Part 2 out of 4
It was epic--a colossal monument to this man, thought Sergeant
Fitzgerald, as they pried the frozen body loose.
To Corporal Blake fell the unpleasant task of going after Jan Thoreau.
Unpleasant, because Breault's starved huskies and frozen body brought
with them the worst storm of the winter. In the face of this storm Blake
set out, with the Sergeant's last admonition in his ears:
"Don't come back, Blake, until you've got him, dead or alive."
That is a simple and efficacious formula in the rank and file of the
Royal Northwest Mounted Police. It has made volumes of stirring history,
because it means a great deal and has been lived up to. Twice before, the
words had been uttered to Blake--in extreme cases. The first time they
had taken him for six months into the Barren Lands between Hudson's Bay
and the Great Slave--and he came back with his man; the second time he
was gone for nearly a year along the rim of the Arctic--and from there
also he came back with his man. Blake was of that sort. A bull-dog, a
Nemesis when he was once on the trail, and--like most men of that
kind--without a conscience. In the Blue Books of the service he was
credited with arduous patrols and unusual exploits. "Put Blake on the
trail" meant something, and "He is one of our best men" was a firmly
established conviction at departmental headquarters.
Only one man knew Blake as Blake actually lived under his skin--and that
was Blake himself. He hunted men and ran them down without mercy--not
because he loved the law, but for the reason that he had in him the
inherited instincts of the hound. This comparison, if quite true, is none
the less unfair to the hound. A hound is a good dog at heart.
In the January storm it may be that the vengeful spirit of Francois
Breault set out in company with Corporal Blake to witness the
consummation of his vengeance. That first night, as he sat close to his
fire in the shelter of a thick spruce timber, Blake felt the unusual and
disturbing sensation of a presence somewhere near him. The storm was at
its height. He had passed through many storms, but to-night there seemed
to be an uncannily concentrated fury in its beating and wailing over the
roofs of the forests.
He was physically comfortable. The spruce trees were so dense that the
storm did not reach him, and fortune favored him with a good fire and
plenty of fuel. But the sensation oppressed him. He could not keep away
from him his mental vision of Breault as he had helped to pry him from
the sledge--his frozen features, the stiffened fingers, the curious twist
of the icy lips that had been almost a grin.
Blake was not superstitious. He was too much a man of iron for that. His
soul had lost the plasticity of imagination. But he could not forget
Breault's lips as they had seemed to grin up at him. There was a reason
for it. On his last trip down, Breault had said to him, with that same
half-grin on his face:
"M'sieu, some day you may go after my murderer, and when you do, Francois
Breault will go with you."
That was three months ago. Blake measured the time back as he sucked at
his pipe, and at the same time he looked at the shadowy and half-lost
forms of his dogs, curled up for the night in the outer rim of firelight.
Over the tree-tops a sudden blast of wind howled. It was like a monster
voice. Blake rose to his feet and rolled upon the fire the big night log
he had dragged in, and to this he added, with the woodman's craft of long
experience, lengths of green timber, so arranged that they would hold
fire until morning. Then he went into his silk service tent and buried
himself in his sleeping-bag.
For a long time he did not sleep. He listened to the crackle of the fire.
Again and again he heard that monster voice moaning and shrieking over
the forest. Never had the rage of storm filled him with the uneasiness of
to-night. At last the mystery of it was solved for him. The wind came and
went each time in a great moaning, half shrieking sound:
It was like a shock to him; and yet, he was not a superstitious man. No,
he was not that. He would have staked his life on it. But it was not
pleasant to hear a dead man's name shrieked over one's head by the wind.
Under the cover of his sleeping-bag flap Corporal Blake laughed. Funny
things were always happening, he tried to tell himself. And this was a
mighty good joke. Breault wasn't so slow, after all. He had given his
promise, and he was keeping it; for, if it wasn't really Breault's voice
up there in the wind, multiplied a thousand times, it was a good
imitation of it. Again Corporal Blake laughed--a laugh as unpleasant as
the cough that had come from Breault's bullet-punctured lung. He fell
asleep after a time; but even sleep could not drive from him the clinging
obsession of the thought that strange things were to happen in this
taking of Jan Thoreau.
With the gray dawn there was nothing to mark the passing of the storm
except freshly fallen snow, and Blake was on the trail before it was
light enough to see a hundred yards ahead. There was a defiance and a
contempt of last night in the crack of his long caribou-gut whip and the
halloo of his voice as he urged on his dogs. Breault's voice in the wind?
Bah! Only a fool would have thought that. Therefore he was a fool. And
Jan Thoreau--it would be like taking a child. There would be no
happenings to report--merely an arrest, a quick return journey, an affair
altogether too ordinary to be interesting. Perhaps it was all on account
of the hearty supper of caribou liver he had eaten. He was fond of liver,
and once or twice before it had played him tricks.
He began to wonder if he would find Jan Thoreau at home. He remembered
Jan quite vividly. The Indians called him Kitoochikun because he played a
fiddle. Blake, the Iron Man, disliked him because of that fiddle. Jan was
never without it, on the trail or off. The Fiddling Man, he called him
contemptuously--a baby, a woman; not fit for the big north. Tall and
slim, with blond hair in spite of his French blood and name, a quiet and
unexcitable face, and an air that Blake called "damned superiority." He
wondered how the Fiddling Man had ever screwed up nerve enough to kill
Breault. Undoubtedly there had been no fight. A quick and treacherous
shot, no doubt. That was like a man who played a fiddle. POOF! He had no
more respect for him than if he dressed in woman's clothing.
And he DID have a wife, this Jan Thoreau. They lived a good twenty miles
off the north-and-south trail, on an island in the middle of Black Bear
Lake. He had never seen the wife. A poor sort of woman, he made up his
mind, that would marry a fiddler. Probably a half-breed; maybe an Indian.
Anyway, he had no sympathy for her. Without a doubt, it was the woman who
did the trapping and cut the wood. Any man who would tote a fiddle around
on his back--
Corporal Blake traveled fast, and it was afternoon of the second day when
he came to the dense spruce forest that shut in Black Bear Lake. Here
something happened to change his plans somewhat. He met an Indian he
knew--an Indian who, for two or three good reasons that stuck in the back
of his head, dared not lie to him; and this tribesman, coming straight
from the Thoreau cabin, told him that Jan was not at home, but had gone
on a three-day trip to see the French missioner who lived on one of the
lower Wholdaia waterways.
Blake was keen on strategem. With him, man-hunting was like a game of
chess; and after he had questioned the Indian for a quarter of an hour he
saw his opportunity. Pastamoo, the Cree, was made a part of his Majesty's
service on the spot, with the promise of torture and speedy execution if
he proved himself a traitor.
Blake turned over to him his dogs and sledge, his provisions, and his
tent, and commanded him to camp in the heart of a cedar swamp a few miles
back, with the information that he would return for his outfit at some
time in the indefinite future. He might be gone a day or a week. When he
had seen Pastamoo off, he continued his journey toward the cabin, in the
hope that Jan Thoreau's wife was either an Indian or a fool. He was too
old a hand at his game to be taken in by the story that had been told to
Jan had not gone to the French missioner's. A murderer's trail would not
be given away like that. Of course the wife knew. And Corporal Blake
desired no better string to a criminal than the faith of a wife. Wives
were easy if handled right, and they had put the finishing touch to more
than one of his great successes.
At the edge of the lake he fell back on his old trick--hunger,
exhaustion, a sprained leg. It was not more than a quarter of a mile
across the snow-covered ice of the lake to the thin spiral of smoke that
he saw rising above the thick balsams on the island. Five times in that
distance he fell upon his face; he crawled like a man about to die. He
performed an arduous task, a devilish task, and when at last he reached
the balsams he cursed his luck until he was red in the face. No one had
seen him. That quarter-mile of labor was lost, its finesse a failure. But
he kept up the play, and staggered weakly through the sheltering balsams
to the cabin. His artifice had no shame, even when played on women; and
he fell heavily against the door, beat upon it with his fist; and slipped
down into the snow, where he lay with his head bowed, as if his last
strength was gone.
He heard movement inside, quick steps--and then the door opened. He did
not look up for a moment. That would have been crude. When he did raise
his head, it was very slowly, with a look of anguish in his face. And
then--he stared. His body all at once grew tense, and the counterfeit
pain in his eyes died out like a flash in this most astounding moment of
his life. Man of iron though he was, steeled to the core against the
weaknesses of sudden emotions, it was impossible for him to restrain the
gasp of amazement that rose to his lips.
In that stifled cry Jan Thoreau's wife heard the supplication of a dying
man. She did not catch, back of it, the note of a startled beast. She was
herself startled, frightened for a moment by the unexpectedness of it
And Blake stared. This--the fiddler's wife! She was clutching in her hand
a brush with which she had been arranging her hair. The hair, jet black,
was wonderful. Her eyes were still more wonderful to Blake. She was not
an Indian--not a half-breed--and beautiful. The loveliest face he had
ever visioned, sleeping or awake, was looking down at him.
With a second gasp, he remembered himself, and his body sagged, and the
amazed stare went out of his eyes as he allowed his head to fall a
little. In this movement his cap fell off. In another moment she was at
his side, kneeling in the snow and bending over him.
"You are hurt, m'sieu!"
Her hair fell upon him, smothering his neck and shoulders. The perfume of
it was like the delicate scent of a rare flower in his nostrils. A
strange thrill swept through him. He did not try to analyze it in those
few astonishing moments. It was beyond his comprehension, even had he
tried. He was ignorant of the finer fundamentals of life, and of the
great truth that the case-hardened nature of a man, like the body of an
athlete, crumbles fastest under sudden and unexpected change and strain.
He regained his feet slowly and stupidly, assisted by Marie. They climbed
the one step to the door. As he sank back heavily on the cot, in the room
they entered, a thick tress of her hair fell softly upon his face. He
closed his eyes for a space. When he opened them, Marie was bending over
And SHE was Thoreau's wife! The instant he had looked up into her face,
he had forgotten the fiddler; but he remembered him now as he watched the
woman, who stood with her back toward him. She was as slim as a reed. Her
hair fell to her hips. He drew a deep breath. Unconsciously he clenched
his hands. SHE--the fiddler's wife! The thought repeated itself again and
again. Jan Thoreau, MURDERER, and this woman--HIS WIFE.
She returned in a moment with hot tea, and he drank with subtle hypocrisy
from the cup she held to his lips.
"Sprained my leg," he said then, remembering his old part, and replying
to the questioning anxiety in her eyes. "Dogs ran away and left me, and I
got here just by chance. A little more and--"
He smiled grimly, and as he sank back he gave a sharp cry. He had
practised that cry in more than one cabin, and along with it a convulsion
of his features to emphasize the impression he labored to make.
"I'm afraid--I'll be a trouble to you," he apologized. "It's not broken;
but it's bad, and I won't be able to move--soon. Is Jan at home?"
"No, m'sieu; he is away."
"Away," repeated Blake disappointedly. "Perhaps sometime he has told you
about me," he added with sudden hopefulness. "I am John Duval."
Marie's eyes, looking down at him, became all at once great pools of
glowing light. Her lips parted. She leaned toward him, her slim hands
clasped suddenly to her breast.
"M'sieu Duval--who nursed him through the smallpox?" she cried, her voice
trembling. "M'sieu Duval--who saved my Jan's life!"
Blake had looked up his facts at headquarters. He knew what Duval, the
Barren Land trapper, had once upon a time done for Jan.
"Yes; I am John Duval," said. "And so--you see--I am sorry that Jan is
"But he is coming back soon--in a few days," exclaimed Marie. "You shall
stay, m'sieu! You will wait for him? Yes?"
"This leg--" began Blake. He cut himself short with a grimace. "Yes, I'll
stay. I guess I'll have to."
