Bolt Upright: Seattle Tales
by Galen Peoples
This work is intended for enjoyment only and not intended to violate any existing copyrights.
A Prefatory Word
by J. Bolt, Esq.
Tell you how it happened, and I'll tell it to you honest: how a hundred marriageable ladies (Brides, we called them, in honor of their destiny) come to grace our fair city of Seattle. And fair it is, the fairest you could hope to see short of Zion itself. I'll allow it didn't seem so to them right off, coming as they did from a place all starched and folded. Why, it was on their account we passed the ordinance to keep the pigs off the streets—not that they were doing a pinch of harm.
Me, I was the one fetched them. For those of you that don't know me, my name's Jason Bolt. I own the logging camp up above town with my two brothers Joshua and Jeremy. Own the mountain it sets on, too—Bridal Veil Mountain. 'twasn't named for the brides, as you might suppose. But on the other hand, the name wasn't entirely a coincidence.
This was the way of it: For a spell the men had been yearning for women. Not the kind they could row across the Sound and drop in on, if they had four bits saved they didn't mind squandering—for, truth to tell, none of that lot on the waterfront is worth the powder to blow them up with. No, sir, they wanted proper girls (but not too proper to steal a kiss from), the kind they could court and hanker for and get wedded with. They'd lay about mewling and moaning over it and I'd have to talk them into a working humor. And this one time I had the idea to christen the mountain anew—Bolt Mountain, she'd been called till then. Told the men she was their bride, and if they'd just treat her gentle—well, you needn't hear the whole of the comparison. But I did it up royal.
By and by, though, even I couldn't talk away their lonesomeness, and it was plain that women would have to be brought. Even the stuffed shirts saw that. Aaron Stempel, the town man who mills our logs (and who's warmed up considerable since then, I have to say), up and offered to pay our way to New England, where it was said you could pick women from the trees like green apples. Found out later he'd made plans to bring some in from elsewhere, in case I failed. Failed—me! But that was his great hope. For the condition he'd laid down was, then he'd have our mountain. With that and the mill, he'd be the only power in town, and my brothers and me, who were always disrupting his plans and getting under his skin generally, would be his hired hands, or gone altogether.
So we fetched them, like I was saying—and I'm telling it to you honest—on a boat commonly used for mules. Which wasn't altogether out of keeping, considering. Candy Pruitt, their ringleader—well, I always did say I like a woman knows her own mind. She picked my youngest brother Jeremy for hers, and has kept him out of mischief, mostly.
Well, that's how it happened. As for what followed, you can see for yourself if you happen on a collection of tales called Here Come the Brides—which was one of my sayings, by the way—in that new-fangled invention they call Teevee. (I reckon this for an Indian word.) Or you can read a few here in this other invention they call the Web. Ain't progress a marvel?
And, oh, yes...
"Choose your partners!"
1. One in a Hundred
Jason Bolt dreamed of trees. Every night. And when he woke in the morning he had the pleasure of seeing his dream come true.
This morning the dream was interrupted by a voice urging him to get up. It carried a slight residual stammer that Jason knew somehow. Coming to, he recognized it as his brother Jeremy's and his surroundings as the tent at their lumber camp, where they slept more than half the time. Early rising was part of the job. Jason opened his eyes to see Jeremy standing over him, obviously agitated. "It's an emergency," he said.
Jason's first thought as he fully regained his senses was of his other brother Joshua. He jumped to sitting and reached for his trousers. Jeremy quickly allayed his fear. Josh had left before sunup, heading a crew out on Blissful Ridge. He was not due back for another two or three hours. But Jeremy immediately replaced that worry with another—a lesser one but big enough. "It's S—Stempel."
Jason snorted. "What's he done now?"
"It's what he's doing. Got the men in a stew—"
Jason's look turned dark. "Making trouble? In our camp?" Jeremy prudently stepped away from the tent flap.
A moment later Jason was outside and seeing for himself—not that he believed it. Aaron Stempel, the mill owner, Jason's colleague and rival, was striding around the camp as if he—Jason dismissed the thought. Some of Aaron's men were trailing behind him, as Jeremy was trailing behind Jason. Occasionally when they took a new turn two or three big loggers would block their path.
Aaron was issuing a stream of instructions, which startled Jason almost as much as his free run of the camp. Move this flume here, that track there. The filer's shack would have to be rebuilt. Catching sight of Jason, he nodded dismissively and then returned to his agenda. He had reached the camp sign, the ramshackle construction that had never changed since the earliest days. "Bolt Lumber Company," it read. That would certainly have to be changed.
Jason had heard enough. He stepped in front of Stempel. "You have five seconds to explain yourself," he said, "before I boot your backside to the holy seat of judgment."
"Didn't your brother tell you?" Aaron's manner was bright. "I own your camp." A low rumble emerged from Jason's throat. "Well, good as own it. Will, come Thursday." Tardily, Jeremy stammered confirmation.
"Of course it follows," Aaron added, grinning, "seeing I own your mountain."
Lottie Hatfield, unaware of the imminent revolution, was restocking her bar. At this hour she had only one customer—her perpetual customer. But Captain Clancey was taking a long time to empty his tumbler. He would not be fully conscious for at least another hour.
The doors opened unexpectedly to a new customer, a stranger who must have come in on the mail packet. He obviously hailed from a more civilized part of the world, although even there he would have been outsized by most men. His suit was a tan pinstripe. He set down his valise by the door and extracted a small notebook. That and his small, darting eyes led Lottie to peg him as a reporter.
Approaching the bar, the man introduced himself as Pringle, Samuel L. "—of St. Louis," he added importantly.
Lottie, who had been there once, was unimpressed. "What'll you have?" she asked curtly.
Pringle waved a hand. "I'm a teetotaler." Clancey, who had been regarding him speculatively through half-closed eyes, turned away with a grunt. Pringle appeared not to notice. "I'll bet you're wondering," he said, "why a well-dressed Eastern gent should be stopping in your settlement—"
Lottie saw a long road ahead. "What are you sellin', Mister?" she asked.
"My good woman, I'm not selling. I'm collecting."
"Collectin' dust, is it?" Clancey muttered.
"I'm compiling a history of the territory—a comprehensive account of every person and event of consequence." He winked at her. "I'll bet you know everybody in town."
Lottie returned to her bottles. "Sonny, I'm a barkeep. People confide in me. And their business stays their business." Before he could try to dissuade her, she added, "There's one man around here who won't mind talking your ear off. See Jason Bolt."
Pringle jotted the name in his book.
At the moment Jason was not feeling loquacious. He was reading the notarized affidavit that Aaron had handed him—reading it a second time, as if it might come out differently from before. He handed it to Jeremy, who did the same. "It's genuine," Aaron assured them.
"You expect me to take your word for that?" Jason asked.
"No," Aaron acknowledged, "but there's a witness whose truthfulness you won't question." He deliberately held the Bolts in suspense for several seconds before continuing. "Miss Candy Pruitt."
Jeremy shook his head. "She woulda told me."
"Why don't you ask her?" Aaron said, smiling.
Jeremy looked at Jason. "It better be me," he said. Jason nodded. Jeremy started for town at a run.
Candy was hanging laundry at the side of the brides' dormitory. "Just in time," she said as Jeremy appeared. "Hold this." She handed him a basket of wet muslin, which she took out a piece at a time and pinned to the line.
Jeremy had completely worked out his opening, but this reception took him aback. He tried to reconstruct what he had had in mind and at the same time keep a lid on the frustration that was simmering inside him. "Goodness, you look sober," Candy laughed. "I think Jason's working you too hard—"
Jeremy gave up the effort. "C—Candy!" he shouted.
Candy's expression changed to a look of apprehension that Jeremy knew well. Her voice grew tiny. "Yes?"
"Hetty Oliver," Jeremy blurted out. It was not what he had meant to say.
"Hetty Oliver Caine," Candy corrected. Hetty had left the previous year with her new husband. "Why, has she done something I don't know about?"
"It's something she didn't do. And you did know." Jeremy handed over the affidavit. As Candy read, he echoed it aloud. It was signed by Hetty, who like Candy had been one of the hundred brides-to-be that Jason had fetched from New Bedford. Here she was attesting that she had not stayed the full year promised but had stolen out of town six weeks early. "—and you helped her," Jeremy finished. His eyes were unforgiving.
Candy gave back the paper. "Does she say why?" she asked quietly.
"It doesn't m—matter!" Jeremy was losing control. "Who else knew about this?" he asked.
"Nobody at first. After a few days the other brides noticed she was missing."
Jeremy could not resist turning the screw. "And Aaron Stempel?"
"He had no idea." Candy was at sea.
"He has now," Jeremy said. "And you know what that means?" He reminded Candy of Jason's agreement with Aaron, the one that had brought the brides there in the first place. Candy looked confused. Wasn't that all over with? "Because we thought the brides stayed the year," Jeremy said. "If Hetty didn't, we still l—l—lose the mountain. Th—thanks to you." He turned to go.
"I can explain," Candy said.
Spinning on her, Jeremy exploded at last. "No, Candy, you c—c—can't! Not this. Not ever." He stormed off, leaving Candy to the twin springs that were beginning to well up on either side of her nose.
Jeremy reported the news unhappily. "She knew?" Jason said. "And she didn't tell you?" Too many warring feelings kept Jeremy from answering. Jason turned to Stempel. "How did you find out?"
Stempel was happy to give a full account. A large mill out Idaho way had shut down, and he had gone there to deal for the inventory. Learning where he was from, a man at the hotel recollected another traveler from Seattle who had passed through two years before. A woman alone, especially one with her looks, he wasn't likely to forget. Stempel said he must be mistaken in the date. The man insisted. "Turns out he was right," Stempel concluded with a grin. "I tracked her down myself and got a full confession." The grin vanished. "Circuit judge is due on Thursday. I'll present my claim to him."
After a last brief look at the paper, Jason threw it back at Stempel. "Till then, get off our mountain."
"My mountain," Stempel said. But he gestured to his men to come away. "I'll make you a fair offer for the equipment," he said.
Jason stepped down to Stempel. Some of the loggers joined him, forming a phalanx. "I'll chop it into stovewood first," he said.
"I'll be back on Thursday," Stempel said, "and I'll have more men with me."
"So will I!" Jason countered.
"Don't try to stop me. The law's on my side." Stempel turned to Jason's men, who were still trying to take it all in. "Any of you that care to are welcome to stay on with me."
"At the same wage?" Corky asked. Taken by surprise, Stempel did not have a ready answer. "I thought so," Corky said. He looked around at the others. "What do ya say, boys?" Absolute silence.
Jason smiled with satisfaction. "I'd leave now if I was you," he said.
"Remember," Stempel said, "Thursday." With his men he started down the hill.
The atmosphere lightened but not Jason's frown. "Brother," he said, "looks as though we may have to find ourselves a new mountain."
As the mill crew tramped homeward, Stempel's foreman took the courage to speak up. He could never be sure with Stempel. Sometimes he took advice gladly, other times—
"Beggin' your pardon, sir," the man began, "you'd best see to it Bolt don't cut things up like he said. That's a top-grade set-up. Take weeks to build it new."
The man was relieved when Stempel thanked him for the idea. "They try anything," he said, "we'll send a few of the boys up here to stop 'em." It sounded hollow.
"Beggin' your pardon again, sir," the man said, "they're sawyers. These are axemen. Somebody'll have to talk Bolt out of it." He refrained from mentioning who.
Stempel was considering the prospect of trying to outtalk Jason when a figure came into view on the path. He and Stempel spied each other at the same time. Stempel hailed him heartily. "Joshua!" When he came within reach, Stempel reached out to clap him on the shoulder, but an agile turn by the younger man left Stempel's arm dangling in the air.
"What are you doing up here?" Joshua asked.
Stempel assumed an air of helpless perplexity. "The queerest thing has happened," he said. "I hope you'll take the news better than your brothers. Jason is such a headstrong fella."
He pulled out the paper. Joshua, the businessman of the family, needed only a quick skim to see the worst. "This means we lose the mountain." Stempel assured him of his good intentions. He would try to make sure the operation continued without a hitch. He would assume all existing jobs, sparing Joshua and his brothers any penalties. "But if Jason does something foolish," he said, "like tearing the camp apart—" He left the consequence to Josh's imagination.
"Reckon I'll have to help him," Josh said promptly. "Afternoon."
Stempel scowled after him and then turned to the foreman, who was watching him uncertainly. "What are you waiting for?" he barked. He stamped off down the hill, leaving the others to follow.
The throng of burly men came tramping into town before noon. Candy watched from the dormitory porch. The two older Bolts did not spare her a glance. The youngest did, but only for an instant, and then returned his eyes to the front, copying his brothers.
A man in a pinstriped suit was waiting outside the general store. He came out and introduced himself to Jason. "I'm writing a history—" he began.
"Good luck to you," Jason said, without stopping.
Pringle two-stepped along with him and the others. "Miss Lottie said you knew more than anyone about—"
Jason stopped to face him. "Tell you who knows things—the only one around here, apparently." He pointed to the dormitory. "Miss Cassandra Pruitt. You tell her—on second thought, you wouldn't care to repeat what I have to tell her." He followed the others into Lottie's. Pringle made a note and turned toward the dormitory.
Holiday? Lottie asked herself as she doled out beers to one logger after another. A survey of their faces dispelled that notion. The Bolts had taken their usual places at the bar. Plopping three glasses in front of them, Lottie asked the obvious question.
"Called a day off," Jason said shortly.
"Any particular reason?"
Jason just growled. "Stempel," Joshua said quietly.
Lottie leaned on the counter. "Tell me about it."
The mill hands were uneasy. Stempel did not often call them together, and when he did it was usually to let some of them go. Occasionally it was news of a big job, which meant longer hours but more pay. You couldn't tell from his face either way.
From the steps outside his office, Stempel waved them to silence. "Come Thursday," he announced, "Stempel Mill will acquire the Bolt Lumber Company. Some of you will be joining me on the mountain." Those to whom that was news stared at one another in surprise.
"I'm assembling a logging crew," Stempel continued. "Work's harder, but"—he smiled—"the pay's better. Which of you men have had experience?" Silence. Stempel pointed to a rather ungainly young man with a cowlick. "You used to work for the Bolts, didn't you?"
The young man, whose name was Simon, shifted his feet. Stempel's foreman, from the step below him, leaned up and whispered into his ear. Aaron waved carelessly. "Little accident, could happen to anybody."
Spotting an axe wedged in a nearby stump, he stepped down and yanked it out in a way he hoped looked virile and lumberjack-like. He passed among the men, singling out the biggest, and appointed them to the gang. He stopped in front of Simon and thrust the axe into his hands. "You're lead man," he said. "Show 'em the ropes." There were looks exchanged between his back. Simon had the axe in an awkward grip, with one set of knuckles dangerously close to the blade. Stempel moved his hands to the correct positions. "Just—show 'em how it's done," he said encouragingly.
The foreman was still standing outside the office. "Beggin' your pardon, sir—" he began.
"I know," Stempel said, grimacing. "Loggers."
Candy peered down from the porch at the little man in tan. Her eyes, blurred by the constant runs of tears that had followed Jeremy's visit, could not make him out clearly, but she was sure she did not know him. The man said he had been referred by Jason Bolt. "He said you'd know all the guilty secrets," he added, with a wink.
Biddie Cloom came out just in time to hear the last words and to hold the screen as Candy ran inside sobbing. She whirled on Pringle. "You horrible man!" she said. "Why don't you just go away?" Starting in, she had a second thought. "Better yet, talk to Aaron Stempel. He's the one who started all this." The screen slammed behind her.
The failure of the attempted joke puzzled Pringle but did not daunt him. So Stempel started it all, he thought. He made another note.
"Don't let Jason upset you," Biddie said, perching on the edge of the comforter. Candy, buried in the pillow, said something that between the flannel and the crying sounded like "Ih nah yay."
"Beg your pardon?" Candy made the same noise again. "Well, of course," Biddie said encouragingly. "I mean, it stands to reason."
Candy lifted her head, sniffing back tears, although droplets continued to splash onto her cheeks now and then. "It's not Jason," she repeated. "It's me." She sat up. "I ruined their dream. But—oh, Biddie—it was my dream, too. I always thought"—now the drops became larger and more numerous—"Jeremy and I would build a little house up there, on the mountain, with a bluebird on the window sill, and now—now," she finished, the words breaking, "we won't have any bluebird!"
Biddie considered. "I could ask Corky to catch you a bluebird," she ventured.
Candy hurled herself back onto the pillow, lost in another rush of tears. Biddie patted her head by way of apology. Definitely not the right thing to say, she thought.
The beer was not drowning any sorrows, Lottie reflected. Clancey was the only one in the house who did not look morose. He looked fighting mad. Only a close acquaintance could have ignored the fire in his eye as his fellow loungers were doing.
"Y' know what I should do?" he asked nobody in particular. "I should punch that Mr. Stempel in the nose. Knock the scoundrel to the ground. Yank his gizzard up through his gullet and toss it to the bottom of the briny."
"Here's your chance, Cap'n Teach." Clancey looked from Lottie to the figure who was just stepping up beside him, regarding him dryly.
"Ah, mornin', Mr. Stempel," Clancey said. "I was just sayin'—ah—" Lottie slid him a beer. He seized it gratefully and stopped his mouth with a long swallow.
"Surprised to see you here," Lottie said as she served Aaron his usual. "I thought you'd be out foreclosing on a widow."
Aaron smiled. "I take it you've heard the good news?"
Lottie looked more sad than angry. "That was settled long ago. Why not let it rest?"
"Come on, Lottie. It's business."
"'It's business,'" Jason repeated, looking at no one. "Beware those two words, brothers—they pollute a man's soul."
Aaron pretended not to hear. "I do need your advice on one thing, though," he said to Lottie. "Can't make up my mind which sounds better—Mount Aaron or Stempel's Peak." Growling again, Jason stirred. Each of his brothers laid a restraining hand on one shoulder. After a moment he subsided.
Aaron heard himself addressed by name. He turned to face a dude in a pinstriped suit. "The bad penny," Clancey observed.
"I'm told you were the founder of this community," the dude said. The Bolts and some other people lifted their heads. Aaron assumed the humblest look of which he was capable. "Well," he allowed, "not all by myself."
The dude extended his hand. "Pringle, Samuel L."
Aaron took it. "Stempel, Aaron G."
Jason shook his head. "Vanity, all is vanity."
Pringle described the history he intended to produce. He was gratified to be informed that he was about to witness a historic event. Aaron turned to the room. "Gentlemen!" he called. A few of them lifted their heads to see who the speaker was. Seeing, most returned to their drinks.
"As the new owner of the Bolt Lumber Company," Aaron continued, "I'm finally in a position to give you the kind of treatment you deserve. I've always said you were overworked and meanly underpaid. Assuming no one does anything foolish, like wreck the camp"—he looked in Jason's direction—"you can keep on like before. Except I'll raise your wages by"—he stopped in spite of himself, and lowered the figure he had meant to offer—"twenty-five cents a week."
Corky's was not the only skeptical face. "That ain't what you said this mornin'."
Aaron shook his head. "Corky, Corky—what's your Christian name?"
Corky looked blank. "Corky," he said.
"Corky—you should know when I'm joking. Twenty-five cents—what about it?" No takers. "All right, fifty." The Bolts, who had been deliberately ignoring Aaron, were now listening closely. "My last offer," he said. "A dollar raise for any man who stays with me." The loggers stared at one another, but were too busy working it out to reply immediately. "You have till Thursday to decide," Aaron said.
Turning back to Pringle, Aaron asked whether he had found a place to stay. Pringle had not. Aaron offered to put him up. He asked whether Pringle had seen the local landmarks. He had not. Aaron offered him a tour.
"What's his game?" Joshua asked after the pair had left.
"To make us look bad," Jeremy guessed.
Jason shook his head. "He needs loggers and hasn't got 'em."
"He's got Simon," Jeremy said innocently. They all laughed.
The laugh was cut off sharply as Candy entered. She was trembling as she walked over and, almost inaudibly, requested a soda pop. The Bolts' eyes were fixed on their reflections in the mirror opposite, although Jeremy's strayed once to that of the sweetly curved figure beside him. As she left he moved to follow her, but after a moment's indecision turned back to his brothers.
Lottie looked severe. "Whatever Candy did," she said to them, and especially to Jason, "I'm sure she had a good reason."
Jason's face was hard. "What's that they say about good intentions? Josh?"
"What a tangled web we weave," Josh answered and then stopped himself. "—oh, no, that's deceitfulness."
The two half-smiled, but Jeremy did not. He felt Lottie's eyes on him but did not dare meet them. A casual bystander might have thought he had a guilty conscience.
"I always said we should have a church," Aaron was telling a furiously scribbling Pringle when he heard his name shouted. Someone was running toward them across the square. In a moment Aaron recognized him as one of his hands.
The shouting was heard inside Lottie's. Heads filled the doorway. The Bolts pushed through them to see Aaron and his man in anxious conversation, of which they caught only a few words. One of them was "disaster." The man was waving toward the mill. A few seconds later the two of them left at a run.
The Bolts all voiced the same thought at once. Simon.
The axe last seen in Simon's hand had somehow become buried in the middle of the log table, which was ripped through diagonally. The blade of the big saw, normally a plane, now described a U. In reply to Stempel's questions the foreman just nodded toward Simon, who was standing apart, shamefaced. "How long will it take to fix?" Stempel asked. "This order's due Saturday." The foreman shook his head.
Stempel cursed under his breath. His temper worsened when he saw the Bolts advancing through the crowd. Jason had sized up the situation immediately. Stempel or no, charity demanded that he offer his help. "And let you wreck my equipment, too?" Stempel answered. "Get out!" Jason was prepared to insist, but Stempel was busy shouting orders. At Joshua's touch, Jason finally turned away, and the brothers headed home.
The work at the mill continued into the night. The saw was irreparable. They would have to send someone for another, maybe as far as Olympia. Jobs would have to be given to the Everett mill, at a cost. Stempel, in vest and shirt-sleeves, took a breather at the rail fence. The foreman joined him. "Beggin' your pardon, sir," he said, "we could sure use help from the mountain." Stempel reluctantly lifted his gaze toward it.
The chopping woke Jeremy first. He had been awake for a long time, as Candy had in town, and for the same reason. Jason always slept soundly, but in a few seconds he was sitting up, too. "Where's it coming from?" Jeremy asked.
"Not far," Jason said, listening. Then a foreboding hit him. Stempel!
The two raced each other outside. They did not have to look far for the source of the sound. A mammoth spruce stood in the middle of a clearing. Joshua was hewing fiercely at it with a broadax. Neither brother had noticed his absence from the cabin. His blade, huge as it was, had made only a tiny gouge in the tree's enormous width. It would take weeks for one man to cut through it. Josh persisted, balmed with sweat. His brothers made no effort to stop him. As he swung, he spoke in a kind of singsong. "This—is where—Jason carved—his name—then me—after that—then Jeremy—after that. Don't want—Stempel's name—on here."
Just beyond the clearing, Aaron Stempel heard. Following his foreman's advice, and in his company, he had come to beg aid from the last people he would have chosen to. As the chopping ceased, he heard Jason speak. "Stempel?" he said contemptuously. "What's he compared to this? Let it stand" —not that there was any danger of his brother's preventing that—"it'll be here long after Stempel's a bad memory."
"Doesn't feel the same here now," Jeremy said. "Not like home."
"Home's more than a place," Jason said. "You carry it with you inside. Stempel can't take that away from us." The voices receded and then were heard no more.
Even if there had been enough light to see Stempel's face by, the foreman would have been unable to read it. Several seconds passed before Stempel spoke. "Let's go back," he said. He did not speak again all the way down the mountain.
One trouble with being tyee, Jason had learned, was that times arose when you could not back down from a stand you had taken. This was one of those times. The crew was assembled, axes ready, waiting for orders. Jason told them what they already knew: that the judge would be arriving the next day and then the camp would have to be turned over to Stempel. They had heard him promise he would smash it up before he would see that happen.
"You know what you have to do," Jason concluded. "Best get started." He walked to the flume, raised his axe, held it in the air for a moment—and buried it in a corner post. He looked an apology at his brothers. "I—you see to it," he told them.
The loggers watched Jason go. No one moved, even after he was out of sight. "You heard him," Joshua said. The men looked at the ground.
Someone nudged Corky. He stepped forward reluctantly. "Josh," he said, "the boys've been talkin'—"
"Hold it right there, Mr. Bolt!" Jason looked up to see his way blocked by one of the last people he had expected to see up there.
"Biddie, I'm not in the mood—" He stopped as the belligerence of her tone, and stance, came through to him. "—Biddie?"
"I don't care a little pin for your mood. Candy's been in there crying a river all day on account of you and your two awful brothers, and she doesn't deserve a bit of it, not one little bit."
Biddie stamped her feet. "You be still till I'm finished!" she shouted. Jason obeyed meekly. "In the first place," Biddie went on, "it wasn't her idea, which if it was that would be fine because it was a good idea, but it was Hetty's and Candy just went along with her. And in the second place—"
"Shush! Now where was I? Oh, yes, in the second place how was she to know that Mr. Stempel would find out, even if he always does find out things that make more money for him, not that he needs any more, goodness me—" Jason opened his mouth. Biddie glared him into silence. "And in the third place, which should be the first place really because it's the most important, the only reason she did it was to save a man's life. Oh, and in the fourth place it did save his life, so it certainly was worth it and—and—" Biddie searched for a suitable stopping place. "—and she doesn't deserve to be treated the way you all are doing to her," she concluded.
Jason waited a few seconds before venturing to speak. "You done?" he asked timidly.
"That's right, don't pay me any mind—"
Jason quickly corrected her. "I want to know—whose life did she save?"
"Her intended—Walter, that was. Didn't I say so?" At Jason's nudging, Biddie revealed the whole story. Hetty's fiance, who was neither a logger nor a miller, had gone to mine for quartz on the Coeur d'Alene, hoping for just enough luck to be able to bankroll their homestead. In February he had contracted pneumonia—"I think it was pneumonia," Biddie said, "it might have been the grippe"—but was able to get a wire for Hetty delivered by a passing rider to a telegraph office. Walter feared it might be his last message. But he had underrated Hetty. With astonishing pluck, she had journeyed to his side and nursed him back to health. "—which she couldn't have," Biddie finished, "if Candy hadn't let her go."
Jason could be mulish about admitting blame. "Why didn't Candy come to me? Doesn't she know I'm always here to talk to when there's a problem?"
"As I heard it," Biddie said mildly, "you weren't talking to her at all."
The logic was unanswerable. "I'll make it up with her," Jason said. He started off.
"She's not there," Biddie said. "She's out figuring out a way to get your mountain back." Jason's eyes showed his alarm. Not one of her schemes, he thought, please, Lord. "You'll see," Biddie assured him, "she'll make everything righty-tighty." Jason asked where he could find her. "In the woods," Biddie said.
Jason surveyed the forest that stretched all ways as far as the mountains. "Thanks," he said, "that narrows the search mightily."
Joshua and Jeremy were sitting side by side, faces creased with worry. The men were arrayed in a variety of sitting and leaning postures, axes resting beside them. To a man, they had refused to tear up the camp. Corky was still trying to explain. "It's not like we ain't grateful to Jason," he said, "but it's like Stempel said—if we wreck this stuff, we ain't got a job."
"So you're taking Stempel's offer," Joshua said. "All of you?" The silence that followed was answer enough.
"Jason'll sure be sore," Jeremy said to Joshua. The comment was unnecessary. The two brothers sat pondering what he might do on his return.
Candy was seated on a felled log, head in hands. Eleven months is the same as twelve, she thought. Ninety-nine brides is the same as a hundred. Idaho is the same as Seattle. The contract was illegal: you can't barter a mountain. She was repeating these and other arguments aloud to see how they sounded when she heard a voice behind her. "Don't try to reason like a lawyer, Miss," it said gently. "You might succeed, then we'd have to tar and feather you."
The voice was full of kindness. Candy turned hopefully. Jason had somehow found her. Everything must be all right now—he was smiling. The two of them began identical apologies at the same time. They stopped and smiled again. Jason came and sat beside her. He told her he knew the story and assured her she had done right, he would have done the same himself. But why hadn't she told him? "I was scared," she said.
"Scared? Of me?" It was almost a shout. "When in blue blazes did I ever give you cause—" He stopped, hearing himself. Then he laughed, and Candy joined him. "I don't know how you kept it from us," he said.
Candy wrinkled her nose. "Oh, men are easy to hide things from," she said. Jason started to contest the point but let it drop. "The hardest part was keeping Francie quiet," Candy went on. For a moment Jason pictured one of the brides' mouths with Candy's hand muzzling it. Then he remembered that Francie was Hetty's terrier—had been hers till Hetty got married, when she had given her to Molly. "At first she whimpered all the time," Candy was saying, "but—"
Jason was wearing a look of awe. "I believe I've never seen that creature properly before," he said.
"Why, you know you have," Candy said. "A million times.
"But never bathed in the light of blinding glory!" Jason cried, leaping to his feet. His thoughts were leaping, too. "Circuit judge—what's his last stop before Seattle?" Candy knew. It was Port Orchard. "Perfect! You're coming with me—as a witness." He pulled her to standing. "But first we—" He stopped, remembering. They were tearing up the camp! He left at a run.
"A witness to what?" Candy asked the space where Jason had been. She took off after him.
At the sight of Jason, his brothers rose and began their excuses, each drowning out the other. Jason's voice rose above theirs. "Thank heavens you haven't started," he said. Relief filled their faces.
Candy ran up behind Jason. She stopped shyly, seeing Jeremy. He hurried to her and took her hand. "Candy, I—I—"
"Apology accepted," Jason finished.
Candy's eyes were moist again, this time for the right reason. "Jeremy, I—"
"She's sorry, too," Jason said. He grabbed her hand out of Jeremy's. "Come on." As he dragged her off, he called back to his brothers, "Meet me at Stempel's mill come sundown." Then he was gone.
The activity of repair at the mill was still unabated well after dark. The men were wearing a war paint of grease, grit, and sweat. The new saw blade had not arrived, but they had cleared a place for it. Aaron was in the middle of the fray, pry bar in hand. No man could accuse him of shunning hard work. He was too busy to notice Joshua and Jeremy watching from the outskirts. They were beginning to wonder whether they should not return home when Jason and Candy appeared. Candy was still in her long traveling cape.
Jason walked up to Aaron and requested a word. Aaron's mood was different from what it had been last evening. His crossness now was due to impatience with delay. He interrupted Jason with an upraised hand. "Don't," he said. "I haven't time for it."
"For what?" Jason said in his most innocent tone. That was always the giveaway.
"Whatever fancy dance you've dreamed up to wriggle your way out of the mess you're in." Jason opened his mouth in protest. "Not this time," Aaron said. He returned to work.
Jason leaned casually on the stair rail outside the office. "Just came to offer a word of friendly warning," he said.
Aaron bit despite himself. "Warning?"
"Don't know why I didn't think of it before—you'll recall that according to our agreement I was to deliver one hundred females—" Jason laid a slight stress on the last word.
