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Within an Alaskan forest, Henry Barnett and Alexander MacGregor are seated on a pine trunk, conversing with languid interest. Their eyes turn frequently towards a pass in the lofty mountains by which their sheltered valley is surrounded on all sides. They are expecting visitors.

It is the month of June. The mountains are still snow-capped, but in the valley the air is very warm; roses are budding on the slope which faces due south. A year ago this valley had rarely borne a human footmark —once in a season, perhaps, a half-starved Indian may have crossed it. Now hundreds of men live in it. It is situated in the richest mineral region of Alaska. The mountain ranges around it contain the head waters of three of the Territory’s most important rivers—the Copper, the White, and the Tanana.

MacGregor has not changed one iota since that night when he visited his friend in a commonplace London suburb, and learned a fateful secret. His tanned face and hands could not have well become browner or more weather-beaten. His keen grey eyes could hardly have sparkled with a brighter light than a lifetime of adventure had long since burned into them; his frame could not have grown more stalwart, nor could his physical courage have been intensified.

With Barnett it is different. His figure is more erect, his cheek less pale, his eyes brighter, and his whole bearing more robust than of old, when he spent all his days and half his nights in that little room, fittingly described by MacGregor as a “wizard’s cave.” For nearly twelve months he has hardly opened a book, and instead he has wielded sledge and hammer. He has roamed the gorges of the Alaskan mountains while puzzling out some knotty point in silence, instead of stewing in a musty room with an eight-foot ceiling. Above all, there is stamped upon his features the consciousness of success.

The fitful conversation which the two men were keeping up gradually ceased, until absolute silence reigned—absolute silence only in so far as the speakers themselves were concerned, for from the woods behind there came noise enough for a shipyard. The din, which was at times almost deafening, did not seem to disturb either of the men. In fact they were not aware of it. They had grown accustomed to it.

“See, here they come!” MacGregor suddenly exclaimed, in great joy, pointing at the same time to a cleft in the mountain, through which a rough track ran.

In numbers they were a strong party, but their pace was slow, and every horse and every horseman showed symptoms of extreme fatigue. Five gentlemen rode together in front. In the rear struggled a band of tired men on tired animals, driving, flogging, curing on, a heavily loaded mule train.

“Bravo, Sir George! We shall dine to-night, Barnett,” the brawny Scotchman said, with unction. “Trust Sterling to bring his larder—ay, and his cellar—with him. I would know those cases anywhere. Come, let us ride down and meet them. The least we can do is to bid them welcome to our Arcadian forest. Ugh! hear that! “ A scream more demoniacal than usual had flung its nerve-splitting crash over the pine tops.

“You had better go, MacGregor, and make my excuses. You know I do not ride comfortably.”

“Very well. I shall not be long away.”

In a few moments MacGregor was mounted and cantering smartly down the slope to meet the coming cavalcade.

Barnett remained seated on the pine trunk. For some time his face had an anxious expression, and his brows were knit. Once or twice he muttered aloud, How will it end ; how will it all end?” Presently the look of care passed away, and he was just settled comfortably to some mental feat of strength—approximating the length of line required to sound the stellar depths, or some such simple conundrum—when MacGregor’s loud voice brought him back with a jerk to terrestrial trivialities.

“Now then, gentlemen, come this way, and I shall present you to the greatest man living, or who has ever yet lived. Afterwards you shall have your tubs, and we shall dine. Delicious word! So far we have only fed. Tonight we shall dine, thanks to your admirable commissariat, Sterling.”

The men dismounted, and assembled in a group around Barnett, who had risen to meet them. By this time the sky was gloaming with the failing light of the setting sun. The pine trees threw gigantic shadows over the withered and down-trodden prairie grass. From behind the line of trees, to the astonishment of the new-comers, came that strange rumble and roar, and sounds as of mighty hammers crashing. Long streamers of leaping flame shot up blood-red against the sombre clouds, and played havoc with the stillness of the primeval forest. There was an eerie air of mystery about that mountain glen which every man acknowledged, save one—MacGregor. He was in boisterously good spirits.

