Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Chapter 13)
Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
No prevision of Hildegarde's as to Cheviot's disapproval of her plan approached the degree to which he fought against her going to the North.
Mrs. Mar, secretly dismayed as her husband's willingness to stay away indefinitely, was not ill-content for once to see the "stolid Hildegarde" stirred to action. It satisfied a need in the mother, that the daughter had never ministered to before. Hildegarde was the sort of girl who could take excellent care of herself, and her health was superb. She had no important concerns such as the boys had to chain them at home. She was not the mother of a family, nor even president of the Shakespeare Society. The welfare of the Hindus would be wholly unaffected by her departure. The journey was quite unlike that terrible one involved in going to the Klondike. It could be made in a comfortable ship; the whole of it by sea. Her mother would go with her to the steamer, and Hildegarde would stay on board till her father met her at the Alaskan port.
But they had all reckoned without Cheviot.
He refused to take the idea seriously at first, and when he did--oh, he was serious enough then!
"The maddest scheme that ever entered a sane head!" Hildegarde had no conception of what such a journey
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was like. The ships were the most uncomfortable in the world. Freight boats, with no accommodation for women. The food appalling. The company--oh, it did n't even bear talking about!
But Cheviot did talk of it, to Bella, when he discovered her complicity, and so effectually he talked that she withdrew her support.
Hildegarde was speechless with indignation. What spell had he cast that Bella could "go back" on her word. Truly a thing to depend upon--Bella's friendship.
"Oh, please try to understand. I was always frightened of the idea, even before Louis told me--"
"Why should you be frightened," said Hildegarde sternly. It is n't as if I were a rescue party and my little journey were to the other side of the world. I should n't sail from Norway, and I should n't catch up with anybody in Franz Josef Land."
"Hildegarde! You 've never spoken like that to me before in your life."
"No, I 've never admitted before that you 'd failed me."
Bella, with flushed face got up to leave the room.
"You think I 'm backing out only because of what Louis says. But I mean to tell you it would have been terrible tome to be responsible for your going, after what you said that night Louis came home."
"What did I say?"
"That this summer, while you 're gone--"
"There will be news."
"You mean from--"
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"Yes," Bella steeled herself. "as soon as I 'd got you out of the way--"
Hildegarde winced; Rather dreadful that she should have said that to Bella--too like what the average male critic would expect. "Did I say you, Bella? I only meant fate."
It 's only if I 'm not here that John Galbraith will come."
Hildegarde had a final interview with the arch culprit, Cheviot.
"I had no idea you could be like this." she said, toward the close.
"Then it 's as well you should know." It ended in a breach. He came no more to the house. Hildegarde passed him in the street with lowered eyes.
And Bella had gone home.
The spring went creeping by.
Now June was gone. Even July. Still no news.
"You see," said Hildegarde dully, "father is n't coming back."
August was waning--not even a letter. And from that other more terrible North, no syllable of the tidings, that to reach those two in California, must come round by the old world, and all across the new.
"He is dead," Hildegarde said to herself, and it was not of Nathaniel Mar that she was thinking.
The boys had generously sent their father both money and advice. He was recommended to use the sight draft
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on the Alaska Commercial Company, for the purpose of buying his home passage by the very next ship.
At last, when the season was drawing to a close--news!
Not that expected--but something no man had looked for.
Gold had been discovered in the sands of the Nome beach.
Men who had been stranded there--arriving too late for a claim on the creeks--a broken and ragged horde, were now persons of substance and cheerful occupation, that of "rocking out" fifty to a hundred dollars a day upon the beach at Nome. The gold was not here alone, but under the moss and the coarse grass of the tundra. It clung to the roots when you pulled up the sedgy growths. It was everywhere. What was the contracted little valley of the Klondike compared to this!
"The greatest of all the new world gold-fields has been found. A region, vaster than half a dozen Eastern States, sown broadcast with gold-dust and nuggets. Easy to reach and easy to work."
Here was the poor man's country. If you did n't want to rock out a fortune for yourself, you could earn fifteen dollars a day working for others.
"the beach is lined with miners' tents. Anvil City (hereafter to be called Nome) is blooming.
"Building lots that six months ago were worth nothing, to-day bring thousands of dollars.
"Where a year ago was only a bare, wind-swept beach on Bering Sea--one of the most desolate places to be found on earth and beside which the Yukon country has
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a fine climate--there is to-day a city of several thousand people, surrounded by the richest placer-diggings the world has ever seen."
