The Challenge of the North
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Challenge of the North, by James Hendryx
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Title: The Challenge of the North
Author: James Hendryx
Release Date: May 10, 2006 [EBook #18366]
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THE CHALLENGE OF THE NORTH
GARDEN CITY ————- NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES
THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.
The Challenge of the North
Oskar Hedin, head of the fur department of old John McNabb's big store,looked up from his scrutiny of the Russian sable coat spread upon atable before him, and encountered the twinkling eyes of old Johnhimself.
"It's a shame to keep this coat here—and that natural black fox piece,too. Who is there in Terrace City that's got thirty thousand dollarsto spend for a fur coat, or twenty thousand for a fox fur?"
Old John grinned. "Mrs. Orcutt bought one, didn't she?"
"Yes, but she bought it down in New York——"
"An' paid thirty-five thousand for a coat that runs half a dozen shadeslighter, an' is topped an' pointed to bring it up to the best it's got.Did I ever tell ye the story of Mrs. Orcutt's coat?"
"It goes back quite a ways—the left-handed love me an' Fred Orcutt hasfor one another. We speak neighborly on the street, an' for yearswe've played on opposite sides of a ball-a-hole foursome at the CountryClub, but either of us would sooner lose a hundred dollars than pay theother a golf ball.
"It come about in a business way, an' in a business way it's kept on.
Not a dollar of McNabb money passes through the hands of Orcutt's
Wolverine Bank—an' he could have had it all, an' he knows it.
"As ye know, I started out, a lad, with the Hudson's Bay Company, an'I'd got to be a factor when an old uncle of my mother's in Scotlan'died an' left me a matter of twenty thousand pounds sterling. When Igot the money I quit the Company an' drifted around a bit until finallyI bought up a big tract of Michigan pine. There wasn't any TerraceCity then. I located a sawmill here at the mouth of the river an' itwas known as McNabb's Landin'.
"D'ye see those docks? I built 'em, an' I've seen the time when theywas two steamers warped along each side of 'em, an' one acrost the end,an' a half a dozen more anchored in the harbor waitin' to haul McNabb'slumber. The van stood on this spot in the sawmill days, an' when itgot too small I built a wooden store. Folks began driftin' in. Theychanged the name from McNabb's Landin' to Terrace City, an' I turned amany a good dollar for buildin' sites.
"The second summer brought Fred Orcutt, an' I practically give him thebest lot of the whole outfit to build his bank on. The town outgrewthe wooden store an' I built this one, addin' the annex later, an' Iripped out the old dam an' put in a concrete dam an' a power plant thatfurnished light an' power for all Terrace City. Money was comin' infast an' I invested it here an' there—Michigan, an' Minnesota, an'Winconsin pine, an' the Lord knows what not. Then come the panic, an'I found out almost over night that I was land poor. I needed cash, orcredit at the bank, or I had to take a big loss. I went to see FredOrcutt—I banked with him, those days, an' he knew the fix I was in.Yes, the bank would be glad to accommodate me all right; if you couldof been there an' heard Fred Orcutt lay down his terms you'd know justhow damn glad they'd of been to accommodate me. It kind of stunned meat first, an' then I saw red—the man I'd befriended in more ways thanone, just layin' back till he had me in his clutches! Well, I lit outan' told him just what I thought of him—an' he got it in log campEnglish. It never fazed him. He just sat there leanin' back in hischair, bringin' the points of his fingers together an' drawin' 'emapart again, an' lookin' me square in the face with them pale bluefishy eyes of his. When I'd used up all the oaths an' epithets incommon use, an' some new ones, an' had to quit, he says, in the samecold, even voice that he'd used in layin' down his terms, he says,'You're a little excited now, John, and I'll not hold it against you.Just drop in sometime to-morrow or next day and we'll fix up thepapers.'"
"I walked out of the bank with a wild scheme in my head of going toDetroit or Chicago for the money. But I knew it was no use—and so didOrcutt. He thought he had me right where he wanted me—an' so did I.Meanwhile, an' about six months previous, a young fellow named CharlieBronson—president of the First National now—had opened up a littleseven-by-nine bank in a tin-covered wooden shack that I'd passed adozen times a day an' hadn't even looked into. I'd met Bronson once ortwice, but hadn't paid no attention to him, an' as I was headin' backfor the store, he stood in his doorway. 'Good mornin' Mr. McNabb,' hesays. I don't think I'd of took the trouble to answer him, but justthen his bank sign caught my eye. It was painted in black letters an'stuck out over the sidewalk. I stopped an' looked past him through theopen door where his bookkeeper-payin'-an'-receivin'-teller-cashier, an'general factotum was busy behind the cheap grill. Then I looked atBronson an' the only thing I noticed was that his eyes was brown, an'he was smilin'. 'Young man,' I says, 'have you got any money in thatsardine can?'
