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Colter Takes A Hand








From: The Highgrader

Moya combed her long rippling hair while Lady Farquhar laid down the law
that hedges a young woman from the satisfaction of her generous
impulses. For the most part the girl listened in silence, a flush
burning through each of her dusky cheeks. There was nothing to be said
that would avail. She might defend the thing she had done, but not the
feelings that had inspired her action.

"It is all very well to be independent within limits, my dear, but young
women of our class are subject to the penalties that go with our
privileges. When I was a girl I rebelled but had to obey. So must you."
Lady Farquhar interrupted herself to admire the vivid rebel she was
admonishing. "What wonderful hair you have--so long and thick and wavy.
It must take a great deal of care."

"Yes," Moya admitted absently.

She did not resent the rebuke Lady Jim had come to give her while she
was undressing. No doubt she deserved it. She had been unmaidenly, and
all for love of this light-hearted vagabond who did not care the turn
of a hand for her. All day her thoughts had been in chaotic ferment. At
times she lashed herself with the whip of her own scorn because she
cared for a self-confessed thief, for a man who lived outside the law
and was not ashamed of it. Again it was the knowledge of her unwanted
love that flayed her, or of the injustice to her betrothed in so
passionate a feeling for another man. With all her strong young will she
fought against this devouring flame that possessed her--and she knew
that she fought in vain.

In the shipwreck of her self-respect she clung to one spar. Soon they
would be on their way back to that well-ordered world where she would be
entirely in the groove of convention. Her engagement to Captain Kilmeny
would be announced. Surely among the many distractions of London she
would forget this debonair scamp who had bewitched her.

"You should have come to me--or to India for that matter. She is his
cousin and is in a different position from you. Don't you see that, my
dear?" Lady Farquhar asked gently.

And again Moya said "Yes" wearily.

"James and I understand you--how impulsive you are--and how generous.
But Mr. Kilmeny--and Mr. Verinder--what do you suppose they think?"

"I don't care what Mr. Verinder thinks." And Moya began to coil her
hair loosely for the night.

"But that's just it--a girl must care. She can't afford to allow
anyone an opportunity to think unpleasant things about her. She has to
guard her reputation very jealously."

"And I suppose I've been playing ducks and drakes with mine," Moya said,
pushing home a hairpin.

"I don't say that, dear. What I say is that Mr. Kilmeny may
misunderstand your interest in him."

"He may think I'm in love with him. Is that it?" flashed the girl.

"He might. Give a man's vanity the least chance and----"

A reckless impulse to hurt herself--the same which leads a man to grind
on an aching tooth in heady rage--swept Moya like a flame.

"Then he would think the truth," she interrupted. "What's the use of
denying it? I ... I'm in love with him."

"Moya." Lady Farquhar's protest came in a horrified gasp.

The young woman turned her slim body in the chair with supple grace so
as to face her chaperon. Beneath the dark eyes spots of color burned
through the tan.

"It's true. I've cared ... ever since we met him."

"And he--has he ever made love to you?"

"Never. He's thought only of Joyce. That's what makes it more
shameless."

Lady Farquhar took a moment to absorb the unwelcome news. "I never
dreamed it was as bad as this. Of course I knew he interested you a good
deal, but----"

Moya could not keep scorn of herself out of her voice. "But you didn't
think I was so lost to decency as to throw myself at his head. You see I
am."

"Nonsense," cut in her chaperon with sharp common sense. "You're not the
first girl that has fancied a man who won't do. It's imagination--a good
deal of it. Make yourself forget him. That's all you can do."

"I can't do that. I've tried," confessed Moya miserably.

"Then try again--and again--and still again. Remember that you are
engaged to a man worth a dozen of him. Call your pride to help you."

"It seems that I have none. I've told myself forty times that he's a
highgrader and that doesn't help."

Her friend was alarmed. "You don't mean that you would marry a man who
is a--a man who steals ore."

"No. I wouldn't marry him ... even if he wanted me--which he doesn't. I
haven't fallen that far."

"Glad to hear you say that," answered Lady Farquhar with a sigh of
relief. She took the girl in her arms and patted one of the shoulders
over which the hair cascaded. "My dear, it's hard. You're intense and
emotional. But you've got to--to buck up, as James says. You're
brave--and you're strong-willed. Make a winning fight."

"What about ... Ned?"

"Does he suspect?"

"I don't know. Sometimes I think he does. But you know how generous he
is. He never says anything, or avoids the subject of his cousin in any
way." She added, after an instant: "Ned knows that I don't ... love
him--that is, in one way. He says he is ready to wait till that comes."


"Ned Kilmeny is a man out of a million."

Moya nodded. "Yes. That's why this is so unfair to him. What ought I to
do? Shall I break the engagement? That's what I want to do, but it will
hurt him a good deal."

