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- The World For Sale, Volume 2. - 1/28 -
THE WORLD FOR SALE
By Gilbert Parker
VIII. THE SULTAN IX. MATTER AND MIND AND TWO MEN X. FOR LUCK XI. THE SENTENCE OF THE PATRIN XII. "LET THERE BE LIGHT" XIII. THE CHAIN OF THE PAST XIV. SUCH THINGS MAY NOT BE XV. THE WOMAN FROM WIND RIVER XVI. THE MAYOR FILLS AN OFFICE XVII. THE MONSEIGNEUR AND THE NOMAD XVIII. THE BEACONS XIX. THE BEEPER OF THE BRIDGE
Ingolby's square head jerked forwards in stern inquiry and his eyes fastened those of Jowett, the horsedealer. "Take care what you're saying, Jowett," he said. "It's a penitentiary job, if it can be proved. Are you sure you got it right?"
Jowett had unusual shrewdness, some vanity and a humorous tongue. He was a favourite in both towns, and had had the better of both in horse- dealing a score of times.
That did not make him less popular. However, it was said he liked low company, and it was true that though he had "money in the bank," and owned a corner lot or so, he seemed to care little what his company was. His most constant companion was Fabian Osterhaut, who was the common property of both towns, doing a little of everything for a living, from bill-posting to the solicitation of an insurance agent.
For any casual work connected with public functions Osterhaut was indispensable, and he would serve as a doctor's assistant and help cut off a leg, be the majordomo for a Sunday-school picnic, or arrange a soiree at a meeting-house with equal impartiality. He had been known to attend a temperance meeting and a wake in the same evening. Yet no one ever questioned his bona fides, and if he had attended mass at Manitou in the morning, joined a heathen dance in Tekewani's Reserve in the afternoon, and listened to the oleaginous Rev. Reuben Tripple in the evening, it would have been taken as a matter of course.
He was at times profane and impecunious, and he had been shifted from one boarding-house to another till at last, having exhausted credit in Lebanon, he had found a room in the house of old Madame Thibadeau in Manitou. She had taken him in because, in years gone by, he had nursed her only son through an attack of smallpox on the Siwash River, and somehow Osterhaut had always paid his bills to her. He was curiously exact where she was concerned. If he had not enough for his week's board and lodging, he borrowed it, chiefly of Jowett, who used him profitably at times to pass the word about a horse, or bring news of a possible deal.
"It's a penitentiary job, Jowett," Ingolby repeated. "I didn't think Marchand would be so mad as that."
"Say, it's all straight enough, Chief," answered Jowett, sucking his unlighted cigar. "Osterhaut got wind of it--he's staying at old Mother Thibadeau's, as you know. He moves round a lot, and he put me on to it. I took on the job at once. I got in with the French toughs over at Manitou, at Barbazon's Tavern, and I gave them gin--we made it a gin night. It struck their fancy--gin, all gin! 'Course there's nothing in gin different from any other spirit; but it fixed their minds, and took away suspicion.
"I got drunk--oh, yes, of course, blind drunk, didn't I? Kissed me, half a dozen of the Quebec boys did--said I was 'bully boy' and 'hell-fellow'; said I was 'bon enfant'; and I said likewise in my best patois. They liked that. I've got a pretty good stock of monkey-French, and I let it go. They laughed till they cried at some of my mistakes, but they weren't no mistakes, not on your life. It was all done a-purpose. They said I was the only man from Lebanon they wouldn't have cut up and boiled, and they was going to have the blood of the Lebanon lot before they'd done. I pretended to get mad, and I talked wild. I said that Lebanon would get them first, that Lebanon wouldn't wait, but'd have it out; and I took off my coat and staggered about--blind-fair blind boozy. I tripped over some fool's foot purposely, just beside a bench against the wall, and I come down on that bench hard. They laughed--Lord, how they laughed! They didn't mind my givin' 'em fits--all except one or two. That was what I expected. The one or two was mad. They begun raging towards me, but there I was asleep on the bench-stony blind, and then they only spit fire a bit. Some one threw my coat over me. I hadn't any cash in the pockets, not much--I knew better than that--and I snored like a sow. Then it happened what I thought would happen. They talked. And here it is. They're going to have a strike in the mills, and you're to get a toss into the river. That's to be on Friday. But the other thing--well, they all cleared away but two. They were the two that wanted to have it out with me. They stayed behind. There was I snoring like a locomotive, but my ears open all right.