"Marriageable females," Aaron corrected.
"Marriageable," Jason agreed, "of course. Fact is, I not only filled the order, I over-filled it. It was one hundred and one—"
Aaron stopped, staring at him. "It was not," he said.
"—so," Jason continued, as if he had not heard, "even without Hetty Oliver—"
"It was one hundred brides," Aaron said, rising, "one hundred exactly." He crossed to him, carrying the pry bar like a weapon. "I was there, remember? I counted heads."
"And very embarrassing that was," Jason said with regret. "Like a cattle auction. Still—one hundred and one."
"It was one hundred!" Aaron insisted. "I have the list. Shall I show you?" He started up the steps.
"Ah," Jason said, "but you missed one."
Aaron halted. "Impossible!" he said.
"Soon as she came ashore, she caught sight of a likely male and frisked off after him. She's mighty high-spirited," he said with a grin. Aaron, his suspicions roused, demanded the name. Jason shrugged. "What's in a name?" he said. "You asked for one hundred females, I delivered—"
"Marriageable females," Aaron said. "You keep leaving that out."
"Yes, now, about that," Jason said, "your standards being so almighty high—"
"They are not!" Aaron insisted.
As the level of their voices had risen, the sounds of work had died out one by one. Most of the men had stepped closer to listen. Jason's last remark had been directed to them as much as at Aaron, who noticed that some had suppressed grins at his reply.
"Female has the tiniest thing wrong with her, you think she's not marriageable. Say, an older brother that scares off all her suitors. Mercenary devil, only interested in how much money they can bring in—"
Aaron tried to decide whether the dart he had just taken had been deliberately aimed. "Mercenary older brother," he repeated slowly, his grip tightening on the pry bar.
"You wouldn't call her marriageable? Not you, no, sir. Or a dance hall female, like that bunch that came through last spring. The kind respectable folks look down their noses at." From the look in Aaron's eye, Jason knew enough to pass on quickly. "Marriageable? Not in your book. Or, now, someone like Lottie—"
"What about Lottie?" Aaron said angrily. She was his friend—and Jason's. He was shocked to hear him speak so of her.
"Well, a saloon keeper." Jason made a gesture as of brushing dirt away. "Not half good enough for high and mighty Aaron Stempel. Have to be a decent female, a proper female, a Sunday-go-to-meetin' fe—"
Many of the men were grinning openly now. Aaron felt he was being made a fool of. "Bolt, you produce any female, besides those on the list, that you brought to Seattle. And if she's marriageable—"
"What's 'marriageable'?" Jason quickly asked.
Aaron struggled to find words. He sometimes wished he had Jason's fluency. "Marriageable," he said, and then, after further struggle, "Marriageable."
"Meaning she can be married," Jason assisted. "Wedded, joined, spliced with a timber hitch—"
Aaron put a stop to the catalog. "But where is she?" he demanded. "Show her to me!"
Candy, who had stepped up beside Jason during the last few words, reached into her cape and pulled out a small white terrier. "You're looking at her," Jason said, smiling.
"That—that's a dog!" Aaron sputtered.
"Any female, you said."
"Marriageable female. A dog isn't marriageable."
Cradling Francie with one arm, Candy reached into her cape with the other and drew out a scrolled paper tied with a ribbon. She handed it to Aaron. "Here's the certificate," Jason said, "the first canine marriage executed in Washington Territory. I'd introduce you to the groom, but he—" Jason searched the crowd and at last spotted a grey whippet worrying someone's leg—Simon's, as it happened. "There," Jason said, pointing. "Has a keener sense of his duties than a lot of 'em."
Aaron glanced over the paper. "This isn't legal!" he said.
"Judge's signature's at the bottom," Jason said. "Writes a fine hand, too," he added.
Aaron's jaw trembled. He was obviously struggling to control himself. "Inside," he said shortly. He gestured to Jason to shut the door, paced to the far end of the room, and stood with his back turned. "This—" he said. "This—" He turned around—and, to Jason's dismay, exploded in laughter. It was several seconds before he had recovered sufficiently to speak. "This," he said finally, "is the damnedest trick you've ever pulled!" He wiped his eyes. "How many whiskeys did it take?"
"Impugning the dignity of the court?" Jason asked.
Aaron stepped to the desk, where Hetty's affidavit lay, and tore it in half. "All right," he said, "you can keep your mountain."
Jason's guard went up at once. "You acknowledge I'm right?" he said doubtfully.
"That marriage paper? No judge in the land would recognize that—sober." He opened his ledger. "No, I've been doing some figuring. I can't afford it."
For once Jason felt dull-witted. He could not seem to grasp it. "You don't want our mountain?"
Aaron explained that with the repairs to the mill, the rebuilding of the lumber camp now that Jason had leveled it—
"We didn't," Jason interjected.
"No," Aaron admitted, "I didn't suppose you would." Still, he continued, with the doubling of the payroll—more than double, counting the raise he had promised the loggers—"and the loss of what I charge you for milling," he added, before thinking (Jason made a mental note to ask for an elaboration of that point some time), Aaron was timber-poor. Yes, the land was worth four times any other in the territory, but only if he sold it to outsiders. "Better it stays in the family," he said, and then added, somewhat embarrassed, "You know what I mean."
"Yes," Jason agreed, "better that way." His eyes met Aaron's. Neither man smiled, but for a moment both felt a shared warmth.
Aaron did smile then, but his grin was a private one. "The mountain I'll grant you," he said, "for a price." Jason's guard went up again. He asked what that might be. "For you, a hard one," Aaron said. He was still grinning.
When Pringle's history of the Northwest territories was published, Joshua was the first to grab a copy from the bundle that had been dropped at Lottie's. He ran all the way back to camp with it. "Man, you won't believe this," he said.
Jason appeared strangely indifferent. He simply glanced at the book and passed it to Jeremy and then walked to the rim of the ridge and stood with his arms folded, staring up with a dreamy expression at the cloud-mantled summit of Bridal Veil Mountain.
Jeremy's response was more what Josh had hoped for. Leafing through, he came to passage after passage that provoked whoops of incredulity, and he insisted on reading each aloud. All were of a certain sameness. Aaron Stempel had cleared the wilderness to create Seattle. Aaron Stempel had arranged to have a hundred women imported from the East at his own expense. Aaron Stempel had bankrolled the Bolt Lumber Company and managed its operations. Aaron Stempel— "He's all over every page," Jeremy said.
Joshua looked over at Jason. "Didn't you talk to Pringle, too?" he asked.
"Aaron did most of the talking," Jason said. "I just sat and nodded agreement." He paused. "It was an—arrangement we had."
As Jeremy embarked on another passage, Jason came over and took the book out of his hands. With a force that neither of the others expected, he hurled it across the valley, where it disappeared in the sea of treetops. "Doesn't matter," he said. He clasped each of his brothers on the shoulder and drew them close. "That's what matters," he said, nodding up at the peak above.
"And it's ours," Joshua said. "Forever."
Jason shook his head. "We're only the caretakers." But there was more than a hint of satisfaction in the whiff of pine air he took before adding, "—the caretakers of paradise."
2. Fortune's Two Faces
It was the young man's turn to sleep now. The time was marked by the grandfather clock outside the door, each beat falling away into the stillness of the bedchamber.
He woke to a voice in his ear. "Richard?" A hand clutched his shoulder. He knew whose it was without seeing the sallow face and sunken cheeks. "Is he awake?" the visitor asked. Richard said he had been and might be yet.
The lean man went to the four-poster and set down his black leather brief-bag. From the stack of eider pillows, the invalid moved his eyes to take him in. "Arthur," said the visitor, "it's Matthias." The old man's expression did not change. "Your lawyer," Crewe added. He picked up a paper from the bedside table. "This is what we discussed earlier. It will annul the new will and reinstate the old one. I know the change was but a whim of the moment—sign this and it will be as if it never happened." Arthur's only answer was to move his eyes back to the window.
"Think of your children," Crewe persisted, "—those who've been loyal to you—those you wanted to be seen after." Arthur seemed to smile at this; Crewe could not be sure. At last he lost patience. "You may not have another chance!" he cried.
Richard quickly came forward. "He can't understand," he said.
"Can't he?" Crewe said wryly. Again he thought he saw the flicker of a smile. With a sigh, he consigned the document to the brief-bag and bade Arthur goodbye, adding a godspeed for good measure. On the way out he paused at the door. "There will be other avenues to explore after—" He stopped out of respect for the son's feelings. "Well—after. For the present we can only wait."
The voice was just loud enough for the dying man to hear, if he were listening. But he was attending to a far finer sound: "The Bride's Favorite" played on a concertina. It was a sound from another place, another time. The brocaded drapes stirred in the bay breeze. Arthur saw beyond them, beyond the city where he lay, to a square board building whose glowing windows seemed to dispel the northern damps surrounding it. Over the doors was painted the word "Lottie's."
Arthur smiled at the vision.
The boy hardly noticed the saloon as he ran past in the golden light. He was headed toward the wooden landing, where he liked to play at pirates. He liked it best when he could persuade his sister Molly to be the captured maiden, but when she played she usually insisted on the role of pirate queen. This morning he was on his own. As he stood scouting the horizon for enemy vessels, a wonder occurred: he saw one. In fact it was a chartered schooner, but to Christopher Pruitt it was as good as a man of war.
"Big ship comin' in!" he shouted, running up the main—and only—street. Shutters flew back. Doors opened. Heads peered out. He ran on past Stempel's mill, repeating the announcement. The mill hands, scarcely into their day, left their saws standing and hurried for the dock. Aaron Stempel came out of his office to call them back and then, hearing the cry, ran after.
From the foredeck two passengers watched the town materialize magically in the lap of the deep green hills. Soon they were near enough to see the crowd that was turning out to stare. One of the two stared back with an expression akin to theirs. "Seattle," he said in a hush. "Never thought I'd get to see it."
"You don't believe your father's stories, do you?" his companion said. "Jenny Lind? A lumberjack who quotes Shakespeare? Fifty women shipped west to this hog wallow?"
"Why not?" Richard said. "And it was a hundred," he corrected. "A hundred brides."
"Pure fantasy," Crewe declared.
Just then the upstairs shutters of a broad white building, the biggest in town, were thrown open in a line, revealing a cluster of fresh-faced young women at every window. Richard laughed to see them. Others came running out to join the people at the waterfront.
Aboard the only boat in port, which was rather less grand than the one attracting notice, the skipper staggered on deck in his nightshirt. He nearly jumped ship at the sight of the two-master bearing down on him. At the last minute she came half about and stopped. The captain coldly tipped his cap. Captain Clancey tried to return the gesture, only to realize with surprise that he had not his cap on.
Once the lines were made fast and the gangplank was lowered, the travelers unboarded. Crewe picked his way gingerly around patches of mud. Richard's eyes roved over what seemed to him an overwhelming number of gorgeous things: the glittering water, the bubbling clouds, the forests mounting above the town, and last of all—because his eyes went no farther—the grey-eyed, chestnut-haired girl at the edge of the crowd.
To Crewe the natives appeared a crude patchwork of boots, rough flannels, and hard, unshaven jawlines. Hesitantly he asked whether any of them could direct him to a Miss Lottie Hatfield. To his alarm, and Richard's delight, the crowd closed in on the two of them and headed in a bunch toward the saloon, jostling them along. They barged through the doors and delivered them up to a buxom, queenly-looking woman behind the bar, who appeared to take the intrusion in stride.
Recomposing himself, Crewe presented his card. Attorney-at-Law, it read, San Francisco. Lottie could imagine nothing that would bring a lawyer all that way to see her. She handed it back with a question in her eyes.
"Arthur Pepperell was my client," Crewe said. "I must inform you he's no longer with us." Getting a blank look from her, he repeated the name with more emphasis. The look remained the same. Crewe could not make it out. He introduced Richard ("Arthur Pepperell's son"), whose attention he first had to recapture from the girl in the crowd. "Is there a place we might speak privately?" he asked Lottie.
"Mister, these are my neighbors," she said. "Anything you have to say to me—" As often, her candor finished the statement for her. "—they'll find out for themselves anyway." Though she did not say so, she did not cotton to the idea of being closeted alone with him either.
Reluctantly Crewe nodded acquiescence. "I realize that nothing can expunge your grief at a time like this. But you may take some solace in the knowledge that Mr. Pepperell made ample provision for you. Indeed—" He took a paper from his brief-bag. The buzz quieted as he read. "'I, Arthur Pepperell, being of sound'—well—'give, bequeath, and devise all my property to Miss Carlotta Hatfield of Seattle, Washington Territory—the memory be green.' He insisted I add that." Richard smiled. "You understand? You are the sole beneficiary. The estate totals some"—he deliberated—"five hundred thousand dollars."
The buzz started again. Lottie found herself in need of a chair. It was a few seconds before she was able to speak. "I only have one question," she said finally. "Who in holy blazes is Arthur Pepperell?"
Jason Bolt, having got wind up at camp of the ship's arrival, came striding into town with some of his men. Normally his two younger brothers would have accompanied him, but one was away on a buying trip and the other was overseeing the camp in Jason's absence. Lately he had decided it was only right, and no more than they had coming to them, to give them a larger share in the duties of the concern, especially those of which he himself had tired.
He pushed his way through to the saloon doors and exchanged nods with Clancey, now fully dressed, and Ben Perkins, the storekeeper, who was gabbing to everybody within earshot, "Didja hear? Lottie just came into a heap of money!" not omitting the exact amount. The news, relayed back through the peerers-in, propelled Jason inside to find out more. What Clancey was thinking could only be guessed at, but he soon fell to frowning and rubbing his begrizzled chin.
Aaron was at Lottie's back, where Jason joined him. Taking in Crewe at a glance, he whispered, "Watch this buzzard."
Aaron smiled at the needless advice, so typical of Jason. "Believe me, I am."
Richard had taken out a pocket watch and was holding it open for Lottie to see. "This was my father," he said.
"Difficult to recall one among so—" Crewe began. He stopped at a look from Aaron.
The photograph in the watchcase brought back a memory Lottie had filed away long since. "Yes, I knew him," she said after a moment. "There's clearly been some error."
"None," Crewe said coldly. He brought out another paper. "If you'll sign this authorizing me to—"
Aaron intercepted it and after skimming it returned it to him. "She'll sign no such thing," he said. "Do you take us for yokels?" Crewe declined to answer. "This would give you a free hand with her money."
Crewe returned it to the bag. "Merely endeavoring to expedite matters," he muttered.
"Expedite," Jason repeated. He liked the word and ran it over his tongue once or twice. "That means you've done all the necessary lawyerin'—am I right?"
Crewe worked to frame an answer. "I believe," Aaron said, "my friend is thinking of probate."
"That's the ten-dollar word," Jason acknowledged.
Crewe promised to institute proceedings as soon as he got back. "We sail tomorrow," he said. Richard showed his disappointment. Crewe pleaded pressing business.
"Who's being pressed, I wonder?" Aaron said to nobody in particular.
Crewe was casting about for a change of subject when Lottie broke in. She had been half-listening, puzzling over the matter. Coming back to the present, she offered to put up the visitors for the night. Richard expressed a desire to sleep in the same room his father had. "Would that include a bath?" Crewe asked doubtfully.
"Only bathtub in town," Lottie boasted. Crewe rolled his eyes. "It's full of slops," she added, "from the pigs using it, but I can have it scrubbed bright and clean for you."
"Thanks," Crewe said, "we'll sleep amidships."
"I'll stay here," Richard said, "as Father did." Jason and Aaron did not miss the look that passed between them. Crewe announced he was returning to the ship.
As Lottie led Richard upstairs, Jason wondered aloud what the strangers' game was. "Whatever it is," Aaron said, "it seems the boy doesn't know the rules."
The first thing that struck Richard's eye was the brass tub by the washstand. It was immaculate. He raised his eyebrows; Lottie shrugged. "Don't like folks like your friend prancing in and looking down their noses at us up here." She considered. "It is the only one, though."
"I know Father wasn't that way," Richard said. "The tales I've heard him tell—"
"He was one of a kind," Lottie agreed. Her manner had changed. Now she looked almost like one of the brides. "Did he—ever mention me?" she asked lightly.
"He talked about Lottie's place. We had no idea who Lottie was until he remade the will." She tried to hide her disappointment. "I'm afraid we were all rather taken aback. Especially Matthias."
"I hope you don't resent me for it."
"Not now I've met you." Richard smiled. "Father always did recognize quality."
"Flatterer!" To draw attention from the color taking over her cheeks, she began fussing with the bedspread. She promised to change it while he took supper. Richard told her he would be out most of the day seeing the town. "—for once without my chaperone," he added.
The chaperone was standing to leeward, shredding the rejected power of attorney and casting the scraps into the ocean. The captain grimaced at his untidiness but leaned forward to get a closer look at the open brief-bag, which was filled with other legal papers. Crewe noticed his interest. "When sailing unfamiliar waters," he said, "it's as well to have all the possible courses charted—if you'll forgive a landsman his clumsy nautical metaphor. One can never be sure which way the wind will blow." The captain came as near as he ever did to smiling.
Richard was enjoying the unaccustomed freedom of his walking tour. Inevitably, it brought his foot into contact with a mud puddle. The splash delighted him. As a child he had loved mud puddles, before his father, at Matthias's urging, had pronounced him too old for such nonsense. Another puddle beckoned. He stepped in it deliberately and looked down with satisfaction on his spattered shoe tops.
"Missed me," a voice said. Looking up, Richard found himself in front at the brides' dormitory, whither in fact he had been bound, and facing the person he had hoped to see. She was standing in front of the gate, a basket on her arm. He felt himself coloring. "Try again," she suggested, "I'll stand closer this time." He tried to speak, but the effort ended in an uninterpretable noise. Abigail Frost saw that the initiative must remain with her for now. "You came on the ship from California," she said.
"You—came on the one from New England," Richard answered weakly.
"Some time ago," Abigail said, "and it wasn't much of a ship. You must have seen it in the harbor."
"I can't imagine—" Richard had gotten no farther when the word "Halt!" rang out six times from the porch and a tall, slender redhead marched down to them to announce that the conversation must cease at once. "Proper young ladies do not speak to strange men on the street," she told Abigail. "I've warned you before."
"Oh, Candy, don't be such a—"
"Sir," Candy Pruitt informed Richard, "you may ask permission to call on the young lady tomorrow."
"I so ask," he said humbly.
"Be here at eleven, sharp," Candy said. At her command Abigail followed her up the steps. Inside the screen, they stopped to gaze again on the new prospect, acknowledging his gaze-worthiness in a joint widening of eyes and barely stifled giggles.
"We leave tomorrow," said a voice—the third to surprise Richard that morning, and the least welcome. "Or had you forgotten?"
"There'll be plenty of time for tea. I am allowed the benefit of some society, I suppose?" He checked his watch. "Nearly half an hour this time. Weren't you afraid I'd run off into the hills?"
"Just looking out for your interests, as I did your father's. You're fair game for these rustic fortune hunters."
Richard had to laugh. "I don't have a fortune to hunt any more. Everyone here knows that."
"True, for the present it's in the clutches of that Barbary belle. There's another to look out for." Richard snorted in disbelief. "You saw yourself how she took the news about your father," Crewe insisted. "Her old stablemate, and she didn't drop a tear. She's cold as a cashbox, that one."
At the window of the room that had been Arthur's, despite mighty efforts to resist the call on those feminine emotions that her years of toughening had not quite eradicated, Lottie was about to prove Crewe a liar.
Yet that evening she showed no trace of sorrow as she set down his drink, with a clatter scarcely heard above the usual row. His ears hurting, Crewe took a remedial sip of bourbon. Its finish impressed him unexpectedly. "You keep a finely stocked bar," he said. "My congratulations to you." He lifted his glass, and Richard did the same.
Clancey saw them as he entered. They all looked very cozy together. He left before the toast ended.
From the bar, Jason and Aaron were watching too. "What that snake wants is a thorough talking-to," said the one. "Wouldn't come amiss," said the other, "and who better than us to administer it?" "Nobody of my acquaintance," said the one. "Mine either," the other agreed. They sipped their drinks conspiratorially.
"Even 'way out here in Purgatory," Lottie was replying to Crewe, "you'll find some of us capable of appreciating the finer things."
That was the opening he had hoped for. "Then you must appreciate what it's like for Richard, being torn from them so unexpectedly."
"Matthias!" said Richard.
"It's worse for his sisters, poor things. Neither married well. The grandchildren will have a hard job making their way."
"It all seems so unfair," Crewe sighed. Lottie, who had his measure now, echoed him politely and moved to leave. "I knew you'd agree," he said, reaching into his bag, "so I took the liberty of drawing this up. It settles a portion of the estate on each of the children." Lottie could not help noticing that he was named too. "In my capacity as advisor," he said.
Lottie smiled winningly. "Why don't I just consult my advisors?" She nodded toward Jason and Aaron.
Crewe took the paper back. "On second thought..." With a glance of reproach, which did not faze him in the slightest, Richard moved to the bar. Jason and Aaron exchanged a look. Crewe leaned over and spoke in a low tone to one of the roughnecks at the next table. Surprised, the roughneck (whose name was Corky) jerked his thumb toward the rear. Crewe showed more than his customary distaste as he went out. Corky repeated the question he had asked, and the table roared with laughter.
Making his way back in the dark, Crewe found two figures waiting for him at the side of the building. One of them extended a boot, blocking the way. Crewe asked if there were something he might do for their good selves.
"Not for us, good or bad," Jason said, "but for a particular friend of ours." Crewe surmised who.
"In case you're planning any unpleasant surprises for her," Aaron said. "For instance, copying her hand on one of those documents of yours. Or stretching out the probate till—"
"—till the seas run dry as the Arabian waste," Jason finished, and went on, "We supposed—being civic-minded and all—that we ought to warn you how dangerous these streets can be for a stranger at night. Wander too near the water's edge, and..."
Footsteps sounded behind them. The captain and two sailors, who had accompanied Crewe to Lottie's, came into view around the corner. Seeing the situation, they took up fighting stances. Crewe retreated gratefully to their circle. "I appreciate your concern," he said to the others, "but as you see, these gentlemen are at hand to guard against any—accidents." He turned and led the way back. The Seattle men, dejected over the failure of their bluff and each silently blaming the other for it, brought up the rear.
Lottie was cleaning glasses behind the bar. She noticed Richard's bereft expression. "Don't fret," she assured him, "nobody will hold you responsible for what your friend does. We're not that way here."
"I was thinking of Father," Richard said. "Wishing I could have seen this country with him."
"He'd have enjoyed it," Lottie agreed. "But, you know, he only slept here the one night."
"That was all?"
"That was all," Lottie repeated, looking squarely at him, "and I mean all."
Richard reddened. "We assumed—" He stopped. Lottie already knew what they had assumed. "You obviously meant something to him."
Lottie came and leaned on the bar. "Well," she said, speaking half to herself, "he asked a million questions about the town and the people. Said that given the chance to do it over, this is where he'd have liked to settle, where a man could carve out a future for himself—with the right woman. If he'd found her thirty years ago." She laughed, embarrassed. "He also said he'd be back some day. I suppose we both knew it was just talk—but often of a still morning I've looked out over the Sound, half-expecting to see a ship. And now it's come—but it's only brought sadness."
"—and an inheritance," Richard reminded her.
She seemed not to hear. He did not expect what came next. "Don't give up your dreams," she said. "Tend them, make them grow—so years from now you don't find yourself confiding your regrets to a stranger, nine hundred miles from home." Embarrassed again at having said so much, she turned to the room and announced last call.
Richard became aware of Crewe beside him, looking somehow more skeletal than ever. "He wanted to come back," Richard said, "but you stopped him. You always stopped him. You robbed him of most of life's pleasures."
Crewe shrugged. "Someone had to be sensible."
Richard felt an urge to strike him. "Lottie isn't at all what we thought. I'm glad your plan didn't work."
"So am I," Crewe said, "after what I've heard this evening." He rose. "Gentlemen!" he called to Jason and Aaron. "Permit me to put your fears to rest. Any action taken from here on out will proceed entirely in the public eye." Exiting, he bade them sleep well. From his manner it looked as if he would. That left Richard worried.
Up in his room, as he began to undress for bed, there came a light knock at the door. Lottie looked in to ask if he needed anything, and also perhaps to catch a last glimpse of him standing like his father in the place Arthur had stood. Richard thanked her for having troubled herself. Long after she left he lay awake, working himself up to what might have been the first independent decision of his life.
He got up early next morning to act on it while Matthias was breakfasting. When he got to the dormitory he found Abigail waiting by the woodpile in back. He arrived a few seconds too late to see the swing with which she had skillfully split a wood block. Now she appeared helplessly demure, as she intended to. She was pleased to see that he had dressed and groomed himself with unusual care. "Mr. Pepperell," she greeted him.
"You know my name?"
"Everyone does—well, all the brides."
"I brought you a bouquet," Richard said, "but the matron took it." Abigail asked what matron. "Irish eyes back there. She said I'm to help you chop the kindling."
Abigail laughed. "She's really very nice. It's all part of our training to be brides."
"Don't you ever feel—" Richard reached for words. "—like breaking free?"
"I did," Abigail said simply. "That's how I got here."
"And left it all behind?"
"All what?" She laughed. "No kind of life for a girl with spunk." Richard sensed that a larger story lay behind that statement and resolved to hear it some time. "We'd best get started," she said, "before—uh—matron catches us." She stared at the pile, hands clasped behind her. Richard offered her first go, but she declined. "All right," he said doubtfully, removing his jacket, "but, you know, at home we have servants for this sort of thing." Abigail smiled to herself.
After studying the pile a little while, Richard leaned a block against the stump, took up the axe, and brought it down. It glanced the block, which went somersaulting toward Abigail. She stopped it with her foot. Richard winced. He tried again. This time it narrowly missed her head. "Bring it down harder," she advised, pantomiming. He copied her, but imperfectly. "Oh, for heaven's sake, let me show you," she said. She grabbed the axe and demonstrated. Richard, determined to prove good, grabbed it back. In two swift moves he placed the block and halved it. Abigail applauded. "There, we'll make a pioneer of you yet."
"I wish Matthias could—" Then he remembered. "Oh, Lord! Matthias!"
He dropped the axe and set off at a run. On his way down the slope to the dock, he dodged a startling number of wagons, pedestrians, and small animals and sent enough mud flying to make up for years of suppressed cravings.
He came to a halt at the quayside, where the ship was being held and Crewe was in a temper. "Hurry or we'll miss the tide!" he shouted. He noticed Richard's turned-up sleeves. "What have you done with your coat?"
"I—I'm not coming." Crewe halted, foot on the gangplank. "I moved my things out of the cabin this morning. I'm staying on for a few days, longer maybe—"
"Not that girl! Didn't I warn you—?"
The force of the outcry, taking Crewe unprepared, caused him to stagger a little. He could not remember Richard's ever having raised his voice before. Also, he became aware that people were staring. "You were always telling Father don't do this, don't do that. He died wishing for the chances he never took. Not me. Not this time. I'm staying, and if you don't like it, you can—I shan't say what you can do, because Abigail wouldn't approve." He considered for a moment. "Or perhaps she would."
Crewe, his anger controlled but not concealed, led Richard to the edge of the landing. "You think you can do without the money, do you? I hope so, for your sake. But consider your sisters. Consider their children. I can regain the inheritance and restore all of us to our rightful place, but I need your support. Yes, Richard—I need you." Now he was sounding lawyerly again. "Whatever your plans," he concluded, "they'll go a deal farther with money behind them."
After years of observing Matthias, Richard understood him but was still unable to outsmart him. "All right," he said at last, "as long as it doesn't hurt Lottie. I won't have that."
"Why, she's the one person we have to dispose of," Crewe said. "And we will, make no doubt." Dropping his voice, he proceeded to describe his purposed strategy as they returned to the gangplank. A head popped out from behind one of the barrels where they had been standing. Christopher had overheard the whole conversation. His face was white. Seeing his break, he fled for the dormitory.
"We gotta do somethin'," he told his sister. "Them men are gonna kill Lottie!"
The object of Christopher's concern stepped out of her saloon to see Jason and Aaron converging on her at right angles to each other, each with blueprints under his arm. Spotting each other and each the other's burden, both assumed the same poker face. They reached her together and, the niceties quickly disposed of, began talking together. As best she could make out, Aaron envisioned a second mill on the south river and Jason wanted to rip out the skid trails on the mountain, to replace them with steel railways.
That arrested Aaron's attention. "Steel rails! Never work."
"Never been tried, to be found wanting," Jason countered, "but one day—"
Lottie begged to interrupt. "And my part in these plans would be—?"
"Well," said one of the men, "there's the question of capital—"
Lottie iced over. "I have errands to run," she said, "somewhere other than here. You two geniuses regale each other with your grand designs." With that, she set off for the general store. Jason called after her, but she affected not to hear.
"Now see what you've done!" said the one.
"Me!" said the other.
Ben seemed unusually pleased to see her. Before she could state her business, which was to get a closer look at the hat in the window, he remarked on what a coincidence it was she had come to visit. "Been meanin' to get over and talk to you. I had this notion of addin' on to the store in back—" When he turned around, the shop was empty.
If Candy had heard those conversations she would have been less dismayed that when she finally reached Lottie—who was tramping forward at so furious a pace Candy had to run to catch up—and announced in all innocence the wonderful idea she had had, she got back a fierce "If it's a new way to spend my money for me, you can save it!"
It took Candy's breath away. She said after a moment, in a tiny, aggrieved voice, "No, just a new blend of punch for the church social."
Lottie, instantly remorseful, apologized. "But everybody seems to have gotten the idea I'm the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow." Candy, being more honest than tactful, pointed out that after all she was. Seeing that this bothered her, Candy pointed that out too.
It took several seconds for Lottie to reply. "I know, I know it should go to the family. But a part of me—the girl who worked saloons all her life, pocketing every penny, till she put enough together for a place of her own, even if it was a million miles from anywhere anybody knew—that girl tells me I'd be a fool to give up that kind of money." Candy pointed out that Pepperell had wanted her to have it. Lottie was not so sure. "I wonder if it wasn't something else he wanted." She put on a bright face. "But it's mine for now, or soon will be. Guess I can afford to spring for the punch." She laughed. Candy could not help joining in.
Molly meanwhile was digesting Christopher's information. "It's her money they're after," she declared, adding for emphasis, "The villains." Christopher knew the look on her face: she was planning something. Perhaps they ought to tell Jason first? "He'd never believe us. The tall man left, you said?" Christopher nodded. "Then you'll have to watch the other one everywhere he goes."
Christopher had been afraid of something like that. All of Molly's plans were mainly carried out by him. "You can watch too," he said hopefully.
Molly shook her head. "Watching's a boy job." Christopher nodded in resignation.
Unfortunately for him, Richard chose to spend the afternoon paying a visit to the Bolt logging camp, on Abby's advice. "No visitor to Seattle should miss it," she declared. That entailed a climb halfway up the side of Bridal Veil Mountain. It tired Christopher, who had to take two steps for their every one. But the girl seemed not tired at all. She must be some walker, he thought.
