|Bolt Upright: Seattle Tales
Author: Galen Peoples PM
Stories based on the series Here Come the Brides: Has Aaron won the Bolts' mountain, after all?...Lottie's unexpected windfall proves unwelcome...Jason takes Jeremy on a river run...Seattle has to build a university almost overnight...more.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Humor - Chapters: 5 - Words: 285,144 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 5 - Published: 01-07-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2740860
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
12. Whom God Hath Joined
In memory of BridesCon, Van Nuys
"You all know me," the fat man said, hoping by the declaration to insure that those who did not would believe they should. The crowd he was addressing, in the big banquet hall of Portland's biggest hotel, took in most of the members of the Northwest Lumbermen's Association and those who had come seeking their favor on this occasion of their annual congregation. Big, broad-chested (and broad-bellied, some of them), they matched pet extravagances–sidewhiskers, watch chains–shouted eternal orders to the bellmen for more whiskey and cigars, boasted, backslapped, negotiated with would-be suppliers and customers, sat enthroned in their velvet-cushioned chairs, and shouted, smoked, drank, and ate as if there had been no tomorrow, or as if they had owned tomorrow.
"I used to be one of you," continued the speaker on the dais at the front. "Now I'm your biggest customer."
"Biggest is right!" roared a voice at the back, hoarse from the quantity of lava that had flowed into its owner's throat.
The fat man gave a smile which appeared to pain him. "You may not know this, though," he said, "and you should repeat it over to yourself every day. You're the civilizers. It's your mission to tame nature and get what you can out of her. And if she won't do as you tell her, cut her down and clear her out of your way!"
The ovation that followed caused the glass in the chandeliers to tinkle: the previous speakers had not commanded the audience like this. Though the fat man's face was set in a permanent scowl and his voice often degenerated into a bark, he got people to listen–by sheer force (or its insinuation) if nothing else–and his flattery kept them listening. "One more thing–" he began.
The crowd never heard what it was, for just then the point and counterpoint of haggling that had been proceeding outside the doors burst through in the form of a wrestling match, over (of all objects) an axe. The smaller of the combatants was trying his hardest to pull it away from the other, whose broad-shouldered form filled out his weathered buckskin suit. In their struggle they thrust toward a cluster of the hall's licensed occupants, who all moved back at once, as if for a quadrille. The fat man frowned at the interruption. "Who's Davy Crockett over there?" he asked the Association's chairman, who might be expected to know.
"The lead topper himself–Jason Bolt."
The fat man's face opened in understanding, while his eyes narrowed. "He's the man I came here to do business with. Didn't know I'd be taking my life in my hands."
"He is a little rough, even for this gang."
The fat man smiled as he stepped off the platform. "You wait. I'll trim the edges off him."
The combatants toppled together to the floor. Immediately afterward they leapt to their feet and, unexpectedly, embraced. "So?" the smaller man demanded. "Does she grip firm or don't she?"
"Grips like an old maid's fingernails, Saul. But can she cut?"
"Can she cut?" Saul grabbed the axe, too fast for Jason to resist, swung it behind him–nearly divesting a man of his pearl collar button–and brought it down onto the nearest chair, cleaving it in two. With the same evident indifference to its status as hotel property, he continued till he had chopped it to pieces. "That's how she cuts!"
"Sold!" said Jason. He took out his purse and drew out four silver dollars, which he pressed into the other's palm. After biting down on one of them to satisfy himself of its authenticity, Saul pocketed it with the rest and hurried back to the stall he had deserted outside. His weekend was proving profitable already.
Axe resting on his shoulder (and his the only axe in sight, as it happened), Jason was making to leave when he heard himself addressed by name. He turned to face the fat man, who extended a business card to him. "Our firm is seeking a reliable outfit to supply its logging needs. If you're Jason Bolt–"
"I am. And you're–?" He consulted the card. "Enoch Navigation!"
"Heard of us, have you?" The fat man appeared pleased.
"Heard you cussed backwards and forwards by your competitors–former competitors, I guess they'd be now." In the past five years the company had arisen out of nowhere to clear the field of its major rivals in San Francisco, if not in its home port, New York. "But I didn't catch your name."
"Ashley. Horace K." He saw in Jason's eyes (which always revealed what was stirring behind them) traces of a memory not wholly agreeable. "That's right. I butted heads with your brother on that Harmon contract." He could imagine what Jeremy had said about him then, and determined to overcome it. "What you did for Harmon, we want you to do for us–but on a grander scale, of course. Your wood will make up the bones and sinews of every one of our vessels. You'll be the most famous lumber company in the nation." He saw Jason envisaging the prospect. "–if you're bold enough to accept the challenge."
The last swept away any reluctance Jason might have felt. "Only one letter differentiates 'bold' from 'Bolt.' Mr. Ashley, you have yourself a deal." And the two shook. Enoch had of course a more official procedure for sealing agreements, and Ashley promised to send the contract to Jason in Seattle as soon as it was drawn up. Jason felt luckier than luck alone could account for, and could scarcely wait to impart the good news to his two brothers at home. He was eager to be getting back anyhow. But he was glad to have found that axe.
Meanwhile those brothers were performing the duties he had been shirking. On the east side of their mountain the forested slopes resounded with rattles, creaks, and short, sharp cracks of a whip. A work gang was transporting a skid camp to a new show, too far from the base camp to be trudged to daily. Along a ridge a pair of oxen, each weighing a ton, hauled the makeshift buildings on their timbered skids; these buildings included a bunkhouse, a cook shack, and a shanty for the foreman–who in this instance was Jeremy Bolt. As the teamster urged the beasts on with shouts and snaps of the whip, the other men tramped behind carrying tools and packs, like an army heading out to war–which in a sense they were.
On the south side of the same ridge a peddler was driving in the opposite direction, hidden amid the trees. He had been trespassing on the mountain slope for many miles before its inhabitants had shown themselves, and now that they had he could only press on, trying to remain unseen, in which effort he had so far succeeded, since the loggers were busy watching the oxen to make sure they did not sidestep. The peddler also was trying to keep to a straight course, as far as the woods would permit, but the task was made much more difficult by the rockiness of the slope and the continual shifting of the objects in the back of his wagon. These were varied, and not a few of them curious–the most curious by far being a black iron device so heavy as to strain the aging axle that supported it. The peddler was sorry he had ever traded for it, had been sorry almost immediately after the trade, but never since had he been able to find a place to dump it.
Today, however, fate, which the peddler often found unkind, bestowed its aid, though in backhanded fashion. His mule misstepped, forcing the wagon sideways till its back was pointing downhill, and the device began to slide out. The peddler watched in fear–not for its safety but for the notice it would awake, as it tumbled over the wagon's low wall and landed in the dirt with the crash he had foreseen.
The men above him stopped and looked about, but saw nothing unusual; a rock outcropping masked the wagon from their view. One of them suggested the noise had been a rockfall, and the others were ready to agree: they had work to get on with. The peddler waited to be sure of his safety and then, after thanking his Maker for that and for deliverance from his burden, flagged the mule on, leaving the monster where it lay in the shadows of the trees. It excited the curiosity of some squirrels, wood mice, and a fawn or two, who kept a few yards distant of it watching to see what it might do. But it did nothing.
Such hesitancy was not the order of the day in Seattle, which was enjoying the greatest boom in its brief history. The streets buzzed like a hive; everyone ran everywhere. The old-timers were sorry to say goodbye to the mud, patches of which could still be seen here and there, but which the constant traffic and a string of publicly financed improvements had made almost a thing of the past. The town had now its own tailor, milliner, bootmaker, university, hospital, lyceum, and agricultural association. New businesses had appeared–tannery, foundry, brewery, bakery, brickyard, hotel–and were thriving; all except a would-have-been flour mill whose owner had exhausted his funds before he could equip it and thus left its intended home standing empty for some future enterprise as yet unimagined.
The noises of Stempel's sawmill–puffing, droning, the intermittent cry of the steam whistle–were heard continually at its end of town, and ships were always docking or casting off from the mill pier. They did not include the one formerly seen most often thereabouts, the brig Seamus O'Flynn, whose captain had bade farewell to Seattle three months earlier with the excuse that he wanted to see Ireland again while time and the good Lord allowed.
Yet for all this visible progress, the town had reverted in one particular to an earlier stage of its development. Now that most of the "brides" from New Bedford were brides in fact, they no longer exerted a united control over the male residents, and many of these, including the Bolt brothers, had let out their tethers in consequence, as if set on enjoying the last of the frontier days while–well, while time and the good Lord allowed.
Jason's mind, however, upon his return from Portland, was entirely (or almost entirely) on business. He had not been slow to communicate the news of the contract to everyone he considered to have an interest in it–notably Aaron Stempel, who would be milling the cut timber for thirty-five percent of the take, with further charges to be negotiated. Hence, on the day set for the arrival of Enoch Navigation's representative, Aaron was spending more than half his time on the pier, which commanded a view of the Point, and no more than he could spare at the two-story clapboard house he was having built for himself by a brigade of his mill hands; this morning they were starting to nail up the boards. At one time the town had been all cabins, but everyone had switched over to clapboard–except the Bolts (whose house, strictly speaking, lay outside the borders), Jason adhering to his father's view that "logs make the best walls."
After Aaron had checked the Point and his pocket watch for the hundredth time, he stopped at the mill to assess how work was progressing there, or to create the illusion of doing so while his mind resided elsewhere. On the pierside wall the orifice by which the logs entered from the holding bay also admitted daylight, which merged with the light from the windows just under the ceiling to gild the carpet of shavings below. Between ceiling and floor ran a catwalk from which he could easily detect any sloughing off, so that the men lived always alert to his footsteps overhead and took care to keep busy at their long tables or in the filing room. This morning as he ascended the ladder his foreman met him at the top. "Not arrived yet?"
"No, and neither's Bolt." Harv knew which one he meant. "It's his job to meet the man. I'm only–"
"I have a legitimate interest." Aaron sounded defensive. "After all–"
"His deal is our deal?"
"Have I said so before?"
"Couple few times. If it's gnawin' at you so much, I'll hike up to his place and remind him."
"No, I'd rather do it myself." And with that he descended again. Harv treated himself to a smile of relief, however transitory. Yes, sir, he thought, I figured you would.
At the other end of the street from the mill sat the boarding house, till recently a dormitory for the brides, so few of whom now remained that the town council had decided to put the building to a more profitable use. They had added interior walls–especially upstairs where the long bedroom had lain–and converted the whole into rooms suitable for lodging, the proceeds from which greatly augmented the town treasury.
All but two of the remaining brides, Jason had coerced gently into sharing the largest room, which made a tight fit for them, but none planned to stay long. Candy Pruitt might perhaps–she herself did not know–but as the operator of the house she merited a room of her own, to which she had admitted one roommate, Biddie Cloom: she could not have done without Biddie. Of the other women, some were partly undecided about their young men or their young men were partly undecided about them; the rest would step out with the less ungainly male guests during their stints there. On their free evenings all of them knit and sewed. Candy sat with them, too, but was forever having to lay aside her spun truck to settle some dispute. This she did not mind, for since her young brother had followed his other sister back East to school she had no one to take care of; no one at all.
Thus it came to pass that Biddie was forever telling the short, stocky man who dogged her heels in his every free moment, "No, Corky, no! And stop asking me!" She was telling him so this very morning as she repositioned the budding vines on the new trellis that sheltered the left half of the porch.
"Why not?" he asked from the steps.
"I've told you. It isn't the right time."
"When will be?"
"Goodness knows! I don't."
"Don't you want to marry me?"
"Corky! Of course I do!"
"Then what's the jam-up?"
"That," she said, nodding toward the door from which Candy had just emerged. In one hand she was holding a cloth, with which she commenced to give the new sign at her right its daily wiping. She then stepped back to see whether the one was sufficient. She decided it had. "Bridal Veil Boarding House," the sign read. "Your Home Away from Home. Est. 1873." Candy shook her head. "I'm still not used to it, I vow I'm not."
"Me, neither," said Biddie from the other side of the porch.
"It makes perfect sense, of course. With so few of us left."
"Best sense in the world," Biddie agreed, a little too readily.
"But a boarding house–!"
"It needn't have been you that ran it. They were going to bring a person in."
"Oh, I have to keep busy at something." She smiled, none too convincingly. "You know."
"Poor little thing!" said Biddie, after her friend and landlady had gone inside. "She and Jeremy never did make it up after that spat of theirs." The substance of it, she had never fully understood; neither perhaps had they. "The two of them pass on the street without exchanging a word." She considered. "Which I'd have trouble doing myself, because even if–" She realized she had strayed from her point. "And that's why I can't marry you. Candy needs me." Inspired by the thought, she hurried in; the vines could wait to another day.
"Well, I need you, too," her beau muttered, "durn it!" He left the yard with downcast eyes. When he raised them he saw someone he had not expected to, and this cheered him. "Swede? Hey, Swede!" He ran across to greet his old workmate.
"Corky! Been one heck of a goldurn long time, by Joe!" But Big Swede did not break his stride to stop and talk; Corky had to take two steps to his every one to keep up.
"What you doing back? Last I heard, you were logging up in Columbia."
"Ya, I come for Essie. Heard that preacher man of hers died."
"Yeah, the Reverend. Shame. Got hisself a head cold, and just couldn't–"
"My woman, she died, too. Now me and Essie can get together again."
"What's she say about it?" asked Corky, who knew women a bit better than Swede did.
"Ain't for her to say. It's in the signs."
"Her man and my woman up and dyin' the same time. It's a sign her and me's s'posed to be together. She can't argue with that, by golly!" Corky was pretty sure she could but he thought it best not to say so. Wishing Swede luck in his attempt, he parted from him at the totem pole and headed up the hill to camp.
Two hours earlier, the Bolt brothers had just been drawing to the close of their morning toilet, which had included the assumption of three boiled shirts in honor of their imminent visitor. "We're awful late," said Joshua. "Aaron'll be having a fit by now."
"I should think so," Jason said, relishing the idea. He was studying the mirror, straightening his tie, parting his hair, and generally congratulating himself on his good looks while Joshua tried to see around him. Jeremy was trying to see around both. To his request for more room Jason produced (as was his wont) a homily coined for the occasion. "Eldest brother takes pride of place," he said.
"I gotta spruce up, too, don't I?"
"With you, who'd know the difference?" said Joshua. Jason, having gilded the lily to a reasonable degree of self-satisfaction, ceded his place to the second brother, and Joshua returned the favor with a compliment. "Contract to supply the whole Enoch fleet. Got to hand it to you, brother."
"Now. I'm never shy of taking credit where it's due–"
"That's for sure," Jeremy murmured.
"–but this one," Jason went on, ignoring him, "fell out of the pale clear-shining sky." Quoting again, I bet, thought Jeremy. Jason cocked an eye at him. "–courtesy of your friend Ashley," he added.
"He's no friend of mine." Jeremy dived between Joshua's legs and popped up in front of him, but Joshua shoved him back to the rear.
"Friend or foe," Jason said, "he wanted the Bolts and no one else."
Joshua moved aside, giving Jeremy at last his chance before the mirror. "And you didn't wonder why?"
"We're the best. Why else?"
"Don't look forward to meeting him a second time. Something about that man..."
"Well, you won't meet him today. He's sending another man with the contract."
"Uh, again, why?"
"It's how they do things at these big companies. One fella ties up the left bootlace, another the right one–"
"And one ties up the customers?"
Joshua ruffled Jeremy's hair, which was immediately patted down again. "Brother, you're too suspicious. This could be the best thing ever to happen to this town."
"Apart from us, you mean," said Jason. "I ask you, was ever such a handsome family?" He and Joshua stepped to either side of Jeremy, and the three regarded themselves smugly. They considered only a second before answering in one voice: "Naw!" and, laughing together, left the cabin.
They had not walked two yards when they were halted by the crack of a gun and the whiz of a bullet past them into the wood of the cabin door. Jason, who was bringing up the rear, returned inside; the other two sprinted around the corner. From the hill opposite–truly little more than a pile of rocks–a voice rose. "I'll kill you, Jason Bolt! Kill you deader'n a skinned otter!" A second bullet splintered the door.
"The shots are coming from up there," said Joshua.
"Then we'll go up there," said Jeremy.
As they scurried into the bushes at the rear of the cabin, Jason crept the door open a few inches and stuck his head out, like Punch in a traveling puppet show. He called across to the hill. "Whoever you are, can't we talk about this?" There ensued another shot, and he prudently withdrew.
"Had enough of your talk, you. I'll kill you deader'n a hollow stump!"
Jason realized he knew the voice. "Spoonbread? Spoonbread Waterworth?"
The answer came reluctantly. "...Maybe."
"Why, Spoonbread, you and I were always friendly, weren't we?"
"Was. That's just right."
"Then what's this about?"
"About my wife, that's what. About Zanie Mae." Oh, Jason, thought Joshua, Jason...
But his brother was mystified. "I never laid hands on your wife!" He searched his memory. "Don't believe I ever laid eyes on your wife."
"You did! You're the one got me married to her. And I'll kill you for that. Kill you deader'n a rotted tooth!" He embedded a third cartridge in the door. "Weren't sure I wanted to git married at all. You talked me into it. Marriage is a grand institution, you said. And I ain't had a moment's contentment from that day to this!" From opposite sides Jeremy and Joshua had circled the hill and were starting to close in when by ill luck Jeremy's foot slid loudly on a gravel patch. The sniper fired in that direction. "Stand clear! Or I'll send you to perdition 'long with your brother!"
"Spoonbread, be sensible!" begged Jason. "You kill us, you'll hang for it."
"Druther hang then be married!"
"Listen to me, now." Jason resorted to his most persuasive tone (not counting the two or three he reserved for women). "Whatever problems you two are having, I'll fix 'em for you."
"Ain't any man can do that."
Jason smiled disdainfully, though Spoonbread could not see it. "I'm not any man."
"Makes no matter. You still can't do it."
"Can! And if I can't–"
"You'll pay for the divorce?"
"I'll pay for the divorce."
There was a silence of several seconds. "And you'll come today?"
Confident now of his powers, Jason opened the door. "No, today I–" Another rifle report prompted him to shut it again.
"Didn't I know it? More of your fast talk!"
"Spoonbread, I have a contract–"
"Balsam fir to your contract! First you git me out of mine!"
His brothers waited expectantly. "All right," they heard at last.
"Jason!" cried Jeremy.
"You have my word as a lumberman."
"Jason!" cried Joshua.
"But no more of this shootin'," Jason added. "Makes a man's mind uneasy."
A long, all-elbows kind of man rose up from behind the rocks, looking more sheepish than sorry, with the rifle lowered at his side. Jeremy scrambled up to him and grabbed it away, Joshua arrived a few seconds later, and the pair of them escorted him downhill. "You see how it is," Jason said.
"What about the man from San Francisco?" Joshua asked.
"You keep him entertained. I'll be back before sundown."
"You sure?" said Jeremy. "Last time–"
Jason put an arm around him. "Brother, who fetched the brides to Seattle?"
Jeremy sighed. "Jason..."
"Answer me. Who?"
"And who fetched Jenny Lind?"
"You did." While he said the words, Joshua mouthed them silently.
"And who fetched Ulysses S. Grant?"
This took his brothers by surprise. "Grant was never in Seattle," said Joshua.
"That's because I never fetched him." His brothers looked at each other; Jason grinned. "Home before you know it." They watched disconsolately as he was led off by his once would-be assassin.
"Day's starting well," Jeremy said, and Joshua returned him the look he expected. After dusting each other down as best they could in a minute or two, they set out again, both aware that the visitor must surely have arrived by now.
But they did not get much farther. Where the path leveled off, their steps were arrested by an explosion at their right. They knew immediately at once where it had originated, and if they had not they could have guessed from the crowd of men cutting at a run across the wood. A sign at its outer edge labeled the property as Chadwick's Lumber. "Not again," said Jeremy. He started across the skid road that accompanied the footpath.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Jeremy hopped the low fence on the other side of the road. "Make sure he hasn't hurt himself."
"He isn't your responsibility!"
"No, he's my–"
"Latest baby duck?"
"I was going to say 'friend.'"
Joshua silently accepted the reproof as just. "But what about–?"
"You go on. I'll join you in a little while." He disappeared among the trees.
"Day's starting well," said Joshua, in the same tone Jeremy had used before; this was the only goodbye he spared.
Chadwick's was the newest of several small logging concerns to have occupied a long strip of land–called in fact "the strip"–which bordered Bridal Veil Mountain on the other side of a meandering creek that broadened northward into a river. These companies posed no great threat to the Bolts, but they had taken over what had been popularly understood to be Bolt land. When an examination of the deed showed that the boundary was ambiguously described but that the likelier construction favored the Bolts, they had debated whether to file for what was theirs by right. In the end they did not: Jason feared that evicting the squatters would look greedy, since none of them had filed on the property, either. They permitted the Bolts to retain the use of their flumes and skid roads, and the Bolts granted them the same use in return; indeed, these were commonly accepted as internal boundaries, so that Nigel Chadwick's spread was said to lie north of the south road and south of the south flume, Yarb Hawser's north of the same flume, and so forth.
But Chadwick had proved a source of other problems ever since his arrival. The end of the strip had been his for the taking because it had the least lumber, and also the hardest to extract; therefore he was always seeking shortcuts to getting at it, including two experiments with guncotton of which the second had been nearly fatal. Today a crater that had not existed on Jeremy's previous visit bisected the wood. It was littered with parts of trees, as was the ground about it to a circumference of a hundred feet. At the edge of the pit stood Chadwick's men, and others from next door standing around their boss. "Dang if Marmalade ain't done it again!" Hawser said. His men laughed, and so did some of Chadwick's, though less openly.
"Where is he?" asked Jeremy as he ran up.
"Where do you think?" said Hawser. "In the hole he dug for himself."
There was indeed a body in the pit, half-shrouded with dirt. "Nigel!" Jeremy called. "You all right?"
"Yoohoo, Marmalade! Come on out so's we can change your diaper for you!"
Jeremy never had liked him. "Hawser, why don't you crawl back to your side of the line?"
"Why don't you tend to your own business, Jeremayonnaise?" This was a nickname he had coined during their school days; Hawser was the only one who still used it. "I got a right to be here."
"What right's that?"
"Closest neighbor, first in the line of fire."
The body in the pit had not moved. Jeremy knelt by it in some concern. "Nigel?"
The body arched its back and tilted its head upwards. Earth fell from it as from a corpse rising. "I say!" it exclaimed. "Is that young Bolt?"
"Young Bolt, that's me." Jeremy extended a hand, two of the workers followed his example, and together they pulled Nigel out. Unable to find a footing, he helped but little, and after he regained firm ground his efforts to dust himself off succeeded only in smearing the dirt further. "I say!" he repeated. "Bit of a foofaraw, what?"
"Didn't I warn you about this stuff?"
"Oh, you were right. No more guncotton for me. I thought this time I'd give dynamite a shy. Save the folderol of chopping, don't you know?"
"Folderol!" said Hawser. "Well, la-de-da!"
"Nigel, there's a reason for the...folderol."
"You want the lumber in one piece till it's cut. Not..." He nodded at the leavings all around them.
"I see! Yes, quite. Well, you never know till you try, do you? Ha, ha." This was not a laugh but an articulation of the two syllables. "But I appear rather to have mussed myself. Where's my man? Dreire!" A short, heavy figure appeared as if out of nowhere. "Draw me a bath, will you? There's a good fellow." Dreire nodded and departed silently for the house. He had a way of making a sinister impression on people who did not know him–which was to say, everyone.
Jeremy offered to help clear the debris. "There's others could help, too, if they were the neighborly type." He glanced at Hawser as he said it.
Hawser spat. "Logging ain't for tenderfoots. Any man that don't know the trade should steer clear." He pointed at Nigel. "If my boys report any messes of yours on my property you'll get 'em back double. You can bank on that. Come on, boys."
Nigel watched them go. "Unamiable chap."
"Don't mind him. Let's move this stuff. Won't take long with so many hands."
"Not now. I don't want to tax my fellows too much."
Jeremy thought they did not look overtaxed; the reverse if anything. "Isn't that what you pay for them for?"
"I daresay. But a fellow doesn't like to be thought too much the martinet." His men tried to conceal their smiles. "Care for a spot of marmalade on toast?"
"Sorry, no time now."
"One should make time for marmalade. Without my daily measure I'd be completely useless." Jeremy opened his mouth and closed it again. "Then I'll to my bath. And pop round to Perkins to collect my remittance." For Chadwick was a remittance man, one of that odd cadre peppered through the western states, transplanted from the mother country to the American frontier, where they subsisted on allowances from home; though this one was perhaps unique in having taken up logging.
Jeremy noticed that Hawser's men had paused by the border flume and were throwing an occasional smirk back in Nigel's direction, as if plotting some mischief. When they found themselves being watched they quickly made away. But the possibility of their continuing to hang about a little farther off, out of sight, induced Jeremy to wait and see Nigel into town.
Thus Joshua became after all the one Bolt not to have been sidetracked from the errand they had all set out on at first, and the one Aaron met on the path outside town. "What kept you?" he demanded.
"Ran into a crazy man."
"How could you tell he was crazy?"