"'Quite a lot,' he answers with a grin. 'More than I wish I had.'
"'You got a hundred thousand?' I asks—it was more than I needed, but Ithought I'd make it big enough to scare him.
"'More than that,' he answers, without battin' an eye. 'But—what'sthe matter with the Wolverine?'
"'The Wolverine?' I busted out. 'Young man, if I was to tell you whatI think of the Wolverine here on the street, I'd be arrested before I'dgot good an' started.'
"'Better come inside, then,' he grins, an' I followed him into a littlebox of a private office. 'Of course,' I says later, when I'd told himwhat I wanted, 'most of my collateral is pine timber, an' I suppose, asOrcutt says, it's depreciated——'
"'Depreciated?' he asks. 'Why has it depreciated? It's all standin'on end, ain't it?' he says. An' it ain't gettin' no smaller, is it?An' they're layin' down the pine a damn sight faster than God Almightycan grow it, ain't they?' An' when I admitted that such was the facts,he laughed. 'Well then, we'll just go over your reports an' estimates,an' I don't think we'll have any trouble about doin' business.'
"An we never have had no trouble, an' we've been doin' business everyday since."
"But the coat?" reminded Hedin, after an interval of several minutes.
"I'm coming to that. Orcutt ain't human, but his wife is. When hefound out I'd slipped out of his clutches an' swung all my businessover to Bronson's bank he never by so much as a word or a look let onthat he even noticed it. They still have an account at the store; theycan't help it, because no other store in Terrace City keeps the stockwe do. But Mrs. Orcutt does all her real shoppin' in New York orChicago."
Oskar Hedin loved fur, and the romance of fur. From his earliestrecollection he had loved it as he had curled up and listened to thestories of his father, a great upstanding Viking of a sailor man, whoyear after year had forced his little vessel into the far North wherehe traded with the natives, and who had lost his life in the ice floesof the frozen sea while sailing with Nordenskjold.
Furs were to Hedin an obsession; they spoke a language he knew. Hehated the grosser furs, as he loved the finer. He despised the tradetricks and spurious trade names by which the flimsiest of furs arefoisted upon the gullible purchasers of "seal," "sable," "black fox,""ermine," and "beaver." He prided himself that no misnamed fur hadever passed over his counter, and in this he was backed up by hisemployer. The cheaper furs were there, but they sold under their truenames and upon their merits.
In the social democracy of the town of twenty thousand people OskarHedin had earned a definite place. After graduating from the localhigh school he had entered the employ of McNabb, and within a very fewyears had been promoted to head his department. At the Country Club hecould be depended upon to qualify with the first flight in the annualgolf tournament, and the "dope" was all upset when he did not play inthe finals on the courts. He lived at the city's only "family hotel,"drove his own modest car, and religiously spent his Sundays on thetrout streams.
Hedin picked up the coat and reverently deposited it in the fur safe."It's a coat fit for a queen," he decided as he closed and locked thedoor. And Jean was the one woman in the world to wear it. Jean withthe red blood coursing through her veins, her glow of health, and thesparkle of her eyes—McNabb's own daughter. "And, yet, I can't suggestit because—" Hedin muttered aloud and scowled at the floor. "I'd haveasked her before this," he went on, "if that Wentworth hadn't buttedin. Who knows anything about him, anyway? I'll ask her thisafternoon." He stopped abruptly and smiled into the eyes of the girlwho was hurrying toward him down the aisle.
"Oh, Oskar, I've just got a minute. I stopped in to remind you thatthis is Saturday, and we're going tobogganing this afternoon, and I'veasked Mr. Wentworth and some of the crowd, and there'll be four or fivetoboggans, and it will be no end jolly. And this is my birthday, andyou're a dear to think of it and send me all those flowers, and I'mgoing to wear 'em to-night. Listen, Elsie Campbell is giving a dinnerfor me this evening and of course you're not invited because it's justtoo funny the way she has snubbed you lately, and there's a show intown and after dinner we're going. Of course it won't be any good, butshe's making a theatre party of it, and it sounds grand anyway. And Imust hurry along now because I must remind Dad that he promised me afur coat the day I was twenty-one, and I'll be back after a while andyou can help me pick it out. Good-by, see you later!" And she wasgone, leaving Hedin gazing after her with a smile as he strove todigest the jumble of uncorrelated information of which she hadunburdened herself. "Wentworth, and some of the crowd! Oh, it will bejolly, all right—damn Wentworth!"
Old John McNabb looked up from his papers as his daughter burst intohis private office and, rushing to his side, planted