Outside the Bolts' tent, they found Aaron Stempel. Had Richard known him better, he would have been surprised by his presence there. Aaron was studying a set of plans, the same ones Jason had tried to show Lottie. Jason had just finished studying Aaron's. On second thought each had found more merit in the other's project than he had recognized at first. Also, each had separately reached the conclusion that he had behaved rather meanly—but not as meanly as the other, whose superior in manners he was set now on showing himself to be.
The two of them greeted the visitors briefly, and Jason assigned one of his loggers to give them a tour of the camp. Christopher, hiding behind one tree and then another, continued his pursuit. There were so many men about he could not keep from being seen, but those who saw him paid little notice, except to hope he would stay out of their way.
He did, but the other two did not quite manage to. They stopped at the edge of a ravine from which they could see the town in the distance below. Richard consulted his watch, thinking that perhaps it was time he got back. That was purely out of habit, since with Matthias gone he had no one to see and nothing to do.
A wagonload of timber passed close by them. One of the drivers jostled Abby, pushing her against Richard. The watch flew from his hand, over the side, and was swallowed up by a dark thicket halfway down. He said it was no matter, but Abby saw in his face that it was. "Is that your father's?" she asked. "Then we must find it." Before he could stop her, she ran to fetch Jason.
He quickly assembled a crew, and they got busy at once, paying no attention whatever to Richard's insistence that it was irretrievable. They peered down the steep side and discussed how to get down to it, dropped a rope and held its end while one of them backed down step by step and disappeared into the shadow of the trees, where he remained for what seemed hours.
Richard was feeling chagrined that his careless act should have cost so much wasted effort when he heard the cry "Found it! And it's still tickin'!" As if by divine intervention, a slim shaft of sun had penetrated the leafy cover and glinted off the watch case. The man climbed back up and handed it over with pride.
Richard hardly knew what to say: so much trouble for him, a stranger. He took a silver dollar from his pocket and offered it in payment, but the man waved it away and returned to work along with the others, as if nothing special had happened. Richard shook his head.
"That's the way here," said Jason. "Each lends a hand to all. And, after all, you are by way of being a sort of family acquaintance."
"But he had nothing to gain by that," said Richard. "None of you did."
"Up here folks are always looking for the chance to help out," said Jason, "'stead of looking for their chance." His face appeared innocent enough; Richard could not tell if the words had a hidden meaning or not.
"You're awfully broody this afternoon," Abby said on the way down—which Christopher, trailing by several yards, was finding much easier than the way up. "Did you and your friend have words?"
Richard had not only been thinking about Matthias. And he wished people would stop calling him that. "We did, but—Abby," he said suddenly, "if I were to stay here in Seattle—"
Abby brightened. "Yes? If?"
"I could start a business." Abby showed that that was not exactly what she had been thinking. "Something good for the town—I'm not sure what. That'd be worth some trouble, wouldn't it? Worth any degree or manner of trouble? Wouldn't it, though?"
Surprisingly, Abby brightened again. She had not a glimmer of what he was getting at but she had stopped listening anyway. "I have something to show you," she said. A little way ahead she turned onto another path, which sloped upward again. Christopher wanted to go home. Richard felt as if his legs were about to buckle under him, but he would have undergone more than that for the sake of Abby's company.
A few minutes later, they were overlooking a valley just beyond the outskirts of town. Richard complained of feeling dizzy. "That's what comes of having a clear head," Abby said. "What do you think?" Richard looked around. "That," she said, pointing down. "The perfect site for a dairy farm, just like the ones back home. I knew the minute I saw it. It'd be the only one close to town."
Richard was at a loss. "I don't know the first thing about dairy farming."
"I do," Abby volunteered, and then hedged: "Well, a little. My granddad was a dairyman. And the property's up for sale."
"It would have to wait until—" Richard stopped. Had she caught that?
"Of course," she said, and for a moment he was alarmed. "We'd want to be sure." He was relieved. "But when the time came—you must know people in the city—people who could help us get started?"
"I suppose I do." He realized with a leap of joy what that meant: freedom from Crewe's plan. He realized something else too. "Abby? Did you say—'us'?"
Abby shushed him. "We're being tracked," she whispered, nodding toward a bush from which the toe of a boy's shoe protruded.
Richard stole around to the far side and popped out with a bear roar. Christopher screamed. He ran the wrong way, right into Richard, jumped back violently, and bolted down the hill. The couple watched, puzzled.
"I have to go too," Abby said, "and make myself pretty for the social. You're coming, aren't you?"
"No one's invited me," Richard said, grinning.
Abby took his hand and happily pressed her lips to his.
The space outside the church was bigger than it looked. Almost everybody in town was there. At one end stood a row of pine tables laden with platters of food. On the borders, between the trees, Japanese lanterns were strung. A three-piece band was playing "Mary's Wedding". Those not dancing were tapping their feet. One of them was Lottie. It baffled her that no one had asked her yet. Indeed, people seemed to be keeping their distance.
At last she took matters into her own hands. She spotted Frenchy, one of Jason's men who she knew was partial to dancing, took his arm, and led him toward the floor. To her surprise, he snaked out of her grasp and begged off. She tried Corky. He shook his head tightly. "What's the matter with you boys?" she asked. "The bunch of you grown club feet all of a sudden? I'm busting to dance!"
"Dunno, ma'am," Corky muttered, "somehow it don't seem fittin'."
"'Ma'am!' 'Fitting!'" Lottie released her exasperation in a heavy sigh. Then she glimpsed Clancey at the edge of the clearing. She wondered where he had been hiding himself. She approached him confidently. "You scurrilous son of the seven seas," she said fondly, "I know you'll honor me." But he shrank back, waving vaguely, and slinked off into the dark.
Lottie felt as if she had been slapped. All her old friends who were not angling for a stake were treating her as if she were on a high horse. If this was what it was like to be rich—
A silver coin appeared before her eyes. Jason was holding it over her like a stage mesmerist. She had meant to be angry with him for his foolishness of that morning. But you couldn't stay angry with Jason long. And she really wanted to find out about the coin. He was banking on that to ease him back into her good graces.
"They give these out at the big exposition in Philadelphia," Jason said. He identified the face on it as Lady Luck. "See how she smiles. But flip her over, so, and she's frownin'." He paused. "That's generally the way of it—every stroke of fortune wears two faces. It's up to you to reckon out which you'd rather believe in."
Lottie was looking over at Richard and Abby. "I know already," she said.
Richard was holding a cup of punch. A woman in an apron thrust a plate of fried chicken and potato salad into his other hand. "This is splendid!" he told Lottie as she walked up. "I've never had such a time."
"I have to tell you something," Lottie began.
"I have something to tell you too," he said, taking Abby's hand.
The music stopped. "Everybody," Candy announced, "time to play 'Stealing the Pines'!" Half a dozen children flocked around her. She called for someone to keep time. Richard volunteered. He reached for his watch—
Seconds later, Christopher felt his arm grabbed. He looked up into a face red with anger. "What'd you do with it?" Richard demanded. He knew the boy must have taken it on the bluff; he had not been close to anyone else, except Abby.
The others were shocked. Candy ordered him to let go. Christopher buried himself in her dress, squealing, "Don't let him kill me!"
"Never mind, sweetie, he won't—" Then the words registered. "Kill you? What ever put that idea in your head?"
Molly answered for him. "He heard him and that other villain plotting to kill Lottie."
Some of the listeners gasped.
"That's a lie!" Richard said.
"These children don't lie," Lottie said. Candy agreed angrily.
Jason, perceiving a mix-up, stepped in before it grew worse. "What exactly did you hear?" he asked Christopher.
Feeling all eyes on him, Christopher tried to tell it as accurately as he could. "The tall man said if they was to get the 'her—heritance, Lottie was the person they had to—had to—" The word eluded him.
"Dispose of," Richard finished hollowly. "But we didn't mean—" The faces of his hearers stopped him short. There was a threat in the air. "Good heavens, you can't believe we were planning to murder her!"
"Suppose you unfold the span of what you were planning," Jason said.
Even Abigail looked suspicious now. Richard saw he had no choice. "To regain the estate by proving Father wasn't in his right mind at the time he made his will."
"Not right how?"
"Leaving everything to a stranger. Telling wild tales about this place. Only they weren't, I know that now—"
"And you were a part of this?" Lottie said soberly.
"No—yes—not any more. I was going to wire Matthias and tell him I wanted out of the whole business." There was a general drone of disbelief.
"Would it have stopped him?" asked Jason. Richard knew the answer. Jason nodded toward Abigail, who was running off. "Your change of heart came too late," he said, "and has been turned away."
As Richard started to follow, Candy handed him his watch, which one of the aproned women had just brought her. "You dropped it by the punchbowl," she said.
Richard looked around. The faces no longer held menace, only contempt— except for the disappointment in Lottie's, which was worse. All watched him as he left.
He reached the dormitory as Abigail ran in. He called out. She did not look back. I am too late, he thought, and the world I longed for, I've lost.
Candy reported to Jason that the children had confessed to keeping an eye on the stranger for Lottie's protection. Jason pondered a moment. "They may have had the right idea, at that."
After two hours of chilly night watch on the saloon, he changed his mind. What harm could Pepperell do now? He was about to start on the long walk back to camp when he glimpsed a light moving behind the curtain. So he was up to something.
The lantern was resting on a table. Shadows wavered in its light. The figure was on the stairs a quarter of the way up, hands closing around an object on the wall. Jason clutched his shoulder. The figure turned—
Outside, the captain confessed. "Stealin' from me own mavournin—did ever a man sink lower?" Jason asked what he was stealing. "What else but a picture of herself, so's I'd have something to remember her by?"
Jason shook his head. The man was impossible. "Lottie's not going anywhere."
"Ah, but now she's took up with her fine new friends, she won't have an old barnacle like me clingin' to her. So yiz may as well lock me up and t'row away the key. It don't matter nohow."
Jason refused to arrest him, to Clancey's obvious disappointment. "In point of fact, I have news that'll make you a happy man," he said, not sounding happy. "Likely Lottie won't ever see her inheritance. Those rascals are planning to take it from her."
Clancey straightened. "From Lottie? Who is? Not while they got me to contend with!" Jason grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. This was the Clancey he knew. "So, now, bucko," Clancey said, "how do we go about stoppin' 'em?" For once Jason had no answer. From Clancey's expectant look he saw he would have to find one.
When the time for the hearing came round, his two brothers looked forward to the chance of another visit to San Francisco, but between another buying trip and the oversight of the camp, they could not be spared, or so Jason alleged to them. The townsfolk who were able to attend hardly heard Crewe's opening speech, so agog were they at the splendor of the big-city courthouse; back home cases were still heard in the saloon. Its owner was present also but seemed remote from the proceedings. Jason had arranged for her to sail ahead of him and Clancey on the ship Crewe had sent for Richard, and the latter had been more than willing, hoping for a chance to make it up with her. But Lottie had kept to her cabin the whole voyage. Her only interest in coming was to look up old friends on the waterfront. Jason had made her promise to stand up in court for what was hers. Perhaps he was right; she was not sure any more.
Crewe stated that the facts in the case were simple. That meant, the judge knew, that they were less so than he would try to make them appear. The deceased had left his estate to someone with whom he had had only a nodding acquaintance; and why? Because he was living in a world of his own, his vague recollections of a tavern stop having blossomed into wild fancies that had usurped the place of reality. The man's son would be better able than he to recount those for the court.
The son was unwilling to do so until the court prodded him. "—but he didn't make any of it up," he added. "I've been there, seen for myself—"
The judge thought him well-meaning but fanciful. "Come, come," he said, "if half these tales were true, Seattle would be—would be—"
"—the land of heart's desire," one of the spectators finished. "And so it is."
"Who said that?"
The strapping man in the front row got to his feet. "Jason Bolt, your honor."
"Not the Jason Bolt?" The fellow had figured much in Arthur's stories. "Tell me," the judge asked, as man to man, "did you really win a tree-climbing match head down?"
Jason gave a modest nod. "I'd like to present evidence in Miss Hatfield's behalf if I may." The judge asked where it was. "They're waiting outside." Clancey nodded to the guard, and the doors were opened to admit a slew of couples in their Sunday finest. They paraded in until the aisle was full. Lottie was as startled as the judge, who began to protest. Jason cut him short. "All these folks met, fell in love, and got wedded inside of two years—all in Seattle. And this isn't the half of 'em. Here's the list."
"Sir, is this germane?" the judge asked.
"Been claimed a man was crazy for believing Seattle was something out of the common. I say it is, and here's the proof. A place where if you look quick you can see Cupid himself swingin' from bough to bough. A place where hearts beat so wild, they leap right out into the sunny sky to grab each other." He had a sudden inspiration. "Why, the very name Seattle—"
The judge raised his hand. "Mr. Bolt—please." He turned to the couples. "Were you coerced into coming here?"
They looked at each other in perplexity. "We wanted to come," one of the women said. Others murmured assent. The judge asked why. "To help Lottie," she said. The words echoed through the group. "Help Lottie—help Lottie—help Lottie."
Lottie was not prepared for that. She reached up and brushed something from her eye.
The judge turned to Jason. "And you, sir—you've gone to a prodigious amount of trouble over this."
"It was Clancey done the fetching, your honor."
The judge did not know the name. Clancey stood. "Captain Roland Francis Edgar Charles Sean O'Carolan Clancey, at your service, sir."
"You must think highly of this woman."
"She ain't just any woman. She—she—" Clancey searched for a fit comparison. "—she has as fine a bosom as graces the prow of the good ship Glory of the Seas. And I don't know higher praise than that."
"Oh, Clancey," Lottie said. That speck was still in her eye.
"I must concur with you, Mr. Bolt," the judge said. "Seattle is plainly a remarkable place." Jason and Clancey looked triumphant, and so did Richard. "Nonetheless," the judge continued, and their faces fell, "the imprudence of the decedent—"
"Your honor?" two voices broke in at the same time. Richard and Lottie were on their feet. "She can have the money," Richard said. "I don't want the money," Lottie was saying.
"Are you both mad?" Crewe chimed in.
The two looked at each other in amazement. "You'd give it up?" Richard asked.
"It was never mine in the first place," Lottie admitted, happy with relief. "I was flattered to imagine it was me your father was thinking of at the end. A lady can never have too many admirers. But I see now he was just making up for lost dreams."
"In that case," Richard said, "I'll put my share into the town." Then he was unsure. "—if the town will let me." The town, to the extent present, cheered. The judge pounded for order. "I'll donate half of it to the city treasury," Richard continued. "The other half I'll use to start a dairy business— " He turned to Abby. "—assuming I can find a partner."
She ran into his arms. "Where do I sign?"
"Ask Matthias," Richard said, "he's the expert."
Crewe did not find the joke funny. "If your father were here—"
"He'd congratulate me," Richard said, "for making his dreams come true." He smiled at Lottie.
The judge pounded again. "It looks as if this case has resolved itself," he said. "Will the population of Washington Territory please clear the court?"
People flocked to Richard, shook his hand, clapped him hard on the back. Crewe flung his papers into his brief-bag. Richard offered him his hat.
Lottie thanked Jason, who referred her to the scruffy Irishman standing shyly to one side. "He was willing to give you up," Jason said, "as long as you were happy."
Lottie stepped up to him. "How could that be," she said tenderly, "without my loyalest customer?" She kissed him on the cheek.
"Madam," Clancey said, "I believe I owes you a dance." He lifted his arms. One of his sailors pulled out a mouth organ and struck up "Haste to the Wedding". The couple took the floor, heedless of their surroundings. Richard and Abby joined them. Others followed suit. The court clerk looked doubtfully up at the bench. The judge was nodding his head in time. Relaxing, the clerk began to clap along himself.
Candy had a brainstorm. She took the marriage list from Jason's hand, borrowed the clerk's pen, and scribbled a few words at the bottom. When Jason read them, his wrinkle of puzzlement dissolved in a grin. He looked where Candy was looking: at Richard and Abby, paused in a kiss. He nodded approval of the amendment. "Heart's desire," he said softly, "heart to heart, desire to desire, each answering the other, and both speaking as one."
Candy had hoped for more than high-flown talk. Her eye caught Jason's and led it down to her foot, which was sliding back and forth restlessly. Then she looked away in mock-indifference. Jason felt chagrined. To leave a lady at his side unpartnered was perhaps not a sin—but then again perhaps it was, and anyhow it was not his style. He made up for the oversight at once, and Candy joyfully followed his lead into the dance.
3. Another Man's Load
A greased log shot downhill into the splash dam, where it came to rest among hundreds of its like. Jeremy Bolt came half-running, half-sliding after it and joined his brother Jason at the river. "That's the last," he said. The rest of the men followed. Jason sent most of them ahead to clear the banks of brush and deadwood, and led the remainder in shifting the logs that lay partly in the water and partly ashore. The morning was cool; the sun was still hidden behind the hill.
Jeremy asked why they were bothering to cut someone else's timber when it was almost summer and their own peak season was over. "—and you'd sooner be sitting at home indulging the natural idleness of youth," said Jason with a smile.
"No matter to me," Jeremy said, "with Candy gone." Jason remembered that the young woman who before long, he was sure, would be his sister-in-law had accompanied Lottie Hatfield, the proprietess of their town's only saloon, on her yearly shopping excursion to Olympia.
He explained again why the eldest and the youngest of the Bolts were here, miles to the south. After the Green River mill had closed, the local lumber camp had gone bust. The owner, Cy Dudley, having no one left to harvest his logs or take them to market, had hired the Bolts to do the job for a share of the proceeds. Those would come to little enough so late in the year. "But you'll profit, at any rate," Jason promised Jeremy, "by gettin' a taste of a genuine river drive. No call for it on the mountain—or river drivers neither, come to that. But Dudley said he knew where he could find—"
As if by signal, a sound woke the early morning air, a sound like the howl of a wolf pack, only wilder, and ranging up and down the scale. It bounced back and forth from hill to hill, growing ever closer. "Can't be," said Jason.
Jeremy asked what it was. A moment after, the sight that came round the bend hardened Jason's suspicion into a grim certainty. "Our partners," he said.
What he saw was a shanty raft with a small army on board, escorted by other men wading through the shallows and still others tramping along the bank. Most of them wore overalls already soaked through, and cut off above their cork boots.
"Jason Bolt," one of them called out, "you spindle-shanked, tree-crawlin' dandy!" He waved a red wool cap. Although not above middle height, he was powerfully built, with a barrel chest and thickly muscled arms.
"Timothy Sligo, you moonstruck son of a mudhen!" Jason called back. "How the blazes are you?"
"Old friend of yours?" Jeremy asked.
"Brother," said Jason, belying the friendly wave he sent, "I wouldn't trust him as far as that stump."
Sligo was quick to justify this bad opinion. As soon as the Bolts had boarded the wanigan and introductions had been made all round, he set forth a demand, not hinted at till then, for seventy percent of the take, not counting Dudley's part. "Sure, since the boys and me will be doin' the lion's share of the labor—"
"Equal shares, was the arrangement," Jason reminded him.
"That was Dudley's arrangement, not mine."
Sligo folded his arms. "Then the logs stay where they is—'less you care to drive 'em." A bout of haggling followed. Eventually Sligo agreed to sixty percent, as did Jason, rather to Jeremy's disappointment.
"And let's get one thing clear," Sligo said. "You may be bull of the woods, but out here I'm head push. You take orders from me."
"And if we don't?" Jeremy asked.
Sligo shrugged. "Likely you'll get yourselves kilt."
He turned to his men. "Boys, what do you say? Shall we baptize 'em?" Those nearest rushed the Bolts, dragged them to the edge of the raft, and threw them in, but not before two or three had been pulled in along with them. Jason made a lunge for Sligo, but he jumped back too fast and stood with hands on hips, laughing at the baptized, who splashed about to get warm till the others helped them out.
"Crawdad!" Sligo bellowed. A brownish man with lank black hair climbed onto the spill gate. The others quickly moved away. "Set 'em free!" Sligo ordered.
Crawdad Jack gave one of the stays a mighty kick and then dove for the bank. The gate collapsed and water poured forth, taking the logs with it. They crashed down into the river and spread out across its breadth as they caught the current northward. Resting had ended; the drive was on.
Each man jumped onto a log, and then from log to log as they saw need, armed with pikes and peaveys. The pikes were staffs with steel points; the peaveys were shorter, with points and hooks. Each time a log drifted toward the bank, a man would hook it with his peavey and give it a spin to set it back on course. Then, spotting another derelict, he would skip across as many logs as lay between and give a slightly different spin to that. Everyone watched constantly for turnouts and jam-ups.
Sligo emitted a howl, which his men took up. Jeremy covered his ears. "Now I wish I was home!" he yelled to Jason.
"Scared of catchin' cold?"
Female screeching shook the rafters.
Yes, female, for far north of the river, and innocent of what was befalling there, Seattle's brides, still in their nightgowns, screamed as they huddled together in the bedroom of their white clapboard dormitory, keeping their bare feet away from the daggers of glass that strewed the floor, beneath what was left of the northmost window.
"You women in there," sounded a man's voice from outside, "this is my last warning!"
Biddie Cloom called for quiet. No sooner had the screams subsided than a gunshot like the one that had shattered the pane minutes ago took out the next one in line, and the screams began all over again, Biddie's loudest of all.
"Candy would be away," said a girl with a kitten face.
"No fear, Georgie," said Biddie, "she left me in charge." Georgie and some of the others moaned. Biddie cautiously lifted one of the windows yet intact and stuck her head out.
The man below stared up at her. He was a rock-jawed, square-shouldered man, grey over the ears, and sporting a suit that might have been in fashion twenty-five years earlier. Biddie had never seen a gun like the one at his side, an Allen and Thurber dragoon pepperpot of a vintage approximating that of the suit, with a muzzle six times the normal size. "Sir," she said, in a voice thinner than she had intended, "may I inquire the nature of your business?"
"Not likely I'd confide in you, you hussy!" Never having been called that before, she took it as a compliment. "You fetch down Leonora Cady," the man went on, "if she be using her right name, or I'll smash every window in the place." He raised the gun, which, too heavy for him, wobbled in his grip. Biddie quickly withdrew.
The brides looked down the room to the girl on the corner bed. She too had a strong chin and square shoulders, and at the moment appeared even more solemn than usual. "Let him have her!" said Georgie.
Biddie was trying her hardest to think. "Must find Jason," she said aloud.
That drove Georgie past her limit. "He's gone too, you fleawit!"
Slowly, almost ritually, Leonora put on her slippers and shawl, rose to her feet, and started down the central aisle. "You don't have to—" Biddie began.
"But I do," she said.
When she emerged into the yard, the man lowered his gun. He looked her up and down. "Barely decent," he grunted, "as I calculated."
She stopped halfway to him. She seemed ready to faint. "I'll change," she murmured, and she started back. "No, you don't!" He marched in and grabbed her hand. "I'm taking you out of this now!"
He dragged her to the gate, where they met a tall, lanky lumberjack who greeted her by name. She deliberately looked past him. "Nory, what ails you?" he said. "I come on time like you asked."
The rock-jawed man then heard him say she always hated waiting for her six bits. "I'll l'arn you," he roared, "you vicious devil!" He poked the lumerjack in the chest with his gun.
The lumberjack turned it aside, and an instant later it was wrested from the old man's hand. Aaron Stempel fumbled with it for a moment and then passed it to one of the other men in the de facto posse he had brought to investigate the disturbance. "Empty this thing," he ordered.
Then he turned back to the lumberjack. "You know this lunatic?"
"Mr. Stempel, Harker Cady," said Leonora. "He is, I am sorry to say, my father."
Down on the river, the driving crew continued their games of leapfrog and spear hockey to keep the logs headed straight. The channel was so full of them it looked like a crocodile nest. The Bolts had been assigned to the jam crew up front, whose job it was to keep the lead logs out of the shoals. A quick study, Jeremy had caught on to the trick right away but found, the first time he tried out the peavey, that it took three times as much muscle as he had expected. Jason was doing little better. He had not handled a peavey for years, and was slow in getting the hang of it again. When the log he was riding veered toward the bank, he was powerless to stop it. Sligo jumped onto the one next over and gave Jason's a hard yank to bring it back into line. It spun under his feet, and he hopped off to keep from falling in. "Been off the river a season, ain'tcha?" Sligo said.
He lifted his head and let out another howl. His men answered him and then one another till their howls and the echoes could not be told apart. Jeremy gave a small howl of his own, but he hesitated too long and it came out too late. Sligo looked at him in surprise and then laughed.
Jason did not laugh. He asked Sligo what had become of his last steady job of which Jason had heard, down on the Columbia. Sligo scratched his ear. "Tiny misunderstandin' there. Lucky it was that Dudley hunted us up. Used to work for him, you know, till..."
"Another misunderstanding, I fancy." Sligo grinned. "By the by," said Jason, as an afterthought, "what became of that fifty dollars I loaned you?"
Even if Sligo had been disposed to answer, he had no chance. He saw that Crawdad had pulled a flask from the feedbag he carried on his back and, while taking a draught from it, was allowing one of the lead logs to list to the right and bump another, pushing it toward shore. "Mind the strays!" Sligo yelled. He jumped onto Crawdad's log, grabbed the flask, and tossed it overboard. "Eyes on the job, not the jug!"
Jeremy broad-jumped across to the end log. "I can get it!" he said. Ignoring Jason, who shouted at him to leave it be, he dug in his peavey and set the log straight—straight enough anyway so the current drew it back into the mainstream—but the force of the effort unbalanced him and he toppled into the water. He grabbed the log to keep afloat. Another log drifted close, threatening to pin him between them. Crawdad Jack hooked his peavey onto Jeremy's collar, lifted him, and dropped him near to where he had started from. In some alarm, Jason made his way to him and was relieved to find him shaken but unhurt.
"Best go easy till you learn the ropes," said Sligo. "These logs'll crush you or drown you, they don't give a fig neither way."
Jeremy nodded his thanks to Crawdad, who reached into his bag to produce a second flask, which he held out. Jeremy began to reach for it when a scowl from Jason halted him. "It'd only be neighborly," he said. "After all, he saved my life."
"And tomorrow you'll save his," Sligo said indifferently. "That's the way of it out here."
"That too," Jason said soberly. He nodded toward a pair of shoes dangling from an oak branch on the riverside. The men who had caps removed them and stood silent while they passed.
The ceremony of it made Jeremy shiver. "Whose are those?" he asked.
"Belonged to Jimmy the Gaff," said Sligo. "That's where we buried him. He was standin' where you are when a log reared up and hit him crosswise. He never saw it, and 'twasn't a one of us here could save him."
"I don't need saving," said Leonora.
Her father had declared that to be his design and the aim of his trip. His pistol having been unloaded at last, after much conferring and head scratching, Aaron had given it back to him, but kept the cartridges.
"I know it all," Cady said. "Knew straight along, I did. But you and your ma wouldn't hear me. Now my chickens have come home to roost, haven't they, eh?"
Leonora held herself back from voicing the outburst of unladylike language to which she was tempted. She settled on a milder substitute. "Oh, blame your chickens!"
"Not a word in your letters. But I don't fault you for that." He nodded at Aaron. "I calculate this one reads every word you dispatch."
"What was that?" said Aaron.
Leonora had given up the effort to follow her father's train of thought, as she remembered having often given up in the past. She shook her head helplessly.
"Thank heaven your ma an't here to see," said Cady. "The disgrace of it—our only child, comporting in a backwoods parlor house."
She understood that. She froze and then she began to tremble. Her face grew red. "You think—how could you—"
"Now see here—" Aaron began.
"So you're the fancy man of the place, eh?" Cady looked him over. "A-yeah, I can tell by the cut of your vest, Mr. Jason Bolt."
"I take exception to that remark!"
Leonora attempted to calm everyone, including herself. "Papa," she said slowly, "this is the dormitory. It's where the brides live."
"That what they call 'em now? Daresay he lives here too," he snorted, nodding at the tall lumberjack.
"Papa, this is my intended."
"A-yeah," said Cady, "bringing you his six bits."
"You got it wrong, mister," the lumberjack said earnestly. "Six Bits, that's my handle." His given name, he explained, was Monroe Pedersen, but the boys had re-christened him Six Bits because he was always broke. "This way they figgered that no matter what I'd have six bits I could call my own."
Aaron felt his sanity leaking away. "Look, Mister—" To his relief, he saw Joshua Bolt approaching. "You want a Bolt? Here's one."
Joshua asked what the ruckus was about. "Biddie burn the hotcakes again?"
"This is all my fault," Six Bits was saying to Leonora. "If we'da got hitched like you wanted—"
Aaron introduced Joshua to the newcomer. "He's under the impression you brought the brides here for—business purposes."
Joshua passed through several stages before attaining full enlightenment, and even then, he could not believe he had got it right. "What have you to say for yourself?" Cady demanded. Joshua could think of nothing close to sufficient. "Calculated as much. Can't fiddle your way around the truth, can you?"
At that point Reverend Adams happened along. The more the merrier, thought Joshua. "Having a celebration?" asked Adams. "I heard gunshots." Cady asked what denomination he belonged to. Methodist Episcopal, Adams said. Cady made a "hmp" sound.
"Reverend, please," said Joshua, "tell him the brides aren't scarlet women."
Adams hesitated and then blushed. "I—I'm sure they're trying to be respectable girls." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "But only yesterday I caught another of them with a man friend canoodling in back of the church."
"Canoodling," Cady repeated, in a tone of disgust. He had not heard the word before but did not need to be told what it meant.
"Thanks, Reverend," said Joshua, meaning to end the discussion.
"Haven't seen you filling a pew lately," Adams went on.
"Thanks, Reverend," said Joshua, "that's fine." Aaron watched with evident amusement. The Reverend said he was always glad to be of service and bade them good day.
Cady spied the steamer that had brought him heading out. "Come the next one," he said to Leonora, "you and I'll leave."
Leonora took a long breath. "Papa," she said, "I'm pleased you've come to visit. And while you're here I shall try to make your stay pleasant. But there's to be no more talk of rescuing me. This is my home, and a perfectly decent one, whatever you may believe. Come along in, I'll show you."
"Never! I took a vow in my youth—"
"Your decision." She started in, calling to Monroe to follow.
Her father blocked the gate. "I forbid it!"
"I will not have you consorting with your—your 'guests' under my nose."
Joshua reached around him to open the gate and ushered the couple through. "Mark me, you lot," the old man shouted after them, "you'll rue the day you set yourselves against me! Soon as I get to Olympia, I'll report this establishment to the marshal and demand he shut it down."
"He'll laugh you out of his office," said Joshua. He saw that the others had stopped and were looking at one another. "What is it?"
Aaron stepped up to him and spoke in a low voice. "Let's think about this," he said. "If the tale gets around—"
"It's nothing but a heap of—"
"—which makes a big stink. And there are the brides to consider. If men from other parts start flocking here looking for—entertainment—" He left the rest to Joshua's imagination.
Joshua knew Aaron understood these things better than he. "So we go along with this madman?"
"Unless you can talk him out of this notion. But it'll take some swift talking." Aaron hesitated. "No offense, but—"
"—you wish Jason was here?"
