Here you can read or download the book "Listers Great Adventure" author Harold Bindloss.
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Harold Bindloss
Listers Great Adventure


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E-text prepared by Juliet Sutherland, Suzanne Shell, David Kline, and Distributed Proofreaders







Dinner was over, and Cartwright occupied a chair on the lawn in front of the Canadian summer hotel. Automatic sprinklers threw sparkling showers across the rough, parched grass, the lake shimmered, smooth as oil, in the sunset, and a sweet, resinous smell drifted from the pines that rolled down to the water's edge. The straight trunks stood out against a background of luminous red and green, and here and there a slanting beam touched a branch with fire.

Natural beauty had not much charm for Cartwright, who was satisfied to loaf and enjoy the cool of the evening. He had, as usual, dined well, his cigar was good, and he meant to give Mrs. Cartwright half an hour. Clara expected this, and, although he was sometimes bored, he indulged her when he could. Besides, it was too soon for cards. The lights had not begun to spring up in the wooden hotel, and for the most part the guests were boating on the lake. When he had finished his cigar it would be time to join the party in the smoking-room. Cartwright was something of a gambler and liked the American games. They gave one scope for bluffing, and although his antagonists declared his luck was good, he knew his nerve was better. In fact, since he lost his money by a reckless plunge, he had to some extent lived by bluff. Yet some people trusted Tom Cartwright.

Mrs. Cartwright did so. She was a large, dull woman, but had kept a touch of the beauty that had marked her when she was young. She was kind, conventional, and generally anxious to take the proper line. Cartwright was twelve years older, and since she was a widow and had three children when she married him, her friends declared her money accounted for much, and a lawyer relation carefully guarded, against Cartwright's using her fortune.

Yet, in a sense, Cartwright was not an adventurer, although his ventures in finance and shipping were numerous. He sprang from an old Liverpool family whose prosperity diminished when steamers replaced sailing ships. His father had waited long before he resigned himself to the change, but was not altogether too late, and Cartwright was now managing owner of the Independent Freighters Line. The company's business had brought him to Montreal, and when it was transacted he had taken Mrs. Cartwright and her family to the hotel by the Ontario lake.

Cartwright's hair and mustache were white; his face was fleshy and red. He was fastidious about his clothes, and his tailor cleverly hid the bulkiness of his figure. As a rule, his look was fierce and commanding, but now and then his small keen eyes twinkled. Although Cartwright was clever, he was, in some respects, primitive. He had long indulged his appetites, and wore the stamp of what is sometimes called good living.

The managing owner of the Independent Freighters needed cleverness, since the company was small and often embarrassed for money. For the most part, it ran its ships in opposition to the regular liners. When the Conference forced up freights Cartwright quietly canvassed the merchants and offered to carry their goods at something under the standard rate, if the shippers would engage to fill up his boat. As a rule, secrecy was important, but sometimes, when cargo was scarce, Cartwright let his plans be known and allowed the Conference to buy him off. Although his skill in the delicate negotiations was marked, the company paid small dividends and he had enemies among the shareholders. Now, however, he was satisfied. Oreana had sailed for Montreal, loaded to the limit the law allowed, and he had booked her return cargo before the Conference knew he was cutting rates.

Mrs. Cartwright talked, but she talked much and Cartwright hardly listened, and looked across the lake. A canoe drifted out from behind a neighboring point, and its varnished side shone in the fading light. Then a man dipped the paddle, and the ripple at the bow got longer and broke the reflections of the pines. A girl, sitting at the stern, put her hands in the water, and when she flung the sparkling drops at her companion her laugh came across the lake. Cartwright's look got keen and he began to note his wife's remarks.

"Do you imply Barbara's getting fond of the fellow?" he asked.

"I am afraid of something like that," Mrs. Cartwright admitted. "In a way, one hesitates to meddle; sometimes meddling does harm, and, of course, if Barbara really loved the young man-" She paused and gave Cartwright a sentimental smile. "After all, I married for love, and a number of my friends did not approve."

Cartwright grunted. He had married Clara because she was rich, but it was something to his credit that she had not suspected this. Clara was dull, and her dullness often amused him.

"If you think it necessary, I won't hesitate about meddling," he remarked. "Shillito's a beggarly sawmill clerk."

"He said he was treasurer for an important lumber company. Barbara's very young and romantic, and although she has not known him long-"

"She has known him for about two weeks," Cartwright rejoined. "Perhaps it's long enough. Shillito's what Canadians call a looker and Barbara's a romantic fool. I've no doubt he's found out she'll inherit some money; it's possible she's told him. Now I come to think about it, she was off somewhere all the afternoon, and it looks as if she had promised the fellow the evening."

