Part 4 out of 4
changed Peter God's handwriting. His treachery, if it could be called
that, would never be discovered. And it would give him Josephine.
This was the temptation. The power that resisted it was the spirit of
that big, clean, fighting North which makes men out of a beginning of
flesh and bone. Ten years of that North had seeped into Philip's being.
He hung on. It was November when he reached Port MacPherson, and he had
not opened the letter.
Deep snows fell, and fierce blizzards shot like gunblasts from out of the
Arctic. Snow and wind were not what brought the deeper gloom and fear to
Fort MacPherson. La mort rouge, smallpox,--the "red death,"--was
galloping through the wilderness. Rumors were first verified by facts
from the Dog Eib Indians. A quarter of them were down with the scourge of
the Northland. From Hudson's Bay on the east to the Great Bear on the
west, the fur posts were sending out their runners, and a hundred Paul
Reveres of the forests were riding swiftly behind their dogs to spread
the warning. On the afternoon of the day Philip left for the cabin of
Peter God, a patrol of the Royal Mounted came in on snowshoes from the
South, and voluntarily went into quarantine.
Philip traveled slowly. For three days and nights the air was filled with
the "Arctic dust" snow that was hard as flint and stung like shot; and it
was so cold that he paused frequently and built small fires, over which
he filled his lungs with hot air and smoke. He knew what it meant to have
the lungs "touched"--sloughing away in the spring, blood-spitting, and
On the fourth day the temperature began to rise; the fifth it was clear,
and thirty degrees warmer. His thermometer had gone to sixty below zero.
It was now thirty below.
It was the morning of the sixth day when he reached the thick fringe of
stunted spruce that sheltered Peter God's cabin. He was half blinded. The
snow-filled blizzards cut his face until it was swollen and purple.
Twenty paces from Peter God's cabin he stopped, and stared, and rubbed
his eyes--and rubbed them again--as though not quite sure his vision was
not playing him a trick.
A cry broke from his lips then. Over Peter God's door there was nailed a
slender sapling, and at the end of that sapling there floated a tattered,
windbeaten red rag. It was the signal. It was the one voice common to all
the wilderness--a warning to man, woman and child, white or red, that had
come down through the centuries. Peter God was down with the smallpox!
For a few moments the discovery stunned him. Then he was filled with a
chill, creeping horror. Peter God was sick with the scourge. Perhaps he
was dying. It might be--that he was dead. In spite of the terror of the
thing ahead of him, he thought of Josephine. If Peter God was dead--
Above the low moaning of the wind in the spruce tops he cursed himself.
He had thought a crime, and he clenched his mittened hands as he stared
at the one window of the cabin. His eyes shifted upward. In the air was a
filmy, floating gray. It was smoke coming from the chimney. Peter God was
Something kept him from shouting Peter God's name, that the trapper might
come to the door. He went to the window, and looked in. For a few moments
he could see nothing. And then, dimly, he made out the cot against the
wall. And Peter God sat on the cot, hunched forward, his head in his
hands. With a quick breath Philip turned to the door, opened it, and
entered the cabin. Peter God staggered to his feet as the door opened.
His eyes were wild and filled with fever.
"You--Curtis!" he cried huskily. "My God, didn't you see the flag?"
Philip's half-frozen features were smiling, and now he was holding out a
hand from which he had drawn his mitten.
"Lucky I happened along just now, old man. You've got it, eh?"
Peter God shrank back from the other's outstretched hand.
"There's time," he cried, pointing to the door.
"Don't breathe this air. Get out. I'm not bad yet--but it's smallpox,
"I know it," said Philip, beginning to throw off his hood and coat. "I'm
not afraid of it. I had a touch of it three years ago over on the Gray
Buzzard, so I guess I'm immune. Besides, I've come two thousand miles to
see you, Peter God--two thousand miles to bring you a letter from
For ten seconds Peter God stood tense and motionless. Then he swayed
"A letter--for Peter God--from Josephine McCloud?" he gasped, and held
out his hands.
An hour later they sat facing each other--Peter God and Curtis. The
beginning of the scourge betrayed itself in the red flush of Peter God's
face, and the fever in his eyes. But he was calm. For many minutes he had
spoken in a quiet, even voice, and Philip Curtis sat with scarcely a
breath and a heart that at times had risen in his throat to choke him. In
his hand Peter God held the pages of the letter he had read.
Now he went on:
"So I'm going to tell it all to you, Curtis--because I know that you are
a man. Josephine has left nothing out. She has told me of your love, and
of the reward she has promised you--if Peter God sends back a certain
word. She says frankly that she does not love you, but that she honors
you above all men--except her father, and one other. That other, Curtis,
is myself. Years ago the woman you love--was my wife."
Peter God put a hand to his head, as if to cool the fire that was
beginning to burn him up.
"Her name wasn't Mrs. Peter God," he went on, and a smile fought grimly
on his lips. "That's the one thing I won't tell you, Curtis--my name. The
story itself will be enough.
