Looms of Conflict
In which an industrial war reaches its shattering climax and a girl in love finds the haven of heart's desire
BURTON L. SPILLER
NOW, don’t be foolish,” said Bradley. “It can’t be done. It’s been tried already.” “Who tried it?” Nancy asked. “Kent. He went up there yesterday afternoon with Joe, with enough dynamite to blow that dam clean into Labor Day. They couldn’t get within a quarter of a mile of the place. They’d have been shot.” “Where is the dynamite now?” “They left it up there. But look here. You can’t—”
“I can get past those men with the rifles,” snapped Nancy. "And that’s more than the rest of you can do.” She fairly ran out of the office and down the steps. Bradley, gaping, watched her hurrying across the mill yard. "The girl's gone haywire!” he exclaimed.
He didn’t believe for a moment that she was seriously considering any singlehanded program of attempting to blow up the dam. That was absurd. True enough, she could probably get i>ast the riflemen but—well, it was simply fantastic. People, especially girls, were apt to make wild and reckless remarks under emotional stress. After she calmed down and thought it over, she would see that the thing was impossible.
Bradley underestimated Nancy’s determination. She had seen, just as Harmon had, that Rainbow’s only hope lay in the destruction of the dam. She saw very clearly now that to Charles Daggett she was merely a desirable possession, just as Rainbow was something else to be won and owned. Harmon’s stinging words had imbued her with a frantic sort of desperation. She went directly from the mill to the boardinghouse, where she found Indian Joe lounging on the verandah.
The Indian, stoical and unimaginative, was not as incredulous as Bradley. The girl did most of the talking in the brief interview, and Joe contented himself with affirmative grunts and obedient nods. Afterward, Nancy went home and changed into the silk shirt, breeks and high
txx)ts she had worn the previous day. Daggett and her father were at breakfast. She took a fishing rod and creel from a cupboard, and was just escaping from the house when Daggett hurried out into the hall.
‘‘Nancy ! Please! I want to talk to you.”
Daggett had been a bully and dictator in business hours for so long that he could not keep the imperious inflection from his voice. He had been utterly bewildered by Nancy’s attitude of the previous afternoon, but his vanity would not permit him to believe that her decision to break the engagement had been final. Thinking it over, he decided that he must have made some inadvertent remark to arouse her unaccountable anger. A word or two in the proper spirit would soon put that right.
Nancy whipped him with a glance.
“I don’t want to talk to you.” she told him tartly.
“Hut this is ridiculous,” Daggett said. “After all, I deserve some explanation.”
“You deserve nothing. You’ve accused Kent Hannon of trying to steal Rainbow, when all along you’ve been trying to steal it for yourself. And if I have my way, Charles Daggett, you’re not going to steal it.” she flared.
She left Daggett gaping, dumfounded.
A .QUARTER of an hour later, Jim Bradley, on his way to the dye room for further tinkering with his beloved invention, noticed a movement on the river. A canoe slipjied away from the bank by the mill, went slowly upstream. A big, dusky-skinned man with jet-black hair knelt in the stern. There was a girl in the bow.
“Great Scott!” ejaculated Bradley. “She meant it!”
He wheeled and raced back to the deserted office. This was something for Harmon to handle. Bradley stumbled up the steps and headed for the nearest telephone. Harmon, he assumed, had gone to Bolton, so he called the office of Lawyer Bliss.
“Is Kent there? Kent Hannon?” he shouted, when he heard the lawyer’s drawling voice on the wire.
“Hasn’t been here this morning,” answered Bliss.
“Tell him to call the mill if he shows up.” Bradley slapped the receiver back on the hook, muttering. He scratched his head. The situation, he felt, called for action of some sort, but he didn’t know just what to do about it.
He had stood hunched over the desk while he called the lawyer, his back toward the outer door, and now as he straightened, Bradley heard it pushed violently open, and he turned to look into the lowering countenance of Daggett.
He halted as Bradley turned, and for a moment they surveyed each other without speaking. Daggett’s face was convulsed with an inner fury, while beneath his beetling brows his closely set eyes peered out balefully, like those of a predatory animal.
That the fellow was tasting the bitter gall of misfortune, Bradley knew, and the knowledge was balm to his soul. He made no effort to restrain his elation, but grinned provocatively: whereupon Daggett strode around the railing and confronted him, his face working with passion.