Aaron grimaced at hearing it said aloud. "Don't tell him I said so."
Joshua apologized to Leonora. "No visiting for now," he said. "You can keep company at Lottie's."
Cady had overheard. "A barroom? No, sir! All associations between these Jezebels and their pack of hounds must have an end. I'll see to it!" He struck a pose in front of the gate and raised the pepperpot shakily. "Let 'em get past this."
"It's not loaded," Aaron said crossly. Cady looked down the barrels and made a silent "Oh."
Under his chaperonage, Joshua informed Biddie of the new order of things across the chaste thickness of a screen door. "I don't understand it a bit," she said. "Why can't we see our men?—that is, those of us that have men."
"Because my father is a stubborn old idiot," said Leonora.
"Oh, I see," Biddie said. But then she did not. "So why mind him at all?"
Joshua did not feel like arguing at the moment. "I'll explain to Candy when she gets back." Biddie started to reply. "Only be for a day or two. I'll let the men know, you tell the brides." He smiled hopefully. "I'm sure they'll be reasonable."
"I'll wring his neck like a chicken!" was Georgie's response, to which she added, after a moment, "Sorry, Leonora."
The other brides voiced concurrence. Surrounded by them, Biddie wished fleetingly that Cady were beside her with his very large gun, but she saw through the windows that he was at sentry duty as promised. "It won't be for long," she said, trying to sound merry. "You can occupy yourselves with edifying pursuits."
Georgie started to complain and then stopped herself unexpectedly. "All right, Biddie," she said, "we'll be good." The others stared at her. "Wouldn't even think of sneaking out." Her lips widened in a smile practically angelic.
That evening while at supper Biddie heard a clumping from the rear of the house and went to investigate. She got there just in time to restrain Georgie and two others from climbing out the windows. Intelligently supposing that this would not be their final try, she resolved to come up with a plan to meet the situation.
Leonora found her father half-dozing where he stood. She laid a plate of food atop his baggage, which was piled up by the gate. He blinked. "Letitia?" After a moment he realized his mistake. She always had favored her mother. Curiously, everyone in town who had seen father and daughter together had noticed how much she favored him.
"You can't stay out here," she said. "I'm certain Mr. Stempel will put you up if you ask."
Cady shook his head. He saw the food she had brought but did not acknowledge it.
"If Mama could see how you're behaving—" she began.
"Don't you use her name against me!"
"Is that another thing only you're allowed to do?" Cady turned away from her. "Ashamed, you said. You should be—ashamed you could forget everything you ever knew about my character, everything you and Mama raised me to be. You know something, Papa? I'm ashamed too." Her voice broke on the last words, causing Cady to flinch a little. He did not move till after she had left. Then he picked up the plate and began eating eagerly.
The river men also were taking supper, in shifts of three and four. Some shook it into their feedbags and ate it by the handful while continuing to work the logs. A great calm had settled on the darkening purple hills.
Jeremy stuffed in one lump after another of beef and potatoes. "Cussed if you don't eat like a river pig," said a voice slurred with food. Sligo came up to him carrying an even fuller plate than his.
"Now I know why you chose this for a living," Jeremy said.
Sligo laughed. "Do it if I starved. Y'ever study a map of the nation? The rivers is its veins and arteries. The life of it flows through 'em—feel it flowin' through me. When I'm on land, it drains right out. That's why I'll live and die a river man."
Jeremy repeated the last two words dreamily, eyelids drooping. Sligo caught the plate as he dropped it. "Best have a nap, lad," he said. "You're not used to all-night runs. You can curl up here on the wanigan." Jeremy did not argue. The big cook pointed out a free corner and tossed him a cloth caked with grease for a pillow. Too sleepy to be finicky, Jeremy tucked it under his head.
Before falling off, he thought he saw a man on the hill facing. He propped himself halfway up for a better look; the hill was unoccupied. Jason would say he had dreamed it, and perhaps he had. He resolved to say nothing about it, and shortly fell asleep.
Cady was snoring in the rocker on the porch. His daughter gently removed the pistol from his lap and laid an Indian blanket over him. She stood regarding him sadly. They had been apart for so long, and here they were still apart. But she supposed there was nothing she could do.
While Cady slept, two of those he had been looking out for crept up at the rear and flung pebbles at one of the windows remaining to the upper story. Georgie sat up in bed. The covers fell, revealing her dressed to take the air. Having made sure Biddie was still prostrate, with her eyes shut, she leaned over and touched her bedmate, Flora Sue, who was also awake and dressed. The two of them rose quietly, stole down the stairs, and crossed the floor on tiptoe, halting at every little creak.
Georgie reached to open the window latch. "Tied shut!" she hissed.
"I cannot tell a lie," Biddie said from the stairs. "It was I with my little ball of twine." She held it up for their perusal. Georgie bared her teeth at her. The loggers, noses pressed to the glass, made the most pitiful faces they could summon up. Biddie crossed to the window and made one of her own that sent them running off.
They looked gloomy over next morning's breakfast at the camp, and so did their fellows—except for the cook, who had barely looked at a member of the other sex since making up his mind that they were neither necessary nor conducive to a placid life.
"Man can't rightly work without his girl," Six Bits said, to a murmur of general agreement. He took a bite of his corn bread and washed it down with a sip of coffee. "Don't rightly have the heart to work." There was another general murmur. None of the group looked at Joshua, and he was not looking at them. "If Jason was here, you can bet he'd know what to do."
Joshua slammed down his plate and left. Six Bits took another bite of corn bread.
Still asleep outside the dormitory, Cady was served his breakfast in his lap. The hot towelful of biscuits caused him to wake with a yelp as his daughter disappeared through the screen door.
Returning to the kitchen, where Biddie was drying dishes, Leonora made a cross between a growl and a moan. "If you need someone to talk to—" Biddie began.
"I'll wait for Candy," Leonora said over her shoulder, "thanks anyway."
Biddie slapped down her towel and left.
Passing by Cady, she heard him demand, through a mouthful of biscuit, to know what her business was. Unusually for her, she went on without answering.
The crowd at Lottie's she did not recognize, either from the logging camp or the mill. A few she thought she had seen hanging about the wharf. Ken watched them all dourly from behind the bar. An arm reached past him for a bottle. He knocked it away. "You ain't paid for the last," he said.
"Put it on my tab," said the arm's owner. "'s what Lottie does." The other arm grabbed the bottle, and the man staggered back to his table. Ken growled after him.
Somewhat timidly, Biddie made her way to the counter. Ken asked what he could get her. "Well," she whispered, bending forward, "if I might trouble you for a teensy-weensy—"
She turned with a start to see Joshua at the other end. Flustered, she began to explain her presence there. "Finding myself unexpectedly overcome—"
"It's okay," Joshua said with a grin, "I needed one myself."
Relaxing, she plunked down a dime and a two-cent piece and ordered a whiskey straight up. Seconds later a glass appeared. She took a gulp from it and, so bravened, asked Joshua whether he would mind some company. She took his shrug for an affirmative. Starting down to him, she was immediately blocked by two men careering against the counter in furtherance of a quarrel that had erupted in the corner some moments before. Biddie lifted her glass out of harm's way. "I muss—must say, Kenneth, the calibre of your patronage leaves much to be desired."
"Same gang of loafers," he said, "come around every time she leaves." He pulled a belaying pin from under the counter and held it over their heads. Joshua asked why he didn't just boot them out.
"Aw, Lottie don't care," said one of the men. But they broke it off and returned to their tables. The way cleared, Biddie moved to join Joshua.
"That there's why," Ken said. "They keep sayin' Lottie'd do this, Lottie'd do that—and I ain't her."
His listeners both knew how he felt. They sipped their drinks gloomily.
"Biddie, I'm not in the mood for—"
"I know, you'd rather it was Candy." Joshua looked at her in surprise. "Like all the rest. 'Oh, Biddie, it's only you, tell Candy I stopped.'"
Joshua nodded. "'Bet if Jason was here, he'd know what to do.'"
"You feel like the veriest wrong person there is—"
"—but someone's got to do the job."
"And what else can you do?"
"Not a thing."
They drained their glasses together. "Barkeep," Biddie said, "hit me again."
"Me too," said Joshua.
"Yer drunk!" said Sligo.
This accusation was aimed at Crawdad Jack, the taint of whose breath would have verified it if his boss had cared to make an inspection, but to Jeremy's surprise both seemed to have entirely forgotten Sligo's admonition of the day before on the same subject. This time he was only trying to rile Crawdad in the hope of gaining an advantage on him in their present contest: from adjoining logs they were going at each other with jam pikes.
"Ain't so drunk but I can take you!" Crawdad answered.
"I could take you twice that drunk!"
"Then why ain'tcha?"
The men were cheering on one or the other or both, swiveling their heads to watch them while keeping an eye on the logs. Jason decided it was up to him to separate the two, without being jabbed or pummeled, he hoped.
He jumped onto Sligo's log. "I can take the two of both hands tied and standin' on one leg," he said, "but this ain't the occasion!" Flexing his peavey, he gave Crawdad's log a turn that sent it away and ahead, and forcibly barred Sligo from following. "Can't have you breakin' your neck," he said, "leastwise till the run's over."
"Bedad if you ain't gone soft," said Sligo. "Out in the woods too long, I guess."
The abandoned mill was coming up on the right. Instantly Sligo forgot about the jam pikes. "Let's have a look-see," he said, and he jumped off onto the bank. Just like a child, Jason thought, not for the first time.
Within the mill, bars of light fell through gaps in the roof onto what had once been timber bays. "Sad to see her like this," said Sligo. "We used to roll the logs in here, and from here they'd get shipped to points wes—"
Jason raised a hand to his lips. He nodded toward the water. Amid the wood flotsam and floating patches of oily film, the surface showed the reflection of a figure in an Indian loincloth crouched on the roof and peering in through one of the gaps. Sligo hoisted himself onto a frame, reached up through the gap, and pulled the man down. He landed in one of the bays and scrambled, splashing, to his feet. Sligo jumped in after him. As the two faced each other, their eyes widened in what was clearly mutual recognition. After a second the Indian dashed out through a break in the wall and up through the woods. "How'd he know you?" Jason demanded.
"No notion. Perhaps he worked here of a time and spotted me for an old customer. Sure, that'll be it." Jason had had enough experience of Sligo, and dissemblers in general, to spot this for a new lie, but before he could pursue the matter, Sligo had left and, once outside, he hopped away over the highway of logs.
Jason was about to follow him, but changed direction to where Jeremy was waving him over. "What's the matter?" he asked.
"Nothing the matter," Jeremy said blandly, "just wanted to tell you my idea." Jason gave a sigh of exasperation. He looked back at Sligo, by now halfway up the flotilla. "What would you say," asked Jeremy, "if I was to take a year off to travel around with Timothy and learn the river trade?"
Jason did not like the idea at all, but before he could compose an answer, a cry from the front diverted their attention. "Look sharp! White water!" Where the Green River emptied into the Duwamish, the water churned around a sharp curve.
"Look out," said Crawdad, "we've jammed up here before."
They had an up-and-down ride of it. Even with the spikes on their boots, they had constantly to shift their balance to avoid falling, all the while herding the logs to follow the bend of the river. All was well till they neared the far end.
There disaster struck. "Log jam!" Sligo shouted. The Bolts saw it a second later. A huge log was lying across the way. The lead logs had run into it and bounced back to hit others, which hit others in turn. The river men could do nothing to stop the progression. The logs massed up, some miring in the banks, and finally stopped completely.
Crawdad was unsteady already when his log collided with another, throwing him into the water. Jeremy extended his peavey to him. As he took it, his weight pulled Jeremy in alongside him. The timber was still now, and Jason watched with relief as they helped each other through it toward the shore.
Sligo came up and jabbed him in the chest. "This was your lookout! Your men was to clear the way!"
Jason jabbed him back. "You a blind fool? Someone set that here on purpose."
A knife whistled by them and lodged in the wood at their feet. A party of black-haired men in loincloths appeared among the trees. Two leapt down to meet Jeremy and Crawdad as they waded ashore. The only drivers with a hope of escape were the sacking crew at the rear, still slogging through the mud. Crouching behind a log, they slid up onto the bank, where they found a rear guard waiting for them. The whole gang was captive.
One of the Indians stepped out onto the log that had caused the stoppage. He was dressed no differently from the others, yet he was plainly their leader.
"Sli-go!" he said, pointing at him. "You rob me! Now you, me settle!"
"Oooh," said Sligo, "don't sound good, do it?"
Jason grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. "And should you survive—which I pray angels above allow—it'll be my turn."
Jason would have been surprised to see that just then his proxy and Candy's were deep in conversation together, and sinking deeper all the time.
"Tell me someth'n'," said the former, "you can talk on and on, and on and on—"
"Rattle on, you mean, I know, I can't help it, once I get started I can't shtop—stop—it's the queerest thing—"
"Jason, now," said Joshua, "Jason—he can talk all night and into the afternoon after next noon—afternoon next. Jeremy too, once he gets going. But me—you hear me yesterday?—I was, I was, I was—"
"What," said Joshua, leaning closer, "is the secret?"
"The—secret," Biddie said slowly. "Hmmmmmmmmm. Well, I have a kind of notion what I mean to say, then pop out with the first thing that comes to mind and hope the right words find their way in—and, you know, they usually do. The hard thing is keeping quiet." She put her finger to her lips. "Shhhhhhhhh."
"Shhhhhhhhh," Joshua repeated.
"How in the world do you manage it?"
"I couldn't, to save my soul, it's like peanuts, I'm quite partial to peanuts, I believe most people are—and they're nutritious too—but you can't stop at one, can you? Talking is the same way—how do you stop?"
"I suppose some people are born knowing, some are born knowing everything under the sun, but me, I—"
Joshua covered her mouth. "Biddie—you listen."
"Lsfm?" she said.
"Listen." He took his hand away. "You listen. And I—talk."
They smiled at each other.
Seeking out Cady, Joshua found him now patrolling the whole perimeter of the dormitory, as he had done since discovering the rear windows. "Came for a talk," said Joshua, falling into step with him. "You talk and I'll walk—no, I'll walk and you talk—never mind." His head was floating a little, but he did not care as long as words came to the top. "How's the weather in New Bedford?" he asked. Cady looked at him sharply.
Biddie watched from the porch, together with Leonora, who asked what Joshua thought he was doing. "Saying the first thing that comes to mind," Biddie said. My land, thought Leonora.
To Joshua's younger brother, the big river no longer appeared so liberating as it had at first; it had now taken on an ominous cast. He watched anxiously as the chief conferred with his shaman. Sligo meanwhile unfolded the whole story, or as much of it as Jason could badger out of him. Two years earlier he had visited the village to barter for rope and discovered the chief's collection of carvings, made for him by many of his grateful people. Sligo had returned later with goods of his own, acquired by means that would not have withstood scrutiny, and talked the chief into holding a potlatch of sorts in which both would give up their belongings to the river spirit—"'cept I had the boys waitin' below to catch 'em," said Sligo. "Chief sniffed it out and we had to skedaddle. But the tail of it was, I wound up with the lot."
Jason's eyes were like cold iron. "And it never passed your mind he might be nursing a grievance?" It was more than simple theft, Jason realized; it was an abuse of their religion and a blow at the chief's honor. He went on, before Sligo could answer, "You'll give back what you took, every last shaving."
"Sold 'em all."
"Then you'll give him the proceeds."
"Timothy..." Jason grabbed him by the collar and forced his head into the muddy water. He counted to five, reflected, extended it to ten, and then pulled him out.
Sligo wiped his face. "Sure, there was no call for that."
Jeremy looked at Jason. "And him an Irishman."
"Yes, what of it?" Sligo said truculently.
"Remind me what it is Clancey's got against the English?"
"Why, they stole our lands," Sligo broke in, "sent their armies to crush us, took advantage of our trustin' nature at every—" He stopped, struck.
Both brothers shook their heads. Jason got to his feet, strode up to the chief and his minister, and introduced himself as Bolt of Seattle.
"I know of you," the chief said. "Men say you are true man."
Jason's eyes widened. "They do?"
The chief made a gesture like one playing an accordion. "—who sometimes make truth long."
Jason grinned. "Never yet saw the fact that couldn't stand polishin'. Let's you and me parley."
Parleying came easier to him than to Joshua, whose efforts with Cady were going badly, Biddie decided. Joshua was of the same opinion. He was running dry of words, and those magical right ones had not emerged yet. He pressed on regardless. "Think we'd do anything to disgrace the brides? Why, the brides—the brides—" He caught sight of Biddie, who pantomimed lips moving in an attempt at encouragement. "The brides," he continued fondly, "such beautiful brides—Biddie, Candy, Ann, Georgie—no, skip Georgie—Flora Sue—" He got stuck again. "Did I say Ann?"
"A-yeah. And you and those brothers of yours lured 'em all here with your high talk."
"I allow we made the place sound grander than it is." Else none of them would have been fool enough to come, he thought. "But it was all aboveboard. If their honor was comper—" His tongue felt a little thick. "—coppermised, we'da had to pay their passage home. We signed to that." Then the magic words came. "And y'know what else? I'll show you." He put his arm around the old man's shoulder and led him to a view of Bridal Veil Mountain.
Cady shook him off. "Have you lost your—"
"Lost—that's it exactly. We'da lost that—our mountain."
"It's yours? The whole thing?" Cady was impressed despite himself. "And you were willing to gamble it away?"
"It was that or lose the town. Without the brides, the men would have drifted off, or brought in a different class of women. The brides kept us respectable. Church is full on Sundays, we have a temperance association, we're even building an opera house—"
Cady looked narrowly at him. "Might be there's hope for you. Might be I'll give you a chance to redeem their honor." What price do you put on that? thought Joshua. "Very well. I'll not resort to the marshal—not yet. On condition you close this establishment—"
"But it's not—" Joshua saw it was useless to revive that quarrel. "Okay. And?"
"And give me a piece of your mountain."
Joshua stood dumbstruck. "Well?" Cady prodded.
"I—I can't," said Joshua. "I'd have to ask my brothers. And they'd say no." He reflected a moment. "We'd all say no."
Cady gave a nod. "A-yeah. If you'd said any different, I'da known you for a liar." He resumed his patrol.
"Then you believe me about the brides?"
Cady turned back. "A-no." He walked on.
Fine talker I am, Joshua said to himself. He looked apologetically at Biddie. She decided she would have to come up with a plan for this situation too.
Jason's parley had been more fruitful, as his companions learned upon his return. He brought the tidings that the chief was willing to release them in exchange for a quarter of the timber, which would be enough to build his tribe a new village; they had fished out the present stretch and were about to relocate upriver. "And one last stipulation," Jason told Sligo. "After the drive, you and your men are to come back and build their domiciles for 'em." He pointed to the brave whom they had encountered at the mill. "Katoowee here will come along to make sure of you."
"And if he doesn't," said Jeremy, "I will."
"It's slavery, that's what—" Sligo began, and then stopped suddenly. "Ah, well," he said, in a different tone, "if we must, we must." He proposed building a boom to hold the Indians' share. "This here'd be about a fourth, wouldn't it?" He made a cutting motion. At a look from Jason, he quickly moved the dividing line a dozen yards farther down. He ordered his men to take up their pikes.
Joshua had returned to the saloon to find himself its sole customer. He asked what had happened to the scrubwood. Ken pointed to a broken lamp. "Got so riled I finally threw 'em out. But they'll be back tomorrow."
"You should do what we do at camp—set some rules. The wild men we get..."
"Rules," Ken repeated thoughtfully. He took up a pad and pencil and slowly printed the word. Joshua bent around to read it. "One L," he said, "and no O's." Ken crossed it out and started over.
Biddie had indeed devised a plan, and now set about putting it into motion. As Cady continued his patrol around the building, a row of brides in their Sunday best marched out the gate and formed a train behind him. He was completely unaware of it till he stopped short and they came bumping up against him.
"Permit me to introdush—duce my fellow brides," said Biddie. "Some of them refused to come, being as they consider you a mortally disturbed individual. However," she went on, "this is Annabeth—" The first girl stepped up, curtsied, and trotted to the rear. "—Lilibeth—" The second girl did the same. "—Marybeth—"
Cady halted her. "What's the aim of this?"
"To show you the error of your ways," Biddie said plainly. "I mean, look at us. Do we really look to you like women of—of the kind of which we are not?" She wished she had put it better than that had sounded.
Leonora stepped out from her place in the line. "Do we, Papa? Do I?"
Cady's jaw hardened. "Used to be clever girls, didn't you? Now see what you've come to—off in this wild place, abandoned by those that loved you, those that could have saved you—outcast in this world and the next." The brides' chins began to quiver. "The pit gapes wide, and it's full of black scorching misery. I see it as plain..."
Presently the parlor of the dormitory resounded with their sobbing. "If anyone wishes to say anything," Biddie said, "I'll listen. Listen, listen, listen," she added, and wondered where that had come from.
Georgie fell into her lap with a wail. "Oh, Biddie, I don't want to be an outcast!"
"He always was stubborn," said Leonora, staring out through the window, "fixed in his ideas. The quarrels he and Mama would have! But now he only sees the worst in things, or manufactures it himself." She turned to find Biddie staring at her with saucer eyes and all the muscles of her face rigid. Leonora asked what the matter was. Biddie said she was listening. Leonora smiled in spite of everything. "Not so hard," she advised.
"Don't mind his bad opinion," said Biddie, "I'm sure Joshua will make an honest woman of you." She quickly corrected herself. "That isn't quite what I—"
But Leonora was suddenly aglow. "Biddie, you're wonderful!"
"Oh, my," Biddie said, "well—"
Leonora ran to the escritoire and jotted a note, which she asked Biddie to deliver to Monroe. Biddie asked where she was to find him. "Same place he's been all day," said Leonora, nodding at the window. Biddie looked out to see him standing across the road with his hands in his pockets and a dark cloud over his face.
The cloud lifted when he read the note. He waved up at Leonora. "Tell her I will!" he said happily, and he went running off. Biddie wished now she had read it herself, as she had been tempted to. She felt in need of consolation and, being in the vicinity, decided to pay another visit to Lottie's.
As the river neared the Sound, the logs sailed faster, and the drivers hastened back and forth along the sides to keep any of them from turning out and stalling.
Katoowee took a hand too. "You done this afore, ain'tcha?" Sligo said. Katoowee informed him that as a young man he had worked at the mill; so Sligo had been right without knowing it. "Lemme ask you," he said, "one lumberman to another—how'd you like to earn yourself a new fish net?"
"Have many net," Katoowee said, "from father."
"Ah." Sligo abandoned the scheme he had had in mind and hopped over to Jason, who was riding nearby. "Shoulda told me he was kin to the quality," he said. Jason asked whom he meant. Sligo looked back. "The Inj—"
But Katoowee had disappeared. The log he had been riding had been seized in a small eddy along with some others and was heading into a sidestream. The men were already leapfrogging over to it, not to save Katoowee, whom they had not noticed, but to retrieve as many of the logs as they could.
Sligo got there first, with Jason a close second. He saw Katoowee's head in the water, then did not see it, and dove in after him. He came up seconds later empty-handed. A brace of logs were soaring toward him. He went down again ahead of them. Jeremy appeared at Jason's side. Both watched tensely.
Soon Sligo popped up again, this time with Katoowee under his arm, still alive. The Bolts hurried to them, and Jeremy pulled Katoowee out, but as Sligo reached for Jason's hand, a rogue log rose sideways and caught him on the chin, sending him under. Other logs sailed over him, making an impenetrable roof.
"Save him!" Jeremy shouted to the others.
"Too late!" said Crawdad. "Save the timber!" They were already occupied in doing just that, so far as was possible. Surveying the water, Jason saw Sligo's cap bob to the surface. One of the men fished it out and handed it to him.
The sun had not managed to show itself that day and was now too low to be seen if it did. Jason hung the cap from an oak limb extending over the water. Jeremy, Katoowee, and a half dozen drivers were gathered on the bank; no more could be spared. "This bein' as much of a funeral as he'll have," said Jason, "I hardly know what's best to say."
Katoowee stepped out. "I will say. He was brave man. He not think. He move. Sometimes that is bad, sometimes good thing."
As he spoke, a mud-soaked figure crawled out onto the bank behind him. Jeremy opened his mouth; Jason flashed a look to keep quiet. The drivers held their breaths. Katoowee paused, gazing off to one side, as if listening. "It is good he die," he said. "If he live, he must go back. No matter he help me." He looked squarely at Jason. "But I see he is dead. I will tell father so." He turned and walked away, passing the muddy form as if it were not there. No one made a sound till he was out of sight.
Then it was Jason who spoke. "First time I ever saw a man rise from the grave."
"Here's how it was," said Sligo, "the devil took one look at me and threw me right back." His men laughed and gathered round him. Crawdad tossed him his cap.
Joshua having preceded Biddie to Lottie's and joined her in a whiskey, he countermanded her call for a refill, topping her glass with his hand. "You've had more than enough," he said. "Me too."
"That there's your problem," said Ken, unasked, as he wiped the counter. "You're too sober."
"Better I should be drunk?" said Joshua.
He saw Biddie was making a fist, in fact two. "I'm so madge—madse at that man," she said. "The girls have been crying this whole afternoon—"
"I mean," Ken said, "you don't get all worked up like Jason does—"
"—ever since that Mr. Cady told them their families hated them and they're all going straight to hell—ooooooooops." She covered her mouth.
"—'cause you ain't the wrathy type," Ken finished.
"He said what?"
Not five minutes later Cady was being driven into the fence by an ash-haired whirlwind, wild with hellfire of its own, which it sent flying at Cady one raging syllable at a time. "You hateful old man! You bullying, selfish, self-righteous tyrant!"
The old man was too much shocked to say more than "You've a nerve!"
"It's you that's got a nerve, coming here crying damnation on these girls—and one of them your own daughter. There's no evil here, or wasn't till you arrived. You bring it with you like a plague, stirrin' up wicked thoughts where there weren't any before. But no more! From here on out—" Cady hushed him. "Oh, I've just started—"
"I hear music," said Cady. Joshua stopped to listen. It was rising from the piano inside. Cady recognized it as Mendelssohn. He turned to the sound. From between billows of cloud overhead, a shaft of light fell onto the building, onto one of the broken windows, at which there stood a figure in an ivory laceworked gown.
"Letitia," Cady said.
"No," Joshua said quietly, "Leonora."
She saw her father looking up at her with a new softness, or perhaps an old. "Papa—?" she said, her voice tremulous. She quickly ran downstairs and out to him. "Papa—?"
Cady approached her uncertainly. She looked just as her mother had the day he had wed her. She had been the most beautiful sight he had ever seen, till now. "Why are you dressed so?" he asked.
"Dressed for a wedding," she said. "I hoped if you saw me married, you might—" Her voice faltered. "—you might come to believe in me again."
"Oh, Nora!" He dropped his eyes. "If you knew how dark the whole world turned when your ma died! All in it seemed base and wicked. And might be some of it is—yes, some—" He looked at her through a sudden rush of tears. "—but not you—never you, Nora."
"Oh, Papa!" She ran into his arms, and they clasped each other tight.
"I've wronged you so—you and these girls, all your neighbors. How can I make it up to you? Can I make it up to you?"
"For a start," she said, wiping her eyes, "you can give me away." She looked across to where Six Bits and the Reverend were hurrying toward them. "See, Papa? Here come the other needful parties."
"Hope we're on time," said Six Bits.
Leonora smiled radiantly. "Just in time."
At the service he saw it was Georgie playing the piano. For the recessional, she tried out a new tune called "The Bluest Skies (You've Ever Seen)." The other brides flocked out to the yard and hurled rice at the newlyweds as they ran out. "Ladies," Joshua proclaimed, "your sentence is lifted. Go find your men." With a cheer, they scattered in all directions. Biddie called after them to be back by ten.
One thing had Joshua puzzled: the source of the wedding gown. Biddie confessed that it had been Amanda's but she had been keeping it "in case."
Ken appeared at the gate. "Where's the fella with the gun?" he asked. "Got some business I'd care to discuss with him."
At that moment a deep rumbling sound froze them all. Biddie asked if it was an avalanche. If she had thought, she would have known better; she had heard it before; everyone had, in a lumber town like Seattle. "Homecoming," said Joshua. The drive was drawing to a close.
That night, under a full moon, the river pigs made their way from the mill, where they had deposited their cargo, to the saloon, the one attraction they were looking forward to taking in.
They were brought up short by a figure stationed at the door, his chair tilted back, a six-barreled pistol in his lap and a newly borrowed ten-gallon hat on his head. As they started in, he smacked his gun against a newly painted sign nailed to the wall. RULS, it read, and then in bigger letters NO FITEN. NO SWAREN. NO SLEPEN. NO SPITEN ON FLOR. NO OFENDEN LADES. NO DISRISPECTEN OF BARMAN, and lastly, the biggest of all, NO CREDET. Their faces fell at this. "A-yeah," said the sentry, "as I calculated."
Jason arrived to find them sitting morosely in the dirt. "Meant to borry on your name," Sligo confessed, "till your miller set a price for the timber. We'll get precious little then, with what we lost to the Injins—not as I begrudge 'em," he added quickly.
Jason offered to buy them out at a price of six cents a foot. He said the town could use the lumber in building the new opera house. "We'll even name it for you," he proposed, "the late lamented."
"You know you're cheatin' yourself," said Sligo.
"Saves you the bother," Jason said, smiling.
With the other drivers listening, Sligo could not but agree to the terms, and Jason gave him what cash he was carrying, which Sligo distributed fairly for once, and which would be enough to see them through the night. Jason promised the rest before they left in the morning.
The men filed into the saloon under Cady's cold eye, all but Sligo, who for some reason hung back. Thinking he might be hopeful of a job now that this latest was ended, Jason offered him one. "Got no rivers up there," he said, "only honest work and fair play."
Sligo thanked him but declined. "Sooner hire out as a pilot, mate, fetch-and-carry—'most anythin', long as it's out there."
"I believe your mother was a mermaid and your father was an ink-squirtin' squid."
"It's only true." They both laughed. "As to the other—Seattle Opry House'll do fine." He considered. "Seattle was a chief's name, weren't it?"
Cady felt the hat removed from his head. Leonora kissed his brow. Six Bits was with her. "I see you've found a place in the community," she said. She knew Ken had agreed to board him in exchange for his services.
"For a few days," said Cady. "When the steamer comes I'll be going along." He refused to listen to her protests. "This is no home for me. 'tis for you—all's green and new. But I was brought up to the old ways and I'll go out with them."
"Will you be all right?"
"I have a man that looks after my needs."
Leonora hugged Six Bits. "So have I." Cady offered him his hand. "Come again one day," she said, "and know your grandchildren." As he watched her go, he was thinking what a darned fine girl they had raised, he and Letitia.
Sligo, who was standing nearby, had been studying the object in Cady's lap with increasing wonder. "Sir," he said, "that is a magnificent hat." Cady acknowledged he compliment with a nod and ceremoniously returned the object to its rightful place.
Sligo listened to the sounds of celebration from inside. "Mind 'f I set with you a bit?" he asked.
"Last I heard, earth's free for them as care to claim it." Sligo sat.