Marie had changed at the mention of Duval's name. With the glow in her
eyes had come a flush into her cheeks, and Blake could see the strange
little quiver at her throat as she looked at him. But she did not see
Blake so much as what lay beyond him--Duval's lonely cabin away up on the
edge of the Great Barren, the hours of darkness and agony through which
Jan had passed, and the magnificent comradeship of this man who had now
dragged himself to their own cabin, half dead.
Many times Jan had told her the story of that terrible winter when Duval
had nursed him like a woman, and had almost given up his life as a
sacrifice. And this--THIS--was Duval? She bent over him again as he lay
on the cot, her eyes shining like stars in the growing dusk. In that dusk
she was unconscious of the fact that his fingers had found a long tress
of her hair and were clutching it passionately. Remembering Duval as Jan
had enshrined him in her heart, she said:
"I have prayed many times that the great God might thank you, m'sieu."
He raised a hand. For an instant it touched her soft, warm cheek and
caressed her hair. Marie did not shrink--yes, that would have been an
insult. Even Jan would have said that. For was not this Duval, to whom
she owed all the happiness in her life--Duval, more than brother to Jan
Thoreau, her husband?
"And you--are Marie?" said Blake.
"Yes, m'sieu, I am Marie."
A joyous note trembled in her voice as she drew back from the cot. He
could hear her swiftly braiding her hair before she struck a match to
light the oil lamp hanging from the ceiling. After that, through partly
closed eyes, he watched her as she prepared their supper. Occasionally,
when she turned toward him as if to speak, he feigned a desire to sleep.
It was a catlike watchfulness, filled with his old cunning. In his face
there was no sign to betray its hideous significance. Outwardly he had
regained his iron-like impassiveness; but in his body and his brain every
nerve and fiber was consumed by a monstrous desire--a desire for this
woman, the murderer's wife. It was as strange and as sudden as the death
that had come to Francois Breault.
The moment he had looked up into her face in the doorway, it had
overwhelmed him. And now even the sound of her footsteps on the floor
filled him with an exquisite exultation. It was more than exultation. It
was a feeling of POSSESSION.
In the hollow of his hand he--Blake, the man-hunter--held the fate of
this woman. She was the Fiddler's wife--and the Fiddler was a murderer.
Marie heard the sudden deep breath that forced itself from his lips, a
gasp that would have been a cry of triumph if he had given it voice.
"You are in pain, m'sieu," she exclaimed, turning toward him quickly.
"A little," he said, smiling at her. "Will you help me to sit up, Marie?"
He saw ahead of him another and more thrilling game than the man-hunt
now. And Marie, unsuspicious, put her arms about the shoulders of the
Pharisee and helped him to rise. They ate their supper with a narrow
table between them. If there had been a doubt in Blake's mind before
that, the half hour in which she sat facing him dispelled it utterly. At
first the amazing beauty of Thoreau's wife had impinged itself upon his
senses with something of a shock. But he was cool now. He was again
master of his old cunning. Pitilessly and without conscience, he was
marshaling the crafty forces of his brute nature for this new and more
thrilling fight--the fight for a woman.
That in representing the Law he was pledged to virtue as well as order
had never entered into his code of life. To him the Law was force--power.
It had exalted him. It had forged an iron mask over the face of his
savagery. And it was the savage that was dominant in him now. He saw in
Marie's dark eyes a great love--love for a murderer.
It was not his thought that he might alienate that. For that look, turned
upon himself, he would have sacrificed his whole world as it had
previously existed. He was scheming beyond that impossibility, measuring
her even as he called himself Duval, counting--not his chances of
success, but the length of time it would take him to succeed.
He had never failed. A man had never beaten him. A woman had never
tricked him. And he granted no possibility of failure now. But--HOW? That
was the question that writhed and twisted itself in his brain even as he
smiled at her over the table and told her of the black days of Jan's
sickness up on the edge of the Barren.
And then it came to him--all at once. Marie did not see. She did not
FEEL. She had no suspicion of this loyal friend of her husband's.
Blake's heart pounded triumphant. He hobbled back to the cot, leaning on
Marie slim shoulder; and as he hobbled he told her how he had helped Jan
into his cabin in just this same way, and how at the end Jan had
collapsed--just as he collapsed when he came to the cot. He pulled Marie
down with him--accidentally. His lips touched her head. He laughed.
For a few moments he was like a drunken man in his new joy. Willingly he
would have gambled his life on his chance of winning. But confidence
displaced none of his cunning. He rubbed his hands and said:
"Gawd, but won't it be a surprise for Jan? I told him that some day I'd
come. I told him!"
It would be a tremendous joke--this surprise he had in store for Jan. He
chuckled over it again and again as Marie went about her work; and
Marie's face flushed and her eyes were bright and she laughed softly at
this great love which Duval betrayed for her husband. No; even the loss
of his dogs and his outfit couldn't spoil his pleasure! Why should it? He
could get other dogs and another outfit--but it had been three years
since he had seen Jan Thoreau! When Marie had finished her work he put
his hand suddenly to his eyes and said:
"Peste! but last night's storm must have hurt my eyes. The light blinds
them, ma cheri. Will you put it out, and sit down near me, so that I can
see you as you talk, and tell me all that has happened to Jan Thoreau
since that winter three years ago?"
She put out the light, and threw open the door of the box-stove. In the
dim firelight she sat on a stool beside Blake's cot. Her faith in him was
like that of a child. She was twenty-two. Blake was fifteen years older.
She felt the immense superiority of his age.
This man, you must understand, had been more than a brother to Jan. He
had been a father. He had risked his life. He had saved him from death.
And Marie, as she sat at his side, did not think of him as a young
man--thirty-seven. She talked to him as she might have talked to an elder
brother of Jan's, and with something like the same reverence in her
It was unfortunate--for her--that Jan had loved Duval, and that he had
never tired of telling her about him. And now, when Blake's caution
warned him to lie no more about the days of plague in Duval's cabin, she
told him--as he had asked her--about herself and Jan; how they had lived
during the last three years, the important things that had happened to
them, and what they were looking forward to. He caught the low note of
happiness that ran through her voice; and with a laugh, a laugh that
sounded real and wholesome, he put out his hand in the darkness--for the
fire had burned itself low--and stroked her hair. She did not shrink from
the caress. He was happy because THEY were happy. That was her thought!
And Blake did not go too far.
She went on, telling Jan's life away, betraying him In her happiness,
crucifying him in her faith. Blake knew that she was telling the truth.
She did not know that Jan had killed Francois Breault, and she believed
that he would surely return--in three days. And the way he had left her
that morning! Yes, she confided even that to this big brother of Jan, her
cheeks flushing hotly in the darkness--how he had hated to go, and held
her a long time in his arms before he tore himself away.
Had he taken his fiddle along with him? Yes--always that. Next to herself
he loved his violin. Oo-oo--no, no--she was not jealous of the violin!
Blake laughed--such a big, healthy, happy laugh, with an odd tremble in
it. He stroked her hair again, and his fingers lay for an instant against
her warm cheek.
And then, quite casually, he played his second big card.
"A man was found dead on the trail yesterday," he said. "Some one killed
him. He had a bullet through his lung. He was the mail-runner, Francois
It was then, when he said that Breault had been murdered, that Blake's
hand touched Marie's cheek and fell to her shoulder. It was too dark in
the cabin to see. But under his hand he felt her grow suddenly rigid, and
for a moment or two she seemed to stop breathing. In the gloom Blake's
lips were smiling. He had struck, and he needed no light to see the
"Francois--Breault!" he heard her breathe at last, as if she was fighting
to keep something from choking her. "Francois Breault--dead--killed by
She rose slowly. His eyes followed her, a shadow in the gloom as she
moved toward the stove. He heard her strike a match, and when she turned
toward him again in the light of the oil-lamp, her face was pale and her
eyes were big and staring. He swung himself to the edge of the cot, his
pulse beating with the savage thrill of the inquisitor. Yet he knew that
it was not quite time for him to disclose himself--not quite. He did not
dread the moment when he would rise and tell her that he was not injured,
and that he was not M'sieu Duval, but Corporal Blake of the Royal Mounted
Police. He was eager for that moment. But he waited--discreetly. When the
trap was sprung there would be no escape.
"You are sure--it was Francois Breault?" she said at last.
"Yes, the mail-runner. You knew him?"
She had moved to the table, and her hand was gripping the edge of it. For
a space she did not answer him, but seemed to be looking somewhere
through the cabin walls--a long way off. Ferret-like, he was watching
her, and saw his opportunity. How splendidly fate was playing his way!
He rose to his feet and hobbled painfully to her, a splendid hypocrite, a
magnificent dissembler. He seized her hand and held it in both his own.
It was small and soft, but strangely cold.
"Ma cheri--my dear child--what makes you look like that? What has the
death of Francois Breault to do with you--you and Jan?"
It was the voice of a friend, a brother, low, sympathetic, filled just
enough with anxiety. Only last winter, in just that way, it had won the
confidence and roused the hope of Pierrot's wife, over on the Athabasca.
In the summer that followed they hanged Pierrot. Gently Blake spoke the
words again. Marie's lips trembled. Her great eyes were looking at
him--straight into his soul, it seemed.
"You may tell me, ma cheri," he encouraged, barely above a whisper. "I am
Duval. And Jan--I love Jan."
He drew her back toward the cot, dragging his limb painfully, and seated
her again upon the stool. He sat beside her, still holding her hand,
patting it, encouraging her. The color was coming back into Marie's
cheeks. Her lips were growing full and red again, and suddenly she gave a
trembling little laugh as she looked up into Blake's face. His presence
began to dispel the terror that had possessed her all at once.
"Tell me, Marie."
He saw the shudder that passed through her slim shoulders.
"They had a fight--here--in this cabin--three days ago," she confessed.
"It must have been--the day--he was killed."
Blake knew the wild thought that was in her heart as she watched him. The
muscles of his jaws tightened. His shoulders grew tense. He looked over
her head as if he, too, saw something beyond the cabin walls. It was
Marie's hand that gripped his now, and her voice, panting almost, was
filled with an agonized protest.
"No, no, no--it was not Jan," she moaned. "It was not Jan who killed
"Hush!" said Blake.
He looked about him as if there was a chance that someone might hear the
fatal words she had spoken. It was a splendid bit of acting, almost
unconscious, and tremendously effective. The expression in his face
stabbed to her heart like a cold knife. Convulsively her fingers clutched
more tightly at his hands. He might as well have spoken the words: "It
was Jan, then, who killed Francois Breault!"
Instead of that he said:
"You must tell me everything, Marie. How did it happen? Why did they
fight? And why has Jan gone away so soon after the killing? For Jan's
sake, you must tell me--everything."
He waited. It seemed to him that he could hear the fighting struggle in
Marie's breast. Then she began, brokenly, a little at a time, now and
then barely whispering the story. It was a woman's story, and she told it
like a woman, from the beginning. Perhaps at one time the rivalry between
Jan Thoreau and Francois Breault, and their struggle for her love, had
made her heart beat faster and her cheeks flush warm with a woman's pride
of conquest, even though she had loved one and had hated the other. None
of that pride was in her voice now, except when she spoke of Jan.
"Yes--like that--children together--we grew up," she confided. "It was
down there at Wollaston Post, in the heart of the big forests, and when I
was a baby it was Jan who carried me about on his shoulders. Oui, even
then he played the violin. I loved it. I loved Jan--always. Later, when I
was seventeen, Francois Breault came."
She was trembling.
"Jan has told me a little about those days," lied Blake. "Tell me the
"I--I knew I was going to be Jan's wife," she went on, the hands she had
withdrawn from his twisting nervously in her lap. "We both knew. And
yet--he had not spoken--he had not been definite. Oo-oo, do you
understand, M'sieu Duval? It was my fault at the beginning! Francois
Breault loved me. And so--I played with him--only a little, m'sieu!--to
frighten Jan into the thought that he might lose me. I did not know what
I was doing. No--no; I didn't understand.