"He tried to shoot Jason."
"What's so crazy about that?" Joshua had no ready answer. "And it's no excuse. Doesn't Jason know what the contract means to this town?"
"To you, in other words?"
"Of course," Aaron said in all unselfconsciousness. "Go, meet the shipping man before he changes his mind. I'll fetch Jason myself." He pushed Joshua on toward Seattle and sped off himself in the other direction. Joshua began to call after him, but Aaron's strides spanned so much ground he was nearly out of earshot already. Fine, fetch him, thought Joshua, if you can find him. He was feeling out of sorts this morning. It was entirely unfair, as well as unexpected, that this job should be laid on him. On the other hand, it was probably for the best, since he was the only member of the family with any sense, especially business sense. This reflection balmed his chapped spirit for the remainder of his walk.
An hour since, the looked-for ship had docked, and a stout, ruddy-cheeked stranger stood waiting on the wharf. He took in a throatful of cool air and exhaled it almost in a yawn as about him sailors busily performed the rituals of their craft. One of them called down to him and pointed out the young man approaching from the town. The stranger strode briskly forward to meet him. "Mr. Bolt?" He shook Joshua's hand with vigor. "Xavier Whitsett." He took another gulp of air. "I do dearly love your northern clime. Invigorating. Man alive!" He took the portfolio from under his arm and consigned it to Joshua's keeping. "This is the contract. Of course you'll want to review it. But first I must visit the facilities."
His enthusiasm dazed Joshua somewhat. "Facil–? Didn't the ship–?"
"The camp, man, the camp!" Whitsett headed up the street, compelling Joshua to hurry after and then alongside him. "Tall trees, tall men–and tall tales, eh? Imagine me striding shoulder to shoulder with the Jason Bolt. Man alive!"
Joshua was beginning to weary of that phrase, and to find the man's veneration of Jason a little excessive. "Mr. Whitsett–"
"Xavier! I insist! And you won't object to my calling you Jason, I hope?"
"No. That is, I wouldn't if I were. Jason, that is. But I'm not."
Whitsett halted and stared as if he had just had his pocket picked. "Aren't you, by Jove? Then who the devil are you?"
"His brother Joshua." For some reason he felt moved to extend his hand again.
"I see! So Jason couldn't tear himself away from his beloved conifers. Who can blame him for that? But if Mohammed won't come to the mountain–or leave the mountain–" His metaphor confused him for a second. "–we'll go to him," he concluded, suiting the action to the word; and again Joshua had to strive to keep up.
"I'm able to sign for him. I'm a full partner."
"He's the chief officer, is he not?"
"Then the signature must be his. The owner is adamant on that point." He gave the portfolio a slap. "I'll show you the relevant clause if you wish."
Joshua considered. "Will you be in Seattle long?" he asked hopefully.
"Leaving by the evening tide, I regret to say. I've other business farther north." Joshua felt the tide rising about him; the alarm showed in his face. "Will there be some difficulty about it?"
"Difficulty? No, no. No difficulty at all." He wished that were so. "Man alive," he added, sounding none too positive.
So intent was his mind on the problem before it that in passing the schoolhouse he failed to notice the big blond man standing outside. So did the schoolmistress at first; she was writing an arithmetic problem on the blackboard, and only on turning to ask who in the class thought he could work it did she discover Swede grinning in at the window. She had hardly thought of him for years, and this sudden re-appearance worried her a little.
She pretended not to see him, but he kept standing there and beckoning her out till one of the children noticed him, that one nudged another, and soon all of them had forgotten about their lesson entirely, so that their teacher was obliged to call an early recess. The children cheered, hardly believing their good fortune, and ran out to take over the yard. It took Essie a whole minute to assemble her self-possession before following them, and all her labor was nearly undone when she heard what Swede had come to say. "It's meant to be," he assured her solemnly. "It's in the signs."
"Olaf–!" She calmed herself with an effort, for the children's sake. "It's too soon after Walter's death for me to consider marrying anybody." She deemed that near enough the truth to pass muster.
"No point fightin' it, Ess. You can't go 'gainst the signs. I knew a fella that when he went to put on his socks one day he seen a black beetle crawlin' out from one of 'em, which he knowed meant he wass marked to die. He thought he could get clear of it by runnin', so he run off to San Francisco."
She waited for more, which did not come. "And he died regardless? May I ask what from?"
"Can't say. Never seen him afterwards."
"Then perhaps he didn't die at all!"
Swede laughed his scorn. "'course he did. He seen the sign!"
At this, Essie declared their talk over, though she promised to accord Swede's offer every little bit of respect it deserved. Then–and for once, conveniently–a fight broke out in the far corner of the yard. "Boys! Boys!" She ran to break it up, with Swede's voice behind her. "You wake up some mornin' to find a black beetle a-crawlin' out of your stockin'-hose, you'll be whistlin' you a different song, I bet you!" He tramped off. She shook her head after him. Nothing but a boy himself, she thought.
Above the town Jason was following his guide along a twisting path (if path it could be called) through the high hills. "Are we nearly there?" he asked, panting.
"Long ways yit," said Spoonbread. "Hope we can make it afore dark."
"Else I'm apt to git lost and we'll have to spend the night in a ditch."
"Which you've done before, I gather."
"Naw, no more'n three or four times." The relief this engendered was only momentary. "...a month." Jason cast a wistful glance toward Seattle, now hidden by a fold of the hills. Instinct told him he would not be returning as soon as he had promised. Turning back, he saw Spoonbread waiting at the next elbow of the trail. He resumed his tortuous course, and Jason trudged doggedly after.
"There he is!" cried Joshua, referring to Jason–strangely, since miles separated them from each other's view. And indeed he corrected himself immediately: "Nope. Musta been the hat. My mistake."
He was leading Whitsett across the base camp while keeping as far as possible out of the way of everybody else; he had no other plan in store. But after three false holloos he realized the device would not serve him indefinitely, and was ready to confess the truth and throw himself on Whitsett's mercy (or his infatuation with the great Northwest), when on approaching the main tent he spied Aaron through the flap, but outside Whitsett's line of vision, and on the instant an idea snaked its way unbidden (but not unwelcomed) into his mind. Aaron, having seen that Jason was not at home, had inferred him to be at work and made the long trek uphill only to find him missing from there as well, so that he was already exasperated when Joshua stepped inside the tent and blocked the only exit.
"What's going on?" asked Aaron. "Where the deuce is–?"
"Here," said Joshua. Whitsett was waiting outside on Joshua's order, which he was happy enough to do amidst all that greenery (man alive!), despite his puzzlement. He wondered at a stifled protest he thought he heard within the tent, but put it down to the deceiving echoes of the mountains. Presently Joshua re-emerged, and behind him a man in a loose-hanging sweater, walking bow-legged and swinging his arms, more like a sailor (or the theatrical representation of one) than a lumberjack. In one fist he was clutching Whitsett's portfolio. He was smaller than Whitsett had expected–and indeed other than he had expected in many ways. "Mr. Whitsett," said Joshua, "meet my brother."
Jason exposed a grin so lurid it made him resemble a gargoyle. "Whitsett? Did yuh say Whitsett? Wal, how the hell are yuh?" He pumped the visitor's hand and gave forth with a round, rolling laugh from deep in the chest.
"Mr. Bolt?" Whitsett asked doubtfully. Joshua was himself watching in some disbelief.
"That's me, all right," Jason averred, pounding his chest like a gorilla. "Jason Bolt, king of the woods! Lick half a dozen men before breakfast every morning!" He gave forth with another big round laugh.
Joshua moved close to his ear. "Jason, remember," he whispered, "not Santa Claus."
Then a shout reached them from behind and above: "Hey, Josh!" It had emerged from Corky, who was hopping bandy-legged down the hill. No, thought Joshua, no, no. So Corky got a less friendly reception than he had been used to, and the first sight of Jason gave him a start. After a few seconds' further inspection he asked (reasonably, all things considered) what he was dressed up for.
"You got something to ask Jason?" Joshua quickly interjected.
"You know, Jason? The big boss?" Joshua winked and cocked his head.
Corky's eyes changed. "Oh, Jason!" He nodded, and Joshua nodded along. "Nah, I just come to–" A new thought popped into his small head. "To remind you about that bonus you owe me."
Joshua grew suspicious. "Bonus? What bonus?"
"The one I get for knowin' things other folks don't." He paused. "Yet."
"Okay," said Joshua. The word came out like a balky foal.
"Mighty big one, by my reckonin'."
"Okay, I said."
"Whole day's pay, maybe."
"Fine, Corky, get the hell outa here." Corky strutted off, grinning. "Hold on!" said Joshua. "Was there something else you wanted?"
Corky turned. "Just a funny kind of a thing we found in the woods. Show you later." He started back up the hill.
Jason called after him. "Hope none of the boys lost their saw! 'cause yuh can't saw trees without a saw, can yuh? Wal, can yuh? Shucks!" He slapped his knee and laughed some more. This was his attempt at loggers' humor.
Corky turned to him with a face all wrinkles, pushed back his hat, and scratched his crown. "That was sure a good one," he said, "–Jason." He continued off, shaking his head.
The intermission seemed to have left the situation uncertain. "Mr. Whitsett asked for a tour of the camp," said Joshua, "but maybe we better get right to–"
"Tour! What a jim-dandy notion!" Jason clapped Whitsett on the back. "Come on, yuh city boy." Joshua must have been struck with a pain of some kind just then, for he winced visibly.
While they made their circuit of the camp, which was protracted to a remarkable degree (partly owing to Joshua's quickly changing course every time any of the loggers approached), Jeremy, luckily unaware of what his brother was then occupied at, reached Seattle at long last, in company with Nigel. They made Ben Perkins's store just as two of the ladies from the boarding house were exiting. Nigel wished them both a jolly good morning. "You're looking tip-top!" he declared.
"Tip-top!" one of them repeated with a giggle as the two men passed inside.
Her companion slapped her wrist. "Hush, Tillie, he'll hear!"
"But, Valerie, he's funny!" insisted Tillie Grace.
"Everybody is," Valerie Whelan shot back, "if you don't look any deeper." She glanced at Nigel through the store window with a look of sympathy, or something more.
"He lives next door to Yarb Hawser," Tillie said significantly.
"What of it? Everyone lives next to someone. Except the Bolt brothers."
"Yarb likes you."
"Not the way he likes you. You could have him for your husband any time you wanted him."
Valerie sighed. "Yes, isn't it a pity I don't want him?"
"Pity," Tillie repeated, but with a meaning of her own.
The safe in Ben's backroom was the nearest thing to a bank the town could claim. It held the citizens' legal tender and other, more miscellaneous assets in canvas sacks whose owners would add to them or, at need, take from them, though a few of the sacks had sat untouched since their encasement–which was not absolute, the safe lacking a back wall; handier that way, really, Ben said. This morning Young Tom (who lacked only five years of the one whom the town called Old Tom) had come to withdraw funds. Holding the sack up like a piglet, he shook out nine silver dollars, and then slid it back to Ben with the promise "See you next time I'm down." Ben could only wonder when that might be; before today he had not seen Tom for eleven months.
He knew the reason for Nigel's visit without asking. After redepositing the sack by way of the safe's open back, a procedure his customers were with little effort able to watch from the shop ("This town could really do with a proper bank," Nigel observed), Ben groped in it for an envelope that had arrived by post the previous day–right on schedule–and brought it out to Nigel. In it was a check which Jeremy saw had been drawn on a San Francisco bank. With a pen and ink Ben made ready, Nigel signed it over in his careless scrawl, and Ben dealt out the equivalent cash from the register, less his fee for the service–the reason he had agreed to the arrangement in the first place. "Much obliged to you, Perkins. Ta-ta!" he heard as they left, and he answered with a ta-ta of his own.
As Nigel paused outside the doors to entrust the cash to his wallet a pair of men manifested themselves on both sides of him; men Jeremy knew only by sight (and, occasionally, smell). Their smiles were like those of circling sharks. "Say there, Chadwick!" said the stouter one, who was called Wilbrite Smolias.
"See your check come in," said the leaner, by name Lucius Gorman.
"You know these two?" Jeremy asked, in obvious disapproval.
"Why, they're dear pals of mine."
"Every three months, at least," Jeremy suggested.
"You know," Nigel said to the two, "I'd a notion of setting this dollop aside to invest in the business. Eye toward the future, don't you know?"
"Good idea," said Jeremy.
"It's a humdinger! Ain't it, Lucius?"
"Huckleberry above a persimmon, Wilbrite." Then the lean man appeared to have a brainstorm. "You just know whut? Let's us go up to Lottie's and tell the other boys about it. And have a drink while we're there." He lay an arm on Nigel's shoulder.
Nigel did not remove it. "No harm in a drink, I suppose."
Jeremy guessed what that would mean. "Don't forget the mess back home. Think your pals here might lend you a hand in cleaning it up?"
"What's the hurry?" said Smolias. "It'll still be there tomorrow."
Nigel brightened. "Yes! Still be there. To Lottie's, then!" He let himself be swept away. "Join us!" he called back, but Jeremy shook his head. His gaze traveled down to the boarding house, as it tended to do whenever he was in town, and there lit on Candy, out on the steps shaking a rug. His eye caught hers, but only for a moment; in another moment she had looked away. When she looked back he was not looking at her, and when he did she was on her way indoors. Bad timing all round, Jason would have called it.
Then Jeremy remembered his original errand. Jason'll kill me, he thought, deader'n a squashed beetle. He took off at speed for the dock. Behind the boarding house window a curtain stirred, and the same eye he had briefly caught followed his receding figure.
The visitor he would not find had by then completed his camp tour, each moment of whose dilation had also increased a certain unease Jason had begun to feel, and which his follower would have been powerless to account for. "That's all there is," Jason said gloomily, "unless...?" He looked about with a desperate hope.
"That's it," Joshua said firmly. "That's all. So let's–"
"You certainly have the operation well in hand," said Whitsett.
Jason clutched onto the remark. "Think so, do yuh? Wal, I'll tell yuh a little secret." Joshua's ears perked up. "Whitsett–it was Whitsett, weren't it?–I'm the worst kind of logging boss ever to draw breath."
"Oh? Your reputation–"
"Hail, yes, I let those tales be spread around. Why not? Nothin' but a pack of danged lies."
"Jason!" Joshua said warningly.
"Lazy as a stump, that's me. Let others do the work while I take the credit. And pig ignorant! Haw! My brother here–"
"Jason, I think that's enough about ourselves–"
"My brother here," Jason pressed on, "has to read the contracts to me to make sure I understand 'em. Matter of fact," he said, thrusting the portfolio at him, "he's the one who should be signing this." He flashed a triumphant smile.
Joshua thrust it right back. "They won't accept my signature. I told you, remember?"
"Mr. Bolt," Whitsett said, laughing, "your candor is a breath of fresh air."
"It is?" his hosts said together. They stared at him.
"Like the air of these northern woods. Men who look you square in the eye, and deal squarely. Man alive!"
The others exchanged a glance. "Better look over the contract," said Jason. "You read it to me, little kid brother." He pressed the portfolio into Joshua's hands, and this time Joshua could find no plausible reason to refuse it. He undid the clasp and drew out the papers.
Meanwhile the other Jason attained at last to the narrow flat where stood the Waterworths' cabin. This was fifteen feet square, with an adjoining hogsty, cow barn, henhouse, lean-to, and the phantom of what had once been a garden. Some rails of the sty fence lay fallen, and the single tenant was freely wandering the hill behind. Spoonbread called out from the path. A woman's face appeared at the window–a pretty face probably, but not at the moment. "Did you bring back supper?"
"I brought Jason Bolt." Jason feared for a moment he might be supper. Spoonbread motioned to him to enter first, as though to test the ground; Jason therefore advanced with trepidation, and with his companion hunching close behind him.
The cabin's one room was ill-kempt, and smelled of dust and ashes. Jason ran his eye over the cast-iron stove, sawbuck table and saddleback chairs, and the frame bed with its corn-husk mattress; all appeared harmless. But no sooner had Spoonbread crossed the threshold than the woman at the kitchen end screamed out. "I told you not to come back without supper!" she screamed, and she lifted down an iron skillet from its hook in the wall. Spoonbread grabbed his rifle up from the corner where he had just set it down. Jason found himself square in the line of fire, which was more than he had bargained for, even after the morning's ambush. He ordered them both to drop their weapons.
"Woman's entitled to defend herself," the woman protested.
"Looks like he's the one needs defending."
"You don't know! He hit me on the chin this morning! See?"
Jason did not, but he was standing at a distance from her which he felt disinclined to abbreviate. He turned his severest look on Spoonbread. "Don't hold with hittin' women."
"She threw her pressin' iron at me. Clipped me on the side of the head. Lookit for yourself."
Again Jason saw nothing; but the room was dim. "Don't hold with throwin' irons at people, neither."
"He cussed me out a blue streak."
"You throwed out my underdrawers."
"You never washed 'em!"
Jason raised his hands. "Hold off, both of you! This is no sort of behavior for grown-up people! Don't either one of you have the talent to live alongside another mortal? You used to sleep with the jacks, didn't you?–Spoonbread, I mean. And you with the brides, Zanie. You managed to get along then, didn't you?"
"Kept to ourselves," said Spoonbread, a little truculently. "Ain't a sin."
Jason remembered now, and he also remembered that both groups had been glad enough to see the backs of them. "Well, you'll learn to get along from here on. I'm here to see to it. And since I'm hungry, we'll start by cooking supper. Is there nothing at all in the house?" Zanie shook her head. "Pork barrel? Root cellar?" She shook her head twice again. "Henhouse?"
"He didn't milk the cow like he's supposed to."
"Won't fetch no more milk 'thout you brew my coffee."
"Can't make coffee if you don't bring in the wood."
"I ain't breakin' a sweat for a woman that's too lazy to do a wife's work!"
"And I'm not wearing my fingers to the bone for a husband who's too ornery to do his share!"
Jason silenced them again. "All right. Then we'll hunt us up some supper. Where's the best shooting in these parts?"
"Don't shoot," said Spoonbread, still holding the rifle.
"Except at me, you mean."
"Didn't hit you, did I?"
Jason stared at him for a moment. "There's a creek yonder. We'll fish for our supper. Where's your pole?"
"Got no pole."
"But if you don't hunt or fish, what do you eat?"
"What I can find."
"Find where?" Guilt oozed like syrup down the man's face. Jason did not want to know more; not then, anyhow. "Well, never mind. Let's just...go fishing."
Had he been present elsewhere to review the Enoch contract personally, he could not have made a more thorough job of it than his alter ego, who interrupted Joshua's reading with questions at every possible juncture and, when he was through, asked the same questions again, and then again. "This clause here–" he began.
"I've explained that to you. Twice."
"We've been through the entire document," Whitsett said tiredly.
"Have you any real objections?" asked Whitsett, with the stress on the word "real."
Jason admitted he had not. Then an idea struck him. "What about guaranteeing Aaron Stempel a percentage–?"
Joshua did not wait to hear more. "Contract's perfect as it stands. There's pen and ink inside." He stepped over to the tent and lifted the flap. "Unless Jason can give us a good reason to put it off longer."
Jason could not, aloud. But that did not mean one was lacking. "I'm thinking of the long term," he explained, adding in a mutter as he passed under Joshua's arm, "In the penitentiary."
"Once it's signed, I'll wire Ashley in Tacoma," said Whitsett. He followed Jason inside. Joshua paused in the entranceway. Tacoma? he thought.
Ashley was indeed in Tacoma, but no one else was supposed to know; Whitsett's enthusiasm had led him to say more than he should have. When in due course his wire was delivered and read, it fetched the bearer a generous tip and (what was even rarer from its recipient) a burst of laughter.
Far removed from these matters, and from the known universe, Jason (the original, and henceforth in this tale the only one) was out angling (a word he had always liked), and with such success that before an hour had passed he was able to slap three brace of rainbow trout onto the stovetop before Zanie's astonished eyes. "Here you have it, lady! As tasty a trove of freshwater delicacies as these northern hills have ever yielded. And I hereby commend them to your good attentions." Why ever does he talk that way? Zanie thought. "Come, you can't accuse us of shirking our duty now. True, today I was the one that cut the pole, unearthed the worms"–he grimaced at the memory; he had not been a boy for a very long time–"baited the hook, and landed the fish. But tomorrow–" He saw her staring at the catch in a kind of horror. "What's wrong? Don't you eat fish?"
"What do I have to do with them?"
"Scale 'em, salt 'em, fry 'em, and serve 'em."
"Any of it." Her head dropped. "I can't cook."
"Can't cook? How can a girl reach marriageable age and not know how to cook?" He turned to Spoonbread. "Is this true?" Spoonbread gave a mournful nod. "And you can't hunt or fish." The two stared at him helplessly. "Why, there's your problem, don't you see? Each of you's mad as a magpie at the other for not doing his part, but that's only because you don't know how. I'll teach you. And before I've done, well, Mrs. Waterworth, you'll be able to hire out as a bull cook–meanin' no slight to your womanhood–at any logging camp in the Northwest. And, Mr. Waterworth, you'll be a hunter among hunters, fit to rival starry-belted Orion himself."
Jason dismissed it with a wave. "No matter. We have fish to fry." He rubbed his hands together. "First I'll demonstrate how it's done," he said to Zanie, "then you try it." This was what he had also said to Spoonbread at the creek. He outstretched a cupped hand. "Lady, a knife, if you please." She did not stir, but nodded him toward the rack on the wall.
His youngest brother walked back to the lumber camp in an unhappy state. He had missed the visitor, missed his lunch, and had been thinking of Ashley. The two of them were bound to meet again sooner or later, but Jeremy had much rather it were later for a reason he would not admit to his brothers. At their second meeting Ashley had dismissed their home as being beyond civilization, and though it had not helped him–Jeremy had turned the insult into the one argument that had landed him the contract–the sense of it still stung: he was and always would be a backwoodsman.
On returning to his backwoods this afternoon, he met Corky, who had two strange tales to tell. Jeremy guessed that Joshua would take an interest in the one, and he himself took a like interest in the other. So while he led his brother out to investigate the mysterious object the loggers had found in the woods he elicited a full account of the morning's masquerade. "He let on to be Jason? Was he any good?" Joshua treated him to a brief impersonation, not omitting the laugh. "I'd have thought he wouldn't feel right about a trick like that."
"Oh, he was worried the whole time. But I reminded him of the profit he'd make. That calmed him down some."
"He signed Jason's name. That's forgery!"
"Yeah, that's one of the things he was worried about."
"Suppose Ashley finds out?"
"What if he does? By then our work will have spoken for itself."
"I wish Jason had." He felt as if a storm cloud had been hanging over their mountain–and in fact one was, but this was different. "I wish we'd never taken the job."
"That's only because you don't cotton to Ashley. He's just over in Tacoma, by the way."
"Then he could have come himself. Wasn't I saying so this morning?"
"Didn't want to run into you, probably. Afraid you'd queer the deal."
"Believe me, if I thought I–"
They had reached the infernal machine that had lately escaped the peddler's wagon. "Figured you'd be keen to see it."
"You know me inside out, brother." Joshua examined it eagerly on all sides. It was an A frame two and a half feet high with a treadle in front, a flywheel on one side, a tray on the other, and a second, rotating tray in the middle. "How on earth did it get here?"
"Bigger question is, how do we get rid of it?"
"Get rid of it? Not on your life!" His eyes glittered like those of Cracked Otto, who was often seen in the streets of Seattle ringing a handbell. "We use it!"
Ignorant of the discovery and of everything else to have happened in his absence, Jason leaned back in his chair to deliver judgment on his handiwork (which had been his alone, and none of Mrs. Waterworth's): "A repast fit for a king and queen–if the royal chef does say so himself. Lucky that onion turned up. 'course, at camp, Cookie generally serves more than the one dish–"
"You're good at everything," Zanie said around chewing. "Should have married you 'stead of him."
Spoonbread thumped the table. "What's your meaning, woman?" he demanded, though it had been plain enough.
"Your husband's a fine specimen," Jason said, not altogether sincerely. "You stick by him."
"Oh, I'm not good enough for you?"
"Are you insulting my wife?"
"Don't you yell at him!"
"Don't you yell at me!"
Jason rose. "Stop it, both of you! You're spoiling my digestion. And I've a long walk home."
He could have sworn that a quick glance passed between the two. "No, you don't!" said Spoonbread. "You promised to stay and fix things–between me and Zanie, I mean."
"Well, I have. All that's left is for me to instruct you in the finer points of homesteading–though a schoolmaster I'm not. We'll start first thing tomorrow. But tonight I've business in town."
"Not till you finish your business here!" Jason opened his mouth to answer. "'less you want it spread around your word as a lumberman can't be relied on."
This settled it. All loggers knew the saying, universally subscribed to among the breed, that a man's axe was only as true as his word: it was their eleventh commandment. Jason made a last try regardless. "You've no place for me to sleep!" he pleaded. But he knew already his cause was lost; knew it before Zanie Mae and her husband blandly nodded him toward the earthen floor.