The gold-laden miners returning to Seattle by the last boats of the autumn, told the reporters with a single voice, "The world has known nothing like Cape Nome."
Tongues went trumpeting the mighty news, pens flew to set it down, and telegraph operators flicked the tidings from one end of the earth to the other.
The word "Nome," that had meant nothing for so long to any man but Mar--it became a symbol of strangest portent; stirring imaginations that had slept before, heralding hope to despairing thousands, setting in motion a vast machinery of ships and of strange devices, and of complicated human lives.
New lines of steamships bought up every craft that could keep afloat; companies were formed to exploit the last new gold-saving device; men who had fallen out of the ranks, returned to the struggle saying, "After all, there 's Nome!"
"And this is the moment Mr. Mar will naturally choose for turning his back on the North." It was so that his wife successfully masked her secret anxiety for his return. It was as if she resented so sorely her growing uneasiness about him--fought so valiantly against the slow-dawning consciousness of the share she had in his exile, that she must more than ever veil her secret self-criticism by openly berating him. Above all she must disguise the impatience with which she awaited his return "this autumn at the latest." "Now," she would say, "now that even he could n't fail to make a good
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thing by staying, he--oh, yes, to be sure, he 'll come hustling home!" If only she had been the man!
One of the last boats brought a letter. There was gold in the beach sand, Mar wrote, but every inch was being worked over and over, and its richness had been exaggerated. The place was overrun with the penniless and the desperate. The United States military post established there was powerless to maintain law and order. Drunkenness, violence, crime, were the order of the day. The beach was a strange and moving spectacle.
"Spectacle! He goes and looks on!" was Mrs. mar's way of disguising her dismay. He returned the boys' money, "since it was sent for a purpose explicit." He was "staying in."
Other letters brought by the same steamer, told what Mr. Mar had omitted to mention: that typhoid fever was at work as well as those gold-diggers on the famous beach.
Men were dying like flies.
The third winter came down, and the impregnable ice walls closed round "the greatest gold-camp on the globe."
"Typhoid! Even if he escapes the fever, he will stay up there till he dies, unless--" Hildegarde was glad she had not yet bought anything for the coming season. In spite of her brothers' allowance she would become a miser--hoarding every coin that came her way. She would make her old gowns do, even without Bella's transforming fingers. She thought twice even about spending car fare. To eke out her resources she would sell Bella's beautiful presents, and the first boat that
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went north in the spring should carry Hildegarde to her father--or is grave.
It was gray business waiting for this first summer of the century. What news might one expect from a man lost four years ago between Norway and Franz Josef Land? What from that other in the nearer-by North, where men dug gold and fought typhoid? What fatality was it that made of all hope and all desire a magnetic needle? Hildegarde remembered how Bella, to the question, "Why do you suppose there 's this mania among us for the North?" had answered, "I don't know, unless it is that we have the South at home. Perhaps Hudson Bay people and Finlanders dream of the tropics. I don't know. But I 've heard nothing so afflicts a Canadian as hearing his country called 'Our Lady of the Snows.' I think there never was such a beautiful name. But it may be because I live with orange blossoms all about me."
Certainly it was harder waiting without Bella. Together each year they had hoped for news. Now apart, they feared it.
Oddly enough, what helped Hildegarde through the heavy time was the establishment of an understanding, half incredulous, wholly unavowed, between her and her mother. It appeared she had Mrs. Mar on her side--else why did that lady save up every newspaper reference to the new gold-camp to read aloud as Hildegarde sat at her sewing. The most transcendent classic ever penned would be put aside for--
" 'Extracts from the note-book of Mr. McPherson, the third man to strike pay on the beach.
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'(They are absolutely correct, as I saw his diary and the mint returns for the gold, which were at the rate of $19 an ounce, yielding him nearly $10,000.)
'Aug. 11th.--Macomber and Levy : about a mile and a half from Anvil City. Here I got a nugget weighing $4. The nugget was found in the sand, about 250 feet from low tide. Jim Dunsmuir and William Bates told me that they had averaged $40 per day rocking. They were about eleven miles south of Anvil. Price, on No. 8 Anvil, Sunday, 20th of August, sluiced out $6,400 in seven hours, with six men. Lindblom took out $18,000 in eighteen hours, with six men, August 14th.
'Aug. 29th--Leidley made a wooden caisson and sunk it about 250 ft beyond low tide, and got from fifteen to fifty cents per shovel. I did not see this experiment, but I believe firmly that the richest part of the beach is beyond low tide.