“Where is Nancy?” His voice cracked like a whiplash.
Bradley’s grin became almost seraphic.
"What’s the matter now?” he asked. “You ain’t lost her, have you?”
Beneath its coat of tan, Daggett’s face took on a purple tinge, while a choking sound issued from his lips. He came a step nearer, his face working, and snarled: "Where is she? I want her !”
“I’ve heard it mentioned that you did,” Bradley retorted easily, then added philosophically: “Well, life is like that. A guy can’t expect to have everything.” “Don't stall. If she is here, I’ll see her— if I have to wreck the place in order to do so.”
“I guess that would be right in your line. I hear you’re good at that.”
For one brief instant Daggett’s eyes faltered, then he laughed contemptuously and swung about to face the door of the inner office, but when he would have brushed past, he found Bradley’s aggressive bulk barring his way.
“Now hold on, brother,” Bradley said, and his tone w'as silkily smooth. “This place ain’t yours—not yet.”
Underneath Bradley’s oily manner, there was something so coldly malevolent that the executive halted instinctively, but his anger made him declare, hotly: “If
she’s here, I’ll see her.”
"Maybe.” the Englishman admitted. "But she ain’t here, old-timer. She’s done went. Yes, sir! She’s left you for a better man.”
It was a crafty taunt, deliberately aimed, and it found its mark. The tortured man winced perceptibly, while the purple flush crept upward to his temples, only to recede and leave his face a sickly grey.
"Where is she?” The voice was a snarl.
Bradley thrust his hand in his trouser pockets and sauntered coolly toward the outer door, and not until he neared it did he deign to answer.
"That’s somethin’ I wouldn’t care to tell everybody,” he said blandly, as he turned and permitted his shoulder to rest carelessly against the portal. “It’s more or less of a secret, but seein’ as how' it concerns you in a way, I don’t mind lettin’ you in on it. She’s gone up to blow the guts out of your toy dam.”
FOR A moment Daggett stood immovable, while the full significance of the words dawned upon him. Then he sw'ayed drunkenly and lurched toward the door, spitting through his clenched teeth: “The double-crossing little .
Lounging nonchalantly against the door, Bradley surveyed the result of his studied speech with grim satisfaction, but when Daggett started towrard him, he turned quickly, twisted the key in the lock, withdrew’ it, and tossed it carelessly upon the counter. Then, with a sinuous movement which was surprising in one of his age and bulk, he slipped out of his coat, let it fall unnoticed behind him, and stepped into the other’s path.
There w'as no mistaking the significance of the gesture, but Daggett came resolutely on, his insensate anger blinding him to the danger which confronted him. Finding his progress barred by the other’s body, he w'ould have crow'ded past, but Bradley had waited overlong for the moment and would not be denied. With his open hand he struck his enemy across the cheek, a stinging slap that left the red imprint of his fingers behind it, then repeated the insult with a quickness which nothing but a cat could have equalled.
At the impact Daggett paused and shook his head stupidly, like one waking from an unpleasant dream, and for the first time seemed to realize the purpose of the other’s action. Even then he w'ould have pushed on, the old enmity dw'arfed to insignificance by the new torment that racked his soul, but when the Englishman again barred his path, he cursed venomously and lashed out a vicious right-hand blow' at his adversary’s head.
Had it landed, the battle might well have terminated then, but Bradley had been born in the slums of London, and w'as an admirable example of nature’s decree that only the fittest may survive. His knowledge of the art, as expounded by the immortal Marquis of Queensberry, was only theoretical, but to use his ow'n expression, “it 'ad been ’ammered into ’is ’ead,” that a right-hand blow was a “sucker punch.”
Obeying the instinct implanted within him by a hundred gutter brawls, he ducked easily forward, and because the
movement brought him so conveniently close to what, in his owfn parlance, he would have designated as the "breadbasket” of his opponent, he implanted his fist deeply therein, with the weight of his body and all the rancor which had been accumulating in his soul for four long months behind it.
It was a manoeuvre which the spindle-shanked fistic champion, Fitzsimmons, had often employed to bring the tall ones down to his own level. Daggett’s red-rimmed eyes fluttered widely open. A glassy sheen spread across them, his mouth twisted in sudden agony, while a gurgling sound issued from his throat.