He was to see little sleep that night, and Joshua was to see less, but in his case it was by choice. He had enlisted a few of the men to help him haul his find (as he thought of it) into town and to set it up in the abandoned flour mill. He surmised that the proprietor, whoever he was (he had not been a local man) would probably agree to rent the building should he ever hear of its occupancy–and perhaps he would not since Joshua's work there would be mainly nocturnal; the Enoch job left him no leisure in the daytime.
Most of this first night, he spent restoring his acquisition to working order; he found that it had been damaged only slightly, and he could not fathom why its owner would have parted with it. Being of an eccentric design, it had eluded identification by everyone but Joshua, who had recognized it at once as a hand press, barely small enough to be called portable–though its porters tonight might have disagreed. Joshua counted himself lucky to have come into it, and luckier still when he made a full inspection, for stuffed inside he found a sack bulging with a myriad small steel slices, each displaying at one end (if he looked closely) an embossed letter, number, or punctuation sign in reverse, together with an accompanying supply of quads, quoins, and leads. That left only paper and ink to be obtained; the paper, he could find readily, and when he had time to spare he could get more from the mill in Olympia. The ink, he could brew himself from a book of home formulas with which he had been experimenting since his youth.
The building was windowless in front, but light fell out of it from both sides onto the earth. Valerie saw this from the window of the boarding house parlor after most of the other girls had gone to bed. Inspired by Mrs. Radcliffe, whom she had been sitting up reading, she undertook to investigate the mystery, fetching along Biddie–who was also up late–for prudence's sake. The creak of the mill door as they inched it open, climaxed by the hulking shadow thrown by a miner's lamp onto the back wall, gave them a gratifying shudder momentarily; but when the shadow's original stepped out and greeted them familiarly all hopes of wicked doings evaporated. Yet as they watched him nurse the machine, wiping it, oiling it, and testing its limbs, Biddie felt a new kind of curiosity, which was irresistible, and led her nose to within an inch of his. "What is this?" she asked.
"Printing press," he said.
"I see." She promptly set about doing so, compelling him to slide between her and the machine to continue his ministrations. "What will you do with it?" she asked.
"I see." She continued to watch him. "What will you print?"
"Newspaper. High time this town had one. I'll call it..." He considered. "...the Seattle Gazette."
She repeated the words. "I didn't realize you had such an interest in newspapers."
He grinned. "Why, lady, don't you know the editor of the town paper knows everything that happens ahead of everybody else?" He added, with seeming casualness, "I'll need someone to write the society column–someone with her ear to the ground and a nose for nosing things out. Don't guess you'd know anybody who fits that description?" Biddie's face took on a golden glow.
Lacking her fascination with things mechanical and societal, Valerie had drifted to the doorway and was taking in the night air when men's voices carried to her from the direction of Lottie's. Three figures were approaching, one of whom she recognized; she took a step forward so that as he passed she could turn and bid him a good evening with seeming naturalness. And so she began to do, but in the middle of the turn he fell against her shoulder, driving her back against the door, while at the same time his breath filled her nostrils with a spiritous exhalation as potent as a whiff of salts. "Do beg y'r pardon, miss," he mumbled. "En route to my domicile. 'pears I've took a wrong turn." He raised his eyes to hers and saw in them a tenderness sufficient to startle him, even in his current state. "Mos' sorry," he said earnestly. "Mos', mos' sorry." How much he meant it, or meant by it, she could not tell and had no chance to find out because at that point his companions grabbed him and led him off in a different direction, also the wrong one, tossing smirks back at her on their much-winding way. It was the second disappointment of the night.
Biddie never noticed Valerie's dejection, being in excessively high spirits herself. As the two made their way back to the boarding house she trotted in double time, like an overwound mechanical doll, while Valerie, by contrast, more nearly resembled one made of straw. "Must get home," said Biddie, in a voice pitched higher than usual. "No time to waste."
"Why the hurry?"
"Have to put my ear in my nose and dig up things from the ground. I am the Gazette's social correspondent, you know."
Valerie supposed she had not been paying enough attention at the mill. "No, I didn't know."
They found Candy in the parlor, occupied with her knitting. She had been waiting up for one of the girls to come in from her walk, as she just had; a late evening walk with one of the boarders. Biddie and Valerie entered in time to hear the couple's good nights, but Candy seemed not to, though she was sitting little more than a rod away. As they parted for their separate rooms Valerie watched them wistfully. "Remember when we first came here? We expected to find scores of men–more than we'd ever seen in one place."
"We did!" said Biddie.
"What happened to them?"
"That's a good question! I'll write a column on it." She looked about for paper and ink.
"They got married," said a voice behind them, making them jump. Neither had heard Candy leave her chair.
"Not all of them," said Valerie. She was thinking of one in particular.
"No," Candy agreed. "Some...aren't the marrying kind." Her voice broke on the last word, with an abruptness uncharacteristic of her except in extremity, and she hurried off to her room.
Biddie sighed after her. "I don't think I'll write that column." She stared toward the curtained windows and the stilly night unseen beyond. "Why doesn't anything exciting ever happen around here?"
Two days later Enoch Navigation descended on the town.
Jeremy wondered how Ashley had contrived to move his people in so fast, but it was small matter for wonder: he had brought them all to Tacoma with him. On receiving Whitsett's wire he had alerted them to pack their bags (some of them literal carpetbags) and arranged for their reservations at the lodgings he had assigned them based on rank: either at the hotel, or the boarding house, or the rooms above Lottie Hatfield's saloon. So their arrival was expected, and a crowd was gathered to meet the steamer when it docked. Aaron kept his distance till he had determined that Whitsett was not one of the party, whereupon he made it his business to introduce himself to Ashley, giving off the air of being an important personage (which, to grant him his due, he was), and to offer them all a tour of the town after he had conducted them to their respective accommodations.
"It's as beautiful as I imagined," said the only woman in the group. Her heart-shaped face reminded Aaron of someone else's, he could not recall whose at the moment.
"I never could have imagined this," said the man in whose arm hers was resting. "But it certainly is beautiful."
Ashley slapped himself hard on the neck where a mosquito had just landed. "Yeah, so Whitsett said." Unimpressed as he sounded, he appeared content to accept the claim on faith. He tossed down the cigar he had just smoked down and left it smoldering in the dirt.
From the moment of their handshake Jason had felt such assurance of the deal going through that even before his unexpected departure for the Waterworths' he had set the bulk of his crew to filling the initial order under the contract, as Ashley had particularized it for him in Portland. So already choppers were felling, sawyers slicing, oxen heaving, and logs toppling, sliding over roads, and shooting down water courses to the mill. The crew at the skid camp Jeremy had lately set up had been reassigned to the Enoch job; Jeremy continued to oversee them while Joshua managed the main part of the camp–filling Jason's shoes, that is, as well as his own. The job so consumed his time that Jeremy was surprised to receive a visit from him in mid-morning, but less than grateful when he found out its purpose: to announce that Ashley's contingent had arrived in town. "Glad I'm up here, then," Jeremy said.
"I launched a second Enoch crew on the northwest stand. That should enable us to stay ahead of schedule."
"Wouldn't three be even better?"
"Full house beats a flush, if you've got the hand. I can't put all the men on it–there are other jobs to be finished. That's the trouble when Jason goes and–" He stopped himself; they had no time now for fits of temper.
"He'll be back soon," said Jeremy. "I know he will."
Joshua smiled ruefully at the attempted encouragement. "We both hope."
His doubts would have been not much relieved could he have witnessed the beginnings of the program Jason had initiated for the Waterworths' improvement. He had been up at dawn milking the cow, slopping the itinerant hog, feeding the chickens (all three), collecting their eggs, and cooking breakfast, which had been but meager. He made a list of what was needed to replenish the larder, mended the sty fence by resetting two corner posts, and appointed with Spoonbread for the afternoon to hunt and forage in the woods. He also found a pile of underdrawers Spoonbread had left out, apparently for cleaning, but at these he drew the line. For each of the other tasks he had planned at first only to give a tutorial demonstration, after which one or the other of the Waterworths was to take it over for his or her own, under Jason's guidance, but always in the event they hung back, mutely inert, and he finished on his own.
In Jason's normal life he had always been accustomed to pronouncing judgment on everything that attracted his notice, and his pronouncement on the Rigby House upon its opening had been "Too much brass" (a comment to which Aaron Stempel had refrained from making the obvious retort). To Ashley, however, whose tastes were richer, the place had not brass enough. The greater part of their company having been cast ashore at the saloon and the Bridal Veil House, and having practically taken them over by force of numbers (or simply by force), those who remained–which is to say, only the best people–were now collected at the hotel desk register, signing in. The manager ran over each name as it was set down to fix it in memory together with the face of its owner. "Mr. Ashley...Mr. Fiske...Mr. Dean...Mr. and Mrs. Oliver...Mr. and Mrs.–Chadwick? I know a Chadwick, don't I? Yes, lives on the outskirts. May I assume...?" He blinked up at the big square-jawed man.
"Assume anything you damn please," the man said, turning away.
Ashley replied more graciously. "Many of us have old acquaintances here." But the smile that followed did not match the spoken sentiment: if anything, it looked rather cruel.
Mr. Fiske, a trim, precise-looking man, was one without local acquaintances and, whether from that or another cause, the only member of the party to take up Aaron's offer of a tour. He made it known straightway that he had been put in charge of the roads and railroads. "Roads? Railroads?" Aaron echoed. "For a simple lumber contract?"
"It extends beyond that. Didn't Ashley apprise you of the details?"
Suddenly realizing that there were details to be apprised of, and that an honest answer would mark him as barred from the councils of the most high, Aaron strove to radiate a nonchalant omniscience. "Oh, only the mere outline, you know. We haven't yet had a chance to sit down and discuss it thoroughly."
"But you do know the firm will be establishing a branch office here as a base for its northern operations?"
Aaron's eyes bugged, but only for a second. "Of course, I knew that. But still–ah–roads and railroads?"
"The firm wants to make sure of its supply routes. My first assignment is to complete the railway extension north of town." This project had been one of Aaron's greatest disappointments; undertaken a few years before, it had fallen into abeyance for want of funds. "I don't suppose the town will object." Aaron shook his head emphatically. "Roads and railroads, Mr. Stempel–those are the keys to progress!" Aaron averred his agreement even more emphatically, and set to the tour with renewed enthusiasm.
Thus Mr. Fiske. His colleague Mr. Oliver had also no affiliation within the town–no direct affiliation, that is to say, but one of his wife's close relations lived there. Since the engagement he had been hearing all, or nearly all, about her Mrs. Oliver had to tell; now at last he would be meeting her–in fact this very morning. They et out from the hotel before they had fully unpacked, and with enough time to get back before lunch. For the walk was not long (no distance in Seattle's downtown could have been called long by people accustomed to a true city), but on their way to pay the intended call, they spied Mr. Fiske with his human Baedeker's, who was speaking and gesticulating with unusual ardor as he led the traveler from one to another landmark or approximation thereo. "Who's the man with Mr. Fiske?" asked Mrs. Oliver.
"Jason Bolt. I recognize him from Whitsett's description."
"Really? Somehow I'd pictured him as larger."
She could have said the same of her relation's place of business when it met their view. She remained standing in front of it for some moments as if taking it in, though there was not that much to be taken. Even after her husband opened one of the double doors, she stood irresolute. "It's been years since I've heard from her. She may not welcome a visit."
"Then it's best to find that out at once, isn't it?" He stood holding the door for her till she had little choice but to step through. She had no sooner done so than she saw the woman she had come to see. Mr. Oliver, stepping up alongside her, gave her a sideways nod, a silent command to get the worst over with.
She swallowed. "Aunt Lottie?" she said quaveringly.
The saloonkeeper froze. "Katherine?" Her own voice sounded uncertain. She turned to meet a pair of anxious eyes. The women stared at each other as across a canyon.
"It's wonderful to see you. "I hope...I..." With a mighty surge of willpower she threw off her timidity and ran to wrap Lottie in her embrace. Lottie returned it, almost as it ended. They looked each other up and down in a shared wonder of disbelief. "You look exactly as you did last time I saw you," Katherine said.
"I can't say the same of you. You're a woman now–and a married one, I understand." Mr. Oliver advanced on his cue. "And this must be–"
"My husband Quentin–my aunt Lottie."
Quentin offered his hand. "What a likeness! Why, the two of you could almost be–"
"Aunt and niece," Katherine said quickly, with a laugh. Lottie laughed, too, but a little nervously. "Aunt, I so hoped you'd attend the wedding. Why didn't you?"
"Too many–" She stopped herself. "–irons in the fire," she concluded weakly. "But what are you doing in Seattle?" Then she realized the likely answer. "Part of the new migration?"
"Shrewd surmise, aunt," said Quentin. Both women noticed how quick he was to call her so. "All will be revealed over supper. You'll be our guest, of course." Lottie endeavored to turn the invitation about. "I insist. Till then, you ladies may catch up on your respective histories. I mean to horn in on Mr. Bolt's tour."
"Whose?" asked Lottie.
Quentin paused at the doors. "Jason Bolt. He's showing our Mr. Fiske the sights."
"Yes, I was one of them. But that isn't Jason. It's Aaron Stempel."
Lottie laughed. "I've known them both longer than either would care to admit."
Quentin shook his head. "They must often be mistaken for each other."
As he was leaving, his wife sent him a long-distance kiss, to which he returned a smile more boyish than his manner. His newly met in-law did not notice; she was still puzzling over the last comment. "I've never heard of it..."
Elsewhere off the main street, Ben Perkins was restocking the shelves in his shop when a man entered, unseen and unheard. He remained so for a few minutes while he appraised the inventory and then he called out to Ben by name. Ben turned to discover a slightly built stranger with a big-city smile, in a big-city suit of the latest cut: no one he would be likely to know. But the placid presumption of that smile was familiar to him from somewhere–not Seattle; some place farther back in his experience. He searched among his recollections as if they were goods on his shelves. At last he had it–but still he could hardly believe it. "Hamlin? Hamlin Dean?" If a measure of worry seeped through his effort at heartiness, he hid it. "Gee whiz, if this ain't one for the books!"
His wife entered from the backroom with an armload of merchandise for putting out. Ben greeted her with what looked very much like relief, though his manner remained jolly. "Emily, what do you know? It's Hamlin Dean!"
"Is it?" Emily laid her burden on the counter and offered the stranger her hand. He gave it a squeeze which she regarded as over-personal, and she quickly pulled it away.
"I've told you about him!"
"I don't believe so, Ben."
"Sure! We were partners out in the gold fields before I settled here. He like to saved my life once."
"You'd'a' done the same for me, wouldn't you? We all did in those days. And what days they were!"
Emily noticed that her husband refrained from seconding that opinion. "How much gold did you find there?"
Dean pulled on his upper lip, baring his teeth, which he thrust toward her. Emily had to brace herself to keep from recoiling. "See that little one in the back? Had it made from my half, with naught left to spare." He broke into a laugh which was no more attractive than his smile had been. Emily believed she quite disliked him. He had a ratlike look, if rats could have stood upright. "Partner," he said, with a jerk of his thumb toward the shelves, "I reckon you've come up in the world. Hear you're the closest thing this town has to a bank."
"I guess," Ben admitted, and then caught himself. "I mean, not really. Not what you'd call a bank."
Dean could read his mind; but the task had never been difficult. "Ben, you see these duds? I'm not here for a handout. I've come up in the world, too. You've heard of the Enoch Line, ain't you?"
"The ones that give Jason the big contract?"
"Hellfire! Does everybody and their brother know about that?"
"I should guess they do! In a lumber town?"
"Lumber and shipping, now the firm's landed." The confidence of this assertion did not please Emily in the least. "That's the reason I came. I've got a proposition for you that will make you one of this burg's most respected citizens."
Emily clasped his arm. "He already is."
Dean did not take up the challenge; or not then. "Tell you more over supper," he promised Ben, and manufactured a smile of apology for his wife. "It'll be just us menfolk tonight." Obviously he wanted Ben all to himself. Emily stared at him in frank distrust.
Old acquaintance was brought to mind once more that morning–at the house of Nigel Chadwick, where Nigel was sharing a late breakfast with Valerie from the boarding house. He had been rather surprised by her acceptance of the invitation, which he had extended doubtfully; for her part, she hoped it would not be the last. "Orange marmalade?" she guessed as she took an exploratory bite of toast.
Nigel gave a happy nod. "Perkins imports it specially for me. Good man, Perkins, in his way. Do you fancy it?"
"I've never tried it before. It's lovely." Her voice sank to a whisper. "You should have heard the other girls when Dreire brought round your invitation. Tillie was convinced it was from the Governor."
"No, only me–alas." He lowered his eyes, hesitating. "I do beg your pardon for my discourtesy to you the other evening. I'm afraid I was...overcome."
"Are you often overcome in that way?"
"Often enough," he confessed.
Valerie looked across the long room that occupied the front of the house, the kitchen and bedrooms being tucked away at the back. It was a ranch house redone to approximate as nearly as possible, within Nigel's always precarious means, an English manor. "How did you manage to shore up in Seattle, of all places? Wouldn't you have been happier–well...?"
"With my own kind?" He stared off into a time that had been, or might possibly have been. "Law of primogeniture, you see." He made it sound like a law of nature. "Elder son inherits, younger son must seek his fortune as best he may. Seattle, I chose–on your account, really."
"Me?" She was flattered but disbelieving.
"You and the other 'brides.' Read about you in the Times. Made the Territories sound jolly cheerful. No want of the female graces, eh?"
"But what can have induced you to go into lumbering?" Thanks to Hawser, the stories of his various embarrassments, such as his attempt to roll a log by hand, had become common currency thereabouts. "If you'll excuse my saying so, you don't seem to take to it particularly well."
"Oh, but I do. Quite. It's logging that doesn't take to me. Though lately I had been wondering if I oughtn't to pursue another line. Start a cannery. Make a welcome change from sawdust, I can tell you. Salt breeze in me nostrils–"
Valerie forgot her manners far enough to laugh at this. "You'd have the smell of fish in your nostrils! And on your person. I know. We've had salmon packers stay at the house. No, thank you very much."
"Ah, now I've one for you. Why are you still boarding and not partnered off like your steerage-mates?"
"I did have a beau, but I gave him the mitten."
She had always had trouble explaining. "Put it this way–if I'd married him I might never have tasted marmalade." She smiled at Nigel over her coffee.
Before he could take up the tenuous promise of the thread whose tip had thus shown itself, a knock came at the door, and a minute later Dreire re-appeared at the table to bring the announcement "Mr. Chadwick? Mr. Chadwick," he announced, rather confusing his hearers till he explained, "Mr. Raynor Chadwick. And Mrs. Chadwick."
"The devil!" muttered Nigel. Valerie rose to leave. Nigel rose, too. "No," he said, "please."
His front hall–if it could be called that–being of a dwarf species, no more than two strides brought the elder Chadwick past the entry arch into the room, and he came on without awaiting further preliminary, brashly greeting his younger brother. Nigel, despite a strong reluctance, was obliged to introduce his other guest. She recalled to Raynor the person he had left at the archway. "Thora!" he snapped. "Approach and make yourself known, my girl. You're not being presented to a grand duchess, you know. It's only old Nigel."
Thora's advance was clothed in a dignity of which her husband's manner of address had not yet wholly divested her. As Nigel's eyes met hers, Valerie divined that the distance separating the two of them had not only been geographical. In fact they had not spoken since the publishing of Thora's betrothal announcement sixteen years before. "I gather you and Nigel are old friends," said Valerie.
Thora smiled faintly. "Quite. And I take it you and he are new ones." Valerie's cheeks reddened, and she looked away.
"What are you doing here?" Nigel asked Raynor, who had just helped himself to some marmalade on toast.
"Come to pay you a visit, old man." He surveyed the room approvingly, more or less. "The rest can wait till..." He frowned pointedly at Valerie. "...till supper. We're invited, I presume?" And on the presumption, however ill it might have accorded with Nigel's wish, invited they were.
This and the other engagements planned for the evening went forward in defiance one of those sudden storms to which, the newcomers now discovered, Seattle was prone. Wind and water spiraled together through the streets, and hosts and guests alike battled their ways from wherever they had dressed to wherever they had to be. Later, flares of lightning and drumrolls of thunder made an ominous counterpoint to the table conversations.
Not for Jason: the flat in the hills where he suppered lay free of wind and rain. On the other hand, he liked wind and rain; much better than he liked the Waterworths' cabin or (now that he was getting to know them) the Waterworths. The rabbits he had that day snared–and skinned, quartered, and seasoned–he had finally cooked also. "Won't you try?" he had exhorted Zanie. "Just try!" But all she had done was to stare stupidly, as had her husband while Jason mended their hogpen, and their coop, and their barn. The couple seemed uncommonly resistant to improvement.
Harbored safely from the elements without at The Angels, Seattle's best restaurant, Hamlin Dean treated his old associate to a meal whose likes he assumed, rightly, that a grocer could not have been accustomed. During the soup a woman they did not see and Dean would not have recognized peered around a pillar at them and strained to overhear their conversation and others' while jotting down their gist as notes for her social column, but left ahead of the entrée, and ahead of being asked to by the management. All she had gotten from Dean's table was references to old times, incomprehensible to her, who had not been there; Dean's business proposition was saved for the after-dinner port. "A bank?" Ben repeated, once it had been put to him. "You did say a bank?"
"Seattle's first–not counting your safe, that is." He laughed, a little snidely.
"What put the notion in your head?"
"It was the firm's notion, not mine. They need one in these parts. Asked me to get it started for them."
"Why you? You're no banker." Then Ben realized he did not know that. "Are you?"
Dean sucked at his wine. "Chief reason I was hired, if you want to know, was my acquaintance with you." He sounded a bit put out by it.
"Aw, why'd you want to go telling them about that?"
"I didn't! Ashley already knew. He seems to know everything. Keeps Pinkertons on is payroll–so they say."
"But why me?"
"The people here trust you. If your name's on the bank, its success will be a sure deal."
Ben recalled a few other sure deals from their prospecting days. Then he heard his name spoken by a voice he knew better than any other and looked up to find its owner standing over them. Feeling guilty, he could not have said why, he set down his wine glass. "Where's little Ben?"
"I left him with Candy at the dor–the boarding house–while I balanced the ledger. Now I've come to collect my two Benjamins and shepherd them home. But I don't want to spoil your evening."
"Naw, time I turned in." Emily had been hoping he would say that. He turned to Dean, a little abashed. "Us shopkeepers have to get up with the roosters." He found it unexpectedly tricky to get up at all; the port, and the burgundy preceding it, had gone to his head.
His host, however, rose without difficulty. "Bankers keep more congenial hours," he said. Emily repeated the first word as a question; but Dean continued to address Ben alone. "Remember, you'll be the first. Like you said–one for the books." Emily could see her husband was drawn by the prospect, though she did not yet know what it was–let alone what its end might be.
The supper at The Angels was closely rivaled by the one at the Rigby House, where Lottie and the Olivers had just begun on theirs–a late supper, to be sure, but two of them (and so the third) were used to that. The recording angel from the restaurant appeared again here, employing herself as before, and again flew off to forestall expulsion. She departed just as Katherine was concluding a summary history of the relations between her aunt and herself. "Once in a while I'd get a present, and then once in a very long while she'd pay us a visit." She looked over at her. "Till she stopped visiting altogether."
Lottie smiled gently and shook her head. "You never knew the difference."
"The last time you saw me, you paid me no mind at all." Katherine began to object, and then some flash of memory cut the objection short. "Not that I could blame you," Lottie allowed. "At your age–"
"She was only being a thoughtful daughter," Quentin interjected.
Both women looked sharply at him. "What makes you say that?" asked Katherine.
"You sensed your mother was becoming jealous of–of the other–and so you kept your distance. That was the mark of a caring nature, surely."
"Oh, I hope not! Lottie, do you think she felt that way?" Lottie shrugged; she looked a little confused. Katherine considered further. "I do remember, one Christmas when I was looking for you to come, she explained you had both agreed you shouldn't. That it'd be too much–"
"Like having two mothers?" Quentin suggested. He stared across at Lottie, a second too long, before returning his attention to his fowl. Lottie felt a sharp cold stab of alarm. She worked not to show it, but in any case Katherine was paying her little notice, being too busy just then in pondering her responsibilities as a niece and a daughter to do much toward fulfilling them; and the rest of the meal offered no further grounds for disquiet–unless Quentin's seemingly deliberate failure to meet Lottie's eyes again could be so construed. Either way she could do nothing but wait for him to reveal all, as he had promised. And perhaps she had only imagined the hints he had seemed to drop, like acorns, in her path. But she believed she had not.
Because Nigel's family was receiving, rather than bestowing, supper a sensible observer might have expected his brother to postpone additional demands on his good nature till afterward; but such an observer would not have known Raynor. He had laid bare his offer even before the soup, apparently expecting Nigel to leap at it wholeheartedly, but Nigel, with Thora's abetting, had channeled the conversation into another course, and did not return to the subject again; not there, or later in the parlor (which was only the other half of the big front room) after the brandy, at his direction, had been left for himself to pour. Instead he taxed his brother with having been too hard on Dreire at table. "What was your precise objection to the salmon, if one may ask?"
"Oh, it was passable enough," Raynor admitted with a chuckle. "Just putting the fellow on his guard, you know. I never let 'em sneak second best by me."
