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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Iron Trail - Chapter 11. The Two Sides Of Eliza Violet Appleton
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The Iron Trail - Chapter 11. The Two Sides Of Eliza Violet Appleton Post by :rvlawrence Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :544

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The Iron Trail - Chapter 11. The Two Sides Of Eliza Violet Appleton


Dan Appleton entered the bungalow one evening, wet and tired from his work, to find Eliza pacing the floor in agitation.

"What's the matter, Sis?" he inquired, with quick concern.

His sister pointed to a copy of The Review which that day's mail had brought.

"Look at that!" she cried. "Read it!"

"Oh! Your story, eh?"

"Read it!"

He read a column, and then glanced up to find her watching him with angry eyes.

"Gee! That's pretty rough on the chief, Kid. I thought you liked him," he said, gravely.

"I do! I do! Don't you understand, dummy? I didn't write that! They've changed my story--distorted it. I'm--FURIOUS!"

Dan whistled softly. "I didn't suppose they'd try anything like that, but--they did a good job while they were at it. Why, you'd think O'Neil was a grafter and the S. R. & N. nothing but a land- grabbing deal."

"How DARED they?" the girl cried. "The actual changes aren't so many--just enough to alter the effect of the story--but that's what makes it so devilish. For instance, I described the obstacles and the handicaps Mr. O'Neil has had to overcome in order to show the magnitude of his enterprise, but Drake has altered it so that the physical conditions here seem to be insuperable and he makes me say that the road is doomed to failure. That's the way he changed it all through."

"It may topple the chief's plans over; they're very insecure. It plays right into the hands of his enemies, too, and of course Gordon's press bureau will make the most of it."

"Heavens! I want sympathy, not abuse!" wailed his sister. "It's all due to the policy of The Review. Drake thinks everybody up here is a thief. I dare say they are, but--How can I face Mr. O'Neil?"

Dan shook the paper in his fist. "Are you going to stand for this?" he demanded.

"Hardly! I cabled the office this morning, and here's Drake's answer." She read:

"'Stuff colorless. Don't allow admiration warp judgment.' Can you beat that?" "He thinks you've surrendered to Murray, like all the others."

"I hate him!" cried Eliza. "I detest him!"

"Who? O'Neil or Drake?"

"Both. Mr. O'Neil for putting me in the position of a traitor, and Drake for presuming to rewrite my stuff. I'm going to resign, and I'm going to leave Omar before Murray O'Neil comes back."

"Don't be a quitter, Sis. If you throw up the job the paper will send somebody who will lie about us to suit the policy of the office. Show 'em where they're wrong; show 'em what this country needs. You have your magazine stories to write."

Eliza shook her head. "Bother the magazines and the whole business! I'm thinking about Mr. O'Neil. I--I could cry. I suppose I'll have to stay and explain to him, but--then I'll go home."

"No! You'll stay right here and go through with this thing. I need you."

"You? What for?"

"You can perform a great and a signal service for your loving brother. He's in terrible trouble!"

"What's wrong, Danny?" Eliza's anger gave instant place to solicitude. "You--you haven't STOLEN anything?"

"Lord, no! What put that into your head?"

"I don't know--except that's the worst thing that could happen to us. I like to start with the worst."

"I can't sulk in the jungle any more. I'm a rotten loser, Sis."

"Oh! You mean--Natalie? You--like her?"

"For a writer you select the most foolish words! Like, love, adore, worship--words are no good, anyway. I'm dippy; I'm out of my head; I've lost my reason. I'm deliriously happy and miserably unhappy. I--"

"That's enough!" the girl exclaimed. "I can imagine the rest."

"It was a fatal mistake for her to come to Omar, and to this very house, of all places, where I could see her every day. I might have recovered from the first jolt if I'd never seen her again, but--" He waved his hands hopelessly. "I'm beginning to hate O'Neil."

"You miserable traitor!" gasped Eliza.

"Yep! That's me! I'm dead to loyalty, lost to the claims of friendship. I've fought myself until I'm black in the face, but-- it's no use. I must have Natalie!"

"She's crazy about O'Neil."

"Seems to be, for a fact, but that doesn't alter my fix. I can't live this way. You must help me or I'll lose my reason."

"Nonsense! You haven't any or you wouldn't talk like this. What can I do?"

"It's simple! Be nice to Murray and--and win him away from her."

Eliza stared at him as though she really believed him daft. Then she said, mockingly:

"Is that all? Just make him love me?"

Dan nodded. "That would be fine, if you could manage it."

"Why--you--you--I--" She gasped uncertainly for terms in which to voice her indignant surprise. "Idiot!" she finally exclaimed.

