle.<BR> <b>Ailsa Page.</b> By Robert W. Chambers.<BR> <b>Alternative, The.</b> By George Barr McCutcheon.<BR> <b>Ancient Law, The.</b> By Ellen Glasgow.<BR> <b>Angel of Forgiveness, The.</b> By Rosa N. 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Currie and Augustin McHugh.<BR> <b>One Braver Thing.</b> By Richard Dehan.<BR> <b>Order No. 11.</b> By Caroline Abbot Stanley.<BR> <b>Orphan, The.</b> By Clarence E. Mulford.<BR> <b>Out of the Primitive.</b> By Robert Ames Bennett.<BR> <b>Pam.</b> By Bettina von Hutten.<BR> <b>Pam Decides.</b> By Bettina von Hutten.<BR> <b>Pardners.</b> By Rex Beach.<BR> <b>Partners of the Tide.</b> By Joseph C. Lincoln.<BR> <b>Passage Perilous, The.</b> By Rosa N. Carey.<BR> <b>Passers By.</b> By Anthony Partridge.<BR> <b>Paternoster Ruby, The.</b> By Charles Edmonds Walk.<BR> <b>Patience of John Moreland, The.</b> By Mary Dillon.<BR> <b>Paul Anthony, Christian.</b> By Hiram W. Hays.<BR> <b>Phillip Steele.</b> By James Oliver Curwood.<BR> <b>Phra the Phoenician.</b> By Edwin Lester Arnold.<BR> <b>Plunderer, The.</b> By Roy Norton.<BR> <b>Pole Baker.</b> By Will N. Harben.<BR> <b>Politician, The.</b> By Edith Huntington Mason.<BR> <b>Polly of the Circus.</b> By Margaret Mayo.<BR> <b>Pool of Flame, The.</b> By Louis Joseph Vance.<BR> <b>Poppy.</b> By Cynthia Stockley.<BR> <b>Power and the Glory, The.</b> By Grace McGowan Cooke.<BR> <b>Price of the Prairie, The.</b> By Margaret Hill McCarter.<BR> <b>Prince of Sinners, A.</b> By E. Phillips Oppenheim.<BR> <b>Prince or Chauffeur.</b> By Lawrence Perry.<BR> <b>Princess Dehra, The.</b> By John Reed Scott.<BR> <b>Princess Passes, The.</b> By C. N. and A. M. Williamson.<BR> <b>Princess Virginia, The.</b> By C. N. and A. M. Williamson.<BR> <b>Prisoners of Chance.</b> By Randall Parrish.<BR> <b>Prodigal Son, The.</b> By Hall Caine.<BR> <b>Purple Parasol, The.</b> By George Barr McCutcheon.<BR> <b>Reconstructed Marriage, A.</b> By Amelia Barr.<BR> <b>Redemption of Kenneth Galt, The.</b> By Will N. Harben.<BR> <b>Red House on Rowan Street.</b> By Roman Doubleday.<BR> <b>Red Mouse, The.</b> By William Hamilton Osborne.<BR> <b>Red Pepper Burns.</b> By Grace S. Richmond.<BR> <b>Refugees, The.</b> By A. Conan Doyle.<BR> <b>Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary, The.</b> By Anne Warner.<BR> <b>Road to Providence, The.</b> By Maria Thompson Daviess.<BR> <b>Romance of a Plain Man, The.</b> By Ellen Glasgow.<BR> <b>Rose in the Ring, The.</b> By George Barr McCutcheon.<BR> <b>Rose of Old Harpeth, The.</b> By Maria Thompson Daviess.<BR> <b>Rose of the World.</b> By Agnes and Egerton Castle.<BR> <b>Round the Corner in Gay Street.</b> By Grace S. Richmond.<BR> <b>Routledge Rides Alone.</b> By Will Livingston Comfort.<BR> <b>Running Fight, The.</b> By Wm. Hamilton Osborne.<BR> <b>Seats of the Mighty, The.</b> By Gilbert Parker.<BR> <b>Septimus.</b> By William J. Locke.<BR> <b>Set In Silver.</b> By C. N. and A. M. Williamson.<BR> <b>Self-Raised.</b> (Illustrated.) By Mrs. Southworth.<BR> <b>Shepherd of the Hills, The.</b> By Harold Bell Wright.<BR> <b>Sheriff of Dyke Hole, The.</b> By Ridgwell Cullum.<BR> <b>Sidney Carteret, Rancher.</b> By Harold Bindloss.<BR> <b>Simon the Jester.</b> By William J. Locke.<BR> <b>Silver Blade, The.</b> By Charles E. Walk.<BR> <b>Silver Horde, The.</b> By Rex Beach.<BR> <b>Sir Nigel.</b> By A. Conan Doyle.