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The Story of the Foss River Ranch A Tale of the Northwest

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It was a brilliant gathering—brilliant in every sense of the word. The hall was a great effort of the decorator's art; the people were faultlessly dressed; the faces were strong, handsome—fair or dark complexioned as the case might be; those present represented the wealth and fashion of the Western Canadian ranching world. Intellectually, too, there was no more fault to find here than is usual in a ballroom in the West End of London.

It was the annual ball of the Polo Club, and that was a social function of the first water—in the eyes of the Calford world.

"My dear Mrs. Abbot, it is a matter which is quite out of my province," said John Allandale, in answer to a remark from his companion. He was leaning over the cushioned back of the Chesterfield upon which an old lady was seated, and gazing smilingly over at a group of young people standing at the opposite end of the room. "Jacky is one of those young ladies whose strength of character carries her beyond the control of mere man. Yes, I know what you would say," as Mrs. Abbot glanced up into his face with a look of mildly-expressed wonder; "it is true I am her uncle and guardian, but, nevertheless, I should no more dream of interfering with her—what shall we say?—love affairs, than suggest her incapacity to 'boss' a 'round up' worked by a crowd of Mexican greasers."

"Then all I can say is that your niece is a very unfortunate girl," replied the old lady, acidly. "How old is she?"


John Allandale, or "Poker" John as he was more familiarly called by all who knew him, was still looking over at the group, but an expression had suddenly crept into his eyes which might, in a less robust-looking man, have been taken for disquiet—even fear. His companion's words had brought home to him a partial realization of a responsibility which was his.

"Twenty-two," she repeated, "and not a relative living except a good-hearted but thoroughly irresponsible uncle. That child is to be pitied, John."

The old man sighed. He took no umbrage at his companion's brusquely-expressed estimation of himself. He was still watching the group at the other end of the room. His face was clouded, and a keen observer might have detected a curious twitching of his bronzed right cheek, just beneath the eye. His eyes followed the movement of a beautiful girl surrounded by a cluster of men, immaculately dressed, bronzed—and, for the most part, wholesome-looking. She was dark, almost Eastern in her type of features. Her hair was black with the blackness of the raven's wing, and coiled in an ample knot low upon her neck. Her features, although Eastern, had scarcely the regularity one expects in such a type, whilst her eyes quashed without mercy any idea of such extraction for her nationality. They were gray, deeply ringed at the pupil with black. They were keen eyes—fathomless in their suggestion of strength—eyes which might easily mask a world of good or evil.

The music began, and the girl passed from amidst her group of admirers upon the arm of a tall, fair man, and was soon lost in the midst of the throng of dancers.

"Who is that she is dancing with now?" asked Mrs. Abbot, presently. "I didn't see her go off; I was watching Mr. Lablache standing alone and disconsolate over there against the door. He looks as if some one had done him some terrible injury. See how he is glaring at the dancers."

"Jacky is dancing with 'Lord' Bill. Yes, you are right, Lablache does not look very amiable....