"Perhaps there were two other people in the world happier than we. I
doubt it. I got into politics. I made an enemy, a deadly enemy. He was a
blackmailer, a thief, the head of a political ring that lived on graft.
Through my efforts he was exposed, And then he laid for me--and he got
"I must give him credit for doing it cleverly and completely. He set a
trap for me, and a woman helped him. I won't go into details. The trap
sprung, and it caught me. Even Josephine could not be made to believe in
my innocence; so cleverly was the trap set that my best friends among the
newspapers could find no excuse for me.
"I have never blamed Josephine for what she did after that. To all the
world, and most of all to her, I was caught red-handed. I knew that she
loved me even as she was divorcing me. On the day the divorce was given
to her, my brain went bad. The world turned red, and then black, and then
red again. And I--"
Peter God paused again, with a hand to his head.
"You came up here," said Philip, in a low voice.
"Not--until I had seen the man who ruined me," replied Peter God quietly.
"We were alone in his office. I gave him a fair chance to redeem
himself--to confess what he had done. He laughed at me, exulted over my
fall, taunted me. And so--I killed him."
He rose from his chair and stood swaying. He was not excited.
"In his office, with his dead body at my feet, I wrote a note to
Josephine," he finished. "I told her what I had done, and again I swore
my innocence. I wrote her that some day she might hear from me, but not
under my right name, as the law would always be watching for me. It was
ironic that on that human cobra's desk there lay an open Bible, open at
the Book of Peter, and involuntarily I wrote the words to
Josephine--PETER GOD. She has kept my secret, while the law has hunted
for me. And this--"
He held the pages of the letter out to Philip.
"Take the letter--go outside--and read what she has written," he said.
"Come back in half an hour. I want to think."
Back of the cabin, where Peter God had piled his winter's fuel, Philip
read the letter; and at times the soul within him seemed smothered, and
at times it quivered with a strange and joyous emotion.
At last vindication had come for Peter God, and before he had read a page
of the letter Philip understood why it was that Josephine had sent him
with it into the North. For nearly seven years she had known of Peter
God's innocence of the thing for which she had divorced him. The
woman--the dead man's accomplice--had told her the whole story, as Peter
God a few minutes before had told it to Curtis; and during those seven
years she had traveled the world seeking for him--the man who bore the
name of Peter God.
Each night she had prayed God that the next day she might find him, and
now that her prayer had been answered, she begged that she might come to
him, and share with him for all time a life away from the world they
The woman breathed like life in the pages Philip read; yet with that
wonderful message to Peter God she pilloried herself for those red and
insane hours in which she had lost faith in him. She had no excuse for
herself, except her great love; she crucified herself, even as she held
out her arms to him across that thousand miles of desolation. Frankly she
had written of the great price she was offering for this one chance of
life and happiness. She told of Philip's love, and of the reward she had
offered him should Peter God find that in his heart love had died for
her. Which should it be?
Twice Philip read that wonderful message he had brought into the North,
and he envied Peter God the outlaw.
The thirty minutes were gone when he entered the cabin. Peter God was
waiting for him. He motioned him to a seat close to him.
"You have read it?" he asked.
Philip nodded. In these moments he did not trust himself to speak. Peter
God understood. The flush was deeper in his face; his eyes burned
brighter with the fever; but of the two he was the calmer, and his voice
"I haven't much time, Curtis," he said, and he smiled faintly as he
folded the pages of the letter, "My head is cracking. But I've thought it
all out, and you've got to go back to her--and tell her that Peter God is
A gasp broke from Philip's lips. It was his only answer.
"It's--best," continued Peter God, and he spoke more slowly, but firmly.
"I love her, Curtis. God knows that it's been only my dreams of her that
have kept me alive all these years. She wants to come to me, but it's
impossible. I'm an outlaw. The law won't excuse my killing of the cobra.
We'd have to hide. All our lives we'd have to hide. And--some day--they
might get me. There's just one thing to do. Go back to her. Tell her
Peter God is dead. And--make her happy--if you can."
For the first time something rose and overwhelmed the love in Philip's
"She wants to come to you," he cried, and he leaned toward Peter God,
white-faced, clenching his hands. "She wants to come!" he repeated. "And
the law won't find you. It's been seven years--and God knows no word will
ever go from me. It won't find you. And if it should, you can fight it
together, you and Josephine."
Peter God held out his hands.
"Now I know I need have no fear in sending you back," he said huskily.
"You're a man. And you've got to go. She can't come to me, Curtis. It
would kill her--this life. Think of a winter here--madness--the yapping
of the foxes--"
He put a hand to his head, and swayed.
"You've got to go. Tell her Peter God is dead--"
Philip sprang forward as Peter God crumpled down on his bunk.