Shortly he began to talk. In the absence of a priest, whom he would have never have visited anyway, he felt the need of confession—"for I've rid roughshod over me fellow mortals and am sick at heart." Cady said he knew the feeling. As their conversation wore on, they discovered some few sins in common, those two opposites, and the upshot of it was that they resolved to do penance jointly for a year by touring the territories assisting Indians and wayward girls. After that they would do as each individually had promised and return to what they knew. When Leonora learned of the plan she laughed out loud. But she did not say it was a bad one.
Discovering Jeremy yet on watch outside the dormitory, Jason urged him to bed. "If she's not back by now—"
"I'll wait a little while longer," said Jeremy, "just in case." Ah, youth! Jason thought.
A stir from the direction of Lottie's caught his attention. Faithful to the new rules, Ken was evicting the raft men. They were, however, laden with bottles, which with much staggering, juggling, and occasional dropping they succeeded in carrying with them to the wharf.
"Sorry you're not goin' with him?" asked Jason, ignorant of Sligo's new arrangement.
Jeremy smiled. "As heroes go, he has pretty big shoes to fill."
Jason gave no sign of recognizing the compliment. "One thing's sure. When his kind are gone, there'll be none to replace 'em."
"There won't, at that." The remark came, unexpectedly, from Aaron. He stopped beside them, and the three stood watching the refugees from civilization, each envying them in his way. As the river pigs boarded their raft, they threw back their heads and howled at the moon. Jeremy howled back. The older men smiled.
Aaron pointed out the broken windows, which the town council would have to replace. Jason asked what had happened to break them. "Gun," said Aaron, and then added, to forestall the next question, "Joshua will tell you."
Joshua was still at Lottie's, which was occupied almost wholly by brides and their beaux making up for days lost. They began to leave in pairs as the clock neared ten. Searching for Biddie, Joshua found her at one of the tables, now back on the wagon, and hard at practice listening. He stole up behind and whispered in her ear. "It's a party, Biddie, you can relax."
She smiled up at him. He reminded her of his promise to walk her home. "Oh, I won't hold you to that," she said, a little ruefully. "I know there are a few other girls, goodness, more than a few, you'd rather—" Joshua held his finger to her lips. "But you don't have to—" He stared severely at her. "Thank you Joshua," she said quietly, "that would be lovely." He offered her his arm.
They were so intent on their conversation on the way that they passed Jeremy without seeing him. He was leaning against the corner fence post, nodding off. Their voices recalled him. "Perhaps next time," Biddie was saying, "you should wait for the second thing that comes to mind."
"And you should save the parades for Easter," Joshua replied. They laughed together.
Joshua opened the gate for her and laid a friendly kiss on her brow, his hands on her shoulders. She was trembling slightly. As they regarded each other in the cool blue moonlight, the same idea struck them both at once. That would be very nice, thought Biddie. And why the hell not? thought Joshua. They moved together and joined lips in a warm, slow, rich kiss. It was as if they knew they might never have another and had to make this one count. Then they said their good nights and parted.
Biddie gave a little jump and ran in, letting out a yip. Joshua walked off in a pleasant stupor. He passed Jeremy a second time without seeing him.
Jeremy had watched all this with his head to one side. Now he considered fully what he had seen. He decided there was only one explanation possible. He had got to get some sleep. So saying to himself, he started for home after his brother.
4. A Love of Learning
(stretched from a true story)
Matt Balter was snoring.
Across the table, Jason Bolt leaned over and whispered to Aaron Stempel, "Matthew was so eager to get elected to the council, I should think he'd manage to keep his eyes open."
"Well..." Aaron nodded toward Reverend Adams, who was reading the financial statement for the previous quarter, as he had been for the past twenty minutes. "Revenues from property taxes suffered a 6.5 drop," he was reading, "but were more than compensated for by an 18 increase in taxes on spirits."
The door to Lottie's backroom opened, and Candy Pruitt marched in carrying a sewing basket. She took a chair at the side—a broken chair that had been retired from service in the saloon, and sank at one corner as she plopped into it. The councilmembers stared at her, except for Balter, who was still asleep. "Don't mind me," she said.
Adams stopped reading, and the men looked at one another uncertainly. "Candy," said Jason, "we're holding a—"
"Meeting of the town council. I know, that's why I'm here. I have to address the council."
Aaron looked his agenda. "Concerning which item?"
"None of them."
He smiled patronizingly. "The correct procedure is to submit a request to the council in writing—"
Candy took a small book from her basket and opened it to a page she had marked. "The rules of order state, 'The officers of a public body shall provide an opportunity for the public to address the body.'" She slapped the book shut. "You're the body. And I'm the public. But you go right ahead, I'll wait my turn." She took out a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles.
Aaron moved that the financial report be tabled. Jason seconded the motion. "All in favor?" The three conscious members voted aye. Jason kicked Balter under the table, bringing him to. "I—" said Balter. Aaron pounded the gavel. "Motion carried. Does any member of the public have business before the council?"
Candy lay down her bundle, picked up her book, and slid out the cutting she had been using for a bookmark. "This article from last week's Olympia Sentinel states that the legislature intends to relocate the territorial university. 'The committee will hold hearings to determine a new location.'"
"Warned you not to show her that," Aaron said to Jason, not quite under his breath.
"Beg your pardon?"
Adams cleared his throat. "I'm afraid it was I." The other men stared at him.
"Yes, he did," said Candy, "and I want to know what you intend to do about it."
They looked at one another again. "What would you like us to do?" Jason asked carefully.
"Go to those hearings and tell them the university belongs here."
"In a bar?" Balter snorted.
"Here in Seattle," Candy said crossly.
"Candy," said Aaron, "Seattle has few enough grammar-educated men—"
"All the more reason for a university."
"Our children aren't even of an age for high school," Jason objected.
"But soon will be. We should establish one of those too while we're at it."
"Whyn'tcha throw in a fairy castle?" said Balter. "And one of them pyramids like they got in Ee-gypt?" He chuckled .
Candy drew herself up. "Laugh if you will. But I have a brother and sister and I intend for them to be raised in an educated community. Mr. Balter, you have a daughter—"
"My Lorena don't need none of your book learnin'!" Balter said with sudden vehemence. "She's got plenty of brains already. And I'll thank you not to meddle in things that don't concern you."
"Settle down," Jason ordered.
"Don't like folks pryin' into my business," Balter grumbled. "Can we go home?"
"I think," said Adams, "we should seriously consider Miss Pruitt's proposal, which I for one find highly perspicacious—not to say serendipitous. Or, to put it plainly—"
"Please, Reverend," said Balter.
"You're right, Jason, we have no one to send to the university—yet. But as part of the institution, we can establish a preparatory school at the primary and secondary levels."
"But first we have to get the institution," Candy insisted. "And to do that, someone has to speak up at those hearings."
Aaron was not prepared to fight the two of them. "I move we send a representative," he said. Jason seconded the motion. "All in favor?" Three of the men at the table said aye. Balter sat back, folding his arms.
"May as well give in, Matthew," said Jason, "or we won't hear any peace for a month of Sundays."
"Why 'a month of Sundays'?" mused Adams. "Why should men speak of Sundays as being—"
"Awright," said Balter, "anything to get outa here."
Aaron pounded the gavel. "If there's no further business—" Adams cleared his throat. "Yes?"
"We haven't determined whom we'll send."
Aaron looked at Jason. "Shall I go this time?"
"Two weeks after the hearings were done, you'd still be writing your speech." Aaron laughed, acknowledging the point. "Nah, I'll do it."
Adams cleared his throat. "Actually I was meaning to propose myself."
"You!" Balter shouted. "Haw!"
Aaron smiled broadly. "You'd be the perfect spokesman." He turned to Jason. "Don't you think so?" Jason regarded him curiously.
Candy looked doubtful. "Have you had any experience at this sort of thing?"
Adams smiled rather smugly. "Every Sunday."
"Of course," Aaron agreed with uncharacteristic joviality, "we've all heard you. I'm sure Miss Pruitt can't stand there and tell us she hasn't listened to every word of your sermons?"
"No," said Candy, staring hard at him, "I certainly can't do that."
"There you are," Aaron said triumphantly. He stood, pumped Adams's hand, wished him luck, and declared the meeting adjourned. Balter was out the door at once. Adams left in conversation with Candy. Jason waited till they were all gone before finding out what Aaron was up to.
"There is no university," said Aaron. "Never has been except on paper. It's a bubble. The money they appropriate for it goes to line their pockets. They have no intention of changing that. They're just making a big noise before someone else does. They'll listen politely to everyone who shows up, then send them home. You'll see—nothing will change."
To his surprise and everyone else's, including Candy's, Adams brought back different tidings. The first to hear them were the townspeople at the dock when the steamer arrived, next some of the brides at the dormitory—Candy, whom he had been seeking, not being among them—then other folk who heard it from one or another of those who had heard it first, all following the Reverend in an ever-accumulating pack and assisting him in spreading the news.
So it came to pass that Aaron and Jason, jointly inspecting the initial run of a job that the mill was having to be recut, looked up to see a large part of the population running toward them, pushing Adams along in front of them. "We got it! We got it!" came the cry.
Aaron and Jason came out to meet them. Adams came to a halt, panting. "We—got it."
"Easy, Reverend," said Jason. "Got what?"
Adams thought it would be obvious. "The university!" The crowd cheered in confirmation.
Jason and Aaron looked at each other. "Fast work for public servants," said Aaron.
"It hasn't been put to the vote," Adams admitted, "but it's a foreordained conclusion. I've received the highest assurances—confidentially, of course—"
"Who was doing this assurin'?" asked Jason.
"Chairman of the committee, and the deputy chair. It was the most extraordinary thing. I had a serm—I mean, speech—prepared, but I'd barely started when they told me they'd heard enough."
"I can understand—" Aaron began. He stopped at Jason's look.
"In all honesty, I believe that my success owed less to my oratory than to my prior acquaintance with the two gentlemen."
"You knew them?" said Jason.
"Not knew—not precisely." He recounted the story, to his listeners' increasing amazement. On his first evening in Olympia, in the course of seeking a respectable hotel, he had run across two prosperous-looking gentlemen in the company of two younger ladies, who appeared to have fallen off the path ("I'll bet they had," Aaron interjected) and with whom the gentlemen were engaged in a controversy over a sum of money that the ladies claimed was owing to them. The Reverend stepped up to offer his aid in sorting the matter out, whereupon one of the gentlemen recalled that he did have the money, after all: he had been holding it in his purse for safekeeping. He gave it to the ladies, and they quickly took their leave.
Jason and Aaron were not quite smiling as they listened, leaving Adams innocently unaware of any amusement he might be occasioning. He went on to explain that the gentlemen had professed their deepest thanks for his assistance and had vowed that if there were any favor they could do him while he was in town he had but to ask. The next morning he turned up before their committee. "You can imagine their surprise," he said, ("I can indeed," said Jason) "and they gave me their personal guarantee that the university is ours."
The crowd cheered again. Jason and Aaron remained silent. "For form's sake," Adams added, "they're obliged to visit all the communities that were represented at the hearings, examine their suitability—although we already know which is the most suitable." He chuckled. "Each town is to put them up for a night or two." Aaron asked how many towns that made. "Ten, twelve—"
"Plenty of free meals," said Aaron.
"—and they arrive here Thursday week," Adams concluded, rather suddenly.
"We have to put our best foot forward." That was Candy's dictum after she heard the news. Jason was still at the mill, and so she was able to instruct both him and Aaron at once.
"Which foot would that be?" asked Jason, furrowing his brow.
She did not laugh. "We have to show them that we're an enlightened community, dedicated to the furtherance of knowledge."
"Don't you think—" Jason began.
"And I expect both of you to do your part." Aaron peered over his clasped hands at Jason. One of them sighed, Candy could not tell which; perhaps both.
On the day of the expected arrival, a large crowd was gathered at the quayside. The town looked as it always did, except that the two hogs which usually had the run of the main thoroughfare were nowhere to be seen. Candy had prevailed on one of the households on the bluffs to take them in for the duration. She would have liked to smooth and regularize the streets, but mud was mud; there wasn't much you could do about it.
She had cautioned as many of her neighbors as she could spread the word to that she expected them to watch their deportment. One of these was her boyfriend Jeremy Bolt, and this morning—to her relief, if the truth were known—he was not present. Neither was his brother Joshua, whom she would have liked to see, to give a studious, serious air to her campaign. That would have been if he had felt in the mood, as Candy knew but did not bother to mention to herself. Jason, when asked, said that Joshua was over at the mill overseeing the redone job, Aaron and himself being otherwise employed.
Candy took his point but chose to ignore it. "While we're on the subject," asked Jason, "where's the Reverend?" She explained that the two of them had divided the labor: she would show the visitors around town, and he would remain in church to pray for their success. "After all—" she began. "Can't hurt," Aaron finished.
The steamer appeared around the promontory south of town. As it chugged toward port, the crowd strained to get a look at the passengers. All they could see were a couple of crew hands. Maybe they weren't coming, after all? The group waited expectantly.
As the steamer pulled in, two figures at the stern became visible, sitting on deck chairs faced away from the dockside. As soon as the boat came to rest, the larger of the two rose expansively and made his way to the front, followed by the other. They were dressed in rich woolens—"They didn't get those suits in Olympia," Aaron murmured—with gold watch chains gleaming at their abdomens, rings gleaming on their fingers, and jeweled stickpins gleaming at their collars.
The larger man descended the gangplank first with a magisterial air. His companion followed in an attitude of self-important modesty. "Our humble servants," said Jason.
"Your humble servant," said the larger man, when Jason and Aaron had stepped up and introduced themselves. He gave his name as Mr. Clipp, and that of his worthy colleague as Mr. Dodge. They tipped their derbies to the crowd at large.
Mr. Clipp took a deep breath. "Ah, the invigorating scent of the cedar. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, as our Mr.—er—"
Dodge bent toward him and spoke in his ear. "Longfellow," he said quietly.
"—as our Mr. Longfellow so beautifully phrases it. Gentlemen—madam," he added, tipping his hat to Candy, "we are honored to be here, to play our small role in kindling the beacon of knowledge, which will blaze—blaze, I say—to all corners of the territory. Nor shall we rest—nay, not a moment—until—until—"
"Kids," murmured Dodge.
"—until every child now playing at jackdaws" (Jackdaws? Aaron mouthed) "or mumble-the-peg—every babe now squalling in its mama's arms—shall reap the harvest of the seeds we sow here. Our sacred duty—"
At that moment the steamer made an ungainly noise. Whether it was by accident or design would be a subject of debate that evening at Lottie's, but in any event it curtailed the oration. The crowd, which had been staring wooden-faced till now, broke into laughter. Jason and Aaron were laughing the hardest. Candy glowered at them and then quickly stepped forward. "We're so pleased to have you here," she said, in a voice loud enough to quiet the others. "You'll see that in Seattle the pursuit of knowledge is elevated above all—"
A shout of many voices—an egging-on kind of shout—reached them from outside the mill. Clipp's eyes glowed. "Sounds like a prizefight," he said. It looked like one too, as they soon saw, except that the ring of men circling and cheering on the activity, whatever it might have been, was moving toward them by stages. Aaron recognized the men as his workers. The two visitors expressed a wish for a closer look. Candy, who was sure that that was a bad idea but was unable to say so, had no choice but to go along. The others were already heading that way anyhow.
What the visitors saw startled them. Instead of the bare-chested pugilists they had expected, they found two men fully clothed but blindfolded, each swinging at the other with a long stocking stuffed with cloth and dripping wet. Sometimes one man would land a blow, more often he would miss and swat at one of the spectators, who would jump back to avoid him. It was a wonder that the combatants ever managed to find each other, but so they did at last, and a prolonged exchange of blows followed, until one fell to his knees and, after braving several successive whacks on the back of the neck, gave up. The crowd cheered. The sock fighters pulled off their blindfolds—
Candy shut her eyes. It was what she had feared but had been unable to tell certainly because of the crowd. "Gentlemen," said Jason, indicating the loser, "my brother Joshua."
"Who are they?" said Joshua from the ground, nodding at the strangers.
Jason introduced the Honorable Mr. Clipp and the Honorable Mr. Dodge. "From the capital," he added significantly.
"Oh," said Joshua. "How are ya?" Some of the men helped him to his feet. He smiled at Jason and Aaron. "We were just taking a—" They were watching him with impassive faces. "Reckon we'll go back to—" Their expressions did not change. "Come on, you lazybones!" Joshua barked. "Stop killin' time! There's work to be done!" Many of them grinned as he led them off. Jason and Aaron glanced at each other, shook their heads slightly, and then turned back to their guests.
"Like the lady said," Jason declared, "a regular hotbed of learnin'."
Candy made a vow to herself which was not entirely ladylike. "Perhaps you'd like to see the schoolhouse," she said.
"Really a converted shed," said Aaron. "It serves the turn, considering how few—" Candy gave him a look that stopped him, and added his name to Jason's as part of her vow.
Unfortunately for her, and surprisingly for everyone, the schoolhouse, or what served as such, was empty. The pupils had evidently been dismissed very early; the last of them ran past them as they walked up. Candy searched for her siblings Molly and Christopher, but they were not in sight.
They met the schoolmistress stamping out with an armload of books. She was brown and tall and bony, and Jason and Aaron had always been a little afraid of her. "Mornin', Miss Kat," said Jason tentatively. "School in recess, is it?" Subjected to her glare, he felt compelled to explain himself. "Schoolhouse bein' empty, we naturally wondered—"
"Recess!" Miss Kat repeated, in a voice that would shiver crystal. Candy felt that her manner did not bode well. Miss Kat thrust the books into Jason's arms. "Yes," she said crisply, "school is in recess for the day. In fact, it is in recess permanently. I herewith serve notice, put paid to my account, turn my back a last time on this mouldering outbuilding and its horrid little inhabitants—in short, Mr. Bolt, I quit."
Jason was too much surprised to answer. The assemblymen were listening pop-eyed. Candy, more in distress than ever, tried to put a good face on the situation. "Surely," she began, "there's no problem that—"
"You!" shrilled Miss Kat. "You of all people inquire whether there is a problem!"
"Yes?" said Candy, in a small voice.
"Once I am gone, there will be no problem. And shall I tell you why? I shall. Because I shall hie me to a place where there are no Pruitts—where I shall never hear the name Pruitt again—where the name Pruitt is a faint echo from a happily forgotten past. The problem, Miss Pruitt? The problem, and the reason above all others why it is unthinkable to me to contemplate remaining in these environs another day, is the impossibility of instructing, edifying, or otherwise improving the condition of one particularly horrid small creature by name Pruitt."
Now that Candy understood a little, she felt some sympathy. "I know Christopher can be a handful. At that age—"
"Christopher!" Miss Kat shrieked again. Really, Candy thought, she needn't be so dramatic. "Not Christopher—though he is torment enough, as you say." I didn't say that, Candy thought. "It's the other one—that one," she said pointing. They all turned to see Molly peering out from the corner of the schoolhouse.
"Molly!" Candy was astonished. "What's Molly done?"
"What has she not done?" Candy looked at Molly, who lowered her eyes. "I shall show you." Miss Kat tramped back into the building and came out in a moment with another book. The hand holding it was gloved in a handkerchief. The cover of the book looked strangely shiny. "Most lately," said Miss Kat, "she has done this." She shoved the book into Aaron's hands. He pulled one of them away at once, and part of the cover—so it appeared—pulled away with it. "It's covered in honey!" he cried. He spent the next several minutes detaching himself from it, his hands from each other, and the residue from his hands, ruining his own handkerchief in the process.
"It is the town's property," Miss Kat declared, "and the town is welcome to it. As for that child"—she pointed wildly at Molly—"if you take my advice, you will lock her away until she is no longer a child—until she is well past middle age—until she is so far into her dotage that she is incapable of working harm on any other living creature!" She started off and then turned back. "You may send my final wages to an address I shall designate by wire after I am settled. Good day."
Molly waited until she was well gone before coming out of hiding. "Imagine," said Candy, for the visitors' benefit, "being so upset over one little book."
"Yes, she was." Jason's eyes were still on Molly. A small twinkle in them belied the sternness of his countenance. "Now why might that be, Molly-o?"
"Guess I haven't been too nice," Molly said.
Jason asked for the particulars. "First," she said, "there was the frog. Then the snake—"
"Molly Serenity Pruitt!" Candy exclaimed.
"It wasn't poisonous," the girl protested. "Next came the honey-bees, and then—"
"The honey," Aaron guessed.
A thought struck Jason. "How'd you know where to look for honey-bees?"
"Jason, that's hardly the point," said Candy. "Molly, why?"
"That old Miss Kat hates me. And I hate her!"
"But, Molly dear," said Candy, with a glance at the two men from the capital, "you know you love school—"
"I don't!" Molly cried. "I hate it! School is nothing but a torment and a vexation! I hope I never have go to school ever ever again!" With that she ran away.
Normally Candy would have gone after her, but the present business was even more important. "Gentlemen," she began, "I assure you—"
Dodge nudged Clipp. "Eat," he whispered.
"I believe," said Clipp, "we have seen enough. Have we not, Mr. Dodge?"
"If you could direct us to your finest dining establishment—I believe it was understood that meals are to be provided?"
"How many meals?" asked Aaron. He was rubbing his fingers against one another. They were still sticky.
"Lunch, supper, and a small breakfast before our departure tomorrow, I believe will be adequate for our needs."
"But if you've seen all you came to see—"
Candy interrupted. "That's wonderful. We'll have an opportunity to show you the cultural and intellectual life of the community."
"Candy—" Jason began.
"No need, madam. As I said, we have seen enough. There is no doubt in my mind"—he hesitated—"but I must not speak for my colleague. Is there any doubt in your mind, Mr. Dodge?"
"None whatever, Mr. Clipp."
"No doubt—and I tell you this in the strictest confidence, you understand—that Seattle is the only proper setting for the great University of Washington. We shall return to our colleagues and advise them so."
Jason and Aaron looked at each other in disbelief. Candy let out a yelp of excitement, then quickly excused herself, and made to lead the way to Lottie's. "Mister Dodge," said Clipp, extending his arm as an invitation to his partner to precede him. "Mister Clipp," said Dodge, doing the same. Clipp bowed his head and took first place after Candy.
"Mister Stempel," said Jason, extending his arm. "Mister Bolt," said Aaron. They went side by side.
Adams was delighted when Candy brought him the news. "I knew it," he said, clasping her hands.
"I knew it," said Aaron, skimming over the new act. The packet containing it had been mailed to him as chairman of the town council, and he had summoned Jason at once. "They don't want a university. They've set up conditions that are impossible."
Aaron picked up the document again. "'The town shall be responsible for providing ten acres of suitable ground'—at our own expense!"
"Come on, forget about profit for once." Jason punched him on the shoulder encouragingly.
Aaron regarded him with narrowed eyes for a moment before continuing. "And here—'The town shall be responsible for providing the necessary facilities'—they'll pay for it, but we have to build it ourselves."
"Not scared of a little hard work, are you?" Jason punched him on the shoulder again.
"Stop doing that," said Aaron. Jason put his hands behind his back. "It establishes a board of commissioners," Aaron went on, "and names Adams president. But 'The town shall be responsible'—mighty responsible people they account us—'for all other appointments.' We do the hiring. That's all right though, the territory pays their salaries."
"Well, then!" Jason started to punch him again and then remembered himself.
"And the whole enterprise has to be ready for business in three months."
"Three months!" Jason grabbed the document to see for himself. "It'll take all of that."
"It's a charade. They don't expect us to meet the requirements. We may as well tear that thing up."
Jason was not far from disagreeing. "But for one thing."
"What's that?" asked Aaron.
"You most certainly will not tear it up," said Candy, when they had called her in to the town hall (Lottie's backroom) and broached the suggestion to her. "Goodness, a body would think you'd never done anything. You built the dormitory in one night, didn't you?"
"That—" Aaron began.
"I can't believe you have so little civic pride. Don't you feel an obligation to the children of this town? Don't you want them to grow up to be educated citizens?" Aaron looked at Jason. "Why don't one of you say something?"
"Maybe you don't think we're good enough for a university. Maybe you think we should play second fiddle to Tacoma or Steilacoom. That your neighbors and business associates—the people who voted you into office—are too backward to deserve—"
"All right!" said Aaron. "We'll do it—somehow."
"Well, I should just think so." Candy nodded curtly and walked out.
Aaron and Jason followed. "You sailed around the Horn with her, huh?" said Aaron. Jason nodded woefully. "What kept you from bailing her over the side?"
"Force of will," Jason said with emphasis as they came out into the saloon.
Candy, not yet out of hearing, turned back. "What was that?"
"I said, 'course we will," Jason said reassuringly. "Build the school and all."
As he and Aaron went out, Candy stared after them, a small suspicion dancing on her face.
"It's still impossible," Aaron insisted as he and Jason were walking back to the mill.
"I know." Aaron upraised his hands. "'If it's women you want—' The mighty Jason can perform any feat he puts his mind to."
"Well?" Aaron rolled his eyes. "I admit it sounds a tall order, heaped up like that. But take it one log at a time. Labor—" He gestured toward the mill. "Got all we need."
"Yes, laboring. We have a timber operation, remember?"
"We can cut it back so we just break even."
Aaron made a noise. "I really don't like this."
"Think in the long term, Aaron. A university will bring the town prestige—bring in scholars, thinkers, inventors. They're the ones who'll revolutionize the business. What's a gleam in the eye today, tomorrow—"
"Will be a hundred more Candy Pruitts causing us headaches."
"Materials," said Jason, continuing his train of thought, "well—" He gestured toward the hills. "Paint, we'll order from Victoria."
"Victoria?" Aaron was already calculating the cost.
"All that's missing is the land. Now who do we know that has more property than he knows what to do with?" He put on an expression of deep cogitation.
Aaron started to think it over too. Then, a moment later, "Oh, no," he said, "you're not getting me to—I develop my holdings in the best interests of the community."
"And Aaron Stempel."
Aaron was about to continue his protest when a recollection came to him. "There is a stretch you can have. Never did anything with it."
"South end of town, west of the lake."
Aaron thought a moment. "Oh, yeah. Guess that's why I never—" Jason was watching him skeptically. He thought some more. "There is one other place."
Within a half-hour they were standing atop one of the prettiest hills overlooking the town. Jason pronounced it sublime. "Why haven't you built here?" he asked.
"Saving it in case I ever got—" He stopped himself then and said, more briskly, "You're right—for once. Time'll come when a man'll have to go to university to establish himself. We should be prepared. I'm willing to make my small contribution." He looked around. "And I wouldn't mind a cornerstone with my name on it, here." He polished the imaginary stone and stood back regarding it with approval.
Jason watched him with his arms folded and a half-smile on his face. "Very fitting. The boys can pitch pennies against it."
"All right," said Aaron, returning to earth, "never mind."
"It's settled then. We build a university."
Now it was Aaron's turn to smile. "Correct me if I'm mistaken—won't we need a builder?" The question took Jason by surprise. He had in fact overlooked that detail.
That afternoon as Aaron was going over the books a roll of plans dropped onto the desk. He looked up to find Jason helping himself to the seat opposite. "What are these?" asked Aaron.
"Plans," Jason said carelessly.
"Plans to what?"
Aaron was suspicious. "Where'd you get them?"
"One who drew up the plans."
"I know he—" Exasperated, he gave up and unrolled them to take a look.
"Had these hangin' about, didn't mind seein' 'em put to use."
Aaron studied the drawing in puzzlement until he saw the legend in the corner. "These are for a bath house!"
"He did say they'd require a few modifications."
Aaron rolled them up again. "The pupils will be clean anyway," he sighed. He handed them back. In exchange, Jason handed him a set of folded papers.
"What are these?"
"Agreement with the architect, agreement with the builder."
"One who signed the agreement."
Aaron unfolded the papers and flipped to the last page. "This is my signature!" He went back to page one, where he found part of a line crossed out and other words scrawled above it. "Wait a minute, this is the agreement for the opera house."
"Changed it to the university. Same terms."
"How can it be the same terms? They can't build a university for the same price as—"
"It'll only be one building—few classrooms, offices. We'll add on to it later."
"The famous one-horse university," Aaron mused. Then another concern pushed that thought to the rear. "They haven't started on the opera house yet. What happens to that?"
"We'll take it up when the university's finished."
Aaron sat back in his chair and pressed his temples. "That was the brainchild of the Ladies' League. They won't like this."
"Which would you rather face, Aaron—a disappointed Ladies' League or a disgruntled Candy Pruitt?"
Aaron considered for half a second. "The League."
So work began. The builder of the opera house-to-be blandly turned his energies to the new project. Half the able-bodied men in town offered their services—or rather the council, in Jason's person, offered for them, but nobody appeared to mind. In lieu of cash they were to be paid in land the territory had granted, not to build on but to sell or barter to finance the construction. Overnight, it seemed, the crest of the hill was covered with men, ox-carts, wheelbarrows, and ropes; frantic with hauling, digging, pouring, laying, piling. Loads went up and came down starting at dawn and ending well after dusk. Every time Jason looked, a little more had been done. The builder promised he would meet the deadline or pay a forfeit, the crew was hard at work, everything was proceeding perfectly—
"But who'll take over for Miss Kat?" asked Candy.
Jason was pushing a barrowload of hod, with Candy almost at his heels. "Soon as this is done—"
"That won't be for months. The children can't go without that long."
"Jason! We're trying to teach them the importance of an education. What will they think if we let them neglect their studies half the year?"
"Think themselves lucky?"
"Exactly—and we can't have that." The sentiment was not phrased as positively as she would have liked. "You'll have to find a new teacher."
"I'll put it to the council."
"And who'll take over in the meantime?"
She was like a woodpecker, Jason thought, pecking, pecking— "Haven't an inkling. Who?" Candy stared at him. "Who?" She kept staring. He said a third time, in a weaker voice, "Who?"
"Children," the substitute teacher announced, "my name's Jason Bolt. Looks like I'll be teachin' you for a spell." He looked at the jumble of books on the desk. They gave no hint of where to begin. "What do you usually take up first?" he asked the class.
"Geography," someone said.
"Geography..." He sorted through the books until he found the geography text. He opened it at random and scanned a sentence or two. It was a mass of grey type—no life to it at all. He came around to the front of the desk and stared into the eyes of one especially big-eyed girl in the front row. "That puts me in mind of a story—"
Aaron and Candy stopped by not soon after. Aaron had not believed the announcement that Jason had taken over as schoolteacher and had come to see for himself. The two of them listened from the door. "—and that fella plowed so hard," Jason was telling his fascinated audience, "he dug right through to a water spout that was sittin' under his field waitin' to be let free, like a genie in a bottle. The water come shootin' out so fast nobody could stop it, and it spread farther than far—and that's how we got Puget Sound." He tossed the book down. "So much for geography." He rubbed his hands together. "What's next?"
Aaron looked skeptically at Candy. She made a face to match the "Hmph" sound she felt like making.
