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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Yukon Trail - Chapter 7. Wally Gets Orders
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The Yukon Trail - Chapter 7. Wally Gets Orders Post by :REMbraNT Category :Long Stories Author :William Macleod Raine Date :May 2012 Read :3724

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The Yukon Trail - Chapter 7. Wally Gets Orders

CHAPTER VII. WALLY GETS ORDERS

Macdonald, from his desk, looked up at the man in the doorway. Selfridge had come in jauntily, a cigar in his mouth, but at sight of the grim face of his chief the grin fled.

"Come in and shut the door," ordered the Scotchman. "I sent for you to congratulate you, Wally. You did fine work outside. You told me, didn't you, that it was all settled at last--that our claims are clear-listed for patent?"

The tubby little man felt the edge of irony in the quiet voice. "Sure. That's what Winton told me," he assented nervously.

"Then you'll be interested to know that a special field agent of the Land Department sat opposite me last night and without batting an eye came across with the glad news that he was here to investigate our claims."

Selfridge bounced up like a rubber ball from the chair into which he had just settled. "What!"

"Pleasant surprise, isn't it? I've been wondering what you were doing outside. Of course I know you had to take in the shows and cabarets of New York. But couldn't you edge in an hour or two once a week to attend to business?"

Wally's collar began to choke him. The cool, hard words of the big Scotchman pelted like hail.

"Must be a bluff, Mac. The muckrake magazines have raised such a row about the Guttenchild crowd putting over a big steal on the public that the party leaders are scared stiff. I couldn't pick up a newspaper anywhere without seeing your name in the headlines. It was fierce." Selfridge had found his glib tongue and was off.

"I understand that, Wally. What I don't get is how you came to let them slip this over on you without even a guess that it was going to happen."

That phase of the subject Selfridge did not want to discuss.

"Bet you a hat I've guessed it right--just a grand-stand play of the Administration to fool the dear people. This fellow has got his orders to give us a clean bill of health. Sure. That must be it. I suppose it's this man Elliot that came up on the boat with us."

"Yes."

"Well, that's easy. If he hasn't been seen we can see him."

Macdonald looked his man Friday over with a scarcely veiled contempt. "You have a beautiful, childlike faith in every man's dishonesty, Wally. Did it ever occur to you that some people are straight--that they won't sell out?"

"All he gets is a beggarly two thousand or so a year. We can fix him all right."

"You've about as much vision as a breed trader. Unless I miss my guess Elliot isn't that kind. He'll go through to a finish. What I'd like to know is how his mind works. If he sees straight we're all right, but if he is a narrow conservation fanatic he might go ahead and queer the whole game."

"You wouldn't stand for that." The quick glance of Selfridge asked a question.

The lips of the Scotchman were like steel traps and his eyes points of steel. "We'll cross that bridge if we come to it. Our first move is to try to win him to see this thing our way. I'll have a casual talk with him before he leaves for Kamatlah and feel him out."

"What's he doing here at all? If he's investigating the Kamatlah claims, why does he go hundreds of miles out of his way to come in to Kusiak?" asked Selfridge.

Macdonald smiled sardonically. "He's doing this job right. Elliot as good as told me that he's on the job to look up my record thoroughly. So he comes to Kusiak first. In a few days he'll leave for Kamatlah. That's where you come in, Wally."

"How do you mean?"

"You're going to start for Kamatlah to-morrow. You'll arrange the stage before he gets there--see all the men and the foremen. Line them up so they'll come through with the proper talk. If you have any doubts about whether you can trust some one, don't take any chances. Fire him out of the camp. Offer Elliot the company hospitality. Load him down with favors. Take him everywhere. Show him everything. But don't let him get any proofs that the claims are being worked under the same management."

"But he'll suspect it."

"You can't help his suspicions. Don't let him get proof. Cover all the tracks that show company control."

"I can fix that," he said. "But what about Holt? The old man won't do a thing but tell all he knows, and a lot more that he suspects. You know how bitter he is--and crazy. He ought to be locked away with the flitter-mice."

"You mustn't let Elliot meet Holt."

"How the deuce can I help it? No chance to keep them apart in that little hole. It can't be done."

"Can't it?"

Something in the quiet voice rang a bell of alarm in the timid heart of Selfridge.

"You mean--"

"A man who works for me as my lieutenant must have nerve, Wally. Have you got it? Will you take orders and go through with them?"

His hard eyes searched the face of the plump little man. This was a job he would have liked to do himself, but he could not get away just now. Selfridge was the only man about him he could trust with it.

Wally nodded. His lips were dry and parched. "Go to it. What am I to do?"

"Get Holt out of the way while Elliot is at Kamatlah."

"But, Good Lord, I can't keep the man tied up a month," protested the leading tenor of Kusiak.

"It isn't doing Holt any good to sit tight clamped to that claim of his! He needs a change. Besides, I want him away so that we can contest his claim. Run him up into the hills. Or send him across to Siberia on a whaler. Or, better still, have him arrested for insanity and send him to Nome. I'll get Judge Landor to hold him a while."

"That would give him an alibi for his absence and prevent a contest."

"That's right. It would."

"Leave it to me. The old man is going on a vacation, though he doesn't know it yet."

"Good enough, Wally. I'll trust you. But remember, this fight has reached an acute stage. No more mistakes. The devil of it is we never seem to land the knockout punch. We've beaten this bunch of reform idiots before Winton, before the Secretary of the Interior, before the President, and before Congress. Now they're beginning all over again. Where is it to end?"