'There will be more money come out from Nome than came from the Klondike.'"
"Here's a column headed--
" "A REGION RICHER THAN PIPE DREAMS
" 'Nome defies all theories and every precedent. Its greatest mines have been found, and its greatest fortunes have been made by men who knew nothing of mining. Gold has been discovered by lawyers and doctors, drygoods' clerks, plowboys, barbers, fiddlers and politicians, in a thousand places where old miners would have sworn, and did swear, it was impossible. Millions of dollars in glittering dust and nuggets have been thawed out of frozen rubble and moss, and washed from
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ocean beaches and other unheard of depositories by young divinity students, country printers, piano professors and didapper dandies, whom nobody ever suspected of knowing grindstones from thousand-dollar quartz, or iron pyrites from free gold.'"
Mrs. Mar read on, intoxicating herself. "Here's a woman who was up there in the summer when the beach gold was found. She 's brought home $15,000 and a claim she refuses to take $38,000 for.'
But if there was anything about typhoid in the paper Hildegarde had to find it out for herself. Little by little she knew that however deterred her mother had been by Cheviot's onslaught the spring before, she was either consciously or unconsciously coming to look favorably on Hildegarde's old plan.
What the inexperience of the girl could not guess was that Mr. Mar's absence had taught his wife several things. And that lady had no inclination to gather another year's harvest of the bitter fruit. If Hildegarde could get him to come home, Hildegarde ought to be supported in spite of Cheviot and the boys. But real confidence between them was so little easy, that the girl said nothing to her mother of her plan to raise money by selling the beautiful necklace and the other things that Bella had from time to time brought home to her from abroad. Hildegarde would go to a man she could trust--"the family jeweler," as they called the individual whose high office had been to restore the pins to brooches that Mrs. Mar's energetic fingers had wrenched off, and to mend Mr. Mar's grandfather's watch-chain when it broke, as it used, two or three times every year.
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To the family jeweler, then, Hildegarde took her box of treasures. "What are they worth?"
The little man screwed a glass in his eye, and examined rare stones and renaissance enamel with an omniscient air.
"I know you 'll do your best for me," Hildegarde said anxiously.
"Of course--certainly Miss Mar. Not very new, are they?"
"New! Oh, no--they 're so old they're very valuable."
"Yes. H'm. Yes."
"I need all you can possibly get me for them, Mr. Simonson."
"I 'll examine them thoroughly, Miss Mar, and let you know."
As she went out, there was Bella coming down the street. Acting on impulse, Hildegarde turned off the main thoroughfare, pretending not to see. But it made her heart sore to think, Bella in Valdivia, and not with us! I not even to know!"
Miss Wayne went into the familiar Simonson's. "Was that Miss Mar who was here a moment ago?"
"Oh, is it broken? That's the necklace I got for her in Rome."
"No, not broken. I suppose you don't remember what you gave for it?"
Miss Bella put on her most beguiling air, and took the old man into her confidence. She would buy the things herself and pay him a commission, and he was not to say but what a San Francisco dealer had made the two-hundred-dollar offer.
"'I know you'll do your best for me,' Hildegarde said, anxiously"
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When she got back to her hotel she telephoned Cheviot.
The next day that young gentleman had an interview with Hildegarde's brothers down at the ranch. They were even boisterously of Cheviot's opinion. They would simply refuse their consent to their sister's undertaking such a journey. But to Cheviot's anxious sense they spoke too airily. Too certain they could prevent the abomination.
"Don't antagonize her, you know," warned Cheviot. "Make her see the reasonableness of our--of your objection." And the boys agreed.
Even before Cheviot had made money in the Klondike, and come home to be a partner in the bank; the Mar boys had looked upon him, not only as a probable, but as a highly desirable brother-in-law.
They soothed his natural indignation at Hildegarde's foolishness, and they told him they 'd meet him at the bank after giving her a talking to.
They were late for the appointment, and the moment they appeared in the room behind the public offices, Cheviot saw they had not prospered.
"Hildegarde 's the most pig-headed creature in the universe!"--and a few more illuminating details."
"But why did n't you tell her--"
"Told her everything. Water on a duck's back."
"But what did she say?"
"'Women have done it before.'"
"It's not true!" cried Cheviot, jumping up. "The world has never seen anything comparable to what this year's rush to Nome will be. The mob that will be going--"
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"She quotes the Klondike, 'That was worse,' she says, 'yet there were women among the men who got there, lived there, and came home.' Damn it! it 's true, you know!"