<BR> <b>Sir Richard Calmady.</b> By Lucas Malet.<BR> <b>Skyman, The.</b> By Henry Ketchell Webster.<BR> <b>Slim Princess, The.</b> By George Ade.<BR> <b>Speckled Bird, A.</b> By Augusta Evans Wilson.<BR> <b>Spirit In Prison, A.</b> By Robert Hichens.<BR> <b>Spirit of the Border, The.</b> By Zane Grey.<BR> <b>Spirit Trail, The.</b> By Kate and Virgil D. Boyles.<BR> <b>Spoilers, The.</b> By Rex Beach.<BR> <b>Stanton Wins.</b> By Eleanor M. Ingram.<BR> <b>St. Elmo.</b> (Illustrated Edition.) By Augusta J. Evans.<BR> <b>Stolen Singer, The.</b> By Martha Bellinger.<BR> <b>Stooping Lady, The.</b> By Maurice Hewlett.<BR> <b>Story of the Outlaw, The.</b> By Emerson Hough.<BR> <b>Strawberry Acres.</b> By Grace S. Richmond.<BR> <b>Strawberry Handkerchief, The.</b> By Amelia E. Barr.<BR> <b>Sunnyside of the Hill, The.</b> By Rosa N. Carey.<BR> <b>Sunset Trail, The.</b> By Alfred Henry Lewis.<BR> <b>Susan Clegg and Her Friend Mrs. Lathrop.</b> By Anne Warner.<BR> <b>Sword of the Old Frontier, A.</b> By Randall Parrish.<BR> <b>Tales of Sherlock Holmes.</b> By A. Conan Doyle.<BR> <b>Tennessee Shad, The.</b> By Owen Johnson.<BR> <b>Tess of the D'Urbervilles.</b> By Thomas Hardy.<BR> <b>Texican, The.</b> By Dane Coolidge.<BR> <b>That Printer of Udell's.</b> By Harold Bell Wright.<BR> <b>Three Brothers, The.</b> By Eden Phillpotts.<BR> <b>Throwback, The.</b> By Alfred Henry Lewis.<BR> <b>Thurston of Orchard Valley.</b> By Harold Bindloss.<BR> <b>Title Market, The.</b> By Emily Post.<BR> <b>Torn Sails. A Tale of a Welsh Village.</b> By Allen Raine.<BR> <b>Trail of the Axe, The.</b> By Ridgwell Cullum.<BR> <b>Treasure of Heaven, The.</b> By Marie Corelli.<BR> <b>Two-Gun Man, The.</b> By Charles Alden Seltzer.<BR> <b>Two Vanrevels, The.</b> By Booth Tarkington.<BR> <b>Uncle William.</b> By Jennette Lee.<BR> <b>Up from Slavery.</b> By Booker T. Washington.<BR> <b>Vanity Box, The.</b> By C. N. Williamson.<BR> <b>Vashti.</b> By Augusta Evans Wilson.<BR> <b>Varmint, The.</b> By Owen Johnson.<BR> <b>Vigilante Girl, A.</b> By Jerome Hart.<BR> <b>Village of Vagabonds, A.</b> By F. Berkeley Smith.<BR> <b>Visioning, The.</b> By Susan Glaspell.<BR> <b>Voice of the People, The.</b> By Ellen Glasgow.<BR> <b>Wanted&mdash;A Chaperon.</b> By Paul Leicester Ford.<BR> <b>Wanted: A Matchmaker.</b> By Paul Leicester Ford.<BR> <b>Watchers of the Plains, The.</b> By Ridgwell Cullum.<BR> <b>Wayfarers, The.</b> By Mary Stewart Cutting.<BR> <b>Way of a Man, The.</b> By Emerson Hough.<BR> <b>Weavers, The.</b> By Gilbert Parker.<BR> <b>When Wilderness Was King.</b> By Randall Parrish.<BR> <b>Where the Trail Divides.</b> By Will Lillibridge.<BR> <b>White Sister, The.</b> By Marion Crawford.<BR> <b>Window at the White Cat, The.</b> By Mary Roberts Rinehart.<BR> <b>Winning of Barbara Worth, The.</b> By Harold Bell Wright.<BR> <b>With Juliet In England.</b> By Grace S. Richmond.<BR> <b>Woman Haters, The.</b> By Joseph C. Lincoln.<BR> <b>Woman In Question, The.</b> By John Reed Scott.<BR> <b>Woman In the Alcove, The.</b> By Anna Katharine Green.<BR> <b>Yellow Circle, The.</b> By Charles E. Walk.<BR> <b>Yellow Letter, The.</b> By William Johnston.<BR> <b>Younger Set, The.</b> By Robert W. Chambers.<BR> </P> <BR><BR><BR><BR> <pre> End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Trail of the Axe, by Ridgwell Cullum
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