"This is their last kick. Probably Guttenchild agreed to it so as to let the party go before the people at the next election without any apologies. Entirely formal investigation, I should say."

This might be true, or it might not. Macdonald knew that just now the American people, always impulsive in its thinking, was supporting strongly the movement for conservation. A searchlight had been turned upon the Kamatlah coal-fields. Magazines and newspapers had hammered it home to readers that the Guttenchild and allied interests were engaged in a big steal from the people of coal, timber, and power-site lands to the value of more than a hundred million dollars.

The trouble had originated in a department row, but it had spread until the Macdonald claims had become a party issue. The officials of the Land Office, as well as the National Administration, were friendly to the claimants. They had no desire to offend one of the two largest money groups in the country. But neither did they want to come to wreck on account of the Guttenchilds. They found it impossible to ignore the charge that the entries were fraudulent and if consummated would result in a wholesale robbery of the public domain. Superficial investigations had been made and the claimants whitewashed. But the clamor had persisted.

Though he denied it officially, Macdonald made a present to the public of the admission that the entries were irregular. Laws, he held, were made for men and should be interpreted to aid progress. Bad ones ought to be evaded.

The facts were simple enough. Macdonald was the original promoter of the Kamatlah coal-field. He had engaged dummy entrymen to take up one hundred and sixty acres each under the Homestead Act. Later he intended to consolidate the claims and turn them over to the Guttenchilds under an agreement by which he was to receive one eighth of the stock of the company formed to work the mines. The entries had been made, the fee accepted by the Land Office, and receipts issued. In course of time Macdonald had applied for patents.

Before these were issued the magazines began to pour in their broadsides, and since then the papers had been held up.

The conscience of Macdonald was quite clear. The pioneers in Alaska were building out of the Arctic waste a new empire for the United States, and he held that a fair Government could do no less than offer them liberal treatment. To lock up from present use vast resources needed by Alaskans would be a mistaken policy, a narrow and perverted application of the doctrine of conservation. The Territory should be thrown open to the world. If capital were invited in to do its share of the building, immigration would flow rapidly northward. Within the lives of the present generation the new empire would take shape and wealth would pour inevitably into the United States from its frozen treasure house.

The view held by Macdonald was one common to the whole Pacific Coast. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco were a unit in the belief that the Government had no right to close the door of Alaska and then put a padlock upon it.

Feminine voices drifted from the outer office. Macdonald opened the door to let in Mrs. Selfridge and Mrs. Mallory.

The latter lady, Paris-shod and gloved, shook hands smilingly with the Scotch-Canadian. "Of course we're intruders in business hours, though you'll tell us we're not," she suggested.

He was not a man to surrender easily to the spell of woman, but when he looked into her deep-lidded, smouldering eyes something sultry beat in his blood.

"Business may fly out of the window when Mrs. Mallory comes in at the door," he answered.

"How gallant of you, especially when I've come with an impertinent question." Her gay eyes mocked him as she spoke.

"Then I'll probably tell you to mind your own business," he laughed. "Let's have your question."

"I've just been reading the 'Transcontinental Magazine.' A writer there says that you are a highway robber and a gambler. I know you're a robber because all the magazines say so. But are you only a big gambler?"

He met her raillery without the least embarrassment.

"Sure I gamble. Every time I take a chance I'm gambling. So does everybody else. When you walk past the Flatiron Building you bet it won't fall down and crush you. We've got to take chances to live."

"How true, and I never thought of it," beamed Mrs. Selfridge. "What a philosopher you are, Mr. Macdonald."

The Scotchman went on without paying any attention to her effervescence. "I've gambled ever since I was a kid. I bet I could cross Death Valley and get out alive. That time I won. I bet it would rain once down in Arizona before my cattle died. I lost. Another time I took a contract to run a tunnel. In my bid I bet I wouldn't run into rock. My bank went broke that trip. When I joined the Klondike rush I was backing my luck to stand up. Same thing when I located the Kamatlah field. The coal might be a poor quality. Maybe I couldn't interest big capital in the proposition. Perhaps the Government would turn me down when I came to prove up. I was betting my last dollar against big odds. When I quit gambling it will be because I've quit living."

"And I suppose I'm a gambler too?" Mrs. Mallory demanded with a little tilt of her handsome head.

He looked straight at her with the keen eyes that had bored through her from the first day they had met, the eyes that understood the manner of woman she was and liked her none the less.

"Of all the women I know you are the best gambler. It's born in you."

"Why, Mr. Macdonald!" screamed Mrs. Selfridge in her high staccato. "I don't think that's a compliment."

Mrs. Mallory did not often indulge in the luxury of a blush, but she changed color now. This big, blunt man sometimes had an uncanny divination. Did he, she asked herself, know what stake she was gambling for at Kusiak?

"You are too wise," she laughed with a touch of embarrassment very becoming. "But I suppose you are right. I like excitement."

"We all do. The only man who doesn't gamble is the convict in stripes, and the only reason he doesn't is that his chips are all gone. It's true that men on the frontier play for bigger stakes. They back their bets with all they have got and put their lives on top for good measure. But kids in the cradle all over the United States are going to live easier because of the gamblers at the dropping-off places. That writer fellow hit the nail on the head about me. My whole life is a gamble."

She moved with slow grace toward the door, then over her shoulder flashed a sudden invitation at him. "Mrs. Selfridge and I are doing a little betting to-day, Big Chief Gambler. We're backing our luck that you two men will eat lunch with us at the Blue Bird Inn. Do we win?"

Macdonald reached for his hat promptly. "You win."

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