"Thanks for such glowing praise," Dan said, forlornly. "I feel a lot worse than an idiot. An idiot is not necessarily evil; at heart he may be likable, and pathetic, and merely unfortunate--"

"You simply can't be in earnest!"

"I am, though!" He turned upon her eyes which had grown suddenly old and weary with longing.

"You poor, foolish boy! In the first place, Mr. O'Neil will hate me for this story. In the second place, no man would look at me. I'm ugly--"

"I think you're beautiful."

"With my snub nose, and big mouth, and--"

"You can make him laugh, and when a woman can make a fellow laugh the rest is easy."

"In the third place I'm mannish and--vulgar, and besides--I don't care for him."

"Of course you don't, or I wouldn't ask it. You see, we're taking no risks! You can at least take up his attention and--and when you see him making for Natalie you can put out your foot and trip him up."

"It wouldn't be honorable, Danny."

"Possibly! But that doesn't make any difference with me. You may as well realize that I've got beyond the point where nice considerations of that sort weigh with me. If you'd ever been in love you'd understand that such things don't count at all. It's your chance to save the reason and happiness of an otherwise perfectly good brother."

"There is nothing I wouldn't do for your happiness--nothing. But --Oh, it's preposterous!"

Dan relapsed into gloomy silence, and they had a very uncomfortable meal. Unable to bear his continued lack of spirits, Eliza again referred to the subject, and tried until late in the evening to argue him out of his mood. But the longer they talked the more plainly she saw that his feeling for Natalie was not fanciful, but sincere and deep. She continued to scout his suggestion that she could help him by captivating O'Neil, and stoutly maintained that she had no attraction for men; nevertheless, when she went to her room she examined herself critically in her mirror. This done, she gave herself over to her favorite relaxation.

First she exchanged her walking-skirt, her prim shirtwaist and jacket, for a rose-pink wrapper which she furtively brought out of a closet. It was a very elaborate wrapper, all fluffy lace and ruffles and bows, and it had cost Eliza a sum which she strove desperately to forget. She donned silk stockings and a pair of tiny bedroom slippers; then seating herself once more at her dresser, she let down her hair. She invariably wore it tightly drawn back--so tightly, in fact, that Dan had more than once complained that it pulled her eyebrows out of place. On this occasion, however, she crimped it, she curled it, she brought it forward about her face in soft riotous puffs and strands, patting it into becoming shape with dexterous fingers until it formed a golden frame for her piquant features.

Now this was no unusual performance for her. In the midnight solitude of her chamber she regularly gave rein to the feminine side of her nature. By day she was the severe, matter-of-fact, businesslike Eliza Appleton, deaf to romance, lost to illusion, and unresponsive to masculine attention; but deep in her heart were all the instincts and longings of femininity, and at such times as this they came uppermost. Her bedroom had none of the Puritanical primness which marked her habit of dress; it was in no way suggestive of the masculine character which she so proudly paraded upon the street. On the contrary, it was a bower of daintiness, and was crowded with all the senseless fripperies of a school-girl. Carefully hidden away beneath her starched shirtwaists was much lingerie--bewildering creations to match the pink wrapper--and this she petted and talked to adoringly when no one could hear.

Eliza read much when she was unobserved--romances and improbable tales of fine ladies and gallant squires. There were times, too, when she wrote, chewing her pencil in the perplexities of vividly colored love scenes; but she always destroyed these manuscripts before the curious sun could spy upon her labors. In such ecstatic flights of fancy the beautiful heroine was a languorous brunette with hair of raven hue and soulful eyes in which slumbered the mystery of a tropic night. She had a Grecian nose, moreover, and her name was Violet.

From all this it may be gathered that Eliza Appleton was by no means the extraordinary person she seemed. Beneath her false exterior she was shamelessly normal.

In the days before O'Neil's return she suffered constant misgivings and qualms of conscience, but the sight of her brother reveling, expanding, fairly bursting into bloom beneath the influence of Natalie Gerard led her to think that perhaps she did have a duty to perform. Dan's cause was hers, and while she had only the faintest hope of aiding it, she was ready to battle for his happiness with every weapon at her command. The part she would have to play was not exactly nice, she reflected, but--the ties of sisterhood were strong and she would have made any sacrifice for Dan. She knew that Natalie was fond of him in a casual, friendly way, and although it was evident that the girl accorded him none of that hero-worship with which she favored his chief, Eliza began to think there still might be some hope for him. Since we are all prone to argue our consciences into agreement with our desires, she finally brought herself to the belief that O'Neil was not the man for Natalie. He was too old, too confirmed in his ways, and too self-centered to make a good husband for a girl of her age and disposition. Once her illusions had been rubbed away through daily contact with him, she would undoubtedly awaken to his human faults, and unhappiness would result for both. What Natalie needed for her lasting contentment was a boy her own age whose life would color to match hers. So argued Eliza with that supreme satisfaction which we feel in arranging the affairs of others to suit ourselves.

