The Hidden Places
by Bertrand W. Sinclair
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Hollister shrugged his shoulders. He had no feeling in the matter. She could not possibly know him; she would not wish to know him if she could. His problems were nowise related to her. But he knew too much to be completely indifferent. His mind kept turning upon what her life had been, and what it must be now. He was curious. What had become of the money? Why did she and her English husband bury themselves in a rude shack by a river that whispered down a lonely valley?

Hollister's mind thrust these people aside, put them out of consideration, when he reached the flat and found his canoe where he left it, his tiny silk tent suspended intact from the limb. He ranged about the flat for an hour or so. He had an impression of it in his mind from his winter camp there; also he had a description of it from Doris, and her picture was clearer and more exact in detail than his. He found the little falls that trickled down to a small creek that split the flat. He chose tentatively a site for their house, close by a huge maple which had three sets of initials cut deeply in the bark where Doris told him to look.

Then he dragged the canoe down to the river, and slid it afloat and let the current bear him down. The air was full of pleasant odors from the enfolding forest. He let his eyes rest thankfully upon those calm, majestic peaks that walled in the valley. It was even more beautiful now than he had imagined it could be when the snow blanketed hill and valley, and the teeth of the frost gnawed everywhere. It was less aloof; it was as if the wilderness wore a smile and beckoned with friendly hands.

The current and his paddle swept him down past the settlement, past a busy, grunting sawmill, past the booming ground where brown logs floated like droves of sheep in a yard, and he came at last to where his woodsmen waited with the piled goods on a bank above tidewater.

All the rest of that day, and for many days thereafter, Hollister was a busy man. There was a pile of goods to be transported up-stream, a house to be fashioned out of raw material from the forest, the shingle-bolt chute to be inspected and repaired, the work of cutting cedar to be got under way, all in due order. He became a voluntary slave to work, clanking his chains of toil with that peculiar pleasure which comes to men who strain and sweat toward a desired end. As literally as his hired woodsmen, he earned his bread in the sweat of his brow, spurred on by a vision of what he sought to create,—a home and so much comfort as he could grasp for himself and a woman.

The house arose as if by magic,—the simple magic of stout arms and skilled hands working with axe and saw and iron wedges. One of Hollister's men was a lean, saturnine logger, past fifty, whose life had been spent in the woods of the Pacific Coast. There was no trick of the axe Hayes had not mastered, and he could perform miracles of shaping raw wood with neat joints and smooth surfaces.

Two weeks from the day Hayes struck his axe blade into the brown trunk of a five-foot cedar and said laconically, "She'll do", that ancient tree had been transformed into timbers, into boards that flaked off smooth and straight under iron wedges, into neat shakes for a rain-tight roof, and was assembled into a two-roomed cabin. This was furnished with chairs and tables and shelves, hewn out of the raw stuff of the forest. It stood in the middle of a patch of earth cleared of fallen logs and thicket. Its front windows gave on the Toba River, slipping down to the sea. A maple spread friendly arms at one corner, a lordly tree that would blaze crimson and russet-brown when October came again. All up and down the river the still woods spread a deep-green carpet on a floor between the sheer declivity of the north wall and the gentler, more heavily timbered slope of the south. Hollister looked at his house when it was done and saw that it was good. He looked at the rich brown of the new-cleared soil about it, and saw in his mind flowers growing there, and a garden.

And when he had quartered his men in the cabin up the hill and put them to work on the cedar, he went back to Vancouver for his wife.


A week of hot sunshine had filled the Toba River bank full of roily water when Hollister breasted its current again. In midstream it ran full and strong. Watery whisperings arose where swirls boiled over sunken snags. But in the slow eddies and shoal water under each bank the gray canoe moved up-stream under the steady drive of Hollister's paddle.

Doris sat in the bow. Her eyes roved from the sun-glittering stream to the hills that rose above the tree-fringed valley floor, as if sight had been restored to her so that her eyes could dwell upon the green-leaved alder and maple, the drooping spruce bows, the vastness of those forests of somber fir where the deer lurked in the shadows and where the birds sang vespers and matins when dusk fell and dawn came again. There were meadow larks warbling now on stumps that dotted the floor of the Big Bend, and above the voices of those yellow-breasted singers and the watery murmuring of the river there arose now and then the shrill, imperative blast of a donkey engine.

"Where are we now, Bob?"

"About half a mile below the upper curve of the Big Bend," Hollister replied.

Doris sat silent for awhile. Hollister, looking at her, was stricken anew with wonder at her loveliness, with wonder at the contrast between them. Beauty and the beast, he said to himself. He knew without seeing. He did not wish to see. He strove to shut away thought of the devastation of what had once been a man's goodly face. Doris' skin was like a child's, smooth and soft and tinted like a rose petal. Love, he said to himself, had made her bloom. It made him quake to think that she might suddenly see out of those dear, blind eyes. Would she look and shudder and turn away? He shook off that ghastly thought. She would never see him. She could only touch him, feel him, hear the tenderness of his voice, know his guarding care. And to those things which were realities she would always respond with an intensity that thrilled him and gladdened him and made him feel that life was good.

"Are you glad you're here?" he asked suddenly.

"I would pinch you for such a silly question if it weren't that I would probably upset the canoe," Doris laughed. "Glad?"

"There must be quite a streak of pure barbarian in me," she said after a while. "I love the smell of the earth and the sea and the woods. Even when I could see, I never cared a lot for town. It would be all right for awhile, then I would revolt against the noise, the dirt and smoke, the miles and miles of houses rubbing shoulders against each other, and all the thousands of people scuttling back and forth, like—well, it seems sometimes almost as aimless as the scurrying of ants when you step on their hill. Of course it isn't. But I used to feel that way. When I was in my second year at Berkeley I had a brain storm like that. I took the train north and turned up at home—we had a camp running on Thurlow Island then. Daddy read the riot act and sent me back on the next steamer. It was funny—just an irresistible impulse to get back to my own country, among my own people. I often wonder if it isn't some such instinct that keeps sailors at sea, no matter what the sea does to them. I have sat on that ridge"—she pointed unerringly to the first summit above Hollister's timber, straight back and high above the rim of the great cliff south of the Big Bend—"and felt as if I had drunk a lot of wine; just to be away up in that clear still air, with not a living soul near and the mountains standing all around like the pyramids."

"Do you know that you have a wonderful sense of direction, Doris?" Hollister said. "You pointed to the highest part of that ridge as straight as if you could see it."

"I do see it," she smiled, "I mean I know where I am, and I have in my mind a very clear picture of my surroundings always, so long as I am on familiar ground."

Hollister knew this to be so, in a certain measure, on a small scale. In a room she knew Doris moved as surely and rapidly as he did himself. He had dreaded a little lest she should find herself feeling lost and helpless in this immensity of forest and hills which sometimes made even him feel a peculiar sense of insignificance. It was a relief to know that she turned to this wilderness which must be their home with the eagerness of a child throwing itself into its mother's arms. He perceived that she had indeed a clear image of the Toba in her mind. She was to give further proof of this before long.

They turned the top of the Big Bend. Here the river doubled on itself for nearly a mile and crossed from the north wall of the valley to the south. Where the channel straightened away from this loop Hollister had built his house on a little flat running back from the right-hand bank. A little less than half a mile below, Bland's cabin faced the river just where the curve of the S began. They came abreast of that now. What air currents moved along the valley floor shifted in from the sea. It wafted the smoke from Bland's stovepipe gently down on the river's shining face.

Doris sniffed.

"I smell wood smoke," she said. "Is there a fire on the flat?"

"Yes, in a cook's stove," Hollister replied. "There is a shack here."

She questioned him and he told her of the Blands,—all that he had been told, which was little enough. Doris displayed a deep interest in the fact that a woman, a young woman, was a near neighbor, as nearness goes on the British Columbia coast.

From somewhere about the house Myra Bland appeared now. To avoid the heavy current, Hollister hugged the right-hand shore so that he passed within a few feet of the bank, within speaking distance of this woman with honey-colored hair standing bareheaded in the sunshine. She took a step or two forward. For an instant Hollister thought she was about to exercise the immemorial privilege of the wild places and hail a passing stranger. But she did not call or make any sign. She stood gazing at them, and presently her husband joined her and together they watched. They were still looking when Hollister gave his last backward glance, then turned his attention to the reddish-yellow gleam of new-riven timber which marked his own dwelling. Twenty minutes later he slid the gray canoe's forefoot up on a patch of sand before his house.

"We're here," he said. "Home—such as it is—it's home."

He helped her out, guided her steps up to the level of the bottomland. He was eager to show her the nest he had devised for them. But Doris checked him with her hand.

"I hear the falls," she said. "Listen!"