After that came the long dark hours of fever and delirium. They crawled
along into days, and day and night Philip fought to keep life in the body
of the man who had given the world to him, for as the fight continued he
began more and more to accept Josephine as his own. He had come fairly.
He had kept his pledge. And Peter God had spoken.
"You must go. You must tell her Peter God is dead."
And Philip began to accept this, not altogether as his joy, but as his
duty. He could not argue with Peter God when he rose from his sick bed.
He would go back to Josephine.
For many days he and Peter God fought with the "red death" in the little
cabin. It was a fight which he could never forget. One afternoon--to
strengthen himself for the terrible night that was coming--he walked
several miles back into the stunted spruce on his snowshoes. It was
mid-afternoon when he returned with a haunch of caribou meat on his
shoulder. Three hundred yards from the cabin something stopped him like a
shot. He listened. From ahead of him came the whining and snarling of
dogs, the crack of a whip, a shout which he could not understand. He
dropped his burden of meat and sped on. At the southward edge of a level
open he stopped again. Straight ahead of him was the cabin. A hundred
yards to the right of him was a dog team and a driver. Between the team
and the cabin a hooded and coated figure was running in the direction of
the danger signal on the sapling pole.
With a cry of warning Philip darted in pursuit. He overtook the figure at
the cabin door. His hand caught it by the arm. It turned--and he stared
into the white, terror-stricken face of Josephine McCloud!
"Good God!" he cried, and that was all.
She gripped him with both hands. He had never heard her voice as it was
now. She answered the amazement and horror in his face.
"I sent you a letter," she cried pantingly, "and it didn't overtake you.
As soon as you were gone, I knew that I must come--that I must
follow--that I must speak with my own lips what I had written. I tried to
catch you. But you traveled faster. Will you forgive me--you will forgive
She turned to the door. He held her.
"It is the smallpox," he said, and his voice was dead.
"I know," she panted. "The man over there--told me what the little flag
means. And I'm glad--glad I came in time to go in to him--as he is. And
She snatched herself free from his grasp. The door opened. It closed
behind her. A moment later he heard through the sapling door a strange
cry--a woman's cry--a man's cry--and he turned and walked heavily back
into the spruce forest.
"Why, you ornery little cuss," said Falkner, pausing with a forkful of
beans half way to his mouth. "Where in God A'mighty's name did YOU come
It was against all of Jim's crude but honest ethics of the big wilderness
to take the Lord's name in vain, and the words he uttered were filled
more with the softness of a prayer than the harshness of profanity. He
was big, and his hands were hard and knotted, and his face was covered
with a coarse red scrub of beard. But his hair was blond, and his eyes
were blue, and just now they were filled with unbounded amazement. Slowly
the fork loaded with beans descended to his plate, and he said again,
barely above a whisper:
"Where in God A'mighty's name DID you come from?"
There was nothing human in the one room of his wilderness cabin to speak
of. At the first glance there was nothing alive in the room, with the
exception of Jim Falkner himself. There was not even a dog, for Jim had
lost his one dog weeks before. And yet he spoke, and his eyes glistened,
and for a full minute after that he sat as motionless as a rock. Then
something moved--at the farther end of the rough board table. It was a
mouse--a soft, brown, bright-eyed little mouse, not as large as his
thumb. It was not like the mice Jim had been accustomed to see in the
North woods, the larger, sharp-nosed, rat-like creatures which sprung his
traps now and then, and he gave a sort of gasp through his beard.
"I'm as crazy as a loon if it isn't a sure-enough down-home mouse, just
like we used to catch in the kitchen down in Ohio," he told himself. And
for the third time he asked. "Now where in God A'mighty's name DID YOU
The mouse made no answer. It had humped itself up into a little ball, and
was eyeing Jim with the keenest of suspicion.
"You're a thousand miles from home, old man," Falkner addressed it, still
without a movement. "You're a clean thousand miles straight north of the
kind o' civilization you was born in, and I want to know how you got
here. By George--is it possible--you got mixed up in that box of stuff
SHE sent up? Did you come from HER?"
He made a sudden movement, as if he expected an answer, and in a flash
the mouse had scurried off the table and had disappeared under his bunk.
"The little cuss!" said Falkner. "He's sure got his nerve!"
He went on eating his beans, and when he had done he lighted a lamp, for
the half Arctic darkness was falling early, and began to clear away the
dishes. When he had done he put a scrap of bannock and a few beans on the
corner of the table.
"I'll bet he's hungry, the little cuss," he said. "A thousand miles--in
He sat down close to the sheet-iron box stove, which was glowing red-hot,
and filled his pipe. Kerosene was a precious commodity, and he had turned
down the lamp wick until he was mostly in gloom. Outside a storm was
wailing down across the Barrens from the North. He could hear the swish
of the spruce-boughs overhead, and those moaning, half-shrieking sounds
that always came with storm from out of the North, and sometimes fooled
even him into thinking they were human cries. They had seemed more and
more human to him during the past three days, and he was growing afraid.