“Gentlemen,” he said, facetiously, “you will please answer to your names.”

A look of amused consent flitted over the faces of the tired travellers.

“Mr. Barnett, this is Sir George Sterling,” waving his hand towards a powerful man of full habit, dark whiskers, and a business-like air. “A financier in search of a new speculation. We shall be able to provide that. Don’t you think so, my colleague?”

Barnett smiled gravely, and murmured some words of welcome as he shook hands with the capitalist. The man of money having been presented, MacGregor was less precise in his ceremonial with the other persons of the baser sort. He merely ran over their names, and indicated their personality with a nod, thus:

“Mr. Walter Durand”—a tall, handsome, dark-haired, dark-eyed man—“a literary man in search of a new plot.”

“Mr. Victor Graves”—a fair-haired, bearded man, with a pipe—“an artist in search of a new subject.”

“Mr. Charles Blake”—a mirthful-looking Irishman—“a politician in search of a post.”

“And Mr. Frederick Gordon”—a wiry, fleshless man, with a determined cast of features—“a special correspondent in search of copy.”

Barnett exchanged a courteous bow with each as his name was mentioned, and the introductions were over. MacGregor then led the way along a pathway through the trees. In a few minutes they reached a wide clearing, and found a long, low, wooden house, surrounded by a neatly kept grass plot. Here they were to live for some pleasant, idle weeks.

“Suppose we all give our experiences,” Blake suggested. “Perhaps in that way we may find out what brought us all here. You begin Durand.”

“Well, then,” Durand said, “I got a letter from MacGregor consisting of about four lines, telling me that if I wanted to make the sensational writers green with envy, I must come out by the S.S. Arizona, which sailed, as you know, on the 15th of last month. Of course he gave me particulars as to where the guides would meet us when the little steamer from Vancouver Island, which he had chartered, set us ashore. I knew the man so well that I never doubted but he had his eye on some new ground in China, or Central Asia, or some other outlandish place. I had nothing else to do. The beaten track of the British novelist is inconveniently crowded at present, so here I am.”

“I received a similar note,” Gordon said. “MacGregor told me that if I wanted to lay the names of all the specials’ who have gone before me in the dust, I should book my passage in the Arizona. I did feel that I should like to carry out this suggestion, and so here I am.”

Graves, the artist, had a similar experience. In his case, he was to put the entire school of artistic masters, old and young, in the shade, and as he found that to hit off his ambition pretty closely, he came likewise.

“Faith,” said Blake,he promised me a post, and, as things go nowadays, I never dreamed of asking what it was.”

“Nor whether you were qualified to fill it?” Durand asked drily.

“Qualified! My dear fellow, I am qualified for anything;” hastily, “I mean any post. I am a politician.”

“If we did not know MacGregor so well,” Gordon said again “ don’t you think we might all feel rather silly now that we are here and have found—a wooden house, or hut, and a primeval forest enlivened only by that infernal din of hammering somewhere near.”

“Don’t be afraid of losing your time. MacGregor is sure to keep his word,” Durand said positively. “I venture to say he will surprise us all before long.”

He certainly did surprise them, and that too before ten minutes had elapsed. His voice broke in upon their conversation.

“Now gentlemen, the night air is cold, although the days at this season are very warm here. Light fresh cigars, put on your heavy cloaks, and we shall show you our works.”

Your what?”

“Our works.”

“What sort of works, in the name of wonder?”

“Smelting works, foundries, coal mines, iron mines, steam hammers, furnaces, winches, cranes, tool shops and all the rest. Come along.”

MacGregor walked out followed by Barnett and Sir George Sterling. For some moments the other men looked at each other in amazement. Then they followed their hosts.