Streaming down through a gorge from melting snowfields the creek a little way beyond plunged with a roar over granite ledges. The few warm days had swollen it from a whispering sheet of spray to a deep-voiced cataract. A mist from it rose among the deep green of the fir.

"Isn't it beautiful—beautiful?" Doris said. "There"—she pointed—"is the canyon of the Little Toba coming in from the south. There is the deep notch where the big river comes down from the Chilcotin, and a ridge like the roof of the world rising between. Over north there are mountains and mountains, one behind the other, till the last peaks are white cones against the blue sky. There is a bluff straight across us that goes up and up in five-hundred-foot ledges like masonry, with hundred-foot firs on each bench that look like toy trees from here.

"I used to call that gorge there"—her pointing finger found the mark again—"The Black Hole. It is always full of shadows in summer, and in winter the slides rumble and crash into it with a noise like the end of the world. Did you ever listen to the slides muttering and grumbling last winter when you were here, Bob?"

"Yes, I used to hear them day and night."

They stood silent a second or two. The little falls roared above them. The river whispered at their feet. A blue-jay perched on the roof of their house and began his harsh complaint to an unheeding world, into which a squirrel presently broke with vociferous reply. An up-river breeze rustled the maple leaves, laid cooling fingers from salt water on Hollister's face, all sweaty from his labor with the paddle.

He could see beauty where Doris saw it. It surrounded him, leaped to his eye whenever his eye turned,—a beauty of woods and waters, of rugged hills and sapphire skies. And he was suddenly filled with a great gladness that he could respond to this. He was quickened to a strange emotion by the thought that life could still hold for him so much that seemed good. He put one arm caressingly, protectingly, across his wife's shoulder, over the smooth, firm flesh that gleamed through thin silk.

She turned swiftly, buried her face against his breast and burst into tears, into a strange fit of sobbing. She clung to him like a frightened child. Her body quivered as if some unseen force grasped and shook her with uncontrollable power. Hollister held her fast, dismayed, startled, wondering, at a loss to comfort her.

"But I can't see it," she cried. "I'll never see it again. Oh, Bob, Bob! Sometimes I can't stand this blackness. Never to see you—never to see the sun or the stars—never to see the hills, the trees, the grass. Always to grope. Always night—night—night without beginning or end."

And Hollister still had no words to comfort her. He could only hold her close, kiss her glossy brown hair, feeling all the while a passionate sympathy—and yet conscious of a guilty gladness that she could not see him—that she could not look at him and be revolted and draw away. He knew that she clung to him now as the one clear light in the darkness. He was not sure that she (or any other woman) would do that if she could see him as he really was.

Her sobs died in her throat. She leaned against him passively for a minute. Then she lifted her face and smiled.

"It's silly to let go like that," she said. "Once in awhile it comes over me like a panic. I wonder if you will always be patient with me when I get like that. Sometimes I fairly rave. But I won't do it often. I don't know why I should feel that way now. I have never been so happy. Yet that feeling came over me like a suffocating wave. I am afraid your wife is rather a temperamental creature, Bob."

She ended with a laugh and a pout, to which Hollister made appropriate response. Then he led her into the house and smiled—or would have smiled had his face been capable of that expression—at the pleasure with which her hands, which she had trained to be her organs of vision, sought and found doors and cupboards, chairs, the varied equipment of the kitchen. He watched her find her way about with the uncanny certainty of the sightless, at which he never ceased to marvel. When she came back at last to where he sat on a table, swinging one foot while he smoked a cigarette, she put her arms around him and said:

"It's a cute little house, Bob. The air here is like old wine. The smell of the woods is like heaven, after soot and smoke and coal gas. I'm the happiest woman in the whole country."

Hollister looked at her. He knew by the glow on her face that she spoke as she felt, that she was happy, that he had made her so. And he was proud of himself for a minute, as a man becomes when he is conscious of having achieved greatness, however briefly.

Only he was aware of a shadow. Doris leaned against him talking of things they would do, of days to come. He looked over her shoulder through the west window and his eye rested on Bland's cabin, where another woman lived who had once nestled in his arms and talked of happiness. Yes, he was conscious of the shadow, of regrets, of something else that was nameless and indefinable,—a shadow. Something that was not and yet still might be troubled him vaguely.

He could not tell why. Presently he dismissed it from his mind.


Hollister likened himself and Doris, more than once in the next few days, to two children in a nursery full of new toys. He watched the pride and delight which Doris bestowed upon her house and all that it contained, the satisfaction with which she would dwell upon the comforts and luxuries that should be added to it when the cedars on the hill began to produce revenue for them.

For his own part he found himself eager for work, taking a pleasure far beyond his expectation in what he had set himself to do, here in the valley of the Toba. He could shut his eyes and see the whole plan work out in ordered sequence,—the bolt chute repaired, the ancient cedars felled, sawed into four-foot lengths, split to a size, piled by the chute and all its lateral branches. Then, when a certain quantity was ready, they would be cast one after another into that trough of smooth poles which pitched sharply down from the heart of his timber to the river. One after another they would gather way, slipping down, faster and faster, to dive at last with a great splash into the stream, to accumulate behind the confining boom-sticks until they were rafted to the mill, where they would be sawn into thin sheets to make tight roofs on houses in distant towns. And for the sweat that labor with axe and saw wrung from his body, and for the directing power of his brain, he would be rewarded with money which would enable him to satisfy his needs. For the first time in his life Hollister perceived both the complexity and the simplicity of that vast machine into which modern industry has grown. In distant towns other men made machinery, textiles, boots, furniture. On inland plains where no trees grew, men sowed and reaped the wheat which passed through the hands of the miller and the baker and became a nation's daily bread. The axe in his hand was fashioned from metallic ore dug by other men out of the bowels of the earth. He was fed and clothed by unseen hands. And in return he, as they did, levied upon nature's store of raw material and paid for what he got with timber, rough shaped to its ultimate uses by the labor of his hands.

All his life Hollister had been able to command money without effort. Until he came back from the war he did not know what it meant to be poor. He had known business as a process in which a man used money to make more money. He had been accustomed to buy and sell, to deal with tokens rather than with things themselves. Now he found himself at the primitive source of things and he learned, a little to his astonishment, the pride of definitely planned creative work. He began to understand that lesson which many men never learn, the pleasure of pure achievement even in simple things.

For two or three days he occupied himself at various tasks on the flat. He did this to keep watch over Doris, to see that she did not come to grief in this unfamiliar territory. But he soon put aside those first misgivings, as he was learning to put aside any fear of the present or of the future, which arose from her blindness. His love for her had not been borne of pity. He had never thought of her as helpless. She was too vivid, too passionately alive in body and mind to inspire him with that curiously mixed feeling which the strong bestow upon the maimed and the weak. But there were certain risks of which he was conscious, no matter that Doris laughingly disclaimed them. With a stick and her ears and fingers she could go anywhere, she said; and she was not far wrong, as Hollister knew.

Within forty-eight hours she had the run of the house and the cleared portion of land surrounding. She could put her hand on every item of her kitchen equipment. She could get kindling out of the wood box; light a fire in the stove as well as he. All the stock of food staples lay in an orderly arrangement of her own choice on the kitchen shelves. She knew every object in the two rooms, each chair and box and stool, the step at the front door, the short path to the river bank, the trunk of the branchy maple, the rugged bark of a great spruce behind the house, as if within her brain there existed an exact diagram of the whole and with which as a guide she could move within those limits as swiftly and surely as Hollister himself.

He never ceased to wonder at the mysterious delicacies of touch and hearing which served her so well in place of sight. But he accepted the fact, and once she had mastered her surroundings Hollister was free to take up his own work, no matter where it led him. Doris insisted that he should. She had a sturdy soul that seldom leaned and never thought of clinging. She could laugh, a deep-throated chuckling laugh, and sometimes, quite unexpectedly, she could go about the house singing. And if now and then she rebelled with a sudden, furious resentment against the long night that shut her in, that, as she said herself, was just like a small black cloud passing swiftly across the face of the sun.

Hollister began at the bottom of the chute, as he was beginning at the bottom of his fortune, to build up again. Where it was broken he repaired it. Where it had collapsed under the weight of snow or of fallen trees he put in a new section. His hands grew calloused and the muscles of his back and shoulders grew tough with swinging an axe, lugging and lifting heavy poles. The sun burned the scar-tissue of his face to a brown like that on the faces of his two men, who were piling the cut cedar in long ricks among the green timber while he got the chute ready to slide the red, pungent-smelling blocks downhill.

Sometimes, on a clear still day when he was at the house, he would hear old Bill Hayes' voice far off in the woods, very faint in the distance, shrilling the fallers' warning, "Timb-r-r-r." Close on that he would hear a thud that sent tremors running through the earth, and there would follow the echo of crashing boughs all along the slope. Once he said lightly to Doris:

"Every time one of those big trees goes down like that it means a hundred dollars' worth of timber on the ground."

