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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lookout Man - Chapter 24. Trouble Finds The Gold That Was In Them
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The Lookout Man - Chapter 24. Trouble Finds The Gold That Was In Them Post by :jellon Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :1837

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The Lookout Man - Chapter 24. Trouble Finds The Gold That Was In Them


After that nothing seemed to matter. The days slipped by and Mrs. Singleton Corey cared so little that she did not count them or call them by name. She would sit by the one window that faced the Basin and watch the trail beaten in the deep snow by the passing of many feet, and brood over the days when she might have won Jack and by the very closeness of their love have saved him from this. Had she done her part, Jack would not have lied to her about that trip to Venice; he would not have dreamed of such a thing. It hurt terribly to think how close she had been to happiness with Jack and how unthinkingly she had let it slip from her while she centered her interest upon other things that held no comfort for her now--now when all she asked of life was to give her back her son alive.

Men came and went, and answered the heartbreaking question in her big brown eyes with cheerful words that did not, somehow, cheer. The storm was over, they told her, and now they would have a better chance. She mustn't think of what Murphy said--Murphy was an old fool. She mustn't give up. And even while they talked she knew by their eyes that they had given up long ago, and only kept up the pretense of hopeful searching for her sake.

Because the partition was only one thickness of boards she heard them commenting one night on the grim fact that no smoke had been seen at Taylor Rock, though many eyes had watched anxiously for the sign. She listened, and she knew that they were going to give up--knew that they should have given up long ago but for her. With no fire in the cave none could live for long in this weather, she heard them muttering. The cave was drifted full of snow, in the opinion of those who had the most experience with mountain snows. The lost couple might be in the cave, but they were not alive. One man said that they were probably under some fallen tree--and they were many--or buried deep in a gulch somewhere. Certainly after ten days neither Jack nor Marion nor Mike could by any possibility be alive in the hills.

Kate was asleep and did not hear. The professor was out there with the others--probably they thought that Mrs. Singleton Corey was asleep also, for it was growing late. Her chapped knuckles pressed against her trembling lips, she listened awhile, until she could bear no more. How kind they were--these men of Quincy! How they had struggled to keep alive her courage! She got up, opened the door very quietly, and went out into the strong, bluish haze of tobacco smoke that enveloped the men huddled there around the kitchen stove for a last pipe before they turned in. She stood within the door, like "madam president" risen to address the meeting. Like "madam president" she waited for their full attention before she spoke.

"I wish to thank you gentlemen for the heroic efforts you have put forth during the past week," she said, and her low-pitched voice had the full resonance that was one of her charms as a leader among women. "It would be impossible for me to express my grateful appreciation--" She stopped, pressed her lips together for a minute, and when she felt sure of her composure she made a fresh start. "I cannot speak of the risks you have taken in these forests, but I--I appreciate your bravery. I know that you have been in danger from falling trees, nearly every day that you spent searching for--those who are lost. I have learned from your conversations among yourselves how useless you consider the search. I--I am forced to agree with you. Miss Humphrey and Professor Harrison have long ago given up all hope--they say that--that no one could possibly be alive.... I--I know that a mother can be terribly selfish when her son...." Hard as she fought for steadiness, she could not speak of it. She stood with the back of one hand pressed hard against her shaking lips, swallowing the sobs that threatened to balk her determination to speak a little of the humble gratitude that filled her. The men looked down in embarrassed silence, and in a minute she went on.

"Gentlemen, I know that you have gone on searching because you felt that I wanted you to do it, and you were too kind-hearted to tell me the truth. So I beg of you now to go back to your families. I--I must not let my trouble keep you away from them any longer. I--I--have given up."

Some one drew a long breath, audible in that room, where tragedy held them in silence. It was as though those two lost ones lay stark and cold in their midst; as though this woman was looking down upon her son. But when the silence had tightened their nerves, she spoke again with the quiet of utter hopelessness.

"I must ask you to help me get down the mountain somehow. If the railroad is in operation I shall return home. I wish to say that while I shall carry with me the bitterest sorrow of my life, I shall carry also a deep sense of the goodness and the bravery--"

Proud, yes. But proud as she was she could not go on. She turned abruptly and went back into the room where Kate slept heavily. A little later the sound of stifled sobbing, infinitely sad, went out to the men who sat with cooling pipes in their palms, constrained to silence still by the infinite sadness of motherhood bereaved.