"Well, they give the thing away. One of 'em had just come from Felix Marchand and he was full of it. What was it? Why, the second night of the strike your new bridge over the river was to be blown up. Marchand was to give these two toughs three hundred dollars each for doing it."
"Blown up with what?" Ingolby asked sharply.
"Where would they get it?"
"Some left from blasting below the mills."
"All right! Go on."
"There wasn't much more. Old Barbazon, the landlord, come in and they quit talking about it; but they said enough to send 'em to gaol for ten years."
Ingolby blinked at Jowett reflectively, and his mouth gave a twist that lent to his face an almost droll look.
"What good would it do if they got ten years--or one year, if the bridge was blown up? If they got skinned alive, and if Marchand was handed over to a barnful of hungry rats to be gnawed to death, it wouldn't help. I've heard and seen a lot of hellish things, but there's nothing to equal that. To blow up the bridge--for what? To spite Lebanon, and to hurt me; to knock the spokes out of my wheel. He's the dregs, is Marchand."
"I guess he's a shyster by nature, that fellow," interposed Jowett. "He was boilin' hot when he was fifteen. He spoiled a girl I knew when he was twenty-two, not fourteen she was--Lil Sarnia; and he got her away before--well, he got her away East; and she's in a dive in Winnipeg now. As nice a girl--as nice a little girl she was, and could ride any broncho that ever bucked. What she saw in him--but there, she was only a child, just the mind of a child she had, and didn't understand. He'd ha' been tarred and feathered if it'd been known. But old Mick Sarnia said hush, for his wife's sake, and so we hushed, and Sarnia's wife doesn't know even now. I thought a lot of Lil, as much almost as if she'd been my own; and lots o' times, when I think of it, I sit up straight, and the thing freezes me; and I want to get Marchand by the scruff of the neck. I got a horse, the worst that ever was--so bad I haven't had the heart to ride him or sell him. He's so bad he makes me laugh. There's nothing he won't do, from biting to bolting. Well, I'd like to tie Mr. Felix Marchand, Esquire, to his back, and let him loose on the prairie, and pray the Lord to save him if he thought fit. I fancy I know what the Lord would do. And Lil Sarnia's only one. Since he come back from the States, he's the limit, oh, the damnedest limit. He's a pest all round- and now, this!"
Ingolby kept blinking reflectively as Jowett talked. He was doing two things at once with a facility quite his own. He was understanding all Jowett was saying, but he was also weighing the whole situation. His mind was gone fishing, figuratively speaking. He was essentially a man of action, but his action was the bullet of his mind; he had to be quiet physically when he was really thinking. Then he was as one in a dream where all physical motion was mechanical, and his body was acting automatically. His concentration, and therefore his abstraction, was phenomenal. Jowett's reminiscences at a time so critical did not disturb him--did not, indeed, seem to be irrelevant. It was as though Felix Marchand was being passed in review before him in a series of aspects. He nodded encouragement to Jowett to go on.
"It's because Marchand hates you, Chief. The bump he got when you dropped him on the ground that day at Carillon hurts still. It's a chronic inflammation. Closing them railway offices at Manitou, and dislodging the officials give him his first good chance. The feud between the towns is worse now than it's ever been. Make no mistake. There's a whole lot of toughs in Manitou. Then there's religion, and there's race, and there's a want-to-stand-still and leave-me-alone- feeling. They don't want to get on. They don't want progress. They want to throw the slops out of the top windows into the street; they want their cesspools at the front door; they think that everybody's got to have smallpox some time or another, and the sooner they have it the better; they want to be bribed; and they think that if a vote's worth having it's worth paying for--and yet there's a bridge between these two towns! A bridge--why, they're as far apart as the Yukon and Patagonia."
"What'd buy Felix Marchand?" Ingolby asked meditatively. "What's his price?"
Jowett shifted with impatience. "Say, Chief, I don't know what you're thinking about. Do you think you could make a deal with Felix Marchand? Not much. You've got the cinch on him. You could send him to quod, and I'd send him there as quick as lightning. I'd hang him, if I could, for what he done to Lil Sarnia. Years ago when he was a boy he offered me a gold watch for a mare I had. The watch looked as right as could be-- solid fourteen-carat, he said it was. He got my horse, and I got his watch. It wasn't any more gold than he was. It was filled--just plated with nine-carat gold. It was worth about ten dollars."
"What was the mare worth?" asked Ingolby, his mouth twisting again with quizzical meaning.
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