And she laughed back:

"We make money when cedar goes up, and we make money when cedar comes down. Very nice."

May passed and June came to an end; with it Hollister also came to the end of his ready money. It had all gone into tools, food, wages, all his available capital sunk in the venture. But the chute was ready to run bolts. They poured down in a stream till the river surface within the boom-sticks was a brick-colored jam that gave off a pleasant aromatic smell.

Then Hollister and his two men cast off the boom, let the current sweep it down to Carr's new shingle mill below the Big Bend. When the bolts were tallied in, Hollister got a check. He sat with pad and pencil figuring for half an hour after he came home, after his men had each shouldered a fifty-pound pack of supplies and gone back up the hill. He gave over figuring at last. The thing was profitable. More so than he had reckoned. He got up and went into the kitchen where Doris was rolling pie crust on a board.

"We're off," he said, putting an arm around her. "If we can keep this up all summer, I'll build a new wing on the house and bring you in a piano to play with this winter."

Hollister himself now took a hand at cutting cedar. Each morning he climbed that steep slope to the works, and each night he came trudging down; and morning and night he would pause at a point where the trail led along the rim of a sheer cliff, to look down on the valley below, to look down on the roof of his own house and upon Bland's house farther on. Sometimes smoke streamed blue from Bland's stovepipe. Sometimes it stood dead, a black cylinder above the shake roof. Sometimes one figure and sometimes two moved about the place; more often no one stirred. But that was as near as the Blands had come in eight weeks. Hollister had an unspoken hope that they would remain distant, no matter that Doris occasionally wondered about this woman who lived around the river's curve, what she was like and when she would meet her. Hollister knew nothing of Bland, nothing of Myra. He did not wish to know. It did not matter in the least, he assured himself. He was dead and Myra was married. All that old past was as a book long out of print. It could not possibly matter if by chance they came in contact. Yet he had a vague feeling that it did matter,—a feeling for which he could not account. He was not afraid; he had no reason to be afraid. Nevertheless he gazed sometimes from the cliff top down on the cabin where Bland and Myra lived, and something stirred him so that he wished them gone.

He came off the hill one evening in the middle of June to find a canoe drawn up on the beach, two Siwashes puttering over a camp fire, and a tall, wirily slender, fair-haired man who might have been anywhere between twenty-seven and thirty-five sitting in the front doorway, talking to Doris.

Hollister noted the expression on the man's face when their eyes met. But he did not mind. He was used to that. He was becoming indifferent to what people thought of his face, because what they thought no longer had power to hurt him, to make him feel that sickening depression, to make him feel himself kin to those sinners who were thrust into the outer darkness. Moreover, he knew that some people grew used to the wreckage of his features. That had been his experience with his two woodsmen. At first they looked at him askance. Now they seemed as indifferent to his disfigurement as they were to the ragged knots and old fire-scars on the trees they felled. Anyway, it did not matter to Hollister.

But this fair-haired man went on talking, looking all the while at Hollister, and his look seemed to say, "I know your face is a hell of a sight, but I am not disturbed by it, and I don't want you to think I am disturbed." Behind the ragged mask of his scars Hollister smiled at this fancy. Nevertheless he accepted his interpretation of that look as a reality and found himself moved by a curious feeling of friendliness for this stranger whom he had never seen before, whom he might never see again,—for that was the way of casual travelers up and down the Toba. They came out of nowhere, going up river or down, stopped perhaps to smoke a pipe, to exchange a few words, before they moved on into the hushed places that swallowed them up.

The man's name was Lawanne. He was bound up-stream, after grizzly bear.

"I was told of an Englishman named Bland who is quite a hunter. I stopped in here, thinking this was his place and that I might get him to go on with me," he said to Hollister.

"That's Bland's place down there," Hollister explained.

"So Mrs. Hollister was just telling me. There didn't seem to be anybody about when I passed. It doesn't matter much, anyway," he laughed. "The farther I get into this country, the less keen I am to hunt. It's good enough just to loaf around and look at."

Lawanne had supper with them. Hollister asked him, not only as a matter of courtesy but with a genuine feeling that he wanted this man to break bread with them. He could not quite understand that sudden warmth of feeling for a stranger. He had never in his life been given to impulsive friendliness. The last five years had not strengthened his belief in friendships. He had seen too many fail under stress. But he liked this man. They sat outside after supper and Doris joined them there. Lawanne was not talkative. He was given to long silences in which he sat with eyes fixed on river or valley or the hills above, in mute appreciation.

"Do you people realize what a panoramic beauty is here before your eyes all the time?" he asked once. "It's like a fairyland to me. I must see a lot of this country before I go away. And I came here quite by chance."

"Which is, after all, the way nearly everything happens," Doris said.

"Oh," Lawanne turned to her, "You think so? You don't perceive the Great Design, the Perfect Plan, in all that we do?"

"Do you?" she asked.

He laughed.

"No. If I did I should sit down with folded hands, knowing myself helpless in the inexorable grip of destiny. I should always be perfectly passive."

"If you tried to do that you could not remain passive long. The unreckonable element of chance would still operate to make you do this or that. You couldn't escape it; nobody can."

"Then you don't believe there is a Destiny that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will?" Lawanne said lightly.

Doris shook her head.

"Destiny is only a word. It means one thing to one person, something else to another. It's too abstract to account for anything. Life's a puzzle no one ever solves, because the factors are never constant. When we try to account for this and that we find no fixed law, nothing but what is subject to the element of chance—which can't be reckoned. Most of us at different times hold our own fate, temporarily at least, in our own hands without knowing it, and some insignificant happening does this or that to us. If we had done something else it would all be different."

"Your wife," Lawanne observed to Hollister, "is quite a philosopher."

Hollister nodded. He was thinking of this factor of chance. He himself had been a victim of it. He had profited by it. And he wondered what vagaries of chance were still to bestow happiness or inflict suffering upon him in spite of his most earnest effort to achieve mastery over circumstances. He felt latterly that he had a firm grip on the immediate future. Yet who could tell?

Dusk began to close on the valley while the far, high crests of the mountains still gleamed under a crimson sky. Deep shadows filled every gorge and canyon, crept up and up until only the snowy crests glimmered in the night, ghostly-silver against a sky speckled with stars. The valley itself was shrouded under the dark blanket of the night, through which the river murmured unseen and distant waterfalls roared over rocky precipices. The two Indians attending Lawanne squatted within the red glow of their fire on the bank. Downstream a yellow spot broke out like a candle flame against black velvet.

"There is some one at Bland's now," Hollister said.

"That's their window light, eh?" Lawanne commented. "I may go down and see him in the morning. I am not very keen on two or three weeks alone in these tremendous silences. This valley at night now—it's awesome. And those Siwashes are like dumb men. You wouldn't go bear-hunting, I suppose?"

There was a peculiar gratification to Hollister in being asked. But he had too much work on hand. Neither did he wish to leave Doris. Not because it might be difficult for her to manage alone. It was simply an inner reluctance to be separated from her. She was becoming a vital part of him. To go away from her for days or weeks except under the spur of some compelling necessity was a prospect that did not please him. That which had first drawn them together grew stronger. Love, the mysterious fascination of sex, the perfect accord of the well-mated—whatever it was it grew stronger. The world outside of them held less and less significance. Sometimes they talked of that, wondered about it, wondered if it were natural for a man and a woman to become so completely absorbed in each other, to attain that singular oneness. They wondered if it would last. But whether it should prove lasting or not, they had it now and it was sufficient.

Lawanne went down to Bland's in the morning. He was still there when Hollister climbed the hill to his work.

Before evening he had something else to think about besides Lawanne. A trifle, but one of those trifles that recurs with irritating persistence no matter how often the mind gives it dismissal.

About ten o'clock that morning a logger came up to the works on the hill.

"Can you use another man?" he asked bluntly. "I want to work."

Hollister engaged him. By his dress, by his manner, Hollister knew that he was at home in the woods. He was young, sturdily built, handsome in a swarthy way. There was about him a slightly familiar air. Hollister thought he might have seen him at the steamer landing, or at Carr's. He mentioned that.

"I have been working there," the man replied. "Working on the boom."

He was frank enough about it. He wanted money,—a stake. He believed he could make more cutting shingle bolts by the cord. This was true. Hollister's men were making top wages. The cedar stood on good ground. It was big, clean timber, easy to work.

"I'll be on the job to-morrow," he said, after they had talked it over. "Take me this afternoon to get my outfit packed up here."

Hollister was haunted by the man's face at odd times during the day. Not until he was half-way home, until he came out on that ledge from whence he could look—and always did look with a slight sense of irritation—down on Bland's cabin as well as his own, did he recall clearly where and when he had seen Charlie Mills.