The next day the children had a new substitute teacher. Aaron and Candy were back at the door. This one chose to start with arithmetic. "Numbers are a lot more exciting than most people realize," said Joshua Bolt. By the time he had filled the blackboard with computations and the children's heads with explanations that were as hard to follow as the trail of a jackrabbit, only nowhere near as interesting, the class had sunk into a half-napping state.
Candy realized that this would not do either. She stared at Aaron, and stared, and stared—
"Uh," Aaron began, looking out at the dozen pairs of little eyes trained on him, "uh"—what was it he'd meant to say?—"uh—" Candy could take it no longer. "Children," she announced from the door, "you're on holiday until we find a teacher." They cheered and made their escape. Candy looked pityingly at Aaron.
"Haven't spent much time around children," he said.
"A person would never guess," she said. She patted his arm. "Don't worry, you're sure to find someone."
"Why not Candy?" was Joshua's question. He and Jason were sharing a beer at Lottie's before heading home.
"The lady declines," said Jason. "Says she's too much on her hands, with two siblings and a hundred brides—less those lost to the bonnie blue bliss of marriage—"
Joshua shook his head. "What we need's another Miss Essie."
"There you have it," Jason agreed. "If she hadn't gone off and married Swede—"
"And divorced Swede."
"Ain't that the way of a woman? Left a perfectly respectable callin' to—" He stopped and looked at his brother. "Who's divorced?"
"Thought you'da heard. Swede and Miss Essie split up. Been nearly a year now."
"That's wonderful!" Jason thundered. Joshua stared at him. "I mean—tragic thing, tragic," he said, in a suitably tragic tone. "But ain't it fate's own perfection?" Joshua could tell he was already building a plan in his mind.
"Jason, she's settled."
"Not any more."
"With or without Swede, she's made a new life. How you gonna talk her into comin' back?"
Jason bestowed a look of pity on his unbelieving brother. "I'll have her eatin' outa my hand."
"No," said Miss Essie. Upon Jason's unexpected arrival in Steilacoom, she had served notice that he would have to put up with her housecleaning while they talked. Not that she wasn't glad to see him, she added. But throughout the conversation he repeatedly found himself standing exactly where she had to dust. Being continually brushed aside hampered his persuasive skill. So did Essie's evident imperviousness: she had toughened since leaving Seattle.
"Hear me out," he said.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime—"
Jason became exasperated. "You don't even know what I'm askin'!"
Essie stopped and faced him. "I have a pretty nice idea. It's to do with the new university, hasn't it?" His amazement pleased her. "I know all the details," she said. "You see, Steilacoom put in a bid too."
Remembering Adams's account, Jason bet that there were a few details she didn't know, and just as well. "You have to admit Seattle's the better choice," he said.
Essie sighed. "You're so provincial."
"And you, Miss Essie—" He sank to his knees before her. She slipped around him to dust in the corner. "You," he continued, sliding around so he could continue to face her, "are the answer to our prayers."
Essie smiled despite herself. "Jason!"
"The whole town's pinin' for you—yearnin' for you—"
"They are not."
"—holdin' their quiverin' breath for you to bring the lamp of learning to our dark little vale."
"No," she repeated, slipping past him again, "a thousand times no."
"Very well," Jason grunted, getting to his feet. "I'll tell Reverend Adams—"
Essie swung around. "Reverend Adams?" A glow poured over her face. "Walter?"
"Adams?" said Aaron when he heard the story. He was checking the pump on the mill jetty, where Jason had found him upon his return.
"Gospel truth," said Jason. "Once she heard his name she was dyin' to come. Be here soon's they find someone to take over the school in Steilacoom."
"Nothing against the good Reverend," said Aaron, "but I never imagined him as a man women would—" He considered. "Of course, Miss Essie—"
"Now," Jason chided, "Miss Essie's a very intelligent woman."
"Yeah." Aaron nodded, uncomprehending.
The news of Essie's return was cause for rejoicing in all quarters except one. Molly had hoped against hope that they would never find a teacher, that Candy could teach her and her brother at the dormitory. To lock horns with another Miss Kat was something that she, in spite of all her youthful energy, lacked the spirit for. The teachers back in New Bedford hadn't been so bad, or if they had she hadn't noticed. But things had been different then, and she was older now.
Her friend Lorena kept silent as Molly catalogued Miss Kat's faults at length. The two of them were climbing the rise to the building site, where Lorena's father was working. She was bringing him a lunch of chicken and biscuits she had prepared.
"Hope they never find a teacher," said Molly, having exhausted all the bad things she could say about her last one. "All they do's get mad at you—talk about a lot of nothing while you're trying to think about something else—then when you do ask a question, yell at you to keep still—then when you don't, stand you in a corner." She stood by her earlier judgment. "It's a pure vexation."
"Yeah," said Lorena wistfully, hopping over a stone in the path, "but leastways you get to go." She had stopped attending before Molly moved to town; Molly had always wondered why. "Since Ma died of the fever, Pa's needed me at home. I liked goin' to school—learnin' things."
"You're lucky," said Molly. Lorena smiled sadly.
They had reached the top of the rise. Lorena looked around for her father and spotted him resting against a barrel. "Pa!" she shouted. She ran toward him.
Balter turned. He did not smile to see her, as she had expected, but instead looked up in alarm at the partial wall above her. He ran over and grabbed her up, seconds before the timbers came crashing down on the basket she had been carrying. "Honey," he said, "you ought not to be here. Place like this can be real dangerous for little girls."
She pointed to the crushed basket. "But I brought you lunch."
"I don't care. You gotta promise me you won't come up here again."
"I promise." They reached Molly, still standing at the edge of the clearing. "You know my friend Molly?"
Balter said hello. "Good thing you stayed outa harm's way." Molly was staring at him in a way that made him uncomfortable. "You two best go home." He put Lorena down and walked her to the top of the path. Molly went with them, still staring.
The reason was that she was sure his warning had come before the wall had begun to collapse; as if he had known it would happen. I must be wrong, she told herself all the way downhill. I won't say anything unless I'm sure.
Her dread of a new teacher took solid shape three weeks later when Miss Essie arrived. Molly took in her prim, alert expression, her carpetbag, her trunks (full of schoolbooks, Molly bet), her parasol and other paraphernalia, and concluded that she was going to hate her. "I think she looks nice," said Lorena.
"You'll see," said Molly, "she'll be just like Miss Kat."
She was not expecting the change that came over Essie when the Reverend appeared to meet her. Her primness melted like ice on a stove.
"Estelle," he said.
"Harvey," she said.
They had kept company once, very many years ago; yet now it seemed not long at all. He hurried to pick up her bags and offered to board her at the small rectory behind the church until she could find nicer lodgings. "I suppose you wouldn't care to," he said. "Cramped quarters—and I daresay people would talk."
"You and I are old enough to pay no mind to what other people say." Her face blossomed in a radiant smile. "I would love to stay at the rectory." Adams flushed. He wore a big smile himself as he carried her things across to the church.
Molly watched them curiously. Her opinion of Essie had not improved, but it had become less certain. She is like Miss Kat, she is, she is, Molly insisted to herself.
So when Essie visited the schoolhouse that afternoon—what memories it brought back!—she heard a succession of little clicking sounds from inside. She hoped it wasn't some of the boys vandalizing the premises; she'd have hated to think that ill of them. Instead she found a pretty, freckled little blonde girl, determined to keep up her hatred of school and schoolteachers at all costs, and proving it by breaking every piece of chalk from the box on the desk.
Essie watched for a minute before speaking. "Thank you for your assistance," she said, "but it wasn't really necessary. Chalk breaks perfectly well on its own." Molly threw down the pieces in her hands and ran out. Essie looked after her wonderingly.
Then she noticed the chalk drawings—good, carefully detailed drawings of birds and woodland animals. She stepped up for a closer look.
A little later she came upon Molly sitting by the creek, sulking. "May I join you?" she asked. Molly gave her one of those half-bruised, half-defiant looks in which some children became expert when they reached adolescence. "I'm Miss Essie. I'll be your new teacher." She extended her hand.
Molly looked away. "I know." Miss Essie waited. Molly was too well brought up to forget all her manners, even in her great travail. "Molly Pruitt," she said, shaking Essie's hand.
"You're Candy's sister, aren't you?" Molly nodded. She continued looking out over the creek.
"I don't like school," she said at length. "Or teachers."
"You're not required to. I'm not required to like all my students either. And I don't like some of them very much at all." She studied Molly. "But I think I like you—although you're deliberately making it difficult. And I can't help wondering why."
"Because of my willful and obstinate nature, I suppose." She put on an appropriately obstinate expression.
"Did you draw those pictures on the blackboard?"
"Sorry." Despite herself, Molly was already softening toward her. "Want me to wipe 'em off?"
"Of course not. They're lovely."
"Miss Kat always did. Then she'd set me extra lessons for using the board without permission and making the room untidy."
Essie was shocked. "That was rather mean of her."
Molly turned to her in earnest concern. "Oh, Miss Essie, she was right. I have an idle nature and have been used to too much liberty."
"Is that what she said?"
"I was always causing her trouble. That's why we'd have fights. Every day at recess I'd come down here to watch the creatures and make pictures of them, and then I'd forget about school and she'd have to come and fetch me back. She'd tear up the pictures in front of the class—"
"She did what?" Essie was simmering.
"—and set me extra lessons or stand me in the corner. And some days I'd spend drawing in my notebook instead of doing my lesson—just pure idleness that somebody ought to take out of me with a whip so as to teach me not to squander my time on such impractical foolishness. Miss Kat said I was no smarter than one of those birds myself."
"Ohhhhhhhhh!" Essie stood, unable to sit still any longer. Her face was so livid, it scared Molly to see it. "These people we set loose on our children to misguide them! You listen to me, Molly." Molly prepared to be bawled out. "There is no subject on God's green earth that is not deserving of study. And the creatures He placed here to share it with us are the worthiest of all. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. And just because you have a gift for seeing them as no one else does—never let anyone tell you that you are one whit worse than they because you know things they don't." She grabbed her hand. "Come with me."
She took Molly back to the classroom and opened the carpetbag she had brought with her to reveal a small library inside. She lifted out a big green leather-bound volume. Molly was amazed at what it contained: not columns of print or math problems but beautiful paintings of birds. "One of my most prized possessions," said Essie. "The first volume of Birds of America by Mr. John James Audubon. I mean to collect the entire set." Molly pored over every detail of the pictures, and soon came to one she recognized. "The pine thrush," Essie confirmed, consulting the text. "'Native to the northern territories.'" Molly could scarcely believe it. "Mr. Audubon," Essie explained, "spent years traveling from place to place observing the wild birds and painting what he saw."
"Do you think that some day I could—" She was too shy to finish.
"I see no reason in the world why not. And you pay no mind to what that horrible woman told you. Oh, if I had her here—"
Molly loved the good, warm feeling she had talking to her new friend and did not like to risk spoiling it, but she had to own up to the truth. "I did neglect my lessons."
"Because she compelled you to choose between her way of learning and the learning you were doing all on your own. You and I must find a way to balance both."
"I was wicked, though," said Molly. "I brought honey-bees to class—"
"A perfectly legitimate lesson in natural history."
"And I put honey in her book."
"In your place," said Miss Essie, "I think I would have poured it over her head."
The two of them laughed—how they laughed! And that was why, after leaving Essie and running back to the dormitory, Molly came bounding into the kitchen to ask Candy, "When will school start again?" When Candy said she was afraid it might be as soon as the following week, Molly shouted, "I can't wait!" and ran out happily to find Lorena and tell her. Will wonders never cease? Candy thought.
Despite everyone's efforts—and everyone was pulling his weight, and then some—the work fell behind, on account of the mishaps that continued to plague it. No more walls toppled; these were unthreatening but time-devouring hindrances—a piece of ground that sank, taking one corner with it; a batch of mortar that failed to harden and had to be redone; a window whose sides were joined at a skew, as if the plans had been tampered with; one setback after another.
With only three weeks left, the builder told Jason he could not finish in time. "Unless we work around the clock," he said, "and gain more hands." He pointed out that with each accident the crew had shrunk by a few more, almost always men from the mountain: loggers were notoriously superstitious, and once they had got the notion in their heads that the project had a hoodoo on it, only Hercules himself could have brought them back.
"Hoodoo," Jason repeated in disgust.
"Tell you," the builder said, "put it as a question, I'd be disposed to agree with 'em."
Jason said it over. "Who—do?" He saw at once that the builder was right: there had been too many "accidents" in one short span. Someone didn't want the building to be finished on time. Jason thought at once of two likely candidates. The conditions of the act were clear: if the town failed to fulfill its obligations, it forfeited the university.
He looked around for Joshua and found him sitting in the half-bricked arch of the entrance. Joshua was staring into the unfinished interior as if he saw it whole, and full of scholars. Jason came and sat beside him and told him the news. "Want me to break it to the Reverend?" asked Joshua.
Jason had not thought of it before, but his look of relief gave the answer. "You'll make a better job of it," said Jason. "After all, you—" Then he stopped suddenly. His face was full of remorse.
Joshua knew what was on his mind. "You ever want to be a scholar?" he asked.
"But did you?"
"Doubt I could sit still that long," Jason said honestly. There was a silence. For once he was unsure what to say next or whether to say anything at all. Finally he said, as softly as he could, "In all this fuss, I never once thought how you might feel. I ought to have. No excuse." What came next was obviously difficult. "I know how bad you wanted to go away to college. Knew then—you never said, but I knew. Knew how you ached when I had to tell you no. It just wasn't possible. Maybe I shoulda made it possible. I don't know." He was starting to ramble.
In the few seconds he had been speaking, Joshua had experienced a swift recapitulation of all the feelings he had had at the time. But it was over now. "Forget it," he said. "Probably woulda flunked out anyway." He got up and patted his brother on the shoulder. "I'll go see Adams."
The church window glowed in the blue of the evening. Joshua entered quietly. He found a single worshipper kneeling at the altar: the Reverend himself. He was praying aloud. Joshua started to leave, but when he heard the first words he found himself fixed where he stood, and straining to hear more.
"I know I am not a man of strength," Adams was saying, "and You have seen fit to place me among those who are. I know little of the world, and I must work daily with those who have seen much of it. I am blessed with a devout congregation. Although the men from the mountain do not keep the Sabbath as regularly as I could wish"—Joshua smiled to himself—"yet I feel sure that, living and working as they do among Your wonders, they must come to know You in time, after their own fashion. For them, and for myself, I thank You for the great seat of learning"—that's pushing it a bit, Joshua thought—"which we shall soon consecrate in Your name. Since leaving the seminary I have seldom spoken to an educated man—a man who recognizes the names of Herodotus and Aquinas and Milton, who knows why the Battle of Hastings was fought and who painted the Sistine Chapel. I know it is selfish, but I look forward to being again in the company of such men—to hear them talk as I could never do—such wonderful talk! And now You have permitted our children the chance of joining their company. You know I have lived an austere life. I do not presume to challenge or change Your great design. I only ask that, if it accords with Your will, I may live to see our university complete and glorious. I ask for nothing else. Amen."
He made to rise. Joshua quickly left.
"We have to finish," he told Jason when he got back. "The town needs the university—if not now, then some day."
"The Reverend converted you."
Joshua shook his head. "He was busy talking to someone." Jason looked unconvinced. "I'm right, Jason. I am."
Far from disagreeing with him, Jason was thinking that that was no more than he had said himself. But it didn't matter at the moment. All that mattered was that Joshua wanted this, wanted it badly. "I couldn't send you to university," said Jason, "by God I'll bring the university to you! And there's only one way."
"Shut down the mill!" Aaron shouted. Jason had called an emergency meeting of the town council the next morning to propose his scheme.
"And the camp. To finish the job, we'll need the help of every man, woman, and child."
"No, ya don't," said Balter. "My Lorena nearly got kilt up there. You bring in a buncha kids, who knows what might happen?"
"Anything does, I'll hold you personally responsible."
Balter got to his feet. "What's that s'posed to mean?"
"It means we're in this together. Everyone has to do his part—Bolt men, Stempel men, brides, children, old folks, the halt and the lame, come one come all, workin' in shifts twenty-four hours a day. There'll be a multitude at hand no matter what the hour. That should prevent any more 'accidents'."
"That's good," said Balter, with too much heartiness. "That's what we need."
Everyone was assembled at the site: all the groups Jason had named and more. It was rumored that he had summoned up a few spirits from the cemetery to swell the numbers. He began to speak, and although afterward nobody could remember for the life of him what he had said, by the time he was done they were ready to fight Bismarck himself to get that university built. So they commenced work on the twenty-four-hour schedule the builder had deemed imperative, everyone who could push a barrow or carry a pail (and some who could not), and steadily, unstoppably, miraculously—and exhaustingly—the university came into being.
The day before the opening ceremonies, Jason made his one big mistake. It did not affect the condition of the school—other than robbing it of its only teacher—yet he should have known better; both his brothers had warned him. But when the letter came for Mrs. Olaf Gustafson from Mr. Olaf Gustafson, Jason could not help considering it his duty to read it, and when he saw that it was, as he had anticipated, a plea for her to come back (once one had glimpsed the meaning behind the thicket of peculiar spellings and grammatical constructions) he could not help considering it prudent to delay the letter's receipt until the university and its subsidiary school were well under way.
Unfortunately, while it was still in his hand, Miss Essie buttonholed him in the street to discuss the school curriculum. He kept the letter behind his back and shifted it from hand to hand to keep her from seeing it, but in the way such things happen it eventually fell to the ground and she picked it up and saw her name. "What does this mean?" she asked sharply.
"It's a letter—"
"I see what it is," she said. "What I wish to know is why, being addressed to me, it should be in your possession."
Jason made an expansive gesture. "Do the whys and wherefores matter?"
"They do to me," she said soberly. "They matter very much."
"I—didn't think it would help you to see it just now."
"You didn't think! You took it upon yourself to read my personal correspondence, and hide it from me! Are you aware that it is a crime to tamper with the mails? And more," she continued before he could answer, "it is a violation of my privacy, my dignity, and my trust. I have recently terminated a—a personal contract of long standing with a pig-headed male who thought he knew better than I what I ought to do. 'You stay at home, Essie. Do what I tell you, Essie. I don't like you goin' around by yourself where I can't look out for you. Ain't the home I built good enough for you that you got to be goin' out all the time?' She put on a very fair Swedish accent, Jason thought. "Now I find myself dealing with another male who treats my feelings and my wishes as if they were—as if they were—"
"Chaff on the wind," Jason suggested.
For some reason that raised Essie's anger to a new pitch. "Where is my salary?" she demanded. The council had cut back classes to two a week so the children could help with the university, but classes there had been and Essie had taught them.
"We had an agreement," said Jason. "You remember, you agreed to defer your salary until—"
"Precisely," she said, the word cutting like a knife. "I took the job on faith. Faith that there would be a university, faith that my services would be required, faith that I should receive what was due me in good time. Now I see my faith was ill-placed, I must insist on being paid in full immediately."
"You must see I can't do that. All we got's tied up in the building—"
"In that case," she said, straightening, "I have no alternative but to tender my resignation."
"I shall return to Steilacoom by the next available steamer." She strode off, leaving Jason to contemplate his sins.
Before she had reached the rectory, she thought of Walter. She would regret having to leave him, regretted having let her feelings get the better of her, but she couldn't very well change her stand now. And anyway Walter wasn't above imposing his opinion on hers either—although in the weeks they had been keeping company together he had shown a disappointing lack of forthrightness in the one matter where it would have been welcome. Men! she thought.
Adams found her in the middle of such reflections as these, packing her things. "Jason said you're leaving," he said. "Are you, Estelle?"
"Do you not want me to?" she said, not looking at him.
He looked confused. "Is that very practical?"
"I suppose you know better than I as well." These men! "What do you mean, not practical?"
"Only that if you leave, I don't see how it's to be managed. For the life of me I don't."
"The school, you mean?"
"No, not the school." He took her hand gingerly. "I was thinking of a more personal matter."
She looked up at him. "Were you, Harvey?"
He took her other hand too. "Estelle, do you recall the words of Mr. Shakespeare? 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.' Let us two admit no impediments."
They joined lips.
Seattle had wired the Honorables Clipp and Dodge inviting them to the opening ceremonies, but no wire had come in reply up to the day of the event. An hour before the starting time, it arrived. Molly, who had been deputed to stand by the telegraph, ran the paper up the hill to Jason, who quickly read it and then slowly carried it with him to the front steps of the building, from which he addressed the assembly, reluctantly.
"Appears there's been a misunderstanding," he said. "This is from the clerk of the territorial assembly. Says the choice of Seattle for the university was only provisional—"
"What?" Aaron blurted out.
"—and they haven't made their final decision yet. Says the name Seattle wasn't mentioned in the act. That so, Aaron?"
Aaron thought a bit. "It's so. I hadn't seen it before." That meant that the territory could not be counted on to make the repayments of money and land the town had been counting on. In other words, Seattle was broke. "So, technically—" Jason began.
"We done all this for nothin'!" a man shouted. Others loudly voiced agreement.
"But we got a fine new schoolhouse."
"And no teacher!" Word of Essie's quarrel with Jason, although not of subsequent events, had spread to the whole town.
"Not at present, no." The crowd moaned and started to crumble away. "I'm workin' on it." Nobody took any notice. "Trust me!" he said to their backs.
"I trust you, Jason." He turned. The voice was Adams's. He and Essie had reached the top of the rise just in time to meet the rest of the town going the other way. They approached Jason arm in arm. "I've managed to persuade Estelle to stay in spite of you. But then it would hardly be fitting for a married couple to—"
"Last night. The service was performed by a colleague of mine in Snohomish." He smiled at Essie. "Couldn't very well risk her slipping away again."
Jason started to kiss the bride and then hesitated, remembering their previous meeting. Essie stepped up and kissed him instead. He smiled, gratified. "We'll have us a reception—biggest Seattle ever saw. Fireworks, brass band—"
The couple glanced at each other. Even when the chips were down, Jason could not help being Jason. It was necessary to bring him back to reality. "There's a more important matter to discuss," said Essie.
"We know who arranged those 'accidents,'" said Adams.
There was another person in town who was about to make the same discovery. After the disappointment of Jason's news, Matt Balter had come home to lunch in unaccustomed (and, that day, solitary) high spirits. "Guess what?" he said proudly to Lorena. "When school starts up, you'll be goin' 'long with the rest. I spoke to Miss Essie about it today."
Lorena stared at him. He had expected her to show more glee at the prospect. But she was a shy girl. He figured she was too much embarrassed to let him see her feelings. Satisfied with that explanation, he sat down to his meal and began chewing heartily. The girl continued staring at him. "Thought you needed me here," she said. "That's why you took me out of school before—wasn't it?"
"Sure, sure it was," said Balter. "That, and the way they kept raisin' the subscription fee. Main reason I got back on the council to put a stop to it. Not everybody can afford"—he stopped and rephrased it—"cares to spend that kind of money. Don't know yet what the new rate'll be. But whatever it is," he said confidently, "I can pay it. I'm fixed for a good long time." He became aware that she was standing at his side. "What'sa matter? You still wanna go, don'tcha?"
"Where'd you get the money, Pa?"
Balter looked away quickly, and there was an interval before he replied. "Did some work for Stempel last fall. Skinflint was slow in payin' up. But I told him nobody cheats Matt Balter. I told him—"
"Pa? Those two men from Olympia?"
He froze. "What about 'em?"
"You were late gettin' home that night. I went looking for you, saw you talking to 'em. What were you talking about?" Balter was looking down at the table. "Did they pay you to do someth—" Her eyes widened. "They did! You're the one that—oh, Pa!"
Balter turned to her with a pleading look. "Honey, nobody got hurt. You came the closest—'cause you were where you had no business bein'. But that's what they were after—big accidents that would scare folks, make 'em give up on the whole idea. But I couldn't get it outa my head you might go sneakin' up there again, 'spite of what I told you—"
"There y'are—and I couldn't bear to do anything else that might hurt you." He looked morose. "I didn't follow orders so good. They might ask for their money back." He clenched his fist. "But they ain't gettin' it."
Lorena was close to tears. "Why, Pa? Why'd you do it?"
This surprised him. "So's you could go to school like before. That's what you been wantin', ain't it?"
"Not this way." She climbed onto his lap and put her arms around his neck. "Better I don't go at all than for you to do something shameful. Don't you know that?" She tucked her head under his chin, and Balter stroked her hair. If he had not known before, he did now.
Jason and the others had moved their conversation inside the building where it would not be overheard. "We know Mr. Balter was behind it," Essie insisted. She was a little vexed by Jason's seeming obtuseness. His sudden fall from grace, she thought, might account for it.
"But how do you know?" Jason asked. "That's where the skies get cloudy."
"Something Molly told me."
"She was there when the wall fell. She believes Mr. Balter knew it was going to happen. But she didn't like to make an accusation without proof. Now he's come into money, and with no explanation of where he got it."
"He's in cahoots with those two scoundrels from the capital!" Adams declared.
"Maybe, but—" Jason stopped. "I thought you considered them a pair of fine fellows."
"Jason, I may be a fool, but I'm not all kinds of a fool. We needed a university, they were the people who could deliver it." Jason stared at him in astonishment. Dismiss a man out of hand, he was always apt to rear up and surprise you.
"And they will," said Essie, "now that we have something to hold over their greedy little heads." The relish in her tone startled him. "All you have to do is trick Mr. Balter into a confession."
"You won't need any tricks," came Balter's voice. He was standing at the doors with Lorena at his side. He tossed a satchel at Jason's feet. It clanked as it landed. "My thirty pieces of silver," he said.
Jason picked it up. "You hear that?" he asked.
"What?" asked Adams. They listened.
"That ringin'," said Jason. Essie peered up at the ceiling. "Where is it?" he said. "Here? Here?" He held up the money-bag. "No—it's here."
"What is?" Balter asked suspiciously.
Jason jingled the coins. "Your redemption."
Another wire was sent. Three nights later, two men came trudging up the rise to the large building, which stood over the town like a fortress. The two had arrived on the night steamer, which had had only one other passenger, and that one not bound for Seattle, and they kept their eyes open all the way through town and up the hill to make sure they were not seen. They stopped halfway up to catch their breaths.
"I hope this isn't a—" the stouter one began. The other hushed him. He had heard a rustle in the bushes. A fox scurried out and away. He relaxed. "Not far now," he said. They pressed on.
The building, barely lit by the crescent moon, had a mysterious aura, like the temple of some ancient oracle. The men felt a chill that was not in the air. The place seemed full of secrets, and they hated secrets not of their own making. The woods at night gave them the creeps anyhow.
"Hello?" called the smaller one. There was no answer. His eye fell on a bag in the middle of the clearing. Inspecting it, he found it full of coins.
"What's this?" asked his partner.
A short, thick-necked figure stepped out from the shadowed front of the building. "I'm returnin' your money," he said. "Don't seem right to keep it, seein' I didn't accomplish what you asked."
The two looked around. Balter was the only other person in sight. "You would have," said Dodge, "if you'd done as we instructed. Those petty nuisances you engineered wouldn't have discouraged a flea."
"The first one, though," said Clipp, "where the wall came tumbling down—that was something like."
"You ought to have gone on in that way," said Dodge.
"Little girl was nearly hurt." Balter did not mention that she was his own. "Coulda been hurt bad."
"Just what these yokels need, if you ask me. Couple of fractured limbs, perhaps even a small disfigurement or temporary paralysis. That would've put the fear of God into them. Made them think twice about their precious—" He stopped as he became aware of other figures surrounding them in a wide circle. Dodge, who had seen them first, had tried to shush him, but Clipp had heard nothing but his own voice. The figures stepped forward one at a time, beginning with Jason.
"Precious what, were you saying?" he asked.
"Certainly not the university, which both of you are on record as having supported with your votes," said Essie, "if you are, as I assume, members of the territorial assembly." Clipp and Dodge winced at hearing the fact spoken so loudly in the open air.
"As well as your personal assurance," said Adams.
"Which I'm sure you'll honor," said Joshua, "now that it's been brought to your attention."
"Because you'd hate to disappoint a whole town," said Candy.
"Or have the matter brought before the courts," said Aaron.
"Seems to me," said Jason, clutching Dodge by the shoulder and bringing his face close, while Balter did the same to Clipp, "you have no choice but to live up to your promise. Doesn't it seem that way to you, Matthew?"
"Sure does," said Balter. "How 'bout you?" he growled at the helpless Clipp.
"I—er—apprehend no obstacle in the path of that eventuality," Clipp blustered, and then looked uncertainly at Dodge. "Do I?"
"None whatsoever," said the other. Jason and Balter released their holds. "If you have no further business with us—" Jason made a farewell gesture, and they hurriedly took their leave.
"This'll teach us one thing," Dodge muttered as they made their way down the hill. "Never try to humbug a Reverend." At his insistence, they did not seek lodging for the night but spent it out on the mill jetty, huddled against the engine shack. They left by the first steamer in the morning, and Seattle never saw them again.
In due course the opening ceremonies were held a second time, with Aaron presiding. Jason allowed him to cut the ribbon and receive the cheers of the crowd. "Regrettably," said Aaron, "we have no student body yet. But we will offer primary and secondary instruction until our students come of age, at which time we will open admissions to the entire territory." There were more cheers. "Maybe we'll have the other buildings done by then," he added, glancing at Jason. "Now allow me to present the first future graduating class."
Out the arched doorway paraded Miss Essie and all of her students in their Sunday finest. Last of all, holding hands with Molly, was Lorena Balter, her face beaming. The town council had voted unanimously to waive her subscription fee in return for services performed by her father.
"Reckon I got a lot of catchin' up to do," she whispered to Miss Essie.
"We all have," said Essie.
The crowd cheered again and then mingled, ate, drank, and celebrated generally. Jason excused himself from the festivities to take a longer look at the new structure. It was mighty grand for a little country school, but it would make the beginning of a fine university one day.
He found Joshua sitting in one of the classrooms. He started to withdraw, but Joshua saw him and waved him in. "Wonderful, isn't it?" he said.
"But too late for you. That what you're thinking?" Joshua shrugged. "It isn't, you know. We could manage it. There's schools in Portland, San Francisco—"
"Oh..." Joshua smiled. "Reckon I was cut t to be a lumberman, after all."
"One thing don't rule out the other. You could be the first college-educated man in the family. Learn new-fangled ways of doin' things. Outsmart your brothers."
"I do that every day." Joshua grinned slyly at him. Jason tossed a mock-punch. Joshua jumped up, and the two of them sparred for a few seconds till Joshua called a halt.
"Suppose I was to learn too much?" he said. "And decided I want to be a lawyer or a doctor or—Aaron Stempel!" He laughed. "How would you feel about it then?"
"Let no man be a slave to his calling," Jason pronounced grandly.
Joshua thought it over. "Who said that?"
Jason grinned. "I did, just now. Didn't you hear?"
"You know something, brother?" said Joshua. "You're an education in yourself." He clapped Jason on the back, and the two of them headed out into the Seattle sunshine.
5. Fantasie in B
To Jason Bolt, she was always "the Romanian."