His will, and every warning instinct within him. shouted for him to stand erect and protect himself for those few precious seconds necessary to recover from the paralyzing effects of the blow; but the agony was too great, and his arms dropped lifelessly, while he bent slowly forward.
With a smile of utter satisfaction lighting his face, Bradley sent a twisting upward hook into the face of the unhappy man. Had the blow landed on the point of the jaw', as intended, Bradley might have dusted his hands, put on his coat and called it a day; but it landed high on the reeling man’s forehead—and brought disaster to the striker. As his clenched fist crashed against the frontal bone of his adversary, he felt the knuckles shatter, w'hile a piercing pain shot upward into his forearm. So agonizing it was that he cried out, even as he shifted still closer and sent a whistling left toward his enemy’s face.
THE BLOW fell short, and Daggett, his breath regained, seized the opportunity to fall into a clinch which Bradley w'as powerless to break. Held helpless by the other’s overmastering strength, he struggled fiercely to force Daggett away before it w'as too late, for he knew' all too w'ell that when he had once recovered from the numbing blow, the financier would have every advantage.
Let it be said to his credit that he had known it from the first, for Daggett outweighed him by thirty pounds.
Panting desperately, he fought to escape the surging power of Daggett’s arms. The thought of his folly in divulging Nancy’s mission flashed through his mind. He had been so sure of himself, so certain of his power to exact toll for the wrong which had been done his friend, that he had throwm caution to the winds; now he cursed himself for his w'itless action.
With a superhuman effort he tore himself from the other’s restraining grasp and looked about for a weapon, but his darting glance was unrewarded. At that moment, Daggett struck wickedly; a full-armed, swinging blow which drove Bradley against the wall.
While he stood there swaying, his brain numb, Daggett struck again. Bradley’s knees flexed slowly, while his body trembled like a windblown reed, then he toppled forward on his face. A leg twitched convulsively, then he lay still.
Daggett looked down upon the fallen man. his head thrust forward, a smile of triumph on his face; then he stepped across the sprawled form and tried the dr. When it resisted his efforts, he all but tore it from its fastenings, then turned and leaped through an open window to the yard.
He started running as his feet touched the earth, unmindful whether his unceremonious departure had been witnessed; and headed straight for an upturned canoe on the river bank.
THE SENTRY at the first portage was unsuspicious. “Morning, Miss Holcomb,” he said. “Going fishing?” "The w'ater is so low' now,” she replied, “that there isn’t any decent fishing left below the dam.”
“Guess that’s so.” The man watched as Joe heaved the canoe up onto his big shoulders and went sw inging up the trail. Nancy followed with rxi and creel. Joe’s face, hidden under the canoe, was creased in a smile. This, the Indian was thinking, might turn out to lie a good deal simpler than it had appeared at first. The fact that Nancy had visited the dam in Daggett’s company the previous day was sufficient passport for them both.
They crossed the jxirtage, and Joe lowered the canoe into the water again.
“Better job if we put dynamite under dam,” he grunted, “but we get shot sure. Got to go up above, then turn back and come down.”
Nancy’s mind had been busy. She had set out on this expedition impulsively, without any very clear idea of how the feat was to be accomplished. She saw now that it might present extraordinary difficulties. As Joe said, it would be almost impossible to get close enough to the understructure of the dam to plant a dynamite charge without being seen. By going up into the reservoir and then turning back, it w'ould be possible to get the canoe close to the top of the dam, but here again the danger would be great. In full sight of the guards, how could they plant the dynamite, light the fuse and make a getaway, gain the safety of land before the explosion?
From what she had seen of the dam the previous afternoon, it had a scant safety margin. An explosion at the top of a concrete dam, for instance, w'ould have little effect, for most of the upward force of the dynamite would Continued on page 22
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be dissipated. But any shock sufficient to shatter or loosen part of the timbering on this structure would weaken it to such an extent that the force of the pent-up water would do the rest.
“Can’t we land on shore above the dam,” she suggested, “and let the canoe drift down with the dynamite? We could light the fuse before we set the canoe loose.”
Joe grunted and shook his head.
"No g(X)d. Mebbe canoe go down too slow, blow up before it hit dam. Blow big hole in the water, that’s all. Mebbe canoe go down too fast, go through sluice.”