Mills was the man who sat looking at Myra across the table that winter morning when Hollister was suffering from the brief madness which brought him to Bland's cabin with a desperate project in his disordered mind.

Well, what of it, Hollister asked himself? It was nothing to him. He was a disinterested bystander now. But looking down on Bland's cabin, he reflected that his irritation was rooted in the fact that he did not want to be a bystander. He desired to eliminate Myra Bland and all that pertained to her from even casual contact with him. It seemed absurd that he should feel himself to be in danger. But he had a dim sense of danger. And instead of the aloofness which he desired, he seemed to see vague threads drawing himself and Doris and Myra Bland and this man Mills closer and closer together, to what end or purpose he could not tell.

For a minute Hollister was tempted to turn the man away when he went back up there in the morning. But that, he concluded with a shrug of his shoulders, was carrying a mere fancy too far.

It did not therefore turn his thoughts into a more placid channel to find, when he reached the house, Myra sitting in the kitchen talking to Doris. Yet it was no great surprise. He had expected this, looked forward to it with an uneasy sense of its inevitability.

Nothing could have been more commonplace, more uneventful than that meeting. Doris introduced her husband. They were all at their ease. Myra glanced once at his face and thereafter looked away. But her flow of small talk, the conversational stop-gap of the woman accustomed to social amenities, went on placidly. They were strangers, meeting for the first time in a strange land.

Bland had gone up-river with Lawanne.

"Jim lives to hunt," Myra said with a short laugh. It was the first and nearly the last mention of her husband she made that evening.

Hollister went out to wash himself in a basin that stood on a bench by the back door. He felt a relief. He had come through the first test casually enough. A slightly sardonic grimace wrinkled his tight-lipped mouth. There was a grim sort of humor in the situation. Those three, whose lives had got involved in such a tangle, forgathered under the same roof in that lonely valley, each more or less a victim of uncomprehended forces both within and exterior to themselves. Yet it was simple enough. Each, in common with all humanity, pursued the elusive shadow of happiness. The diverging paths along which they pursued it had brought them to this common point.

Hollister soaped and scrubbed to clean his hands and face of the sweat and dirt of his day's labor. Above the wash bench Myra's face, delicately pink and white and framed by her hair that was the color of strained honey, looked down at him through an open window. Her blue eyes rested on him, searchingly, he thought, with a curious appraisal, as if he were something to be noted and weighed and measured by the yardstick of her estimation of men. If she only knew, Hollister reflected sardonically, with his face buried in the towel, what a complete and intimate knowledge she had of him!

Looking up suddenly, his eyes met hers fixed unwaveringly upon him and for an instant his heart stood still with the reasonless conviction that she did know, she must know, that she could not escape knowing. There was a quality of awareness in her steady gaze that terrified him for a moment by its implication, which made him feel as if he stood over a powder magazine and that she held the detonator in her hand. But immediately he perceived the absurdity of his momentary panic. Myra turned her head to speak to Doris. She smiled, the old dimpling smile which gave him a strange feeling to see again. Certainly his imagination was playing him tricks. How could she know? And what would she care if she did know,—so long as he made no claims, so long as he let the dead past lie in its grave. For Myra was as deeply concerned to have done with their old life as he. He rested upon that assumption and went into the house and sat down to his supper.

Later, towards sundown, Myra went home. Hollister watched her vanish among the thickets, thinking that she too had changed,—as greatly as himself. She had been timid once, reluctant to stay alone over night in a house with telephones and servants, on a street brilliantly lighted. Now she could apparently face the loneliness of those solitudes without uneasiness. But war and the aftermath of war had taught Hollister that man adapts himself to necessity when he must, and he suspected that women were not greatly different. He understood that after all he had never really known Myra any more than she had known him. Externally they had achieved knowledge of each other through sight, speech, physical contact, comprehension of each other's habits. But their real selves, the essence of their being, the shadowy inner self where motives and passions took form and gathered force until they were translated for good or evil into forthright action,—these they had not known at all.

At any rate he perceived that Myra could calmly enough face the prospect of being alone. Hollister cast his eye up to where the cedars towered, a green mass on the slope above the cliff. He thought of Charlie Mills and wondered if after all she would be alone.

He felt ashamed of that thought as soon as it formed in his mind. And being ashamed, he saw and understood that he still harbored a little bitterness against Myra. He did not wish to bestow bitterness or any other emotion upon her. He wanted her to remain completely outside the scope of his feelings. He would have to try, he perceived, to cultivate a complete indifference to her, to what she did, to where she went, to insulate himself completely against her. Because he was committed to other enterprises, and chiefly because, as he said to himself, he would not exchange a single brown strand of Doris Cleveland's hair for all of Myra's body, even if he had that choice.

The moon stole up from behind the Coast Range after they had gone to bed. Its pale beams laid a silver square upon the dusky floor of their room. Doris reached with one arm and drew his face close up to hers.

"Are you happy?" she demanded with a fierce intensity. "Don't you ever wish you had a wife who could see? Aren't you ever sorry?"

"Doris, Doris," he chided gently. "What in the world put such a notion as that into your head?"

She lay thoughtful for a minute.

"Sometimes I wonder," she said at last. "Sometimes I feel that I must reassure myself that you are contented with me. When we come in contact with a woman like Mrs. Bland, for instance—Tell me, Bob, is she pretty?"

"Yes," he said "Very."

"Fair or dark?"

"Fair-skinned. She has blond hair and dark blue eyes, almost purple. She is about your height, about the same figure. Why so curious?"

"I just wondered. I like her very much," Doris said, with some slight emphasis on the last two words. "She is a very interesting talker."

"I noticed that," Hollister observed dryly. "She spoke charmingly of the weather and the local scenery and the mosquitoes."

Doris laughed.

"A woman always falls back on those conversational staples with a strange man. That's just the preliminary skirmishing. But she was here all afternoon, and we didn't spend five hours talking about the weather."

"What did you talk about then?" Hollister asked curiously.

"Men and women and money mostly," Doris replied. "If one may judge a woman by the impressionistic method, I should say that Mrs. Bland would be very attractive to men."

It was on the tip of Hollister's tongue to say, "She is." Instead he murmured, "Is that why you were doubting me? Think I'm apt to fall in love with this charming lady?"

"No," Doris said thoughtfully. "It wasn't anything concrete like that. It's a feeling, a mood, I suppose. And it's silly for me to say things like that. If you grow sorry you married me, if you fall in love with another woman, I'll know it without being told."

She pinched his cheek playfully and lay silent beside him. Hollister watched the slow shift of the moonbeams across the foot of the bed, thinking, his mind darting sketchily from incident to incident of the past, peering curiously into the misty future, until at last he grew aware by her drooped eyelashes and regular breathing that Doris was asleep.

He grew drowsy himself. His eyelids grew heavy. Presently he was asleep also and dreaming of a fantastic struggle in which Myra Bland—transformed into a vulture-like creature with a fierce beaked face and enormous strength—tore him relentlessly from the arms of his wife.


From day to day and from week to week, apprehending mistily that he was caught in and carried along by a current—a slow but irresistible movement of events—Hollister pursued the round of his daily life as if nothing but a clear and shining road lay before him; as if he had done for ever with illusions and uncertainties and wild stirrings of the spirit; as if life spread before him like a sea of which he had a chart whereon every reef was marked, every shoal buoyed, and in his hands and brain the instruments and knowledge wherewith to run a true course. He made himself believe that he was reasonably safe from the perils of those uneasy waters. Sometimes he was a little in doubt, not so sure of untroubled passage. But mostly he did not think of these potential dangers.

He was vitally concerned, as most men are, with making a living. The idea of poverty chafed him. He had once been a considerable toad in a sizable puddle. He had inherited a competence and lost it, and power to reclaim it was beyond him. He wasted no regrets upon the loss of that material security, although he sometimes wondered how Myra had contrived to let such a sum slip through her fingers in a little over two years. He assumed that she had done so. Otherwise she would not be sitting on the bank of the Toba, waiting more or less passively for her husband to step into a dead man's shoes.

That was, in effect, Bland's situation. He was an Englishman of good family, accustomed to a definite social standing, accustomed to money derived from a source into which he never troubled to inquire. He had never worked. He never would work, not in the sense of performing any labor as a means of livelihood. He had a small income,—fifty or sixty dollars a month. When he was thirty he would come into certain property and an income of so many thousand pounds a year. He and his wife could not subsist in any town on the quarterly dole he received. That was why they had come to live in that cabin on the Toba River. Bland hunted. He fished. To him the Toba valley served well enough as a place to rusticate. Any place where game animals and sporting fish abounded satisfied him temperamentally.