"Remember, Raynor, we're guests here," Thora said quietly. "And in an unfamiliar country."
"Bah! Servants are the same everywhere. They want the iron hand to preserve them from their own iniquities. Trouble with Nigel is, he's too soft on 'em. Always has been. Haven't you, old man?" He turned an imperious eye on him. "But come, you've not given me your answer yet. Out with it!" Nigel crossed to the fireplace, where there was no fire, and stood there with his hands behind him, perplexity written on his face.
"It's too sudden," said Thora. "Give him a little time."
"Time's what we've not got." Raynor leaned back in his chair. "The firm requires a headquarters, this property's perfectly suited. And after all, it's no use to you."
"It's my home! And where my business is situated."
"But you haven't made a go of it, have you, old man? So as far as you're concerned one place is as good as another. We'll set you up anywhere you like."
"Would you be staying on here?"
"Then I don't see why I can't do the same. We're brothers, aren't we?"
Raynor's tone became all at once less cordial. "The house isn't big enough for the two of us. Build yourself another."
"But I'm happy in this! And happy in the business. I admit it hasn't met with great good fortune, but young Bolt has promised his assistance, and really, all in all, I'm quite content as I am. No, Raynor, I'm afraid I can't see my way clear to selling to you now or at any time in the foreseeable future. But I thank you for the offer."
Raynor's smile vanished. His hand, which had been lying atop Thora's wrist, gripped it so tightly she had to master herself to keep from crying out, but she did so readily, as if from long practice. "Well," her husband said, with seeming ease, "we may persuade you yet."
Ben Perkins had not been persuaded, either, exactly, but he had been sorely tempted. He turned over the temptation in his mind as he and Emily walked down to the boarding house to collect Ben, Junior. The storm had ended, or was enjoying a lull; time alone would tell which. "It wouldn't really be your bank, would it?" Emily challenged him. "It would belong to Enoch Navigation. Isn't that so?"
In many ways she had a better business sense than Ben did, and Ben, aware of this, tended to wriggle under her questioning. "Hamlin didn't say so."
"This Hamlin–how much do you know about him?"
"I told you, we go 'way back."
"As a businessman, I mean."
"I know one thing. I'd trust him with my life."
When they reached the steps of the boarding house Ben, Junior ran down to them with the cry "Daddy!" His father picked him up, and Emily watched the two of them together. "I hope your trust is well placed," she said. "Because if you go ahead with this, that's what you will be doing. And little Ben's, too."
While he wrestled with her advice, like Jacob with the angel, Lottie continued to wait as she had been waiting since supper for the other shoe to drop. She was too smart herself to suppose that Quentin, or the people who had sent him (she hoped Katherine was not a part of it), were only tormenting her on a whim with no foreseen object. As Quentin saw her to the doors of her saloon while his wife waited, on his instruction, at a little distance, Lottie took the bull by the horns. "You know," she said. "I don't know how, but you do. You may as well tell me what it is you want."
Quentin shot her a disarming smile, but she had seen too many of those in her day to put any stock in them. "Why, nothing sinister, aunt." As he said the word this time he placed it between quotation marks. "And it has nothing to do with Katherine–or not more than a little. I want you to consider taking on the firm as a partner. With us in the lead, the town's sure to start growing." It's been growing just fine without you, Lottie thought. "You have a chance to grow with it. We can smooth your way–guarantee you the best stock at the best prices. Consider: what have you to lose?"
"It depends," she said, "on what you have to gain."
"No mystery in that, either. Yours is the most popular establishment in town. That's obvious to anyone with half an eye. If the firm's connected with it, people are apt to feel the same way about the firm."
Lottie shook her head. "I'm used to being on my own."
"Was that by choice, or...?" The question and the insinuating look accompanying it came near enough to being rude so that she felt like shutting the door on him. But curiosity stopped her, as he had gambled it would. "You never felt you were respectable enough for her–even now. The firm is nothing if not respectable. We can help you build your establishment into the most elegant emporium on the Sound. You'll be received in the best society. A woman any niece"–again quotation marks were indicated–"would be proud to acknowledge." She fought to resist the lure bobbing before her, but her face could not hide the yearning inside her that now made itself felt anew. "I don't say it counts for much," Quentin admitted, and in this he was being truthful. "But I think it does to you."
"I..." She found she could not dismiss the promise, or its companion threat whose existence he denied. "I'll consider your offer."
Katherine, whom Quentin had acquainted beforehand with the proposal he had been instructed to bring (but not the matter that concerned her more directly), had predicted Lottie would turn it down flat. As the two of them walked back along the dark, half-paved street–not what they were accustomed to in San Francisco–he informed her of her error, not without a certain measure of smugness. Katherine listened solemnly. "You must have been very persuasive."
"Just called her attention to a few facts, was all."
"Is that Ashley talking?"
"No," Quentin said firmly. They had discussed this subject before. "He was after me to push her, hard. I told him no, one doesn't do that to family."
"Only to other people?" Katherine asked mildly.
"They do it, too, Kath. Everyone does."
"Not everyone." She looked back to see Lottie watching them from the window of her room above the saloon. The two women exchanged waves, and the couple walked on.
Lottie drew her chintz curtains, took a ring of keys from her bedstand drawer, and used two of them to open a cedar chest against the wall and an iron cash box hidden inside under a stack of linens. The box contained a few daguerrotypes, a collection of letters tied with ribbon, and a pair of baby's shoes long outgrown by a wearer who had never seen them, and probably never would. Lottie lifted them out and pressed them tightly to her cheek.
Much later in the night, Emily awoke. Her first thought was that she must have heard little Ben crying. Yet all was still. His father, then? She turned over to find him sitting up beside her in the bed, staring at the join of wall and ceiling. He knew she was watching him–she could tell–but he did not turn his head. "You want this so much, then?" she said after a little.
"Get to wear a suit every day, just like in the tailors' books, with a vest and a derby hat. Hamlin says the firm'd pay for it. Everybody that'd see me pass, they'd say, 'There goes Mr. Ben Perkins. He's some punkins in this town.'"
Emily slid over and lay her head on his shoulder. "And what do they say now?"
"How would I know that?"
"I'll tell you. They say, 'There goes Ben. He's a good friend of mine.' Don't forget them–after you and Mr. Ham-and-Beans open this bank of yours."
He turned his head at that. "You don't mind?"
Emily told herself she did not: not so much, anyway. "Not if the company will buy me a new dress to match your suit. After all"–she tickled his nose; he shooed her hand away–"I'll be the wife of a pumpkin!" It took Ben a moment to get the joke. She laughed at his slowness and kissed him for it, then settled her head on his chest, and went back to sleep.
Nigel had not slept at all, though Raynor–unchanging, unchangeable, unwelcome Raynor–had fallen off long since. But it was not about him that his brother sat brooding. He had just poured himself a last, or second-to-last, brandy when he heard a rustling–Dreire, he thought–and looked up to find Thora at his arm. She had her traveling cloak draped about her with seeming carelessness, revealing a little of the nightdress beneath. "Mrs. Chadwick. What could possibly draw you from your bed at this hour?" He drained his brandy and lifted the bottle toward her. "The need of a drink, perhaps?" She stared at it for a long time before shaking her head. With a shrug Nigel poured himself another.
Thora knelt by his chair. "Don't reject Raynor's offer too quickly. It can be a way out for you."
"Is that what your mamma told you, all those years ago?"
For a moment her eyes lost the steadiness she habitually labored to maintain. "It doesn't matter any more." Nigel silently begged leave to differ. "It's you I'm thinking of now."
"You are? Or Raynor?"
"You weren't cut out for this life. You know that."
"Does one ever know with certainty what one was cut out for? In my youth I'd have sworn I was cut out for you." He gazed into the empty grate. "One learns how appearances deceive."
"You think I deceived you?" He did not answer, or look at her. "I married your brother for the estate. He's seen after my family and been...reasonably generous to me. But that's all. We have no children–no marriage. Nigel, we sleep apart. And once he's retired..." She laid a hand on his arm. "...he's innocent of how I choose to pass the time till morning." Nigel remained immobile. "Nigel, did you hear me?"
He half-smiled. "I was only thinking. If you were set the task of persuading me to leave, you've miscarried it. You've just given me the strongest possible inducement to stay."
For a second the muscles of her face tightened in what might have been panic. "No!" she insisted. "This place is too small for secrets. But if you took another, at a walking distance from it"–she reached up to stroke his cheek–"you might find the arrangement to your...liking."
She saw, and felt, the change in his countenance, and he shook off her touch as if it had been a fly's. "Nigel?" she said, her voice quavering.
Nigel had never held his own morals in high esteem, but hers had been the standard by which he had judged them deficient. "D'you remember how we used to stroll in the garden, arm in arm, and watch the red roses grow redder as the sun set?"
"I remember." A thunderclap punctuated the reflection; so the storm had not done with them yet, after all. "It's pulled down now."
"Yes," he said, "so I find." His voice was cold, adamantine. With a convulsion he hurled his glass onto the hearth, where it shattered. He rose, looking taller than Thora had ever seen him–though he seemed somehow to have collapsed inside–and she found herself trembling before him for the first time. "Very well, I accept the offer–Raynor's, I mean. Tell him..." He looked at her, or through her. "Tell him you persuaded me." And he left. If Thora remained there for some while after, weeping over the bargain that had taken her youth, he never knew, and her husband never inquired.
But the farthest-reaching incident of the night, which did not appear so at the time, took place at the flour mill, where Joshua was up late, as he always was these nights, setting type which he found maddeningly small–the opposite of their mountain–and ignoring the booms of thunder that penetrated from the outside world, when he glanced toward the door and found it standing open, framing a stocky figure. A dagger of light stabbed at the street behind, dispersing an eerie glow; seconds later the thunder pounded again. "Joshua Bolt?" hazarded the visitor.
"That's me." He recognized Ashley from Jason's description but waited for him to introduce himself (and then had to decline his hand because his own was smudged with ink). "My brothers told me about you."
"They didn't tell me about you." Ashley pulled out his leather case. "Cigar?"
"I do." Joshua grimaced but said nothing as the acrid billows engulfed them both. Between puffs Ashley perused a handbill he was carrying, which Joshua recognized as one he had enlisted Biddie to circulate: an advertisement for the Gazette designed to solicit subscriptions. He was aware it was less than ideal: too brief (he had tired of the typesetting sooner than he had expected to) and riddled with errors (he had learned too late that "n"s looked like "u"s and "p"s like "d"s); but it had communicated its message well enough to draw Ashley there.
He began to read aloud from it: "'The Gazette looks forward to chronicling the achievements of Seattle's newest, biggest, and brightest light, the bellwether of a golden era.' You're a clear-sighted young man, unlike your brothers. Not to say anything against them," he added hastily, "but the younger one hasn't had enough experience–dreaming of the future–and the older one's had too much–stuck in the past. You're living in the present hour." He picked up the sheet of handwritten text from which Joshua was setting. "I assume your first edition will further promote the firm's interests?"
Joshua grabbed the sheet back. "You'll find out along with everyone else when it reaches the street."
Ashley's frustration showed, but he waved it away. "Doesn't matter. I know your mind. And I promise you, you've picked the winning side."
"I write as I think. Wasn't aware it had to do with winning or losing."
"It's to do with climbing on board or drowning in the tide–the tide of progress. Papers like yours are essential weapons, providing knowledge of what's happening on a weekly basis, or a daily. Some day it will be hourly, and then..."
He did not strike Joshua as a disinterested seeker after truth. "Then what? What does a man do with all this knowledge?"
"Same as the great generals of history–strike first." I might have guessed, thought Joshua. "The firm believes this strongly. It also believes your faith in our enterprise deserves repayment in kind, and it is prepared to back your newspaper to every extent necessary."
"We're not worth your trouble." (The "we" meant himself, Biddie, and the hand press.) "We only have three subscribers."
"We'll expand it to three thousand."
"There aren't that many people in Seattle!"
"Are about the territory. That's how far we'll spread your paper, and with it news of the firm's accomplishments. How does the prospect strike you?"
"I'll be free to write as I please?"
Ashley smiled, a little too hungrily. "You're a sharp boy. I trust you to be sensible."
Joshua already shared Jeremy's dislike of the man. But he strove to keep in mind the argument of his own handbill and of the leading article in the edition he was putting to press; the economic advantages to be gained from Enoch's presence in town outweighed the personal failings of a single representative. "We can give it a try," said Joshua. "If either of us finds he dislikes the arrangement, he's free to terminate it with no hard feelings. All right?"
"Leaving yourself an escape route. Very wise. The generals knew about that, too." He pulled out a roll of bills and slapped it into Joshua's hand. "Consider this a down payment." Joshua stared at it. "What's the matter? Never seen so much money at once?"
The sneer was so blatant, it made Joshua smile. "A sight more than this. But always before, I knew what I'd done to earn it." Ashley gave what on someone else's lips would have been a laugh and, after extracting a last mouthful from his cigar, threw it down and crushed it hard underfoot.
True, the Gazette was not much of a paper, and so it freely admitted: "Not as big as a barn door," its motto read, "but big enough for all the news big enough to print." Still, it was a paper, and many people in Seattle were eager to see the first issue, which Joshua, by dint of tireless–and almost sleepless–effort, succeeded in delivering himself of before the end of the week. He gave Biddie a stack to distribute to his subscribers, whose number had swelled to more than a hundred. The first three on the list were Lottie Hatfield and, by joint subscription, Katherine and Quentin Oliver.
Biddie found all of them in front of the saloon watching the erection of a new sign–shinily painted, and bigger than the old, but reading the same except for the legend in the corner: "Enoch Navigation Co." Biddie doled out their copies with a refrain of "Get your paper! Get your paper right here!" and, after pointing out the social news on the back page (the paper having only two pages in all), hurried away to make her next delivery, leaving the charter subscribers to discover what they had signed for sight unseen.
"It's all about the firm," said Quentin, "and how much good it will do Seattle."
His wife read with him over his shoulder. "Sounds as if Ashley wrote it himself. Did he?"
"Wouldn't put it past him," Quentin admitted.
The first benefit the writer, whoever he was, had adduced was the new Perkins and Dean bank, whose opening day was even then going forward. The bank was housed in a brick building (the first in town, like the bank itself) which seemed to have been put up overnight. This morning Ben was stationed inside to sign up the depositors, and Dean was out front managing the queue, which stretched for most of a city block. Most of the prospective clients were holding, or dragging, canvas bags extracted from Ben's five-sided safe. Late morning–round about eleven o'clock–found one of these prospects hotly arguing with the smart-alecky dude at the door who had barred him from passing through. "Sign up there says you're a bank. Are you or ain'tcha?"
"I'll explain it once more," said Dean, less nicely than when their exchange had begun, "and this time try to pay attention. You don't qualify–"
"Qualify! Qualify! Who says youqualify? Answer me that!"
Ben, who had heard the raised voices, came out to see what the matter was. He was attired in his new suit, vest, and derby hat. Young Tom gave a whoop and a whistle. "My, ain't you the city slicker!" Ben felt embarrassed, but also pleased, by the attention. "This here dude says I cain't tuck my stake with you. What do you say?"
Ben smiled tolerantly. "I'll vouch for Tom. One of my oldest customers."
Dean motioned Ben a few feet aside. "We can't afford him. Our minimum–which you agreed to, you remember–is twice what he's carrying in that old sack."
"Looks like the ones you and me used to tote."
Dean did not care to be reminded of that. "He doesn't qualify! If we start making special allowances for his kind of riffraff–"
"Some of them riffraff's my neighbors."
"Of course. Sorry. What I meant–"
"Listen, is this bank half mine or isn't it?"
The answer was more complicated than Dean could do justice to in the space available to him. "Sure, Ben, sure it is."
"Then I say we let Tom in."
His partner saw he was fortified against argument. "Go on," he told Tom. The saying of it felt like a jab to his ribs.
"Now that's more like it!" said Tom; and he did jab him. "You want to listen to Ben, young feller. He'll l'arn you how to do things!" Watching them go inside, Dean felt like kicking them both, but there were too many others about. One day, he promised himself.
At the same hour Jeremy was on his way to Chadwick's. He had escaped camp on the pretext of determining whether he might farm out some of the Enoch job to the smaller lumbermen, but his real intent was to make sure Nigel was safe, from himself as well as his neighbors. As he reached the fence he saw a group of workmen–Nigel's, he presumed–preparing to take the saw to a stand of slender trees. Jeremy jumped the rails and ran across to them, shouting. "Stop, there! What do you think you're doing?"
He was blocked by a burly man he had never seen before: a new foreman evidently. "Doin'? Tell you what you're doin', boy–trespassin', that's what. Like it says on the gate."
Jeremy had seen the sign but had dismissed it as another crotchet of Nigel's. At the big man's nod, some of the other men began to move toward him. Jeremy stepped back. "What's the matter with you? I'm friends with your boss. Whatever new scheme he's hatched–"
The foreman turned and called toward the rear of the stand. "Mr. Chadwick! Fella here claims to be a friend of yours."
In a moment or two a man in business trousers emerged from the trees; Jeremy had never seen him before, either. "You're not Chadwick."
"Rory," the man said, "bring Nigel." He introduced himself as Nigel's brother, but with no attempt at hospitality.
"Did you give the order to cut these trees?"
"I did, if it's any concern of yours. It's what we do here, cut trees. Perhaps you were unaware of that."
"These are just saplings. They won't be ready for another ten or fifteen years."
Raynor had no idea who his visitor thought he was to issue such a decree, nor did he care. "That's up to us to decide. They're our property, after all."
"Yours and Nigel's, you mean?"
"Nigel!" Raynor gave a short laugh. "It's nothing to do with him any more. All this belongs to the firm."
"Guess I don't have to ask which one."
They spoke no further till Nigel was brought. His brother's next words seemed to be mainly for his benefit, though they were addressed to Jeremy. "I've no desire to be rude. But if you interfere with my people again I shall be forced to take measures." He thrust a finger at Nigel. "See he leaves the property and doesn't come back. There's a good chap." Then he returned to Rory and the others.
"What's he like when he is being rude?" asked Jeremy as Nigel escorted him to the gate. Nigel shrugged apologetically. "You sold out to the company, then?"
"Yes, gave up the ghost at last. No more than a ghost of a ghost, really. I'm to reside at the boarding house for the nonce–Raynor's idea." He sighed. "Perhaps I will open that cannery. Fish smell be damned."
Jeremy had not known about the cannery. But he was not listening anyhow. "Why would they cut down green trees?"
"Not a clue, old boy. Never did understand the business myself."
"Bet you five dollars Ashley's behind it." Nigel asked who Ashley was, and Jeremy told him, deliberately omitting from the account his own dread of a re-encounter–which so far he had luckily escaped.
Joshua was less lucky. Ashley seemed to have singled him out to be his protege, or hireling, and made a point of looking in on him at the mill nearly every night. Tonight he began with a vigorous expression of approval for the "line" the paper was taking, but soon got round to what he claimed to be the real object of the visit: to give Joshua notice that a foreman appointed by the firm was expected the following morning; and that Ashley himself would be showing him up to the camp. Joshua felt as if he had begun a serial story in Frank Leslie's only to discover he had missed the first installment. "Foreman of what, exactly?"
"The work you contracted for. What else?"
Joshua's ire rose. "We can manage our men without anybody's help."
"I should think so. Otherwise we wouldn't have entrusted you with the work. But the old man likes to have one of his own on hand to insure all's done according to his timetable. I hope you won't object too much?"
If Joshua's countenance suggested he did, Jeremy's, after he was informed of the imposition the following morning, left no doubt. "Look at it this way," Joshua said, as positively as he could. "It may spare us work."
"Who asked to be spared? We don't need outsiders poking in and telling us our business!" He turned to find himself facing the men they were expecting, who had just arrived; so, awkwardly, he met his bugbear at last. There was silence for a moment as they stared across at each other.
Ashley grinned, after his fashion. "Mr. Bolt. Been a long time."
"Not long en–" Joshua elbowed him in the side to hush him.
Ashley introduced the newcomer as Wolf Ulrich. "Wolf?" Jeremy queried. Ulrich unsheathed a grin of his own which made up for Ashley's, and then some. "Wolf," Jeremy affirmed. Whatever Ulrich may have been, he was no logger; a hunter of some sort, Jeremy guessed–whether of buffalo or bounty, it made little difference. "Jason wouldn't like this," he muttered.
"Then he should be here to say so" was Joshua's rejoinder.
Jeremy fervently wished that he were, and that Joshua–in Jason's absence his best hope of an ally–had not instead become Enoch's chief apostle. His own misgivings about the takeover (for such it amounted to in his eyes) grew daily. All his instincts rose against it, though he could not give them shape in words, and could find nobody who admitted to sharing them. But then, he had not spoken to Miss Essie, whose immediate judgment, openly expressed, on first hearing of Enoch's coming had been that it did not sound right to her at all.
On an evening not long after this, as Jeremy was entering town, to which he had repaired seeking a drink (and he was not normally a drinking man), a ruckus from the boarding house diverted him from his course. He reached the fence to find two of the road men playing tag (as one might have said) with Valerie and Tillie, just returned from their evening constitutional. Biddie was peering around the trellis taking notes. "Get Candy out here!" Jeremy ordered.
"No time right now. I'm recording the incident for the Gazette." Her face gleamed as a new thought struck her. "And you can be my eyewitness! Sir, what is your feeling about–?"
"Not now, Biddie." He ran into the yard. At the same time Nigel appeared from the house, where he had begun boarding three days earlier, and together they pulled the men away. "Leave off, ruffians!" Nigel enjoined them. One blow was enough to fell him, Jeremy felled the assailant in turn, and then met a renewed attack by his partner.
"Stop!" came a commanding shout from the porch. The manager had shown herself at last, having completed the business that had delayed her (specifically, the extrication of another bride from a petticoat in which she had become entangled), and had turned a fiery eye on the road men. "Didn't I warn you about harassing the other guests? I want both of you packed and out of here tonight."
"Who'll make us?" one of them asked. At a look from Jeremy, his attitude changed to one of petulance. "But where can we go?"
"Mule barn up the street," said Jeremy, "if the mules will have you." The two men did not argue further. One of them retrieved his hat from where it had fallen, and they silently passed inside.
Nigel sat up with a grunt as Valerie knelt beside him. "I hope you're all right," he said.
"Are you, though?"
He shook his head. "I've made a muddle of things again."
"It was very heroic," she said kindly.
"To be knocked down? All my efforts in this town seem to conclude with my being knocked down."
"But you get up again. That's what matters."
She helped him do so now, and they went in together, leaving Jeremy and Candy to themselves. They stood with a space between them, he looking down, she looking away. "Much of that going on?" he asked.
"Too much. And that's only the half of it. You should hear the stories Miss Essie's been telling me since these people moved in."
"Oh, I don't know. They–they're–" She hunted for the proper words. "–they're just not very nice. You know?" Her eyes searched his. From a different girl Jeremy would have been inclined to laugh at the phrase, but not from Candy. And her feeling reinforced his own suspicion that Enoch was not the Aladdin's lamp the town had been looking for; it might be a Trojan horse; they had to know which. "I'm not the one who needs to hear them," Jeremy said, "but I'll tell you who is." Candy agreed with his advice, and put it to Essie, who agreed also. Therefore, the following night, she presented herself to the editor of the Gazette to report some of what she had heard.
"You know I can't print rumors," he said. The response was less than she had hoped for.
"They're no such thing. They're first-hand testimony."
"You know"–Joshua sounded as if he had been the schoolteacher–"when a company's successful, it's natural for people to be envious, to try and find chinks in its armor."
"Instead of dismissing the accounts out of hand, a proper journalist would investigate for himself." He had no answer for that, and Essie did not wait for one. "Good evening," she said with all the curtness she could muster, which was considerable.
Once outside, she followed the wall of the building to the street with teacherish precision. As she came up with the corner, Ashley stepped out into her path. He had been waiting for her. He was bigger than she had thought him. A few minutes earlier he had been about to look in again on what he regarded already as his firm's house organ but, hearing Essie's voice inside, had held back and leaned listening at the door. Now he wagged a finger at her in mocking primness. "I'd be careful if I was you, little schoolmarm."
"And of what am I to be careful, please?"
"The tales you tell around. Else you might find school out of session sooner than you anticipate."
"Is that a threat?"
"A prediction, based on experience."
Essie rose to her full height, such as it was. "I'm not scared of you!" she announced, though the tremble in her voice told otherwise.
"Aren't you?" He lunged at her. She jumped back with a cry. For some reason Ashley found that immensely funny. "Don't be, then. See where it gets you when you're locking up nights." He pretended to search his memory. "You live at the rectory, don't you? Right up the street." He left her to ponder the implications of this knowledge. Apprehensive, as he had intended, but refusing to surrender to her apprehensions, she marched home valiantly, but with a look about her now and again, and later when she locked up.
Behind the door, which had been standing ajar, Joshua had been listening in his turn, ready to go to Essie's aid, only the conversation had ended too soon. Now he stepped out and watched her small form disappear into the night. He was beginning to believe her. If she was right, he had led his neighbors down the garden path, or worse. He had to find out–which was just what she had said he should do. He would start at once; he had to.