Her given name was Roxana Lalescu, and although Romanian by birth, she was in truth as much German, having spent half her life in Hanover. The resulting blend of accents had a piquancy Jason could never put into words, but Candy Pruitt's younger brother did—"like a lemon drop," he said, which Jason thought fit it, and her, perfectly, though it gave no hint of the big heart-shaped face, the black hair curling carelessly around it, or the huge deep-set eyes the color of—well, of mud, moist rich soil shining with the promise of fecundity.
Pretty girl, thought the captain who ferried her across the Sound. He could not say the same for her traveling companion, a small nutlike woman named Mrs. Siska, who gave orders as freely and with as much certainty of being obeyed as though she had owned the boat herself. She had an accent too—Polish, the captain judged.
The third and largest member of the party did not speak. The others called him McDermid. He seemed to be their bodyguard and general factotum. His head was shaven, and his coat sleeves did not quite reach to his wrists. He watched Miss Lalescu intently, and if any member of the crew approached her, he stepped up and motioned them away with a tilt of his head. But then she was precious cargo—a famous pianist, come to perform the inaugural recital in Seattle's brand-new opera house. Her name was blazoned on a banner that hung over the doors and proclaimed the gala event to passers-by. But few of the residents could have needed the reminder; it had been the talk of the town for weeks.
After depositing their bags at Lottie's, the three went direct to the opera house. "You must begin practice at once," Mrs. Siska told her protege. "We have not much time." She was correct: the recital was only five days away. They found the building unlocked, and McDermid held the door open for the others.
Miss Lalescu did not notice. She was looking around at the verdant hills with a rapturous expression, and taking in deep breaths of air which was like spring water. Mrs. Siska called sharply to her. "Sorry!" she said, returning to the moment, and gazed up at the facade of the building, to which she had paid little attention till now. "This house—it is big for such a town, yeah?"
"You would be surprised," said the older woman. "Many of the western towns have great buildings of this type. The country grows."
"Yeah," said the pianist, rather dreamily, "it is big. And the people are so free." She glanced around but found little confirmation in the street: the town had yet to wake up.
"And empty from the top to the toe," Mrs. Siska grunted. "Philistines."
Miss Lalescu smiled. "Surely not all."
"We shall see," said Mrs. Siska. "Come, we begin."
After a last look round, Miss Lalescu submitted to her duty with an appearance of mild regret. While her fingertips introduced themselves to the keys of the opera house piano—which had been donated by one of Seattle's first families—Jason Bolt's fingers were getting themselves wound up in the ends of his string tie. He was trying to make a bow but was fidgeting too much to do it with his usual grace. Finally his brother Joshua, who had been up and dressed for a half hour, took over. "What's your hurry?" he asked.
Jason reminded him whom they were to meet that morning: officers of the French navy, who were coming to follow through on their government's order of two hundred spars for its men-o'-war. The captain would confirm the terms of the agreement and—it was hoped—give authorization to proceed. He would remain for a week, the period agreed upon for the completion of the job, and carry the lumber back with him.
"Don't want to be late for our first meeting," said Jason. "Look rude."
"Jason," said Joshua, evening the bow, "they're Frenchmen. How would they kn—"
"Who's Frenchmen?" asked Jeremy, coming in with an armload of firewood. Joshua told him. "Today?" he asked. Jason had not felt it necessary to include him in the welcoming committee. "Will they be here long?"
"Week," said Joshua. "If the job takes any longer, we rebate a third of the payment."
"Huh! Who made that deal?" Jason paused in buttoning his jacket. Joshua looked down, smiling. Jeremy quickly back-paddled. "I mean, that—that sounds f—f—"
"Sounds a stiff penalty," said Jason, "I know. But Aaron Stempel says there's no cause—"
"Oh, well, if Aaron Stempel says..." Joshua glanced at Jeremy with a grin. Jason scowled.
Jeremy missed it. "Week, huh?" he said. He looked as if he were doing sums in his head.
His brothers looked at each other. "Expect the brides'll be in a state," said Joshua carelessly. "All those Frenchmen..."
"Frenchman's got nothin' on us," said Jeremy.
"Reckon the brides won't agree," said Joshua. "They'll be hangin' around the mill all day, fightin' for attention." Jeremy looked sober. "Yes, sir, nothin' like a Frenchman to set a girl's heart—"
"See you in town," Jeremy said, and left suddenly.
Joshua stared after him. "Isn't Candy kinda partial to Frenchmen?" he asked.
Jason looked reprovingly at him. "You're a wicked boy," he said, "and will pay the price of your transgressions one day. But please—not till the job's done." Joshua laughed as Jason pushed him out the door.
Jeremy was not happy when reached Seattle and found Joshua's prediction already seeing fulfillment. The barque Bravoure was mooring off the mill pier, and a line of brides had gathered at the foot of the pier to watch, among them Candy Pruitt and Biddie Cloom. They had not been the first; Biddie had hoped to be, but Candy had held her back lest they look too eager. But she had not held her back long.
The sailors in their red and white stripes and red pompons looked colorful enough, but it was the officers, in their black tricornes with white cockades, long blue coats with gleaming gold buttons and epaulettes, red waistcoats and trousers, who truly cut a figure. The brides gossiped and giggled and preened.
"Aren't they dashing, though?" said Biddie.
"If you like that type," said Candy offhandedly.
"And I do like that type," said Biddie. "Don't you?"
Candy hesitated and then nodded guiltily, and the two of them giggled.
On deck, two of "that type" were returning the gazes of the wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked maidens on shore and doing some appraising of their own. "We will make a pleasant stay here, non?" said Captain Brunet to his mate, Lieutenant Chauvard. "A woman for each night."
Chauvard had not Brunet's carved nose and chin, and his officer's waistcoat and trousers did not taper so perfectly, but a woman who looked closely at the pair of them would have found his eyes and lips the more agreeable, especially at the corners. "These women are not of that kind," he said. "They have the steel armor to guard their virtue."
"You think so?" said Brunet. "Tell me, then, which is of the strongest steel?"
Chauvard scrutinized them one at a time. "That one," he said finally. The brides, aware that they were being talked about, began to blush and sashay.
Brunet studied his choice for a few seconds. "Eh bien," he said, "I wager you she will surrender to me in a week—une semaine."
"But what will you wager?"
"For une semaine, une semaine—thirty francs."
Jeremy came up to Candy and put his arm around her. He looked where she was looking. "They look pretty funny in those tight britches, don't they?" he said. Candy made a vague noise.
"Ah," said Chauvard, "this woman is taken. We must choose another."
"Him?" Brunet regarded Jeremy with something like a sneer. He was pleased to see that Jeremy was shorter than he was. "This will give it the zest. Oui—I shall enjoy this." His eyes moved to Candy. Jeremy could not tell at that distance what lay in that look, but he was sure it was nothing good.
Aaron was waiting on the pier, where Jeremy joined him. Joshua arrived a moment later, alone. Anticipating Aaron, Jeremy asked where Jason was. "Opera house," said Joshua. "He'll be along in a minute." As they had passed the opera house, a shimmering stream of Mozart had floated out to their ears; Jason would not let Joshua stay and listen, but had stepped in long enough to greet the newcomers.
He found Miss Lalescu on stage, absorbed in her playing; no one else was to be seen. He started to leave and then looked at her again. He saw nothing out of the ordinary except a very pretty girl. But he stayed. When she came to the end of the movement, he stood. She looked out. "Sorry!" she said. "I did not see you."
Jason came down to her. "I'm the one who should apologize," he said, "for the intrusion. I heard the music. Sounded mighty pretty," he quickly added.
Miss Lalescu smiled a little. "Are you sure you would not like this better?" She played the first few measures of "Bonnie Doon".
Jason brightened. "Ah, Burns, now." He stopped, a little bashfully. "S'pose it's not very fancy—"
"It is music," she said, "it is good." The lilt of her voice enchanted him.
"You're Miss Lalescu," he said. "I'm Jason Bolt."
She made a quizzical face. "Bolt? Like—" Making a fist, she imitated a hammer.
"Yes," he said, "like that."
"Bolt. It is a strong name." She made a mock-growl and laughed. He laughed too. "And Jason—I like this name also. He was a voyager, yeah?"
Jason nodded. "He sailed to distant shores to find something he didn't have at home." His eyes stared into hers: two deep brown pools—
"May I help you?" said a woman's voice close at hand.
Jason looked down to see Mrs. Siska. She introduced herself and McDermid, behind her. "A fellow Scot," said Jason, extending his hand. McDermid stared at him impassively.
"He is a deaf mute," said Mrs. Siska.
And a churl, Jason thought. "Then he can't hear—"
"No. Yet I wonder. I see him watch her as she plays—and I wonder." Jason could not help giving him a second look. "You must excuse us," said Mrs. Siska, when he showed no sign of leaving. "Roxana must practice." She guided him up the aisle.
His eyes kept returning to Roxana. "She'll be the first to play here," he said. "It'll make a grand beginning." They were at the lobby doors now. "Got all you need?" he asked. "Lodgings satisfactory?"
"We are of course accustomed to larger rooms. But we make do. It is the musician's life. Now, please—" McDermid was holding the door for him.
"I'll look in later." He was still looking at Roxana.
"I hope," said Roxana.
"Goodbye," he said.
"Goodbye, Mr. Bolt," Mrs. Siska said firmly, and McDermid crowded him out the doors. As he left, he heard Roxana resume her playing. He smiled. She was playing "Bonnie Doon".
The music had changed back to Mozart by the time he reached the street. It got fainter and fainter as he walked briskly to the dock, and finally it faded altogether.
The meeting was underway when he arrived. "High time," said Aaron. He had stammered out a greeting in traveler's French but, never having been much of a traveler, had shortly been obliged to revert to English. He had introduced two of his three colleagues, the Bolt brothers.
"Jeremy," Brunet said, in preference to shaking hands. "But this is surely a name for a boy."
"Yeah? What's yours?" asked Jeremy, unable to think of anything cleverer.
Brunet hesitated. Chauvard answered for him. "Jean-Marie."
Jeremy smiled. "I'll stick with Jeremy."
Aaron reviewed the terms of the agreement, and both sides declared themselves satisfied. That was the point at which Jason appeared. "He's in charge of the lumber camp," Aaron told the Frenchmen. "He'll pick out the trees for you personally."
That assurance, which Jason thought a little fulsome, brought an unexpected response. "But this will not do," said Brunet. "I must inspect them all and choose which I prefer."
"Looks to me like you already did," Jeremy muttered, not thinking of the trees.
"We have hundreds of acres," said Joshua. "Could take weeks."
"I am under strict orders."
"Jean-Marie," said Chauvard, "I know of no—"
"I begin today. Twelve o'clock sharp."
Jason had been silent, keeping his temper. Now he spoke. "That's not the way we do things."
"Then you must change your way," said Brunet.
Aaron stopped Jason from answering. "Won't hurt to extend a little courtesy," he said. "As long as it's understood that if you cause any delay, our deadline will be extended by that much."
"Je suis d'accord," said Brunet. "Now, let us inspect this mill, make sure it is satisfactory."
"Never had any complaints," said Aaron.
"But we are not your ordinary rabble. We are the French navy."
"Ordinary—" Aaron began.
Jason clapped him on the shoulder. "Aaron, now," he said, with considerable satisfaction, "a little courtesy." Aaron shook his arm off and made a grumbling noise as they headed to the mill.
If Jeremy had sensed a threat to Seattle's manhood, it was not long in becoming manifest. Chauvard shortly broke away from the party, leaving his captain to point and poke into every corner of the mill room, and he set out on a walking tour of the waterfront, deliberately passing for review before a dozen pairs of eyes that, every time he met them, were demurely dropped, then raised, and then dropped again.
His attention fell at last on Biddie. She looked around and, seeing that there could be no mistake, tried to set her face in an expression of nonchalance, which came out looking rather pained. As the lieutenant approached, the agony became severe.
"Mademoiselle?" he said, touching his tricorne.
"Yes?" said Biddie, but he could not have heard it.
"Pardon my boldness, but I am a stranger in your country. If you would be disposed to show me the sights, I would be most charmed."
Biddie blushed eight shades of red. "Charmed all to pieces myself, I'm sure." He offered his arm, and she grabbed it. "Let's begin at the horse trough."
As they started off, her name was called, and she turned to see Corky hastening toward them. "Hey Biddie!" he said. "Ya wanna—"
"Excuse me, Mr. Corcoran," she said airily, "you may not have observed that I am in company with a gentleman. Shall we go?" she asked Chauvard. He begged Corky's pardon and submitted to be led off. Corky looked after them for a moment, then threw his hat into the dirt, and stepped on it. Two of his fellow loggers walked up, looking glum, and one of them picked up the hat. They nodded over at the pier, where their girls had paired off with two of Chauvard's men. They were not the only ones.
"Boys," said Corky, "looks like we got trouble."
Jeremy, having foreseen that likelihood, was keeping Brunet in his sights in an effort to prevent it, but luck, or a greater power, was not with him. When Brunet finished his business with Aaron, he headed toward the landing where Candy was waiting. Jeremy and his brothers were kept behind by Aaron, who insisted on going over once more the terms of their joint contract with the French. So Brunet passed out of Jeremy's sight for a short time, which unfortunately was long enough.
"Excusez moi," he said as he approached Candy, "you are the premiere jeune fille—how do I say?—the first of the ladies, non? The leader?" Candy was too modest to answer at once. "Oui," he said, "I see it is so. The others make way for you. Like a queen." Candy started to protest but found the words slow in coming, in fact found thoughts slow in coming. "But I forget," said Brunet, "you do not have queens in your country."
That was just too silly. "You don't have them in yours either," said Candy. "I do know a little history."
Brunet looked melancholy. "Ah, oui, le guillotine. An unfortunate invention. I think we do away with the queens too soon. For some women"—he stared into Candy's eyes with a sincerity that was profoundly false—"were born to be queen." Candy opened her mouth. "But I am too forward," he said.
That was what she had been thinking—one of the things she had been thinking—but for some reason she found herself replying, "Not at all."
"Where may a man find food and drink here?"
"That would be Lottie's. Shall I show you the way?"
"I would be most proud." He offered his arm.
So Jeremy, at last emerging from the mill, saw the two of them strolling away together, as well as other girls similarly partnered. "Don't fret," said Joshua, coming up beside him and clapping him on the back, "those Frenchmen have nothing on us." He walked away laughing. Jeremy's face showed no trace of amusement. Not that he doubted Candy for a minute, he just wasn't sure what to do. That Frenchman had gotten to him.
It was Joshua's turn to be vexed when Jason failed to show up for his appointment with Brunet at noon. The captain was offended, or made out to be. "Can you not show me these woods?" he asked Joshua. "Or are you not a man, that you must ask permission of your brother?"
"'course I can show you," said Joshua hotly. He led Brunet up all the paths within ten miles. He did not trouble to point out that the parts he was showing were but a small fraction of the whole, or that not all the trees there were of the first quality. But Brunet, as it turned out, had a good eye for timber. The stands he picked were invariably the same ones Joshua would have picked himself. He flagged each trunk with a strip of red cloth. But as the afternoon wore on and the sun disappeared early, the way it did in the hills, Brunet became less discriminating. His legs and feet had started to ache. "We do not march so much in the navy as they do in the army," he explained.
Joshua advised bathing them in Epsom salts. "Won't be so sore," he said, and then added to himself, Wish they could do the same for me. Jason, where the blazes are you?
Jason, after the meeting at the mill, had hung around town performing one needless errand after another and thinking frequently of the opera house. When enough time had passed so he could pop in again without its looking too peculiar, he did so, and since Roxana was still practicing took a seat near the back so as not to disturb her, and ended up staying most of the afternoon.
Mrs. Siska was at the front. McDermid, standing at the side, caught her eye and nodded toward Jason. She shook her head. "I do not wish to offend so prominent a citizen of the town," she said, obviously speaking to herself. "Perhaps he will tire of her." But she did not sound hopeful.
Late in the day Roxana came to a stop. Jason took it that she was finished and rose, applauding. "That was grand, just grand," he said. He walked down to them.
Mrs. Siska winced, and Roxana herself frowned. "Not so good, I think." She looked to Mrs. Siska. "Too weak, yeah?"
Mrs. Siska nodded energetically. "It must be definitive—dah-dah-dah-dah—so." She mimed it with her hands, and Roxana followed her example. "That is better," Mrs. Siska affirmed.
"You see?" Roxana said to Jason.
He shrugged. "It all sounds grand to me."
"Grand," she repeated, pointing to the piano, "of course." After a moment he got the joke, and they laughed. She stood and came down from the stage. It was the first time Jason had seen her on her feet; he had not realized how tall she was.
"Gettin' toward evening," he said. "I wonder if I could take you out to supper." Then, a second later, "All of you. Mrs. Siska and—" He looked at McDermid. "Does he eat?" he whispered.
Roxana appeared to consider the matter seriously. "I have seen him eat," she whispered back. "If he sleeps—this I do not know. I think—" She leaned forward and spoke softly into his ear. "I think she rubs the lamp for him." Jason stared blankly. "But maybe you do not have this story."
After a moment he exploded with laughter. "Yes," he said, "we have this story." Roxana smiled. "Does he always travel with you?"
"This one—only from Kansas. But always there is a McDermid." She looked sad for a moment and then turned to Mrs. Siska, who was watching them sternly. "Guess what?" she said. "Herr Bolt asks us to supper. Please, can we go? I have not eaten since morning."
"Go," said Mrs. Siska. "We shall take supper later." Jason started to plead with her, somewhat unconvincingly. "No, no," she said. "Go, talk with her, tell her about the people here—the audience." She seemed almost friendly. But as they left she added to herself, "And may you both hear all there is to hear, and be done with it."
"Your cafe," Roxana asked, on the way to Lottie's, "does it serve gevetch?"
"Gevetch?" He looked blank again. "Maybe," he ventured, but only to be polite.
"Gevetch," said Roxana, as Lottie's man deposited a bowl of steaming chowder before her.
Jason was astonished. "Is it good?" he asked, staring at it doubtfully.
"It is— gevetch." She watched as another steaming bowl was set before Jason. "What is that?"
"May I taste?" He lifted his spoon to her mouth. She blew on it, closed her lips around it and swallowed. "What is in it?"
"Easier to tell you what isn't in it." She laughed. "Lemme try yours."
She fed him a spoonful. "Good, yeah?"
Jason considered. "It is— gevetch." They both laughed.
What all they talked about, Jason could never remember afterwards, but he knew while it was being said that it was not enough, that all she might ever say to him would never be enough. Aaron watched them from the bar for a while and then left, looking somber.
"These women, these brides," Roxana was saying, after Jason had told her the story (his favorite story), "they followed you to this place? Just to see the green trees?"
"That's about the size of it," he admitted.
"The size of the trees?"
"No, no, I mean—yes. Yes, they followed me."
"Like Moses. Through the Red Sea."
"No Red Sea," said Jason, sounding regretful. "Some mudholes."
"I have seen these." She lifted a leg to show the caking on her boot. "But the mud does not part for you. So you are not Moses."
"No," he said, "not Moses. No saint." He stared at her seriously. "But I believe you may be my good angel."
Her face fell. "Ah. It is the music." Jason looked puzzled. "Men hear music and they think of angels. In Germany they see angels everywhere." She took his hand. "Please do not make me your angel. If I am your angel, how shall I laugh?"
Jason laid his other hand over hers. "Any angel of mine will certainly laugh."
Roxana reflected. "I do not laugh with Mrs. Siska. Or my family. Once I laughed with my brother. Then he went to fight in the war." Jason stared to speak. "No. He did not die. But he no longer laughs." She smiled. "I laugh with you, Herr Bolt. So maybe you are my good angel too." She leaned closer to him. Their lips parted.
A shadow fell over them. "See," Roxana whispered, "she sends her genie for me."
"Sit down!" Jason said to McDermid with heartiness. "Have some gevetch."
Roxana could hardly restrain her laughter. "I must go," she said, rising.
Jason rose too. "Shall I see you tomorrow?"
"I think, yes," she said. "Good night." Jason made to follow, but McDermid blocked the way until she was up the stairs and then went up after her.
"Y' know," said Jason, "I could come to hate that fella." But he did not feel hateful. His head felt as light as if he had just drunk a jug of hard cider. His cheeks were sore from grinning. He had only ever met one other woman with whom he'd had such a whale of a good time, and that one had been Lottie. Perhaps he could persuade this one to stay too.
His mind was still on her the next day as Joshua showed him and Jeremy the trees he had marked. "Brunet asked about the south slope, but I steered him away from there. Too much hauling for such a short—" He saw that Jason was laughing to himself, obviously not over the south slope. "Did you hear me?"
Jason turned, startled. "South slope. Sounds fine."
"No," said Joshua.
Jeremy quickly stepped in. "Where'd you want us to start cutting?"
Jason waved vaguely. "Why not right here?" They were near the top of the hill.
Joshua and Jeremy looked at each other. "Uh, Jason," said Jeremy, "we have to clear out the bottom first so these'll have somewhere to fall."
Jason smiled. "So they will."
Joshua had had. "Damn it, brother," he yelled, "get your mind on your work! You're no use to anyone like this."
The men were quiet. Jason turned slowly. He spoke in a low voice, but there was no mistaking the fire in it. "The day I need you to tell me my duties will be the day our bulls start spoutin' Greek. And I'd take orders from them a darn sight sooner'n you. You mind your place, little brother."
Jeremy stepped between them. "Jason, what—what Joshua means—"
"I will," said Joshua, "when I stop having to fill yours."
"Josh," said Jeremy, "what Jason means—"
"Know something?" Jason said. "You're right. No sense my bein' here at all." He walked off. Joshua called after him, but he did not turn back. The men looked at one another.
"Never saw him like this," said Jeremy. "You, yeah." Joshua glared at him. "No offense," he said hastily.
"You're dead right," said Joshua. "This beats the Dutch." He pondered it for a moment. "Come on then," he called to the crew, "let's get started." He turned to Jeremy. "Go after Jason, see if you can fetch him back." Jeremy began to object. "I know, but we have to try. He won't listen to me. And we need him." And not me? Jeremy thought. But he did not press it. He was anxious to go to town anyhow.
On the way to the opera house, Jason met Aaron. He sighed. This was turning into a trying morning. "Going to see that musician again?" Aaron asked.
"That's none of your affair."
"It is if it eats into my pocket," Aaron shot back. Jason bristled. "Come on," Aaron continued, in a friendlier tone, "you're too old to moon about like this. You're acting like one of your brothers."
"My brothers may do as they please," said Jason, "and I do as I please. And I don't trim my beard to suit your fancy, Mr. Stempel. I'd bear that in mind if I was you." He walked on.
"And if I were you," Aaron called after him, "I'd start doin' some hard prayin'. Because if the town can't depend on you to see this job through, Heaven's our only hope." He left, shaking his head. His words had penetrated, but Jason pushed them to the rear of his mind. Time to think about that later. For the present—
For the present, he realized slowly, the doors to the opera house were locked. But they were always kept open. Was something amiss? Listening, he heard Roxana playing inside. That was all right then. They must have been locked by accident. He began looking for a way in. By the time Jeremy showed up, he had found it, and was out of sight. Jeremy had been too preoccupied with his own insecurities to notice what Jason had been up to, and so he had not thought to try the opera house until last. Failing in his search, he went looking for Candy. He had no luck at that either. Usually he could rely on Biddie for information, but she also was out. "With a Frenchman," the bride at the door confirmed, giggling.
That had been the wrong thing to say. "What about Candy?" he said. "Is she out with a Frenchman too?" The hapless girl was at a loss how to answer. "Never mind," said Jeremy, "I already know."
He searched a little longer and finally deposited himself in the shade of the coopersmith's, from which he could watch the dormitory. While waiting, he saw other girls out walking with their blue-coated consorts, and each new sighting raised his displeasure to a higher pitch till when Candy finally ambled into sight, sharing a bag of bon-bons with Brunet (who always kept such things in his sea-chest in case of need), he was ready to burst. And he did.
He stepped into their path, surprising them in a pose which could have been defended as innocent—Brunet was only helping the bonbon into her mouth—but made Candy feel more guilty than she would have liked. "What do you think you're doin'?" Jeremy demanded. "What? Tell me!" She was too flustered to answer. "You're making a spectacle of yourself in front of all our friends, our neighbors—" That was an exaggeration; most of them were at work. "Don't you have any pride?" He regarded her with what looked like disgust but was really injured vanity. "You know how this makes me look?"
"You!" She could only be pushed so far. "It's all about you, isn't it?"
"Monsieur," Brunet said smoothly, "you mistake."
"You have no right to tell me what to do!" said Candy.
"Don't I? Don't we have an understanding?"
"Evidently not," Brunet said into his waistcoat.
"I'll say it once more," said Jeremy, not looking at him, "shut up."
Candy stamped her foot. "How dare you speak to him that way?"
"How dare I?"
Brunet smiled at her. "Do not concern yourself, mon cheri," he said. "It is only the mouse attempting to play the man."
"That's it," said Jeremy, rounding on him.
Corky and his two companions from the day before, who had stolen into town after Jeremy, and for a similar reason, had been watching the exchange and now came to Jeremy's side. "Come on," said Corky, "if there's a fight I want in on it." Seeing them, Brunet's men left their ladies to stand by their captain.
"What's the matter?" Jeremy goaded Brunet. "Women in your country won't have anything to do with you, so you come over here and steal ours?"
"Steal ours!" Corky echoed. Jeremy looked around in surprise. He had not known he had gained a following.
"No one's stealing anyone," said Candy. "Jeremy, look what you're starting!"
She was standing between the lines that were now forming, and Jeremy feared for her safety. "Stay out of the way," he ordered.
"Please," said Brunet, with outstretched hands, "I abhor fighting."
"Yeah," said Jeremy, "that's why you joined the service."
One logger stumbled and fell against one of the sailors, who raised a fist to defend himself and then jumped back skittishly, as the logger did the same. They had nearly rammed into Candy. Jeremy grabbed her at once and shoved her aside. "I warned you!" he said.
Candy, not having seen the threat, misunderstood. "Don't you manhandle me, Jeremy Bolt!" she said, and slapped him. Jeremy was dismayed.
"Ah, but you have the way with women," said Brunet.
Candy stormed off. "Candy!" shouted Jeremy. "Mon cheri!" shouted Brunet.
Jeremy blocked him. "Stay away from her," he said, "you—you snail-eater!"
"Snail-eaters!" the others repeated.
"Whyn't you go back where you came from?" said Corky.
"It will be a pleasure, believe me. I did not know these woods were full of savages."
"Hey, who you callin' a savage?"
"You, you tiny great ape."
Jeremy, always sensitive to remarks about height, was incensed by this and in his rage, as still occasionally happened, reverted to a habit he had long since thrown off. "You c—c—can't—"
"Voici, mes amis!" Brunet cried. "This one has not only the name of a boy, he stammers like a boy." He imitated Jeremy, "C—c—c—," and laughed. "Learn to speak, little one. Then perhaps you will be able to keep your woman."
Robert the Bruce or Wallace would have recruited Jeremy on the spot for the ferocity those taunts aroused in him. That Brunet survived at all was probably due to the speed with which Aaron and Joshua broke up the fray. They had been standing a half block away, Joshua having come to town in pursuit of Jeremy in pursuit of Jason, but having immediately encountered Aaron, who would not let him escape without hearing his complaint. "What does your brother think he's doing?"
"Explain love," said Joshua.
"He's in love with her?"
Joshua had not reflected on it before. "No," he said finally, "I don't think he is. He'd be able to manage that."
"Well, somebody better manage it or we'll lose our shirts. And every other article—"
That was when the fight broke out.
"And if these Frenchmen aren't out of town soon," Aaron concluded, "we won't have a town left!"
Jason was blissfully unaware of the disturbance or of being the object of his brothers' search. In fact, by now he was out of town altogether and back on the mountain. He checked briefly on the progress of the job; it seemed to be going very well without him, or his brothers. He wondered briefly at their absence but did not trouble over it, assuming they were around somewhere. Then he thought of his secret appointment.
Having found the opera house closed, he had made a circuit of it to find an alternate means of entry. This had presented itself in the form of a low roof at the back, from which one could climb onto the main roof and reach a trap door, which was always unlatched (as Candy's brother could have told him, having thoroughly explored the building before it was ever completed). Through it Jason lowered himself onto one of the beams in the fly gallery and slid along it, legs astraddle, to the end, and then swung around to grab the end of one of the battens to which scenic drops were sometimes tied. Clutching the batten, he jumped off the beam and hung in space for a moment, his intention being to jump down from there to the catwalk that ran along the wall. But he failed to notice that the batten was not tied fast, and to his astonishment it went plummeting down toward the stage, taking him with it. By luck, it stopped a few yards short of the floor. The thwack of the ropes caused Roxana to look up. She saw him dangle in the air for a moment and then fall, to land a few feet away from her. "Mein Gott!" she said. Then her alarm gave way to merriment. "Where did you—"
"Up there," said Jason, picking himself up.
She looked aloft, still not understanding. "Then you are an angel."
"The doors were locked," he said apologetically.
"Ah, yes. Mrs. Siska—"
On cue came the strident voice. "How did you get in?" Mrs. Siska demanded. "You must leave at once." She marched to the front, with McDermid behind her. "Those doors were locked on purpose."
"Do you wish her to play badly?" Roxana looked at her hands in her lap. "Do you wish your neighbors to say, tscha, such a poor show, what is the good of an opera house? Of course not. You must leave her to do what she must do. And do not try to see her until her recital is done."
Roxana caught Jason's eye. Without meaning to, he found himself sharing a furtive smile with her. "Of course," he said. But he did not move. McDermid began mounting the steps.
Roxana quickly rose and took Jason's arm. "Thank you," she said, "my good angel." Then she whispered in his ear, "Lovers' Roost at one." That puzzled him at first—he took it for a general declaration of fact, and was thinking They do?—then the true import of the phrase penetrated. He was surprised and pleased. He made no further ado about going, and Roxana sat down again. "You see, I am good," she told Mrs. Siska. "I return to practice. All is well."
"How'd you know about Lovers' Roost?" was his first question when she arrived. The Roost was a natural terrace on a spur of Bridal Veil Mountain, which once no doubt had been as dense with foliage as its surroundings, but which long use had reshaped into something resembling a formal garden, with lawns and winding paths amid the bushes.
"One of your brides," said Roxana, "Miss Biddie, tells me this is where they meet their men in secret." She smiled. "As I do, yeah?"
Jason led her up the path toward the mountainside. "I hope you don't imagine—the brides are very proper girls."
She laughed. "Herr Bolt, in Germany the men and women do exactly the same as you do here. This is not one of your American inventions."
"No, we just think of it that way because we're so good at it."
Roxana considered. "This may be so. But in my homeland maybe we do even better." She looked pertly at him. Jason opened his mouth, but for once the words did not come. She laughed and looked away. Then her smile lessened. "My homeland," she repeated.
"Now, Romania—before, Wallachia. And when I go to study the piano, it is Germany—now, German Empire." The last word was tinged with scorn. "So many changes. Some day, I think, my homeland will change again. The Turk will be—done out?"
She screwed up her face. "This cannot be." They both laughed.