"Tomorrow morning we better start in clearing the road," one muttered at last. "Somebody can ride down and have a team come up after her."

"It's no use to hunt any longer," another observed uneasily. "The snow would cover up--"

"Sh-sh-sh!" warned the professor, and nodded his head toward the room door.

In her own home, that had been closed for months, Mrs. Singleton Corey folded her black veil up over the crown of her black hat and picked up the telephone. Her white hair was brushed up from her forehead in a smooth, cloudy fashion that had in it no more than a hint of marcelle waving. Her face was almost as white as her hair, and her eyes were black-shadowed and sunken. She sat down wearily upon the chair beside the telephone stand, waited dull-eyed for Central to answer, and then called up her doctor. Her voice was calm--too calm. It was absolutely colorless.

Her doctor, on the other hand, became agitated to the point of stuttering when he realized who was speaking to him. His disjointed questions grated on Mrs. Singleton Corey, who was surfeited with emotion and who craved nothing so much as absolute peace.

"Yes, certainly I am back," she drawled with a shade of impatience. "Just now--from the depot.... No, I am feeling very well--No, I have not read the papers, and I do not intend to.... Really, doctor, I can see no necessity of your coming out here. I am perfectly all right, I assure you. I shall call up the maids and let them know that I am home, but first I have called you, just to ease your mind--providing, of course, that you have one. You seem to have lost it quite suddenly...."

She listened, and caught her breath. Her lips whitened, and her nostrils flared suddenly with what may have been anger. "No, doctor ... I did not--find--Jack." She forced herself to say it. He would have to know, she reflected.

She was about to add something that would make her statement sound less bald, but the doctor had hung up, muttering something she did not catch. She waited, holding the receiver to her ear until Central, in that supercilious voice we all dislike so much, asked crisply, "Are you waiting?" Then Mrs. Singleton Corey also hung up her receiver and sat there idly gazing at her folded hands.

"I must have a manicure at once," she said to herself irrelevantly, though the heart of her was yearning toward Jack's room upstairs. She wanted to go up and lie down on Jack's bed; and put her head on Jack's pillow. It seemed to her that it would bring her a little closer to Jack. And then she had a swift vision of Taylor Rock, where Jack was said to have his cave. She closed her eyes and shuddered. She could not get close to Jack--she had never been close to him, since he passed babyhood. Perhaps.... The girl, Marion--had Jack loved her? She was grown used to the jealousy that filled her when she thought of Marion. She forced herself now to think pityingly of the girl, dead up there in that awful snow.

She went upstairs, forgetting to telephone to the maids as she had intended. She moved slowly, apathetically, pausing long before the closed door of Jack's room. She would not go in, after all. Why dig deeper into the grief that must be mastered somehow, if she would go on living? She remembered the maids, and when she had put on one of her soft, silk house gowns that she used to like so well, she went slowly down the stairs, forgetting that she had a telephone in her room, her mind swinging automatically to the one in the hall that she had used as she came in. She had just reached it when the doctor came hurrying up the steps and pressed the bell button. She saw him dimly through the curtained glass of the door, and frowned while she let him in. And then--

She knew that the doctor was propelled violently to one side by some one coming behind him, and she knew that she was dreaming the rest of it. The feel of Jack's arm around her shoulders, and Jack's warm, young lips on her cheeks and her lips and her eyelids, and the sound of Jack's voice calling her endearing pet names that she had never heard him speak while she was awake and he was with her--It was a delicious dream, and Mrs. Singleton Corey smiled tremulously while the dream lasted.

"Gee, I'd like to give you a _real old bear-hug, but I've got a bum wing and I can't. Gee, we musta passed each other on the road somewhere, because I was streaking it down here to see you--gee, but you look good to me!--and you were streaking it up there to see me--" The adorable young voice hesitated and deepened to a yearning half-whisper. "Did you go away up there just because you--_wanted to see me? Did you do that, mother? Honest?"

Mrs. Singleton Corey snapped into wakefulness, but she still leaned heavily within her curve of Jack's good arm. Her eyes--brown, and very much like Jack's--stared up with a shining, wonderful gladness into his face. But she was Mrs. Singleton Corey, and she would not act the sentimental fool if she could help it!

"Yes, I--thought I should have to dig you out of a snowdrift, you--young--scamp!"