“Then we’ve got to get the canoe lodged against the top of the dam somehow, before w’e light the fuse.”
Joe, paddling steadily as he thrust the canoe upstream, had no suggestions as to how this was to be achieved. He was perfectly willing to do any work, take any risk that might be demanded of him; but when it came to exercising his intelligence on the problem and mapping out a course of action-—well, that was for the white girl.
By the time they reached the second portage, where the sentry on guard greet«! Nancy politely and passed them by without question, she was still grappling with the problem. But there was no thought of possible failure in her mind. She realized by now the complete efficiency of Daggett’s plans for Harmon’s defeat. Only by the destruction of the dam could that defeat be averted.
T'VAGGETT had just reached the first portage when Harmon’s car swept into the mill yard. He had burned up the road between Bolton and Rainbow when, after receiving the message from Bliss, he had called the office half a dozen times without response. As he leaped out of the car, he heard Lute shouting to him from the doorway of the machine shop.
Jim Bradley, looking considerably the worse for wear, still groggy and with his shirt torn to shreds, was sprawled in a chair by a workbench, pressing a piece of cold steel to a black eye.
“What in the world—?”
“Assault and battery,” snapped Lute. "That’s what it is. Look what he done to him.”
“I had him licked too,” mumbled Bradley. “That’s what makes me mad.”
“Had who lick«!? What’s happened? Who hit you?”
"Daggett.” blurted Bradley. “We had a battle. I beat the daylights out of him. Ánd then, blyme, I forgot to duck. Listen, Kent, that crazy girl has taken Joe with her and gone up to pick up that dynamite and blow the dam out of the water. And Daggett’s gone after ’em.”
“What?” yelled Harmon.
“He don’t talk clear,” said Lute, clicking his false teeth. “That mouth of his looks like it got smacked with a baseball bat. What he was tryin’ to say w'as that Nancy and Joe went up river to blow up the dam, and Daggett lit out after ’em in a cam».”
“I got smart.” explained Bradley ruefully, “and told him what the girl was up to. We had a fight and I wasn’t as smart as I thought 1 w*as. There’s goin’ to be trouble up river, Kent.”
Harmon didn’t say a word. He wheeled away from the drway and raced toward the office, shucking off his coat as he ran. In the little room back of his private office, he made a quick change into the bush clothes he had worn on his expedition with Joe the previous day. He was just charging down the steps again, buttoning his llannel shirt, when Lute came shambling up the yard.
"You want a canoe? Goin’ after ’em?”
“I’m going cross-country same way Joe and I went yesterday.”
“Think I ought to round up some of the boys and go up river?"
"No! Stay off the river! If that dam goes out, the water will come down here fast enough to swamp every canoe ahead of it.”
Lute stood goggling as Harmon ran out of the mill yard and went plunging up the hill toward the bush.
Harmon knew there was no time to waste. If Nancy had broken with Daggett, had gone on any such reckless expedition as Bradley claimed, and if Daggett was already on the river in pursuit, there was no predicting what the consequences would be. Especially if she didn’t know Daggett had been told of her plan.
He hit into the bush at a swinging lope. Cross-country was shorter than the river route but rougher travelling, and he did not know the extent of Daggett's lead over him. Half an hour, probably. What had possessed Nancy to attempt such a harebrained venture? Dynamite was risky stuff to handle. How did she expect to blow up a dam guarded by men with guns? If she tried it. and there was shooting . Harmon slogged along through the brush at the top of the slope, reached level ground. His face was drawn, creased with lines of worry. His jaw was set. He knew how he felt about Nancy now. It didn’t matter which side she was on--for him or against him -she was the only girl in the world who mattered.
The morning sun was hot. After a while, as the trail dipped into the valley near the marshes, his clothes were sticking to his body, and the flies began to gather in clouds.
He slapped at them continuously. Once he fell, twisting his ankle when he tripped over a rotten log. Harmon got up and trudged on. following the ill-defined trail, limping a little.
r"PHE GUARDS at the dam were as unsuspecting as the others. One of them even offered to help Joe carry the canoe up over the trail to the water above. The fishing rod Nancy carried seemed sufficient explanation. No one asked any questions. By this time she had formed her plan. It meant that they must go on up, out of sight of the dam, and then return. But they must get the dynamite first.