He had done his "bit" in the war. When he came into his money, they would go "home." He was placidly sure of himself, of his place in the general scheme of things. He was suffering from temporary embarrassment, that was all. It was a bit rough on Myra, but it would be all right by and by.

So much filtered into Hollister's ears and understanding before long. Archie Lawanne came back downstream with two grizzly pelts, and Hollister met Bland for the first time. He appraised Bland with some care,—this tall, ruddy Englishman who had supplanted him in a woman's affections, and who, unless Hollister's observation had tricked him, was in a fair way to be himself supplanted.

For Hollister was the unwilling spectator of a drama to which he could not shut his eyes. Nor could he sit back in the role of cynical audience, awaiting in cushioned ease the climax of the play and the final exit of the actors.

Mills was the man. Whether he was more than a potential lover, whether Myra in her ennui, her hunger for a new sensation—whatever unsatisfied longings led her to exercise upon men the power of her undeniable attraction—had now given her heart into Charlie Mills' keeping, Hollister of course neither knew nor cared.

But he did know that they met now and then, that Mills seemed to have some curious knowledge of when Bland was far afield. Mills could be trusted to appear on the flat in the evening or on a Sunday, if Myra came to see Doris.

He speculated idly upon this sometimes. Myra he knew well enough, or thought he did. He began to regard Mills with a livelier interest, to talk to the man, to draw him out, to discover the essential man under the outward seeming. He was not slow to discover that Mills was something more than so much bone and sinew which could be applied vigorously to an axe or a saw.

Hollister's speculations took a new turn when Archie Lawanne and Bland came back from the bear hunt. For Lawanne did not go out. He pitched a tent on the flat below Hollister's and kept one Siwash to cook for him. He made that halt to rest up, to stretch and dry his bear-skins. But long after these trophies were cured, he still remained. He was given to roaming up and down the valley. He extended his acquaintance to the settlement farther down, taking observation of an earnest attempt at cooeperative industry. He made himself at home equally with the Blands and the Hollisters.

And when July was on them, with hot, hazy sunshine in which berries ripened and bird and insect life filled the Toba with a twitter and a drone, when the smoke of distant forest fires drifted like pungent fog across the hills, Hollister began to wonder if the net Myra seemed unconsciously to spread for men's feet had snared another victim.

This troubled him a little. He liked Lawanne. He knew nothing about him, who he was, where he came from, what he did. Nevertheless there had arisen between them a curious fellowship. There seemed to reside in the man a natural quality of uprightness, a moral stoutness of soul that lifted him above petty judgments. One did not like or dislike Lawanne for what he did or said so much as for what he suggested as being inherent within himself.

There was a little of that quality, also, about Charlie Mills. He worked in the timber with a fierce energy. His dark face glistened with sweat-beads from morning till night. His black hair stood in wisps and curls, its picturesque disorder heightened by a trick he had of running his fingers through it when he paused for a minute to take breath, to look steadfastly across at the slide-scarred granite face of the north valley wall, with a wistful look in his eyes.

"Those hills," he said once abruptly to Hollister, "they were here long before we came. They'll be here long after we're gone. What a helpless, crawling, puny insect man is, anyway. A squirrel on his wheel in a cage."

It was a protesting acceptance of a stark philosophy, Hollister thought, a cry against some weight that bore him down, the momentary revealing of some conflict in which Mills foresaw defeat, or had already suffered defeat. It was a statement wrung out of him, requiring no comment, for he at once resumed the steady pull on the six-foot, cross-cut saw.

"Why don't you take it easier?" Hollister said to him. "You work as if the devil was driving you."

Mills smiled.

"The only devil that drives me," he said, "is the devil inside me.

"Besides," he continued, between strokes of the saw, "I want to make a stake and get to hell out of here."

Hollister did not press him for reasons. Mills did work as if the devil drove him, and in his quiescent moments an air of melancholy clouded his dark face as if physical passivity left him a prey to some inescapable inner gloom.

All about him, then, Hollister perceived strong undercurrents of life flowing sometimes in the open, sometimes underground: Charlie Mills and Myra Bland touched by that universal passion which has brought happiness and pain, dizzy heights of ecstasy and deep abysses of despair to men and women since the beginning of time; Lawanne apparently succumbing to the same malady that touched Mills; Bland moving in the foreground, impassive, stolidly secure in the possession of this desired woman. And all of them bowed before and struggling under economic forces which they did not understand, working and planning, according to their lights, to fulfill the law of their being, seeking through the means at hand to secure the means of livelihood in obedience to the universal will to live, the human desire to lay firm hold of life, liberty, such happiness as could be grasped.

Hollister would sit in the evening on the low stoop before his cabin and Doris would sit beside him with her hand on his knee. A spirit of drowsy content would rest upon them. Hollister's eyes would see the river, gray now with the glacial discharge, slipping quietly along between the fringes of alder and maple, backed by the deeper green of the fir and cedar and groves of enormous spruce. His wife's ears drank in the whispering of the stream, the rumbling of distant waterfalls, and her warm body would press against him with an infinite suggestion of delight. At such times he felt the goodness of being alive, the mild intoxication of the fragrant air which filled the valley, the majestic beauty of those insentient hills upon which the fierce midsummer sun was baring glacial patches that gleamed now like blue diamonds or again with a pale emerald sheen, in a setting of worn granite and white snowdrifts five thousand feet above.

In this wilderness, this vast region of forest and streams and wild mountain ranges, men were infinitesimal specks hurrying here and there about their self-appointed tasks. Those like himself and Doris, who did not mind the privations inseparable from that remoteness, fared well enough. The land held out to them manifold promises. Hollister looked at the red-brown shingle bolts accumulating behind the boom-sticks and felt that inner satisfaction which comes of success achieved by plan and labor. If his mutilated face had been capable of expression, it would have reflected pride, satisfaction. Out of the apparent wreckage of his life he was laying the foundations of something permanent, something abiding, an enduring source of good. He would tangle his fingers in Doris' brown hair and feel glad.

Then perhaps his eyes would shift downstream to where Bland's stark, weather-beaten cabin lifted its outline against the green thickets, and he would think uneasily upon what insecure tenure, upon what deliberate violation of law and of current morality he held his dearest treasure. What would she think, if she knew, this dainty creature cuddling against his knee? He would wake in the night and lie on elbow staring at her face in the moonlight,—delicate-skinned as a child's, that lovable, red-lipped mouth, those dear, blind eyes which sometimes gave him the illusion of seeing clearly out of their gray depths.

What would she think? What would she, say? What would she do? He did not know. It troubled him to think of this. If he could have swept Myra out of North America with a wave of his hand, he would have made one sweeping gesture. He was jealous of his happiness, his security, and Myra's presence was not only a reminder; it had the effect upon him of a threat he could not ignore.

Yet he was compelled to ignore it. She and Doris had become fast friends. It all puzzled Hollister very much sometimes. Except for the uprooting, the undermining influences of his war experience, he would have been revolted at his own actions. He had committed technical bigamy. His children would be illegitimate before the law.

Hollister's morality was the morality of his early environment; his class was that magnificently inert middle class which sets its face rigorously against change, which proceeds naively upon the assumption that everything has always been as it is and will continue to be so; that the man and woman who deviates from the accepted conventions in living, loving, marrying, breeding—even in dying—does so because of innate depravity, and that such people must be damned by bell, book and candle in this world, as they shall assuredly be damned in the next.

Hollister could no longer believe that goodness and badness were wholly matters of free will. From the time he put on the king's uniform in a spirit of idealistic service down to the day he met Doris Cleveland on the steamer, his experience had been a succession of devastating incidents. What had happened to him had happened to others. Life laid violent hands on them and tossed them about like frail craft on a windy sea. The individual was caught in the vortex of the social whirlpool, and what he did, what he thought and felt, what he became, was colored and conditioned by a multitude of circumstances that flowed about him as irresistibly as an ocean tide.

Hollister no longer had a philosophy of life in which motives and actions were tagged and labeled according to their kind. He had lost his old confidence in certain arbitrary moral dicta which are the special refuge of those whose intelligence is keen enough to grapple competently with any material problem but who stand aghast, apprehensive and uncomprehending, before a spiritual struggle, before the wavering gusts of human passion.

If he judged himself by his own earlier standard he was damned, and he had dragged Doris Cleveland down with him. So was Myra smeared with the pitch of moral obloquy. They were sinners all. Pain should be their desert; shame and sorrow their portion.

Why? Because driven by the need within them, blinded by the dust of circumstance and groping for security amid the vast confusion which had overtaken them, they reached out and grasped such semblence of happiness as came within reach of their uncertain hands.

The world at large, Hollister was aware, would be decisively intolerant of them all, if the world should by chance be called to pass judgment.