"Jan and I were married, and on the day Jan saw the missioner--a week
before we were made man and wife--Francois Beault came in from the trail
to see me, and I confessed to him, and asked his forgiveness. We were
alone. And he--Francois Breault--was like a madman."
She was panting. Her hands were clenched. "If Jan hadn't heard my cries,
and come just in time--" she breathed.
Her blazing eyes looked up into Blake's face. He understood, and nodded.
"And it was like that--again--three days ago," she continued. "I hadn't
seen Breault in two years--two years ago down at Wollaston Post. And he
was mad. Yes, he must have been mad when he came three days ago. I don't
know that he came so much for me as it was to kill Jan, He said it was
Jan. Ugh, and it was here--in the cabin--that they fought!"
"And Jan--punished him," said Blake in a low voice.
Again the convulsive shudder swept through Marie's shoulders.
"It was strange--what happened, m'sieu. I was going to shoot. Yes, I
would have shot him when the chance came. But all at once Francois
Breault sprang back to the door, and he cried: 'Jan Thoreau, I am
mad--mad! Great God, what have I done?' Yes, he said that, m'sieu, those
very words--and then he was gone."
"And that same day--a little later--Jan went away from the cabin, and was
gone a long time," whispered Blake. "Was it not so, Marie?"
"Yes; he went to his trap-line, m'sieu."
For the first time Blake made a movement. He took her face boldly between
his two hands, and turned it so that her staring eyes were looking
straight into his own. Every fiber in his body was trembling with the
thrill of his monstrous triumph. "My dear little girl, I must tell you
the truth," he said. "Your husband, Jan, did not go to his trap-line
three days ago. He followed Francois Breault, and killed him. And I am
not John Duval. I am Corporal Blake of the Mounted Police, and I have
come to get Jan, that he may be hanged by the neck until he is dead for
his crime. I came for that. But I have changed my mind. I have seen you,
and for you I would give even a murderer his life. Do you understand? For
And then came the grand finale, just as he had planned it. His words had
stupefied her. She made no movement, no sound--only her great eyes seemed
alive. And suddenly he swept her into his arms with the wild passion of a
beast. How long she lay against his breast, his arms crushing her, his
hot lips on her face, she did not know.
The world had grown suddenly dark. But in that darkness she heard his
voice; and what it was saying roused her at last from the deadliness of
her stupor. She strained against him, and with a wild cry broke from his
arms, and staggered across the cabin floor to the door of her bedroom.
Blake did not pursue her. He let the darkness of that room shut her in.
He had told her--and she understood.
He shrugged his shoulders as he rose to his feet. Quite calmly, in spite
of the wild rush of blood through his body, he went to the cabin door,
opened it, and looked out into the night. It was full of stars, and
It was quiet in that inner room, too--so quiet that one might fancy he
could hear the beating of a heart. Marie had flung herself in the
farthest corner, beyond the bed. And there her hand had touched
something. It was cold--the chill of steel. She could almost have
screamed, in the mighty reaction that swept through her like an electric
shock. But her lips were dumb and her hand clutched tighter at the cold
She drew it toward her inch by inch, and leveled it across the bed. It
was Jan's goose-gun, loaded with buck-shot. There was a single metallic
click as she drew the hammer back. In the doorway, looking at the stars,
Blake did not hear.
Marie waited. She was not reasoning things now, except that in the outer
room there was a serpent that she must kill. She would kill him as he
came between her and the light; then she would follow over Jan's trail,
overtake him somewhere, and they would flee together. Of that much she
thought ahead. But chiefly her mind, her eyes, her brain, her whole
being, were concentrated on the twelve-inch opening between the bedroom
door and the outer room. The serpent would soon appear there. And then--
She heard the cabin door close, and Blake's footsteps approaching. Her
body did not tremble now. Her forefinger was steady on the trigger. She
held her breath--and waited. Blake came to the deadline and stopped. She
could see one arm and a part of his shoulder. But that was not enough.
Another half step--six inches--four even, and she would fire. Her heart
pounded like a tiny hammer in her breast.
And then the very life in her body seemed to stand still. The cabin door
had opened suddenly, and someone had entered. In that moment she would
have fired, for she knew that it must be Jan who had returned. But Blake
had moved. And now, with her finger on the trigger, she heard his cry of
"Yes. Put up your gun, Corporal. Have you got Jan Thoreau?"
"That is lucky for us." It was the stranger's voice, filled with a great
relief. "I have traveled fast to overtake you. Matao, the half-breed, was
stabbed in a quarrel soon after you left; and before he died he confessed
to killing Breault. The evidence is conclusive. Ugh, but this fire is
good! Anybody at home?"
"Yes," said Blake slowly. "Mrs. Thoreau--is--at home."
She stood in the doorway of a log cabin that was overgrown with woodvine
and mellow with the dull red glow of the climbing bakneesh, with the
warmth of the late summer sun falling upon her bare head. Cummins' shout
had brought her to the door when we were still half a rifle shot down the
river; a second shout, close to shore, brought her running down toward
me. In that first view that I had of her, I called her beautiful. It was
chiefly, I believe, because of her splendid hair. John Cummins' shout of
homecoming had caught her with it undone, and she greeted us with the
dark and lustrous masses of it sweeping about her shoulders and down to
her hips. That is, she greeted Cummins, for he had been gone for nearly a
month. I busied myself with the canoe for that first half minute or so.
Then it was that I received my introduction and for the first time
touched the hand of Melisse Cummins, the Florence Nightingale of several
thousand square miles of northern wilderness. I saw, then, that what I
had at first taken for our own hothouse variety of beauty was a different
thing entirely, a type that would have disappointed many because of its
strength and firmness. Her hair was a glory, brown and soft. No woman
could have criticized its loveliness. But the flush that I had seen in
her face, flower-like at a short distance, was a tan that was almost a
man's tan. Her eyes were of a deep blue and as clear as the sky; but in
them, too, there was a strength that was not altogether feminine. There
was strength in her face, strength in the poise of her firm neck,
strength in every movement of her limbs and body. When she spoke, it was
in a voice which, like her hair, was adorable. I had never heard a
sweeter voice, and her firm mouth was all at once not only gentle and
womanly, but almost girlishly pretty.
I could understand, now, why Melisse Cummins was the heroine of a hundred
true tales of the wilderness, and I could understand as well why there
was scarcely a cabin or an Indian hut in that ten thousand square miles
of wilderness in which she had not, at one time or another, been spoken
of as "L'ange Meleese." And yet, unlike that other "angel" of flesh and
blood, Florence Nightingale, the story of Melisse Cummins and her work
will live and die with her in that little cabin two hundred miles
straight north of civilization. No, that is wrong. For the wilderness
will remember. It will remember, as it has remembered Father Duchene and
the Missioner of Lac Bain and the heroic days of the early voyageurs. A
hundred "Meleeses" will bear her memory in name--for all who speak her
name call her "Meleese," and not Melisse.
The wilderness itself may never forget, as it has never forgotten
beautiful Jeanne D'Arcambal, who lived and died on the shore of the great
bay more than one hundred and sixty years ago. It will never forget the
great heart this woman has given to her "people" from the days of
girlhood; it will not forget the thousand perils she faced to seek out
the sick, the plague-stricken and the starving; in old age there will
still be those who will remember the first prayers to the real God that
she taught them in childhood; and children still to come, in cabin, tepee
and hut, will live to bless the memory of L'ange Meleese, who made
possible for them a new birthright and who in the wild places lived to
the full measure and glory of the Golden Rule.
To find Meleese Cummins and her home in the wilderness, one must start at
Le Pas as the last outpost of civilization and strike northward through
the long Pelican Lake waterways to Reindeer Lake. Nearly forty miles up
the east shore of the lake, the adventurer will come to the mouth of the
Gray Loon--narrow and silent stream that winds under overhanging
forests--and after that a two-hours' journey in a canoe will bring one to
the Cummins' cabin.
It is set in a clearing, with the thick spruce and balsam and cedar
hemming it in, and a tall ridge capped with golden birch rising behind
it. In that clearing John Cummins raises a little fruit and a few
vegetables during the summer months; but it is chiefly given up to three
or four huge plots of scarlet moose-flowers, a garden of Labrador tea,
and wild flowering plants and vines of half a dozen varieties. And where
the radiant moose-flowers grow thickest, screened from the view of the
cabin by a few cedars and balsams, are the rough wooden slabs that mark
seven graves. Six of them are the graves of children--little ones who
died deep in the wilderness and whose tiny bodies Meleese Cummins could
not leave to the savage and pitiless loneliness of the forests, but whom
she has brought together that they might have company in what she calls
her, "Little Garden of God."
Those little graves tell the story of Meleese--the woman who, all heart
and soul, has buried her own one little babe in that garden of flowers.
One of the slabs marks the grave of an Indian baby, whose little dead
body Meleese Cummins carried to her cabin in her own strong arms from
twenty miles back in the forest, when the temperature was fifty degrees
below zero. Another of them, a baby boy, a French half-breed and his wife
brought down from fifty miles up the Reindeer and begged "L'ange Meleese"
to let it rest with the others, where "it might not be lonely and would
not be frightened by the howl of the wolves." It was a wild and half
Indian mother who said that!
It was almost twenty years ago that the romance began in the lives of
John and Meleese Cummins. Meleese was then ten years old; and she still
remembers as vividly as though they were but memories of yesterday the
fears and wild tales of that one terrible winter when the "Red
Terror"--the smallpox--swept in a pitiless plague of death throughout the
northern wilderness. It was then that there came down from the north, one
bitter cold day, a ragged and half-starved boy, whose mother and father
had died of the plague in a little cabin fifty miles away, and who from
the day he staggered into the home of Henry Janesse, became Meleese's
playmate and chum. This boy was John Cummins.
When Janesse moved to Fort Churchill, where Meleese might learn more in
the way of reading and writing and books than her parents could teach
her, John Cummins went with her. He went with them to Nelson House, and
from there to Split Lake, where Janesse died. From that time, at the age
of eighteen, he became the head and support of the home. When he was
twenty and Meleese eighteen, the two were married by a missioner from
Nelson House. The following autumn the young wife's mother died, and that
winter Meleese began her remarkable work among her "people."
In their little cabin on the Gray Loon, one will hear John Cummins say
but little about himself; but there is a glow in his eyes and a flush in
his cheeks as he tells of that first day he came home from a three-days
journey over a long trap line to find his home cold and fireless, and a
note written by Meleese telling him that she had gone with a
twelve-year-old boy who had brought her word through twenty miles of
forest that his mother was dying. That first "case" was more terrible for
John Cummins than for his wife, for it turned out to be smallpox, and for
six weeks Meleese would allow him to come no nearer than the edge of the
clearing' in which the pest-ridden cabin stood. First the mother, and
then the boy, she nursed back to life, locking the door against the two
husbands, who built themselves a shack in the edge of the forest. Half a
dozen times Meleese Cummins has gone through ordeals like that unscathed.
Once it was to nurse a young Indian mother through the dread disease, and
again she went into a French trapper's cabin where husband, wife and
daughter were all sick with the malady. At these times, when the "call"
came to Meleese from a far cabin or tepee, John Cummins would give up the
duties of his trap line to accompany her, and would pitch his tent or
make him a shack close by, where he could watch over her, hunt food for
the afflicted people and keep up the stack of needed firewood and water.