Once or twice strange thoughts had come into his head, and he had tried
to fight them down. He had known of men whom loneliness had driven
mad--and he was terribly lonely. He shivered as a piercing blast of wind
filled with a mourning wail swept over the cabin.
And that day, too, he had been taken with a touch of fever. It burned
more hotly in his blood to-night, and he knew that it was the
loneliness--the emptiness of the world about him, the despair and black
foreboding that came to him with the first early twilights of the Long
Night. For he was in the edge of that Long Night. For weeks he would only
now and then catch a glimpse of the sun. He shuddered.
A hundred and fifty miles to the south and east there was a Hudson's Bay
post. Eighty miles south was the nearest trapper's cabin he knew of. Two
months before he had gone down to the post, with a thick beard to cover
his face, and had brought back supplies--and the box. His wife had sent
up the box to him, only it had come to him as "John Blake" instead of Jim
Falkner, his right name. There were things in it for him to wear, and
pictures of the sweet-faced wife who was still filled with prayer and
hope for him, and of the kid, their boy. "He is walking now," she had
written to him, "and a dozen times a day he goes to your picture and says
'Pa-pa--Pa-pa'--and every night we talk about you before we go to bed,
and pray God to send you back to us soon."
"God bless 'em!" breathed Jim.
He had not lighted his pipe, and there was something in his eyes that
shimmered and glistened in the dull light. And then, as he sat silent,
his eyes clearing, he saw that the little mouse had climbed back to the
edge of the table. It did not eat the food he had placed there for it,
but humped itself up in a tiny ball again, and its tiny shining eyes
looked in his direction.
"You're not hungry," said Jim, and he spoke aloud. "YOU'RE lonely,
A strange thrill shot through him at the thought, and he wondered again
if he was mad at the longing that filled him--the desire to reach out and
snuggle the little creature in his hand, and hold it close up to his
bearded face, and TALK TO IT! He laughed, and drew his stool a little
more into the light. The mouse did not run. He edged nearer and nearer,
until his elbows rested on the table, and a curious feeling of pleasure
took the place of his loneliness when he saw that the mouse was looking
at him, and yet seemed unafraid.
"Don't be scairt," he said softly, speaking directly to it. "I won't hurt
you. No, siree, I'd--I'd cut off a hand before I'd do that. I ain't had
any company but you for two months. I ain't seen a human face, or heard a
human voice--nothing--nothing but them shrieks 'n' wails 'n' baby-cryings
out there in the wind. I won't hurt you--" His voice was almost pleading
in its gentleness. And for the tenth time that day he felt, with his
fever, a sickening dizziness in his head. For a moment or two his vision
was blurred, but he could still see the mouse--farther away, it seemed to
"I don't s'pose you've killed anyone--or anything," he said, and his
voice seemed thick and distant to him. "Mice don't kill, do they? They
live on--cheese. But I have--I've killed. I killed a man. That's why I'm
His dizziness almost overcame him, and he leaned heavily against the
table. Still the little mouse did not move. Still he could see it through
the strange gauze veil before his eyes.
"I killed--a man," he repeated, and now he was wondering why the mouse
did not say something at that remarkable confession. "I killed him, old
man, an' you'd have done the same if you'd been in my place. I didn't
mean to. I struck too hard. But I found 'im in my cabin, an' SHE was
fighting--fighting him until her face was scratched an' her clothes
torn,--God bless her dear heart!--fighting him to the last breath, an' I
come just in time! He didn't think I'd be back for a day--a black-hearted
devil we'd fed when he came to our door hungry. I killed him. And they've
hunted me ever since. They'll put a rope round my neck, an' choke me to
death if they catch me--because I came in time to save her! That's law!
"But they won't find me. I've been up here a year now, and in the spring
I'm going down there --where you come from--back to the Girl and the Kid.
The policemen won't be looking for me then. An' we're going to some other
part of the world, an' live happy. She's waitin' for me, she an' the kid,
an' they know I'm coming in the spring. Yessir, I killed a man. An' they
want to kill me for it. That's the law--Canadian law--the law that wants
an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, an' where there ain't no
extenuatin' circumstance. They call it murder. But it wasn't--was it?"
He waited for an answer. The mouse seemed going farther and farther away
from him. He leaned more heavily on the table.
"It wasn't--was it?" he persisted.
His arms reached out; his head dropped forward, and the little mouse
scurried to the floor. But Falkner did not know that it had gone.
"I killed him, an' I guess I'd do it again," he said, and his words were
only a whisper. "An' to-night they're prayin' for me down there--she 'n
the kid--an' he's sayin', 'Pa-pa--Pa-pa'; an' they sent you up--to keep
His head dropped wearily upon his arms. The red stove crackled, and
turned slowly black. In the cabin it grew darker, except where the dim
light burned on the table. Outside the storm wailed and screeched down
across the Barren. And after a time the mouse came back. It looked at Jim
Falkner. It came nearer, until it touched the unconscious man's sleeve.