But he himself could no more pass harsh judgment upon his former wife than he could feel within himself a personal conviction of sin. Love, he perceived, was not a fixed emotion. It was like a fire which glows bright when plied with fuel and burns itself out when it is no longer fed. To some it was casual, incidental; to others an imperative law of being. Myra remained essentially the same woman, whether she loved him or some other man. Who was he to judge her? She had loved him and then ceased to love him. Beyond that, her life was her own to do with as she chose.

Nor could Hollister, when he faced the situation squarely, feel that he was less a man, less upright, less able to bear himself decently before his fellows than he had ever been. Sometimes he would grow impatient with thinking and put it all by. He had his moods. But also he had his work, the imperative necessity of constant labor to satisfy the needs both of the present and the future. No man goes into the wilderness with only his hands and a few tools and wins security by any short and easy road. There were a great many things Hollister was determined to have for himself and Doris and their children,—for he did not close his eyes to the natural fulfilment of the mating impulse. He did not spare himself. Like Mills, he worked with a prodigious energy. Sometimes he wondered if dreams akin to his own drove Charlie Mills to sweat and strain, to pile up each day double the amount of split cedar, and double for himself the wages earned by the other two men,—who were themselves no laggards with axe and saw. Or if Mills fantastically personified the timber as something which stood between him and his aching desire and so attacked it with all his lusty young strength.

Sometimes Hollister sat by, covertly watching Mills and Myra. He could make nothing of Myra. She was courteous, companionable, nothing more. But to Hollister Mills' trouble was plain enough. The man was on his guard, as if he knew betrayal lurked in the glance of his eye, in the quality of his tone. Hollister gauged the depths of Mills' feelings by the smoldering fire in his glance,—that glow in Mills' dark eyes when they rested too long on Myra. There would be open upon his face a look of hopelessness, as if he dwelt on something that fascinated and baffled him.

Sometimes, latterly, he saw a hint of that same dubious expression about Archie Lawanne. But there was a different temper in Lawanne, a flash of the sardonic at times.

In July, however, Lawanne went away.

"I'm coming back, though," he told Hollister before he left. "I think I shall put up a cabin and winter here."

"I'll be glad to see you," Hollister replied, "but it's a lonely valley in the winter."

Lawanne smiled.

"I can stand isolation for a change," he said. "I want to write a book. And while I am outside I'll send you in a couple that I have already written. You will see me in October. Try to get the shingle-bolt rush over so we can go out after deer together now and then."

So for a time the Toba saw no more of Lawanne. Hollister missed him. So did Doris. But she had Myra Bland to keep her company while Hollister was away at work in the timber. Sometimes Bland himself dropped in. But Hollister could never find himself on any common ground of mutual interest with this sporting Englishman. He was a bluff, hearty, healthy man, apparently without either intellect or affectation.

"What do you think of Bland?" he asked Doris once.

"I can't think of him, because I can't see him," she answered. "He is either very clever at concealing any sort of personality, or he is simply a big, strong, stupid man."

Which was precisely what Hollister himself thought.

"Isn't it queer," Doris went on, "how vivid a thing personality is? Now Myra and Mr. Lawanne are definite, colorable entities to me. So is Charlie Mills, quiet as he is. And yet I can't make Bland seem anything more than simply a voice with a slightly English accent."

"Well, there must be something to him, or she wouldn't have married him," Hollister remarked.

"Perhaps. But I shouldn't wonder if she married him for something that existed mostly in her own mind," Doris reflected. "Women often do that—men too, I suppose. I very nearly did myself once. Then I discovered that this ideal man was something I had created in my own imagination."

"How did you find that out before you were committed to the enterprise?" he asked curiously.

"Because my reason and my emotions were in continual conflict over that man," Doris said thoughtfully. "I have always been sure, ever since I began to take men seriously, that I wouldn't get on very long with any man who was simply a strong, healthy animal. And as soon as I saw that this admirable young man of mine hadn't much to offer that wasn't purely physical, why, the glamor all faded."

"Maybe mine will fade too," Hollister suggested.

"Oh, you're fishing for compliments now," she laughed. "You know very well you are. But we're pretty lucky, Robert mine, just the same. We've gained a lot. We haven't lost anything yet. I wouldn't back-track, not an inch. Would you—honest, now?"

Hollister answered that in a manner which seemed to him suitable to the occasion. And while he stood with his arm around her, Doris startled him.

"Myra told me a curious thing the other day," she said. "She has been married twice. She told me that her first husband's name was the same as yours—Bob Hollister—that he was killed in France in 1917. She says that you somehow remind her of him."

"There were a good many men killed in France in '17," he observed. "And Hollister is not such an uncommon name. Does the lady suspect I'm the reincarnation of her dear departed? She seems to have consoled herself for the loss, anyway."

"I doubt if she has," Doris answered. "She doesn't unburden her soul to me, but I have the feeling that she is not exactly a happy woman."

The matter rested there. Doris went away to do something about the house. Hollister stood glowering at the distant outline of Bland's cabin. A slow uneasiness grew on him. What did Myra mean by that confidence? Did she mean anything? He shook himself impatiently. He had a profound distaste for that revelation. In itself it was nothing, unless some obscure motive lurked behind. That troubled him. Myra meant nothing—or she meant mischief. Why, he could not say. She was quit of him at her own desire. She had made a mouthful of his modest fortune. If she had somehow guessed the real man behind that mask of scars, and from some obscure, perverted motive meant to bring shipwreck to both of them once more, Hollister felt that he would strangle her without a trace of remorse.


All that summer the price of cedar went creeping up. For a while this was only in keeping with the slow ascension of commodity costs which continued long after the guns ceased to thunder. But presently cedar on the stump, in the log, in the finished product, began to soar while other goods slowed or halted altogether in their mysterious climb to inaccessable heights,—and cedar was not a controlled industry, not a monopoly. Shingles and dressed cedar were scarce, that was all. For the last two years of the war most of the available man-power and machinery of British Columbia loggers had been given over to airplane spruce. Carpenters had laid down their tools and gone to the front. House builders had ceased to build houses while the vast cloud of European uncertainty hung over the nation. All across North America the wind and weather had taken toll of roofs, and these must be repaired. The nation did not cease to breed while its men died daily by thousands. And with the signing of the armistice a flood of immigration was let loose. British and French and Scandinavians and swarms of people from Czecho-Slovakia and all the Balkan States, hurried from devastated lands and impending taxes to a new country glowing with the deceptive greenness of far fields. The population had increased; the housing for it had not. So that rents went up and up until economic factors exerted their inexorable pressure and the tap of the carpenter's hammer and the ring of his saw began to sound in every city, in every suburb, on new farms and lonely prairies.

Cedar shingles began to make fortunes for those who dealt in them on a large scale. By midsummer Carr's mill on the Toba worked night and day.

"Crowd your work, Hollister," Carr advised him. "I've been studying this cedar situation from every angle. There will be an unlimited demand and rising prices for about another year. By that time every logging concern will be getting out cedar. The mills will be cutting it by the million feet. They'll glut the market and the bottom will drop out of this cedar boom. So get that stuff of yours out while the going is good. We can use it all."

But labor was scarce. All the great industries were absorbing men, striving to be first in the field of post-war production. Hollister found it difficult to enlarge his crew. That was a lonely hillside where his timber stood. Loggers preferred the big camps, the less primitive conditions under which they must live and work. Hollister saw that he would be unable to extend his operations until deep snow shut down some of the northern camps that fall. Even so he did well enough, much better than he had expected at the beginning. Bill Hayes, he of the gray mustache and the ear-piercing faller's cry, was a "long-stake" man. That is to say, old Bill knew his weaknesses, the common weaknesses of the logger, the psychological reaction from hard work, from sordid living, from the indefinable cramping of the spirit that grows upon a man through months of monotonous labor. Town—a pyrotechnic display among the bright lights—one dizzy swoop on the wings of fictitious excitement—bought caresses—empty pockets—the woods again! Yet the logger dreams always of saving his money, of becoming a timber king, of setting himself up in some business—knowing all the while that he is like a child with pennies in his hand, unhappy until they are spent. Bill Hayes was past fifty, and he knew all this. He stayed in the woods as long as the weakness of the flesh permitted, naively certain that he had gone on his last "bust", that he would bank his money and experience the glow of possessing capital.

The other man was negligible—a bovine lump of flesh without personality—born to hew wood and draw water for men of enterprise.

And there was always Mills, Mills who wanted to make a stake and "get to hell out of here", and who did not go, although the sum to his credit in Hollister's account book was creeping towards a thousand dollars, so fierce and unceasing an energy did Mills expend upon the fragrant cedar.

Hollister himself accounted for no small profit. Like Mills, he worked under a spur. He wrestled stoutly with opportunity. He saw beyond the cedar on that green slope. With a living assured, he sought fortune, aspired to things as yet beyond his reach,—leisure, an ampler way of life, education for his children that were to be.