That was difficult and risky. But Joe managed it. While Nancy pretended to be resting before resuming their journey upstream, the Indian vanished into the bush. Not the shifting of a branch, not the crackle of a twig, betrayed his departure. One moment he was lowering the canoe from his shoulders; the next moment he had disappeared.
In less than five minutes he was back again. The cartridges and fuse were inside his shirt. No one had noticed that catlike figure, like a wraith among the bushes on the hillside above the dam. Joe merely grunted, “Everyt’ing okey-dokey,” and held the canoe while Nancy took her place in the bow and picked up her paddle. The craft slipped out into the water, through the tangle of branches and treetops of the flooded country above the dam. In the open he paddled with short, firm strokes, sending the light craft swiftly on up toward the bend in the river.
Nancy glanced back.
The broad floor of pent-up water was flat and silvery under the sun. She could see the fresh yellow timbers that showed where the top of the dam extended from bank to bank, with one short gap where the water swept through the sluice in a smooth black curve. She could see the contractor’s shack on the hillside, the rifleman who patrolled the top of the dam strolling back and forth by the flimsy railing, a group of workmen putting some of the last timbers into place.
And then the canoe slipped around the bend and the dam was lost to sight. Joe eyed the flooded shores. It was difficult to find a landing place. On either side of the river the water had backed up and flooded the wooded slopes. He found a spot at last—it had once been the top of an open grassy slope dipping to the river bank—and sent the canoe inshore. There they landed and waited. Nancy was pale.
“You understand, Joe? When you go back downstream, they’ll think you’re alone. I’ll be lying in the bottom of the canoe. I’m supposed to be hurt. You will bring the canoe alongside the top of the dam and ask one of them to help you lift me out.”
Joe’s sloe-black eyes were fixed on her intelligently. He nodded.
“How I get away wit' lighting fuse?” he asked.
“Watch your chance. Light a cigarette. Touch the match to the fuse and try to do it without being seen. Then, as you get tip onto the dam. shove the canoe clear with your foot, but not so hard that it will go away from the dam and maybe be swept down the sluice. If you’re lucky, perhaps you won’t be seen doing it at all. They may be busy helping me up to shore. I’ll do the best I can to distract their attention. The thing is—try to get the canoe lodged against the top of the dam, with that fuse burning, and then clear out as fast as you can.”
“No, we’ll wait a little while longer. They may get suspicious if they see the canoe coming back so soon.”
So they waited, sitting there on the bank under the morning sunlight that flooded Rainbow valley. Not a word had been said about the risk. Each knew that it would be a gamble with death.
At last Nancy rose to her feet.
“All right, Joe,” she said in a voice that trembled a little. “We’ll go now.”
Joe arranged the dynamite and the fuse in the stem of the canoe. Nancy curled up in the bottom of the craft, pillowing her head between thwart and gunwale. Joe stepped into the stern, thrust out from shore, dug his paddle into the water.
The drowned treetops slid past. A little breeze ruffled the water and stirred Joe’s straight black hair. He gazed straight ahead, out over the great flat reservoir that Daggett’s scheming had created.
The shore line drew back like a curtain from a stage. He could see the dam, away off in the distance. Freshhewn wood gleamed yellow in the sun. Water dripped from his paddle, rising and falling.
“Pretty soon now,” he said to the girl.
The canoe slid slowly on toward the barrier.
“You know what you’re to do, Joe?”
The Indian grunted affirmatively.
“Sure. Light cigarette, light fuse, give canoe a big kick, run like hell.”
Something that buzzed like an angry wasp whined viciously within an inch of Joe’s head, and almost in the same instant they heard the emphatic, ringing report of a rifle.
Joe ducked. Aw ay over to his left the bullet spatted into the water.
Again that angry buzz, followed by the metallic whap of the unseen gun. This time the bullet flicked a splinter of wood from the gunwale, near the bow.
“What’s that?” demanded Nancy, startled.
Joe’s dusky face was a shade paler. His back arched as he threw every ounce of strength into the paddle strokes. But now the canoe didn’t follow' a smooth, straight course. It swerved to the right, thrust sharply to the left, drove straight ahead, cut erratically inshore, swung back again. Beads of sweat w’ere standing out on the Indian’s forehead. One shot into that dynamite in the stem would blow him and the girl into eternity.