More daringly it ran over his arm. It smelled of his fingers.
Then the mouse returned to the corner of the table, and began eating the
food that Falkner had placed there for it.
The wick of the lamp had burned low when Falkner raised his head. The
stove was black and cold. Outside, the storm still raged, and it was the
shivering shriek of it over the cabin that Falkner first heard. He felt
terribly dizzy, and there was a sharp, knife-like pain just back of his
eyes. By the gray light that came through the one window he knew that
what was left of Arctic day had come. He rose to his feet, and staggered
about like a drunken man as he rebuilt the fire, and he tried to laugh as
the truth dawned upon him that he had been sick, and that he had rested
for hours with his head on the table. His back seemed broken. His legs
were numb, and hurt when he stepped on them. He swung his arms a little
to bring back circulation, and rubbed his hands over the fire that began
to crackle in the stove.
It was the sickness that had overcome him--he knew that. But the thought
of it did not appall him as it had yesterday, and the day before. There
seemed to be something in the cabin now that comforted and soothed him,
something that took away a part of the loneliness that was driving him
mad. Even as he searched about him, peering into the dark corners and at
the bare walls, a word formed on his lips, and he half smiled. It was a
woman's name--Hester. And a warmth entered into him. The pain left his
head. For the first time in weeks he felt DIFFERENT. And slowly he began
to realize what had wrought the change. He was not alone. A message had
come to him from the one who was waiting for him miles away; something
that lived, and breathed, and was as lonely as himself. It was the little
He looked about eagerly, his eyes brightening, but the mouse was gone. He
could not hear it. There seemed nothing unusual to him in the words he
spoke aloud to himself.
"I'm going to call it after the Kid," he chuckled, "I'm goin' to call it
Little Jim. I wonder if it's a girl mouse--or a boy mouse?"
He placed a pan of snow-water on the stove and began making his simple
preparations for breakfast. For the first time in many days he felt
actually hungry. And then all at once he stopped, and a low cry that was
half joy and half wonder broke from his lips. With tensely gripped hands
and eyes that shone with a strange light he stared straight at the blank
surface of the log wall--through it--and a thousand miles away. He
remembered THAT day--years ago--the scenes of which came to him now as
though they had been but yesterday. It was afternoon, in the glorious
summer, and he had gone to Hester's home. Only the day before Hester had
promised to be his wife, and he remembered how fidgety and uneasy and yet
wondrously happy he was as he sat out on the big white veranda, waiting
for her to put on her pink muslin dress, which went go well with the gold
of her hair and the blue of her eyes. And as he sat there, Hester's
maltese pet came up the steps, bringing in its jaws a tiny, quivering
brown mouse. It was playing with the almost lifeless little creature when
Hester came through the door.
He heard again the low cry that came from her lips then. In an instant
she had snatched the tiny, limp thing from between the cat's paws, and
had faced him. He was laughing at her, but the glow in her blue eyes
sobered him. "I didn't think you--would take pleasure in that, Jim," she
said. "It's only a mouse, but it's alive, and I can feel its poor little
They had saved it, and he, a little ashamed at the smallness of the act,
had gone with Hester to the barn and made a nest for it in the hay. But
the wonderful words that he remembered were these: "Perhaps some day a
little mouse will help you, Jim!" Hester had spoken laughingly. And her
words had come true!
All the time that Falkner was preparing and eating his breakfast he
watched for the mouse, but it did not appear. Then he went to the door.
It swung outward, and it took all his weight to force it open. On one
side of the cabin the snow was drifted almost to the roof. Ahead of him
he could barely make out the dark shadow of the scrub spruce forest
beyond the little clearing he had made. He could hear the spruce-tops
wailing and twisting in the storm, and the snow and wind stung his face,
and half blinded him.
It was dark--dark with that gray and maddening gloom that yesterday would
have driven him still nearer to the merge of madness. But this morning he
laughed as he listened to the wailings in the air and stared out into the
ghostly chaos. It was not the thought of his loneliness that come to him
now, but the thought that he was safe. The Law could not reach him now,
even if it knew where he was. And before it began its hunt for him again
in the spring he would be hiking southward, to the Girl and the Baby, and
it would still be hunting for him when they three would be making a new
home for themselves in some other part of the world. For the first time
in months he was almost happy. He closed and bolted the door, and began
to WHISTLE. He was amazed at the change in himself, and wonderingly he
stared at his reflection in the cracked bit of mirror against the wall.
He grinned, and addressed himself aloud.
"You need a shave," he told himself. "You'd scare fits out of anything
alive! Now that we've got company we've got to spruce up, an' look
It took him an hour to get rid of his heavy beard. His face looked almost
boyish again. He was inspecting himself in the mirror when he heard a
sound that turned him slowly toward the table. The little mouse was
nosing about his tin plate. For a few moments Falkner watched it, fearing
to move. Then he cautiously began to approach the table. "Hello there,
old chap," he said, trying to make his voice soft and ingratiating.