But there were times when the "calls" came during the husband's absence,
and, if they were urgent, Meleese went alone, trusting to her own
splendid strength and courage. A half-breed woman came to her one day, in
the dead of winter, from twenty miles across the lake. Her husband had
frozen one of his feet, and the "frost malady" would kill him, she said,
unless he had help. Scarcely knowing what she could do in such a case,
Meleese left a note for her husband, and on snowshoes the two heroic
women set off across the wind-swept and unsheltered lake, with the
thermometer fifty degrees below zero. It was a terrible venture, but the
two won out. When Meleese saw the frozen man, she knew that there was but
one thing to do, and with all the courage of her splendid heart she
amputated his foot. The torture of that terrible hour no one will ever
know. But when John Cummins returned to his home and, wild with fear,
followed across the lake, he scarcely recognized the Meleese who flung
herself sobbing into his arms when he found her. For two weeks after that
Meleese herself was sick. Thus, through the course of years, it came
about that it was, indeed, a stranger in the land who had not heard her
name. During the summer months Meleese's work, in place of duty, was a
pleasure. With her husband she made canoe journeys for fifty miles about
her home, hearing with her the teachings of cleanliness, of health and of
God. She was the first to hold to her own loving breast many little
children who came into their wild and desolate inheritance of life. She
was the first to teach a hundred childish lips to say "Now I lay me down
to sleep," and more than one woman she made to see the clear and starry
way to brighter life.
Far up on Reindeer Lake, close to the shore, there is a towering
"lob-stick tree"--which is a tall spruce or cedar lopped of all its
branches to the very crest, which is trimmed in the form of a plume. A
tree thus shriven and trimmed is the Cree cenotaph to one held in almost
spiritual reverence, and the tree far up on Reindeer Lake is one of the
half dozen or more "lob-sticks" dedicated to Meleese. Six weeks Meleese
and John Cummins spent in an Indian camp at this point, and when at last
the two bade their primitive friends good-bye and left for home, the
little Indian children and the women followed their canoe along the edge
of a stream and flung handfuls of flowers after them.
Of what Meleese Cummins and her husband know of the great outside world,
or of what they do not know, it is wisest to leave unsaid. Details have
often marred a picture. They are children of the wilderness, born of that
wilderness, bred of it, and life of it--a beating and palpitating part of
a world which few can understand. I doubt if one or the other has ever
heard of a William Shakespeare or a Tennyson, for it has not been in my
mind or desire to ask; but they do know the human heart as it beats and
throbs in a land that is desolation and loneliness, where poetry runs not
in lines and meters, but in the bloom of the wild flower, the rush of the
rapid, the thunder of the waterfall and the murmuring of the wind in the
spruce tops; where drama exists not in the epic lines of literature, but
in the hunt cry of the wolf, the death dirges of the storms that wail
down from the Barrens, and in the strange cries that rise up out of the
silent forests, where for a half of each year life is that endless strife
that leaves behind only those whom we term the survival of the fittest.
THE CASE OF BEAUVAIS
Madness? Perhaps. And yet if it was madness. . . .
But strange things happen up there, gentlemen. I have found it sometimes
hard to define that word. There are so many kinds of madness, so many
ways in which the human brain may go wrong; and so often it happens that
what we call madness is both reasonable and just. It is so. Yes. A little
reason is good for us, a little more makes wise men of some of us--but
when our reason over-grows us and we reach too far, something breaks and
we go insane.
But I will tell you the story. That is what you want to hear, and you
expect that it will be prejudiced--that I will either deliberately
attempt to protect and prolong a human life, or shorten and destroy it. I
shall do neither, gentlemen of the Royal Mounted Police. I have a faith
in you that is in its way an unbounded as my faith in God. I have looked
up to you in all my life in the wilderness as the heart of chivalry and
the soul of honor and fairness to all men. Pathfinders, men of iron,
guardians of people and spaces of which civilization knows but little, I
have taught my children of the forests to honor, obey and to trust you.
And so I shall tell you the story without prejudice, with the gratitude
of a missioner who has lived his life for forty years in the wilderness,
I am a Catholic. It is four hundred miles straight north by dog-sledge or
snowshoe to my cabin, and this is the first time in nineteen years that I
have been down to the edge of the big world which I remember now as
little more than a dream. But up there I knew that my duty lay, just at
the edge of the Big Barren. See! My hands are knotted like the snarl of a
tree. The glare of your lights hurts my eyes. I traveled to-day in the
middle of your street because my moccasined feet stumbled on the
smoothness of your walks. People stared, and some of them laughed.
Forty years I have lived in another world. You--and especially you
gentlemen who have trailed in the Patrols of the north--know what that
world is. As it shapes different hands, as it trains different feet, as
it gives to us different eyes, so also it has bred into my forest
children hearts and souls that may be a little different, and a code of
right and wrong that too frequently has had no court of law to guide it.
So judge fairly, gentlemen of the Royal Mounted Police! Understand, if
It was a terrible winter--that winter of Le Mort Rouge. So far down as
men and children now living will remember, it will be called by my people
the winter of Famine and Red Death. Starvation, gentlemen--and the
smallpox. People died like--what shall I say? It is not easy to describe
a thing like that. They died in tepees. They died in shacks. They died on
the trail. From late December until March I said my prayers over the
dead. You are wondering what all this has to do with my story; why it
matters that the caribou had migrated in vast herds to the westward, and
there was no food; why it matters that there were famine and plague in
the great unknown land, and that people were dying and our world going
through a cataclysm. My backwoods eyes can see your thought. What has all
this to do with Joseph Brecht? What has it to do with Andre Beauvais? Why
does this little forest priest take up so much time in telling so little?
you ask. And because it has its place--because it has its meaning--I ask
you for permission to tell my story in my own way. For these sufferings,
this hunger and pestilence and death, had a strange and terrible effect
on many human creatures that were left alive when spring came. It was
like a great storm that had swept through a forest of tall trees. A storm
of suffering that left heads bowed, shoulders bent, and minds gone. Yes,
Since that winter of Le Mort Rouge I know of eyes into which the life of
laughter will never come again; I know of strong men who became as little
children; I have seen faces that were fair with youth shrivel into
age--and my people call it noot' akutawin keskwawin--the cold and hungry
madness. May God help Andre Beauvais!
I will tell the story now.
It was in June. The last of the mush-snows had gone early, nearly a
fortnight before, and the waters were free from ice, when word was
brought to me that Father Boget was dying at Old Fort Reliance. Father
Boget was twenty years older than I, and I called him mon pere. He was a
father to me in our earlier years. I made haste to reach him that I might
hold his hand before he died, if that was possible. And you, Sergeant
McVeigh, who have spent years in that country of the Great Slave, know
what a race with death from Christie Bay to Old Fort Eeliance would be.
To follow the broken and twisted waters of the Great Slave would mean two
hundred miles, while to cut straight across the land by smaller streams
and lakelets meant less than seventy. But on your maps that space of
seventy miles is a blank. You have in it no streams and no larger waters.
You know little of it. But I can tell you, for I have been though it. It
is a Lost Hell. It is a vast country in which berry bushes grow
abundantly, but on which there are no berries, where there are forests
and swamps, but not a living creature to inhabit them; a country of water
in which there are no fish, of air in which there are no birds, of plants
without flowers--a reeking, stinking country of brimstone, a hell. In
your Blue Books you have called it the Sulphur Country. And this country,
as you draw a line from Christie Bay to Old Fort Reliance, is straight
between. Mon pere was dying, and my time was short. I decided to venture
it--cut across that Sulphur Country, and I sought for a man to accompany
me. I could find none. To the Indian it was the land of Wetikoo--the
Devil Country; to the Breeds it was filled with horror. Forty miles
distant there was a man I knew would go, a white man. But to reach him
would lose me three days, and I was about to set out alone when the
stranger came. He was, indeed, a strange man. When he came to what I
called my chateau, from nowhere, going nowhere, I hardly knew whether to
call him young or old. But I made my guess. That terrib le winter had
branded him. When I asked him his name, he said:
"I am a wanderer, and in wandering I have lost my name. Call me M'sieu."
I found this was a long speech for him, that his tongue was tied by a
horrible silence. When I told him where I was going, and described the
country I was going through, and that I wanted a man, he merely nodded
that he would accompany me.
We started in a canoe, and I placed him ahead of me so that I could make
out, if I could, something of what he was. His hair was dark. His beard
was dark. His eyes were sunken but strangely clear. They puzzled me. They
were always questing. Always seeking. And always expecting, it seemed to
me. A man of unfathomable mystery, of unutterable tragedy, of a silence
that was almost inhuman. Was he mad? I ask you, gentlemen--was he mad?
And I leave the answer to you. To me he was good. When I told him what
mon pere had been to me, and that I wanted to reach him before he died,
he spoke no word of hope or sympathy--but worked until his muscles
cracked. We ate together, we drank together, we slept side by side--and
it was like eating and drinking and sleeping with a sphinx which some
strange miracle had endowed with life.
The second day we entered the Sulphur Country. The stink of it was in our
nostrils that second night we camped. The moon rose, and we saw it as if
through the fumes of a yellow smoke. Far behind us we heard a wolf howl,
and it was the last sound of life. With the dawn we went on. We passed
through broad, low morasses out of which rose the sulphurous fogs. In
many places the water we touched with our hands was hot; in other places
the forests we paddled through were so dense they were almost tropical.
And lifeless. Still, with the stillness of death for thousands and
perhaps tens of thousands of years. The food we ate seemed saturated with
the vileness of sulphur; it seeped into our water-bags; it turned us to
the color of saffron; it was terrible, frightening, inconceivable. And
still we went on by compass, and M'sieu showed no fear--even less,
gentlemen, than did I.
And then, on the third day--in the heart of this diseased and horrible
region--we made a discovery that drew a strange cry even from those
mysteriously silent lips of M'sieu.
It was the print of a naked human foot in a bar of mud.
How it came there, why it was there, and why if was a naked foot I
suppose were the first thoughts that leaped into our startled minds. What
man could live in these infernal regions? WAS it a man, or was it the
footprint of some primeval ape, a monstrous survival of the centuries?
The trail led through a steaming slough in which the mud and water were
tepid and which grew rank with yellow reeds and thick grasses--grasses
that were almost flesh-like, it seemed to me, as if swollen and about to
burst from some dreadful disease, Perhaps your scientists can tell why
sulphur has this effect on vegetation. It is so; there was sulphur in the
very wood we burned. Through those reeds and grasses we soon found where
a narrow trail was beaten, and then we came to a rise of land sheltered
in timber, a sort of hill in that flat world, and on the crest of this
hill we found a cabin.
Yes, a cabin; a cabin built roughly of logs, and it was yellow with
sulphur, as if painted. We went inside and we found there the man whom
you know as Joseph Brecht. I did not look at M'sieu when he first rose
before us, but I heard a great gasp from his throat behind me. And I
think I stood as if life had suddenly gone out of me. Joseph Brecht was
half naked. His feet were bare. He looked like a wild man, with his uncut
hair--a wild man except that his face was smooth. Curious that a man
would shave there! And not so odd, perhaps, when one knows how a beard
gathers sulphur. He had risen from a cot on which there was a bed of
boughs, and in the light that came in through the open door he looked
terribly emaciated, with the skin drawn tightly over his cheek bones. It
was he who spoke first.
"I am glad you have come," he said, his eyes staring wildly. "I guess I
am dying. Some water, please. There is a spring back of the cabin."