This measure of prosperity loomed not so distant. When he took stock of his resources in October, he found himself with nearly three thousand dollars in hand and the bulk of his cedar still standing. Half that was directly the gain derived from a rising market. Labor was his only problem. If he could get labor, and shingles held the upper price levels, he would make a killing in the next twelve months. After that, with experience gained and working capital, the forested region of the British Columbia coast lay before him as a field of operations.

Meantime he was duly thankful for daily progress. Materially that destiny which he doubted seemed to smile on him.

Late in October, when the first southward flight of wild duck began to wing over the valley, old Bill Hayes and Sam Ballard downed tools and went to town. The itch of the wandering foot had laid hold of them. The pennies burned their pockets. Ballard frankly wanted a change. Hayes declared he wanted only a week's holiday, to see a show or two and buy some clothes. He would surely be back.

"Yes, he'll be back," Mills commented with ironic emphasis. "He'll be broke in a week and the first camp that pays his fare out will get him. There's no fool like a logger. Strong in the back and weak in the head—the best of us."

But Mills himself stayed on. What kept him, Hollister wondered? Did he have some objective that centered about Myra Bland? Was the man a victim of hopeless passion, lingering near the unobtainable because he could not tear himself away? Was Myra holding him like a pawn in some obscure game that she played to feed her vanity? Or were the two of them caught in one of those inextricable coils which Hollister perceived to arise in the lives of men and women, from which they could not free themselves without great courage and ruthless disregard of consequences?

Sometimes Hollister wondered if he himself were not overfanciful, too sensitive to moods and impressions. Then he would observe some significant interchange of looks between Mills and Myra and be sure of currents of feeling, furtive and powerful, sweeping about those two. It angered him. Hollister was all for swift and forthright action, deeds done in the open. If they loved, why did they not commit themselves boldly to the undertaking, take matters in their own hands and have an end to all secrecy? He felt a menace in this secrecy, as if somehow it threatened him. He perceived that Mills suffered, that something gnawed at the man. When he rested from his work, when he sat quiescent beside the fire where they ate at noon together, that cloak of melancholy brooding wrapped Mills close. He seldom talked. When he did there was in his speech a resentful inflection like that of a man who smarts under some injury, some injustice, some deep hurt which he may not divulge but which nags him to the limits of his endurance.

Hollister was Mills' sole company after the other two men left. They would work within sight of each other all day. They ate together at noon. Now and then he asked Mills down to supper out of pity for the man's complete isolation. Some chord in Hollister vibrated in sympathy with this youngster who kept his teeth so resolutely clenched on whatever hurt him.

And while Hollister watched Mills and wondered how long that effort at repression would last, he became conscious that Myra was watching him, puzzling over him; that something about him attracted and repulsed her in equal proportions. It was a disturbing discovery. Myra could study him with impunity. Doris could not see this scrutiny of her husband by her neighbor. And Myra did not seem to care what Hollister saw. She would look frankly at him with a question in her eyes. What that question might be, Hollister refused even to consider. She never again made any remark to Doris about her first husband, about the similarity of name. But now and then she would speak of something that happened when she was a girl, some casual reference to the first days of the war, to her life in London, and her eyes would turn to Hollister. But he was always on his guard, always on the alert against these pitfalls of speech. He was never sure whether they were deliberate traps, or merely the half-regretful, backward looking of a woman to whom life lately had not been kind.

Nevertheless it kept his nerves on edge. For he valued his peace and his home that was in the making. There was a restfulness and a satisfaction in Doris Cleveland which he dreaded to imperil because he had the feeling that he would never find its like again. He felt that Myra's mere presence was like a sword swinging over his head. There was no armor he could put on against that weapon if it were decreed it should fall.

Hollister soon perceived that if he were not to lose ground he must have labor. Men would not come seeking work so far out of the beaten track. In addition, there were matters afoot that required attention. So he took Doris with him and went down to Vancouver. Almost the first man he met on Cordova Street, when he went about in search of bolt cutters, was Bill Hayes, sober and unshaven and a little crestfallen.

"Why didn't you come back?" Hollister asked.

Hayes grinned sheepishly.

"Kinda hated to," he admitted. "Pulled the same old stuff—dry town, too. Shot the roll. Dang it, I'd ought to had more sense. Well, that's the way she goes. You want men?"

"Sure I want men," Hollister said. "Look here, if you can rustle five or six men, I'll make it easier for you all. I'll take up a cook for the bolt camp. And I won't shut down for anything but snow too deep to work in."

"You're on. I think I can rustle some men. Try it, anyhow."

Hayes got a crew together in twenty-four hours. Doris attended to her business, which required the help of her married cousin and a round of certain shops. Almost the last article they bought was a piano, the one luxury Doris longed for, a treat they had promised themselves as soon as the cedar got them out of the financial doldrums.

"I suppose it's extravagance," Doris said, her fingers caressing the smooth mahogany, feeling the black and ivory of the keyboard, "but it's one of the few things one doesn't need eyes for."

She had proved that to Hollister long ago. When she could see she must have had an extraordinary faculty for memorizing music. Her memory seemed to have indelibly engraved upon it all the music she had ever played.

Hollister smiled indulgently and ordered the instrument cased for shipping. It went up on the same steamer that gave passage to themselves and six woodsmen and their camp cook. There were some bits of new furniture also.

This necessitated the addition of another room. But that was a simple matter for able hands accustomed to rough woodwork. So in a little while their house extended visibly, took on a homier aspect. The sweet-peas and flaming poppies had wilted under the early frosts. Now a rug or two and a few pictures gave to the floors and walls a cheerful note of color that the flowers had given to their dooryard during the season of their bloom.

About the time this was done, and the cedar camp working at an accelerated pace, Archie Lawanne came back to the Toba. He walked into Hollister's quite unexpectedly one afternoon. Myra was there.

It seemed to Hollister that Lawanne's greeting was a little eager, a trifle expectant, that he held Myra's outstretched hand just a little longer than mere acquaintance justified. Hollister glanced at Mills, sitting by. Mills had come down to help Hollister on the boom, and Doris had called them both in for a cup of tea. Mills was staring at Lawanne with narrowed eyes. His face wore the expression of a man who sees impending calamity, sees it without fear or surprise, faces it only with a little dismay. He set down his cup and lighted a cigarette. His fingers, the brown, muscular, heavy fingers of a strong-handed man, shook slightly.

"You know, it's good to be back in this old valley," Lawanne said. "I have half a notion to become a settler. A fellow could build up quite an estate on one of these big flats. He could grow almost anything here that will grow in this latitude. And when he wanted to experience the doubtful pleasures of civilization, they would always be waiting for him outside."

"If he had the price," Mills put in shortly.

"Precisely," Lawanne returned, "and cared to pay it—for all he got."

"That's what it is to be a man and free," Myra observed. "You can go where you will and when—live as you wish."

"It all depends on what you mean by freedom," Lawanne replied. "Show me a free man. Where is there such? We're all slaves. Only some of us are too stupid to recognize our status."

"Slaves to what?" Myra asked. "You seem to have come back in a decidedly pessimistic frame of mind."

"Slaves to our own necessities; to other people's demands; to burdens we have assumed, or have had thrust upon us, which we haven't the courage to shake off. To our own moods and passions. To something within us that keeps us pursuing this thing we call happiness. To struggle for fulfilment of ideals that can never be attained. Slaves to our environment, to social forces before which the individual is nothing. It's all rot to talk about the free man, the man whose soul is his own. Complete freedom isn't even desirable, because to attain it you would have to withdraw yourself altogether from your fellows and become a law unto yourself in some remote solitude; and no sane person wants to do that, even to secure this mythical freedom which people prattle about and would recoil from if it were offered them. Yes, I'll have another cup, if you please, Mrs. Hollister."

Lawanne munched cake and drank tea and talked as if he had been denied the boon of conversation for a long time. But that could hardly be, for he had been across the continent since he left there. He had been in New York and Washington and swung back to British Columbia by way of San Francisco.

"I read those two books of yours—or rather Bob read them to me," Doris said presently. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself for writing such a preposterous yarn as 'The Worm'."

"Ah, my dear woman," Lawanne's face lit up with a sardonic smile. "I wish my publishers could hear you say that. 'The Worm' is good, sound, trade union goods, turned out in the very best manner of a thriving school of fictionsmiths. It sold thirty thousand copies in the regular edition and tons in the reprint."

"But there never were such invincible men and such a perfect creature of a woman," Doris persisted. "And the things they did—the strings you pulled. Life isn't like that. You know it isn't."

"Granted," Lawanne returned dryly. "But what did you think of 'The Man Who Couldn't Die'?"