"Pretty late for breakfast, ain't you?"
At his approach the mouse humped itself into a motionless ball and
watched him. To Falkner's delight it did not run away when he reached the
table and sat down. He laughed softly.
"You ain't afraid, are you?" he asked. "We're goin' to be chums, ain't
we? Yessir, we're goin' to be chums!"
For a full minute the mouse and the man looked steadily at each other.
Then the mouse moved deliberately to a crumb of bannock and began
nibbling at its breakfast.
For ten days there was only an occasional lull in the storm that came
from out of the North. Before those ten days were half over, Jim and the
mouse understood each other. The little mouse itself solved the problem
of their nearer acquaintance by running up Falkner's leg one morning
while he was at breakfast, and coolly investigating him from the strings
of his moccasin to the collar of his blue shirt. After that it showed no
fear of him, and a few days later would nestle in the hollow of his big
hand and nibble fearlessly at the bannock which Falkner would offer it.
Then Jim took to carrying it about with him in his coat pocket. That
seemed to suit the mouse immensely, and when Jim went to bed nights, or
it grew too warm for him in the cabin, he would hang the coat over his
bunk, with the mouse still in it, so that it was not long before the
little creature made up its mind to take full possession of the pocket.
It intimated as much to Falkner on the tenth and last day of the storm,
when it began very business-like operations of building a nest of paper
and rabbits' fur in the coat pocket. Jim's heart gave a big and sudden
jump of delight when he saw the work going on.
"Bless my soul, I wonder if it's a girl mouse an' we're goin' to have
BABIES!" he gasped.
After that he did not wear the coat, through fear of disturbing the nest.
The two became more and more friendly, until finally the mouse would sit
on Jim's shoulder at meal time, and nibble at bannock. What little
trouble the mouse caused only added to Falkner's love for it.
"He's a human little cuss," he told himself one day, as he watched the
mouse busy at work caching away scraps of food, which it carried through
a crack in the sapling floor. "He's that human I've got to put all my
grab in the tin cans or we'll go short before spring!" His chief trouble
was to keep his snowshoes out of his tiny companion's reach. The mouse
had developed an unholy passion for babiche, the caribou skin thongs used
in the webs of his shoes, and one of the webs was half eaten away before
Falkner discovered what was going on. At last he was compelled to suspend
the shoes from a nail driven in one of the roof-beams.
In the evening, when the stove glowed hot, and a cotton wick sputtered in
a pan of caribou grease on the table, Falkner's chief diversion was to
tell the mouse all about his plans, and hopes, and what had happened in
the past. He took an almost boyish pleasure in these one-sided
entertainments--and yet, after all, they were not entirely one-sided, for
the mouse would keep its bright, serious-looking little eyes on Falkner's
face; it seemed to understand, if it could not talk.
Falkner loved to tell the little fellow of the wonderful days of four or
five years ago away down in the sunny Ohio valley where he had courted
the Girl and where they lived before they moved to the farm in Canada. He
tried to impress upon Little Jim's mind what it meant for a great big,
unhandsome fellow like himself to be loved by a tender slip of a girl
whose hair was like gold and whose eyes were as blue as the wood-violets.
One evening he fumbled for a minute under his bunk and came back to the
table with a worn and finger-marked manila envelope, from which he drew
tenderly and with almost trembling care a long, shining tress of golden
"That HERS," he said proudly, placing it on the table close to the mouse.
"An' she's got so much of it you can't see her to the hips when she takes
it down; an' out in the sun it shines like--like--glory!"
The stove door crashed open, and a number of coals fell out upon the
floor. For a few minutes Falkner was busy, and when he returned to the
table he gave a gasp of astonishment. The curl and the mouse were gone!
Little Jim had almost reached its nest with its lovely burden when
Falkner captured it.
"You little cuss!" he breathed revently. "Now I know you come from her! I
In the weeks that followed the storm Falkner again followed his
trap-lines, and scattered poison-baits for the white foxes on the Barren.
Early in January the second great storm of that year came from out of the
North. It gave no warning, and Falkner was caught ten miles from camp. He
was making a struggle for life before he reached the shack. He was
exhausted, and half blinded. He could hardly stand on his feet when he
staggered up against his own door. He could see nothing when he entered.
He stumbled over a stool, and fell to the floor. Before he could rise a
strange weight was upon him. He made no resistance, for the storm had
driven the last ounce of strength from his body.
"It's been a long chase, but I've got you now, Falkner," he heard a
triumphant voice say. And then came the dreaded formula, feared to the
uttermost limits of the great Northern wilderness: "I warn you! You are
my prisoner, in the name of His Majesty, the King!"