Quite sanely he spoke, and yet the words were scarcely out of his mouth
when he fell back upon the cot, his eyes rolling in the top of his head,
his mouth agape, his breath coming in great panting gasps. It was a
strange sickness. I will not trouble you with all the details. You are
anxious for the story--the tragedy--which alone will count with you
gentlemen of the law. It came out in his fever, and in the fits of sanity
into which he at times succeeded in rousing himself. His name, he said,
was Joseph Brecht. For two years he had lived in that sulphur hell. He
had, by accident, found the spring of fresh, sweet water trickling out of
the hill--another miracle for which I have not tried to account; he built
his cabin; for two years he had gone with his canoe to the shore of the
great Slave, forty miles distant, for the food he ate. But WHY was he
here? That was the story that came bit by bit, half in his fever, half in
his sanity. I will tell it in my own words. He was a Government man,
mapping out the last timber lines along the edge of the Great Barren,
when he first met Andre Beauvais and his wife, Marie. An accident took
him to their cabin, a sprained leg. Andre was a fox-hunter, and it was
when he was coming home from one of his trips that he found Joseph Brecht
helpless in the deep snow, and carried him on his shoulders to his cabin.
Ah, gentlemen, it was the old story--the story old as time. In his sanity
he told us about Marie, I hovering over him closely, M'sieu sitting back
in the shadows. She was like some wonderful wildflower, French, a little
Indian. He told us how her long black hair would stream in a shining
cascade, soft as the breast of a swan, to her knees and below; how it
would hang again in two great, lustrous braids, and how her eyes were
limpid pools that set his soul afire, and how her slim, beautiful body
filled him with a monstrous desire. She must have been beautiful. And her
husband, Andre Beauvais, worshipped her, and the ground she trod on. And
he had the faith in her that a mother has in her child. It was a sublime
love, and Joseph Brecht told us about it as he lay there, dying, as he
supposed. In that faith of his Andre went unsuspectingly to his
trap-lines and his poison-trails, and Marie and Joseph were for many
hours at a time alone, sometimes for a day, sometimes for two days, and
occasionally for three, for even after his limb had regained its strength
Joseph feigned that it was bad. It was a hard fight, he said--a hard
fight for him to win her; but win her he did, utterly, absolutely, heart,
body and soul. Remember, he was from the South, with all its power of
language, all its tricks of love, all its furtiveness of argument, a
strong man with a strong mind--and she had lived all her life in the
wilderness. She was no match for him. She surrendered. He told us how,
after that, he would unbind her wonderful hair and pillow his face in it;
how he lived in a heaven of transport, how utterly she gave herself to
him in those times when Andre, was away.
Did he love her?
Yes, in that mad passion of the brute. But not as you and I might love a
woman, gentlemen. Not as Andre loved her. Whether she had a heart or a
soul it did not matter. His eyes were blind with an insensate joy when he
shrouded himself in her wonderful hair. To see the wild color painting
her face like a flower filled his veins with fire. The beauty of her, the
touch of her, the mad beat of her heart against him made him like a
drunken man in his triumph. Love? Yes, the love of the brute! He
prolonged his stay. He had no idea of taking her with him. When the time
came, he would go. Day after day, week after week he put it off, feigning
that the bone of his leg was affected, and Andre Beauvais treated him
like a brother. He told us all this as he lay there in his cabin in that
sulphur hell. I am a man of God, and I do not lie.
Is there need to tell you that Andre discovered them? Yes, he found
them--and with that wonderful hair of hers so closely about them that he
was still bound in the tresses when the discovery came.
Andre had come in exhausted, and unexpectedly. There was a terrible
fight, and in spite of his exhaustion he would have killed Joseph Brecht
if at the last moment the latter had not drawn his revolver. After all is
said and done, gentlemen, can a woman love but once? Joseph Brecht fired.
In that infinitesimal moment between the leveling of the gun and the
firing of the shot Marie Beauvais found answer to that question. Who was
it she loved? She sprang to her husband's breast, sheltering him with the
body that had been disloyal to its soul, and she died there--with a
bullet through her heart.
Joseph Brecht told us how, in the horror of his work--and possessed now
by a terrible fear--he ran from the cabin and fled for his life. And
Andre Beauvais must have remained with his dead. For it was many hours
later before he took up the trail of the man whom he made solemn oath to
his God to kill. Like a hunted hare, Joseph Brecht eluded him, and it was
weeks before the fox-trapper came upon him. Andre Beauvais scorned to
kill him from ambush. He wanted to choke his life out slowly, with his
two hands, and he attacked him openly and fairly.
And in that cabin--gasping for breath, dying as he thought, Joseph Brecht
said to us: "It was one or the other. He had the best of me. I drew my
revolver again--and killed him, killed Andre Beauvais, as I had killed
his wife, Marie!"
Here in the South Joseph Brecht might not have been a bad man, gentlemen.
In every man's heart there is a devil, but we do not know the man as bad
until the devil is roused. And passion, the mad passion for a woman, had
roused him. Now that it had made twice a murderer of him the devil slunk
back into his hiding, and the man who had once been the clean-living,
red-blooded Joseph Brecht was only a husk without a heart, slinking from
place to place in the evasion of justice. For you men of the Royal
Mounted Police were on his trail. You would have caught him, but you did
not think of seeking for him in the Sulphur Hell. For two years he had
lived there, and when he finished his story he was sitting on the edge of
the cot, quite sane, gentlemen.
And for the first time M'sieu, my comrade, spoke.
"Let us bring up the dunnage from the canoe, mon pere."
He led the way out of the cabin, and I followed. We were fifty steps away
when he stopped suddenly.
"Ah," he said, "I have forgotten something. I will overtake you."
He turned back to the cabin, and I went on to the canoe.
He did not join me. When I returned with my burden, M'sieu appeared at
the door. He amazed me, startled me, I will say, gentlemen. I could not
imagine such a change as I saw in him--that man of horrible silence, of
grim, dark mystery. He was smiling; his white teeth shone; his voice was
the voice of another man. He seemed to me ten years younger as he stood
there, and as I dropped my load and went in he was laughing, and his hand
was laid pleasantly on my shoulder.
Across the cot, with his head stretched down to the floor, his eyes
bulging and his jaws agape, lay Joseph Brecht. I sprang to him. He was
dead. And then I SAW Gentlemen, he had been choked to death!
"He made one leetle meestake, mon pere. Andre Beauvais did not die. I am
That is all, gentlemen of the Royal Mounted. May the Law have mercy!
THE OTHER MAN'S WIFE
Thornton wasn't the sort of man in whom you'd expect to find the devil
lurking. He was big, blond, and broad-shouldered. When I first saw him I
thought he was an Englishman. That was at the post at Lac la Biche, six
hundred miles north of civilization. Scotty and I had been doing some
exploration work for the government, and for more than six months we
hadn't seen a real white man who looked like home.
We came in late at night, and the factor gave us a room in his house.
When we looked out of our window in the morning, we saw a little shack
about a hundred feet away, and in front of that shack was Thornton, only
half dressed, stretching himself in the sun, and LAUGHING. There wasn't
anything to laugh at, but we could see his teeth shining white, and he
grinned every minute while he went through a sort of setting-up exercise.
When you begin to analyze a man, there is always some one human trait
that rises above all others, and that laugh was Thornton's. Even the
wolfish sledge-dogs at the post would wag their tails when they heard it.
We soon established friendly relations, but I could not get very far
beyond the laugh. Indeed, Thornton was a mystery. DeBar, the factor, said
that he had dropped into the post six months before, with a pack on his
back and a rifle over his shoulder. He had no business, apparently. He
was not a propectory and it was only now and then that he used his rifle,
and then only to shoot at marks.
One thing puzzled DeBar more than all else. Thornton worked like three
men about the post, cutting winter fire-wood, helping to catch and clean
the tons of whitefish which were stored away for the dogs in the
company's ice-houses, and doing other things without end. For this he
refused all payment except his rations.
Scotty continued eastward to Churchill, and for seven weeks I bunked with
Thornton in the shack. At the end of those seven weeks I knew little more
about Thornton than at the beginning. I never had a closer or more
congenial chum, and yet in his conversation he never got beyond the big
woods, the mountains, and the tangled swamps. He was educated and a
gentleman, and I knew that in spite of his brown face and arms, his hard
muscles and splendid health, he was three-quarters tenderfoot. But he
loved the wilderness.
"I never knew what life could hold for a man until I came up here," he
said to me one day, his gray eyes dancing in the light of a glorious
"I'm ten years younger than I was two years ago."
"You've been two years in the north?"
"A year and ten months," he replied.
Something brought to my lips the words that I had forced back a score of
"What brought you up here, Thornton?"
"Two things," he said quietly, "a woman--and a scoundrel."
He said no more, and I did not press the matter. There was a strange
tremble in his voice, something that I took to be a note of sadness; but
when he turned from the sunset to me his eyes were filled with a yet
stranger joy, and his big boyish laugh rang out with such wholesome
infectiousness that I laughed with him, in spite of myself.
That night, in our shack, he produced a tightly bound bundle of letters
about six inches thick, scattered them out before him on the table, and
began reading them at random, while I sat bolstered back in my bunk,
smoking and watching him. He was a curious study. Every little while I'd
hear him chuckling and rumbling, his teeth agleam, and between these
times he'd grow serious. Once I saw tears rolling down his cheeks.
He puzzled me; and the more he puzzled me, the better I liked him. Every
night for a week he spent an hour or two reading those letters over and
over again. I had a dozen opportunities to see that they were a woman's
letters: but he never offered a word of explanation.
With the approach of September, I made preparations to leave for the
south, by way of Moose Factory and the Albany.
"Why not go the shorter way--by the Reindeer Lake water route to Prince
Albert?" asked Thornton. "If you'll do that, I'll go with you."
His proposition delighted me, and we began planning for our trip. From
that hour there came a curious change in Thornton. It was as if he had
come into contact with some mysterious dynamo that had charged him with a
strange nervous energy. We were two days in getting our stuff ready, and
the night between he did not go to bed at all, but sat up reading the
letters, smoking, and then reading over again what he had read half a
hundred times before.
I was pretty well hardened, but during the first week of our canoe trip
he nearly had me bushed a dozen times. He insisted on getting away before
dawn, laughing, singing, and talking, and urged on the pace until sunset.
I don't believe that he slept two hours a night. Often, when I woke up,
I'd see him walking back and forth in the moonlight, humming softly to
himself. There was almost a touch of madness in it all; but I knew that
Thornton was sane.
One night--our fourteenth down--I awoke a little after midnight, and as
usual looked about for Thornton. It was glorious night. There was a full
moon over us, and with the lake at our feet, and the spruce and balsam
forest on each side of us, the whole scene struck me as one of the most
beautiful I had ever looked upon.
When I came out of our tent, Thornton was not in sight. Away across the
lake I heard a moose calling. Back of me an owl hooted softly, and from
miles away I could hear faintly the howling of a wolf. The night sounds
were broken by my own startled cry as I felt a hand fall, without
warning, upon my shoulder. It was Thornton. I had never seen his face as
it looked just then.
"Isn't it beautiful--glorious?" he cried softly.
"It's wonderful!" I said. "You won't see this down there, Thornton!"
"Nor hear those sounds," he replied, his hand tightening on my arm.
"We're pretty close to God up here, aren't we? She'll like it--I'll bring
"She!" He looked at me, his teeth shining in that wonderful silent laugh.
"I'm going to tell you about it," he said. "I can't keep it in any
longer. Let's go down by the lake."
We walked down and seated ourselves on the edge of a big rock.
"I told you that I came up here because of a woman--and a man," continued
Thornton. "Well, I did. The man and woman were husband and wife, and I--"
He interrupted himself with one of his chuckling laughs. There was
something in it that made me shudder.
"No use to tell you that I loved her," he went on. "I worshipped her. She
was my life. And I believe she loved me as much. I might have added that
there was a third thing that drove me up here--what remained of the rag
end of a man's honor."
"I begin to understand," I said, as he paused. "You came up here to get
away from the woman. But this woman--her husband--"
For the first time since I had known him I saw a flash of anger leap into
Thornton's face. He struck his hand against the rock.