She was greatly embarrassed, nevertheless, when she next met O'Neil and tried to explain that story in The Review. He listened courteously and smiled his gentle smile.

"My dear," said he, finally, "I knew there had been some mistake, so let's forget that it ever happened. Now tell me about the smallpox epidemic. When I heard what Linn was doing with our men I was badly worried, for I couldn't see how to checkmate him, but it seems you and Doc were equal to the occasion. He cabled me a perfectly proper announcement of Tom's quarantine, and I believed we had been favored by a miracle."

"It wasn't a miracle at all," Eliza said in a matter-of-fact tone; "it was croton oil. Nobody has dared tell him the truth. He still believes he could smell the tuberoses."

O'Neil seemed to derive great amusement from her account of what followed. He had already heard Dr. Gray's version of the affair, but Eliza had a refreshing way of saying things.

"I brought you a little present," he said when she had finished.

She took the package he handed her, exclaiming with a slight flush of embarrassment, "A s'prise! Nobody but Dan ever gave me a present." Then her eyes darkened with suspicion. "Did you bring me this because of what I did?"

"Now don't be silly! I knew nothing about your part in the comedy until Doc told me. You are a most difficult person."

Slowly she unwrapped the parcel, and then with a gasp lifted a splendidly embroidered kimono from its box.

"Oh-h!" Her eyes were round and astonished. "Oh-h! It's for ME!"

It was a regal garment of heavy silk, superbly ornamented with golden dragons, each so cunningly worked that it seemed upon the point of taking wing. "Why, their eyes glitter! And--they'd breathe fire if I jabbed them. Oh-h!" She stared at the gift in helpless amazement. "Is it mine, HONESTLY?"

He nodded. "Won't you put it on?"

"Over these things? Never!" Again Miss Appleton blushed, for she recalled that she had prepared for his coming with extraordinary care. Her boots were even stouter than usual, her skirt more plain, her waist more stiff, and her hair more tightly smoothed back. "It would take a fluffy person to wear this. I'll always keep it, of course, and--I'll worship it, but I'm not designed for pretty clothes. I'll let Natalie wear--"

"Natalie has one of her own, done in butterflies, and I brought one to her mother also."

"And you bought this for me after you had seen that fiendish story over my signature?"

"Certainly!" He quickly forestalled her attempted thanks by changing the subject. "Now then, Dan tells me you are anxious to begin your magazine-work, so I'm going to arrange for you to see the glaciers and the coal-fields. It will be a hard trip, for the track isn't through yet, but--"

"Oh, I'll take care of myself; I won't get in anybody's way," she said, eagerly.

"I intend to see that you don't, by going with you; so make your preparations and we'll leave as soon as I can get away."

When he had gone the girl said, aloud:

"Eliza Violet, this is your chance. It's underhanded and mean, but--you're a mean person, and the finger of Providence is directing you." She snatched up the silken kimono and ran into her room, locking the door behind her. Hurriedly she put it on, then posed before the mirror. Next down came her hair amid a shower of pins. She arranged it loosely about her face, and, ripping an artificial flower from her "party" hat, placed it over her ear, then swayed grandly to and fro while the golden dragons writhed and curved as if in joyous admiration. A dozen times she slipped out of the garment and, gathering it to her face, kissed it; a dozen times she donned it, strutting about her little room like a peacock. Her tip-tilted nose was red and her eyes were wet when at last she laid it out upon her bed and knelt with her cheek against it.

"Gee! If only I were pretty!" she sighed, "I almost believe he-- likes me."

Tom Slater laboriously propelled himself up the hill to the bungalow that evening, and seated himself on the topmost step near where Eliza was rocking. She had come to occupy a considerable place in his thoughts of late, for she was quite beyond his understanding. She affected him as a mental gad-fly, stinging his mind into an activity quite unusual. At times he considered her a nice girl, though undoubtedly insane; then there were other moments when she excited his deepest animosity. Again, on rare occasions she completely upset all his preconceived notions by being so friendly and so sympathetic that she made him homesick for his own daughter. In his idle hours, therefore he spent much time at the Appleton cottage.

"Where have you been lately, Uncle Tom?" she began.

Slater winced at the appellation, but ignored it.

"I've been out on the delta hustling supplies ahead. Heard the news?"