He indicated the canoe and was satisfied when Mrs. Cartwright agreed, since he refused to wear spectacles and own his sight was going. Although Clara was generous, he could not use her money, and, indeed, did not mean to do so, but he was extravagant and his managing owner's post was not secure. When one had powerful antagonists, one did not admit that one was getting old.

"I doubt if Shillito's character is all one could wish,'" Mrs. Cartwright resumed. "Character's very important, don't you think? Mrs. Grant-the woman with the big hat-knows something about him and she said he was fierce. I think she meant he was wild. Then she hinted he spent money he ought not to spend. But isn't a treasurer's pay good?"

Cartwright smiled, for he was patient to his wife. "It depends upon the company. A treasurer is sometimes a book-keeping clerk. However, the trouble is, Barbara's as wild as a hawk, though I don't know where she got her wildness. Her brother and sister are tame enough."

"Sometimes I'm bothered about Barbara," Mrs. Cartwright agreed. "She's rash and obstinate; not like the others. I don't know if they're tame, but they had never given me much anxiety. One can trust them to do all they ought."

Cartwright said nothing. As a rule, Clara's son and elder daughter annoyed him. Mortimer Hyslop was a calculating prig; Grace was finicking and bound by ridiculous rules. She was pale and inanimate; there was no blood in her. But Cartwright was fond of the younger girl. Barbara was frankly flesh and blood; he liked her flashes of temper and her pluck.

When the canoe came to the landing he got up. "Leave the thing to me," he said. "I'll talk to Shillito."

He went off, but when he reached the steps to the veranda in front of the hotel he stopped. His gout bothered him. At the top Mortimer Hyslop was smoking a cigarette. The young man was thin and looked bored; his summer clothes were a study in harmonious colors, and he had delicate hands like a woman's. When he saw Cartwright stop he asked: "Can I help you up, sir?"

Cartwright's face got red. He hated an offer of help that drew attention to his infirmity, and thought Mortimer knew.

"No, thanks! I'm not a cripple yet. Have you seen Shillito?"

"You'll probably find him in the smoking room. The card party has gone in and he's a gambler."

"So am I!"

Mortimer shrugged, and Cartwright wondered whether the fellow meant to imply that his gambling was not important since he had married a rich wife. The young man, however, hesitated and looked thoughtful.

"I don't know your object for wanting Shillito, but if my supposition's near the mark, might I state that I approve? In fact, I'd begun to wonder whether something ought not to be done. The fellow's plausible. Not our sort, of course; but when a girl's romantic and obstinate-"

Cartwright stopped him. "Exactly! Well, I'm the head of the house and imagine you can leave the thing to me. Perhaps it doesn't matter if your sister is obstinate. I'm going to talk to Shillito."

He crossed the veranda, and Mortimer returned to his chair and cigarette. He did not approve his step-father, but admitted that Cartwright could be trusted to handle a matter like this. Mortimer's fastidiousness was sometimes a handicap, but Cartwright had none.

Cartwright entered the smoking-room and crossed the floor to a table, at which two or three men stood as if waiting for somebody. One was young and tall. His thin face was finely molded, his eyes and hair were very black, and his figure was marked by an agile grace.

He looked up sharply as Cartwright advanced.

"I want you for a few minutes," Cartwright said roughly, as if he gave an order.

Shillito frowned, but went with him to the back veranda. Although the night was warm and an electric light burned under the roof, nobody was about. Cartwright signed the other to sit down.

"I expect your holiday's nearly up, and the hotel car meets the train in the morning," he remarked.

"What about it?" Shillito asked. "I'm not going yet."

"You're going to-morrow," said Cartwright grimly.

Shillito smiled and gave him an insolent look, but his smile vanished. Cartwright's white mustache bristled, his face was red, and his eyes were very steady. It was not for nothing the old ship-owner had fronted disappointed investors and forced his will on shareholders' meetings. Shillito saw the fellow was dangerous.

"I'll call you," he said, using a gambler's phrase.

"Very well," said Cartwright. "I think my cards are good, and if I can't win on one suit, I'll try another. To begin with, the hotel proprietor sent for me. He stated the house was new and beginning to pay, and he was anxious about its character. People must be amused, but he was running a summer hotel, not a gambling den. The play was too high, and young fools got into trouble; two or three days since one got broke. Well, he wanted me to use my influence, and I said I would."

"He asked you to keep the stakes in bounds? It's a good joke!"

"Not at all," said Cartwright dryly. "I like an exciting game, so long as it is straight, and when I lose I pay. I do lose, and if I come out fifty dollars ahead when I leave, I'll be satisfied. How much have you cleared?"


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