"Wait. Give yourself and him a chance. In a few days we'll be started
home."

"That's what I've been telling myself. Everything here reminds me
of--him. It will be different then, I try to think. But--down in my
heart I don't think it will."

"And I know it will," the matron told her promptly. "Time, my dear,
heals all our woes. Youth has great recuperative power. In a year you
will wonder how he ever cast such a spell over you."

Moya heard the last belated reveler pass down the corridor to his room
before she fell asleep. When she awoke it was to see a long shaft of
early sunshine across the bed.

She rose, took her bath, and dressed for walking. Her desire drew the
steps of the young woman away from the busy street toward the suburb.
She walked, as always, with the elastic resilience of unfettered youth.
But the weight that had been at her heart for two days--since she had
learned from Jack Kilmeny's lips that he was a highgrader--was still
tied there too securely to be shaken away by the wonder of the glorious
newborn day.

Returning to the hotel, she met a man on the porch whose face stirred
instantly a fugitive memory. He came to her at once, a big
leather-skinned man with the weatherbeaten look of the West.

"Aren't you the Miss Dwight I've heard Jack Kilmeny mention?"

"Yes. This is Mr. Colter, isn't it?"

He nodded, watching her with hard narrowed eyes. "Something's wrong. Can
you tell me what it is? Jack's mules--two of them, anyhow--came back to
the barn during the night with bits of broken harness still attached to
them. Looks like there had been a runaway and the wagon had come to
grief. The keeper of the livery stable says Bell took the wagon around
to Jack's place and left it with him. He was seen driving out of town
soon after. He has not been seen since."

Her heart flew to alarm. "You mean ... you think he has been hurt?"

"Don't know. He's not in town. That's a cinch. I've raked Goldbanks with
a toothcomb. Where is he?"

"Couldn't he be at his mine?"

"I sent a boy out there. He's not at the Jack Pot."

"What is it that you think? Tell me," she cried softly.

"You're his friend, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"There's some talk around town that he was held up by Bleyer. I came up
here to see him or Verinder. Foul play of some kind, that's my guess."

"But--you surely don't think that Mr. Bleyer or Mr. Verinder would ...
hurt him."

The look of dogged resolution on the man's granite face did not soften.
"They'll have to show me--and by God! if they did----"

Her mind flew with consternation to the attack upon Kilmeny that had
been made by Bleyer. But Verinder had told her nobody had been hurt.
Could they have taken the highgrader prisoner? Were they holding him for
some purpose?

"Mr. Verinder gets up about this time usually," she said.

"I'm waiting for him. He said he would be down at once."

"Will you tell me anything you find out, please? I'll be on the veranda
upstairs."

Colter joined her a quarter of an hour later. "I saw both Bleyer and
Verinder. They've got something up their sleeve, but I don't think they
know where Jack is or what has become of him. They pretended to think I
was trying to put one over on them."

"What will you do now?"

"I'll go out to the Jack Pot myself. I've reason to believe he intended
to go there."

"If you find out anything----"

"Yes, I'll let you know."

Moya went directly from Colter to Bleyer. The superintendent entered a
curt denial to her implied charge.

"Miss Dwight, I don't know what you do or do not know. I see someone has
been blabbing. But I'll just say this. When I last saw Jack Kilmeny he
was as sound as I am this minute. I haven't the least idea where he is.
You don't need to worry about him at all. When he wants to turn up he'll
be on deck right side up. Don't ask me what his play is, for I don't
know. It may be to get me and Verinder in bad with the miners. Just be
sure of one thing: he's grandstanding."

She was amazingly relieved. "I'm so glad. I thought perhaps----"

"----that Mr. Verinder and I had murdered him. Thanks for your good
opinion of us, but really we didn't," he retorted in his dryest manner.

She laughed. "I did think perhaps you knew where he was."

"Well, I don't--and I don't want to," he snapped. "The less I see of him
the better I'll be satisfied."

The superintendent of the Verinder properties had found a note addressed
to him in one of the sacks of quartz taken from Kilmeny. The message,
genial to the point of impudence, had hoped he had enjoyed his little
experience as a hold-up. To Bleyer, always a serious-minded man, this
levity had added insult to injury. Just now the very mention of the
highgrader's name was a red rag to his temper. It was bad enough to be
bested without being jeered at by the man who had set a trap for him.

It was well on toward evening before Colter paid his promised visit to
Miss Dwight. She found him waiting for her upon her return from a ride
with Captain Kilmeny, Verinder, and Joyce.

Moya, as soon as she had dismounted, walked straight to him.

"What have you found out, Mr. Colter?"

"Not much. It rained during the night and wiped out the tracks of wagon
wheels. Don't know how far Jack got or where he went, but the remains of
the wagon are lying at the bottom of a gulch about two miles from the
Jack Pot."

"How did it get there?"