Thus he was not present to witness what befell at camp the next morning. Nor was Jeremy, at first, having gone off an hour before to scout a new chance higher up. This had proved a disappointment, and he was returning down the hill sooner than he had promised when he spied a column of loggers, almost his whole skid gang, marching out of camp with Ulrich in the lead. Jeremy yelled to them from the hill, but Ulrich either did not hear or did not heed him; the men glanced briefly at him and kept walking. When he reached the bottom he ran out in front of them–the last few, that is–and held up his palms to signal them to stop, but they only walked around him; few were willing to meet his eyes.
The last in the line was Billy Sawdust. Determined to get an answer from him, at any rate, Jeremy dodged right and left as he did, forcing him eventually to halt. Jeremy asked point blank where he thought he was going. "Quit," said Billy. He started around him like the others.
"Wait! Billy, if you got a grievance, tell me."
"No grievance. Found a better deal's all. In town they're payin' four bucks a day."
"Four bucks! Nobody can afford to pay that much!"
"Who says so?"
"You trust him more than us?"
"He's payin' more than you!"
Jeremy could not beat that logic, and so he could do nothing else but watch as the men continued on their way. He feared the exodus to have been campwide, and on returning to the base camp found it had been so indeed, with only Corky, Swede, and a handful of other loyalists remaining.
Joshua had spent the morning in town asking questions. Most of the people he met had had no close dealings with Enoch and were still in its corner, as he had himself been till last night. He found only two dissenters–or, to be accurate, he found one of them and the other found him. The first was Nigel Chadwick; the second, Aaron Stempel. Both were eager to tell how their eyes had been opened. This was Nigel's account:
On the evening previous he had gone to Lottie's by himself, his hangers-on having exhausted their interest in him for this quarter. They did not know, and he doubted whether he would tell them, that he would soon be able to indulge them regularly for a long time–that is, after Enoch paid him the rest of what it owed him for his property; so far he had received only a small binder from Raynor. As he was standing alone at the bar, Hawser and a few other men–not Hawser's own, Nigel saw, but other property holders from the strip–made a circle at his back, crowding him in. He turned and faced them, uncowed: he had long ago ceased to consider himself worthy of serious bullying by anyone other than Raynor. "Where's your brother?" Hawser demanded.
"At home, I fancy. I don't exercise myself over his comings and goings. Why should you?"
Hawser stepped close enough to smell the whiskey on his breath. "You're a liar. You and him are in this together."
"And what may 'this' allude to, pray?"
Hawser looked ready to throttle him, but for some reason refrained. "Like you don't know. Our property, that's what! Land we worked with our own hands. Which you wouldn't know about."
"Your property? Every one of you?"
"Every man on the strip." Nigel shook his head, trying to make sense of it. "Say, maybe you didn't know."
"He simply stole it? I find that hard to believe even of Raynor."
"Oh, we signed bills of sale, all right. Had no choice. He said if we didn't he'd report us as squatters and we'd lose the land anyhow, with nothing to show for it. Got little enough as it was."
Nigel felt dizzy, but not from what he had drunk. Raynor had dealt generously enough with him, or had seemed to–but perhaps that had only been to avoid exciting suspicion. "He said they needed my property. Mine, not every bloody inch! What on earth can it be in aid of?" He downed the rest of his glass. "By God, I'll have the answer."
The others, surprised by his resolve, watched with curiosity as he stormed out. "You never know," said Hawser. "Might be there's some part of a man in there, after all."
The rain had returned in force. Nigel felt as though the weight of his clothes would sink him into the earth as he stood rattling the gate that before had always gone unlocked outside the house that had so recently been his. "Raynor, you cad!" he yelled over the downpour. "Come out and face me, man to man!"
The house gained a patch of light, with a shadow figure in it–Thora, he could tell, even at that distance. She came out to the gate, heedless of the wet, though she lacked cloak or coat of any kind. When she spoke her speech was slurred–or was that his own? "You can shush now. Shush, shush. He's out to supper with Ashley. Ash, ley. Thick as thie–" She laughed, a burbling kind of laugh. "Ha! The shoe fits."
"And what ought one to call you?"
"Nigel..." Her voice sounded infinitely weary.
She lay a hand on the top bar of the gate. Nigel thought he saw a dark blot on the wrist. When he made to reach for it, to see it better, she quickly moved it away. "Is that why? Because he forced you to it?" Thora did not answer, but her face answered for her. "Why didn't you stand up to him?"
"I might have. But he'd have won in the end. He always wins. Always, always. You were boys together. Don't you remember?"
Nigel chose not to remember. He reapplied himself to his purpose. "What do they want with the strip? Do you know?"
"The strip?" Thora echoed vaguely.
"The land! This land! Has Raynor said?"
She shook her head. "All I know is who gives the orders."
"Ashley, you mean?"
Thora stared at him in surprise. "You know Ashley?"
"Not personally. But I know someone who does–quite well, evidently."
That was Nigel's account. The question it raised–the question Thora could not answer–unsettled the hearer as it had the teller. Yet even more unsettling to Joshua was Aaron's narrative, which reached his ears soon after; unsettling because Aaron blamed him for part of what had happened, which was this:
For a period that had begun to expand from days to weeks, the lumber milled for Enoch had been amassing on the pier plank by plank, spar by spar, till the floor groaned and bowed under the weight. And the ships did not come; however long Aaron watched and paced and prayed, still they did not come. Ashley observed his discomfiture for several days, till one morning–that same morning–he strolled out to join him, and broached the subject with a blitheness which the circumstances, from Aaron's viewpoint, did not warrant. "Could I be mistaken, or do I perceive a man with a fretful air?"
The confidential discussion between them that Aaron had looked forward to had never materialized; perhaps this was it at last. "You perceive fear, not frets. The pier wasn't built to take a load like this. If your ships don't arrive by the week's end–"
"They won't," Ashley said blandly. He drew out his case. "Cigar?"
"What do you mean, they won't?"
Ashley took his time cutting and lighting his panetella. "I mean, not without certain undertakings on your part."
"Undertakings? What sort of undertakings?" He squared off opposite his newly revealed adversary. Whatever hint of threat was contained in the move, the one so threatened seemed oblivious to it, replying as blandly as before. "Such as–oh–an undertaking to make the firm a controlling partner in your milling operation."
"That will never be."
"Then the vessels will never come." Ashley watched with an abstract interest as the cloud that emanated from his lips dissolved in the salt air.
"But you need the lumber!"
"You need your pier. Difference is, we can afford to wait."
"This is blackmail! I'll have you up before a judge!" He started off for the mill.
"Will you–Mr. Jason Bolt?" Aaron stopped. "Yes, yes, I know about your little imposture. Knew soon as my man told me. I'd say there are enough accusations to go around, wouldn't you?" Aaron was trapped and he knew it–and showed it. "On the other hand, I see no point in succumbing to avarice. The old man can afford to pay fairly. And I want you as a colleague, not an enemy. We're men of the same stripe, you and I."
"Oh, are we?"
"What do you say to..." Ashley pretended to work out a figure he had settled on. "...fifteen thousand dollars for a sixty-five-percent interest?"
Aaron was silent for a long time before giving his answer. "I say, for twenty-five you can have the whole thing stem to stern."
"You'd pull out of a business you built up yourself? You surprise me."
"Never been much good at following orders, other than my own."
Ashley wondered if they were so much alike, after all. "Then it's agreed. I'll have the papers drawn up." Aaron started off again. "And by the bye, in case you take it into your head to start up another mill in competition with this" (Aaron had already, as it happened) "I should advise you to try a new line. Soon there will be no other mills." Considering the prospect and everything it implied, Aaron said he would take that cigar, after all. The two men exchanged smiles, which were false on both sides. Aaron simply did not like Ashley, in spite of his heartless tactics–nor the cigar, though it had been free. It was like the man himself, coarse and obvious, bragging up its qualities without having any that a man of taste would judge worth the brag.
As they stood there smoking, voices broke out somewhere–voices strident, hot, implacable. "Sounds like a riot," said Aaron.
"A bank run, perhaps," Ashley suggested.
His prescience was astounding, for when they followed the clamnor to its source this proved indeed to be what the town's older residents could not bring themselves to call anything other than "the brick building." A mob was gathered at the doors, and Ben–of all the unlikely Rolands–was holding them at bay single-handed. "I ain't got your money, I tell you! Hamlin's vamoosed with the whole caboodle!" Aaron peered behind him and discovered that Ashley, with whom he had set out, had fallen away at some point between their starting point and their destination. Shortly he re-appeared, now flanked by a pair of men who looked like bodyguards. Aaron wondered whether he kept them always on call, or whether they had been standing ready for the present crisis–in which case perhaps...
Ashley stepped to the doors of the bank next to Ben and faced the mob bravely, with only professional strong-arm men between it and himself. He addressed it in a tone of straightforward reasonableness. "Gentlemen," he began, "–and ladies–Mr. Perkins is only telling you the plain truth. I can confirm it from my personal knowledge." Aaron wondered how this was possible since he had been at the pier all morning–unless perhaps... "Mr. Dean has absconded for parts unknown. But have no fear. The firm, in consideration of the commonweal, is prepared to make good your losses–to a degree. There is one condition, however."
"Certain undertakings," Aaron muttered.
"What's the conditions?" asked Young Tom, who was among the crowd.
"That Mr. Perkins sign over the assets of this institution, and his general store, to the Enoch Navigation Company."
Everyone's eyes turned to Ben. "Well, Ben?" asked Tom. The question was picked up by some of the others.
Aaron watched sadly as Ben flopped about like a caught pike. "It'll mean the end for me," he said. "You all know that."
"No such thing," Ashley said suavely. "The firm expects and desires you to continue in its employ. You're not to be blamed for the regrettable state of affairs. Your only fault lay in over-trusting Mr. Dean. But we were all of us guilty there."
"Looks like I got no choice," Ben said at last. "If I ever see that Hamlin again..."
"I think I can promise you won't."
That statement and the look–almost a smirk–that had accompanied it had confirmed Aaron's suspicion to a bare degree short of what the law required. He had gone hunting for Joshua to tell him (and blame him) and had run him to ground at the schoolhouse, where he was sitting in conference with Essie and Nigel. Essie had sent the class home early so the three of them could confer the better. Aaron recognized at once the seed of an opposition movement, and declared himself a member on the spot. "I knew it," said Essie, after he had finished his narrative. "Knew it all along. I should have spoken up before. And you see what's happened? Now they're in a fair way to owning the whole town. They've taken over the bank, the mercantile, the saloon–"
"The mill," Aaron put in.
"And you know what that will mean."
Aaron certainly did, and if the others did not they found out soon enough; to be exact, the next day, when the prices of every necessary doubled: twenty cents for coffee, ten for sugar, a dollar for whiskey. The extent of the resulting displeasure, Joshua was able to observe for himself when he stopped in at the saloon for a drink (and he was not normally a drinking man, either). He found Quentin installed there in a capacity very like a manager's; some of the regulars had wondered why Lottie would put up with it, but others thought they understood: he was family, by marriage at least, and she had a well-known soft spot for family. Since he seemed to be the man to complain to, complain they did, and all bringing the same complaint: "Four bits! 'tweren't four bits yesterday."
"This isn't yesterday" was the answer Quentin gave them. But after the complaint had cost his aunt's saloon a number of sales, and perhaps as many customers, he began to regard the sudden rise in prices as a tactical error, and ventured to wonder aloud if Ashley really knew what he was doing. He did not say it to anyone in particular, but Joshua was the one standing closest to him. "This was Ashley's idea?" he said.
"Everything that's happened here was Ashley's idea. Didn't you know that?"
Joshua had not, and now for the first time that he should have. Jason would have; Jeremy had. He was the only one of them to have been taken in, and by nothing more substantial than soap, sawdust, and smoke (especially smoke). But not any more; no, sir. With his usual inability to restrain himself once a burr had got under his saddle, he determined to tell Ashley so.
This morning Ashley was at the sawmill, reviewing the slate that had announced the new price schedule. "They won't stand for it," Harv warned him, as he had warned him before. "We're losing trade already."
"Not the Bolts, I hope?"
"Not yet. No other mill's of a size to take their jobs."
"Good. It's the Bolts I'm after."
"I thought as much," said Joshua. He had approached them unheard from the rear. Ashley showed only the faintest surprise at seeing him. "We're the town's biggest customer, and you know your overcharging will hurt us the most. What's your game? If you're trying to force a deal–"
This time Ashley did not bother to mask his rancor with even a semblance of courtesy. "I'm no longer interested in dealing with the Bolts–two of them, anyway. Might still find a place for you, if you're not too swell-headed to take orders."
"From you? Not likely. I stand with my brothers."
"You won't stand long, any of you. We'll drive you into the ground!"
"Not before I expose what you're up to in my paper."
"Our paper! We bought you body and soul."
Joshua smiled ruefully. "I heard only the Devil buys souls." He took out the small quantity of cash he carried with him and flung it at Ashley's feet. "There, I just unbought myself."
"You'll get the rest."
As he walked away Ashley spat after him, and would have spat on him if he could; him and the whole passel of Bolts. "I'll have more than that out of you," he said. "You just wait." Joshua was too far away to hear, but Ashley did not care. The last stage of their campaign was at hand, and not all the Bolts in Christendom would have the power to resist them. Devils or not, it was all one: soon they would be the new Bolts.
III. Laughter, Full of Tears
Then came the thunder.
It was no heavenly visitation this time but the work of men, and it ran along the entire length of the strip, which a newly put-up sign identified as Lodenhead (a name generally presumed to have derived from the dominant color). Ulrich had issued the command to his assembled work force: the jacks from the Bolt camp, others from the companies Enoch had bought out, and a number of men Ulrich had brought with him, who looked about as much like loggers as he did. The genuine ones had been slow to believe what they heard, and some had insisted he could not mean it, but his reiteration had settled all doubts: the forest was to come down, and by the fastest means possible. The clearing of those saplings had been only a first step. Perhaps Nigel's store of dynamite had suggested the plan to Ashley, or perhaps he had arrived at it independently; it was altogether in keeping with his way of doing things.
So charges were laid all the way up the strip–and then, fatally, set off. Trees fell and flew, like so many matchsticks dropped, flung, or broken; some nearly whole, some halved, some shattered entirely. Teams of oxen stood at hand to drag those that could be dragged–and whither? To block the flumes and the skid roads striping the property, and the creek that bounded it on the east side, the Bridal Veil side, whose water was already cluttered with leaves and wood chunks.
Joshua had spent the morning looking up Enoch's representatives, he and Jeremy having agreed that continuing the investigation was the best hope of turning up weapons, if any existed, that might be used against Ashley. They had also decided to continue in the meantime with the work they owed under the contract, using the small crew they had left, lest the company declare them in default, but for the moment the accident on the pier had granted them a temporary respite.
Joshua's overtures to Enoch's people had met with rebuffs from all except one. Later he learned that Ashley had issued an edict forbidding disclosures to the press, and especially the Gazette; only Quentin, who did not like being told whom he could and could not talk to, had risked defiance. But apart from his own resentment of Ashley's high-handed methods (which Joshua had surmised for himself at the saloon), he had had little to disclose.
Thus frustrated, Joshua had taken a walk out to the railhead to see Fiske, hoping that his comparative independence from Ashley would encourage him to speak more openly than the others. So it might have done, but the railhead was now completed, and Fiske and his crew were gone. The track lay three miles outside town, far enough so that when the booming began Joshua could not identify its nature or its source. He ascribed it at first to the elements and then, vaguely, to some new project of Fiske's. But on his walk back the sounds grew louder, and his worry deepened with each step he took.
On reaching the north end of Lodenhead he got his first glimpse of the destruction proceeding. Half the laborers were strangers who looked to him like city toughs; others, he recognized as Bolt men. Along the borders spectators had gathered and were exhibiting feelings that ranged from dismay to indignation. As Joshua continued down the strip's western fringe he saw more clearly what the crews were doing, where the logs were going–and why.
His mind fought the understanding. As one who approached the lumber business coolly and methodically, he could only view the scheme that presented itself to him as that of a lunatic, and self-defeating, too: Enoch appeared to be sabotaging what Enoch itself had paid for. It made no sense. But the evidence was too plain to deny. And so was the danger: how could they not see it themselves? He felt he must warn someone. But whom? Those who had created it, and alone might yet avert it? Or those who, yet unseen, might fall into its path?
He had not time to decide, for then he heard, in one of the pauses between bouts of blasting, the rumble of logs in a flume. He saw them first as a brown streak shooting down the mountain. Nearer him, where the flume crossed the strip, wood had been piled as for a bonfire. The train of logs was speeding toward it. The rumble grew to a roar. Ashley's men stood watching, not doing anything–and what could they do now?–as the first log hit the pile with a loud crack. It recoiled into the log behind it, that log into the next one back, and so on all the way up the race. Logs bounced, reared up, tumbled over the sides.
On the far side of the mountain Jeremy had barely heard the blasting and thought, without thinking, that it must be Nigel again. He had brought a gang out to finish the tasks left unfinished by those who had decamped the day before. The aggregate of the remaining men was so small for a camp so large that none of them had chanced on a view of the activity below till almost noon. The first to do so had been Swede, who had taken up his old job again in the assurance of an imminent marriage. He had run out to fetch Jeremy, Jason still being gone no one knew where, and Joshua being in town, no one knew why. Once Jeremy had seen for himself what was happening he had rounded up everybody, left Swede and two other men to watch the camp, and led the rest down to Lodenhead.
Approaching, they had foreseen and then seen the collision. Now, having arrived, they ran to where one of the work gangs was just prising open another dynamite case. "No more!" Jeremy ordered them. "You're blocking our flumes!" He looked for faces he recognized. "Billy," he said, "you should know better than this."
Some of those he did not recognize looked to Ulrich, and Ulrich to Ashley, who was standing next to him. Ashley nodded, Ulrich copied his example, and the gang made to resume work. Jeremy and his men began to shove or drag them away from the dynamite, they resisted, and the struggle quickly turned into a fight. Billy, stricken with a sense of impropriety that was his closest approach to guilt, proclaimed, "I won't raise a hand against Jeremy!" and turned on the other workmen; this inspired some of his brother loggers to do the same. None of them had noticed that several of Ulrich's men, at a signal from their captain, had slipped away and were starting up the mountain. They were armed with guns.
Reaching the end of the strip, Joshua found Ashley watching the conflict with as much pleasure as if it had met a cherished expectation of his. Joshua ran to him and insisted he put a stop to it. "All right," Ashley said easily. "Sheriff?" He turned to Ulrich, who, Joshua saw, was now wearing a badge.
"Sheriff? On whose say-so?"
"Ours," Ashley declared. "Conditions in Seattle threaten our interests. The civil authorities have abandoned their responsibilities. Stempel has left town"–this was news to Joshua–"and your brother's heading up the ruffians who started this fight. The sheriff was a witness to it–weren't you, Sheriff?"
"Sure was. Assaulted your men on no provocation whatsoever."
"Arrest 'em." Immediately Joshua's mind was filled with a single thought: to warn his brother. He started forth across the ruined wood. "Him, too," Ashley added. He reached for his cigar case.
Seconds later the bay of an ox horn echoed through the hills. "Cookie!" Corky said.
"No, Swede," said Jeremy. "I told him to blow the cook's horn if there was trouble." He knew what it was, too. "They're taking the camp!" They must get back and save it, if saved it could be. As they retreated they found themselves pursued across the creek and up the mountain. It was too late for Joshua to deliver his warning, and now it was unnecessary. Half the sheriff's men disappeared into the Bridal Veil forest after his brother; the other half were advancing on him. At the sheriff's order they accelerated to a run.
Joshua quickly looked round him. The creek stood nearby; the bushes were dense on its bank. He ran for them and dived into their midst. In and out he scrambled, on all fours, following the creek north, not taking time to look behind him. At last he reached a shallow ditch, where he stopped to catch his breath. He listened but could not hear his pursuers' footsteps. Had he escaped them? And if so, for how long? One thing he knew: he must find Jason. But where? Where?
Jeremy's band never reached camp. Halfway up the mountain they were met by Swede and the others, fleeing at top speed. "Sorry," said Swede, "they took us by surprise." Between them and the men below, Jeremy saw that the only choice but escape. "Where will we go?" asked Swede.
"Barnsdale," Jeremy said at once. It was a thick wilderness in the furthest part of the mountain, where they could safely hide and make plans–if they reached it.
Once Joshua had made sure of eluding the posse he left the bushes and continued north along the creekside, having a notion the Waterworths' cabin lay that way. Eventually he found himself near the railhead again. From it he heard the puffing of a locomotive engine. He could hardly have resisted looking at any time, but especially now. He found a hill from which he could watch as the train steamed past. She was pulling two boxcars.
As she squealed to a halt Joshua moved over a few yards to obtain a view of the terminus, where a group of men was waiting. Ulrich was standing at their head. Joshua recognized them as the ones who had been chasing him; so this was where they had gone. When the train stopped moving they went back to the cars and slid open the doors. Now at last Joshua understood Ashley's reason for wanting the railway completed. The cars were filled with men: more of Ulrich's, probably–enough to make a small army. They were not in uniform, though some of their garments looked like cavalry issue.
As they were debarking one of them happened to spy Joshua on the hill. He pointed and gave a cry. Joshua turned and ran up through the wood. He continued till he was stopped by a bluff that overlooked the river. While he was weighing whether to try it where he stood or to follow its edge along till the slope eased off (if it ever did) he heard voices behind him: the army had started up the hill. They were farther away than they sounded and were not within sight of him yet, but soon would be. He had no choice but to attempt the descent directly below. He looked across to the hills on the far side–and nearly fell off the precipice. Surely what he was seeing was a mirage–or if not he had lost his reason. For on the summit opposite, exactly matching the engraving his uncle had once shown him, stood Kilmaron Castle.
At the same time, on the mountain Joshua had left behind him, Jeremy and his foresters were leading the sheriff's men a merry chase across the sun-splashed slopes, between colonnades of trees. Not knowing the ways of the woods like those who roved them daily, the pursuers soon lost the track. And worse, once they had penetrated into the wilds of Barnsdale they began to encounter spirits. A leg would kick out from behind a tree and send its target over a hillside; a pair of arms from nowhere would whisk their victim into a copse. Verily, eftsoons didst ye wights flee affrighted; and the laughter of their unseen tormentors rang after them. The sanctuary thus purged, the woodsmen emerged from hiding to set about finding themselves a camp by what remained of daylight.
Gazed at by the same lowering sun, the stones of Kilmaron Castle blushed pink. Its towers stood out clearly against the mist that veiled the mountains behind and hovered over the river below. From the picture he had seen Joshua had no doubt of the building's identity–but what was it doing here? He had no leisure then to wonder further, for the army was fast closing on him. The castle would be his best refuge, if he could make it; and he was burning to see it more closely, anyway.
The cliff was practically vertical but thickly coated in shrubs. Using these alternately as foot stops and handholds, he made his way down to the glossy silt of the bank. He entered the river without hesitating, and tried not to notice the chill that slithered through him at the water's first touch. He used his legs to propel himself to the sandy bottom, where he stayed as he glided across. He had not foreseen that his jacket would weigh him down, and he was forced to shed it; he was also forced, a little past halfway, to ascend to the surface for more air, after which he returned below and completed his crossing. Clambering out onto the east shore in the cool dusk, he felt the press of his wet clothes against his body. He looked back. The army had found a gentler slope a little farther south and were beginning their descent. He should reach the castle well ahead of them.
The hill proved less steep than many he had climbed at home. At a moderate speed he threaded his way between the stiffly leafed shrubs and over the slabby rocks to the high rim, where he paused to take in the castle at closer range. It was set back thirty yards and rose to the same height above. He had never before seen a castle so close–or indeed at any distance. Its stones were large and bore the wear of time. The broad oak door, the small, thickly glazed windows, the corner towers with their merloned and crenelated crestings recalled the calf-bound volumes of Scott he had read on his pillow in boyhood, and some distance into manhood.
He looked behind him again. The army stood clustered at the far bank while its captain strode to and fro, probably ruminating on whether to swim or build a raft. He lifted his head at a hail from up river, where his scout had discovered a partial land bridge.
Joshua waited no longer. He cleared the ground to the castle door and rapped insistently with the lion's-head knocker. The door did not open. He ran his eyes over the wall: to scale it would require a rope and a grappling hook. The side wall was just the same. But at one of the far corners stood a tree–one only: a tall slim spruce with a crookbacked trunk whose tip nearly abutted the tower. Joshua made for it at a run. The distance was greater than he had supposed: the stones were broad and the walls long.
He stopped at the roots of the tree. The climb looked fairly easy, for a lumberman anyhow. As he shinnied up the first few feet his wet trousers chafed his legs, but they cleaved securely to the rough bark. He reached the lowest limb and stepped onto it; when he heard it crack under him he swung up to the next one above it; and so he progressed rung by rung. Two-thirds of the way up, he chanced to look beyond the leaves to the wide round tower. At one of its windows he saw a woman's face–or thought he had, but a moment later it was gone. He thought he well might have dreamed it, for it was one of the prettiest faces he had ever seen, with eyes like bluebells and cheeks like the palest pinks. Come to that, he was not sure he was not dreaming the whole business; it was fantastic enough.