"Her husband was a scoundrel, a brute, who came home from his club drunk,
a cheap money-spender, a man who wasn't fit to wipe the mud from her
little feet, much less call her wife! He ought to have been shot. I can
see it, now; and--well, I might as well tell you. I'm going back to her!"
"You are?" I cried. "Has she got a divorce? Is her husband still living?"
"No, she hasn't got a divorce, and her husband is still living; but for
all that, we've arranged it. Those were her letters I've been reading,
and she'll be at Prince Albert waiting for me on the 15th--three days
from now. We shall be a little late, and that's why I'm hustling so. I've
kept away from her for two years, but I can't do it any longer--and she
says that if I do she'll kill herself. So there you have it. She's the
sweetest, most beautiful girl in the whole world--eyes the color of those
blue flowers you have up here, brown hair, and--but you've got to see her
when we reach Prince Albert. You won't blame me for doing all this,
I had nothing to say. At my silence he turned toward me suddenly, with
that happy smile of his, and said again:
"I tell you that you won't blame me when you see her. You'll envy me, and
you'll call me a confounded fool for staying away so long. It has been
terribly hard for both of us. I'll wager that she's no sleepier than I am
to-night, just from knowing that I'm hurrying to her."
"You're pretty confident," I could not help sneering. "I don't believe
I'd wager much on such a woman. To be frank with you, Thornton, I don't
care to meet her, so I'll decline your invitation. I've a little wife of
my own, as true as steel, and I'd rather keep out of an affair like this.
"Perfectly," said Thornton, and there was not the slightest ill-humor in
his voice. "You--you think I am a cur?"
"If you have stolen another man's wife--yes."
"And the woman?"
"If she is betraying her husband, she is no better than you."
Thornton rose and stretched his long arms above his head.
"Isn't the moon glorious?" he cried exultantly. "She has never seen a
moon like that. She has never seen a world like this. Do you know what
we're going to do? We'll come up here and build a cabin, and--and she'll
know what a real man is at last! She deserves it. And we'll have you up
to visit us--you and your wife--two months out of each year. But
then"--he turned and laughed squarely into my face--"you probably won't
want your wife to know her."
"Probably not," I said, not without embarrassment.
"I don't blame you," he exclaimed, and before I could draw back he had
caught my hand and was shaking it hard in his own. "Let's be friends a
little longer, old man," he went on. "I know you'll change your mind
about the little girl and me when we reach Prince Albert."
I didn't go to sleep again that night; and the half-dozen days that
followed were unpleasant enough--for me, at least. In spite of my own
coolness toward him, there was absolutely no change in Thornton. Not once
did he make any further allusion to what he had told me.
As we drew near to our journey's end, his enthusiasm and good spirits
increased. He had the bow end of the canoe, and I had abundant
opportunity of watching him. It was impossible not to like him, even
after I knew his story.
We reached Prince Albert on a Sunday, after three days' travel in a
buckboard. When we drove up in front of the hotel, there was just one
person on the long veranda looking out over the Saskatchewan. It was a
woman, reading a book.
As he saw her, I heard a great breath heave up inside Thornton's chest.
The woman looked up, stared for a moment, and then dropped her book with
a welcoming cry such as I had never heard before in my life. She sprang
down the steps, and Thornton leaped from the wagon. They met there a
dozen paces from me, Thornton catching her in his arms, and the woman
clasping her arms about his neck.
I heard her sobbing, and I saw Thornton kissing her again and again, and
then the woman pulled his blond head down close to her face. It was
sickening, knowing what I did, and I began helping the driver to throw
off our dunnage.
In about two minutes I heard Thornton calling me.
I didn't turn my head. Then Thornton came to me, and as he straightened
me around by the shoulders I caught a glimpse of the woman. He was
right--she was very beautiful.
"I told you that her husband was a scoundrel and a rake," he said gently.
"Well, he was--and I was that scoundrel! I came up here for a chance of
redeeming myself, and your big, glorious North has made a man of me. Will
you come and meet my wife?"
THE STRENGTH OF MEN
There was the scent of battle in the air. The whole of Porcupine City
knew that it was coming, and every man and woman in its two hundred
population held their breath in anticipation of the struggle between two
men for a fortune--and a girl. For in some mysterious manner rumor of the
girl had got abroad, passing from lip to lip, until even the children
knew that there was some other thing than gold that would play a part in
the fight between Clarry O'Grady and Jan Larose. On the surface it was
not scheduled to be a fight with fists or guns. But in Porcupine City
there were a few who knew the "inner story"--the story of the girl, as
well as the gold, and those among them who feared the law would have
arbitrated in a different manner for the two men if it had been in their
power. But law is law, and the code was the code. There was no
alternative. It was an unusual situation, and yet apparently simple of
solution. Eighty miles north, as the canoe was driven, young Jan Larose
had one day staked out a rich "find" at the headwaters of Pelican Creek.
The same day, but later, Clarry O'Grady had driven his stakes beside
Jan's. It had been a race to the mining recorder's office, and they had
come in neck and neck. Popular sentiment favored Larose, the slim, quiet,
dark-eyed half Frenchman. But there was the law, which had no sentiment.
The recorder had sent an agent north to investigate. If there were two
sets of stakes there could be but one verdict. Both claims would be
thrown out, and then--
All knew what would happen, or thought that they knew. It would be a
magnificent race to see who could set out fresh stakes and return to the
recorder's office ahead of the other. It would be a fight of brawn and
brain, unless--and those few who knew the "inner story" spoke softly
An ox in strength, gigantic in build, with a face that for days had worn
a sneering smile of triumph, O'Grady was already picked as a ten-to-one
winner. He was a magnificent canoeman, no man in Porcupine City could
equal him for endurance, and for his bow paddle he had the best Indian in
the whole Reindeer Lake country. He stalked up and down the one street of
Porcupine City, treating to drinks, cracking rough jokes, and offering
wagers, while Jan Larose and his long-armed Cree sat quietly in the shade
of the recorder's office waiting for the final moment to come.
There were a few of those who knew the "inner story" who saw something
besides resignation and despair in Jan's quiet aloofness, and in the
disconsolate droop of his head. His face turned a shade whiter when
O'Grady passed near, dropping insult and taunt, and looking sidewise at
him in a way that only HE could understand. But he made no retort, though
his dark eyes glowed with a fire that never quite died--unless it was
when, alone and unobserved, he took from his pocket a bit of buckskin in
which was a silken tress of curling brown hair. Then his eyes shone with
a light that was soft and luminous, and one seeing him then would have
known that it was not a dream of gold that filled his heart, but of a
brown-haired girl who had broken it.
On this day, the forenoon of the sixth since the agent had departed into
the north, the end of the tense period of waiting was expected. Porcupine
City had almost ceased to carry on the daily monotony of business. A
score were lounging about the recorder's office. Women looked forth at
frequent intervals through the open doors of the "city's" cabins, or
gathered in two and threes to discuss this biggest sporting event ever
known in the history of the town. Not a minute but scores of anxious eyes
were turned searchingly up the river, down which the returning agent's
canoe would first appear. With the dawn of this day O'Grady had refused
to drink. He was stripped to the waist. His laugh was louder. Hatred as
well as triumph glittered in his eyes, for to-day Jan Larose looked him
coolly and squarely in the face, and nodded whenever he passed. It was
almost noon when Jan spoke a few low words to his watchful Indian and
walked to the top of the cedar-capped ridge that sheltered Porcupine City
from the north winds.
From this ridge he could look straight into the north--the north where he
was born. Only the Cree knew that for five nights he had slept, or sat
awake, on the top of this ridge, with his face turned toward the polar
star, and his heart breaking with loneliness and grief. Up there, far
beyond where the green-topped forests and the sky seemed to meet, he
could see a little cabin nestling under the stars--and Marie. Always his
mind traveled back to the beginning of things, no matter how hard he
tried to forget--even to the old days of years and years ago when he had
toted the little Marie around on his back, and had crumpled her brown
curls, and had revealed to her one by one the marvelous mysteries of the
wilderness, with never a thought of the wonderful love that was to come.
A half frozen little outcast brought in from the deep snows one day by
Marie's father, he became first her playmate and brother--and after that
lived in a few swift years of paradise and dreams. For Marie he had made
of himself what he was. He had gone to Montreal. He had learned to read
and write, he worked for the Company, he came to know the outside world,
and at last the Government employed him. This was a triumph. He could
still see the glow of pride and love in Marie's beautiful eyes when he
came home after those two years in the great city. The Government sent
for him each autumn after that. Deep into the wilderness he led the men
who made the red and black lined maps. It was he who blazed out the
northern limit of Banksian pine, and his name was in Government reports
down in black and white--so that Marie and all the world could read.
One day he came back--and he found Clarry O'Grady at the Cummins' cabin.
He had been there for a month with a broken leg. Perhaps it was the
dangerous knowledge of the power of her beauty--the woman's instinct in
her to tease with her prettiness, that led to Marie's flirtation with
O'Grady. But Jan could not understand, and she played with fire--the fire
of two hearts instead of one. The world went to pieces under Jan after
that. There came the day when, in fair fight, he choked the taunting
sneer from O'Grady's face back in the woods. He fought like a tiger, a
mad demon. No one ever knew of that fight. And with the demon still
raging in his breast he faced the girl. He could never quite remember
what he had said. But it was terrible--and came straight from his soul.
Then he went out, leaving Marie standing there white and silent. He did
not go back. He had sworn never to do that, and during the weeks that
followed it spread about that Marie Cummins had turned down Jan Larose,
and that Clarry O'Grady was now the lucky man. It was one of the
unexplained tricks of fate that had brought them together, and had set
their discovery stakes side by side on Pelican Creek.
To-day, in spite of his smiling coolness, Jan's heart rankled with a
bitterness that seemed to be concentrated of all the dregs that had ever
entered into his life. It poisoned him, heart and soul. He was not a
coward. He was not afraid of O'Grady.
And yet he knew that fate had already played the cards against him. He
would lose. He was almost confident of that, even while he nerved himself
to fight. There was the drop of savage superstition in him, and he told
himself that something would happen to beat him out. O'Grady had gone
into the home that was almost his own and had robbed him of Marie. In
that fight in the forest he should have killed him. That would have been
justice, as he knew it. But he had relented, half for Marie's sake, and
half because he hated to take a human life, even though it were
O'Grady's. But this time there would be no relenting. He had come alone
to the top of the ridge to settle the last doubts with himself. Whoever
won out, there would be a fight. It would be a magnificent fight, like
that which his grandfather had fought and won for the honor of a woman
years and years ago. He was even glad that O'Grady was trying to rob him
of what he had searched for and found. There would be twice the justice
in killing him now. And it would be done fairly, as his grandfather had
Suddenly there came a piercing shout from the direction of the river,
followed by a wild call for him through Jackpine's moose-horn. He
answered the Cree's signal with a yell and tore down through the bush.
When he reached the foot of the ridge at the edge of the clearing he saw
the men, women and children of Porcupine City running to the river. In
front of the recorder's office stood Jackpine, bellowing through his
horn. O'Grady and his Indian were already shoving their canoe out into
the stream, and even as he looked there came a break in the line of
excited spectators, and through it hurried the agent toward the
Side by side, Jan and his Indian ran to their canoe. Jackpine was
stripped to the waist, like O'Grady and his Chippewayan. Jan threw off
only his caribou-skin coat. His dark woolen shirt was sleeveless, and his
long slim arms, as hard as ribbed steel, were free. Half the crowd
followed him. He smiled, and waved his hand, the dark pupils of his eyes
shining big and black. Their canoe shot out until it was within a dozen
yards of the other, and those ashore saw him laugh into O'Grady's sullen,
set face. He was cool. Between smiling lips his white teeth gleamed, and
the women stared with brighter eyes and flushed cheeks, wondering how
Marie Cummins could have given up this man for the giant hulk and
drink-reddened face of his rival. Those among the men who had wagered
heavily against him felt a misgiving. There was something in Jan's smile
that was more than coolness, and it was not bravado. Even as he smiled
ashore, and spoke in low Cree to Jackpine, he felt at the belt that he
had hidden under the caribou-skin coat. There were two sheaths there, and
two knives, exactly alike. It was thus that his grandfather had set forth
one summer day to avenge a wrong, nearly seventy years before.