"I wish you could tell me that. Couldn't have been a runaway or the
mules would have gone over the edge of the road too." He stepped forward
quickly as Verinder was about to pass into the hotel. "I want to have a
talk with you."

The little man adjusted his monocle. "Ye-es. What about, my man?"

"About Jack Kilmeny. Where is he? What do you know? I'm going to find
out if I have to tear it from your throat."

Verinder was no coward, but he was a product of our modern
super-civilization. He glanced around hastily. The captain had followed
Joyce into the lobby. Moya and he were alone on the piazza, with this
big savage who looked quite capable of carrying out his threat.

"Don't talk demned nonsense," the mine owner retorted, flushing angrily.

Colter did not answer in words. The strong muscular fingers of his left
hand closed on the right arm of Verinder just below the shoulder with a
pressure excruciatingly painful. Dobyans found himself moving
automatically toward the end of the porch. He had to clench his teeth
to keep from crying out.

"Let me alone, you brute," he gasped.

Colter paid no attention until his victim was backed against the rail in
a corner. Then he released the millionaire he was manhandling.

"You're going to tell me everything you know. Get that into your head.
Or, by God, I'll wring your neck for you."

The Englishman had never before been confronted with such a situation.
He was a citizen of a country where wealth hedges a man from such
assaults. The color ebbed from his face, then came back with a rush.

"Go to the devil, you big bully," he flung out sharply.

Moya, taken by surprise at Colter's abrupt desertion of her, had watched
with amazement the subsequent flare-up. Now she crossed the porch toward
them.

"What are you doing, Mr. Colter?"

"None of your funeral, ma'am," the miner answered bluntly, not for a
moment lifting his hard eyes from Verinder. "Better unload what you
know. I've had a talk with Quint Saladay. I know all he knows, that
Bleyer and you and him with two other lads held up Jack and took his ore
away. The three of them left you and Bleyer guarding Jack. What did you
do with him?"

"It's a bally lie. I didn't stay with Bleyer to guard him."

"That's right. You didn't. You came back with the others. But you know
what Bleyer did. Out with it."

"I don't admit a word of what you say," said Verinder doggedly.

Colter had trapped him into a half admission, but he did not intend to
say any more.

Moya spoke, a little timidly. "Wait a minute please, Mr. Colter. Let me
talk with Mr. Verinder alone. I think he'll tell me what you want to
know."

Jack's friend looked at her with sharp suspicion. Was she trying to make
a dupe of him? Her candid glance denied it.

"All right. Talk to him all you like, but you'll do your talking here,"
he agreed curtly before he turned on his heel and walked away a few
steps.

"You must tell him what he wants to know, Mr. Verinder," urged the young
woman in a low voice. "Something has happened to his friend. We must
help clear it up."

"I'm not responsible for what has happened to his friend. What do you
want me to do? Peach on Bleyer, is that it?"

"No. Send for him and tell Mr. Colter the truth."

"I'll see him hanged and quartered first," he replied angrily.

"If you don't, I'll tell what I know. There's a life at stake," Moya
cried, a trace of agitation in her voice.

"Fiddlesticks!" he shrugged. "The fellow's full of tricks. He worked one
on us the other night. I'm hanged if I let him play me again."

"You must. I'll tell Captain Kilmeny and Lord Farquhar. I'll not let it
rest this way. The matter is serious."

"I'm not going to be bullied into saying a word. That's the long and
short of it," he repeated in disgust. "Let Bleyer tell the fellow if he
wants to. I'll have nothing to do with it. We're not responsible for
what has happened--if anything has."

"Then I'll go and get Mr. Bleyer."

"Just as you please. I'd see this ruffian at Halifax first, if you ask
me." The angry color flushed his face again as he thought of the
insult to which he had been subjected.

To Colter Moya explained her purpose. He nodded agreement without words.

After two or three attempts she got the superintendent on the telephone
at the Mollie Gibson mine and arranged with him that he was to come to
the hotel at once. A few minutes later he drove up in his car.

Moya put the case to him.

Bleyer turned to his employer. "You want me to tell Colter what I know?"

"I don't care a turn of my hand whether you tell the fellow or not,"
drawled Verinder, ignoring the presence of Colter.

The superintendent peered at Moya in his nearsighted fashion over the
glasses on his nose. "Can't see that it matters much, Miss Dwight. I'm
not worrying a bit about Jack Kilmeny, but, if Colter and you are, I'm
willing to tell what I know on condition that you keep the facts to
yourselves."

"I'll keep quiet if you haven't injured Jack in any way," Colter
amended.

"We haven't. He was sound as a new dollar when I left him Tuesday night.
Want to hear the particulars?"

"That's what I'm here for," snapped Colter.

Bleyer told the whole story so far as he knew it.





Next: Spirit Rapping?

Previous: Mr Verinder Is Treated To A Surprise



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