A short avenue ran through a dense wood which clothed one of the low sloping hills near the hut. This should have been as dark as midnight. To the wonder of the bewildered strangers it was as bright as noon. Two rows of powerful electric lights lined the pathway, one on either side, and between them the party walked. What might be called the solid men of the company—that is, the scientist, the explorer, and the capitalist—walked in front. The others—who, take them as you will, but look on and talk about, write about, paint about, or report about what men of action achieve—walked, as in duty bound, behind. As might be expected, each party criticised the other.

“What do you fellows think of our scientific friend?” Duraud asked.

“He seems a nice sort of man, if he were not so supernaturally calm and quiet. Still, there is something out of the common about him,” Gordon replied. “I wonder where MacGregor picked him up, and what he means to do with him. That introduction was pretty strong—the greatest man who ever lived’—and so forth!”

“Oh, he is MacGregor’s trump card in this business, whatever it is,” Blake declared. “Did any of you hear how he treated the mighty traveller on his return from that Central Asian journey of his which made such a stir?”


“Well, it is said that MacGregor, who had just arrived from Mongolia, went straight to Barnett’s house on the very day he landed. The man of science was in his laboratory, working out whether the moon is really made of green cheese or choice Cheshire. So his visitor had to wait half a day before he would speak to him.”

“They are an odd pair, certainly.”

“And the baronet?”

“He is a fortunate man.


“He has brains; that is excellent—he has money, that is magnificent.”

In front, MacGregor asked Sir George:

“Don’t you think these are a good set of men?”

“Good!” exclaimed the baronet in dismay. “Good! There is not a man in the lot good for fifty pounds. I sincerely trust, MacGregor, that you have not obliged any of them.”

“Oh, I don’t mean good in the financial sense,” MacGregor answered testily. “And I have obliged’ some of them. Is it very wrong to oblige a man simply because he stands in need of one’s assistance?”

“Wrong, MacGregor! Pooh, pooh! It’s a thousand times worse.”


“It’s bad business,” Sir George said decisively.

By this time both parties had rounded an abrupt angle caused by a tremendous rock which blocked the path.

The noise in front had been increasing as they advanced. It now became deafening. A few more steps and all stood still, amazed.

The pathway ended in a wooden balcony built high over a gorge which swept away from the steep cliff on which the woodwork had been erected. A pandemonium was below. Long lines of sheds, lit every one with the incandescent glare of electric light, stretched down the hollow. Terrible furnaces seethed and raged. Great streams of molten metal gurgled and sparkled and shot up showers of hissing spangles as it filled huge ladles, or was poured into cunningly constructed moulds: here the starlike flame of blue-white blazing brass; there the ruddier tint of iron. Swarthy smiths were at work hammering and fashioning strange devices, some familiar, some fantastic, some fiendish. Sooty demons poked and probed, and fetched and carried undismayed great tanks of liquid fire. Mighty cranes were swaying to and fro. Giant hammers crashed and smote on yielding bars of red hot steel. And fierce fanged saws, with demoniac shriek tore riotously through the massive metal plates. Resistless planes crushed silently backwards and forwards. A thousand wheels whirled wildly. And above all that carnival of smoke and flame and blazing steel a curious relic of the desecrated forest floated faintly— the pungent perfume of the pines.

As the men stood there gazing on the strange scene, the seriousness of the still unknown mission was brought home to all, and every man asked himself what was this to which he had consented.

No late sitting was made that night. A week on horseback through a wild country was a sufficient guarantee against such unwisdom. As a move was being made for the various bunks—they could hardly be called bedrooms—MacGregor was seen to wrap himself in a heavy fur-cloak and cap, which only exposed two keen eyes, the tip of a bronzed nose, and the glowing end of a cigar.

“Good night, everybody,” he said cheerily, as he opened the main door.

Where are you off to now, MacGregor?”

“To make my rounds,” he answered briefly, and passed out.

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