Corporal Carr, of the Royal Mounted of the Northwest, was a man without
human sympathies. He was thin faced, with a square, bony jaw, and lips
that formed a straight line. His eyes were greenish, like a cat's, and
were constantly shifting. He was a beast of prey, as much as the wolf,
the lynx, or the fox--and his prey was men. Only such a man as Carr,
alone would have braved the treacherous snows and the intense cold of the
Arctic winter to run him down. Falkner knew that, as an hour later he
looked over the roaring stove at his captor. About Carr there was
something of the unpleasant quickness, the sinuous movement, of the
little white ermine--the outlaw of the wilderness. His eyes were as
merciless. At times Falkner caught the same red glint in them. And above
his despair, the utter hopelessness of his situation, there rose in him
an intense hatred and loathing of the man.
Falkner's hands were then securely tied behind him.
"I'd put the irons on you," Carr had explained a hard, emotionless voice,
"only I lost them somewhere back there."
Beyond that he had not said a dozen words. He had built up the fire,
thawed himself out, and helped himself to food. Now, for the first time,
he loosened up a bit.
"I've had a devil of a chase," he said bitterly, a cold glitter in his
eyes as he looked at Falkner. "I've been after you three months, and now
that I've got you this accursed storm is going to hold me up! And I left
my dogs and outfit a mile back in the scrub."
"Better go after 'em," replied Falkner. "If you don't there won't be any
dogs an' outfit by morning."
Corporal Carr rose to his feet and went to the window. In a moment he
"I'll do that," he said. "Stretch yourself out on the bunk. I'll have to
lace you down pretty tight to keep you from playing a trick on me."
There was something so merciless and brutal in his eyes and voice that
Falkner felt like leaping upon him, even with his hands tied behind his
He was glad, however, that Carr had decided to go. He was, filled with an
overwhelming desire to be rid of him, if only for an hour.
He went to the bunk and lay down. Corporal Carr approached, pulling a
roll of babiche cord from his pocket.
"If you don't mind you might tie my hands in front instead of behind,"
suggested Falkner. "It's goin' to be mighty unpleasant to have 'em under
me, if I've got to lay here for an hour or two."
"Not on your life I won't tie 'em in front!" snapped Carr, his little
eyes glittering. And then he gave a cackling laugh, and his eyes were as
green as a cat's. "An' it won't be half so unpleasant as having something
'round your NECK!" he joked.
"I wish I was free," breathed Falkner, his chest heaving. "I wish we
could fight, man t' man. I'd be willing to hang then, just to have the
chance to break your neck. You ain't a man of the Law. You're a devil."
Carr laughed the sort of laugh that sends a chill up one's back, and drew
the caribou-skin cord tight about Falkner's ankles.
"Can't blame me for being a little careful," he said in his revolting
way. "By your hanging I become a Sergeant. That's my reward for running
He lighted the lamp and filled the stove before he left the cabin. From
the door he looked back at Falkner, and his face was not like a man's,
but like that of some terrible death-spirit, ghostly, and thin, and
exultant in the dim glow of the lamp. As he opened the door the roar of
the blizzard and a gust of snow filled the cabin. Then it closed, and a
groaning curse fell from Falkner's lips. He strained fiercely at the
thongs that bound him, but after the first few minutes he lay still
breathing hard, knowing that every effort he made only tightened the
caribou-skin cord that bound him.
On his back, he listened to the storm. It was filled with the same
strange cries and moaning sound that had almost driven him to madness,
and now they sent through him a shivering chill that he had not felt
before, even in the darkest and most hopeless hours of his loneliness and
despair. A breath that was almost a sob broke from his lips as a vision
of the Girl and the Kid came to shut out from his ears the moaning tumult
of the wind. A few hours before he had been filled with hope--almost
happiness, and now he was lost. From such a man as Carr there was no hope
for mercy, or of escape. Flat on his back, he closed his eyes, and tried
to think--to scheme something that might happen in his favor, to foresee
an opportunity that might give him one last chance. And then, suddenly,
he heard a sound. It traveled over the blanket that formed a pillow for
his head. A cool, soft little nose touched his ear, and then tiny feet
ran swiftly over his shoulder, and halted on his breast. He opened his
eyes, and stared.
"You little cuss!" he breathed. A hundred times he had spoken those
words, and each time they were of increasing wonder and adoration. "You
little cuss!" he whispered again, and he chuckled aloud.
The mouse was humped on his breast in that curious little ball that it
made of itself, and was eyeing him, Jim thought, in a questioning sort of
way, "What's the matter with you?" it seemed to ask. "Where are your
And Jim answered:
"They've got me, old man. Now what the dickens are we going to do?"
The mouse began investigating. It examined his shoulder, the end of his
chin, and ran along his arm, as far as it could go.
"Now what do you think of that!" Falkner exclaimed softly. "The little
cuss is wondering where my hands are!" Gently he rolled over on his side.
"There they are," he said, "hitched tighter 'n bark to a tree!"