“Shootin’,” he grunted. “Stay dowm. Head down.” Zinnng!
The rifleman was getting the range. This time the bullet w'as so close that Joe thought it had flicked the back of his shirt.
STUMBLING down through the bush, Harmon had seen the canoe far out on the smooth, swollen waters of the reservoir. A canoe with one man paddling in the stern— and yet apparently laden, for it rode on an even keel, with the lxw down.
Clothes torn, face streaked with sweat and dirt, Hannon w'as panting. He had found the dynamite cache, saw' that the cartridges were gone. Down at the foot of the slope he had seen the riflemen on the dam. But he did not see Daggett. And where was Nancy? The man in the canoe, he thought, was Joe. Coming down on the dam from above, with a load of dynamite. It was suicide!
Then he heard the first sharp rifle shot from somew'here among the trees down by the flooded shore. The echo reverberated from the hills. He saw the silvery splash as the bullet hit the w'ater beyond the canoe.
Harmon broke into a frantic run, He knew where Daggett was now. At the second shot he was crashing down through the underbrush like a deer chased by the hounds. And this time the sound of the shot told him exactly where to look. He caught sight of a crouching figure, a dark splotch in the green.
Harmon was about twenty-five feet away when Daggett, taking a lower sight, fired the third shot. The echoes were still ringing between hill and water when the thudding crash of Harmon’s rush made Daggett turn. Daggett, with the rifle he had snatched up in the contractor’s shanty at the dam when he learned that Nancy and the Indian had portaged up into the reservoir, leaped to his feet. For Harmon was berserk.
The big blond man flung up the gun. But Harmon’s downhill rush was like that of a charging bull. He crashed full tilt into Daggett and the shot roared from a rifle pointed at the empty sky.
They had come to grips at last. Harmon knew a fierce exultation as Daggett crumpled beneath the smashing impact and went down, the rifle twisting out of his hands. He was groping for Daggett’s throat, trying to pin the twisting form beneath him. And then Daggett’s left fist swung savagely. It caught Harmon flush on the jaw, jolted his head back, sent stars dancing in front of his eyes.
Daggett was no soft, paunchy, swivel-chair buccaneer of business. He was a big man, big and strong and in perfect condition. Right here and now he stood to lose everything his plans and schemes had gained him. For more than a year he had double-crossed Nationwide Woollens Co. by stealing personal control of the new mills, but if he failed to get Rainbow, the whole structure would topple about his ears. He had staked everything on Rainbow; his position at Nationwide was so shaky that exposure was imminent, but if he had Rainbow and twelve other mills in his hands, he would be able to laugh at the whole textile world. And out in that canoe not 300 yards away was enough dynamite to blow the dam to pieces, and with it his whole industrial and financial future.
The blow to the jaw sent Harmon back. He lost his momentary advantage. He saw Daggett twisting, swinging at him again. Another blow caught him between the eyes. Harmon went back, half-blinded, rolled over on the ground, crawled to his knees. He was halfway to his feet when Daggett came at him again. This time Harmon hooked a savage left to Daggett’s jaw, but the blond man shook it off, drove a swinging right that clipped Harmon under the ear and staggered him.
Harmon closed in. His right exploded in Daggett’s face. They grappled with each other, bodies straining as they wrestled in the little clearing. Daggett’s big left fist pounded the back of Harmon’s neck with powerful, numbing blows. Harmon threw all his strength into a jarring right to the ribs, pulled himself partly free, slugged a left uppercut to the jaw.
Daggett stumbled back, tripped over a loose branch and went down. But he dragged Harmon with him. They rolled over and over, punching and mauling. Daggett’s knee drove sharply into Harmon’s stomach, almost paralyzing him with pain. The strength seemed to drain out of his body. He went limp for a second. Daggett followed up the advantage, smashed a brutal right to Harmon’s jaw. Continued on page 24
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Harmon rolled over, his muscles lax, his face buried in the grass. The earth seemed to be rising and falling beneath him. Waves of pain swept over him. He tried to draw his knees up beneath him, tried to get to his feet . . .
Daggett dove toward the rifle. He snatched it up. Crouching, he peered through the branches, out over the water, saw the canoe again. It was much closer to the dam now. Daggett flung up the gun. He took careful aim, squeezed the trigger.