Reaching the treetop at last, he found himself looking down on a wall walk, at a distance he could leap, if his aim were true; if not he would plummet forty feet, perhaps to his death. In the absence of an alternative, he girded himself for the attempt. With a deep breath–the thin air dizzied him a little–he sprang out into the void.
He did not make the floor but landed with a smack on the edge of the parapet. A second later he began to slide off. Clutching the cold stone with hands and forearms, he pulled himself up and over onto the flagstones. He lay crumpled there for a minute, retrieving his breath, and then raised himself to peer over the battlement. As he surveyed the vacant ground, listening to the rustlings and chitterings from the woodland below, he believed for a moment that he had lost his trackers. Then he heard a shout from the hillside, in a voice he recognized as Ulrich's. They were certainly going to a lot of trouble on Joshua's account; Joshua wondered why.
At each end of the walk stood a door resembling the one in front. As he was pondering which to take, the nearer one swung open. He slipped through before stopping to consider how the residents of this isolated keep might feel about trespassers. Immediately the door shut behind him and he found himself within a small round chamber lit dimly by two windows like the one at which he had seen, or imagined seeing, the woman's face.
A moment later he felt the prick of cold steel between his shoulder blades, penetrating to the skin through his sopping shirt. He heard a woman's voice: "Up with your hands." Its unmistakable Scots burr was palliated by the sweetness of its timbre. Joshua did as commanded. "Now turn aroond, slowlike." Again he obeyed–and to his amazement saw opposite him the face from the tower, burnished by the dusklight, haloed by the tricolored glass of an adjoining chapel partly visible through its archway. The figure below the face was tall and willowy, the hair around it the color of buckwheat flowers. The woman was clad in a long skirt and a white blouse, with a plaid shawl round the shoulders; and she was holding a foot-long dagger at Joshua's chin.
Presently he dared to speak. "I'm not generally one to stand on ceremony when making a lady's acquaintance. But may I know how long I'm apt to be staring down the flat of your blade?"
"Till the question's settled in my mind whether to kill ye or nae." Her wariness seemed mixed with curiosity. "Ye dinna doot I wuid?"
"Don't doubt it a bit." He could not have said that of any other woman he had ever known, even Candy. His range of experience had been woefully provincial, except for Lottie Hatfield and a girl belonging to a dance hall troupe that had summered in Seattle once (and who, oddly, had resembled one of the brides). But here was a woman as real, whole, and immovable (short of blasting) as the pines and the boulders of his mountain, and who pierced no less to his heart; the kind of woman he had been seeking his whole life, though he had not known it till now. He only wished circumstances had permitted him to appreciate her at more leisure. Yet, grateful as he was for their meeting, he deemed it not worth the forfeit of his life–almost, perhaps, for he was exceedingly romantic, but not quite, for he was also exceedingly practical, and he did not want to die before mastering the intricacies of his new press.
A shout sounded from farther in. "Morna! Come quick!"
"Och," she said, obviously disappointed, "noo Ian's settled it for me. Come!" With her blade she guided him past the chapel and down a tightly winding stair into a narrow passage, and then into another, which opened onto a balustraded landing overlooking a great vaulted hall. Even in his present straits Joshua felt a rush of awe on realizing this to be the hall of his ancestors.
A good fire was going; above hung a hunting scene woven in wool. The other walls were hung in solid colors with borders in ancient patterns. The rush mats on the floor and the sturdy oak tables and chairs looked randomly placed, as if the occupants had been used to pushing them about at their whim. The room seemed to Joshua to resemble more than anything else in his experience Seattle's big meeting hall. It was not at all like a home; yet for some reason he felt at home there. Looking at the men below with their pronounced Scots features, he might almost have believed he looking at his forebears. They were crowding to peer out the windows at the front; all except a large man with a red beard at the foot of the stairs. Morna inquired from the landing what the matter was.
"Matter aplenty," said the bearded man ominously. "The Philistines are upon us!" He looked up at them. "Wha's he, then?"
"The first o' the lot." She ran her eyes over Joshua as a man might a mare he proposed to buy. "Though he's nae Goliath, tae be sure." Joshua felt rather hurt by this. "Where he entered, his comrades may follow."
"You mean the men outside?" Joshua asked. Morna paid him no notice.
Ian hurried upstairs to them. "Where? Show me, lass." He started up the passage they had come by. A prick in the ribs instructed Joshua to follow, and Morna walked behind him with the dagger between them. "How mony are ye?" Ian asked him. "It'll do ye nae guid to lie, we'll ken it afore lang."
"I saw seventy, maybe eighty. But I'm not with them. It's me they're after." Ian turned canny Scots eyes on him. "Sorry to have led them here. But yours was the only harbor that offered." It never occurred to him that either of them might doubt his word.
Ian pursed his lips. "How do ye reckon him?" he asked the woman.
"Bit of a gowk," she said, with a trace of a smile, "but an honest lad. I'd stak' my life on it."
"What's a gowk?" asked Joshua, though he had a fair idea. Again she ignored the question.
Ian nodded, pleased. "And sae wuid I. Put up your dirk." She did so, to Joshua's great relief, and they continued on the way to the parapet. "Dinna fash yourself, lad. 'tis hither the villains were bound, onyway, or I'm a sassenach. Ye see, we're trespassers in this hoose–though it be our ain hoose."
"Ours. And damned be the mon who says otherwise."
Joshua was disappointed. "Then it isn't the house I thought. It isn't Kilmaron."
Ian halted. "Kilmaron it is, as ever was. But how d'ye ken that?"
"Kilmaron belongs to the Bolts!" He remembered his uncle's story. "Or did till they sold to–"
"The bluidy English. Aye, sae we did, curse the day. But noo we've tak'n it back."
"'We'?" Joshua slowly realized what that meant. "You're not a Bolt?"
"But I'm a Bolt!"
"Which Bolt are you?"
"Ian, son o' Duncan, brother to Gordon and Hamish. And you?"
"Joshua, son of Jonathan, brother to Jason and Jeremy."
"Cousin!" The two locked in a hearty embrace.
Joshua looked at Morna. "And is she–?"
"A MacBaxter." Joshua's countenance brightened. At the same time Ian's turned dark. "Alas, the Bolts are but few in these days. We called on our kinsmen, and the clans that owe us fealty of auld, tae join in our crusade. These devils think to drive us out, but we're sworn to hold this keep and hold it we sha', though a' their armies be raised against us. And if we shuid fa' we'll mak' such a noise in our fa' as will resoond in the hielands for aye."
The words sounded grand, no doubt; but coming from the same family, Joshua had had an abundant experience of grand-sounding words, and had spun more than a few of them himself. Choosing a more practical vein, he asked how large Ian's force was; he had seen only a dozen or so in the hall below. And the biggest question of all had yet to be answered: "How does this castle come to be here?"
"Mon, I've nae time to read ye a history the noo. We've a battle brewing!"
The three emerged onto the wall walk. Ian craned to peer over the side. "How ever did ye gain this?" he asked.
Joshua pointed to the spruce. The other two looked up and down its length, and then at each other. "Ye're doughtier than ye luik," Morna said. The compliment pleased him less well than it might have; but Ian made up for it by clapping him on the back and avowing that only a Bolt could hae duin that.
Joshua looked out toward the front of the castle. "Maybe not," he said. The army had divided to reconnoiter both sides, and one party was following the same path as he had, under the walk they were standing on. They quickly stepped out of view. Presently they heard a voice below: "Look here, cap'n!" Their enemies had discovered the way up. Joshua peered down again. "They have ropes," he whispered. "Unless something's done they'll be on top of us directly. Are you armed?"
"Armed, ye say?" Ian opened his jacket to reveal a pair of silver-handled pistols at his waist. He drew one of them and held it out to Joshua. "Noo ye must decide–will ye stand with us or nae?" The question made Joshua realize that he had already joined their fight without thinking about it, or indeed about anything that had befallen him since first spying the castle. When he had lacked time to consider, he had felt no reservations; now one gave rise to the other. Ian misinterpreted his hesitancy. "Understand, lad, I've nae wish tae compel ye. But if ye willna ye can see I've little choice but tae throw ye doon on top o' them."
This resolved the issue speedily. "Then I'll stand with you, by all means."
"Aye, I thocht ye wuid." Ian passed the pistol to him and drew the other for himself. The men on the ground hefted their ropes in preparation to fling them over the tree limbs, as for a hanging. Ian and Joshua stepped forward to one of the crenels and took aim. They fired at the same time, Joshua past the men's heads, Ian past their feet; and then both ducked out of sight. "They'll think it's sperrits," Ian chuckled. Joshua doubted this strongly but concurred that keeping their foes ignorant of who and how many they were was their wisest strategy. He hoped he was not thinking too much like Ashley. They heard feet pattering off, and when they next looked the men were gone. But another attempt would certainly follow.
Joshua thought the matter over for a moment. "Have you any rope?" (The enemy had taken theirs away with them.) "And such a thing as an axe?" Ian nodded. "Fetch it. And more men." Morna was sent, and returned shortly with the items he had called for. The axe was not of a type he used in his trade, but a single-bladed Lochaber. He learned afterward that till then it had been relegated to use as a wall ornament, and he felt an unreasonable satisfaction in recalling it to duty.
The Scots watched with curiosity as he put the plan he had devised into action. He fashioned one end of the rope into a noose, looped and tightened it round one of the merlons, and tied the other end round his waist. Then he pulled himself up onto the ledge, took the axe in one hand and the rope in the other, and lowered himself down the outer wall, stepping backwards. He stopped when the rope tautened, as he had calculated it would, at a point about halfway down. From there he let go, swung round to face the tree, pulled himself over by one of the limbs, and set his feet astride a thicker limb beneath it. Once sure of his footing, he lifted the axe and began to hack at the trunk. The blade was sharp, and the work proceeded rapidly–to his eyes, though to his allies, who had no means of marking his progress, he seemed to be taking the devil's ain time aboot it.
After roughly an hour he saw that the upper half was ready to fall. He climbed up to straddle it, rocked it to and fro till the core snapped, and then rode it down as it toppled over: an old trick he had been fond of showing off in his younger days, till Jason had put a stop to it. This time, it made Morna gasp (as had been part of his plan also). As the trunk fell out from under him he swung back to the wall and called to the men above to pull him up. So they did, and when he had safely regained the walk they contended with one another to express their congratulations, and their happiness to have him on their side.
When the party returned to the hall they learned that during their absence the army outside had made an attempt on the front, probably supposing the main body of its defenders to be at the parapet; but the attempt had gone no farther than repeated runs at the door. This was not so puzzling on the assumption, proposed by Joshua, that Ulrich was under orders from the owner to keep the building intact. If so the defenders gained thereby a double advantage, for despite their resolution to preserve it at all costs they would not scruple to impose a little damage–and indeed had done so already, having repelled the evening's attack by battering out two of the glazings and firing blindly, but with fortuitous accuracy, out through the small window-holes, thereby sending their foes scurrying away down the hillside.
Long since, Morna had noticed the wetness of Joshua's garments but had been precluded by events from acting on the discovery. Now, with Ian's permission, she led him to a chest upstairs from which she took out a set of dry ones. She did not know that, by virtue of his profession, he was used to being wet for long periods; but tonight he welcomed the offer of a change. His clothes, which were soaked entirely through, were weighing on him more than usual. Their replacement, however–and the only type of attire not in service at the moment–turned out to be a traditional Scottish dress rig, consisting of a white shirt, knee-length hose, and a plaid kilt. There were no shoes to be had, and so Joshua was obliged to retain his own, which clashed somewhat with the rest of the ensemble.
When he had finished changing he inspected the result in the bedchamber mirror. The clothes were a tolerably good fit, he thought. Their panache made him feel just a little foolish, but they recalled his reading of Scott, and all in all he was not displeased. In the mirror he spied Morna peeking in (for a glimpse of his bare chest? perhaps, then, she was not as prim as she appeared), smiling in a way that suggested she was not displeased, either. Noticing that his eye was on her, she ducked out of the room; and when he rejoined her in the hall she had reverted to her customary gravity.
The castle had a tower at each corner, no two alike, and each connected to the next by a walk like the one by which Joshua had acceded to the castle. While he had been changing, the Scots had made an inspection of these and satisfied themselves that none of them could be attained easily and also that, taken together, they commanded a comprehensive view of the exterior wall, except for the outermost part of the southwest apse, which protruded a little farther than the others. Ian had ordered a watch to be kept on all sides, round the clock.
Upon Joshua's return the others remarked the transformation approvingly. "Ye're a true Bolt and no mistak'," said Ian. He assigned Joshua a turn on watch after supper, which Morna had gone off to prepare. One reason for Ian's bringing her had been to have a cook at hand, since his own had refused to accompany him and he had had no confidence in his clansmen on that score; but it so chanced that one of these also had the knack, and was able to take turns with Morna in the kitchen. The information made a pleasant surprise for Joshua, who had not thought before to wonder whether the occupiers had had the foresight to provision themselves; at the lumber camp food flowed so plentifully the residents came to take it for granted.
Off in Barnsdale, Jeremy's men did not bother to hunt up supper; they might have, but none of them (excepting Swede) had the will for it. Sitting around the fire, but little consoled by its warmth, they discussed their plight and how, or if, they could mend it. "Will they find us here, do you think?" Billy asked.
"Have to learn the woods first," said Corky.
"Only got to hire them a guide," said Swede. "'There's plenty 'nough trappers and Injins around, ain't there?" They all looked discouraged.
"Why hang around and wait?" said Jeremy. "We can strike first."
"Ain't enough of us to go up against them," Corky objected.
"You mean to let them take Seattle without a fight?"
Swede hushed their talk; he had heard a padding out beyond the clearing. Jeremy had heard it, too. At his silent command they slipped off into the forest on the other side and hid there behind the thick trunks of the firs. Seconds later they heard footsteps in the clearing, and then a familiar voice: "Jeremy? Where you got to?" With a sense of relief he and his band re-emerged to greet Harv and some of the men from the mill. "We come to join you," Harv said. "Ain't right, what Ashley's doing. Ain't right at all."
Jeremy felt a warmth beyond that of the fire. "What was that you were saying, Corky?"
"Still ain't enough of us," Corky insisted. Swede seconded the opinion.
Jeremy made a count. "All right. Then I'll get more."
The town was always quiet now at night; but this night was different. A loud succession of clinkings and clankings from the flour mill had beaten back sleep from everyone living at that end of town–except the widow Longmeyer, who was deaf, and Biddie, who wore earplugs in bed. Curious, and a little fearful, Candy pulled on her robe and set out to investigate. Coming up on the side window of the mill, begrimed as it was, she saw a troop of shadow forms inside (Ashley's men, no doubt) smashing Joshua's press to bits. "Of all the nerve...!" she said, rather unnecessarily. They could not have heard her, even if they had not themselves been creating enough noise to raise the dead, but just then one of them chanced to turn his face to the window, and no sooner had he done it than Candy was off like a bowshot.
As she hurried back across the yard of the boarding house, a figure sprang out from the shadow of the porch. With one hand he grabbed her tightly round the waist, and clamped the other over her mouth. "Don't scream," he whispered, "it's only me."
He removed his hand; and she did not scream. "Ashley's men are over there," she said. "You know what could happen to you if they catch you?"
"But I had to come. To carry you off to my mountain lair. Isn't that what outlaws are supposed to do with fair damsels?" Candy looked at him doubtfully. "Uh, just kidding."
"Oh," she said, sounding disappointed. He motioned her to follow him into the crawlspace under the porch, and she did not protest, as normally she would have. On hands and knees they entered the recess and then wriggled around to sitting, with their knees drawn up and their heads very bent. They had not sat close together for many months, especially in the dark. Candy's heart was pounding like Indian war drums. She wondered if Jeremy could hear it, or if he would care, or if–
He interrupted her train of thought. "I really came to ask for your help," he said.
"Anything!" she said at once, and then feared that had sounded over-eager.
"It'll be dangerous. If Ashley finds out–"
"He wouldn't hurt a woman." She hesitated. "Would he?" And before he could reply she said, "I don't care" (which was not quite true). "Whatever has to be done." The drums were beating faster now; faster almost than she could stand.
"They broke up the press," he said.
"I know. I saw."
"So now our only way of spreading news is the same one we had before."
Candy nodded. "The brides." A second later the obvious question struck her. "What news?"
"I want you to get the word to everyone, except Ashley's people. You know where the skid road crosses the creek south of Chadwick's?" Candy nodded again. "We'll assemble there at dawn day after tomorrow." His eyes foresaw it as he said it; she thought she had never seen him look so brave. "We're taking the town back."
Till the hour arrived, he decided he could do with a change of clothes as well as a couple of other amenities from the family cabin. Guessing that Ashley would have this guarded on the chance of his return, he chose to approach it roundabout, by way of the hill from which Spoonbread had ambushed them so short a time before. As he was starting up it he heard a patter of hooves and the creak of a wagon. He crouched behind a rock from which he could see the path but could not be seen himself, unless the seer had known where to look.
The wagon trundled past so close he could have jumped on board–and he would have had time, for it moved sluggishly, burdened down with crates. They were headed to the camp; that was the only place the path led to. Jeremy wondered what was in them, and why their transport had been reserved to that late hour. After the wagon passed out of his sight he listened to its sounds fade up the mountain. When all was silent he completed his climb, and from the top of the rise looked across to the clearing–
The clearing. His heart froze. The cabin was not under guard; could not be, for it was no longer there. Where it had been lay scattered chimney stones, fragments of charred logs, ashes–ashes which had been their most cherished things, keepsakes, heirlooms; everything the marauders had not taken away as booty. At first he would not believe it, insisted to himself that he had mistaken the location, that their cabin still existed somewhere up the way. At last he could deny it no longer. He did not weep; his anger swelled till it left no room for tears. "You'll pay for this, Ashley," he whispered, for only the darkness to hear, "I swear you will."
Earlier that night–at nine o'clock, promptly–Joshua had taken up his duty on the south wall, with which he was becoming well acquainted. He hoped he might soon say the same of Morna, whom he found waiting when he got there. Whether she had been assigned to keep watch with him or been assigned the preceding shift and was staying to keep him company, he neither knew nor cared; her presence was enough. Surrounded by those venerable stones, treading them as his forefathers had done, he felt the call of his blood; of kindred, history, homeland. But for a toss of the die he might have been laird of the castle, and she his lady–and who knew but what they might be, one day? She answered his remaining questions. "Aye, the house was sold to the bluidy English–then bought from the same by one of your Yankee capitalists wha's mair money than he weel kens what tae dae with."
"Who is he?"
"Some grand mon in the milling trade, apparently–a Mr. Enoch Loden."
Enoch! The name touched off a spark in Joshua's mind. Behind those high walls in the tranquil night he had been feeling remote from events in Seattle, never considering how they related to those at the castle, though the very men who had driven him from the one were laying siege to the other. The spark leapt the gap between to make the connection, shocking him into awareness. He had heard of the Loden Mills and the fortune generated therefrom, a large measure of which evidently had been poured into Enoch Navigation–and thus into Seattle. The castle was part of the plan, and showed it to have long preceded Jason's deal with Ashley.
But why this castle, the Bolts' castle? Was that only coincidence? And why was the town not abuzz with the news of its existence? It was not far away, as the hills ran. On the other hand, this section of country was little traveled; Joshua himself had never been there before. And Loden would have taken pains to keep the installation a secret. How Ashley worked into the plan, Joshua could not quite grasp; but its extent was clear now. "He bought himself more than a castle," he said, "he bought a whole town. With this as his feudal manor." A wave of fury surged over him. "We can't let him have it! Not Kilmaron!"
"Aye, Ian was o' that mind as weel. His heart brak' tae see the hame o' his fathers tak'n doon. Sae he followed it to America and tuik up residence afore the owner cuid his ain self. Ian says a man wha wuid pluck such an edifice from its native soil has nae richt tae be called its master."
Joshua approved the sentiment, and the Scots' valor, but knew their undertaking was a hare-brained scheme that could only end in defeat. He did not say so then, however, for there was a more important matter to be settled first. "And you came with him as his kinswoman?"
"Aye, wi'out a woman this lot'd be helpless."
He would have joined in her laughter, but was too much concerned with his next question, which for some reason unsettled him more than the prospect of facing the enemy. "How close a kinswoman exactly?"
He had not been looking at her. Now he raised his eyes to hers and found them brimming with unexpected warmth. "Ah, nae sae close." She laid her fingers softly on his.
All at once they heard a crackling on the ground below. Looking down, they spied a company of the enemy's men hiding, or trying to hide–some with backs to the wall, others clustered round the abbreviated spruce, whose felled half was not to be seen. The silent approach they had been attempting and had nearly achieved had been spoiled when their boot soles met the litter of leaves, twigs, and flakes of bark left from the tree's felling. "Were they invited?" asked Joshua.
"No, but we'll gi'e 'em a braw welcome, I promise ye. I'll rouse the fowk." She ran to the farther door. On an impulse he followed, and once in the tower, in a chamber half as large again as that in which they had met, grabbed her hand from behind. Morna pulled it away. "Are ye daft, mon? We've nae time for dalliance. Or is that a' ye dae in Seattle?" We do a good deal of it, Joshua thought despite himself, as he watched her tripping down the curved stair.
When he returned to the wall the image of her was still in his mind, and came near to undoing him. He had been in the tower when the slap of braided hemp had sounded against the stone cresting, and a pair of lassos, much like the one he had made for himself, had tightened round two of the teeth–the two nearest the door he had just taken, at the opposite end from where he had seen the men hiding below. For theirs was not the only party.
While the Scots had been at supper Ulrich had seized the opportunity to bear away the severed half of the spruce tree and propped it against the right front tower–in the blind spot as one looked down from the battlements; Ulrich, too, had figured that out. Shilts, his lieutenant, had scaled the log like a ladder and from its top thrown out a pair of lines; not a long throw. Their near ends, he had made fast to the bars of the lowest tower window. By these ropes the men would ascend, two at a time, hand over hand to the parapet.
The first pair had just gained it as Joshua, with his thoughts still on Morna–and not expecting intruders anyhow–passed them without seeing. But they had not expected him, either, and allowed their steps to grate on the stones. He turned just far enough to glimpse them, a moment before they jumped down, and dodged them as they landed. Outweighed as he was by either, he was able to hold his own against the pair. But soon another pair tumbled over the wall and then another, and he saw that his position was hopeless. After wrestling free of his two adversaries, he raced down to the far door, then through it, and shut it behind him. It had no lock, and he saw no furniture to block it with. He struggled to hold the latch bar down while those on the other side tried to work the press. But they exerted little more force combined than any one of them could have alone, and he was able to hold it secure till he heard the clatter of reinforcements. Then he swung the door open and threw himself onto the enemy, who were turned away to face the new threat.
The two sides ran at each other, met, and grappled at close range. One of Ulrich's men drew a revolver, but it was shot out of his hand. Another was picked up by three of Ian's men and tossed over the wall like a caber. He was the last casualty, for the others, fearing a similar fate, fought off the highlanders long enough to hoist themselves up onto the battlement and raced back along its staggered top, up, over, and down, to the ropes, by which they began to descend as they had ascended, hand over hand. With knife and axe the Scots hacked through the ropes, and they swung downwards, taking the men with them. Some clung tight; others, nearer the ground, jumped off; all survived. Plainly the battle had ended, and the Scots, only a little bruised, retired in triumph for the night, whatever the next day might bring.
At Lodenhead it brought an announcement from Raynor Chadwick, speaking on Ashley's behalf, that since the job was nearly done (though from the loggers' point of view it had barely started) the firm would no longer require the services of the extra men they had taken on–that is, those who had defected from the Bolts and not yet defected back. Perhaps Ashley regarded their loyalties as suspect, or perhaps they had simply outlived their usefulness. Otherwise, the day was one of waiting and watching: waiting in Barnsdale and watching at Kilmaron, whose besiegers, more cautious after last night, did no worse than watch back.
During the lull Joshua remembered the original purpose of his expedition, which had been to find Jason. While the current siege lasted he was trapped in the castle (though he did not feel so with Morna there), but it did not matter, since he had only a flimsy idea of where Jason's abductor resided. If he had known, the knowledge would still not have profited him; for later that day, and sooner than Joshua could have reached it, Jason's tenancy came to an unexpectedly sudden end.
He was making butter–showing the Waterworths how, as he still pretended to himself, but with the same relentless lack of success. As he was draining a second scoopful of water from the churn, Spoonbread hazarded voice for almost the first time that day. "Make sure the water shows clear, elsewise the butter'll be runny."
Jason had always cherished a special dislike for wagon-bed drivers. "What do you suppose I'm–?" He stopped, considering, and looked at him. "How would you come to know that?"
"Done it myself, ain't I?" An instant later a wave of self-reproach washed over his features. His wife was glaring at him.
"You've made butter?"
There was a long silence. "...maybe."
"But never fried a fish or an egg?"
"Didn't say I hadn't." But his eyes shifted as he said it.
"Spoonbread, do you know how to cook? Tell me honest. Axe true as your word, and so forth."