The agent had entered the cabin, and now he reappeared, wiping his
sweating face with a big red handkerchief. The recorder followed. He
paused at the edge of the stream and made a megaphone of his hands.
"Gentlemen," he cried raucously, "both claims have been thrown out!"
A wild yell came from O'Grady. In a single flash four paddles struck the
water, and the two canoes shot bow and bow up the stream toward the lake
above the bend. The crowd ran even with them until the low swamp at the
lake's edge stopped them. In that distance neither had gained a yard
advantage. But there was a curious change of sentiment among those who
returned to Porcupine City. That night betting was no longer two and
three to one on O'Grady. It was even money.
For the last thing that the men of Porcupine City had seen was that cold,
quiet smile of Jan Larose, the gleam of his teeth, the something in his
eyes that is more to be feared among men than bluster and brute strength.
They laid it to confidence. None guessed that this race held for Jan no
thought of the gold at the end. None guessed that he was following out
the working of a code as old as the name of his race in the north.
As the canoes entered the lake the smile left Jan's face. His lips
tightened until they were almost a straight line. His eyes grew darker,
his breath came more quickly. For a little while O'Grady's canoe drew
steadily ahead of them, and when Jackpine's strokes went deeper and more
powerful Jan spoke to him in Cree, and guided the canoe so that it cut
straight as an arrow in O'Grady's wake. There was an advantage in that.
It was small, but Jan counted on the cumulative results of good
His eyes never for an instant left O'Grady's huge, naked back. Between
his knees lay his .303 rifle. He had figured on the fraction of time it
would take him to drop his paddle, pick up the gun, and fire. This was
his second point in generalship--getting the drop on O'Grady.
Once or twice in the first half hour O'Grady glanced back over his
shoulder, and it was Jan who now laughed tauntingly at the other. There
was something in that laugh that sent a chill through O'Grady. It was as
hard as steel, a sort of madman's laugh.
It was seven miles to the first portage, and there were nine in the
eighty-mile stretch. O'Grady and his Chippewayan were a hundred yards
ahead when the prow of their canoe touched shore. They were a hundred and
fifty ahead when both canoes were once more in the water on the other
side of the portage, and O'Grady sent back a hoarse shout of triumph. Jan
hunched himself a little lower. He spoke to Jackpine--and the race began.
Swifter and swifter the canoes cut through the water. From five miles an
hour to six, from six to six and a half--seven--seven and a quarter, and
then the strain told. A paddle snapped in O'Grady's hands with a sound
like a pistol shot. A dozen seconds were lost while he snatched up a new
paddle and caught the Chippewayan's stroke, and Jan swung close into
their wake again. At the end of the fifteenth mile, where the second
portage began, O'Grady was two hundred yards in the lead. He gained
another twenty on the portage and with a breath that was coming now in
sobbing swiftness Jan put every ounce of strength behind the thrust of
his paddle. Slowly they gained. Foot by foot, yard by yard, until for a
third time they cut into O'Grady's wake. A dull pain crept into Jan's
back. He felt it slowly creeping into his shoulders and to his arms. He
looked at Jackpine and saw that he was swinging his body more and more
with the motion of his arms. And then he saw that the terrific pace set
by O'Grady was beginning to tell on the occupants of the canoe ahead. The
speed grew less and less, until it was no more than seventy yards. In
spite of the pains that were eating at his strength like swimmer's cramp,
Jan could not restrain a low cry of exultation. O'Grady had planned to
beat him out in that first twenty-mile spurt. And he had failed! His
heart leaped with new hope even while his strokes were growing weaker.
Ahead of them, at the far end of the lake, there loomed up the black
spruce timber which marked the beginning of the third portage, thirty
miles from Porcupine City. Jan knew that he would win there--that he
would gain an eighth of a mile in the half-mile carry. He knew of a
shorter cut than that of the regular trail. He had cleared it himself,
for he had spent a whole winter on that portage trapping lynx.
Marie lived only twelve miles beyond. More than once Marie had gone with
him over the old trap line. She had helped him to plan the little log
cabin he had built for himself on the edge of the big swamp, hidden away
from all but themselves. It was she who had put the red paper curtains
over the windows, and who, one day, had written on the corner of one of
them: "My beloved Jan." He forgot O'Grady as he thought of Marie and
those old days of happiness and hope. It was Jackpine who recalled him at
last to what was happening. In amazement he saw that O'Grady and his
Chippewayan had ceased paddling. They passed a dozen yards abreast of
them. O'Grady's great arms and shoulders were glistening with
perspiration. His face was purplish. In his eyes and on his lips was the
old taunting sneer. He was panting like a wind-broken animal. As Jan
passed he uttered no word.
An eighth of a mile ahead was the point where the regular portage began,
but Jan swung around this into a shallow inlet from which his own secret
trail was cut. Not until he was ashore did he look back. O'Grady and his
Indian were paddling in a leisurely manner toward the head of the point.
For a moment it looked as though they had given up the race, and Jan's
heart leaped exultantly. O'Grady saw him and waved his hand. Then he
jumped out to his knees in the water and the Chippewayan followed him. He
shouted to Jan, and pointed down at the canoe. The next instant, with a
powerful shove, he sent the empty birchbark speeding far out into the
Jan caught his breath. He heard Jackpine's cry of amazement behind him.
Then he saw the two men start on a swift run over the portage trail, and
with a fierce, terrible cry he sprang toward his rifle, which he had
leaned against a tree.
In that moment he would have fired, but O'Grady and the Indian had
disappeared into the timber. He understood--O'Grady had tricked him, as
he had tricked him in other ways. He had a second canoe waiting for him
at the end of the portage, and perhaps others farther on. It was unfair.
He could still hear O'Grady's taunting laughter as it had rung out in
Porcupine City, and the mystery of it was solved. His blood grew hot--so
hot that his eyes burned, and his breath seemed to parch his lips. In
that short space in which he stood paralyzed and unable to act his brain
blazed like a volcano. Who--was helping O'Grady by having a canoe ready
for him at the other side of the portage? He knew that no man had gone
North from Porcupine City during those tense days of waiting. The code
which all understood had prohibited that. Who, then, could it be?--who
but Marie herself! In some way O'Grady had got word to her, and it was
the Cummins' canoe that was waiting for him!
With a strange cry Jan lifted the bow of the canoe to his shoulder and
led Jackpine in a run. His strength had returned. He did not feel the
whiplike sting of boughs that struck him across the face. He scarcely
looked at the little cabin of logs when they passed it. Deep down in his
heart he called upon the Virgin to curse those two--Marie Cummins and
Clarry O'Grady, the man and the girl who had cheated him out of love, out
of home, out of everything he had possessed, and who were beating him now
through perfidy and trickery.
His face and his hands were scratched and bleeding when they came to the
narrow waterway, half lake and half river, which let into the Blind Loon.
Another minute and they were racing again through the water. From the
mouth of the channel he saw O'Grady and the Chippewayan a quarter of a
mile ahead. Five miles beyond them was the fourth portage. It was hidden
now by a thick pall of smoke rising slowly into the clear sky. Neither
Jan nor the Indian had caught the pungent odors of burning forests in the
air, and they knew that it was a fresh fire. Never in the years that Jan
could remember had that portage been afire, and he wondered if this was
another trick of O'Grady's. The fire spread rapidly as they advanced. It
burst forth in a dozen places along the shore of the lake, sending up
huge volumes of black smoke riven by lurid tongues of flame. O'Grady and
his canoe became less and less distinct. Finally they disappeared
entirely in the lowering clouds of the conflagration. Jan's eyes searched
the water as they approached shore, and at last he saw what he had
expected to find--O'Grady's empty canoe drifting slowly away from the
beach. O'Grady and the Chippewayan were gone.
Over that half-mile portage Jan staggered with his eyes half closed and
his breath coming in gasps. The smoke blinded him, and at times the heat
of the fire scorched his face. In several places it had crossed the
trail, and the hot embers burned through their moccasins. Once Jackpine
uttered a cry of pain. But Jan's lips were set. Then, above the roar of
the flames sweeping down upon the right of them, he caught the low
thunder of Dead Man's Whirlpool and the cataract that had made the
portage necessary. From the heated earth their feet came to a narrow
ledge of rock, worn smooth by the furred and moccasined tread of
centuries, with the chasm on one side of them and a wall of rock on the
other. Along the crest of that wall, a hundred feet above them, the fire
swept in a tornado of flame and smoke. A tree crashed behind them, a
dozen seconds too late. Then the trail widened and sloped down into the
dip that ended the portage. For an instant Jan paused to get his bearing,
and behind him Jackpine shouted a warning.
Up out of the smoldering oven where O'Grady should have found his canoe
two men were rushing toward them. They were O'Grady and the Chippewayan.
He caught the gleam of a knife in the Indian's hand. In O'Grady's there
was something larger and darker--a club, and Jan dropped his end of the
canoe with a glad cry, and drew one of the knives from his belt. Jackpine
came to his side, with his hunting knife in his hand, measuring with
glittering eyes the oncoming foe of his race--the Chippewayan.
And Jan laughed softly to himself, and his teeth gleamed again, for at
last fate was playing his game. The fire had burned O'Grady's canoe, and
it was to rob him of his own canoe that O'Grady was coming to fight. A
canoe! He laughed again, while the fire roared over his head and the
whirlpool thundered at his feet. O'Grady would fight for a canoe--for
gold--while he--HE--would fight for something else, for the vengeance of
a man whose soul and honor had been sold. He cared nothing for the canoe.
He cared nothing for the gold. He told himself, in this one tense moment
of waiting, that he cared no longer for Marie. It was the fulfillment of
He was still smiling when O'Grady was so near that he could see the red
glare in his eyes. There was no word, no shout, no sound of fury or
defiance as the two men stood for an instant just out of striking
distance. Jan heard the coming together of Jackpine and the Chippewayan.
He heard them straggling, but not the flicker of an eyelash did his gaze
leave O'Grady's face. Both men understood. This time had to come. Both
had expected it, even from that day of the fight in the woods when
fortune had favored Jan. The burned canoe had only hastened the hour a
little. Suddenly Jan's free hand reached behind him to his belt. He drew
forth the second knife and tossed it at O'Grady's feet.
O'Grady made a movement to pick it up, and then, while Jan was partly off
his guard, came at him with a powerful swing of the club. It was his
catlike quickness, the quickness almost of the great northern loon that
evades a rifle ball, that had won for Jan in the forest fight. It saved
him now. The club cut through the air over his head, and, carried by the
momentum of his own blow, O'Grady lurched against him with the full force
of his two hundred pounds of muscle and bone. Jan's knife swept in an
upward flash and plunged to the hilt through the flesh of his enemy's
forearm. With a cry of pain O'Grady dropped his club, and the two crashed
to the stone floor of the trail. This was the attack that Jan had feared
and tried to foil, and with a lightning-like squirming movement he swung
himself half free, and on his back, with O'Grady's huge hands linking at
his throat, he drew back his knife arm for the fatal plunge.
In this instant, so quick that he could scarcely have taken a breath in
the time, his eyes took in the other struggle between Jackpine and the
Chippewayan. The two Indians had locked themselves in a deadly embrace.