The rifle spoke. Away out over the water he saw the man in the canoe fling back his head sharply. And not a foot from the stem leaped a tiny geyser of water.
It was close. Daggett’s lips tightened in a straight line. He squinted down the barrel of the rifle again.
Harmon, on his knees now, rose halfway to his feet and plunged. His outflung arm struck the rifle barrel aside in the instant that Daggett’s finger curved on the trigger. A wild, detnoniac energy possessed him. He was fighting with the blind fury of an animal now. Daggett went back under his weight. Harmon’s right fist lashed out, struck for the jaw. Daggett’s fingers closed on his throat. The fingers were like steel. Harmon smashed again and again at the face in front of him. The fingers were squeezing the breath and life out of his body.
Harmon put all his waning strength into one last despairing blow. His knuckles smashed against flesh. And then the terrible grip on his throat relaxed and fell away. Through a mist he saw Daggett’s head go back, eyes glassy. Daggett sprawled on the ground, motionless and unconscious.
"^TANCY, curled up in the bottom of the canoe, had experienced wild, unreasoning terror when she heard the whine of those bullets from the shore. And just when it seemed that the shooting, for some mysterious reason, was over, it had broken out again with one shot so close to the stern that Joe had almost capsized the canoe by his involuntary lurch.
“Keep down.” Joe kept on muttering. “Head down!”
He was bringing the canoe closer and closer to the dam. He could see men running about, evidently bewildered by the shooting. One of the guards, suspicious now, ran out onto the top of the dam and gestured imperatively.
“Go back!” he yelled. “Keep off! You can’t land here.”
Joe did not slacken his rhythmic drive. The man on the dam shifted the rifle in the crook of his arm. A few more strokes brought the canoe into the dead water.
“Girl hurt,” explained Joe. “Hurt bad.”
The rifleman was undecided. Ever since Daggett had come storming up over the portage, had snatched up a rifle and gone up the shore, he had been suspicious and puzzled. The shooting, too. indicated that there was something radically wrong. Daggett had cursed them for letting the Indian and the girl go through.
He raised his rifle.
“You come in under the gun.” he ordered. “No funny business, see. I think the boss wants to have a talk with you two.”
“What boss?” asked Joe.
“Never mind askin’ questions. Do as you’re told. Any monkey business, and I’ll shoot.”
Joe stared at him blankly.
“Girl hurt.” he repeated. “Hurt bad.”
“Well, if she’s hurt she’ll be looked after. But I got an idea you’re up to something. So take it easy and watch your step.”
Joe brought the canoe up alongside the top of the dam. He held the craft steady with one hand while, with the other, he helped Nancy. She acted her part well. Whimpering a little, she crawled weakly to her feet.
“You'll have to help me,” she gasped.
The man on the dam put down his rifle well out of Joe’s reach, and assisted her
out of the canoe. Nancy limped, her face twisted as if in pain.
“If you can help me to the shore . . . ” Joe took a crumpled cigarette out of his shirt pocket and thrust it into his mouth. The rifleman’s arms were fully occupied as Nancy clung to him.
“One of them bullets hit you?” he asked. Joe took out a match, snapped it on his thumbnail, lit the cigarette. Then, deliberately he touched the flame to the length of fuse that trailed out over the bottom of the canoe from the explosive in the stern. He put one foot on top of the dam. With the other he gave the canoe a quick thrust.
“Say, look out! What are you tryin’ to do? You’ll lose your canoe!” shouted the rifleman, looking around as Joe lurched up onto the dam. And then he gave a yell, for he could hear the spluttering fuse and he could see the tiny sparks. Nancy tore loose from him and ran toward shore.
“Better run fast,” advised Joe. “Pretty soon ain’t going to be no dam here.”
The rifleman turned and fled as if tigers were at his heels.
THE CANOE slid along the exposed top of the dam and rested there, close against the timbers, bumping a little with the lapping of the water. Joe raced toward shore with mighty strides. The guard was shouting in a frenzy to his companions on the slope:
“Run for it. Get up on the high ground. The dam’s going out !”
Nancy tripped over a muddle of loose yellow chips and fell. Joe was at her side in a second, swept a big arm around her waist, lifted her to her feet. They went scrambling up the slope.