"It is n't true. The Klondike was a totally different proposition. The people who got to the Klondike the year of the rush were all picked men--a few women, yes, I admit, a few women--God help them. But the mob--a rascally crew enough, lots of them--but they were men of some means, men of brawn and muscle and mighty purpose or, simply, they did n't survive. If they were n't like that, they turned back as thousands did, from Juneau, from Sakgway, from Dyea--or they fell out a little further on. Did n't I see them on the Dalton trail and the Chilcoot Pass, glad to lie down and die? I tell you, only the hardiest attempted it, and only the toughest survived. That 's the sort of pioneer that peopled the Klondike. Nome 's another story. Nome 's accessible by sea. Any wastrel that can raise the paltry price of his passage can reach the American gold-fields. Any family disgrace can be got rid of cheap by shipping him to Nome. Any creature who 's failed at everything else under the sun has this last chance left. Be sure he 'll go to Nome-- with Hildegarde! Good God! Drunkards, sharpers, men--and women, too (oh, yes, that sort!), and people hovering on the border line of crime or well beyond it-- they 'll fill the north-bound ships. Hildegarde alone with such a crew!" Cheviot jumped to his feet. "I 'd infinitely rather a sister of mine were struggling with a pack on her back over the Chilcoot Pass along with the Klondike men of '97, than see her shut up on board ship with the horde that will go to Nome."
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He walked up and down the little inner office, his eyes bright with anger and with fear. And he added terrors not to be put to the girl herself, but for the mother, if Hildegarde should be obdurate. "Make her understand that Nome this summer will be the dump-heap of the world"
"I did," said Trenn distractedly. "I gave her my opinion of what they were like--those other women she quoted who had gone. It was n't even news to her!"
"what! She accepted that?"
Trenn looked profoundly humiliated. Any nice girl would have pretended she could n't credit such a state of things, even if she 'd heard them hinted. But Hildegarde had said gravely, "Yes, I know what you mean, miserable women have done it for horrible ends. It 's that that makes me ashamed to hesitate. Can't a girl venture as much for a good end as those others for--"
"Oh, Hildegarde 's mad!" said Trenn, with a flush on his handsome face.
"Nevertheless, she 'll go," Said Harry.
"But Mrs. Mar! What 's she about?" Cheviot went to see. "You surely don't mean to let her go?"
"My good man, I 'd like nothing better than to go myself."
"Then why don't you?" demanded Cheviot rudely.
Another woman might have pointed out that she was in her sixty-second year. No one would have expected such an excuse form Mrs. Mar. There was something in her face Cheviot had never seen there before, as with obvious unwillingness she brought out the answer, "Hil-
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degarde can do this errand best. At least, as far as concerns her father. Of course"--she recovered some of her native elasticity--"if I went I 'd get a claim, too. You 'd see! I 'd come home with a fortune. I doubt if Hildegarde does, though she has more in her than I 've sometimes thought. Hildegarde won't come to any harm."
Cheviot, too outraged for the moment to speak, got up and looked blindly for his hat. When he found that, he had also found his tongue. "The only comfort I can see in the miserable affair is that she 'll find two hundred dollars is n't nearly enough. There is n't a place on the globe where living costs as much as it does at Nome."
"She 's been saving up her allowance for a year."
Cheviot threw down his hat. " I tell you it would be mad for an able-bodied man to go with less than a thousand dollars margin."
Hildegarde can't raise anything like that. But she 'll have enough to get her there, and something over."
Cheviot looked at her. "You mean she 's ready to go without even enough for her return expenses?"
"She says she can leave the question of returning."
"She knows we--her brothers will send out funds for to get her back!" groaned Cheviot, beginning to walk up and down. "And she, Hildegarde, is willing to embarrass her father by being a charge on him?"
"She won't stay long. And Nome lots are selling for thousands. Her father has at least the land his tent stands on."
Cheviot struck his hands together in that startling if
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infrequent way of his. It made Mrs. Mar rather nervous. "go and argue with her yourself," said the lady, with raised voice and red spot glowing on either cheek. "I should n't be able to move her. I never have been able to move Hildegarde. That 's the worst of these quiet people."
"You say that, and yet you are n't really opposing her.'
"Me? No," Said Mrs, Mar, fixing him with unflinching eyes. "I 'm making up the deficit."