They had left the Roost and were now climbing into the woods. "You went to study," said Jason, "and now you practice. Seems like you're always practicing."
She nodded. "Practice when I sleep." Shutting her eyes, she mimed an arpeggio. "But to cut the trees—you must practice this also, yeah?"
"No, you just pick up an ax and whack away."
She stopped. "Whack. Oust. These words were not in my English studies."
"Nor mine." Jason halted. "Here we are."
Jason indicated. "The tree."
"But they are all trees!" she said, laughing.
"Ah, but this is the tallest of all. Haven't taken a yardstick to it, you understand, but I calculate it stands fifteen, twenty yards above the rest."
Roxana looked up, squinting. "How can you say?"
"Climbed it once," he said casually.
"To the top?"
"You are brave."
"Stubborn. Somebody bet me I couldn't."
"Ah. This is also why you went for the brides, yeah?"
Roxana moved closer to him. "And why you talk to me? Because Mrs. Siska says you must not?"
Jason grinned. "Might be."
"So, if someone tells you you cannot do a thing...This is what a criminal does!"
"Ah," Jason said softly, "but they haven't caught me yet."
Roxana looked past him, and her face sank. "I am afraid they have." Jason turned to see Mrs. Siska and McDermid coming up the path at the foot of the hill. Mrs. Siska shouted for Roxana to come down.
Jason put his hand on the trunk. "This won't change," he said. "It'll still be here when all our tomorrows are yesterdays. When you think of Seattle, think of this tree, and of me."
"I will think of the tree," she said tenderly, "and of you." She stepped up and kissed him on the lips. Mrs. Siska called again, more angrily this time. "My jailer summons me," said Roxana. She climbed down to join Mrs. Siska. Jason tried to follow, but again McDermid blocked the way. His eyes stared coolly into Jason's.
"I'll see you again!" Jason shouted after Roxana.
Mrs. Siska stepped in front of her. "No, Mr. Bolt," she said, "you will not. If you try, it will be the worse for her."
"She's a free woman."
"She is not," Mrs. Siska said gravely, "but this you will not understand." She led Roxana away.
"It was a pleasure!" Jason shouted to her.
Roxana looked back. "For me too. This, not so much a pleasure. But it is—a need." She went on.
Jason nodded sadly. "For me too."
In the tent that night, two of the three Bolts lay awake, and that meant the third did, as well. "Knowin' she's here, but not being able to see her, talk to her—I feel like I'm out on the salt flats in sight of water, but it's got an iron fence round it, so for me it might as well be dust." Jeremy reminded him he wasn't alone. "Difference is," said Jason, "you know she'll be here tomorrow." And the job? Joshua was thinking. What about the job?
It would have made one of the brothers happier to know that Candy did not sleep well either. Her turbulent night left her susceptible to pangs of distress all the following day, and Aaron discovered her behind the livery stable with a moist face and handkerchief. Always embarrassed by such displays, he would have passed on and pretended he had not seen, but she spotted him first. "Anything—er—" he began.
"Jeremy and I aren't speaking."
"Again?" he said, without thinking.
"Yes, again!" she said crossly. "It was just an innocent little walk, and he completely misunderstood. An innocent little walk," she repeated, a shade too emphatically. "Can't a girl take an innocent little walk without—?" She blew her nose. "Well, can't she?"
Aaron looked uncomfortable. "Wouldn't you be better off talking to Jason about this sort of—"
"Who can find him?"
Aaron conceded the point. "This misunderstanding," he said, "it wouldn't have anything to do with that Frenchman?" Candy nodded. "I see." He pondered for a few moments. "You know," he said quietly, "love—although I'm pretty sure Jason would take issue with me on this—love is—well—a business." Candy looked at him sharply. "Never mind the storybook frills," he went on, not noticing her reaction, "at bottom it comes down to a few fundamental questions. Is there any profit in it? Am I getting my fair share? Can I trust my partner? Am I living up to my end of the bargain? And the answers better come back yes—especially the last one. Because you've made a contract—even if was only a look of common understanding. And a contract is a sacred thing. Like it or not, you have a responsibility to hold up your end. Otherwise, the whole fabric of society—"
Candy was not interested in the larger issue, and anyway she didn't see what sewing had to do with it. "You think I'm not doing that?" she demanded, in what Aaron, with more experience, would have recognized as a risky tone.
"I go by what I see," he said, heedless. "And the whole town's seen—"
Candy sprang to her feet. "So you're just like Jeremy—ready to believe the worst! Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Stempel—" She searched for something to tell him. "I—I—I'm not the woman you take me for!" She stamped off. Aaron looked after her dumbly. Maybe I've been too hard on Jason, he thought. These women take a lot out of a man.
Biddie had not seen Corky since the day of the fight, which she had not witnessed but had heard about. After that, Joshua had herded up Corky and the others and driven them back to camp, where he was keeping them under close watch until the job was finished. Remembering her treatment of Corky, Biddie cringed with guilt. She had been a gallivanter, and her mother always said there was nothing worse than a gallivanter; her sister was a gallivanter—and she hated her sister. She would have to confess all to that noble Frenchman.
"Mon-see-yoor Chauvard," she began, "seel-voos-plate—oh, to heck with it." She took a deep breath. "I'm afraid I haven't been entirely frank with you. You see—" She hesitated. He offered a look of sympathy that had fortified and solaced many women. "My heart is already pledged to another," she said sorrowfully, more sorrowfully than he could know. "Well, not pledged exactly," she amended, "but I cannot allow you to live in false hope. We can never be more than good friends. I hope you can forgive me."
Chauvard appeared overcome. "Mon cheri!" he cried, clutching her hand with a fervor that made her jump. "You are that rare creature—an honest woman!" He kissed her hand energetically. "It shall be as you say," he declared with an air of sacrifice, "but know that you have earned my eternal admiration and affection." He kissed her hand again. "Adieu."
Biddie had not expected the conversation to end so soon. "Well, a-dee-oo yourself," she said, took a step, then had second thoughts, and turned back. "A-dee-oo," she said again. She took another step and then turned back again. "A-dee-oo." She hung for a moment between desire and duty. "Oh, a-dee-oo, a-dee-oo, a-dee-oo," she said, "darn it!" Chauvard laughed as she ran off. But her confession had genuinely touched him, and left him feeling a little shame-faced. He determined to have a word with Brunet.
The gallant captain was not hard to find. He had come across Candy on the wharf, staring forlornly out to sea. Jeremy had not been back, Joshua having confined him to camp along with the men, and whereas Jeremy would normally have bucked under such an order, at present he was too despondent to care. "Your young man," Brunet said caringly, "he has abandoned you?"
"No," Candy said firmly. "Not exactly abandoned."
"He must be a very strong character." Candy supposed he was. "That he can bear to leave such a woman for so much as a moment." He reached up and brushed the remnant of a tear from her cheek. "Forgive me for asking at this time, but this piano recital—you will go, non? It will be very splendid."
"I have no one to go with," Candy said miserably.
"Oh, but, mademoiselle," said Brunet with infinite tenderness, "you do." She looked up in grateful surprise. He took her hand. "If you will allow me the very great honor." She nodded, in a daze. "And supper after."
"Then it is agreed. Tres bien. I call for you at seven sharp. Do not be late." He drew closer. "It will be—magnifique."
As he walked away, well pleased with himself, he was met by his lieutenant, who had been listening to the exchange. "I wish to cancel the wager," Chauvard said.
Brunet laughed. "Because you see I shall win."
Chauvard took out his purse and removed three ten-franc notes. "Here," he said, "let us say you have won."
Brunet stopped. "What is this, mon frere?"
Chauvard regarded him severely. "This is not well. You play with this girl. You have no liking for her—non, not even a fancy for the sport of a night. You seek only to prove yourself. I will not be your accomplice."
Brunet stared back coldly. "All is fair in the love and the war—this is the saying, non? Let the wager stand." He walked off. Chauvard looked over at Candy, still standing at water's edge. He wished he could open her eyes.
Brunet made his way up the mountain, purposing to continue—and, he hoped, conclude—his selection of trees for the ships' timbers. By the time he got to the camp, his feet were aching again. Joshua was happy to see that, figuring that it would shorten the task, and so it did. They had just flagged the last tree of what seemed like thousands when Jason appeared, God knew from where. "This is the last one," Joshua announced, "and we're a third done with the—"
"What do you think you're doin'?" Jason growled. He yanked the flag away.
"I'm telling you. The Captain's picked out the trees he wants—"
"Pick again. This one's not for sale." It was Roxana's tree.
"But we've been up to the timber line and back—"
Jason glared at him. "I won't say it twice." He left. Joshua knew there was no arguing with that tone, or that look. He apologized to Brunet.
Surprisingly, the captain smiled. "This is about a woman, I think."
"How do you know?"
Brunet shook his head. "In France we understand such things. He will die before he surrenders this tree." He sighed. "I choose another—tomorrow." Before leaving he reminded Joshua of the deadline, which had been prolonged by only the few hours it had taken to select the first batch of trees, and of the penalty should they fail to meet it.
"They'll be delivered on time," said Joshua. "I guarantee it."
"Can you do so?" Joshua looked uncertain. Brunet shrugged. "Bien, it is no matter to me. But your Monsieur Stempel—I think it is of great matter to him."
Late in the day Joshua paid a visit to Mrs. Siska at the opera house. At first McDermid would not let him in. Then the lady herself appeared and, hearing who he was, showed him into the lobby, the pristine newness of which was made to seem almost ethereal by the notes of a Schubert sonata that drifted out from the auditorium. It might have lightened Mrs. Siska's heart too, for she did not look as forbidding now as when Joshua had glimpsed her in town; otherwise he would never have dared to say what he did to her. "You have to let Miss Lalescu see my brother," he said.
"Have to?" She widened her eyes. "No, young man, I do not have to do anything of the kind."
"It's only for a couple of days. Are you that jealous that you—"
"So, that is what you believe." She smiled to herself. "That I am a wicked woman who hides Roxana away from the young men because I wish to keep her to myself." Joshua saw at once that it could not be so. She studied him. "Forgive me, but I think this is what you have wished yourself, is it not? To keep her from your brother?"
Joshua could not imagine how she had guessed. "I thought I did," he said, "but it's worse now. He thinks of nothing else."
"It is as I feared." Her manner relaxed. "Come, sit." She sat by him. "It is not that I would keep Roxana from falling in love and getting married. One day this will happen. But it must be with the right man."
"As you decide."
She shook her head. "It will be as her lover decides." Then, at Joshua's look of surprise, "Yes, she has a lover." Joshua glanced at McDermid. For the first time Mrs. Siska laughed. "Good heavens, no! Come." She took him to the theatre doors and opened one of them to reveal Roxana at the piano. "That is her lover," she said. "Does she love your brother as much as that?"
"He can make her love him," said Joshua.
"Yes," she said, "I fear he can. That is what I fear most."
"Is he so terrible?"
She stared solemnly at him. "It would be the end of her."
"She wouldn't have to give up her music."
"But she would," Mrs. Siska declared. "Come, I will show you." She led him down to the stage. After giving Roxana permission to leave off, she climbed the steps and sat at the piano herself. She ordered Joshua to sit, and then to move a few rows behind and to the left. She played from the score Roxana had been using. Joshua was unsure what was expected of him. "Very nice," he said when she had finished.
"You think so?" she said. She waved Roxana back. "Play as I just did," she said. Roxana looked puzzled. "I mean, the piece." Roxana did so, and Joshua listened. With the first bars, his face underwent a transformation that his brothers would not have believed, if they could have understood it. "You hear," said Mrs. Siska. "I see you do. Continue!" she ordered Roxana, who had stopped. She motioned to Joshua to join her, and together they walked up the aisle.
"I never imagined—" Joshua began and then stopped.
"Say it!" she said. "It does not offend me. You never imagined there could be such a difference between competence and beauty." They were at the back, out of Roxana's hearing. "Can your brother hear the difference? I do not think he can. To him it might all be a player piano." Joshua smiled, but ruefully, because he knew she was right. "And her gift," Mrs. Siska went on, "her birthright, he would take away from her a little at a time, never knowing. She plays for him—'Very nice,' he says. And next time he says the same, but this time it is not so nice, and next time still less. But always to him it is 'very nice'. And in the end it is gone."
"But surely she can hear for herself?"
"No," said Mrs. Siska. "Or—sometimes. She must have people who can help her to hear. You could perhaps. Your brother..." She shook her head.
"But she makes him happy," Joshua said helplessly. "I never saw him so happy."
"It is so for her also, I think. But it is the happiness of the impossible. In the end it blows away, like smoke. And what is real is lost."
"He won't give her up. Not as long as she's here."
Mrs. Siska nodded. "Then it falls to us to work a cure—unhappy creatures that we are." Joshua felt a weight on his chest. She laid her hand on his arm. "You see now why it is necessary to seem cruel."
Aaron was working late that night when the door opened and Joshua appeared. "It's taken care of," he said hollowly. Before Aaron could ask him any more, he had disappeared again.
The day of the recital, Joshua saw little of Jason, and when he did they barely spoke. Josh and the men were breaking their backs to finish the job; Jason worked sometimes, but never for long, and never with his heart in it. Part of the day he spent in town, where sometimes he would hang around the opera house, hoping for a glimpse, sometimes take a whisky at Lottie's. For most of the afternoon he was out of the sight of men, high up in her tree, musing on her. Although he was not humble, he owned that she was far his superior—knew a power he didn't, and had traveled all over, and was a charmer, to boot—so charming, he decided she must be a sorceress, who had tied up all his joys in a silken pouch of which she alone was mistress and bound them there with a spell and might never set them free again.
Joshua found him at Lottie's that evening. the first time he had seen him since noon. Josh was stopping in for a quick drink on his way to the opera house. Jason was not dressed, and looked to be in no hurry to leave. "Aren't you going?" asked Joshua.
"Truth to tell," said Jason, "I'm not all that partial to piano playin'. Only the player."
For the first time Joshua did not doubt the rightness of what he and Mrs. Siska were doing. He put down his glass and walked out. Jason unfolded the note in his hand and read it for the fiftieth time: "Behind church. Nine o'clock—R."
The recital was as splendid as Brunet had predicted. Those in the crowd who had heard Mozart and Schubert and Liszt before heard them with new ears; some at least of those who had not had their ears opened. Jason waited at the church after it ended and the crowd dispersed. Brunet and Candy, under Jeremy's unhappy watch, repaired to Lottie's for supper. Still Jason waited. Nine o'clock passed, nine-thirty—
"She's not coming," said a voice behind him.
Jason turned. "Not coming? But I have her note."
"She had to leave," said Joshua. "She asked me to tell you. Got a wire from Germany. Her husband's ill—"
"Husband!" Jason was thunderstruck.
"She cut the recital short, left as soon as she could—"
"Maybe I can catch her."
Joshua quickly stopped him. "The boat's left."
Jason seemed unable to make sense of it. "She knew I'd be here. Why didn't she come and say goodbye?"
"There was no time."
"No time? The trip'll take weeks!" He looked almost angry. "Why didn't she come?"
"Jason, she's married."
"Even so, I thought we had—I thought—" His face was not angry now. Joshua could hardly bear to look at it. "She'll be sailing to Olympia then?"
"And taking the first train to San Francisco. From there..."
Jason stood for a few seconds, as though to make sure there was no mistake. Then he spoke quietly, and with the barest hint of feeling. "The other day you took me to task for neglecting my duties. You were right. I took it badly. Hope you'll accept my apology, and my thanks for settin' me straight. That's what family's for." Joshua felt as if his heart were being torn apart. "I'll head up to camp, turn in. Get started first thing in the morning." Joshua had never seen him move so slowly.
Aaron was waiting in front of the church. He had seen Joshua heading there and had guessed what it was about. Jason passed him without seeing him. Aaron found Joshua where Jason had left him. "You did what you had to do," he said. Joshua did not answer.
Jeremy had watched Candy and her escort enter Lottie's, and was leaning against a corner of the building playing mumblety-peg, and brooding. After a particularly successful drop, a hand grabbed up the knife ahead of him. The hand was Chauvard's. He examined the knife admiringly: it was of Indian make, with a carved handle. "Beautiful," he pronounced. "I would have this knife."
Jeremy grabbed it back. "You Frenchmen see something you want, think you can just come along and take it."
"That is Brunet," said the Frenchman, "not Chauvard." Jeremy shrugged. Chauvard waited a moment before continuing. "And if I can persuade your young lady that she is mistaken in him?"
Jeremy stared at him. "Simple as that."
Jeremy shook his head. "You don't know Candy."
"But if I can—will you give me this knife?" His confidence seemed unlimited.
"Do that," said Jeremy, "it's yours."
Inside, Candy was laughing too loudly for a well-brought-up young lady, and Brunet was pouring her another glass. "No more," she protested.
"One more," he urged.
"Well—one." She giggled, and took a big gulp.
"Your cheek," he said, "it is red like the wine" (as indeed it was), "red like the cherry, like the red bird, like the red Indian—"
"They're not really red."
"Non? Then they should be." He lifted his glass. "To you—and to this night. Ah!" he cried, as if wounded.
Candy was alarmed. "What's wrong?"
"My heart breaks to think that I must leave tomorrow."
"Or the day beyond." Or one or two beyond that, he added, to himself only. "Tonight let us leave nothing unsaid, nothing undone—make it a night we shall remember forever." His eyes locked with hers.
"Remember forever," she repeated mistily. Brunet moved in and, before she knew what he was about, planted a kiss on her lips. She pulled back with a gasp.
"Forgive me," he said, "I was too bold."
"No," she murmured, "not bold."
"Then"—he moved in again—"it did please you?"
"Oh, yes!" she said, and then, remembering herself, "I mean—" She tried to focus on the table. "My head is dancing."
Brunet clutched both her hands. "Mine too. Is it not marvelous?" Candy was not sure. "It is said—is it not?—that there is a time to dance." He closed in for another kiss. She held him back, but weakly. He looked sad. "Ah. Then you do not like me."
"No, I do—I—it's just too much for me." She stood uncertainly. "I must get some air."
Brunet stood also, too eagerly. "I shall accompany you."
"No!" Candy said. "You stay there. I'll be right back." She went out.
Jeremy and Chauvard had been holding the door open a crack to listen. Once or twice Jeremy had had to be physically restrained from barging in. As Candy emerged, he ducked around the corner, and Chauvard slipped past her into the saloon. He found Brunet sitting with a smirk on his face. "Qu'est-ce que?" he asked.
"I have come to collect my thirty francs," said Chauvard, moving around to a position opposite the door.
"It is not yet a week," said Brunet, "and the night is not yet over."
"So you still think you will win our wager?"
"Mais oui! I shall have this Candy, and I shall have your thirty francs."
"Admit it, mon capitaine, she will never yield. She is too virtuous."
"This one?" Brunet snorted. "You mistake, mon ami. She is—too easy."
Chauvard looked from him to the figure behind him, who had heard the last half of the conversation, as Chauvard had seen but Brunet had not, until now. If a volcano on the verge of erupting had taken human form, it would have looked remarkably like Candy Pruitt at that instant, and Brunet's well-developed instinct of self-preservation told him so immediately. "Mademoiselle—" he began.
"Easy!" she howled, and Brunet knew he was for it. Chauvard discreetly slipped out the door, which Jeremy held for him. They listened for a moment and smiled in shared satisfaction. Chauvard held out his palm. Jeremy laid the knife in it. He was as happy as a man could be.
If Jason was feeling the opposite, he did not show it. True to his promise, next morning he threw himself into the work with a vengeance, and drove the men to follow his lead. The fallers cut, the buckers sawed, the peelers stripped with a speed they had never thought themselves capable of, and by the end of Jason's first day back the lag was nearly made up for. Joshua was relieved, but he could not say he was happy.
Brunet had not been able, or at any rate had not bothered, to choose a replacement for the tree Jason had denied him; in fact, after that evening at Lottie's, he was not seen much at all. The other pieces were at one stage or another of being made up; only that remained. Jason led his brothers down to Roxana's tree. "This finishes the job," he said. "Let's take 'er!" He personally took up one end of the saw, and Jeremy took the other. He began humming, and then singing. He was doing a lot of that these days. The air he chose was "Bonnie Doon." He could not have known the meaning it held for Jason.
"...How can ye bloom so fresh and fair?" he sang.
"How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I so weary, full o' care?"
Joshua joined in. "Ye'll break my heart, ye warbling bird,
That wantons thro' the flowering thorn.
Ye mind me o' departed joys..."
"...Departed, never to return," Jason finished, in a low voice. He looked wistfully out over the valley for a moment and then turned back to the tree, which was now ready to topple. "Un-der!" he yelled, and they all scrambled out of the way as it crashed to the dirt. Jeremy had seen his look, and the look of Joshua's that had followed. He was sure he ought to feel sorry for both of them, but he did not know why.
"You wanna tell me?" he asked Josh.
"What it is Jason doesn't know."
So Joshua did. And that evening, when Jeremy made up with Candy, he told her. Biddie, for once, was the only one not in on the secret.
After the timber was cut and milled and loaded, the town assembled at the dock to bid au revoir to the Bravoure. Chauvard stepped up to Biddie and bowed. "Mademoiselle," he said, "you are a great lady."
"Yes," she said, "I suppose I am."
The ship embarked amid cheers and waving. "May they have a safe journey," Jason decreed, "and all others on the seas and in our hearts."
"What others?" Biddie asked. Several people in the crowd grew still. "Do we know anybody else that's taking a sea voyage?" she went on. "I'm sure I don't."
"Biddie," said Candy.
"Miss Lalescu, Biddie," said Jason. "By now she'll be on her way back to her husband. And I wish them all luck."
"But she's not married," Biddie said. Jason froze.
"You're mistaken, Biddie," Candy said quickly.
"Oh, no, I'm sure I'm not." Jason looked over at Joshua. His brother's eyes told him the truth at once. "Because she didn't wear any rings, you know," Biddie was saying, "on account of her playing the piano. I asked her where she kept her wedding ring, and she said if she had one she'd wear it around her neck, but fortunately she didn't have to worry about that yet." She looked around. The others were standing silent, and none of them was looking at her. "I'm sure I'm right."
"You are, lady," said Jason. During her speech his eyes had remained fixed on Joshua's, staring deeper and deeper into the abyss of betrayal. Joshua said nothing; there was nothing he could say. If Jason had been a different man, he might have killed him then and there. Instead he turned and headed for the opera house.
Candy started after him. "Best leave him be," said Jeremy. "He'll take the roof off the place."
Candy's jaw tightened. "Oh, no, he won't."
By the time she arrived he had kicked in the doors, hurled chairs at the wall, and was about to tear down one of the velvet curtains. "Jason Bolt," she shouted, "stop this instant!" She looked as angry as he was.
"Get away, Candy," he said.
"You intend to destroy what the town's waited so long for?"
"Better this than a brother." He pulled at the curtain.
"Because of some girl you've barely met?"
"You don't know!" he cried savagely.
She was not to be intimidated. "I know this, Mr. Bolt—when you grieve, you're not grieving for one, you're grieving for all. I know, because it's true for me too. You laid that burden on me when you brought me here, and I swear to my Maker I'm not shouldering it by myself."
She had made him sufficiently curious to have paused in his rampage. "How did I—"
"When you came prancing into my home town with your eyes flashing and your tongue spinning silvery webs to make all those bashful blushing maidens lose their senses and traipse after you halfway around the world. So did I—but not because of you. I did it for them. Who else was going to look after them? You and your brothers? Well, you did, as it turned out, but I didn't know that, did I? So I had to come along to protect their honor, and stand up for them when it became necessary. And once I got here, it wasn't only them, it was—oh—everyone. Their boyfriends, Jeremy, Molly and Christopher—and you. You were my example. You showed me that in a true community—especially one that's still being born—everyone looks out for each other, and some—a few—have to look out for everyone. You put that on me, Mr. Bolt, and it's too late to take it back. The brides depend on me, I depend on you. If you collapse, I collapse—we all collapse." She saw that he was calmer now. "Bear your grief like a man," she enjoined him. "Did you carry on like this when you lost your mother? Your father?"
Jason was stung. "I was younger then."
"What do you mean? That's the only excuse."
He dropped into a chair. "I didn't know," he said, almost inaudibly. "Didn't know past from future—joy from sorrow. Don't you see?" He looked up at her imploringly. "There's so little time, and less and less with each year. So little that truly delights. And to lose what little there is..." She began to understand. She took his hand. "So there's no husband," he said. "No wire. Then why'd she leave?" He had a sudden terrible thought. "Did Joshua force her?"
"Both of them. I see," he said bitterly. "To keep her out of my way." He thought some more. "But she didn't have to cut her tour short."
"She didn't," Candy said. "She went on as planned." She instantly regretted having said it. Jason got up and began pacing. She was afraid he would start breaking things again. "I shouldn't have told you."
"S'pose you'd never seen the sun?" said Jason. "S'pose she only came out, oh, once in a generation? Fella comes along and tells you all about her, tells you be up tomorrow at seven sharp and you'll see her, but only for a few minutes, so mind you're on time. You sleep late, and when you get to the window, there she is, the sun herself, beamin' down on you in all her glory—then all at once she disappears. And you know if you'd only stirred yourself a little sooner you'da seen all there was to see of her, and now you won't have the chance again. Breaks your heart, but you have only yourself to blame." He faced her. "But if you knew someone had stolen those few moments from you—told you no, the sun ain't there, ain't no sense lookin'—could you forgive him? Could you? 'specially if he was your own heart's blood?"
He waved her quiet. He was done with raging now, and his mind had started working. "She still in the territory?"
"Biddie saw the notice in the paper."
"Then I can still see her."
He grabbed her hand. "And you're comin' with me. To tell her I mean no harm."
"You're not being sensible!"
He looked soberly at her. "I have to." She knew he meant it. "You understand? I have to."
Candy had never seen Portland before, but it looked to her a lot like Seattle, only bigger, seamier, and rowdier. It was especially rowdy tonight because the city was celebrating its twentieth anniversary, for which Miss Lalescu had been engaged as part of the entertainment. Where Seattle's waterfront had one saloon, Portland's had a dozen. The largest and most populous—the city's pride—had a bar nearly seven hundred feet long, not to mention its own pipe organ, which was usually played with all stops out. Its bass rumble was the first sound they heard as they rode into town in a hired wagon. Tonight the organ had competition from every side. The grand occasion had filled the street with revellers, and the wagon had to inch its way through them. An occasional bouquet of fireworks sparked across the night sky, but its crackle was drowned out by the din below. More or less melodic accompaniment was provided by a scattering of street musicians, including a bagpiper and a small brass band.
Jason had been here before, but the city had been smaller then, and in any case he had never seen it like this. He stopped one of the celebrants to ask the way to the recital hall and then turned the horse and headed up through the center of town. They would have made faster time by foot, but he did not dare to leave the wagon for fear of its being stolen.
By the time they reached the hall, they found they were too late: the recital had ended. The man closing up told them Miss Lalescu had returned to her hotel, and pointed the way. From the hotel's desk clerk they learned that Mrs. Siska's party had already left for the dock; they were sailing that night on the Pacific Empress. The hotel was located in a quiet section of town, away from the night's revelries, and Jason judged it safe to leave the wagon there. He and Candy raced for the waterfront, raced literally, with Candy coming in second.
Arriving at the foot of the pier, they met the last person Jason wanted to see. McDermid had ended his term with Mrs. Siska and stayed behind. Jason raised his fist. "You're not keepin' me from her this time," he said. McDermid stepped back and pointed to a ship that had just left and was gliding down the Willamette. On the deck stood a figure that by the moonlight, town lights, and the intermittent flare of fireworks Jason recognized as Roxana.
He ran after her along the dock, shouting her name, but his voice, and his form, were lost in the general riot. Candy watched helplessly. He looked around for a more prominent spot. There was a landing ahead with a shack at the end. He ran to it and hoisted himself onto the roof, and called her name again. She gave no sign of hearing. He shouted louder, his voice hoarse. It was of no use. He dropped his head.
McDermid watched keenly for a moment and then turned to the row of saloon fronts that dominated the street. He marched up into the largest and, pushing people aside, made his way to the pipe organ, which was unoccupied while the organist took a break. McDermid sat at it, lifted his hands, and brought them down on the keys. The organist turned. "Hey!" he said, and waved to the bouncer, who was already on his way. He grabbed McDermid by the shoulder. McDermid elbowed him off. He looked up at the organist with the intensity of one who would speak but cannot. The bouncer returned. "Wait," the organist charged. For McDermid had started to play, a string of eleven notes, hard, strident, disconnected, but recognizable. He duplicated the positions of Roxana's hands as he had observed and still remembered them.
"I know that!" said the organist. McDermid looked at him. "You're wanting me to play it? Play it?" he repeated, gesturing. McDermid nodded vigorously. The organist cleared him away.
A second later, the plaintive notes of "Bonnie Doon" rose and swelled and echoed out along the street and down to the quay. A harmonica player on the corner lifted his head. That had always been one of his favorite airs. He began to play along. A fiddler down the block, Scottish-born, was touched to the soul. "'Bonnie Doon'," he murmured; he had not heard it since leaving home. He joined in too. Next an accordionist, then a hurdy-gurdy man, then the piper, last of all the brass band—with a drum—one by one all the musicians within hearing took up the tune, until it filled the sky and floated on the night air out over the river. Perhaps the beauty of the melody drew the players, perhaps a mystical sense of the message it carried.
As Roxana started to go below, the first notes reached her. She stopped to listen, and her heart thrilled. It could not be! She ran to the stern and anxiously searched the dockside. Just then, by some divine grace, a panoply of fireworks lit up the heavens, framing Jason in a shower of red, white, and blue. She saw and cried out and laughed. He saw her, and laughed too. For a moment they felt as if the music were holding them up together outside space and time. She pretended to play the ship's railing like a keyboard. Jason did a waltz step, as if he were holding her in his arms. They applauded each other and laughed again, and both wiped the tears from their eyes.
McDermid stepped up beside Candy. Seeing Roxana's smile, he smiled too. Candy looked at him. She knew he had done this somehow and she moved her lips in a silent thank-you.
Then the song ended and the fireworks faded and the ship sailed too far down river for either of the pair to see or be seen. They kept staring for a while anyway, into the dark which was not dark for them, until at last even that ended and Jason returned to Candy. He shook McDermid's hand and bade him farewell, and McDermid left them. Jason asked if Candy wouldn't mind staying a little longer, and she said she didn't. So they stood at water's edge, Jason staring out at the river, until the night's merrymaking had played itself out and the merrymakers had gone home to bed.
Candy finally spoke. "Sorry we didn't get here in time," she said.
Jason was deep inside himself. "We were here in fine time."
Candy took that as a bitter joke. "There'll be other women," she said. "The town's full of them. And I happen to know—but never mind. You'll find another pair of lips to steal a kiss from."
Jason's eyes looked out over the water as if they could see as far as forever and saw, in all that distance, nothing that would ever again satisfy the longing in them. "Oh, lady," he said, and Candy did not know whether he meant her or the other, "it wasn't the kiss." He smiled at what was already no more than a memory. "It was the laughter."