"Curtis Gordon has bought the McDermott outfit in Kyak."

"That tells me nothing. Who is McDermott?"

"He's a shoe-stringer. He had a wildcat plan to build a railroad from Kyak to the coal-fields, but he never got farther than a row of alder stakes and a book of press clippings."

"Does that mean that Gordon abandons his Hope route?"

"Yep! He's swung in behind us and the Heidlemanns. Now it's a three-sided race, with us in the lead. Mellen just brought in the news half an hour ago; he was on his way down from the glaciers when he ran into a field party of Gordon's surveyors. Looks like trouble ahead if they try to crowd through the canon alongside of us."

"He must believe Kyak Bay will make a safe harbor."

"Don't say it! If he's right, we're fried to a nice brown finish on both sides and it's time to take us off the stove. I'm praying for a storm."

"'The prayers of the wicked are an abomination unto the Lord,'" quoted Eliza.

"Sure! But I keep right on praying just the same. It's a habit now. The news has set the chief to jumping sideways."

"Which, translated, I suppose means that he is disturbed."

"Or words to that effect! Too bad they changed that newspaper story of yours."


"It put a crimp in him."

"How--do you mean?"

"He had some California capitalists tuned up to put in three million dollars, but when they read that our plan was impracticable their fountain-pens refused to work."

"Oh!" Eliza gasped, faintly.

Slater regarded her curiously, then shook his head. "Funny how a kid like you can scare a bunch of hard-headed bankers, ain't it?" he said. "Doc Gray explained that it wasn't your fault, but--it doesn't take much racket to frighten the big fish."

"What will Mr. O'Neil do?"

"Oh, he'll fight it out, I s'pose. The first thing is to block Gordon. Say, I brought you a present."

"This is my lucky day," smiled Eliza as Tom fumbled in his pocket. "I'm sure I shall love it."

"It ain't much, but it was the best in the crate and I shined it up on my towel." Mr. Slater handed Eliza a fine red apple of prodigious size, at sight of which the girl turned pale.

"I--don't like apples," she cried, faintly.

"Never mind; they're good for your complexion."

"I'd die before I'd eat one."

"Then I'll eat it for you; my complexion ain't what it was before I had the smallpox." When he had carried out this intention and subjected his teeth to a process of vacuum-cleaning, he asked: "Say, what happened to your friend who chewed gum?"

"Well, he was hardly a friend," Miss Appleton said, "If he had been a real friend he would have listened to my warning."

"Gum never hurt anybody," Slater averred, argumentatively.

"Not ordinary gum. But you see, he chewed nothing except wintergreen--"

"That's what I chew."

Eliza's tone was one of shocked amazement. "Not REALLY? Oh, well, some people would thrive on it, I dare say, but he had indigestion."

"Me too! That's why I chew it."

The girl eyed him during an uncomfortable pause. Finally she inquired:

"Do you ever feel a queer, gnawing feeling, like hunger, if you go without your breakfast?"

"Unh-hunh! Don't you?"

"I wouldn't alarm you for the world, Uncle Tom--"

"I ain't your uncle!"

"You might chew the stuff for years and not feel any bad effects, but if you wake up some morning feeling tired and listless--"

"I've done that, too." Slater's gloomy eyes were fixed upon her with a look of vague apprehension. "Is it a symptom?"

"Certainly! Pepsin-poisoning, it's called. This fellow I told you about was a charming man, and since we had all tried so hard to save him, we felt terribly at the end."

"Then he died?"

"Um-m! Yes and no. Remind me to tell you the story sometime--Here comes Dan, in a great hurry."

Young Appleton came panting up the hill.

"Good-by, Sis," he said. "I'm off for the front in ten minutes."

"Anybody hurt?" Slater asked quickly.

"Not yet, but somebody's liable to be. Gordon is trying to steal the canon, and Murray has ordered me out with a car of dynamite to hold it."

"Dynamite! Why, Dan!" his sister exclaimed in consternation.

"We have poling-boats at the lower crossing and we'll be at the canon in two days. I'm going to load the hillside with shots, and if they try to come through I'll set 'em off. They'll never dare tackle it." Dan's eyes were dancing; his face was alive with excitement.

"But suppose they should?" Eliza insisted, quietly.

"Then send Doc Gray with some stretchers. I owe one to Gordon, and this is my chance." Drawing her aside, he said in an undertone. "You've got to hold my ground with Natalie while I'm gone. Don't let her see too much of Murray."

"I'll do the best I can," she answered him, "but if he seems to be in earnest I'll renig, no matter what happens to you, Danny."

He kissed her affectionately and fled.

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