He wiggled his fingers, and in a moment he felt the mouse. The little
creature ran across the opened palm of his hand to his wrist, and then
every muscle in Falkner's body grew tense, and one of the strangest cries
that ever fell from human lips came from his. The mouse had found once
more the dried hide-flesh of which the snowshoe webs were made. It had
found babiche. And it had begun TO GNAW!
In the minutes that followed Falkner scarcely breathed. He could feel the
mouse when it worked. Above the stifled beating of his heart he could
hear its tiny jaws. In those moments he knew that his last hope of life
hung in the balance. Five, ten minutes passed, and not until then did he
strain at the thongs that bound his wrists. Was that the bed that had
snapped? Or was it the breaking of one of the babiche cords? He strained
harder. The thongs were loosening; his wrists were freer; with a cry that
sent the mouse scurrying to the floor he doubled himself half erect, and
fought like a madman. Five minutes later and he was free.
He staggered to his feet, and looked at his wrists. They were torn and
bleeding. His second thought was of Corporal Carr--and a weapon. The
man-hunter had taken the precaution to empty the chambers of Falkner's
revolver and rifle and throw his cartridges out in the snow. But his
skinning-knife was still in its sheath and belt, and he buckled it about
his waist. He had no thought of killing Carr, though he hated the man
almost to the point of murder. But his lips set in a grim smile as he
thought of what he WOULD do.
He knew that when Carr returned he would not enter at once into the
cabin. He was the sort of man who would never take an unnecessary chance.
He would go first to the little window--and look in. Falkner turned the
lamp-wick lower, and placed the lamp on the table directly between the
window and the bunk. Then he rolled his blankets into something like a
human form, and went to the window to see the effect. The bunk was in
deep shadow. From the window Corporal Carr could not see beyond the lamp.
Then Falkner waited, out of range of the window, and close to the door.
It was not long before he heard something above the wailing of the storm.
It was the whine of a dog, and he knew that a moment later the Corporal's
ghostly face was peering in at the window. Then there came the sudden,
swift opening of the door, and Carr sprang in like a cat, his hand on the
butt of his revolver, still obeying that first governing law of his
merciless life--caution, Falkner was so near that he could reach out and
touch Carr, and in an instant he was at his enemy's throat. Not a cry
fell from Carr's lips. There was death in the terrible grip of Falkner's
hands, and like one whose neck had been broken Carr sank to the floor.
Falkner's grip tightened, and he did not loosen it until Carr was black
in the face and his jaw fell open. Then Falkner bound him hand and foot
with the babiche thongs, and dragged him to the bunk.
Through the open door one of the sledge-dogs had thrust his head and
shoulders. It was a Barracks team, accustomed to warmth and shelter, and
Falkner had no difficulty in getting the leader and his three mates
inside. To make friends with them he fed them chunks of raw caribou meat,
and when Carr opened his eyes he was busy packing. He laughed joyously
when he saw that the man-hunter had regained consciousness, and was
staring at him with evident malice.
"Hello, Carr," he greeted affably. "Feeling better? Tables sort of
turned, ain't they?"
Carr made no answer. His white lips were set like thin bands of steel.
"I'm getting ready to leave you," Falkner explained, as he rolled up a
blanket and shoved it into his rubber pack-pouch. "And you're going to
stay here--until spring. Do you get onto that? You've GOT to stay. I'm
going to leave you marooned, so to speak. You couldn't travel a hundred
yards out there without snowshoes, and I'm goin' to take your snowshoes.
And I'm goin' to take your guns, and burn your pack, your coat, mittens,
cap, an' moccasins. Catch on? I'm not goin' to kill you, and I'm going to
leave you enough grub to last until spring, but you won't dare risk
yourself out in the cold and snow. If you do, you'll freeze off your
tootsies, and make your lungs sick. Don't you feel sort of
Six hours later Falkner stood outside the cabin. The dogs were in their
traces, and the sledge was packed. The storm had blown itself out, and a
warmer temperature had followed in the path of the blizzard. He wore his
coat now, and gently he felt of the bulging pocket, and laughed joyously
as he faced the South.
"It's goin' to be a long hike, you little cuss," he said softly. "It's
goin' to be a darned long hike. But we'll make it. Yessir, we'll make it.
And won't they be s'prised when we fall in on 'em, six months ahead of
He examined the pocket carefully, making sure that he had buttoned down
"I wouldn't want to lose you," he chuckled. "Next to her, an' the kid, I
wouldn't want to lose you!"
Then, slowly, a strange smile passed over his face, and he gazed
questioningly for a moment at the pocket which he held in his hand.
"You nervy little cuss!" he grinned. "I wonder if you're a girl mouse,
an' if we're goin' to have a fam'ly on the way home! An'--an'--what the
dickens do you feed baby mice?"
He lowered the pocket, and with a sharp command to the waiting dogs
turned his face into the South.