Spoonbread saw he had no choice. "Why do you think they call me Spoonbread?"
"Yet all this while I've been tryin' to teach your wife the knack you never once opened your mouth. I call that willful. Matter of fact, I call it being a plain hindrance."
"Zanie never opened her mouth, neither, when you was showin' me how to fish!"
"Why should she?"
"Her? She can outfish and outhunt most men!"
Zanie slapped him on the shoulder. Jason, who was finding the conversation more fascinating by the moment, shifted his attention to her. "Can you, indeed?"
Though hesitant to speak, she seemed to see it now made little difference. "My mama died when I was a baby. I was raised by Papa. He wanted a boy but got me instead. Tried his best not to notice."
"I see." Jason stared at the churn. "I do see." The couple glanced nervously at each other. "So here I been indentured to you two these weeks, sweatin' up a storm, and turns out you could have been doin' my part all along." He realized something else. "On top of which, you aren't yellin' at each other like you were. Why is that?"
Spoonbread searched his small mental closet. "Guess you fixed things betwixt us. Like you promised."
Zanie nodded. "Thank you, Jason. You saved our marriage." She hooked her arm around her husband's, and the two simpered at him.
Jason hated the suspicion that had reared up in his mind. "Did you–was this–?" He shook his head. "Don't want to know. Rather be blind than see myself wearing donkey's ears. I'm going home." He was aware that the day was waning and he might have to spend the night in the woods, but he did not mind; anything to be shut of these two. He gave each of them a final scowl, shook his head, and walked out. Thenceforth he took care not to have dealings with them again.
"Well, he got the chores done," Spoonbread said.
"Told you it would work, didn't I?"
"Sorry I opened my big mouth."
"We couldn't keep him forever." She gave a sigh of regret. "Shall I hunt up supper?"
"You hunt it, I'll cook it. Like always." His helpmeet picked up the rifle from the corner and went out with it on her shoulder as he lifted down the frying pan.
One and a half hours ahead of the next day's sunup a long, rolling crash from the Seattle waterfront woke the nearby residents, if they had been asleep, and caused those woken to wonder what had done it. Aaron would have known had he been there, and Ashley did, too, distant as his room was from the docks. He dressed hurriedly, hoping against hope he was wrong.
He was not. There lay his lumber, not all but a good part of it, floating in the water or heaped up to where the floor of the pier had fallen through. Other people had come down to look but seemed disinclined to offer help and could have done nothing useful in any case. Nor could Ashley, beyond pacing, re-inspecting the site of the catastrophe, and estimating the money, time, and trouble it would cost the firm to salvage its property. One by one the onlookers withdrew but he remained, continuing to pace and inspect and estimate till he had used up all the cigars in his case. By then the sky had grown light but the shore breeze was still cold; though his frame was naturally padded, he wished he had worn his hat. He nested on a bollard and brooded.
An Enoch company wagon pulled up to the dock carrying a driver and a single passenger, an old man who had arrived by rail that morning. And not just any old man: the old man. At the sight of the sunken lumber, his face contorted to look like a Chinese mask. He jumped down from his seat with surprising agility and trotted out to Ashley. "What's that down there?" he demanded, though of course he need not have asked. "Is that our lumber at the bottom? Eh?"
Ashley had paled a little on seeing him but now recalled himself to a counterfeit of his usual bluffness. "I can explain–"
"You said you'd ship it immediately you bought out the mill owner. But you didn't, did you? Eh? Why not?"
"The fleet never showed up. Must have met with bad weather in the Strait."
"Been meeting with a lot of bad weather lately, haven't you? Eh? Like that turncoat Dean. Your Pinkertons located him yet?" Loden had his sources, too. Ashley shook his head. "Another bluff that ended up bluffing you!" He silently swore to track Dean down himself. "You've cost me, Ashley–cost me dear. Seattle was always too much of a gamble. I said so from the outset, but you didn't listen. Did you? Eh?"
"You want us to pack our bags and go home?"
His tone was not over-respectful, but Loden paid it no notice. "Too late now. I want you to get over these stoppages and return to the timetable I set down."
Ashley controlled his temper with an effort. "I've been trying. It hasn't been easy."
"Why? More problems you haven't seen fit to report to me? Eh?"
Ashley was spared the labor of answering, if it had been his intention, by a string of gunshots some distance off which served as answer. "Good Lord," said Loden, "what now?"
"The Bolts," said Ashley, with a certainty bordering on the religious. He was equally certain where the shots were coming from, and appropriated the wagon to convey them thither. The driver sliced through town at a gallop, with no one on the street to impede him. "Looks like a ghost town more than a boom town," said Loden, frowning. "Where is everybody?"
"Must be keeping their heads down. The cowards!" Loden doubted this–as, increasingly, he was doubting Ashley. His frown deepened.
When they drew up at their destination, which had been named in Loden's honor (though he did not know it till he saw the sign), he found battle lines drawn. At the far end the logs that had been dumped into the shallows of the creek made a kind of rampart for the enemy, while the small body of men Ulrich had left behind had formed a staggered line opposite, couching behind the stumps and scattered sections of trees that had survived the blasting. The two sides traded occasional fire (the shots Loden had heard from the dock), but neither was disposed to more aggressive action, each being uncertain just how great the opposing force was, and the deputy Ulrich had put in charge being uncertain generally.
Jeremy's band was more numerous than before, having been joined that morning by his former employees, lately discharged. He welcomed them back, less from the example of the ninety and nine than from the need of every hand he could find. Weapons would have been even more useful: they had only three guns among them, and one of those was the camp shotgun, theretofore used only to ward off bears. Otherwise they were armed mainly with logging tools pilfered from the companies Enoch had bought out. Jeremy himself was carrying an Indian-style bow, of his own making; never having been partial to guns, even as a boy, he had learned the use of it from a half-breed logger. Some of his band had been inclined to ridicule it at first but had since realized that in their present position arrows were perhaps the next best thing to bullets.
"Thought this was going to be a surprise attack," Corky said, sounding slightly petulant.
"Would have been," said Jeremy, "if one of us"–Billy was wearing a sheepish look–"hadn't felt an urge to visit the creek this morning at the same time as one of them."
"Where's the others you said wass coming?" Swede asked.
"Dawn, you said," Corky added. "It's 'way past now," This, Jeremy had not needed to be told. On the other side of the field, his discouragement was matched by Loden's as he sized up their force: surely they must be outmanned. Ashley had contracted with Ulrich for a much larger number; where were the rest of them? Ashley took satisfaction–rather perversely under the circumstances–in telling him where, and pointing out that they had been dispatched on his own order. The consequence of this was that soon after, while standing watch at the castle battlement, Ian beheld a marvel, which he assembled the others to witness: the army was withdrawing. Called to battle elsewhere, Ian surmised. Joshua knew in his heart that if this were so it must be Jeremy they were going to fight. He wished he could have been there to fight at his side.
So Ulrich's ragtag unit tramped back as they had come through the hazels and the buckthorns, putting the deer and the crows to flight. In their march they kept an eye out to either side and intermittently shivered the scrub with their rifle butts, obeying their captain's order to be wary of ambushers. Presently they came upon a big man lying in a thicket, snoring loudly. Ulrich shouted to Shilts to get him to his feet. Shilts–short and beefy, and among those dressed partly in cavalry cast-offs–gave the sleeping man a hail and a kick, with no visible result from either. He motioned to two of the others, who hauled him up by the shoulders. The man opened his eyes and looked around at them with evident distrust (as was natural enough in the circumstances). "Why you hiding out here?" Ulrich demanded.
"Shoot, cap'n," said Shilts, "he ain't naught but a tramp. Jist look at him." The man's appearance certainly seemed to bear out the theory. His clothes bore spots of grime, and of other compounds more mysterious–and was that butter on his sleeve?
"Maybe. Maybe not." Working for Ashley, Ulrich had learned never to rely on appearances. He stepped up to the tramp, if tramp he were. "What's your name, you?"
When the man did not answer but only stared dumbly (rather like the Waterworths, in fact), Shilts kicked him again. "Cap'n asked you a question!" The tramp opened his mouth and made words without sound. "Why, he's a mute!" said Shilts.
"Maybe. Maybe not." Ulrich studied him for a few seconds and then slapped him hard across the face. Still the tramp made no sound, but looked mournful at the ill use. Then his eyes grew wide, as with a sudden childlike hope, and he pantomimed spooning food into his mouth. "Any of you boys got a bit of jerky to spare?" Ulrich prodded. Shilts fished out a strip, tore off a piece, and held it out to the tramp, but when he reached for it Shilts flung it to the ground a few feet off. He smiled proudly around at the others. The tramp scrambled for the treat on hands and knees, lifted it with care as if it had been a magical object, then crammed it into his mouth, and gulped it down, after which he bobbed his head at Shilts in an exhibition of doglike gratitude. Shilts and the others laughed.
Ulrich, who liked to encourage that kind of callousness, snapped a short branch off a tree, tossed it a few yards ahead of them, and waved the tramp toward it. "Hey, boy! Fetch, there! Fetch!" The tramp bounded after it, almost on all fours, and brought it back to its sender. "Good boy!" Ulrich said, tousling his hair (which was curly already). Now some of his men were doubled up with laughter, and others aped the tramp's idiocies. "Fetch him along," Ulrich ordered. "He'll make us good sport."
Shilts took this, accurately, as a license to treat the stranger however he pleased. He pulled off another branch, threw it out, and gave the slave another kick. "Fetch that, you damned cur!" Once more the slave obeyed, but this time with his teeth gritted, as if every fiber of his being revolted against it. Servility did not come naturally to him. But the moment required it; his instinct told him these were dangerous men, whomever they served, and probably no friends to him or his. So, subjugated from within as well as without, he accompanied them the rest of the way to Seattle, or to its edge.
...except that it was Seattle no longer. It was a different town now; different from the one that had been, the one that had always been. He had not been prepared for such a change, and tried to imagine what agency could have brought it to pass. Down deep, he knew there could be only one answer; there was only one new power in town–but how could it have done so much, so quickly? The mill whistle was silent now; the streets were dead; a pall, invisible and insidious, lay over them. It penetrated into the men around him, for they ceased their talking and laughing, and by the time they reached Lodenhead were gripped in a restive sullenness.
Corky watched them above the makeshift rampart and beckoned to Jeremy to come see. When he did his heart sank utterly. The increased force was double theirs, or more; and they were hard men, trained and armed. Among them he thought he saw Jason, or his twin, being kicked along by a smaller man, but he could not be sure, for almost immediately the two of them were absorbed into the mass. He hoped, for once, that it was not Jason; he did not want him to see how badly his brother had failed the town in this crisis. He had no doubt Candy had done her best–she always did–but this time her best had not been good enough; and this had been his fault, not hers.
"I was wrong," he admitted to Corky. "I thought some of them would come–some at least." He sounded like a very young man, as always when others disappointed his hopes of them. "Thought they'd feel the same way as us about a bunch of land grabbers coming in and pushing them around." That they had not was evidence even to his eyes that the Seattle he had known was gone–or, worse, had been a figment of his very innocent imagination. But, imaginary or not, failed or not, it was the cause to which he was committed. He dropped behind the barricade to collect his courage for a hopeless defense or a still more hopeless attack, it hardly mattered which. He shut his eyes and mumbled a brief prayer, too low to be heard by his men.
Before he had finished it a sound carried to his ears–if he were not imagining that, too. He kept his eyes shut to listen. Surely it was music–of a kind, anyhow. It might have been issuing from the opposing army but seemed too far away, and unlike any music they would have been likely to make, if indeed they had been likely to make any. It was the music of a pipe and drum. And it was growing louder. Jeremy climbed onto the logs to look again–and, looking, he could not help smiling.
Far down the strip, at the head of a valley abutting the eastern hills, came marching a double column of men in kilts of the Bolt tartan–green, of course–with the piper and drummer in the lead. Marching among them, as one of them, was a woman, shockingly clad in the same attire as they, recut to her form. Joshua was with them, too, though Jeremy could not recognize him at that distance; he it was who had brought them, and on no more than a brother's instinct that their kinsman was in peril. To a man (and a woman), they had elected to hie to his relief, few as they were. Who they were, and how they had come, Jeremy could not guess, but knew by the same instinct as Joshua's (and perhaps by the kilts) that they were on his side.
And they were not alone. A little behind them, now rising into sight over the edge of the vale, marched others; how many exactly, he could not say. Three–six–a dozen–no, more! Many, many more! He climbed higher, trying to see them all. And then he laughed for joy; laughed as he had never been moved to laugh before in his life. There was all of Seattle–all those who could walk, limp, or (almost) crawl–and not only them, but their neighbors from up and down the Sound, with Candy–his Candy–at their head. She had led the other brides in raising the cry, not only in Seattle but through all the towns of the coast; the news Ashley had wanted spread had spread, and ignited a reaction he had not foreseen. The countryside had risen up, grabbing any arms at hand, to fight with Jeremy's beleaguered band. So they did feel the same way, after all; he was not alone. The pipe and drum pealed out their battle hymn.
Jeremy's band cheered loudly; Ashley stood stunned. At the border of what he had defined as the battleground, the new citizens' militia–town and country folk united as one–stopped and stood, ready to fight for the land that was theirs. And the woman at the fore, with auburn hair flowing in the wind and chin held high, sent the man on the rampart a look proud and defiant, as if to say: Well, Jeremy Bolt? Was this what you had in mind?
There was more in the look, too, something even stronger, something that for reasons Jeremy did not understand made the tears come to his eyes. "Boy," said Swede, standing at his side, "that girl sure loves you!"
Gazing down at her, Jeremy realized how true that was, and how much he–he–Holy Mother, he thought, I'm stuttering inside my head!–how much he loved her: more than his heart could stand, without weeping. The tears bounced from his cheeks, and he had to wipe them away. A fine warrior he was! Filled with passion for her and, through her, for his cause, he climbed to the summit of the barricade and raised his bow on high. "For Seattle!" he cried, in a voice he did not know he possessed. "For Washington! And for freedom!"
"And for you," Candy added, but so low only Biddie heard it.
"Charge!" cried Jeremy, and he and his men stormed over the rampart. "Charge!" Candy echoed, and she and the throng behind her rushed forward in a body. The forces joined to make an L, which Ulrich saw would pin his men in; he ordered them back, but not soon enough, so that before their guns had time to even the odds the Northwesterners fell on them and they were fighting hand to hand and against an array of improvised weapons–axes, pitchforks, rakes, hammers, saws (one of them twin-handled and wielded by two)–or fighting with those same weapons, when they could be wrested from their owners.
Jeremy and Candy met on the field, eyes shining, but blind to the battle swelling about them. They sought out each other's arms and kissed deeply. Recalled to the business at hand by sundry people knocking against them, they joined shoulders to fight as one. Candy's weapon was a broom handle, which she swung with no mean force; Jeremy's the bow, which he used likewise; and together the two of them comprised a four-bladed machine which their enemies, and not a few of their allies, rapidly learned to steer clear of.
Joshua, dressed in the Bolt kilt and armed with the Bolt battle axe, charged into the thick of things, swinging to right and left–not to slay, as he might have done, but only to remove from the action. "Ah, cousin," Ian mourned, "if we'd but had ye at Pinkie!" At one point Joshua could have sworn he saw–but saw as through a cloud, and for only a little–men beside him in rough mail coats, fearless and proud of mien, wielding spear and claymore; and all looking like Bolts.
Angry at the new, unfriendly odds, Ulrich spied the man he had abducted watching him with a smile of a mirthfulness so provoking that he stamped over to him and tried to force into his hands an axe he had found abandoned on the field; but the tramp's arms hung limp and refused to accept it (quite in the Waterworth manner). "You'll fight, you gypsy," Ulrich said, "and no maybes. Or I swear I'll–!"
The tramp had been keeping his body bent and head bowed, as befitted his station. Now he raised himself to his full height, which Ulrich had not suspected, and flashed a brilliant smile he had not seen before, though all of Seattle had. "Man, sure I'll fight!"
Ulrich gasped. "You talk?"
"Ask my brothers," said Jason Bolt, tramp no longer, and with that delivered a blow that knocked Ulrich senseless. Seconds later his lieutenant, standing nearby, momentarily apart from the fray, received a kick that sent him flying. "But I hold to the opinion," added Jason, somewhat sententiously, "that a picture is worth a thousand words."
The brides fought ruthlessly, with weapons borrowed from the household: brooms, mops, pots, pans, washboards. Their opponents were under orders not to harm women or children if the injury might become publicly known; being each assailed by several women together, they would have had a hard time of it even without the restriction, and the brides won every contest. Lottie was acting as their commanding officer; she had been Candy's first recruit, and her family recruits two and three. Her son-in-law had surprised her by his willingness to fight with them, and she had commended him for having the courage in changing sides. "I'm not courageous," he had insisted, "and I never changed. I didn't sign on to be part of a conquering horde. Leave that to men like Ashley."
As a conqueror, Ashley was proving no Genghis Khan. He seemed content to watch the fighting from his wagon, only now and again barking a directive to the troops. His manner changed, however, when Jeremy wandered into sight. He was searching for Candy, from whom he had become separated in the confusion. Seeing him, Ashley began to shake so violently that Loden, sitting next to him, drew back and asked what in blazes the matter was. The only answer he received was a low growl, which burgeoned into a roar. Loden watched with some fear, but more of fascination, as Ashley rolled his bulk off the seat and began to scour the ground; for what, he seemed hardly to know. Then his eye lit on a leather belt such as toppers used. He grabbed it up and ran at Jeremy like a bear, but a bear armed. Seeing him so ungoverned, Jeremy was the better able to stay calm.
He grinned as Ashley brought up before him. "Did I upset your plans?"
"You've come to Lodenhead once too often."
Jeremy's eye flashed steely blue. "When this is over, my friend, there'll be no need for me to come again."
With another roar, Ashley cinched the end of the belt round his knuckles and began flaying wildly. Jeremy fought him off with the bow, using it as a quarterstaff, and after a few minutes got in close enough to snatch the belt away. He wrapped it round his own knuckles and began laying on in his turn–for the intrusion into his home country, for Ulrich and the strip and Joshua's press, for the death of their cabin and all that was in it, for the corruption of the town that Ashley purposed–and he felt it meet and right when Ashley cowered and whimpered beneath each blow. But the pleasure palled soon, for Jeremy had not a vengeful nature. The moment he stayed his hand, Ashley ran off, and he was not seen on the field again till the fight was over.
In that fight, erstwhile rivals–Seattleites and Tacomans, loggers and mill hands, temperance leaguers and saloon rats–stood side by side in common cause as they never had before and never would again. In one set-to Hawser saved Nigel's scalp, and felt very big about it, till Nigel did the same for him in the set-to following, whereupon Hawser was generous enough to own him the equal of any man living, himself excepted.
In a short time, from righteous zeal as much as numbers, the people of the Sound gained the upper hand over Ashley's mercenaries. But they had no time to recognize the fact, or to claim the glory that should have been theirs, for then, surprisingly and inexplicably, a third force intruded. Heralded by their bugler, whisking up a dust storm around them as they rode, in clattered a twin column of men in blue, the yellow stripe on their trousers marking them as U.S. Cavalry, to divide the field and its combatants, none of whom understood what was happening or could imagine what might follow. The Bolt brothers were able at last to seek out one another and to indulge in a long-delayed embrace. Jeremy told the others about the cabin, and Joshua about the castle: they had lost a family home and gained one, maybe. Whether their town were gained or lost, they and their neighbors had yet to discover.
So the battle ended.
IV. Dreams To Last
A pair of horsemen to the rear of the others served as escort for a fancy black carriage not previously seen in Seattle, and for its passengers: Aaron Stempel; Cody, the local circuit judge; a third man a little younger than Loden; and a woman who looked familiar to some of the spectators, the men particularly. Loden marched up to the carriage door and hailed the eldest. "Sipes!"
"Governor Sipes, you mean," the man said, looking down his nose.
"High time you showed up. You should have come sooner." Loden spoke quite as if he had summoned him personally.
The Governor appeared indisposed just then to pardon anybody. "Enoch, what in the Sam Hill have you gotten yourself into?"
Jason approached Aaron as he stepped out on the other side of the carriage. "You fetched the Governor all the way from Olympia?" He could not help being impressed, or showing it.
"Yes, yes." Aaron nodded smugly. "Or, well, no. I tried but was turned away at the door. Fine reception for one of the Territory's leading citizens! Luckily I ran into Mrs. Fanjoy there." He nodded toward the woman in the carriage. "I explained our situation, and she volunteered to intervene in our behalf. She's a...close acquaintance of the Governor's. Rumor confides"–he lowered his voice further–"she has more influence on him than his wife–I mean, his advisors. She's the one persuaded him to come here."
Something was missing from the story, Jason felt sure. "Ready to play the good angel, just like that?"
"Well..." Aaron looked like a schoolboy with a naughty secret. "We were somewhat acquainted."
The woman turned to reveal a face Jason knew. She greeted him with a smile. "I'll be–you're Mrs. Fanjoy?"
"Small world, isn't it?" A few years earlier she had introduced herself to him by a different name, and with a slightly different smile, as the directress of the visiting dance hall troupe (to use the designation she had preferred). Aaron was smiling, too, in a mixture of pride and embarrassment; Jason could not decide whether it was pride at being embarrassed or embarrassment at being proud. "You may want to put a word in with the judge," Mrs. Fanjoy advised them.
Loden was already at it, and the two of them joined in, trying to talk over him, till Judge Cody silenced them all. "The ins and outs of it don't amount to a hill of beans. Enoch Navigation has no legal standing in this Territory–no license, no permits, no right to do business here."
"It was Ashley's job to see to that," said Loden.
"Therefore," the judge continued, regardless, "I declare all of its purchases and partnerships here transacted to be null and void, and any property or legal entity acquired thereby reverts to its original owner." He interrupted the cheer that was about to go up. "–except for the stretch we're on, which, unless someone here can prove legal ownership,..." He looked to Jason, who shook his head. "...becomes–or I should say, remains–the property of the Territory."
The Scots rushed forward. "What about the castle?" asked Morna.
"That monstrosity we saw as we came in? Oh, it's Loden's, fair and square. But not the land it sets on."
"That was Ashley's job, too," said Loden, looking around for him.
"You know the Bolts?" the judge asked Morna.
"Some, aye," she said, with a trace of a smile.
"If you can get 'em to buy it and charge a rent maybe they can lever him into selling the eyesore."
"Eyesore, indeed!" Ian muttered.
"Oh, what do I want with it now?" Loden sounded peevish. "This was all Ashley's doing. Where's he got to? Eh?"
Then the thunder returned; and this time it came from the mountain. Jeremy was the first to recognize what was happening. "He's blasting the camp," he said, by which he meant of course the base camp. At its extreme east end, which was all they could see of it, brown earth flew outwards, a small section of mountainside collapsed, and more earth cascaded down through the evergreens, some rising as dust, some settling in the crevices and crannies, the last load sliding into the east shallows of the creek. Jeremy's conjecture was correct: when Ashley had seen the tide of battle turn he set off the charges he had laid by for such a contingency–those crates Jeremy had seen being carted by night.
Presently Ashley returned from the mountain, in the same wagon he had gone by, together with the men he had taken along. His sleeves were rolled up, his cheeks flushed, his eyes gleaming. He hardly looked the same man Jason had met in Portland. "I did it!" he exulted.
"What have you done, you fool?" Loden asked.
"Took care of their camp. Ripped the heart out of it." He turned to Jason and his brothers. "Thought you had the better of me, didn't you? Bet you're not feeling so cocky now. Go on, win the field, win the day, see where it gets you when you've no place to lay your heads, you high and mighty Bolts!"
"The Bolts!" Loden shook his head. "Always the Bolts! You embroiled me in this entire fiasco just to get back at them. Even talked me into buying that fool castle so you could rub their noses in it. And see where it's got you."
"Why?" Joshua asked. "What did we ever do to you?"
"Do!" Ashley almost shrieked it. "That upstart brother of yours, scurvy little hare-lipped hick nobody from nowhere, waltzing in to that bidding, snatching a contract that should have been mine, made me look a fool. Cost me my job. Well, I found a better one."
"And lost that one, too," said Loden. "That is, after you've worked off every nickel you owe me."
"And these good people," Cody put in.
Jeremy, being Jeremy, felt his sympathies well up within him–even for Ashley, even now. "Sorry. I didn't know I'd done all that."
"I don't need your pity. You think you're such a crack lumberman. You're nothing, boy! I was moving logs up and down this coast before you were born."
Joshua smiled. "Personally, was that?"
"I was doing the real work–the fighting and clawing. You johnny-come-latelies with your clean noses and sweet-smelling hands, where were you when that was going on? Tell me that!"
"We didn't need it," Jason said simply. "You see, we had a mountain."
"Had! That's the right word!" He projected spittle with every breath. "Before I'm done I'll level it to the ground! I'll burn your woods as black as your cabin and see you starve like orphans in the snow!"
Vendettas always bewildered Joshua, for revenge was as alien to his nature as to Jeremy's. "What purpose would that serve?"
"Rob you of your lair, is what! Wipe you out like the other wild beasts–the buffalo and the Indians–yesterday's lords, tomorrow's memories. Before long there'll be no more of your kind. No more frontier, no more wild places–"
"No more freedom?" Jeremy suggested.