"She'd a done it, believe _me_! Only I wasn't in any snowdrift, so she couldn't--God love her!" He was half crying all the while and trying to hide it; and half laughing, too, and altogether engrossed in the joy of being able to hold his own mother like that, just as he had hungered to do up there on the mountain.

It was the doctor who saw that emotion had reached the outer edge of safety for Mrs. Singleton Corey. Over her head he scowled and made warning signs to Jack, who gave her a last exuberant squeeze and let the doctor lead her to a chair.

"I've got a wife out in the taxi, mother," he announced next. "She wouldn't come in--she's afraid you won't like her. But you will, won't you? Can't I tell her--"

"Bring her right in here to me, Jack," said Mrs. Singleton Corey, gasping a bit, but fighting still for composure to face this miracle of a pitying God.

Bit by bit the miracle resolved itself into a series of events which, though surprising enough, could not by any stretch of the credulity be called supernatural.

Mrs. Singleton Corey learned that, with a bullet lodged somewhere in the upper, northwest corner of Jack's person, he had nevertheless managed to struggle down through the storm to Marston, with Marion helping him along and doing wonders to keep his nerve up. They had taken the train without showing themselves at the depot, which was perfectly easy, Jack informed her, but cold as the dickens.

She managed to grasp the fact that Jack and Marion had been married in Sacramento, immediately after Jack had his shoulder dressed, and that they had come straight on to Los Angeles, meaning to find her first and face the music afterwards. She was made to understand how terribly in earnest Jack had been, in going straight to the chief of police and letting the district attorney know who he was, and then telling the truth about the whole thing in court. She could not quite see how that had settled the matter, until Jack explained that Fred Humphrey was a good scout, if ever there was one. He had testified for the State, but for all that he had told it so that Jack's story got over big with the jury and the judge and the whole cheese.

Fred Humphrey had remembered what Jack had shouted at the boys when they fired. "--And mother, that was the luckiest call-down I ever handed the bunch. It proved, don't you see, that the hold-up was just a josh that turned out wrong. And it proved the boys weren't planning to shoot--oh, it just showed the whole thing up in a different light, you know, so a blind man had to see it. So they let me go--"

"If you could have seen him, you wouldn't have wondered, Mrs. Corey!" Marion had been dumb for an hour, but she could not resist painting Jack into the scene with the warm hues of romance. "He went there when he ought to have gone to the hospital. Why, he had the highest fever!--and he was so thin and hollow-eyed he just looked simply pathetic! Why, they wouldn't have been human if they had sent him to jail! And he told the whole thing, and how it just started in fooling; and why, it was the grandest, noblest thing a boy could do, when the others had been mean enough to lay all the blame on Jack. And he had his shoulder all bandaged and his arm in a sling, and he looked so--so brave, Mrs. Corey, that--"

Mrs. Singleton Corey reached out and patted Marion on the hand, and smiled strangely. "Yes, my dear--I understand. But I think you might call me mother."

If it cost her something to say that, she was amply repaid. Marion gave her one grateful look and fled, fearing that tears would be misunderstood. And Jack made no move to follow her, but stayed and gathered his mother again into a one-armed imitation of a real bear-hug. I think Jack wiped the last jealous thought out of Mrs. Singleton Corey's mind when he did that. So they clung to each other like lovers, and Jack patted her white cloud of hair that he had never made bold to touch since he was a baby.

"My own boy--that I lost from the cradle, and did not know--" She reached up and drew her fingers caressingly down his weathered cheek, that was losing some of its hardness in the softer air of the South. "Jack, your poor old mother has been cheating herself all these years. Cheating you too, dear--"

"Not much! Your cub of a son has been cheating himself and you. But you watch him make it up. And--mother, don't you think maybe all this trouble has been kind of a good thing after all? I mean--if it's brought the real stuff out to the surface of me, you know--"'

"I know. The gold in us all is too often hidden away under so much worthless--"

"Why, forev--" In the doorway Marion checked herself abruptly, because she had resolved to purify her vocabulary of slang and all frivolous expressions. Her eyelids were pink, her lips were moist and tremulous, her face was all aglow. "I--may I please--mother--"

Mrs. Singleton Corey did not loosen her hold of Jack, but she held out her free hand with a beckoning gesture. "Come. I'm going to be a foolishly fond old lady, I know. But I want to hold both my children close, and see if I can realize the miracle."

"Mother!" Jack murmured, as though the word held a wonderful, new meaning. "Our own, for-keeps mother!"

B. M. Bower's Book: Lookout Man

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