All thought of masters, of life or death, were forgotten in the roused-up
hatred that fired them now in their desire to kill. They had drawn close
to the edge of the chasm. Under them the thundering roar of the whirlpool
was unheard, their ears caught no sound of the moaning surge of the
flames far over their heads. Even as Jan stared horror-stricken in that
one moment, they locked at the edge of the chasm. Above the tumult of the
flood below and the fire above there rose a wild yell, and the two
plunged down into the abyss, locked and fighting even as they fell in a
twisting, formless shape to the death below.
It happened in an instant--like the flash of a quick picture on a
screen--and even as Jan caught the last of Jackpine's terrible face, his
hand drove eight inches of steel toward O'Grady's body. The blade struck
something hard--something that was neither bone nor flesh, and he drew
back again to strike. He had struck the steel buckle on O'Grady's belt.
A sudden hissing roar filled the air. Jan knew that he did not
strike--but he scarcely knew more than that in the first shock of the
fiery avalanche that had dropped upon them from the rock wall of the
mountain. He was conscious of fighting desperately to drag himself from
under a weight that was not O'Grady's--a weight that stifled the breath
in his lungs, that crackled in his ears, that scorched his face and his
hands, and was burning out his eyes. A shriek rang in his ears unlike any
other cry of man he had ever heard, and he knew that it was O'Grady's. He
pulled himself out, foot by foot, until fresher air struck his nostrils,
and dragged himself nearer and nearer to the edge of the chasm. He could
not rise. His limbs were paralyzed. His knife arm dragged at his side. He
opened his eyes and found that he could see. Where they had fought was
the smoldering ruin of a great tree, and standing out of the ruin of that
tree, half naked, his hands tearing wildly at his face, was O'Grady.
Jan's fingers clutched at a small rock. He called out, but there was no
meaning to the sound he made. Clarry O'Grady threw out his great arms.
"Jan--Jan Larose--" he cried. "My God, don't strike now! I'm
He staggered back, as if expecting a blow. "Don't strike!" he almost
shrieked. "Mother of Heaven--my eyes are burned out--I'm blind--blind--"
He backed to the wall, his huge form crouched, his hands reaching out as
if to ward off the deathblow. Jan tried to move, and the effort brought a
groan of agony to his lips. A second crash filled his ears as a second
avalanche of fiery debris plunged down upon the trail farther back. He
stared straight up through the stifling smoke. Lurid tongues of flame
were leaping over the wall of the mountain where the edge of the forest
was enveloped in a sea of twisting and seething fire. It was only a
matter of minutes--perhaps seconds. Death had them both in its grip.
He looked again at O'Grady, and there was no longer the desire for the
other's life in his heart. He could see that the giant was unharmed,
except for his eyes.
"Listen, O'Grady," he cried. "My legs are broken, I guess, and I can't
move. It's sure death to stay here another minute. You can get away.
Follow the wall--to your right. The slope is still free of fire,
O'Grady began to move, guiding himself slowly along the wall. Then,
suddenly, he stopped.
"Jan Larose--you say you can't move?" he shouted.
Slowly O'Grady turned and came gropingly toward the sound of Jan's voice.
Jan held tight to the rock that he had gripped in his left hand. Was it
possible that O'Grady would kill him now, stricken as he was? He tried to
drag himself to a new position, but his effort was futile.
"Jan! Jan Larose!" called O'Grady, stopping to listen.
Jan held his breath. Then the truth seemed to dawn upon O'Grady. He
laughed, differently than he had laughed before, and stretched out his
"My God, Jan," he cried, "you don't think I'm clean BEAST, do you? The
fight's over, man, an' I guess God A'mighty brought this on us to show
what fools we was. Where are y', Jan Larose? I'm goin' t' carry you out!"
"I'm here!" called Jan.
He could see truth and fearlessness in O'Grady's sightless face, and he
guided him without fear. Their hands met. Then O'Grady lowered himself
and hoisted Jan to his shoulders as easily as he would have lifted a boy.
He straightened himself and drew a deep breath, broken by a stabbing
throb of pain.
"I'm blind an' I won't see any more," he said, "an' mebbe you won't ever
walk any more. But if we ever git to that gold I kin do the work and you
kin show me how. Now--p'int out the way, Jan Larose!"
With his arms clasped about O'Grady's naked shoulders, Jan's smarting
eyes searched through the thickening smother of fire and smoke for a road
that the other's feet might tread. He shouted
"Left"--"right"--"right"--"right"--"left" into this blind companion's
ears until they touched the wall. As the heat smote them more fiercely,
O'Grady bowed his great head upon his chest and obeyed mutely the signals
that rang in his ears. The bottoms of his moccasins were burned from his
feet, live embers ate at his flesh, his broad chest was a fiery blister,
and yet he strode on straight into the face of still greater heat and
greater torture, uttering no sound that could be heard above the steady
roar of the flames. And Jan, limp and helpless on his back, felt then the
throb and pulse of a giant life under him, the straining of thick neck,
of massive shoulders and the grip of powerful arms whose strength told
him that at last he had found the comrade and the man in Clarry O'Grady.
"Right"--"left"--"left"--"right" he shouted, and then he called for
O'Grady to stop in a voice that was shrill with warning.
"There's fire ahead," he yelled. "We can't follow the wall any longer.
There's an open space close to the chasm. We can make that, but there's
only about a yard to spare. Take short steps--one step each time I tell
Like a soldier on drill, O'Grady kept time with his scorched feet until
Jan turned him again to face the storm of fire, while one of his own
broken legs dangled over the abyss into which Jackpine and the
Chippewayan had plunged to their death. Behind them, almost where they
had fought, there crashed down a third avalanche from the edge of the
mountain. Not a shiver ran through O'Grady's great body. Steadily and
unflinchingly--step--step--step--he went ahead, while the last threads of
his moccasins smoked and burned. Jan could no longer see half a dozen
yards in advance. A wall of black smoke rose in their faces, and he
pulled O'Grady's ear:
"We've got just one chance, Clarry. I can't see any more. Keep straight
ahead--and run for it, and may the good God help us now!"
And Clarry O'Grady, drawing one great breath that was half fire into his
lungs, ran straight into the face of what looked like death to Jan
Larose. In that one moment Jan closed his eyes and waited for the plunge
over the cliff. But in place of death a sweep of air that seemed almost
cold struck his face, and he opened his eyes to find the clear and
uncharred slope leading before them down to the edge of the lake. He
shouted the news into O'Grady's ear, and then there arose from O'Grady's
chest a great sobbing cry, partly of joy, partly of pain, and more than
all else of that terrible grief which came of the knowledge that back in
the pit of death from which he had escaped he had left forever the vision
of life itself. He dropped Jan in the edge of the water, and, plunging in
to his waist, he threw handful after handful of water into his own
swollen face, and then stared upward, as though this last experiment was
also his last hope.
"My God, I'm blind--stone blind!"
Jan was staring hard into O'Grady's face. He called him nearer, took the
swollen and blackened face between his two hands, and his voice was
trembling with joy when he spoke.
"You're not blind--not for good--O'Grady," he said. "I've seen men like
you before--twice. You--you'll get well. O'Grady--Clarry O'Grady--let's
shake! I'm a brother to you from this day on. And I'm glad--glad--that
Marie loves a man like you!"
O'Grady had gripped his hand, but he dropped it now as though it had been
one of the live brands that had hurtled down upon them from the top of
"Marie--man--why--she HATES me!" he cried. "It's you--YOU--Jan Larose,
that she loves! I went there with a broken leg, an' I fell in love with
her. But she wouldn't so much as let me touch her hand, an' she talked of
you--always--always--until I had learned to hate you before you came. I
dunno why she did it--that other thing--unless it was to make you
jealous. I guess it was all f'r fun, Jan. She didn't know. The day you
went away she sent me after you. But I hated you--hated you worse'n she
hated me. It's you--you--"
He clutched his hands at his sightless face again, and suddenly Jan gave
a wild shout. Creeping around the edge of a smoking headland, he had
caught sight of a man and a canoe.
"There's a man in a canoe!" he cried, "He sees us! O'Grady--"
He tried to lift himself, but fell back with a groan. Then he laughed,
and, in spite of his agony, there was a quivering happiness in his voice.
"He's coming, O'Grady. And it looks--it looks like a canoe we both know.
We'll go back to her cabin together, O'Grady. And when we're on our legs
again--well, I never wanted the gold. That's yours--all of it."
A determined look had settled in O'Grady's face. He groped his way to
Jan's side, and their hands met in a clasp that told more than either
could have expressed of the brotherhood and strength of men.
"You can't throw me off like that, Jan Larose," he said. "We're
Sergeant Brokaw was hatchet-faced, with shifting pale blue eyes that had
a glint of cruelty in them. He was tall, and thin, and lithe as a cat. He
belonged to the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, and was one of the best
men on the trail that had ever gone into the North. His business was man
hunting. Ten years of seeking after human prey had given to him many of
the characteristics of a fox. For six of those ten years he had
represented law north of fifty-three. Now he had come to the end of his
last hunt, close up to the Arctic Circle. For one hundred and
eighty-seven days he had been following a man. The hunt had begun in
midsummer, and it was now midwinter. Billy Loring, who was wanted for
murder, had been a hard man to find. But he was caught at last, and
Brokaw was keenly exultant. It was his greatest achievement. It would
mean a great deal for him down at headquarters.
In the rough and dimly lighted cabin his man sat opposite him, on a
bench, his manacled hands crossed over his knees. He was a younger man
than Brokaw--thirty, or a little better. His hair was long, reddish, and
untrimmed. A stubble of reddish beard covered his face. His eyes, too,
were blue--of the deep, honest blue that one remembers, and most
frequently trusts. He did not look like a criminal. There was something
almost boyish in his face, a little hollowed by long privation. He was
the sort of man that other men liked. Even Brokaw, who had a heart like
flint in the face of crime, had melted a little.
"Ugh!" he shivered. "Listen to that beastly wind! It means three days of
storm." Outside a gale was blowing straight down from the Arctic. They
could hear the steady moaning of it in the spruce tops over the cabin,
and now and then there came one of those raging blasts that filled the
night with strange shrieking sounds. Volleys of fine, hard snow beat
against the one window with a rattle like shot. In the cabin it was
comfortable. It was Billy's cabin. He had built it deep in a swamp, where
there were lynx and fisher cat to trap, and where he had thought that no
one could find him. The sheet-iron stove was glowing hot. An oil lamp
hung from the ceiling. Billy was sitting so that the glow of this fell in
his face. It scintillated on the rings of steel about his wrists. Brokaw
was a cautious man, as well as a clever one, and he took no chances.
"I like storms--when you're inside, an' close to a stove," replied Billy.
"Makes me feel sort of--safe." He smiled a little grimly. Even at that it
was not an unpleasant smile.
Brokaw's snow-reddened eyes gazed at the other.
"There's something in that," he said. "This storm will give you at least
three days more of life."
"Won't you drop that?" asked the prisoner, turning his face a little, so
that it was shaded from the light.
"You've got me now, an' I know what's coming as well as you do." His
voice was low and quiet, with the faintest trace of a broken note in it,
deep down in his throat. "We're alone, old man, and a long way from
anyone. I ain't blaming you for catching me. I haven't got anything
against you. So let's drop this other thing--what I'm going down to--and
talk something pleasant. I know I'm going to hang. That's the law. It'll
be pleasant enough when it comes, don't you think? Let's talk
about--about--home. Got any kids?"
Brokaw shook his head, and took his pipe from his mouth.
"Never married," he said shortly.
"Never married," mused Billy, regarding him with a curious softening of
his blue eyes. "You don't know what you've missed, Brokaw. Of course,
it's none of my business, but you've got a home--somewhere--" Brokaw
shook his head again.
"Been in the service ten years," he said. "I've got a mother living with
my brother somewhere down in York State. I've sort of lost track of them.
Haven't seen 'em in five years."