"What you call freedom is a relic. Order is the way of the future. Order! Progress! Civilization!" Hearing this, Loden began to reconsider his ill opinion of the man.
Jeremy, on the other hand, was wondering why he had ever been frightened of him. "If it's of your brand I don't think we'll be having any, thank you."
"This country fought a war to end slavery," said Jason, "but it will never get rid of slaveholders."
"It can damn well try," declared the judge, who had been listening in great disgust. He turned to the crowd. "Boys, since these interlopers appear to have a taste for the Sound, what do you say we treat 'em to a swim?" The boys agreed noisily. They rushed at Ashley and the others. Lottie and Katherine moved to shield Quentin from them.
"This is felonious assault!" Loden shouted as he was being borne off. "Sipes, you bear witness!"
"I bear more than that. I bear a hearty dislike for you, Enoch. Have ever since we were at West Point." He whispered to Cody behind his hand, "He's right, you know. It is a criminal offense."
The judge scratched his jaw. "Folks," he called after them, "you're charged with assault, and I find you guilty!" He looked about for a surrogate gavel and fixed on Billy's axe, which he confiscated and brought down–the flat of it, not the blade–on the seat cushion. "Suspended sentences all round." He returned the axe to its owner. "That ought to satisfy the law. Let's go watch."
The crowd stopped at quayside, where a multiplicity of arms took the once-would-be invaders and jacked them into the air once–twice–and with the third thrust flung them into the bay. Loden, in respect of his advanced age, was tossed more gently. Joshua, perhaps inspired by his experience at the castle, broke out in a song that seemed apposite, and was also Jason's favorite song; Jeremy joined in after the first two lines:
there for honest poverty
That hangs his head an' a' that?
The coward slave, we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp;
The man's the gold for a' that.
though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden grey, an' a' that?
Gi'e fools their silks and knaves their wine,
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their tinsel show an' a' that,
The honest man, though e'er sae poor,
Is king of men for a' that.
see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts an' stares an' a' that;
Though hundreds worship at his word
He's but a coof for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that,
The man o' independent mind,
He looks an' laughs at a' that.
prince can mak' a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that,
But an honest man's aboon his might
Good faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities and a' that,
The pith o' sense and pride o' worth
Are higher rank than a' that.
let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a' that)
That Sense and Worth o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's comin' yet for a' that,
That man to man the world o'er
Shall brothers be for a' that.
Against this chorus the victims floundered for a time, whose length depended on each individual's skill at swimming, and then stroked, paddled, or flailed their way back to the dock, whence the natives pulled them ashore, to the accompaniment of rude noises and ruder remarks, and sent them off to pack their things; those who had any to pack.
Aaron, who had been showing little interest in the ceremonies, and had never cared for Burns, anyway, stepped up to Cody, who was sitting picking his teeth. "Judge, that strip of land–"
"You been chewin' on that this whole time? Well, figures, I reckon."
"What will happen to it now?"
"Told you. Comes to the Territory."
"What will the Territory do with it?"
Jason was near enough to overhear. "Tell you what it can do," he said. "Parcel it out as wedding gifts to any couples that apply. What better use could there be?"
"Can't get marriage out of your head, can you?" Aaron said, only half-jokingly.
The Governor revolved the idea in his head. "There will be more applicants than parcels. How do we choose fairly?"
"How, you ask?" Jason said. His brothers braced themselves for one of his verbal tumbling acts. The others in the crowd hushed, as crowds always did for him on such occasions; his brothers were long used to it. "Why, mister–Mr. Governor, I mean to say–it's plain as soup without salt. You hold a land race." This came out as smoothly as if the idea had not just occurred to him. "Flag every parcel like we flag our trees, and first to the flag wins the prize. As consolation prizes the Bolts will offer smaller lots adjacent. The day after we declare a field day, and finish clearing away what Enoch started. What do you say to that?"
It tickled the Governor's romantic streak. "Sounds a splendid plan!"
"Might work," Aaron allowed grudgingly, his own ambitions for the property having evaporated before they had ever formed.
The Governor turned to the judge. "Is it legal?"
Cody was cleaning his right ear with his index finger. "Can't recall any statutory impediment. Of course–"
This was good enough for the Governor. "Then we'll do it! To qualify for the competition–to qualify..." He got stuck again.
"Man has to produce a wife," the judge concluded, "or a firm promise of marriage,"
"Right, right," the Governor said, as if had devised those terms himself and just remembered them. "The event will take place three days from today at–" He picked at random. "–nine a.m."
"I never get up that early," said Cody. "Make it noon."
"Very well, noon."
"Is it official?" asked Aaron, a little doubtful in view of the celerity with which all had been settled.
"I'm a judge, ain't I? And he's the Governor. You don't get more official than that."
"Well, then," said Jason expansively, "if it's races you want–"
"We do!" the crowd shouted.
"Then I say as I've said before"–he grinned his broadest grin–"choose your partners!"
The injunction was like a lightning rod. Every man present who had till that moment steadfastly resisted matrimony or anything that resembled it went running to the woman of his long-nurtured aspirations–or, failing her, the one closest to hand.
Yarb Hawser ran to Valerie. "Honey, you know you're the only gal for me! Marry me, won'tcha?"
"Hush, you fool. Where's Nigel?"
Hawser looked hurt for a moment and then shrugged. His eye ran over the sea of faces, stopping at the female ones, and landed finally on Tillie. He ran to her. "Honey, you know you're the only gal for me! Marry me, won'tcha?"
"You just bet I will!"
...and the pair kissed.
Corky ran to Biddie. "Is now the right time?" he asked.
"It certainly is!"
"Wa-hoo!" He picked her up and whirled her around and up and down till she ordered him to stop.
...and the pair kissed.
Joshua ran to Morna. "I must have you," he said.
"I ken it," she said, "Aye, verra weel."
He stared at her. "That's all there is to it?"
"What mair can there be, here in the midst of a'?"
"Feels rash getting engaged when we haven't even kissed."
"Have you cause to doubt your abilities in that regard?"
"None I've been told of."
"I shuid think not, indeed. Mind, laddie, I've seen ye climb."
The import of the observation eluded Joshua, and he felt safest ignoring it. "But since I'm such a gowk, oughtn't we to make sure?" He pulled her to him.
"Och, I've nae objection to that!"
...and the pair kissed.
Jeremy ran to Candy. "W–w–would y–y–?" he began, stuttering for the last time (that is, till their first child would be born).
"Yes," she said.
"We got here by a different road than I expected. But we finally got here." He looked at her. "Don't you have anything to say? You usually have a lot to say. Why don't you have anything to say?" She smiled at him in perfect bliss: what was there to say? "Oh," he said. Then she took him in her arms, a thing that had never happened before. "Oh!" he said in a different voice.
...and the pair kissed.
Aaron did not have to run anywhere, for Mrs. Fanjoy was standing right next to him. From the answers to his offhand inquiries of an aide at the State House he had concluded the "Mrs." to be ceremonial. "Don't imagine you'd have any interest in marrying this late in life," he said to her, wearing his best expression of nonchalance. "Again, I mean."
"Why would you imagine that?"
"You've found yourself a comfortable niche. Why give it up?"
She regarded him with the amused expression he remembered from before. "You don't know women very well, do you?"
"They're like cats." He reflected a second. "Wait. I understand cats." This drew a smile, which encouraged him. "If you did decide to get married–I say, if–you think the Governor would let you go?"
"He doesn't have me locked up."
"Oh." It was Aaron's turn to smile. "Well, then."
"Well, then what?"
"Do you accept my proposal?"
"Aaron," she said gently, "you haven't proposed."
"Haven't I? No, I suppose I haven't. Patricia–it is still Patricia?..." When the words came at last they were not those either of them had expected. "Did I ever tell you the joke about the Englishman and the actress? There was this Englishman–"
"...and the actress says, 'My, you are English, aren't you?' Yes, Aaron, you did." Patricia sighed in resignation. "All right, I accept your proposal."
Aaron looked miffed. "Are you going to cut off all my jokes?"
"Mm-hmm. Like this."
...and the pair kissed.
Jason was idly enjoying the romancing at all points of the compass when it intruded on his awareness that he deserved one of those parcels, too. He spied Miss Essie standing alone. ...Perhaps not, he thought; and then, ...But on the other hand,... Without pondering further he started for her at a run. It chanced that Big Swede was doing the same from another quarter, so that the two of them pulled up and dropped to their knees side by side in front of her. "Oh, my!" Essie exclaimed.
Swede looked at Jason in astonishment. "What are you doin' here?"
"Same as you, I judge."
"You can't marry her!"
"Who?" Swede sputtered. "Everybody!"
"They say I can't marry who I please?"
"Everybody knows you ain't the marryin' kind."
"They're not doing the marrying." He turned to her, hands over his heart. "Essie, be mine forever."
Swede would not be outdone. "Essie, you know I come to town to marry you. I aim to do that."
"It's up to the lady," Jason reminded him.
Essie folded her arms. "It is indeed. I shall allow each of you to present his case and explain to me why you think you deserve my hand. Based on your arguments I shall choose one or the other of you. Or perhaps neither." She giggled. "I never thought I'd get to do this!" She made an effort to recover her sobriety. "Olaf, you may speak first."
Swede gazed at her soulfully. "You wass always the only one for me. You know I love you, don't you?"
"Yes, I believe you do." She turned to his competitor. "Go ahead. If you're sure you have the right woman."
Jason smiled. "I don't have her yet."
She smiled back. "Try your chance while you may, Mr. Bolt."
"Love," Jason said, taking up where Swede had left off. "Fine word, lady–finest in the language. But not fine enough, no, ma'am. To do justice to how I feel about you, why, I'd need words that shine and shimmer like the summer sun–words that shatter and shiver into a thousand golden sparks–words that–"
"Words. That's what you're offering. Of course. You have such an abundance of them. Whereas Swede..." She touched his cheek affectionately. "...is offering sincere and everlasting love."
"You bet I am!" he affirmed.
"In that case..." She looked from one to the other. "...I choose Jason."
"What?" Swede popped to his feet.
Jason made to embrace her; she fended him off. "But you must promise one thing."
"Never to speak a sincere word to me as long as we live."
She was proving not quite what he had expected. "You'd have me lie to you?"
"I require it. And the greater the lie the better. I've had two husbands who were never anything other than sincere. I can't abide any more of it! I want you always to tell me only what I want to hear. It shouldn't be difficult with the practice you've had."
He smiled. "As my lady commands."
This beat anything Swede had heard. "Well, if you ain't a-goin' to marry me, I–I–I ain't a-goin' to marry you, neither!" With that, he stamped off.
Essie regarded Jason with a penetrating eye. "I'm aware you wouldn't be marrying anyone if it weren't for this land race."
"Well..." He recalled their pact. "Lady, for you I'd give up my whole mountain."
She sighed. "As I thought. Come on, we'll want a license."
Jason found himself staring at her with a new regard, or a new kind of regard–or had it been creeping up on him all along without his being conscious of it? "Essie," he said, "you know..."
"Now, don't you start having feelings, too!"
He reached out and rippled her hair. "Man can't help what he feels."
"No, but he can jolly well keep it to himself."
He swept her up in his arms in a way no man had before. "All of it?"
...and the pair kissed.
Essie showed a fervor Jason had not expected, and wondered afterwards why he had not. She emerged from the kiss as from a great depth, breathless and blushing (or at least roseate of cheek), to confess, with a little cry of delight, "I won't say I didn't enjoy that!"
As for Swede, in the words of a song Jeremy had knew and had sung at odd times:
He went a little farther
And there he met a maid
"A-milking, sir," she said
And he began to compliment
And she began to sing...
Or, as Swede himself put it: "First drink I ever had wass milk! It's a sign!"
...and the pair kissed.
Among Lottie and her family there was of course no courting to be done, but there was something else, which Lottie had been feeling more keenly of late: a silence that cried out to be ended. She told Katherine so, in just those words. "But I know," Katherine said softly, and she enfolded herself in Lottie's arms. "I think I always have known...Mama."
"Darling!" Tears danced in her eyes. "Why didn't you say before?"
"It was your secret. You wanted to keep it secret. How could I disappoint you?" Quentin took the opportunity to advance a wish of his own, which had been growing in him since he had first met the woman whose true bond to his wife he had known about all along: that the three of them live together as a family. "But you can't ask her to leave Seattle!" protested Katherine.
"Dear," he explained, "I'm asking you to stay in Seattle."
"Yes! Oh, yes!"
...and the pair kissed.
"Expanding the business was the right step to take," he told his now-official mother-in-law. "You'll still need my aid in managing it."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that."
"Mama, what Quentin means–" Katherine was already playing mediator between them.
"Honey, I know what he means," her mother interrupted. "What I mean is, Lottie's may not be Lottie's much longer. I got this wire today." She pulled it from its place of keeping next to her bosom. "Did you hear the one about the Irishman who was set on returning to the old country? When he stopped off in Boston he met so many of his fellow countrymen he decided it was as good as home. And he's asked me to join him there. What gall!" she said fondly.
"Will you go?" asked her daughter.
"Haven't decided. My feelings change with the tides." She gazed off. "Always did hanker to see Boston, though." Katherine gave her husband a significant look. "If I do, the saloon is yours." She laughed. "Imagine me saying that to my daughter!"
Aaron approached Jason, who had Essie hanging on his arm. "Essie," said Aaron, and then, "Essie?" They smiled; he shrugged. "Jason, I've had a thought. What with the damage to our properties, and the need to rebuild, perhaps some sort of–that is–" He seemed unable to finish.
"Yes?" said Jason, and then, "Ah. Yes. Crossed my mind, too."
Both men were silent for a moment. Essie looked curiously from one to the other. "Make sense," said Aaron. "Strictly from a business standpoint, that is."
"Make for a hornets' nest. We'd be at each other's throats the livelong day."
"We are, anyway."
"That's true." The others waited as he stood considering. "Well," he said at last; and that seemed to settle it. "One thing I'll hold firm on, though."
"What's that?" asked Aaron, fearing the worst.
"The order of the names–Stempel and Bolt, Bolt and Stempel...?"
"Now, just a minute–"
"Have to be Stempel and Bolt."
"Not by any–!" Then he absorbed what Jason had said. "You don't mind coming second?"
"No choice about it. Rolls grander off the tongue." He demonstrated.
"And that's your only consideration?"
"Remind me to teach you a few things about business."
Joshua joined them. "You can't," he said flatly. "I've tried. Just try."
–and then Jeremy. "Why will you have to teach him about business?"
Jason's brow wrinkled. "Brothers, we've a dilemma. The phrase 'Bolt brothers' business'...will require emendation." He winked at Aaron.
Valerie had been hunting about for Nigel and found him in his room packing. Another one of his bright ideas, she thought. "And where will you go?"
"Haven't made up my mind yet. Canada, perhaps."
"What will you do in Canada?"
"What will I do here? Besides bring the town to ruin." He still blamed himself for selling out to his brother. Now Raynor was leaving, and the role he had played in negotiating the sale of Kilmaron, only Nigel had guessed; what his future dealings might be, even Nigel would never know. He had not said farewell and he would not, but he had left his brother something to remember him by: a last remittance of guilt.
"Bring the town something it needs," Valerie suggested. "Like marmalade."
"Start a shop to sell imported jams and jellies. I'll help you manage it." And yourself, she could not help thinking. "Then I might consider marrying you."
"You mean to say you'd marry me just because I had a jam shop?"
"No, silly. The reason is the same as the reason for the shop–so I can have my marmalade in the morning." She approached him and draped her arms around his neck. "You know I'm useless without it."
...and the pair kissed.
For the next two days work was nearly stopped nearly everywhere. When it was taken up again it would require nearly every hand, and would mark the beginning of a new Seattle. On the morning of the second day Jason hitched a mule to the wagon that had been the Reverend's for an excursion to the railhead, which he had not seen yet. He planned to invite a man in to build it up, a kindred spirit of his who had won a railroad in a poker game. As he began to help Essie up onto the seat he stopped and struck his forehead. "Cuss me for a sinner if I didn't forget the most important thing. All these weddings on the horizon, and no preacher! Can't have a wedding without one."
"Oh, you can, too. Judge Cody's authorized to perform the ceremony."
"Never been quite sure Cody's rulings are legal." Essie saw what he meant. "Besides, it's hardly proper to leave such a holy ritual to the judiciary." In an onrush of devotional zeal such as she had never seen in him, he dropped to his knees and clasped his hands tightly together. "Hello, Lord? You listenin' up there? It's me, Jason Bolt–down on my knees again, still believin', yes, Sir. I know where weddings are concerned You set a lot of store by Your camp rules–no cussing, no drunkenness, so on and so forth. But we're just a flock of poor miserable sheep who need a shepherd to guide us."
Essie felt an amusement she knew to be impious but she could not help herself: she had never met anyone who seemed less like a poor miserable sheep than her husband-to-be. "Else," he continued, "how will we know our unions have Your blessing? I ask You, now. So we'd be right beholden if You'd send us a preacher for tomorrow. That's all." He started to rise, then had an afterthought, knelt, and clasped his hands again. "And we'll need him by four o'clock. Thank You. Amen." He waited a little for an answer and, on receiving none, returned to his feet.
Essie was eyeing him contemplatively. "I infer your religious instruction was neglected in your youth?"
While Jason was trying to work out her meaning an unfamiliar voice addressed them: "Beg your pardon?" They turned to face a young man in a clerical collar. "Heard your last preacher recently kicked the bucket. Figured you might have a pulpit open."
"It's wrong, what they say, you know," Jason declared to nobody in particular. "The Lord's ways aren't mysterious at all. What's your name, son–ah, Reverend?"
"Wheems," said the young man. "Weems, I mean. Weems."
"Parson Weems? Yet you seem so young a man."
"Grandfather," he said affectionately, "the dear old sot. Wrote most of Washington in his cups."
Jason did not know whether that were true but he did not care: the man had the correct collar. "Parson, welcome to Seattle. You may as well know straight off–the rectory's yours but the widow's already taken."
Essie blushed. "Jason!" She poked him playfully. Weems looked from one to the other in youthful delight.
In the hour before noon the following day every wagon, cart, buggy, and other form of wheeled conveyance owned or hirable rolled, rumbled, and rattled up to the starting line which had been drawn in the dirt from the southwest corner of the boarding house fence across to the middle of the flour mill. Each driver's seat was carrying two, for no woman who was not driving would agree to stay behind, and no man who was would dare to lose the race on his own hook and suffer the reproaches of his mate forever after.
The course ran from the boarding house up the main street, along the face of the sawmill, aslant a stretch of undeveloped and undesired property, to the edge of Irontown, through a grove used for picnics and sparking, down the length of the strip, and back to town, with the totem pole demarcating the finish line. Judge Cody was to officiate. Everyone not a participant claimed a vantage point at the start, the finish, or one of the bends along the route.
Aaron drew up in the Governor's borrowed carriage, with Patricia at his side. Jason and Essie were sitting to their left, behind a mare that had belonged to Clancey (he had always intended to race her, and before his departure had given her to the Bolts). Jason called across to Aaron. "What are you throwing your hat in for? It's not as if you needed more land."
"And you do?"
"Little surplus never hurts."
"Couldn't have said it better myself." He grinned. "...partner." Holy saints! thought Jason. Three days, and I'm transmogrifying already!
Judge Cody stepped out in front of the row of vehicles, which extended the breadth of the street. "You all know the rules," he said, "and for anybody who don't, there's only two to speak of. Number one, if you do deliberate damage to anybody else's rig, or his person, I'll throw you out of the race, and give you a kick in the tailbone for good measure. Number two, the first man to grab a flag gits the forty acres he grabbed it from–and there's only one to a customer." He moved aside. "Git ready!" He raised his pistol. The drivers took up their reins. "Git set!" The air was ripe with tension.
"Gangway, Lord," Jason murmured.
Cody fired. "Go!"
The wagons took off. The drivers shook the reins, cracked their whips, and leaned forward in their seats as if they were on the horses' backs; the women–those not driving–held onto their hats. They shot round the bend at the sawmill, across the no-man's-land, and through the grove onto the strip (never Loganhead any more since they had pulled the sign down), then careered around, most of them on two wheels, and headed south.
The driver in the lead, reaching the northmost lot, decided it suited him just fine; he pulled up on his reins and took a dive for the little flag that stood fluttering in the breeze. He landed on his face, but a second later held the prize aloft, clutched in a triumphant fist. Just then the second wagon clattered up behind, with the others at its back; the driver, seeing this flag taken, urged his horses on to the next one down the line. He dived at that one, and won it. In much the same way each succeeding entrant made for the next, or next but one or two, of the widely spaced pennants. Some left their wagons and competed on foot; each such competition ended with one man brandishing the flag and the other having to retrogress to his vehicle before continuing, thus losing any time he had gained on his rivals.
At length the foremost of the wagons flew past the totem pole. The mud it threw up spattered a boy who was clinging to the pole like a monkey, but he seemed to take no offense. "First home!" he cried, upraising an index finger. The wagon's driver jumped down and sprinted over to Cody's seat to give up his flag in exchange for one of the deeds drawn up by the judge the night before and now stacked on a barrel in front of him.
The other drivers followed, one and then another, jouncing over the muddy ruts, swinging round the turns, each hell-bent to finish ahead of the others–and strictly out of competitiveness, since they had nothing to gain now but satisfaction; they had already won their flags (those who had) and waved them triumphantly as they crossed the finish line–but were ready enough to trade them for the legal reality.
The Bolts had won nothing, but the younger two did not care. Jeremy's brothers had ceded him the site of the old cabin, where he and Candy were already planning their new clapboard house, and Joshua and Morna, by unspoken agreement, would go to live at the castle; their hieland kinsmen could now gae hame. Jason, as the eldest, had taken defeat the hardest. "What difference does it make?" his bride-to-be consoled him. "You have a whole mountain."
"I wanted it for you. Fine house above town. It's no less than you deserve."
"After all, you'll be the wife of a Bolt!" Her gratitude was checked at once, and she regretted the lapse in his insincerity.
Aaron halted beside them. He, too, had returned empty-handed. "We're getting too old for this," he lamented.
"Well," said Jason, "unlucky at cards..."
Aaron held out a paper tied with a ribbon. "Here," he said. "A wedding present."
The couple unrolled and read it. "But this–" Essie began.
"You're giving it away?" said Jason. "But you've only just built it!"
Aaron nodded toward the woman with him. "She wants something more stately. Like a Governor's mansion." And maybe a Governor to go with it, he mused to himself.
Surprised and touched by the generosity of the gesture, Jason stammered his thanks. "It isn't fair," he said. "I've no gift for you."
"Haven't you?" Aaron's eyes moved to the mountain. After a moment he drove on, but the two had not missed the small smile of pleasure he had permitted himself.
"He's almost as fond of it as you are," said Essie.
"Strange, the thing that divided us for so long was the thing we had most in common."
Essie squeezed his arm. "This is a day of happy unions."
Jason smiled fondly at her. "It is at that."
After His Honor had doled out the last deed, the couples lined up from the totem pole outwards, the men or (more often) their wives-to-be clutching the evidence of their landholding status. Then a starveling parson whom only a few of them recognized stepped up onto a soapbox to address them. "Dearly beloved–"
"Oh, skip the articles!" the judge brayed. He felt like a drink.
"Sure!" said Corky. "Ain't we heard 'em a hundred times?" The laughter of the others bespoke universal agreement.
"Well, then," said Weems, eager to oblige his new congregation, "do you all take–?"
"We do!" they answered in a roar.
"I see you do. All right, then! Whom God hath joined, let no man..." Here the young man fumbled. "...horse up!"
Joshua called to Jason. "You sure he's ordained?" Jason merely laughed.
"You may kiss the brides," saith the preacher, "and keep kissin' 'em till the cows come home!"
...and the pairs kised (and the cows never came).
Jason's face wore an expression of contentment: the contentment of a man with a dream realized at last. A hundred brides; a hundred wives; a hundred mothers-to-be, and grandmothers-to-be; a city, where before had squatted a tiny handful of cabins. The sky today looked the bluest he had ever seen, even in Seattle. He raised his eyes to it in unaccustomed humility. "Tell me true, now," he said, "my neighbors and me—we made a fine show, didn't we?" On the instant, the sun burst forth amid the cloudscape, hemming the white billows with resplendent glory. Jason beamed to match it. "Thank you, Father," he said. "I always knew You were watching."
Then he and the rest of the town trooped off to Lottie's in a bunch–young and old, men and women, dogs and cats–and there danced away a day and a night, to tunes they had known forever: Jason with Essie, Jeremy with Candy, Joshua with Morna, Aaron with Pat, Lottie with every man in the place; and when they were not dancing, they were watching the others dance.
So you may imagine them on that unseasonably balmy night which marked the salvation of their town, and also the end of it as they (and perhaps you) knew it; imagine their faces glowing in the oil light, smiling and laughing in the eternity of yearned-after legend; and dream perhaps that one day theirs will be the faces welcoming you to Heaven, if you live well enough to get there and are lucky enough to find that Heaven is, after all, only Seattle.