There was a roar, a sheet of flame and a cloud of smoke. The crashing boom of the explosion echoed like thunder in the valley. Great splinters and fragments of wood went hurtling high into the air. Nancy whirled and looked back. On the other side of the river she could see a man scrambling for safety.
The canoe had vanished. Through the cloud of smoke she could see a ragged gap in the top of the dam. And then the whole structure began to melt and crumble away, like a child’s sand castle before a wave. A mighty groaning and creaking of tortured timbers weakening under the tremendous weight of water that pressed against them. And then, with a roar like thunder, the dam collapsed, caved in, was swept under a swelling flood of water that rolled down into the gorge below. Gigantic waves leaped to the steep banks as the pent-up water was released in a boiling maelstrom. Timbers bobbed and swirled in the torrent; the dam went like matchwood, and its wreckage was swept irresistibly down with the mad rush of water.
It was a strangled, joyous shout. She turned. Out from among the trees on the slope stumbled an almost unrecognizable figure. His shirt hung from his shoulders in shreds. His face was streaked with sweat and grime, bruised and blackened, one eye almost closed. But no disfigurement could hide the relief and incredulous exultation that consumed him like a flame. Nancy uttered a glad, compassionate cry. She ran toward him.
“Kent!” she cried, and then she flung herself into his arms, stroking his battered face with tender fingers. Away off down into the valley of the Rainbow roared a tumultuous torrent of angry water—water rushing and boiling and threshing out of the reservoir, water leaping riotous with freedom, filling up the shallows, lashing at the dry banks, hurtling on toward Rainbow Village and the mill.
Indian Joe gazed out over the great torrent, showing his white teeth in a grin. “Make feel good !” he grunted to himself. He caught sight of a movement in the bushes. Then he saw Daggett. The man emerged, reeling from among the trees, then stood with drooping shoulders as he stared with blank eyes out over the river that had regained its freedom. Daggett
stood there as if in a trance. Joe’s grin widened, and then he spat contemptuously on the ground. There would be no further danger from Daggett. Joe knew a beaten man when he saw one.
rTHE LOOMS were clacking. The mill was humming. Trucks were rolling down the road toward Bolton. In every department of the big plant the workers were busy at their tasks. For a week, now, water had been rolling over the Rainbow Village dam and production was stepping toward the peak.
David Holcomb, not quite so pompous but still beaming upon the world, trudged up the steps, clearing his throat.
“Good morning! Good morning! Good morning!” he greeted the office staff cheerily. They responded in kind, brightly polite. David Holcomb was at peace with the world. He felt important again. On his way to his private sanctum, where he spent his days now looking tremendously busy with papers and documents that were of no importance at all, he looked into Kent Harmon’s office.
“Good morning, Kent,” he piped. “Beautiful day !”
Harmon looked up from his desk. “Swell,” he grinned. Then he picked up a yellow sheet of paper. “Come and take a look at this.”
Holcomb accepted the telegram, adjusted his pince-nez and read, blinking rapidly.
“My goodness!” he gasped. “Why— hum—that’s splendid. Really splendid.”
“It’s better than that. It’s epic. We’ve got the world by the tail.”
The telegram read :
“Signed contract for Rainbow cloth today stop can handle all you can turn out stop other companies dickering for right to use process on royalty basis.
“Clever fellow, Bradley,” observed Holcomb judicially. “Very clever fellow. Remarkable invention. Great thing for Rainbow.”
“And with Nationwide firing Daggett and calling off their price war—why, nothing can stop us !”
“No, indeed,” agreed Holcomb, who did not like to be reminded of Charles Daggett. “As I’ve always said, you can’t keep a good man down. Or a good mill. When I was building this plant—”
Nancy was standing in the doorway, with a sample of cloth in her hand. Harmon interrupted.
“You’ll pardon me?” he said to Holcomb. “I have a conference with my superintendent.”
Holcomb turned. Then he cleared his throat hastily.
“Oh, yes—yes. Superintendent. Ha! Come in, Nancy. Conference!” he chuckled. “That’s very good.” He retreated toward the door. “Well, I must be getting to work.” He glanced slyly at them. “Conference!” he chuckled again, and closed the door as he went out.
Harmon got up as Nancy came over to the desk.
“We ran off a sample of that new design, Kent—” she began, but Harmon wasn’t listening.
“Pleasure before business,” he said, and kissed her.