"It didn't seem to me," Doris said slowly, "that the man who wrote the last book could possibly have written the first. That was life. Your man there was a real man, and you made his hopes and fears, his love and sufferings, very vivid. Your woman was real enough too, but I didn't like her. It didn't seem to me she was worth the pain she caused."

"Neither did she seem so to Phillips, if you remember," Lawanne said. "That was his tragedy—to know his folly and still be urged blindly on because of her, because of his own illusions, which he knew he must cling to or perish. But wait till I finish the book I'm going to write this winter. I'm going to cut loose. I'm going to smite the Philistines—and the chances are," he smiled cynically, "they won't even be aware of the blow. Did you read those books?" He turned abruptly to Myra.

She nodded.

"Yes, but I refuse to commit myself," she said lightly. "There is no such thing as a modest author, and Mrs. Hollister has given you all the praise that's good for you."

Hollister and Mills went back to their work on the boom. When they finished their day's work, Lawanne had gone down to the Blands' with Myra. After supper, as Mills rose to leave for the upper camp, he said to Doris:

"Have you got that book of his—about the fellow that couldn't die? I'd like to read it."

Doris gave him the book. He went away with it in his hand.

Hollister looked after him curiously. There was strong meat in Lawanne's book. He wondered if Mills would digest it. And he wondered a little if Mills regarded Lawanne as a rival, if he were trying to test the other man's strength by his work.

Away down the river, now that dark had fallen, the light in Bland's house shone yellow. There was a red, glowing spot on the river bank. That would be Lawanne's camp. Hollister shut the door on the chill October night and turned back to his easy-chair by the stove. Doris had finished her work. She sat at the piano, her fingers picking out some slow, languorous movement that he did not know, but which soothed him like a lullaby.

Vigorously he dissented from Lawanne's philosophy of enslavement. He, Hollister, was a free man. Yes, he was free,—but only when he could shut the door on the past, only when he could shut away all the world just as he had but now shut out the valley, the cold frosty night, his neighbors and his men, by the simple closing of a door. But he could not shut away the consciousness that they were there, that he must meet Myra and her vague questioning, Mills with his strange repression, his brooding air. He must see them again, be perplexed by them, perhaps find his own life, his own happiness, tangled in the web of their affairs. Hollister could frown over that unwelcome possibility. He could say to himself that it was only an impression; that he was a fool to labor under that sense of insecurity. But he could not help it. Life was like that. No man stood alone. No man could ever completely achieve mastery of his relations to his fellows. Until life became extinct, men and women would be swayed and conditioned by blind human forces, governed by relations casual or intimate, imposed upon them by the very law of their being. Who was he to escape?

No, Hollister reflected, he could not insulate himself and Doris against this environment, against these people. They would have to take things as they came and be thankful they were no worse.

Doris left the piano. She sat on a low stool beside him, leaned her brown head against him.

"It won't be so long before I have to go to town, Bob," she said dreamily. "I hope the winter is open so that the work goes on well. And sometimes I hope that the snow shuts everything down, so that you'll be there with me. I'm not very consistent, am I?"

"You suit me," he murmured. "And I'll be there whether the work goes on or not."

"What an element of the unexpected, the unforeseen, is at work all the time," she said. "A year ago you and I didn't even know of each other's existence. I used to sit and wonder what would become of me. It was horrible sometimes to go about in the dark, existing like a plant in a cellar, longing for all that a woman longs for if she is a woman and knows herself. And you were in pretty much the same boat."

"Worse," Hollister muttered, "because I sulked and brooded and raged against what had overtaken me. Yet if I hadn't reacted so violently, I should never have come here to hide away from what hurt me. So I wouldn't have met you. That would almost make one think there is something in the destiny that you and Lawanne smile at."

"Destiny and chance: two names for the same thing, and that thing wholly unaccountable, beyond the scope of human foresight," Doris replied. "Things happen; that's all we can generally say. We don't know why. Speaking of Lawanne, I wonder if he really does intend to stay here this winter and write a book?"

"He says so."

"He'll be company for us," she reflected. "He's clever and a little bit cynical, but I like him. He'll help to keep us from getting bored with each other."

"Do you think there is any danger of that?" Hollister inquired.

She tweaked his ear playfully.

"People do, you know. But I hardly think we shall. Not for a year or two, anyway. Not till the house gets full of babies and the stale odor of uneventful, routine, domestic life. Then you may."

"Huh," he grunted derisively, "catch me. I know what I want and what contents me. We'll beat the game handily; and we'll beat it together.

"Why, good Lord," he cried sharply, "what would be the good of all this effort, only for you? Where would be the fun of working and planning and anticipating things? Nearly every man, I believe," he concluded thoughtfully, "keeps his gait because of some woman. There is always the shadow of a woman over him, the picture of some woman—past, present, or future, to egg him on to this or that."

"To keep him," Doris laughed, "in the condition a poet once described as:

'This fevered flesh that goes on groping, wailing Toward the gloom.'"

They both laughed. They felt no gloom. The very implication of gloom, of fevered flesh, was remote from that which they had won together.

When Hollister went up to the works in the morning, he found Mills humped on a box beside the fireplace in the old cabin, reading "The Man Who Couldn't Die." At noon he was gone somewhere. Over the noon meal in the split-cedar mess-house, the other bolt cutters spoke derisively of the man who laid off work for half a day to read a book. That was beyond their comprehension.

But Hollister thought he understood.

Later in the afternoon, as he came down the hill, he looked from the vantage of height and saw Lawanne's winter quarters already taking form on the river bank, midway between his own place and Bland's. It grew to completion rapidly in the next few days, taking on at last a shake roof of hand-dressed cedar to keep out the cold rains that now began to beat down, the forerunner of that interminable downpour which deluges the British Columbia coast from November to April, the torrential weeping of the skies upon a porous soil which nourishes vast forests of enormous trees, jungles of undergrowth tropical in its density, in its variety of shrub and fern.

For a month after that a lull seemed to come upon the slow march of events towards some unknown destiny,—of which Hollister nursed a strange prescience that now rose strong in him and again grew so tenuous that he would smile at it for a fancy. Yet in that month there was no slack in the routine of affairs. The machinery of Carr's mill revolved through each twenty-four hours. Up on the hill Hollister's men felled trees with warning shouts and tumultuous crashings. They attacked the prone trunks with axe and saw and iron wedges, Lilliputians rending the body of a fallen giant. The bolt piles grew; they were hurled swiftly down the chute into the dwindling river, rafted to the mill. All this time the price of shingles in the open market rose and rose, like a tide strongly on the flood, of which no man could prophesy the high-water mark. Money flowed to Hollister's pockets, to the pockets of his men. The value of his standing timber grew by leaps and bounds. And always Sam Carr, who had no economic illusions, urged Hollister on, predicting before long the inevitable reaction.

The days shortened. Through the long evenings Hollister's house became a sort of social center. Lawanne would come in after supper, sometimes inert, dumb, to sit in a corner smoking a pipe,—again filled with a curious exhilaration, to talk unceasingly of everything that came into his mind, to thump ragtime on the piano and sing a variety of inconsequential songs in a velvety baritone. Myra came often. So did Bland. So did Charlie Mills. Many evenings they were all there together. As the weeks went winging by, Doris grew less certain on her feet, more prone to spend her time sitting back in a deep arm chair, and Myra began to play for them, to sing for them—to come to the house in the day and help Doris with her work.

The snow began at last, drifting down out of a windless sky. Upon that, with a sudden fear lest a great depth should fall, lest the river should freeze and make exit difficult, Hollister took his wife to town. This was about the middle of November. Some three weeks later a son was born to them.


When they came back to the Toba, Hollister brought in a woman to relieve Doris of housework and help her take care of the baby, although Doris was jealous of that privilege. She was a typical mother in so far as she held the conviction that no one could attend so well as herself the needs of that small, red-faced, lusty-lunged morsel of humanity.

And as if some definite mark had been turned, the winter season closed upon the valley in a gentle mood. The driving rains of the fall gave way to January snows. But the frost took no more than a tentative nibble now and then. Far up on the mountains the drifts piled deep, and winter mists blew in clammy wraiths across the shoulders of the hills. From those high, cold levels, the warmth of day and the frosts that gnawed in chill darkness started intermittent slides rumbling, growling as they slipped swiftly down steep slopes, to end with a crash at the bottom of the hill or in the depths of a gorge. But the valley itself suffered no extremes of weather. The river did not freeze. It fell to a low level, but not so low that Hollister ever failed to shift his cedar bolts from chute mouth to mill. There was seldom so much snow that his crew could not work. There was growing an appreciable hole in the heart of his timber limit. In another year there would be nothing left of those great cedars that were ancient when the first white man crossed the Rockies, nothing but a few hundred stumps.

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