Cheviot had never before longed to murder a fellow creature. "You realize, of course," said he quietly, "she is n't even sure of finding her father alive." Angry as he was, when he saw the look that thrust brought to Mrs. Mar's face, he was sorry he had presented it so mercilessly. 'What she 'll probably find, " he hurried on to say, "is that Mr. Mar has gone to the Casa da Paga. That was his plan. Or the Fox River--or God knows where."
"If she goes as far as Nome, she 'll be able to go still further," said Hildegarde's mother, though her voice was n't as steady as her words implied.
"I understand you, then, at last!" Cheviot stopped before her with anger-lit eyes. "You are ready to see a young girl--"
"Not every girl."
"A girl like Hildegarde."
"Precisely, one like Hildegarde. she can do it."
"Poor Hildegarde!" burst from his lips, and the implication, "to have a mother like you," would have pierced many a maternal breast. But it glanced off Mrs. Mar's armor and fell pointless.
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"Hildegarde Mar"--with an air of defending her daughter from Cheviot's low opinion of her--"is a person of considerable dignity of character."
"Do you think it necessary to tell me that?"
"Singularly enough, yes. And to add that I who know her best, have never yet seen her show any sign of not being able to take proper care of herself."
"Under ordinary conditions. But, as I told the boys--" "a woman who can't take care of herself under conditions out of the ordinary, can't take care of herself at all."
Again Cheviot opened his lips, but Mrs. mar, grasping the arms of her rocking-chair, indoctrinated the purblind man. "The truth is that a girl in good health, who has n't been kept in cotton, and who has n't been scared by men's going on as you 're doing, is far better to cope with life than--than--" She pulled herself up an instant, seeming to feel that after all man is hardly worthy to know the whole truth upon these high themes. But she thought extremely well of Cheviot, or she would never have permitted him to speak to her as he had done. And he loved Hildegarde. "The truth is," she went on, "HIldegarde is quite right about this. There 's no reason why she should n't go half as strong as the reason why she should."
"The reason! You think it 's on account of Mr. Mar. It is n't. Bella will tell you Hildegarde wants to go on this degrading journey. She said everybody had traveled about and seen the world but her. She had never been farther than Seattle to see Madeleine Somebody."
"that 's true."
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"You see! Hildegarde is full of curiosity about--things."
"Oh, why indeed! But the fact opened my eyes to how much--how little Mr. Mar's welfare has to do with her crazy scheme."
"It has n't opened your eyes very wide Louis." Mrs. mar shook her head with the air of one looking back over a long road painfully traversed. "Nobody shrinks more from a fuss and a falling-out than Hildegarde. This winter, without Bella, and without you, and without--It has n't been easy for Hildegarde. She would have given in about Nome long ago, but for--" Mrs. Mar suddenly leaned forward again, and speaking hurriedly, "Somehow or other Hildegarde knows. I believe she 's known all along."
"What her father meant to do."
"About not coming home?"
"She knows that because I told her."
"You knew it!"
"And yet"--she gripped the arms of the rocking--chair, and her eyes shone--" come here to get me to prevent the only step being taken--"
"No! Only to protest against Hildegarde's taking it. Good heavens!"--he was losing his self-control--"Hildegarde is--"
"well and strong, and no such fool as you seem to think."
He set his square jaw. "A little young for such a--"
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"You forget or don't know she 's also--attractive."
"Attractive!" Mrs. Mar repeated with a weight of contemptuous meaning. "Since what you imply is so little credit ot your sex, I may be allowed to say she has a shot at a mark with her brothers, and if it 's necessary, she can carry a revolver."
"Good God! And you 're her mother!"
Mrs Mar sprang to her feet. "Yes I 'm her mother, and that I did n't myself suggest her going to get her father to come home, is only that I 'm under the spell of the old foolishness about women. The fact is, that we 're much better able to look out for ourselves than men are--yes, stare as much as you like! It 's so. You 're all babies, I tell you, and if the women did n't look after you, you 'd be dead babies!"
Cheviot snatched up his hat a second time and walked to the door. Mrs. Mar, seeing him going off like that with never another word, and with that fixed wretchedness on his face, quickly crossed the room and took hold of his arm, as his hand was on the door knob. "Hildegarde is only going to do in a more open way what women are always doing," she said.
Cheviot turned angrily, but so astonished was he to see tears on her face that he stood speechless.
"Some woman said it in a magazine the other day," she went on, "but every woman who 's good for anything is doing it."
"Going to Nome!"
"Going out to the battlefield in the evening to look after the wounded."
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